Ultra runners are a sum of their misfortunes. Is that true? Ultra runners are a sum of their accomplishments. Not so sure. I am guilty of trying to beat time. This is the goal of philosophers and fools - I would be the latter. I embraced trail running because it allowed me to let go of the notion that time was important, yet I wear my Garmin, I look at my race results, I fail to "just be on the trail." As I prepared for the Bryce 50 miler, I looked at the elevation profile & convinced myself that most of the course was probably runable. I wasn't confident about running at 8,000 to 9,000 feet. My plan was to start out conservatively and maintain through the 40 mile mark, hike for five miles to the highest point on the course, and bomb down to the finish. This could put me anywhere between 10-12 hours, I told my wife.
The day started out perfectly for me - 40ish degrees, no humidity, clear skies. I was hanging with friends before we lined up and I was eager to start my journey. The race directors' daughter said "go" and everybody hesitated, then started running with laughter as we all realized that was the official start. Tanya and Jason accompanied me for the first few miles until we got into some sweet, rolling single track. I joined up with some Utah runners who raised their own chickens and brewed their own beer. Life was sweet as we started to reach some of the most spectacular trails and views of hoodoos only 5 miles into the run.
I was chatting with the girl in front of me about the Rockhoppers and finding my photos on our Facebook page. We were bombing down the first big descent, but sand on one of the corners just couldn't hold my 210 pounds. I slid into second base under the catchers' throw (that's what I was thinking), but scraped up my wrist and hip. I shook it off and reminded myself that I needed to pay attention all day, no matter how much fun I was having. I did a little water top off at the first aid station (mile 10) and cruised on. I planned to have a 20 oz EFS flurry every 12.5 miles of the race, but carried extra gel chomps and sport beans with caffeine for good measure. I maintained an 11 min/mile pace for those first 15 miles, then settled into some hiking the uphills before reaching the second aid station at mile 18.
This was a look back at the second aid station (mile 18), which I also stopped briefly at to top off with water. The only smart thing I did at this point was to fill my extra bottle with ice water. This would come in handy over the next 9 miles. As we moved on, we started hitting some nice Aspen groves.
Before too long, I was noticing that my 11 min/miles were long gone. The uphills were getting tougher and I didn't feel like running when I got over them. It was starting to warm up and I was letting a lot of folks pass me. There were a couple of folks whom I played leap frog with over the next 7-8 miles. We would just smirk at each other as we passed or got passed - it was about all we could muster. At mile 23, we hit the nastiest climb of the day. It was in a beautiful shaded canyon, but went up about 1,000 feet in a mile. At one point, I stopped to clutch onto a tree to steady my breathing. A few seconds later, here comes Olga, smiling and taking my picture as I cringed from lack of oxygen. Olga hiked on at a good clip and I began to have some serious cramping issues with my quads. I took 4 S-Caps in about 20 minutes and the cramping subsided. Here are some more pics of the prettier sections of the course in the first half. I didn't take many pictures when I was in pain.
(The guy sitting down in the picture above was one of my friendly leapfroggers.) Soon after the nasty climb, I hit the 25 mile point - I don't remember the time, but I was definitely starting to panic as I thought this would have been the easier half I had just completed. I knew most of the second half was around 9,000 feet elevation. When my Garmin hit 27 miles, I knew I was in more trouble. We were supposed to be at the Blubber Creek Aid Station at mile 27. The Blubber Creek Aid Station photos in the course description were from up high on a cliff. I was down at the bottom of a big ridge. I heard several people (in front of me and behind me) complain that they were out of water. At least I had plenty of water in my pack and in the extra bottle I carried. I doused my head and neck with water, splashed it all over my face, and gargled with it. Luckily, there was not anybody to witness this or I might not have made it up that climb. If you want a visual image, just google the "lip balm" scene from Three Amigos with Chevy Chase.
I made it into Blubber Creek Aid Station and finally looked at some food. Unfortunately, nothing really looked good to me. I got my EFS from my drop bags, drank some warm Coca-Cola from my Ultra Spire pouch, and headed out. I did switch out hats and the floppy hat in my bag had gotten ice water all over it. It felt good on my head. The views from the top of the cliffs were fantastic and there was a nice breeze up there as well. I continued to hike and got into a nice rhythm.
I passed the 31 mile point on my Garmin and saw that I was 8 hours into this adventure. The climbs reminded me of the Jemez 50K course back in 2009. I was now lost in time. No longer anywhere near my finish time goals, I decided to enjoy the scenery and manage the course with less effort. It was to be a spiritual journey - connecting with things much greater than me. I spent more time talking to my fellow runners.... er, uh, hikers. I met one person doing his first 50 miler, one guy who was an airplane mechanic in the Air Force, and several 100 milers who were managing their races perfectly.
