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The Bear 100 was the first 100-miler I attempted back in 2004.  It was a small event that year with 51 starters and you wouldn’t see other runners for many hours.  I didn’t quite finish that year, but it started my long association running The Bear. Since then I had finished it seven times and hoped to accomplish it eight times, which would make it the only 100-mile race that I have finished that many times. During the early years the course was a loop format in the mountains above Preston, Idaho, but in 2008, it changed to a point-to-point course from Logan to Bear Lake.

My summer mountain 100s had been a struggle.  Starting in July I discovered that I was having great difficulty keeping my speed up during races with steep sustained uphills. This led to DNFs at both Cascade Crest 100 and Wasatch 100 where my progress was significantly slower than any previous years. This became discouraging during both races. For the first time since my rookie year I had to keep my eye on cutoff times.  This was disheartening and both times and I mentally quit as I realized I would need to run well over 30 hours to finish. Leading up to the The Bear 100 I put in more effort with hill training and believed I would be fine early on, but probably would still struggle later in the race.

My best Bear finish was back in 2010 with a solid time of 26:30. I always hope to beat my best times, but this year I set realistic expectations based on my recent elderly results and put together a pace chart to finish in 32:30.  I hate running 100 miles in more than 30 hours because of the toll it takes on my body being out there for so long.  But if I wanted to finish Bear this year, I decided to expect slowness and just focus on finishing.

I have recurring nightmares of arriving to the start of a race late, or without the things I need including shoes or drop bags. After the pre-race meeting Thursday evening in Logan, I went to my motel room and started to put things out for the morning.  I discovered that I left my running shoes at home! I knew I had backup shoes in my Tony Grove drop bag, so I drove fast back to the park. But to my dismay, all the Tony Grove bags were gone!  So I searched nearby vehicles and luckly found an SUV packed with Tony Grove bags.  I just started to search through the piles and soon was helped by the very kind vehicle owner, Michelle Hansen.  We finally found the bag and I was greatly relieved. Watch out, dreams come true!

Me leading a long line of runners up the mountain - Andrew Barney photo Me leading a long line of runners up the mountain - Andrew Barney photo

Me leading a long line of runners up the mountain – Andrew Barney photo

At 6:00 a.m. on Friday, I was off and running along with 300 other runners, first running through Logan neighborhoods and then attacking a steady climb up Dry Canyon. I pushed as hard as I could without maxing out through the first long climb. I was fascinated with a young woman runner who chatted non-stop on the climb. I was just trying to breath but she talked on and on. I did my best to stay ahead out of ear-shot, but eventually as the conversation turned to cats and rabbits, I couldn’t stand it any longer and let her group go by.  I appreciated the silence.  Another woman came by blaring music out of speakers instead of head phones. I couldn’t resist throwing out a comment that she really should use ear phones.

After the long climb, I finally arrived at Logan Peak aid station (mile 10.5) in 2:50 in 123rd place, nearly a half hour slower than my best time in 2010. I had been so used to hanging with the top 10% of the runners for many miles, but that experience is now just a memory. I didn’t let it bother me, I was within five minutes of my planned pace.

Running fast arriving at Leatham - Matt Williams photo

Running fast arriving at Leatham – Matt Williams photo

When the downhills arrived the speed came back as long as I had the nerve to blast down the hills and concentrated hard not to trip.  I loved running down the single track in Leatham Hollow and passed many runners along the way. One time as I approached a runner to pass he looked back, saw the old man gaining and kicked up the speed so I wouldn’t outdo him.  He hung with me to the bottom. I arrived at the trail head (mile 19.7) on schedule at 4:33 and was only seven minutes slower than my best time for that 9.2-mile segment. Without steep uphills I could still move well.

Climbing up Richards Hollow - Andrew Barney photo

Climbing up Richards Hollow – Andrew Barney photo

The weather and temperature was perfect, nice and cool. I really enjoyed the climb up Richard’s Hollow which I think is the most beautiful section of the course.  But during the long sustained climb, all the runners I had passed coming down Leatham Hollow caught up and passed me as I slowed. I arrived at Cowley Canyon (mile 30) at 7:17, 18 minutes faster than planned and actually right on pace with my 2008 race when I finished in 30:51. That perked me up and I made a fast stop.  With the short out-and-back it was nice to greet friends who were a little ahead or behind.

Beautiful fall colors - Andrew Barney photo

Beautiful fall colors – Andrew Barney photo

The afternoon was beautiful and cool.  My legs felt great, never very tired, but my limiting factor for speed was my heart rate and respiration, the usual elderly affliction. I greatly enjoyed the downhills but each time slowed within a couple miles of the aid stations.  I reached Temple Fork (mile 45.2) at 11:22, just ten minutes slower than 2008.  The coolness in the air made we worry that I didn’t put any warmer clothes in by drop bag for the climb up to Tony Grove. I knew dusk would arrive before I reached there. Ben Light came up to me and started to help me prepare for the next segment.  He kindly offered to let me take his long-sleeve shirt with me.  That was very kind and relieved my worries which turned out to be unfounded because the temperature was warmer up on the ridges.

In past years, I really thrived on the tough long climb to Tony Grove.  In 2008 with my brother, I accomplished it all the way to the lake in 2:06.  But this year it took 2:35 and the aid station was a half mile closer. I could tell that laziness was really setting in and concluded that having a pacer along this year would have really helped.  I rarely use pacers, but perhaps it was time to start using them more to keep me focused.  Near the top there were a couple runners who were really going slowly and I tried to encourage them as I passed.  Andrew Jensen caught up to me on the downhill to the aid station and we were both in good spirits as we sat in a warm tent getting things ready for the long night and eating wonderful chili. We were at Tony Grove (mile 51) at 13:57 in 167th place, nearly two hours slower than my best time there.

