Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Canyons 50k Race Report


Amber and I ran the inaugural Canyons 50k this past weekend, our first ultra of the season, and a real kick in the pants! It's Thursday following the Saturday race, and my quads are definitely still sore- a fair indication of the challenging nature of the course! With 18,000ft of vertical change (9k of climbing and 9k of descent), it promised to be a great early season training race for the more brutal and vertical races I'm focusing on this year. The race starts in Foresthill, CA, and runs out and back on the Western States 100 course in reverse, with the turnaround at Swinging Bridge below Devil's Thumb. I had never run on this part of the course, so I was excited to see some new country and run a bit more of this legendary trail. The race did not disappoint- there were some great views, fantastic single track, and brutal climbs and descents.

Check out that sweet trucker hat! Totes my new fave.
The race itself was very well organized and put on, the aid stations were well supplied and fun, volunteers encouraging and enthusiastic, and the course was very well marked- never even a hesitation at a trail junction. The course had nice variety, with some faster, flatter dirt road sections, tons of single track, stream crossings (where I took the liberty of dousing liberally), and fantastic scenery. Race Directors Chaz and Tim did a great job putting on a new race, and I expect the race to grow rapidly in popularity and renown. I'm going to add in a photo of the race swag in a bit- stainless steel pint glasses (that got you a free beer) and a sweet trucker hat?! They're doing this business right.

My Race
I had vowed to myself to run a conservative first half of the race. Above all else I wanted to have a good day- it was my first return to ultra racing since my back injury last spring, and I'm still being cautious. I do not want to be injured like that again. So when the lead pack of 7 or 8 people took off at a pace that I deemed too fast, I fell comfortably in behind with a couple other folks for the first couple miles. The race starts out flat for maybe a mile on road and road-side trail, and then begins its first of many plunges down into the canyon, at first on pavement and then breaking off onto some two-track.

The goods laid out the night before the race
This was my first race running with UltraSpire's Alpha Race Vest, and it was great! I started out with a half-full bladder (.5 liters) of water and one empty bottle, with an assortment of random gels, GinGins, and a Snickers bar. I kept the bottle empty until Devil's Thumb, where I filled it with water and alternately used it for drinking and dousing myself to cool down. No chafe issues at all. I wore my sweet new Sea Level Sucks t-shirt, a 50-50 cotton/poly blend that is sweet for running on hot days- the cotton holds extra moisture to help you stay cooler longer. For shoes, I ran in the Inov-8 Trailroc 245's. I have really grown to love these shoes, they are a great balance of minimalism, traction, and protection for racing and long runs, and have a very neutral footbed that has never caused me any problems. Anyway, on to the race!

Pre-race, making some awful face. Maybe I still had to poop?
The first few guys I was running next to were babying the semi-technical downhill a little too much for my tastes, so I went around them and caught up to a suspiciously familiar fellow running in a Hawaiian shirt. After a minute I picked out where I knew him from- this was the guy that had passed me in the last couple miles at last year's American Canyon 50k! I had an awful day at that race having gone out too fast. We chatted a bit and I learned his name was Andy, and I had the nagging suspicion that he would run a smart, well-paced race. I unabashedly latched onto Andy, and we ran the first half of the race together.

The first two aid stations weren't fully set up when we came through, but it was fine because the canyons were still cool and I had plenty of water and food still. Andy and I had some great conversations, and we were both on the same general plan for the race- run conservatively early and hope to pick off some guys later in the race that went out too hard. We passed two guys on the long climb up from El Dorado Creek to Devil's Thumb-suspicions of the early pace being too hot confirmed. Most of it was very runnable but we were power hiking the steeper parts. I thought a few times that the pace felt a little too conservative, but it was steady and I wanted to feel good. I wasn't confident in my abilities returning to ultras with so few long runs under my belt this season, so I opted to take it easy. At the Devil's Thumb aid station the volunteers told us we were in 5th and 6th place and that the front guy had about a 13 minute lead. On the descent to the turnaround (steep!) we saw all the guys in front of us, and my 2 second assessment of each found several of them to be hurting. Good sign! It was mostly a hike back up from the turnaround at Swinging Bridge (the bridge was hit in the American Canyon fire last year- the steel frame is intact, but all the wood planking burned off), with brief bouts of running on the flatter parts between some switchbacks. We made good time coming up, and at the Devil's Thumb aid station I lingered a little longer than Andy, taking extra time to fill my bladder and grab some food, and he took off ahead of me. I chased after Andy, coming within a hundred yards of him a couple times and catching him at aid stations, but he was quicker in and out of the next two aid stations. It was getting hot out, and I was taking extra time to get wet and get more fluids- it's still winter in Wyoming, I'm not used to the heat yet!

 I saw Andy and another guy leave the Michigan Bluff aid station as I approached it (6 miles to the finish), so I was quick to get in and out. I could tell the guy that wasn't Andy was hurting, walking many of the very runnable hills, but I was feeling some intestinal distress. When we reached the top of the climb and started descending, I rapidly reeled in the runner but having to peel off twice (twice!) for bathroom stops. Frustrating! After a steep descent, I caught the runner that Andy had already passed near the bottom of Volcano Canyon. All business, I didn't take any time to chat with him. We both stopped momentarily at the next creek to get wet, but I left first and put the gas on going up the hill, not wanting to let it turn into a contest, and kept a good pace going up and out of the canyon.

Runnin' it home, photo cred to J. Dyste
It was pretty hot now in the sun, and I alternated running with hiking the steeper sections. As I neared the final climb up Bath Road, a spectator or volunteer told me I was in 4th place, which meant someone ahead must have dropped as well, and that 3rd and 2nd were only a couple minutes ahead. This was great to hear, but it was too late in the race to catch anyone unless they were literally crawling, so I kept an even effort, and ran at a good clip for the last flat mile home. I finished in 4th place with a time of 5:27, and was elated to be greeted by two good friends at the finish line who had came to spectate. Jacob and Adele seemed to enjoy the experience of watching people suffer and finish the race, and celebrated our finishes with pizza and beer afterward.

Overall, it was a great day and I'm super happy with the race. I finished really well, and felt good at the end. Reflecting on my effort and condition after the race, I probably ran a bit too conservatively- it felt more like a hard training run than a full race effort. The quads were sore from all the climbing and descending, but I otherwise felt almost too good still. The race was a bit of a re-learning experience after such a long break from ultra-distance racing, and running a bit slow was a better learning experience for me right now than going out too fast and blowing up. Andy ended up coming in 2nd, which is awesome for him, but I couldn't help but feel that if I had tried a little harder that would have been me there. Zach Violett ran a super solid race for first place, and his time just was not attainable for me on my early-season training and lack of recent racing. I came out feeling excited to run more (though the quads are still resisting me a bit), and that is a great way to come out of a race! Amber had a great race as well, finishing in 6:52 and we suspect she was the 5th or 7th woman. Our post-race recovery has been pretty atrocious- the race was followed immediately by 4 or 5 hours of driving, too little sleep, 10 more hours of driving, and a couple more days and nights of sleep deprivation and too much sitting/driving. I suspect this is a factor in the lingering quad soreness, but such is life- it's never going to be perfect, but it's pretty damn good anyway.

Hangin' out at the North Fork American River after the race...don't mind the sweat stains

We match. Awesomely embarrassing or embarrassingly awesome?


  1. Great job! Loved reading about your experience!

    1. Thanks Tara, glad you enjoyed! Can't wait for you to get out and experience that trail marathon for yourself!