Monday, June 23, 2014

Bryce Canyon 100 Mile 2014 Race Report

"Not all those who wander are lost;"

     -J.R.R. Tolkien, from the poem All That is Gold Does Not Glitter

Bryce 100 Mile Quick Tips (If you have no desire to read the pending pale-ale-fueled narrative report, that I furiously scribbled down in my journal, 28 hours post-race finish. I take no offense. Some pics below for your pleasure)
  1. Outstanding course markings. Best I have ever experienced, during night and day.
  2. Outstanding aid stations. Plenty of volunteers, plenty of hot food prepared to order, variety of aid station food to satisfy most any appetite. 
  3. Prepare for CONSISTENT elevation, and for an unrelenting course. The course is littered with short steep ups, or short steep downs. Not much 'buffed out' trail, rather, much of it is loose rock/pebble/sand. Very difficult terrain to settle into a rhythm. Ironically, I found the most 'run-able'  ATV road sections occur between miles 45-55, which coincides with the highest elevation climb on the course (9,000-9,500 ft).
  4. The individual at the 'InsertNameOfSaidNationalPark' Lodge will grace you with the coldest stare imaginable when you request to check-in an hour before the actual check-in time. She is not impressed that you are attempting to travel 100 miles by foot the next morning. In fact, she is not even impressed that you are alive. (Please understand, this point is put in here with much careful consideration in regard for the reader and any of their future endeavors, while also hopefully being 'kind' enough, that I live long into the future so that I may eventually settle down and produce offspring)
Fire Pits to Course Recon
   We congregate around dryer tins filled with burning logs. Three in total. Small talk ensues, and I talk with a 50 mile runner who has come out from New England. "We don't have animals like out here. I'm not sure what to do if I run into anything"
   The sun rises and the RD screams out that we have three minutes. Now that the sunrise is beginning, I look for Joel. He mentioned he would be in fatigued in black. We had met the night before and shared pizza and stories on running and life. He was a former lawyer, decided it wasn't for him, and went into business development. His next project is purchasing a brewpub in Arizona with his wife, and operating that. We spend the first 15+ miles together, sometimes talking, plenty of silence. Slow and easy pace, with plenty of hiking on uphills. 
   The miles pass effortlessly. Eventually we cross a stream, and I follow the feet in front of me. Shortly thereafter, I look up and see about four women, all clad in bright colors, and two men in white and black. I don't remember this section? I ran the first 15 miles three weeks ago. This is easy forest road, I don't remember this at all.
   "Hey! Turn around, we're off course!" The words blurt out without much thought. Everyone stops and I explain I ran this part of the course, we need to turn around. Sure enough, we maybe went a quarter mile off course, even though we had very apparent markings to follow. It's what happens when you stare at the feet in front of you. I get a single 'thank you' from a women in blue. The air's thin up here, I figure no one else wants to talk.

Sprained Ankles to Drop Bags
   I'm trying to eat 100 calories every 20 minutes, but I find I get lost in the scenery and minor conversations and while calories are getting in, it's not in the strict format I envisioned. I think we are close to mile 25, a quarter of the way complete. The trail is now a steep, twisty downhill, with plenty of rocks jutting out, sand, and loose footing. I pass a woman in a purple skirt. She's moving well, steady.
   "OW! Oh, fuck!" 
   "Are you okay?" I've stopped and turned around to see her bending down to touch her ankle.
   "I turned this about a week ago. I just did it again. Damnit! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!"
   I don't know why, but I start running. I can hear her starting to slowly move on it. The trail is now a steady line of switchbacks. Small ups, small downs. This part of the canyon is such that I can hear everything she is saying. Expletives continue to flow. Loud. Angry. Meaningful. Personal.
   It causes me a flashback to 10 months ago at Cascade Crest. A strong pang of frustration and shattered dreams. The 'pop' and the commencing denial of  'No! No! No!', followed by the bargaining of 'You'll be alright', ultimately ending in an acceptance of the particular journey. I immediately think of how hard she has trained. How well she is doing. What this endeavor means to her. That I might understand it a little, is asinine. But I feel like I do. I speed up to get away, as if I can't be around those thoughts anymore.  
   The trail continues it's ups and downs for miles, the sun is out and it's starting to get warm, but we are mostly running through forest now. I hit Kanab Creek (35 miles) and pick up my dropbag. A helpful elderly man comes over.
   "Son, just pour it all out, and take what you need. I'll put it all back. You have enough to worry about today."
   Grateful, I ditch my handheld bottles, put on my hydration pack, and pull out my trekking poles. I grab a burrito, a couple Oreos, and take off. 

