Running With the Bears Race Recap and Keynote Speech


This past weekend was a big weekend for me: I got to see a part of the country I’ve never been to before, I gave my “The Reasons We Run” keynote for the first time, and I ran my first marathon in over two years (and crossed another state off of my list).

If you’d like to hear the audio of the speech, just click play above.

Running With the Bears 2016

I honestly can’t say enough good things about the weekend and the race. Seriously, if you’re looking for a mid-summer race (10k, half, full) in a beautiful part of the world that raises money for a great cause, look no further than Running with the Bears.

The race takes place in beautiful Greenville, California, which is nestled in the Indian River Valley of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

For real though y’all, this place is gorgeous!

Simply Stunning

Simply Stunning

There are mountains everywhere you look, the pine trees are gigantic, and the weather is pretty darn great for running a race in August. Well, it usually is. More on that shortly.

The race is hosted by Mountain Circle Family Services, which is a non-profit organization working with kids in the foster care system.

This race is one of Mountain Circle’s biggest fundraisers of the year, and all of the money raised in the event (over $45k this year!) goes directly to helping the kids that they work with in the foster care system.

Packet Pickup & Friday Night Pasta Dinner

Packet pick-up was pretty simple. The race is capped at 600 runners (for all races combined) so things went pretty smoothly.

And the goodie bag…

Best Goodie Bag Ever: Running With the Bears

Best Goodie Bag Ever: Running With the Bears

No joke, there were twice as many items in that goodie bag than I’ve gotten in every other marathon I’ve ever run combined!

I seriously thought I was going to have to check a bag on the way home because I didn’t think I could fit all of the “stuff” into the two bags that I brought. Thankfully, I managed to avoid checking a bag but only just!

As for the dinner, y’all know where I stand on the carb-loading/pasta dinner: not really my thing.

In addition to the packet pick-up and the pasta, I spent a little time on center stage sharing some stories from the podcast and talking about the reasons that we run.

If I’m being critical, there are definitely some things I need to improve about the speech. But overall, I’m happy with it.

(If you have a chance to listen to the speech, I’d love to hear your thoughts: positives and areas that could be improved. Thanks for the feedback in advance!)

The Race!

This year, the weather didn’t exactly cooperate.

The typical start-time temps for Running with the Bears are in the mid-high 40s. And then the average high for the day is in the low to mid 80s.

This year, the race started in the mid-50s (which was fine) and ended in the upper 90s (which wasn’t fine).

Needless to say, it wasn’t a PR day if you were running the marathon!

As for the course, the first 7+ miles of the course are run around the perimeter of the Indian River valley, so you are literally surrounded by mountains. I’ll be honest, when the sun crept up over the mountains, it was pretty stunning!

These first 6-7 miles are mostly flat, though there are a few rolling hills. Nothing to be scared of here, but definitely worth being aware of.

After getting past the break where the half heads to the finish and the full keeps going, things get real!

The next 7+ miles (turnaround is at 14.5) are nothing but rolling hills. There are a couple of pretty steep, but not long, climbs and lots of turns as the road weaves around and through the mountains.

After hitting the turnaround, you wind back through the mountains and up and down the hills until you get a little break and some flat ground when you turn toward the finish line.

But that relief is momentary at best.

The last 10k is more of the same, winding roads with rolling hills along the side of the mountain (at this point we are back to running around the valley).

There is one hill of substance during the last 10k, and it comes right about at mile 23.

Once you come down the other side of what is affectionately known as Bear Bait Hill, you’ve got 2-3 more miles of winding road to get to the finish highlighted by illusion corner.

Illusion corner is a bitch.

As you make your way around the bend, you can see the finish line about a half mile or so away from you across the cow field. But as you come a little farther around the bend, you realize really quickly that there is still almost 1.75 miles left of road to get to the finish.

Even if you’re paying attention to your watch and you know you still have just under 2 miles to go, when you catch that first glimpse of the finish line you can’t help but get excited only to be deflated by the reality: you’re not as close to being finished as you’d hoped.

While illusion corner is a bit disheartening, at this point in the race the hills are finished. All you have to do is will your legs to go for the final 1.7ish miles of the race.

