Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Trek Across Red Mountain, Snow Canyon, and Red Cliffs Desert Reserve

I'm going to be straight up honest with you. I considered the possibility that I was being set up to be murdered. Leading up to this adventure, these two guys were saying things like "The trail is around 30 miles. It's in the middle of nowhere. I'm not sure someone has done this exact route before. We probably won't see another person the whole time."

After I made sure my life insurance policy was up to date, I agreed to join in on the fun. The two guys I mentioned were Matt Anderson with Ultra Adventures and Derrick Lytle. I knew both of them beforehand and I was at least 84% sure they weren't involved in cult torture killing.

So my alarm goes off at 3:30am. We meet and start our day going up Red Mountain. I had never been on this "trail" before but quickly had the air knocked out of me on the half mile / 1,000 foot climb. Derrick is a renowned and downright amazing photographer. (Go follow him on Instagram @derricklytle to see some incredible pictures.) He caught this shot as I neared the top of the climb:

It took a while before we started seeing slivers of daylight, but when it started to lighten up we knew we were in for a good day. As a photographer, the worst thing is a plain blue sky. Clouds help give personality and contrast. The weather on this day would have plenty of personality.

We spent a lot of time bushwhacking across the landscape. There were no trails to speak of, but Matt and Derrick had maps on their phones to make sure we were at least heading the right direction. I loved when we hit these cool pockets of water left over from the last rainstorm.

We reached this area overlooking Snow Canyon that was so remote and isolated and absolutely, spectacularly beautiful. I caught this picture of Derrick doing what we were all doing - standing there soaking in the amazing scenery all around us.



From there we had a bit of scrambling up some slick rock. On my To Do list I want to catch a picture of someone running across the top of a ridge like this.

After a few miles we reached the more well-known view of Snow Canyon from the Red Mountain Trail. This view is one of the coolest in southern Utah.

Later the weather began to turn. It got a bit more cold and windy and there was a storm on the horizon.

We saw dozens of amazing blue birds fly right past us. Their color was so bright. I wish I had been quicker with my camera. I did catch this one as they flew from one tree to another in the distance.

We got a little lost at one point going across the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and even got so desperate as to break out an actual map. (In actuality, these guys had apps with maps and a route, and a hard copy map. I still have no idea where we actually were.)

We were planning on about 30 miles. But at the 30 mile mark we were nowhere near where we were expecting to finish.

It was getting dark and a fierce rain storm was rolling in. Matt and I both bailed at that point getting in 33 miles. Derrick was a beast and kept going alone in the dark downpour finishing with around 43 miles.

I had a blast checking out new trails and being surrounded by jaw-dropping views. This certainly won't be the last time I join these guys for an adventure.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

More Cowbell 100 Race Report - 2016

I have a brilliant strategy that will guarantee a win at your next race:

1) Create your own 100 miler.
2) Be the only person to run the 100 miles.
3) WIN!

(The fine print in this race strategy is that while you finish in first place, you're also last place.)

Recently I ran a 100 miler on the More Cowbell Trail in southern Utah. It's a 3.5ish mile loop in southern Utah. Part of the reason I wanted to run a 100 here is because of the sheer beauty of the trail. I mean....it's basically incredible.

But the other reason I wanted to do a 100 here is because the trail is called the More Cowbell Trail. Seriously. With a name that awesome, this trail NEEDED to be an ultramarathon!

The great thing about the trail is that there is an actual cowbell you pass! If you don't ring the bell when you pass, you invite bad karma. You immediately bonk and your toenails turn black. Please, friends. RING THE BELL WHEN YOU PASS.

A few days before the run, I posted on Facebook that I was going to try to run 100 miles on the trail. I was honored when a bunch of friends came out to join for some miles. My first companion was Tia Astle.

It was SO, SO cold the weekend I chose to run. Temps were in the 30's and low 40's but the kicker was the high wind advisory which said gusts would be up to 50 miles per hour. I'm just going to say it - it was miserable. Miserable. And yet any ultrarunner will attest to the fact that it is possible to be absolutely miserable and be having fun at the same time. This 100 miler was completely miserable and fun at the same time.

This amazing trail is right on the outskirts of Zion National Park. You can see the towering cliffs of Zion on the horizon.

Late in the afternoon I was joined for some miles by Jesse Zitting and renowned photographer and videographer Derrick Lytle.

As a photography nerd, I noticed that there were some cool clouds brewing in the sky. I was hopeful that we would be treated to an awesome sunset.

