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Bear 100 Race Recap

The morning was muggy, strange for Utah in late September. The air was filled with nervous anticipation and excited chatter. We congregated in a crowd, there was no real “starting line,” and then we all began to run. I waved goodbye to my father, who was to be my crew chief, my friend Eva, who had flown all the way out with me to pace me, and my mother, who promised to be at the start and the finish but was not interested in seeing any of the blood, sweat and tears in between.

I was swept off with the crowd, alone in a sea of strangers. Surrounded by strange people, I was not in a strange place. We jogged past the field where my best friend and I had gotten caught in the summer sprinklers while star gazing in high school. We stared up at the moonlight shadow of Logan Peak and the Bear River Range beyond. These were the mountains that raised me. The mountains where I spent every winter Sunday of my childhood skiing, where I slept many nights on many backpacking adventures and even where I had my first kiss. These mountains were the reason I was here.

I had never intended to run a 100-mile race. Does anyone ever set out on their running journey intending to get pulled into long ultra-marathons? While training for my first marathon I had discovered a love of trail running which quickly led me to my first 50 mile ultra. I loved the 50-mile distance! It was far enough to require a lot of training and dedication but short enough that you could go home and sleep at night. I would likely have been content running 50 miles races forever, if not for the Bear.

It was late September in 2018, just four and a half months after my first 50-mile race, and my Instagram was flooded with pictures of home. These pictures showed the fall aspens in all their glory, highlighted against a deep azure sky. They showed incredible runners pushing through the depths of the pain cave to earn their buckle and the plaque depicting all 22,000 feet of elevation gain on the course. I scrolled through those pictures on Instagram and I knew that I would toe the starting line at the 2019 Bear 100.

As we began our initial, and the biggest, ascent I listened to the hooting of a great horned owl and thought about how incredibly lucky I was to be there. I could have felt like an imposter as people around me chatted about the previous 100’s they had completed just that summer, but I didn’t. I felt right at home, and even as the sunrise was obscured by thick clouds and we began to get rained on, I felt nothing but excitement for the miles to come.

This is the race that by all accounts should never have happened. I was a new and inexperienced ultra-runner. I was in my last, and most time- and energy-consuming, year of midwifery school. I had spent my summer training by running laps on my local trails (including a self-supported 50 miler), never able to be far from my car should I get a call for a client in labor (and on more than one occasion I did!) I missed training days while working and hauled myself over mountains after missing multiple nights of sleep. When I wasn’t working or running I was eating, much to the amusement of my coworkers and friends. The summer had passed in a blur but despite all odds I felt ready when I arrived in Utah.

The Logan Peak aid station at mile 10 was a whole different world. Shrouded in clouds and mist I shivered as the volunteers filled up my water bottles and I grabbed some food. The trail had turned to a thick mud that clogged our shoes as we began our descent and I chatted with some friendly runners, taking my mind off the miles to come. This section was a gorgeous downhill single track and I came into the Leatham Hollow aid station (mile 19) feeling giddy and excited.

My crew, consisting of my sister Rachel and my father, met me at Leatham Hollow. Neither of them had ever seen an ultra, much less crewed one, but I knew years of family adventures had prepared them well. My sister took my vest and repacked it quickly (something she would do flawlessly at every subsequent aid station) while my dad checked in on what I needed. I was feeling good so set off quickly.

A brief dirt road section was soon followed by a gorgeous climb through the aspens. Here was the Bear I had seen depicted in the Instagram pictures a year prior! The aspens shown against a perfect blue sky and I found myself alone for the first time all day. I shifted between power hiking and jogging and still felt strong, despite some foot tenderness, coming into the Cowley Canyon aid station at mile 29. The heat of the day pounded on my back as I navigated the backcountry dirt roads but I was far enough ahead of schedule that I worried if my crew would be waiting for me at the Right Hand Fork aid station (mile 37). My dad, Rachel and Eva were there, and I beamed through the evening light, excited for what was to come.

I was lucky that I got to combine this race with a trip home. Since moving to Maine in 2015 I had only gotten to see my family once or twice per year and I had not been to my childhood home in that time. I had become a trail runner in Maine and the silky, switch backing single track was a treat I was not accustomed too. I was also thrilled to have the support of my family on this epic adventure, and that Eva, my BRF (best running friend) from Maine, was willing to make the trek out with me to be part of the adventure.

As sometimes happens in ultra-running, my perfect race changed in an instant. While my energy and spirits were still high coming into Right Hand Fork, my feet were tired from bearing my weight for the past 11 hours. I laid back on my dad’s tailgate to elevate my feet while my sister repacked my vest and Eva prepared to pace me through the next section. Only a moment later I felt the unwelcome sensation of nausea and immediately began to hurl.

I sat, shaky and surprised at this new development, suddenly zapped of all the energy I had felt moments before. “Are you done vomiting?” my dad asked before handing me my hydration vest and poles and sending me off down the trail with Eva. I resented him pushing me out of that aid station while also knowing it was my only chance of staying in the race.