My Race

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

My day really was a tale of two races.

My goals for the day were simple: I wanted to run a complete marathon for the first time, and finish the last 10k in under an hour.

If I could accomplish both of those goals,  a PR was a very real possibility.

(And even though I said I was PR hunting in my speech, honestly the PR was a secondary goal at best.)

My plan was simple: go out easy. In a perfect world I’d be at about 2 hours flat at the half way point, and hopefully that would leave enough gas in the tank for a negative split and a sub-60 min last 10k.

I ended up a little slower than 2 hours at 13.1, and I was totally fine with that. The only goal was to finish strong, so if going out slow would help make that possible, a slower than planned first half was fine with me.

When I hit the 20 mile mark, I started feeling it.

I grabbed a sip from the aid station and talked myself into run/walking.

On this particular day, giving in to the desire to walk was the first nail in my coffin.

The second nail was the heat. At this point, it was closing in on 10 o’clock, and the sun was beginning to play a roll. A lot of the shade that was omnipresent from the turnaround at 14.5 back to the 20 mile marker disappeared. There were still lots of shaded patches over the last 10k, but there were lots of sunny patches as well. And that sun meant business.

The final nail for me was my lack of salt intake/dehydration/heat exhaustion.

I was hurting for real! And as I tried to figure out exactly why things were going downhill so quickly, I squirted some water on my face and realized my folly almost instantly: I was salty!

I didn’t notice how much I was sweating during the race because the humidity was low enough that it was evaporating almost instantly. That said, I was still losing salt throughout the race.

During the race, I stopped at several aid stations to refill my handheld and to grab some fruit or other fuel source. But the mistake I made was that I never ate anything salty.

I did take a few cups of whatever the electrolyte drink was that was provided, but I was mostly drinking plain water.

And by the time I realized that my salt was out of whack, I was up a creek without a paddle.

At that point, all I could do was the best I could.

And on this day, with the he temperatures approaching (and possibly exceeding) 100* while being dehydrated and heat exhaustion setting in, the best I could do was a stagger walk in for the last 3 miles.

The Bling is Top Notch

The Bling is Top Notch

Post Race Party

On Saturday evening, after having a chance to cool down and rehydrate, the post race party got underway.

The food was out of this world (smoked pig and chicken), and the company was even better.

After dinner was served and some folks who went above and beyond in supporting Mountain Circle were recognized, the real festivities started.

First on the agenda was turkey poo bingo (which was a 50/50 type of thing) followed by the dance til you cramp after party.

I took off before the dancing really got underway as I had to be up early the next morning to head to the airport, but I definitely heard stories of the party raging long into the night in years past.

Overall Highlights

The Aid Stations:

This race has the best aid stations you’ll ever have for a marathon, guaranteed. Each aid station is hosted by a community group, and they are competing for prizes as voted on by the runners. The aid stations definitely went all out, and it was tough to pick which to vote for across the different categories.

The Impact:

As I mentioned earlier, this race is a huge fund raiser for Mountain Circle and the work that they do. But the race also impacts the community in a big way. The town of Greenville California has a population of about 1,200. When 600 runners plus their family members come to town, it provides an economic stimulus that definitely benefits the community as a whole.

The Atmosphere:

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a pretty laid back dude. And this is a pretty laid back race. I’ve never been a part of a race longer than a 10k where dogs are allowed (encouraged?) to participate. When you check in, they even give the dogs their own bibs! All of the aid stations have dog bones and water dishes available for the pups as well. And if you wanted to run with a stroller, that was allowed too! Planning to walk the marathon? No problem. You can start early and there is no cut off time, though the aid stations did pack up at some point. But you could continue on unsupported to finish the race.

Basically, whatever you needed/wanted to do was fair game!

A Couple of “Negatives”

Roads are Open:

The roads were still open to traffic during the race, which could certainly pose a problem. For the most part, the drivers went nice and slow and traffic was never heavy, but you did have to be aware of the fact that cars could be coming around any corner.