Much of the More Cowbell Trail runs along the edges of incredibly beautiful mesas. Case in point:

As sunset was nearing, I was still feeling fairly good. I was certainly starting to feel the toll of miles from earlier in the day, but I was able to keep a decent pace. In the last light of day, Gooseberry Mesa glowed like it had been lit on fire.

I then witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen from a trail. The cold, bitter wind had made the entire day dreadful. But as I watched the sunset, I was yet again reminded that if you persevere and don't give up when times get tough, you will be rewarded. This sunset was my reward for not giving up.

The legend of the More Cowbell Trail is that when the trail was being designed, people found a dead cow in the area with the cowbell still around it's neck. (Not coincidentally, the More Cowbell Trail also connects to a trail called Dead Ringer. So great!)

I was hopeful that after the sun went down, the wind would mellow out. It didn't. Mel must have sensed that my body needed something warm. She drove up to the trailhead and brought a Wendy's Baconator hamburger, fries, and a Coke. They were delicious. And within ten minutes I realized that eating something called a "Baconator" in the middle of a 100 mile run is basically the worst idea ever. Ever.

Mel brought our Great Dane, Little Debbie. The only thing that Little Debbie loves more than stealing food off the counters is trail running. It was so cold that Mel thought she may need a sweatshirt.

Mel joined me for the next 3.5 miles. I kindly asked her to PLEASE ignore me next time I suggest that I would like to eat a mid-run Baconator.

Shortly after Mel left, I was joined for some miles by my brother-in-law Matt Anderson and his friend Jed.

And then I was paid a visit by my friends Jeff and Carol Manwaring. Jeff has been my Trail Savior many times throughout the years. Take, for example, the 2014 Zion 100 where he had a steak and cheese sandwich for me. (And then we hugged. And then we danced. HERE are the photos.) On this night they brought me hot chocolate and a cinnamon roll. Then I ran a bunch of miles with Carol.

The night was a significant challenge for me. It continued to be super windy and temps were below freezing. I was SO cold. At two points during the night when I was frozen solid and sleep walking, I got in the back of my car to sleep and thaw out for 20-30 minutes.

Very early in the morning I was joined for a lap by my friend Dave Stephenson. I was thankful for his company because, despite a few short naps, I was still battling the sleep monster.

Mercifully the wind began to die down. The cold was tolerable without the soul-sucking wind. I was thankful for company on the second day when my legs were sore and tired and my pace had slowed down. I enjoyed some miles with Chris and Maria Bradley.

Then Justin Robins who brought along a cinnamon roll and hot chocolate. (I'm a little embarrassed at how quickly I inhaled that cinnamon roll. Imagine your vacuum cleaner sucking up dust bunnies. It was kind of like that.)

When the wind finally stopped I had 75 miles behind me. I was ecstatic to begin peeling off some of my multiple layers of clothing.

Melissa Young and her son came out to enjoy some beautiful miles from the trail.

And then for a while I was down to shorts and a short-sleeved shirt! For as terrible as the first day was, the weather on the second day of the run was absolutely perfect.

The last 20 miles were tough for me. I assume this won't be much of a shock. The last 20 miles of ANY 100 mile run are always really tough. My legs were sore and stiff and it seemed like the miles were ticking by so slowly.

As I finished the final few loops of the 100 miler I came across a rock that perfectly summarized how I feel about this awesome trail:

I was thankful to share the last few miles with my friend Cherie Santiago. I've shared many adventures with her over the years and she is one of the nicest humans on the planet.

A little more than 33 hours after I started the adventure, I finished the More Cowbell 100! And I won first place! (Okay, and last place.) If my math is right, that was my 25th 100+ mile run. Thanks to the miracle of Amazon, you can purchase a More Cowbell belt buckle!

I've never found anything as humbling, demanding, demoralizing, energizing, and truly, truly rewarding as running. Running is about not curling up on the side of the trail when a Baconator socks you in the stomach. It's about not crying when the wind nearly blows your trucker hat off the mesa for the nine millionth time. It's about laughing with friends. It's about vacuuming up cinnamon rolls. It's about sunsets and hypothermia and mesas that look like they are on fire. It's about taking a jumping picture to try to convince your grumpy legs that you are having fun. Running is about Great Danes in sweaters. And supportive spouses. And it's about not listening to the voices in your head that tell you to quit. Running is about knowing where your limits are. And then pushing past them.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Reese Family Christmas Letter - 2016


Merry Christmas from the Reese family! We hope your 2016 has been better than an all-you-can-eat buffet of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. (Okay. After just typing that, I realized that this is impossible. Nothing could be better than an all-you-can-eat buffet of Ben & Jerry’s. So hopefully your year was ALMOST that awesome.)

