Anyone who knows me understands my organizational nature. That being said, when I have an upcoming event, I begin a week or two ahead of time with a list (imagine that — me, making a list!) of items to take, adding to it as things come to mind. Then a couple of days prior to departure, I adhere to said list and compile my items. It’s slick! It’s easy! It’s a no-brainer! So I felt well prepared for this race, especially since I had run it last year and was able to learn from that experience regarding what I would and would not need. Obviously, the most important need was a (drum roll here) HYDRATION PACK. I have several of them ranging in size and shape. One is best used to hike across the Grand Canyon; one is specifically to wear while biking; and one was purchased last year for trail running. I have worn it often and have loved my Camelbak pack. So when Todd and I arrived at our destination 2 hours away (remote cabin in the woods) and unloaded the truck, panic set in quickly when I realized that the blue bag which held all of my running needs was left at home. LEFT AT HOME!!! My confidence level was immediately shattered and I began to brainstorm about alternatives. I knew I would need drinking water on this run.
We were too far from the town of Beaver to consider driving back down the canyon, plus it was early evening and after store closing time. The only store I imagined that would still be open was the grocery store, and I doubt it would have backpacking supplies. I rummaged around the cabin and spied a durable Klim backpack in which were my son’s tools for his ATV’s (a tool “emergency kit”). He gave me permission to use it (it had a bladder) but even after I emptied out the tools, it was heavy and bulky on my back. I considered carrying plastic water bottles in my hands (the small kind you buy at the store) but that posed the problem of not being hands-free to hold my trekking poles. Thus, the debate went back and forth.
I decided to wait until my running buddy, Misty, arrived to see if she by chance had brought a spare pack. We met up with her at packet pickup at the ski lodge at Eagle Point. She had no extra pack; however, there was a tent set up for St. George Running Center where water bottles and packs were being sold. I bypassed the nicer $127 pack and sprung for the “insulated” $27 hand-held 17-ounce Camelbak option. My stress level went down a notch with that purchase, but just one notch, not two.
Carbo-loading was as simple as handing over a meal ticket and dishing up a big plate of spaghetti and breadsticks, catered by Eagle Point and overseen by the dude who manages the bicycle shop there at the lodge. He assured me that he was not the chef — he was just assigned a shift at the dinner meal that night. Whew.
Misty, Todd, and I mingled with other runners and the energy was palpable. There was a crispness in the air and we knew that, come morning, the temperature would warrant a light jacket. We retreated back to the cabin and turned in fairly early (10-ish) with a 6 a.m. wake-up alarm set.
I got roughly 6 hours of sleep that night, though piecemeal, but I’ll take it. The race start for the half marathon was 7:30 which meant plenty of time to pull things together and get to the starting line which was just 1 mile and a 5-minute drive away. I filled up my new water bottle and ingested a PB&H made with “thinwich” bread and called it good. Todd took us to the starting line.
Aside from my trail running shoes, the most important article of clothing that I had chosen to wear was a headband that originally read, “It’s All About Me.” I had crossed out the word “Me” and written the name KIMMY BROOKS in its place. I was dedicating this run to Kimmy, a girl with whom I had just become acquainted recently. Kimmy sustained a horrible leg injury in a boating accident a few weeks ago, in which she nearly lost a fight with the boat’s propeller. Through a common connection, I was able to visit her in the hospital where she was recovering. Kimmy is very strong and positive, and she inspired me further that WE CAN DO HARD THINGS. At several points along the course, I called out to Kimmy, as if she was there, reminding her, “We’ve got this!”
At 7:15, we huddled with the other runners and received some last-minute instructions. There was no signal such as a gunshot, just a verbal “3-2-1, GO!” And we were off.
The first part of the half marathon course was downhill for maybe a half mile, then turned sharply left (north) and went uphill for a mile or so. I fast-walked the climbs, conserving my energy for later. It was a beautiful morning with a clear blue sky and temperatures in the 50’s. The elevation was 10,500 feet and THAT, my friends, is the clincher. After a couple of miles, I opted to shed the sleeve portion of my jacket and wadded it up and stuffed it into my back pocket. Fortunately, the jacket I had chosen to wear had 5 pockets of various sizes, all easy to access. In them I had put a GU that I found in my purse, a coin that was given to me by a friend as a good luck token, another PB&H sandwich, and some Clif Shot Bloks.
We climbed up and leveled out, climbed more then leveled out, and so on and so forth. Misty had long since disappeared ahead of me, and all I could really see was the backside of the runner in front of me on a single-track trail. Sometimes the trail was smooth and covered with shed pine needles, making it spongy and soft to run on, while at other times it was laden with rocks of the large and small variety. Runners spread out quickly, and for every one runner who I passed, it seemed that I was passed by two more. I was determined to set my own pace and not feel too rushed. The time limit for the half marathon is 6 hours, which is oodles of time to cover 13.1 miles on any terrain (at least for most folks I know).