Trapper Rick to Cool Glasses
   I now have fully extended trekking poles accompanying me the rest of the way. They provide a significant level of assistance on climbs, allowing me stay upright, and not hunch over my back. The downside is that they are more weight (though, a minimal amount) and take up more space. They also engage parts of my body that I'm used to using in swimming. Triceps and my entire back get a small workout from their usage.
   More than anything the poles remind me of Trapper Rick. Without the layover in a small Colorado town, waiting for the poles to be delivered to a local outdoors store, I would not have stopped into a local brewery and met him.
   "You need a place to stay for a couple of days? I have an extra house."
   "That sounds fantastic" I figure this is not something most people would accept, but I have no qualms about it. I'm not living other's lives, I'm living by my own values. Trust people, believe people, invest in relationships. Take chances, you never know what you'll find.
   Trapper ended up showing me the town. I become known as 'Traveler Dave', as we spend an evening going from brewery to restaurant to local craft brewery. Faces are stuffed with above average sushi and time is spent discussing life. Trapper never did let me pay for anything, just asked that I 'pay it forward'.
   The temps are hot now, and the trail has some nice downhill sections that I can run at a nice pace. I use the poles to propel me on some downs, and provide balance on trickier sections. Conversation with a couple runners leads us comfortably into the mile 40 aid station where we grab made-to-order burritos in the heat of the day, then a five mile climb up to the Pink Cliffs aid station (45 miles) at 9,500 feet. I hike this section, as to not expend too much energy on the highest point of the course, at the hottest part of the day. 
   I'm starting to get tired, but take solace in the pending halfway point. The downhill begins at Pink Cliffs, and I run that. We then pop out at the 50 mile finish and 100 mile turnaround. I take a seat and a young boy offers to get my dropbag. A couple of guys next to me exclaim they are calling it a day. I see two men laying on the ground about 30 feet from me. One asleep, the other dry heaving on all fours. After a couple tries, he successfully regurgitates a tremendous amount of food and water. 
   "Cool sunglasses! You can change them!" The boy is fascinated by the Smith Pivlock's, as I change out the sunglasses lens into the clear lens.
   "Yep, pretty cool huh? Lots of dust out there, so this keeps it out of my eyes. I don't want to lose my contacts. I'm gonna leave this case here in this bag, if anyone tries to take them, you stop them." Nobody is going to take them, but I'd like to believe I'm empowering someone.
   I switch out into a new pair of shoes, and eat two bean and cheese burritos, a chocolate milk, and four licorice vines.

Champions to Darkness
  The climb out of Crawford Pass is fairly 'run-able' if you have legs, but I'm still hot and decide to conserve any energy I have left. I hear footsteps fast approaching behind me, and turn to wish the runner well. To my surprise, it's Tim Olson (2012 and 2013 Western States Winner) charging up the hill to go find people he knows that are coming down it. He meets up with some people and heads back down. Shortly thereafter the scenario repeats itself. He mentions he's sorry, but I quickly let him know it's 'ok' and he's an inspiration.
   I come into Pink Cliffs, eat a bunch of fruit and coke, and then proceed down the five mile section into the next aid. I'm able to run most of this section and give and receive plenty of positive feedback to other runners. I then see Joel slowly walking up the hill and stop to talk with him. He explains that he had major stomach issues and is just trying to get through it. He ends up dropping at the halfway mark.
   A pass by the 60 mile aid station involves another burrito, and then a steady climb up to Kanab Creek, where my dropbag is waiting for me. My energy is low, my breathing heavy, and its starting to cool down quickly. I put on my jacket, arm sleeves, and headlamp. I get to Kanab in the dark. I haven't seen anyone pass me yet, but I feel like I'm slowing.

