Bear runners contend with Scottish weather
More than 825 participants lined up for the 18th annual running
of The Bear, part of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games.
According to event organizers, the fog was so thick this year that the runners reaching the finish line at the top of Grandfather Mountain didn't know they had arrived until they heard the cheers of the crowd.
The first place finisher was Matt Morse of Asheville. The 24-year-old completed the race in 32 minutes and 17 seconds. Morse, a bakery cashier and barista, noted that the last stretch of the race was the most grueling. This was his first attempt at The Bear.
Alex Goden, a North Carolina State University student from Brevard, captured second place with a time of 32 minutes and 46 seconds. This was Goden's fifth running of The Bear, and he found traversing the natural terrain most difficult because it had been softened by the wet weather.
This was the sixth running of The Bear for Andrew Vandenberg, 18, from Boone, who finished in third place with a time of 32 minutes and 57 seconds.
"I thought the weather was great," Vandenberg said. "I look for extreme weather like intense heat and pouring rain and use it as jumpstart to improve."
The men’s record time still stands at 30 minutes, 34.35 seconds, set by Ian Conner of Columbus, Ohio, in 2005.
The women's winner Esther Erb, 26, from Blowing Rock, finished with a time of 37 minutes and 26.3 seconds, an improvement from her 2011 first place finish of 37 minutes, 45.2 seconds. She placed 19th overall.
Erb, a professional runner, found the last mile the hardest and running through the Highland Games crowd at MacRae Meadows the most rewarding.
Lisa Burnett, 29, of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, finished second in the women's division with a time of 38 minutes and 59.6 seconds. This was the fifth running of The Bear for Burnett, and her fastest time yet.
Burnett thought the weather conditions were perfect with the temperature at the finish line a cool 57 degrees.
Two-time winner Zika Rae rounded out the top three women with a time of 40 minutes and 16.5 seconds. Rae, with ZAP Fitness in Blowing Rock, was among many racers whose most difficult obstacle was finding the finish line in the thick fog.
The women’s record remains at 35 minutes and 55 seconds set in 2002 by Beth Fonner.
The race begins in Linville and ends five miles later at the base of the Mile High Swinging Bridge atop Grandfather Mountain, an elevation gain of 1,568 feet.
This year's runners represented 16 different states and ranged in ages from 10 to 75. Registration for the race filled up in 10 days.
Following the race, the opening ceremony for the 57th annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games announced the arrival of the clans with a torchlight ceremony. This year, more than 130 clans are expected to participate, with entertaining and activities including Celtic music, traditional Scottish athletics, sheepherding demonstrations and much more.
For more information on the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, visit http://www.gmhg.org or call (828) 733-1333.