2022 Canyons 100K Race Report by Nikki Buurma


To make a long story short – this past winter I finally found my stride, was feeling good, and then I trained too hard and under-rested, which led to a calcaneal stress fracture in early February, just a few days before the Sean O’Brien 100K. Subsequently, I had to drop Sean O’Brien. Originally, my plan had been to get my WS qualifier there so that I could race hard at Canyons and not worry about taking risks. With the stress fx I wasn’t sure how long it would be before I’d be back, before I could race again.

It was suggested that I wait till the fall; that I should try to find an alternate qualifier. In checking the list of potential races, and what was still open, most of the options were at altitude, super technical, or of the 100-mile distance over the 100k. It felt like trying to be ready by Canyons was my best bet. Plus my friend Alice was willing to crew me, and I could stay with her at her In-laws, the Curley’s, who live right on the course and are some of the most fun people I’ve ever met.

I wasn’t sure if I could be physically ready, but mentally it felt like the easiest option. So I jumped into bike workouts, then walks, then hikes, and eventually running. By mid March I was doing short runs on the road and long runs/hikes on the trail. I kept up with biking 2xdays a week and maxed out at 75 miles. Things progressed relatively smoothly except for some sore quads after jumping into too much downhill. Overall, compared to the years of tendinopathy I have managed, this was the easiest recovery from an injury I’ve had. Maybe I’m a little smarter, maybe bones just heal easier. I never added workouts or strides and never hit the long runs and weekly mileage I would usually have done pre-race, so it was hard to feel “ready” for such a big race. I had to keep reminding myself that lots of people line up with a lot less training. Going in, finishing was the “A” goal, and the only goal. Making it to the finish in under 19-hours and getting my WS100 qualifier was all that mattered. (To run Western States 100 you have to collect lottery tickets each year via running/finishing applicable races, with the hopes of eventually being drawn to run the race. I don’t know if I want to do 100’s, but I know that I want to do WS100 at least once.)


Alice brought me the mile or so down the hill from the Curley’s to the start line. I dropped off my drop bag of snow gear for the Deadwood aid station – the race encouraged full safety/snow gear for the last 10-15 miles of the course. I wasn’t sure how late I’d be through, or how slow I could be moving at that point and since I struggle in the cold I didn’t want temperatures to force me to drop, so I packed EVERYTHING possible.

The start corral was full of energy and hype with flags and banners everywhere, music, and elite athlete introductions. 5:00 am and we were off, down the road, past the Curley’s and out to the Robie Point trail. A sea of headlamps winding ahead. I tried to settle in and not get caught up in moving through the field. No Hands Bridge was a giant puddle and someone decided to tiptoe along the rail to keep their feet dry, so we all came to a halt and followed along except one brave woman who splashed right through the center. I heard her shoes squish for miles and was happy with my decision to side-step it – little did I know how much water was on the course waiting for me.

I felt smooth and relaxed and before I knew it the sun was coming up over the river. It was a perfect weather day throughout, with clear skies and great views. The downhill into Mammoth Bar was steep, rocky and technical (too much for my liking), so I took my time and let people bomb past me. I skipped the aid station and passed a bunch of the racers back, then settled into a line of people on the climb out. The next section of trail was my favorite of the day and I was able to cruise along and catch a few more groups. Throughout the day I yo-yo’d the same people numerous times. We all have strengths and weaknesses, good and bad patches; trading places seems to happen more frequently in a trail race than it does in road races. There were some nice runnable downhills, flowy singletrack and beautiful morning views, all of which made the first part of the race fly by. At Driver’s Flat aid station, around mile 15ish, I was under 3 hours, which was exciting, because I was faster than I expected myself to be. I started dreaming of a 12-hour finish but knew it would be likely I’d slow down in the later half of the race.

I saw Alice, dropped my arm warmers, refilled bottles and continued on. Compared to previous races, I was the most on top of my fueling and hydrating I’ve been, which I think was the key to feeling good for so much of the race. The more relaxed pacing probably helped too. We crossed a number of creeks and my shoes and socks were wet and gross. I was looking forward to changing them out at halfway. I made some more friends and we chatted our way up the grind to Forrest Hill (mile 33). The last climb got warm and felt hard but overall I felt way better than I did in last year’s race, and came through in around the same time – just over 6-hours. My parents were waiting at the start of the aid station strip, This was the first ultra of mine they’ve witnessed, and the first race they have watched in 10+ years. It was fun to give them a quick hug and then run down to where Alice was waiting with fresh shoes and socks and a new pack full and ready to go.