Animal Mating Calls to Second Wind
   I don't eat much at Kanab, but I restock my food stores, and grab my gloves. 65 miles in, only 35 to go, I'm almost home. 
   A couple of miles after leaving the fires of the aid station, I start to hear sounds of what seems like people calling. After more thought, it sounds like kids or more like an animal mating call. I stop on occasion to stare at the full moon and listen. Shortly thereafter, the coughing starts.
   I've had a cough for a week or so now. Same thing happened last year at this time, and the specialist I saw believed it was heartburn, causing throat irritation. I'm supposed to be taking drugs consistently, but they ran out weeks ago and I figured I didn't need them. But now, I regret that. I have bouts of coughing that seem to be triggered by the elevation (we've been above 8,000 feet since mile 18) and the vast amounts of dust from the trails. 
   I start to have serious bouts of bending over my poles with a hacking cough, combined with extreme sleeplessness. All I can think of is a bed. I take a break where I just sit down on hands and knees and close my eyes for a short while. I'm waiting for people to pass me, but nobody is around. How can this be? I know I am going so slow right now!
   I'm just so tired. I know I have to get to the aid station at mile 73, but  I can't escape the thoughts of a warm bed. After what seemed like a number of small short climbs, I see a fire pit light in the distance and slowly come into the aid station, contemplating quitting. 
   I sit down, out of it. Aid stations volunteers ask me what I want and I go with a pancake and sausage. After two thirds of a patty, and half the pancake, I take a couple cups of broth and noodles. I'm still not ready to go yet. I need coke. I drink about 16 ounces, and get up. I can't quit. I need to finish. I exit the aid station, and after a short climb, my legs are energized! I bound down the next 3-4 miles, my legs feeling as fresh as ever, and the section of the course a steep downhill with sections I can run. 
   Shortly thereafter, 'shit got real'.

73 to 82
   The next aid station didn't come until mile 82, and I know I'm at least and hour and half out from that. I get to section of sandy trail and the hacking starts again, and I hear more of the mating calls. About five people have passed me in the last couple of miles, some with pacers, most running solo. 
   I stop. Some sandy trail is comfortable to lay down in. My headlamp illuminates the bright white eyes of a black spider a couple feet from my face. It scampers off. The moon is extremely brigh. I turn off my headlamp. I can't breathe. Then it hits me, it's not a mating call. It's a wheeze. There was never anything in the distance, it was me the whole time. Everything is happening so vividly now. I see the definition of the moon and cut glass sky. I don't know if I'm having a full blown asthma attack, but I know the only thing I can do at that moment is lay there, and breathe easy. I realize at this point, I fully appreciate, that one can die doing this. I've heard others warn me of that, and always thought of it as some macho comment that was said to inflate ones own ego, like those that relish the term 'Ironman' or 'Tough Mudder'. But at that moment, I felt extremely stupid for not taking that comment seriously. I'll remember that moment, that moon, that sand, the rest of my life. 
   Nobody is coming along with an inhaler. Nobody is coming along to carry me to an aid station. I am going to lay here, focus on breathing, and then start moving again, eventually. It will pass.
   That is exactly what happens. After about 15 minutes I get back up and start trekking to the aid station. I get passed by more people, and after what seems like an eternity, I come into Proctor Aid.

   "It's about 3:30 am"
   "Ok. Can I have that entire bottle of Coke?"
   "Sure, you're looking good."
   "Eh, just gonna get to the finish. I want to drop. But, I'm not"
   "Anything else?"
   "What do you have for hot food."
   "Dutch oven potatoes with bacon."
   As I leave, I hear three voices, all different. 'Good luck', 'Good job', 'Way to go'. I look back, to the other end of the fire. Three runners lay in cots, covered by blankets, packs and bottles beside them.
   I run to warm up. A half mile in, this stops, as the trail seems to painstakingly go straight up, and I'm leaning on my poles to climb around and over rock, through sand, and up a hill that doesn't seem to end.
  The remaining miles simply pass. I seem to be simply passed by many. Then the sun begins to rise. The sky turns a dark blue to the east, and I trudge on through the trail. I continue to move, though, and use my poles to prop me up as I climb down sections of trail that seem much more technical than they truly are.
  The sun rises quickly and I'm soon out of the forest and into a section of hoodoos. Breathing is becoming more labored and my wheeze is getting more pronounced. The mating calls are getting serious now. Animals are in heat, desperate, and driven to procreate. I take a seat and pull down my arm warmers, remove a thermal layer and tie it around my waste and stare off into the distance.
  There is a kid, jeans and striped shirt, a couple hundred yards away blowing on flowers. Weird. It's not a kid. It's not happening. But does it ever look like its happening. I'm sitting here staring at it, and I know that's not a kid. But, man, that looks like a kid. This is weird. I eat more, drink more, and talk a salt pill. 
   A runner comes along, clad in black and a white buff. He takes a seat next to me.
   "I've got the wheeze too. I was thinking it was something else until I realized it was me." Dan's English accent takes my mind off the strange kid who is still blowing at the same damn flower.
   "Join the club. It's weird."
   "I haven't seen anyone in forever."
   We get up, and decide we are only a couple miles from the last aid station. Dan gets in front of me, but explains he'll see me at the aid. I arrive shortly thereafter, and sit down next to him. We decide to go into the finish together. Grilled cheese, coke, bacon, and three gels for the road (I'm out of food).
   "What place are we in?" Dan asks. I'm expecting somewhere in the 50's.
   "We've only had about 24 people come through, haven't seen anyone in awhile" Explained the worker.
   Jaws collectively drop. We are looking at a finish time in 29 hours. Neither one of us thought we would be anywhere close to the 20's. 160 started. Dan mentions he saw a lot of people dropping at the last aid station.
   "I have a flight to catch, lets go."
   "I'm ready."

