Facing the Bear 100
(By Chuck Radford)
Being Challenged In Life Is Inevitable, Being Defeated Is Optional. -Roger Crawford
Here we go again, another year, another 100 mile race report. Ready or not …
The Bear 100 history:
- This was the 20th running of the race.
- It’s a point-to-point race starting in Utah and ending in Idaho.
- Mix of dirty roads and technical trail.
- 21,000 feet of vertical gain in 100 miles.
- Notorious for having VERY off years in weather.
- 2014 saw almost 12 hours of straight rain through the night with a trail of runner carnage.
- 2016 saw tons of snow forcing the race director to cut the course in half and turning runners back home at the half mark.
- It was my year to test Mother Nature and that nasty Bear.
Knowing I needed to run another 100 mile race in 2018, I teamed up with 3 friends to run something together to turn it into a fun “guys weekend”. The lunacy of another ultra adventure was afoot. A huge thanks to my amazing sponsors, Fuel 100, who have had my back through thick and thin.
The race filled quick, but my registration was accepted just in time. As time ticked on early in the year, one of my friends, AJ, decided to float his entry to another person and would instead come out and crew/pace rather than race (I now had a pacer and crew). Things were looking up and I was excited.
In June, I decided a tune up race at the Leadville Trail Marathon in June was a good idea. I ran the race not as “trail fit” as I’ve been in the past and struggled badly in the last 2 miles, but finished. Low and behold, I found out a few days later that I encountered a BAD injury to my left hip flexor shutting me down entirely for a month. All of a sudden my training and my race looked at risk. I struggled to pick up some last minute training in August and September with low mileage and very little specificity training (i.e. hills, technical trail, endurance runs, etc…). My confidence was rocked and my only goal in the race now was to finish.
After talks with a local running buddy, Jon (also running the race), I decided the best option for me was to run with him the entire race at a slower pace, get a finish and a qualifier while taking much of the typical race stress off. While I was never “happy” with that option, I was settled and comfortable with the idea of just getting through this race.
In September, final plans were solidified and it was time to get to Utah. Jon, AJ and I met up with Steve (long time friend from Arizona), his wife Kara and friend Zach in Garden City, Utah. We all chilled for a day and a half before the race doing all the typical pre-race prep (i.e. talk of strategy, shake out run, pre-race meeting, etc.). BOOM!! Race morning and time to “get it on”.
Jon, Chuck and Steve
As a point to point race, we drove almost an hour to the start (we stayed at the finish to make it easy after the race). We landed in Logan, Utah, checked in, took care of business and lined up at the start.
The first 10 miles are the toughest on the course, as the route takes you straight up 4500 feet to the top of Logan Peak. Jon and I fell into the conga line on the single track trail and kept the pace nice and easy as planned. At mile seven, out of my peripheral vision, I saw something jump from the ground …BAM, I was stung. Hurt like HELL and made me jump. I was dumbfounded, as it seemed too early and cold to be a wasp …or was it? I posted an inquiry on The Bear Facebook page asking others what it could have been and was greeted to 28 responses of people telling me it was a yellow jacket. Confirming that theory even more, at least half of the responses said it happened to them at the exact same spot. Odd. Too cold to fly, but not too cold to jump apparently. Anyway, it hurt a LOT for the next 7 miles throbbing in pain off and on as the stinger released more and more toxins infrequently. It never affected my race outside of the nuisance of the pain, but it was the only exciting thing that happened in the first 50 miles.
Back to the nuts and bolts of the race ...we worked hard up the first 10 miles and were looking forward to some nice downhill miles, but were met with very technical trail at the top. We rode it out all the way into the first crew station.
Leatham Hallow (19 miles):
After the technical trail at the top, it turned into beautiful trail all the way down into Leatham Hallow where we met our crew for the first time in the day. Once we arrived, we were greeted by AJ, Kara and Zach. They treated us like kings as we sat down in nice camp chairs as they refilled bottles. We loaded up and headed out relatively quickly.
Cowley Canyon (30 miles)
We ran 3 miles of dirt road to the Richards Hallow aid station and moved through quickly and efficiently passing about 5 runners.
Not noted earlier, but important, is that you descend into every aid station and ascend right out of it. Little to my knowledge, this Cowley section would begin my lowest "low" of the day. I started getting “achy” already and that was concerning. The heat of the day was kicking in (reached about 80 during the day) and the relentless nature of this ascent was killing me mentally and physically. I kept it to myself so as not to air any negativity to Jon, but I wasn’t happy or confident all of a sudden. I wished I had changed shoes earlier and maybe taken just 5 more minutes at the aid station, but I couldn’t change any of that now.
