I’ll be honest, the first time I heard about the BearBrook Marathon & Ultra at Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown, NH I thought to myself, “A 26.7 mile race, on those brutal trails in the middle of the summer and height of the deerfly season?! No F’n way! Who’d be crazy enough to sign up for that?!” Well, as it turns out – me!
In my never-ending pursuit to become a stronger runner (or injure myself beyond repair) I put my name in the BBM hat just three days before the race. Hmmm. Deciding to run a marathon at the last-minute with no specific training, build-up or taper. Where have I heard that one before? Anyway, at $26.70 the price was certainly right and I figured it would be a good way to get a long trail run in (with support) as I work my way up to the 50-Miler in the Fall.
As has been the case nearly every weekend this summer (seemingly) my family and I were camping with our new pop-up camper. So it was a quick, early-morning, ride from the campground in Weare, NH to Allenstown for the 6:30am start time. The cold camper and dense valley fog were a sure sign that we’d lucked out and actually caught a reasonably good day (weather-wise) to run a marathon. After this year’s Boston Fiasco I suppose I was due for some positive climate karma.
Despite the cooler starting temperatures, I still opted to go with the 70oz CamelBak hydration pack filled with water and 4 Nuun electrolyte tablets – Tropical flavor! For nutritional supplements I brought along some Honey Stinger & Vanilla Gu’s as well as a couple power bars and a pouch full of Enduralyte capsules. Pace-wise I was planning on trying to run my goal pace for the 50 miler (or about 10 minutes per mile) and see how that felt.
Well before the race we’d been warned by the race director about the abundance and ferocity of the deer fly population in Bear Brook so I also armed myself with an OR “Sun Runner” cap (with sun skirt) soaked in bug repellent. And, to top it off, I added a “Deerfly Patch” to the back of the hat for good measure. Unfortunately, I put the patch on backwards. So, the only thing it caught was my hat!
The race director gave us some brief instructions about the course & aid stations then without further ado told us to “go ahead and have some fun” which was our signal to start running. After the quick downhill start, the first few miles went by without much issue. I let the “fast” people go and just settled into a comfortable pace for the terrain. Happy, smiling and sun skirt bouncing in the breeze!
The trails on the first leg of the race were fairly flat with not a lot of technical (rocky/rooty) areas. There were a couple small hills but nothing too taxing. In addition, all the trail intersections were very well marked - so getting lost was never a worry. By this point I was pretty much running by myself and even when I stopped for a full minute at Aid Station 1 I never saw anyone but the friendly race volunteers.
After popping a couple Enduralytes, I was on my way again onto leg two. The first mile took us through a newly logged section of trail. Surprisingly, it was my favorite part of the race. Nice and open with beautiful views and a clear path to follow through the low grass. After that, I ran past the Bear Brook Campground where I was greeted by quizzical looks by the campers and the yummy smell of bacon. Mmm, BACON!
Next I ran along the small campground beach and began the clockwise trip around Beaver Pond. The trail became much more technical in this area and I started having to work for it a bit. During that section I was also passed by 3 runners who looked as if they started late – or just started slow. And, they were gone as quickly as they came! Sheesh! What do they think this is a race, or something?
After Beaver Pond there was a long climb up to Aid Station 2. By this point, I was starting to feel the heat of the day for the first time. I was also feeling my left achilles/calf becoming sore from navigating the un-even terrain. Not good. But, the sweet smiles (and treats!) at the Aid Station took my mind off the calf for the time being. I popped a couple more Enduralytes and choked down a Powerbar with a warm cup of Heed, and a minute later I was off again.
Leg 3 started with yet another climb up (then plummet down) Hall Mountain. Still running by myself, I came across an abandoned camp / red-neck estate complete with dilapidated barn, demolished shed and tyvek house. I thought about how spooky it would be to live way the heck out here. I scrambled over the next few miles worth of trails with “dueling banjos” playing in my head and the hair standing up on the back of my neck.
This section was probably my least favorite of the race - lots of downed trees to hop over and low branches to duck under. It was like cardio-kickboxing out there! It was also on this section of course (near the Hall Mountain Marsh) that I got stung on the hand by something nasty. I never saw what it was, but it came without warning and felt like I’d been shot by a BB gun. Needless to say, I was very happy to arrive at Aid Station 3 in one piece – despite the throbbing hand!
The start of the next section was pretty easy and with more than half the race behind me I started to “open it up” a little bit. There was a runner at Aid Station 3 who had gotten “turned around” and was talking to the RD about where to run next. From the sounds of it, he was going to start Leg 4 despite not having fully completed Leg 3 and I was not about to have a “course cutter” get by me. Well, he did get by me. Eventually. But, not before he pulled me along (too fast) for a mile, or so, up and around Bear Hill.
After cursing the course cutter (and my stupid decision to “race” in the middle of my training run) I suffered through probably the roughest patch of the course – mentally. Running alone (again) along the Lost & Lowland Trails I started getting tired and a bit down. In most trail races it’s hard to judge how far you have left to run. You can kind of guess based on time, but as your pace slows that variable of time begins to increase. This mental toughness game is an area where I’ll need to improve if I’m going to run well at the 50 miler.
It was during this self-pity party I was throwing for myself that I came across a runner lying face down in the dirt. As I got closer I realized it was Tim Mallard - a GCS runner who’s likely the fastest young gun we’ve got on the squad. Turns out that Tim didn’t carry any fluids with him for the race and was cramping up like a mad-man. He said that he’d be fine and that a volunteer was already on their way to help him out. So I continued along the trail - feeling slightly better about myself. Awful, I know. Right?
Aid Station 4 was a welcome sight. At more than 7 and a half miles since the last one, I was beginning to lose it a bit. It was also a welcome sight to see another runner. And with one more coming in right behind me, we actually had a “pack” leaving Hayes Marsh for the last leg of the day. But not before I topped off my CamelBak, popped a couple more Enduralytes and forced down a warm vanilla GU. Yum!
The first of the two new runners dropped behind on the first little climb out of Aid Station 4. But, the second one hung tough and pulled me along for a good stretch until I realized I was “doing it again” and quickly slowed down. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough as my calves & quads decided it was time that they were heard from and began a raucous revolt. On the way up Catamount Hill I became unhitched and was forced to walk for the first time.
Coming down the back side of this “final insult” of a hill I was greeted by a smiling Kurt Berna who had quietly “snuck up” from behind after running a more intelligent (reasonably paced) first half of the race. We ran the last section of single track together before we dumped out onto the main trail and bumped into Kurt’s wife Terry - who was there in support. The three of us jogged the last half mile of the race slowly. Tired but with the warm satisfaction of a day well spent!
Surprisingly, after not really planning or training for this event, The Results showed that Kurt & I each finished in the top 20 (16th OA / 6 AG) and my Gate City Strider team finished first overall! Of course, knowing me, now that I’ve done it once I’ll have to come back again next year and actually race it!
Here are my splits to each of the 4 aid stations and finish:
Aid Station #1 - 6 miles - 53:03 (8:50 pace for leg)
Aid Station #2 - 10.9 miles – 1:40:07 / 47:04 split (9:35 pace for leg)
Aid Station #3 - 15.9 miles – 2:29:55 / 49:48 split (9:57 pace for leg)
Aid Station #4 - 23.5 miles – 3:46:00 / 1:16:04 split (10:01 pace for leg)
Finish - 26.7 miles – 4:31:00 / 45:00 split (14:00 pace for leg / 10:09 overall)