Bryce Canyon 100 Race Report
By Fabrice Guillaume
Posted July 2016
If you want to "live" this race and skip this long Race report, here is a
that I shot while racing. Crank up the volume to fully appreciate.
This race was my 4th 100 miler.
I picked that race for several reasons:
- I always wanted to explore some of these beautiful parks in the West of the USA. Getting to Utah to race Bryce Canyon would allow me not only to discover this park but also to visit a few others in the area, in particular: Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Zion Park.
- I like choosing a theme for these long races. The last one for example was pan cake flat (C&O 100) to see how long I could sustain a comfortable
pace trying to slow down the least when there is no hill or technical difficulty that can slow me down. For this race, the theme was mountain racing
with 2 things I was curious about:
- how would I cope with high elevation when oxygen is much lower than at sea level where I live (8,000 to 9,500 feet)
- and how would my legs handle a lot of climbing (~19,000 feet vertical gain)
Going into this race, I had no particular expectations other than:
- making sure my quads don’t give up on me as they did in my last 50 miles training race leading to it
- finishing in the 24-30 hours range (the race has a 36 hours limit)
- as always, have fun and soak it all I, especially in such a beautiful scenic place
Parks loop: 4 parks visit, 1 race in 5 days
The loop I did was great – I highly recommend doing this to future races that also want to discover Utah/Nevada. Here is the loop:
Days leading to the race
Race was on Friday. I flew in from Baltimore to Vegas on Tuesday evening. I got my rental car, slept in Vegas and drove on Wednesday early morning to The Grand Canyon, which is about 4 hours away. This was my first stop of a 5 day/4 parks loop.
There I spent 5 hours walking and using their shuttle to visit this amazing place. I was blown away by how grandiose this is and how tiny we feel in front of it.
Grand Canyon's Pictures better describe the place than words, so here you go:
The following day – Thursday - I met at Monument Valley with a native Indian from Navajo Tribe for a 2.5 hours tour.
I highly recommend doing these tours for 3 reasons:
- The 17 miles dirt road is really bumpy and your car can get a beating.
- In addition, these tours allow you to go explore another part of the park not opened to the public and you end up doing a 25 miles loop
- Finally, you get a chance to learn more about the Navajo’s culture and history.
I spent about 3 hours in this park and I could recognize several places where many of the westerns I used to watch, as a kid, were shot. I then
drove about 4 hours in the afternoon to get to Bryce Canyon.
After that, I checked in at the host hotel Ruby-Inn. I also recommend this hotel for future racers – perfectly placed as this is where you can check-in for the race and get into the shuttles in the morning of the race. The race starts several miles away where there is no hotel out there. This is also where the shuttle gets you back after the race. Rooms are super comfy and there are several options to eat.
Checking-in for the race was a breeze. The set up was outside in the grass where they had several large tents. The really nice thing is that they give you 2 meal tickets, one for the same evening and one for the post race meal. And they have delicious pizzas freshly made with a super thin crust and baked in a wooden oven – as close as they are done in Europe. Yummy and perfect for pre/post race food.
Race was at 6am on Friday. Temperatures were quite chilly in the morning and I had to put a couple more layers on temporarily to stay warm. The weather forecast was sunny, quite hot during the day and not too cold for the night. We would not have to deal with rain/mud as the previous year as I read in other race reports, so that was great, especially when my last 50 miles was really all in the mud.
I used the shuttle to get to race site, several miles away from Ruby-Inn. There I waited with the other racers for the race to start. We listened to the anthem, cheered and off we went.
My race strategy was to:
- Hydrate a lot as it would be hot and I may not feel it at high altitude. I would carry both a camel bag and a water bottle in which I would add some tailwind mix to get some extra calories. li>
- Eat regularly and use a zip lock bag to fill it up at each aid station and eat in between. This is what I’ve been doing the last 2 races and this works really well. I see so many athletes spending 5-15mins at each aid station. Why do this when you can carry food and eat it as you go. It’s not like you are running fast and can’t digest. Use the time in between aid station to eat – this saves you time and this also takes your mind away from any potential difficulty you may experience as you eat and hopefully enjoy the tasty food you have. li>
- Pop a sodium pill every hour and monitor my HR to not let it creep up and maintain it in my steady zone. li>
- Use 2 drop bags placed at 1/3rd and 2/3rd of the distance with my night lamps, spare batteries and some nutrition and spare clothes.
