Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Bryce 100

In looking for an early-summer 100 mile race that is also a Western States qualifier, I came across the Bryce 100.  A run in the hoodoos, what could be more different, interesting, and fun?  I also read good things about the race organizers.  So we found a reason to come to Utah this June, like we ever need much of a reason to come see amazing rock formations of all kinds.

An interesting twist!  John put in for The Wave lottery on Thursday, one last chance as a solo effort.  And his number got pulled, slot #9 out of 10 possible slots!  No way that just happened.  We had been trying for a week, no luck (around 100 people showed up each morning).  Well then.  I was already set to run without crew support, no problem there.  John just had to decide whether to drive back around past Kanab on Friday and hope the weather held up (much rain in the forecast and a dirt road to the trailhead).

Spoiler alert - he did decide to, the rain held off long enough, and the pictures are so great they deserve their own post.  For now, I'll continue on with my race report, as we went our separate ways on Friday.  John dropped me off at the race start, snapped a couple photos from the truck, and started on his own journey.

Only slightly cold before the start:

See you in a few hours!

No fanfare from the race director, time to start up the road.  It was a chilly morning and one of my Achilles has been a bit suspect lately, so I did a fast walk/slow jog alternation near the back of the pack to warm up.  Beautiful morning for a run.  For now, no rain clouds imminent.  After a couple miles I pulled into the bathroom at the trailhead for a quick pit stop.  That put me in the very (almost) back of the pack, which is a position I'm getting familiar (and comfortable) with at the start of a race.  My goals were to 1) finish and 2) make it as easy as possible for as long as possible.  That doesn't sound very race-like, I know, but it's part of a bigger plan.

Entering the fun singletrack, I started passing people.  The trail went in - and back out - and in - and back out, contouring along the pretty hills.  They were short contour curves and I tried counting them.  I passed approximately one person or group per innie, at least for a while.  A speedy guy came up behind me, turns out he started even further behind me (he had missed the shuttle bus).  He was super nice, talking with each person for a few seconds as he passed.

Oh, and I should mention now that I didn't carry a camera - all photos above and much later came from John.  So this is pretty much a text-only report.  Skip to the bottom if you just want to see pretty pictures of hoodoos.

OK, back to the trail.  I spent the first couple hours trying to memorize as much as possible for the way back.  There weren't many distinguishing features initially, until I came upon a horse tie-up area with a bathroom.  The bathroom looked like a good place to pee, except the door was missing and the seat was facing everyone coming toward me.  So I went around back and squatted instead.

Then the Great Hoodoo section of Red Canyon - awesome!  Incredibly beautiful, so many hoodoos that you can see, all outside the national park.  The trail wound around through them, starting a long descent in several parts down to the canyon wash.  Lots of gazing at the scenery.  Lots of wondering how that climb would feel 95 miles into the race.  I guess I shouldn't think about that.  Yay for hoodoos!

I kept thinking about a phrase I had heard told to one of Mom's birding enthusiast friends - "you're either birding or you're driving."  For this race I made a modification - "you're either gawking or you're walking," i.e. pay attention to either the amazing sights or the trail in front of your feet...  I had to remind myself that a few times.

At the bottom we turned onto the Grandview Trail that we would follow for many miles.  Over to the first aid station where I grabbed a Spiz baggie from my drop bag and some fruit.  A volunteer asked if I wanted a sandwich and I replied that I can't normally eat bread while running.  A tortilla?  Definitely not.  He asked what I would eat, and I had to think about it - fruit, basically.  Chocolate?  Oh yes, definitely chocolate, it's just hard to keep it from melting.  I realized later I should have suggested Nutella, that's always a welcome aid station item in my book.

So started the trend of spending time in aid stations talking to people.  I was mostly by myself on the trail and also moved pretty efficiently.  However, the aid stations were too enjoyable and I was into having fun today.  Between the beautiful scenery and the enjoyable aid stations, I was having a good time.  It all fit into the "make it as easy as possible" plan, at least in my mind.

The next section was quite varied - along a field, across a road/stream, more innies and outies, some big powerline poles that were missing the powerlines, a couple small wet-ish fields, a climb and then steep-ass descent into a small canyon (not looking forward to THAT later), and a nice climb to a col.  Going down the other side, about the time my stomach started growling, there was the next aid station - good timing!

