A Little Bit Ambitious: Bryce 100 Miler Attempt

A Little Bit Ambitious: Bryce 100 Miler Attempt

I am sure you can tell by the title that I DNF’d Bryce 100. DNF is an acronym that none of us want to experience. I wish I could say it was my first or that it would for sure be my last, but no one ever plans for it. Regardless, I enjoyed my time running in a gorgeous location. It was my second race with the Vacation Races organization, but definitely won’t be my last. 

I was impressed with how they dealt with the coronavirus concerns. They had a drive through packet pick up and drop bag drop off. They disseminated the race guide online. They limited pacers and crew in the 50 miler and 100 miler to 1 person and issued them a bib. If someone was helping a runner without a bib, their runner would be disqualified. They also limited crew to only 5 locations. All staff wore masks and gloves. Aid station food was limited to pre-packaged items such as Cheez-its, trail mix, Rice Krispie treats, fruit strips, small bottles of pickle juice, etc. The times I asked for and received ice, volunteers used gloves and scooped it with a cup. It all seemed very well contained and exceptionally sanitary. They had a rolling start from 5am-6am for the 100 miler and people socially distanced greatly at the start. 

I lined up at 5am and took off with plenty of space around me. Living at 500’ elevation, I knew I needed to be conservative. I hadn’t adequately prepared for this race, signing up only 10 days earlier. Plus, I only started running 3 months ago after 18 months of not running, and was really more in marathon shape than 100 mile shape. However, I was optimistic that my three 20+ milers, positive attitude, and muscle memory would get me to the end.  The start begins at ~7300’ and gradually goes uphill for about 2 miles. The climb felt gentle, but it immediately felt hard to breathe. I slowed myself down and even walked a little in the first mile to get my heart rate and breathing to slow down.

We hit Proctor Aid Station and turned left to climb another 1.7, which was steeper. I knew we had 7 miles of downhill after that, so I tried to relax and not get in a hurry. As we got closer to the top, the sun was rising and we were on the edge of the trail. I was glad we weren’t going to be coming down this later. The course was essentially a 35 mile loop with an out and back to a turnaround at mile 67. It was already pretty and I smiled, happy to be running in such a beautiful place. I got to the top of the climb, put my headlamps in the back of my Nathan vest and was on my way. 

Heading downhill and flat for the next 7 miles made it easier to breathe and I got into a relaxed rhythm. We ran though some beautiful forested dirt roads. Occasionally I would chat with one or two people nearby. I met Jeremy from Las Vegas who loves to do a bunch of adventure running. I asked what some of his favorite places to run.  He told me about a 20 mile out and back that was supposed to be a cool run he described as a hybrid between Bryce and Zion. I also picked his brain on the best way to do Rim to Rim to Rim. I didn’t want to forget what he told me. So, I took out my phone and talk texted a “note” so I wouldn’t forget. The start was cool, in the upper 50’s, but was warming up. I rolled through the water only stop at mile 10.7, knowing I would meet Mike for the first time in 2.4 miles. I was peeing more frequently than a usual race, but it the color was just right. I was making sure I drank more given the altitude, but never felt like I over did it. My stomach was good and I was taking my nutrition consistently. I saw Mike and traded packs. I ditched my headlamps for my hat and sunglasses and asked him to have my ice bandana ready when I saw him again at the 19.4 mile aid station.

 

I headed out onto an exposed fire road and within a mile thought I should have taken my ice bandana. It was getting hot quickly. I had a flask filled with water that I dumped on my head, which helped to cool me down. We ran up through a campground where there were several cars driving towards us, many not slowing down and kicking up a lot of dust. I put my shirt up over my mouth and nose to prevent from inhaling dust several times, adding to my breathing/altitude challenge, but I wasn’t deterred. I was having fun briefly chatting with people, and feeling lucky to be out there RUNNING!. I came into the next aid station as my watch beeped mile 20. I heard another person’s watch beep and asked him if his watch said 20 miles. He said yes, that each of the aid stations were about .6 miles long thus far. I made a mental note that the I might need to run a little farther than my watch said to get to each aid stations. Mike was ready with my pack. We loaded ice in my hat and ice bandana, and he handed me some BBQ pringles. I thanked him and told him I loved him and was off again. I wouldn’t see him again for ~9 more hours if I stayed on schedule. He wouldn’t be able to crew me again until the aid station at mile 57.4. 

