Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Bear 100

I remember when rock was young…

Have you ever had the song “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John stuck in your head for the better part of a day? I rarely run with an iPod but usually have a song in my head, often the last one I heard before the run started. I rather enjoy having music roll around and around in my head for hours on end. I recall that “Bartender” by Dave Matthews Band accompanied me for most of Grand Mesa 50, while Van Halen’s “Right Now” was the song of choice during El Vaquero Loco. Several hours into the Bear 100, though, I realized that “Crocodile Rock” was repeating again and again in my head. I can’t recall the last time I heard this song—probably years ago. Nor could I figure out why my mind grabbed onto that particular diddy, but it would be in the forefront of my mind for the entire race. But I'm getting ahead of myself…

Fall colors in the Bear River Range

In Sept 2008, Paul invited me to work the Richards Hollow aid station at the Bear 100. Though I had enjoyed running trails since high school, I had only recently begun dabbling in trail racing. Seeing these ultrarunners at the aid station so inspired me that I decided I would run the Bear in 2 years. First, I wanted to break 6:00 pace in a marathon, which I checked off my list Sept 2009. Then I started a slow ultrarunning buildup, including completing the Ogden Valley 50, Rocky Raccoon 100, and several other ultras. I also ran on the Bear course as often as I could, usually accompanied by Cody, and ran more trails and more vertical than ever before. In fact, we ran every step of the Bear while training, and had completed some portions dozens of times. As race day approached, an untimely move to South Carolina and several injuries (plantar, Achilles) threatened my race. And while I can critically point to several weaknesses in my training, I’ve long since realized that nothing ever goes as planned. I had thoroughly enjoyed my training all year and finally reached the starting line confident that I was in the best long-distance trail running shape of my life. Hopefully this would equate to a good race. I was excited to go toe-to-toe with the many great runners who had registered, but knew that a 100 mile race is primarily a race only against yourself.

Just a few hills along the way...

Me and Suzie had so much fun / holding hands and skimming stones

The Bear 100 is a point-to-point race with roughly 23,000 ft climbing and 22,000 ft descending through the Bear River Mountains of Northern Utah, just as the fall leaves are changing. Cody, David, and Joe had all kindly volunteered to pace and crew me during the entire ordeal. I had spent hundreds of hours studying maps (Paul made me some awesome course maps that I loved), planning splits, and arranging gear. I felt 21 hours was a very realistic goal for me, which would place in the top 2-3 most years, though had splits for 20, 21, 22, and 24 hours in my crew packet. My splits account for even effort throughout the race, and base each split on elevation change, trail roughness, fatigue, heat, and night. Yes, I am a nerd.

Ready to go at the start with Cody

I flew to Utah on Thursday, where I saw my family for the first time in 5 weeks. I spent most of the day arranging and rearranging my gear, which was enough to invade a small country. After a few hours of sleep, Cody drove me to the start. I got a few strange looks as I ran to warm up- most people just stood around. David and Paul showed up just a minute before we started. I wanted to start very slow, so entered Dry Canyon with a big crowd ahead of me. I soon found myself near Mike Foote and Scott Jaime, and was happy that we walked the majority of the uphill as we talked. I paused to water a bush and was passed by a whole train of people. I passed them back before the top, plus Davy Crockett, and enjoyed the first run of the day down South Syncline. I had no idea what place I was in, but thought a grundle people were ahead of me. I reached Logan Peak aid exactly on 21 hour schedule at 8:14 am, which reassured me that my slow pace was appropriate. I passed a few people right after the aid, including Bruce Copeland, who told me that I was in 5th place. I didn’t believe him.

Had an old gold Chevy and a place of my own

The downhill from Millville Peak really worried me. It is on a rocky, rough dirt road, and I really struggled to keep a good pace going and believed I was falling far behind. I feared that I would not have my downhill legs all day, a discouraging thought. Fortunately, I soon reached the beautiful Leatham singletrack and was able to run fast, even pausing the enjoy the gorgeous fall colors. And, shortly before the aid station, I caught Scott and a few others. All was well.

Leatham Hollow fall colors

David showing the goodies at Leatham...

