Friday, June 26, 2015

Bryce 100 - 2015

This was going to be a real test. I had spent the previous 10 days at sea level, lounging, eating, and drinking. Most people would think this was great rest and tapering, but my body usually prefers to be active before a race. I had the best of intentions and took my running shoes and Garmin along on the vacation, but never touched them.  I did manage to run about 1/2 mile on the beach at one point, but that little to offset all of the extra calories I consumed.

UltraSignup had me ranked at 17 out of 120 with an estimated time of almost 26 hours. Since I had run under 24 last year, and that was my first 100 miler, I was expecting to beat those by quite a bit, despite my low altitude inactivity.
The race started out well enough. I took it relatively easy on the road and then the meandering single track to the top of the hoodoos. I really enjoyed connecting with new and familiar runners. I was quite surprised and pleased at how many of them had read my blog or used my pacing spreadsheet.
Thunder Mountain aid came along and I was feeling pretty good but took the time for a potty break. The next section to Proctor was pretty non-eventful, though I made another stop at the composting toilet. My stomach was feeling well enough so I didn't think anything of it. The next stretch was the gentle climb up through the aspens, drop down, then steep climb up to Kanab. It was here that I started to feel a little sluggish. I just relaxed and enjoyed the company of nearby runners, like Lee, who wound up being the 3rd place female.  The initial climb up to the intersection with the 50K course (which would be run the following day), passed by rather quickly. As we dropped down to the low point, clouds moved in and the rain started. At first it was just a light drizzle, then the thunder and lightening kicked in and it turned to a decent rain. I was still going shirtless, but the temps were pretty comfortable and there was no wind down in the canyon so I was feeling fine. As we started the long climb out, I noticed that I was feeling just a bit off. It was nothing alarming, but I know my body well enough. My feet and ankles were a bit achey and my muscles too fatigued for this early on. We eventually hit the high point and there was a bit more rolling terrain before the aid station than I remembered. It was here that I started to slow down more and had a hard time keeping up with the group of runners.

By the time I hit Blubber Creek, I knew I needed a break and decided that sitting in the shaded tent would be more pleasant than just plodding slowly along. I gave myself 15 minutes and figured that I would surely feel better after such an extended rest. I sat in a comfy chair and the volunteers offered to make me a fresh cheese quesadilla while I waited. As I was lounging, I looked up to see Tonia Elsworth Smith popping in. She was pretty surprised to see me and moved through efficiently. This gal is amazing.  She is the first pancreatic cancer survivor to run a 100 miler, and she came in 2nd place!
Leaving Blubber, the skies were mostly clear, and given my pleasant encounter with the earlier rain, I figured I would continue on lightweight and left my jacket behind (big, stupid mistake!). Unfortunately, even after the prolonged rest, I still felt pretty lethargic. I was walking even the most gentle of inclines and was barely jogging the nice downhills. I knew that my "race" was over, but I figured I would just settle back, enjoy the awesome scenery and company of other runners. I did stop at almost every viewpoint and took pictures, as well as just appreciating the landscape.  The section to Kanab is mostly rolling, but quite scenic; much of it along the edge of the plateau.

From Kanab to Straight Canyon, the route rolls along the top for a bit longer, then descends slowly on dirt roads, which would normally be an opportune time for me to zip along effortlessly.  Not on this day.  I had to put out real effort to even jog down the hills.

Nearing the aid station, I was surprised to be caught by Travis.  I thought he was well ahead.  We plodded along, side by side to Straight Canyon.  I took more time than usual here and tried to refuel with some ginger ale, but it didn’t do any real good.  At least I made one smart decision.  With the skies darkening again, I pulled a thin, long-sleeved shirt out of my drop bag before heading out.  This probably saved my life, or at least kept me from a DNF.  About half a mile out, the drizzle started.  Then the rain.  Then the hail, accompanied by thunder and lightning.  it was in this section that I started running more consistently with Jonathan Wheelright (who would later save my life).