I knew the next section was supposed to have the best scenery on the course and I WAS NOT DISAPPOINTED! Warning…lots of pictures below 🙂 I couldn’t help snapping picture after picture, reminding myself to enjoy the day and take all the pictures I wanted. I knew I wasn’t in shape to “race” and purposely brought my phone so I wouldn’t get too serious. I usually don’t race with my phone, but was glad I had it at Antelope Canyon and knew Bryce was supposed to be amazing too. Plus, I LOVE taking photos. I was ~ 5 hours into the race when I hit many of the major hoodos. I stopped to take  A LOT of pictures, as well as pause and take it all into view.

I am still so in awe that I am back out here running after all I have gone through in the last two years. I lost a little time in this section according to my “pull numbers out of thin air schedule” that I had with me and had given to Mike as an estimate of when I’d arrive at various aid stations. I got to a water stop at 27.4, took off my shirt, putting it in my hat with my ice bandana and soaking them with water. It helped immensely. At this point, I had been going back and forth with 2 guys from St. Louis (Ed) and Oklahoma (Tony). They were friends who traveled to run races together, but ran it at their own paces. They were never really together, but never very far apart. I leap frogged with them a bunch from mile 25-52, so we enjoyed chatting and joking a bit. I texted Mike that I was ~15 minutes behind due to my photo stops and getting wet at the water stop. 

It cooled me down and I was still smiling and enjoying the day. I hadn’t even gotten my iPod out, which was unusual for me. I often start listening to music with 2-3 hours into a race. 2 miles later, I came into Hillsdale where I had my first drop bag. I got my nutrition out of it, and grabbed some individually packaged Cheez-It’s and a fruit strip. I had been peeing a little more, and I knew it would be good to slow down on fluids for a mile or so and get in a little salt. It worked perfectly. Things evened out and I was doing a great job with nutrition and fluid balance. It was high altitude for me and hotter than I’ve been in for a long time. I felt good about how I was maintaining everything and feeling good. 

At 35.4, I rolled into Proctor Aid Station and re-iced. I grabbed another fruit strip, some pickle juice, and filled my flask. I didn’t add more water to my pack because I planned to stop in 3 miles and fill up before the hardest climb on the course (a Bryce 100 veteran told me earlier in the day). Around mile 38, we got to a split in the trail, a “T” of sorts. Another runner from the 50k? was coming down from the left, heading back to Proctor on the way to the finish. I looked to the left and saw a sign facing us that said “wrong way”. I looked to the right and saw a sign that said “100” with an arrow that pointed right. I was looking for the water, but wasn’t worried because aid stations had been .6 miles long all day. I got to 39, 40, and started heading down. The water stop was supposed to be at the top of a climb and I was heading down. I started getting worried. It was 1.5 miles past. I was out of water in my pack and had maybe 4 oz. left in my flask. A runner past me and I asked him if he had seen the water. He said no. I was out of water. I knew I missed it. There was no way the mileage was that far off. I started climbing up to Blubber Aid Station (mile 45). It was a hard climb. I took pictures of a technical look down and up the climb (I think pictures never do a climb justice).

Looking down the trail part way up the climb

 

Looking up the climb which I had to scramble up a bit

It was hard, especially since I have been running relatively flat roads for 3 months. The longer I climbed, the more slowly I went. I was hoping someone would come by and could give me a couple of ounces of water. I sat on a rock for a couple of minutes to catch my breath on the climb.

