Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Stagecoach Line 100-Mile, 55K & Relays and 100-Mile Mountain Bike Race
Presented by Babbitt Ranches
September 18-19, 2021
Hello everyone! We’re going to try again in 2021. Registration will open on January 1, 2021 in a Wait List format until we obtain permit authorization. Once permission is granted, runners and bikers will be asked to confirm their entry in the order they signed up (first come, first served). You’ll be charged at that time. The 100-mile solo run, 55k solo run and 100 mountain bike events will be held. We will not be holding the relay options in 2021. If you have questions please email the race director, Ian Torrence at email@example.com
Three Years in the Making
By Deron Ruse
Deron Ruse, after his setbacks, on his way to Stagecoach 100 Mile victory.
(photo Kristin Wilson)
Three years ago, when I first got the desire to run the Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Stagecoach Line 100 Mile, I ended up with a stress fracture that put me down for six months. It was a slow build back into running from there. However, this ultimately led me to make some important lifestyle changes that helped me put together the perfect day at the Stagecoach. I made two significant alterations:
- For years, I was heavy—about 180 pounds—and didn’t follow any specific training plans for my races. I ran for fun and did just enough to get by as a typical middle-of-the-pack runner. Then, in December 2018, I decided to change my diet and make better lifestyle choices. Within a few months, I was able to shed the extra weight and get down to 145 pounds.
- I hired a running coach, James Bonnett, in early in 2019 and focused on race specific training. My first race of the season, Idaho’s Beaverhead Endurance 100K, was drastically different than Stagecoach but laid the foundation to endure the 100-mile distance. After the mountainous July 100k, I focused more on gradual, rolling hills in order to mimic the Stagecoach course. I also trained in the middle of the afternoon in Phoenix heat to prepare me for the race’s altitude—a training tactic that has worked for others.
Deron near Aspen Corner (mile 5 on the course).
(photo Kristin Wilson)
Race Day Dawns
Flagstaff gets cold in September and temperatures at the start of this race are typically near freezing. After arriving at the base of the northern Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks, the race’s start line, I prepared my gear, all while trying to remain as calm and warm as possible. I was a little nervous but didn’t let it get to me. I greeted a few friends at the starting line before Ian Torrence, the event’s race director, sent us on our way. I snuck in one last kiss from my wife, Melissa, and I got my watch ready to go. A few moments later, after a short countdown, we were sent on our way.
The race starts at 7,500 feet and climbs another 1,300 feet over the first six miles to the race’s highest point. It’s easy to start out too fast in this first section and most people get pretty winded at this elevation. My plan, prepared by Coach Bonnett, was to take it easy for the first few miles allowing my muscles and lungs to warm up. Once I reached Hart Prairie Road, about six miles into the race, I opened up my stride and increased my pace. As luck would have it, Coach Bonnett was also the captain of the race’s first aid station. He waved me through and gave me thumbs up as I passed. My crew was waiting not far beyond. My race plan called for me to swap out between two hydration packs. My crew pre-packed each pack before I reached each aid station—this made transitions easy and fast.
It was around this 10-mile mark that 55K runners, who start later, started passing 100-mile runners. It was tempting to get caught up in their pace instead of following my own longer distance 100-mile race plan. I had to keep reminding myself to stay in the moment and take it easy as this next section covered 13 miles of gradual downhill. It was easy to go too fast here.
Rolling into Kelly Tank, the 21-mile aid station, I was in 10th place and about 10 minutes early, according to my race plan. Melissa was concerned that I was running a little too fast. She urged me to slow down a bit and eat some real, solid food. The next section of trail is notorious for runners pushing a little too hard and ending up depleted. I was being passed now by not only 55K runners but also the 100-mile relay runners—this played with my mind a little. However, I stayed focused on my own pace. I had no idea what place I was in but I knew things were going better than my race plan and I still felt like I was running on fresh legs.
My crew and coach were waiting for me at Cedar Ranch, mile 34. I arrived here about 30 minutes early and was now in sixth place and my wife urged me, once again, to slow down. She knew that I was having a good race and didn’t want me to blow up. The second half of the race has a long, gradual uphill grind that has the ability to break down a runner. The day before the race, Coach Bonnett said, “It’s going to hurt whether you run fast or slow, so you may as well run fast.” I reminded everyone of his words and assured them that I felt really good and not to worry.
After Cedar Ranch, there’s a short four-mile section on dirt road. I ran light with two handheld bottles and an ice bandana. Unweighted, I ran all the way to the next aid station at mile 38, Tub Ranch. Getting there seemed to take no time at all and I was pretty happy to have had some ice to keep me cool. I ate more real food, drank water, topped off my ice bandana, and grabbed my pack ready to cover the next 16 crewless miles.
The following miles were warm and I was alone for most of this section. I remained in the moment and kept taking inventory of how I felt. I ate regularly, drank my water, and maintained a steady pace. I passed two runners along the way, which boosted my confidence. At Boundary, the aid station at mile 54, I met my crew again and picked up my first pacer. I arrived a full 90 minutes ahead of my projected time. I was now in third place and the first and second place runners had left just minutes ago.
