The Bear 100
My relationship with 100 milers has been so dysfunctional it’s really not funny. Before Bear this year I was 1 for 5 so it goes without saying that the months leading up to this race I was more than a little nervous and honestly questioned why I was giving it another go. I knew something unforeseen would go wrong and I’d add yet another DNF to the list. I’ve always known I’ve had it in me to do these silly things but it has never really come together. Even in my lone 100 finish, Rocky Raccoon, I was completely destroyed after the race, for weeks, and it was anything but a pretty finish. So why? Why spend the time training, spend the money on the race, travel, etc? Why in the world would I put myself through the rigors of getting ready for one of these, not to mention the pain of completing the actual race?
The answer is actually pretty simple. I love trails. I love moving through demanding and dramatic landscapes. I love looking at the beginning of a trail and wondering where it goes. I love the sounds, the smells, the sights. I love it all. In fact, of all of my earthly loves, trails are #2 behind my family. I literally have dreams of being on trails. I truly love them. It’s on trails that I have time to myself to recharge, to pray, to think, and even to check out and do nothing but move. Simple.
So that’s why I was going back to The Bear. Again, I know I have a race like this in me, no problem. It’s just always been these weird and freaky unforeseen issues that put an end to my attempts. And usually in the first 30 miles which is even more frustrating because I can go run a 50 miler on any given day without major issue. But put me in a 100 and it might as well be 1,000 miles because I can’t get through the first half without imploding. But The Bear just called out again. This beautiful course traverses the northern Utah mountains at the peak of the autumn foliage and takes you into southern Idaho to the shores of Bear Lake. Endless single-track lined with yellow aspen, fiery red maples, and stately pine trees.
In the weeks leading up to the race I tried not to think about it. I just did my run for the day without question. Thanks to my coach, Josh Arthur, I didn’t have to put any thought into the day to day. He sent me my running schedule and I’d go do it. Pretty simple. Things were going really well. I was feeling fit, fresh, strong, and more ready than I ever had for a race like this. Then one morning about 2 weeks before the race I woke up with a head full of snot and a really sore throat. It was long run day so I went out for a horrid 4 hours of mountain miles hoping the effort would burn the crud out of my system. Well, it didn’t quite go down like that. The run made it worse. Long story short, my first day of feeling ok was the day before the race. Yay! I knew it. I knew there was no way things could go well during a 100. I had resigned to the fact that it was just going to be a terrible race and I would have to battle the illness until it beat me down to the point of dropping.
I’m being a little dramatic here and was actually in very good spirits before the race. My plan was the same and being sick didn’t change anything. Just start slow, keep the pace nice and easy, and simply keep moving. The morning of the race I was too excited to sleep so woke up at 2:00am. I finally quit fighting it at 3:00 so rolled out of bed, had coffee, read, and got dressed. I felt really good, well rested and didn’t feel sick at all! Thank God! I was was psyched! Jamie, Dad, and I drove over to the start, said hi to some friends, checked in, and we were soon underway!
After months of prep it was finally here! I started in the very back of the pack by design. I didn’t want to go out too fast and, um, yeah. I didn’t go out too fast. Once the road turned east and started climbing I looked back and I was 6th to last as we got onto the trail. While this certainly kept my effort dialed down 10 notches, it wasn’t any fun. At all. It was pedestrian and I didn’t even break a sweat until about an hour and 30 minutes into the race. But whatever. I wasn’t letting it stress me out and just told myself that when we get to the jeep road I’d pick up the pace and pass a bunch of people. That’s exactly what I did. At this point things got fun and I just turned Sturgill Simpson up a little bit and cruised down the rugged jeep road trying not to suck in too much dust.
