Friday, June 20, 2014

Bryce 100 - My first 100 miler!

There wasn’t a whole lot of pressure, as I had no doubt that I could finish the Bryce 100, unless I had some kind of physical issue or injury.  I initially set myself a goal time of 28 hours, though in setting up a more detailed timeline, I figured 26 was pretty doable.  Given that it was my first, I would have been happy with just a finish.  I was truly out to just enjoy the experience.  I even took my phone along to take pictures and videos along the course.

I spent quite a bit of time planning out my needs for this race (even more than usual).  Going through the course map, elevation profile, and aid station chart, I planned out a range of fast to comfortable pace for the entire race.  Based on these times, I packed a drop bag for every aid station with all the supplies that I could possibly need.  The bag for the turn-a-round was just a quart sized zip-loc, but all the rest were large bags and stuffed pretty full.

Even though the forecast was for a high of 68, I knew that the high altitude sun would make it feel much warmer.  I decided to go with a hiking shirt and hat instead of my typical shirtless look.  I hoped it would keep me cooler, while also avoiding the constant application of slimy sunscreen.  Additionally, the pockets would be invaluable for storing a few small supplies, as I wouldn’t don a pack until mile 65.

I woke up a bit early, went through my pre-race routine, and hopped on the first shuttle for the 15 minute ride to the start.  While I had on warm clothes, the barrel fires at the start were quite nice and provided good congregation areas.  A few more shuttles and I saw Rachel and Katrin, the only two familiar faces at this race.  We took some pictures, chatted, and soon it was time to roll.  Both the 100 and 50 milers were starting at the same time, so there were a few hundred runners in all, but the race starts with 2 miles of dirt road, so there was a reasonable opportunity to spread out.

I chatted with Katrin as we ran together for the first 1.5 miles, but she was itching to race, I didn't have much energy and was consciously trying to take it easy, so she soon disappeared into the crowd ahead.  We were pretty well spread out once we hit the single-track, but runners were still vying for position.  As is typical, I was mostly being passed on this section.  I couldn’t tell who was running 50 or 100, but listening to the loud breathing, I knew that most were simply running way too fast.

We came to the edge of the plateau, just as the sun was rising.  The cameras came out as runners took turns pulling off to the side of the trail to record the spectacular scenery.  Some killed two birds with a single stone by taking pee breaks with a view.  In one spot, there were five guys lined up, watering the weeds, and taking in the sights.  The bright red hoodoos were just as magnificent as anything in the National Park, and we were running next to, over, and through them!  The trail was relatively smooth, and the pace was modest, which allowed our eyes to take in the full beauty.

I was quite happy letting everyone go by until we started the long downhills.  I wasn’t in any hurry, but I also didn’t want to waste energy and trash my quads slowing down more than necessary.  I zipped around a few clusters of runners, so I could run my own pace and have an unobstructed view of the trail ahead.  It seemed like no time at all before we made it down to the first aid station at Thunder Mountain, just past 10 miles.  I took a bit longer getting things out of my drop bag than I would have liked, forgetting things and having to retrieve the bag 3 times.  Then, the only minor glitch in the whole race setup happened.  The runners were still so bunched up that we had to wait in line to fill our bottles.  This cost me a whopping 30 seconds , which seemed like an eternity at the time.  I grabbed a mini-muffin from the station, along with a bag of Doritos and sunglasses from my drop bag and was soon on my way.

The next few miles wove in and out and up and down some very minor valleys, almost contouring the terrain.  One of the guys was telling everyone how he goes out nice and slow and is then able to run later on when others are barely walking.  I agreed with his approach, but the way he presented it, he came off as a rather boastful know-it-all.  As I passed, I vowed to myself that no matter what, I would not let him catch up to me.

Soon after Thunder Mountain, my stomach started deteriorating.  It was  nothing serious, but enough to annoy and distract me, forcing an unplanned side-trip into the woods before I made it to Proctor Creek, after which I felt quite a bit better and then continued to improve over the next few miles.  At Proctor, I managed my drop bag resupply much better, had no back-ups with the water, and was able to head out pretty quickly, though not before grabbing two freshly made pancakes off the table. OMG, they were still warm, and even without anything on them, were two of the best pancakes I had ever tasted.