By this time the clouds had moved in and the rain had started off/on.  I started the race in my jacket to stay warm, debated briefly taking it off, but was glad to still have it on as the sprinkling commenced.  Normally I wouldn't mind getting wet early in the day, but the temperatures were still low and it didn't seem to make sense to use extra energy to stay warm.  I hopped into the tent at the Proctor aid station just as it started raining for real.  Again good timing!

I immediately noticed a cheese sandwich on the grill and that's when I knew that it was exactly what I wanted.  It turns out I can eat bread while running, as long as it's grilled with cheese in the middle.  Oh my goodness, so delicious.  Also - bacon!  And part of a pancake.  I chatted with another runner about races back East while eating second breakfast and waiting for the rain to die down.  Finally it did and I figured I really better get out of there.  Honestly, I have never eaten so much at mile 19 of any race, ever.  Thank you, awesome aid station!

I carried out a full Spiz baggie and some bars, but that turned out to be unnecessary as I wasn't hungry for quite some time.  Which worked out well (except for the extra weight) because the next section took quite some time.  It was described as "rugged" which I'm not exactly sure about, but I would give it the term "challenging."  The trail itself was pretty good, there was just a lot of climbing.

It started with a nice long, gentle uphill with great views of the Sunset Cliffs.  I passed a couple people who were already having issues and calling it a tough course.  For me, taking my time, I didn't see it, but it's all in perspective.  I had read that the trails were really sandy and required lots of shoe cleaning.  Compared to our recent treks around Kanab in the deep sand of the ATV trails, this trail was in great condition.  I was also wondering how dusty it would be, especially with a bit of a nagging cough in my throat.  But the rain kept that down.  Smoke from a prescribed burn was slightly challenging in the early miles but we soon moved away from it, and I imagine the rain helped keep those particles down also.

So I was feeling pretty good, ready for a climb, big drop, and big climb (based on my notes).  The first climb was up a long valley and then through a big field, had a couple false tops, and eventually topped out at a col.  The big drop was obvious - down a rather steep drainage, a long way down to a confluence.  Then further down a pretty creek before turning up a side drainage.  OK, now for the big climb.

This one was interesting - some winding around rocks and short steep hauls, eventually straight up through an aspen grove.  No switchbacks here!  This section felt like someone from back East had built the trail, all straight up and down.

I found the top and wondered what the next 2+ miles would look like.  Oh, there's another drop and climb.  OK, I should try to remember that.  Then a big hoodoo amphitheater - very pretty!  Yay for hoodoos!  This one we would circle below, and this part of the trail I would agree is on the rugged side.  Steep, sandy drops and rises, climbing through washes, winding around to the final climb which at least was on switchbacks for once.  The challenging part was having no idea whether I was getting close to the aid station.  It was supposed to be at a road, no sign of a road here.

Finally after topping out near the top level of the hoodoos, there was the road and Blubber Creek aid station.  Phew, that was quite a 9-mile jaunt.

Here I found Nutella (yay, someone else agrees on Nutella at aid stations!) and strawberries.  Do I want a Nutella sandwich?  No, just a spoon please!

I was finally ready to eat something after digesting all that food from the prior aid station.  I started on the Spiz I was carrying, that left an extra baggie in my drop bag for later.  Might come in handy.  I did dump several items into my drop bag to reduce the weight I was carrying - my poly pro shirt, the bars from the last aid station.  That's better.

I also changed socks for the first time, cleaned some sand off my toes, and my feet felt really great starting off again.

The next section was such a joy after all the work of the previous 9 miles.  8 miles on the plateau, weaving through hoodoos (yay!), through a nice forest, along a fast dirt road (I'm really moving now), then some singletrack.  The trail led along the top of hoodoo amphitheaters, occasionally close enough that it took only a couple steps to get to the edge and look over.  Awesome!  A huge drop down through rock formations and sand slides, just stunning.

