'The Bear' offers annual challenge
Dark clouds and wind gave way to blue skies and a pleasant breeze as more than 730 participants lined up for the event on Thursday.
The first place finisher was Michael Lilley of Hagerstown, Md. The 22-year-old completed the race in 31 minutes and 19 seconds. This first-time runner of The Bear is an intern at ZAP Fitness who competed in the race after encouragement from his colleagues.
Peyton Hoyal, a teacher at Watauga High School in Boone, captured second place with a time of 31 minutes and 55.3 seconds. This was also Hoyal's first attempt at The Bear and the 24-year-old decided to run for the challenging uphill route.
"The last mile of the course was definitely the hardest, but we couldn't have asked for better weather," Hoyal said.
This was the second running of The Bear for Daniel Matena, 29, from Charlotte. Matena finished in third place with a time of 33 minutes and 17.7 seconds. He was pleased by the cool and relatively dry air of the mountains compared to the humidity of the Piedmont.
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 Caitlin Schier, 29, from Charleston, S.C., finished with a time of 41 minutes and 28.2 seconds. Schier, a first-time runner of The Bear, enjoyed the cheers of the crowd as she ran through MacRae Meadows and crossed the finish line. She was the 33rd race finisher overall.
Alisha Little, 32, of Drexel, finished second in the women's division with a time of 42 minutes and 11.1 seconds. Little remembers a past podium finish when she ran alongside Leigh Wallace, a longtime competitor and Highland Games enthusiast who passed away in December 2012.
"Leigh was on my mind the whole race," Little said.
Just prior to finishing as the 41st runner overall, Little ran back in the field to meet and finish with her father who had undergone open heart surgery just a few months before.
Doria Kosmala rounded out the top three women with a time of 43 minutes. Kosmala, 17, just graduated from Watauga High School and is attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the fall. Kosmala, who finished 51st overall, has volunteered at a water station along The Bear route in the past and decided that she wanted to experience the challenge this year.
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 18 different states and ranged in ages from 8 to 72. Registration for the race filled up in four weeks.
Following the race, the opening ceremony for the 58th annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games announced the arrival of the clans with a torchlight ceremony. This year more than 100 clans are expected to participate.
The weather forecast for the weekend looks pleasant with ample sunshine and limited chances of rain. Crowds to the Highland Games are sure to be entertained by 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.