Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Running around Bryce

This past weekend, Beat raced his fourth Bryce 100. It's an event full of punchy climbs, claustrophobic canyons, clouds of fine dust, thin air, daytime heat, nighttime frost — and endless incredible scenery. I've been wanting to go back for redemption since I timed out of this race at mile 72 last year, but I have resolved to not sign up for any more endurance events until I regain a higher degree of confidence in my fitness. Since my springtime running also has been nonexistent, I made an easy decision to DNS the Dirty 30 in Golden, so I could travel to Utah and play in Bryce Canyon (cough, crew for Beat.)

Beat anxiously anticipating the 5 a.m. start. With a 36-hour cutoff and sunset after 8 p.m., there's really no reason this race couldn't start at 8 a.m. rather than frigid darkness that requires runners to wake up at 3 a.m. I just don't understand these early starts. But I was filled with FOMO all the same. I had to remind myself that my Alaska adventures were not that long ago, because it already feels like it's been years since I clawed my way around a daunting swath of land, limbs throbbing and blood pulsing in pursuit of the divine.

The runners were off, so I headed into the national park to do some exploring. One (and only) positive of waking up for a 5 a.m. race start is arriving early enough to catch sunrise over the canyons.

The morning light was nice. But I'm still an a.m. grump. Bah humbug.

I set out for a hike along the rim, appreciative of the lack of crowds. (Okay, one more early start plus.)

Before the first mile was up, I became bored with my pace on an easy trail and launched into a jog. I did not set out with the intent of running — I'm not in great shape for that right now — but enjoyed the endorphin burst and decided to keep at it.

Descending along the Fairyland Loop Trail.

Not even 8 a.m. and I'm already drenched in sweat. To be fair, it wasn't that hot — 75 degrees for a high on Friday.

I believe this is called Boat Mesa? I'm indulging in many photos for this blog post, even though they are somewhat redundant and don't begin to capture the surroundings. Every corner revealed new and consistently breathtaking vistas, sand castles and stone sculptures. Stoke kicked in, and I ran faster.

So there I was, eight miles into my morning hike-run, clocking 7 or 8 mph — a pace that actually forces me to pick up my feet — on a perfectly smooth and nearly level trail at the bottom of the canyon. The tangerine- and salmon-colored fairy castle towered overhead, and I gazed upward in serene bliss. Then, suddenly, splat. I certainly didn't trip over anything and am fairly confident that I wasn't slurring my feet, so I couldn't even tell you why I fell. It's as though (and I genuinely believe this happens to me sometimes) my brain lost the plot and misinterpreted which way was up. I was even using my runner training wheels (trekking poles) to help keep my balance, to no avail. My body hit the hard dirt and skidded several inches. Most of the major joints on my right side — knee, hip, elbow, shoulder — felt like they had been smacked broadside by a 2x4. Every time. Every time! Well, it's good I didn't show up for the Dirty 30, because my running technique — already bad on my best days — has rusted to an alarming degree.

This was one of those hard hits where I had the wind knocked out of me, and had to drag myself off the trail and writhe around in the dirt for several minutes until I could breathe again. Assessment: Bloody knee, bloody wrist, throbbing hip and shoulder. My elbow seemed to have taken the brunt of the impact. In addition to road rash, it had already swollen to the size of a baseball. Ugh.

Happily, nothing was broken. I hobbled along for a mile (walk it off, walk it off), which turned into a more normal stride, which progressed into a determined hike as I climbed out of Fairyland.

Back at the rim, I had an opportunity to quit and grab the park shuttle, but opted to keep going. Descending into Queen's Garden, I was happy to run again, albeit at a much more timid, less thrilling pace.

The Bryce front country is rather compact, and I wanted to cover most of the major trails during this morning excursion. My elbow was hurting, so I put one of my trekking poles away and mostly walked. I wasn't worried about injury beyond the pronounced goose egg/bruise, but I was bummed that I had torn and blood-stained my favorite long-sleeve shirt. Every time!

Pretty hoodoos along the Peekaboo Loop. Does theis scenery ever get old? I doubt it.