I was passing rocks and trees like they were standing still

Paul and company were working the Leatham aid station, but they had my gear ready, even though I was 6 minutes early. My right heel had a hotspot, so I sat down to tighten my shoes, then was off. The next 3 miles were a mixture of running with Scott, running by cows, and being run off the road by one particular cow (don’t ask). We then reached Richards Hollow, one of my favorite sections of the race. The upper 3 miles are very runnable, with a meandering trail crossing a little creek in a small valley. Unfortunately, it was my first bad stretch. Dakota Jones passed me, and he and Scott simply ran away from me. They would put 15 minutes on me over 7.5 miles. I struggled to run even on the flat stretches. I tried to hold onto Erich Peitzsch after he passed me, but fell back. Finally, Tim Hoppin caught me near the top. We started talking as we descended into Cowley. Tim lives near my alma mater in Golden, CO, and we were both running our second 100, so we had plenty to talk about. The conversation and downhill really boosted my spirits, which would be a theme all day- weak and slow on the uphills (maybe due to the altitude and my lack of hill training the last month?), strong and fast on the downhills. Despite the disappointing stretch, I reached Cowley 6 minutes ahead of schedule. Joe had driven all the way to the aid station, and had me in and out long before Erich and Tim. I wouldn’t see them again. On the climb out, Cameron Peterson, a mountain biker, pulled up alongside me. He was very interested in ultra running, so we talked the whole way up the mountain, which really helped the time fly. I then ran down the always-enjoyable Ricks Canyon, anticipating picking up my first pacer and seeing my family.

My personal cheering section

The pacers saw a lot of this view...

But the biggest kick I ever got / was doing a thing called the Crocodile Rock

Right Hand Fork aid was good to me. I changed shoes, including washing my feet, which eliminated the heel rubbing and severe toe pain I had been feeling. I must acknowledge that my awesome crew continued to set up my foot wash/shoe change station at every aid station, though I never used it again as my shoes were working wonderfully. Thanks, guys. Marci and my daughters had come to the aid station, and it was splendid to see them. I enjoyed telling my daughters that “Daddy is running in the mountains all day”. It was a real morale boost to see them, though somewhat offset when Cody told me I was in 7th place and 20 minutes back from the pack. Joe and I quickly set off, though I sent him back for my forgotten sunscreen. He would carry it for the next 90 minutes- what a guy.

The heat was becoming noticeable running up Willow Creek, so I just relaxed and listened to Joe recount his TOU adventure, confident that some of the front runners would burn up. I felt good, but ran a controlled pace. We passed Phil Lowry (who, along with RD Leland Barker, started an hour early) shortly before Temple Fork, which we reached 9 minutes ahead of schedule. My family and Cody were again waiting, so I lingered a few minutes. After eating some wonderful strawberries and grapes, kissing my family (but not Cody- don’t worry), and earning a baby star (my first of the race!), Joe and I started up Blind Hollow. Cody had placed a handful of ice in my hat, which felt wonderful in the warm afternoon. The climb went well at first, but I eventually slowed as my Achilles complained about the climbing and my legs reminded me that I was almost 50 miles into the day. I had Joe add up the climbing from my split sheet, and was reassured when he concluded that 2/3 of the climbing was done. We finally reached the summit, and relished the soft singletrack downhill to Tony Grove. We reached the aid station 7 minutes ahead of schedule. Perfect.

Leaving Temple Fork (yes, those specs are Jon and Joe)

Arriving at Tony Grove with Joe

While the other kids were Rocking Round the Clock / we were hopping and bopping to the Crocodile Rock

Cody was eager to start his pacing here, almost knocking me over as he tried to get me out ahead of Scott, who was recovering in a chair. The next hour was very enjoyable, as we passed the colorful autumn aspens while chatting up a storm. I mentally noted that I was likely halfway done with the race, in both time and distance. We steadily ran down the smooth Bunchgrass singletrack at 8 min pace, with Cody feeding me Shot Blocks every few minutes. The day was wonderful.

Franklin Basin aid came quickly, and my crew was again prepared. After the typical bottle and gu flask swap, Dave asked me what else I needed. I replied, “Nothing,” to which he countered, “Then get out of here. Get going.” Gotta love it! I was dreading the climb up Steam Mill Hollow, and it indeed kicked my butt. By the top, I was barely moving and couldn’t keep my breath even while walking. Fortunately, every mountain eventually has a summit, and Cody and I again began running after a few minutes. I was not particularly spry, though, as we couldn’t gain on Leland, only a few minutes ahead. But we enjoyed the mountainous overlooks and the waning moments of daylight, stopping for a few pictures. We finally reached the festive, Christmas-light decorated Logan River aid at mile 70, still 9 minutes ahead of schedule (I could just picture my parents watching the results online, exclaiming “I can’t believe he’s within 9 minutes of his predicted time after 14 hours!”). Some runners feel the 70 mile mark is halfway effort-wise, so I knew there was still a long ways to go. But I felt good. My Achilles pain was tolerable, and my quads were still enjoying downhills. No complaints.