My first pacer was Meghan Slavin. She finished second female at Stagecoach in 2018. Meghan knew the trail and I knew she was going to be great help as my first pacer. Meghan kept my mind occupied with conversation. The distraction was nice and we kept a steady pace going. At the short out-and-back section at mile 60, near Moqui Aid Station, we caught up to the two runners ahead of me. The runner in first place was about a half mile up on me here. The second place runner was at the aid station and was taking his time. Meghan reminded me that my race plan called for me to go into “race mode” here.
Now, I needed to remain focused in hopes of catching the runner in first place. It took a couple of miles but we finally saw him about two miles from the Russell Tank Aid Station (mile 68). I pushed the pace in order to pass him. We arrived at Russell Tank where my crew was eagerly waiting and they were a little surprised to see I made it there before the other runners. It was getting close to sunset now and the temperature was dropping. The sense of urgency hit me but I tried to remain calm—now I was in the race to win. I put on a long sleeve shirt and swapped out my pack. Meghan’s husband, Brian Slavin, was my next pacer. Brian knew the upcoming section as he had paced Meghan during this section last year. He was ready to keep me moving well over the next 12 miles to Hull Cabin. We both knew we faced some short, steep hills totaling about 1,000 feet of climbing. I would power hike the hills and keep running all the flats and downs.
The sun was setting fast. I pushed the pace a little to get as far as I could without having to rely on my headlamp. We were making good time and stayed focused on covering ground in hopes of putting distance between myself and the other runners. We finally made it to the dirt road that leads down to the Hull Cabin Aid Station at mile 80. This downhill is easy and smooth so I picked up the pace. Surprisingly, my legs still felt fresh. After about a half mile, Brian reminded me not to blow up my quads and I eased back.
Deron and Meghan leave Boundary Aid Station (mile 55).
(photo Kristin Wilson)
I was so happy to see my crew had some chicken broth and mashed potatoes ready for me at Hull. I changed into warmer clothes as the temperature was still dropping and I knew it would only get colder as the night went on. My next pacer is a coworker of mine, Brian (Spike) Markham. Spike was ready to take me the next eight miles to Watson Tank. I had run this section before on a training run and I knew we would cruise through here. I wanted to avoid the possibility of “slumping” and Spike was the perfect distraction keeping my mind occupied with conversation.
The second place runner passed us just a half-mile out of Hull Cabin—he was still too close. Hiking back up the hill out of Hull Cabin, Spike kept me talking. When we got to the top of the climb, we started to run immediately and ended up moving at a good pace, slowing the pace every few minutes in order to give my legs a little rest. I was nervous that the second place runner would get a burst of energy and catch us. We just kept moving as fast as I could at this point in hopes that we could keep him at bay.
As we approached the Watson Tank (mile 88) aid station, the volunteers, as well as my crew, started cheering for me. I could hear cowbells ringing and people shouting. Irrationally, I got upset at all the noise—I didn’t want them giving away my position. Spike laughed and settled me down. My mood changed as soon as I saw everyone at the aid station and gave a few high fives as I passed through.
I had been looking forward to getting to this point all day long. Not because it was the last major aid station before the end of the race, but because this is where I was to pick up my last pacer—my beautiful, loving, supportive wife Melissa. Melissa would run the last twelve miles and cross the finish line with me. I was ecstatic.
I’m not sure where it happened, but we reached a point along this final stretch and my mind relaxed. All I needed to do was to keep moving forward and cross that finish line to win. Once we were 2.5 miles (Reed Tank Aid Station) from the finish line, we both felt like we didn’t need to worry much anymore. We kept up our decent pace and power hiked the small hills until we reached the last stretch of pavement (the only pavement on the course) leading to the finish line.
A Champion’s buckle. (photo Melissa Ruse)
I saw the finish line ahead. I could hear my crew and a few other people cheering us on. I had done it—I crossed the finish line in first place! After putting together the perfect day of running, I won the race in a time of exactly 17 hours and 30 minutes. This was a huge personal record for me. My previous best 100-mile finish time had been 27 hours and 1 minute. I took 9.5 hours off of my previous best time! Emily Torrence, the co-race director, handed me my “Champion” engraved buckle as well as some other goods that were part of the winner’s bootie.
After a brief celebration, I entered the finish line tent and sat next to a heater. I waited for the second and third place finishers to arrive—second place finisher Ted MacMahon who finished in 17:57 and also to third place finisher Peter Lukes who finished in 18:31. You two kept me on my toes in those final 20 miles. We congratulated each other, got our gear, and headed home. It took a couple of days for this win to truly settle in. For three years I climbed back from injury and built my fitness and, here, finally, after 17 hours and 30 minutes of hard earned running I knew all my endeavors had paid off.
Special thanks to my coach, crew, pacers, and the Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Stagecoach Line 100 Mile race organizers and volunteers. I couldn’t have pulled off the race of my life without all of the support I had out there.
For a very good article on the impact of trail running and how it is growing, check out this issue of Running Times.