Bear 100 Race Report: Sweet, but Humble Redemption

Most are not aware of this, but the Bear 100 in 2012 was my first attempt at the 100-mile distance.  At the time, I felt really well prepared, yet looking back, maybe I wasn’t.  Either way, that day in 2012 was cut short at mile 61 when I was forced to DNF due to a pretty severe tear of my calf muscle…one that was bad enough to sideline me from running for nearly three months.  While an injury is certainly a legit reason to drop from a race, not finishing was something that Has bothered me for a long time…I needed redemption!  Since then, I have worked hard at becoming a better mountain runner through more sound training and by building a better race resume, including my first 100-miler!  I was ready to conquer my demons and decided that 2015 would be the year that I would conquer the Bear.

The race started like it usually does — at 6am on the last Friday of September at the base of Logan Peak in Logan, Utah with a bunch of us idiots gathering around getting ready for the journey to Fish Haven, Idaho on the shores of Bear Lake.  The weather for this race is about as reliable as a 1988 Dodge.  It has seen rain, mud, and snow, but this year would be something a bit different…record heat (more on that later).

I started the race with one goal in mind…early preservation.  I wore my heart rate monitor for the first 8 hours to make sure to keep myself from going out too hard and fast and planned to drink all of my fluids between aid stations…a goal that was largely able to do (although it turned out to not be enough).  The course itself starts with the largest climb on the whole course up to Logan Peak.  This climb is great because you get to peer out over Logan as the sun is coming up.
 (Sunrise over Logan, Utah)

Another great aspect of the course is that it takes place in late September, when the changing colors of Autumn are in full effect.  The trail itself is so gorgeous that it’s hard to not stop and take some pictures; it certainly can help take your mind off of things.
     

I continued along much of the course without much issue for the first 50K or so.  It is fun running through the mountains and seeing free range cows, horses, and sheep along the way.  Aside from the fact that one of the sheep didn’t seem to be all that pleased with me, I didn’t really have any strange animal encounters.  I got to simply enjoy the company along the way.
     

Temperatures were expected to be warm for the race this year, which was much different than years past, but little did we know, we would actually reach all-time high’s for this time of the year.  I ran across this remnant of a cow and really hoped that the heat would not offer me the same fate!

As I continued on, I was met at at the aid stations by my awesome crew of my wife and two young daughters.  It is amazing how much energy you can get just from knowing that you get to see your own cheerleading crew along the way.  They kept me going throughout the day, but I was starting to feel the effects of the heat,  Just after leaving Temple Fork at mile 45, I started to get a really bad side stitch from dehydration.  I needed the sun to set and the temperature to cool down in order to catch back up on my hydration.  As it turns out, I wouldn’t be able to shake the side stitch, which caused sharp pain on the downhills, for nearly 20 miles.

Once I got to Tony Grove at mile 52, I finally picked up my pacer just as the sun was starting to set.  My buddy Pascal has never done ultra distance trail running, although he is a triathlete and certainly no slouch himself.  A few weeks ago, he offered to pace me since I had not yet found one and I owe him big time.  He got me through the entire night shift; I am not sure if I could have done that without him.
 (Getting ready to head out with Pascal)

As Pascal and I pushed on through the night, I was still dealing with the side pains for much of the night, but was surprised at my uphill pace.  I did a lot of back and forth with other runners as I cruised past on the uphills and they passed me back on the downhills.  It was really frustrating not to be able to push the downhills because of the side pain, and I slowly fell off of my target pace.  Oh well, still need to soldier on!

Not that I needed another challenge, but at about mile 70, my side pain was going away, but my feet started to swell up.  I had never experienced this before in a race, but they were pushing hard against the inside of my shoes.  When I arrived at the Beaver Lodge at mile 76, I threw myself down and ripped my shoes off.  I have to say, this was my mental low point of the race.  I wanted to quit so bad.  Luckily, I have the best crew in the world, my wife!  She gave me time to gather myself and then started putting my shoes back on for me.  She wasn’t going to let me quit.  I was mad at the time, but she did just what I needed…she kept me going.  Shortly after we left the lodge, I remember Pascal saying “this is it…the point of no return”.  That made sense to me.  I left the lodge (the place where more people drop at the Bear than any other) and knew I was going to finish.  Suddenly, I was back in the game mentally.

Shortly after crossing the Utah/Idaho state line, the sun started to come back up.  From here, I was able to do more running.  My feet hurt like hell and were still swollen, but I was able to employ the run/hike strategy; running where I could for as long as I could before switching to a hike.

