I have had the pleasure of running a lot of amazing races in a lot of incredible locations all over the world. Meanwhile, one of the most beautiful challenges I've ever faced is right up the road from my house and I never fully realized it. The Bear 100 is a totally legit, scenic mountain race and the hardest thing I've ever done.
For me, the Bear had a warm, family feel because I knew so many of the runners in attendance. Packet pickup was like a reunion and everybody was happy and excited to get on the trail. Being among friends has a way of easing the pre-race tensions that plague most runners before a 100 mile race. Probably because it reaffirms that you're not a total idiot for signing up for a race like this. Or maybe it's the old "misery loves company" mentality. Either way, it definitely helps.
Aside from my own race, my good friend, Britta Trepp, was going to be running her first 100 mile race and I was eager to watch her progress. Britta is an amazing runner and somebody that I am slightly competitive with. Maybe more than "slightly"...But I was really excited for her nonetheless.
Pre-Race with Britta Trepp and Jim Skaggs
As a frame of reference, the Bear starts in Logan, Utah and runs north for a finish in Fish Haven, Idaho. It covers 100 miles through two mountain ranges, includes 22,000 feet of climbing, and has the runners climb to 9000+ feet several times. It's a damn tough race.
The race starts at 6:00 AM on Friday, so with the 36 hour cutoff, it finishes at 6:00 PM on Saturday. My only goal was to be finished in time for lunch.
The race begins on asphalt and we follow this road to a nearby trail head. This allows the field to thin out before we get bogged down in the conga line heading up the mountain. I wanted to go out fast so I didn't get stuck behind other runners on the way to the single track, so I hopped in behind Karl Meltzer and followed him to the trail. That seemed to do the trick and we were on the trail in no time.
This first climb is 5 miles long and we gain about 3500 feet in the ascent. I was feeling great and was able to comfortably run the first 2 miles of the climb. But as the grade intensified, I was forced to hike to the ridge line.
As we gained altitude, we entered snow covered trails. The ground was frozen but the footing was still great.
After hitting 8200', we made a sharp descent into Welches Flat before resuming our brutal climb toward Millville Pass and the Logan Peak aid station at mile 10.5.
Cresting the First Ridge
I moved through the Logan Peak aid station quickly and made the final scramble to the top of the peak. This is the largest climb of the race and I was happy to have it behind me.
After reaching the top, we bail directly off the mountain and begin a 3600' descent into Leatham Hollow.
Where I Came From
The descent into Leatham Hollow was gorgeous and once I got below the snow line, it actually warmed up and became a very comfortable run. By this time, I was mostly solo as the field had thinned out a lot. I settled in and enjoyed the race.
Sun Beating on the Snow Capped Mountains
Some Sweet Single Track
The Leatham Hollow Aid Station at mile 19.6 would be my first chance to see my crew. My run was going really well so I planned for a very brief stop. As usual for my 100 mile races, Jo would have a hydration pack waiting for me when I arrived and it would be fully stocked with everything I would need for the next leg of the run. All I needed to do is drop my depleted hydration pack, pick up a fresh replacement and head down the trail.
Well Stocked! Thanks Hammer Nutrition!
I swapped packs, got a quick kiss and headed on my way toward Richards Hollow.
Back on the Trail!
There was an aid station at Richards Hollow, which was only 3 miles away, so when I reached it, I just checked in and out without stopping and proceeded up the 2600' climb to Richards Peak. The climb was less dramatic than the first and was easy on my legs.
I quickly crested Richards Summit and made a quick and sharp descent into the Cowley Canyon aid station at Mile 30.
Single Track in Cowley Canyon
When I arrived at the aid station, Jo and I went through our rituals. She swapped packs with me, asked about how I was feeling and gave me a status update on the race. This is when I learned that Britta was not too far behind me. This news didn't really surprise me because she's a strong runner, but I expected a more casual pace for her first 100 miler. I was happy to hear she was doing well.
I moved out of the aid station quickly and made the steep ascent up Rick's Summit. This climb was a bit of a grinder for me but it was shorter than some of the earlier climbs. I was feeling good and making a strong climb.
