#273 - Bear 100 Race Report

Bear 100 done! 10th buckle earned... From the moment I first found this race is was very high on my radar and early this year I entered it, booked the flights, and then had the Zumbro/Salt Flats/GUCR series which didn't go well, so decided not to do it... and whilst looking for alternatives (eventually!) I came to the conclusion that the main reason not to it was a fear of failure. It's a real tou gh one, almost 22000' of vertical ascent and climbing up into the stratosphere of well over 9000', far, far tougher than any of the other 100s I've done. The risk of failure was high, but I started at the front of the race anyway. Don't be afraid to fail...

The first 10 miles is basically straight up a mountain, 3500' straight up and it was about mile 2 that I decided that it was a very, very bad idea that I was here at all, I was badly underprepared, huffing like a steam train and just about 3000' of the climb to go, the first of a dozen or so big climbs. And these are BIG, in thin air...mmm. I will never, ever ever complain about a "hill" on a marathon again!

So obviously I just carried on and had a nice chat with fellow Brit Guy Mawson who went on to have a cracking run, the snow fell for most of the day (ah did I not mentiont the snow and cold forecast?!!) but luckily was very dry so just kind of bounced off you... and the benefit of going up so high is that get to come down again, and I'd say miles 12-17 were my favourite, of any race, ever! Just amazing scenic, trotting down a long shallow descent through the fall foilage, not especially fast but just lovely single track which left me with the thought "THIS is what I want to be doing" - there was a similar moment through a canyon around 28-33...

Rachel popped up which was a lovely surprise as we'd agreed that it was fairly pointless crewing as I'd have zero idea of my pacing and access was pretty tricky. She popped up again about 45 and after she wandered off was when the fun and games started!

The snow line was maybe about 7000' and in places the snow had melted and turned the trail to mud, slippy, clay, cloying mud. Miles 48-51 my pace fell through the floor, as basically I did too as I virtually couldn't get up some of these slopes, they were steep, muddy and my legs were done (in fact they were fairly done from about mile 2!)

Then another welcome surprise was Tony Christensen meeting me at 51 with an offer to pace me through the night (in fact to Idaho in the end!) - unfortunately Tony's original runner had to drop at 45 (the DNF rate was about 50%) and he kindly stepped up to help me out. I switched to my night time gear (it got down to abotu -9C I was told) and off we went. Slowly... aside from my legs and the thin air, lots of snow had now turned to ice on the trails. Lethal! I fell over 4 times, Tony twice and there were 3290 near misses. Ouch. Progress was slow... but steady, we made decent progress on the downs and Tony kept me going on the ups, which in the snow/cold/dark were pretty tricky... and the river crossings, either on stepping stones or logs (I only got one wet foot!)

Tony left me at 78 and if truth me told I was never not going to finish. Some of the ascents at the back end were just incredibly hard, muddy, slippy and I hadn't really been able to breath properly since 6:00 Saturday! But everything else was good, foot, drink, electrolytes, aid station discipline was all fine. It was mainly just the inabilty to get up hills, and stay upright! I completed the last dozen miles or so with a chap called John really very, very slowly through some dreadful underfoot conditions, but in amazingly scenic vistas, the fall foilage, mountains, Bear Lake, sun was out by then, day warmed up and we just drifted along to the finish, just chatting, offering encouragement to anyone we found or who passed us and generally just enjoying the day!

Perfectly pace sub 35:00 run, 34:59:34 I think it was and membership of the Wolverine Club for those with 30-36 hour finishes... really pretty pleased, in better conditions I might easily have knocked off 3-4 hours off that time. Maybe anyway. But to be good at these gnarly ones I need to be a far, far, far better runner. Seriously, I was done at mile 2.

And Bear 100? That was my late fathers nickname... was never going to DNF this one now was I?


I'd probably deliberated more about Bear 100 than any of the other 100 mile runs I'd been in for, perhaps aside from the first “proper” one I'd done, the South Downs 100 in 2012. It was high, over 9000' at a maximum, all over 5500' and much over 8000' and I already know that I can feel the thinner air at around 4000' and start to struggle at around 5500' (i.e. can't really even start to run uphill without sounding like a rather creaky, noisy steam train) so had no idea how I might cope up in the stratosphere and then just the sheer ascent. Now I thought I was signing up for 22000' of climb, transpires that was the old course, afterwards I discovered it was almost 27000', I think I am glad I didn't know that in advance as that places Bear 100 in the UTMB/Hardrock type league and I don't belong in there, I am far more Sunday morning regional division 3 at best, not Premier League!

