Friday, July 1, 2016

Bryce Canyon 100 Mile Race Report 2016. 84 mile DNF.

Wow, what a trip!  I have to say that Bryce Canyon, and all of the beautiful land around it, including Zion National Park, is some of the most awe inspiring terrain I have had the privilege to experience.  My family and I had yet another great road trip to see something completely new and I am so happy we did it.  It has been a great blessing that the fam has been so enthusiastic about supporting me on these big running goals of mine, and it is even better that we can turn it into a great family experience where cool family memories and bonding experiences can be forged.

Why Bryce Canyon 100?  For me, a big part of what I get out of this silly hobby of mine is that I get to explore new places.  The most inspirational runs I have had have been where I planned a route through new terrain.  There is something that is motivating when you are absorbing views in a fresh way.  I even get a little bit of that when I run the same trails that always run on my home mountain, but the seasons have changed, or the light is different, or I am at a different place in my head when I am out there - the best runs happen when you feel just a little bit of mystery about what's around the next corner...  Bryce represented that new terrain that begged to be explored.

I have to say I felt really confident about my fitness going into the race.  Training was solid for the past, well, couple of years really.  I don't know if we can really call it training.  I just run a lot.  Anyways, I had pretty high hopes for doing well at this race.  As race day approached, and I started to get the first forecasts for the weather, I think I did start to try and reset my hopes a little bit.  It was predicted to be quite warm.  Turned out it was record warm, but I was even prepared for that!  I actually did a little bit of heat training this year.  I put on my black long sleeves and did some Mission Peak repeats in 80 - 90 degree heat in mid-day.  It nearly killed me.  But I do think it contributed to me getting through the day at Bryce.  Also, I threw out my back trying to tie my shoes one morning in the week leading up to the race.  The back never got the rest that it needed due to time and travel, and all of that, so on race morning I actually had to wake up my wife at 4:50 a.m. to put my socks and shoes on because I couldn't reach my feet.  Good idea to go run 100 miles with 20,000 ft of climbing?  Maybe not, but it isn't a good idea in any circumstance, so who's keeping score anyways.

Then the guy said go!

The race started with some really nice rolling single track through the forest.

Then we had a big downhill through the "hoodoos"  Those are the geological formations that this park is famous for: rock spires with irregular weathering patterns.

As we descended the early morning sun started to light up the landscape below us.

Some really "flowey" singe track.

Now we are running along the base of the plateau (we started on top of it).

Bonus miles.  As tends to happen at these things, someone missed a flag, and the rest of us followed that person like sheep and we all ended up getting a couple of bonus miles early in the race - at least it was pretty bonus miles.

As I was leaving Proctor Aid station - I felt compelled to get a shot of their impressive setup.  They really do put on a professional event at Bryce.

Kinda pretty.

The 9 mile section between Proctor and Bubbler was described in the manual as "rugged".  It lived up to this billing.  Quite steep and technical in places and it brought us back up to the top of the plateau.

Bubbler aid station.  I gave all these poor souls a tough time for taking a seat at the aid station.  That 9 mile section, combined with the rising heat, really sucked it out of us runners, but if I'm feeling half-way decent I feel obliged to talk as much trash as possible.

The next rolling section along the rim was incredible.  A fantastic tour of what this place has to offer.  It was also really exposed and hot, and at 8500 ft.  I was in full coverage and had ice in my hat and ice around my neck, so I actually felt ok.

Hilarious that youtube chose to grab my goofy face out of all of the time slices to show at startup.

This young man (sorry I forgot your name) helped me at Kebab aid station.   I had to have him stash my broken hiking poles in my aid bag.  Unfortunate happening in that last section:  I was happy as a kid in a candy store - pushing myself along with my trusty hiking poles when the unthinkable happened.  One of the poles just snapped.  For no apparent reason.  So that makes it official - I can no longer recommend black diamond Z-poles to anybody.  They are pieces of junk.  That is pair number two that have done that to me.  I will tell you something else:  It is tough to adjust your mindset when you had planned to use this incredible piece of equipment through the whole race (I am a 100% believer in hiking poles being a performance(and therefore fun) enhancer at these events) and in an instant having to wrap your brain around a new reality.
Cruising down a valley from the Plateau to Straight Canyon Aid station at the bottom.

I had no idea that my wife had planned this awesome set-up for me down at Straight Canyon  (mile 41)- she put a lot of thought into what might lift my spirits!  There was a neat selection of drinks and food and a shady seat surrounded by my favorite people!

After leaving my family down at Straight, I had the biggest climb of the day awaiting me as I ascended up to the "Pink Cliffs".  The climb was a long and gradual dirt road until we hit some flags that pointed us straight up.  This was a fun steep little sucker punch.  After topping out we were greeted with these views.

Video at the "Pink Cliffs"

Views of the cliffs as I descended to the turn-around point at Crawford Pass.

Once again my family got me fueled up and on my way.  This time I left the camera with Joanne since the sun was starting to go down and I had already seen the whole course and gotten all of the pics.  Now it was just a matter of retracing my steps through the night and get this thing done!

Joanne seemed worried about me at the turn-around.  I got there with 12.5 hrs elapsed - which for me seemed about right for the conservative approach I took during the heat.  I knew, in all likelihood I was not going to negative split this thing or anything - I have learned that I always slow down during the night.  Joanne thought I looked pretty worked-over.  She asked me how I felt and I told her I was exhausted.  She started to go into sympathetic mode, and I decided I better get out of there!

