BOONE — The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games features two running road races: The Bear on Thursday of the games and the Grandfather Marathon on Saturday.
The Bear was held July 11 with ZAP Endurance runner Johnny Crain crossing the finish line first. The marathon saw Caleb Bowen winning the overall race July 13.
Apparently a runner in the marathon got a mixed message. Three marathon runners saw a black bear running along U.S. Highway 221 on mile 22. The bear ran the course for around three minutes and then ran back into the woods.
The runners were a bit surprised to see the bear, but never felt they were in danger.
“We saw a big, big black bear,” Sparta runner Zach Barricklow said. “The back of it was a good four or five feet (tall). He was just meandering down 221 probably for 200 yards and looking back at us. We just jumbled up there and waited for him to get out of the way.”
Barricklow said he and his fellow runners, Tracy McKinnon of Columbia, S.C. and Andrew Adkins of Greensboro, saw the bright side of a possibly difficult situation.
“What was going through my mind was thank goodness there was a reason to stop for a while,” Barricklow said. “I was not feeling really well at that point of the race, so it was a nice scenic moment and we got to keep going.”
McKinnon didn’t mind the bear being there as long as it didn’t turn around and chase the runners. McKinnon said it was not the first bear he’s ever seen while running, but it was the first bear he’s seen while running the marathon.
McKinnon said he’s run several trails in the North Carolina Mountains and has seen bears along the trails before.
“Honestly, as long as he didn’t turn around and start coming at me, I’m O.K.,” McKinnon said. “I know that eventually, he’s going to go back to the woods, hopefully. As long as he’s going in the same direction and doesn’t come back, I’m O.K. with it.”
McKinnon also had a different take on the situation.
“There were three of us together and I was hoping I was the fastest,” McKinnon said.
Despite seeing bears along running trails before, McKinnon said it’s not a common occurrence.
“It is a little weird,” McKinnon said. “You just give him his space and let him do what he wants to do.”
Adkins said he had never seen a bear that wasn’t in a zoo. He said he’s seen other animals, including snakes, while running on trails, but not a bear.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the mountains and I’ve ran a lot of trail races in the mountains and I’ve never seen one,’ Adkins said.
Adkins kept his cool when he saw the bear running in front of the group. He felt the bear either ignored the runners, or didn’t care they were there.
“It didn’t pay us any mind at all,” he said. “I don’t know if it knew we were there. If it did, it didn’t act like it.”