But eventually, eventually I decided to commit to it. Broadly this was reached by looking at the alternatives, I'd already booked the flights, so I was going… there were marathons, but nothing real exciting and a couple of ultras. A 50m in Colorado, but that had river crossings and I'm never keen on getting my feet wetter than I have to! And a 100k the UROC 100K 2013 Skyrunner World Ultra Final Race, which actually lets anyone in. Thinking about this, although it was high, it had a nice long time limit, a buckle even but just didn't click with me, I figured I could do a 100k. So if I could do that, then why not Bear. It was just fear of failure really, and whilst I don't do this stuff to fail, only those who risk failure know how far they can push themselves. Whilst my “A” plan of using Zumbro (with its 16000' of up) as a bridge to Bear 100 had failed miserably in the mud of Minnesota I decided to toe the line anyway.

In the days leading up to the event the weather forecast looked pretty much ideal, 70 odd during the day, 40 odd at night (colder up high of course but nothing to worry about) even a few showers in the days before to nicely dampen down any dust on the trails perhaps too… ho, ho, ho! As we rolled up to the pre-race briefing in the pouring rain and having driven through lots of snow on the way over from Wyoming we discovered that the cold snap forecast had hit. That rain down at 5500' would be snow up high and the temperatures were not looking good (I heard it got down to -9C overnight in the end)

At the briefing a chap called Mike introduced himself and we had a chat, he was a friend of Tony Christensen who had paced me at Salt Flats 100 and we shot the breeze, listened to the briefing and then shot off to the bag drop, which was close by, but down a narrow little lane to the RD's trout farm, so guessed that there would be much traffic chaos there. (I was right!) I decided on small drop bags at 20 and 30 miles or so, major ones at 50 and 75. Early just with Ensure/PB M&Ms (incredibly didn't eat one the whole way around!) and a few bits and bobs and the latter ones with Hokas/socks/night gear. I really had no idea how I would do, so ultimately almost decided to have two lots of night gear depending on where I was… doing great would be 75, not so great 50…

Rachel and I had decided that it was pretty pointless her crewing me as runners could only be met at a few points, some others were real tricky to get to and I had zero idea when I would likely be there! So a bit unfair for her to be waiting 4 hours for 1 minute, of “hi, nahh, I'm good, see you!” type crewing!


Fairly decent night's sleep in Logan the night before, a hard caffeine cut in the system, chat with Mike again at the start (and still not found the other two English chaps doing the event Guy Mawson and Tim Adams!) and at 0558 I'm at the front ready to go. If you're wondering what I am doing there… I have discovered that US ultras can start very slowly, if you're at the back running then you're weaving through a lot of folk! At Rocky Raccoon it took me 5 miles to get past everyone to run at my own pace on the single track. Here there was maybe a mile of road for the field to spread out before the single track and I didn't want to get stuck behind 100 others!

At 0600 promptly we were off in the dark, didn't even bother with the head torch at this stage as street lights and so many other runners (300 were signed up). I held my own for about 300 yards till we turned right and the real climb started, and whilst I'd like to claim I sprinted up the first bit as it was road I soon gave up trying to kid myself that this was a worthwhile exercise as I was puffing like a train already and that first climb is 3500'+ over the first 10-11 miles. I must have been the first person to start walking as I had a few comments of “ah, you're the sensible one” etc as others huffed and puffed their way past. As it turned out this actually worked incredibly well, over the next 10 miles or so till AS1 I'd guess 6-8 people went past me and I overtook 2, so I was about smack on where I should have been pace wise.

After a mile tops the single track started and the long march began in the dark. It didn't take long though before I was having serious breathing issues, huffing and puffing, and I'd say about mile 2 I was having serious “what the hell am I doing here issues!” at first my hamstrings were just screaming right from the get go and before long the quads were hurting too, not like injured hurting, like “what the hell are you doing here hurting”. I'd seen one girl turn around and head back downhill and I did have thoughts of joining her! I could run back to the hotel, few easy days in Utah… so on I plodded. It was nice when the light started to come up, I stopped to take a photo or two (and catch my breath) and the climb went on, and on, and on. AS1 finally appeared, looked good, few bits of food and soft cookies (I eventually would go on to half fuel my entire race with soft cookies), filled up the water bottles (I'd bought a couple of the “soft” water bottles too to carry some more as AS1 was at 10 and AS2 at 19 and thought that was a long way on one bottle perhaps (it was, so that worked well).

