If you want old school, challenging and beautiful, you really don’t have to look any further than the Bear 100 in Utah. You’ll be greeted at each aid station by some of the best volunteers, but don’t sit long or expect any coddling if you want to get this one done.
This wasn’t a last minute bad decision on my part to run this one, it’s been on my bucket list for some time. It started when my friend Mark Scherr ran it several years ago. It seemed like every time I talked to Mark he would tell me how I needed to go run the Bear and that he wanted to run it again too. His excitement over the race was infectious, so it was soon on my bucket list as a race to run. This one was for you Mark Scherr, RIP.
My race pack to honor Mark
I signed up as soon as registrations opened and began putting together a team. For me and big races, I really want the extra aid and to enjoy spending time with friends on the course. My running partner and friend, Sherri Harvey immediately agreed to join me for this one. Brad Goodridge has crewed for me before and having a crew chief you know you can count on was going to a big help. My parents were soon on board to drive down from Washington State to spend some time together before the race and be able to see me finish. Later my husband, Ed and son Joey also made plans to come out and join the fun. Ed would pace me in the last few miles of the race, and Joey had never been to one of my races before.
The race was still 10 months away, and to say the year 2020 ended up in a dumpster fire is putting it mildly. I dealt with it not only as a runner but also as an RD. I understood the challenges and struggles of having races during Covid and could appreciate all that it took to put on a race during these times. All of that made it a little hard to train not knowing for sure if the race would actually take place. I just kept doing my thing but to say that I put in a good training block leading up to the Bear would be a gross understatement.
As luck would have it, or bad luck, 4 weeks to the day before the race I was in a doctor’s office getting a cortisone shot in my knee. I was unsure if I’d be able to complete the race due to the pain I was having, and couldn’t really run. I knew immediately on a run a couple days before that this might not be good. I wanted to get it looked at and be able to, a) make a decision on whether I needed to pull the plug on the race and b) figure out what kind of situation I was dealing with. My doctor was super cool, he understood what I was doing, and we treated what looked to be just a lot of inflammation due to slight arthritis in my knee. No tears or major strains, so after the shot it was an aggressive step down dose of Prednisone, ice three times a day and wearing a heavy brace on runs and during training. Over the next four weeks, the pain settled down and went completely away. I had a few test runs without a brace just before the race. Major disaster avoided.
Let’s get this going, my nerves are killing me at this point!
The Bear 100 is an old school race. It’s been around for a lot of years and it’s pretty low key but not small. We were given bib numbers and assigned waves before the race. Each runner had to text their bib to a number to check in that morning, line up in your assigned wave group, and they started them one minute apart beginning at 6am. There was a huge crowd at the start with runners and crew. I chatted and said hello to a few runners I knew. No announcements were made, just cheers as the first wave got under way. To start the race, it’s about a mile or so down paved road. Just enough to get you warmed up, but the climbing really gets going once you round the first turn. You hit the trail in Congo lines and begin climbing for more than 5,000 feet over the next 9 miles or so. It’s still dark so there’s not much to see besides the trail and chatting with the runners around you, if you can talk and climb. This initial part of the course and first tough climb had me scared for weeks, so when I started to struggle with my breathing, I don’t think it surprised me but did make me start to panic. I had been listening to runners behind me chat for a while and knew a local friend and runner from back home was just a person or two back. I knew I was being pushed a little beyond my limits in the Congo line and asked Rich if he would mind stopping so I could catch my breath and stay with me for the climb. He was super sweet to agree and we let a few groups by as we continued to make our way up the big first climb. Finally, a sigh of relief once we hit the ridge line and got some of the first views in day light.
First Morning Views! Doesn’t get much better!
Congo line near the top of first climb
Rich and I stayed together through the first climb and continued on for the first half of the race. We both knew it would be a tough one. The climbs and the altitude could all play a toll on how the day would go for either one of us. He started out much stronger on the climbs and I became the push to keep us moving on the downs. Rich was running the race completely solo with no crew or pacers. I would looked forward to getting to my pacer around mile 45. But there was a lot of work to do between here and mile 45. We came into the first aid station (AS) around mile 10 to very friendly and helpful volunteers. We grabbed a couple snacks and drinks but kept moving. By the next AS I knew I was going to need to get my stomach under control. I think the altitude was beginning to cause some upset. Luckily, they had a bathroom there I could use and I took some Imodium. I knew keeping up with drinking and eating were going to be key, so I tried to keep after it. The one thing you could always count on was fantastic views throughout the course. There was always big climb but then some downhill to recover and make up some time. That became the game of the race for me. Struggling through the climbing part and trying to make up what I could on the downhill.
Finally some downhill!
