Bryce Canyon 60K Race recap. Maybe this race should carry a “Do not try this at home, if you live in Florida” warning. I thought I was prepared for this race with a chance to come out and win it, but no matter how you train it doesn’t prepare you for it. I had been training on the Belleair bridge 3 times a week for the last 3 months, including back to back 34 & 28 miles. But with our incline of maybe 4% it doesn’t come close to the continuous climbs that you face on a real trail. Add to that 7,500 feet elevation at the start with over 4,600 feet of climbing, the sun beating down on you, dry air and the dust it was a challenge.
The race started out at 6am, with about 280 people in the field. I recognized the person that had won the race the previous 2 years and was hoping that I could beat his 6 hours 18 minute time. There were more competitors this year so I also knew that there were probably other people coming to do the same and when the race started and the lead pack started the run up-hill in soft sand I knew it was going to be tough to win. Race temperature at the start of the race was around 37 degrees and would stay chilly for a couple of hours. Rather than chase them I settled into my own pace and let a group of 15 or so run ahead. I knew the first 4.4 miles were the steepest climbs in the race and didn’t want to go out too hard, but looking back at my Garmin stats it said my heart rate went up to 192 before I hit the steepest portion where I walked. I actually felt pretty good during that section and just thought part of the heavy breathing was just the altitude that I hadn’t quite got used to only coming to this area 48 hours earlier. I had to get a massage Thursday morning as my calf’s were destroyed from the flight, 4hours without moving, and then finding the nearest hill in St George to go run up. Hikes every day leading up to the race probably also didn’t help but when the state is so pretty you have to. That’s another benefit that running has brought us, we’ve got to see many other parts of America we would have never experienced if it wasn’t seeking out race destinations.
The next 7 miles were then coming down the hill we had just climbed with some decent runnable sections, with other sections of rock and cutbacks. There were aid stations at mile 2.5 and 4.5 and the next was around mile 11. I decided to ware my Naked Running Belt with 2 soft flasks, each filled with about 400 ml of water rather than a vest as those tend to bounce around on me. With the dry heat and sun that was a decision I would probably have switched. By mile 12 I still felt good and under a 10 minute pace to come in around a 6:10 which I hoped would be good enough to win. By mile 13 my right calf got tight but I was still moving well. Mile 13.6 had an aid station and a grabbed a gel and by the time I hit the next one at mile 20 I had ran out of water and my mouth was so dry. We had started to climb again by mile 18 and would continue to do so until we got to the Hoodoo’s at mile 24. The next aid station was around mile 28 and during those 8 miles with climbing in soft sand and the full sun in the mid 70’s with no shade saw me run out of water again.
This section had some narrow ledges about 18 inches wide with drop off’s on each side at a 45 degree angle, and the downhills were full of rocks and steps so you constantly had to keep your eyes on the ground. Apart from the hoodoos and the outlook just past it, this was the only time in the race I looked up to see the scenery, the remainder was having to watch your steps. My calf’s were still tight and my left hip area was a little sore. Luckily at this water only aid station they had just filled it with water, later when my friends Ray and Aida pass through someone had deliberately pushed it over, I’m sure not a runner. I’m not sure I would have done well with the next 2.5 miles if I didn’t get water there, and I train a lot of long runs without consuming any water.
At the aid station at mile 30 I learnt that the course still had 8.4 miles left rather than the 7.5 I though as they had to move the start line from the planned field to a different location. Worst yet little did I know that the next 6 miles to the last aid station felt like it was entirely up hill, worse than the initial climb even though I knew it wasn’t. Feeling dehydrated, tired legs and the sun this section may be the toughest 6 miles I’ve ever ran, or should a say walked. There were a few down sections but those were more technical and rocky than the remainder of the course and again I quickly ran out of water. There were plenty of times during this section I just wanted to stop and rest, but I still hoped to catch some of the lead pack so pushed through the pain. I was rewarded when I passed Danny, the winner from the previous 2 years. At mile 35 we had finished the climbs but the first mile downhill was difficult with steep drops soft gravel and more cutbacks.
Finally I came into the last aid station at mile 36 with just 2.5 miles to go on a very runnable section, but it was soft sand and rocks so you still had to watch every step. Danny came into the aid station behind me but left first so I had to chase him down. I knew from the previous years he runs these in the high 8 min/mile pace and honestly didn’t know if I had it in my legs but I was going to give it everything. I caught up to him and ran with him for about 1/2 mile before picking up the pace, I didn’t want to have to sprint in against someone 20 years my junior at the end. I also then could see another runner that had passed me about 5 miles earlier so I picked up the pace to catch him. My last 3 miles were 8:50, 8:40 and 8:30 pace. I finally crossed the finish line in 7 hours, 14 minutes in 13th place. Not quite the 6 hour something goal race I was hoping for but still pleased with the outcome given how difficult this race was. Looking at the 12 people ahead of me, most of them were in their low 30’s and all of them were from Utah, Colorado or Arizona areas with similar terrain to the race profile so given my age, 61, and a 10 1/2 year hip replacement I still think it’s respectable for a Florida flatlander.
Talking about my hip, it was so painful after the race. That last 2.5 mile downhill section in the sand chasing down Danny and the other person really aggravated it. I had to take 2 Tylenol and Advil for the remainder of the day to manage the pain. I did try to sleep but couldn’t get comfortable. I also had fever and was burning up. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it back to see Ray complete his 60K on his 60th birthday and Aida finish her first ultra and trail race. Taylor had also joined us from Florida running in the 30K and Ashlee a nearby neighbor also ran the 60K. We had a blast in Utah enjoying the sites in St George and around Bryce. I never thought of Utah as a vacation destination but would recommend it and this race to everyone. My hip feels good today and we went for a small 3.5 mile walk this morning, my calf’s still a little tight but better than they did after our Georgia Blue Ridge race. Today is a day to rest and recover and spend the rest of the day with Judy as we enjoy our 40thwedding anniversary. We had hoped to visit France on our way to run Comrades in South Africa but this was a good replacement making new friends and spending the week with them.