Miss-step on a creek jump
The next section climbed just a bit and then meandered through some beautiful, aspen lined meadows.  At about mile 23, we hit a junction where the 50K’ers would turn left.  From there, we turned right and headed for a long decent, down into the valley.  On one of the sandy downhill sections, I had a misstep, landed hard on my left foot and took the impact through a twisting of my lower back.  It scared me a bit, but I kept going and never felt a thing (until a couple of days after the race, when I woke up with a seriously sore lower back).

After we started climbing back up for a bit, I passed another runner and asked the usual “how’s it going?”  Most reply “fine”, “great”, etc., but this guy was brutally honest.  “Not so good, I’m peeing blood”.  We chatted for a bit and he assured me he was feeling fine, other than that small detail.  His plan was to walk slowly up to the next aid station and drop out - smart move.

Back on top of the plateau for a bit and then, at an overlook, in addition to the beautiful pink cliffs and hoodoos, I could see the next aid station just below.  I was also able to finally get decent reception on my phone and sent out an update text to my family and friends.  At Blubber Creek, as I was re-stocking from my drop bag, I was alarmed to see Katrin sitting in a chair, having her ankle tended to.  Apparently, she had hurt it a few weeks ago, then re-twisted it a few miles back.  I felt bad, as I thought her day might be over – little did I know.  Within a couple of miles after Blubber, on a moderate climb, I turn around to see her catching up to me.  I can’t drop this girl even when she’s injured!

We actually wound up running together for the next 13+ miles.  She would pass me on the uphills (as she has the weight advantage), and I would catch up on the downhills (as she was treading lightly on her ankle).  We went through Kanab Creek together, where I dropped off one of my bottles, as the next few stations were only 5 miles apart.  We then traversed along the edge of the limestone cliffs with more stunning views before starting to descend down a loooong gravel road section towards Straight Canyon.  The descent felt good at first, but after a while, I was praying for some uphills to give my hip flexors a break.  The upper part had a long section with no markings, so I made a mental note of that for the return.  It really wasn’t an issue as the entrance onto the road was clearly marked, as was the turn at the bottom.

After what seemed like an eternity, though it was only 4 miles, we were at the bottom.  Straight Canyon was the first crew/family accessible station, so there were more people present.  Another quick re-supply stop, and Katrin and I took off together again.  A quarter mile on this road was more than enough.  The dust was incredibly fine, and I was glad there weren’t many cars at the time.  We then turned right onto some nice single-track that gently wound up through aspen groves, on the edge of a large meadow.  Though Katrin was behind me on this section, she was pushing the pace and I would soon pay the price.  We came off the single-track and made a left onto a gravel road that would take us up to Pink Cliffs and she continued on by, as I realized I needed to ease up.  We were now back out in the hot sun and Katrin’s pace and 42+ miles were taking their toll on me.  These next few miles were the low point of my race.  Not only did Katrin quickly disappear, but another runner that we had recently passed, re-passed me like I was standing still.  I tried not to get too demoralized, as I knew there was plenty of racing to go and the temperatures would soon drop.  That’s one of the big advantages of a long race – there’s plenty of time to recover.

Near the top, I was so mesmerized by the beautiful views that I stepped right over a log that was strategically placed across the path to direct runners to the left.  I went straight to the cliff edge, took some pictures and continued to the right.  After a few hundred feet of scraping my legs on the Manzanita, along a very narrow “trail”, I realized something was not right and smartly turned back.  Having lost only a few minutes, I was back on the right trail, which was very clearly marked and heading up to towards the high-point of the race at the Pink Cliffs aid station.

I took a few minutes here to get myself back in the game, taking my shoes and socks off for the first time and slathered my toes with Vaseline.  I needed some more substantial fuel, so I asked the volunteers for a ham and cheese wrap, with a touch of mustard.  Man, was that good!  I had 2 cans of club soda in my drop bag – one for each visit through the station, but I decided that I was in desperate need of liquids so I drank one and took the second with me.  I walked for a bit, even though it was a nicely runnable downhill road, eating my wrap and drinking my soda.  When I was done, I slowly started to run down towards the turn-a-round.  Part way down, with about 3 miles to go, I came across the lead runner heading back up.  I was pleasantly surprised that he only had a 6 mile lead on me.  I think that gave me a psychological boost and I started running a bit better.  Soon, the course took a left turn off the road and back onto some nice single-track.  I though this whole section was going to be a constant downhill, but the trail portion was somewhat level, with minor climbs and descents.