I met a runner who had had some lack-of-water issues and he seemed to be doing a lot better.  He asked about the map I was looking at and I said I thought it was about 2 miles/30 minutes to the next aid station.  I also shared some water that I was going to dump to reduce pack weight.  His beef was with the trail footing - the rocks and dried up horse hoof prints.  Many race photos (yes, including mine below!) are in the section of beautiful trail in Red Canyon, making it seem like 100 miles of buff, easy singletrack.  Well, no, it's not all that.  I guess I've seen so much worse in just about every 100 miler I've done that I didn't think anything of it.  I heard a lot of people calling it a tough course.  For me, except for all the climbing (more on that later), it's one of the "easier" 100 miler courses I've been on.  "Easier" in quotes because I don't think there is any such thing as an easy 100 miler.  Anyway, it's all in perspective.

So we chatted and worked our way toward the next aid station.  I took off on some downhill portions, passing quite a few people along the way.  It was great to be in an easier section where I was back to running 4 mph, the temperature was perfect, the views were fabulous, and I was still having an easy time of it.

The Kanab aid station was crowded but I found my drop bag, went through my stuff, and got out of there a bit quicker this time.  Clouds and rain were threatening again, this time accompanied by lighting and thunder in the distance.  I hurried along the last 2 miles of plateau running, looking for the start of the downhill road.

By the time I found it, it was full-on raining.  I heard a guy yelling "Bear!  Bear!" and had to wonder what the heck?  I came upon a trailer and a guy waiting for his buddy coming toward him on a horse.  Turns out the guy on the horse was calling for his dog.  Good to know!

Starting down the road, a runner recognized me and it turns out he was from Massachusetts and part of the TARC club.  Great to meet you, Brian!  We chatted for a moment, then I ran on ahead while he stayed with his buddy.  A couple of the lead runners were coming back already, nice work guys!

A woman runner and I went back and forth on the 3-mile road down the hill.  She had no jacket and got soaking wet and freezing cold.  That was even before the hail started.  Based on the forecast, I had committed to carrying my rain jacket, buff, light gloves, and overmitts for the whole race, and boy was I ever glad I did.

Yep, we got hailed on.  I wasn't quite as much "having fun" but it helps having the perspective of having seen so much worse.  People were crowded into the Straight Canyon aid station tent.  The volunteers were so helpful, finding hot food for everyone, retrieving my drop bag for me, setting up a portable heater so runners could get warm.

After a few minutes, the sun came out!  Time to go - and just like that, the tent cleared out.  I finished the last of my prep and followed a group down the next road.

The next section of trail had turned slippery and muddy, especially the parts in the open fields.  Well, that wasn't quite as easy as the miles leading to that point.  I could tell whenever I passed under a fir tree because the pine needles kept that part of the trail in good condition.  Well, it was only a mile-plus-long trail, nothing too horrible.  The sunshine was great.  The temperature all day was perfect, the easiest I have ever run 100 miles in.

The next dirt road was also in good condition, and I made a couple stops to drink Spiz, pee, take off my jacket, re-lube.  I was determined to solve any problems as early as possible, so I would take whatever time I needed for that.  I vividly recalled the pain of the chafing in the final 20 miles of the Blackhills 100 last year, and I really, really didn't want to repeat that.  I was testing Triple Paste as a lube, and it seemed to be working pretty well.

The main challenge was the callouses on the outside of my big toes, something I still haven't figured out how to sand down.  In longer races they create blisters, and that was starting to happen here.  Also one little toe was getting a bit beat up in my shoe, something else I haven't figured out yet.  I knew I could handle all that, nothing too painful, which is good because I didn't have an on-trail fix.

With my multiple pauses, Brian caught back up to me (minus his buddy).  We speed-walked up the road, talking about races and such.  It was nice to have company for a little while.  It was also nice that a lot of the last 10 miles to the turnaround are on doubletrack so runners passing each other going opposite ways don't have to work to squeeze by.

Near the top, the trail turned sharply upward for a short grinder up a steep slope (trying to take it easy on my legs).  Right about here I started to hear thumping, apparently the base beat from the aid station music.  That wasn't great, or maybe I'm just particularly sensitive to that kind of thing, but I tried to ignore it.  The views from the top were amazing and I wanted to focus on that above all else.  The amphitheater of pink hoodoos below was particularly striking in the evening sunshine - so beautiful!  And we could see for miles down to the south, probably at least to Kanab if I took the time to look.  I tried to take in as much as I could, because it would be dark on the return and this was the last chance for the stunning views.

