If I could create the perfect trail run, it probably would consist of slightly technical singletrack trail, rolling through a forested mountain, crisp fall air, leaves crunching beneath my feet, and a stream trickling along beside me. Put me on this trail and I will likely fall into the trail runner's bliss where you just get absorbed in the moment and the running feels effortless. I found myself in this place a lot at the Bear. I guess that explains why this race went really well.
It's hard to believe it was less than 3 months ago that I sat at Grouse Gulch (Mile 60 of Hardrock), doubting the sanity of 100-milers and whether I should even be doing them. Even though I rarely go a day without thinking about and regretting that Hardrock DNF, I think it may have been a blessing in disguise. If nothing else, it surely lit a fire under my butt.
With 100-mile plus training weeks, hill repeats, track workouts, tempo runs, the weight room, a strong Pikes Peak Marathon, running up and down Towers Road all night, and CrossFit (yes I said CrossFit), I was coming into the Bear ready physically for sure. It's too bad that, for 100-mile races, the physical aspect is only part of the equation.
Due to the timing of this race, it looked liked I might be going alone, no crew or pacers, but it turned out that my wife Deanne would be able to join me. Without the kids, she was ready to go "all in" with this crewing thing. I feel like crewing a runner may be more work than running the race itself. I had a pretty organized plan for her and with all of the crew access on this course (9 aid stations), I planned to take full advantage of her.
We arrived in Logan, Utah late Thursday afternoon (an 8 hour drive from Fort Collins) just in time to hear the end of the pre-race meeting, grab my race packet, and drop off my drop bags at Leland Barker's trout farm (Leland also directs the race). Unfortunately, I missed the message from co-race director Phil Lowry, who I got to share some time with at the Black Hills 100. Phil had to relay his message from Afghanistan but essentially reminded us how lucky we are, and to think of him when it hurts. Thanks for your service Phil and I hope to run with you again soon. So with really little time to even think about the race, it was off for a relaxing dinner, sleep, and then run.
The early Friday morning start (6am) in Logan would be the first time I had to start a race with a headlamp. Just like my typical morning routine. Just another run. I actually was a bit worried about how relaxed I felt before the start of this race. Your about to run 100 miles! Let's go!
We gather with the rest of the Fort Collins contingent near the start line for some well wishes and group photos. My friends Steph and Victoria are also ready to take on the Bear, along with our Estes Park neighbors, the VI guys, Alan and Michael. A Bear finish for Alan would complete his Rocky Mountain Slam! Something I have put on my schedule approximately 10 years from now (I have witnesses Deanne). I also chat briefly with NMP, the defending Bear champ, and wish him good luck since I know I won't see him again until the finish line.
|Team Fort Collins/Estes Park (Alan, Rob, Steph, Victoria, and Michael)|
It's finally time to get going and, without warning, Errol "Rocket" Jones yells "We're off!". We all stand around and look at each other until Rocket yells again, "Run!". You see, as is customary with the Bear 100, the race directors typically run the race as well. Rocket held up that tradition this year.
We start with a gradual climb up the quiet streets of Logan before hitting some wonderful trail climbing out of town. The race starts with 4000 feet of climbing in about the first 10 miles. It all feels good though this early in the race.
|The course profile.|
The race field spreads out quickly, much to my liking, and I settle into the climb with Georg from Frankfurt, Germany. We soon decide to switch to hiking, but still maintaining a very fast pace. Georg, having run the race last year, assures me that we are going under sub-24 hour pace. Really a sub-26 was my target, but this pace is feeling very comfortable. It is not until almost 7am, an hour into the race, that we can switch off the headlights and start taking in the amazing scenery. Burning red maples, glowing golden aspens, and the lights of Logan, Utah below. This is going to be fun!
Almost 2.5 hours in, just slightly ahead of my projection, we are passing through the 11-mile Logan Peak aid station (I don't stop) and reaching the top of our early climbing. Now on double-track jeep road I climb to what looks to be the highest point but don't notice any course flagging or footprints. Uh oh! I stand and scope things out for a minute (taking in the great view) and then see Georg and another runner, Carter, descending on some trail below me. I backtrack and soon catch up.
I can feel the impact of these downhill jeep roads, as they aren't too forgiving on the legs, and I make a conscious effort to hold back a little. Eventually we hit some nice singletrack, and from there it is absolutely fantastic trail running all the way to Leatham Hollow (Mile 20 aid station). Georg and I fly in just 10 minutes before my projection of 10am.