Before too long, about mile 12, we get on a long descent of single track. Things bottlenecked here again and it was painfully slow until the bottom. I’ll spare you the details for fear of sounding like a whining brat, but there was already carnage at this point in the race. I was sympathetic as I can only assume these folks that were hurting this bad this early were having an uncharacteristically off day. I’ve been there. This one poor dude was soaked with sweat, breathing like an elk in rut, and had obviously blown out a quad or something. I was right behind him ‘running’ along when he stopped dead and said ‘you can pass.’ I rolled an ankle trying not to run him over, cursed under my breath and, limped on down the trail. Great. Never, ever, rolled an ankle during a race, and here at mile 16.8, 16.8!!!!, I had a pretty bad sprain. Oh well. I have strong ankles to if this was the unforeseen issue Bear was throwing at me this time then I should be able to handle it without a problem!
I fell in with a good crew from here and rolled into mile 20 in right at 5 hours. Exactly on my desired pace for a sub 30 hour finish. This is also the first place I was able to see the fam! Jamie and the girlies were here and so were Dad and Shanea! I love being able to see family in these races! It makes it that much sweeter and helps me more than I even realize. They lift my spirits, give me strength, and fill me with pure joy and love. If that doesn’t help me put one foot in front of the other than nothing will! They helped me get my bottles refilled, refill my pack, and I was on my way. Next stop was Richards Hollow, 3 miles up a nice gentle dirt road.
Last time I tried Bear I couldn’t run this road. This time I had to fight the urge to run it too hard. I made myself walk a good chunk of it and just cruised the rest at a slow jog. I was soon at Richards Hollow soaking my hat and shirt in ice water. It was getting toasty out! Already 85! Now we climb through Richards Hollow proper. A great little canyon full of beautiful fall colors, cattle, sheep, and picturesque and intimate scenes. This climb went really well and I felt great! Nutrition was spot on and my effort was still very reserved while I was able to move acceptably well. As the temps kept climbing I would back off the intensity a bit so as not to overheat like I did a few years ago here. Just keep moving but stay cool!
I made it easily through Richards Hollow and dropped into the Cowley Canyon aid at mile 30. Dad was waiting for me here and helped me restock and I was out of there. Again, it felt so good to have family here. He was great at reassuring me and letting me know that I looked great! He kept mentioning that I was moving great and was alert and agile. Much more so than the last time I did this. He was there for that one as well and it certainly wasn’t going as good at the same spot during the last go round.
Next up was a little hop over Ricks Summit and down Ricks Canyon en route to Right Hand Fork. This is my favorite descent of the race! It’s the perfect grade to just cruise! Last time I tried Bear I got in trouble here as I pushed too hard. I was having too much fun, ran too hard and got overheated. Lots of puking came next, and I had a bile party next to Willow Creek! Woohoo! Bile parties are the best! So I tried to use a little more of what intelligence I do have to reign the effort in on this descent. It worked! I took my time and had a nice and buttery smooth run into Right Hand Fork. And this is where the best parts of the race began!
Mile 37. I got in a bit ahead of schedule so took a little time to sit in the shade and drink a lot of ice cold water and really get my core temp down. By the time I left I was actually cool. But the best part was that Jamie and I finally realized a dream of ours! For her to pace me in one of my races! With Dad and Shanea there, we had babysitters for the girls so Jamie joined me on this 8+ mile stretch! It. Was. Awesome! Again, ahead of schedule so we just enjoyed being out together. It was kind of like a hiking/running date! Even though within the first 10 minutes I got her feet totally wet and covered her pants in sticker burrs! Yeah, got a little crazy there at Right Hand Fork! We had a great run into Temple Fork, mile 45, cruising in comfortably. I sat down, had some soup, put some night layers in my pack, hugged Dad and Jamie and set off up the climb to Tony Grove. Almost halfway there and things had gone dang near perfect! I hadn’t noticed the ankle since about mile 21, and I had no issues with the heat at all!