I crested the top of Rick's and made the fast 2000' descent into the canyon below. I was moving quickly but I was also pausing alongside other runners so we could chat during the descent. I made leisurely conversation with 6 different runners along the way and it turns out that we all knew each other somehow.
The ultra world is small...
Right Hand Fork
I came cruising into the aid station at Right Hand Fork, still chatting with another runner. I was still in great shape and planned to make this a quick stop. When Jo told me that Britta was still running strong and looking good, I began to ponder the possibility that she might just beat me. I shuddered a bit because I know she would never let me hear the end of it.
I left the aid station quickly...
Britta Right Behind Me, Looking Great and Feeling Strong
I made the short 1000' climb up to Mudd Flat Summit and quickly ran down to the Temple Fork aid station at mile 45. We were sustaining a lower elevation during these miles so the weather was better, the oxygen was more plentiful and I was able to run much stronger.
Snowy Single Track
Coming into Temple Fork
Coming into Temple Fork Aid Station
Coming out of Temple Fork, I had a 2600' climb over the next 5 miles. I knuckled down and started the steep ascent.
I was warned about this climb before the race so in a very rare move, I opted to use my Black Diamond Z-Poles for this ascent. This is something that may have saved my race.
Sporting the Poles
The climb out of Temple Fork was the worst part of the race. The trail was covered in thick gooey mud and getting any speed or decent footing was nearly impossible. I was forced to drive my poles into the muck and pull myself up the steep climb.
This amounted to FIVE miles of pulling myself up a 2600' incline. My upper body was burning from having to do the work that my legs are trained for.
It was not a good time.
After fighting my way to the pass, I made a quick descent into the Tony Grove aid station at mile 52.
I was wiped out!
Running into Tony Grove
Tony Grove was a sea of people and I was greeted by a lot of friends that had come to watch the race. It was all very heartwarming, but my exhausted condition didn't allow me to enjoy it as much as I would have liked.
It was bitter cold at the aid station so I didn't want to linger. I swapped packs, exchanged updates with my crew and headed out.
Leaving Tony Grove
This next 10 mile section called for a 900' climb, followed by a 2300' descent. The sun was beginning to set and the temps were dropping rapidly. I kept moving quickly. More to stay warm than to save time in the race.
Staggering into Franklin Basin Aid Station...Mile 61
At Franklin Basin, I got to pick up my pacer and very good friend, Rob Goekermann. Rob and I have a long history together and I was happy to have him join me.
It was at this aid station that I learned that Britta was really beginning to gain on me. I would like to tell you that I wasn't worried, but that would be a lie. I was terrified.
Me and Rob Heading into the Cold, Dark Mountains
I wouldn't see Jo again for about 14 miles because there was no crew access before then. This isn't really a problem, but I like to break my race up into small, manageable bites and those bites are usually associated with when I get to see my crew. This bite was going to be hard to swallow. Especially knowing how cold and miserable those miles were going to be.
Immediately after leaving the aid station, we're faced with a 1700' climb over 4 miles. I was glad to finally have some company but by this point in the race, I wasn't really in a chatty mood. Poor Rob was on his own if he was seeking entertainment.
We ran, jogged, shuffled and hiked our way into the Beaver Lodge aid station at mile 75.
During this trek, my headlamp died. I positioned Rob behind me so he could shine his light over my shoulder. We stumbled the rest of the way into the Beaver Lodge aid station like two drunk idiots as we kicked rocks and bounced off trees.
I will remember that time, fondly.
WARNING: If you ever plan to run this race, beware of Beaver Lodge! The is an actual structure. With heat and furniture! After 75 miles of running through the frigid mountains, it's exactly the type of place that will suck you in and never let you out. It's best to stay outside while your crew tends to business inside.
WAY Too Cozy for an Aid Station
While at Beaver Lodge, I saw a lot of things. I saw friends that had dropped from the race, I saw plenty of other people that were contemplating dropping from the race....
And I saw Britta!
Britta Catches Me!