I continued to count returning runners to get a sense of my placement.  I eventually came across Katrin and her pacer, Allen (she was the 4th place woman).  By the time I reached Crawford, I only counted 15.  I was in 16th place at the half way point – much better than I would have thought.  I f I could keep things for the second half…

Unfortunately, the club soda that I had in my drop bag had been sitting out in the sun and was rather warm.  I kept pouring in cool Coke from the aid station to make it more palatable.  I also ate a bunch of potato chunks, heavily dipped in salt.  Soon, I was off.  Only 50.5 miles to go!  There was a lot of runner traffic coming down the trail and all the encouraging exchanges helped to energize me.  For the first mile or so, I would tell everyone how close they were and watch their faces brighten.

I was surprised to run more of the climb than I had thought.  Nearing Pink Cliffs, a couple of ATV’s came down the road.  They weren’t doing anything wrong, but the fine dust they kicked up was blinding and chocking.  A few runners made some nasty remarks, but we were on a road.  What do you expect?

Back at Pink Cliffs, I had no club soda waiting in my drop bag, so I downed a good bit of Ginger Ale from the aid station supplies.  The cool sweat bubbly really brought me the final steps back to life.  It was here that I saw Rachael again.  She had also twisted her ankle, but appeared to be moving well.  I later found out that she dropped at the half way point as it was nearing dark and she hadn’t planned her headlight drop at the right distance.

Heading back down the section that had nearly brought me to my knees a few hours earlier, I took my revenge, running some sub 10 minute miles.  That sounds pretty slow, but 55+ miles into a 100, it’s actually a decent pace, even for a downhill.  The temperature was finally starting to drop and there were still lots of runners heading up, which added to my renewed energy.  By the time I neared Straight Canyon again, the outbound runners had dwindled down to nothing.  I reloaded from my drop bag, drank some soda, and proceeded to take my shoes off so I could clean my feet and put on a pair of fresh socks.  I hadn’t felt any discomfort, but WOW, there was a big honking blister on the side of one of my toes!  I took a pin off my bib and popped it.  Then I slathered my toes again with some anti-friction cream I had in the bag.  I donned a headlamp and picked up a small emergency flashlight as I wasn’t completely sure I would make it back up to Kanab before dark.  I got some refreshing ice in my bottle, grabbed my customary can of club soda, and headed up the long climb.  As soon as I stepped away, I regretted the ice.  With the sun down, and my energy supplies lowered, it was downright chilly until I really got moving.

I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to run a decent portion of the climb.  I traded positions for a while with a guy who said that he had gotten lost and tacked on 6 extra miles!  I don’t know why anyone would go that far without seeing a marker, and if he had run that many miles, he would have been in contention for the lead.  Something told me he might have been exaggerating a bit.

It was on this section that I hooked up with Mark Moran from Eugene Oregon.  We would wind up running the next 20+ miles together.  He was a bit concerned about losing the trail in the darkness on some upcoming sections that seemed to be minimally marked.  As it turned out, the markings were quite adequate, but I was definitely glad to have company.

Just as darkness was settling in, we made our way into Kanab, where they had a nice big fire going.  I was quite surprised to see Katrin again as she had been a couple of miles ahead of me at the turn-a-round.  We all took a few minutes to prepare for the night.  I changed shirts and threw on a pack for the first time in the race.  As I left the aid station, Mark and Katrin were right on my heels.  They turned their lights on right away, but I chose to wait as long as I could to save batteries and allow my eyes to better transition to the darkness.  Once I did click the switch, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the small, hand-held flashlight worked.  I had only done a brief test of different lighting options a few days earlier and decided on this light even though I had always used a headlamp in the past.  I wore a headlamp as a back-up, but the flashlight gave me so much better depth perception, I think it made a huge difference in reducing eye strain and fatigue.  The only downside was that I was assuming the battery would last 1 to 1½ hours, but I wound up only getting about 45 minutes out of each.  I had enough batteries, but swapping them out every 45 minutes was a bit of a pain.  I would stretch it out as long as possible, with the light becoming almost dangerously dim, then swap batteries and feel like I was running in daylight again.

