Bear 100, Onion Slam Wrap-Up

Well, I'm done with the salsa, and I sent my co-authors the final draft of that paper, so I guess I have a few minutes to write about the final leg of my 400-mile Onion Slam. (Thanks to Nano for the name.)

But first, more salsa photos.

Thanks for forcing your garden on me, Jason. I put it to good use.

Anyway, as you may be aware, I ran the Tahoe 200 (race report), IMTUF 100 (race report, photos), and then finished off my vacation with the Bear 100. These races are on three consecutive weekends, so I had less than five days of recovery between each of them. You can read my previous reports about the first two. After IMTUF, I soaked a bit in Bergdorf Hot Springs, and then returned to my friend's amazing cabin in Donnelly, ID, where I took two heavenly zero days finishing season one of Mr. Robot (great start, weak finish) and taking a chunk out of Infinite Jest. Probably the most relaxing two days of my life in recent memory.

Wednesday I drove down to Ogden, UT and stayed with my firefighter buddy from high school. Thursday I drove back up to Logan, UT and attended the pre-race meeting. (By the way, if anyone from northern Utah is reading this, please call your congressman and tell him he is a big dumb jerk for killing the Land & Water Conservation Fund, the program that used offshore oil lease money, not your taxes, to preserve a ton of parkland over the last 50 years.) I spent the night before the race in Paradise, UT with a buddy from my time in South Korea and his family.

During the last stages of IMTUF, I thought that if the cutoff for the Bear wasn't 36 hours, and was instead 32, I might not be able to finish. But by a few days after IMTUF, I somehow decided, what the heck, I've got nothing else coming up (not true), I should be able to finish the Bear in under 30 hours. Mostly I think it was seeing on the website that there's a different belt buckle for 24-30 hour finishers than for 30-36 hour finishers. I was able to break 30 hours without much training at Wasatch a few years ago, so why not break 30 with too much training? I told my friends who may come try and see me along the course that I hoped to run a 13-hour first half and a 17-hour second half.

The race was a 6am start, and I wore a hat, gloves, arm sleeves, and a windshirt, but they were mostly for hanging out in the parking lot before the start. The first canyon (Dry Canyon, aptly) doesn't have any water, so it's pretty warm, and I shed my clothing pretty quickly. We did start climbing right away, but there wasn't too much of a conga line, since the trail was almost double-wide, so passing was fairly easy.

I felt OK, but occasionally got twinges in my left heel or right knee, like something major could go bad joint or tendon-wise. But nothing ever came of it, so I kept on going. With the climb up Dry Canyon right out of the gate, I was already way behind a 4mph schedule, but as soon as you finish the climb you drop back almost to the same altitude as the start, so at 16 miles I was on a decent 4mph average pace, and was ahead of that by the 20-mile aid station at Leatham Hollow.

First climb

Then, of course, the sun was out and the day started to warm up. A lot of the next 25 miles of the course are quite exposed, too. This destroyed me at Wasatch, but somehow it didn't hurt me nearly as badly at the Bear. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep gels down, so I only ate one, and that before it got warm. After that I just ate potato chips and pretzels in small quantities. The aid stations thankfully had lots of ice, and I drank a lot at aid stations, but only things I know I can handle: ginger ale (from the aid stations themselves) and yellow Gatorade (that I put in a few of my drop bags). I would down at least a quart of that, very cold, at each of the aid stations, and that was the main source of my calories.

"Hoofed Locusts" --John Muir
The climbs in these sections were hot and exposed, so nobody around me was really running these hard, but I did pass quite a few people by hiking faster. My joint/tendon pain went away and instead became completely dead leg muscles. Dead like worked. But cardio and overall I felt fine, and my buddy showed up to say hi at mile 36, and I was feeling OK.

Exactly on schedule, I ran the first 50 in just a few minutes under 13 hours. I left the aid station at 45 miles at Tony Grove (a nice lake underneath cliffs) with just a windshirt, which worked out pretty well, because I had to keep going until Franklin Basin at 61 in order to get gloves and a hat and an extra layer.

I had a few rough miles after that on the climb up to Steam Mill Pass and down to the Logan River aid station at mile 70. My brain wasn't working correctly, in the same sleep-deprived bad high sort of way as Tahoe 200--nonsensical thoughts (something about the race being a competition about eating breakfast, and also having to do with the lyrics of the songs on my iPod) came in endless loops. It got pretty annoying, and continued after I turned off my music, so I decided to sleep some at the next aid station if they were set up for it. They had a wall tent set up with a heater and a few cots, so I set my watch timer for 30 minutes and was out immediately. I snoozed it for 10 additional, and then got out. I crawled from rock to rock to keep my feet dry crossing the river, and felt a tad better covering the final five to Beaver Lodge aid station at mile 75, where I picked up my pacer.

