Monday, June 3, 2013

Bryce 100 Race Report

Early this year I made a deal with Matt; if I felt like I did well enough in the Buffalo Run 100 I'd pace him the full distance of his first 100 miler at Bryce. Well, while I would have been a little happier with the Buffalo Run result I was still happy enough that my focused turned to supporting Matt complete a new achievement. Josh and Scott would also be running and expressed an interest in staying together for as long as we could, hoping to at least make it to mile 50 before breaking up. And while the final member of the refuse2quit crew would be out there, MVH's focus was on the podium. He's been training like a madman and wanted to see how he could fair. I'll let him tell his own story.

When people would ask about what I was planning for Bryce I would respond similarly each time - we are just going to have a party for 100 miles. Looking back now it can hardly be described as anything less. To tell the story will be less about describing how four men attacked the course and came out victorious and more about how four kids from the neighborhood went on an adventure in their local hills. In every respect we were buddies having fun on the playground.

 Running along perfect single track early in the race

Matt has become a meticulous runner, knowing exactly how hard to push and when, how to eat, and how much water and fluids to consume. From the start of the race we set out at a comfortable pace, chattering away at the beauty of the course and the perfect conditions for racing. We were all together in a larger pack of about 15 runners. At least 10 of the people in the pack were wearing Altra Lone Peaks. It was really cool to see. Those first 10 miles to the first aid station flew by. We weren't running fast, but the company was so pleasant that it was as though we forgot we were even running. After Thunder Mountain aid station the course takes a few rolling hills until it crosses the dirt road over to Proctor. From there it is a steady climb a few miles up to the aid station. I felt like I needed a little time to myself, Matt was in a good zone, and everyone was moving well, so I decided to push the pace. I ran every step up to Proctor aid station (mile 19.5), passing about 15 people in the process. We were a vocal bunch and the likelihood of seeing wildlife was slim. But even still, if I would hear a noise I would turn in hopes of seeing a deer or elk move through the aspens. Unfortunately, in every case all I saw was someone dropping their shorts to relieve themselves. I got to the aid station about 5 minutes before the boys, fueled up, and awaited their arrival so I could help support them. Josh's parents, Bart and Brenda, were following us at every aid station throughout the whole race and were integral to getting us supplied and on our way. Alicia, Matt's wife, was also there often to help us out. It was amazing (especially since I never use a crew).

Coming into Proctor aid station, mile 19.5

We left Proctor and dove into the canyon, again with a large group of runners. The downhill into the canyon was fast. The aspens, then pines, then pinyon trees flew by until we were on the canyon floor heading west. We knew we would have to turn south again and start right back out to our highest point up to Blubber aid station, even higher than Proctor. The climb up was long, hot, and at times very technical. We moved with efficiency, but the long stretch took its toll and Scott began to slow as our pack made its way closer to the aid station. Again I felt the need to stretch my legs and pushed through the last part of the final climb and flew into the aid station at a near sprint. Awaiting us were the familiar faces of Josh's parents, Jim and Britta, and the Ultraspire crew who were manning the aid station. The boys came in shortly after, we refueled quickly and were off.

Now on the ridge at about 9000 feet above sea level the exposure was absurd. Red dirt ridges fell of to steepled 'hoodoos' as far as the eye could see, to the north and south. More than once we had to stop and look over the edge. Several times people would ask if we were ok, only to respond that we were just taking in the sites. When we weren't running along the ridge we were enveloped in pine trees, fallen logs, and perfectly smooth single track. I hardly remember those miles. They were certainly the easiest part of the course. We passed the 100k turn around and almost immediately (even though it was 2 miles further) found ourselves at the Kanab aid station, run by a high school cross country team from St George. It was chaos there with all of the racers and workers, but we got out quickly and started toward Straight Canyon.

At Kanab Aid Station

Now, in the middle of the day the heat was starting to inflict its power on us. I think we were all affected differently, but we all seemed to experience a bit of a 'low' during the long descent down to the aid station. It just never seemed to come. I see pictures and it appears as though I was often leading our mangy crew, but every time I think back it feels like I was following during this section, just trying to keep up. It was the one time during the race when people have said I was a bit grumpy. Who am I to tell them I wasn't. It was just after this aid station, on the climb to Pink Cliffs, that I changed up my fueling and electrolyte intake. Thankfully, my new strategy started to work and I started to feel much better on the long, 5 mile climb up to the highest part of the course. Once on top our race came to a halt, not because anyone was tired or hurt, but because the views were so stunning that we couldn't do anything other than take it in. It was worth the lost minutes to enjoy the vibrant colors and inspiring architecture nature was providing.

Coming into Straight Canyon Aid station
After Pink Cliffs aid (mile 45) we knew we had a nearly all downhill descent to the turnaround of the race. After a mile or so of running together I knew we were all good to get there so I took off. My legs wanted to run fast and I needed to let them. My stomach was in knots, but not enough to stop me running and I turned on the speed. There is 3 miles of dirt road and then 2 miles of some of the best single track I've ever run. It sits right underneath the tall hoodoos and winds in and out of gulleys and through run-off drainages until finally you pop out around the corner to a massive crowd of spectators, crew, and runners, all but the last oblivious to the beauty that was just a quarter mile around the corner and down the trail. There my parents were awaiting me, along with Alicia, Bart, and Brenda. They took great care of me as I attended to a blister on my toe and swapped out some gear. The other three came in about 10 minutes later and we all sat and took a nice long break to recover and make ready for the return journey. Alicia was dedicated to making sure everyone always had food, water, and coke. I'm so grateful for all she did.

