by Shannon Hataway
Driving to Bryce Canyon, you begin to get a sense of the landscape long before you arrive. Tall columns of red sandstone are revealed here and there, deep gorges with trickling streams, towering cliffs capped with resistant rock layers, and the gray-greens and browns of the Nevada desert give way to the ivory, oranges, and reds of the beehive state.
There was something about Bryce 50 Mile that made the distance more clear than other 50 Milers I have run. We all know that by car, 50 miles is a short commute. As a backpacker, 50 miles might be divided up over 5 days. [Spoiler Alert] Abbey Murray and I ran together to cover that 50 mile, point-to-point, climbing and descending distance for 12 hours, 14 minutes and 55 seconds.
No doubt about it, Bryce Canyon 50 Mile is a tough event: a rolling point to point, mostly single track, with 9,200ft of vertical gain and 9,600ft of vertical loss. In a nutshell: I absolutely LOVED it! The scenery is spectacular, trail engaging and challenging, the aid stations kind and reassuring, and of course, the runners were amazing! Cool finisher prizes too. For some readers that may be enough. Put it on your roster for next year…but if you want more, read on:
The Wake Up
Ugh. After 5 hours of fitful “sleep” my alarm did not excite me, but it was time to get up and do what I came here to do: run 50 miles of single-track and two-track roads from the south end of the Paunsaugunt Plateau to the north. THAT triggers excitement!
I came to Bryce with my family, but opted to join my fellow runners, Abbey and Angela for the night and allow my family and Angela’s son, Jacob, to sleep undisturbed, in our room.
Eat some instant oatmeal and banana…a little coffee. Slip into running gear and check the assemblage of items to carry in my pack: a large garbage bag to wear (the forecast called for rain), 40oz of water (feeling dehydrated, so a little extra for the bus ride), 5 Gels, 2 Builder’s Bars, Chocolate Milk, headphones (never use them, but might come in handy); Aleve, Ginger Chews, extra socks (just in case), avocado with spices in a ziplock (Thank you Abbey!), and my smart phone with gps/camera. Feeling a little overloaded, but ready for anything!
Abbey and I are ready…Angela awoke just enough to give hugs and wish us luck (she would be running the Half Marathon at a civil hour). We walk out the hotel door and board the awaiting school bus. There’s lots of room. As it slowly filled with supercharged runners, we scan the crowd for fellow TMMers, Brett and Kari, Colleen, Hannah, but realized they had boarded the second bus that pulled up. Once the buses were full, we were told that we need to squeeze more in. So we did—Ultra Runners are a fun and raucous bunch! Some people stood, some sat on the floor or squeezed three to a seat. The excitement was palpable. Abbey and I could barely hear each other yelling over the chatter.
In the darkness, we rode the wave of excited voices up a dirt rode for 45 minutes, arriving at a foggy meadow. One hundred+ adrenalized runners lined up to use the composting facilities. We eagerly awaited the “START.” If you’ve never ran an Ultra, you should know that most Ultra runners don’t sprint out of the gates, we politely jog and chat while everyone spreads out. It’s gonna be a long day on trail. Abbey and I were delighted to see Brett and Colleen as they trotted by. They had gotten a late start, so with a “Good Luck!” and “Have a Great Run!”, they rolled on. Kari joined us a little later and stuck with us for some fun miles before striding out.
The miles slipped by in the cool fog of morning. Perfect running temperatures. The Pink Cliffs were obscured by fog, creating a dreamy glow. The first aid station was pumping music through the haze and happy people greeted us there. We grabbed what we needed and continued on.
We were brief in the Aid Stations. There are six of them along the course, so spending even a few minutes in each one tacks on time quickly. According to my GPS, our total moving time was 11 hours and 23 minutes. Our finish time was 12 hours, 14 minutes and 55 seconds. That means there was nearly an hour of NOT moving forward. That was time at aid stations, taking photos, waiting out a thundering hail and rain storm, and generally taking care of business. If you’re in trouble in an Ultra the Aid Station might become a major part of your race report. I’m happy to say that neither Abbey or I had issues beyond the normal fatigue and a bruise or two from the hail!
I Digress Further
To Dropbag or Not? I had a drop bag all ready to go. It contained 5 Gels, 1 Builder’s Bar, 1 Chia Squeeze, and 1 Waterbottle with electrolyte tablets. I decided not to bother with it. I reasoned that the longest segment between aid stations is 9 miles and they’ll have plenty of gels. Gels are my mainstay. I know when my energy begins to flag, I need a gel. I had decided to lean heavily on them and have one per hour. That plan was working great. Between the gels in my pack and the aid stations I could easily keep gelling every hour. My plan fell apart at Blubber Creek Aid Station (24.5 Miles) when the gels ran out. I kept hoping that the next one would deliver, but that was it. No more gels. While I grabbed one at the first three AS, and I had 5 in my pack, that only added up to 8 hours. I had been hoping for a sub-12 hour finish (heck, I was hoping for sub-11!) but I was not going to make that cut-off. New Goal: Finish! Fruit and PB&Js were even scarce by Proctor, and Thunder Mountain had a few bottles of Gatorade. Remember that beautiful dropbag that I left in the hotel room?
There are so many factors that play into how well you’ll fair and whether you’ll finish an Ultra. Some of those factors are completely out of your control: the weather, a bad fall, getting lost, wildlife encounters, aid stations running out of food…yes, that last one got me this time. If you are running an event that will haul a dropbag to a designated aid station for you, DO IT!
We Finished 😉
The wheels never fell off. Abbey and I ran strong and enjoyed our 12+ hours on new trail in a stunningly beautiful setting. I was lacking in calories when we hit Red Canyon with about 5.5 miles left to finish. Suddenly the trail enters hoodooland! Winding upward through the sandstone towers, it delivers you to the sweeping ridges that connect the precarious hoodoos. It was my favorite part of the course. In fact, I could have stopped right there, but Abbey charged onward, pulling me along with her endless energy. It was the funnest finish ever: We held hands as we crossed the finish line with a crowd of family and friends cheering us on!
The 50 mile course was incredible stunning awesomeness! I highly recommend it 😉
I have to mention the incredibly strong finishes among all of the Tahoe Mountain Milers that participated!
You can see the official results here at UltraSignup.
Brett Long finish 5th overall in 8:57:04
Hannah Riedl was the 2nd Female and 16th overall with 9:50:30
Colleen Powers, 5th female with 11:03:19
Kari Long, 12th female with 11:57:35
Abbey and I were the 13th females with our 12:14:55
Craig Young finished with a strong 6:53:16
Mary Kay Wagner completed her first 50K with a very respectable 10:11:37
Angela Sullivan took 2nd in her division with a 2:50:22