I was expecting to see Deanne for the first time at Leatham, but she is not there. I did get there a little early so I try not to worry and just take care of my needs. I am excited to see my friend Yassine who fills me with encouragement as I make my way out. It was great to see Yassine at many of the aid stations as I hung pretty close to his runner Willie all day.
The 3 miles of dirt road climbing out of Leatham are not much fun, but I run the whole thing just to get it over with. Finally, it is back to singletrack at the Richards Hollow Trailhead (Mile 23), and another aid station for which I do not stop.
The 2000 foot climb to Richards Summit never feels that steep to me. Much to my surprise, I run almost all of it with Georg on my tail, cursing me the entire way. At the top of the climb I do my best Rocky Balboa impersonation with both fists pumping to the sky and commence to descend again on some unforgiving downhill road to Cowley Canyon (Mile 30 aid station). Georg and I jog it down pretty conservatively knowing we are well under 24 hour pace, Georg's goal, but not mine. We arrive 5 minutes before noon (35 minutes early) and again no Deanne.
My "extended" crew of Kristel, Pete, and Chris were there to help me refill water and fetch my drop bag. They were there waiting for Steph, but I knew they would be more than happy to help me too. Well, I knew better than to not accept their help (right Kristel?). Anyway, with Steph hot on my heels all day, it was a real boost for me to see my FoCo trail running friends at many of the aid stations. I left Cowley with a high five from Yassine and was ready for the next climb.
The climb out of Cowley was fairly steep and still on dirt road, so I just hiked it up until quickly reaching the turnoff and descent onto some nice singletrack. Yes! This section of trail was awesome and I really just let it fly. I was feeling even better now than at the start of the race. Not long before reaching Right Hand Fork (Mile 37 aid station) I roll up on Ted Mahon (5th place at Hardrock this year) and realize I'm moving up in the pack. I talk a little Hardrock with Ted and before I know it we are coming into the aid station, with the women's leaders (Shawna and Darcy) just leaving. And even better, there is Deanne!
I get caught up on the morning events. Unfortunately, Deanne just missed me at Leatham and Cowley. I'm glad to finally have my trusty visor and some sunscreen as now I have to take on the hottest part of the course. I see Roch Horton and thank him for his hospitality at Kroger's Canteen this year (the best aid station in all of ultrarunning at Hardrock). I really need to stop chatting so much at aid stations, but it is seeing all these great people that is part of the fun. At least Kristel shows up in time to tell me to get out of there. So almost 7.5 hours into this and I am off again.
The next section was really kind of tough. There were no big climbs, but not much cover and I was getting hot, even though it probably was only in the 70s. I was feeling very slow through here, hiking everything even slightly uphill. As I was about to top off the highest point of this section on some hot and dusty dirt road, I here the tapping of trekking poles behind me. It is Georg. Georg is hurting from a fall and blow to the ribs and is doubting his ability to finish this thing. We slowly jog the next few downhill miles together to Temple Fork (Mile 45 aid station) where Georg is thinking of calling it a day. Looking back, we actually covered this section in a pretty decent time as I was now almost a full hour under my 4pm projection, reaching Temple Fork just after 3pm.
|100-milers hurt! (Temple Fork)|
Deanne was awesome here, providing me a towel full of ice and a chair in the shade. This was the first time I sat down in the race, but I knew I couldn't get too comfortable. In fact, Yassine was there telling me the exact same thing. So after a little cool down and replenishment, I was out of there. I left Georg behind not thinking I would see him again.
The next climb is the second biggest of the race, about 3000 feet, but if falls on some nice forested singletrack. I hike the entire thing, enjoying the coolness of the shade and relieved that it looks like the worst of the heat is over. I cover the first 50 miles in well under 11 hours (a new 50 mile PR for me) and run strong down into Tony Grove (Mile 52 aid station), a beautiful campground nestled around a mountain lake, arriving right at 5pm.
I am a bit confused when I see Hal Koerner at the aid station. I haven't been running that fast. It turns out the current Hardrock champ and race favorite would drop out here due to some foot issues. Deanne and Kristel bring me plate after plate of oranges as I crave some "real" food as opposed to the gels and crap I had been fueling on for the past 11 hours. Still feeling strong and this race is over half done!
|More oranges please. (Tony Grove)|
|Two Hardrock Champs lurking over my shoulder (Campbell and Koerner).|
The next section consisted of just a short climb and then a lot of downhill, but all on nice singletrack. After hiking the climb, I was psyched to see my legs still up to the task of running, and running fairly strong, on the descent. Here I was approaching 60 miles, yet to really have a significant rough patch, and now for the first time starting to think about the finish line. With a full moon rising, the skies darkening, and the air cooling off, I roll into Franklin Basin (mile 61) all smiles.
