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The Bear 100 is a beast: interview with new course record holder Kaytlyn Gerbin

The Bear 100 course Photo: Katie Mills


The Bear 100 mile endurance run is a point to point race starting in Logan, Utah and finishing in Fish Haven, Idaho. The course gains over 6700 metres at rises to over 2800 metres in altitude. Runners have up to “36 hours of Indian Summer” to complete the race. Don’t be fooled by the beauty of the pine, aspen, and maple leaves changing colour; the Bear 100 is a beast.

On Friday September 28, 2018 Kaytlyn Gerbin (La Sportiva) from Washington set a new female course record and placed 3rd overall in 20:25:48. Anna Frost held the previous female course record set in 2014. (Kaci Lickteig’s course record was set on a different course due to snow in 2016). Less than a week into her recovery, Kaytlyn spoke with Canadian Running to discuss her incredible accomplishment.

Canadian Running: Congratulations for not only completing the Bear 100 but racing to the win and setting a new course record! You set the stage this year with an outstanding 2nd place performance at Western States (WS) in June. How come you decided to run the Bear 100 a few months after WS?
Kaytlyn Gerbin: Thank you! I had a big training block building up for Western States (which included the 50M Trail World Championships in Penyagalosa, Spain), and I wanted to put that fitness towards another big event. I find doing this is a fun way to complete another long ultra without needing to fit in a full 100-mile training cycle. I’ve done this for the past few years (last year was Western States and Cascade Crest 100, and 2016 was Squamish 50/50 and Pine to Palm 100), so I knew that my body could handle it so long as I went into race #2 fully recovered. And I also wanted a Hardrock Qualifier!
CR: Wow! That’s quite the year. It’s hard to say no to a Hardrock Qualifier! What were your goals going into the Bear 100?
KG: My goals got more aggressive the closer I was to race day. Two weeks before the race, I hadn’t thought much about goals other than wanting to finish to get a Hardrock lottery ticket. But as the race came closer, I checked in with my fitness, and decided I wanted to see how fast I could run this course (and maybe take a stab at the CR). When my husband Ely asked me the night before the race what I was thinking, I said I wanted to run sub-21 and hopefully finish top 5 overall.
CR: Well you definitely accomplished your goal from the night before. Saying it’s impressive is an understatement. Did you do any specific training for the Bear 100? For example, did you train for the altitude, as you were coming from sea level?
KG: To be completely honest, I was deep on the waitlist until mid-August, and finally got into the race at the end of the month. I took running pretty casually after Western States, so I didn’t do much specific training until September. At that point, I focused on getting good vert each week with runnable climbs. The only stint I had at altitude was a weekend in Big Cottonwood Canyon two weeks before the race for a friend’s wedding. I don’t think that helped with training since I was already tapering, but it did help me set the expectation that running at altitude would be a challenge for me!
CR: An altitude preview! It’s great how you can incorporate real life into your training! How was your race strategy similar or different than that of Western States?
KG: Regardless of the competition, I like to race based on effort and chase a time goal. This helps me focus on running my own race, and also helps take other people running out of my perspective of success.  Bear is an entirely different kind of race than Western States, and I approached it as such. Being my second year at Western States this year, I knew my splits from 2016 and used those to help set my pace. In contrast, the Bear course was completely unknown to me, so I knew I’d have to start easy and respect the difficulty of the course. My plan was to run the first 20 miles to the first crew point entirely by feel, and gauge my goal splits for the rest of the race based on that segment. I figured that if the altitude was going to affect me, it’d do so within the early part of the race (wrong!).  As the day went on it got more challenging, but having a time goal helped keep me moving forward efficiently.
CR: Well, you seemed to manage expectations and adapt accordingly throughout the race. On your Strava and Instagram, you wrote there were more lows than highs. How so? What was the highest point for you during the race? The lowest point(s)?
KG: I can’t quite explain why, but this race challenged me differently than I expected. Of course all 100s are difficult, and the Bear is known to be a beast, but I’ve never needed to keep as much mental strength as I did for this one. High point: hammering down the final descent knowing I had locked in third place overall. Low point: keeling over on the side of the trail at miles 85-90
CR: Incredible! Your crew and pacers seemed to be dialled at aid stations like an F1 race car transition. Who was on your crew? Who were your pacers? How did they handle the tough day?
KG: I know everyone says this, but I had the best crew! I was lucky to round up such fine help last-minute. My husband Ely paced from mile 52-62 and again from 92-finish, my (new) friend Sarah Bard flew in on a last-minute request and paced me from 62-92, and my friend and massage therapist Leah Kangas came to crew. Ely and Leah know me well – they’ve crewed together for me at Western States, and know how to approach me with the right mix of positive reinforcement and calm problem solving to keep me moving. And despite the fact that this was Sarah’s first time pacing or being at a 100 mile race, she paced and crewed like a pro!
Kaytlyn racing to the win
Photo: Ely Gerbin
CR: What a fantastic bunch! How long have you been ultra trail and mountain running?
KG: I ran my first trail race and first ultra at Baker Lake 50k in 2014. It went horribly, but I met a nice guy (Ian Burton, who also ran the Bear!) at the finish who I now blame for my obsession with the sport. He was the first person I’d ever met personally who had run 100 miles, and he planted the seed for all of the local PNW classics that I later went on to run. I think it’s safe to say that the 100 mile distance is my favourite – this was my fifth 100 mile race (sixth if I count Squamish 50/50, which I jokingly do). Prior to 2014, I had run a few road marathons but didn’t have any high school/college background in running.
The Bear 100 course
Photo: Katie Mills
CR: The people in the ultrarunning community help feed the obsession! And yes, let’s count Squamish 50/50 as a 100 miler. Quite the running resume! In the last few years, you have raced to a very high level. What changes have you made to your training and/or lifestyle to get to this point? (i.e. How has your training changed over the last 3 years?)
KG: The biggest change has been gaining more consistency and experience year by year. I used to do a lot of my running while commuting to work in the city, but that has changed in the last two years as my husband and I moved closer to trails and further from work. Now I’m able to get out for trail runs mid-week, which I think really helps.
CR: Considering you don’t have a high school or college running background, what advice would you have for those curious about longer and tougher events and races?
KG: Go for it! Your mind and body are stronger than you think, and I think most people will find themselves surprised at what they’re capable of. But make sure you enjoy the entire process – the training, the recovery, the planning, and the race. This will help keep the pressure off of race day.
Kaytlyn with finisher’s plaque and belt buckle
Photo: Ely Gerbin
CR: Love it!  Thank you for the wisdom! What inspires and motivates you to train and race at such a high level?
KG: First of all, I truly love running in the mountains, and training and racing allows me to chase that passion. But another source of motivation is that I want to lead by example that 1) it is possible to run competitively while also working full-time, and 2) that women can out-run the guys.


CR: Thank you for the inspiration, Kaytlyn Gerbin. Congratulations again on an outstanding performance at the Bear 100 2018. Enjoy the recovery!