Ditching Ego
   A mile into the final section we are hot. The sun is up, beating down on us again. No clouds, and the layers we had to keep us warm are now being shed in the shade of some small trees. We discuss life. We walk as fast as we can. Estimating that the final section will take us two and a half hours, we take intermittent breaks to sit down. I stomach my first gel. The sun is now annoying.
   Both our knees are bugging us. Dan provides a bag of Ibuprofen to dull the pain. He offers me some sunscreen. I'm already burnt and bluntly decline. He doesn't want to eat anymore.
   We know that once we finish the hoodoo section, we have 2 short miles along some flat forest road to the finish. We remember there is a bend we come around that then shoots into the forest road. But every bend is a 'false finish'. We then approach a section we think is it, Dan in the lead.
   "FUCK. THIS ISN'T IT. FUCK THIS." It's an angry English accent.
   "Damnit. I hate this course. This is no fun. Fuck me."
   "This is not a fun 100."
   "Agreed. I want a fun 100. I want one section where I can get a damn rhythm."
   We sit. I pull a muscle in my left leg, trying to sit. We get back up, and shortly thereafter enter the forest road. We encounter a mountain biker who heaps praise on us. Cheers us on. It goes in one ear, and out the other. We provide him smiles but our minds are on the finish. We speed walk the final two miles. Get passed by someone along the final straightaway.
   "Do you want to try and jog, we can probably hold him off?" I ask.
   "Fuck no. If you want you can."
   "Nope, who cares? We are going in together, that's the only thing that matters. Lets run the final portion after we cross the cow grate."
   "Sounds good."
   The finish is simply stopping in front of the time clock. We shake the RD's hand and sit down. He brings us ice cold glasses of Ginger Ale and Coke. No tears are shed. No uncontrollable emotions. No pomp and circumstance. I'm happy to have finished with Dan. I reflect on the fact, that much as in life, if we have someone with us, to truly understand and share our experiences, we've won more than we could ever imagine.
   A lot of people call me a runner, and I don't know if I've been keen on that label. I spend more time hiking, reading, dreaming and being completely honest with myself, the most fun I had all week was a full day rafting trip. But, running has become my vehicle to the outdoors. It's allowed me to explore realms, internally and externally, I otherwise would not have. I'm okay with it. 

Love it.
Foods. Ginger was probably the best.

Lots of people checking in for the 100, 50 Mile, 50K.

Lines at check in. Great to chat with other runners.
Legit Big Toe tape job.

Morning Fire

That would be a popped blister.

Full day rafting Class 4's on the Upper Animas. Most fun I had all week. Gracias to Cliff and his daughters for photo and company.


  1. Awesome man; proud of you, as you know. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. A journey like no other ... thanks for allowing us a peek into your 100 mile trek thru Bryce Canyon and share a glimpse into this experience with you. Here's to many more outdoor explorations for you, Dave. And, looking forward to continued narrative that allows us to follow you along the trails!

  3. Great write up, Dave! I enjoy hearing all of your crazy ultra stories! Congrats again on your first 100!

  4. Thanks for the kind words everyone. It was truly a rewarding experience. Hopefully it inspires others to try something they didn't think they could do.

  5. I really enjoyed reading about your run! You have a way with words. And rafting is totally fun. We should go!

  6. A wonderful read, Dave. Thank you for your openness and for sharing your experience. Congratulations on your first 100!

    And for the record, never trust kids blowing on flowers....