Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Grand Canyon 100 Mile Race Report - 2014

I noticed I was talking to mountain lions. It was the middle of the night. Pitch black. I hadn't seen another human in hours. All alone. I was on a rugged, punishing trail somewhere around the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Admittedly, I saw no signs of any mountain lions. But with my fuzzy brain I was sure they'd be out there somewhere. I told them not to eat me because I taste yucky like cauliflower and cream of mushroom soup, the grossest things known to mankind. I also sang some Bruce Springsteen songs. My singing would send any animal plugging it's ears and running away.

This was one slice of the Grand Canyon 100 miler that I ran over the weekend. I've only done a few quick drive by visits of the Grand Canyon so I was looking forward to getting to know the big ditch better. Our first stop during the race was Monument Point. Seeing the canyon brighten with the sunrise was spectacular.

I was running with a bunch of friends and we kept running into a problem. We couldn't seem to put the cameras away. And that's a problem I LOVE to have!

I stayed at Jacob Lake Inn the night before the race. On a big white board they had the weather forecast which said the next day would get up to 90 degrees. I thought that would be impossible considering the higher altitude. But at 6:30am we were sweating our guts out. I feared that forecast was indeed accurate.

My amazing wife Mel and my son Jackson came with me for the weekend and volunteered at some of the aid stations so it was great to see them at the next spot, Crazy Jug. There was a short out-and-back section so Jackson came out with me and told me how the day had gone for him so far. (So far he hadn't seen anyone throw up.) He's a good kid.

Crazy Jug had some of the views that the Grand Canyon is known for. Just beautiful.

Jackson pointed out one of the marking flags. Over the years I have come to know race director Matt Gunn and his partner in crime (course marking guru/aid station wizard) Rick Whitelaw well. These are two good, good guys. Even though it probably took Rick five seconds to write this it meant a lot to me.

After this we reached the hardest part of the course. These sections rivaled the hardest trails I've run in a race. We left the canyon rim and headed through forests of ponderosa pines. We were heading for an aid station called Parisawampitts. (Incidentally my friend Catherine said she is going to name her next dog "Parisawampitts.")

There were some sections of the trail that were honestly vertical. Here is an interesting tidbit of information: It doesn't tickle when one foot stays put while the other foot decides to slide down the steep dirt and rocks leaving you doing the splits mid-trail. Who'd have thunk. That happened to me, oh, around thirty two times. No bueno.

Incidentally (let's see how many more times I can work that word into this race report) this is around the same point that I started singing to mountain lions in the middle of the night. I DESPERATELY wish you could have seen me doing these sections alone. In the dark. With floppy legs. And sleep deprivation. It was absurd. If you had a video camera you could have sent the video to America's Funniest Videos and won yourself $10,000. I consider myself quite the connoisseur of America's Funniest Videos. I'm confident you could have won. And of course what goes down must go up.

Things weren't going too great for me. I just felt really crappy. The altitude and the heat were really working me over. Which is kind of ridiculous because I live in an area that resembles sitting in a sauna on the sun. While wearing sweat pants. I'm used to heat. But during the race I was really struggling. (Incidentally later my friends admitted "Yeah, you didn't look very good.") After approximately eternity we finally reached Parisawampitts. It was awesome to see Mel and Jackson. Unfortunately when we tried to take a nice family picture, two yahoos photo bombed the picture. Incidentally I these two yahoos happen to be good friends of mine. Jack's wife Shannon ran her first 50 miler (!!!) at Grand Canyon and Turd'l is an ultra aid station legend.

I ran every mile with my simply amazing friends Catherine and Clair. We ran the Antelope Canyon 50 together in February, the Buffalo Run 100 together in March, and now Grand Canyon. You get to know people pretty good in those many hours on trails together. It is an honor to call these guys friends.

I continued feeling utterly horrible. It's hard to tune out that chatter in your brain that is saying "Wow, if you're already feeling this crappy after 25 miles, how in the WORLD are you going to do another 75 MILES?!?!? Especially on such hard trails!" But you MUST try to turn that off and just focus on the one mile you're running right now. Some short bursts of pristine single track will help distract you just a bit.

We kept plugging along mile after mile. For a while I didn't contribute much to the conversation. I had pulled up a Lazy Boy recliner inside the pain cave and was trying to work my way through it. The next stop was North Timp. All aboard the pain train!

I saw Mel and Jackson one last time before they headed back to civilization for the evening. I was so thankful to have their encouragement and support during the race. They. Rule.

The many miles after that were primarily on dirt roads. Some of those dirt roads were very hilly and rocky, some were a little more mild.

For lots of miles, especially toward the end, we were joined by my friend Jared Thorley. Jared and I have run countless miles of races together and he is one of the nicest people I know. These three friends of mine, wow. We've seen each other through the highest of highs and lowest of lows. I really love them.

The race course is a big 50 mile loop, with the 100 milers running the loop twice. We were happy to have some help from gravity on the last 6 miles heading back to the start/finish.

Catherine and Jared signed up for the 50 miler so they were just about done with their race. Clair was signed up for the 100 and planned to come out with me for another 50 miles. It was a little daunting now knowing what was ahead of me. Incidentally what was ahead of me would also have to be done in the dark. But with evening and the cooling temperature I slowly started to feel some life breathe back into me.

