Archive Post- 2015 Bear 100 Race Report by Tommy Barlow

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To start off, I’ll answer the two most common questions that I got from people as I built up to the Bear 100:

 

  • What if your wife beats you/ who is going to be faster?

 

Ultra running is her sport, and it’s really not about me versus her. Even if it was, she is way better looking and has more fans so I’ll never really be ahead of her ; )  While my time was faster I wouldn’t have cared if she finished ahead of me, in fact I would have been really happy for her. My first 100 wasn’t about the time, but more about toeing the water and seeing if I liked the distance. For the record, Kenzie crossed the line as the 7th overall female, which was more impressive than my 26th overall male finish, so technically she’s more competitive against the field.

 

  • What’s harder—An Ironman or a 100 miler?

 

Neither my first Full Ironman nor my first 100 miler were as hard as I imagined them to be. The hard part was believing in myself to the point that I signed up for an event and subsequently putting in the training hours to be race ready. Race day has always felt like my coming out party where I was able to enjoy the fitness that I had painstakingly built up prior to the event. In my experience, an Ironman takes more athleticism and technical skills, where a 100 miler takes more faith and determination that you will recover from the lows that will inevitably come throughout the 20-36 hours you’ll be on the course. Training for an Ironman is more physically taxing and time consuming for me, where trail running is very enjoyable and requires less logistical planning and equipment prep. It’s usually the athletes that have only done one or the other that ask me, almost as if they are deciding what would validate them more, so my answer is to simply do both and decide for yourself! I enjoy both sports- ultras for the ability to spend so much time in nature, and triathlon for the more intense racing experience and competition. Judging by the personality types in each community I think that most triathletes would love ultra running, but not as many ultra runners would love triathlons.

 

That being said…here’s my Bear 100 Race Report

 

 

Prologue:

 

Kenzie was my inspiration to run a 100 miler. Previous to pacing her during her first 100 mile finish last year, I was like most people who would declare without hesitation that running 100 miles over mountains is just stupid. However, I was able to witness a new side of the human spirit while spending over 30 miles on the Wasatch 100 course with her and recognized the way it impacted my wife in such a positive manner, not to mention the example of “doing hard things” for our three children. When she drew out for Wasatch again this year it made it possible logistically for me to sign up for the Bear 100, which is 2 weeks after Wasatch. I had an idea in my mind of how the race would go, with Kenzie returning the favor and pacing me to the finish this time around, running into the finisher chute surrounded by my friends and loved ones for my first 100 miler. Rewind a month and a half ago when we discovered that Kenzie couldn’t run Wasatch because of some missed trail work duties and to the devastation I saw in her face realizing that all she had worked for was going to waste, I immediately knew that my planned first 100 miler would have to be different. I reached out to the race director for the Bear and luckily was able to get Kenzie registered to run the Bear 100 with me, which meant we would each have to figure out our own plans for pacers, crew, and hope we could get our kids covered….and somehow with the help of friends, family, and our amazing running community we pulled it all off!

 

 

Race week

 

Leading up to race day, especially during your taper, it’s natural to start questioning how “ready” you really are….especially when everyone you see that week immediately asks , “you ready for your race?”. I had a really solid peak week of 113 miles in 8 days, including 56 miles on the Bear course so I was feeling good, but my longest run was 36 miles prior to race day so there was that question in my mind around how I would hold up over the distance. I had made plans for a 50 miler that didn’t work out due to weather, and with life/work events I just never did make it happen. I knew that my Ironman in Coeur D’Alene the last week of June was a solid day for endurance training, but wondered how much it would benefit me in a 100 miler. During the week we watched the forecast continue to warm up and eventually saw that it would be a record hot day, which was also a concern because of how hard some of my earlier races in heat turned out. Before I knew it Thursday had come and we had to drive to Logan for the pre-race meeting. It was go time!

