Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Bear 100 - Run Happy, Run Smart

The Bear 100. Photo Credit: Bethany Talbot Draper
The decision to run The Bear happened early in January, after not getting into the Leadville 100. After some thought and talking with my coach, Jason Koop, we decided this was the year to go out of my comfort zone and choose a race that would get me in the mountains and higher elevation. My next thought was that I wanted to pick a race that would qualify me for Hardrock. I reviewed the list of races that would be Hardrock qualifiers, and The Bear stuck out to me. And with the click of a mouse I was signed up for my next adventure!

Preparing for The Bear was mostly the same as what I did for Western States, except I tried to get out to Hitchcock Nature Center in Iowa every weekend. That is the only place around Omaha that I can get some ‘serious’ hills in. That means 230 ft climbs versus 120 ft climbs. It is a beautiful place packed full of relentless steep climbs that pack a punch.

The next thing I know it is race week and I am packing like I am going to go into hibernation. The weather kept changing and deteriorating every time I looked at it. It now was saying it could be anything from torrential rain all day to a full blown blizzard. Let’s just say I packed an arsenal of clothing/gear to be as prepared as I could be.

I woke up Thursday morning in the hotel and checked my phone to see that there was an update on The Bear. The course had been changed again, since after the fire they had to reroute the course. This time it was because of the expected snow up at the higher elevations. They rerouted the course to be an out and back from the park at Logan to Tony’s Grove with an extension of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail at the start. I had to quick rethink and repack my drop bags and tell my crew/pacers about the sudden change. I told myself to stay calm, relax, and that it all would work out. Besides I LOVE out and backs. Seeing people on the return is a delight.

The Bear 2016 Course
Thursday evening I met with Roch Horton who would serve as my trusted crew. I felt like I was in the best of care and it gave me peace of mind knowing I had him and Cat taking care of me. They are experienced and very knowledgeable on how to crew and run in the mountains. If you have not looked at Roch's running resume, you are in a bit of a surprise!! Mr. Hardrock himself and also the most genuine and humble person you would ever meet. After our meeting Roch sent me off with something to ponder. He gave me a symbolic image of a triangle where one corner had happiness, one had smart, and one had strength. He told me to pick two of those to focus on for the race. That was going to be one tough decision. I decided to sleep on it.

Going into the race I knew it was going to be tough and something I have never experienced. With the course being 18-19,000 ft of ascending, elevations between 5-8,000 ft, and long mountainous climbs I was to say the least…intimidated. Then you throw in the weather which ended up being all day of either rain or snow and mud, mud, and more mud!! I had no idea what to expect and threw out all pace/time goals. I made three goals: embrace the experience, a smile for every mile, and to just have fun playing in the mud! If I could nail those three things I would set myself up to have a great day.
The Beautiful Bear Photo Credit: Bethany Talbot Draper
Race morning approached and I woke up at 4:30 a.m. ready to take on the Bear. I had prepared myself for anything it was planning to throw at me. I felt confident in myself and even more so in my team that I had with me. I had the legendary Roch Horton and accomplice Catherine as my crew. I had the renowned Zach Miller pacing me from Right Hand Fork AS to Spawn Creek. And ultra-pacer extraordinaire, Miguel Ordorica, taking me from Spawn Creek to the Finish. We were going to attack the Bear and give it everything we had! I was going to make it to that finish one way or another.
My Team! Photo Credit: Tim McGargill
Lining up on the dark wet street looking forward at the streetlights, myself and about 300 other runners were gearing up and ready for battle. 3-2-1 and we’re off into the darkness. Some people chatting while others are silent thinking to themselves what’s to come of the day. We made our way onto the Bonneville Shoreline Trail which would be the first 12 miles. It was a rolling terrain with several large puddles scattered throughout the single-to-double track trail. I enjoyed running the first few miles with my friend, Justin Mollak, from Omaha who was taking on his first 100 mile race. The first 100 is always a life-changing experience & I was excited for him to be going on his journey.

Hitting Millville Aid Station (AS) 12.2 mi, I grabbed some Coke and Fig Newtons and headed up the long steep climb gaining approx 3,000 ft. I just settled into a hiking rhythm and enjoyed chatting with new friends along the way. It started snowing and I remember it bringing a huge smile to my face and made me feel like a little girl playing in the snow. Good memories flooded my mind from childhood. We reached the top and then got to fly down the sweet single-track trail. I really enjoyed this section as it reminded much of Western States Cal-1 & Cal-2 trail as Roch had described to me earlier. I reached Leatham Hollow AS (21 miles) and took care of all my needs. I remember Roch looking me in the eye and with a strong yet gentle voice saying, “Eat to win.” That spoke to me and I listened. I knew I was going to be working less efficiently than normal and I needed all the energy I could get. Karl Meltzer was standing beside Roch and they both assured me that the next 2.5 miles would be easy road running to the next AS. I was glad to hear that and left with a couple cookies and a smile.

