Zion 100 Race Report
This race report is long enough so I will jump right into it. It was a long day and I want to remember all of it so I hope you will grab a cup of coffee and hopefully find something useful or entertaining. Thanks for reading!
As I mentioned in my previous post, my road to Zion has been a great experience and the actual event was no different. I had the dream team for support so I was more relaxed and rested going into this race than I think I ever have been before. I let the team worry about the details and just put one foot in front of the other.
super crew hard at work
As the sun slowly started to rise I thought about what may happen over the next day, I tried to shrink the course into sections in my mind and almost let myself ponder what it would be like to see the sun rise again before I crossed the finish line. I was running into the unknown and there was a deep excitement about taking the plunge. I took confidence that there was never a better time than now, not a better team to have around me. I would be completely taken care of, pushed beyond what I could do myself and encouraged along the way. This being a the first year of the Zion 100 added another element of unknown which in someway just made me relax even more. We are all in for a wild ride and that is just what we signed up for.
ready, set, gulp
At 6am sharp we were off at a blistering pace. Before we even crossed over hwy 9 I caught the back of Jay Aldous already 100 yards ahead of the lead pack. The buzz was already going around the group that he won a 100 miler two weeks ago and he is the world record holder for the 100 mile distance. Most of us just thought he was going for the $100 bill for the KOM at the top of the first climb but apparently he was just getting warmed up. How do you warm up for 100 miles in the desert heat? I was trying not to learn the hard way.
In less than a mile or two we had started out on our way to the first long climb of the day to the top of Smith Mesa. As we moved UP the flying monkey trail (named after the ejection-seat testing project ) I continually moved back and had to keep asking myself “is this too fast to be moving for 24 hour pace?” I was in a walk/run behind my friend Justin Nelson and Gary Gellin who are both faster than me so I was a bit worried if I was going about my pace. My longest run up to this point was under 8hrs at the Avalon 50 in January and I was not sure if I was going to hit the ultra wall later in the day. However, I took confidence in my training, team and knowing I have been to the well enough to know I love going long. There were a few themes in the advice I received that were very consistent from every source: Don’t go out to fast, eat early and often, don’t go out too fast, take care of your feet and don’t go out too fast. I got the message.
By the time we crested the first climb, the sun was out and we had a crown of people at the top to cheer us on. The view worth the effort! I peeled off from the group to go to the bathroom and drop some weight. It was early – I was getting sorted – when I got back to the trail I was all alone to find my running pace. The next 15 miles or more were on fire roads and very runnable so I wanted to make sure I was in tune with my pace. Right or wrong it was the only way for me to learn later if I was doing the right thing. In a few miles I caught back up with Justin and the same pack just before the first aid station and then jumped into a porta potty for another sorting out of sorts. Geez. I guess my body knew what it was getting into. Before long I was back running with Justin, meeting new friends and enjoying the amazing backdrop of Zion National Park. Twenty miles down, eighty more to go.
running with my new friend Kevin Patterson
The next section was one of my favorites… We dropped down a canyon, back and forth over a stream and rolled down remote single track that most humans will never see. Thank you Matt for an amazing course design! Following that up with the only road section of the course was actually a pleasant surprise. By now, we had been running for over four hours, the heat was out and I started to feel like I did at the end of my longest training runs. Tired but an itch of awesome and just warming up. What comes next? I had no idea. There were times like this when even the thought of running another hour really scared me. I used the road section to tune out and take a nap. Autopilot downhill on a smooth surface and my homeboy Paul keeping me honest with eating my face off at every chance I had.
