A few years ago, while reading Mark Batterson’s book The Circle Maker I was inspired to come up with my own list of “100 Life Goals” (you can read more about Batterson’s goals here: Life Goals ). So far I have only came up with thirty-eight goals (I have some more praying and dreaming to do!), but one of my goals was to run a 50 mile ultra-marathon. Knowing I am not getting any younger I decided 2015 was a good year to go after the 50 miler. Of course, if you are going to run 50 miles you sure as heck want the course to be beautiful. So after looking at all types of events, my friend Amber, who I do much of this crazy stuff with and I decided on Bryce. Let me just say that I was not disappointed. This was my first time to Bryce and it was stunning!!! The course is run along the Paunsaugunt Plateau between 8,000 and 9,400 feet of elevation with incredible views of hoodoos. The company who organized this race was Ultra Adventures and under the leadership of race director Matt Gunn, they did an amazing job. Their races are located in the area known as The Grand Circle (Zion, Grand Canyon, Bryce, etc.) and they offer distances from a half-marathon to 100 miles. If you are looking for a race in the southwest be sure to check them out: Ultra Adventures
While in Bryce we stayed at Ruby’s Inn which had a beautiful lake behind the lodge with space for those who preferred to camp (see opening pic). We arrived on Thursday which gave us plenty of time to settle in, pick up our race packets and get our gear ready.
The start time for the 50 miler was at 6am on Saturday which required meeting a shuttle at 4:30am for the ride out to the start. Temps were in the 30’s and we were all hoping the hail and thunderstorms from the day before would not return–but it was not to be. The race started at Crawford Pass under cloud cover. I knew I was trained to finish a 50 miler but not to do it fast so I stayed in the back and followed the advice from a local ultra friend, “Start off slow and then ease up from there.” A few miles in, as we began to climb up to the Pink Cliffs Aid Station, the clouds began to burn off and hoodoos began to appear mysteriously in the fog. They were beautiful!
We continued to run up to Pink Cliffs Aid Station where our view was obstructed by clouds. From there we ran through a beautiful meadow on a very runnable fire road/double track past a meandering stream on our way to Straight Canyon Aid.
As we climbed back up and ran along the rim the clouds began to dissipate and the views became spectacular–amazing cliffs of pink and red appeared as I ran out from under the trees. Views like this helped to take away some of the pain of running 50 miles! I wish the pictures would do it more justice!
I continued on to Blubber Creek Aid which was at mile 25 where I ate some sausage–yep, they were cooking sausage at that station and it tasted amazing!. Considering the race was at high elevation with 9,200 feet of climbing my goal was simply to finish standing up, having enjoyed myself and having taken lots of pics along the way. This was a once in a lifetime event that I did not want to miss by being too concerned about time. I thought I would finish at around 14 hours. So at mile 25 when I saw I was at 5 hours and 35 minutes I was very pleased. I knew the second half of any race is almost always harder since you are dealing with fatigue. What I didn’t know was how hard the section from Blubber Creek Aid to Proctor Aid would be. That section was brutal–technical single track with some steep climbs. I struggled through it and eventually saw the Proctor Aid Station in the distance. What a relief!I had a drop bag with extra food and fresh gear at that station. I quickly found it and went into the tent to get some food. I was there a minute at the most when thunder and lightning hit and a crazy hailstorm ensued. As other runners were coming into the aid station everyone took cover in the tent and before long it was like an adult version of the kids game Sardines, where you try to fit as many people as possible in a small place. But at least it was dry and they were making quesadillas which despite running 33 miles I was able to stomach. I was at that aid station for almost 40 minutes before the storm subsided. When I finally left I felt super stiff and I had lost all of my momentum. A volunteer offered to drive anyone out who wanted to drop and I almost took him up on it. But I decided to head out and threw a rain poncho on and took off–actually I shuffled off thanks to the stiffness. What I encountered made me think I had made the wrong decision–the trails had become slick mud flows and it was very slow going. There were some pieces I simply slid down rather than run. Thunder could still be heard in the background and I got caught in a smaller hail and thunderstorm that passed very quickly. I decided I wanted to drop at the next aid station, Thunder Mountain, as I did not want to be out in these elements. It wasn’t the rain and hail so much as it was the lightning. One of the guys running near me on the trail that morning had told me that Bryce gets hit with more lightning strikes than anywhere else in the US other than Florida. Yet here I was, at times completely exposed on top of ridgelines. I just didn’t think it was a very good idea. I convinced myself that I would be okay with dropping and would not want any sympathy from anyone back home as I had experienced a beautiful day. I texted my friend Amber who had run the 50k and finished earlier that day and whose race covered the same final miles as mine. She was honest with me and told me the last 10 miles were really rough. So with my mind made up I came into Thunder Mountain Aid and said that if it was possible I wanted to drop. The guy looked at me and said it was not possible as the car had just left with two others who were dropping. I am not a big crier but at that moment I wanted to cry. What I didn’t mention earlier in this post was somewhere on the trail I had lost my Maui Jim sunglasses (very expensive!) and a rain jacket I was borrowing from my friend (also expensive). That together with the lightning and the mud and losing 40 minutes at an aid station and being very stiff–I was done. It is crazy how things get compounded with tiredness! He told me they could call for a car but it would be at least an hour. He then proceeded to talk me into finishing telling me I looked great. Hmmm! I wasn’t happy about it but they filled up my water, gave me a couple of fruit cups and I was off.
The last section was very hard! It was also very beautiful! I ran the first section of it alone but eventually was caught by another woman from SoCal and we ran the final miles together.
The guy running behind me got this shot of me running though the canyon. It puts the size of the hoodoos in perspective. You feel very small out there! So after 14 hours and 29 minutes we finished and I took a little finish line photo with my new friend. The smile was due to my relief of being finished.
Looking back on it a few days later I am really, really glad I finished this race. It was an amazing experience and Bryce was spectacular! Instead of finisher medals we were given handmade leather wrist cuffs which were cool. I made it back to the lodge around 9:30pm that night and my friend Amber and her daughter Hannah had my dinner waiting there for me! I have never had any problem eating after hard events. I had accomplished my goal and finished standing up, having taken lots of pics and for the most part (minus the lightning) thoroughly enjoyed my day. Huge shout out to Mr. Aid Station Guy at mile 42 for talking me into finishing! And a HUGE SHOUT OUT to the race director, Matt Gunn, for putting together a well-organized and incredibly beautiful race!
The next morning we did a little sightseeing before heading home. The rest of the pics in this post are from our sightseeing on both Thursday and Sunday. I will be back to explore these trails some day!