Next up was the long climb past Richard's Hallow AS (24.5 mi) to Cowley Canyon AS (31.9 mi). That one was a grinder, just put your head down and climb through the mud. I trailed Guy Love for a while which was nice to have some company. The rain started coming down fairly hard now and thankfully I had kept my raincoat on and flipped the hood over to keep the water out. Cresting the top we got to a road where I could run down to the Cowley AS. I made quick in and out of that one to get on the road and trail that would lead me down to Right Hand Fork (38.9 mi) where I would see my crew and pick Zach up.

Picking up Zach. Photo Credit Tim McGargill
The trail leading down to Right Hand Fork was stunning. The bright Maples and Aspens lined the trail making it look like a rainbow. It was one of my favorite parts of the race. I reached Right Hand Fork and picked Zach up and we took off towards Temple Fork AS (47 mi). Here we got on some single track and then a gavel road. We came to a point where we had to go into a lot of brush and bushes. As we were trying to navigate our way through what seemed like a never-ending maze! Finding the ribbons was hard, but soon we got on the not-so-well beaten path and found our way across the creek. It was really quite fun and funny! Running along the creek the mud got thick and sticky. It was like 10 lbs had accumulated on each foot. We just laughed and carried on. Coming down the road we saw an AS on the opposite side of the creek. I panicked thinking we had to go to that one. Before I knew it Zach flew across the waist deep water and checked. It was the AS for the return so I didn't have to cross. He was a trooper for that one!

Zach & I. Photo Credit: Tim McGargill
We got into the Temple Fork AS (47) and checked in with Roch, Cat, and Miguel. Roch let us know that the next section is just a long steep uphill to Tony's Grove (53.8 mi). We grabbed food and went on our way. We had to scramble up a pretty steep hill then got onto the trail. It was that crazy sticky mud again. As we were making our way up I could feel my hamstring start to hurt. I knew it was from the extra weight of the mud causing it to be overused. I told Zach I had to hike more to make sure I didn't completely blow it up. We got up to the top and once again it started to snow. Large flakes along the beautiful conifers made it look like a snow globe. As we descended down to Tony's Grove along the single track trail it made me feel like I was at Robinson's Flat of WS. We had made the turnaround!

To Tony's Grove. Photo Credit: Bethany Talbot Draper
Off to return on the trails we had come on. Meeting so many people on the return was a joy to me. It gave me a burst of energy. I felt terrible though seeing everyone suffering up to Tony's Grove in the mud. It had gotten worse throughout the day making it a literal slip-n-slide. Highlights were seeing Justin and Tim McGargill (Justin's pacer and close friend of mine) moving well and strong. Then I saw Gavin McKenzie with a big smile and moving so well too!

Mud and Beauty. Photo Credit: Bethany Talbot Draper
Down to Spawn Creek AS (61.5 mi) we made it and I then had Miguel as my pacer to the Finish. It was time to get my headlights on. Roch hooked me up with some sweet retina burners from Black Diamond. He put one my head and one on my waist then made sure I was okay and gave me encouragement as I left. I ate well and took off down the trail with Miguel. Here we got to the mud again and boy had it ever gotten bad. It was harder to run in it than to walk. So we walked most of this section to save energy. We got up to the road and then were able to run again. We had to make the long climb back to Cowley Canyon AS. Holy crap that one was so LONG. I didn't think it was ever going to end. However, something cute happened during this section. A little Robin got in front of me on the trail as I was hiking. It proceeded to pace me up the mountain for at least half a mile. It's the little things that make me happy!
The course is stunning! Photo Credit: Chihping Fu
Now it was dark and the fog settled in. It was tough to navigate for a while, as you couldn't see very far in front of your feet. I ended up turning the headlight off and just using the waist-light. It seemed to work well. We dipped down into Cowley AS (75 mi) and headed out as fast as we could to keep warm and to keep moving. This is where we saw Sam Reed catching us. During this next section he caught us moving so fluidly and sans pacer. It was incredible seeing him whisk past us while his headlight became fainter as he ran into the night. Finally, we made it to Richard's Hollow AS (83 mi). We checked in and out and made our way down the gravel road towards Leatham Hollow AS (86 mi). This was the first time you could actually zone out instead of watching every step you took. Miguel and I made no conversation during this...we just moved forward. At last we made it to Leatham Hollow and to our crew.

