“Focus on how far you’ve come from the starting line;
not the distance to the finish.”
I ran the Bryce Canyon 100 race on 1-2 June 2018. My reason for trying this are to overcome the physical and mental challenges of a 100 mile run… while enjoying the journey. I’m a 60 year old runner; quite content to run slow and steady at the back of the pack. My goal for this race was to be DFL (Dead Flipping Last) but finish. This was my second attempt at covering 100 miles; I ended up running 81 miles. I learned a lot about myself and running, here’s my story.
I’ve been doing trail running since 2016. I have previously done 50 km and 50 mile mountain runs along with a lot of hiking experience. My previous 100 mile shot had been to run 69 miles at the Badger Mountain Challenge in March, 2018. Coming into Bryce 100, I had learned a number of lessons from my Badger Mountain 100 experience:
- Importance of electrolytes – used a 1/2 electrolyte, 1/2 water mixture
- Dealing with blisters early – pre-taped my heels
- Keeping up with nutrition – especially after 50 miles
- Increase my vertical training – more mountain runs
For the Bryce Canyon race, at every aid station I used a 1/2 electrolyte, 1/2 water mixture to fill my 1.5 liter bladder in my pack. Also, I would eat a little solid food at each stop. I should mention that I have achalasia; this disease makes it challenging for me to swallow. I need to take extra time eating and drinking.
Since the Bryce 100 is at high altitude (7000 to 9500 feet) I knew that acclimation was important. In addition, I wanted to acclimate to the dry heat and cold nights. I spent five days prior to the race at the North Rim of the Grand canyon, camping and hiking at 8900 feet. Since I had rolled an ankle about 3 weeks before the race on one of my mountain runs, I wanted to do a shakedown, so my friend Brenda and I hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim four days before the race. (Yes, I know that’s a strange way to taper….)
I started the Bryce 100 with my friend Roger. We were up at 0345, had some coffee and a little food.
The race started in the dark at 0500. It was nice and cool, Roger and I joined the back of the pack. We ran slow on the downhills and walked the uphill sections. We reached the Blubber Creek aid station, 12 miles out, at mid-morning. Here we earned a bonus mile, since we both walked past the well-signed turn while sending out text messages to update our status. We realized our error after about 10 minutes. We backtracked to the correct turn and got back on the course.
We were running along the Paunsaugunt Plateau, with lots of beautiful geology to see. This was one of the most scenic runs I’d ever done. Roger and I went through several more aid stations together as we climbed higher in the heat of the day.
We reached the Pink Cliffs aid station at mile 29.5 (9400 feet) in the early afternoon. This was a great aid station: enthusiastic volunteers, good food, and a phenomenal view of southern Utah and northern Arizona. This was ourturnaround point on the course, now we would head north again.
I did a rest and refuel. Roger showed up and was feeling dismal; he was being affected by a cold. We decided to split up at this point and I continued on the pleasant downhill sections.
As I ran and walked uphills, I had an interesting conversation with Paul, a fellow engineer from the Bay area. I felt pretty decent as I arrived at the Mile 39 aid station, although I did have to force myself to have some electrolytes and food. I headed north in the late afternoon; along the way chatting with Marcelo from Florida. I reached the Blubber Creek aid station (mile 47) near dusk. I had a problem with my headlamp, couldn’t seem to get it to provide white light; only green or blue. I switched to my backup headlamp and trudged on into the growing darkness.
The next few sections were lots of uphill slogging in the dark alternating with some roads. I did run into a couple of runners in this section who were stopped but said they were OK. The trail was very well-marked. I was behind schedule a bit, there was a cutoff at mile 53 (Grim Reaper) which I made with an hour to spare. On the road before the Blue Fly aid station, I ran and walked with Justin from North Carolina. The last section up to the Blue Fly aid station felt brutal. I was surprised to pass a few people.
Reached the Blue Fly aid station (mile 57) at 1 AM. I changed my clothes here and refueled. I was ahead of the cutoff and feeling a bit down. It was very tempting to stop here BUT the aid station workers were very positive and encouraging. I left Blue Fly moving slow and steady.