By the time I returned to Bryce Point, I'd hiked/run/splat/hiked about 18 miles and stoke had fully returned. So I continued two more miles along the Under-the-Rim trail, until I heard that discouraging "slurp" from my Camelbak bladder, indicating I was out of water. Time to turn around. The final dry mile was quite steep — 1,000 feet of elevation gain in one mile. The one group of hikers I encountered on that climb looked concerned and asked me if I was okay. Well, I was bloody and dusty and likely weaving a bit from thirst and fatigue, but I thought I was doing okay. Since the trailhead was less than a half mile away, I didn't ask them for water.

Even though I was done with my 22-mile excursion by 1 p.m., the timing was too tight to make it out to the 32-mile aid station, my first point to meet Beat. He'd already told me he didn't expect to see me there, and our next point of contact was at mile 65. So I had oodles of time to take and shower and return to the park to picnic my way around the observation points.

I caught sunset from Rainbow Point, which sits above 9,000 feet.

I love sunset. It holds more intrigue than sunrise — the mystery of night, fading light and quiet, cool air and solitude.

At the Bryce Canyon village store, I waited in line for more than 20 minutes — behind a European woman buying what appeared to be dozens of glass trinkets that needed to be individually wrapped — to grab a sandwich and Frappuccino for Beat. He seemed grateful when I showed up at the dusty aid station with fresh food, as he'd been nauseated for most of the afternoon, and was just getting his stomach back enough to eat.

I was back up at 4 a.m. to catch Beat at mile 85. Well before dawn, temps had plummeted to 33 degrees with humidity. There was a definitive chill to the air, but Beat was in relatively good spirits despite an increasingly sore hip and nausea. I guess this goes with the territory in a hundred-miler, especially when one is nearing 50 (Beat has celebrated several of his recent birthdays in Bryce Canyon. He turned 49 on Thursday.)

As for me, well, I woke up after three hours of sleep feeling like I'd run my own hundred-miler, and also been beaten with a 2x4, and maybe crashed my car for good measure. Let's see — 22-mile run-ish after a month-plus mostly off my feet, big splat on the hard ground, continued running after big splat, sleep deprivation and picnicking with leftover race snacks. I'm really getting too old for this.

Besides general soreness and the goose egg on my elbow, I was physically okay ... as in uninjured. Although stiff and grumpy, it seemed a shame to waste this short, scenic opportunity when we had to return to Salt Lake that evening so Beat could catch a flight. After he took off toward the finish, I set out for a short morning hobble through Red Canyon.

Limping along the race course with my one trekking pole, holding my sore arm against my torso, and feeling a little disappointed that Beat probably ran through most of this beautiful place during the night. Night has its own beauties and mysteries, though. We recreational hikers miss so much.

There was an intriguing spur called Buckhorn Trail that I decided to follow. Following this narrow indentation over seriously loose scree in my compromised state with worn-out shoes was probably my most unwise decision in a weekend full of unwise decisions. My shoe slid out and I ended up on my butt, actually quite relieved that I didn't slide all the way to the bottom of the canyon. The scree under my foot kept giving out as I attempted to regain purchase, clawing at the trail with both hands despite radiating pain from my bad elbow. Arrgh! No more running/hiking for me for a while. For now, I stick to wheels.

Still, all of the mishaps were forgotten as I crawled onto a narrow plateau, plopped my now-bruised butt on a rock and breathed sweet, cool air as dozens of small birds darted over my head, in and out of their nest in a nearby hoodoo.

Beat finished the 2018 Bryce 100 in 29.5 hours. He was a little disappointed with his race, but I thought he did great for limited training following recovery from the 1,000-mile journey across Alaska. Plus, Bryce is a deceptively hard race. Someday, I would like to attempt something like this once more. But, really, I should first figure out how to simply run, yet again.


  1. Ever since I had a terrible fall on trail in 2012 I have been so much more cautious. I saw how one fall has changed my alignment and caused nagging problems since. It's hard to find that balance of keeping it up yet overcoming fear.

    1. I joke about my trail crashes, but if I really track the incidents, it's clear they've become more frequent, and more random (like falling on the smooth flat Bryce trails ... you could use a wheelchair on those trails.) I've read about this sort of thing happening to women after menopause — decreased sense of balance — and I wonder if there's a hormonal connection. Anyway, I look at my accumulating scars and wonder if perhaps I am not afraid enough. ;)


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