If ya gotta pee, pee with a view!

Photos courtesy of this guy...

Shock when Dave kicks me out of the aid station

Well Crocodile Rocking is something shocking / when your feet just can't keep still / I never knew me a better time and I guess I never will

While Cody disappeared into the well-stocked aid station, Dave and Joe wisely kept me outside, encouraging me that Dakota was just ahead, which I interpreted as less than 10 minutes. I left the aid station before Leland and immediately ran into Dakota, who had been 35 minutes ahead of me at Tony Grove. With a few encouraging words, I ran hard down the gravel road, excited to be in 4th place and wondering who else was ahead of me (I would later learn the closest runner was Jared Scott, 30 min ahead). I quickly crossed the Logan River, somehow keeping my feet dry, then slowed for Cody to catch up. We donned our lights for the first time and ran up Peterson Hollow, another favorite of mine. It ended far too quickly, and we turned up the faint, poorly-marked trail to Beaver Mountain. I was very glad Cody and I had run this portion, so knew where the trail went. The very rocky, slow downhill seemed to last forever, but I was still feeling good so didn’t mind too much. Cody got lost while running ahead to change his shoes, but caught me again just before the aid. Joe and Dave were again efficient at getting me on my way, even with a stop to put on winter clothes and eat some soup. They said the volunteers were complimenting how organized and fast they were, and I have to agree. Great crew.

Oh Lawdy mama those Friday nights / when Suzie wore her dresses tight / and the Crocodile Rocking was out of sight

Cody and I ran into three deer, the only large wildlife I saw all day, and then started the ever-increasing climb to Gibson Hollow. We ran a fair amount at first, gradually slowing as the grade increased. I really enjoyed the isolated feeling of running through the forest at night, with only the full moon and silent hills as company. Cody claimed to see a light behind us shortly before the aid station. I figured he was bluffing, but decided to play along and run faster. In fact, we cancelled the planned stop at Gibson aid. Cody refilled my bottle but I never slowed down (even though the Bear website showed I stopped for 6 minutes). 3 minutes later I looked back, eager to call Cody’s bluff… but sure enough, someone was just behind us. I was surprised, given that I my pace was still reasonable. Cody also informed me that Jared was still 30 minutes ahead, decreasing the odds of me catching him. We pushed hard, losing the mystery light on the climb towards Beaver Creek. We stopped at the top for a big star, and I was shocked that the runner never passed us. The downhill to the campground was less technical than I remembered, and soon the lights of the aid station appeared, 14 minutes ahead of schedule. My enjoyable 34 miles with Cody were over, as David would “carry me” to the finish. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how accurate that description would be.

But the years went by and the rock just died / Suzie went and left us for some foreign guy

Leaving the campground, I told Dave that he would have to be patient with me for the next few miles. The last push with Cody and the below-freezing temperature had really sapped my energy, and the following steady climb to High Top never allowed me to recover. Dave coaxed a few runs out of me, none longer than 60 seconds. After 30 minutes, I reached my lowest point of the race. I struggled to move at all, and could barely whisper one word at a time between my labored breaths. I was in a daze. More than just being physically tired, my brain was tired. I had been moving for 18 hours straight and, though only 13 miles remained, my only desire was to sleep. I began to fall asleep while on my feet, and would have lain down on the road if Dave had not kept pushing me. Following my pre-race directions perfectly, he was a brutal and unrelenting taskmaster—exactly what I needed. In my desperation for sleep, I schemed to tell him I needed to take a pit stop in the woods, where I would curl up for a few minutes before he would notice I was asleep. Alas, I found I didn’t have the energy to talk, so continued forward. The only highlight was seeing a Jeep stuck on a huge dirt berm, wondering how the owner would ever get it off. The summit of High Top provided no relief for me, as I could hardly run the flats or downhills. I had no particular pains, just an overall exhausted feeling. Dave continued his patient yet firm encouragement.

Long nights crying by the record machine / dreaming of my Chevy and my old blue jeans

I have no recollection of this, but around mile 90, Dave mentioned that after Ranger Dip aid, we only had a short climb and a nice downhill to the finish. Knowing full well the difficulty of the last leg, I managed to counter, “Yeah, but they’re the suckiest parts of the course.” Around here, a runner caught us, and I was very relieved to see it was Leland. I was content to let Leland go ahead, knowing he was an hour behind me in the standings. But Dave somehow prodded me to run behind Leland, somewhat successfully. The running and pushing thru the pain/fatigue somehow tripped something inside me, and we soon caught up to Leland. Dave had pushed me through the lowest of lows, and now my second (sixth?) wind had arrived. Running three abreast and chatting, we reached Ranger Dip, the last aid station. 8 miles remained, but my crash had left us with only 3 minutes to spare on 21 hour pace. After a quick stop of gummy bears and broth, we ventured onto the last section.