Luckily, I did not find Beaver Lodge as strong a vortex as Brighton Lodge aid station on the Wasatch course, despite them both being actual buildings, not just a group of tents, both at mile 75, both after a bit of pavement, both at ski resorts. My buddy's wife Kate was ready to go, so after a little soup and maybe some Coke, we got moving. I trudged at first and made my usual request: tell me stories and don't ask me questions. But I tried not to spend long at the aid station at 81, nor at 85, and by then it was time to slough off the warm night clothing, drop my headlamp, and start using my trekking poles. (I like trekking poles, but I carry my light in my hands, since I feel that gives better depth perception than a headlamp. I am on the verge of breaking down and buying the $40 headband if I can't jerry rig a stable version myself, because it would be nice to have my hands free for scrambling or poles.)

Good morning #2

Let's go down there
I had been told there was a serious climb at the end, and I thought it came between the last two aid stations. There was indeed a climb there, and it was large, but not absurdly steep. I didn't get my hopes too high, though, and eventually discovered that the final climb, the steepest of the entire race, was immediately after the final aid station at mile 92. I didn't hold back, and I dropped my pacer here. I let out a whoop at the top so she would know that it actually wasn't that long, and I thought she'd catch me on the descent, since is quite good on descents, but I turned on Spotify on my phone and boom boxed my 7-song "Run Fast" playlist. Two examples:

All that was left was to bomb down a big hill for miles on end. A friend had scouted the course the week prior on his motorcycle, and it was really nice to have the details of the course told me beforehand by a pessimist, because then when I got there it was pleasantly surprising. It was indeed a very steep and rutted ATV trail with tons of ankle breaker rocks, but there was usually at least one of the banked slopes that was clear, even if you did have to bounce from side to side to pick the right line. I probably passed 7 or 8 runners in this last stretch. I only ran one of the last miles at sub-10 pace, but it was fast enough to be fun.

I finished in 29:10, well below my 30-hour goal. I'm actually a little disappointed that the final 100-miler felt this easy. A few months ago when I found out I got off the waitlist into the race, I was a little hesitant to actually accept. I made up the idea of three Hardrock qualifiers in three weekends early on this year, but then the Bear sold out, so I didn't have to worry about it. Then Plain got cancelled, and I decided to up the ante to the Tahoe 200. To paraphrase something my friend Anish, holder of both the AT and PCT self-supported (thru-hiker style) speed records, said in relation to Barkley, "how do you know where your limits are if you don't try and push past them?" Of course, another impressive ultramarathoner friend said "why don't you just push your limits by running one race fast?" Well, because one fast race doesn't really build your Barkley resume cred, nor does it help release your frustration about the Hardrock lottery's heavy veteran skew. It also doesn't make for nearly as cool a road trip.

Regardless, the Onion Slam is all done. I spent a little more time with friends in Paradise, Ogden, and Salt Lake, drove home, and went back to work. I'm spoiled because there were amazing sunsets all this week, and I still have a whole entire week before my next race, my favorite of the whole year, the Euchre Bar Massacre.

Thoughts on the Bear:
It's a nice course, but not a classic. Another runner said "More like the Cow 100!" and that felt pretty apt, especially in the first half. The changing aspens are nice, and Bear Lake is a great place to end a race, though.

I do not need, nor do I want, a bag full of advertisements when I pick up my race bib. Sure, I'll take a free issue of Ultrarunning magazine, but please give it a rest, Hammer Nutrition, your carpet-bombing advertising strategy is just making me angry. Coupons to local businesses are fine, I guess, but there's got to be a better way to do even that.

I thought the aid stations could do a little more Western States-style physical separation of crew from the main aid tent. With 300 runners and easily accessible stations, they felt crowded and it was annoying to navigate around crew to get my crewless self what I needed. Aid stations did, however, do a very good job having plenty of ice on a hot day, and having hot soup for the vegetarians/vegans.

The Stravas:


  1. So, what you are saying, is that after IMTUF - Bear feels easy...

    1. Ha ha. That's one way to put it. Bear certainly was less of a challenge without the ice accumulating in my beard.

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  3. Any advice for the Bear 2016? I've done a 50m & a 100K, but this will be my first 100.

    1. Heat training, probably. It's usually pretty hot. They're pretty good at having enough ice at aid stations, though. If you've never gone overnight, do some 2AM runs. I believe in training specificity (basically training under as close to race conditions as possible). Big hill climbs (and drops) at the end of your training runs.

    2. Thanks for the insight! Heat won't be a problem; I’m in ATX, just the elevation & altitude. Can't wait!


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