by Rich Guy
It’s 6 AM Friday morning, September 25, 2015, and we are at the start of the Bear 100 Mile Endurance Run. Promoted as a cool autumn loop through the pines, golden aspen and red maples, 100 miles, 22,518 feet of climb over 12 summits. The race begins at the mouth of Logan Dry Canyon, Utah, and navigates on various singletrack trails and dirt roads to arrive at Fish Haven, Idaho on Bear Lake.
A famous grizzly bear named Old Ephraim once roamed the Wasatch-Cache and Caribou National Forests. The race organizers are sure that he set foot in some of the same country that the runners will be traversing. 70% of the course is on trails, 29% is dirt road, and only 1% on pavement. The race has a time limit 36 hours, which means that if you do not arrive at the finish line by 6 PM on the following day, you get a Did Not Finish (”DNF”). The goal of many runners is to do this Ultra in 24 hours or less, running through the night with flashlights and minimal rest.
This from the organizers website: “The BEAR 100 joins the ranks of some of the toughest as well as the most scenic trail races in the world. The challenges associated with it will test the strength and endurance of any well-trained runner. This event is extremely demanding, and should only be undertaken by athletes in excellent physical condition. All participants should be familiar with basic first aid, and all the symptoms and treatment for heat exhaustion, hyperthermia, frostbite, and altitude sickness.”
“Quitting is not a bad thing, if you’re listening to your body. You just ran 62 miles, and that’s more than anybody else did on their couch at home.” Said one of the support crew for an ultrarunner from Salt Lake City.
“I don’t think there’s any shame for anyone that DNFs, they went out there and they tried.” “And it’s not like you’re done, it just makes you hungry for that next try” added Dan, a member of another runner’s support crew. “The total number of DNFs depends on the weather.” said Dan, “Over half of the field dropped out from the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run because of the intense heat, a comparable Ultra also in Utah, which took place last week” “Last year, a lot of people had to pull out of the BEAR 100, because it was super rainy and wet, and they did not have the right gear and proper clothing.”
I asked Jenny, a 36-year-old trail runner from Steamboat Springs, Colorado the following question: “Why do you run these Ultras?” She thought for a moment and said, “Such a hard question to answer, I don’t know, I guess partly for the challenge, partly because we can, and just to be out in the wild in the mountains where it’s beautiful.” Jenny just completed an Ultra 100 in Colorado last weekend, called Run Rabbit Run. She added “I felt good, I was ready to be done, but it was exciting to finish, since it was my first one.” I asked, “Are you going to do another one?” She responded cheerfully “Maybe! At the end, it was definitely painful, challenging, and I was ready to be done, but it was pretty fun to be out running in my hometown and to run with my friends. It was beautiful weather and the leaves were changing color, overall it was pretty great”. I asked “What advice would you give others that are thinking about running an Ultra?” “Um, if you get to do it, just take the time to build up and have patience during the race, and run your own race. Enjoy it, you’re lucky to be out there.” Jenny was here to support her friend Amanda, age 36 who was climbing the steep trail to Logan Peak as we talked.
John’s four member support team has a small window of time to enjoy the morning, before they needed to be at mile 19, the first aide station assessable by automobile up Blacksmith Fork Canyon. They will replenish him with food, liquids, and especially moral support and encouragement. His team included his fiancée, Hannah, age 24, from Fort Collins, Colorado, his brother Mike, age 28, from Boston, Massachusetts, a close college friend Mark, age 26 from Whitefish, Montana, and his pet dog, also from Colorado who sat in the car while the three humans sipped coffee at Café Ibis. John, age 28 was well into the first leg of his hundred mile ordeal. His friends goal for the day was to make sure that John is eating and having things that he wants to eat. Fueling the runners body properly and regularly is important. They will be there to give John warm apparel, if and when he needs it, to put “nuun” (an electrolyte enhanced drink tab) into his water, and to boost his morale. According to Hannahh, seeing his dog at the several aid stations will be an important morale booster. Hannah and Mark plan to pace John for certain sections of the race. Mike just arrived from Boston at 2 AM in the morning, and it was now 7 AM, and still dark from the night. John was already on the trail with 300+ runners with lights strapped to their heads and some with additional lights on their hands. Mark said “In ultrarunning, you’re allowed to have a pacer at certain points, and in this race you’re allowed to have a pacer after mile 37, so two of them will switch off running with John to the finish.” This is John’s fifth BEAR 100 endurance run. His fiancé said “John’s goal is to finish the race. He has dropped out in other ultras, because he gets sick or injured.” “He just wants to have a nice steady run” his Montana college friend commented “ In the last four ultras he finished two, and dropped out of two, so I think he just wants to finish.” John has participated in the Tahoe, Red Hot and Moab Ultras. Mike added, ”I’m a photographer that likes to shoot Ultra events, so it’s a good excuse to to go to these events, and especially to an event with my friends”
Becky is here to support her husband Jamie. They’re both from the Seattle area of Washington. If Jamie finishes, this will be his 39th Ultra 100 finish. Jamie is 53 and started running Ultras in 1999, beginning with the Cascade 100, which he has completed 14 times. I asked Becky what are some of the challenges of being married to an Ultra runner? Her response “Probably the training time, especially when the kids were younger, now it’s easier cause it’s just the two of us. It takes a lot of long runs on back-to-back weekends, but it’s fun being out at the aid stations and meeting people. For a while he did runs near National Parks, such as Glacier, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Zion, Grand Canyon, and Canyonlands.” Becky added “ this is his third year we have been here. The first year he sprained his ankle before arriving and made it to mile 19, but stopped because he rolled it again. Last year, he was ready to go, but his grandkids had the stomach flu, which he caught, but made it to mile 30, which is good after having flu symptoms on the trail. So this year he just wants to get it done.” She added “Ultra runners are the nicest people, usually, although maybe those front runners get a little cranky at their crew, because they are racing.” “There are a ton of hundred mile runs, so pinpoint where you want to go on vacation, and make your mark on the map.”
Amanda Grimes from Steamboat Springs Colorado placed 175 with a time of 34 hours, 36 minutes and 26 seconds. John Fitzgerald from Fort Collins, Colorado placed eighth with a time of 22 hours 11 minutes and 23 seconds. Jamie Gifford from Seatac, Washington finished on his third try, and placed 68 with a time of 27 hours 46 minutes 53 seconds. It was a beautiful hot day for a BEAR 100 in Utah. Out of the 300 starters, 208 finished, 92 DNF. Old Ephraim would be proud.