A month after racing TDS, and failing to finish after getting caught up in delays due to the runner accident and death,, I tried to redeem myself at the Bear.
Unfortunately for me, familiar symptoms of an Achilles injury that I dealt with in 2020 began to pop up from miles 70-75. I decided that, rather than risk serious injury, it was best to quit the race. It was a tough choice to make because the nature of the injury was such that I could certainly run on it to the finish… but I ran on the same symptoms in 2020, and ended up in a boot for 6 weeks with many months of ensuing rehab and ramp-up.
However, I prepared well for the Bear and I was certainly equipped with the right gear and mindset to finish strong. I was not in quite good enough shape to earn a 24-hour finish, but I was definitely close.
As mentioned above, a month prior I ran most of TDS. TDS was a much, much steeper course than the bear, and it was also at altitude, so I knew that I’d be able to handle the climbs. I carried poles and a lot of gear at TDS, per the race requirements. I opted to run the Bear without poles. Knowing what I know now, I think that those targeting a 24-hour finish probably shouldn’t carry the extra weight of poles at the Bear. However, those that have little hope of a 24-hour finish may benefit from poles.
I used ultraPacer to plan my race splits. Looking back at my prior 100-mile races, I tend to slow down between 25-50% when it comes to my pacing over that distance. I used a 30% slowdown adjustment and 2-minute aid station breaks to compute my target splits. It was a great starting point, but ultimately started to fail during the heat of the day (ultrapacer does have a heat-factor feature, which I did not use).
Nutrition & Hydration
I recently started using Tailwind, so I mixed a Tailwind packet in one of my soft flasks at every aid station. My personal salt needs call for me to drink a mixed package of tailwind (625mg of salt) with about 250-500ml additional water from the other flask. This is assuming that I get a bit of additional salt from solid and synthetic foods. I would eat a bit of solid food at each aid, and I carried packets of Clif Bloks to chew on between aid stations.
I carried 2 Salomon soft flasks in my front pockets, plus one extra Hydrapak handheld soft flask that I used during the longer, hotter stretches as-needed. This was a great combo that allowed me to carry 1.5L of water at times, and this was a perfect amount for me on 24-hour pace.
Having just run TDS in some rough circumstances (including very heavy rains and an extremely cold, frozen night), I was confident in my equipment. I was running the Bear without crew or pacer, and I prepared just a single drop bag, so that meant that I ran with a lot of gear… my rationale for this decision was that I simply didn’t know the course, but I had heard many stories about how tough the conditions could get. I chose to run with full rain gear, an extra layer (beyond what I needed for on-pace comfort), emergency equipment, and both my headlamps for the entirety of the race. If I were ever to run with a crew, I would adjust this kit based on the race conditions that day… for example, with forecasted highs of 86 and completely clear skies on the day of the 2021 race, there’s no way I could justify carrying full rain gear in my pack when I’d be seeing crew every 2-4 hours.
I prepared a single drop bag for Franklin Basin, which is where I thought I’d be at sunset. When I reached my bag, I changed into long tights and fresh shoes/socks.
On my person for the entire race, I carried:
- Salomon 5L pack
- 2-3 soft flasks
- emergency bivy & medical kit
- an extra layer (mid-layer during daytime, puffy at night)
- full rain gear (mitts, jacket with hood, pants)
- warm fleece beanie
- warm mittens (my hands get very cold easily)
- 2x headlamps with extra batteries
- waterproof phone case with race plan, profile, notes
- phone with Gaia GPS and
.gpxfile of the course loaded (I used this frequently)
I wouldn’t change anything about the gear that I brought, but if I were to ever run again with crew, I’d have my crew carry a lot of the equipment from aid-to-aid during the day. I didn’t see a need to carry my rain gear, both headlamps, beanie, gloves, and warm mid-layer all day… but it made things logistically easier to plan for a solo race by carrying all this myself.
The splits below are not entirely accurate, because they’re based on whenever I pushed the “lap” button on my watch and sometimes I would forget to hit it until I was 5-10 minutes past the aid. But they’re mostly accurate based on my experience.