 In some ways our year has provided lots of teaching moments. (Which is a nice way of saying we’ve had our share of crappy stuff.) We’ve had some sickness, Mel’s dad died a few months ago, and we had the challenge of Mel being in graduate school. But we have also had so many amazing experiences and have been blessed far beyond what we deserve. Here is an update on the fam:

Kylee is in 7th grade and a proud member of the yearbook class. She knows every word of every horrible song on the pop radio station. (I am one Justin Bieber song away from a mental institution.) She loves playing with our poodle Jack and our Great Dane, Little Debbie (who I’m convinced is possessed by an evil demon.) An experience I’ll always cherish was taking her for her first visit to the Grand Canyon. We told ghost stories at night, ate junk food, and laughed all weekend. She reached the adolescent rite of passage and got braces this year. She loves them as much as I love Justin Bieber music.

Danica is in 8th grade. Every cell of her body is filled with Christmas spirit and at all times she is singing Christmas songs or working on Christmas projects. She stays busy with piano lessons and took dance lessons culminating with an awesome dance recital. She is a natural on the stage. A highlight of her year was a trip to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary to volunteer working with the dogs. If it were up to her, we would have come home with seven extra members of the family. If it were up to me, we would have taken Satan, I mean Little Debbie to Best Friends to add to their census. 

Jackson is in 10th grade. Much to our horror, Jackson continues to get older and now qualifies for a Learner’s Permit to drive. Consequently, I now have permanent white knuckles and a need for blood pressure medication. This year he has gone to a Packer’s football game and a Cubs spring training game where you are charged $12 for two small cups of lemonade. He plays the piano for the church choir, played on the JV tennis team, and even managed to contract Whooping Cough this year. What is this? The 1800’s? A highlight for him (and undoubtedly myself as well) was going to our first Bruce Springsteen concert in Phoenix. I swear to you – if you are a good human being and go to heaven, when you die, there will be a Springsteen concert every afternoon. (The concert is across the street from the Ben & Jerry’s buffet.)

Melanie is a super star. After two and a half years of blood, sweat, and tears, she FINALLY finished graduate school as a Nurse Practitioner! I can’t describe what a challenge this was (especially while continuing to work full time). She continues to work for Intermountain Healthcare in the Surgical Assessment Center. She oversaw a remodel of our backyard, was active in a local parenting class, and went on a trip to Mexico with her sisters to celebrate her graduation. She has a new-found love of Christmas lights and our house is a year or two away from rivaling Clark Griswold’s house on National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

I continue to work as a social worker for the University of Utah Dialysis Program. I’ve loved working as a columnist for UltraRunning Magazine this year and was featured on the cover of the magazine with a jumping picture in front of a full moon. I released my first book called “Nowhere Near First – Ultramarathon Adventures From The Back Of The Pack” which can be found on Amazon and Kindle. The highlight of my year was finishing the Badwater 135 – a 135 mile race through Death Valley in July. National Geographic rated it the “hardest foot race in the world” and I discovered that they weren’t exaggerating. Thankfully I managed to avoid going to that ice cream buffet and Springsteen concert in the sky. (I didn’t manage to avoid giving birth to blisters large enough to have an umbilical cord…and throwing up on my feet.) You can see the race report HERE.

One cool experience this year was a trip to Salt Lake to see a concert by NeedToBreathe and Mat Kearney. We saw half of the concert but then the show got rained out. On the way home the next day I half-jokingly said to Mel “We could just drive to Denver to see their show tomorrow.” I was stunned when she said “Okay, let’s do it.” So we took the next freeway exit and headed for Denver! It was so fun to do a 100% completely spontaneous trip. I’m certain this will be an adventure we never forget.

Here are a few journal entries from the year:

May 12 - Monday afternoon I took the kids to an orthodontist appointment, then we stopped at Target to get some birthday presents for Mel. On the way home the kids accepted my challenge to drive all the way home with the heater on to experience a little bit of what I’m doing for heat training. It was funny to see their red faces sweating but they did great. Of course we stopped at Maverik afterward to buy some Icees.

