Bear 100 Preview: The Utilitarian Playground

Bear 100 Elevation Profile. That first climb is a grunt and that last descent, well, hope your health insurance is up to date.

If one yearns for the grassroots, rustic 100 miler of yore, then look no further than the Bear 100.  The bare nature of Bear is by design.  Race Director, Leland Barker, is old school and likes his race that way too.  Leadville, especially under new management, seems to cradle the runners, providing everything, short of carry them to the finish, for a fairly easy out-n-back jog.  Bear is a stark contrast and I, for one, love it.  The Bear 100 began in 1999 with 17 starters and zero sub 24 hour finishers.  Last year there were 157 starters and a record 17 sub 24 hour finishers.  You may get the idea that it’s a tough course and you’d be correct.  The course begins in Logan, Utah and, after an obscene amount of climbs and descents, it finishes at Bear Lake in Idaho.  It’s both stark and harsh.  Did I mention I love it?

The whole production starts with the no nonsense website that provides the essentials (schedule, location, important updates), then moves on to the race briefing, with the emphasis on “brief” where participants have the pleasure of characters like Errol “Rocket” Jones, Phil Lowry, and Leland Barker casually mentioning things like, “The course should be marked well enough to follow” and “watch out for herding cattle”.  I literally had just found a spot on top of a picnic table to plop down and the briefing ended with, “We’ll see you folks at 6am.  Thanks for coming!”  A short, funny story of how laid back this whole thing is:  Last year’s Bear was my first 100.  I was nervous (scared) but confident enough that I bought a belt, ready to attach my new finisher’s buckle.  I was so excited the day before the start and could barely relax long enough to think straight.  At the end of the pre-race briefing Leland wraps up then says, “Oh yeah, I forgot to order the buckles.  I hope you all understand.”  I received my buckle on the verge of Thanksgiving, six weeks after the event, fat and lazy from taking a month off of running.  My custom belt barely fit but I wore the buckle proudly for a week, then realized it was fairly uncomfortable wearing a heavy, brass buckle and stiff, leather belt.  That’s an indication of the relaxed nature of the event.  The whole experience is such a bright image in my memory that I was one of the first to register again this year.

Me coming into Tony Grove aid station, mile 52, at last year's Bear 100. Photo: Aric Manning

The course is marked well enough, save for the errant and angry ATVer who may re-route or otherwise vandalize sections (extra adventure at no cost).  Frankly, the difficulty and beauty of the course overshadows any worries about race organization.  The race begins with a hands-on-knees, 4,000 ft climb at which point you top out close to or just after sunrise and are rewarded with an amazing view of Logan, UT way down where you began the day.  The first 50 miles take up roughly 15,000 ft of the 22,000 ft total climb.  It’s a nice thought when you’ve reached Tony Grove aid station at 52 miles, knowing you’ve completed so much climb and ‘only’ have 50 miles and about 7,000 ft climb left.  I won’t go into the hideousness of the final 9 miles of the race.  Let’s just say, aspirin and ice will be your ankles’ friends for a while.

On to our predictions we go:


Nikki Kimbal – From Bozeman, MT.  The women’s record at bear is 23:37, set by Rhonda Claridge, who is the only woman to run under 24 on the new course (since 2009).  Only two women in the history of the race have run under 24.  Look for Nikki to run two hours faster than that.

Jane Larkindale – From Tucson, AZ.  If Nikki takes too long to sneeze on the course, Jane will pounce.  After running undefeated in 2010 with impressive times at such races like San Diego 100 and Zane Grey 50, she hasn’t laced up the trail racing shoes this year.  She’s either going to be incredibly fresh or stale, no middle ground.

Ellen Parker – From Seattle, WA.  Ellen should round out the top three.  She ran to a 4th place in 26:18 at the tough Pine to Palm 100 last year and has had a light year of racing in 2011 with a 3rd place at White River 50 in July.

