03 October 2013

Bear 100 Race Report (My first DNF!)

"Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement."
-C.S. Lewis
Distance: 85 miles 
Elevation: 19,500 ft
Time: 31:25

Well, I guess every run can't go to plan, can it? In a year of one incredible race experience after another, there's a point where you may overshoot your abilities, have to accept defeat and take note of the lessons learned. Such was my race last weekend. It took a bunch of miles to come to terms with the undesired outcome, but once I did I was ok with it.

Participating in The Bear 100 was the pinnacle and highlight of my inaugural year of ultrarunning. It still feels so unreal that attempting to complete 100 miles became the focus of my pacing over the summer. If you go back to my Feb 9th post, my longest run planned for 2013 was 55k (34 miles). By the end of Feb, I had a R2R2R invite and opportunity to pace at five mountain 100's. With Hardrock pacing on the agenda, my training went into high gear to prepare myself for a 50 miler in the spring. What a monumental change of plans occurred in a matter of a few weeks...

Getting back to The Bear, the run can be broken down descriptively into four distinct parts:

1. 45 miles of awesome and some blister management 
2. 7 miles of slog and nausea
3. 17 surprisingly sweet overnight miles 
4. 16 muddy miles of increasing anxiety that my official finish was slipping away
Overall, I had a pretty good run/hike/walk in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. I had a few blisters that I had to take care of starting about 15 miles in and that sucked about 30 min out of my race time. I felt great otherwise and was eating and drinking without issue. Steve Pero was crewing for Deb, Drew (Deb's brother) and I and always had Deb's famous "Hardrock" potato soup for us as well as something for the road, like quesadillas. I usually had a gel or a package of chews each hour along with this.
Drew, me & Deb at the start
Top of the first big climb, looking back at Logan
I shared some great miles in the first half with Deb, Hans-Dieter, Allie from Montana, Misty from Salt Lake, Chris from Toronto & Iva from Boulder. 
Hans en route to his 140th 100-mile finish
It was foggy and sleeting off & on the first morning
Deb getting it done
I hoped not to end up like this fella

Chris working on his first 100 miler
The sound of rushing water was heard throughout the course
Running through the cow pasture
40-ish miles in and feeling good
After the sun set, as Chris and I were hiking up the second big climb up Blind Hollow (Mile 48-ish), I started getting nauseous. This is also where we encountered the first shoe-sucking mud. Grabbing on to tree branches to pull ourselves up out of the mire didn't allow for any lessening of the intensity. Once past the mud, I started slowing in an effort to let my stomach settle, but to no avail. After another 30 minutes, I started to induce vomiting to reset things. That took another 15 min or so. With the snails pace that I was keeping in that section, I was at least an hour overdue when I arrived at Tony Fork (Mile 52). 

I was shivering from the cold and sat in Steve's truck to get warm, add layers, and get more calories in me. I sat there for almost an hour repairing myself before I finally headed out into the night. Thankfully, my stomach accepted the food & drink and I felt great about 20 min later.

One of the delightful discoveries I had during this race was checking in with myself emotionally during the night and finding myself happy, despite not seeing a soul except at aid stations. Deb was ahead of me at that point so I just ran my own race and enjoyed the stars and being alone with my thoughts. I remember doing a lot of praying during that time. I was very alert and aware of course markings and never had trouble with sleepiness. The only downside was the packed down snow that had turned steep descents into ice, slowing me again to a walk as I sought out the parts of trail that had traction or when I couldn't, crabwalking down the steepest parts. Thankfully I didn't injure myself; Deb unfortunately ended up twisting her knee and had to drop shortly after.  

By the time I got to Logan River (Mile 69) I was a good 2 hours behind the avg pace for 35 hour finishers. I saw Chris as he was waking from a 15 min nap and heading out, looking strong. With the rising sun to give me energy, I started applying more effort to speed up a little. I was still hours ahead of the cutoff, but the cutoffs get more difficult to meet as the race progresses and I didn't want to skirt them any more than necessary. 

Somewhere Saturday morning
Steve met me on the trail about a mile out of Beaver Lodge (Mile 76) and I was very concerned about my ability to meet later cutoffs. I was still running about two hours behind the 35 hour time goal due to the mud that I continued to encounter on the trail. Steve assured me that if I could keep an avg 3 mph pace, I could make it. So, with the hope that I'd seen the worst of the mud, I headed out keeping up that pace.