- Pace myself up to the turning point at 51mile marker, then assess if I feel good. If okay, pick up the pace a bit, if not keep it up as long as possible. Goal was to try to to pick a few runners on the way back as many usually go a bit too fast in the first half and fade a lot in the last 30 miles of the race. This worked really well at my last race.
- Use a charger to charge my Garmin watch and iPhone, and eventually listen to music during the night portion if I need a mental boost. 1st time I was using a charger – before I used to swap my Garmin watches.
- Make a Go-Pro video to share with my friends, family and future racers interested in this race and who want to get a perspective from within the race. Here is the GoPro Video
How it unfolded:
Start to Thunder Mountain aid station: distance to cover: 10.5 miles / Total mileage at target AS: 10.5
Race started with a 2 miles dirt road with a slight incline before getting onto a trail. This is where we would finish the race on the way back. The trail was a single track trail going in and out of draws through ponderosa forest. I ran these first few miles at an easy pace trying to not let my HR go too high and assessing how hard was it too breath. I was happy to see it was actually not bad and my HR was stable where it was supposed to be. I watched the sun rising and I was feeling absolutely excited to finally live the moment I was waiting for a long time – visit a magnificent park while trying to get a new buckle. Then, I got to my first spectacular views of the red rock formations that were glowing with the sun setting on them. I stopped quickly at many places to take pictures/movies and soaked it in all. Trail then went down and I eventually reached the first aid station where I added more water to both my water bottle and camel bag.
Thunder Mountain AS to Proctor AS: distance to cover: 8.5 miles / Total mileage at target AS: 19
Leaving the AS, I knew I had my first couple of climbs coming. The single trail was well marked and I would stay on it for most of the race – it’s called “Grand view” and its name was really well given, the grandiose views were coming up. Climbs were pretty steep and long but the level of effort required was not too bad – I just had to power walk when it would get too steep and resume my “jogging” pace as soon as there were easier sections. I eventually got to Proctor where I had my drop bag. There, a big crowd was waiting as there were a lot of racers with their family/friends crewing for them and it was nice to hear them cheering for all racers. There, I dropped there my 2 extra layers from the morning, as it was getting warm now. I grabbed a couple of small zip bags I had prepared with Tail wind mix, filled up my water bottle + camel bag, filled my zip bag with water melon and banana and got-off. I ate while I resumed my run and would keep doing this pretty much at each aid station moving forward.
Proctor AS to: distance to Blubber Creek AS: distance to cover 9 miles / Total mileage at target AS: 28
Leaving Proctor, the landscape was beautiful but in a different manner, going through grass/forest. I had “just” 9 miles but 2 major climbs. But it started to be really hot at that time. I kept on powering up the hills but the overall pace was obviously slower because of the steep incline and the really, really, long climbs. I quickly realized I had to ration myself or I would run out of water. The inevitable happened and I ran out of water yet having 2 miles of steep incline. I slew down a bit further to not overheat and try to not sweat too much. And I stayed focused on just getting to the AS. Getting there felt really great as I could finally drink and hydrate. I also ate some solid food with potatoes/pretzels, which I took with me in addition to fruits.
Blubber Creek AS to Kanab AS: distance to cover 8 miles / Total mileage at target AS: 36 Leaving Blubber, I knew I had relatively easier trail ahead of me as I was on the plateau. I discovered during this section some magnificent canyons that I could see from above. During that section, I was surrounded by a small group of runners and we all stayed together for most of this section. I felt pretty good, not overdoing it and trying to drink some more to hydrate back as my quick pee break indicated I was really de-hydrated. I also kept on eating (key to a successful long distance endurance event – you just need to keep on eating/drinking). I made it eventually to Kanab AS where some loud music was playing and an energetic crew was helping. It was really cool.
Kanab AS to Straight Canyon AS: distance to cover 5 miles / Total mileage at target AS: 41 Leaving Kanab, I felt great as I had a chance to drink/eat some more and felt I was back to where I wanted.
After a couple of miles on the trail, we started our long gradual descent on a fire road to Straight Canyon where I had my drop bag. This felt like a never ending descent and I told myself the way back up on the return would be “fun”. I eventually made it to the AS where a crew of many racers were and welcomed me with cowbells and a great atmosphere. Same nutrition/hydration routine – filled up the tanks and took off.
