This was the fifth running of Brazen Racing's Bear Creek Half Marathon and my third time to tackle it. Though this year was unlike the past two years in that my Suunto recorded a max temperature of 97 F / 36 C at one point.
The race starts off at the entrance to Briones Regional Park and meanders through the park for about 13.5 miles / 22km and climbs approximately 3000ft / 986m. We were all smiles, but the temps were already uncomfortable at the 8am start for the half marathon. There was a half marathon hiking division that left an hour earlier and had the advantage of slightly cooler weather.
Once out of the starting area, which meant navigating out of the grove and past the dirt lots, we enjoyed a slightly flat section, but there was no tree cover at all...
As I settled into a comfortable pace, I ran with a fellow runner for a little while. He'd never run this course before and I ended up geeking-out over the course specifics. We noticed that the skies were a bit hazy, and we realized after smelling the smoke in the air, that it was the smoke from the many California wildfires burning a few hours to the north of us.
Our trail went on for about a mile and a half, and then the climbing began...
A view from halfway up...
And more climbing...
And cow patties galore! (I think I've opened and closed more cattle gates at Bear Creek than at any other race I've run.)
And still more climbing...
Though the aid station is at the top of the hill...
The aid station was like an oasis, one of only four on the course. I felt sorry for the aid station volunteers because they had no tent, plus had to hike out to the location. Despite that, they were all smiles and very encouraging. One of them was even wearing butterfly wings and antennae.
Once clear of the aid station, it was downhill for at least one mile or more.
And that's where I made one huge mistake that affected part of the race: I tore down the hills and probably burned up all of my glycogen. So by the time I pulled into aid station two, I was sort of spent. I made sure to have them top off my water bottle because I would have to go nearly five miles in the heat before the next aid station. While there was no one directly behind me on the trail, I knew I wasn't the last one into aid station two as I was about 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff for the aid station.
I left the aid station and their enthusiastic smiles behind, ready to tackle the hardest portion of the course.
Whenever I tackle this portion, I always remember the words of C3PO to R2D2 when they first laid eyes on Tatooine, "What a desolate place this is..." Trudging along this part of the course, with the heat bearing down on us, it was a desperate attempt to make it to the tree cover a little over one mile away.
Once out of this portion, we were greeted by volunteer course monitors who directed us in the right direction.
We enjoyed the trek through this sweet bit of single track, safe from the sun for the next mile or two. The tree cover was a welcome site, and while we had some climbing to do, not having the direct sun beating down on us was a blessing.
Of course, all good things must come to an end...
This is probably the most treacherous portion of the Bear Creek Course, because by now the temperatures are much higher. I passed one guy who started out the race real strong, but was now struggling under the heat, and also saw two ladies resting under a lone tree, trying to catch their breath. I told them that the aid station was less than a quarter mile away, but they were said they needed to rest a little while longer. I saw probably five geckos zip in front of me on the trail. At that point, I seemed to be pondering the unfairness of life, that a gecko could move faster than me in this heat...
Reaching aid station three also involved a bit of a climb. One of the volunteers saw me struggling a bit and he walked a little ways down the hill to meet me with a nice cold cup of water in hand.
We chatted for a minute or two and I had an Otter Pop which really helped relieve some of the heat. In retrospect, I should have grabbed another one before I left. We also talked about the guy I passed who was sort of doing the zombie shuffle and one of the volunteers said he'd walk down the trail to find him. (At the finish, when talking to the aid station three volunteers, they said they had to basically rescue five people from the heat.)
Back on the trail, I caught up with three ladies who had done the early start with the hiking division. They seemed to be doing okay, probably because they weren't pushing as hard as the runners were.
Moving further along, amongst the rolling hills and intermittent tree cover, I finally spied a glimpse of the final aid station at the bottom of the hill, just a mere mile or so from the finish. (This aid station is #4 for the half marathon, #2 for the 10k, and the only aid station for the 5k.)
I stayed a bit longer at this aid station to chat with some more of the hikers who I caught up with, and also to get some ice water dumped on my head. That was refreshing!
With just over a mile to go, I headed on out. The remainder of the course is single track (with poison oak) that meanders along a ravine. You can even hear the folks at the finish line, but you're still more than half a mile away.
The final 100 yards or so though is what makes everyone groan. How can you groan or grunt in frustration after having been through the last 13 miles? Because you have to run down the the stairs and into the ravine, and then climb back up again!
It was a huge relief to cross the finish line!
Due to the heat and also having taken a break earlier this year from long distances because of an illness/injury, I was 30 minutes slower than last year. But I was just happy to have crossed the finish line well before the cutoff.
At the finish line canteen was lots of food (the pineapples and watermelon revived me) and even free massages from a local sports clinic.
Overall, it was a good race. Despite the heat, it was a lot of fun, not just because it was a race, but because of the camaraderie between runners on grueling courses like this. And I'm happy too that my B2R Trail Shoes performed well on the ascents and descents. I had spent months building up my distances in them so that I wouldn't run into any issues that tend to plague runners doing too much too soon. Next year, I'll resolve to be more disciplined at this race, especially when it comes to flying down the hills. And, of course, I'll make sure not to let a bunch of little geckos show me up on the trail.
[Photos courtesy of Brazen Racing's volunteer photographers.]