Wow, just wow.  I was so happy to be there.

Well, the aid station experience wasn't quite as great, but it wasn't anyone's fault.  There was a bunch of sloppy mud on both sides and everyone was doing their best not to fall in it.  The wind was blowing smoke from the fire pit in all directions.  A volunteer did his best to try to find my drop bag, and it turned out I had mislabeled it so I had to help find it.  OK, that was someone's fault, my own.  The grilled cheese sandwich was no longer hot.  Talk about first world problems.

Anyway, I wasn't quite as happy when I left there.  Actually, I was mostly wondering about the condition of the last 2.5 miles on trail to the turnaround.  Would it be another slippery mudfest that meant a painfully slow 5 miles?

I ran well down the hill, made another pit stop (hydration was one of my strong points in this race), worked around some large mud puddles, and greeted runners going the other way.  I saw our friend Tim pacing Tania who was looking great.  She would end up finishing 2nd place woman - way to go, Tania!

Tim told me he had seen John at the turnaround, good news!  More good news was that the Crawford trail was in great shape considering the rain.  It was only slightly wet here and there, a bit of vegetation and a few logs to climb over, but the surface was mostly easy to run on.  The trail wove around under one last amazing section of hoodoos, yay for hoodoos!

There were a few runners coming the other way but everyone was really friendly and accommodating to each other.  "Almost there, just around one more corner!"  And there was John, yay for John!

It was great chatting with him, finding out that The Wave was truly worth the drive and the run/hike to get there, telling him a couple of my stories while I updated clothing choices (long sleeve shirt, tights, change of socks).  We chatted about possible pacing he might do toward the end of the race the next morning.  What a joy to spend a couple minutes with my favorite guy, when I didn't know if he would be making the drive out there or not.  Thank you John, you're awesome!

That picked me up and the 2.5 miles back on the trail went by quickly.  One last look at the hoodoos in the fading light.  Still amazing.

It was a long climb back up to Pink Cliffs, a few runners were still heading the other way, and I think everyone still had plenty of time.  The race had very generous cut-offs, nice to not have to worry about that.  It was dark by the time I returned to the aid station.  The music was still loud, but the volunteers were wonderful and helpful and enthusiastic.  I had some broth with rice, got help with water in my bottle, and came away with a greater appreciation for everything they were doing there.

As I started down the other side, raindrops splattered here and there.  In just the short time since the previous rain storm, I could tell the trails and roads were draining well and drying out.  Except for the really muddy road around the Pink Cliffs aid station, that was still a mess.  It seemed like I should hurry down to the slippery, muddy trail section in case it was in better condition but about to get soaked again.

So I ran, it rained a bit, I ran some more, it rained a little harder but not bad.  By the time I got there the trail was indeed not quite as bad, except still a slide down into the field at the bottom.  Could be worse, for sure.  There was lightning going on in the distance in all directions it seemed, but we were spared any downpours.

Back to the Straight Canyon aid station where they were all set up to help folks.  Space heaters, hot broth, lots of chairs.  One volunteer basically attached herself to me and helped with everything I needed, which was just lovely, thank you.

I got out of there and started another long walk up a road, this one not as steep so I could run a few steps here and there.  My legs were doing great on anything downhill, flat, and gently uphill.  Steeper stuff was starting to wear me down.  Climbing the last part of the doubletrack up to the trail was slow.  I took shorter steps, trying to keep up a cadence at least.

I had been curious how the top trails held up in the wet, and was happy to find that they were in great shape.  There was only one section where I noticed it had turned into tacky mud.  For the most part you couldn't tell much of a difference from the first time through.  Excellent, one less thing.

I worked my way along the 2 miles of trail to the Kanab aid station.  Here the tent was warm, shared with a couple runners and two folks who were waiting for a ride out due to insufficient clothing.  I'm guessing they weren't the only ones to drop for that issue.  I repeated the "drink broth, change socks, fill a Spiz baggie" routine I was getting into, then left into the night for the next 8 miles on the plateau.

