Sunday, January 3, 2016

Bear 100 Race Report

So, after I finished my 50 miler last year, I was gung-ho to take it up to the next level.  My wife had signed me up for the Moab Red Hot 55K in February and I was already training through the winter.  I was going to springboard my year off that and build as much endurance as I could.  I had my heart set on Leadville for my first 100 and made plans around that.  Of course, things don't always work out as planned.  I put my name into the hat and waited as I looked at scheduling my year.  Of course, planning my year around a race that I haven't yet been chosen in the lottery is a sure fire way to not get your name drawn.  And sure enough, that is what happened.  What to do now?  I wasn't sure but it wasn't long before my buddy Barrett, suggested we do The Bear.  I hesitated for a moment when he said this, as I knew Bear was not easy.  Not that I was looking for easy, but stepping up from 50 to 100 miles is not like stepping up from 50K to 50 miles and adding in the extra climbing weighed on the back of my mind.  But, I was confident on my previous year and signed up with Barrett.

I worked on getting my logistics together with crew and pacers, as well as my race plan over the course of a few months.  As we were getting closer, I still hadn't been able to secure a pacer to help get me across the finish line.  Now, being a rookie 100 miler, I didn't know what to expect with asking someone to pace me.  I think there are two different views on this and I get both.  First, I think we are all in this together and all willing to help each other.  Not to mention, we all love doing this, so pacing someone is really just a fun run with a friend, right?  On the other hand, I feel that traveling hours and hours to a race and staying all weekend, especially us with families, to help someone out with pacing, is asking a lot of that person and their family.  What was I going to do?  I didn't worry too much about it and, after a lot of thought and a bit of torment, I asked my friend Mike to pace me.  He, of course, was extremely happy to do it and now I was excited to get to the start line.

We had a great time driving out.  It was my brother and wife that were crewing me and we all made the trek.  Tons of long highway miles getting there.  But dropping into Bear Lake and driving down the canyon into Logan was getting my juices flowing.  I was excited.

We got there a day early and enjoyed some dinner and beers and just relaxed.  I got up the next morning and did a little shakeout run and we went shopping for some last minute supplies.  Then we were off to the runner meeting to meet up with Barrett and Chris, his pacer/crew, and Barrett's family.   After the race meeting we went to grab some dinner together and headed back to the hotel to get everything ready and get as good of a nights sleep as possible.

Pre-Race Meeting

Photo:  Nicole Witcher

What an exciting start!  Lots of runners milling around getting ready.  I was nervous and a little anxious, but all-in-all, was doing pretty well.  I got checked in and we took our obligatory pictures with everyone.  Then we were off.

Ready As I Will Ever Be

Photo:  Nicole Witcher

My Brother, Wife, Me, and Barrett

Photo:  Unknown

Ready To Go!

Photo:  Nicole Witcher

Start To Logan Peak - 10.5 Miles

Barrett and I met up and we started off together to make the long initial climb.  I had my HRM with me and planned on wearing it the entire race.  I really wanted to have that data and, as I will get to, it showed me a lot.  But, I forgot to turn on and sync my HRM before I got into the crowd.  So, I had to mess with it as we ran up the street to the trailhead.  Not to worry as it finally picked up the signal.

I noticed some people really pushing hard to move up in the crowd and I should have paid attention to this, but shrugged it off as I settled into an easy rhythm.  Then we hit the trailhead.  And everything just stopped.  We all made our way onto the singletrack and began a slow hike up.  We got stuck behind a pretty slow moving group of people and had to wait until the trail opened up on the way down to pass.  Of course, Barrett and I just chatted along and let the race take shape.  Once the trail opened up, we let loose a little and passed everyone we thought we had to.

Part Way Up The First Climb

Photo:  Barrett Langton

Slow Train Up The First Climb

Photo:  Barrett Langton

Sun Coming Up, Us Heading Down

Photo:  Barrett Langton

And that is when I had to pee.  Go figure.  I stopped and got going again as fast as possible so I didn't get stuck again.  That ended up being a non-issue as the trail was a road with plenty of room to pass.  So, I kept moving trying to catch back up to Barrett.  I thought he must've been moving pretty good because I could not seem to catch back up.  I struck up a conversation with a guy named JB from Missoula and climbed.  I turned to see who was behind and, lo and behold, there was Barrett.  He had to take a pit stop as well and I ended up passing him.

We made it up to the AS and I refilled my bottles with my fuel and we moved on along.  I must say, this section was absolutely gorgeous and I took in the beauty of the canyon overlooking Logan and to the south.

