When I recapped my experience at the Black Mountain Monster 12-Hour, I noted that it left me somewhat nervous about a 100-miler with 18,500' of climb and roughly the same descent. Well, the week leading up to Bryce Canyon, the forecast was showing temperatures in the mid-80s and while that was certainly lower Western States had been in 2014, it was at least twelve degrees above what I had expected. The heat would certainly play a factor in how my day went, but it also forced me to adopt a "smarter" strategy than I've used in the past, if I could ever claim to have had a "strategy."
The 2017 Bryce Canyon 100-miler would be unique for me in a lot of ways. I've never tried to tackle a race of this distance at basically the tail end of a vacation. We flew into Salt Lake City on Sunday and visited Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyon National Parks before race day, making our way east to west across the southern side of Utah. While we didn't tackle any long trails, we spent a lot of time on hikes, walking around, and just being outside. One positive outcome of this was a gradual acclimation to the 7500'-9500' elevation I'd have throughout race day as each Park lay at a slightly higher elevation than the prior. Would all this exploration come back to bite me on race day? I hoped not, but felt that if it did, I wouldn't be upset because ultimately the trip was about seeing the Parks and I wasn't going to miss that just to save up energy for the race.
Knowing that late-race eating has always been an issue for me, I decided that I would take Lee's advice and give the Tailwind product a shot. It promises no "gut-bombs" and nutrition/elecrolytes to carry you through a long race. They say it's all you need--no gels, food, etc..., but I wasn't sure if that would work, so I also brought some trail and peanut butter bars, along with Huma gels and S-caps, in case I needed extra electrolytes. As usual, I had my reliable Mountain Hardware pack from Western States, two Salomon soft flask water bottles, and on my feet were my Salomon Speedcross 3s that had served me well in many long runs. Dennis had told me there was a lot of sand on the course and I felt that with their big lugs, these shoes might have decent traction in sand since they did in mud. Plus, they are comfortable and don't come untied. Just in case I was wrong, my Brooks Cascadias were in the bag Paul and Rob (who were crewing me the second half of the race) would have at the turnaround.
Race morning was fairly cool, light jacket weather if you're just standing around. After Rob and Paul dropped me off in Bryce Canyon City, I hopped on the 5:20 a.m. shuttle for the short ride to the start area. There, I saw pop-up porta-jons for the first time--apologies for not taking a picture. From what I could see at a distance, they looked a bit like tall, narrow tents with a toilet (or bucket?) inside. At the start, I finally found Doug Thompson, who was also participating in the 100 and, shortly after finding him, Paul and Rob showed up, having jumped on the last shuttle, when spectators were allowed. The shuttles were the same buses used by the National Parks Service inside Bryce Canyon National Park. The race itself runs outside the Park border, on the western side. It has, as you'll see in later pictures, some of the features of the Park, but is more of a recreation area.
|Some colorful hoodoos early in the race.|
|Aid Station One -- Arrived at 7:48 a.m.|
When I was at roughly mile 20, or shortly after the second aid station, I texted Leslie that I was doing ok and what mile I was on. I can look back and see that I took a picture of what I believe is the second (mile 19) aid station at 9:29 a.m. or about 3.5 hours into the race. The coolness of the day had passed so there'd be no more of that pace (almost 5.5 mph) the rest of the race. As you can see from the profile chart below, it was about to get pretty rough.
There was a nine mile gap between the second and third aid stations and the day was heating up. I could carry 34 ounces of fluid and had already run out before reaching either of the prior two aid stations so weighing all of that, I tried to conserve both my water and my energy. Slowing down a bit did have an impact on my time, as I rolled into the mile 28 aid station at about 12:10 p.m. That was 6:10 for the first 28 miles and 2:40 for the last nine miles, which was a 3.3 mph pace. That actually brought me back down to a more realistic overall pace for my 100-miler since my goal was 28 hours. While this section wore on me, I didn't get into trouble.
|The desert-like scenery only made it feel hotter.|
I reached the Straight Canyon aid station about 3:38 p.m. so mile 41 came 9:38 into the race. That was actually way ahead of my 28 hour goal pace even though it seemed like time was rapidly slipping away.
|Cliffs towered over me as I neared the turnaround.|
The next stretch I was able to run a little because it got shady and had a stretch of downhill dirt road. I had started seeing the leaders coming back toward me slightly before the last aid station, but I honestly was surprised I hadn't seen them sooner than that. Once the trail left the dirt road, it still trended downhill but we kept hitting these huge rock culverts/washes that you really couldn't run through. They were on side slopes and several feet deep and 6-12' across. For some, it was hard to figure out where best to cross. I was now encountering some of the runners I'd been near earlier in the race and I was also in the shade. Though these few miles really dragged out, I was in good spirits knowing that the turnaround was near. After maybe eight or so culverts, I finally emerged into the clearing of Crawford Pass, mile 51.5 and the turnaround.
|At the turnaround. Just over halfway done.|
So, thanking my crew, I hurried off on the return trip. It would be about twelve miles before I would see them again. I laughed to myself almost every time I went through one of the culverts because many of them were filled with millions (I'm not sure I am exaggerating) of nice rocks that Leslie would have filled her pockets with. The climb out of the turnaround was pretty steep, once I cleared the single track. The dirt road I had come down earlier was too much for me to bother trying to run so I just power hiked. I must have done well because I caught the fourth place female at the top and she thought I had sprinted up it to catch up to her.
I stayed close to her and her co-runner and was actually too close at one point. We were on a wide section of trail and they were maybe 50' ahead. I looked up and thought to myself, she's using the bathroom behind a log, right by the trail. I slammed on my brakes and instead of turning around, I just put my hands on my knees and looked at the ground. Moments later, a concerned voice from ahead asked if I was ok. I looked up (she was now back on the trail) and told her what I thought she was doing. She said she was and "thanks for being courteous." I laughed because it just seemed to be a funny thing to say. Shortly after that, I caught up to them and learned her name was Tonya and his was Joe. We talked about the usual things like where everyone was from, etc... For some reason, she thought my accent was Irish, I blamed it on fatigue and trail dust. Knowing she was in fourth place and not terribly far behind, I asked if she was going to make a push to catch third. She said that she wasn't trying to place in this race and that they were going to take a 30 minute break at the next aid station, even though they both seemed to be running strong. They invited me to hang out with them there but I told them I had a crew waiting and that I don't do well with coming to a complete stop.
At 9450', Pink Cliffs was the highest point on the course and we were dropping 1100' to our next aid station 5.5 miles later, so it was obviously a pretty good, but mostly steady and runnable, descent. The descent and the company enabled me to arrive about 30 minutes before my crew expected me at the Straight Canyon aid station. I made it to the 100K point just before needing a headlamp. I think Tonya had said it was about 9:00 p.m. So, it was after official sunset, but not yet dark. I was technically still well ahead of a 26 hour pace, but the night, fatigue, and steep climbs would conspire to significantly slow me down going forward.
|Representing TRU with a new shirt for the night shift.|
|Showing my bib to be sure I get credit.|
|The buckle I selected.|
My finish time was 27:49:11, so very close to what I had figured might happen. A cooler day might have brought a little better time, but I was happy. Perhaps the best news was that the rental house owner said that we could delay checkout until noon when originally we had to be out by 10:00. So, being that it was just now about 10:00 a.m., there was time to go back and get cleaned up rather than head straight to Zion unwashed. I thanked the race officials and explained why we were leaving so soon and we piled into the van to get back to the house. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than a cold Fresca and a not-too-hot shower.