The climb back up to the pink cliffs was rough.  I was exhausted.  But the sun was starting to go down and I held out hopes that the cooler air would bring some pep back to my step!  As I ran down to Straight Canyon I started loosing sunlight and I immediately started feeling better.  There is something about this time of day that seems to always give me energy.  I started passing people again and then rolled into the aid station ready to prepare for the dark.  To my surprise, Joanne and the kids were there to greet me.  Keep in mind, this is way past the kids bedtime, and I was totally expecting them to get checked into the hotel for that night and see them the next morning.  Turns out, Joanne had taken a vote in the car about whether to see if daddy was still ok at Straight, and with a 4-1 outcome (what kid doesn't want to stay up past their bedtime?) they decided to come see me.  Joanne later explained that she thought she was going to give me a ride back to the hotel from Straight, lol.  She was delightfully surprised to see me in high spirits and giddy.  I got out my flashlight, kissed the family goodbye(goodnight) and headed back up to the plateau.

There is something special about the highs and lows you go through at this distance.  It is incredibly empowering to know that you can bounce back from lows and that it doesn't always get worse.  It is a testament to the human bodies incredible resilience.  I rolled into Kebab aid station ready for some broth and coke - the standard for this point in the race.  I had been paying attention to a nagging issue with my appetite for the last few hours.  I noticed I was less likely to drink or eat a gel while I was running - it just made me feel like I wasn't going to be able to keep it down.  Sitting down and chilling out and having broth and coke seemed to help.  The next section was a long blur - but I was actually making pretty good time.  I was calculating that if I could keep up my current pace I might still be faster than 25 hrs, which would have been great from where I was sitting just earlier in the day.  By the time I got to Bubbler the tiredness started to settle in though.  I got my broth and coke, and then headed out for the "rugged" 9 mile section to Proctor.  I ate another gel in this section, but wasn't getting any energy.  I was just staggering up the climbs at this point.  On one steep section I actually laid down on the trail and then continued to barf up the meager contents of my stomach.  There in front of me I saw the undigested gel, just sitting in the dirt.  I realized my stomach wasn't processing anything.  Not good.  I continued to stumble through the section, but the climbs took forever!  I finally made it down to Proctor Aid station with full intention of trying to get myself back warmed up again (I wasn't moving fast enough to keep warm anymore - that record heat during the day - yeah, it went down to the 30s at night!)  I got some broth, but took one sip - realizing that anymore was going to come right back up again.  I had to take it easy for a while and see if I could get my stomach back.  I drapped a sleeping bag over me and then promptly passed out (it was about 3:30 a.m.  -that 9 mile section took me over 3 hours!)  I woke up a little later - realized that I still couldn't eat anything and then decided to crawl into the sleeping bag on a cot, thinking that some sleep my reset my systems or something.  I was way ahead of cut-offs and didn't have to worry about any of that, so I literally had all the time in the world to try and fix this.  I woke up with first light - about 5:30 a.m. I tried to eat - but the stomach wouldn't have it.  I know I could have crawled it in for the finish: Proctor is at mile 84 - just 16 more miles!  But I didn't have the will-power for it.  If I couldn't eat then I had no energy and the climbs would have been miserable.  I informed the aid station of my choice to DNF and then got a fortunate ride back to the hotel from some other crew members.

I suppose if circumstances would have been different, I might have decided to gut it out.  For instance, if I had never been able to do it before.  But I have done it several times now and didn't have the interest.  I don't feel any regret about quitting - I was actually quite relieved.  A DNF is a failure to do what I set out to do - but really, I think I did accomplish so much on this trip that even that couldn't deflate me too much.  I really hope I learn something from these things though.  What led to my stomach issues?  That is a tough one to diagnose.  My guess right now is that I was just stuffing too much food in my face early in the race - and that combined with the heat(blood being prioritized for body cooling as opposed to digestion duties), might have fatigued my digestive system (if such a thing can happen.  I was pretty sure my digestion system was unfatigueable - I have for instance, consumed 12 stakes in one sitting at a western sizzler buffet before)  Maybe next time in that situation I will try and hold off on my aid station smorgasborging.

What's next?  Joannes trail marathon!  That's right, my wife and my sister hatched this crazy plan over Christmas to run our local Skyline to the Sea point to point trail marathon with something like 2500 ft of climbing, 5000 ft of down...It is going to be epic.

I am also taking a bit of an off-season right now - sleeping in, doing noon-time runs, staying away from long runs.  Basically taking it easy for a while.  But I do have plans.  I want to get a little more pep back into my ultra-step, so late summer and fall will see me getting ready for the Quicksilver Challenge half marathon (I haven't done a trail half in like 2.5 years!).  Considering all of the volunteer hours that I have put in for the club and at that park it seems crazy that I haven't ever run a race at Quicksilver.  So I am going to pop that cherry!  Then I am going to lace up the trail shoes for the quad-Dipsea!  I am really looking forward to finding out if I can finally prepare correctly for that race and give it an honest go.

I also hope to get out to the Sierra a couple of times for some backpacking.  I believe my brother is visiting in September and I have always wanted to show him those mountains, so hopefully something can work out there.

Exciting things to come!