Early on Rich and I knew we were somewhere near the back of the race. The one goal both Rich and I had was to finish, and of course not chasing cutoffs would be a plus. In and out of AS quickly and keep moving forward was key. Having someone to share the miles with and enjoy the incredible beauty was a bonus in my book. When you have someone to chat with or just move along in silence, it seems to make the miles go by faster. In the first half of the race, we worked together to not waste time but could not resist a few pictures to capture the experience. With each section as the race progressed, I felt like I struggled more and more. It was a slow beat down that makes you wonder how much can you endure, what more can this course throw at you. The rewards were spectacular beauty, but they didn’t come easy for me.
Embrace the Journey!
Much of the details and rules of the race got changed in the weeks prior due to Covid. When I had originally started my planning, we had 8 aid stations that crew could help you, now with new rules we could only see crew three times. I can do a race without crew but for me it can be really helpful to have someone who is personally looking after you. They can have my crew bag ready which for me contains almost anything I might need. If something goes south, I can usually fix it. Late in a race having someone personally taking care of my pack and making sure I’m eating can be the lifeline I need. This race had started out tough and seemed to just keep getting rougher. I really began to look forward to having Sherri jump in at mile 45. Rich and I talked a little bit about how having a fresh person to keep us moving and guiding us on the course would be a help. I saw Brad briefly when we got to Sherri at Temple Fork AS, although he couldn’t crew me just a few words of encouragement from him was a lift.
We would see Brad again in 5 miles but knew the next few miles had some more steep climbs to grind out first. It was now dark and it took Sherri a few miles to figure out the course markings. It was clearly marked but not a lot of confidence markers between turns. It seemed like the biggest fear became getting off course, doing extra mileage and losing time you knew you didn’t have. Shortly before we got into the halfway AS at Tony Grove where Brad was waiting for us, Rich had fallen back just a couple minutes and started having his own stomach issues.
Brad had the “Red” carpet all rolled out for me!
Brad was ready and waiting with my personal AS all set up ready to go. With the new Covid rules, he was only able to provide aid from his vehicle. They did not want extra people around the actual aid tables. At this first crewed AS he was not even allowed to enter the AS area until they knew I was through the previous AS. Rich came in just behind us and got what he needed and pressed on out of the AS, said we’d catch him, which we did just shortly. We had come into the halfway point about an hour ahead of the cutoffs. Sherri had her game face on and was ready to push me hard to make up some time. This next roughly 10 mile section became the place with more downhill than up, as Sherri pushed us to move as fast as we could adding an additional hour to the cutoffs. I had wanted Rich to be able to stick with us but he fell behind shortly after we caught up to him and we knew we had to stay moving. Sherri’s focus was to get me to Ed at mile 93 with at least an hour before the cutoffs so he could safely get me to the finish. With each AS and as the night miles and hours ticked on, that math got a little blurry.
Pictures don’t begin to do this course justice! They never really do!
I had made AS cutoff sheets for us which included how many miles to the next section, the cutoff time there and how much climb was in that section. The sun came up and the relief of getting the head lamps off and getting to Brad again at mile 75 with our extra time still in the bank. Then the charts we had were no longer correct. I guess there was some changes made due to Covid and my sheets were no longer accurate. Sherri thought that was helpful because when I knew there was a lot of climbing coming up, I’d get stressed. Each section only gave you about a 2-hour window before the cutoff, most were 7 plus miles with lots of climbing. We eventually had to quit the math and just go. We’d find out at each AS how long to the next AS and just kept it at that. It didn’t really matter how much climbing, you just had to stay moving.
Sherri pushing me and enjoying the beautiful course!
As the race went on, I actually felt like I was climbing better. I’m a consistent and fast hiker so I just had to move as fast as I could. We came into some later AS and Sherri would just take my water bottle to fill it, I’d keep moving and she’d catch up with food Brad had given her to go. I ate Humus wraps, Spring Energy fuel and broth to try and keep calories up, along with a few cokes at the AS. We kept pushing to keep as much extra time before the cutoffs as possible and the final section leading into Ranger Dip AS where I would pick up Ed was an endless amount of climbing. Sherri would call it the “road to heaven” because we were so high up, the highest she had been in the course. After all the endless climbing it was a short downhill to get to Brad and pick up Ed. I had to grab some quick nourishment but we had managed to hang onto an hour and fifteen minutes ahead of cutoffs.
My husband, Ed now led the way and we would go up to the highest point in the race and the steepest climb of the entire course, but also a short 934 feet straight up. Once to the top, I finally could sigh with relief, I knew I would finish, and I was spending the final miles of the race with Ed and enjoying every minute of it. We chatted with other runners, took pictures and enjoyed what many told me would be the best views of the race overlooking Bear Lake, Idaho. Those views didn’t disappoint and thanks to Sherri pushing me so hard we were able to take it all in.
I was reminded that God is good in the Hills and the Valleys!
The fall colors where spectacular and coming into the finish, seeing both Brad and Sherri who had helped me so much, along with my parents and my son is what really made the whole journey so special. The race is low key with very little fanfare at the finish but the one thing that made my race was the people who I always know are there for me even in my crazy. The family that supports me and the friends who probably understand the crazy a little better and share in it with me.