But they'll never kill the thrills we've got / burning up to the Crocodile Rock

The climb up Ranger Dip is the steepest of the course, climbing over 600 feet in half a mile. I again tagged behind Leland, giving him grief that he couldn’t find an easier way to Bear Lake. After 20 minutes, we reached the Gates of Paradise summit at 9063 feet, the high point of the course. Bear Lake loomed large ahead, a black ghost ringed by lights. Dave changed my headlamp batteries (the second best thing all race, only trailing the shoe change at mile 37), and we were soon charging down the mountain, leaving Leland in our wake. I discovered that my legs and lungs felt fresh—all the fatigue was gone. I felt as though I was just starting a run, rather than finishing an ultra. I had no time to ponder this miracle, though, as the twisty, rocky trail demanded all my attention. We soon reached the Dropoff, the murderous 2 mile descent that drops 2000 ft and only gets steeper and rockier the further you descend. I continued to feel strong, quick-stepping down with no pain. I was running so hard that I began sweating. I knew 4th place and sub-21 hours was mine, and loved it. Dave and I climbed the last short hill, wound down an ATV trail, and reached Fish Haven road. We turned off our headlamps as we ran, enjoying the last few moon-bathed miles of the race. I reveled in the feelings and was glad Dave was there to share it with me.

Learning fast as the weeks went past / we really thought the Crocodile Rock would last

Far too soon, we reached the highway. Jared Scott had slowed on the last leg and finished only 12 minutes before, so he and his crew cheered me in. Cody and Joe were also waiting, relieved to see me before the clock struck 3am. I remembered my last few miles of the Rocky Raccoon 100 in February, when my legs were so trashed that I walked the final 4 miles and couldn’t even jog the last 20 yards across the finish line. Now, we ran. We sprinted. We soared. With Cody, Dave, and Joe just behind me, we passed under the banner marking the end of this short, painful, wonderful adventure. 4th place, 20:49:38. After 2 long years, it was over. And I was satisfied. I was happy. I had run my best, and could do no better.

Laaaa la la la la laaa / La la la la laaaaa / La la la la laaaaaa

Leland came hobbling around the corner, pushing hard, and broke the 22 hour mark by 17 seconds, his second best time ever. Amazing. I can’t describe how much he inspired me. Tim Hoppin would finish 30 min behind me, followed 50 min later by Scott and Dakota.

The 2010 Bear was the fastest ever. Mike Foote broke Geoff Roes’ course record, an amazing feat. Evan Honeyfield and Jared Scott, who I never saw all race, gave him a run for the money. My time would have placed me 2nd in 2008 and only 30 seconds behind 2nd place in 2009, and is the 7th fastest time on this course. 17 runners broke 24 hours, compared to 13 in 2008-09 combined. 163 starters, 125 finishers (77% finish rate- very high!) The weather was beautiful, the course was superb, the competition was great, the volunteers were helpful, and my crew was perfect.

The top 4- Mike, me, Jared, and Evan

After the race, Cody drove us all down the canyon. I would return with my girls that evening for the awards, where I would get the opportunity to talk with many other runners- Mike, Evan, Jared, Scott, Bryce, and many others. All very friendly, great guys. We cheered loudly for the last finishers, still moving after a grueling 36+ hours on the course. While the winner and top runners arrive in the dead of night to no fanfare or applause, the final runners receive it in droves. Somehow, this seems fitting. All conquered their demons, all went the distance.

I want to give special thanks to my crew and pacers, David, Cody, and Joe. Thanks, guys, I couldn't have done it without you. You were well organized and followed my directions... except when you knew better. Thanks to you, I only sat down 3 times and averaged less than 2 min per aid station. And thanks to all the FRB-ers for your friendship and encouragement. And to my family, especially for staying up late hitting "refresh" on the race results. And a very special thanks to my wife and kids for all their support and patience with me and my silly running-addiction. I love you, Marci.

Several people have asked me what I will do next. After 2 years of focusing on the 2010 Bear, I honestly do not know. I will rest and heal, dabble in a few East Coast races, spend time with my family, and then do whatever I feel like. I’m in no hurry.


