Mule athlete, Anna Frost, ran and won The Bear 100 Ultra run last weekend.

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Photo credits to iRunFar/Meghan Hicks unless otherwise noted.

I awaited ‘it’ and awaited ‘it.’ I ran, I kept running, I ate and kept eating, I drank and kept drinking. But ‘it’ never arrived. ‘It’ being the ‘indescribable pain’ many had warned me of. It didn’t come.

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The main advice I took into my first 100 miler–The Bear 100–was to be patient and to keep moving.

My summer had been made up of that. Spending long, patient days in the big mountains of the Sawatch Range. Finding new unmarked routes, resting in the flower-filled meadows looking up at the 14,000-foot summits, moving from breakfast to lunch to evening in the ever-changing, moody weather through the high rock. I had paced and crewed friends on long days out, raced on tired but strong legs. I was ready to take on my own new challenge, The Bear 100.

On the humid morning of the race we started quietly, running through a residential area until hitting the canyon up. I immediately became impatient. I wanted to run the only long-distance pace I knew–50-mile pace–up the hill. I tried chatting to people, running behind people, I tried walking even the slightly steep uphills, but, in the end, I gave up and just ran my pace. It felt so much easier on my body. So far, I was moving, but not being patient.

I knew I could get through 50 miles and even 12 hours comfortably, but after that, I was ready to meet ‘it.’ I didn’t know how I was going to deal with ‘it,’ but I figured I had a best crew in the world, Cath and Roch, who have between them crewed and raced probably over a hundred 100 milers, as well as Vince and Martin to keep me moving later on in the race.

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For me this was about a total change in mindset, 50 miles was just the warm up. It is amazing to think that just telling yourself that can make all the difference, but it did. I came through 50 miles ready to go. After that I just thought about keeping the same pace, about being patient until the next aid station. Ten miles, seven miles, eight miles, 10 miles. I never looked at the second half as the footsteps to 100 miles. It was just the next aid station’s worth of footsteps.

I got through to 60 miles on MuleBars, Kicks energy gels, Nuun electrolyte drink, and PocketFuel nut butter, but after that my stomach was not hungry. It was full. I knew I needed calories, but I also knew if I tried to put anything else in there, we would all be seeing it again immediately. Midday temperatures rose to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. I drank more and more water, put ice down my bra, and poured water on my head and down my back, but being a summer bunny, running in the heat only moves me more.

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I was greeted at 75 miles with soup mixed with rice. It went down a treat, but gurgled around as I went off into the night. The owls hooted, the elk were bugling, the coyotes giggling, the cows mooing with eyes glistening in the headtorch light. I just kept moving, taking not much time at the aid stations except at 85 miles when finally my tummy was hungry. As we approached mile 85, there was a bowl glowing bright yellow in the dim lights of the campfire. I saw nothing else but this bowl. This bowl of Doritos. Yellow with fake colouring and flavor. MSG galore. I wanted noting else in the world right then. I stood chomping until Martin finally moved me on with a little doggy bag of chips. We kept moving, chip crumbs flying from every angle out of my chipmunk-stuffed cheeks.

Even in the pitch-black night we could see and feel the heaviness of the sky, filling up with hot air until it exploded with almighty lightning off in the distance. The forecast was promising rain at midnight. I had taken note of Bethany Lewis’s times from 2013, her record-breaking time of 21:15. This race was not about breaking records for me, so having her split times for the day really just helped me keep control of my pace. Was I going too fast? Too slow? Where should I be at what time? Most of the day, I sat at about 25 minutes ahead of her pace.

I was through the last aid station. This meant I had another eight miles to go. That is all I would let myself think of, not the past 92 miles I had got through without experiencing ‘it.’ ‘It,’ the ‘indescribable pain’ that never came. There was no pain, I was quiet, I was outwardly a little grumpy, but inwardly happy. At midnight, the rain hit as promised. We made it down the muddy path before it turned into a mud slide that would cover other finishers from head to toe.

Keeping check of the time, and me being me, if there is a time to go for, then I just can’t help myself. I didn’t have time to rest or relax, and it was about time to just get this done. I wasn’t at all sleepy tired, but I was looking forward to sitting down. The last two kilometers we tempo ran through the raindrops to the dark, quiet finish, just as we started. The only noise, my breath and my whoop whoops that came out a big crooked. I finished in 20:59. I was now allowed to acknowledge that it had been 100 miles. But I just couldn’t believe it.

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Sitting down has never felt so good. As I stood up, Roch asked if I felt like vomiting–apparently just a normal 100 miler finishing question. No, I replied, but seconds later had my head over the fence letting go of the nothing that was left inside.

I was privileged and inspired to meet so much 100-mile history along the way. To now be a part of the 100-mile story. So many traditions and people who have had the time to stay in and grow the sport. Teaching people like me what it is really about. Am I part of a new-age runner who will change so often? Will we keep this incredible tradition of moving patiently through the mountains alive? I hope so!

I am amazed to not meet ‘it,’ to have felt and to feel like my body took the journey over 100 miles as challenging footsteps that I was ready for without pain. I got what I came for. A Hardrock qualifier. A challenge. An experience with people who did meet ‘it’ and dealt with ‘it.’ A day and night out in the wild with friends. The Bear 100.

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  • October 02, 2014
  • Matt Willis
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