Going into the Bear Mountain 50 miler this past weekend my biggest concern was how little sleep I was likely to have in the 48 hours leading up to the race. Like so many races this one starts at a ridiculously early hour and it's located in a time zone 4 hours ahead of where I was coming from. This meant that to get a decent amount of sleep the night before the race I would need to be asleep by about 4pm Alaska time. Needless to say I didn't get up Saturday morning feeling very rested. I had slept only ~8 hours in the last two nights combined and I had spent all day Thursday crammed into airplanes (8 hours of flying time from Juneau to Newark) and eating crappy food at airports (4 hour layover in Seattle).
Once the race started though I felt really relaxed. No one pushed the pace hard from the start and I was able to just run really smooth and with no pressure. For the first 15-20 miles the pace felt more to me like the start of a 100 miler than the start of a 50. With this kind of pace we had a decent sized lead pack. There were 7 or 8 of us through mile 15 and then around mile 20 I noticed the pack was down to just 4 of us. Shortly after that Leigh Schmitt and I pulled out of view of the others and ran together for an hour or more. Still the pace felt really relaxed and I felt no pressure or desire to push any harder. Eventually though I pulled away from Leigh and for the rest of the day I cruised along by myself.
I never really felt very tired all day but I also never really felt like I had a much faster gear. I just kind of plugged along at my steady pace and eventually I was done. I'm sure I could run this course a fair amount faster than my 7:06 finishing time, but this past weekend I don't think my body wanted to push any harder than I did. In many ways this race felt more like a training run than a race. I never really felt like any other runners put any pressure on me to run a faster pace than I wanted to so I was able to determine my own desired pace the entire time. My legs weren't even sore when I finished. I was even able to drive over to the aid station at mile 40 and run a mile or so with my friend Dan who was running his first ever race longer than a 10k!
Bear Mountain is a super rocky course but there isn't a whole lot of climbing. I don't think there's a place anywhere in the race when you are climbing continual for more than 2 or 3 minutes. That said though, I would recommend this course to anyone looking for a challenging 50 miler. It's almost all trail and there are some great views up on ridges and really beautiful forests. Of course you can't really take your eyes off the rocks on the trail to enjoy any of the views, but it's still nice feeling yourself surrounded by this kind of beauty.
I feel really good about how strong my body felt and what this means moving forward with less than 7 weeks until Western States. In all this was a really great weekend trip. Got to see most of my family (I had a contingency of 15 family and friends at the race); got to see my friend Dan finish his first ultra ever; and was able to pay for my entire trip with the $1000 prize money for winning the race.