 

Race Morning:

 

Luckily our awesome friend (also Kenzie’s pacer) Jena had found an amazing host family for us to stay with who happened to live about 10 minutes from the start line and also ran the Logan River aid station. They gave us an amazing place to stay and treated us so kindly that it was like being at home. We woke up a shade before 4:00 AM in order to get food in our systems 2 hours before race start time, and downed some eggs and toast with a fresh fruit smoothie and a little tuna for me. We were at the start line about 40 minutes before race start and had the chance to get out all the nervous potty breaks, chat with friends, and build up a little anxiety. Before we knew it, 5:55 had rolled around so we walked out into the street, turned on our headlights, kissed one another, and said goodbye….for the next 100 miles!

 

The First 37:

 

At the start of the race I placed myself a bit back from the front of the pack, but after maybe ¼ mile on the pavement I found myself towards the front of the pack as we made our way up the road and towards dry canyon. At the gate where people funnel into the trail I found that because I was near the front there wasn’t a lot of crowding or much of a conga line…people were moving fast. After about a mile I started to realize that the record heat had also made it unnecessary for me to have a long sleeved shirt on, so I stopped by a rock and ditched my shirt, leaving me in a running singlet and my sun sleeves, which I would stay until the cold of the night approached. After ditching my shirt I had settled into a good climbing groove and started listening to the conversations around me. It was a long grind but wasn’t crazy steep or tough and before I knew it you could start to see some of the morning glow. Before I knew it we were at the first aid station which I had reached in 33rd place overall. Through the first 10 I had recognized people running around me, including the eventual top 3 females, as well as several sub 24 hour male runners including Cody Draper and questioned if I was going too fast, but felt solid and decided to keep to the same effort level. At this point, some of the men who were chasing the title were really taking off and by mile 15 it was remarkably spread out already. I had recognized Sarah Woerner from the Tushars 93K which she won, and decided that I was certainly not a more capable runner than her so decided to settle in and run on her heels for as long as I felt comfortable. She has such a down-to-earth personality and I really enjoyed spending some miles with her in casual conversation. I took advantage of the downhills and tried to keep up with her, Jenn Shelton, and Cat Bradley on the uphills. I really thought Sarah could win this race but later found that she DNF’d at some point later in the race. Pretty soon we were at Leatham Hollow where I picked up my running pack and got to see the smiling faces of some amazing Wranglers who made my day, including Jennilyn who spread her amazing magic spray on my cooling towel that I would be huffing all day from to keep the nausea at bay.  I started back out on the course to take on another 80 plus miles! (31st overall) The first 19+ miles had gone by sooo quickly and as I left the aid station I was in such a great mood that I started chatting more with some of the other people around me. I had told one guy named Tim that it was my first 100 miler and he quickly suggested that I should take it easy because he was on splits for a 21 hour and top 5 finish…which made me think a little bit but I trusted myself and how I felt that I wasn’t pushing too hard. Turns out that Tim DNF’d at mile 50. Too bad Tim. Through that stretch we had some good downhill sections that I worked through pretty quickly but didn’t push hard at all, so I was pretty shocked when we climbed out and got closer to the Richards Hollow aid station I started feeling nauseated…..AHHHH! Only 22 miles in and I was wondering how I could battle the pukes through the next 30 miles of heat and climbs, then somehow survive that heat and make my way through another 50 miles into the night and the cold. I took a moment to stop and pee…take in some deep breaths….then while trying to get going again I saw two runners whom I knew, Nate and Dave. I knew Nate was going for a sub 24 and was capable because of what he did at Speedgoat. He asked how I was feeling and I told him that I was actually in the same spot as I was at Speedgoat…nauseated and not feeling up to the task at mile 22. Dave said that he was feeling the same with stomach cramps. We all put our heads down and trotted for a minute before we arrived at the aid station. I made a point to not waste time- took a Gin-Gin chew and some coke, and got moving. I told Dave I would see him soon but he told me it wouldn’t be until the end of the day…he ended up fighting one heck of a battle and finished a really tough day with a smile on his face and his kids along his side- congrats Dave! My goal became to move with a purpose, keep Nate in sight, but not push myself too hard to where I would puke. If I could get to mile 37 at Right Hand Fork I would have my first pacer who I knew would lift my spirits. I don’t remember a ton about the next 15 miles but I’m really proud of my execution as I stuck to the plan, worked the uphills, ran the downhills, and managed to keep myself in that perfect balance of pushing hard enough but not too hard through the heat. After a long downhill I came into Right Hand Fork and was soo happy to see my pacer and all-round stud bromigo Chad. Jena was also there and was amazing at taking care of me. While I was coming into the aid station I also saw Zac Marion for the last time as he would go on to finish under 23 hours and DJ who rocked a sub 24. Cait was taking care of DJ all day and as he pulled away from me she would stick around and help me out as well—-total lifesaver at aid stations all day long! At this point I was in 36th overall- keeping steady and glad to have a pacer!