At mile 85, Pascal switched off with my wife, my savior, for the last 15 miles.  After crewing for me all day, she stepped in to get me through the last 15 miles.  I owe this race to her and I couldn’t imagine being on the trail with anyone other than her at this point.  The last climb of the course is at mile 92.  It is the steepest climb on the course, but also short at a little less than a mile.  I charged up this thing.  I don’t know if it was just anticipation, but I got a burst in me that even allowed me to charge ahead of my wife up this climb.  I took this picture at the top of the climb.  To me, it looked like an archway marking the entrance of the final descent.
 (Atop Ranger Dip at Mile 93)

From this point on, it was all downhill.  It was also this point that my most famous quote of the day came out…”I just want to get off of this F@#$ing trail!”  Despite that, I was happy, I was about to finish the Bear!  I even managed a smile at mile 99!

I crossed the finish line in 31:24…a few hours off of my target time.  And while the competitive side of me is disappointed and analyzing how I could have done better, I have a huge chip off of my shoulder.  I came here in 2015 to get redemption for 2012 and I did that.  Now, as I sit here almost fully recovered, it is time to think about what is in store for 2016!

 (Evolution of me throughout the race)

So what did I learn?  Well, for one, I still have a lot to learn about this distance.  It is night and day versus those events that can be completed in a day.  Second, and more importantly, I have been thinking for months about my desire to do this distance.  I simply enjoy the 50 Mile much more and I like to enjoy running.  I am not going to decide now, but I may take a few years to focus on and get faster at the 50 Mile distance.

For the thank yous, my wife deserves all of the accolades for this one.  She has supported me through training, crewed me all day, refused to let me do anything except finish, and dealt with the last 15 grumpy miles while pacing me.  My wife is definitely my rock!  Thanks to Pascal for pacing me through the night and his family for supporting me.  Lastly, Thanks to all of my sponsors for embracing my journey and supporting me along the way.

What I Used:

  • Salomon Sense Pro / Hoka Challenger ATR (switched at mile 30)
  • Injinji Trail 2.0 Socks with Liners
  • Orange Mud Vest Pack 2
  • Gargoyles Breakaway sunglasses
  • Headsweats Go Hat
  • Petzl Tikka RXP / NAO Headlamps
  • Garmin Fenix 3
  • Honey Stinger Energy Chews and Waffles + aid station food

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

Race Report: Buffalo Run 100

There is no better time to sit down and reminisce than while sitting around eating junk food and recovering from a 100 mile finish…so that is what I am going to do.  About this time in 2012, I was recovering from my first 50 mile finish at the Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50.  It is only fitting that I returned to the same race this weekend to shoot for my first 100 mile finish.  Going into the race, I was feeling excited and a bit nervous, but also ready.  My training this year was strong leading into race day and, after four years of ultra running, I was feeling ready to finally join the 100-mile club.  Unlike many other 100’s, the Buffalo Run starts at noon, which was awesome.  I got a good night of sleep in which I did not need to set an alarm or stress about making it to the start line on time.  The course itself is a 50 mile route, so the 100 milers run it twice.  This is difficult mentally because you actually pass through the Start/Finish area three times, making it really convenient to make excuses to quit.  Despite this, it didn’t end up being a problem for me at all; I was going to finish no matter what!

Buffalo2015-5     Buffalo2015-6

At the start, my first goal was to not go out as quickly as I normally do.  I wanted to stay somewhere in the middle and really focus on my pace.  I feel like I did a good job sticking to this, but still ended up being about 10-15 from the back in the first couple of miles, which begins with a steady climb.  Either way, I continued to run my pace and stuck to my plan pretty well, regardless of what everyone else was doing around me.  Honestly, the first 50 miles was rather uneventful.  I was in a great mood and feeling pretty damn good.  Most of the climbing on the course is in the first 19 miles, which makes a figure eight-type shape on the map.  My goal was to get through this in about 3:42; I ended up coming through in 3:38.  This section is followed by a long out and back to the ranch on the Southern part of the island.  This is a pretty flat section compared to the first part of the course, and takes a different kind of running than the more mountainous front portion.  The most exciting part of the first loop was just before the ranch at about mile 32, where a herd of pissed off buffalo were blocking the trail.  We had to take a wide path off the trail to get around them before we could get back on course.  One other great thing about this course…the animal life on the island offers such a unique running experience!  After that, I continued pushing forward until I got back to the Start/Finish tent at the halfway point.  I got in at 10:14, which was about 15 minutes behind my pace, but was still feeling strong.  I planned a nice and long aid stop here to change clothes and rest a bit, but with the good weather and the fact that I was feeling pretty good, I managed to use only 1/3 of it, which got me back ahead of schedule.  I also picked up my boy DJ here to pace me for the next 35 miles.  The timing was perfect because I was definitely starting to get a bit lonely.

