Canyons 100k Endurance Run
Saturday, April 27th, 2019
My favorite part of the Canyons 100k is that it is run on the iconic Western States Trail. I am lucky to have finished Western States 100 in 2016 and live within 2-hours of the trail. I never get tired of running here!
In particular, for the Canyons 100k, the camaraderie of all the runners was one of my favorite parts of this race. From the front to the back of the field, there was conversation, laughter, and encouragement all day long. It really helped to keep a positive and enjoyable attitude for the whole distance.
I would have to say that I was a little bit disappointed in the overall management of the aid stations. I understand that there were some special circumstances this year due to snow and special use permits, but I don’t feel my disappointment had to do with those situations. I’m typically not one to complain about aid stations and tend to lean toward the fend for yourself mentality anyways.
At the halfway point, the food offerings were either to continue with race junk food (great for the quick sugar rush) or a steak burrito (more of a post-race meal than a mid-race calorie boost). Thankfully, my crew had chocolate Ensure to drink, which gave me a much-needed boost in calories.
The junk food sugar rush continued on my first time through Cal-1 and Cal-2. Coming into Rucky Chucky, I was back in desperate search of something more than skittles and potato chips. Thankfully, the aid station had cheese quesadillas and bacon to slam on.
What confused me most by the aid station offerings came on the way back up to Foresthill. This time through, Cal-1 had cheese quesadillas and bacon, and Cal-2 had chicken broth out. Now, why would you not have this out earlier in the day? I was not alone in my search for non-junk food calories, and these aid stations could have supported these runners more efficiently with better timing of supplying what they had.
I understand having a schedule around when you put certain food items out not to get wasted. To me, it just seemed that the majority of the field was moving through Cal-1 and Cal-2 at the time of day and mileage in the race where better options should have already been available the first time through. Just a thought for these aid stations moving forward.
I did not have the proper time to devote to training on hills leading up to this race. As a result, I realized that my power to get up the climb was just not there on the climb up to Dead Wood Cemetery (mile 15.5 to 18.5). In past races, I would have continued to try to push hard and eventually crashed hard. However, I accepted my fitness on this climb and just told myself to relax and enjoy the day. I took every climb for what my body could comfortably handle, then worked hard on all the flats and downhills.
I would say I did an excellent job of not red-lining my effort at any point during the race. Overall, because of this focus on staying relaxed and under control, I enjoyed this experience on the Western States trail much more than some of my past race/training experiences here.
Devote time to training for the climbs. No amount of speed work or miles on flat ground can make up for the challenge of facing over 16,000 feet of elevation gain. If you don’t have access to hills/mountains, then get on a treadmill. I wish I had cut my training miles back 30-60 minutes per week and substituted in 1 or 2 hikes on my treadmill at a 15% incline. I know just this little bit of an adjustment would have made me stronger on the climbs.
Also, train for the long stretches between aid. This goes for both normal aid station access (water/food) and crew access (motivational support). The race features a couple of 6-8 miles between aid stations and has minimal access for crew support. Ensure you learn how many fluids and calories your body needs per hour and make a race plan around those needs.
As mentioned, the next time I enter this race, I will make sure I devote the time to training on hills or getting on the inclined treadmill. By sticking to the correct training, I could easily take 2-3 hours off my finish time on this race.
At the start of the race, you run about 3 miles on flat or slightly downhill terrain, and there is plenty of room to maneuver for position. If your goal is anything fast, a high overall placing, or you don’t like getting stuck in the line of runners, you will want to make sure you are toward the front of the pack right away. If you’re in a line of runners when you get to the creek crossing at the bottom of Volcano Canyon, you will have a little bit of wait and a harder time passing for the next few miles.
We ran an alternate route this year due to snowfall in the higher country. This meant we took a little out-n-back section before reaching Michigan Bluff and turned well before Swinging Bridge. The descent to El Dorado Creek from either side is very easy to get going fast on. Make sure your quads are prepared for the effort in training!
Don’t be surprised if the climb up to Deadwood Cemetery (mile 15.5 to 18.5 in 2019) and climb up to Michigan Bluff (mile 21.5 to 24.5 in 2019) take you more than 45-minutes. The best thing to do on these two climbs is to relax and focus on hydration/calories.
