An Experiment in Exuberance: Bryon Powell’s 2014 Bear 100

Now, that was SWEET! Having run a bunch of 100s—highly rewarding and mostly torturous, successful… and not so much—the 2014 Bear 100 might be the 100-mile highlight of my ultrarunning journey. Looking to mesh my goals—a qualifier for the Hardrock and Western States 100s—and my reality—nothing resembling training after eight months on the road (but with 22+ years of base), I’d long decided my only target was to finish under the Bear’s 36-hour cutoff.

[The brief version: My Strava track.]

Bryon Powell - 2014 The Bear 200 - Stride

Striding into mile 30. Photo: Vince Heyd

The Experience

Once I decided my primary goal was to finish, I quickly added the secondary goal of enjoying as much of the journey as possible… both in and of itself and so no performance goal would sneak in as a secondary goal. The secondary goal quite intentionally increased the chance of success on reaching the primary goal as enjoyment would help keep me going when “punching a ticket” might not be enough. Eager to run in Moab after so many months away (I almost skipped running The Bear to facilitate this), I added another secondary goal, to put myself in a position to recover as quickly from The Bear as possible. All this added up to a great experience. The path to this experience was very intentional as were my actions to further the plan during The Bear itself. Here are some of those actions:

  • Carry the camera. Most of the time I enjoy taking photographs on my runs. I’ve done so during most of my “races” this year and decided to have fun with this during the gorgeous first morning. This helped me to look around and Enjoy the Day (see below). I carried the camera until mile 20 when I switched from a vest to a waist pack and by which time the light was flat. Here are some of the pics.
Bryon Powell - 2014 Bear 100 - photos

Snappin’ pics along the way. Photo: Bryon Powell

  • Turn up the tunes. I’ve rarely listened to tunes during my previous 100 milers and when I’ve done so, I’ve done so quite strategically. This time around, I listened to tons of tunes and focused on tracks that kept me upbeat. (Reminder: When you’re around others, please run with only one ear bud in and/or with your music off. Suggestion: Unplug and listen to nature’s song along the way!)
  • The chair is my lair. Turning the old “Beware the Chair” philosophy on its head, I sat at every aid station where I had crew and some others to boot. If you’re not in a rush, why not kick back and relax while enjoying a couple Snickers or a grilled cheese or a bourbon and Coke.
Bryon Powell - 2014 Bear 100 - Chair

Enjoying a chair at mile 50. Photo: Meghan Hicks

  • A couple Snickers, a grilled cheese, or a bourbon and Coke. I ate way more “real” food than I’ve ever done in “racing” a 100 and it felt great! Thanks HUMRs for the PBR station, too!
  • Enjoy the day! Too often the beauty of a day can be lost to racing. Sure, I always take some of it in on the fly, but how rarely do I stop and appreciate it while “racing?” Too rarely. Yes, I took most of The Bear’s beauty—and it was an absolutely gorgeous pair of days—in on the fly, but on early Friday afternoon, I pulled off the trail at a summit, went off the trail, and had a picnic lunch overlooking the Bear River Range in its autumnal splendor.
Bryon Powell - 2014 Bear 100 - the journey

Enjoying the day around me… not long after that picnic. Photo: Vince Heyd

  • Focus on staying positive. In recent years, I’ve lost too many races to negative thinking… almost never having to do with the race itself. Negative aspects of work, life, and all the rest creep into my mind and crush me. It sucks. I did have some of those thoughts during The Bear, but before the race I acknowledged that I’d have them and that I’d move past them. I did just that.
  • Focus on the discomfort. Oddly, three times during the race when I felt physical discomfort, I focused on it. I played with it. I thought of gritty runners. I thought about whether the pain was a meaningful signal or just noise. The first time I eventually moved past some glut medius fatigue (during a long running stretch) with a quick shoe adjustment break. At mile 68, the blister under the callus on the outside of my right heel burst. It hurt quite sharply… for about three miles. During that time, I focused on trying to maintain neutral form (not necessarily good form), while not further aggravating it. After three miles, the pain stopped. Score. The third time was trying to run the final mile and a half after absolutely bombing down the final descent. My legs hurt? No, they were fatigued. I wanted to stop and walk. I kept wanting that. But, I played with the discomfort, I acknowledged it, and I ran smoothly the whole way in.
  • Run well within myself. I almost forgot this, which might be the most important point… I kept the needle in the green all day. Physically, mentally, emotionally… this makes a HUGE difference! Having fun, staying positive, making all this “play” was only possible because I was relaxed and more or less felt great the entire way.

