Thursday, May 16, 2019

Bryce, again

Here are a few things that have happened in my active life since the last time I finished a summer-trail hundred-miler, which just happened to be the Bryce 100, in May 2013.

• Finished the Iditarod Trail Invitational 350 on foot. (2014)
• Finished the Race Across South Africa — 2,400 kilometers carrying a mountain bike, with some riding. (2014)
• Finished my fifth White Mountains 100, first time in the foot division. (2015)
• Finished the Iditarod Trail Invitational 1,000-mile on a bike, setting a new women's record in the process. (2016)
• Finished another ITI 350 on foot. (2018)
• Finished another couple WM100s on foot. (2018, 2019)
• Fitness setbacks largely due to illness and autoimmune conditions. (2015-2019)
• A bunch of DNFs, mostly in summer trail ultras on foot.

That I can accomplish difficult things yet repeatedly fail at trail-running ambitions irks me to no end, as one may have gathered from my last few weeks of training posts. Yet I'm not the type to be motivated by anger, humiliation or ego. I may have monkeys on my back, but I've learned enough about myself to know they can't push me anywhere I don't want to go. My willful mind stubbornly resists pressure, self-imposed or otherwise.

 So I had to do some soul-searching before coming back here. Do I really want to return to this place, to beat my swollen feet into the sand of the Paunsaugunt Plateau, to breathe the dust and heat, or wallow in the cold rain, and have all those little lifetimes' worth of experiences that one has along the hard edge? Can I live with not finishing? Can I bare to continue with this foolhardy endeavor if I fail again? Because if I can't, I'd rather not try. I find joy in this foolhardy endeavor. Yes, I really do. I suppose that's reason enough. Because if there's one thing that's far from certain, it's finishing this silly race I've set out to do, yet again.

So I'm on my way to the Bryce 100. On Wednesday I drove from Boulder to St. George, Utah, so I can pick up Beat at the airport ahead of the Friday morning start. It's a 10-hour commute and Beat needs to minimize his time off work, thus the shuttle. We have a huge stack of drop bags that needed to be transported, which is amusing because both us of tend to prefer races with low-key support. The White Mountains 100 offers no drop bags, and it's refreshing to just have what you have in your backpack, and not worry about anything else. But the Bryce 100 offers drop bags, so of course I tried to prepare for just about any contingency I could imagine. I want to finish this thing, after all. 

Anyway, as much as I love long-distance driving, 10 hours is a long haul, so I planned a stop mid-way for a little jaunt into the San Rafael Swell. Black Dragon Wash starts directly off the freeway ... you just pull into the shoulder off I-70, open a gate, and park. The perfect roadside diversion. A pocket of hot air had settled into the San Rafael River corridor, and the thermometer on my car indicated it was 94 degrees. I stepped into the sand to slather on sunscreen and was blasted by a blowdryer wind — probably sweeping in that cold front that's supposed to arrive on Thursday. But it did nothing for the heat on this day.

I jogged toward the canyon, feeling rough from the start. The water in my hydration bladder was already coffee temperature, and the pound or so of road-snack strawberries in my stomach were doing me no favors. My gut lurched as I scrambled along the canyon walls, searching for petroglyphs. Back in the wash, I stumbled through the sand, flicking a thick film of sweat off my arms with stiff motions.

Before many of my ultra attempts, I have a habit of embarking on what I intend to be fun and easy taper outings that turn into confidence crushers. This run leveled me. I struggled with sand-running in the wash, lamenting the leg-sucking resistance that really does resemble running on snow. Deep in the oven canyon, the heat became unbearable. Wind whipped sand into my eyes and mouth until I was crunching on grits for the rest of the afternoon. When my throat felt so dry I could barely breathe, I forced myself to drink hot water. My water supply still ran out with about two miles to go. Back at the car, I felt out of sorts and just a little bit dizzy. The next services were still 100 miles away on I-70 West, so I scavenged cans of fizzy water from my own overstuffed drop bags to stave off a mounting panic. Hmmm, borderline heat exhaustion along with nausea after an hour and a half of running, just two days before 30-plus hours of running? That's a good sign.

