Ashevilean Mike Morse wins grueling Grandfather Mountain race, “The Bear”

From Linville to the foot of the Mile High Swinging Bridge on Grandfather Mountain, it’s just a five-mile run. But perhaps because the route has an 1,568-foot elevation change — they call this race “The Bear.” Asheville’s Matt Morse won the men’s division, taking the course in 32 minutes and 17 seconds. (photo by Skip Sickler)

Over 825 participants lined up for the eighteenth annual running of The Bear. 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, N.C.  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, N.C., 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, N.C.  Vandenberg finished in third place with a time of 32 minutes and 57 seconds.

“I thought the weather was great,” said Vandenberg.  “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, N.C. 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 over 130 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.

For more information on the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games please visit or call 828-733-1333.


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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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