Exactly 1 year ago today (coincidence, not planned) I explored the Box Elder Trail with a friend and have been dying to get back. I put the peak on my list of summit goals for the year, and this morning I finally bagged it. I posted on some FB groups and an impressive roster of local runners joined. 15 in total (which is the group size limit) + 2 others who came a bit later and did the loop in the opposite direction (and happened to hit the summit right when we did. It was gorgeous. It was steep. The bottom of my right foot and top of my left foot have still been a bit tender from the Bryce 50k and subsequent week of hiking around Zion National Park…so I’m going to be really sore. We did it in just under 5 hours. I was pulling up the rear with a couple other for the climb up and the main group could have gone much faster. On the descent, I kept up with the main group. We went up the Box Elder Trail Nr. 044, wrapped it around the west side of the saddle between Box Elder Peak and South Box Elder Peak, climbed up said saddle, and then summitted via the south ridge. Yowzers. Miles 1-2 climb about 2,000 ft, then miles 3-4 “only” climb another 1,000 ft. By mile 6, as you get on the south shoulder and stare up the climb to the peak (see pictures below) you have climbed about 3,300 ft. Then, the 1/2 mile climb to the summit pops on another ~1,000 ft. Yowzers, that was tough. That 1/2 mile segment of “trail” averages a 36% grade. The peak, is at about 11,100 ft. I really struggled on the last climb. My legs felt ok, but my lungs and heart were struggling with the altitude. This was the highest I have ever been. I was a bit dizzy, heart pounding out of my chest, gasping for air. But, I made it. We took the north saddle down to the Deer Creek-Dry Creek Trail and followed that back down to the Granite Flats campground. I had some blisters forming on the descent and by the end my legs felt like jello. Small little climbs on the north saddle killed me. By the last mile, I was running sloppy – catching my toe, rolling my ankles, etc… Its a miracle I didn’t fall.
Well, it’s done. I finally ran an ultramarathon. The Bryce 50k is in the bag!
Distance: 30.7 miles
Elevation gain: ~ 5,349
Place: 30 out of 86 (100+ started but not all finished)
Other than a couple Ragnar Relays, I have run two 5ks and one 5 mile race. As adventure runs, I have gone 20+ miles a handful of times, and over 26.3 only once – none in the race context however. In other words, I not only have little experience in running 50k, but no experience in running a true trail race. I don’t have background experience in pacing myself, fueling, dropbags, aid stations, competing, etc… Also, recently re-flaring stress fractures on both fibulas and a bruising or strained muscle on the sole of my right foot and the general craziness of having just started a new job, bought my first house, and moved my family in the past couple months (and being lazy), my training had not gone well.
Thus, I was elated with finishing and the general good time and results. Hallelujah! The only real trouble, in the last 10 miles, was a clear result of my lack of training and experience. The next time I tackle a 50k, I am confident that I could improve my time by quite a bit.
My sister-in-law Rachael was also running her first 50k and we both got some cabins at Ruby’s Inn – arriving the night before the race. The morning of, we boarded a bus at 7:00 that took us to the starting line at Tropic campground. While walking to the bus I heard some weird noise that I eventually figured out was friend Phil Lowry calling me. It was good to see a familiar face.
At the start, the weather was a bit chilly with a chance for rain. Mid-40s. I was hoping to make it through rain free, but still wore a windbreaker over my short sleeve shirt (it came off within a few miles, though my gloves stayed on a bit longer). Race Director Matt Gunn said a few words, wished us luck and gave us a countdown from 5. We were off – climbing up through the campground, past several bathrooms I felt like I needed to use, and finally onto a single track. I was taking it slow, middle of the pack. Once on the single track, we climbed about 250 feet over the course of 3/4 mile and then dropped back down 250 feet down in a 1/2 mile to a dirt road.
I was stuck in a conga line on the up and down, and once on the road, I slowly started moving up, passing a few people. This was about mile 2, and the road climbed ~1,000 feet over the next 4 miles. Here, my background in climbing up the steep trails of Davis County proved useful. On the long climb, I picked an aggressive power hiking pace and kept it steady. I was surprised to find myself passing a number of people who were trying to jog the climb. I just power-hiked past. At mile 6, the climb gave way to a 500 ft. descent to the Blue Fly Aid Station. On the drop I passed a couple more that were being a bit more ginger on the descent. I didn’t want to blow my legs out, but just relaxed, leaned forward and tried to let gravity do most of the work. It felt great.
