Inaugural Bears Ears Ultra a Success in the COVID-19 Racing Era

This past Saturday Mad Moose Events hosted their inaugural Bears Ears Ultra in Monticello, Utah. This was the second Mad Moose event of the year in their series of 23 races and the first since lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The race had 170 total participants split equally between 50 kilometer and 30 kilometer distances with 8,000 and 3,500 feet of elevation gain respectively.

The event was held in the remote Abajo Mountains, 50 miles south of popular tourist destination Moab, Utah. In route to the race, I drove through Moab and while crowds of tourists flocked to Arches National Park and other world renowned attractions in Southern Utah, I arrived at the Abajo mountains to discover a quiet and peaceful mountain range largely undiscovered by out-of-towners.

This is one of the first trail races ever held in these mountains, making this year’s participants some of the first to run in its expansive and remote trail network. While the Abajos may be a small mountain range, they offer plenty of dirt road and single track running options, as well as diverse scenery including lakes, grazing pastures, peaks above 11,000 feet, snow fields (even in June), Aspen groves, pine forests and spectacular views of Canyonlands National Park, the La Sal Mountains and even views into the neighboring state of Colorado. Look in the coming days for post race video interviews from participants on their experience of the course.

Bears Ears Ultra drew many of the country’s top trail running elites, particularly for a smaller event. The 50 kilometer included 2018 Leadville 100 champion Katie Arnold, Altra Running sponsored athlete Meredith Edwards, fourth place finisher at the 2019 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run Matt Daniels, and 2016 Hardrock 100 champion Jason Schlarb, among many others.

The 30 kilometer included winner of the 2019 Kendall Mountain Run Timmy Parr, 2:11:36 marathoner Fernando Cabada, who is currently transitioning from road to trail running and 2009 Western States 100 Mile champion Anita Ortiz and her daughter Acacia Ortiz who is also showing great promise as a young trail running athlete.

Bears Ears Ultra Single-Track

Bears Ears Ultras was my first experience at a race since the 2020 Dion Snowshoes U.S. National Snowshoe Championships in Leadville, CO this past February and it was everything I hoped it would be. Last month, I interviewed participants from the Bryce Canyon Ultras and was excited to see for myself what it would be like to be back in the racing environment, surrounded by familiar faces in the trail running community who I haven’t seen in months and overall wondered what differences there’d be to accommodate for racing in the COVID-19 era.

Some differences included wave starts, social distancing at aid stations, extra sanitation practices and no crew or spectators allowed on course or by the start and finish. The wave starts were particularly interesting as they included two small groups of elite men and women (separated by 5 minutes), followed by waves of five participants every minute. The 50 kilometer and 30 kilometer races were separated by an hour. Although spectators and crews were not allowed on course, race volunteers did a great job of bringing energy to the event and cheering on racers. See the full race day plan and social distance guidelines here.

Overall, I came away from the experience believing that races can indeed be put on safely and are certainly worth doing, even if social distancing practices and other COVID-19 preventative measures may slightly change the way races are organized. I advise runners to think about signing up for trail races this summer, but also to make sure they are healthy and know the local COVID-19 guidelines of the area in which they are racing. The Bears Ears Ultra is certainly a hidden gem in the trail racing world and I look forward to returning in 2021.

Bears Ears Ultra Aid Station

50K Podium Results
Meredith Edwards, 35, Durango, CO
Katie Arnold, 48, Sante Fe, NM
Mikal Beckham, 31, Steamboat Springs, CO

Matt Daniels, 32, Monument, CO
Christopher Hammes, 28, Durango, CO
Jason Schlarb, 42, Durango, CO

30K Podium Results
Bonnie Kaminsky, 30, Salt Lake City, UT
Amanda Lee, 31, Denver, CO
Acacia Ortiz, 23, Golden, CO

Timmy Parr, 38, Leadville, CO
Fernando Cabada, 38, Thornton, CO
Ryan Guldan, 36, Grand Junction, CO

See full Bears Ears Ultra race results on UltraSignUp.

Bears Ears Ultra Sunrise

Are you a race director looking for best practices for organizing your trail race during the COVID-19 pandemic? Check out these
Guidelines for Trail Running Events in the COVID-19 Era written by the Race Director Alliance.

Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you liked this article, read even more of Tayte’s articles on our website.

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