The Canyons 100K: A Race Report for a Race I Didn’t Run

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by Daniel McLeod

I always mean to write race reports for my own races, but all I end up with are drafts. I thought writing one for my girlfriend Stephanie’s race might go better. There are no pacers or crewing allowed for Canyons 100K, but I decided to join Stephanie for the trip north so that I could support her for the 30 seconds I’d see her at mile 32 before she went out for the next loop.

Miles 1-32ish:
Between the start of the race, the mid-point and the finish, I figured I’d have about 12 or 13 hours to kill while she suffered. After the start, I went back to the Airbnb and took a nap. Since Stephanie posted a ridiculous 52-mile split of 9:27 at Rio Del Lago 100, I decided I better play it safe and arrived back at the start/mid-way/finish point around 10:15 a.m. Still a bit early for my tastes, but I managed it with a large mocha latte.

Setting up my chair at the aid station, I whipped out a book on self-rescue, which was incredibly boring and giving me a headache. I decided I’d simply never go climbing with someone who would get injured, and watched the scene. Magdalena Boulet rocketed through at 10:25, so I knew it would be a while (I later learned the first 50k had 9,000 feet of climbing in it).

Seeing the runners come through was like watching nature draw its bell curve – huge gaps between the early runners were followed by increased grouping as the mid-pack approached. Due to the fickle nature of ultras, an individual can hit a wide range of spots on the curve. That day, Stephanie would experience the sadder side of this fact. At 12:07 p.m. (7:07 into the race), she came to the halfway point. She had run a lot of the race with the third place woman, before drinking something that didn’t sit well and experiencing a loss of energy. As woman after woman passed her, she fell farther and farther behind. In the wise words of Hans-Dieter Weisshaar, “Running 100 miles is 90% mental – and the physical… is the other 90%.”

Stephanie looked great. Her stride was natural and totally un-hobbled. As I started talking to her, she was also entirely coherent. She was not giving nonsense answers. So things were good. Except they weren’t. She was mentally cramping. As always, the physical and mental are playing a fun little ditty together in the background. With plenty of encouragement from other runners at the aid station, we got her to commit to keep going. She drank up some soup and I walked her down the street to the spot where the trail picked up.

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Stephanie Fronk holding it all together as she passes through Michigan Bluff aid station for the second time. Photo: SingleTrackRunning

Miles 32-63.8:
I couldn’t remember my last meal, so I went back to the cafe and got some biscuits and gravy and a smoothie. I sat outside and watched 50 or so runners pass by as I ate and read. Some runners were smiling all over, as if they’d discovered a fun secret. Others had the lost look of someone tunneling through another world. Others looked casual. After killing some time watching the Kentucky Derby and doing a short run of my own, I went back to the start/finish line around 6:30 p.m. and set up shop next to other observers. The finishers began trickling in. Some finish enthusiastic, others broken but determined. Those are probably your only two finishing options.

I caught sight of Stephanie around 7:30 p.m. She was still running well, and had barely lost any time on her second split. She had also just been lost for a half-mile and was ready to be done. She crossed the finish line and got her Western States qualifier for the year.

It’s difficult to really know someone until something goes wrong. Ultras call up a laundry list of characteristics required to finish: perseverance, strength, resolve, stupidity, stubbornness, light-heartedness, flexibility. It’s difficult to not be trite. From pro to DFL, every ultrarunner has a bad day at some point and watches their goals recede. No one handles it well. You feel if you let your goals go, you might sink, and you are trying to build new goals on the spot. You go through all the stages of grief in the period of a few hours. When things go wrong, the pain goes deep into who you thought you would be.

I couldn’t have been prouder of Stephanie’s second half. Not only did she do it fast, she did it on low spirits, and it’s beyond the scale of anything I’ve faced. I can’t really conceive of what must have been necessary internally. Based on the faces of the finishers, it was clear that the course was brutal. Other races have certainly gone better, but this is her most impressive finish and triumph of self.

Race Director, Chaz Sheya Adds:
At 5 a.m., under dark and threatening skies, 260 brave souls were ready to embark on a 100k journey, which was both exciting and scary. “What will my day hold? How will the race unfold? Am I tough enough, yet also smart enough, to reach my best potential on this given day?” From Foresthill to Swinging Bridge and down to Rucky Chucky and back in cold, foggy, rainy and muddy conditions, made for a very challenging day/night.

Paddy O’Leary endured the onslaught for the win, Bob Shebest came in second and Lon Freeman was third. For the ladies, in first was Magda Boulet as our repeat champion, with Erika Lindland second and Annie Rutledge third. Two hundred and twenty runners reached their goal of a Western States 100 qualifier and/or perfect training in the Canyons and Cal Street leading up to WS100.

The new 50k course record set by Tim Tollefsen at 4:40 is quite impressive! He was followed by Stephen Wassather in second and Fernando de Samaniego Steta in third. Dolores Bergmann won for the ladies, Lesley Dellamonica came in second and Melanie Cleland was third. Steady rain turned the descents into muddy Slip’N Slides, but everyone persevered 9,000 feet of vert to claim that finish.

Something magical and brutal happens in those canyons. Whether it was two runners joining forces in the dark to pull each other to the finish, or selfless volunteers giving each runner everything they had to complete the journey (David Laney and Ann Trason worked till past 1 a.m.!), the display of human caring and suffering was magical.

Epic stories were shared. Some cried, most laughed, but all were content as tri-tip tacos and cold IPA helped to refuel us all. We are so grateful to all who came out, and we hope to see you again next year to experience the magic all over again.

100K Results
50K Results

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