Logan Peak To Leatham Hollow - 19.7 Miles

From that first aid station, Barrett and I continued to climb to the very top of the peak and then headed down for over 7 miles.  There was some great running in there with some double track for quite a ways.  The downs are just as hard as the ups on this course as they seem to go on forever.  I made sure that I stuck close to Barrett, but also made sure I wasn't pushing it too much as I did not want to pay for it later in the race.  We finally made it to the turn off on the Leatham Hollow trail.  This is a nice little section of singletrack that goes through the forest.  Funny thing about this trail though was how much it had been traveled on by the cattle.  This caused it to be a really tricky trail to run down as it was always falling off to the side from where the cattle had stepped and pushed the trail down the hill a bit.  I was extremely careful in this section as I fought issues with rolling my left ankle all year and did not want to have a roll this early, or at all, in the race.  We got closer and closer and I ended up passing Earl "Rocket" Jones as we got closer to the AS.  No sooner had I passed Rocket when, BAM, rolled my ankle.  But I was quick to recover and kept running on it.  It hurt but that passed quickly and I made sure it didn't tighten up on me.  As I came into the AS, I had already forgotten about it.  Thank goodness!

We rolled into the AS and there was our crew!  What a great sight.  I think they were worried about us as we were quite a bit behind schedule due to the slow train on the first climb.  But I never even gave it a thought.  Which is great because I can have a tendency to get anxious over these things. Barrett's pacer, Chris, mentioned that we looked really good and fresh and said it looked like we just went out for a few miles.  Good start!  Barrett and I filled our bottles, ate some food, and took off up the road.

Barrett And I Coming Into Leatham Hollow

Photo:  Nicole Witcher

Leatham Hollow AS

Photo:  Jeanne/Larry Limbocker

Photo:  Jeanne/Larry Limbocker

Leatham Hollow To Richards Hollow - 22.5 Miles

This section is short and easy along a forest road that heads up to Richard's Hollow.  We ran the whole way for the most part and spent most of the three miles looking up as the canyon was gorgeous with some nice rock outcroppings and gorgeous Fall colors.  We made it to the AS pretty quickly, but knew we needed to get prepared for the climb that was about to come.  We ended up getting some ice cold water and some cold grapes before we headed out and up the hill.

Barrett And I Leaving Leatham

Photo:  Jeanne/Larry Limbocker 

Richards Hollow To Cowley Canyon - 30 Miles

The section coming out of Richard's Hollow is absolutely gorgeous.  I had to keep remembering that as this climb was brutal.  The heat of the day was really bearing down on us and the climb was around 6 miles and 2100' of climb.  It was great climbing up the trail with Barrett, and talking with people along the way.  The trail was pretty technical, and climbed quickly.  So it was strange when we looked over and saw cows up there.  It was honestly amazing to see them in the area we were at.

How Did They Get Up Here?

Photo:  Barrett Langton

We came out of the trees and into a more exposed area and it was hot.  So, hot that I called this section the E Coli section because we were all dipping our hats into the stagnant, nasty puddles of water along the way that were filled with who knows what else.  But, let me tell you, in that heat none of us cared!  It just felt good to have something to cool us down.  Later on I heard that the heat was in record territory that day for the area.  Go figure!

Some Sheep In the Exposed Climb

Photo:  Barrett Langton

We kept climbing and chatting as we met people.  As we crested the climb, we ran into Sheila Huss.  She is another FrUR and we all introduced ourselves.  Quick shout out to Sheila as she was crushing her fourth 100 that summer as she was going for the Rocky Mountain Slam.  And she did it!  She was the only runner this summer to attempt or complete the RM Slam, so great job Sheila!

At this point, we were headed downhill for a bit to make our way into the Cowley Canyon AS.  This is a nice section as it is a fire road with lots of room to run.  I cruised down and made my way into the AS.

At this point, I decided it might be good to take a look at my feet.  I was wearing my Hoka Speedgoats and my right pinky toe felt it a bit.  So, when I pulled into the AS I removed my shoes and my wonderful crew applied vast quantities of Vaseline to my feet.  I put new socks on and got my shoes back on, grabbed my "cool towel" and soaked it in the bucket of water they had at the AS.  I also filled my hat with ice and put it on my head.  This was a race changing decision for sure as it kept my body temp down when it was needed most.