Men: (Note that part of tradition for the race is that the Race Directors, Leland Barker and Phil Lowry run the course to drop markers but start an hour earlier than the rest.  Leland is damn fast and is regularly in the top 5.  I don’t count him in the results due to the different start times)

Nick Pedatella – From Boulder, CO.  After a two year hiatus from the top step of the podium, this is Nick’s race to stand tallest at the awards ceremony.  His true potential competition would’ve been Karl Meltzer but after a bold run at Wasatch earlier this month, Karl is resting his back injury and will be at the Bear in the capacity of crew for Mrs. Speedgoat.  At just 26 years old, Nick has built solid experience, including eight 100 mile finishes; not just finishes but solid performances: 5th at Hardrock, 14th at UTMB, 6th at Leadville, 6th at Wasatch, and 2nd here at Bear 100 where only Geoff Roes crossed the finish before him.  Even when he has a bad day, he seems to hold it together for finishes most runners would kill for.

Todd Gangelhoff – From Morrison, CO.  I’m going out on a fairly sturdy limb here in this pick.  Karl and others will likely disagree and place some of the untested speedier guys in front of Todd but, as I mentioned to Karl, Todd reminds me a lot of Erik Storheim in terms of running style, speed, and toughness.  Those are the ingredients for success at Bear.  I did a big 6.5 hour run at 12-13,000 ft with him two months ago and he lead the way with an impressive base of fitness.

David La Duc – From Oakland, CA.  David’s put together a big season, capped with an 18:01 run at Western States.  He’s a quick guy and prolific racer.  It’ll be interesting to see how he runs in real mountains.  I’m obviously guessing he’ll do well.

Mick Jurynec – From Salt Lake City, UT.  At some point in the picks, I have to go with someone familiar with the area and Mick is the hometown guy.  A couple of key indicators are his runs at Wasatch 100 last year (5th in 22:21) and Squaw Peak 50 this year (3rd in 9:25).

Gary Gellin – From Menlo Park, CA.  Gary is full of speed.  Way Too Cool in 3:35, Firetrails 50 in 6:43, Quicksilver 50 in 6:29, White River in 7:11… the list continues.  One thing that stands out as a 22,000 ft speed bump in his way is the lack of any race beyond 50 miles.  100 miles isn’t just double 50 miles.  It’s a different world and it’s impossible to extrapolate, for both the spectator and the runner, what will happen.  Giving him 5th here on this course, with these experienced guys is giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Tim Long – Boulder.  It seems odd giving myself odds but, looking at the entrants objectively, I have to give myself a place in the mix somewhere.  This will be my 5th 100 miler since June (San Diego, Hardrock, Grand Mesa, Leadville so far).  This has also been the longest break between 100s (five weeks), so I’ve been able to get into a real training block following a two day rest after Leadville.  I ran 23:05 for 9th overall here at Bear last year.  It was my first 100, so I was cautious, made mistakes, ran off course, and enjoyed the day like nothing I’ve ever experienced.  So, my enthusiasm, fitness, and focus on this particular race has to count for something, right?

Me, JT, Rick Hessek, Scott Jaime, Don

23 thoughts on “Bear 100 Preview: The Utilitarian Playground

  1. I think this website would be a lot better received in the ultra community if it stuck to well-thought out previews and reports such as this one (well done Footfeathers, and best of luck!), rather than personal attacks on the motivations and sentiments of amateur runners as we’ve seen in prior posts. Those kinds of articles are contrary to the vibe of the sport as a whole, and will only hurt this website’s credibility, in my opinion.

  2. Nice race preview! On the women’s side, keep an eye on Darla Askew for top 3. She just ran a strong race at Waldo (3rd women and top 10 overall) and has run well at Wasatch in the past. Jane Larkindale’s quiet 2011 season can be explained by a 5 month old daughter.

  3. Nice review,good predictions,think that Tim guy might have just gotten lucky last year,flash in the pan type don’t you know, we’ll see.