As we were running along the edge of the plateau, I saw a big red light to my right.  At first, I thought it was a fire from the next aid station, but I soon realized that it was the rising moon.  What a site!  It went from reddish orange, to orange, to the typical yellowish moon.  I was looking forward to it rising high and providing some usable light as we were less than 2 days since full, but it never did turn out to be very useful, just pretty.

Mark and I put a little distance between us and Katrin as we made our way into the Proctor aid station.  I downed another can of coke, refilled a bottle and we were quickly off.  Soon, we caught up with Gia, the 3rd place female.  The three of us ran together for what seemed like an extra-long stretch.  The course soon dropped off of the plateau and down into a valley.  There were a couple of short, yet very steep sections here, where we caught up to and passed a couple of other runners.  We eventually hit the bottom and started the climb back up the other side.  We kept waiting for the trail junction where the 50Kers had broken off, which would also be near the top of our climb, but it seemed to take forever.  At one point, while Gia was in the front, she took a bit of a fall.  She wasn’t really hurt, but it shook her up enough that she started falling behind and we wouldn’t see her again, though she did hold on for 3rd place.

We finally got to the trail junction shortly after dropping Gia and continued on through some of the open meadows that Mark and I had been concerned about the markings.  It turned out that the markings were even easier to spot at night and we had no problems finding our way.  We could hear voices up ahead and as we popped out of the trees, we finally saw the Proctor Creek aid station ahead – only one more to go!

There were a few other runners at the station, including the number 2 woman.  I stayed real close to the fire as I refilled a bottle and downed another can of coke.  In need of some additional sustenance, I grabbed a simple bean burrito from the volunteer and headed out, with Mark on my heels, along with another runner.  As soon as I stepped away from the fire, I began to shiver.  I was wearing shorts, a long-sleeve top, and thin pair of gloves, which felt just right when we were moving, but even a short break by the fire was enough to cool my body off instantly.  Luckily, it only took a couple of minutes of climbing to stabilize my temperature, helped along by the delicious bean burrito.

Mark had mentioned that he wanted to break 24 hours so he could get the big buckle.  He was glad when I informed him that everyone who came in under the 36 hour cut-off got the same buckle, though a bit disappointed when I told him that our chances of breaking 24 hours were pretty slim.

It was just out of Proctor that Mark started falling back, but the new runner that we had picked up stayed with me.  Milton asked politely if he could run with me.  Heck yeah.  I would have run alone if I needed to, but having company was definitely better.  We got to chatting and I found out that Milton had never run more than a 50K.  He was doing great.  He had been running with a couple of other guys, but they had slowed down significantly and I think one might have dropped at Proctor.  Milton kept complaining that his legs were tired and he wanted it to be over, but he wasn’t even breathing hard and we ran together at a decent pace, trading the lead periodically.

The next 8 miles to the Thunder Mountain aid station seemed to take forever.  There was not much climbing, more contouring, but it was relentless.  We eventually came up on the cheering volunteers and warm fire we had been looking forward to.  Again, I situated myself right next to the warm fire, refilled a bottle, got batteries, and downed another can of coke.  I took off excitedly into the darkness, thinking that there was a slight chance to break 24 hours.  Milton called after me “hey, mind if I continue to run with you?”  The more, the merrier.

Based on memory and the profile, I was expecting a solid 5 mile climb out of the aid station, but to my pleasant surprise, it started off more rolling and mostly runnable.  We eventually made it to the base of the hoodoo cliffs and started the meat of the climb, but it wasn’t nearly as long or grueling as I had anticipated.  With less than 8 miles to go, we were on top of the hoodoos and I was feeling great.  I kept a close eye on the Garmin and we still had 24 hours within reach!  Milton was pushing the pace when he was in front, but then he made a pit stop and told me to go on ahead.  I didn’t hesitate.  I took off at what seemed like a sprint, though it was probably more like a 10 minute pace, and was quickly putting some distance back to Milton’s light.  As I continued on, I saw a light up ahead.  The possibility of passing another runner at this late stage only added to my adrenaline.