Coming Into Cowley Canyon

Photo:  Nicole Witcher

Cowley Canyon To Right Hand Fork - 36.9 Miles

Barrett and I headed up the fire road that climbed the 2 miles and 900' up the hill.  I kept removing the hat from my head as I was getting an ice cream headache.  So I would keep the ice on my head until I got the headache and then would hold it for a bit.  I repeated this until I accidentally dropped my hat and lost my ice.  But it was what was needed for that climb and helped immensely.  I kept the cool towel around my neck to stave off the sun and heat.  Toward the top I felt pretty darn good.  There was a nice 5 mile stretch coming up that would take me into the 45 mile AS.  Once I crested the climb, I ended up passing a guy puking his brains out on a stump on the side of the trail right as I started heading down the trail.  Poor guy.  I ran through an incredible aspen stand then all the way to the fork and the only "out and back" section on the course.  Not much of one really, but I kept passing people heading out of the AS as I was headed in and it gave me a good boost.  I pulled into the AS and my brother and wife were there ready for me.  I sat down for a bit in a chair and got ready for a nasty climb in the worst heat of the day.  I made sure I got my bottles filled and my cool towel soaked again to keep me as cool as possible.  Right before I left I grabbed a disposable water bottle that was ice cold.  Another really good decision.

Right Hand Fork To Temple Fork - 45.1 Miles

This is really where my race started to come together for me.  I left the aid station and just set a goal to move as quickly as possible. I was hot but feeling awesome.  I put the cool towel over my entire head and kept the sun off me.  It was really keeping me cooler and I started to climb well.  This was another 3 miles and 1000' of climbing and it hurt in that heat.  But I got to the top where they had a makeshift, water-only, unmanned AS.  This was great!  I filled just a little in my bottle to save more for the people behind me and took off down the hill.  This was a fire road and I was able to actually pick up the pace a little.  I caught up with a couple girls that were racing/pacing and latched onto them as we ran down the road.  The course cuts right into a field and across some section that wasn't really a trail.  It was really fun!  There was a river I could see down below me a bit and I kept thinking I wanted to jump in!  But, I stayed with those girls as they were running really well and I felt like I could ride their coattails.  It was perfect.  Right before we got into the AS, some pissed off guy in a massive pick up truck came barreling up the road and we all jumped out of the way.  Easy there cowboy. I pulled into the AS and began looking for my crew.  Where were they?!?!  I couldn't find them anywhere.  So, I went to the food table and started grazing some oranges and keeping an eye out.  Within a few minutes I saw my crew!  YES!  They came over freaked out because I beat them to the AS.  Haha!  My brother changed his entire approach to crewing the rest of the race because of this.  I was making up time in all sorts of ways and he didn't want to miss me.  Love it.  I sat down for a little bit and tried to eat something.  The heat was getting to me.  I ate a bite of an Epic Bar and immediately spit it out.  It wasn't right.  I ignored it and my brother said I had to eat something as I wasn't keeping up with my fuel plan.  Imagine that.  So, I tried again and ate some food.  I got my bottles ready and grabbed my iPod to listen to some music as I headed up this next climb.  It was going to be a big one.  5 miles and 2700' to get me to the next AS and the halfway point.

Temple Fork To Tony Grove - 51.8 Miles

I put on my favorite band on my iPod, crossed the highway to head up and out.  I put it into an incredible climbing gear and just passed a ton of people all the way up the hill.  It was pretty cool.  A couple people gave me some props as I passed them at mile 46 or so.  Then, right near the top another guy asked how the hell I was able to climb like that. okay.  It felt good!  At this point it was getting dark and cold and I was ready to pull into the halfway point.  I started heading down the 2 miles to the AS through the campground at Tony Grove, which is awesome looking and I would love to camp there sometime.  Everyone camping there was cheering me on and I could hear the real party at the lake as I got closer to the AS.  Then, as I was almost there, who did I see?  MIKE!!!  My pacer!  I didn't expect to see him for a while yet.  I could not have been more happy or excited about this.

Coming Into Tony Grove

Photo:  Nicole Witcher

He ran with me into the check-in and over to my brother's car.  I sat down and my brother handed me a fresh grilled cheese and chicken noodle soup.  Godsend!  I was getting rather cold and changed into my night gear.  Really it was just a Capilene long sleeve shirt and another long sleeve shirt over it, my headlamp, and a different pack.  Mike and I checked back out of the AS and headed off into the night.

Tony Grove To Franklin Trailhead - 61.5 Miles

I just want to touch on why I didn't expect to see Mike, my pacer, until the 61.5 mile mark.  Mike had to work in the morning until 10am and didn't even leave Denver until that time.  I started my race at 6am.  What???!!!  He drove 8+ hours across WY and into UT, parked, ate a grilled cheese sandwich that my brother made him and then headed off into the night for 50 miles with me.  What an incredible friend.  I cannot even say how thankful I am for him doing that.  He literally got me to the finish and made my first 100 an incredible memory for me.