There were also some accidents that, with the right approach, helped me implement my plan.

  • Start from the back. The night before the race, I’d set up a Bear 100-specific activity type in Movescount to maximize battery and memory life and thought I’d synced it onto my Suunto Ambit3. Nope. So I took care of it from my phone … during the start… and began my journey behind nearly all of the field. Even after a mile of calm running to the trailhead, I was still behind folks that kept me climbing just a bit easier than I would have otherwise. This was a nice check.
  • Wrong way is right. Somewhere around mile 15, I (and a group of others) missed a crucial turn to Leatham Hollow and, instead, descended an extra 800 vertical feet. The little bonus trek totaled 24 minutes and, once I shook off the momentary frustration, reinforced my I-ain’t-racing-The-Bear approach.

As someone who’d previously attempted to “race” every 100 I’d run, this pursuit of positivity over performance was an entirely new experience and one that I’d recommend to everyone who’s always “gone for it,” but who’s not routinely getting chased by the sweeper.

The Experiments

Having a generous cushion between ability and necessity allowed me indulgences, large and small, which I employed for investigational purposes. Here are a few:

  • [Added] Pass on the pacer. Aside from UTMB, I’ve always had a pacer lined up for the later portions of 100s. Why? Mostly because I don’t running alone in the woods at night. Simple enough. Well, I dabbled in running into the night sans pacer a bit in recent 100s and felt comfortable enough. It was time to give this a further go. If I ever got too uncomfortable, I knew I could simply wait for the next runner and stick with her or him. This option never crossed my mind during the race. I did once briefly pick up a pair of sticks when I heard a large animal while in dense forest, but I didn’t feel “spoked,” rather, I felt like I was being prudent. I’ve not sworn off pacers, but, now, I know I can run a race at night without them… and it also opens a whole lot of options for future adventuring. ;-)
  • Nip nausea in the bud. In “racing” 100s, when nausea has caught up with me, I’ve surely eased off the pace and made other in-the-saddle adjustments. When the 80F+ temperatures (and maybe the whiskey) led to a bout of light nausea at The Bear, I carried on briefly before finding a shady spot on the uphill side of the trail. I stopped, sat, drank a bit of water, and ate some Honey Stinger Cherry Blossom Chews. The whole stop may have been three or four minutes, but when I stood up I was 90% better and on the way to feeling great.
  • Fear not the cot. In the years since dropping from UTMB at mile 67 due to persistent no energy (and, later, being able to run the next evening), I’ve wondered if a good-long nap might have saved my race. However, I’ve also wondered how much worse I might feel after hours of sleep after 60 or 70 or 80 miles of running in a day. I’ll never be able to answer the first question, but now I know that I certainly don’t feel worse or unduly stiff or unable to continue after a 6-hour pause with 5 hours of attempted sleep late into a long ultra. At The Bear, I stepped off the trail just before 1 a.m., was recumbent within half an hour, awoke five hours later at 6:30, and was on the trail promptly at 7 a.m. I felt great. While I won’t often go into a race planning to sleep, it’ll now be a much stronger last ditch-option as well as one in long adventures.
  • Playing with Pain. While I wasn’t forcing the pace, some pain is difficult to avoid in a 100 miler. However, as I’d minimized the pain by not “racing,” I was able to play with the concept of pain with more contrast. See Focus on the Discomfort above for more on this experiment.
Bryon Powell - 2014 Bear 100 - The Dive

About to slip and slide across the line. Photo: Meghan Hicks

Gear

I’m not one to post gear lists often, but as a person with access to a wide variety of gear, I thought I’d share what I wore when it mattered.

