Canyons 100k Race Memo by Scarlett Graham

This is my race “memo.” My day job proffers writing “reports,” so in lieu of it not feeling like work, and keeping it short and sweet, here is my Canyons 100k Race Memo – 

I signed up for the Canyons 100k race in 2020 for a myriad of reasons. Motivated by its competitive field, the opportunity for a Western States (WS) lottery ticket or golden ticket, and being able to run on the WS course made signing up and training for the race exciting. I thought some version of myself might have a chance at a golden ticket. Another part of me viewed Canyons (and 2020 as a whole) as a last hurrah of ultra-running races during which I would get my ya-ya’s out, and then I could “retire” and dial back the running and dial up the climbing and paddling and other cool new explorations. Fast forward to 2021, and I found myself another year older but still with those same ya-ya’s motivating me.

My training over the winter months consisted of conservative 50-60 mile weeks with ski-touring on the weekends, and a few bouts of skate-ski cross training. I didn’t incorporate lifting but did include some short bursts of proactive physical therapy. For my longest training run, I ran Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon with some wonderful friends (it was a dreamy day). To me, R2R2R was borderline too long of a long run, but I made sure to give myself lots of recovery time afterwards. My other big efforts included a 20-mile ski-mo traverse race and running the Chuckanut 50k course at a solid effort. For speed work, I loosely followed a plan that a high school friend and now pro ultra-runner (Pat Reagan) had written for me. Workouts included work at marathon pace/effort and some strides. Overall, I felt strong and fit, but not fast.

My lack of leg speed coupled with feeling kind of off the week before the race influenced my race plan. I decided to start the race conservatively, with the hope to work my way up. The race strategy worked great for me, but essentially took me out of any running for the coveted golden tickets. The Canyons 100k course is on the WS course, and the Covid version of the race had us running backward from Auburn, CA to Devil’s Thumb, then looping back to the “Deadwood aid station,” and finishing with a hard final 10 miles to the China Wall trailhead.

The trails were mostly smooth and the temps anomalously low (highs of 60 I believe), which all made for a very fast course. I ran mostly alone for the first 50km, slowly moving up the field and searching for some people to work together with. I felt better than expected on this section, and split the first 50km in 4:52, which is a PR for me!

At the halfway point, which was the Deadwood aid station, my crew gave me some more sunscreen and my trekking poles and sent me off with excited encouragement. I knew the second half of the course had two mega climbs of over 2,000 feet each so I thought the poles would be good. Looking back, I don’t think the poles were necessary, and I wouldn’t use them at this same race again. I felt like they held me back a bit because I had to carry them for long sections, like the last 3 flattish miles. Don’t get me wrong, I USED them on the steep, loose uphill sections, so who knows, they may have also saved me! But, looking around at my competitors, I was definitely one of the few people using them.

By halfway at Forest Hill, I had finally caught up to the top 10 women and subsequently found some people to run with. For about 10 miles, I got connected with this rad dude Riley from Boise. It was Riley’s first race ever, and he was stoked but his quads were hurting him, so we talked through that and also about the housing market and mountain bikes and climbing gyms. We cruised through Michigan Bluff aid and I was able to move up to 7th place.

The next big landmark was the Deadwood aid station, where you had to do a little out and back to the aid station. This afforded visibility to see who was within a quarter mile of you. I didn’t see anyone on the way in, but when I went to leave the aid station, another girl (Leah Yingling) came in right behind me! Someone trying to beat me at my own come-from-behind game! That lit a little fire under me for the Deadwood loop where I ran fairly quick all the while with my dumb trekking poles in my hand. (Looking back, I actually received a Strava crown for this section of the course!) When I returned to the Deadwood aid station, I saw another girl (Becca Windell) run out ahead of me. I believe at this point she was 6 and I was 7. I slowly came up behind her on a downhill, and she let me pass but then stayed on my heels as we started up the last huge climb of the day. I was feeling like I needed calories and knew there was a good bit of racing left, so I slowed my pace and let her pass. Looking back, I wish I would have tried to stick with her and that we could have worked together.

The last climb was nearly 2,500 feet. At first it was very steep, but eventually you gained a ridge, the slope mellowed, and parts became more runnable. I used a mantra of “Breathe in, breathe out, let your breath carry you,” to try to keep myself moving through this section. My calves felt like rocks, so I tried to take small steps and keep it smooth to prevent further cramping. The last 3 miles were on a gentle uphill grade, but I could only muster a 9-ish minute mile pace. In this section, I was able to catch up with another lady (Taylor Nowlin) and moved into 6th place, but also looked over my shoulder to see Leah coming in from behind. Then in front of me, I spied Becca again! As soon as I made contact with Becca though, she took off way faster than I could go. A minute or so later, Leah came in hot from behind and again I couldn’t respond. I think this was the lowest part of the day, to taste 5th place about a mile from the finish, but then get passed and lament that I could not kick it in. I wonder if this was a mental block or a physical block (or both). On a high note though, it was very exciting to be racing till the end! (I still love racing!)

Final time was 11:05 and I finished 7th place F and 30th overall. The only other non-sponsored lady ahead of me was Becca in 5th, another Washingtonian. I knew she looked familiar! I think this is probably my best finish at a competitive race, and I’m overall satisfied. I have been telling people that I’m retiring now, but I know there is a part of me that feels like I didn’t accomplish my goal of trying to compete with the best because I chickened out and took it out so easy. I don’t have any races scheduled from now until October, when I will take on the Adventure Racing World Championships at Raid Gallaecia in Spain with another Bellingham team – Quest!

-Scarlett Graham

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