The Hairy Bison is an event, or in the organizer’s terms, an “anti-race”, put on by the Harbison Trail Runners each year since 2013 on the last Saturday before Thanksgiving. The “race” is masterminded by runners/creative geniuses Rick Stroud and Dean Schuster, who put an incredible amount of effort into this thing for the apparent sole purpose of having a good time. Mission: accomplished.
I had missed out on the first few iterations of the Hairy Bison, mostly because of my unhealthy obsession with chasing down little metal trinkets on the road. But when the Runway Run went extinct and the Shandon Turkey Trot nixed their awesome turkey trophies, I went looking elsewhere. I was set to run the HB last year, but as bad luck would have it, I was having some particularly bad ride of the injury train I’ve been on since the mid 2000 teens, so I had to bail. This year, though, I was primed and ready to lose my Hairy Bison virginity.
I’ve known Rick and Dean for a few years, mainly for engaging in epic battles in the forest for trail supremacy, mostly at the Make my Day 12k. Although Dean fell victim to some of the most brutal blue shoe kicks ever, he finally found his revenge this year with an age group victory over me in the Firebreak Half Marathon. He was comfortably in the lead until the last quarter mile when he saw a sasquatchian figure thrashing in the woods behind him. A deep, dark force arose in the normally super-chill Mr. Schuster that day, as if his home forest’s spirit willed him to a sprint finish to secure the victory. See below.
They followed it up by enticing me to run the Hogpen Hill Climb in Helen, GA, baiting me with the built in 5k-18k double dip of the race and that it was all on roads, so how hard could it be? Very, as it turned out. The Yerg (Rob Yerger) and I battled it out in a ridiculously hilly 5k, and then we both proceeded to die a thousand deaths (and get smoked by both Rick and Dean) in an unholy 11 miler straight up a mountain. They were at least gracious in their victory by treating us to craft beer and pizza. There are few things in my life that those two items can’t help.
Fast forward back to the Hairy Bison, which requires a little explanation. The “anti-race” is “forever free” and features a 15k (1 Harbison loop )and 30k (2 loops) option, is timed, with awards only going to the top male and female overall winners, thereafter known as Mr. and Ms. Hairy Bison. A pre-race briefing/performance starts the race, with the hopeful appearance of the Bison himself, if, as racers are instructed, “your heart is pure”.
Oh and the bibs. Dean and some graphic artists spend what must be an incredible amount of time designing unique themed bibs for the 200 some-odd runners. They really are works of art. You are given a bib when you arrive at the registration table, and as they say, “you do not choose the bib, the bib chooses you”. When I showed up about an hour early, I was slightly upset as Laura Stepp informed me I had just missed out on a 38 special themed bib (i.e. one of my fav cheesy 80’s bands) and got the 39 “Thor: ragnorak” themed one. Well, with our chiseled jaws and ripped torsos, Chris Hemsworth and I are always being mistaken for one another, so I guess it fits. I also noted it was a 30k bib, so I guess I was doing 18 miles in the forest that day. I wanted to wuss out and do the 15, but one does not disappoint the Bison and his pagan forest spirit. 30k it would be.
The prerace ritual was even better than advertised, with an ancient Egyptian theme and “Bisonubis” making an impressive entrance to pharaoh Dean Schusterkhamun and anthropologist Rick Stroud. I was told this was the biggest turnout yet , over 200, with some familiar faces including: Larry Jourdain, MC Cox, Derek Hutton, Jennifer Glass, Betsy Long, Jennifer and Mario Tudor, Joyce Welch, Rob Yerger, Roy Shelley, Brian and Jen (and top dog Tuff) Clyburn, Pam Walker, Lois Leaburn, Teresa Harrington, Sheila and Ken Bolin, Michael Nance, Kenneth and Brooke Ebener, Tracy and Julie McKinnon, Trey McCain, Marian Nanney, Pete O’Boyle, Harry Strick, Jeff Curran, Bill Seibers, Jennifer and Chris Conrick, Darby Shinn, John and dad Andy Richards, Millie and Connie Hough, Robyn Culberson, David Nance, Jenny Prather, Pamela Knapp, Eme Crawford, Greta Dobe, Mackenzie Wilt, Tug Quarles, Mike and Janice Compton, Steve Rudnicki, Kelly Ghent, Wendy Hart, Stevie Dee, Melinda Petruzzi and Michael Beaudet. And I’m sure I’m missing some. Let’s not forget Adam Feigh, Mr. Hairy Bison 2016, who was returning to retain his title and hopefully break the mythical 2 hour barrier for the 30k. It should also be noted that Tracy, Ebener and Nance started at 5:30 to make this an unofficial 45k. Day-um.