Goal Time

Actual Time


Logan Peak

8:14 AM

8:15 AM


Leatham Hollow

9:36 AM

9:30 AM


Richards Hollow

10:06 AM

9:56 AM


Cowley Canyon

11:36 AM

11:30 AM

6 (lost 15 full minutes on guys ahead of me on this leg)

Right Hand Fork

12:48 AM

12:43 PM

6 (16 min behind Jared)

Temple Fork

2:24 PM

2:15 PM

6 (24 min)

Tony’s Grove

4:09 PM

4:02 PM

6 (36 min)

Franklin Basin

5:59 PM

5:50 PM

5 (27 min)

Logan River

7:44 PM

7:35 PM

5 (32 min)

Beaver Mountain Lodge

9:22 PM

9:12 PM

4 (31 min)

Gibson Basin

10:47 PM

10:36 PM

4 (30 min)

Beaver Creek

11:41 PM

11:27 PM

4 (29 min)

Ranger’s Dip

1:23 AM

1:20 AM

4 33 min (lost 11 min on goal time)


3:00 AM

2:49 AM

4 (12)


  1. Ha, I'll be the first to comment! First off, great job! The run itself was superb. But I want to congratulate you even more on a secondary feat: creating a goal, making a plan to achieve the goal, following the plan, and then performing on race-day to get that goal. Your two-year story is quite remarkable, and although things never go exactly to plan, you definitely stuck with the framework of the plan. Your patience and perseverance paid off. Kudos on the high finish, breaking your time barrier, and moreover serving as an example to the rest of us on how to accomplish something you really want to do.

  2. wow..it's like a book! :)
    You are amazing. Seriously. I'm proud to say your my man. Nice picture of you peeing by the way. You crack me up!

  3. Fantastic race report. It was really inspiring. I've been getting nervous regarding Pony Express and reading Bear reports hasn't helped. I know I have it in me to finish and am confident I will, this deep-rooted feeling didn't go away until I read your lines regarding the miracle of new life in your legs. Just knowing there are things out there like that that I can count on to happen makes me confident that I too can achieve my goal. Thanks for that.

  4. Way to go Jon!! I love reading your race reports- makes me feel like I'm there. You should just combine all of yours a make a real book out of them. The captions on your pictures are great- especially the one about running by the trees and rocks like they were standing still. Who knew you were funny :-)

  5. Congratulations on conquering your ambition of the last 2 years. I'm sure a lot of people meet goals, but other than schooling, most people don't make and execute 2 year plans very well. Very impressive. Almost as impressive is you ability to put us readers right there on the trail with you. I know I've gone a few places that I wouldn't have if I hadn't read about your adventures. Now I have to wonder if I will follow your lead on this one. Besides "Impressive" I have to add "Inspiring!"

  6. Seeing those green shorts and red shirt was tough, but gave me great motivation to stay ahead for the first climb so I didn't have to see that spectacle. Great race. Amazing speed. Good to see we both blasted by Gibson Aid station. Way to reach your goals and be such an elite 100-miler so soon.

  7. Love Elton jumping into the report intermittently. Very cool accomplishment. Where's the belt buckle photo?

  8. Thanks for reading and for the comments, everyone.
    Paul- Thanks. I look forward to you also meeting a 4 year goal in November in Indy!

    Marci- Hey, Cody's the one who took the picture of me peeing, not me. And why not pee with a view!

    Jun- it was amazing how my legs all of a sudden just stopped hurting. It can happen to you, too.

    CL- Are you saying my reports are novels?!?

    Jason- Go get your own adventures! Run Logan Peak next year, and give Cody and Joe a run for their money.

    Davy- Re. green shorts- we aim to please.

    Vis- it was funny how the lyrics seemed appropriate at different times. And the belt buckle... well, the RD confessed that he forgot to order them. I'll take a picture once he ships it to me.

  9. Jon,
    This report was well worth the 2yr wait. Thank you for sharing this experience from the beginning. It has been amazing watching your focus and dedication. It is truly inspiring...

  10. Wow, I got all goosebumpy reading that. You're a great inspiration, Jon. You did a fantastic job and it was a pleasure to be there for 15 miles of it plus a few aid stations. Maybe someday I'll be half as hardcore.

  11. WOW! I thank my son ARW for sharing your link with me. Your drive and determination is beyond my comprehension. I do appreciate your writing about the song getting stuck in your head, which I thought only happened to me. You have inspired me to start again and actually figure out how to reach my goal safely.

  12. Very cool Jon. Thanks for the inspiration/entertainment. Watching you via the results page through the race was really cool and I loved the detail in your report. Huge congratulations on a race plan and race amazingly executed! Good luck in whatever's next.