This weekend I will be toeing the line for the Bryce 100. Keeping with my 100 mile rituals, I’m typing this while enjoying a beverage at the town’s only coffee shop. I spend a couple days before the race camping out with my pacer mentally preparing for what’s about to take place. Convincing my body that it’s OK to run 100 miles and getting myself right mentally are just as important as the months of physical preparation that I’ve endured.
Getting ahead of myself as I often do, my mind wandered to a post race report. However, I’m never too sure on what’s appropriate to write about after my races. It’s an intimate experience that opens me up, tears me down and leaves me very, very vulnerable…and my ego doesn’t always want to share that with the general public. I guess this is just a great excuse to have a platform on which to appease my ‘taper tantrum’ and pen out my pent up emotions in a PRE-race report.
Bryce is a wonderful place. And I do mean that in the very meaning of the word. It’s almost impossible to verbally describe the area and its inspiring beauty. The 50 mile length of trail a few hundred runners and I will head out on traverses everything from smooth desert to technical alpine trail, all with stunning views of the canyons with their famous hoodoos. Every climb is rewarded with not only some amazing downhill sections but vast scenery that allows runners, if only for fleeting moments, to forget their aching legs and hurting feet. I’m not a big fan of out and back courses, but my eyes more than appreciate the opportunity to behold such grandiosity twice in the same day.
The first person to welcome you to the race with the rough handshake that one can only earn from sleepless nights of course marking and clearing trails, is the RD Matt Gunn. As a runner himself, this guy knows how to put on an event. In fact, after last year’s inaugural Bryce Canyon 100, Matt was asked by the forest service NOT to host another 100 mile race because of the impact crew cars had on the ill-prepared road ways. After receiving such a backlash from runners upon the announcement of a pending cancellation, Matt contacted the forest service and sat down to establish circumstances on which he could host another race, practically begging on our behalf. I’m sure his personal beliefs and desire to host a completely up-cycled, recycled, and traceless race this year helped tip the scales.
This is not the easiest course. With 19,000+ ft of vertical gains and aid stations often being spread ~10 miles apart, Matt’s not taking you on an easy little jaunt through the desert. This course, in my opinion, ranks up there for the most beautiful AND challenging courses in the state of Utah… a state that boasts both The Bear 100 and Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run. His attention to not only detail but to his runners’ requests make it exciting to return to his events each year to see what he’s added now to make it even better. Imagine sitting at the finish line fire pit after taking a nice warm shower while the smell of fresh pizza and desserts wafts through the air… just waiting to be eaten by hungry runners. Matt makes that happen. Seriously, hot showers and fresh personal pizzas at the finish line!
I have a history here at Bryce. Last year, less than two weeks after a sub 3 hour marathon and with just a two days notice, I was peer pressured buy a new group of friends to try this ultra running in a 100k distance. Maybe it was the runner’s high from a new marathon PR still affecting my decisions, but I conceded. Bad choice. After a rather spectacular Anton Krupicka-esque blow-up, I finished my first Ultra distance race in an astounding, and not in a good way, 17:59:34. I did however gain a whole new respect and appreciation for Ultra Running during this philosophical, and quite literal, ‘walk-about’ experience.
Since then, I’ve completed a few more ultra distance races and have mostly done as well as I could ask of myself. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not trained nearly as well as I should be. My diet consists of more ice cream than most would say is healthy. Yet somehow I’m able to perform at a level above what all other indicators would dictate. I’m still trying to understand how, but mostly I believe it’s all in my mental preparedness.
Running 100 miles is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. The mental effort of the knowledge of the enormity of the task is what consumes most people. Mentally, I feel like I perform well enough to make up for my lack of physical abilities. Running for me is a game. It’s fun. I enjoy the challenge and love to see what I’m capable of. I’m ok with the pain. These are all great attributes and help me perform well. But they aren’t the key to what helps me be successful at the end of the day.
Simply put, I start my race with no self limiting preconceptions of what a reasonable pace is. Sure I have very rough and loose time frames of where I should be for my crew, but I’m not attached to them by any means. I race off of effort alone and I don’t get caught up in the race of those around me. I’m not competitive with anyone but myself. I toe the starting line with one goal in mind… to reach the finish line as quickly as body will allow for that day while enjoying myself as much as one can throughout 100 miles.
I’m no seasoned vet but there’s one thing I have learned in my short time running these events; there’s just too much variability to really determine exact paces and splits for the day. Mike Tyson said it best, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”. Stomachs can turn sour and you lose time to your next aid station. Maybe you have a perfect day and end up 30 minutes ahead of schedule by mile 50? All of these situations can leave you stressed out and mentally insecure, which then forces one to doubt the ability to continue during the inescapable and unrelenting low points that will most certainly come throughout the day. But what if that brief half hour of easy going during a sour stomach helps set you up for a surprisingly “fast” final 20 miles? Anyone remembering Geoff Roes’ comeback at Western States during the film Unbreakable???
All I can ask for after the Matt yells “go!” is that my body moves as quickly as it can given what the day brings it. Wherever that puts me in terms of time or placement, then that’s where I’ll be. But wherever it is, I will walk limp away from the finish line, take a hot shower and sit next to a camp fire and happily eat a pizza, knowing that my mind and body united and gave me the best that they could perform that day.
Special thanks to Altra Footwear, UltraSpire Hydration, Gore Apparel, Kameleonz Sunglasses and my support crew for helping get me through training and racing.
Editors Note: Check out this video for some highlights of last year’s Bryce 100