Dirtbag Trail Runners: The Bryce Canyon 50 Miler

Dirtbag trail runner home for 4 days
Our dirtbag trail runner home for 4 days

We arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday, backpacks and duffle bags in tow.  We were there to pick up a camping van that would be our home for the next four nights, taking us through Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. Ultimately landing at Bryce Canyon to run one of the most beautiful races in North America.

For us, this was more than a race, it was an adventure in dirtbag trail running.

We arrived at a non-descript office park across the street from apparently the largest strip club in Vegas, home of Escape Camper Vans. Our sweet ride (no other word for it) was all we had hoped. A cargo van from 2009 converted into a camper with bed, sofa, table, sink, stove, small frig, utensils, plates, cups and two camping chairs. Other than the missing visor and the constant shaking when we drove, we had no complaints.

On the road we made our way through Zion national park, which was stunning, and then onto Bryce.

Zion! This is a real place in nature. Seriously.
Zion! This is a real place in nature. Seriously.

We parked our new home-on-wheels at Ruby’s Inn, which was both the host hotel/campground and quite possibly the monopoly owner of all things in Bryce Canyon City. Located before the entrance to Bryce Canyon, Ruby’s Inn and all that surround it are kind of strange. It’s like a fake old town and a really really really busy general store, gift shop, hotel, and campground. There is nowhere good to eat (trust me, Yelp ain’t gonna help) and there are so many people it’s a bit obnoxious. I guess when I think of visiting a beautiful national park, this isn’t what I have in mind.  The entrance town to Zion, for the record, is much nicer.

That said, our campsite was perfectly fine. Picnic table. Nice fire pit. Not too close to the people around us. The park rangers and volunteers were kind and helpful and the general store had all the supplies we (and the other runners) forgot. As a convenient bonus, the shuttle to Bryce Canyon Park runs just across the street.

Chillin' at Ruby's Inn campsite
Chillin’ at Ruby’s Inn campsite

If you want good food we suggest Clarke’s restaurant around 7 miles away in Tropic. We ate breakfast there twice. It was inexpensive and tasty. If you want good coffee, you won’t find it at Ruby’s Inn. Instead, enjoy a great espresso at the Bryce Canyon Coffee Co, also in Tropic.

The pre-race meeting gave you everything you needed to know. The race director clearly loves the area and was so passionate that it was contagious. Exhilarating.

  • “You 50-milers will see in one day what it takes hikers to see in a week.”
  • “Look up. Walk to the edge. Take pictures. It’s worth it. So you take 5 minutes longer. Who cares.”
The optional pre-race meeting
The optional pre-race meeting

I’d like to pause for a moment to acknowledge how patient the RDs were with dumb questions. For example, one exchange went like this …and the RD had not an ounce of annoyance in his voice at all. Zen master.

  • Runner: “What are the cut offs at each aid station?” 
  • RD: “All the information is online at our website for every distance and every aid station.”
  • Runner: “I didn’t print that out.”
  • RD: “You can get it online.”
  • Runner: “My phone doesn’t have service.” 
  • My boyfriend (to just me): “Then why do you have a bluetooth device in your ear?”
  • RD: “There is an internet cafe right over there in the general store and you can connect.”

#newperson #highmaintenance

Anyway, check in, pre-race, shirts, hats, pizza dinner the night before, shuttles, instructions, website, all excellent.

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Pre-race prep in our home away from home

Our one complaint, and it’s an important one, was the lack of food and water at the aid stations. They simply didn’t have enough of anything. They ran out of water and electrolyte, and the food options were limited. Even the standards seemed to be missing by the time we hit each one: no potatoes, very few PB&Js, no salt, a little fruit but not much. At one aid station Scott (my boyfriend and adventure partner) had to refill both the water and the electrolyte for all the runners. There was nothing left in the multi-gallon containers and no volunteers to be found at that moment so he just figured it out and refilled for everyone.

A friend of ours, who finished 4 hours before us, had the same issues so I don’t think it was just because we were slow.

Food and water aside, the rest of the event was pretty unforgettable.

First of all, it was beautiful. The entire run.  There wasn’t a moment of boring. It was red and rocky and full of wonderous formations.  Most of the course was run along the Grandview Trail, a name it deserved.

A freaking mazing. Somewhere along the first 5 miles or so.
A freaking mazing. Somewhere along the first 5 miles or so.

It’s also runnable. Like pretty much the whole thing. Nothing technical. The ups are gradual enough. No crazy quad-killer downs.

This was a common view throughout the day. Doesn't even look real.
This was a common view throughout the day. Doesn’t even look real. And yet…

The variable is the altitude. Most of the run is at 8000-9000 feet, peaking at 9500.  From 15-25 miles you are above 9000′ almost the entire time. You don’t even see below 8000′ until mile 28.

Cheat sheet
I make one of these for every event over 50K and carry it in my pack

This is all well and good if you train at altitude or have a great day. But the thing about altitude is you just never know. The first time I ran the Tahoe Rim Trail, I felt fine. The second time, I was sick much of the run but Scott felt great. This time, I felt great most of the time but he was sick for maybe 30 miles. That’s a really long time to run when you feel like you have the flu.

But you know, that’s part of the gig. Part of the adventure. Some days are perfect. Some days you don’t feel so well. You just keep swimming, as Dori has taught us all.

So appreciative of where we were, despite the lack of oxygen.
So appreciative of where we were, despite the lack of oxygen.
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Around mile 45. Just keep swimming.
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This whole stretch (in the back 10) was red and orange sand and clay and involved the longest climb of the day. It was one of those times when you think, “How did I get here?”

So swimming we did, because at mile 33.5 exactly (I know this because there was an aid station there) it poured on us. And hailed.  We had to slide down an embankment of maybe 50 feet, trying not to slide off into the creek below. And then climb back up another steep 50 feet in a torrential downpour and pea-sized hail.

It was awesome.

We hung out at the aid station until the storm passed.  Blessedly, we had our one and only drop bags right there. We were able to wash (our bodies were mud covered), dry off, put on clean clothes, eat and warm up. It’s the second longest I’ve ever spent at an aid station in my life, but it was well worth it.

For the rest of the event we were thunder-shy. We’d hear thunder, feel a drip of rain, and be looking for the closest shelter be it a tree or cave.

As we made our way across the final 17 miles, we hit another speed bump in the form of a leg injury. Eventually, it was all Scott could do to walk. Not letting it bring us down too much (easy for me to say, I wasn’t injured), we did the math and while we knew we may have to battle the cut-off clock for the first time ever, we also knew we could basically crawl the rest of the way and still make it.

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Scott tried using a walking stick to get through the downs, which were the most painful for his leg.
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Taping up at the last aid station.

We did all the normal things we ultra-runners are known to do. We cursed off ever running long again. Decided to cancel TRT and ES100, choosing instead to sit on the couch, drink wine, and watch movies.  We (OK, just me), decided at mile 48 that if someone offered to pick me up to drive to the finish line at that moment, I would accept even though it would mean a DNF.

While I do think we are nearing the end of our ultra-running “careers,” replacing them with fast packing, hiking and shorter runs, I also think we have a few more in us.  Pretty sure we’ll show up for TRT and ES100. Can’t guarantee what happens from there.

I am so grateful that we ran this one. It truly was breathtaking and worth it.

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Grandview Trail, over 9000′

And I am so thankful for the us that is Scott and Julianne. The longer the run the longer we stay together on the run. I think it’s because we go into these distances seeing them more as adventures than as races. And we like to share the greatest adventures, especially when they are dirtbag trail running adventures, with each other.

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Ha ha ha. Makes me laugh every time.
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