At this point, I was still running fairly strong, but took the climbs easy (which was my plan) to make sure I didn’t overdo it.  We got in to the Elephant Head aid station again (you pass through this aid station a total of six times in the race) and received a great reception.  This aid station was being manned by members of my running group, the Wasatch Mountain Wranglers.  I can say, without a doubt, this is a great group of people and was the best aid station on the course.  I am grateful for the support from each of them here, but have to give a shout out to Craig Lloyd as well.  Craig introduced me into the Wranglers group and his positive attitude and confidence in my journey helped keep me going.  It was in this part of the race, about mile 65, where my stomach started to get a bit upset.  Thankfully DJ had some ginger chews.  He gave me one which almost immediately did the trick. Luckily, that was the only noise my stomach made all day.  Coming through the Start/Finish area at about mile 70 for the last time until the finish I was still moving decently and turning around aid stations quickly, but it was about this time where everything started to catch up with me.  Of course my feet were getting sore, but they were manageable.  My muscles too were in good shape.  What started to get me were some breathing issues.  I developed shallow breathing and a wheeze, which never went away (in fact, I still have a bit of it even 24 hours later).  This kept me from running for long periods of time, so I had to switch between running and walking for the next 15 miles.  DJ did a great job at safely urging me on and keeping me moving forward (not to mention that he is always great company on a run).  Once we got to mile 85, he switched off with my wife who was going to go further than she ever has before to get me to the finish line.  At this point, there was little to no running because of my breathing, so I just tried to speed hike as much as I could.  She was definitely on me about keeping a strong pace, even though I was getting a bit grumpy!  I told her she could never pace me again, but I was secretly glad she was there with me.  In the end, I cross the finish line in tears of joy in about 25:38 for my first 100 mile finish.  Waiting at the finish line for me were family and friends to help share in my accomplishment.  While I learned some lessons to apply in the future and seem to have a breathing issue I need to sort out, I cannot be happier.  I set out to accomplish what I meant to do and finished my first 100!  It is just now starting to sink in as I sit here, sore and still recovering, but I feel great!  This will definitely be something I will never forget!

Buffao2015-1 Becci pacing meBuffalo2014-4 DJ meeting me at the finish after pacing all night

Buffalo2015-2 Well earned beer and buffalo stew!

Buffalo2015-3 The prize!

First, I need to thank my pacers.  DJ got me through the night, my wife got me across the finish, but without either of them, this would have been infinitely more difficult.  I am thankful for having such awesome support.  As always, my family deserves much of the credit for being so supportive of my crazy hobby.  Thanks to Jim and the rest of the race staff and volunteers for putting on another great Buffalo Run.  Lastly, I need to thank my sponsors.  They provide me with the tools I needed to get the job done.  Thanks Orange Mud, Injinji, Gargoyles, Honey Stinger, Headsweats!

What I used:

  • Orange Mud HydraQuiver pack
  • Injinji Trail 2.0 (not a single blister over 100 miles!!!)
  • Headsweats Go hat/Beanie
  • Gargoyles Breakaway sunglasses
  • Honey Stinger waffles and chews
  • Salomon Sense Mantra (50 Miles) / Scarpa Tru (50 Miles)

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

The 2015 Grand Circle Trail Series: Beauty That Only Your Own Eyes Can Appreciate!

Overview

I have been all across the country (39 states and counting) and can honestly say that there is no place quite like the Southwest in terms of natural beauty.  Within the Southwest is an area known as the Grand Circle.  Encompassing portions of five states (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada), the Grand Circle contains America’s largest concentration of national parks and monuments.  There is no shortage of beautiful vistas, break-taking canvases, and zen-like feeling in the Grand Circle.

grandcirclemap

The mission of Ultra Adventures is to give runners a chance to immerse themselves in their passion on one-of-a-kind courses throughout this area. As you will come to understand, Ultra Adventures is about much more than just organizing races, but let’s look at the event line-up first.

The Races

For 2015, the lineup consists of seven events, all giving you its own unique taste of the Grand Circle.  I have provided a description of each event, a link to its detail page, and a link to sign up.