It was bad enough in the trees, but once we made it out to the little saddle and got onto the gravel road, things got worse.  The lightning strikes were closer and the hail was really hurting.  It never got larger than pea sized nuggets, but man they hurt my nearly bald head and exposed ears.  The temperature also continued to drop and probably got down into the low 40’s.  I was thoroughly soaked and freezing cold.  Taking cover from the lightning and hail would have been nice, but I knew that stopping for even a minute would send me into uncontrollable shivers.  There was no clear sky to be seen anywhere in the distance and hypothermia was a most serious consideration.  I wasn’t setting any speed records on this section, but survival instincts kept me going and each close lightning strike gave me a boost of adrenaline.

As it turned out, a guy just a few hundred yards behind us said that he got knocked to the ground by a lightning strike - now that’s close!

The insane weather finally stopped as we got close to Pink Cliffs.  As we left the ankle deep waters of the gravel road behind, we started climbing up the steep, narrow “trail” to the aid station.  This was now soft and extremely slick mud!

The sun started to break through the clouds just as we got to the aid station but my fingers were too frozen to be able to snap any pictures of the gorgeous view.  In the tent, I changed into a dry shirt and warmed up by the propane heater, along with a handful of other cold runners.

Jon and I headed out of the and station together but separated part way down to Crawford Pass.  The top couple of miles were just miserable.  Last year, the dust was an issue from passing ATV’s.  This year, the rain turned all that fine powder into horrendous mud.  I was quite frankly shocked to have made it through without a faceplant.  It was slicker than ice.

Back on the trail section, I came across Tonia, Travis, Brett, Lee and other runners that I knew or had met earlier in the day.  They were all ahead of me and heading back.

I finally made it to Crawford and changed into dry socks.  The previous few hours of soaking feet had already inflicted some damage, but the fresh socks felt nice.  I rested for a bit and headed back out.  I was now trying to figure out if I would make it to Straight Canyon before dark.  I had a flashlight there just as a precaution, even though I originally expected to be there hours before sunset.  I was also thinking about my warmer clothes, most of which were at Blubber Creek, many miles away.  I knew that the single long-sleeved shirt wasn’t going to cut it after dark and kicked myself for not putting the wet shirt out to dry at Pink Cliffs so I could get it on the second pass.  When I did finally get back up there, I took the soaking shirt out of my drop bag and attempted to dry it by the fire.  One of the nice volunteers offered to trade me one of his dry shirts for my wet one.  I gladly accepted and was glad to be wearing two shirts as the sun lowered in the sky.

Jon and I left Pink Cliffs together and slowly made our way down towards Straight Canyon.  I thought there would still be plenty of light, but being in the trees, a valley, and with the clouds gathering again it was pretty dark by the time we hit the aid station.  I was glad to have packed my light here, but I had no more clothes.  Jon offered me a jacket and hat that he wasn’t going to use.  I almost turned him down, as I like to be self sufficient, but I wasn’t sure if I had any clothes packed at Kanab.  It was a good thing that I did take him up on his generous offer.  There’s no way I would have survived without them.

Heading up towards Kanab, we joined up with a gal from NY.  Her and I stuck together as Jon broke ahead towards the top.  It was a good thing too, as my light started to fade prematurely.  The clouds came on us again and a light drizzle was accompanied by many thunder booms and bright flashes, though none were within a mile.

Kanab was a bit crowded.  Brett was there, along with Justin and his fiancé/pacer, Jen.  Jon was still there and ready to go.  The NY gal was not feeling great and with high probability of rain and lightning forecast for this upcoming section along the edge of the plateau, decided to call it quits.  Another runner started out and headed back after a dozen steps.  I grabbed a fresh light and Jon and I donned trash bags (which were scented) and went forward.  It was rather comical since the bags were rather undersized and we couldn’t even move our arms.  A stumble would have been really funny.

As it turned out, we had a light drizzle for the first mile or so and then the skies overhead cleared up.  There were still plenty of cool lightning strikes a few miles off, but nothing close and no more rain.  As a sign of the “off” day I was having, my new light started fading well before Blubber Creek and I had to stay close behind Jon.  Between the company, clothes and light, I was really starting to owe my race to this guy.