By the time the start rolled around I was pretty chilled even with my CRC hoodie, but I made the snap decision in the first 100 meters to ditch it, which was definitely a good choice. As a roadie, and this not being an official race, my primary objective was to arrive at the finish line, preferably with no entry into the “best blood” category. I started off pretty leisurely and formed a peleton of about 10 with Roy Shelley and Darby Shinn going through the forest after everyone spread out. Fortunately I was at the front, because my fragile ego can’t take it, and no one wants a man the size of a bus breathing down their neck. Unfortunately all my pre-race “marathon in the woods” anxiety and hydration led to an early pit stop about 3 miles in. After using nature’s bathroom, I found myself at the tail end of a long conga line. After being a monkey on some dude’s back for about a half mile, I did a full on charge in the leaves to come back to the front. Again, giant untamed ego, but I’ll also blame the short-stepping angering my rogue right piriformis. After that I was loosened up some, so I decided to pick up the pace purely for the sake of limiting the time on my feet out there. Chris Conrick rode my slipstream for awhile before peeling off himself for a pit stop. Midway through was the aid station, complete with buffalo nickels (to prove you ran the loops, Barkley style) and the Bill and ted’s phone booth from Schusterween. Awesome. I caught up with the Yerg, who was operating on 3 hours of sleep from his overnight shift. The Yerg is a beast. We ran together for several miles before I ramped it up some more in the final miles of lap 1. The Bison makes you run the second loop in reverse, which is really nice since you get to see everyone ahead and behind you. Some random guy comes flying by at about my mile 8, which is a surprise since I wholly expected Adam to be on his own. Feigh wasn’t far behind though, and I figured he was just waiting to drop the hammer. All the faster people coming though hurt my pride a little, so I did ramp it up some more, even though I kept telling myself this was “only a training run”. Mile 8 featured a random 80’s jambox playing “Jessie’s Girl” , and who can’t feel motivated with some rocking Rick Springfield? Finally I make my way to the finish area and Laura is there to remind me where to turn around. My road racing pride can’t take bailing with all the trail people around, so I head back out for loop 2. Jambox selects some “rock me like a hurricane” this time. Scorpions rawk! I am actually feeling pretty good by this point, which is surprising to me. All these fall halfs must have actually given me some endurance. The next three miles are great because I get to see everyone behind me. My biggest fear on this loop is getting lost, since it looks completely different the other way. Fortunately I noticed on the first loop that a “pink ribbon fairy” had marked the way on a few tricky intersections, despite the proudly stated “no annoying course markings” stated on the website FAQ. I later found his name by chance, but his secret is safe with me. The “getting lost” fear ramped up when I passed the ruckers (hiking with heavy backpacks) around 4 miles in. I figured no one was behind them so I was on my own. And boy, was I . Dead silent for most of the next couple of miles. I did pass a coupls of guys and two mountain bikers, but mostly just me and the forest. This was nice, except the legs were starting to protest all this fun about 13 miles in. I pick up my second nickel and some water at the now abandoned aid station, and briefly think of taking selfies in the phone booth, but then fear of not being able to get going again. I catch up with some ripped looking younger dude who seems to be having a rough time, barely moving at this point. He tried to ramp it up when he saw the old albino sasquatch catching him, but he was toast. After him there was nothing. The last 4 miles got pretty brutal, I just focused on constant steady forward movement. Unfortunately the feet were developing a deep affection for the roots, and I was tripping 3x as much as the first loop. In an unsurprising coincidence, so were the loud F bombs. I did manage to keep the bus upright though, “blazing” down the trail in just under 10 minute pace. I decided I needed to keep this under 3 hours if I could. Near the end I must have been delirious since I ran out into the front parking lot instead of the education center, but I eventually managed to find my way. I rolled into the finish with like 2:50 on the clock , I believe. My Garmin was off since I forgot to restart it after the second nickel pickup. Not bad – I think my longest run by time since 2016 Boston. The finish area was great with what surely is the best soup ever made and chili. Adam took a nasty fall at mile 12 and had a grapefruit ankle at the finish, yet somehow still finished under 2 hours and finished 2nd by less than a minute. #hardcore.
Oh, and the raffle. TONS of great swag from fleet feet, half-moon, conquest beer, british bulldog pub, among others. British bulldog gave us free beer tickets. I won a yeti-like wine glass from Fleet feet and then came home with the huge $100 gift card from fleet feet as well after renewing my “Friends of Harbison State Forest” membership. All of this followed by some awesome beer at the British Bulldog after party, and it was quite a morning. Big thanks to Dean and Rick for putting this on. It is free but I highly recommend throwing them some cash their way to help support the amazing amount of work they put into the HB. I will be back again!