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Local Boston Marathon qualifier on course to raise nearly $100,000

Feather Publishing

Entering its fourth year, the Running With the Bears marathon, half-marathon and 10K race in Indian Valley is set to raise nearly $100,000 for children and youths in foster care.

In 2012 this race became a Boston Marathon qualifier and has since attracted runners from all over the world in their quest to qualify for the event cutoff by early September.

“What makes this event so unique,” said race director Josie Litchfield, “is that it is managed entirely by the charity it benefits, namely, Mountain Circle Family Services.”

As runners complete the course, they get to meet some of the foster families and teens that their entry fee supports. “In a small race, you can see how running can make a direct impact on the lives of these youths — it’s powerful,” she said.

Since Running With the Bears sold out seven months ago, organizers have opened up a division for charity runners, participants who agree to fundraise a minimum of $400 for the cause. The perks of this program include free registration for the runner, a goody bag filled with gourmet treats and specialty running apparel, and the knowledge that their running is making a difference for some of the 58,000 California children in foster care.

To get an idea of the concept behind the marathon, watch the recently created Running With the Bears documentary at Running With the Bears has attracted national attention within the last year, becoming a featured race in both Marathon and Beyond and Competitor magazines. These magazines are two of the most-read runner magazines in the country, and normally feature much larger events.

Running With the Bears is one of the smallest marathons in the country with only 300 competitors, and fewer than 100 in the marathon division.

“Most of the news coverage for races focuses on big city events,” said Litchfield, “so it’s a real honor to be recognized by national magazines. In a lot of ways, though, Indian Valley sells itself — who wouldn’t want to run here?”

Part of the event’s attraction is its unique take on the traditional marathon. Runners are not only treated to the beautiful surroundings of Indian Valley, but are greeted along the course by musicians playing various types of music; and motivational signs every mile that are mixed in with signs featuring interesting facts about bears.

Last year’s winner, Chuck Engle, was the first participant to actually run into a bear, which occurred at about mile 23. As he was assured by race directors, the black bear was indeed afraid of him and promptly ran in the other direction.

“We get a lot of phone calls from people genuinely concerned about the bears,” said the race organizers, “so we provide bear bells in all goody bags. Only about 200 people live along the course, and race day is probably the biggest event these bears have ever seen.”

At the finish line, runners are handed a cold beer and treated to a free massage. A giant polar bear ice plunge is available, as is shopping at a pop-up running store, or visiting the gold panning exhibit or hay bale maze.

With all the extra goodies in store, the race certainly lives up to its motto: “We don’t race by the same rules.”

Litchfield said, “Logistically, this is a pretty tough race to put on. There’s definitely a reason you don’t find Boston qualifiers in small rural towns, but I think that’s what makes it so unique. We built the type of race that we’d want to run in ourselves; where our kids can also have a good time; where we can run alongside our dogs; and where there’s a great view at the finish line.”

Proceeds provide the means for 30 foster teens to participate in the PowderQuest program, an outdoor leadership program for older foster youths. This event also provides resources to other programs such as foster parent training, camp tuition and new school clothes for foster children.

Last year, Running With the Bears raised $45,000. This year, organizers hope to double that.

The event is set to take place Aug. 16. Those interested in competing or volunteering can get more information at

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