The Bryce Ultra Series is one of my favorite events of the year. RD Matt Gunn and the Ultra Adventures crew put on an amazing event on one of the best and most scenic courses in the country. It’s always a challenge to participate, however. The race usually falls within a day or two of my wife’s birthday and we make it a habit to go away together for each other’s birthdays. This year we’d be in St George, not too far away. I originally had intentions of running the 100, but as we made plans to go away I wasn’t about to sacrifice that much time away from my wife near her birthday. I was happy to be running the 50.
The course ran South to North this year, a novel idea. An early morning bus ride with friends got us to a mirky and foggy meadow just before 6am. In usual Matt G fashion, the start was low key and 140 of us took off into the mist. I found myself immediately in the top 10 as we wound through single track below the ominous cloudy hoodoos above. Beyond the first couple of miles the single track gives way to a dirt road and a nearly 3 mile climb to the first aid station at Pink Cliffs, possibly the most beautiful point on the course. I ran this entire road with the other front runners, now dwindled down to 5.
As we approached the aid station it became apparent that we wouldn’t be seeing any beautiful sights this day. The cliffs were completely socked in with clouds. I said a quick hello to friends running the aid station (Pink Cliffs was manned by good friend Matt Williams and the Wasatch Mountain Wranglers) and then was off to make the long descent with the other top four guys. We flew at a comfortable pace to Straight Canyon with Pete in the lead and chatting away. The company on this section was just stellar.
As we left Straight Canyon we spread out a little. The other three guys went on ahead as I felt the strain from the week leading up to the race settle in. I was also starting to get wisps of some altitude issues. Dizziness and lack of energy would plague me for the next several hours. My legs were a bit heavy and I had no power on the uphills, but I generally felt decent for the most part. I was on my goal time, running in the top ten, and not spending any real time at aid stations.
I got to run from Blubber Creek to Proctor Aid station, some great single track through the forest and below amazing hoodoos with Ben and Brett, from Crested Butte and Carson City respectively. We leap-frogged off and on for almost 15 miles, sharing experiences and stories and generally just enjoying the company later in the race.
The last aid station, Thunder Mountain, was a welcome site. I knew at this point that I only had 8 miles left and I kind of just wanted to be done. As I rolled in I surveyed the table for snacks, looked up and saw Sarah, Jenna’s sister. It took a second for it to click, at which point I said hello. I then turned to my left and there was Jenna, waiting patiently for me to notice and then offering to help. I immediately hugged her, excited to have a close friend there who was specifically there to support me. Trying not to stay long though I had a quick conversation, another hug, and then I was off.
The climb through Red Canyon is incredible. I feel like it rivals anything in the National Park, except we got to walk right through it all. With a couple of big climbs and then more rollers than I can count I felt myself getting closer and closer to the finish. The weather had held off for the entire day to this point, but was now threatening. Closer and closer to the finish line, I made my way. But with each turn there was just another climb and then drop.
Finally, a voice in the distance yelled out, “come on Shoe!” and I knew I was close to the finish. As I crested the final rise before the finish I looked for Jenna, as I knew it was her voice who was calling out to me, but couldn’t find her. She used the opportunity to hide behind a tree and then scare me with no more than 100 yards left in the race. Sheesh. Talk about a good friend! We ran it in together and I crossed the line in 9:03:24. My goal was nine hours, so I was immensely happy. To have friends there; Jenna, Sarah, and Matt VH was more than I could have asked for. It was the highlight of my day and I am so grateful they could make it for my finish.
I stuck around to watch Pete and a few other people finish, then went and got cleaned up and drove back to St George, just in time for dinner and a movie with my wife.
What a great race. The people were amazing, as usual. The race was organized well and everyone was so nice. Thank you to everyone who showed up and made an effort.