When you leave Foresthill (halfway point), you most likely are re-energized and feeling pretty good. Run controlled for the opening few miles. It is a long way down to Rucky Chucky, there are a few tricky little climbs to tackle, and a lot of it can be very exposed to the heat of the day.
Lastly, take advantage of the creek crossings! Every time you see accessible water, get in it! I look at each creek crossing as a chance to soak my buff, hat, arm sleeves and cool myself down as much as possible. With the dry heat and dusty trails, your socks and shoes will dry out pretty quickly, so don’t worry about wet socks/shoes. If your calves or knees are bothering you, look for the deeper sections of creek crossings and stand in them for 30-60 seconds. The time spent cooling yourself off is well worth it any time you are on the Western States trail.
The course is extremely scenic! The whole course features amazing vistas, views of the American River rapids, and more. Be sure to allow yourself the moments to take in the beauty of the forest around you!
Canyons 100k is absolutely a difficult course. In the alternate route that we ran this year, we still managed 16,000 feet of elevation gain and about just as much elevation loss. Outside of the steep climbs and descents, the trail is not too technical. However, you will still encounter some sections where footing is challenging.
Overall, yes, I would say the Canyons 100k is a well-organized event.
This year the race was a Western States 100 Golden Ticket event, so yes, the field was solid. I believe most years; you can expect a pretty fast field as many runners use this race as a training race for bigger plans ahead.
The Canyons 100k does sell out pretty quickly. If you want to run it, be sure to register early. With that said, I feel that there is a pretty large DNS rate at this race, so you may be able to sneak in late, but don’t quote me on that!
We stayed in a hotel just outside of Roseville by choice. There are several options for hotels in Auburn that probably don’t sell out for this event. The race also offers a camping option at Foresthill.
You should make sure you have a solid plan for yourself as far as calories are concerned. The aid stations are well stocked. However, in talking to past finishers and my experience this year, they can be a little hit-or-miss depending on where you are in the overall field of runners.
There are also long stretches between aid stations, mostly due to remote access. Make sure you take your time at each station and get everything you need before moving on.
Expect it to get warm! Much of the trail going down to Rucky Chucky and back is run in the heat of the day and exposed. Some years it can be a little cooler, but I would not plan on it.
I carried my 2-bottle Orange Mud pack. This was plenty of water between most aid stations. I did go through both bottles on the longer 7-8 mile stretches between stations. For the shorter sections, it was nice to have the extra water to use to cool me down.
For nutrition, I used Huma Gels, Tailwind Nutrition, and Hammer Nutrition Enduroltyes.
Lastly, unless you find yourself under probably about 5 hours and 30 minutes at halfway (Foresthill), I would recommend taking a headlamp with you for the second half. This year, we did not have drop-bag options at Rucky Chucky, so I grabbed my light at Foresthill. I completed the first half in 6 hours and 30 minutes and finished with just about 15-minutes before the last light. While I didn’t need my headlamp, it was comforting to know I had it on me.
Outside of Foresthill (start/halfway/finish), spectating is pretty challenging on this course. You can get to Michigan Bluff with a bit of challenge on parking and a short hike. You can also get to Rucky Chucky with a parking permit or pay for parking, then take the long hike down to the river.
It’s pretty cool just to hang out at Foresthill and watch the runners come through as well, so this is your best bet as a spectator.
This year the swag was awesome! Hoka One One gave 100k finishers a sweet backpack. Rabbit apparel provided a nice soft t-shirt that I’m sure I will wear a lot. And there was the cool trucker hat, which already has some nice sweat marks just a couple of weeks after the race. The only awkward/non-exciting swag for me was the belt, which is cool for those that want to wear their buckles around. Just not my style though.
Overall I would give this race 4.5 out of 5 stars. Again, better use of the supplies given to the aid stations.
If you are looking for a Western States 100 qualifier, this is not an easy one, but it definitely is a fun one. If you are running the Western States, this race is a perfect preview of what to expect from the trail, aid stations, and overall atmosphere.
I am scheduled to run the Hell Hole Hundred outside of Charleston, South Carolina, on June 1-2, 2019.
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Photos were taken by Scott Rokis Photography and Nicole Taylor.