On the way up Guy Mawson caught up with me and we did a couple of miles together which was nice, including a bit of downhill, which was lovely! Before another ascent and he slowly left me behind, at the summit though I noticed that it was 1) Rather snowy. 2) Rather cold. I noticed a couple of runners with icicles hanging off them! I was too hot for that, but did portend what was to come.

At about 12 the first descent came along and I have to say for maybe 5 miles, my view of the entire race changed. It was fantastically scenic, the sun nearly came out, it warmed up, it was runnable and it was downhill. So off I trotted, it was often “watch where you're putting your feet” terrain, but generally not too bad and knocked out 5 miles at 11/12 minute pace and I really got a “this is what I want to be doing” type feeling. Out in the wilds, running along, exchanging the odd little chat with anyone around all was well with the world and then almost before you knew it, mile 19 and AS2 was here.

I didn't really have a pacing plan. Plan A was sub 24 (was never going to happen) Plan B was sub 30 (on a good day possible I felt) Plan C, finish. I probably should have done my homework a bit better on reflection, but I had a pretty good idea of the course in my head, rough idea of where the Aid Stations were, so wasn't too bothered. March up hill, run down, see what happens. See Rachel in Fish Haven some time tomorrow (she was running a marathon on Saturday morning), I didn't carry a cell phone either, firstly as very unlikely to get a signal and secondly no easy way to quit with “come fetch me call” as I did know a couple of the Aid Stations were close to decent roads.

At AS2 some coloured guy was complaining incredibly loudly that his drop bag wasn't there (he was still complaining about it at the finish about 30 hours later! He DNF and I somehow doubt that was the reason, aside from that everything I saw was 100% spot on). I had a quick sort out, lost one of the soft water bottles as I knew the AS were more frequent from here on in.

Oddly AS3 was only a couple of miles later, so that came and went (standard intake was two cups of coke, a soft cookie or two and a mouthful or two of anything else I fancied) and another long ascent was on. The good news was that the longest, highest ascent was that first one, the bad news was that there were 8 main ascents and maybe another dozen “minor” ones (and when I say minor that would be say under 1000' of climb)… off I plodded. Quads and hamstrings had settled down to a not very happy state, right inside ankle wasn't very happy either. This one only about a six mile/2200' ascent to Cowey Canyon (funnily enough saw no cows but did run with some sheep for a while).

Ricks Canyon from 31-35 was another fantastic descent, just weaving single track down a canyon, the different coloured Aspen leaves in their fall colours that changed hue as the altitude dropped, from brown, to orange, to yellow to green, tinkling river (aside the Aid Stations, a mile at the start, maybe three miles at the finish there was virtually zero evidence of civilisation) . It had been snowing very gently virtually the whole time, but so light and dry that it just bounced off you so was quite nice and vastly better than the drizzle it would have been had it been a bit warmer (I had a thick Nike Combat base layer, random race short sleeve shirt and Adidas Boston jacket on from 0-51 and was fine in that, once or twice got as far as unzipping the jacket a bit but that was it).

So anyway at the bottom, there is a little out and back to AS4, Right Hand Fork, and found Rachel wandering along the trail towards me which was a nice surprise! In and out of the Aid Station and a “walk with me” for a while (cold can of diet vanilla coke was a treat too!) and that was a boost, especially with a promise to see me at the next AS at 45. Only 8 miles, with a 1000+' ascent… but a nice downhill into it. (probably the best bit of the course from a running perspective, fine graded road) though my this stage it was pretty much run/walk the down hills, (my legs were already really feeling it) but when I was running I was doing so at a decent enough pace, 10:00 or so, and overtaking folk who were walking/running. (As an aside here out of AS2 I'd had a nice chat with a guy about Hardrock 100 which he'd finished twice (and he looked lean, mean and grizzled…) and he'd left me long behind. Found him again about 43 or so, sitting down beside the trail, I asked him he was OK, if he needed anything and he just replied, “stomach, I'm out… I'll walk it out to Temple Fork in a bit, these things are tough…)

Meet up with Rachel again and she walks with me for maybe a mile and half this time to about 47 so that was nice. Gave her back the camera so she could have that at her marathon (and it would be dark before that much longer anyway) and I was pretty good, I'd be at 51 before dark, night gear was there, any kind of decent night and I reckon 28 hours was on.