Straight Canyon AS to Pink Cliff AS: distance to cover 5.5 miles / Total mileage at target AS: 46.5
After half mile on the dirt road, I made a right onto a single-track trail that was going gradually up for about a mile. I then joined another fire road that would go at a steady climb for 3 miles all the way to the top that would be the highest point of the race at 9,400 ft. During the ascent I had a chance to chat with a fellow runner. I started to feel something was a bit off and slew down letting him go. I tried to get a gel, something I usually keep as “last resort” option when I need a bit of a surge/push. I usually try to stay away from gels and eat more solid food. As I tried to swallow the gel, this made me throw up. I emptied pretty much all I had ate/drunk in the last 3-4 hours. I felt better and immediately worked towards filling up back my empty tank. Super important to address in particular potential dehydration so I really focused on drink a lot.
One section about a mile before getting to the AS is literally a wall, going straight up the steep hill and I had to almost use my hands at a couple of occasions as the ground was based of loose rocks. Arriving at Pink Cliff, I met some other great volunteers. I switched food to some yummy quesadillas and chips. Before leaving, I had the chance to listen to another fellow runner that sang a great anthem from his country – the atmosphere was amazing. I was also happy knowing I had done the most difficult of the first half of the race and it was downhill at the turning point.
Pink Cliff AS to Crawford AS: distance to cover 5 miles / Total mileage at target AS: 51.5
As I left Pink Cliff, I felt great. The double-track was extremely runnable. And my legs felt so great that I decided to just “let it go”. I did what I love doing when going down – just lean forward and let the gravity do the rest. Since it was not technical, I could really cruise and I ended up catching with the 2 runners that had left me earlier in the up-hill. I also got a chance to see the first runner and started to count who was behind to give me an idea where I was in the overall race. I was 11th as I made it to the turn around AS point. This was actually a great news as I realized I could make it to the top10.
This is where I decided I would work the 2nd part of the race to try to pick up whoever I could that may be fading while trying not to be passed. I left the AS leaving my 2 fellow friend runners I had caught up with in the downhill.
Crawford AS to Straight Canyon: total mileage to target AS: 62
Heading back from the turn around point, I also checked how many runners were in close proximity. I saw several of them within a mile or 2 and realized I would have to stay strong not to let any catch up with me. I also saw a friendly VHTRC shirt and asked this friendly face if he was from VA. It’s always nice to see some people from the East coast in these remote races! I jogged/powered up the 3 miles of double-track to Cliff AS. I then proceeded to the downhill section to Straight Canyon and same there, I just “let it go”, feeling really, really, great. Legs were shockingly feeling fresh. I also kept on encouraging the other runners going up the hill – and they would do the same, cheering for me. This is one thing I really love about trail running – everybody encourages everybody else. Super friendly atmosphere, super low key. As I arrived to Straight Canyon, I was welcomed by a crowd of volunteers clapping in their hands which felt great. I was in position 8, I believe.
Straight Canyon to Blubber Creek AS: total mileage to target AS: 75
At Straight Canyon, I swapped my shirt for a long sleeve shirt and took both my head lamp and flash light as well as my charger for my watch. I filled up my camel bag/water bottle, grabbed some food in my zip bag and headed out. On the fire road, going at a gentle incline I managed to jog most of it while eating. I crossed path with a fellow runner from Russia that I had met the night before. It was his first 100 miles and I was happy to see him in good spirit. He eventually finished the race just under 36 hours limit (35h something).
Then, I had to stop to throw up for a 2nd time. Not sure why this happened again, but I felt better right after. I think my stomach may simply have shut down and was not processing the food/drink I was getting. I kept on drinking / eating anyway as I did not want to dehydrate.
I stopped at Pink Cliff aid station where I met the 7th runner and his pacer. They left the AS, shortly after I arrived. I asked for a soup with noodles to try to see if my stomach may settle better with this food. I ate it and took off. I eventually caught up with both runners and wished them a great end of race.
I kept on running, seeing the sun gradually setting down and some of the canyons taking some really vivid colors - beautiful.
I eventually reached Blubber Creek and did the same routine. At that moment, I realized that if I kept on pushing, I may be able to get to the top 5, if 2 more runners faded and I kept on running strongly. Surprisingly my legs were still in really good shape, in particular my quads that used in the past to give up at mile 75 and after. The strength workouts and all the hills workout I did in the months leading to the race are probably the reason why.
Blubber to Proctor AS: total mileage to target AS: 84
That section went really well, mainly down. The sun was now down and I was running with both my headlamp and flashlight. I would turn on the flash light when going down to better see the roots/rocks and their depth. Going up, I would only use my headlamp to save some battery with my flash light. I did not see anyone during that section. I enjoyed that section in the night that was surprisingly silent (no frog, no cricket, no sound, no nothing). In addition, it was pretty much full moon and you could see pretty decently even without headlamp. I arrived at Proctor where a few volunteers were kindly spending the night to take care of us crazy athletes that run through the day and night. I had a good time with one of the volunteers and we laughed a few times. After eating another bowl of noodle soup, I left.