|Full moon rising over Franklin Basin.|
|Franklin Basin buffet is open. At least Pete was hungry.|
|Kristel lets me stay a few minutes this time (Franklin Basin).|
Deanne, Kristel, and Pete are there giving me the royal treatment and I just ask if they are having as much fun as I am. I try to get in some more real food, but really it is just oranges and grapes. I pretty much know that my GU consumption is over as I sense my stomach revolting even to the thought of another gel. With only 39 miles to go, I know I can manage somehow. I leave Franklin Basin just before 7:30pm, now a full hour under my projected time, flip on the headlamp, and know that before this night is over, I should be finishing this thing (or at least close).
So a rough patch had to come sometime, and on this climb out of Franklin Basin, it hit. Before the race, I was placing the over/under at 60 miles for my first trail decoration via my stomach contents. Well it looked like it was going to be around mile 63. I really struggled on this climb. I quit drinking water and the steep, loose technical terrain had me almost falling backwards at times. I was slow but I made it to the top of the climb eventually and even managed to keep my stomach contents to myself. Unfortunately, the downhill to Logan River wasn't much better and, for the first time, I had to walk some downhill when the nausea came back.
The toughness of this section was magnified by the fact that there was no crew access at the Logan River Aid Station (mile 70). I sipped down some 7-up at the aid station and started to get cold, so I quickly moved on. Just before leaving the aid station, Georg rolls in. I didn't think I would see him again, but apparently the ibuprofen was working for his pain, just not so good for his kidneys. I take off figuring Georg will catch up soon enough. With some fine acrobatic moves and keen balance, I manage to cross the Logan River keeping myself dry. I actually kept my feet dry the entire race, which never happens in mountain 100-milers.
At Franklin Basin, Pete told me the climb out of Logan River wasn't bad. I was relying on that beta to be true after my struggles on the last climb, and thankfully Pete was right. The trail was gorgeous, even in the dark, and my stomach was settling as I settled into a nice power hike up the mountain. I would not struggle on another climb for the rest of the race. As I neared the top of this one, I once again recognized the sound of Georg's trekking poles. We topped out the climb together, but as we started down, it was obvious that Georg had more legs than me (or maye it was his Hoka shoes). Anyway, I told Georg to move on as my downhill running was now resembling a stumbling drunk on this sometimes steep and technical terrain. It was a very long time coming, but the Beaver Lodge Aid Station (Mile 76) did arrive and it was great to finally see Deanne again, just after midnight.
Going inside the heated lodge, kind of like the Porcupine aid station at Bighorn, can be a dangerous thing. Sometimes runners never come out. Georg was just heading out of the lodge when I got there, but I needed some time to eat. What do I eat? Upon seeing the big dish of candy bars, the answer hit me. Twix bars! They worked for me at Bighorn. So I would fuel solely on Twix bars and 7-up for the rest of the race. I got sucked into the lodge for 20 minutes, my longest aid station stop, but escaped energized. Stepping down the steps of the lodge, however, I remembered how much pain my legs were in.
At least my legs were still good for climbing, and the climb up to Gibson Basin went well. I felt as though I could hike strong uphill forever (must have been all that Hardrock training). I reached Gibson Basin aid (Mile 81) pretty quickly and ordered a couple of frozen Twix bars and an icy cold 7-up. Yes, it was cold up there. It was also a beautiful, remote spot and a great group of volunteers. I left the aid station with Mindy and Jared Campbell. Probably the only chance I'll ever get to run with Jared, who was pacing his wife. We ran this rare flat section of a mile or so before the last uphill grunt as it was the only way to stay warm. After the climbing was done, I was very happy to find my running legs again. Maybe it was pure adrenaline, but I felt like cruising down this trail to the Beaver Creek Aid Station (Mile 85), passing several people along the way.
Just after 3am, and I'm telling Deanne it is "go time" as I am feeling the pull of the finish line. I quickly get my Twix and 7-up and head on out of there. I switch back to hiker mode and commence the next climb.
Again no problems with the climb, but the descent down to Ranger Dip on hard dirt roads and ledge outcroppings has my legs screaming again. I have to walk much of this as well. I reach the final aid station, Ranger Dip (mile 92), at 5:30am, finding Deanne in the car about half awake. Still no need to fill my bladder given I hadn't drank any water since Franklin Basin (mile 61). I actually don't know why I wore my pack for the last 39 miles. It was just another Twix bar and 7-up, and a warmer jacket. I did need to sit a few minutes just to take the load off my legs for a bit. Then it was off to the finish.