I had remembered this as a fun section on the way out.  It wasn't quite as fun on the way back, mostly because I didn't realize how much downhill there had been in the other direction.  It was a lot more work this way.  At least I could pick out a landmark here and there and had some idea where I was most of the time.  The 4 miles of trail was rather slow, but there was one highlight.  The moon had been in and out of the clouds, occasionally shining brightly above.  I noticed a spot where I could venture to the edge of the hoodoos (with only a couple steps and no climbing up to a ridge), right at the moment that the moon came out.  I went over and got a beautiful view of hoodoos in the moonlight.  Just lovely!

The road went fine (just more uphill than expected), then the last couple miles seemed to go on for way longer than I would have imagined.  I passed a couple guys who inquired if I knew how far to the aid station?  I told them my rough guess was less than a mile?  I think that was slightly optimistic, sorry guys.  We all got there eventually.

At Blubber Creek aid station I tested out the composting toilet (available at all aid stations).  It was a little tricky getting on and off the seat in the tiny toilet tent, but boy was it worth it.  No squatting, plenty of TP, topping everything off with a scoop of wood chips.  I imagine it looked pretty funny from the outside, with my headlamp shining every which way and lots of bumping into the tent walls.

The aid station tent (much larger than the toilet tent) was enclosed and toasty warm.  Every runner ordered hot broth, including me.  I did some more chatting here, mostly in relation to the upcoming Big Nine Mile section.  Everyone remembered it less-than-fondly.  One guy suggested maybe it wouldn't be as bad as we had all remembered?  That put me into a spate of laughter that turned into a coughing fit.  Well, we can always hope.  I was glad to have an extra Spiz baggie in my drop bag and that turned out to be helpful for fueling in the next long section.

OK, time to hit the trail again.  I was happy to have a trekking pole out of my drop bag, but could only really take one since I had forgotten that I need a Camelbak bottle system instead of a hand bottle to really make it work.  Plus I was relying on my handheld light, so I really didn't have an extra hand for a pole at all.  I made do by stashing my bottle for the downhills and then switching from the handheld light to my headlamp for the uphills.  Not real smooth but it worked alright.  The single pole was way better than no pole at all.

Down, down into the hoodoo amphitheater, through the challenging ditch, around and slowly up the steep sandy climb.  One small valley done.  Another drop and climb, more slow trudging on the uphill.  It turned out that the biggest challenge on the uphill wasn't really my leg strength.  It was overall exertion, a higher breathing rate, likely due partly to the altitude (around 8000-9000 feet for much of the time) and also just general fitness.  So my legs weren't that bad off, that was something positive.

Now the long steep drop straight down the drainage, there wasn't much speed involved here but no issues either, just being careful.  As I made my way up the gentle part of the main drainage it started getting on toward dawn.  Partway up the huge climb out I had a "sit and Spiz" breakfast break on a rock.  Another runner came upon me, stopped to make sure he was actually seeing a person (I assured him he wasn't hallucinating), and we said good morning.

Brian and his pacer passed me here as well, doing well Brian!  I dragged myself to the top of the col and did a bit of congratulating myself on making it.  Still no pains or challenges other than the slow climbing, and I was past the point of previous problems that seem to tend to occur starting at 75 miles.  If there was such as thing as a 75-mile race, I might actually be pretty good at it.  (?)

Happily, I was still running downhill just fine.  I repassed the guys from the uphill, made decent work of a couple small rises and across the big field, and found myself already in the long drainage leading toward Proctor.  It was a nice, smooth, lovely trail, what a gift for the morning.  I enjoyed that run, making it to the aid station and finally finding myself alone (besides the volunteers) at one.  The guys there were great but I mostly just wanted some water refills and then to get a move on.  I was back to strictly Spiz to finish out the thing, wanting to make sure my stomach stayed solid and happy.  One minor glitch was that my drop bag was wet inside (I must have been distracted by grilled cheese yesterday when I should have been sealing it better!).  Nothing ruined, just wet socks, but I didn't want to put my lights into a wet bag so I carried them a few more miles.

I made a valiant effort at a decent pace up the next climb but still had to stop for breath a couple times.  I decided to channel some mountaineering knowledge (what little I'm starting to obtain) and try a rest step climb.  That actually helped.  But probably looked a little silly and choppy.

