Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Stagecoach Line 100-Mile, 55K & 100-Mile Mountain Bike Race
Presented by Babbitt Ranches
September 17-18, 2022
Smiles and Motivational Company Conquer Rain, Mud and Cold at Stagecoach 100 Mile
By Emily Lobacz
I decided to capitalize on races being either cancelled or postponed due to COVID. The in-person race pause gave me the opportunity to grow my fitness and evaluate my goals. My dream to run Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Stagecoach Line 100 Mile was two years in the making.
Emily at Hart Prairie (photo Melissa Ruse)
On the morning of September 18th, 2021, we drove to the start line and watched the mountain bikers take off in a fury—the race spirit was in the air. I was getting excited! My husband, Matthew, and I parked in a large field where we met up with our friends Brynn and Eric. Eric is also my coach, and a damn good one at that. It was quite chilly at the start line, so I made sure that I was wearing gloves to protect my hands from the winds that morning. My wave start time quickly approached. I prepped my watch and put a big smile on my face—the day was finally here, time to have some fun!
The race began at just under 7,500 feet and treated runners to a steady six mile climb on beautiful single track. The wind was out in force, but the runners around me had great spirits and the conversation was flowing which made the first few miles fly by. The initial section took me by surprise; there were rocks, roots, and switchbacks that quickly led to some serious elevation gain. Followed by the initial climb was the first aid station that was stocked to the brim with all types of nutrition, hydration, and friendly faces. I elected to keep moving. Shortly thereafter I met up with my crew, re-fueled and got back on the trail ready to hit the second climb of the course. I had been training on somewhat similar terrain with a bit more climbing, so I was excited to embrace the five climbs throughout the course.
Emily passing Fern Mountain (photo Brynn Borer)
The next section between crew stops was less than a half marathon in distance and mostly downhill. The winds were dying down, the sun was up and the trail was a mix of single track and dirt forest roads. Eric reminded me that I had to be careful during this leg because it would be too easy to recklessly plummet down the trail with no regard for my quads in the future miles. On positive note, my nutrition was going well and I was hydrating with electrolytes on a consistent basis.
Throughout the first 30 miles or so I was leapfrogging with a few bikers who kept me motivated to move faster, with the hopes of seeing them again. And the views, well, they were spectacular. We transitioned from high mountain forest into grassland with a touch of desert throughout—I had never experienced anything like it before. Time and miles were accumulating. I was quickly approaching Cedar Ranch where the 55K runners finish and 100-mile runners continue along on a short four-mile section of dirt ranch road. I elected to drop off my vest and pick up a handheld with a buff in case the passing traffic kicked up dust. It was getting hot! Towards the tail end of this section it started to drizzle, and my crew met me with a re-stocked vest and rain jacket.
Emily approaching Cedar Ranch aid station. (photo Melissa Ruse)
I intentionally hiked the following climb to keep my energy levels high and allow time to enjoy the cool raindrops hitting my face. The two-tracked forest-like dirt road continued for a few more miles before transitioning into well-maintained single track through prairie land—this is where I hit a headwind and sideways rain. Despite the rapidly deteriorating conditions, the views of lighting in the far distance were spectacular. At this point I was really looking forward to seeing my crew at Boundary aid station in about 12 more miles. The rain and wind made this a long and grueling 12 miles, but there was an aid station that broke up the long stretch.
Boundary aid station is located at the end of a small out and back from the main trail. My crew had some bone broth ready, nutrition essentials, and words of encouragement. They were the absolute best all day. Upon leaving Boundary I was fat, dumb and happy. I didn’t realize that at this point, 55 miles in, that I was in the lead. I was eating every 30-45 minutes without any problems, but I wasn’t at the hardest part of the race yet—there was still a long way to run. I believe the “real race” starts around miles 60-70, this is when you find out who is still able to run and it turns into an eating contest.
The rain started again and puddles began to form on the trails between Moqui and Russell Tank aid stations. The single track in this section paralleled the road and was becoming quite slippery due to all of the rocks. I had to keep moving forward. I was alone, it was cold, wet, and I was still five miles from the next aid station. These feelings and moments are why I run and how I truly get to know myself.
I could hear the party music about a half a mile from Russell Tank. It was time to get excited and start pushing! The sun was about to set and I was looking forward to seeing my crew and chowing down on an Uncrustable. I spent a few minutes deciding on which snack flavors I wanted for the next 12-13 miles and then hit the trail expeditiously. The next section was slightly confusing for me because of the cover of darkness and muddy crisscrossing trails throughout the forest, but as the rain let up I began to find my stride again.
I absolutely love running in darkness; there is a sense of peace when trees surround you and you hear elk bugling in the distance. I thought I was imagining lights in the distance, but it was the Coconino Rim aid station. The friendly faces, situated just past a small switchback, offered me quesadillas and potatoes then sent me on my way. In this moment I realized that in about nine miles I could pick up Eric, my pacer. I left the Coconino Rim section of single track behind me and turned onto another forest road to Hull Cabin. This was a fast but tough descent to the aid station.
Late night aid station refill (photo Eric Borer)
There was a party at the cabin! Well, in reality, there were only a few humans hanging around in the blistering cold for their runners, but because I had been alone for so long, I was ecstatic to see some sign of civilization. We enjoyed some laughs together, refueled, and then Eric and I headed back out on the course. The initial half-mile was relatively flat so we jogged until we hit that hard and fast decline from the other end—then we hiked. From Hull Cabin to Watson Tank we were engrossed with conversation and capitalized on the well-maintained trails. Thankfully I now had someone else’s brainpower to help identify any turning points. The course was well marked all day, but as the hours added up it became increasingly difficult to think clearly. We were able to jog the majority of this section, but there were sections that I had to hike in order to maintain my energy and pace; little did I know pace was about to go out the window!
We departed Watson Tank and with 11 miles to the finish and we were excited! Do you remember that torrential sustained rain that I mentioned earlier? Here we found its aftermath in the form of massive puddles and mud. Our version of “pace” in this section consisted of not slipping and just remaining vertical—this was extremely difficult. Every person that I had met throughout the day kept mentioning that this last section was slightly downhill and not very technical. Ha! You can probably imagine that I had trouble agreeing with their statements. Eric had asked me if I wanted to know what place I was in, but because I was consumed with the single task of moving forward in the slick mud, I said no. It felt like we were going nowhere fast, but eventually we made it to the tunnel that connected the trail to civilization and asphalt. As someone who enjoys running on trails more than roads, I don’t think I have ever been so excited to run on stable ground. In this moment I asked Eric which place we were in, he turned to me with a grin on his face, and said, “First!” So here I was less than a mile from the finish line and I was in first, there were no words to describe my elated feeling.
Emily running through the tunnel. (photo Eric Borer)
We crossed the finish line and both Brynn and Matthew were cheering us on! This experience created memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life and I couldn’t be more thankful for the support from my husband Matthew, my coach and pacer Eric, and lead crew and friend Brynn. A huge thank you to all of the volunteers at the Stagecoach 100, your positivity and smiling faces truly made for a memorable event.
The players: Brynn, Eric, Emily and Matthew at the finish line. (photo Emily Lobacz)
For a very good article on the impact of trail running and how it is growing, check out this issue of Running Times.