Now for off topic fun …at mile 26 EXACTLY, there was a dead cow about 15 yards away from the trail …bloated with its tongue sticking out!! I joked to Jon that they must have staged it at the marathon mark to keep everyone “grounded” and to remind you that you have 3 more marathons to go ...or you could just lay down and die. A good giggle and we moved through the stench and forward.
We trudged on through many false summits and when we finally DID summit, we didn’t immediately see the aid station where expected and we were both out of fluids (concerning to be sure). Once we finally found the aid station, we drank a LOT, filled up and headed out for the next ascent.
Right Hand Fork Aid Station
Right Hand Fork (37 miles)
This next section would bring some of the most beautiful trail I can recall. Wonderful single track, mild technicality and amazing colors the entire way. That uplifted my spirits and combined with seeing crew soon, I was in a better place.
We descended into the Right Hand Fork crew station and were once again greeted by friendly faces. This would be the last time we saw Kara and Zach, but they made the experience as good as it gets. AJ and Zach filled our bottles with ice and water and AJ soaked my buff in the ice cold stream. While Jon soaked his feet in the stream, I chatted with Kara and inquired about Steve. Things seemed well with him at the time, although he ultimately dropped. I moved on over to the aid station, ate and we moved on out.
This next section was exposed and while it helped with some amazing views of Autumn colors and livestock (droves of sheep), it didn’t help with the heat. Fortunately they had an unmanned water station so we knew we could drink unfettered with the option for water later. Nice runnable trail all the way into the next aid station.
Tony Grove Aid Station at dusk
Tony Grove (52 miles)
We made a no-nonsense stop at the Temple Fork aid station and prepped for the second biggest climb of the day. We crossed the highway and straight up Blind Hallow with 3000 feet of vertical gain in 5 miles. I was reminded again how unfit I was for big hills and struggled through this section, but was relieved to peak. To our happy surprise, AJ was waiting for us for the nice descent into Tony Grove.
On the descent into Tony Grove, I was struck with my first “tweak” of the day. Jon had been voicing his decision to drop at the mid-point, as his interest in finishing had been waning. Once that thought enters someone’s head, there’s little that can be done to reverse it. Jon called it a day and I was now committed to completing the second half of the race on my own terms. I put warmer clothes on, grabbed my headlamp and AJ and I headed out. Truth be told, I was frustrated with the recent change of plan, but I tried not to let it change my ultimate goal of finishing.
AJ and I set a new goals of trying for steady hiking on the "ups" and good running on the "downs". As day broke and gave way to stumbles and adjustments to the lack of light, we turned on our headlights and tried to change our mindset. There was lots of good conversation and laughs while we got into a fun rhythm. With heads down chasing down each runner in front of us, we settled in behind another racer at our same pace. Not long after, a different runner was stopped and asked if we were on the right trail. We didn’t see how we wouldn’t be so we continued on. After seeing no other headlamps or trail markers for a mile, I questioned our direction myself. The lead runner and AJ were sure we were on the right path so we continued on. After another half mile, I stopped and was sure we were off course …and we were. We stood there devising a plan and then headed back. The immediate problem was that the trail on the return trip fanned out into numerous other trails …I was sure we were LOST. AJ used a function on his watch to get us back on the right trail, but then he accidentally deleted his data …anxiety hit me again, as it was just the two of us stuck in Utah in the pitch black and no other headlamps in any direction to get us back on trail. We couldn’t seem to commit to a plan, as we didn’t want to make the situation any worse. Then all of a sudden we heard a voice in the distance and we followed. We crested a hill and saw a headlamp ... running like hell, we found the trail again. Damage done: 3.5 extra miles and a hour of added time. I admittedly considered dropping when I thought we wouldn’t be able to find the trail, but I got my head back in the game. I knew we couldn’t change what happened and we could only move forward.
I told AJ that I would need a few extra minutes at the Franklin aid station to regroup and I did just that.
Franklin (65 miles)
After snagging some chicken broth and a bacon quesadilla, I grabbed my drop bag and sat down. AJ he reminded me to not let the diversion from earlier derail my race. I took his words to heart. I enjoyed the food, but was quickly getting VERY cold. The nature of the course caused runners to get warm while pushing up the ascents and cold descending down into the valleys and aid stations. Eating also has a way of causing your body to work towards digestion and away from heating your core. So it was best to get moving.
As we worked hard to get back in the race, our conversation started to taper off. About 5 miles after leaving the aid station, AJ asked how I was doing and I responded that I was feeling good. As the conversation waned a bit, I thought it seemed the right time to ask him the same question. When I did so, I was met with a rugged “not good”. When AJ and I saw the last of the light and full dark, we found the trails very hard to see and with AJ trailing me, he had the added challenge of dirt flying in his face. This caused a lot of tripping and kicking rocks. He started feeling pain in his Achilles and it was only getting worse the harder we worked. He made the unselfish call to cease pacing at the Logan River aid station believing I would be better off alone. I was now faced with my second unplanned decision of the race …to finish the race solo. But since this wasn’t my first 100 mile race, I knew what had to be done and being a veteran, I knew I could do it solo (I’d done it twice before already in races).