Watching the last light of day sink below the aspens was simply beautiful. Granted, it took about 47 miles, but I was finally feeling good. I felt so thankful for the experience, and gratitude for being able to be standing there in that moment.

It was pitch black when Clair and I headed out for the second loop of the adventure. Now that it had cooled off a bit I was feeling really good. Unfortunately just the opposite happened with Clair. He had been sick leading up to the race which prevented him from getting in full training, and said that it had finally caught up with him. (I wondered if he was just shaken up from the bat that I saw fly literally inches from his face. It was close enough that he could have licked it.) 

He decided it was best to go back to the start/finish and drop to the 50 mile distance. I felt sad to see him go but I could totally understand how he was feeling. I've been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt. Then I had the realization that since there was a smaller field of runners I'd likely be out by myself through the night. Dear mountain lions: don't eat me.

I went hours without seeing anyone else. Then I'd get to an aid station, refill my water pack, grab some Oreos, and be on my way for another couple hours in the dark. Thankfully the course was so well marked that I never got lost or turned around once. (SO, SO thankful for this!!!) After the night time version of America's Funniest Videos I made it to Turd'l's aid station. I was happy to see him and gave him a big hug. (Sorry about that bug spray smell Turd'l.) He had some peach cobbler waiting for me. Hero. (The volunteers at each of the aid stations were exemplary.)

I was relieved that the night wasn't as bad as I had expected. Shockingly I was still feeling really good. I was running good, relatively speaking. When the sun started to rise on the second day of the race I felt like it was time to start pushing a bit to try and get in as many miles as possible before the Grand Canyon Easy Bake Oven turned on.

At mile 75 I had this completely insane in the membrane thought. I realized that if I pushed it I might be able to get a negative split on a 100 miler! (Running the second half faster than the first half.) A negative split in a 100 is pretty rare but I figured I might be feeling good enough to give it a shot. So I put the pedal to the medal, figuring I could take a risk of pushing things into the danger zone. I was on the highway to the danger zone. Gonna take you right into the danger zone. (Thank you for your contribution to this race report Kenny Loggins.) Here is the second sunrise of the race:

Again I had to work on tuning out the pain and exhaustion to keep moving forward. I was fueled by the wise, profound wisdom and inspiration of Kenny Loggins. (Riiiiiiight.) Bring on the highway to the danger zone! I felt like I was moving really well for miles 50-95 but those last five miles of the race started to feel like a slog. After what felt like forever I finally saw cars in the distance. I ran hard knowing I was close. And then finally I made it to the finish line. I finished around 29 hours and 45 minutes. But before crossing I knelt down and kissed the ground. I was definitely happy to be done. 

I truly can't comprehend that the Grand Canyon 100 was my ninth 100 miler. Honestly. I'm just a guy who likes to eat glazed doughnuts, go take pictures, and have fun on the trails. It doesn't seem real. In that last mile I got goosebumps. I might have had a little bit of manliness leak out of my eyes thinking about how much these bodies God gave us are capable of. It truly blows my mind. Huge kudos to Matt, Rick, and Ultra Adventures for putting together another spectacular race!

"Pushing your body past what you thought it was capable of is easy; the hard part is pushing yourself even further....past what your mind wants to let you. That's what ultrarunning is all about; introducing you to a self you've never known." ~ Rex Pace


  1. Awesome job! I hope to one day be able to do an ultra, but I'm a bit off from then. Lots of work to do! Looks like a gorgeous race though :)

  2. Favorite line: After approximately eternity... HAHAHA! I also love the quote in red at the bottom. I LOVE RUNNING!

  3. Oh Cory! Congratulations! I feel like every comment I make on your race reports is double amazement at your accomplishments and your photography. And your wonderful supportive family.

    I know that voice you're talking about, the one questioning how you're going to finish when you feel so terrible early in. I'm hoping to channel your toughness at Dirty Kanza and to take hope from the way your second half was so much better.

  4. Way to go, Cory. Another great report and beautiful pictures!

  5. Way to go, Cory. Another great report and beautiful pictures!

  6. Congrats on yet another amazing race. Beautiful pictures as always!

  7. I love it! Congrats!!!! I was wondering how that would go in the middle of the night... alone.. in the dark... in the forest. I'm glad you did not get eaten :) You are amazing! (wonder how many times I'VE written that line!!)

  8. Awesome, Cory!! I am simply in awe. You are truly inspirational...maybe one day, in my old old OLD age, I'll do a 100...and if I do, it'll all be because of you.

    Rest up and I look forward to your next adventure (LEADVILLE SILVER RUSH?!?!?! :))

  9. Wow, that is one awesome race! Congrats! Great photos!

  10. Now I know why I struggled to sleep at the South Rim....I swore I heard some distraught animal's attempt at belting out a tune of "sweet caroline"....was that you from across the canyon? ;-)

  11. Thanx so much for bringing your camera. What A Day, What A Night, What A Race!! Way to dig deep and complete that 2nd loop. I couldn't even imagine seeing my name on a course marker. What a rush. And are you running the Leadville Silver??

  12. I always read your posts in awe. Your photos and you achievements are incredible. But you've gone to a whole new level in my esteem. A runner (and a male one at that) who can do the splits mid-race. I bow down to your awesomeness.

  13. "The Grand Canyon Easy Bake Oven" - what a great description! Congrats!

  14. I may have let a little womanliness leak out of my eyes reading this race report ;) I love this. Thanks for inspiring!