I caught up to the light faster than anticipated and quickly realized why.  It was Leslie, the 1st place female, curled up by the side of the trail.  She was not feeling good and asked for my help.  I knew this would cost me the 24 hour mark, and probably a placement or two, but I had absolutely no doubt about what my responsibility was.  I would be ashamed to cross the finish line, leaving behind a runner in need.  Leslie said she wasn’t able to keep anything down and had been struggling since mile 70.  She felt dizzy and was scared of the steep, loose slopes, so I gave her a caffeine pill and my arm.  We walked together for a while and within a few minutes, Milton caught up and joined the parade.  Leslie was lucid and coherent and soon was able to walk on her own between me and Milton.  A few more minutes passed and we had made our way out of the “dangerous” parts of the trail.  Leslie seemed to be doing better and insisted that Milton and I continue on our own, feeling bad that she had collapsed so harshly after running such a great race.  This was her first hundred and she was still concerned with her placement, asking me questions about the three women behind her.  She asked me to notify her husband, who was waiting at the start and I took off.

I had been feeling good before I came across Leslie, and now I had just had a 15 minute rest, so I took off like a bat out of hell.  Looking at the Garmin, I still had a shot at the 24 hour mark, and if I could pull this off after stopping to help her, it would be an even sweater accomplishment.  It felt like I was flying, though I was only managing 10 to 12 minute miles on the undulating terrain.  I had to make one more battery change and then a quick pit stop in the woods, but the closer I got, the surer I was that I would make it.  I finally hit the dirt road – only 2 more miles and the sky was just brightening up.  I had plenty of time but was so elated, I sprinted the final miles at a 9 and 8 minute pace!

I crossed the finish line and headed straight for the fire to avoid a sudden drop in body temperature.  I found Leslie’s husband and told him that she was struggling, but wasn’t in any danger.  One of the volunteers got my finish-line bag and I quickly put on warm clothes.  I then went over to the timing table and inquired about my placement.  I knew I was top 20, possibly top 10, but I wasn’t sure.  5th place!  Unbelievable!

Ultra Signup had my finish time estimated at just over 26 hours and in 26th place.  Finishing my first 100 in under 24 hours and in 5th place was pretty darn sweet.  Most important of all, once I slowly recovered after the first climb up to Pink Cliffs, I kept getting stronger, felt great, and was able to run well all the way to the finish.  Sure, I was tired and glad to stop running, but I felt awesome.

Within a few minutes, I took a van back to my hotel.  Since it was only a bit after 6, I tried to enter the room quietly, but was thwarted by the security chain that my wife had engaged on the door.  I had to knock and wake her up to let me in.  After a quick kiss and congratulations, she crawled back into bed as I consumed a couple of granola bars and jumped into the shower.  I forced myself to stay up all day on Sunday so that I wouldn’t totally screw up my internal clock.  It was difficult keeping my eyes open at times, but I managed and finally went to sleep around 7 PM.

Ultra Adventures put on a totally awesome race.  I’m sure parts of my feelings are due to the fact that I had an awesome race, but still…  Other than the insignificant issue of having to wait 30 seconds to fill my bottle at the first aid station, everything else was run like a well-oiled machine.  The volunteers were magnificent.  At most stations, I had a personal valet helping me with my drop bag, getting water, etc.  The course was very well marked and the venue is simply unbeatable.  No matter how miserable you may be feeling and how much you may be suffering, all you have to do is look up at the glorious scenery and you can’t help but smile in awe.  I started planning next year’s return before we even left.


  1. I loved reading your race report. Thanks for taking the time to write it. I love it when runners sacrifice some of their time to help a fellow runner. Your positive attitude and patience are evident through your writing. You are awesome. Congrstualtions on fifth place!!! Thanks for coming out to our race.

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  3. Excellent race summary. Very helpful information. Excited to attempt this race next week.