Canyons 100k Race Report by Nikki Buurma
It’s been a while since I’ve done a real race! It was in-person, out-of-state, and the field was competitive. After a year of cancellations and postponements I was really hoping to run Sonoma 100k in early April, and had aimed all my training towards it; when it was forced to cancel I felt desperate to find something else to try to get a Western States qualifier in for the year. Scarlett was signed up for Canyons 100k (which would take place a few weeks later in April), so I threw my name on the waitlist. I seriously doubted I would get in, so I didn’t really worry about the 14k+ ft of climbing and net uphill course. That is, until I got in. Then I panicked.
I had attempted a 100k in February 2019 and DNF’d with an injury early on, so the 100k distance felt very intimidating and I was terrified of dnf’ing again. Now I needed to tackle that distance plus a massive amount of hills in a super competitive field. My nervousness probably made me over prepare and I headed into the taper feeling pretty fried. But a few weeks of less mileage and lots of self care led to race week where I began to feel optimistic that I could have a good day.
Woke at 3 am, and was at the start by 4 am to pick up bibs. Temperature checks and masks were mandatory and we had the fortune of a mass start, as opposed to waves. My plan was to start super conservative because I rarely run trail with a headlamp and I didn’t want to trip early and ruin my race. I may have started too far back because I had to walk at a few bottlenecks and ended up running with my mask on for 3-4 miles because of crowded clusters of racers. My headlamp wasn’t on. Then I had it on upside down. So I finally just carried it in my hand. I mostly tried to leap frog up the field using other racer’s light. About 6-7 miles in the sun rose and I felt way more confident being able to fully see the trail.
We crossed over No Hands Bridge and went through Painted Rocks. It was super fun to be on the Western States course and be reminded of memories from years pacing Corrine. My mantra was “conserve” and “be efficient,” trying to move well but not waste any energy. I was happy with how I was moving through mile 20 (in 3:33). It felt like I was on pace for a good time, but was surprised at how far back I was in the field. I mistakenly got behind on hydration and then fuel and started feeling nauseous and dizzy. In hindsight I also left my long sleeve on for way too long and sweat more than I normally would because of it. I tried to problem solve and try different fuel from my pack but everything made me feel worse. At mile 24 I caught my foot on a stick and face planted, shook that off and tried to get back on track. From there to Forrest Hill I had some ok patches and a few rough ones. From around miles 18-34 (the section I had run with Corrine at WS, albeit in the opposite direction), I kept thinking how much faster and easier it felt when I ran with her. The pace the pros can run during a 100 miler is really incredible! I also really wished someone was there to tell me stories.
I hit 50k at 6 hours and still thought I could finish around 13 hours. The climb from 31-34 and the Forrest Hill aid station was rough. I ran out of water, was hot, and was way more tired than I expected to be that early. I saw Jim Walmsley along the trail and asked for an update on the race leaders. Caught Courtney’s friend Carla Molinera and chatted with her about our sour stomachs as we hiked up the hill. Most of the day was running alone in silence so these brief interactions were so helpful. Just before the aid station it started to sprinkle rain.
Finding Alice, Corrine, and Katelyn at the aid station was such a welcomed sight! I switched out packs, grabbed poles, gloves, a raincoat. Received cheers, advice, and race updates – Katelyn got 3rd in the 25k, Scarlett was 7th or 8th, asked who was winning for women? I staggered off towards Bath Rd.. There was a nice, mostly downhill section from miles 34-43 and I was able to rally a bit and move ok (not fast but still running) for most of that. At an aid station there were Costco versions of a Kind bar, which seemed to sit way better than my prepared snacks that I had in my vest so I pretty much only ate those the rest of the race. I tried to drink way more to catch up but found I often ran out long before the next aid station. At mile 40 I was a little over 8 hours and still hoped I could finish somewhere around 13 hours. And then I died. Hard.
Between miles 43-46 there was a 2,000 ft climb. It was steep, hot, sunny. I was out of water and all alone. Each mile felt like an eternity. I finally made it to the aid station at Deadwood, had some coke and an orange, which made me feel much better…for about 10 minutes. The whole course was runnable technically and I wanted to flow and run down the beautiful trails. It felt like I should be crushing it. Instead I spent a lot of time running a little, walking a little, feeling ok for a short section, and then like I was going to pass out. I spent a lot of hours staggering like a drunk alone in the woods searching for little pink ribbons. A 5-mile loop brought us back to Deadwood aid station before the 11-mile stretch to the finish. More Coke, another orange, some bars for my pocket and full water bottles and I stumbled on.
Someone told me that the last 7 miles were all uphill. They weren’t. There was plenty of climbing and more rocks and giant steps but some nice runnable sections too. I had a group of dirt bikers leap frog me over and over for about 5 miles. Nothing like dust and exhaust fumes to add to an already hard day. I realized with no aid stations left after mile 51 the only option was to finish or maybe ask those bikers for a ride? Every so often a runner would catch me and pass so quickly I felt like I was standing still. I don’t really know why I couldn’t move any faster. Lots of things hurt but nothing that badly – lack of will power? Lack of energy? Lack of drive? I felt frustrated that I was going so slowly and started to worry I would be over 15 hours and finish after sunset. I bargained with myself a lot.
Run till the watch beeps.
Please run a little more.
Your friends are waiting, please don’t make them wait all night, you’re being rude.
Finally the trail opened up and was flatter and I got myself moving a little bit. I saw the minutes ticking by and was continually doing math on how fast I needed to move to finish under 15 hours. I would run a little bit and check the pace – “11:30 you are doing awesome!” Then walk a bit “19:40! This isn’t good enough! You won’t make it.” Over and over, mind games alone in the woods. Finally I started to see signs of the finish, 1/2 mile to go was the best news ever and I actually ran that whole last bit (because it would be pretty embarrassing to walk it in). 14:48 unofficially. Not what I hoped for, but I met two of my goals – to finish, and to be done before dark. Mostly I am happy to have restored my confidence in my ability to gut it out. After DNF’ing at Black Canyons a few years back I had this lingering doubt in my ability to get it done. I needed this finish to remind myself that it might not always be pretty but I’m usually pretty good at not quitting.
Despite it not being a good day, I never considered dropping out for even a minute. That doesn’t mean I didn’t really really wish I was done, but I never wanted to quit. Lots of lessons learned and hopefully I can figure out fueling, prep, and better pacing for next time to really give the performance that I think I’m capable of.
While I didn’t have the day I hoped for, I am still so thankful for all the things that went right. The niggles and hot spots I had going into the race stayed mostly quiet. The course was extremely challenging but also beautiful with tons of mountain and river views, countless wild flowers, and flowy runnable trails. (Also, lots of poison oak which I’ll be reminded of for the next week or two.) Epic Endurance Events did a fantastic job keeping everyone safe with Covid protocols. The volunteers were kind and helpful. The course was very well marked. I am so happy that I had a chance to participate in this historic event , to see so many of the elites, and feel the hype and excitement of a golden ticket race. Huge congrats to my teammates and travel buddies, Katelyn and Scarlett, who are always fun and who proved their own elite status with incredible finishes. Katelyn was 3rd female in the 25k and Scarlett was 7th female in the 100k in a mind blowing 11:05! So thankful for Alice and Corrine who crewed, encouraged, and inspired in so many ways. I will always look forward to racing in California in order to have the chance to see these two. And I couldn’t have done the training and made it to the start line without all of the love and support from so many of you! In the days leading up to the race and throughout the training cycle the belief and confidence that others had in me was crucial when doubts and fears crept in. Thank you all so much! I’m already excited for the next one!