And as so often with the 100s, when the lights get dimmed, the fun and games start…

Firstly saw my one and only really interesting bit of wildlife, a moose (I think!) big, very dark and heading off into some trees, pretty sure it wasn't a bear anyway. Whilst it would have been nice in a way to have seen one (at a nice long distance) not so sure I'd like to surprise one on the trail! (In fact did see some bear prints later on in the morning in the snow about mile 90 or so).

Up until this point the ascents had been generally steady, and long, rather than really steep. And here was the first really steep ones, not THAT ridiculous, but it was muddy, and slippy and at mile 48 the legs are feeling it badly. There were several times that I was just slipping backwards, grabbing on to rocks or branches and making dreadfully slow progress. In the three miles up to Tony Grove at 51 I think from memory my miles were around 35 minutes each. I had to stop to sort out the head torch as the lights went out, the temperature was going down and I was glad that I had night gear up ahead.

The good news about Bear 100 is that there is more up and down in the first 50, so it was a relief to perhaps be over the worst of that, on the flip side, whilst less elevation change, the second 50 is higher, mostly all over 7000' so around the snow line and above.

Virtually the first thing I see there is Tony Christensen who tells me he's my pacer for the night which was a huge lift after the last few miles, I felt bad that Mike had to pull out at 45 due to the cold air affecting his asthma. Swapped my running shirt for a base layer and swapped the jackets over to the warm New Balance one. Stuck the thick gloves in my pockets and we were good to go, Tony kindly even offered me some long trousers (he was wearing two pairs), but I felt fine in the shorts still and generally have never really felt I got cold legs. I also carried in my pack a very lightweight spare jacket as an extra layer if needs be, plus another long sleeved shirt.

Off we went in to the snow and dark and Tony's company was certainly most welcome, he owns two Bear 100 finishes, so knew the route which was helpful in knowing what was coming up and we chatted away for hours. The next section though was lethal, the snow on the trail had frozen to ice with the footsteps on it, narrow and slippery. I wiped out four times and Tony twice. I twisted my left knee on one of the falls which would bother me a little the whole rest of the way… down hills were not much fun. Which was a shame as the ups were horrible!

But all in all though progress was slow, compared to the 35 minute miles before Tony Grove I felt we made decent solid progress. I knew anything moving through the night would mean I'd be home no worries the next day.

Down to Franklin Basin we went, over log river crossings, stepping stones and only once managed to put my right foot in water which I wasn't impressed with myself about! Up till that point I had managed to keep the feet dry and feared that might cause problems (in fact it didn't, looked dreadful when I cleaned up afterwards, but was just badly macerated, no real blister issues at all amazingly), the long climb Steam Mill Canyon seemed to last forever before we got to the far too toasty AS at Logan River. Did have a nice sit down here with grilled cheese sandwiches and was probably my “low point” – very very tired and sleepy, still 30 miles to go and started to have those “well I could just doze for 15 minutes” type thoughts, but stuffed some caffeine in me and once out and moving again (thank you Tony!) all was good and once that passed that was it really.

Logan River crossing on logs was a bit hairy (with ice on the logs just to spice things up a bit) some poor woman dunked a foot in here but I remained dry and off we plodded… in fact there was a bit of a procession for a while with Tony leading four or five souls along for miles up Peterson Hollow. The others happy just to be pulled along at whatever pace Tony set (which was always just a bit faster than I wanted to go, so perfect!) The only navigation issue of the whole race occurred on a moor type place at the top here (after an emergency “stomach issue” I had… amazing how these things come on, one minute you're fine, the next it's like whoaaa, what's happening here!)

Must have been 8 or 10 runners milling around on a trail that had suddenly just vanished, luckily a flag was quickly found and we were back on our way, amazing though how a simple “follow my leader” type thing had lead to all of us missing the marker, which of course when found was incredibly obvious! Luckily in my case a deviation I reckon of about 25 yards maximum!

Down we went to Beaver Lodge, which cruelly we could see the light of for miles and miles and just never seemed to get any closer to! We were joined by a chap called Gary (who I realised after we split up and chatted to for maybe an hour, I'd never once looked at to recognise him again!) his light had given out and he trailed along behind so we could light his way.