Proctor AS to Thunder Mountain: total mileage to target AS: 92.5
That section had a couple of brutal / long climbs but I kept on power walking them as strongly as possible and I ran all the flats/down hills. Still no sign of quads giving up so I really felt in control throughout this section, not having to slow down whenever it was going down, something I would usually do that far into a race when quads don’t cooperate. I eventually caught up with a 6th runner that I had seen earlier in the race. I wished him good luck and kept on going. Then, I spotted 2 head lamps further and focused on getting to those. It was the first female and her pacer that I had seen at the turn around earlier in the day. Same there, I congratulated her. She is was really a beast. And I kept on going. As I arrived at Thunder Mountain, I realized a headlamp in the distant back had actually gained time on me and was closing on me. Shortly after I arrived at the AS, a new runner had made his way to me. We chatted briefly and I left the AS after filling in my zip bag with the noodle soup that I did not want to eat at the AS, not wanting to lose time.
Thunder Mountain AS to Finish: total mileage to target AS: 100
Leaving Thunder Mountain, I had a very long climb. I was determined to put as much distance as possible with the 6th runner that had caught up with me and see if I could hold up this 5th place. We played a fun / mental game of seeing each other going up and through different canyons with our headlamps and trying to see who was gaining time on the other. I also saw the first lay with her pacer also now moving pretty well. So I kept pushing and pushing more. I had to throw up a 3rd time but did not feel bad. Clearly, the noodle soup did not change things with my upset stomach. But no biggy, especially so close to the finish. My mind was set, my legs were cooperating – it was now all about getting to finish line asap before this other runner catches up with me. As I finished the big climb, I looked at my watch and for the first time, actually realized I could finish under 24 hours, something I had not necessarily thought could be done, especially as my maths done earlier around mile 50-60 indicated I was behind to do achieve this. So, that gave me another big boost and between this and my fellow runner following me behind, I decided to keep as strong of a pace as possible.
The good news too was that this last section of the race was a lot more runnable. Looking back every so often to see how things were progressing behind me, I also realized the 6th runner was slightly distanced. I kept on running, noticing the sun now was about to rise and the darkness was fading away. Last 2 miles were on the fire road, going slightly down hill and I ignited the turbo engine. I finally saw the finish line, my watch showing I was actually finishing under 24 hours and nobody behind. Time to soak it all in, with a big smile on my face and crossing in 23h48. A few minutes later, I welcomed 6th runner and congratulated him. And 1st woman, 7th overall, made also her way a few minutes later too, making it under 24 hours too. What a beast.
I felt a huge sense of accomplishment, having managed to walk/run my way through the field from 11th to 5th and finishing this tough race under 24h. The Race director was here waiting for us and congratulating us. He let me select a race buckle among many, all of them unique, hand crafted with some leaves, roots, herbs inserts, coming from the trail. Really cool.
I then headed to my hotel with the shuttle that was servicing the finish line non stop. A quick shower and I was in bed. I slept like a baby for 6 hours.
Then I decided to go back to the finish line to go see other runners that were still out there. This is quite inspiring to see those athletes spending another day after a full day/night, still running and trying to cross the finish line under 26 hours limit (that’s 6 pm). I also had the chance to meet 6th runner and chatted a bit with him. And I also had the chance to eat the yummy firewood pizzas that I really enjoyed 2 days earlier.
Day after race
The following day, I headed to Zion Park as it was on the way to Vegas Airport. There, I spent about 5 hours, hiking for most of the time. One neat thing about this park is that at the very end, you can hike in the river going up and watching the huge canyon gradually getting narrower. I enjoyed a lot this park and I feel it helped me recover from the race, keeping the blood moving through the legs. Also having the feet in fresh water was refreshing as it was quite hot.
I then made it to Vegas, took a red eye, and I was working the day after at work, like nothing had happened, yet being another person. In my head, absolutely gorgeous pictures of all these magnificent parks would play non-stop. A great trip.
Many thanks to:
- my lovely wife Marianne and both my sons Celian and Ethan for their continuous support.
- my main sponsor =PR= (Potomac River Running) that provided me with my nutrition and my shoes (Hoka Trail ATR)
- my team sponsors Spokes, TriSport and Running Warehouse
- my family, my co-workers from CircleBack, my Triathlon friends from Team FeXY and my trail runner friends from VHTRC (Virginia Happy Trails Running Club).