Antelope Canyon – February 21 (Sign up here)
This race is located near the Arizona-Utah border, near the town of Page.  It allows you the opportunity to experience two of the most photographed land features in the United States: Antelope Canyon and the Colorado River’s Horseshoe Bend.  It offers four distances – 100M, 50M, 55K, 20K.
AC1AC2

Monument Valley – March 13/14 (Sign up here)
Situated within the Navajo Nation on the Arizona-Utah border, Monument Valley features amazing formations that reach over 1,000 feet into the sky.  You will likely recognize these formations or “monuments” from the hundreds of movies that have been filmed in this desert backdrop over the years. Vibrant colors and dramatic shadows cast along the valley floor as you move along the course.  It offers four distances – 100M, 50M, 50K, 25K.
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Zion – April 10/11 (Sign up here)
Located in Utah adjacent to Zion National Park, this course gives you fantastic views of Southern Utah’s desert landscape.  It offers four distances – 100M, 50M, 50K, 25K.
Zion1 Zion2

Grand Canyon – May 15/16 (Sign up here)
This race is run in Northern Arizona within the Kaibab National Forest near the entrance to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The route traverses the famous Kaibab Plateau and links into the scenic Rainbow Rim trail, which takes you along several spectacular lookout points.  It offers four distances – 100M, 50M, 50K, 25K.
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Bryce Canyon – June 5/6 (Sign up here)
Located in Southwest Utah, this scenic, mountain course runs along the western edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau, offering spectacular views above and below the hoodoos. The race is run at high elevation, with most of the miles on this course situated between 8,000 and 9,000 ft.  It offers four distances – 100M, 50M, 50K, and half marathon.
Bryce2Bryce1

Capitol Reef – July 10/11 (Sign up here)
Located in Southcentral Utah, near the city of Torrey, this race begins at the red cliffs of Capitol Reef National Park. Soon after, you will be cruising singletrack through the pines and aspens along more than a dozen high mountain lakes, topping out on the tallest plateau in North America at over 11,000 ft.  It offers four distances – 100M, 50M, 50K, and half marathon.
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Tushars – July 31/August 1 (Sign up here)
Located at Eagle Point Ski Resort, just East of Beaver, Utah, Tushars is the highest, most challenging course in the Ultra Adventures line up.  Runners will summit 12,000 ft. peaks and run ridgelines among a thriving mountain goat herd then drop down singletrack into vast, glaciated valleys spattered with abandoned mining ruins from the wild west.  It offers four distances – 100M, 93K, sky marathon, and half marathon.
Tushar2 Tushar1

Here is a great video overview of the Grand Circle Trail Series from UA:

The Experience

Ultra Adventures events preach “the experience”.  They don’t want you to come to the area, race, and leave like you do with so many other events out there.  They want you to experience everything that the area has to offer.  For this reason, they created the Trifecta Challenge.  This is a collection of three routes that you can take, in addition to the race itself, that highlight some of the beauty of the surrounding area.  These challenges are unique to each course and are meant to encourage you to turn your race weekend into an extended stay vacation.  This is especially beneficial for out-of-town racers that may not have another opportunity to visit the area in the near future.  As an added bonus, your participation will earn you discounts on future Ultra Adventures events.  The discount is based on whether you complete the criteria for one, two, or three of the routes.

A big part of the experience also involves protecting these areas so that future generations can enjoy them as much as you undoubtedly will.  For this reason, UA events also promote environment and social responsibility.  Here are some highlights of how they accomplish this:

  • All events are zero waste, with less than 1% of event trash making it to a landfill.
  • Solar polar is used for all aid stations and race operations.
  • 80%+ of all aid station food is organic.
  • Extensive support of local businesses, organizations and artisans (including the awesome handmade finishers awards (each is unique)

The Challenges/Series

As further encouragement to experience everything about the Grand Circle, Ultra Adventures offers a number of mileage challenges and combo-course series.

Runners that sign up for the Spring Slam Series or the Run Elevated Series will receive a 20% discount off of their total race entry fees when registering for all four at the same time and a special hand made award for completing it.

Those that complete a mileage challenge will receive a special hand made award.  The great thing about the mileage challenge is that it can be completed over multiple years, allowing you to spread your races out#

Conclusion

What Matt Gunn and his team are doing at Ultra Adventures is truly unique and amazing.  He has created this opportunity for runners to see, experience, appreciate, and respect some of the most naturally beautiful places on our planet.  As an Ultra Adventures Ambassador, I fully embrace the idea that we should not just enjoy these treasures, but protect them.  I think this is a mindset that many trail runners embrace in some form or another.  As such, I think you would be missing out if you didn’t experience at least one Ultra Adventures race in your lifetime.  Until you do, you truly won’t realize what you have been missing.

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, or you have questions on any of the Ultra Adventures races, please contact me and/or follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!