Over 800 participants lined up for the seventeenth annual running of The Bear. The race's challenging course and growing reputation continues to attract new runners.
Among the new faces was first place winner Christopher Clark of Blowing Rock, N.C. The 25-year-old completed the race in 31 minutes and 12 seconds. Clark, a professional runner, described the race as painful and grinding from the very beginning.
"Between miles three and four the course was crazy steep and I was worried because I was told that it only got steeper. The cheering fans made the last hill less difficult," said Clark.
Thirteen-time-participant and last year's winner Ryan Woods captured second place. Woods, a marathon chiropractor from Boone, N.C. finished with a time of 33 minutes and 3 seconds.
"This was a tough year as I've been running a lot of races, but I couldn't say no to my hometown favorite," said Woods.
This was the seventh running of The Bear for Daniel Amick, 27, from Asheville, N.C. Amick finished in third place with a time of 34 minutes and 32 seconds.
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 first place finisher was also new to The Bear. Esther Erb, 25, from Blowing Rock, N.C. finished with a time of 37 minutes, 45.2 seconds.
"Being the first place female is always exciting. My favorite part of a race is the final stretch where you can hear the crowds cheering," said Erb.
Lisa Burnett, 28, of Chagrin Falls, Ohio finished second in the women's division with a time of 40 minutes and 27.9 seconds. This was the fourth running of The Bear for Burnett, and her fastest time yet.
"Mile four to five feels like it lasts for days. This is the most mentally challenging race there is," said Burnett.
Finishing third place in the women's division was Amanda Sorrow from Banner Elk, N.C. This was the seventh running for Sorrow, age 30. She finished with a time of 41 minutes, 12.3 seconds.
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 20 different states and ranged in ages from eight to 72.
Following the race, the opening ceremony for the 56th Annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games announced the arrival of the clans with a torchlight ceremony. This year over 115 clans are expected to participate. Crowds to the Highland Games are sure to be entertained by Celtic music, traditional Scottish athletics, sheepherding demonstrations and much more.