As I mentioned above, I used ultraPacer to plan the splits that I would see for a 24-hour plan with 30% expected pace slowdown. I mostly used that in order to plan for my nutrition/hydration goals.
During the race itself, I wore an arm-based heart rate monitor (the Scosche Rhythm+ 24) to monitor my real-time heart rate. This is the first time that I’ve ever restricted my efforts in a 100-mile race to keep my HR in check. Using a HR monitor for a 100-mile race was a great strategy, and something I highly recommend.
Start to Logan Peak
- 10.19 miles
- 2 hrs 28 minutes
- avg HR 143 bpm
There’s a ton of climbing in this section. I ran when I could, but walked when my HR started climbing above 145. I carried 1.5L of fluids and this was too much - next time I’d carry 1L for this section.
Logan Peak to Leatham Hollow
- 9.24 miles
- 1 hr 34 minutes
- avg HR 140 bpm
This is where the race starts to be jaw-droppingly beautiful. I’ve never seen so many fall colors concentrated on mountainsides. It was amazing. I kept my pace in check and saved my quads, which I’m sure helped me later.
The sun started to come out maybe halfway through this descent. I carried a little container of sunscreen for the first 60 miles (another thing I’d leave to crew in the future). I was glad to have it here.
Leatham Hollow to Richards Hollow
- 2.73 miles
- 29 minutes
- avg HR 148 bpm
This section was mostly flat. You run on a dirt road, with a couple roller hills on the way, but it’s entirely exposed and it was warm in the sun.
Richards Hollow to Cowley Canyon
- 7.65 miles
- 1 hr 45 minutes
- avg HR 143 bpm
The climb out of Richards Hollow was really steep, but also really enjoyable. I remember running on creekside singletrack for much of it, occasionally yelling at cattle to move off the trail 😂. The course started to get hot in the few sections that were in the sun here.
Cowley Canyon to Right Hand Fork
- 7.06 miles
- 1 hr 27 minutes
- avg HR 144 bpm
Here’s where the heat really started to take a toll, and where my hopes of a 24-hour finish started to diminish as I saw my splits drop. I refused to increase my effort in the heat, and as a result I started falling behind my desired pace by a minute or two per mile.
However, the running in this section was great. The views were stunning - some of the best on the entire course. I couldn’t believe all the colors.
Right Hand Fork to Temple Fork
- 8.03 miles
- 1 hr 43 minutes
- avg HR 140 bpm
Again, I took a huge hit in this section because it was the heat of the day and we were running in extremely-exposed canyons. I have no doubt that this section is the hottest for many, regardless of pace… there’s simply no way to hide from the sun.
I was drinking as much as I could, and I was taking in enough salt, but in the mid-80’s temperatures and in the exposed sun I found it difficult to stomach both solid foods and fluids. I switched to fluids-only for a while, and I still got a bit dehydrated.
I don’t think there’s anything I would have done differently. I wasn’t prepared for heat on the course. I slowed my paces accordingly to keep my effort in check in the heat. It sucked to watch that 24-hour-finish possibility to fall out of reach, but it was the smart decision.
Temple Fork to Twin Creek
- 5.52 miles
- 1 hr 48 minutes
- avg HR 136 bpm
The climb out of Temple Fork was long and steep, and it was still sun-exposed and hot for the first part. Eventually the sun disappeared behind the mountains as I got higher. The temperatures finally started to cool down. Twin Creek was a new aid station for 2021, and getting to the aid station was fine… but I can say that I think the “regular” course that skips this re-route and has the aid at Tony Grove would be much, much more enjoyable.
It was at the Twin Creek aid station that I finally peed for the first time in many hours, and I realized how dehydrated I was. It wasn’t at a dangerous point, yet, but was clearly something that I needed to address. I made a mental note to focus on rehydrating for the next few hours.