The climb to Tony Grove went well. I was pushing a little bit near the top, but reigned myself in as I didn’t want to over do it quite yet. I was right on schedule for my sub 30 hour finish and I figured I had that in the bag unless the wheels came off! There were still some faint mountain silhouettes in the west when I rolled into Tony Grove, mile 52, but it was dark. Dad was waiting for me here and I took some time to put on compression socks, eat a bit of soup, drink a little coke, and take a load off for a few minutes as I got ready to take on the night at the Bear 100. Historically I’ve loved moving through the night so I was really looking forward to spending time in the back country in the dark. Waiting for the promise of a new day to be realized, bringing with it new life and a renewed sense of purpose. One of my favorite things about the 100 mile distance. Little did I know, this night would be a bit different.
I rocked the 800+ foot climb above Tony Grove and effortlessly cruised down into Franklin TH aid station marking 61.5 miles done. We;;, relatively without effort as I now had 60+ miles on the legs. But, all things considered, I felt great! The plan here? Eat, drink, and go. Executed perfectly. About 100 yards out of Franklin I knew something was off. I had had one low earlier when Jamie was pacing me, but it was normal. Lasted about 15 minutes and I was out of it and rolling soon enough. Ok. So another low. No problem. I settled into it and didn’t come out of it until I got to Beaver Lodge, 15 miles and 7 hours!!! later. It was brutal. Truly brutal.
I have no idea what caused this. I’m wondering if being in the baking sun and the 90 degree temps just took their toll and it manifested in the middle of the night with a beat down system. I had no energy but the biggest issue was that I was just so very sleepy. To say I wanted to sleep is grossly understating this issue. My body wanted to sleep so bad that it was literally shutting off. I was stumbling over rocks, teetering from side to side, and I simply couldn’t keep my eyes open. I sat down on a rock right at Steam Mill Junction, mile 64.8, rinsed my face off, and promptly fell asleep teetering forward off the rock. I gave up. Shimmied down, leaned against the boulder and tried to nod off. I fell asleep for a minute or two then a couple of women startled me asking if I was ok. I mumbled something about being tired and stood up trying to follow them up the last bit of the climb.
I crested Steam Mill Pass and was no better off. About halfway between there and Hells Kitchen Pass I found a perfect spot in some soft dirt, used my pack as a pillow, and slept for about half an hour to the enchanting sounds of owls in every direction with a fullish moon wrapping me in a soft and welcome glow. Pretty dang cool!
However, I was actually pretty frustrated here. This wasn’t in the plan and I hadn’t trained that much to spend time sleeping on the side of the trail. I had never dealt with this to this degree before so I wasn’t sure what to do. I woke up and pressed on as best I could. But there was no gas in the tank. To make matters worse, with the fatigue came nausea. If I puke I’m done. I have never been able to successfully recover from puking in one of these things. It throws so much else off and just wrecks me. Blessed with strong ankles, I’m equally cursed with horrid effects from puking. If it starts, it usually wont stop for hours and I get horribly cold even if it’s 100 degrees outside. So puking wasn’t an option. To protect against it, I was having to stand completely still to even take a sip of water. Stop, let the tummy settle, take a sip, let it settle, get moving again. Boooooo. This sucks. What the heck?
I willed myself to Logan River where I was expecting to meet Jamie. Just get in her car and take a real nap. I’ll be fine. Well, stupid us, we didn’t get the memo that Logan River was closed to crew access this year. So I rolled into a deserted aid station. Ugh. Gut punch. I needed a hug! No matter. “Do you have a drop bag,” some disembodied voice whispered into my ear. “I need a cot” was all that came out. The next thing I knew I was being ushered into a hot tent with a wood stove. Glory. I shed my layers, set my timer on the phone for 15 minutes and passed out cold.
I awoke to the sound of a gal coming into the tent! I panicked thinking I’d slept through my alarm and wasted hours napping! I quickly looked at my phone and there was 52 seconds left on the timer. Thank God! I got up went outside and grabbed some soup and refilled my bottles. I thought I felt a lot better. And I did, for about 10 minutes. I crossed the river and was soon in rough shape yet again. Nauseated, weak, and cold. Sounds about right for mile 70ish of a 100. But I was at mile 70 in one piece! Just hurting a bit. I was quite happy with this reality even if I was moving about 2 miles per hour a feeling like dusty walking death.
