“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Psalm 19:1
Driving to the hotel the day before the start reinforced how beautiful this race was going to be. The red and white mountains, incredible rock formations, and beauty all around were powerful reminders of God’s amazing creation. I was looking forward to starting my 12th 100-Mile race and second race of 2017.
Dirty German 50 Miler- May
In May, I returned to a race I had previously completed a few years ago. I had run the Dirty German 25K in 2013, finishing 3rd overall. The following year, I returned for the 50M, but went out too fast, running the first 25K at a similar pace I had the year before. This year was more of a training run, but my plan was to try and break 8 hours.
My friend Chris offered to pace me for the last of the 3 loops but I was unsure if he’d join me. While the temperature for the race was looking good, the rain had never stopped from the day before and only got worse throughout the day. I texted him and gave him an out if the weather didn’t let up.
The Dirty German lived up to its name, featuring sections with mud that was ankle-deep, water that was above the knees, and slippery terrain that worked the core. This was not normal but the race director and volunteers were great at making adjustments to the course and aid stations as a result of all the flooding. In the end, I didn’t even come close to breaking 8 hours, but was very happy with a 5th place overall finish. Chris showed up for the final loop and his help was a big part of that result. It turned out to be a fun day and I was getting excited with just 4 weeks left until Bryce Canyon.
My first challenge was getting to the drop bag area before the 8pm cut-off on Thursday. Aside from getting lost, not having my drop bags is the biggest cause of pre-race nightmares. I had done a lot of the drop bag prep in advance but still had some work to do to ensure I’d have the right gear and nutrition for a self-supported run. My main error was failing to realize that driving from Las Vegas to Bryce Cannon would result in me losing an hour due to time zone changes. It was close but I arrived with about an hour to check in, put my bags together, and drop everything off before getting dinner and settling down for the night. Everything worked out and my friend John D, who was running his first 50K, was helpful in getting me ready and keeping me calm.
The Start and Strava Friends
Strava is an app that has slowly begun to replace Facebook for me in many ways. It allows you to track your fitness activities and connect with others. I have met so many great people through this site and connected with friends such as Martin and Chris at UTMB in Europe as well as Teresa and Phil in San Antonio, to name a few.
John Paul is from Colorado, and he often posts awesome pictures from his local runs on Strava. We exchanged info before the race and met up at the start. We decided that we’d start off together, but I didn’t plan for us to stay together long as I thought I’d need to stop to take care of personal business. However, I was feeling good and a group of us started to pick up the pace. John Paul knew a bunch of the guys we were running with, and a few times I led the group wondering what I was doing up front. We were constantly ascending or descending on easy non-technical trails that were enjoyable for the first 20 miles at a sub-24 hour pace, which unfortunately wouldn’t last for me. (John Paul would finish in 28 hours)
The temperature quickly began to rise along with the sun. Average temps for Bryce Canyon in June range from 45°-75° (F). I think everyone knew that it was going to be warmer than normal, but I don’t think anyone thought temperatures would rise well into the 90°s. Although the elevation ranged from around 8-9,000’, it was not as much of a factor as the heat, which quickly began to beat me down.
The First Bonk of the Day
The race website provides the following description for miles 19-28: “From Proctor Canyon, you’ll continue south through a rugged 9+ mile section, ultimately ascending up onto the rim of the Plateau at Blubber Creek Aid Station (AS).” I am not sure “rugged” accurately captured this section, and I was surprised at the difficulty given all the images of smooth trails on the website and the enjoyable early sections. I tried to adjust and slowed the pace. The bigger challenge, given the unexpected heat, was the long distances between aid stations (8 of the 14 were over 7 miles apart). The combination of the heat, fast 20 miles from the start, and short technical section resulted in me dragging my overheated and dehydrated corpse into Blubber Creek AS. I was sick and practically passed out (John Paul came in after me and later told me he thought I was done) on an empty chair. I recovered there for about an hour (according to my Garmin) got rehydrated, refueled, and refocused.
I finally departed towards Kanab Creek AS on a nice section of the course that hovered around 9,000’. I began to feel better and was taking in plenty of fluids. The next few sections included dropping down to 8,300’ for the Straight Canyon AS (Mile 41), ascending to 9,500’ at the Pink Cliffs AS (Mile 46.5), and then dropping back down to 8,400’ for the turnaround point, Crawford Pass AS (Mile 51.5). Some of these miles were spectacular with amazing views overlooking the hoodoos. Given that I had adjusted my goals at this point to finish in under 30 hours, I had plenty of time to appreciate the beauty around me and take some pictures.
As I began my climb back up to Pink Cliffs, darkness began to fall and I thought the temperatures would as well. While it did cool off, it definitely remained warmer than expected. In addition, while the landscape and rock formations were amazing in the daylight, the night sky was breath-taking and my iPhone could not capture its beauty.
I continued stopping at aid stations to make sure I had what I needed. Things were going well and I left Kanab Creek AS (Mile 67) heading back to Blubber Creek AS (Mile 75) feeling good. I thought I was doing well with fluids and nutrition, but eventually I began to really struggle for the second time. Initially I assumed it was because I was tired after around 22 hours, and thought a nap might help when I got to the aid station. I noticed that I had to pee frequently and initially thought it was a good sign that I was well hydrated. However, I thought something was not right since I felt dizzy and nauseous as I continued on.
