Old Ephraim: The Original Ultrarunner

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Old Ephraim: The Original Ultrarunner
By Richard “Rich” Guy

It’s Friday morning, 6 AM, September 25, 2015. And we are at the start of the Bear 100 Mile Endurance Run. Promoted as a cool autumn run through pines, golden aspen and red maples, 100 miles, 22,518 feet of climb over 12 summits. The race begins at the mouth of Logan Dry Canyon, Utah, and navigates on various single track trails and dirt roads to Fish Haven, Idaho on Bear Lake.

A famous grizzly bear named Old Ephraim once roamed the Wasatch-Cache and Caribou National Forests. And he hunted in the very same country that runners will be traversing, according to race organizers. 70% of the course is on trails, 29% dirt road, and only 1% pavement. The race has a time limit 36 hours, which means if you do not arrive at the finish line by 6 PM on the following day, you get a DNF, “Did Not Finish.” The goal of many runners is to do this ultra in 24 hours or less, running through the night with flashlights and minimal rest.

“The BEAR 100 joins the ranks of some of the toughest as well as the most scenic trail races in the world. The challenges associated with it will test the strength and endurance of any well-trained runner. This event is extremely demanding, and should only be undertaken by athletes in excellent physical condition,” warns the organizers’ website.

One support crew member from Salt Lake City said, “Quitting is not a bad thing if you’re listening to your body. You just ran 62 miles, and that’s more than anybody else did on their couch at home.”

Dan, support crew member for a different runner, said, “I don’t think there’s any shame for anyone that DNFs, they went out there and they tried…And it’s not like you’re done, it just makes you hungry for that next try.”

“The total number of DNFs depends on the weather.” said Dan, “Over half of the field dropped out from the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run because of the intense heat. Last year, a lot of people had to pull out of the BEAR 100, because it was super rainy and wet, and they did not have the right gear and proper clothing.”

Jenny is a 36-year-old trail runner from Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She’s in Logan to support her friend, Amanda, who’s running the Bear 100. When asked “why run?,” she thought for a moment. “Such a hard question to answer, I don’t know, I guess partly for the challenge, partly because we can, and just to be out in the wild in the mountains where it’s beautiful.” Jenny just completed an ultra 100 in Colorado last weekend, called Run Rabbit Run. She added “I felt good, I was ready to be done, but it was exciting to finish, since it was my first one.”

Would she have another go? “Maybe! At the end, it was definitely painful, challenging, and I was ready to be done, but it was pretty fun to be out running in my hometown and to run with my friends. It was beautiful weather and the leaves were changing color, overall it was pretty great”. She even offers advice for other runners. “If you get to do it, just take the time to build up and have patience during the race, and run your own race. Enjoy it, you’re lucky to be out there.”

John, also a runner, has a four-member support team with a small window of time to enjoy the morning. They needed to be at mile 19, the first aide station assessable by automobile up Blacksmith Fork Canyon. They help him replenish with food, liquids, and especially moral support and encouragement. His team included his fiancée, Hannah, age 24, from Fort Collins, Colorado, his brother Myke, age 28, from Boston, Massachusetts, a close college friend Mark, age 26 from Whitefish, Montana, and his pet dog, also from Colorado who sat in the car while the three humans sipped coffee at Café Ibis. John, age 28 was well into the first leg of his hundred mile ordeal.

His friends’ goal for the day was to make sure John is eating what and when he wants to eat. Fueling the runners body properly and regularly is important. They will be there to give John warm apparel, if and when he needs it, and provide “nuun” (an electrolyte enhanced drink tab to be added to his water) and, of course, boost his morale. According to Hannahh, seeing his dog at the several aid stations will be an important morale booster. Hannah and Mark plan to pace John for certain sections of the race. Myke just arrived from Boston at 2 AM in the morning, and it was now 7 AM—still dark. John was already on the trail with 300+ runners, lights strapped to their heads, some with additional lights on their hands. Mark said “In ultra running, you’re allowed to have a pacer at certain points, and in this race you’re allowed to have a pacer after mile 37, so two of them will switch off running with John to the finish.”

This is John’s fifth BEAR 100 endurance run. His fiancé said, “John’s goal is to finish the race. He has dropped out in other ultras, because he gets sick or injured…He just wants to have a nice steady run.” His Montana college friend commented, “In the last four ultras he finished two, and dropped out of two, so I think he just wants to finish.” John has participated in the Tahoe, Red Hot and Moab Ultras.

Becky is here to support her husband Jamie. They’re both from the Seattle area of Washington. If Jamie finishes, this will be his 39th Ultra 100 finish. Jamie is 53 years old and started running ultras in 1999, beginning with the Cascade 100, which he has completed 14 times. There are challenges to being the spouse of an ultra runner. “…the training time, especially when the kids were younger, now it’s easier cause it’s just the two of us. It takes a lot of long runs on back-to-back weekends, but it’s fun being out at the aid stations and meeting people. For a while he did runs near National Parks…”

Becky added, “This is his third year we have been here. The first year he sprained his ankle before arriving and made it to mile 19, but stopped because he rolled it again. Last year, he was ready to go, but his grandkids had the stomach flu, which he caught, but made it to mile 30, which is good after having flu symptoms on the trail. So this year he just wants to get it done.”

Becky said, “Ultra runners are the nicest people, usually, although maybe those front runners get a little cranky at their crew, because they are racing. There are a ton of hundred mile runs, so pinpoint where you want to go on vacation, and make your mark on the map.”

The runners featured in this story finished with the following times.

Amanda Grimes 34:36.26 (175th place)
John Fitzgerald 22:11.23 (8th place)
Jamie Gifford 27:46.53 (68th place)

Of 300 starters, 208 finished, 92 DNFed.
Old Ephraim would be proud!

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