Just get to Beaver Lodge at mile 76. Jamie would be there, I hoped, and then it was less than a marathon to the finish! But whoa. To get the next five miles was a bit intimidating. The climb wasn’t bad and, frankly, I don’t remember anything about it. I just remembering that I was pissed when I crested Peterson Pass and couldn’t will myself to run downhill. It was bad. I jog walked as much as I could. Jogging a few seconds, walking a few seconds, jogging a few, walking a few. Then pavement. I was pretty happy to see the grey devil this time as it signaled that we were close to Beaver Lodge! I was waking back up here as well. But these races are funny with the mind tricks they play.
I was honestly worried that I wouldn’t make it in under 36 hours (the official cutoff). I had 25ish miles to go, and 12 hours. If things didn’t get better and if I was only able to move the same speed the last 15 miles had been traveled, then it would be within minutes of a 36 hour finish if I only spent minimal time in the aid stations. But I knew I needed some time in an aid to actually get some calories in and find a reset button somewhere.
Beaver Lodge was perfect! Jamie was in there and it was warm and there were bathrooms and food. I took a good 30 minutes here to try to actually find that reset button. After about 20 minutes I could eat again with no nausea. I had 2 big cups of noodle soup, a lot of water, drink mix, etc… I could tell things were taking a turn for the better. Hope! Renewed purpose. Jamie played a massive role in this! I can’t even begin to convey how supportive she was here, and through the entire race. She just let me know that I could do this and that she was here with me in full support however I needed her. She offered to pace the last 25 miles to be there with me every step. She had been at that aid station waiting for 6 hours. With Logan River closed to crew, she went on to Beaver Lodge, getting there a bit early. But I was over 3 hours late. This girl is awesome!
My tendency is to deal with these struggles internally. I pray, I sit with the lows, and I try to bring God into the middle of the situations in which I have no strength. While I really wanted Jamie to pace me from here, I knew I needed to wrestle with this one myself. I think it hurt her feelings a bit that I told her I didn’t want her to pace me at that point, but I knew she understood. Plus, I’d see her at Beaver Creek in about 10 miles where I knew I wanted her to join back in the fun!
She walked with me out into the pre dawn morning and saw me off. As the sun began its morning ritual and as the landscape awoke with birdsong and autumn hues, I too came back to life. My pace quickened, the miles began to tick by, and the enormity of my present task was being reduced to simply moving through the intimate scene immediately before me. I crossed into Idaho and was soon on the flat plateau containing Gibson Basin. I stopped here at the aid station, ate some soup, drank some coffee, slammed some water and was officially back, at least mentally!
Heading out of Gibson there is another mile plus of flat trail before a small little climb. I hadn’t really been running much since Franklin Basin so decided to go down swinging if this was going to remain a death march. I told myself I was going to run for a solid five minutes. Not a second shorter. If I was still in as much pain by then then I would reassess. So off I went. The first three minutes were hell but then things started loosening up. I was actually moving well again! My watch said 8:45 pace! Sweet! Mile 82, running 8:45, this might be salvageable after all!
I made quick work of the 300 foot bump to the Beaver Creek summit and was soon cruising pretty well down toward Beaver Creek aid station. I felt awesome! It was nice and cool, there were beautiful clouds dotting the sky, the trail was perfect, the colors were glorious, and I was having an absolute blast! THIS is what it’s about. This is exactly why I do this. I felt free and I felt like I was doing what this body was made to do. Exploring this alluring creation with joy and a true sense of wonder and appreciation.
