By Mike Tegart
After milling about in the cool morning air, the runners slowly approached a long thin line drawn in the sand signifying the start of the 2013 Bear Brook Trail Marathon. Race Director Ryan Welts made a few announcements and apologies—mainly course marking information and a rerouting with added mileage—and noted that there’d be some mud puddles out there. Before I knew it that line in the sand had disappeared behind me.
This year the race was run counterclockwise, which meant that the majority of climbing was found run in the first half. The first three miles certainly had some ups and downs. It was a good way to wake up the legs and to practice a little patience by not going too hard. The morning light trickled through the trees lighting the singletrack beneath my feet and putting a big smile on my face.
Just before mile four, I rolled into an aid station on an out and back section. This was a rerouted section that actually lengthened the course about a mile or so. Technically the marathon became an ultramarathon. It was nice to see and cheer running buddy Jeremy as we passed each other here. This section of trail was a combination of singletrack and old logging roads with rolling hills, plus a few short, steep climbs. Nothing stayed the same for long. I felt like I had warmed up well and that the folks I was running with were keeping a little slower pace than I wanted. I made a push and caught Jeremy and we ran together for a few miles.
Somewhere around mile eight there was another small but well-stocked aid station. All the aid stations had water, Heed, and a mix of food, including PBJ sandwiches, pretzels, cookies, and even some gels. I grabbed some cookies that I nibbled on for the next few miles. The singletrack after the aid station was wonderful. It was tempting to stop and look around at the large boulders and cliff walls, but the trails were just technical enough to force me to pay attention to my footing.
The next couple of miles consisted of a bit more doubletrack and a short section on gravel road before hitting another aid station at mile 11. I was trying to make my visits to the aid stations smooth and quick so I took the lid off my water bottle as I ran. It turns out sweaty fingers can’t be trusted. In my attempt to save time, I dropped the cap and kicked it into the woods. I laughed it off, refilled my bottle, and grabbed a PBJ sandwich. This was a great aid station, and fortunately we visited it twice. I was surprised by the number of volunteers ringing cowbells and welcoming runners with cheers to the buffet of food.
The next five miles before looping back to the aid station reminded me that this was a real trail race. The loop around and up Hall Mountain was filled with tall overgrown shrubs, 20-foot-long mud puddles, and a trudge up to Hall Mountain at mile 15. The reward was a steady three miles of downhill with an aid station stop. Well, the downhill felt like a reward for a little while, until I felt my quads and calves began yelling at me to slow down. I realized that I only had one speed left—any faster any my calves would cramp. Okay, maintain this pace for 10 miles. Not a problem. I doubled my drinking and eating in hopes that it would help. It did, sort of.
Things leveled out as the course followed the shoreline of Beaver Pond. It was such a beautiful day with amazing blue skies and sunshine. (So often during this race the words “beautiful” and “amazing” came to mind.) The trail then passed through a public campground filled with weekenders giving runners odd glances, clueless as to what we were doing out in the woods and why we looked so tired.
The last section from the campground to the finish was mostly flat and not too technical. What normally would have felt easy and fast began to feel taxing. Luckily, the scenery was inspiring. Overall, the course was awesome, complete with blueberry fields and pine forests fit for the cover of Trail Runner magazine. Runners can approach the aid station at mile 20 knowing the final miles are smooth singletrack with more downhill than up.
Oddly, for me the downhills became the hardest part of the run. Mentally I felt great, but my muscles didn’t want to cooperate. The feeling of cramping was no longer just a feeling, it was a reality. I had to stop and massage the giant rock in my leg usually referred to as a calf muscle. I began to shuffle and maintain an easy pace. Jeremy caught up to me here, looking strong and passing in a blur. After we cheered for one another, I remember stumbling and landing on my chest. Getting up proved quite difficult as my hip flexors, quads, and calves all tightened up on me. I lay there face down in the middle of the trail laughing for a minute or two. Eventually I rolled over and was able to get up. I pushed on to the finish with a combination of power walking and running. I could hear the crowd at the finish before I could see it. Go, go go! One last little hill up to the finish and I was done. Despite the cramping, I had a total blast and enjoyed the experience. And I was glad to have achieved my goal of running the course in under five hours.
Finishers received a Bear Brook pint glass, some food, and a bit of shade to collapse in. There was a mellow post-race vibe as we hobbled around and talked about the race and future events. Given that this was only the second running of this race, the course was very well organized, marked, and staffed with volunteers. It felt like an old, well-established race. Ryan Welts, Kristina Folcik, and acidotic RACING put on a great event. I’d recommend this race and encourage those interested to register early next year as it was capped at 200 entrants this year.
Run on, my friends.
Mike Tegart is an avid trail runner from White River Junction, Vt., who has come to expect the unexpected. His legs are no longer cramped up.