I was thoroughly enjoying my autonomy, stopping on occasion to record a video or take a few photos with my iPhone. I knew I would want plenty of evidence for this blog post.
I ran on the flats and descents, hiked on the ascents. Our Aid Station was at mile 4, which I had reached in just about an hour. Just past this station, the lead runner in the half marathon passed me on his return route back to the finish line. Seriously! He was a full 5 miles ahead of me at that point. I felt like a snail. At about mile 5, after running on a dirt road for a mile, we turned right abruptly and began our climb of Mount Delano.
According to Wikipedia, Delano Peak is the highest point in the Tushar Mountains of south-central Utah. The Tushars are the third-highest range in the state, after the Uinta Mountains and the La Sal Range. It is named after Columbus Delano, Secretary of the Interior during the Grant administration. The grandcircletrails.com website states, “The Tushar mountain range is a hidden treasure of 12,000 foot peaks not far from Bryce Canyon. This is one of the most challenging courses in the Grand Circle Trail Series.” And also, “The half marathon takes the Skyline trail to the aid station, then does an out-and-back climb up to the summit of Mt. Delano at 12,169 feet, then returns the way they came to the finish line.” Starting at 10,500 feet then going up and back down, there is a total elevation change of about 3300 feet over the course of the 13 miles.
Having decided against my trekking poles, as really this 1.5-mile stretch of the course is the only section I thought I might need them, I had quick recollection of the race last year and how I would go only so far before having to stop and catch my breath. This time I tried a different approach, that being a side-stepping method of ascension which proved very successful for me. It was a very steep mountain, and those runners who were suffering due to the elevation were having to stop and catch their breath time and time again.
I could hear a jubilant voice coming down the mountain, and soon discovered that it belonged to my new friend, John. He was hammering down Delano on his way to his 100K goal. John later would have to make the choice of continuing pursuit of his goal or giving it up to stop and help other runners who were in dire straits (suffering from hypothermia, for instance). His choice showed his true character.
Here is John’s recap of his race experience that day, as posted to his Facebook page and copied here with his permission (and as you can see, he did not use paragraphs, so take a deep breath and plow through his report — smiley face):
Tushar update.. all is well. I replied in length to questions about my post , here is a summary of my race experience. The race is beautiful and extremely hard. I ran huge races all year just to prepare for it thinking it was probably at the outer most limits of my abilities. I surprised myself by staying well within the cutoffs and took extra rest time at aid stations when I banked more time on the course. I think over 60% of field dropped or was pulled from race, a scenario playing out way to much in ultras these days. Leadville finishers said it was a harder finish for them, the flagging crew led by Patrick Sweeney said it matched the first 50 of Hardrock, needless to say averaging 10500 ft in elevation it was extremely hard! I banked time thru the aid stations because the hardest cutoff was 9:30 pm at mile 48 at Miners Park, right before a 4000 ft climb from 8500 to 12500 ft. I wanted 2 hr buffer there not knowing how I’d fare that late in the race on such a huge climb. Leaving Bullion Pasture with a 7 mile 3300 ft descent it started to pour and hail alternately with thunder and lightning, huge rain that you only get at altitude. Fun shit, I hammered down spread out in a group of 6-8 while 10 others were still at aid station. We were last of potential finishers as 70 people were pulled at cutoff at previous aid station. I pulled over when it was raining so hard it was just better to watch it for a while, I had plenty of time. People with essentially no gear went by, tough guys I thought, turned out they were just dumb. 1-1/2 miles from aid station a gal I had been running with ( I recognized everyone at this point having seen and talked to them at previous aid stations) came running up trail saying 1/4 mile down a flash flood at a creek crossing took out the trail, the creek was impassible, and a woman had a boulder roll over her leg and broke it. A guy she was running with stayed with the hurt woman and asked this gal to run back up the mtn to the aid station to get help. As we were talking 6-8 others made it down, all improperly dressed and about to go into hyperthermia. We said she couldn’t go alone and everyone looked at me, the only guy having fun, warm, dry, and properly dressed. Of course I immediately offered to go and off we went for another huge climb. I figured I could make it up and back if the rain stopped and finish a bigger version of race. We hammered up to the top and found since everyone quit they shut down early, no need to stay open after last guy left right. A course sweeper had just gotten dropped off and his ride had left. He was surprised to see us and we explained situation. It had stopped raining about 45 min before and I thought maybe we’d just hammer down and they’d give us some leeway on cutoff if we missed it. I turned to Ken ( yes that was her name) and saw she wasn’t moving as was locked up freezing, it took about 5 min of standing there. Todd the course sweeper tried to call out but no service so we wrapped Ken in plastic, gave Todd both our cells and as I