Shoes

  • New Balance 1400v2 – Worn for the first 76 miles (er, 78 miles) of the run. Perfect except that the monofilament in the mesh at base of left tongue ate the top of my toes.
  • Salomon Fellraiser†‡ – The Fellraisers rocked in the wet to cartoonishly muddy conditions on day 2.

Used with front half of Altra Superior Stonegaurds.

Used with Superfeet Carbon inserts for structure and a bit more drop.

Apparel

  • New Balance Impact 3-Inch Split Short – All-things-considered, the favorite shorts I own (I don’t have much variety). Worked well enough, but I wish they were 4” shorts, had rear holster pockets, and didn’t chafe when the cold rains came (could be solved by an added inch of length).
  • Drymax Hot Weather Socks – One pair, 102 miles. Favorite “racing” socks… and probably favorite socks period. Great for the heat AND for when it’s wet. Combined between the mile 20 and 30 aid stations, I did add three layers of tape to the top of my left sock above my toes, but that was an issue with my shoe.
  • Mountain Hardwear Way2Cool Shirt (original version) – Best running shirt I’ve ever worn. I’d buy five at full retail if I could find them. BRING THEM BACK!
  • The North Face Better Than Naked Shirt (2013? version) – A solid shirt. Put it on before heading back out at mile 76.
  • Julbo Race sunglasses — My most common running sunglasses since early 2009. I don’t mess with a good thing.
  • The North Face Feather Lite Storm Blocker Jacket – My favorite rain jacket ever. Love it. Still available in Europe.
  • The North Face gloves – No clue what they were… but I wore them even once the rain lightened up as insane downhilling insurance.
  • Mountain Hardwear Raffia Fedora (womens) – I care not for labels and constraints. I saw this hat at the Summer Outdoor Retail show and fell in love. Light, breathable, packable, 360-cephalic-solar protection, sweat band. Boom! I need to mod it a hair, but I oft run with this hat as is.
  • iRunFar Headsweats Race Hat – My go-to hat, which I wore at night and in the rain.
Bryon Powell - 2014 Bear 100 - Mountain Hardwear Raffia Fedora

Bryon in the MH Raffia Fedora. Photo: Meghan Hicks

Hydration/Stowage

  • Ultimate Direction Anton Krupicka Race Vest (original version) – Worn for first 20 miles (still relatively cool).
  • Terra Nova Ultra 1 waist pack, 2 Ultimate Direction 20-ounce Bottles with Kicker Valve, Old UD Handheld Strap with Pocket – Used for miles 20-60 (heat of the day).
  • Nathan 10k Elite waist belt, 1 Ultimate Direction 20-ounce Bottle with Kicker Valve, Old UD Handheld Strap with Pocket – Miles 60-76 (night) and miles 76-92 (cool, wet morning).

Electronics

  • Suunto Ambit3 Peak – Did a damn good job at getting a course, distance, and total elevation at the LOWEST recording interval and GPS settings, which I’d set conservatively in case I took 35:59 to finish. Afterward, I learned I could have increased the GPS accuracy one notch for even this expectation. In other 100-mile scenarios, I could use significantly higher settings.
  • iPod Shuffle (3rd Gen) with Skullcandy ‘phones – Listened to way more music that I ever had in a race. Fun.
  • Petzl NAO (2nd Gen) and 2-LED Black Diamond headlamp – The new NAO is crazy bright and its battery life is more than sufficient (and totally customizable). I grabbed Meghan’s little BD light at mile 60 for a low-angle handheld light to provide depth shadows on the flatly colored Wasatch dust on Wasatch rubble.
  • Sony RX100 II – Bomb-proof camera for most of my adventures. Not the lightest.

Call for Comments

I’m in civilization and not covering a race this week, so I hope to answer any questions you might have about my preparation, approach, experience, enjoyment, gear, or anything about my run at the 2014 Bear 100.

Bryon Powell - 2014 Bear 100 - Bear Lake

Ending the journey in Bear Lake. Photo: Meghan Hicks