Bryce Canyon Ultra Marathon (37.5 miles)Jun32 in Bryce Canyon National Park. This was an insane idea that Jun had to link up the 3 main trails in the park, which would basically be running from one end of the park to the other. It sounded like an amazing run, and when he first told me about it I was definitely intrigued, although I didn't think I would want to run the whole thing, but after talking more with him about it I really got excited and decided to go for it. Why not?
We traveled down to Panguitch to stay with some of Jun's friends. They were really nice and we spent a few hours hanging out with them and then getting ready for our run. We got the tour of the town, had a lot of laughs and ended with a huge piece of chocolate cake before bed. We got to bed late and I had a hard time sleeping. I finally nodded off about 12:30, but woke up at 3:30 and couldn't get back to sleep until I heard Jun's alarm at 4:30. We got our stuff ready and then Jun's friend drove us to drop off my car at Fairyland Point where we would finish, and then took us all the way to the other end of the park and dropped us off at Rainbow Point. After a few pictures we were off on the Rigg's Spring Loop.
That first loop was just magical. The air was cool, but not cold and the views entering the canyon were stunning. My body was feeling really good and I was excited for this run. The first 5 miles were just a lot of fun. The sun wasn't on us yet and we were running on a beautiful trail surrounded by pine trees with an occasional glimpse of the red rock canyon above. The views got better and better (with a few exceptions) with each step.
Jun was in the lead and had a little bit quicker pace than I did, but when I reached Yovimpa pass I had to stop to take in the views. Wow! Jun was ahead of me nearly the entire run, and he was nice enough to stop and wait for me to catch up. The first few miles of the loop we descended about 1500 feet into the canyon and then we promptly started to gain all of that elevation back before we hit the under the rim trail. This would be the theme for the rest of the day. Climb a steep hill, descend and then do it all over again. I was expecting some elevation gain and loss, but nothing like what we experienced. It was relentless.
About mile 8 I started to feel some tightness in my right knee (ITB). I was worried, but it wasn't hurting yet, so I was still hoping the pain wouldn't get too bad for a while. I actually pushed the pace on some downhill for about a mile and everything was feeling good, but as soon as we started to ascend again, it was hurting. By mile 10 going up or downhill would make my knee hurt. From this point on I had to hike up all of the uphill sections and running up them was just too painful. This is not the place you want to be with ITB pain. It is just not flat at all.
Around mile 11 we finally stopped for our first real break of the day to refill our water at a spring. We treated all of the water we drank with iodine. We used a neutralizer to take away the gross taste, but by the end of the hike I was actually getting used to it. I added some Nuun to my water bottle and then had a gel. Other than my knee I was feeling really good. Jun got ahead of me again on the next section and I didn't see him again for a few miles. There were a lot of downed trees covering the trail and it was pretty clear this area doesn't see a lot of foot traffic. The views were not as good, but I was thankful for the shade. Jun had been waiting for me and I finally caught up to him, and after stopping and taking another gel, I didn't see him again for a few hours.
The next 4-5 miles were really hard for me. My knee was hurting, and each hill that I had to climb and descend added to my misery. Thoughts of bailing early came into my head, but I quickly dismissed them. As long as the pain stayed the same I could make it. I was hiking all of the up hills, and running with a limp on the down hills. I could still run when it was flat, but it just wasn't all that flat. Compounding the difficulty is the beach sand that seemed to be strategically placed by a sadist on all of the uphill climbs. Tough!
At about mile 17 I really hit a low point. I was hot, tired, my Camelbak was bugging my shoulders, my knee hurt and I was alone. The views were impressive, but I was stopping less and less to enjoy them. I just told myself to keep grinding and it would get better. There was a really big hill before Swamp Canyon and at the top the views were just out of this world cool. I stopped to shoot some video and then I ran into Jun at Swamp Canyon, which was around the next switchback. I hadn't seen him for about 5 miles and a few hours. He had been waiting there for a while, and seeing him boosted my spirits a lot. I filled up on water, had a gel and Jun gave me an S-cap. He stayed with me for about the next 8-9 miles, although he would get ahead of me and then have to wait for me to catch up. I am glad he did. We only saw a few other people on the entire trail and it is remote, rugged, and your mind starts messing with you when you're by yourself. Having him there with me during those breaks really helped a lot. Hills, hills, and more hills. Talk about demoralizing. If you have any hint of ITB pain this trail is a torture chamber. It also started to get really hot now which made things even tougher.
We stopped at yellow creek to fill up our water and it was like an oasis. I was nearly out of water and I knew I was getting dehydrated. I was carrying 70 ounces of water and this would be the fourth time I was filling up. I couldn't get enough water and that was a problem on this trail. I filled up every place that I could and I was drinking it all. It was now really hot and the sun was just beating me up. I didn't know that this would be my last fill up until Bryce Point or I would have had more to drink. I was drinking twice as much now as I had been earlier because of the heat.