tried to keep her warm by vigorously rubbing her arms and back he ran up road and used all our cell phones to get help. An hour later he got thru, they were 2 hours away due to having to evacuate 25 or so people from the lower aid station and help search and rescue get the woman with the broken leg out. The shit can go south fast at altitude. Todd and I worked on Ken, putting dry socks on her and rubbing her for warmth for 2 more hours until a truck made it to us. It all worked out in end other than I didn’t get to finish race. Kind of selfish but #*@%, every race I did this year, 9 big ones, was training for this. In the end I asked the race directors not to give me a dnf since we were responsible for getting word out about the woman who broke her leg and how we worked on Ken to keep her warm. They laughed and said they wouldn’t think of it and had heard about how in the middle of the storm we went up to get help not knowing when the creek would be able to be crossed. It was a awesome adventure but as I stated in some replies to my initial post, I am quite disgusted in the course ultramarathoning is taking. Races with a30% drop rate are the norm and this one and the next one I’m doing, Castle Peak are selling out and having 50-60% drop rates. Inexperienced and unqualified ( racers, ha ) are taking hard to get spots in races they can’t possibly finish! It puts undue stress on the race organizers and many people just quit when they get uncomfortable. I haven’t gotten into one lottery race I tried to enter and they’re making qualifiers to easy so the pool of people trying to enter lottery races is getting huge. After talking to Tushars RD’s, they like Castle Peak, are requiring hard qualifiers and a mandatory gear list. I wish the other races would follow suit. Do the hard shit!!!
This race really separated seasoned runners like John from the newbies (like I am). I agree with him that there ought to be some kind of checklist (list…. did someone say list?) of requirements to know about as well as to take in preparation for a run this gnarly, and I am certain that next year the race directors will put something together accordingly.
Now back to my story, it started to seem that Delano peak was out of my grasp when I finally laid eyes on it way at the top of the hill. People had gathered around the sign to celebrate and take a break. Misty was just starting to come back down when I got there, and I convinced her to come back to the sign “Delano Peak — 12,169 feet” with me for a photo. In hindsight, I should have let her bust back down the hill to the finish line because she may have placed in the top 3 females. I, on the other hand, took advantage of the crowd and did a little FaceBook Live videoing. Apparently I need some schooling on how to do that, because in the video, the sign is backwards. More conversations ensued as well as a few more photos, and then I started my descent.
I have always been a little timid going down steep, rocky trails. Images of a sprained ankle or a face plant were vivid in my mind. I picked every step carefully and made my way purposefully back to the same Aid Station that was at mile 4 (now mile 9, approximately). I had run out of water by that time so filled my bottle with Tailwind-enhanced water.
I committed myself to the final 4 miles, during which time I saw only a few other runners, one way up ahead and a couple way behind me. I did my best to run on the level and downhill sections, and hoof it quickly on the uphill sections.
I had secretly set a goal of beating my time last year which was 4:02, so a sub 4-hour finish seemed reasonable. My iWatch actually only measured a distance of 12.76 miles when I crossed the finish line in 3:53 and some change, but I’ll take it. Misty was there to greet me, having crossed the line 19 minutes ahead of me; she was the 5th woman to finish and I was the 9th.
I regret that Todd could not be there to see me in since he was 10 miles away at an Aid Station offering medical care to any runners in need. Fortunately, there were no runners in need, at least not at his Aid Station. We learned later that many runners suffered as a result of torrential rain and subsequent flash flooding that washed out the trail and made it impassable, one woman even being mowed over by a large boulder that broke her leg. She had to be air-lifted out to receive medical attention.
With a tough race under our belts, Misty and I were craving protein, so we made our way down to the Canyonside Restaurant and each ordered a half-pound cheeseburger with grilled onions and bacon. Yum! It was easily the best hamburger with a side of fries that I have ever eaten.
Later after Todd’s shift at his Aid Station, we returned to the finish line to witness the first 100K (62 miles) runner finish in a time of 13 hours 33 minutes. That’s insane! He looked like he was just getting started.
We returned home after a restful day at the cabin, and when we walked in we saw this sitting on the floor near the back door — the bag with my hydration pack! Oh well, there is always next time to get it right.
I made a few new friends at this event, which is what I always hope to be able to take away from such activities. Let me make mention here of John, Charlene, and Kayli.
According to my iWatch, I did not meet my standing goal this day, but I burned 1400 calories, exercised for nearly 4 hours, and completed 31,865 steps. There were 18 half-marathon finishers in front of me and 50 behind me. I had such a good experience that I am entertaining the option of doing the marathon next year. The Tushars is where it’s at! But don’t tell anyone, because I like having the place pretty much to myself!