Bryce Canyon Ultras 50k: Team Rabe Crew Race Report

Race Day.

I slept until about 6:30am. It was a nice change not to have to be up at 4 or 5 to get to a race start. It was an almost an accident that we stayed so close to the start – we don’t usually like first come, first served campgrounds when we have to be somewhere. But, we figured out the afternoon before when race markers (like plastic strips tied into trees and on stakes by the side of the road) appeared on the road through the campground that we had lucked out.

We realised we wouldn’t have to go anywhere. It was a relief for both Dwight and I.

I heated up some breakfast tacos for me – Dwight had eaten at 5:30am. I packed everything I thought I would need – but looking back I realise how I approached this far to intuitively and too much like a short race where I would have ready access to my vehicle and didn’t specific plan out what would happen when, especially when it came to my own food and water. Yep, you read that right, I was so focused on the runner (what you’re supposed to do as crew) I really didn’t make sure that I was good. Rookie mistake, right there.

Dwight’s parents were staying at a different campsite and his dad decided to go with him to the start while his mom stayed at their campsite because the runners were to run right past.

Dwight ran past in about 5th position, he smiled and told me he loved me and I told him to have fun and enjoy the day. I had our team rabe cowbell and encouraged the some 400 runners with it. Every time i stopped someone would yell out “more cowbell” so i would start again. I waited until all the runners in the field had passed by.

I headed back to our campsite to pack up final items and move the car around to pick up Dwight’s parents. My communication about the crew vehicle was not clear enough, because the 15 minutes we had talked about turned into 45 minutes. I knew that still gave us about 1 hour and 15 minutes to get to the only aid station we could see Dwight. I wasn’t worried that we wouldn’t make it, but I wasn’t as comfortable as I would have been with that extra 30 minutes.

But this is what happens when all of the crew (including me) is facing their first ultra – we’re all flying blind a little bit.

Proctor Canyon Aid Station

Dwight’s arrival window for Proctor was 9:45 to 10:15. We followed the instructions – a GPS coordinate – provided by race organizers. When we arrived there was a direction sign on the main nearby road but then nothing, so I relied on the coordinate. There were about 6 vehicles in a large hollowed out area left of the dirt road, but there were no signs about a shuttle and the gps coordinate still had us going another half a mile onward. We reached the GPS coordinate and there were no vehicles and no signs. So we continued on and the road became rockier and barely passable. We watched another vehicle park on the side of the road and we were told the aid station was just up ahead. So we parked too and prepared to walk to the aid station nearby.

Wrong. By now it was 9:15. We came across another vehicle, driven by a kiwi expat -he told us it was a good 30 minutes walk and the terrain was difficult. We walked for another .4 mile before deciding that Dwight’s dad should take the essential supplies Dwight had asked to be given at this aid station. He ran ahead. The terrain was incredible sandy and rocky. We walked almost 2 miles before a vehicle came along – not the shuttle we were hoping for, but people like us, wanting to get to the aid station to support a husband and father, and his pacer. Seeing this vehicle was welcome relief. This is the ultra community in a nutshell – people help each other out. It is inherently generous. You do what you can because you’d love someone to do the same for your runner.

It was 10:06 by the time we arrived at the aid station. I was just hoping to see Dwight. We thought some guy there was Dwight, similar build, but he was wearing the wrong color shirt. It wasn’t him. I asked the Aid station chief who had come in for the 50k. He told me that Dwight had just left – at 10:05. My heart sank. He also told me he was in 2nd place.

2nd place at 14.5 miles. My heart sang. He trained so hard and Matt, his training buddy, had come third in the 100 mile race. I knew he was in good shape. The aid station chief told me Dwight had asked about me and was disappointed I wasn’t there. I  knew he would be. It was not what we had planned for, but we had rehearsed working this eventuality. I knew Dwight had what he needed on him – we made sure that was the case.

Right then, a petite woman with blond hair yelled out “Who wants to go down on the shuttle?” A shuttle? There was a shuttle. We said yes, so did a pacer named John. John had been with his runner for the previous 35 miles. The shuttle was a silver FWD truck. We had her drop us and John off at the Escape. We offered John a ride to Ruby’s because without cell service, he had not been able to let their crew know where he was and he was stuck. I would want someone to do the same for Dwight if he was in the same situation.

