The countdown reached 1 and just like that 400 or so runners were underway at the Bryce Canyon 50k.
I was excited; I had heard a lot about this race and was eager to see some of the sights of Bryce Canyon along the way. I’ve had a lot of fun with racing so far this year: 1st place at Red Mountain 30k, 1st place at Zions trail half marathon, 1st place at Ogden trail festival, 2nd place at Big Cottonwood Vigor half marathon, 39th place at mountain running national championships. For the most part, I’ve had some performances that I’m happy with and was hoping to do well here at Bryce.
As the race began, I jumped to the front and started leading with about an 8:00 minute mile pace. I stayed in that position for the first 12 miles of the race and then took a wrong turn. After losing about 2 minutes before finding the path again, 2 people had gotten ahead of me and another person was right behind me as I got back on track. I got to know this 3rd person as we both cruised along for a while. His name was Dwight and he was from New Mexico. Dwight and I ran together for the next 6 miles or so. We passed the guy in 2nd place and could see the runner in 1st place in the distance.
At about mile 18 Dwight was having a bit of a harder time and dropped the pace a bit. I was still feeling good and picked it up, hoping to close the gap between myself and 1st place. I was on pace to go under 5 hours total; a time I would have been happy with.
At mile 21 I started to notice a bit of cramping. Uh oh, cramping was my old enemy that caused me to pull out of the Wasatch 100 last year. The last aid station was close and upon reaching it, I asked for some salt. Luckily, they had some and I chewed down a couple of tablets: which was gross, because they’re the kind you typically let dissolve in water.
As I left the aid station I noticed the day was getting hot. Really hot. Temperatures started reaching up to about 95 degrees. I kept chugging along, drinking as much as I could to stay hydrated, but it wasn’t enough. I had refilled my water bottles at the aid station at mile 21, but by mile 24 I was already almost out of water.
I entered a beautiful red canyon and took a moment to enjoy the scene, then started making my way up the trail. It was in that canyon, between mile 24 and 25 that I started falling apart.
The cramping came back: charlie horses began taking over my legs and my calf muscles started seizing up into weird positions. I tried to stretch them, lay down, or just find a position where the muscle spasms would stop.
When I had that somewhat under control I kept going, but the heat was getting to me bad. My stomach was feeling nauseous and I pulled over to start throwing up. I was vomiting for all I was worth, until I could feel my stomach touching my spine as my bowels got rid of everything.
My body started to feel really tingly and I began to get light-headed and dizzy, but I kept making my way along. I made it a little farther up the canyon before feeling especially dizzy, and I lay down by the side of the trail. I guess I passed out.
A lady and her daughter who were doing the half marathon found me. They said they were going up the canyon and found me passed out on the side of the trail. After waking me they tried to get me to take some nuun water and a clif bar, but my stomach wasn’t cooperating and I couldn’t take anything.
Fortunately, the girl was training to be an EMT, and was able to offer some knowledge. She said I was possibly suffering from a heat stroke. I was able to get in a bit of water and we kept going along the trail at a slow pace. I could only go so long before I had to lay in the shade and regain my strength. I was breathing rapidly and my heart rate wouldn’t go down, even when I was lying in the shade. Every once and a while runners would pass, whether they were doing the half marathon, 50k, 50 mile, or 100 mile. One runner who saw my condition stopped to help. He looked to be about my age.
That lady and the EMT girl and that guy gave up their races and stayed with me for the next 5 hours until I could get to an ambulance. They told me their names but the only one I remember was the guy: Ross from Colorado. I want to say the lady’s name was Pam but I’m not entirely sure.
I just remember Ross would say “yeeaaah, boy!” all the time. When I managed to take a swig of water: “yeeaaah, boy!” When I covered a lot of ground before having to take a break: “yeeaah, boy!” When I would throw up: “yeeaaah, boy!”
The lady had a phone and called the race director, telling him they needed to send someone to get me. They responded by saying they couldn’t send anyone and I would have to get to the finish line, where the closest access to a road was. The finish line was about 5 miles away. On a good day, I can go out the door and run 5 miles in a half hour. In the condition I was in, it took me 5.5 hours to cover that distance.
“We need to cool his core temperature.” The EMT girl was saying. “We need to get a bag of ice on his crotch.”
“I don’t have a bag,” Ross said, “but we could use my bandanna.” He started to unravel the bandanna from his head.
“I’ve got some ice in my pack.” EMT girl began getting it out.
