Grin and Bear It
Christy and I returned to run the Bear 100 again last weekend. I guess we’re just gluttons for punishment.
We gave it our best and finished the 100 mile course with 23,000 feet of elevation gain in respectable times, though we were both a bit slower compared to last year. We ran unsupported, that is without crew or pacers, and speaking for Christy as well as myself here— five days later we’re still feeling pretty worked.
A great day at a race like this requires everything to go right. Anything short of that means you’re out on the course longer, and if the challenges that arise are numerous and/or sizable, there’s a really good chance you might not even finish.
That’s part of the reason we both came back this year. We’re always looking for that elusive great race, where it all goes according to plan. Unfortunately, last weekend wasn’t it. But you never know until you try. And we may have learned a thing or two in the process.
Whereas last year it was cold and snowy, this year it was hot and dry. The day before the race the temperature climbed into the high 80’s in Logan, and when we started at 6am, in the darkness, it was already warm. As we made our way along the course through the day, we knew we had to try to aggressively counter the effects of the heat or we would pay for it later.
From the start through about 10 pm I was sweating, at times profusely. No matter how much you drink or how many salt pills you take, you can’t maintain adequate levels of hydration after 16 hours of effort in dry, hot weather. Muscle fatigue, mental fatigue, stomach problems, and sleepiness can ruin the back half of a 100 if dehydration and electrolyte imbalances get compounded during a hot day. Hopefully you don’t get them all together or you could be in for a long night.
We did our best to run smart, and though we weren’t together, we both moved really well through the day, on or near PR pace. But midway through the night I felt noticeably slow and tired, and I was having trouble staying awake. I was hoping that when it finally cooled down I might come back around, but when the temps began to dip around 11pm, it wasn’t only because it was nighttime. There was a cold front sweeping across the course and it was bringing rain.
Some light showers became heavy rain around 1am as I made my way over the highpoint of the course, near mile 88. It poured and began to flood the trail, and where it could run off, the dirt-turned-mud began to cake our shoes and everything got really slick.
I had to fashion some tree branches into walking sticks just to help me get up the slippery hill from the Ranger Dip aid station. After that final climb the rain finally let up, and I descended down the steep finish stretch to Bear Lake, thankful that things dried out. I recall thinking about how bad that final downhill would have been if it were any more wet (foreshadowing). I finished in 22:52, about an hour and ten minutes slower than last year. I was 12th.
Christy was still on the course with the rest of the field, and they didn’t know it, but more storms were coming to get them. Earlier in the week the forecast looked quite good, so we didn’t pack much in the way of rain gear. It only began to show a high likelihood of rain the day before the race. But by then our drop bags were already sorted and sent off, and we didn’t have any crew on the course to help. So when the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th wave of rain came down on Christy into the morning, she put on everything she had but still got soaked through.
The breaks between the passing storms seemed to get shorter and shorter, eventually becoming one very rainy Saturday. Christy recalls being at a campfire at the Beaver Creek Campground aid station early in the morning, at mile 85, soaking wet and with little shelter. As the rain continued to come down, she realized the fire wasn’t really warming her. It became clear that further waiting at the aid station was just prolonging the misery, the rain wasn’t letting up. The sooner she got going the sooner she would be done. She found a garbage bag on the ground, fashioned a poncho, and headed out.
From my point of view at the finish, I witnessed mud-covered runners come in describing the descents, particularly the long final one, as a mud slip-and-slide. Everyone looked beat up. Nobody finished without appearing to have had multiple crashes on the slick mud. The finish area was completely flooded. Christy came in smiling, looking like a water-logged bag lady with mud all over her lower half.
There were 281 starters and 167 people finished within the 36 hour cutoff, a 59% finish rate. You can see the full Bear100 results here.
Christy crossed the line in the middle of the finishing field— 87th in 30:53. It may not have been the good time she had hoped for, both on the clock and the fun meter, but she sure earned that belt buckle and the memories, which will likely remain imprinted for a while.
So even though we may have both swore off these 100 milers during the course of the night last weekend, since the elusive perfect race is still out there, I’m pretty sure we’ll be back.
And with that, our summer race calendar is wrapped up. After a week with our feet up, we’ll enjoy what’s left of fall and start getting geared up for winter.