As we drove back past the hollow where the cars were earlier in the day there were now signs that said “Parking for Shuttle” – those would have been helpful earlier. Yet, we didn’t see the shuttle until we were at the top of the mountain, so I doubt it would have gotten us there in time.

To be honest, it is completely part of Ultra running for these things to happen – but I’m a little bitter…

We drove about 40 minutes back to Ruby’s Inn talking with John about his life in Chicago as a 911 operator and his daughter.

Ruby’s Inn and the Shuttle Fiasco continues…

At Ruby’s Inn we parked in the carpark I had been told to park in at the expo the day before only to find the shuttle stop had been moved to the other side of the street to where the expo itself had been. There was a few people waiting. A shuttle had just left. We waited about 40 minutes for the shuttle to arrive – I was surprised by the wait, because there were at least 40 people waiting by the time it arrived and it was a 14 seat bus. We would not have been able to take chairs if we had wanted.

The drive out was about 30 minutes. We climbed out of the bus to see a line of about 100 people waiting for the shuttle.

We would watch this line slowly grow – and we watched as some people waited well over 2 hours for a seat on the shuttle bus back to Ruby’s in the blazing hot sun – some of these people had finished the 100 mile race earlier that morning. At one point people were offering to take extra people in their personal vehicles. The line never really grew shorter. There were at most 2 shuttles operating during the 5 hours we were at the finish. It was utterly unacceptable.

It was at this point, I realized that my desire to do as requested (as well as all of those lined up) had screwed us. There was a reason why quite a few people had broken the rules and driven out the finish. I was regretting not doing the same.

Periodically, someone with a staff shirt would ask if people who had parked on the side of the road could move their vehicles because this was stopping the shuttles coming through. But when there is only 2 14 seat shuttles to do a 40 minute round trip and more than a hundred people waiting, this felt more like setting up an excuse for later than really being what was causing the significant wait.

The Finish

The heat was oppressive. It was dusty and there was no seating in the shade. I sat on the ground in the shade. I knew we’d be waiting for a while – we arrived at 11:45. With the pace Dwight was hoping for he was due at 12:15. I was hopeful.

I was glad to see Dwight’s training buddy, Matt Preslar and his son Max, there to see Dwight finish. I gave Matt a hug and congratulated him on his 3rd place finish and he told us about his race, the high points and low. He had had trouble with GI distress and wasn’t able to keep anything down for quite a substantial part of the race, but he held strong and finished less than hour behind the race winner. He did not look like he had finished a 100 mile race, his first, less than 12 hours previously. He was moving really well.

For the first time all day I thought to see if the “Find my Friends” app would locate Dwight. It would, I could see that he was at Thunder Mountain aid station. He was making great time – it would be about an hour before he would be in. At least that’s what we thought.  12:45. Still an incredible finish and were hoping, still a podium finish. It would turn out that he was in 3rd at this point.

I watched, and drained my phone battery to do it, as he ran north and waited for him to turn east to run the final 8 miles home. But he kept running north – I thought I was reading the map incorrectly. It hadn’t occurred to me that he was off course. At least not straight away.

Just before noon I got a message from Dwight that he was off course. And he thought a podium finish was out of the question.

My heart sank.

I sent him messages reassuring him that no one had finished from the 50k and positive, affirming messages about how much I believed in him and how I knew he could finish.

We heard word that the last water drop area had run out of water. This wasn’t an aid station, but just a water station designed for the ½ marathon runners – nevertheless this emphasized just how long the last 10 miles of the course (exposed in the heat of the day) were. It was over 100 F.

I was starting to worry. Matt and I talked about how we were concerned that Dwight was injured. We knew that this would be the worst case scenario – worse even than dropping. An ambulance and rescue vehicles started to come past the finish area and head up the course. Not a good sign.

The dot on the map moved slowly, very slowly. Strangely to know that he was moving, however slowly was a relief. I felt like I was holding my breath. It would take Dwight just as long for this final section as the first three sections combined. We weren’t disappointed about him not finishing on the podium except that he had run so well for the first ¾ of the race and I knew he would dissect the race to learn as much as he could for future events.