It’s all fun and games until you run out of water

While I was there, I got out my phone and texted Mike I was out of water and was struggling. I wanted to let him know my “schedule” would be waaayyy off. I texted that there was nothing I could do but keep going and that I would need to take extra time and regroup when I got to the next aid station. I kept hiking. I was sooooo slow. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen another soul since the guy past me around mile 40. I was out of nutrition until I remembered the 2 emergency Jolly Ranchers I had in my pocket, stashed in case I got nauseous and couldn’t eat anything. I sucked on them for calories and to moisten my mouth which was dry. I just trudged along counting down the miles for which seemed like an eternity. It briefly started to rain. I opened my flask and held it into the sky, and stuck out my tongue with my mouth gaping open hoping for water. Nope, it was too short lived. At one point, I came upon a shallow creek. I stood there, debating whether it would be safe to drink or not. I decided against it, knowing there was “safe water” at Blubber. Blubber aid station was at mile 45, which I figured would be at about 45.6 on my Garmin. I just needed to keep plugging along. Eventually my Garmin beeped 45 miles and a runner finally came up from behind me. I was a little dizzy by now. I asked him if he saw the water. He said yes, that it was to the left “off course”, but he knew there were about 6 guys behind us who had missed it too. I told hime I had been out of water for 2 hours and felt wrecked. He told me he felt like crap at Proctor and was going to call his wife to tell her he was dropping, but he didn’t have phone signal. He sat there for awhile, regrouped and had rebounded. He told me I could do the same. I told him thanks for the pep talk and we got to Blubber AS together. The aid station workers asked how I was doing and I told them I missed the water stop. They said they had heard that most of runners had missed it. They said it had been placed in the wrong location and had called to notify the RD’s. I guzzled down a bunch of water and went to access my 2nd drop bag. There were already 5 runners at the aid station. Three people in chairs and two people sitting on the ground. There were no more empty chairs. A guy got up and told me I could have his chair. He said he had been there for awhile. I thanked him and sat down. 4-5 more people came into the aid station. Most everyone but the guy who saw the water looked wrecked. My Midwest friends Ed and Tony came in shortly after me and wanted to sit. Finally an aid station worker came up with 3 more chairs. I  moved mine into the shade. I scarfed down a blueberry Nutrigrain bar and half a banana. I got my shirt wet again to cool down. After I put it back on, I got kind of chilled. It was breezy up here on the ridge. I decided to get up and get going so I wouldn’t get too cold. I just started walking and eating more Cheez-it. There were beautiful views on the ridge, so I stopped to take pictures again.

The air dried my shirt quickly and my temperature I wasn’t cold anymore. I thought I had walked enough and started to try to run again. The area was runnable and I knew I should get going again. Multiple times, I started to run, and my legs just felt utterly fatigued. I couldn’t get them to turn over. Oh well, keep walking. I thought that maybe I just needed a little more time and my running legs would come back. I walked and took pictures. I texted Mike that I was now an hour and 40 minutes behind and was worried I’d wouldn’t get to him at 57.4 in time get my headlamps before dark. I had originally “planned” to get to him by 6:30/7:00pm and sunset was at 8:37pm. I could always use my phone light worst case. This was a fantastic section for running. I am a terrible climber and LOVE to run. I kept trying to run the flats and gentle downs, but my legs wouldn’t go. I wasn’t sure if I just hadn’t rebound from the dehydration, or if the altitude was getting to me or if I was just way over my head fitness-wise. Maybe it was a combo of all 3. Regardless, there was nothing to do but slog along walking, enjoying views, and taking pictures. I knew I would be in trouble if I couldn’t get my legs going again. I did the math: 50 miles @ ~20minutes/miler. (17-ish hours of walking, which was a daunting thought). Then, I heard a rumbling. It was thunder and it was close. Oh no. I just got comfortable and my shirt had finally dried out. It looked like a small dark section in the sky. I was on top of a ridge with no place to hide and all of the sudden, a downpour hit me! 3-5 minutes of hard rain fell from the sky. It was just long enough to soak me. I tried to run, thinking what better motivation than the thought of hypothermia. The rain was soooo cold. Still, my legs wouldn’t go. Thankfully, the rain was short lived again. I plodded along. I was 50 miles in with 3 more miles to go to the next aid station. If I couldn’t get my legs to go before then, there was no point continuing. We had 36 hours to finish, but I didn’t have anything to prove. I REALLY had hoped to finish. I had some clothes to stay warm, but not enough if I couldn’t run at all the last 50 miles. It was getting cooler quickly especially since I was still a little wet. 