Beaver Lodge was real civilisation and far too warm and cosy! 75 miles in, light coming up, 11+ hours to make it home. The sub 30 finished had died hours and hours ago so 32-33 hours looked like the mark now. Tony decided to see me along to the State line (the race starts in Utah but actually ends in Idaho, State #43 the hard way!) and a couple of miles later we posed for some photos and went our separate ways. Was oddly lonely after hours of company and suddenly I was very aware that I had to take 100% responsibility for my navigation, I did not want to go astray, though in retrospect there was very little danger of that happening, you just start to panic with 80 miles on your legs!

Up and down, up and down, up and down and the miles very slowly passed. The morning started to get warm and finally the jacket came off! I hooked up with a couple of guys from the West Coast who were struggling and we passed maybe an hour together meandering along before we got split at Gibson Basin I think it was. I even had a few decent attempts at running on a flat bit (there were one or two yards that were level!) but both knees started to protest and the right ankle started to hurt fairly badly so that experiment didn't last too long.

Beaver Creek at 85 rolled around and it was about here that it was “OK no problem, going to make this now” lots of time to spare, how hard to do you want to work to make it 33 or 34 or 35 hours? And trust me when it's so utterly meaningless to push hard, it's hard to force the legs any faster.

Around mile 88 I fell in with a chap called John Taylor who had completed 52 100s before this one and although neither of us said anything we mutually kind of fell into pace and decided we'd see each other home. So we chatted about 100s and experiences on each side of the Atlantic and what we were seeing an experiencing. Much of it involving the mud and what was coming up (it was his 5 th Bear 100)

After a long climb there was probably the worst bit of trail on the course, was downhill and just slop. I think even now on reflection the most notable achievement of the weekend was remaining upright on this bit! Was just dreadfully slow trying to pick the rocks out of the mud to land on, or to stop yourself but at times it was simply sliding, slipping and just trying to stop! Was in the middle of some stunning scenery mind you, huge vistas of mountains, snow fields, colourful fall foliage, picture postcard stuff… perhaps not totally appreciated at the time though!

Finally the last aid station came along at 92 and a bit of a sit down and a chat with the folk there… was lovely and warm at last and could easily have sat there for an hour! A chap on an ATV came along and said there was a runner who was badly disorientated not far away, who although was with a pacer, seemed to be in trouble. So we went off seeing if we could find him and help out, though we never did find this “Josh” although we did find some other guys in some trouble (though they all made it home in the end).

Out of the aid station though was the worst climb of the whole event, not hugely long at all, maybe 600' of up, but dreadfully steep (and up around 9000' high) and muddy and at times really felt like I was almost stuck! Slipping backwards, grabbing on to stuff and almost “swimming” up… so bad it was almost funny. I think if there was one single reason against coming back to do Bear 100 again it would be that climb, on legs in that stage of the game. It was a painful experience shall we say!

Normally in life you'd probably be looking forward to a nice 3000' descent… but on 95 mile legs? On tricky terrain, my knees didn't like it, especially the very steep bits where you'd just trying to brake! But Bear Lake was within sight (and it looked incredible from up high) and finally about mile 99 Rachel hoved into view and we were almost home at last! A quick catch up on her marathon that morning and before we knew it, we were home, even managing a bit of a jog for the last bit to finish in the perfectly paced sub 35:00 time of 34:59! Was nice that so many folk were hanging around at the finish and soon found Guy Mawson and then Tim Adams who recounted their experiences whilst I plopped myself down never to move again!

Overall whilst my time was slow it was probably exactly what I deserved, the event was as tough as I expected it to be and I struggled. The conditions didn't help of course and I suspect had the mud/ice/snow been less then the same effort levels would have shaved 2 or 3 hours off the finish time. I'm very pleased to have finished it mind you; I wasn't that confident going in to the event. It was far, far above and beyond any of the other 100s I've done. I suspect I was the only person there with 150+ miles on their legs from the previous week and the altitude was a terrible struggle at times. It's perhaps how it feels to have asthma where you just simply can't get enough air in quickly enough, so you huff and you puff, for hours, and hours!

My feet were in an incredibly good condition bearing in mind the disasters they have been in the past. Saloman GTX and Dirty Girl gators kept all the junk out and although I suspect I'll lose several toe nails and they feel battered, overall I would take that in an instant after any 100. Blistering is the best from any 100 I've done, foot taping, sock choice methodology perhaps finally getting worked out.

It's amazing how quickly we forget though, it's the Tuesday afterwards, Hardrock 100 lottery opens today. Obviously I entered now I have the qualifier…

Things I Learnt

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