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Bryce Canyon 100 Mile Race Report

Updated: Jun 20, 2021

Three weeks ago today I toed the line for my first in person 100 mile trail race Near Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. I took the training and preparation For this race seriously and for once showed up to the starting line feeling ready.

I usually pay no attention to course maps and elevation profiles because I don’t like to psyche myself out. But I knew this race had to be different, so I studied and prepped like I had a big exam. I had the course totally memorized and had thought through everything I would eat, drink, wear, and do during the day. I had written out explicit plans for my crew so that no one had to use any energy thinking— they knew what I needed and how I needed it. I’ve also never had a crew and pacer for a race before, so it felt both strange and wonderful to have other people taking care of me. I felt really vulnerable letting other people be so intimately involved in my planning and process. Failure would be very public.We sat together and went through all of my gear and food, like a dress rehearsal for the main event.

Woke up at 3:30 am with the plan to leave a little after 4 for the 30+ minute drive to the start. I don’t like having much time waiting at the start of events so we planned just enough time for me to use the port a potty one last time which allowed me to eat and drink on the drive. Because it was so early my brain and body did NOT want to eat but I managed to force down about 200 calories of waffles and peanut butter and that felt like enough. The drive ended up taking longer than the day before because of the everyone going at once- I was thankful Marcella had us leave early.

The start was DUSTY with people coughing all around. I was happy to have my buff, which I used especially at the beginning when the 225 runners starting together kicked up even more dust on Proctor Rd. The initial climb was easier and more runnable than anticipated and I made a concerted effort to ignore what everyone around me was doing. I knew I wanted to take it nice and slow but I also trusted my body and ran loose and easy. The second climb— from Proctor to Blue Fly was actually more technical and much steeper. Hiking the climbs began right about here.

From Blue Fly I met and ran with another woman for the next 10 miles or so as we ran to our crew at mile 14. It was so amazing to see Marcella ready and waiting for me with a plate of snacks all laid out. I was able to go to the bathroom, chug Nuun, eat some treats and hit the road. An aid station volunteer told me I was in 3rd and I tried to pretend like I didn’t hear him and allowed myself to consider that he could be wrong. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, especially knowing how many miles were still ahead of me.

This section would have been pretty rough at a hotter time of the day or if I was alone—- those long stretches of double track dirt that seem to stretch for miles. I’ve had sections like this in most ultras I’ve done and those miles can be lonely and long, but with a trail friend to chat with the miles actually flew by. Eventually we ended up doing our own thing, but I’m so grateful I had her company in those early miles. There was a long, exposed road up to the next aid station where I would see Marcella for the last time for nearly 40 miles. I came in and was pumped to see her but there was a long walk to the bathroom from her. I dropped my stuff and took off. When I came back to her we switched me from a handheld to a full pack. She gave my my poles, covered me in sunscreen, and loaded me up with calories and nutrition to get me through the next 10 hours.

The next section of the course was absolutely beautiful. This is when we ran by the classic Bryce landscape of Hoodoos and sandy switchbacks. It was hard to not stop and take a picture every two seconds. Especially because we were so spaced out at this point. There was some leap frogging as folks felt more or less comfortable running up hills. Also around this section we were on the course with people from other distances. I thought it might be disheartening to see people who “got” to do a much shorter distance than me but instead it was invigorating because they seemed genuinely stoked to see a 100 miler in the wild. This section was also really hot and I found myself beginning to worry about the heat of the day since it was still relatively early. This was a very exposed portion of the race, so nothing was protecting us from the sun

I had decided to use a bladder instead of two soft flasks because I hate the way empty soft flasks can jostle. I had my soft flasks packed in my bag for when I began the big climb— the plan was to fill them up with electrolytes for the climbs if the day got hot. But during this portion I was so frustrated with the bladder it was taking up mental energy and away from my task at hand. I had to open and close the bite valve or water would leak all over me. But opening the bite valve with trekking poles in my hand was tedious and time consuming. As a result I wasn’t drinking the water I knew I should be. So when I pulled into the next aid station I switched to the soft flasks (so glad they were in my pack!) and ignored the bladder.

I was able to eat as the day went on and that was making me feel good. Normally I struggle with nausea and fueling and it can derail my race. 8 hours seems to be about the time my body starts to fall apart. As the hours ticked by and I saw 9 and 10 hours on my watch, I was filled with self belief and relief knowing that even if I did end up feeling sick, I had gotten a lot of feel good hours at the beginning!

At this point I am hardly seeing anyone at all. We are finally out of the sun and in the woods. I like that the twists and turns keep my brain engaged, but this was hard. As I descended from the water station to began the big climb up to Blubber Creek I started to worry about how difficult things were going to be on the way back. At this point everything else would pretty much be out and back, so everything I was seeing I would see again in the opposite direction. I knew the tricky, steep descent I was navigating was going to be rough when it was uphill at mile 98.