 

37-52 The HOT Section

 

Picking up Chad couldn’t have come at a better time, physically and mentally. He is a total stud and one of the funniest people I know. I told him he needed to get me to each aid station feeling good, happy, and not puking and he did just that. Chad would dip my cooling towel in water crossings, remind me to stay hydrated, help me get ice at aid stations, remind me to take calories, and pass me his salty nuts while making a joke about salty nuts. I also started getting tired of honey at this point and began switching my calorie intake to bacon. It was a good thing that I had packed so many Gin-Gin chews because the heat made eating and running a miserable experience as everything that went in would immediately trigger some uneasiness. At this point I also started popping tums which seemed to treat me very well. Chad and I were plugging along, and I don’t remember a ton, but distinctly recall thinking again at how sparse the crowds were….I mean they were almost nonexistent. It was few and far between that we would see another runner and for the most part we stayed in the same spot. I was so focused on just surviving the heat and getting into the evening that I really don’t remember a ton about our run. The climb from Temple fork to Tony Grove was longer and slower feeling than on my training day, but when we crested out at the top and hit the descent through the pines I was in a good spot mentally again. We met a guy from Panama who told us that he was going to drop because of hyperventilation issues…which seemed odd since he seemed like he was at least in as good of a spot as I was. We tried to talk him out of it but he wouldn’t have it and wished me a good race. Turns out he’s a pretty accomplished runner and wasn’t interested in pushing harder and dealing with recovery before his next race so it made more sense afterwards but that’s a long ways to travel to drop out if you ask me! Chad and I made the final little climb then drop to Tony Grove and had a bromance moment in the last .25 of how much we enjoy our friendship that we built through triathlon training together. It’s funny how you meet people that you wouldn’t have otherwise and can become such good friends to the point that I know I can count on Chad for almost anything and I hope to be the same friend to him. Soon enough we were trotting into the parking lot at just under 52 miles and were greeted by an amazing support crew of friends like Keshia, Vanessa, Danny (pacer #2), and aid station folks like Greg and other wranglers who were lifting my spirits, feeding me some broth and chips, refiling my ice and drinks, and telling me that I could keep rocking this race! It was honestly one of the highlights of the day to feel so loved and supported during a tough challenge. I was shocked that my friends made such a huge sacrifice on my behalf. Ben was also there crewing like a boss- his experience and take charge attitude made my race day so much better than it would have been without him. He had also been there at Temple Fork but from this point on his support was vital! I told Ben that I needed the poles, which turned out to be one of the best decisions I made all day and he quickly got them to me and we were off with Danny to take on the next 24 ish miles.