Around mile 49/51 along the course

So how do you formulate the words that will take us back another 50 miles? No one wants to read a novel. I'll be as succinct as I can. On our way back up to Pink Cliffs we brought along Jeremy as a pacer. He was also a great, albeit impromptu photographer and captured some great stuff. We laughed the whole way back up to the aid station where it was insanely windy and took off down the trail back to Straight Canyon. Someone forgot to tell Scott that we were nearly 60 miles into our run because he was crushing the downhill single track like it was a 5k. I was pulling up the rear just trying to keep up, it was nuts. Once back on the road we decided to walk it into the aid station and recover for the long climb ahead. We were now at mile 61.5 in about 15 hours and were having a great time. We said goodbye to our crew and headed up the very long dirt road toward Kanab aid station again.

 Walking back up to Pink Cliffs
 I mind as well be 7. Peeing off a cliff

Cruising into Straight canyon aid station

It finally started to get dark about a quarter of the way up so we turned on our lamps. Not long after we spotted the ever-identifiable green light of Davy Crockett. He was struggling with the altitude, but shuffling along. We then passed good friend Shannon Price and his pacer. Then again, over the next three miles, passed another four racers with their pacers. Matt was now 15 miles farther into a run than he had ever gone before and was an absolute machine. If it was flat, downhill, or even slightly uphill he was running. We each took turns at the front, setting the pace. This was a team effort and everyone was a key player. Like kids on a campout we found ourselves turning off our lights to gaze at the majesty of the stars and listen to the stillness of the night. Our bodies hurt, but our souls were alight in the undertaking and we gloried in it.

Kanab aid station came and went quickly while other runners lingered. Our only stop only steps outside of the station came when Matt had to puke back up some broth that didn't agree with him. Like a good pacer I caught it all on film and you can see it at the bottom of this post. Then the long, but awesome rollers back to Blubber where we were finally one of the only ones at the aid station. Another guy, Graham, was there too and had been for a few minutes. He didn't look good, but because we were joking around and having fun he must have been inspired to tag along. We all stayed together through Proctor canyon. The most common phrase through that section was "I don't remember coming down that" and "is this climb ever going to end". It was the toughest part of the course going both directions, but this time we had to do it at mile 75. Brutal.

When we came into Proctor aid station at mile 79 you would have thought we were at Pole Line Pass at the Wasatch 100 - the place where racers go to die. There were about 10 racers with pacers sitting around the fire and none of them looked really good. Smart as we were we didn't stay for more than 5 minutes and were quickly off with Graham in tow. From here on our we'd be on new trails as the course deviates so that it can finish at Ruby's Inn near the national park. After an initial climb we had a long, gradual descent to what we though would be King's Creek aid station. What we didn't know, was at the turn-off onto the single track trail we had to do an 800 foot climb up and over Keyhole Arch (which we couldn't see in the dark). There was a lot of gumbling and a fair amount of swearing, but we pushed hard and passed several other groups. Minutes later we were finally at the aid station and only had 10 miles left. But to our surprise there was Jennilyn, our friend who was in first place for the women. She had turned her ankle and had to DNF, unable to continue. It was disheartening, but she was fine with it.

We set off into the dawn light and what we though would be a nice downhill over the next 10 miles. As it turns out we had a two miles climb then rolling dirt roads all the way to what felt like another 15 miles to the finish. But there, finally, through the KOA and along the serene lake of Ruby's Inn was the small, nearly indistinguishable chalk finish line. Waiting were our famlies and friends who had sacrificed so much to support us, help us, and be there to watch us finish. We crossed the finish line hand in hand, four boys who were out on an adventure. We collapsed into each other and cried with joy at what we had accomplished. We weren't men who conquered a 100 mile course, we were boys who had been transformed into men together. We all experienced the same trials, the same challenges, and came out a better person.

A quarter of a mile to go

100 mile finishers

This was the best race I've ever run. I'm a better person because of it. On another day I probably could have been competitive at the front. And yet I would have traded my experience for a win on any course on any day, against any group of competitors. Ask me to do it again and I will drop everything to be there with my friends. Hopefully we'll make plans to do it again. We certainly have other friends and brothers who still need to run 100 miles. Time to make plans (Brent and Aaron).


Anonymous said...

amazing always boys- Nice write up-


Jen said...

What a great report, full of everything that I'd want my first 100 to be all about. Craig, you were a little mystified at your lack of desire to write a little while back, but it looks like it has come back with all of the qualities that makes your reports so fun to read. Great pictures, too. It's just amazing to me that you boys were able to stay together the whole's like you caught lightning in a jar at Bryce.

Sam said...

I wish I could have been there. I can't wait to run with you guys again. What an awesome race!

Matt, Craig, I didn't know you guys were so close that you shared shirts. :)

LD said...

Awesome; congrats to you guys.

Warlord Blade said...

Holy Moly 100 miles is a LONG way! I might could run a 50 this year though! :)

Brian Beckstead said...

Great job guys. I ran every step of Bear 100 a few years back with Roger Smith...we are now blood brothers. The unity forged from 100 miles is amazing. Enjoy it and congrats!

Anonymous said...

congratulations to you all. what a great write up of an awesome all around accomplishment. had me kind of choked up there at the end. nice work -
James (JD of FRB)

Lily said...

I cannot stop my tears. What a crowning moment for you all. Best thing I've read in ages. I've said it before and gotta say it again, racing and training bring out the best in us. We find out who we are and what kind of guts were made of. I miss you guys. Please let's run soon.