It seemed to take forever, but we finally made it to Blubber.  I had my UD pack here with all the essentials, including another flashlight with fresh batteries.  We warmed up and rested for a bit, then headed out again.  We stayed together for the rolling section near the top, but after we started the descent, I had to pull off into the woods and despite my rushing and picking up the pace afterwards, I just couldn’t catch back up to Jon.  He got a second wind and wound up beating me by over 2 hours.

I kept up a pretty good pace until the bottom.  Once the climb started, I slowed considerably.  Part way up, I came across Travis, yet again.  We hung together for a short bit, but he was moving even slower than me and we separated.  It seemed to take forever to reach the junction where the 50K would join the course.  I remembered thinking the same thing last year.

I was getting more and more tired.  Not just physically, but sleep deprivation was hitting me like never before.  This was my 10th 100 miler and I had never come close to feeling this sleepy before.  On this section heading towards Proctor, I stumbled along in a sleepy haze, wanting nothing more than to lay down and close my eyes.  I marvel at the fact that I didn’t end up face down on the trail.  I was just so incredibly sleepy.  Miraculously, I made it to the aid station and was about to sit in a chair for a snooze when someone vacated one of the cots and offered it to me.  I laid down, took my shoes off (my feet were killing me), threw a sleeping bag over me and dozed off.  A well-meaning volunteer woke me up shortly thereafter to ask me how long he should let me sleep.  Too dazed to speak, I gave him a look that clearly expressed how I was feeling.  I was left alone after that.

I woke up about an hour later, just as the sky was starting to lighten.  I was pleased that the prolonged rest didn’t stiffen my muscles at all.  I ate a whole bunch of pancakes, grabbed a burrito to go, and headed out into the cold morning.  I shivered for a bit, but knew the temperature would quickly rise as the sun came up above the hills.

When I had come in to Proctor, I was unsure of the race cut-off (never having to worry about that before) and was afraid that I wouldn’t make it if it was 30 hours.  Being told it was 36 gave me some peace, but now I still wanted to at least break 30.

A few miles out from Proctor, I passed a guy and a gal stopped on the side of the trail.  My eyes were still pretty fatigued and I had to really stare back at them for a bit to realize that it was Travis, again.  He wasn’t doing that great, but as soon as he saw me, he got his ass into the next gear.  He passed me shortly, but the competitive side of me was also rekindled and I kicked it up a notch to stay close on his heels.  He was pushing the uphills, and I was reeling him in on the descents.

I got into Thunder Mountain just after Travis and we both sped through, though he left half a minute before me.  Brett was there also and urged us both on, though I think he was having foot issues.  Within half a mile, I caught up to Travis and Jen, thinking we could all enjoy the next 8 miles together (though I would of course outsprint him at the very end).  But he cried “uncle”, blaming his poor fiancé for not being able to keep up the pace ( I wonder what his excuse was for the previous 92 miles?).

That little competition with Travis was actually one of the highlights of the race. Neither one of us had the race that we wanted, but we had a blast egging each other on until the very end.  His fiancé actually did a great job, especially given that this was her longest run ever!

The final climb back up through the hoodoos was pretty nice, but the subsequent meandering, in and out of little finger valleys was interminable.  It just took for freaking ever!  My watch had died so I was counting on non-racers that we came upon for distance estimates.  A couple of hiking gals said 4 miles and I thought they were out of their minds.  There was no way it could still be that far.  Then, what seemed like hours later, a jogger said “only 2 miles to go” and I nearly punched him in the face.  I was done, and I needed to race to be done also.

A couple of eternity's later, I finally heard some cheering, came around the millionth bend, and there it was - the glorious finish line.  29:20:36 - about 7 hours slower that I had hoped, but at least it was over.

This was definitely my worst performance ever, but it was memorable, and I was able to connect with new and familiar runners more than ever before.  Matt and Ultra Adventures put on a spectacular event in a most majestic setting.  Unfortunately, my body just rebelled, and the weather certainly didn’t help.

I finished my 6th 100 miler of the year, and despite the slow time, I’m glad that I persevered.