 

The Twilight 52-76

 

We took off from Tony and had our focus set on one of the tougher sections of the course with long sustained climbs and some more technical downhills than earlier in the day. I was surprised at what my legs had in them as I felt like I was moving quite well. I had long expected a flood of people overtaking me at this point, but really I only recall 2 dudes who made the pass, each of them handily finishing under 24 hours. Danny was a great pacer because we didn’t know each other super well, only superficially through Ironman racing and training, but I figured he would like the experience and I knew he was generally a really positive person. We got to tell each other our life story and conversations like that really help me pass hours and miles. Danny was also super attentive, making me get in more bacon, loading up my ice bags, helping me transition back and forth from poles on the ups to no poles on the downs, and just keeping me moving the whole time. I had expected to be super fatigued and needing prodding between walk breaks at this point in the race but we really never stopped our constant cadence on the course, other than a couple of minutes at each aid station and to get headlamps and jackets when needed. Ohhh…and the one time where I had one of my last Gin-Gin chews and asked him to open it for me, and when he passed it to me the pole in my hand knocked it to the ground. I looked like the guy who lost his contact in the sand… only imagine the saddest face ever! It was in this section at around mile 62 that I had one of those “runner’s high” moments you hear about as I was just amazed that my body kept going strong all day. I really don’t think there were two happier people on the mountain at that point. Danny was loving the trail experience and I was amazed that I had just recovered from yet another round of nausea and was beginning to feel like I was unconquerable and resilient beyond my wildest dreams. By Logan River I was in 27th place and I kept telling Danny to just get me to Beaver Lodge feeling this good and this 100 miler was mine! AS we approached the lodge we had another good section of downhill where we again caught up to Jenn Shelton (from the Born To Run book) and her pacer. Coming down that hill I had felt the first sign of pain all day, in the back of my right calf and along the outside of my knee by the IT band. Danny and I talked about stretching it and taping it up at the lodge and happily made our way into a room full of more Wranglers ready to lift me up and get me back on the road with my next (and final) pacer, Steve. 30th Place Overall to the lodge. I took in more Coke, Broth, chips, a Core Power protein drink, and some pickle juice. I think this was my longest stop but was still under 10 minutes. Steve and I got up and out the door, ready to bring this home!

 

Last Leg 76-100

 