A quick change and I was out and running down to Bath Road. The paved downhill and fresh shoes felt fantastic and provided a total boost of energy after the last climb. I was stoked to still be running and feeling good past mile 33. It was maybe two miles later that we had to wade though a thigh-deep, quick-moving stream while we held on to a little rope. I thought I might lose my footing and get swept away, but mostly I was sad to have wet feet again so soon. I hiked well on the ups and cruised on the downs and was staying with or moving past others well. My confidence was building. My parents surprised me by being at the Michigan Bluff aid station at mile 40. Quick hugs and bottles filled. I was at around 8-hours and thrilled to still be mostly running, feeling good, and on pace for a 12-13 hour finish…Then came a few more creek crossings and some steep downhills with wet feet that really made my toes bang around in my shoes. On the huge climb to Deadwood aid station (mile 46ish), I got hot, then nauseous, then dizzy and then just moved really slow. In hindsight I should have pulled out my poles. Instead I just trudged on and tried to keep my brain on task. I thought I might pass out and started to worry that if I couldn’t pull out of this low spot that I might not be able to finish.

I finally made it to the aid station, chugged some coke, pulled out my poles and made myself keep moving. I started to rally a little but not good enough to run what I should have been able to. A lot of people passed me and I worried just how long the last 11 miles would take.

Back at Deadwood aid (mile 51), I was still hot, and felt like there was enough time before dark that I wouldn’t need any extra gear from my drop bag. I had a coat, gloves, headband and headlamp in my pack already; I figured that would suffice. I still felt queasy, so I filled both flasks with coke in the hopes that it would get me to the finish. Then I smelled the fresh made quesadillas and somehow decided that was what I needed (I generally don’t like cheese so this seemed like a bad idea, but I just went with it). With one quesadilla in each hand I walked out of the aid station, and let me tell ya – that was magic. I instantly felt so much better.

If the terrain had been easier I think I could have run quite a bit (over hiking) but the last 11 miles hosts a bunch of steep rocky climbing, and on legs that have already done 11-12,000ft – it’s not easy. I hiked like crazy and ran what I could while doing mental math on whether or not I could beat last year’s time of 14:57 and finish before dark.

At about mile 55 I caught up with another runner and we pondered a sub 14-hour finish. The course had advertised it was 59-miles but we guessed it would be more; just how much more, we weren’t sure. We had about 2-hours to make it and we were getting more and more excited that we would break that barrier. I reassured him the last few miles were more runnable and that we could make up time. And then….we hit the snow, mud, and swamps.

The middle of the trail was completely under water and the sides were all snow and slop. Seemingly anywhere we stepped we would slide, stumble, or just fall into the puddle. I think we all fell at least a few times. I tried charging through the puddles figuring I was wet and dirty already, but you couldn’t tell how deep they were, so you would lurch and jar and sink up to your knees. I felt like either Bambi On Ice trying to stay upright in the snow, or like a little pig just wallowing in the puddles. Sliding, stumbling, falling, poles flying – we trudged on anxiously searching for the finish line. And it seemingly never came. 14:00 came and went. I think we all lost some momentum having the goal slip away. Finally 61+ miles in and we heard the announcers.

Motivation increased but so did frustration as we struggled along in the puddles and slop, at 62-miles, and with a quarter mile to go I really wanted to “kick it in” but couldn’t make my tired legs keep me upright over the terrain at any sort of an attempt at running. Finally – through the arch and on the pavement, I cried out of relief that the swamp was over and I was able to run in the last little bit. Alice, Christina and Dennis were all there to cheer me in and I can’t express how much it helps knowing there will be someone to collect you and all your meltdowns at the finish. Overall, I learned a lot, still have lots of progress and goals to chase, but can’t be disappointed with 14:24. Faster than last year, in before sunset, and so so much better than what I trained for or expected. Extremely thankful and really happy that I didn’t give up on the dream!

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