The thing is, these conditions probably won't remotely resemble what I'm most likely to encounter in the desert on Friday. This graphic shows the latest forecast for the Bryce Canyon region: Mid-40s during the day. Mid-20s at night. Afternoon rain potentially switching to snow overnight. Cold gusting winds at the higher altitudes. Where have I dealt with almost the exact same weather conditions in a hundred-miler? Oh yes, it was the White Mountains 100, two months ago in Alaska.

Due to the cold and snow this spring, race organizers also had to drastically reroute the course. It used to follow an out-and-back along the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau to the Pink Cliffs, but now it will follow two loops of the 50-mile race, which sticks a little closer to the relative front-country. I was disappointed with this development when they announced it last week. A hundred miles is mentally difficult enough without the contrivance of loops. But the 50-miler does hit some beautiful segments, and it will be fun to see them at different times of day and night.

Whatever happens will happen. I can take heart in the fact that my training has been going well, my breathing has been good for the past couple of months, and recent health checks have been encouraging. The race begins at 5 a.m. Friday morning, which also irks me to no end. Seriously, 5 a.m. It will still be dark at that hour, and probably several degrees below freezing. Why runners are so set on starting exercise so early that everyone is guaranteed to start out feeling like crap, I will never understand. Mountain bikers rarely put up with such nonsense.

Ok ... I am done complaining. Really, I'm overall feeling strong and excited and ready to crush this cold and wet jaunt through the sand that may well be a lot like the White Mountains 100, but in Utah. Beat and I are both starting this year's race. For fun, he revamped his Slogtastic tracker, for friends and family interested in following along. The race doesn't offer official tracking, so this is just a personal page for the two of us.

Follow Beat and me during the Bryce 100 at this link


  1. Hope you both have a adventuresome race!! Was listening to a podcast on nutrition and it was mentioned that our gut bacteria changes as our food changes. And a radical change in food intake can result in up to 24 hours for our gut bacteria to change for proper nutrition uptake. Stress changes don't help either. Anyways thought that was interesting and would pass it on.

    Jeff C

    1. Thanks Jeff! I was terribly sick in Nepal in 2011, purging myself so completely of my gut bacteria that it took a long time to return to normal-seeming digestion. I've heard the same from others who have had giardia and similar. Interesting stuff ...

    2. Wow! Can't imagine that kind of being sick :(. I was thinking Of starting whatever trail/race food I plan to use the day before to give my stomach a head start....that is if I remember when the time comes :). I think you have a win just for your unrelenting quest to recover your health and also crushing a training cycle to be in condition to race!! You gotta be feeling mighty!!

      Jeff C

  2. You're going to have an AWESOME race!!!! YEAH!!!! But fizzy water during?

    1. For settling the stomach. I have ginger ale as well, but sometimes I just can't deal with more sugar, and carbonation works very well for me in this regard. As an interesting side note, I have a distinct memory of pulling bottles of Perrier out of the supply box during your Swan Crest 100 in 2010, and thinking, "Who would possibly want this? Runners are weird."

  3. Starting forecast is a little daunting...but you'd take cold over heat any day, I'm sure.
    I'm a fizzy water proponent as well...lemon flavored, or lemon-lime in a pinch. Maybe a light beer...I know marathoners that swear by it!
    Box Canyon

    1. In Europe, beer is an aid station favorite. I love it - settles just about anything for me :)

      A few years back at Hardrock I got some stout at the top of Engineers pass. That did not go down so well though. Ah well :)

  4. In checking your tracker link, it looks like you finished. Congratulations! Hope all went well in every way!

  5. Congrats on both of you on your finishes!! Big thanks to Beat for the tracker! Was fun to watch the progress!

    What happens is consciousness operates in mysterious ways. One of those ways is that the old paradigm suddenly starts to die.

    Deepak Chopra

    Look forward to your race report when the time comes :).

    Jeff C


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