Twin Creek to Franklin Basin Trailhead
- 12.68 miles (my mistake, this is too long)
- 4 hrs 2 minutes (forgot to hit “lap” when I arrived)
- avg HR 128 bpm (again, forgot to hit “lap”…)
This was the longest section between aid stations on the course. The initial climb out of Twin Creek sucked. It was probably my least-favorite section on the course. We hugged a property fence line as we climbed a hill. We re-joined a “real” trail (and the usual course) at the top of the property fence climb, and the following descent was really enjojtable for the first portion. The last part of the descent got very technical relative to the rest of the course. I didn’t enjoy the technical footing and it really slowed me down.
I barely got by with 1.5L of fluids and my focus on rehydrating myself. I don’t think I could have consumed much more than 1.5L with the way that my body was uninterested in food and drink… but I did manage to consume the 1.5L that I was carrying.
I spent 20 minutes in Franklin basin changing, repacking with my night gear, sitting and drinking hot chocolate and chicken noodle soup while trying to give my GI system a little break and increase my hydration status.
Franklin Basin Trailhead to Logan River
- 8.04 miles (my mistake, this is too short)
- 2 hrs 33 minutes
- avg HR 122 bpm
The climb after leaving Franklin Basin might be the hardest on the course. It’s steep at the beginning. About halfway through, the climb becomes less steep and the terrain becomes more “runnable” depending on uphill running ability. The downhill to Logan River is largely fire road, so it is very runnable. The Logan River aid station location seemed like it would be a cool place to camp.
I finally felt rehydrated again and I arrived to Logan River in good spirits. I felt like I had turned a corner, like I had conquered the hardest parts of the course, during the hardest (hot) conditions. I felt that I was physically and mentally prepared for a strong finish.
Logan River to Beaver Mountain
- 6.28 miles
- 2 hrs 31 minutes (including slow-walking the descent)
- avg HR 112 bpm
It was after leaving the Logan River aid, while alternating run/hike pace on the next ascent, that I really started to hear my Achilles tendon creaking. It’s a weird thing to be able to hear your tendon friction. As I know now from my past experience, it’s also a really bad thing.
The ascent was long and got really, really cold for a section in the middle. I pulled out my puffy during the cold part. Then it actually got warmer toward the top… weird temperature patterns at night on this course!
It was during the top portion of the climb that I finally reasoned with myself to quit the race. I told myself that long-term injury was inevitable if I continued. I had already been diagnosed with similar symptoms, in the exact same location, a year prior. The risk of being incapacitated for months was not worth the glory of a finish at the Bear. Regardless, it was a really tough decision.
The descent was steep and technical compared to many other parts of the course. I walked the whole thing.
Logistics of Quitting
I notified the officials at Beaver Mountain that I was quitting due to injury. The aid station captain gave me a blanket and I was told that we couldn’t go inside the lodge, but I could hang out by one of the fires for as long as I needed. The fact that I had no crew meant that I was at the mercy of other crews and the race officials when it came to getting a ride out from the aid station. One of the volunteers offered to look out for a ride for me, which was awesome… I wrapped myself in the blanket and tried to nap by one of the fires. Even though I put on all my available layers and I was wrapped tightly in a fetal position next to the fire, it was still pretty cold. I met a few crews and runners, including a really nice family from Ohio with whom I spent a few hours chatting about all kinds of topics. I ended up getting a ride from a guy named Jeffrey, who was crewing for his wife.
After I got a ride back to Logan, I got coffee and breakfast and I went to the finish to collect my drop bags. I paid the ride favor forward by driving two finishers back to the start. One was a runner named John who I had met by the fire (and who had been on the verge of quitting himself, but got back out there… way to go!). The other runner was a fellow rabbitELITEtrail runner (I’m no longer on the team) named Ben, whose name I had seen a ton but who I had never personally met. It was great to share some conversation with them on the way back!
Obviously, it wasn’t the race that I wanted… but until my injury reared its ugly head, I was executing a near-perfect race despite not-perfect preparation and fitness. I’m very proud of my performance up to the point of injury. I’m also very proud of myself for making the smart decision to stop, which isn’t the decision that I wanted to make at the time.
Thanks for reading!