Saturday, June 24, 2017

Bryce Canyon Ultras 1/2 Marathon

Bryce Canyon Ultras 1/2 Marathon - June 17, 2017
time =4:27:46
pace = 20:26
placed 17 in my age group (40-49) out of 22
placed 88 in women out of 135
placed 182 overall out of 259
link to strava data

i don't even know where to begin.  it's been exactly one week today since i was in bryce doing this race.  it was my first mountain run ever and anna's first race at all.  i guess i'd like to talk about anna first.

anna and i have been good friends since i was (maybe) 23 years old.  we met through my brother who is friends with her boyfriend at the time.  i was instantly drawn to anna.  she has an energy about her that is so easy-going and unencumbered.  i instantly knew we would be friends.  we became friends and a little later roommates.  to this day she is one of my best friends, sisters, and confidants.  simply put, i love her.

such a perfect summation of this woman's spirit
about 5 years ago anna was diagnosed with breast cancer.  she underwent chemo and countless things that i cannot even wrap my head around and she came through the other side and always always she has this magnificent smile on her face.  she is pure light.  she is one of the most wonderful souls you will ever get to meet if you ever get that chance.  i feel fortunate to know her.

so back in early winter of 2016 i talked anna into running the 1/2 marathon distance of the bryce canyon ultras as my plan was to run the 50K.  i thought it would be fun to spend time together and do the races and then spend more time afterward.  i was really looking forward to the trip and when she signed up for the race i was plesantly surprised.  you see... anna doesn't really run.  she would not consider herself a runner and rightly so... it's just not quite her thing as much as hiking, moming, and working out are.  she is heavily active in the community and a huge advocate for cancer survivors.  she is a force to be reckoned with.  as the race day approached we communicated more and more.  on the sunday prior to the race anna broke up a fight between 2 of her cats and one of them bit her.  she thought little of the bite until it became swollen, sore, and ultimately grossly infected.  the night before my arrival she was in the ER being administered IV antibiotics as well as pain killers.  did this change the circumstances of my trip you might be wondering?  not in the slightest.  that woman was at the airport picking me up (late per usual) with the most beautiful smile on her face.  swollen right arm and all.  i suppose i should also explain that post-cancer her lymph nodes do not work as well or the same as pre-cancer.  so she is prone to lymphedema in her right arm.  the cat bite exasperated this condition and the infection was not subsiding as quickly as it should have so upon my arrival she was scheduled to return to the ER (24 hours after initial IV antibiotics) for round 2 of the antibiotics.  so what did we do when i arrived?  we went to the pool, hiked around a mountain, rode a saddle at a bar, ate fantastic food on the side of said mountain, and then proceeded to sit in the ER until 11pm.

the next day we got up and drove the 4 hours to bryce canyon, utah as anna lives just outside of salt lake city.  the whole time i couldn't get over the majestic beauty of the mountains.  anna is fortuante enough to live within a short drive to the mountains and they can be seen from her backyard.  it is truly a sight to see if you've never been to the mountains.  my advice is to GO!  

so we drove to bryce and stopped in beaver, ut (because that's funny), arriving in bryce around 3pm.  i'm pretty sure the mountains are where i belong.  it is really difficult to capture the magnatude of the mountains without witnessing it first hand.  my photographs simply do not do them justice.  it is humbling and breathtaking.  it was an emotional experience to say the least.  

we arrived at bryce, got our packets and our room, and headed for the pool.  it is a desert afterall and we had just sat in a car for 4 or so hours.  pool it is!  we stayed at ruby's inn which was overtaken by runners running the race.  the inn was the hub of all things running that weekend.  it was magnificent.  we ended up talking to a couple at the pool who were discussing the race and race conditions.  the man had dropped from the 50 miler around 20 miles due to the heat, lack of water, and breathing in the dust of the desert.  the conditions were just too much for him.  so as i eavesdropped on their conversation i butted in asking about the race.  the woman was set to run the 1/2 the next day (same as anna & i) but had decided not to run given the expected excessive heat.  this made anna and i worried as we had only brought a handheld for hydration.  we promptly purchased camelback packs and decided to go for it!  that is what we were there for afterall... how bad could it be?

race morning and we all packed into several shuttle busses which would take us to the start line.  we were pumped and excited.  our bus took off and about a mile or so from the hotel pulled over on the side of the road where we would wait for all the other busses to conga-line it to the start.  while we sat there we also took pictures.  surprise!  

we finally arrived at our destination and found the most amazing toilet set up i've ever seen.  small pod tents which contained a bucket with a toilet seat.  inside the bucket was some saw dust type material and human waste.  surprisingly it didn't stink.  we utilized the facilities and then took more pictures.  i will include the link to all our images at the end of this post if that's something you are interested in perusing...  so the toilets were getting their work out and we took more pictures as again... i cannot tell you how big and beautiful the canyons and mountains are.  i just cannot find the words for this.  

so all the racers are milling about this parking lot and the race director comes on a mic to say that this is not the start.  there was some issue with the park and noise and the start is now through a water drainage tunnel and down the paved path on the other side of the highway.  so we all commence walking to the start.  once at the start there was no fanfair.  we waited for some cyclests to pass and then (i'm not entirely clear on this point as we were middle to the back of the line) the director said go... and we went.

