A few weeks ago, I had the craziest and most memorable adventure of my life running the Bear 100 in Utah. It’s a grueling, 100-mile trail run from Logan, UT to Fish Haven, ID. The race was billed as “36 hours of Indian summer,” with stunning views of pine trees, golden aspen and red maples. My previous 100-miler, the Beast of Burden Summer 100 (you can read the race report here), was a flat, out-and-back course with punishing heat, and I was ready to step up my game. I knew there was a possibility that I wouldn’t finish such a crazy mountain race, but having run road races for 10 years, I was looking for a new challenge. I was really proud of my spotless record–out of 175 road races I have run since 2003 (in distances ranging from 1 mile to 100 miles), I had finished every single one. I always did say, if I were to DNF (do not finish) a race, I would do so in epic fashion!
My story begins on Wednesday, 9/25, when Shane and I boarded our JetBlue flight from JFK to Salt Lake City. When I arrived at Terminal 5, I was delighted to see that a Baked by Melissa cupcake shop had opened! I love their cupcakes, and I always use a marathon or ultramarathon as an excuse to indulge my sweet tooth. I bought a few cupcakes to throw in my purse, and it got me in a happy mood as I got ready for our five-hour flight.
It was a relaxing, uneventful flight, and we arrived late evening. I was so excited to be in Utah! The next morning, we went to Alchemy Coffee in Salt Lake City and enjoyed some pumpkin spice lattes. What can be better than that! It was a nice, cozy cafe and the coffee helped me wake up. I knew that we would have limited energy to sightsee after the race, so we also hit up RubySnap cookies, which had rave reviews on Yelp. The decor was very 50’s and kitschy. They give generous samples (half a cookie!) so we tried some amazing flavors, including a seasonal one with strawberries and a goat cheese cream on top. I ended up getting a 4-pack with the following flavors: Audrey (almond dough with almonds, cranberries and white chocolate), Penelope (peanut butter dipped in chocolate), and Lilly (lemon sugar cookie with lemon glaze and lemonheads). If you’re in Salt Lake City, you must go to RubySnap!
We also went to the State Capitol building, saw the outside of the massive Mormon temple (you must belong to the Mormon church to enter), bought some souvenirs, and treated my pacer (for blog purposes I will call her C.) to lunch and talked race strategy. We agreed that she would pick me up at the Franklin Trailhead aid station at Mile 61, around 2am early Saturday morning. It was a very busy afternoon of sightseeing and coordinating logistics!
At 3:45pm, we arrived at the pre-race meeting at Sugar Park in Amalga, UT. It was very chilly and drizzling rain, and the temperature felt like low 50’s. All the Bear 100 runners were huddled under the wooden pavilion as we awaited final race instructions from the race director, Leland Barker. Typically, 100-mile races take days of preparation just for the race–there is usually a pre-race meeting, a place to drop off your drop bags (participant-provided bags) so they can be placed on the course, and bib pickup.
The goody bag had a nice maroon tech shirt with a map of the course elevation on the back and a packet of Hammer Nutrition Recoverite. They sold some merchandise at Leland’s (the race director) trout farm up the road. It was funny–it’s such an intimate race (only 300 participants) that he had us put our drop bags on the lawn and he sold merchandise in his living room! I bought a big red fleece jacket with the race logo.
Shane and I took about 1 hour to assemble our drop bags. There were 13 aid stations along the course, and 10 of them had drop bags. It was important to strategize what your needs were at what point of the course. For example, you needed a headlamp in your drop bag a few miles before darkness set in, and you had to anticipate what foods/gels/liquids/caffeine boosts you wanted at certain miles!
Finally, once our drop bags were done, we could eat dinner! I chose Jack’s Wood-fired Oven in Logan, as their pizza looked pretty legit. I ordered the tomato basil soup and the “Pig and the Peach” pizza. It was prosciutto with thyme, honey, and chipotle peach dressing. It was delicious! It was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had while traveling. Finally, it was bedtime around 10pm to prepare for our 4:30am wakeup call (race started 6am). Luckily, the start line was only 10 minutes away by car!
Bear 100 Race Day, 9/27/13
This was it. This was the day I had been training for the past 8 months. I was ready to rock and roll!
Shane and I ate a light breakfast at our hotel, then we got to the start at 5:30am with plenty of time to spare. There was no official start line banner, just a tent set up for the volunteers and runner check-in and a bunch of runners clustered together in a parking lot.
I got the chance to meet elite ultrarunner Karl Meltzer. He’s a pretty awesome guy–he has the current record for most 100-mile wins (35) and was a past champion of the Bear 100. We chatted a bit and his last minute advice was to “be patient.” And of course, runner geek I am, I got my photo with him. Thanks for the advice, Karl!
It was pretty dark and chilly, and I offered Shane my sweatshirt because he had packed all his jackets in his drop bags. I’m happy to share! At 6am, there wasn’t really a start horn–a bunch of people started moving, and off we went into the darkness!
I was feeling pumped, and I knew to start very conservatively because there was a 4,000 ft climb in the first 5 miles, and the first 10 miles were almost completely uphill. It was singletrack, so runners didn’t really have room to spread out until after 4-5 miles. The views as we climbed higher were stunning. I think I was one of the few “city” girls that gaped and took pictures while climbing. I took this race seriously, but I also wanted pictures to make sure I had a little bit of fun along with the torturous climbing! I also noticed a lot of people had trekking poles, and thought about getting some the next time I go on a mountain adventure. The first 5 miles were very, very tough, but I felt well-prepared. The one hard thing i didn’t expect was the snow. There was a decent amount of snow, and the chilly air sometimes made it hard to breathe. Luckily, I didn’t feel sick from the altitude…yet.
I made sure to keep hydrating and eating the entire time. People ask me if I ever get bored during an ultra, and the answer is no. There is so much to do! You have to keep your eyes focused on the ground so you don’t trip, remember to eat, remember to drink, and look for trail markers. Plus, there is scenery to be enjoyed and photos to take. How could I possibly be bored??
I reached the Logan Peak aid station and was so glad to have made it to mile 10. One of the tough things about the Bear 100 is that there is usually 7-10 miles between aid stations, which means that you have to carry adequate water and supplies in between, plus it can be very scary at night when there’s no one around until the next aid station.
I was still enjoying myself very much during the race. However, miles 11-20 were some of the coldest times–there was snow gently falling on the trail, and since we were high up on the mountain it was windy. I had to be very careful of my footing so that I didn’t slip too much on the snow. My spirits were still high because it was afternoon and I was wide awake. I was having a blast! The descent into one of the lower points, Leatham Hollow, was gorgeous. It was very runnable trail and there were pine needles to cushion my footsteps. I made sure to thank all the volunteers I saw! I made it through one of the hardest climbs and descents and I was feeling pretty darn good.
What happens when darkness falls? Race report to be continued…stay tuned!