Good Luck Running the Tangents:

Speaking of corners, there are SO many turns in this race that you have approximately a 0.00% chance of running the tangents and finishing your race at 6.2/13.1/26.2. I did the best I could do, and I ended up at about 26.5. And I’m not sure how possible it would be to do much better than that for the marathon. You’ll have a better chance of running a “perfect race” with the shorter races, but there were still enough turns that I think hitting the nail on the head is pretty unlikely.

Running With the Bears 2016 Overall

Honestly, it was a stretch finding anything to complain about for this race, besides the weather. The two negatives that I listed are about it, and they definitely wouldn’t cause me even a moments hesitation in terms of signing up to run this race again or recommend that you give it a shot.

The whole weekend was pretty awesome.

Really, there are only two reasons I would say you shouldn’t run this race: if you like big races and/or you like big city “conveniences”.

The race is capped at 600 people, so for the marathoners there is a pretty good chance you’ll be running solo at some point. If you like lots of company on the course, this race is not for you.

And Greenville is a small town. If you’re looking for a fancy hotel, a 24 hour diner to get an early breakfast, or a Starbucks, you are out of luck.

Running With the Bears is a Big Deal!

Running With the Bears is a Big Deal!

As long as you don’t mind a small race in a small town (which is exactly how the race is advertised, so you shouldn’t be surprised) I can’t recommend the Running With the Bears 10k/Half/Full enough!

Click here to learn more about Running With the Bears.


Race recap + 10 reasons you should run the @bearsmarathon sooner rather than later! #runchat Click To Tweet

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6 replies
  1. Greg Arakawa
    Greg Arakawa says:

    Hey Denny,

    It sounds like you had a fun time! I was very interested in how you liked this race because I only live about 2 hours away from Greenville so it is definitely a race that interests me…although I have no interest in running a marathon in the upper 90s. Usually the Sierra foothills get those kinds of temps in August but not farther up in the mountains. It’s been an unusually warm summer this year.

    I am curious if the altitude bothered you?. I am guessing Greenville is at about 4000 feet. Because a combo of upper 90s and altitude can be a recipe for disaster! But, glad you had fun and can check California off your marathon in every state list.

    Best,

    Greg

    Reply
    • Denny
      Denny says:

      Thanks Greg! I’d definitely encourage you to think about RWTB in the future. From talking with the locals, it sounds like we just had a random couple of days weather wise. On Sunday, things were much closer to normal temperature wise.
      As for the altitude, I don’t know. Pretty sure we were in the 3500 feet range, and I’m sure it didn’t help me any. That said I didn’t find myself gasping for breath at any point.
      At the end of the day, I’m blaming the heat and my lack of salt intake for most of my blow up, but I wouldn’t doubt if the altitude and a few other factors didn’t contribute as well.

      Reply
  2. Nicki
    Nicki says:

    I’m keeping this one on my list. I love the Sierra Nevada mountain range and have never run more than a half in California. Sounds fantastic!

    And, just an FYI for you and your need for ice, I think it was Buffalo that had a kiddie pool with ice water in it the year I ran the full (2012).

    Thanks for bringing tears to my eyes.

    Reply
  3. Brian (Dashing Dad)
    Brian (Dashing Dad) says:

    I missed your speech on Friday night, but listening to it here was a pleasure. This race is by far my favorite. Running with the Bears not only provides a great race (and I agree with all your reasons to run this race), but it provides me an outlet to do something good in this world. I have been a charity runner for three years now (and will sign up next year), and every year I want to do more. My sister was adopted and I have five adopted nieces and nephews, plus a whole slew of family that aren’t related to me by blood or paper. I can’t say enough about this race, and not just because I can run with my dog. The aid station are like ultra aid stations, so much so that I call this race a road-trail race. The scenery is similar to what you would get on a trail race.
    Hope to see you next year

    Reply
    • Denny
      Denny says:

      Thanks Brian, and thanks for going above and beyond the call of duty in terms of not only fund raising but also with getting the back packs full of supplies to donate.

      I’m not sure if I’ll be at RWTB in 2017 or not, the travel logistics from FL are a bit hectic, but if Josie and Shauna will have me back to speak again in a few years I will absolutely make another appearance. And if they won’t have me back, I may just sign up for the race and come run it anyway!

      Reply

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