where did we went?... straight up a mountain on beautiful switch backs for 3 miles. lol!  hardest climb of my life.  it is amazing what being at approximately 3000 feet above sea level will do to a flatlander's lungs.  my legs wanted to go but my lungs were saying... wait a minute.  what the hell is this?!?  
about 1/2 way up the first climb
i will say that my friend dave was right... i should have done some hill training.  ugh... what a challenge that was.  incidentally, my butt did not hurt.  in fact, there was only a fraction of discomfort in my left hip flexor as we ran at first... all discomfort subsided after the first climb and i felt great!  when we crested that first climb i was compelled to take pictures.  the course is beautiful!  well worth the climbing.  the terrain was incredibly runable.  it was dusty but not so much that i noticed it while running.  the ground was compact with a thin layer of dust and some rock debris.  not technical at all.  were we not in a conga line the downs would have been heavenly.  we came through the only aid station at mile 5, filled up our water, used the real bathrooms, ate some sweedish fish, and continued on our way.

up the next climb...

this one was more direct with a lovely dip into red rock canyon where we (of course) took more pictures.

the course then wound up from the canyon and continued to go up and up and up.  we started encountering a lot of mountain bikes on the course as this portion of the course is a mountain bike trail.  all of these things slowed us down but we were running for the thrill of the course and being together so that was not priority.

nearing mile 11 anna started to feel not so good.  her legs were cramping each time we ran and she was feeling light-headed and her ears were bothering her.  each time i looked back at her she smiled at me... that's anna.  always smiling always working through it no matter how tough it is.  the rest of the race would go this way... us powering up the climbs and trying to run the flats and downs.  i ran out of water at mile 10 and it was so hot.  the heat climbed above 80 degrees.  someone told me the high that day was 88 but i'm sure it was hotter in the bottom of the desert.  

we crested what we thought was the last hill to the finish.  my watch was saying we were at 13 miles... so we ran.  we ran down to a parking area with a table and 3 large gatorade tubs.  ALL EMPTY!  we were not the only ones who were upset and disoriented.  turns out this was a fake finish... aid station.  the finish ended up being another mile down hill.  we arrived at the fake finish looking to fill our packs and all containers were empty.  we arrived just moments before a man who was pacing a 100 miler.  they had run out of water too and he had run ahead to get her more as he had given her the water in both his hand helds.  now there was no water at all.  

a nice man who happened to be at that parking lot unrelated to the race gave us his cold unopened bottle of gatorade and we split it amongst 6-8 runners.  once that was done we were again off.  everyone was walking down the hill at that point but i had had enough.  i just wanted to be finished so i ok'd it with anna and i ran ahead.  i got to the end of the race and was so thrilled to just have some water.  except... those containers were empty too!  i had to wait an additional 15 minutes for someone to come fill up the water.  by this time anna was running through the finish and we were done.

we walked around the finish area a bit and then had had enough of all of that.  there were not enough tents or chairs for everyone thus creating a not so great environment for finishing a race.  there was nowhere to sit to stretch or relax.  it was hot as balls with very little shade and they didn't have very good post-race food/drink options.  we decided to get on the shuttle back to the hotel.

the line for the shuttle was minimum 40 people deep.  turns out they only had one shuttle (which seats 9 people) running people back and forth from the finish to the hotel.  such poor planning.  unbelievely so in fact...  so we waited in line for 1.5 hours just to have some very thoughtful women behind us call their friend to come get them.  they invited us along for the ride (thank god) and we started walking down the very long park road to the main road to get picked up.  as we were walking i felt sicker and sicker.  the dehydration was kicking in and i was beginning to get a headache.  the heat was unbearable at that moment and i thought i was going to throw up or my head would explode... or both.  anna was hobbling along behind us all and again... each time i looked back at her she smiled.  *sigh*  i love her.  we could all learn something from her attitude.  i know i certainly could.  

so we made it to the pick up point and sat down in the shade of a building.  thank god for that!  i was still feeling wretched.  we get picked up and dropped off and all i could do was lay on the floor of our room as still as possible while my head exploded from the inside out and my stomach threatened to violate the floor.

after we showered and got moving we went and had the best meal i've ever eaten.  came back to the room and watched awful tv until we fell asleep.

the next morning we got up, packed up, ate breakfast, and were on our way.  we drove throughout bryce canyon taking the obligatory tourist photos and then took the scenic route back to salt lake.  we stopped at a river to swim for an hour and i took more pictures of mountains than you probably want to see.  (you'll still get to see at the end of this post if you're so inclined. lol!)

all in all i have to say that i will do this race again.  i loved the route and knowing what i know now... will plan my hydration better next time.  i learned a lot about myself, running, and what i think i'm capable of.  the course alone was reason enough to be thrilled with this race.  the mountains are calling and i must go... over and over again as many chances as i get for the rest of my life.  

"we travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us." ~ anonymous

link to all the photos from the trip... if you're into that sort of thing.