I flew into Beaver Creek. Recharged with some soup, and the best tasting sausage that has ever graced this land. At this point I had rallied pretty seriously. Jamie was taken off guard when I came into Beaver Creek. She was in the restroom when I got there and she thought she had another hour or more left to wait when I got there because a gal that came in about two minutes before me there at Beaver Creek left Beaver Lodge, 10 miles earlier, an hour and forty minutes before me. Jamie quickly got her running stuff together and was soon ready for pacing duty and we took off up High Top Grunt. We were moving really well but I fell into another low here. Nothing big. Lasted about twenty minutes and I was soon through it and all the better. The only thing that was really noticeable were my feet. Felt like they were getting beat on with a hammer with every step. Nothing to do but suck it up and keep on keeping on. The back of my left knee was talking to me as well, but it wasn’t too bad. Just a bit tender on the downhills when I extended my leg.
We made it up to High Top without incident, took a few minutes to enjoy the views, and were then on the descent to the final aid station, Ranger Dip! It’s on! As we were coming into Ranger Dip I thought that a sub 32:00 finish was possible. I had long since given up on the sub 30:00 finish with all the sleeping I had to do at night and was just hoping I would get in before the 36:00 cutoff. So to push for a sub 32 hour finish was pretty exciting for me and I was certainly counting it as a victory!
I had a potty break at Ranger Dip, drank a bit, filled my bottles and set off for the finish as Jamie caught a ride down into Fish Haven. I was moving pretty well on the descent just enjoying my remarkable surroundings. It was a prefect morning. Temps were nice, the views were better, and I was 95 miles into the Bear 100! Pretty awesome! Some parts of this descent were super steep so I was taking those sections pretty slow so I didn’t wipe out. The legs just weren’t as responsive as they normally are… no idea why. The miles ticked by and Bear Lake got closer and closer.
Then it hit me. This was about to end. Years of preparing. Months of hard training. Anticipation. Planning. All coming to an end. The race. Ending. I got pretty emotional. And not necessarily a happy emotional. I was sad. I love trails. I love the challenge. I love being out there and putting one foot in front of the other. I didn’t want the race to end. I wanted there to be more trail. Another 100 miles would have been fine if it meant more of what I just experienced. I wanted my girls to greet me at more aid stations. I wanted to feel my family’s love and support for another 32 hours. I wanted to spend more time in prayer and relying on God to fill my legs with strength and my mind with peace. But I couldn’t. The race was about over. Mile 96. Mile 97. Mile 98. Then the dirt road. I saw Jamie running up to greet me. A big wave and a smile as she snapped some photos. She was so excited for me and I will never forget it! Mile 99. She ran with me that last mile. We turned onto the highway and I could see the park and the finish. I was in disbelief and asked her over and over… ‘is that it?’ ‘That’s the finish?’
I crossed the highway and entered the park. I’ll never forget the girls. They ran to me so excited. I picked Daphne up and Laney asked if she could run with me… Heck yeah girl! Come on! Then Daph wanted to run so I put her down and we all ran it in together! Perfection! There was no pain. No fatigue. No sleepiness. No heat. Just me and my girlies crossing the finish line together, the way it’s supposed to be. Jamie was right there. Dad and Shanea were cheering me in. 31:37:39. Yes. Victory. I finished it. WE finished it. Together. All together. The Bear.
Now I could get into what this experience meant to me and try to express exactly what it was, etc… but I wont. That’s for me and mine and besides, trying to put that part of this into words would cheapen it in a way. But I will say that the race was incredible. The highs and lows. All incredible. My family is closer for it. I’m better for it.
While I was really wanting a sub 30 hour finish, my 31:37 was a massive victory for me. I finished a mountain hundred in one piece and truly enjoyed the experience. Sure, I always want to get better, and there are certainly things I could have done differently to cut off hours from this effort, but this race was exactly what I needed and went precisely as it was supposed to. I am so very thankful for that gift and it’s not lost on me, even in the slightest.
A massive thank you to Jamie for supporting me over the past year in realizing this dream. And the same goes for my precious little ladies. Thank you! Also to my Dad and Shanea. Having you there with me on this journey means more to me than you’ll ever know.
Here’s to many more miles!
Happy trails all!