July 4 - In the evening everyone came over to our house to watch the fireworks. The day before, I educated the girls about Neil Diamond’s song “America” and how it is required music for ANY firework show. As the fireworks were going, Kylee ran inside and grabbed the speakers and we blasted America for the whole neighborhood to hear as the grand finale of fireworks burst across the sky. For the rest of my life, whenever I hear that song, I will think back on this moment and smile. 

July 6 - The thing that stood out to me most during Mel’s dad’s funeral was Renee’s talk. She read a few letters that he had written her about how much he loved his family, how much he loved when he would hear their voices on the phone, and how much he loved being able to give his girls hugs. That was powerful for me. I know when my kids are grown and gone, I will feel the same exact way. Their absence will leave a void in my heart and I know I will miss my kids so, so much when they move on with their own lives. It renewed my desire to truly take advantage of each moment I have and not take this time with them for granted. I love my family so much that it can’t be put into words. Each of them is so special to me. Undoubtedly my greatest blessings in life are Melanie, Jackson, Danica, and Kylee. If everything else were taken away but I still had them I would be happy.

August 18 - Dani and I have gotten into a pretty funny nightly routine. I pin her down and tickle her collar bone. (I have a strong suspicion that this hurts more than tickles, but she laughs.) We call it The Lobster. But whenever I do it, she tries to bite me with her braces. She calls it The Shark. So last night I was chasing her around doing The Lobster and she would fight back with The Shark. She said “I’m going to start calling you Bait because you’re going to be shark bait.”

September 2 - Lots of awesome news since the last post. On the Tuesday after we got home from Park City Mel took her boards…….AND PASSED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can’t even begin to describe what a monumental relief this was for our whole family. I am so proud of her. I can’t believe that 2.5 year journey is finally over. The next night I called on my way home and said “What you doing?” She said she was making dinner. She was making dinner! She hasn’t done that hardly at all for a few years. Then that night we took the dogs on a trail run. And she sat in her bed and watched Netflix instead of doing homework. It was wonderful.

September 20 - On Thursday the 8th I went over to Matt’s house to do a Facebook Live interview for Ultra Adventures. I told him that interviews where people are just sitting there can get boring. I suggested that to keep it interesting, we should be sitting there eating Twinkies. When I got there, Matt said “I think it might be kind of funny if just you are sitting here eating Twinkies.” I thought that would be pretty funny, so during the 16 minute interview I ate 7 Twinkies. This won’t come as much of a shock, but afterward I felt completely horrible. HORRIBLE. All I wanted was to be able to throw up and get that nastiness out of me. But I couldn’t throw up! I figured I still had three Twinkies left in the box, and if I ate those, SURELY I would throw up.

So I ate those three Twinkies……BUT COULDN’T THROW UP!!! Ahhhh! The rest of the night I felt absolutely horrific. My head was tingly. I ate around 160 grams of sugar! Oh. My. Gosh. It’s been quite a while since I’ve felt that sick. I will probably never eat another Twinkie again.

We are so thankful for everything Heavenly Father has blessed us with. Our challenges have helped us grow. (More specifically, that Twinkie challenge helped my waist size grow.) We are thankful for the love of family and friends. We hope you have happy holidays, a merry Christmas, and a positively epic 2017!

Love, Cory, Melanie, Jackson, Danica, and Kylee

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Rio Del Lago 100 Mile Race Report - 2016

The following things happened last week:

1) On Tuesday I realized that despite doing some 100 milers earlier in the year, I didn't have a Western States qualifying race.
2) I realized that the last WS qualifying race was coming up in California in a few days.
3) I mentioned the Rio Del Lago 100 to Mel and she said "Go for it!"
4) I packed my stuff, then headed to California two days later.
5) I drove for about nine million hours on the Extraterrestrial Highway where there is SOOOO much nothing to see.

6) In the absolute middle of nowhere I passed by Area 51 and made a quick stop at the Alien Testing Facility. (Not making this up.) I can now check off the box on my bucket list next to "Take a jumping picture next to a gigantic metal alien."

The next morning I found myself at the starting line of Rio Del Lago. For the first mile or so I had fun talking with Don Freeman from Trail Runner Nation. There is one minor detail about this: Don runs fast. And I run like a sloth on Ambien. So I told him to go on ahead. Pretty soon we experienced an amazing sunrise over Lake Natoma.