  4. Is karl sandbagging? Will he show up at the starting line ready to umm, “hike?” Just asking:)
    I like his style. Even “hiking” he has to be a threat, no? Good luck to all…

    Karl post Bear and podium spot- “I started out hiking and after 10,000 feet of vert I started feeling awesome and my back was feeling great so I just ran it in” hehe…

  5. Great website, loving the enthusiasm and freshness. Dont get dragged into the idol chit chat that’s doing the rounds at the moment,rise above it,break the mould, it’s just exposing ‘the sticks in the mud’.

  6. Any thoughts on how to avoid the errant trail markers from the atv’ers? I don’t know the course well, but plan to carry the instructions. I know getting lost is part of the sport, but how do you minimize wrong turns at Bear?

    • Hey Michael,
      People like to joke about certain races lending themselves to getting lost. In reality, Bear isn’t that difficult to follow. With that, though, there are a few spots where I noticed (suffered through) that were challenging. After leaving Cowley Canyon aid station you go up this narrow dirt road and need to pay attention for a sharp left into the woods. I shot right by it last year and continued up the road for a mile (with unfriendly ATVers buzzing by me constantly). The turn had no flagging or markings other than one small ribbon dangling IN the branches of a bush. I only found it after walking around that turn for a while. There was also no reassurance flagging for about 300 meters on down that path, so it was a bit frustrating for a while.

      Later in the race, like 70 miles into it (night time) there are some meadows/fields you run through and it’s easy to lose the trail. There are parallel trails and “Y”s that are difficult to navigate at a running pace.

      And, the best is waiting for you after the 3,500 ft elevator drop at the finish. You pop out in front of a fence/gate and there were no markers. I wandered around for 15 mins until finding a glow stick and literally had to walk the last 2 miles of winding neighborhood paths and roads and then no markings on hwy 89. I was a little peeved upon reaching the finish in 23:05 when I could’ve easily run 22:45 had that last section of the course been easier to follow. Unfortunately, the only one at the finish that I could complain to was Leland and he was asleep in a sleeping bag under the finish banner, so I just wandered over to the car and collapsed in the back seat. It’s funny looking back now but wasn’t that funny last year.

      My advice is to use a headlamp and handheld, read the course description, when you feel like you might be off course, immediately turn around and go back to the last marker and find the correct way. This year has a big field of starters, so you should be able to see people regularly.

      Hope that helps.

  7. I just need to put a plug in for Ben Lewis as well. Trained for the Wasatch 100 and couldn’t make the start line thanks to an ineptly timed GI bug. This will be his first 100 miler and he’s an ultra-newbie but he’s finished solidly in recent events such as the Speedgoat 50k (4th, despite 20 min off course), Pocatello 50 miler, and Moab Red Hot 55k. Watch out for that guy!

    • Hi Bethany,
      I hear you and anything is possible. Jon Allen came into Bear for his first 100 last year and ran a super race. If Karl does odds, he’ll surely include Ben. I’m not discounting him by not naming him in my post. Happy for him that he’s able to take advantage of that training after having to miss Wasatch!

  8. Thanks for the kind words. I did have some advantages- I lived in Logan and trained on the course daily. And it technically wasn’t my first 100- that was Rocky Raccoon.

    I’d add a few other places you can get lost- going up Blind Hollow just before Tony Grove, there is a faint trail that turns to the right just over 5 miles out of Temple Fork aid. Another one is the turnoff towards the ski resort- first, you have to take a faint trail to the right about 2 miles up Peterson Hollow after the river crossing. Then, 2.7 miles later, another faint turn into the woods towards the ski resort.

    Footfeathers found the last one- when you reach the bottom of the final dropoff (2 miles before the finish, at the start of a neighborhood), DON’T go into the neighborhood. Instead, look to the left- there is an ATV trail that winds its way up towards a water tower. Run up that, down the far side, then down French Hollow Rd to Hwy 89 and the finish.

    Hope everyone has a great race. I was tempted to fly back from SC to run it again, but decided to do UROC instead. My money is on Nick P for the win. And Tim for top 5.

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