I've been looking over my shoulder for this girl for 75 miles and here she is. Her spontaneous arrival eradicated any thoughts I had about sticking around to warm up. I took a few minutes to chat and see how she was doing, then I quietly slipped into the cold, dark night.
After leaving Beaver Lodge, we had a very brief descent then we began a brutal climb toward Beaver Creek Summit. This climb was only 1600' and seemed manageable enough. But it wasn't.
After a 1300' climb, we were navigating along a totally exposed ridge as the wind blasted us. It was 20 degrees without the wind and I can only imagine what the wind chill must have been. The trail meandered for miles, taking us up, down and then turned back on itself. It just felt like we were lost on the tundra with no hope for salvation. Not a fan!
We eventually made the final push up a steep ascent and dropped down into the Beaver Creek aid station where Jo was waiting.
I swapped packs on the move and started to head out. Rob had to change batteries in his headlamp and I told him to catch up when he was done. I had stuff to do!
I was being hunted and needed to put space between me and my pursuer. I was gone!
Miles 85-92 were a total slug fest. Extreme exhaustion had set in and I was begging for this to be over. I was so cold, I couldn't feel my extremities and all I wanted was a warm bed.
Rob could sense my condition and tried to entertain me. I was well beyond the ability to be "cheered up". Couldn't he see I was DYING?! Singing to me won't reverse that!
We bumbled into the aid station at mile 92. More friends were scattered around in various states of decomposition. I tried to engage them in discussion but they were too far gone.
I drank half a cup of Coke for a bit of caffeine, glanced at the headlights behind me, and headed toward the finish line, once again, leaving Rob.
He didn't seem to realize I was being chased!
After leaving the aid station, we had ONE final climb. People kept saying, "It's really steep, but short".
What the hell does THAT mean?! Short compared to the 7 mile climbs we've been doing for the last 95 miles? Nobody could be specific, but they all agreed it was steep.
Not only was it steep, it's the tallest point on the course. Nobody mentioned that though.
We tackled that ascent like two turtles stampeding through peanut butter. This was the only ascent that required me to stop and catch my breath. My calves were on fire, my body was rebelling and my mind was quietly slipping away from me.
The only thing that kept me focused were the headlamps behind me.
After eventually reaching the summit, which is comically named the "Gates of Paradise", we began a 6 mile descent toward the finish.
The downhill was steep, rock laden, rutted and muddy. Not exactly ideal for getting some speed, especially when you're physically destroyed. My knees were in so much pain that I was reduced to a careful crawl down the steep grade.
After the most miserable descent of my entire life, we were near Fish Haven and could see the lights just below us. The sun was beginning to rise and I was able to see without my headlamp. We hurried toward town, assuming the finish line was within a few hundred yards.
The trail serpentined forever, compounding my frustration. We eventually hit a paved road and we ran, walked, stumbled our way into town.
Another runner caught up to us as I was walking and insisted we run the rest of the way. I agreed and we pushed out the most painful 10 minute miles of my life.
Coming to the Finish
I crossed in 25:34 and was just elated to be done.
While sitting in the grass, trying to ease my pain, Britta came around the corner and made her triumphant finish. She was 10 minutes behind me.
Her First 100 and She Finishes Looking Like a Supermodel!
I also know her pacer was using me as a carrot to prod her along and keep her moving quickly.
We both benefited from each other and we both had good finish times for this nasty 100 miler.
Before running the Bear, I had always heard incredible things about the race. I had never heard a bad word about any aspect of this event and I was deeply curious about the mystique that this race carries.
Now I understand. The Bear really is an amazing race. The word "epic" is too frequently used, but I really believe its perfectly applicable when referring to the Bear 100. This race delivers on every level and I was thoroughly impressed. It's hard, scenic, well managed and provides a glimpse of every imaginable trail condition in the western United States.
Yeah...EPIC is appropriate.
I'm still on a bit of a high since finishing and my mind continues to wander back onto those trails. Because of this, I know I'll be back. And that makes me happy.
The year is winding down, but Jo and I have a few more exciting adventures on tap. Thanks for taking the time to read my rambling report. We hope to see you on the trails very soon!