As I was heading down the trail, I saw a shirtless trail runner coming towards me. I said "Tim Olsen" and he said "Hey". I realized that it was his wife that I had just passed after we stopped to take pictures of the cliffs. This got me fired up and I started to run the downhills again. I thought about Jason Crockett's challenge that I not get chicked by Krista Olsen. I really don't care about that kind of thing and it's not what got me moving. I felt like I could start to run this race again: my legs were back, my stomach felt good, I was breathing well, then "damn ...... another hill". Tim, Krista, and several others passed me, I caught up, Tim pointed out this bear track, & I stopped to take a picture.
Okay, I really don't want to come off as an athlete celebrity stalker, like the guy in Blades of Glory, but I did ask Tim if he wouldn't mind taking a picture afterwards with the "Flat Chris Russell" which Jason Crockett brought to the race. He said "sure", but it never happened. Krista passed me again and I told her she had a pretty good pacer - she said that she might let him pick her up :) At that point, my stomach was no longer accepting EFS, I was into a steady hike with my new friend, Jim, and he thanked me for hanging with him. That's me - the Good Samaritan trail runner ...... Not. I was hanging with him because he was a nice guy, but also because I sucked. Yes, this section was a long downhill jeep road. Stuff that I was born to run. But I hiked, got passed, hiked, got passed, hiked, what's that smell? It smells like a musky animal .... like a bear. I didn't see or hear anything, but that smell was unique. A mile later, I hiked, was passed, hiked, my feet were burning up, and I went off road, down into a beautiful little creek to cool my feet. There they were - more bear tracks in the mud that looked fresh. I walked through the creek for 50 yards, then back up to the road. I was on a spiritual journey. Time didn't matter. We finally hit the Straight Canyon Aid Station at mile 40 & I walked in at just under 11 hours.
As I arrived, I was greeted by The Ghost. Not just any ghost - I'm talking about Lorenzo Sanchez. Lorenzo had already finished the race, then drove with his family back to the mile 40 aid station to help out other runners. Lorenzo and his wife were a huge help - they filled my hydration vest, my water bottles, & found me a place to sit so I could doctor up my feet with some Trail Toes. This was my longest stop of the day & I finally ate some food. As I started up the last climb of the day, I thought I was in for a beast of a hike. However, it wasn't as tough as I thought it would be until we got to the last quarter mile. The trail looked like a Speedgoat variety, special cut trail that went straight up through the scrub.
(Pictures do not do this climb justice, as the "trail" rounded the corner & went straight up.)
I looked forward to the view of the Pink Cliffs from the top and was not disappointed. There was some cloud cover coming in and I wanted to get down to the finish, so I didn't linger at the 45 mile aid station. I began to run down the jeep road; gravity was taking over. I started passing one runner after another - all of the folks who passed me on the way to the 40 mile aid station. Some of the 100 milers coming back up from the turnaround cheered on my running and I encouraged them too. I'm sure there were several people who thought "Now you're running? After almost 13 hours on the course? You're passing me now? At the very end of the race? What an asshole!" I didn't care that I was going to destroy my quads, I bombed down and was sure I was close to an 8 min/mile pace - ( I wasn't) - I was suddenly interested in my finish time again, not my spiritual journey. This is the folly of Thomas Bowling: caught between enjoyment & peace of mind vs. time & ego. So I pushed on, passed several others. It didn't matter. Did it? I asked three different 100 mile folks coming back "How much farther to the turnaround?", to which they all responded "Yeah". I got the hidden message. Just run. Don't pay attention to your Garmin's 50.48 miles. Finally, I saw some other cliffs. I prayed that I didn't have to finish up there. I didn't, although there was a slightly uphill finish. I crossed the line in 13:20. What really matters is that I got to run some of the most gorgeous trails I will probably ever experience. It's a great event. A nice course. I hope to do it again.
As it turned out, what did matter was getting to the finish line, resting for ten minutes, then hearing that the shuttle bus back was leaving in ten minutes. The last shuttle bus. I climbed on and saw this friendly fellow passing by.
We had some good conversations on the bus ride back. Everybody was content to be done. I had a beer waiting for me. We heard that the next bus or shuttle would not come for another two hours. I could not imagine going anywhere to help out other runners at this point. Thanks again Lorenzo!
That's it for my first official race blog. Stay LaSchmoove - you don't have nothing to prove.
That's it for my first official race blog. Stay LaSchmoove - you don't have nothing to prove.