The long night was tough.  The long downhills slowed me down too.  I ran near a runner who never actually ran.  He had an amazing power hike using poles.  I could push ahead with a good running pace, but he always caught up as I slowed.  My best running pace at that point was slower than his hike.  I arrived at Franklin Basin at 17:33 (11:33 p.m.) with Andrew Jensen.  I felt pretty beat up and it was cold in the basin. I sat by a fire, trying to eat well and get warmed up. But soon I started shivering badly.  The people there were so kind. One lady draped a coat over me and rubbed my back. Another sat close trying to get me warmed up.  A third went and got me a cup of hot chocolate.  It all worked well and after an 18-minute stop I was on my way again. When I look like death sitting by a fire, I’m usually asked if this is my first 100.  My reply this time was, “This will be my 94th 100-mile finish.” That always shocks them, but makes them stop worrying about me.  When I hopped up and announced that I was leaving, they seemed surprised, and I thanked them for all their help.

The next segment up and over a high ridge to Logan River was “a bear.”  In past years I got up and over pretty fast, but this year it seemed to take hours to make the long climb. I would yell out, “Will this climb ever end?” Serious thoughts of quitting at Logan River entered my mind and I started to make plans.  Would this be the third DNF in a row?  I was suffering with low in energy but staying warm. Once I hit the downhill, things improved. I arrived at the aid station (mile 69.5) at 21:15 in 185th place (more than four hours behind my best time). I decided to sit for 30 minutes, warm up, eat well, and then decide if I would quit. I sat next to a runner who had already quit, who was waiting for his wife to arrive to pick him up. It would be so easy for me to ask if I could have a ride out too, go to Logan, get my car and sleep. I almost started to talke to him, but I said nothing, and instead thought that the young runner shouldn’t quit.  If I felt better, I would have offered to lead him on.

I didn’t quit and continued on, feeling much better. There was another climb and descent to the Beaver Mountain ski area.  A fire had ravaged the area last year and the route was confusing coming down as it had to go through areas that had been bulldozed. I was sure runnings ahead of me were going the wrong way and it took several minutes to convince myself that they were on the right route. I arrived at the lodge (mile 75.8) at 24:21 (6:21 a.m.) in 186th place.  Many runners were dropping out there. I stayed for 25 minutes getting ready for the day ahead and left right before dawn.

Gibson Basin - Andrew Barney photo

Gibson Basin – Andrew Barney photo

My energy returned very well and I ran very strong up to Gibson Basin (mile 81.2) arriving at 26:31 where I found Andrew Barney sitting in a chair.  We left together and I tried not to dwell on the fact that in 2010 I had already crossed the finish line by this time.  I still had 19 slow miles ahead of me.  The basin which had been icy a couple hours before was now muddy and slick.  We had to run in the brush on the side of the road.

My biggest blunder came as I approached the next aid station and needed to cross Beaver Creek by hopping on rocks.  A runner near me was slowly crossing using poles making me wait for a long time.  I finally decided to just hop and go.  But when I hopped, the rock I landed on was slick with mud and I fell into the cold creek up to my waist spraining a couple fingers in the fall.  It wasn’t too cold but my gloves and shorts were soaked.  I just felt stupid. When I arrived at the aid station, Ben Light was there and he jumped in and took care of me.  Instead of putting on my garbage bag, he offered to let me use his high tech rain jacket.  I gladly agreed as I ate a wonderful breakfast bagel. My stop was 12 minutes and as I left, it started to pour rain.  I soon became pretty cold and I wished I had not left the long garbage bag back at the aid station.  It would have helped give me better insolation. I worried about hypothermia so pushed the pace harder to try to get warmer.

Yes it did in the mud.  This made us all laugh.

Yes it did in the mud. This made us all laugh.

I prayed that the sun would come out and warm me.  Within a half hour the rain did stop and the sun came out.  My prayer was answered. I caught up to Andrew Barney again at the top of the ridge and told him my prayer worked.  He said he had prayed too. We had great “fun” slipping and sliding through the mud descending down to Ranger Dip.  The mud would get very heavy on my shoes, requiring me to stop many times to scrape some of it off.  Thankfully, the road down in the valley bottom was gravel and it was so good to run much faster without a fear of slipping and sliding. We arrived at Ranger Dip at 30:37 in good spirits.  I now knew that I would finish. I did need get warmer and Carol Manwaring’s husband let me wear his jacket to the finish. The four layers I had on worked great.  I charged up the steep hill above Ranger Dip that thankfully included gravel in its dirt.  My speed was now very good. All the runners around me were walking but I could still run both up and down the hills.

The long steep descent - Matt Van Horn photo

The long steep descent – Matt Van Horn photo

The steep descent to Bear Lake was not a problem for me this year except for some really slick and slow sections. I think the slick mud for the last 15 miles cost me nearly two hours extra. I would pass by runners with trekking poles who were picking their way down the hill very carefully and slowly.  I found it to be faster without poles.  Instead on the steep or slick spots I reached out with my gloved hand and grabbed onto branches as I passed to help keep me vertical.

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The finish line finally came into sight and I crossed it in 33:29:12, my slowed Bear 100 ever and my 4th slowest 100 finish ever.  But I was very pleased with my 8th Bear 100 finish. It had been a tough, amazing adventure. I was really glad that I had the mental strength to stick with it and make it to the finish. I felt very grateful for all the people along the way who kindly jumped in and helped me without being asked. They made a huge difference to my race and helped raise my spirits.

Running 100 miles isn’t easy and sometimes not terribly fun, but there is always great satisfaction when the finish line comes into sight. It took me four days this time to recover and have a bounce in my step again, but I looked forward to going after #95 soon.

Fitbit record

Fitbit record