The climb out of Ranger Dip is a doozy. You feel as though you are going straight up for almost a mile. But still no problem for me, as I knew my real test would be the downhill after to the finish. One of my favorite quotes is that "pain is inevitable, suffering is optional". I don't know the source of this quote, but dammit I was going to run this thing down to the finish and enjoy every minute of it, regardless of the pain. You know what, sometimes that is just the attitude you need, because I really didn't notice the pain.
As the skies start to lighten, I get my first glimpse of Bear Lake. Then I feel a few drops of rain and moments later it is snowing! This portion of the run is almost surreal and something I will never forget. Earlier I had thoughts of trying to finish before the sun came up, but I am glad I didn't. I have watched a lot of sunrises in all of my early morning runs, but I don't know if I will ever have another one better than watching the sun rise over Bear Lake. Minutes later, I'm arriving in downtown Fish Haven and there is Deanne waving me toward the finish line.
|Sunrise from the finish line minutes before my arrival.|
|Good morning Fish Haven, Idaho!|
I convince Deanne to jog it to the finish with me. In true Bear style, there is no fanfare. Just Leland and his clipboard and a few other runners crashed out on the lawn in their sleeping bags. I tell Leland that I guess I am done and I go crash on the lawn myself. It's 7:39am and I have just run the Bear 100 in 25:39, good for 33rd place!
What a fantastic event! It's hard to believe this race doesn't fill up, but that will probably change as this sport continues to grow. I love the low-key atmosphere that Leland, Rocket, and Phil maintain for this race. It's nice not to see big billboards and banners from various sponsors trying to promote their "stuff". Give us a beautiful, well-marked, and challenging course, and we will come. Fantastic aid stations and volunteers as well.
After trying to sleep for the day back in Logan (at least Deanne got some sleep), we arrive back in Fish Haven just minutes before the 36 hour cutoff. As if right on cue, Rocket rolls in with 4 minutes to spare. Moments later he is helping hand out awards to all the finishers. Amazing!
|Showing off the hardware.|
Huge congrats to Steph and Victoria for completing their first 100s, making it a perfect 3 for 3 day for Fort Collins! Congrats to Alan on his Rocky Slam! Congrats to NMP, who I think I will start calling "Mr. Automatic", for another amazing 100-mile performance!
A big thanks to my crew, crew leader, and inspiration, Deanne! It was obvious how much better I ran when I knew I was about to see you. Also thanks to my "extended" crew, Kristel, Pete, and Chris. It was awesome having you guys out there as well!
I'm not questioning whether or not I should be doing 100-milers anymore. I'm only questioning how I can get better for the next one. Obviously I've gotta cut down on that aid station time. Still some tweaks to be made to the fueling strategy as well. I'll probably always be tweaking that. I do know that next time I run the Bear (if I am so lucky to do so), sub24 will be the goal.
I got an email the other day saying the 2013 Hardrock applications were online. I think I had my application filled out, stamped, and in the mail about 10 minutes later. I have some unfinished business there. We'll see if the lottery gods are on my side again on December 1. If not, there are plenty other great options. Bear 2013?
Some numbers: A pretty well executed race, I think.
Location Mile Projection Time in Time out Position in/out
Logan Peak 10.5 8:30a 8:22a 8:22a 26/24
Leatham 19.7 10:00a 9:50a 9:57a 27/30
Richards 22.5 10:30a 10:23a 10:24a 30/27
Cowley 30.0 12:30p 11:55a 12:03p 25/23
Right Hand 36.9 2:00p 1:15p 1:25p 21/26
Temple 45.1 4:00p 3:01p 3:09p 24/26
Tony Grove 51.8 6:00p 5:00p 5:13p 24/24
Franklin 61.5 8:30p 7:16p 7:27p 22/23
Logan River 69.5 11:00p 10:05p 10:17p 30/33
Beaver Lodge 75.8 1:00a 12:09a 12:29a 32/36
Gibson 81.2 2:30a 2:15a 2:20a 37/37
Beaver Creek 85.2 3:30a 3:11a 3:21a 33/32
Ranger Dip 92.2 6:00a 5:32a 5:42a 32/34
Finish 99.5 8:00a 7:39a 33
Total aid station time 114 minutes (too much)
Bear 2012 Results here
Men's Winner: Christopher Kollar 17:50 (course record)
Women's Winner: Darcy Africa 22:10 (course record)
The photos I lack from the course, Jill makes up for: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3