Unfortunately, what I found about a mile out of the AS was more of that soul-sucking mud. It reduced my pace to a 2 mph crawl as I sought to find ground that didn't have me slipping and sliding back & forth and nearly losing my balance. I found it nearly entirely from mile 77 - 84. I knew my chance of an official finish was diminishing with each mile and I went through a range of emotions to process that reality. 
Slid my way across the border
My nemesis this race 
The only dry section was a gnarly descent... gah!
My low point hit somewhere between mile 81 - 85. That whole segment was almost entirely mud, with one steep rocky descent that was dry. Looking back, I think I went through all 5 stages of grief as I saw the end of my race coming sooner than expected. I had the denial ("Come on, push harder!"), anger (cursing & questioning God), bargaining (with God), depression and finally acceptance. It helps that I am a pretty logical person and though I am emotional, I can distance myself from my emotions in order to deal with reality and move on.

As I was coming in to Beaver Creek CG, I had a choice to make: either try and complete the course with a 99% chance of missing the cutoff at either mile 92 or the finish or stop at mile 85 and start the recovery process. I chose the latter. My reason for doing The Bear was to see if I could do 100 miles in under 36 hours; this time I was not able to. To do 100 miles no matter how long it took wasn't something I wanted. I felt no need to prove that to myself or anyone else. I know I could have finished the course -- I had the legs to do so. But I chose to wait and do it when I felt pretty confident I could do it within the cutoffs.

My trail buddy Chris was the last person to finish in 35:53 and he was keeping a better pace than I. Huge congrats to him on finishing his first hundo!

Though I'll never know just how long it would have taken me to finish, I still think I made the right decision. Having done 85 miles, I was beyond the point of running for good health. I was doing all sorts of damage to my body and to do any more and not get an official finish seemed ridiculous to me. Though I am disappointed that I didn't accomplish my primary goal, it was nonetheless a beneficial experience that I'm grateful to have had.

So...what did I learn from doing The Bear?

First, I learned that I have the endurance to traverse 100 mountain miles in a single push. That is an empowering thought that gets me stoked for my next race. I was unsure of my ability to complete the distance when I lined up at The Bear and the confidence that I can do it will help me next time around. I've been looking at the Bryce 100 as my next one...looks beautiful and DRY! 

Second, I learned that I can do a 100 miles sans pacer. While I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to have an experienced ultrarunner with me for company, I don't need someone to get me to the finish. They would sweeten the journey, but I know how to take care of myself physically & emotionally, and that is also empowering. Related to this topic, I never once in 31 hours used my iPod. I had no desire to distract myself in that way. I was way too focused on staying the course and keeping the right pace. Another surprise.

Third, I did a lot of things right this time. Using my SJ Ultra Vest, I packed the right kind of fuel for me (VFuel Peach Cobbler gels, Honey Stinger Chews & Skratch Labs energy drink) and refilled my bottles at aid stations quickly. I kept ziplock baggies of more fuel in my drop bags for easy reloads. The two Redline pills along with a can of Starbucks Doubleshot that I took at 7p & 2a kept me awake all night. I kept some blister bandaids and Tylenol on hand for dealing with pained feet. I also kept different socks in my drop bags and changed shoes at least once to experiment with blister solutions. I wore the right kind of clothes to keep me warm through the chilly days & frigid nights. The cold was never an issue except when I had to slow down due to my stomach. When I realized that my only pair of gloves were in my 45 mile drop bag, Deb's surgical gloves worked just fine until I got to it. My Black Diamond Icon burned bright all night long and I never needed my Fenix E11 for add'l light. 

Fourth, I need to improve my foot care next time. I discovered that taping my feet is an art that I will need to practice. I did plenty of preventative taping of the toes, balls of feet & heels before the race; however, my toes still managed to blister in several places, despite wearing Injinji socks. I also discovered that I have a biomechanical issue on my right foot where my second toe rubs against the big toe and I learned a simple way to take care of it, since taping isn't enough. I'm grateful for the tips I received from Misty and Drew regarding Leukotape & Elastikon which I will be employing next time around. 

I wouldn't change my shoes used, but I needed to wear thinner socks to keep a little more wiggle room in the toebox as my feel swell. With the exception of the three toe blisters, my feet felt fine using my Saucony Xodus and Hoka Stinson Evos with arch supports and heel-lock lacing and I didn't feel the need to change into my Sportiva Wildcats later on.

For the first time, I had ankle chaffing due to the mud that got inside my socks so I'll use my Dirty Girl gaiters for those conditions as I usually only use them when the trails are dusty or have a lot of scree. I'd also bring my Kahtoola microspikes if there's any snow expected on the course (even a little), which may turn to ice before I run on it.