I knew that my running group, Doylestown Christian Runners would be meeting to pray and run around this time on the East coast. I began praying along with them, hoping to find strength to pick it up. This helped me to remain focused, but in retrospect, my electrolytes were probably off as I dragged myself back to Blubber Creek AS where I had crashed and burned at mile 28 the day before.
I collapsed again in an empty seat and slowly began to try to eat food as well as take in more salt. Despite thoughts it may have been exhaustion or sleepiness, my focus remained on taking in calories and to getting back out as quick as I could. Eventually I headed back out on the 10-mile section that had kicked my butt the day before. Fortunately I wasn’t trying to crush it at that point, and I also had my poles which were a big help. I had picked these up at mile 41, and was glad to be using them at this point in the race.
The sun and temps both seemed to rise quickly again but I already knew that a sub-30 hour finish had slipped away from me after my last stop. Like at UTMB in 2016, I decided to make the most of it by talking to other runners and taking in the beauty around me. Most of the pictures I took came on that second day while I patiently made my way back to the finish.
It is always amazing how completely different the same exact trails you run in one direction, can feel when returning back to the finish on an out-n-back course. After leaving the last aid station at mile 92.5 (Thunder Mountain) around noon, I recognized the environment but not the exact trails I had run the previous day. It was beautiful and rather than focusing on the runners in front or footsteps behind me as I had the day before, I took in the scenery and looked forward to getting this over with.
Eventually some of the 50K guys started passing me (50K starts at 8am on Day 2), and I wondered how John D was doing in his first ultra. Things were really heating up by this point and I found a group of runners surrounding another runner who didn’t look too good laying in some shade. The other runners said that they had already called for help, had water, and were going to wait. I decided to continue on and eventually saw the first aid person riding up on a mountain bike to provide assistance in the hot sun.
As I looked at the time and distance I had left, I decided that while all my other goals had vanished before me once again, I could at least try to still come in under 33 hours. Initially I thought this should be simple, as I was feeling good for the most part and thought I knew where the finish line was. Unfortunately I miscalculated, and with about a mile to go and no sign of the finish line, I did my best to pick it up. I felt like I was flying at a 10min/mile pace. Despite my distrust of several people who told me the finish was right around the bend (it’s always dangerous to believe what spectators tell you in a race), they were right. I had plenty of time and crossed the finish line in 32:55.
While I know I went out too fast, there are so many other tactical errors I made during and before the race that I must learn from, not dwell on. I went into this race weighing over 15 pounds heavier than I have in most races that I have done well in. While my friends and family see me as thin (compared to years earlier), carrying that much extra weight over 100 miles in heat and at elevation isn’t conducive to great results. I also think I became a little paranoid during the second half of the race and drank too much H20 while not having enough electrolytes, which resulted in my second bonk in the morning of Day 2. Finally, I know how important the days leading up to the race are in terms of rest and focus, but personal commitments (High School and Elementary school graduations, 3 Dance recitals, and a confirmation) and work commitments (traveling to LA the day before the race) didn’t allow for that this year.
Despite this, I loved running on this beautiful course in a part of the US I had never experienced before. The gorgeous landscapes with hoodoos and other rock formations of red, yellow, purple, and white gradations made this terrain spectacular to traverse by foot. The dark night sky with a breath taking view of the universe helped me understand why this phenomenal location is a popular destination for star-gazer. Both the beauty of the heavens at night and earth in the day were powerful reminders for me of God’s amazing creation and the old hymn by Cecil F. Alexander frequently entered my mind:
“All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all.”
The only real disappointment of the race was that it occurred on Father’s Day weekend, which meant I was not with my family for the first time ever on this day. I am blessed that I have such as loving wife and family that supported this adventure. I had looked at other races, but other family activities conflicted with races that would provide me with both a ticket to WS100 and six points for UTMB. Fortunately, Bryce Canyon met these criteria and these 2 factors, along with knowing that I would be missing Father’s day at home, served as powerful motivators for me when I hit some low points at Blubber Creek Aid station both times.
I am so grateful to all my running friends who support me on these crazy runs, whether they themselves enjoy ultras or prefer a quick 5k. My new co-workers, who I have worked with for around a year, still question my sanity in doing these races, but remain supportive nonetheless. Obviously John D, who completed the 50K, is one of those who were intrigued by these runs and I am so proud of his success on a brutal race that served as his first, and hopefully not last ultra.
Most important is my Lord Jesus Christ who gives me strength when I doubt myself and continues to love and forgive me in all circumstances.
Up Next – My Nemesis
The only 100 Mile race I have yet to complete is the Grindstone 100, which will take place in October. It is a race I have had to DNF twice (click here for first race report) . I have less than 100 days before this race, and I know I have a lot of work to do. However, this is a race I plan to go in with high expectations since I have yet to have a strong result in almost 2 years at this distance.