It was really about safety. Dwight’s dad took some water and started walking back down the course. He ended up walking down almost 3 miles before Dwight arrived. He gave water to three other runners before Dwight.

When Dwight was about 1 mile away from the finish, I asked Matt’s son Max to run back on the course with some water to run Dwight in. Max looked up me sheepishly. Matt turned to him and said “Max, you know I’d go if I could.” Matt is a great dad who we’ve watched be such a great role model for 13 year old Max.

The sense of relief when Dwight, Max and Dwight’s Dad came into view is still palpable. I realized how worried I had been about him.

He finished at 7 hours and 55 minutes. This over 3 hours slower than he had hoped to run and represents a huge effort of will and physical endurance.

I made my way to the finish and Dwight lent against me putting his head on my shoulder. I asked one question, “What do you need?” He answered with one word “chair” – I supported him as we walked back to the shady area through all of the shuttle line and Dwight slumped into matt’s chair. We put a wet cloth on his head, and I gave him some electrolytes and went and filled up with more water and put water in his Recoverite bottle.

I heard from another crew member (for a different runner) that there was no ice to be found in the medical tent or at the finish.

I am very directive at this point. Almost ordering Dwight to drink. Rehydration is key. His legs cramp painfully. He is convinced by his mom to lie on the ground with his feet elevated. This seems to make the cramping worse. After a while he stands and sits again. Someone standing near says he’ll go and get salt tabs for Dwight – this sounds like a good idea – only to have him come back with another sports drink (that is similar to what I’m already giving him) and telling us that there are no salt tabs to be found.

That was fine, I would just get as much fluid into him as possible. Within 20 minutes the cramps had abated a little, he was holding down all the fluid – although he did tell me that he had not had any GI issues during the race, I knew he hadn’t been able to have any nutrition for the last 3 hours plus of his race (when he should have had 600-1200 calories). He ate a hammer vegan energy bar. He continued to drink, although a little more of his own volition.

We changed his shirt out for a clean one and he put on some flip flops. His feet were in great condition. Issues with feet are one of the worst things that can happen in an ultra and I was impressed that his feet looked no worse for wear than when he had come back from his shakeout run the night before.

I was incredibly grateful that Matt, who was still recovering from his 100 mile finish at 3:30am the previous morning was there to support Dwight and to drive us all back to Ruby’s Inn. I can’t imagine having to stand in line with Dwight and waiting for a couple of hours for the shuttle.

It was around 5pm when we arrived at Ruby’s Inn. We drove back to the campground and took showers before making our 6:30pm dinner reservation at Stone Hearth Restaurant in Tropic, Utah. It was a wonderful celebration of Dwight’s incredible achievement and Father’s Day!

Lessons Learned

  • I have to be as authoritative as necessary to be an effective crew chief.
  • Checklists and timelines are your friend as a crew chief and I didn’t make enough use of them this first time around.
  • Embrace Murphy. Murphy will be present whether you like it or not. Contingencies might help, but “rehearsing working the problem” is never time wasted.
  • Three aid stations in 50k race is not sufficient. Plain and simple.
  • Being a “rule follower” is a positive trait in other parts of life, but when it comes to the health and safety of my husband, I need to get over myself and do what is necessary (within reason) to take care of him.
  • Food and water for me are not negotiable!
  • We have some learning to do – but we are looking forward to how to be an even better team in future events.
  • Having organized multi-day moving athletic events myself I cannot take for granted that other organizers will have their priorities in the same order as I would – nor that they will ask for additional assistance if things don’t go to plan, or admit mistakes either at the time or afterwards. What this means is that we need to be as self-sufficient as possible if that means ensuring the safety of our runner and other runners.

Listening. Observing. Participating. Writing. Photographing. Reflecting.

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Traveler. Scholar. Photographer. Writer. Dreamer. Teacher.

Anna Rabe is a speaker, writer, and social entrepreneur. She is proudly Team Rabe. The American Identity Tour is a crazy adventure marked with photos and word and inspired by the incredible women in Anna’s family, especially her late grandmother, whom she knew as Nan-Nan. Anna is currently finishing her book, “Not a Pedestrian Life.

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