On the road, it was getting cold and I was glad I had some warm gloves. I felt pretty decent although I was occasionally having some double vision. This seems to happen to me after about 20 hours of exercise. I’d experienced it before. I also had a few mild hallucinations, for example, what I thought was an owl on the ground turned out to be a reflective marker. Around mile 61, a volunteer riding on an ATV checked on me. I told him I was OK and would just keep going. He had another runner on the back who must have dropped on the road.
Came into the mile 65 aid station at 4 AM. There were four volunteers here from the Gnarly Hydrate product. They fed me broth and electrolyte. I warmed up here and recharged from the positive energy of these aid station volunteers. When I was leaving, another runner came in; she was very cold and said she might drop. I decided it was time to leave and push on towards mile 73. Started out on more roads, through a ranch road as the sun came up. I had to stop to deal with chafing and take my blood pressure medication. I still had a bit of double vision but kept moving. I crossed into a burned forest and was feeling pretty terrible about mile 71. At that point I came across Marcelo and we walked into the mile 73 aid station together. Marcelo gave me a good lift in spirits along with some nice encouragement from the aid station captain.
Departed about 0745 for the Thunder Mountain section of the race. It was beautiful, with lots of the characteristic geology of Bryce Canyon. This was a gradual climb up followed by a long descent. At around mile 75, I had a bout of diarrhea and was feeling blah. I forced myself to drink electrolytes. At this point, some of the 50 mile runners were passing me; many had encouraging remarks. Also, began to hallucinate a bit more. I would see people that looking like they were working near the trail. When I got closer the people turned into tree stumps! Had one more bout of diarrhea and decided I better ask my friends to meet me at mile 80. Slowly slogged down beautiful Thunder Mountain, my thought was: “Just keep moving.”
My friend Linda hiked up to mile 79 and walked with me into the Mile 80 aid station. I was abit out of it, for example, forgot to use my sunscreen but luckily Linda caught that. I started seeing some other 100 milers on the trail heading back to the finish. I hit the chair and thought about whether to continue. Discussed my options with my friends Brenda, Linda, and Roger. I still had some “gas in the tank” but the bouts of diarrhea were dismal. I decided I was done. Could I have gone on? Yes, I think I had at least 5 more miles left in me. Do I regret stopping? Nope, I learned much and have decided I’ll try another 100 next year with some better preparation.
After the run, had a nice shower at the Bryce Canyon general store, followed by some salad, coffee, and ice cream. After that, we went to the Best Western in Cedar City, Utah for a couple of days. The highlight was the hot tub and free breakfast… each day I had first and second breakfast. I recovered very well, I was able to go hike at Cedar Breaks with the gang the next day.
- What Went Well
- Help form my friends
- Acclimation to altitude, cold, and heat
- Hill work to get ready
- Pretape known blister areas
- Use of electrolyte (Tailwind and Gnarly)
- Ankle recovery – glad I did Rim to Rim Grand Canyon shakedown
- Use of Avenza map software especially at night
- Controlled most chafing
- Sun protection (long sleeve shirt, hat with drape, gloves)
- Attitude – mostly positive
- Great aid stations (especially miles 29.5, 57, 65, and 73)
- Things to Improve
- Too slow, need to train to go a little faster
- Sometimes attitude was down
- Better head lamp
- Pacer plan
While we run a race like this alone; we don’t get to the starting line alone. First, my wife Mary Ellen put up with my crazy training for this race, never would have got there without her. My friend Roger had the inspiration to propose the Bryce 100; I was glad I said yes. I did lots of training and adventures with Roger and Linda. Learned a lot about ultrarunning from my friend Jeff; he provided both basic knowledge and inspiration the last few years. My friend Mark provided me some valuable advice after the Badger 100, especially about nutrition and electrolytes. Brenda joined me in acclimating before the run and some post-race adventures; she was crazy enough to take off for 17 days in the Southwest. Finally, my inspiring brother Gerard who said: “Focus on how far you’ve come from the starting line – not the distance to the finish.”
5 thoughts on “Bryce Canyon 100 – Fail forward”
Excellent work!! I’ve heard from several of my friends how hard Bryce was. WTG for pushing thru!!
Thanks, it’s been a true learning experience
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I admire you for your incredible achievement. I think its terrific that you cronicalled your adventure. Congratulations John.
You are amazing !!!!
Thanks Joe – I’m just slow and steady