The first 19ish miles are mostly a paved bike path. I didn't mind it, but I hear those 19 miles screw up a lot of people's races because they go too fast and burn out their legs. I focused on running smart and conservative. If you have to run on a bike path, this isn't the most horrible scenery ever.

The first part of the race had some runnable dirt too. I commented to another runner how cool it was to see green during a run. In southern Utah I see mostly red.

And then we reached this part of the trail surrounded by trees. The trail had this little bend in it and I heard the trail say "Hey, look how photogenic I am!" And I was like "Wow, you're not kidding! Stay right there. Don't move! Let me grab my camera!"


I was feeling pretty good overall. For gear, I was using the Altra Olympus shoes, the UltrAspire Velocity pack, a jacket from St. George Running Center, Tailwind Nutrition for my fuel, some Injinji socks, and a fist full of candy at each aid station. I got to one aid station and had a celebrity sighting. I decided it would have been rude to mention that her pant suit was stiff as a board and had huge creases in it.

The middle section of the course was really tough. There was a long stretch on a trail called "The Meat Grinder". The thing I don't understand is if your legs have been through a grinder, how do you UNgrind them? After about 25 miles, my legs had no energy. They felt like a fuming pile of toxic sludge.

To be honest, I didn't think my legs would get better. You can't ungrind stuff. You can't ungrind hamburger back into a New York steak. But somehow after a few hours of running I noticed that my legs didn't feel like toxic sludge anymore. I was very thankful.

The weather was PERFECT, the scenery was great, and I felt like I was running at the best of my capabilities. It felt like I was having a good day.

All along the course were these huge pine cones almost as big as my head.

By early evening it started to cool down. Pretty soon I could see my breath, but I was still running hard enough to be sweating so I didn't need to put a jacket on.


The night absolutely WRECKED me. I struggled so much with sleep deprivation. At two points I just plopped down in the middle of the trail to rest my eyes. I really struggle when I get so tired that it feels like the fatigue is suffocating. I know there are bears and mountain lions out in these areas. I ran for most of the night by myself but never felt too scared because I knew there were always runners not too far ahead or behind me.

There were some big climbs during the night. On one climb, it was so steep and so long that when I got to the top I almost barfed. And then there were a bunch of river crossings. I'm as coordinated as a filing cabinet so I prayed that I wouldn't slip on one of the loose rocks and end up with wet shoes.

I can't tell you how much the night sucked. The climbing. The cold. The exhaustion. It really took a toll on me. I suddenly realized that I was right up against cutoffs. I didn't understand (and actually still don't understand) how I got into that predicament. I felt like despite struggling through the night, I had done pretty good overall. But here I was, up against cutoffs.

I got to the aid station at mile 84 only five minutes ahead of the cutoff. We had to go back across the long Meat Grinder Trail. I asked an aid station volunteer "Is this even possible?" Maybe I was looking for an excuse to drop. She handed me a breakfast burrito and a cup of Coke, then she looked me in the eyes and said "You'll have to run the downhills hard. You'll have to hike the uphills as fast as you can. You have no time to spare. But you can do this. Go get it!" I'm so thankful for her pep talk. I could have shed a tear...if I had any fluid left in my body.

As the sun came up I sent a quick text to Mel. "Very close to cutoffs but I'm hurrying. I think I can make it." She wrote back "You can do it! I know you can!!!! We are cheering for you!" I ran as hard as I could for hours. Then I heard something so incredibly wonderful. I heard music from a loud speaker. I was getting closer. I was going to finish! I crossed the finish line with about 10 minutes to spare before the 30 hour cutoff. I have never had to fight so hard to beat cutoffs.

I don't think there is anything like a 100 miler to take you through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and completely wreck you, and put up so many impossible barriers along the way, and then show you that you can do the impossible if you just keep working and don't give up. It sounds cliche to say that the harder you work for something, the more it means to you. But that idea is never more clear than at an ultramarathon. The harder you work for that finish line, the more it will mean to you. A belt buckle is proof that you can overcome the impossible.

Do you want to know how tired I was after the race? I bought a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream....and let the whole thing go to waste because I was too tired to eat it. That's absolutely criminal! The next day I had a miserable 12 hour drive home but I was so happy to see my family and thank them for cheering me on from home. My daughter Danica had this sign waiting for me.

So now I have that Western States qualifying race. And I didn't get eaten by a mountain lion. And I have a belt buckle that I worked really hard for. And I have photographic proof of my jump next to a gigantic metal alien. Life is good. So good.