I hit my marathon distance a little less than a mile after Yellow Creek and that was the last I would see of Jun until Bryce Point. The next five miles were tough. It was really hot and there wasn't a lot of shade. It seemed like it was all uphill and my knee was really hurting now. I was now hiking everything. I did run a few flat places, but they were not long because it was mostly not flat. I was worried I was going to run out of water because I was drinking so much. I was already dehydrated and hadn't gone pee in about 4 hours. I was sweating a lot and it was incredibly hot. I was looking for a place to take a break and I found a rock to sit on in the shade. After about a minute I realized I was covered in ants that were now biting me and the flies were also swarming and biting too. I ended up just standing up and taking a gel. Another low moment.
With about a mile to go until Bryce Point I was down to the last of my water. I sat down on a rock in the shade and took another gel and swallowed it down with the last drop of warm water in my bottle. I wasn't sure how much further it was to the top. I knew we had at least 5 miles to go, but I wasn't expecting to come up to the top of the rim with 5 miles remaining. I saw an older guy hiking up and from the looks of him I knew that 'civilization' was close. When I saw the cars up there I was confused. I thought we had 5+ miles to go. Jun saw me coming up and met me and then informed me that we did indeed have at least 5 miles to go (I was at mile 30.5). I was ok with that though because now I could get some water and the trail actually would be mostly flat from here. Jun had bummed some water off of one of the tourists, and he shared it with me, and I felt much better.
After about a 20 minute break with Jun, he took off running for the car, and I still wasn't sure what I was going to do yet. I was tempted to catch a ride back to the car and rationalized it by telling myself I had completed an ultra distance, but I soon put those thoughts out of my head. I came here to finish the whole thing, so I started hiking fast. Occasionally I was running, but it was painful and all of the tourists were looking at me like what in the world is this guy doing?
At Sunset Point (mile 33) I stopped to use the bathroom. It was the first facility with running water that we had seen all day, and I couldn't pass up filling my water up and taking a dirtbag shower in the sink. It felt so good to wash all of the salt off of my face. I took a long break in the shade and heard a few people comment about my appearance. I ate a Powerbar and my last gel and drank a lot of water. It felt so good and I was completely refreshed.
The next mile I actually ran a little more and I was feeling good. It was so nice to finally be on a flat trail again. At mile 34 I came to a fork in the trail. There was a sign on the trail going right that said: Fairyland Point 5 miles. My heart sank because I thought I only had about two miles to go. The trail on the left said to Fairyland Lookout, so I was confused, but two girls that were hiking up the trail (on the right) told me to take that trail because it went to Fairyland Point and that the left trail ended, so started down the trail. After about a half a mile I realized that I was just dropping too much and that I was on the wrong trail. Jun had mentioned to me that if I started descending back into the canyon I needed to get back to the rim, and I remembered looking at the map at Sunset Point and I knew I needed to go back. Thank goodness it only cost me a mile total because if I had kept going it would have taken me 4 hilly miles to get back instead of two on the flat rim trail.
The final two miles were hard, but I was feeling better than I had been coming out of the canyon, so I was actually in a good mood. I wasn't hot, I was feeling hydrated and my spirits were high. The only bad thing was I had developed a blister on one of my toes that was now nagging me. Normally I would have stopped to take care of it, but I just wanted to get done, so I didn't stop. I ran about 1/4 of the time, but I was mostly hiking because it hurt less.
When I finally saw my car parked I had an incredible feeling. I had done it. Jun came over to congratulate me and after a few high fives and pictures it was time to sit down. What an experience. It was definitely the most difficult thing I have ever done, a total grind. The only real easy part of the whole day was the first 4 miles running down hill. After that it was brutal. I am sure I would have enjoyed it a lot more without the 27 miles of ITB pain though.
I am disappointed that I didn't get to enjoy this trail more. The views really aren't even explainable. They don't look real, they are that good. It is certainly a good challenge for anyone, and I will never forget this day. There was exhilaration, pain, disappointment, laughs, fresh air, views, blood, a lot of sweat (probably gallons) and almost some tears. When we finished yesterday I told Jun there wasn't even a chance I would ever to that again, but today there is some sick part of me that wants to go back and do it again when my knee is right.
Stats: According to my Garmin there was 11,400 feet of elevation gain and 12,500 feet of loss. I consumed 370 ounces of water, ate 12 energy gels, two Powerbars, 5 Nuun tablets. Two gnarly blisters and one black toenail. To see a video from our run go here: Bryce Canyon Video- Part one