At BFAS I filled a bottle with 20 oz of water and mixed with the serving of Perpetuem I had carried in the empty bottle. So excited to be feeling so great, I didn’t top off my water bladder, or get any food or gels from the AS. Oops. I did take a few shots of tailwind though. Then I was off. The immediate descent – another 500 ft. in about 1 mile of trail out of Blue Fly was gorgeous with some nice modest hoodoos.
It was also nice to have some single track, although much of it was a deep rut with us running in the grass beside it. I stopped to tighten a shoe and a girl from Colorado that I had passed on the climb passed me, hollering back that she would see me soon when I passed her on the next climb. I caught up on the descent and as we exited onto another dirt road at mile 9. We chatted briefly and then I pushed ahead at a very modest pace on the flat road, switching back to aggressive power hikes when the climbs came.
2.5 miles and ~750 feet of climbing eventually brought us to the intersection with the 50 and 100 mile race routes, which we would share for the remaining 20 miles.
At the junction I encountered a hundred miler being limped along by two women. The female runner was in terrible shape and they asked the time relay ahead that they were bringing her in. It was sobering to see what a 100 mile race can do to a person, both physically and emotionally. A dire warning.
The next 5.5 miles to Proctor Canyon AS were gorgeous. Single track, meadows, some aspen and cottonwood, etc… I was cruising, but got waylaid for a good 5 minutes when my phone (which I use to track my GPS) died and I had to plug it in to my little charger and reboot it.
At the Proctor Canyon AS – mile 16.5 – I had a drop bag with more Perpetuem mix to last the rest of the race. I added more water to my bladder, reapplied some body glide and sunscreen, dropped my windbreaker and gloves in the drop bag and ate a few of the boiled potatoes they had there. It took me a long time. While there, a number of the people I had previous passed caught up and left before me. Lesson learned – having a crew makes aid stations much faster. Also, have a preset plan and order for what you are going to do at the aid station.
Out of the aid station there was a steep climb, where I caught back up to some of the people I had been leapfrogging, pushed pass the, and waited for the end of the climb. It came pretty quick, and then the trail descended down through forest. It was great single track, though a bit steep in a few places. The trail climbed up over some red sand hills. It was like a rouge-hued moonscape. Very cool.
By the time I reached the Thunder Mountain AS at mile 22.5 it had heated up and I was feeling the miles. From there on out, things deteriorated quick. My lack of training and experience in running these distances manifested themselves. Immediately out of the AS there was a steep steep climb. Near the top, I realized that I had forgotten to fill my water. Uh oh.
At mile 24.5 the trail hit the bottom of Red Canyon and the scenery was spectacular. Wow.
Unfortunately, it also commenced a 2.5 mile climb with 800 feet. My heart rate was spiking high, I was getting light headed, and then my quads and one shin started cramping. For me cramping is usually an electrolyte deficiency, but I had thought I had kept up on it. So, I popped a few extra salt tabs over 30 minutes or so. Unfortunately, I think this made my fingers swell – to an uncomfortable level. Here, one runner I had passed earlier caught up and charged past looking strong.
Near the top it started to hail. Small hail, but annoying and it stung. The remainder of the course constituted of 18 (Zac Marion counted) in and out of little canyons. You crest a ridge, descent down into a small canyon, cross over the bottom, climb back out the other side to crest the ridge separating it from the next canyon. Repeat 18 times. My cramps were bad, the hail was not fun, my fingers hurt (and hips and feet). I was so ready to be done.
With about 1/4 mile left, I saw someone on the trail ahead of me that looked like my former neighbor, Matt Van Horn. He had won the 1/2 marathon earlier and came out to run me to the finish. I hiked it. He went ahead to a ridge and said – this is it, run it in! I didn’t believe him. When I crested it, I was relieved to see the finish line. I ran down, crossed the finish line, clenched my fists and yelled. Hugged my wife, high five’d a few friends, wandered about wondering what to do next…
I felt like something between these two pictures:
What an experience. What a beautiful course. What a rush. Matt Gunn and UltraAdventures and all of his crew put on a great event!
This is the first true sporting event / serious physical challenge goal I have made as an adult. I am so glad I pushed through and finished it. Now…which long adventure run or race do I do next?