The climb up to Blubber was so technical and steep. I had no choice but to put my head down and hike— there was no way I was running. I kept worrying about my pacer— this section will be so hard later when she is with me, I hope she’s not mad! When I popped out into the aid station I saw a group of men sitting in chairs looking like death warmed over. All the people who had seemed so far away when I was back in the woods by myself were suddenly right there. I realized people weren’t as far away as they seemed. I kept my stop brief, decided I didn’t need anything in my drop bag and just ate some snacks at the aid station. The volunteers told me there were about 35 people in front of me and I was 4th or 5th woman. I was a little disappointed even though I had been trying not to think about it, I had thought I was in 3rd and didn’t know when anyone had passed me. But whatever, I felt strong and like I was doing as well as I could do. It didn’t change anything about my effort. Out I went.

I knew at this point it was 8 miles to the next aid station and from there it was downhill to my crew! I was so focused on getting to them that I felt energized. I ended up running with a man from New Mexico for a while and we just chatted about work and life. A few of us leap frogged between the two aid stations. I enjoyed this section because of the beautiful views and allowed myself to snap some pictures. Once I really felt the downhill begin I leaned into it and let my feet carry me to the aid station. I was so excited to see Lara’s bright jacket from the distance and excitedly ran right to her.

Instantly I was warning her about the section I had just finished— you need to know that tonight is going to be REALLY hard! I told them I knew I wasn’t going to place and so I wanted to focus on resting, but they both told me I looked strong and should just keep going. Marcella swapped my packs to get rid of the bladder and have a dry pack instead of the sweaty one I had on . She wanted me to put my long sleeved on because we were just about an hour from sunset, but I was too warm. We put my waist lamp on but not turned on, headlamp and long sleeved in my pack. I absolutely hate stopping while I’m running and try to keep everything as accessible as possible. I ran from them knowing only 10 more miles until I see them again and 20 more until I got a pacer. The ladies were so efficient at moving me through the aid station that other teams would compliment them— and later ask them for advice (which they shared, and when that runner successfully finished, his crew was thankful for my crew. That’s the magic of the trail running world!!)

Best Crew Captain ever!

I was able to do the 5 mile climb to the high point before the sun set. I put on my headlamp and long sleeved and prepared mentally for the night which was suddenly very much there. This was an out and back section, some runners were headed back from the aid station and it was good to see them and know I was going the right way. Lights behind me and ahead of me seemed so far away and the 5 mile descent was lonely and long. I came into this aid station with a lot less energy than the earlier ones! I was hungry and cold. My crew had hot broth and mashed potatoes waiting. They wrapped me in a blanket and layers, put a hat on my head and fed me. I went to the bathroom and when I stood up I collapsed from the pain in my sciatic nerve. They came over and helped carry me to our crew spot and rubbed my legs, retied my shoes and got my body ready to go. I was there about 10 minutes and headed back out.

Now is the back portion of the 60ish mile out and back, and this 10 mile portion involved going back up to the high point and down to Straight Canyon Aid. Something about the darkness made it more intense, and seeing the other runners on their way out was eye opening. Many people would end up dropping at the aid station I just left. While many people looked strong, it was obvious the night and the cold were impacting some runners. Folks were shivering or doubled over and getting sick. Other women runners seemed genuinely excited to see me and told me I was doing well and their enthusiasm helped me. I still felt strong but also it was hard to pass people who are hurting. People would ask “how far” and I hated to answer. There’s so little we can do for each other and my offers of layers or GI medicines were rejected.

This portion of the night was probably the longest. Except for the people I passed in the opposite direction, I was completely alone. I had a pain in my right foot that was bothersome and I thought was from the tongue of my shoe, but I couldn’t get it sorted out. I started to hallucinate a little with my headlamp casting strange shadows on the ground and the wind making those shadows move— my mind started to see things and my body was reacting out of fear. Though I had started this section with a hat and gloves, I had ditched them both early after I left the aid station and my body heated up from moving. Now I needed them desperately— the temp plummeted on the descent —but they were in my pack. The risk of stopping and taking my pack off (and freezing in the process) seemed too big… so I just kept going. When I approached (by walking… definitely didn’t run into this one !) the next aid station— the first thing I said was “I’m freezing and I need to get warm.”

Sure enough my team already had a hot cup of tea waiting for me. I chugged that, ate some nasty cold mashed potatoes and put on all my warm layers. I really thought I had overpacked, but at the end of the day I was SO thankful for my layers! I was learning that the longer I stayed still a) the colder I got and b) the angrier my stomach got, so Lara and I hit the trails for the last 25ish miles!

Lara had never paced before but I knew she had all of the necessary pacing skills— and I was right! We took it just like a usual Saturday— chatting and singing and laughing. I knew she was excited about seeing the stars so I was so happy to remind her to look up when we got away from the busy-ness of the aid stations. My foot was still bothering me and we realized that my ankles had been rubbed pretty raw by that point. Lara covered them with Body Glide— a helpful moment I would forget for a few days and then later remember with a lot of gratitude. I also began struggling to eat at this point (about mile 80) and ended up throwing up some Pringles. We switched to just eating Life Savers at that point and Lara just kept handing them to me to make sure there was always some sugars in me.