So...we took off up the little hill in the dark with only our tunnel vision focused on our lights on the trail.  We had a 3 mile and 800' climb out of Tony Grove and just put our head down and climbed.  Of course, I felt rejuvenated at this point because I had a great friend to chat with.  And chat we did.  We talked and talked and then talked to people who we passed.  I think the only time I actually got passed was when I took a solid fall.  Actually, my most incredible fall running to date.  I tripped on a rock as it was a pretty gnarly trail.  I flew like Superman, landed on my left hand, and promptly fell and rolled down the embankment.  I didn't even know what hit me before I felt Mike grabbing my pack and pulling me back up to the trail.  We laughed, said a few words with the guy that caught us, and headed down the hill again.  My hand hurt.  I wouldn't really know why until I took my gloves off at the finish line, but I ripped a solid wound in my hand.  Better to not look and ignore...that's my philosophy.  Haha!  This section is really long between AS's and the more I thought about it the more I knew I was lucky that Mike got there when he did.

One thing I remember, but not entirely sure if it was on this section, was coming to the top of the climb and seeing all these eyes looking at us.  Scared both Mike and I and we realized it was just a bunch of cows.  Haha!

My body and brain tend to start shutting down around 11pm from my limited experience in overnight running, but I could feel it coming on. This is where all the details may get a little hazy at best.  I will see what I can put together, but I understand why so many of the videos on YouTube I see have almost no chatter during the night sections.  Go figure.  We came into the Franklin TH AS and I was pleasantly surprised to see my wife.  Yea!  I expected her to be at the condo by this point, so that really helped me.  We pulled into the AS and found something I should not have found.  A warm tent with a fire!  Uh oh...I spent WAY too much time here, but I got myself completely taken care of and ready to really go through the night.  At this point it was about 10:30-11pm and I had been running for 16.5 hours.  I was feeling it big time.  I might have put on a jacket at this point too.  I remember being cold and having a hard time warming up.  We headed back out into the dark with really no one around us.

Franklin Trailhead To Logan River/Steep - 68.6 Miles

As we headed out into the dark I kept thinking that this would be no problem, at least that is what I kept repeating since I knew the climb was going to be 4 miles and 1700'.  Then a solid down for a few miles and 1300' descent.  I had to stop and rest a few times on the way up the first climb.  It was brutal at that point in the race.  Mike was great and let me stop, but also kept me moving really well.  He told me he was really surprised that I was climbing so well.  I will take his word for it, but maybe all those hard training runs were paying off.  We got to the top of the climb and headed down the descent.  We came into the next AS and, again, the tent felt amazing with the fire in it.  I got some more chicken noodle soup and we headed across the river and back into the night after, again, too much time spent in the AS.

Logan River/Steep To Beaver Lodge - 75.8 Miles

This next section can be disheartening as you can see the next AS from miles and miles away and it seems to take forever.  At least that is what I was told by a good source.  And they were right.  And to start things off, we climbed another three miles and 1200' of vert.  Around this time, if memory recalls correctly, is also where I decided I had to take care of some paperwork, if you know what I mean.  So, at about mile 72, I stopped and looked around for some kind of branch or stump to perch on.  I had visions of cramping up as I tried to go.  That wouldn't be good!  I found a perfect stump and took care of my business.  Much better!   We continued on and I had a little bit of revitalization that helped get me to the next AS.  As I mentioned, we could see the lodge from miles and miles away and finally made it down to the road.  We made it up to the parking lot for the lodge and found my brother waiting for us outside.  I was told to not go into the lodge at all costs, but it was so cold, my feet needed tending to, I was tired, and the lodge won.  I went inside.  And spent WAY too much time in there.  Go figure.  But, we got my feet taken care of and enjoyed a little time in the warmth.  Then we headed back out into the cool night.  Only 25 miles to go.