I couldn't remember exactly how the next section went but I could remember a lot of the pieces in no particular order.  So I recognized each part as it came.  The ridiculously steep climb up out of a drainage happened pretty early, I was glad to get working on that.  It was probably the worst climb of the whole course, now that I'm looking back (at the time I was unsuccessfully trying not to think about the last giant hill of the race).  The three guys including Brian passed me back up here.  Yep, I'll get there eventually.

Finally at the top, then some nice running, back through the fields and woods, back to the great views of the Sunset Cliffs.  Both times we saw them at sunrise, but no course is perfect.  I thought I was getting close to the road/creek crossing, but first there were a bunch of innie/outies that were interminable.  Sure wish I had counted these!  I kept looking for the power line poles without the power lines.  Nope, not that spur.  Not that one either.  Argh.

I had planned to drink a serving of Spiz at the road, but I should have stopped for it earlier when I got hungry.  By the time I finally found the road I was starving.  I plopped down on the ground and finally refueled.  Brian came by again (I had passed him just recently) and remarked about not being able to wait for the aid station.  Nope, I'm hungry now!

That made it a lot easier to finish up this section, although I had to make one more stop to take off my poly pro and tights (seriously, I was hot now, couldn't wait). OK, now I'm moving toward the aid station again.  Just as I was about to arrive, there was John walking toward me!  Yay John!  I had told him at the turnaround that I might be able to keep an even pace for the 2nd half.  Well that was a silly idea, as I figured out not long after I had started back in this direction.  Happily the weather this morning was beautiful, John took his time coming toward me from the finish, and he had plenty of incredible scenery to keep him company.

I'm coming!

I sat in a chair in the shade, propped up my feet, and started working with my drop bag and feet.  I had plenty of items to drop off - lights, clothes, I'm finally going to ditch the jacket for the first time.  Big uphill coming, need to get rid of as much as possible.  My toe blisters had finally formed into something we could pop (vs. just hurting under the callous), so we gathered an alcohol wipe, a paper towel, and a pin from my race number to do the deed.  Much better!  John asked if the blisters had bothered me a lot, and I told him they weren't load-bearing so no, not too bad.

I was ready to tackle the next section, and it was great walking with John.  Mostly I wanted to hear about his Wave adventures and he was happy to oblige.  We meandered over to the bottom of Red Canyon and the huge remaining uphill, well OK, let's see how this goes.

John provided an entertaining distraction by running ahead with the camera, snapping pictures, trying different angles, talking about the hoodoos.  Still amazing and even more fun sharing them with John.  We took turns pointing out different parts of the scenery and I relayed my "you're either gawking or you're walking" motto.  I was slow on the climb but at least the ascent was in parts and I could catch a breather in between.  My legs were still decent, it was almost all breathing rate due to exertion.  Something I can work on this summer at higher altitudes and with some mountain climbing practice.

In the meantime, John played photographer extraordinaire for a few miles:

Love, love, love the background:

Yay for hoodoos!

I'm on the traverse, although the orange shirt helps me blend in:

Still walking, I think I'm gonna make it:

This part of the trail is so nice.  Not all of the trail is like this, just so you know.

Views all the way to the far hills and down to the roads:

We saw a few runners from the shorter courses coming through, a few 50K'ers and half-marathoners, I think.  It was fun cheering for them.  John took pictures for a couple of the half-marathoners with the hoodoos.  He took a detour over to Inspiration Point and then ran to catch back up.  He stayed busy as I made my way up the long hill.

Finally at the top!

From there it was another 4-ish miles of trail that weaves in and out, around and this way and that.  My memorization attempt did help and I was patient with all the snake-iness of the trail.  And actually, I was running OK on the downhills, nothing to write home about but it was real running.  That was truly satisfying.  It also helped the time go by faster getting to the finish line.  Last couple short uphills, almost there!  Right near the end I passed a guy who had passed me a few miles ago, and I offered that we could run across the finish line together.  And then we were done!

As you might have figured out, I really enjoyed this race.  The scenery was spectacular, the volunteers were top-notch, the course was challenging but in a good way, and the race organization is doing some great things.  They are focused on zero-waste, including composting (food and human waste), recycling, and reusing almost all of the trash.  The event is no-nonsense and low-key but well-run.  Kudos to ya!

Big thank you to John for helping me out and not minding my crazy longer-distance goals.

And thank you to Bryce for being so beautiful!

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