The climbing was no joke. One young man and his pacer passed us, but otherwise we were all alone. The moon was big and full and I kept thinking someone with a headlamp was coming from behind us, but no. We watched the sun rise and Lara could finally see the beautiful rock formations I had seen the night before. We snapped pictures and expressed joy and gratitude for the experience of witnessing a sunrise in such a beautiful place. My watch died and I didn’t even care. I wish I had the whole event captured but I know I did it so that is all that matters.

I was very happy to have somme pep in my step and still be able to run a lot in the last hours of the race. Lara and I talked about my mental strategies and mantras that had been helping me throughout the day. She was listening and would remind me of them later as I needed them. I was so happy to have someone else looking for the next pink flag. They seemed so far a part i kept worrying I was lost. Phrases like “relentless forward progress “ or “the only way out and through” were loud in my head especially during the hours. I showed Lara how I make up songs while I’m running and we belted out silly, spontaneous lyrics to try and keep our mind on anything but the annoyingly steep trails in front of us.

Pink flag to pink flag will get us home

When we got to Blubber Creek at mile 92, I finally used a drop bag! I changed back into shorts, had a cup of coffee, and brushed my teeth. I was pumped and ready for the final push.

Aid Station at 92

But the “final” push would still be a few hours and feel like many more. I knew there was a water station about 5-6 miles from us and then it would be smooth sailing. The journey to the water station was just relentless…the longest 5 to 6 miles of my life. I was really hallucinating at this point and kept seeing the water station or other “proof” of life— signs that we would have approaching the finish. I saw banners and tents and hand sanitizing stations…that weren’t there.

The excitement that came was met with an equally powerful disappointment when I realized it was all in my head. At one point we saw a tree with “Dallas 85” carved into it. I was delirious and completely convinced that I had seen this same tree the day before— coming from the opposite direction. I was CERTAIN we were going the wrong way, the memory of this tree was so real. Luckily Lara convinced me that she had been really paying good attention and she was sure we weren’t lost. When we FINALLY saw the water station, I cried out of relief and ran right past it. We were so close and it was a lot of downhill from here!

Finally!! The water station !

As we ran past the last aid station I saw the sign that said “Finish ⬅️” and screamed “FINISH THAT WAY!!” to the aid station volunteer. I ran with all of the energy and confidence of someone who only has 1/4 mile left to go!!! Unfortunately it was much further than that and I ended up walk/running that last section with more walking than I would have liked!

The long sleeved shirt that got me through the cold night was not the best layer on those last downhill miles at just before 10 am. Exposed and hot, those were some uncomfortable long miles. We were searching for the finish line around every turn and it kept alluding us. Oh, but when we finally saw it! The relief! The joy!

I ran through the finish line to my waiting friends with all of the joy you could imagine. I really did it!! I had estimated a 29:15 finish and finished in 29:08. Truly planned my race and raced my plan. The course ended up being closer to 105 miles (remember my watch died, so I don’t have an exact number, but most other runners has between 104 and 106 miles).

This moment was so big for both of us

When I went over to get my finisher’s medal they told me I had earned third place woman and I cried so hard. This was a hard race with a DNF rate above 50%. I feel so lucky that things clicked for me that day— I have enough DNFs of my own to know that there are lots of things outside of our control that can influence a race result.

Looking back on the days of the event and surrounding it, it is obvious that my success was so dependent on the amazing trail sisters who were with me that weekend. Whether it was the incredible preparation and logistical strength of Marcella, the hours of energy and enthusiasm that Lara so generously gave of herself, or the amazing caretaking that Christina and Caitlin provided in the aftermath (and the belief and support beforehand!), I was so lucky to be surrounded by the best people. It can be hard for me to allow myself to cared for, but my race was significantly better because I did. I am surrounded by giving and adventurous people and that’s a huge part of what makes it possible for mento believe in and chase my dreams.

As is often the case, the recovery process has been more challenging than the race itself. It was difficult to sleep in the first days following the race and then I was so exhausted it felt painful to be awake. I felt like a zombie, like someone had turned off parts of my brain. I wanted to sleep for a week, but couldn’t sleep at all. Luckily I only had mom duties to return to— work to be sure, but the best kind.

My boys spoiled me at home

My body has felt fantastic. No muscle soreness. No dips in mood. However, it turns out that the annoying discomfort in my foot wasn’t the tongue of my shoe, but was my angry 4th metatarsal- which 3 weeks later is still badly bruised (but not broken). So not running at the moment, but absolutely honoring that my body gave me a lot on race day and I am going to show it how grateful I am by loving it with rest and food. I will be back soon, but no rush. Still on cloud 9.

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