Lastly, I need to continue building speed. The blisters, the sour stomach, the ice & the mud all contributed to my overall slower pace, so I need to be able to bank more time by comfortably running at a faster pace when things are going well. This will come as I build my aerobic endurance though low HR training and am intentional about putting speed work into my weekly training.

Huge thanks to Steve for his first-class crewing services, which I'm very grateful to have had this time around. Deb's potato soup was perfect for keeping me fueled and warm!

For now, I'm enjoying a long-needed break from training. I've been feeling the training fatigue of building up my mileage and preparing for races since last November. I do have a road marathon on the calendar for next week, but not training specifically for it. More on that later...

“Try a thing you haven’t done three times. Once, to get over the fear of doing it. Twice, to learn how to do it. And a third time to figure out whether you like it or not.” -Virgil Thomson

Happy Trails,



  1. Funny that you got toe blisters wearing Injinji socks. I did too and stopped wearing them. Nice race report Shelby. As they say DNF stands for 'Did Nothing Fatal'. Shoe sucking mud and ice make for a tough combination.
    Good luck at Bryce and be good to your feet there. The trail dust can be bad.


    1. Ha...yes, I lived to fight another day! Hope to see you out at the races again in 2014, Matt. I don't have anyone else out there giving me a hard time... :-)

  2. Great write up! My first 100 was Bear in 2011 and I came back this year to see if I learned anything. Keep working at it. Every one is a learning experience :D Ryan

    1. Thanks, Ryan! I will definitely be back now that I've had my ass bitten by the Bear... Hope your recovery is going well.

  3. Good report! I sympathized with every twist and turn. I timed out of my first dirt-trail 100, at mile 80 of the Tahoe Rim Trail 100, and it was so frustrating. Although it wasn't really the cause of my DNF, I also had horrible toe blisters while wearing Injinji socks. I threw all of my Injinjis away and never looked back. They just don't work for everyone.

    I think it's interesting that runners place so much emphasis on wrapping feet in tape and fabric when the secret to a blister-free run seems to lie in keeping feet clean and dry. I ran the Bryce 100 last May with all of the horrible dust everyone talks about, and came out blister-free thanks to gaiters, Drymax socks, and applying Sportsslick ointment and changing my socks every 25 miles or so. Revelatory for me, compared to my experience at TRT. I know foot stuff is different for everyone, but the "clean and dry" approach is something worth considering.

    1. Thanks, Jill. Can it really be that easy? It's interesting that I didn't have major issues with blisters until Wasatch with all the off-camber running we had. It almost feels "naked" to not apply something other than Sportslick. I'll definitely give it a try with my Drymax and see how it works for me.

      I'm certain that your Bryce report is one that is stuck in the corner of my brain, tickling my interest from earlier this year... :-)

  4. Great effort Shelby, every 100miler offers up its own lessons and experience and all we can do is accept those and learn from them. I feel your pain about the DNF after suffering my first DNF in my 7year ultra career at this year's UTMB. It still stings, but I think it should, as it will drive me (and you) to be stronger, faster, and to prepare even better.
    The Bear is a beautiful race, and hopefully this year's bad weather and conditions won't dissuade you from returning to finish what you started, as I can say its a fantastic race and usually dry. Happy trails, and hopefully our paths will cross again in the future.
    Eric Lee

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Eric. I did read your UTMB report and was sad to see that it ended prematurely for you as well. I do intend to come back to The Bear and settle the score. Gotta get my HR qualifier at some point... :-) Hope to see you & the FoCo gang at the races in 2014!

  5. I'm proud of you. Great effort for your first 100. The lessons learned will take you further. It was interesting to see that your 'low spot' was so late in the race. I typically start questioning my sanity much earlier in the race :P Have you read the book FIXING YOUR FEET? I'm reading it now after my foot issues at Res. Pretty good stuff. Hope to run with you again sometime.

    1. Thanks, Jeremy! It is interesting that had I not encountered all the mud, I may have missed the typical low points that seem to come with 100's. I really had a great day out there and was ready to sign up for another one the next day!

      Yes, I have read Fixing Your Feet and I was using tips from the book this time, but there's so many options that it seems I need to keep trying different things. I know now that Injinjis don't work for me and that I either need to forego taping the toes or tape differently. Work in progress...

      Hope you can come out and run one of these with me sometime. Gotta get our HR qualifiers!