I might’ve protested, but I was in a pretty groggy state and was just kind of out of it altogether. They wrapped the ice in the bandanna. “Hey, man.” Ross said. “This might be weird but I’ve got to put some ice on your junk!” He stuck the pack of ice into my shorts. “You can keep the bandanna! It’s all yours.” He laughed.
We kept going, but I couldn’t go very far before having to take a break. It was miserable. My brain was mush, my body ached and I would throw up every so often. I guess I passed out two more times and they would wake me up each time.
“Forget the race organizers, let’s just call 911.” The lady said. “He needs to get to a hospital.”
“What we need is a life flight.” EMT girl responded.
“No helicopter.” I said. I was coherent enough to make sure that they wouldn’t be sending a chopper. I can’t pay for that!
On we went like this; Ross and EMT girl and the lady would stop runners and ask if they had any extra water they could splash on me, or any extra ice. This way, they kept my temperature down. Eventually a sweeper for the half marathon came across us. He saw my condition and said he would run to the finish and try and get them to send some emergency respondents. He passed the task of picking up the half marathon flags to Ross and took off down the trail. We were probably at about mile 28 at that point.
A while later I was lying the shade with my 3 new friends when an Asian lady passed us on the trail. She was a character. “Oh!” She said when she saw me. “Let’s keep moving! Come on, you will feel better!” Without any questions asked she came over and hauled me to my feet and started pushing me along the trail. “This happens to runners, but we must keep going. I will make you feel better!” She began to press her fingers into my hand between the thumb and fingers, and tell me to relax my arms. She then proceeded to massage my shoulders and back and press into my kidneys and my butt. “The same thing happened to my friend at Machu Picchu.” She started telling me about her trip in Peru.
She kept making me take sips of water, but after a few sips, I had had enough, knowing I would just throw it up.
“Take a sip!” She said.
“No!” I was stubborn.
“Do it!” She was more stubborn. She pressed the nozzle of the camelbak into my mouth and wasn’t satisfied until I would gulp down some water.
Then she started telling me about how a similar thing happened to her at Everest.
Machu Picchu, Everest, was this lady some kind of world traveler? After staying with me for a short time, she went on her way towards the finish.
I kept on going with Ross, EMT girl, and the lady, and I was starting to feel somewhat better. I hadn’t thrown up or passed out for a while. “Do you want us to get you a walking stick or something?” The lady asked.
Walking sticks… yes! I remembered during the Wasatch 100 I had pretty much been saved by two branches I had used as walking sticks.
“Yes!” I probably showed more enthusiasm than I had for a long while. “I need two walking sticks!” They found me a couple of branches and I used those to support my walk of death along the trails.
On and on we went, until making it to mile 30. That’s when the sweeper reappeared with an EMS group. I had made it! They could take care of me from there. I said goodbye to Ross, EMT girl, and the lady. I don’t know if I’ll see them again and I don’t even know all their names but they were a huge blessing for me. You can’t help but bond a bit with random strangers in a predicament like that. The occasion called for dropping formalities and getting down to the nitty gritty. The whole thing opened up a new element that you just don’t experience in your daily human interaction.
The EMS group stuck me with an IV and started pumping fluids back into me. They did a few other things like test my blood sugar and whatnot. They had brought a stretcher to carry me out on, but then they got a call saying there was another runner farther up the trail who was suffering from heat exhaustion, so they took it to him instead.
I walked out the last mile where they had an ambulance waiting at the finish. After loading me up they started pumping more fluids into me and began driving to another point along the race, saying there was someone else who had also suffered a heat stroke, and a few others with heat exhaustion that they needed to pick up, then we would go to the hospital.
“I don’t need to go to the hospital, I’m fine.” I told them. I was hoping to keep the bill as small as possible.
“Well, you need to go to the hospital, but we can’t force you.” The lady in the ambulance responded.
I knew I was in good enough condition that I’d be fine at that point, so I signed a few waivers and when they stopped at a campground to pick up another runner, I got out, and luckily there was a kind soul at that site who offered me a ride back to my car.
After getting back to my car, I went and ate a huge pizza, then found a hotel for the night.
So, all in all, it wasn’t what I was expecting or hoping for from Bryce Canyon, but trail running is always full of little surprises and you can’t predict what’s going to happen. I learned that I need to stay hydrated better, I need to practice being on my feet for longer periods of time, and I learned that there are good people out there that will come to your aid if you’re in need.
Until next time!