Beaver Lodge To Gibson Basin - 81.1 Miles

When you leave the lodge, you head through this field of sorts, down a bit and then do a button hook to climb back up through a little field.  We crossed the road again and headed up the next climb.  This is absolutely where my mind goes foggy.  At mile 79 I had to do some more paperwork.  Um, okay.  So, this time I kept climbing and looking off into the trees to see if I could find another stump or log to perch on so I didn't cramp up.  I couldn't find one though and it was getting to the point that I just had to take care of business. So, I found the sturdiest log/branch I could find and tested it to see if it would hold.  It was close, but it seemed like it would hold.  I went and then...all of the sudden...crack!  The branch broke!  I remember shoving my feet out to try and jump backward to not land in my own poop.  Yuck!  But, I managed to do it and Mike and I had quite the laugh at that point.  Saved my butt...literally.  We continued climbing and I was so groggy.  I kept seeing things off in the forest and at one point had a little "hallucination" of sorts with some kind of strange "animal" on the side of the trail.  And my body kept telling me that my intestines were "cleaning out".  I was literally burping and farting about every couple minutes.  Haha...I remember Mike laughing every time I would do it.  He made a comment that it would happen about 30 seconds into each section of actual running I would do.  Hilarious, but glad no one else was around.  We finally made it up to Gibson Basin and enjoyed the brief chat with the volunteers.  You gotta love these people...they are amazing.  Ridiculous time of the night, up by the campfire, making us coffee, soup, and working on the HAM radios.  I am so thankful for all the volunteers.  Amazing people.

Gibson Basin To Beaver Campground - 85.2 Miles

At this point, we had some nice fire road to run, and Mike pushed me good.  He said we would run for a minute and then walk for a couple minutes.  We did this pretty well and he really helped keep moving me along.  It got better and were were able to run longer and have shorter walks.  That was really nice.  Of course, we were so focused on that, we didn't see the state line sign and didn't get the obligatory picture next to it.  Next time!  I don't remember much else until we pulled into Beaver CG.   We couldn't find my brother with my stuff, so Mike left me in the tent by the fire eating my chicken noodle soup and went to find my him.  He found him sleeping in his car.  Haha!  Too funny.  We got everything together and took off into the night again.

Beaver Campground To Ranger Dip - 92.2 Miles

As we were leaving one of the volunteers warned us to watch out for the turn.  Apparently the course markings were missing or something happened and some people took a wrong turn a bit before us.

Later, after the race, I found out that the person that took the wrong turn was an acquaintance of mine, Luke.  He was in 2nd place and working to take over the lead when he missed the turn and took about a 7 mile detour.  Oh man...I felt so bad for him after learning that.  He is such a strong runner too. 

We climbed up and could see the lake.  Awesome!  I just had to make it over and around these little hills (read as mountains) and down to that lake.  But before doing so, we still had a lot of ground to cover.  We worked our way around the fire road and we were running.  We were running pretty well actually.  At least from my vantage point.  We ran all the way into the next AS and saw my brother.  Yes!  Almost there!!!

This AS was awesome.  They were making up pancakes, bacon, eggs, coffee.  Heck, it was a full on breakfast extravaganza.  I sat down, got handed a couple pancake burritos with eggs and bacon inside and was feeling awesome.  I was ready to finish the next 8 miles and complete this thing!  I was going to do this!!!

Ranger Dip To Finish - 100 Miles

As we were leaving, the volunteer told us it was no problem.  One mile to the top and we were home free.  Of course, that mile climb to the top was 600' of gain.  Oh come on, how bad can that be?  At mile 92, it is horrendous!  I had to stop and regroup a couple times as we headed up the trail.  But, we made it to the top and...BAM!  The gnarliest descent I can imagine at mile 96 through the end.  At mile 98 it was an 1135' drop in a single mile.  Is that even right?  Anyway, I had been positive the entire race, but this was a bit much.  I started complaining.  Do these people in Utah know about switchbacks?  Haha...not that funny though as my tendon in my left foot started acting up due to the descent.  I complained, but we made it down...only to discover that we had to head back up a little climb.  What???  We made it up that climb, after questioning whether we were actually headed the right way, and finally made it to the road to take us home.  And that road seemed to go forever.  But, way ahead I could see the cross street and the turn we had to make to get us to the finish line.  We turned the corner, I saw my wife and brother, and then the emotion took over.  I could not believe I was doing this.  I could not believe I was finishing 100 miles.  I ran the rest of the way in with my wife, Nicole, and we hugged at the finish.  I did it!

Almost There!

Photo:  Preston Witcher

Overwhelmed With Emotion

Photo:  Preston Witcher

Running It In With My Wife

Photo:  Preston Witcher


Photo:  Preston Witcher

Finish Line Hug

Photo:  Preston Witcher 

We Were Both Done

Photo:  Preston Witcher

The Best Crew and Pacer A Guy Could Have!

Photo:  Unknown

I must say, I did not know what to expect at all from this race.  I am typically a very confident person, but this was unexplored territory for me.  And I loved every single minute of it.  I learned so much and cannot wait to apply some of those lessons learned in my next one.  And I am already planning that.


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