Beaver Mountain Lodge (78 miles)
I moved through the next 13 miles hiking hard up the ascents and passing people with encouragement and polite words of support. I would then run/trudge down as much as possible continuing to struggle with the lack of vision and technical trail. I blazed through the Logan River aid station and worked my way over to the Beaver Mountain Lodge. This aid station is known for being a nice warm haven that sucks you in and holds you there longer than intended (or never leaving the station at all as some runners do). My plan was to get in and out quickly after refueling and grabbing warmer clothes out of my drop bag (the temperature continued to cool).
Once again, I was pleasantly surprised to see AJ there waiting for me. Seeing him was uplifting and his added help allowed me to get out of the warm paradise that was quickly drawing me to stay. AJ’s parting words to me were a very compelling “FINISH THIS!!”. I departed knowing I would be going the next 26 miles and six and a half hours without a familiar face.
Ranger Dip (96 miles)
The next 12 miles were kind of a blur as I moved through the Gibson Basin and Beaver Creek aid stations with little excitement. I was fatigued and done with the dusty, dark and clumsy running I couldn’t avoid. The two things I remembered were 1) Welcoming my second sunrise; and 2) Taking my first fall at mile 88. I was able to save myself from the rocks with only a bump on the knee. Major damage avoided.
Ranger Dip is known for having some amazing food and friendly volunteers …they did NOT disappoint. Upon arriving, I put in an order for a bacon breakfast burrito, refilled my water bottles and headed out with my special order burrito in hand. I’m not joking people …A BACON BREAKFAST BURRITO!!!
The ascent out of the final aid station was also known for being tough. I was met with a 600 foot “sucker punch” climb (in one mile) to the highest mark on the course (9000+ feet) before finishing down in Fish Haven. This was a grind and required a couple 5 second breaks to catch my breath. Once I peaked and knew the climbing was done, I was ready for some down hill. Much to my surprise, I was able to move well! I started trotting, which turned into a coordinated jog, which then lead to a full run. I looked at my watch and started to realize a sub-27 hour finish was possible. My run quickly became a kamikaze bombing down the trails to the road visualizing what a fall would do. I somehow not only stayed on my feet, but logged two sub-6:45 minute miles at mile 103 and 104.
Trail view of Bear Lake in the final stretch
Finish (104 miles)
Rounding the final corner, I looked down at my watch and realized I would miss the sub-27 hour finish by seconds, but threw down a respectable 104 mile race in 27:00:40. I worked hard the second half cutting my placement from 107th down to 53rd Overall. Taking into account the unseen snags, the lost hour and last minute changes in plan, I was proud to cross that finish line for my 6th100 mile race and another Western States and Hard Rock qualifier. I consider this race one of my best even though it's my worst "on paper". Sure, there were no fireworks like races in the past, but that simply means I proved my experience and growing skill at this crazy extreme sport by mitigating problems and constantly moving forward. This doesn't get any easier as you age (trust me), but the added benefit is that each adventure helps you grow in more ways than you can imagine.
For most, the general assumption is that running 100 miles is only a physical challenge, but I firmly believe the harder challenge is mental. Having the mental fortitude to push on when you're continuously reminded of pain. Having the ability to adapt to changing conditions, most of which are unplanned or unforeseen. Having the patience to know that your in for a LONG day and dark night with the reminder that "this too shall end". Having the ability to problem solve a blister or deviating off course or a sour stomach. The physical pain is known ...it hurts. It's pulling all the mental pieces of it together that helps you overcome the obstacles and gets you to the finish. The even BIGGER challenge ...how to apply all of those qualities to my every day life!!! If I can do that, then I can be an authentic role model to my kids and a better person overall ...that's when I've truly won.
The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it. –Moliere
Left to Right:Leadville 100 (’14), Run Rabbit Run 100 (’16), Javelina Jundred (’15), Run Rabbit Run 100 (’17), The Bear 100 (’18), Leadville 100 (’15)
A great video taken and posted by Brian Steinberg on Facebook during the race (I've always admired runners who take the time to capture the essence of these races). YouTube "Bear 100 - 2018".
A special thanks to all runners on the "Bear 100 Mile Endurance Run" Facebook Page for offering access to all of their pictures (some of which are posted in this blog).
A big thanks to AJ Wellman for allowing me to post my Blog on his Blog site.