Immediately heading down the stairs from the lodge I felt the IT pain and tightness. I was actually on pace for a sub 24 at this point, but my leg wasn’t anywhere near a spot to put that expectation in my mind.  As we tried to trot down the first little descent my leg began to lock up and sharp pains shot through my knee and calf. I was pretty frustrated and tired, realizing that I had come so far and still had a lot of work to do with over 4K feet of climbing. I felt like a sad puppy as I watched a pack including Shane, Stephen, and Nate wish me well as they attacked the rest of the course with whatever they had left to try and crack 24, which two of them successfully did. This was the only part of the entire race that I felt a little bit of pity for myself and wished I was faster, which in retrospect is pretty silly but I’m a competitive person so it happens.  Steve was the perfect pacer because he had experience in watching other people gut through pain and win the battle with their body. His attitude never changed from the first step to the last step….YOU CAN DO THIS- YOU WILL DO THIS. While we both knew that sub 24 hours wasn’t in the cards, we both felt like finishing by 7:00 (25 hours) was doable. I followed his confidence into the darkness and we took it one section at a time. When we approached the next downhill I decided to try and run, putting my weight more onto my left side and we actually made good progress with only a few hiccups where my right leg would lock up again. Unfortunately, that small amount of progress came to a screeching halt as suddenly I had a new pain in my left hip flexor area. I had another little panic moment in my head and wondered if I would be able to finish the race, but quickly Steve encouraged me on and I began relying VERY heavily on my poles. For whatever reason, the angle of an uphill grade caused less pain so I almost welcomed the hills as I would lean into them and drag myself to a reasonable cadence using my poles. Steve and I were probably both wondering how this race would shake out…and I’m sure Steve started having nightmares of a 16 hour pacing section….but he kept the energy and positivity at a palpable level, switching back and forth from playing and singing through a top-notch playlist, giving religious sermons, and just talking about the peculiarities of life. I know I didn’t say much as I was dealing with a lot at the moment but I was literally laughing inside sooooo many times thanks to Steve. He is a great friend, runner, pacer, and human. I remember lots of lows- probably the worst part being the flat section in Gibson Basin. Steve and talked about how I would be able to run that section but my body wouldn’t let me….it was a long walk and I was too mad to care about the cold that many people complained about. Despite the slow movement on the flat sections, I was actually doing pretty well on the climbs and I gave the downhills everything I had through some new levels of pain. With about 10 miles to go I decided to take a Tylenol with Codeine and see if there was any way to keep in the 25 hour range. Of all the sections on the course leading up to the race, I was afraid of the climb out of Ranger Dip because it was pretty hard just on our 23 mile training day. I limped into the aid station at the base of that climb, which is the final AS of the course, and saw Ben one more time. He could tell I was in bad shape and I think all of us wondered how long it would take to cover the last 7+miles. I tried to get out of there as quickly as I could, took my poles, and went to work with one thought in my mind… “final exam”. I didn’t set any speed records, but one of the proudest moments of the entire race came on that hill as I kept moving the whole way up, covering nearly a mile with an average grade of 18% and sections with as much ad 35%. I kept hearing Steve chanting “Cohones” which made me laugh and keep plugging away until we hit the top. The last 4 miles of the course are mostly downhill with a severely steep section we dubbed “the plunge” and I gave everything I had, fighting through a ton of pain that alternated from my IT, to my calf, then to my hip. I found that running with  shallow strides and pigeon toes helped alleviate some of the pain so I’m sure it was a sight to see! There were some sections where the downhill would stop and I would almost fall over from the pain, but Steve would quickly help me get my poles back under me and we kept on moving. At one point we made the goal to finish by 6:59 and I knew it was possible when we hit the last section of a downhill graded road that turns to pavement and I knew the end was near. Steve prodded me to run 8:30 pace like he did at his finish and sure tried, but it was probably more like 10:00 miles with a few surges to 8:00 as he cracked the whip. I would let it back to 10:00 and he would tell me it was unacceptable, and when I told him how bad it hurt he smiled and told me he didn’t care…RUN HARDER!  We finally hit the bottom of the road and made the turn towards the finish and Steve let me run my pace and enjoy those last few strides….but I DID keep running!

 

100 miles. Something I would never have imagined possible.

 

I crossed the line at 24:37 in 29th place of over 300 registered runners. My crew and my mother-in-law thought I would be an hour later, so I crossed in the dark early morning hours to the sound of a few cheers from the other exhausted runners who crossed ahead of me. I collapsed onto my knees and made some sounds that probably made people in the greater Bear Lake valley wonder what the heck was going on, which would have been funny to watch. Ben and Cait quickly arrived with Danny and Vanessa and they helped me into a sleeping bag. I called my son and told him that I was finished and had a good cry because I could tell how proud he was, then sunk into the sleeping bag again where I shivered away, sleeping on and off until my kids and mother in law got to me. After a little longer of sleep/shivers someone told me Kenzie was coming in. I tried to get up but couldn’t move, and my friend literally piggy backed me over to the finish to give Kenzie a hug.

 

While my finish was in the quiet dark of the morning and I don’t have any images of that moment, seeing my wife finally race to her ability made this a dually special day for me. I love to see her succeed. 7th female overall. 4 1/2 hour 100 mile PR.

 

Huge thank you to Leland Baker, the race director for putting on an amazing event and for giving my wife the opportunity to run this year. Also have to thank the Wasatch Mountain Wranglers, the amazing running community in general, and especially my friends and pacers who sacrificed part of their days to make sure I was never alone out there! You all know who you are and what you mean to me! Off to heal, then I’ll be planning my next 100 knowing that I can do hard things….really hard things.

Comment please!