Here is where I made my rookie mistake. I was ready to get the last climb over and took too little time in the AS. I rushed to get new gloves and food, but forgot that I should have put on more layers. I had only been wearing a light long-sleeve and a raincoat. I headed out onto the path and the rain started to pick up. I mentioned that I should have brought hand warmers, but didn't want to go back to get them. Roch offered, but I declined wanting to just keep moving. Miguel and I started making our way up from Leatham and it was a long and I mean LONG climb. Slip and sliding on the trail didn't help and then the rain seemed to start coming into my jacket. I was getting wet. As we started getting higher it was getting much colder. I was now shivering. I got scared that I could get hypothermia. I talked to myself to calm me down and knowing Miguel was there I felt at ease. I started moving my arms fast making friction on my sides to see if it would help warm me up. I am not sure if it really helped or not, but it was at least making me think it was. Then the snow started to come down and it was accumulating quickly. My feet became ice blocks. I was making my way up so slowly, but staying positive. I knew that once we got to the top we got to go down.

Alas, we crested the top. Now to go bombing down...NOT! It was incredibly rocky and steep. There was no path except what the water was running down. So it was harder than I expected it to be. Down, down, down we went until finally coming into the final AS, Millville (95 mi). Now I knew we were going to make it and I was ready to get out of the rain, mud, and snow. We made our way along the rolling Bonneville Shoreline Trail and popped back onto the road. We ran on the road to the Finish line elated and exhausted to be done. Leland gave me a congratulations and Roch was there for a great big bear hug! We had done it...we had conquered the Bear!

Finished!! Photo Credit: Zach Miller
This one will be one race that I will never forget. Besides the weather, the most memorable part will be the experience in itself. I have made new lifelong friends with Roch, Cat, and Zach. I left the race with my heart full. I am forever grateful for them and their generosity. They epitomize the true spirit of ultrarunning and community. I've learned so much from them and hope to spread that value throughout my ultrarunning career.

I want to give a huge thank you to the Race Directors for working so diligently in getting the Bear off and running. Having to change their course multiple times, re-organize aid stations, and working to keep the race a qualifier for Hardrock, UTMB, and WS had to have been beyond challenging. So thank you Leland, Ron, Errol, and the rest of the Bear crew. My hat tips to you.

And thank you countless volunteers for giving your time to take care of us runners in the terrible conditions. You are a heaven-send. We would not be able to do this without you and your help. You all deserve medals!

Thank you Roch Horton and Catherine for spending your weekend as my loyal and faithful crew. I have gained two new friends that will always be cherished in my heart. You put a lasting impression on me that will last a lifetime. Thank you for everything.

Thank you Zach and Miguel for being the best pacers a girl could ask for. I thoroughly enjoyed our time on the trail together. Those were definitely fun times I'll never forget!

Thank you God, my family, my friends and loyal supporters. Thank you Nike Trail for nailing your gear. One pair of Nike Kigers the whole way! Thank you Squirrel's Nut Butter for the lube and having no chafing. Thank you Honey Stinger for the chew, gels, and waffles that gave me energy throughout the race. And most of all thank you coach, Jason Koop. For taking me out of my comfort zone and making me believe in my ability and myself. I got my Hardrock Qualifier!!! YAY!!
The whole Team! Roch, Cat, myself, Miguel, and Zach!


  1. I love to see Flatlanders excel and you are an inspiration. GBR!

  2. Its a little surprising you couldn't get into Leadville, but I think this turned out better. What a great race report and what a great race! Those conditions were pretty horrific and yet you still managed to thrive in them! Here's to hoping you get into Hardrock (even if it means spending more time in Iowa on that "serious" hill!).

  3. Congratulations, Kaci! Great attitude and smart running.

  4. Congrats Kaci. Another outstanding race. Amazing! SO well done!

  5. great write up for what sounded like a pretty extreme day. has me interested in trying this race next year.
    not sure this is the right place to ask you a question, but I noticed that you won Javelina a few years back - I'm running this year, my first 100(!) and wondered if you have any racing tips? curious especially about the trail conditions - how hard, rocky etc. thanks in advance!