I can only assume that's because lots of runners failed to look at the elevation chart.
Brazen is known for tough races, and I would rank this as number two, behind only the absurdly challenging Rocky Ridge (which will likely sell out too, especially since they've added the Ultra Half Series with a nifty bonus medal to it). And yes, their next race, Drag-N-Fly is very tough too (I would rank it as number three, but you have to love a race whose initials spell out "DNF").
So what makes the Bear Creek Half Marathon so tough? Obviously, the hills have a lot to say about that. But it's also the placement of the hills - you have to do significant climbing late in the race. And there is also the heat factor - a LOT of the trails are very exposed. This makes for great views, but a lot of sun can make for a long race. (We had a bit of a break this year due to a freak set of clouds that got lost coming out of Mexico and wandered up into our area.)
|Scattered clouds provided bonus shade occasionally.|
|Nearly 40 feet into the race and I've already taken three pictures.|
The Half course teases you for a bit with some more or less level trails before taking you up the first big hill.
My arch-nemisis Yram (not her real name) was there. We kept pretty close for the first mile or so, but then I slowly pulled away (she was not feeling right for this race, but still, I BEAT HER!).
|I loved that this paparazzi wore the aid station sign.|
|Picture by volunteer with sign duct taped to him.|
|Better picture by volunteer with sign duct taped to him.|
On this course, being at the top of a hill means you get a view. And some downhill to make up some time.
On the way down that first hill you get to spend a little time in some trees, which is a nice break from the sun.
Eventually you make it to the second aid station, about mile 5.8. There was a two hour cutoff at this station, but everyone (including me!) made it with plenty of time to spare.
Once you leave that station, you get a bit of exposed downhill, but it's on single-track instead of fire roads, and is quite fun.
Then you get to spend some time rolling through single-track in the trees along a dry creek. I like this stretch, but I also dread it since I know what is coming…
… a cliff. I would love one day to watch the faster runners run up this. It's not very long, but it's pretty steep and very root-infested. It also marks the start of the biggest climb of the day, which again, is mostly on fire roads, although there are trees involved for some of it.
Once you get to the top, you have a very exposed stretch with some nice downhill. And then, just before you hit the next aid station, you start climbing again. The best part of this climb is that the next aid station, at about mile 10, is about halfway up the hill. The worst part of this climb is that this aid station has some chairs and shade and very friendly volunteers - it's not easy to tear yourself away and keep plodding up that hill.
That's Oel with the camera and Ainigriv behind the table (not their real names) along with a few others that are very happy to see me since it means almost all of the runners must be through. (The last runner through was really struggling with calf cramps and didn't think she would be able to finish. Ainigriv offered to pace her the remaining three miles and it worked - she was the last finisher, but she made it!)
I really struggled out of this aid station and up the rest of this hill. I had counted on making up some time going down the other side, but once I started down, I had nothing left for running. Which maybe was a blessing, since I came across this guy:
Last year, Mrs Notthat and I came across two rattlesnakes in the last three miles of the course, so I knew they could be out there, and was keeping my eyes open. The odd thing was that this guy was not in the sun, like normal (which maybe tells you how hot it was), and instead was stretched out across the trail in the shade.
He was never a threat to me - I stopped took a couple of pictures, asked him to move, and waited while he turned around. He kept both eyes on me as he headed back the way he came.
The worry would have been a faster runner charging down this hill and not seeing him in time to stop. As the snake was slowly making his way off the trail, another runner came up - I waved for him to stop, and we both watched the snake wander off the trail and let us go past. (More about that runner in a bit.)
An interesting curiosity of this course is that there is a fourth aid station, just one mile from the finish. The fun thing about this aid station is that you can see it from a long ways away. And it's all downhill to get there. I still wasn't up to running much, but knowing how close I was getting certainly put a bit of a bounce in my step.
OK, so maybe it wasn't that hot out after all since these three chose to sit out in the sun and cheer us on.
And there was Yrrek (not her real name) at that last station, being all perky and encouraging. ("Finally" she said as I waddled by. "I guess we won't need Search and Rescue after all." She's a charmer!)
There was only a mile to go, and it was mostly through woods, although there were several small hills (which by this point seemed MUCH bigger).
|Picture by Brazen volunteer.|
|Picture by Brazen volunteer.|
The last 200 feet of the course involves some steps down to a small creek crossing (which I took advantage of to cool off), followed by more steps to get you up to the finish line.
|It's-It ice cream can't be beat at the end of a long, brutal, hot race.|
He quickly learned that this was not a normal Half Marathon. (You could say we showed him. I'm not going to say that, but you could.)
If you go back through the pictures in this post, you will see he is in a lot of them. He was ahead of me for most of the race, although I weirdly managed to pass him on that last hill. He was the runner that stopped and watched the rattlesnake meander off the trail - he got such a kick out of that! We then went most of the way to the finish together, although once he heard the music, he took off. He had an amazing attitude towards the challenges this race presented - it was a blast covering most of the last bits of the trail with him.
|Photo by yet another Brazen paparazzi.|
This was a tough race. It actually went a lot better than last year's version, but still. Mrs Notthat beat me by a bit over 40 minutes.
The amazing thing about this race though was that everyone that started, finished. That just doesn't happen in tough trail races.
It was a great event, with great volunteers at the aid stations, the start/finish area, and all the photographers along the course.
It was also a great reality check - I need to get significantly stronger if I'm going to survive Rocky Ridge in a couple of months.
That's it - move along…
PS: Here is a link to more of my pictures.
PPS: I heard from a LOT of runners that they are all shooting for the Ultra Half Series at Rocky Ridge. This panicked me a bit - I don't want it to sell out before I get in, so I'm sending my forms in this week. Just saying…