It is a week out from the 2017 Canyons 100K and I can walk almost normally down stairs and turn over in bed without a Herculean effort. As I crossed the finish line, I told the gentlemen taking numbers the race name should be changed to Steep Canyons Endurance Runs. He gave me a high five but I’m not sure if it was because he liked the name change or if he was congratulating me on my survival.
A number of months ago, I jumped online at the appointed time to gain entry into the race. I wanted an early season qualifier for Western States and I also wanted to see some parts of the iconic course I have been trying to race on for the past 5 years. A few mouse clicks and I was entered. Time to train.
I awoke before my wristwatch had the chance to rouse me. Despite some tossing and turning, I actually got about 5-6 hours of sleep before 3AM arrived. I quietly slipped down off the bunk and started the water for coffee and oatmeal. I have spent many nights in tents, enjoying them thoroughly, but I have to say the camper thing is pretty nice: heater,stove at the ready, table, lights.
Preparation finished, I walked out to the start and stood among the others runners milling about. After some brief pre race announcements, we were off down the semi-dark road for the first creek crossing. Despite going out at a faster pace than I really wanted, there was a line up at Volcano Creek to cross the high water using one of the two slacklines set up. I’m glad they were there because the water was rushing pretty fast and was almost thigh deep. I assumed my place in line, splashed across and scrambled up the bank to be faced with the first steep climb of the day.
I settled in behind Jenny Capel. We had run together during the 2015 Bighorn and did some quick catching up and had some enjoyable conversation. We ran and power hiked up the incline and cruised into Michigan Bluff. After a quick bottle refill, I headed down to Eldorado Creek, another quick in and out and up out of that canyon. I was beginning to realize that I had underestimated this course. Through The Pump aid station and down a steep and rocky trail to Swinging Bridge I knew for sure that I had really underestimated this course. I’m never on the fast side going downhill, especially technical stuff, so I was regularly letting people past. About half way down a young man named Justin caught up to me, I offered to let him pass but he said he was fine and we chatted the rest of the way to the bracelet pick up and all the way back up to Devil’s Thumb. We both agreed that trail was more technical and steep than we had originally thought it would be. Topping off Devil’s Thumb was a great sense of accomplishment and we kept each other company, on and off, back to Foresthill.
Cruising into Foresthill I got my thinking cap on and went through my mental list: socks, more Tailwind, eat something solid, ice bandana, and get out. I accomplished everything with the help of a very attentive volunteer who even picked up my stinky, wet socks and put them back into my drop bag. Thanks!
Leaving Foresthill I was all in mentally and felt pretty good physically. I was anxious to see what all this talk about Cal Street was about. I wasn’t disappointed. The run down to Rucky Chucky is amazing. There is an unmistakable energy that can be felt on the trail. It is extremely runnable with a great mix of flat, down, and up. After Cal 1 the day seemed to be heating up a bit and I could feel myself getting a bit nauseous so I made it a point dip my hat and handkerchief in every stream and kept my ice bandana full at every opportunity.
Rucky Chucky was a welcome sight. I was hot and my quads were feeling the day. The excellent volunteers got me iced, fed and out of there feeling good. Now all I needed to do was run back to Foresthill, no problem. The day was cooling off and I was smelling the barn. I ran well and power hiked the steep sections, kept hydrating, and stayed positive.
I hit Cal 2, found a chair and powered down a coke followed by a couple of quesadillas. Just as I left the aid station my way was blocked by a 3 foot long snake stretched completely across the trail. Without hesitation, I will say that I am no fan of snakes. I don’t hate them but would really prefer not to cross paths with one, especially after running 55 miles. Luckily, I spotted him from a distance away. I warned the runner coming down the trail towards me while I grabbed a stick and gently lifted him off the trail. He slithered away into the grass. As he disappeared, I zipped past and probably took my first breath since the encounter. Wheeewww! Adrenaline rush aside, I was beginning to flag as I kept looking for Cal 1 around every corner. I remembered a steep uphill right after Cal 1 heading down and knew the quad crushing descent down would be the door into Cal 1. Sure enough, heading down the grade I heard the whooping of a runner catching sight of Cal 1. I rolled in and promptly sat down, asked for a coke and proceeded to chug it down. I got up and was offered some chicken broth so naturally I accepted and sat back down. After I finished the broth, I stood up to get an orange slice and, on cue, the aid station crew all occupied the chairs and kindly told me there was no room to sit down so I would just have to leave. Thanks! Really, thanks. The volunteers at Canyons were top notch and invested in every runner getting the most out of themselves. I thanked them and off I went for the final 3 miles.
Even though there is some elevation gain to be had from Cal 1 to Foresthill, there is also some very runnable ground. I ran, stopped at the creek and scrubbed off the real or imagined threat of poison oak, and kept moving forward. Deep in my own space and crossing another creek, I was startled by splashing right next to me. “Holy Crap! Has the snake come back to get me?” Of course it wasn’t, the runner passing me apologized and then quipped, “We can break 14 hours.”
I wasn’t really receptive to his statement until another quarter-mile passed and my competitive nature got the best of me. While he passed on the switchback above me I yelled, “Can we still make it?”
“30 minutes to cover 2 miles,” he responded.
“Let’s do it!” So, with renewed vigor I chased him up to Foresthill, my heart rate spiking and quads screaming.
We reached the pavement, made a few turns and triumphantly crossed the finish line. I had been able to see my companion from earlier, Justin, all the way up Foresthill Road but couldn’t catch him. My wife was waiting at the finish line with warm clothes, chairs, and a cold beer. Such treatment! I plopped into the chair while she went to get some food and another beer for Justin. Smiles all around. Another great day.