My friend Tony from Oklahoma caught up with me again. I asked Tony about his friend Ed. Tony said he wasn’t sure if Ed would go any further. Ed reportedly had his head was in his hands when Tony left him at Blubber aid station. Ed reported to Tony that it hurt being out of water and that he needed some “real food” instead of the “snacks” from the aid stations. The aid station food were prepackaged snacks for COVID precautions, but many had hoped for something hot and of more substance, like individually packaged ramen, mac & cheese, or instant potatoes in a cup. There were Uncrustables, but otherwise not much of substance. Tony and I walked along. He told me that he also felt uber fatigued and couldn’t run. He talked about us being from the Midwest and that our hot climates usually enable us to heat train, which often gives us a little bit of an equalizer with altitude situations. I agreed, but neither us had hot enough weather to get heat training. Plus, I only signed up for this race 10 days ago. I told him I planned on getting to the next aid station and dropping if I could get a ride to my husband. I told him I’d be in the dark for sure without a headlamp if I had to get to mile 57.4 aid station. Tony planned to get to 57.4 by no later than 7:30pm, but was smart and put his lights in his Blubber AS bag. He said since we were in the same situation, we could hike together until 57.4 and I could tuck in behind him, using his headlamp. I thanked him and said I would see once we got to 52.4. He said he wasn’t going to quit. He wanted to keep his no DNF streak going and wanted to get his Western States qualifier done. We both thought there was enough time to walk it in within the 36 hour cut-off. The three miles we walked together to 52.4 was a bright spot in a rough situation. I love Ultra running for many reasons, but the camaraderie and the people make it the sport it is. We talked about our favorite 100 milers and which ones we had done. After all, we at least an hour to chat, walking ~20 minutes/mile. We stopped twice to look at more gorgeous views and of course I took pictures of the pastel pink hoodos.

We got to 52.4 and Tony waited an extra minute to make sure I could get a ride to meet my husband. Once he knew I could get a ride, he took off. What a great guy, I thought! I waited for a little bit, as it was difficult to get signal in the remote location. The aid station workers found out it would be an hour before someone could get me, so one of them offered to drive me down to 57.4.  A few minutes later, I hopped in the truck and headed down to the aid station where my husband was waiting. 

At the end of the day, I know it was the right decision. Whether it was my fitness, the altitude, or being dehydrated in the heat of the day, (or maybe a combination of all three things), I knew walking 50 more miles wouldn’t tell me anymore about my knee. One of the goals I had going into the 100 miler was to see if my knee could take 100 miles of pounding. I know that I need to regroup and get fitter before I jump into anything else. I have missed ultra running and tried to do too much too soon. 100 miles is no joke and I didn’t give it credit when I signed up for it. I also did NO specific training for this race. I made lots of mistakes and got a reality check of my fitness. However, I enjoyed the day for the most part! I got to RUN in one of my favorite places, meet some new people, and participate in an ACTUAL race! All in all, it was TOTALLY WORTH IT!

Antelope Canyon 50 miler mug and Bryce Canyon 50 miler bowl (you get to chose between a cool medal or pottery)…loved that even though I got a DNF, I got a 50 miles of credit with this gorgeous piece of pottery 🙂