Miles ~30-45 were on the rolling fire roads of the valley floor in the heat of the day and it_was_brutal. I started picking up the pace at the 50K mark just before I got to run with my buddy Josh for a bit. I wanted to get out to the heat and after the nap I just had I was ready to go. The good rhythm I got into had me moving up from around 20 something place to the top 10 and then about 6th place. Good news but way too early to start thinking about racing. Numerous times it was Gary that I kept seeing ahead but I knew better to pass him but I wanted to keep him in sight. I would end up looking at his back and following his foot tracks in the dirt for the next eight hours or so. Close at times and what felt like an eternity away at others. I had to run my pace. It is a delicate balance. By the time I got to the last aid station before the climb up Gooseberry I was out of water, blowing up a bit and overheated. Did I mention it was hot? It is a strange decision when you have to decide on dumping water on your overheating head or save it to drink. I wanted out of the valley heat and to get back to the cooler temps and the breeze on the top of the mesas.
keep on keepin’ on
Be careful what you ask for… The next climb up to Gooseberry did bring in cooler temps but the climb up took me to my low spot of the race. I had just passed through the hot valley overheating and now we were climbing about 1,700ft in less than a mile. It was humbling, hard and gave me a mental kick to the balls. I put in a good effort and clocked a 35min/mi split on that mile up. The fatigue (at any pace) was starting to set in and the mental load of knowing I was not even to the halfway point yet was hard to swallow.
However, I was now joined by my friend James and once on top we were in the land of the Goose. Its a strange land flowing with rock formations and twisty turns that are out of this world. The course markings and the painted dots (like the one at the bottom of the picture above) are your only guide through what was affectionately named “the meat grinder”. Finding a rhythm on a bike is hard enough but trying to run this section on the gooseberry trails and the Secret Harris trail was a ultra challenge all in itself. My feet were fine up to this point but I had to have a few “sit downs” and ended up switching shoes with James for the last section because it felt like I was grinding away the pads on my feet with my oversized road racing flats.
The 100K mark – We finally made it out of the maze of Gooseberry and passed the 62 mile mark. I remember getting an email from a friend about “running after the 100k mark is no fun” and the state I was in left me concerned for the road ahead…until I got to see my crew. I love them! They fed me, lied to me about how good I looked, helped me focus on the big picture and made me laugh. The race had not even started yet but I was past the hardest parts. It was almost party time and I needed to get on with it so I was not late.
Rolling into the Smithsonian Butte aid station at mile 70 my race was going to take some unexpected turns. I was sure the unexpected turns were going to be there at some point during the course but I just did not know where they would lead to…that was what I was there to find out. My early actions were about to be proved in the miles ahead. Did I go out too hard? Was I running dehydrated? Did I do the right training and the right rest? Were my quads or feet going to give out? Was I in over my head? Running 100 miles is a lot like moving through life. The way that you treat your pace, your team, what you eat, drink (or what you do not) in your 20’s and 30’s are not fully felt until you are late into your 50’s and there is little you can do to change it in your 60’s. If you are still moving at a good clip into your 80’s you know there is little to stop you. Every Vitrago drink I put down in the heat was an investment and every walk was a time to reflect and assess for the road ahead. There is no doubt I was feeling fatigue but I knew I was still holding back and was keen discovering trails ahead. The fears I had about blisters and crapping my pants while walking around dazed and confused were melting away and I was focused on the routine of what I needed to accomplish at each moment. Run, eat, drink, smile. Keep it simple and keep moving.
Jen and I got out of the Smithsonian Butte aid station just after Justin Faul and we had been running in the spread of 2nd-6th place for hours now. Jay was about 90 minutes ahead of everyone else at mile 30 and I stopped getting splits after that. Jen and I followed Justin across the road and were now in 2nd/3rd but we were headed in the wrong direction. We should have turned right along HWY 59 and up another fire road before making the last climb of the day but unfortunately we missed the turn. By the time we realized this and flipped it around we were back behind (but not far) the rest of the lead pack again. I was just happy to be there and feeling so good at this point. I must have said “this is awesome” about 50 times throughout the day. I was loving it. I have nothing but respect and love for these ultra people. Facing all grim of hell and still the nicest people I have ever met. We quickly caught up to Gary and the crew again as we started the climb and then it happened.
There comes a point in every race when the race starts. The moment when you stop holding back, take a calculated risk, hope you have done the training and preparation to back it up and have the mental commitment to see it to the end. When we started that final ~6 mile climb up Little Creek Mesa I saw the opportunity for my race to start and jumped on it. I had been following Gary for hours but never passed him. We were in aid stations together but I never actually got in front of him until he stopped on the climb to go to the bathroom and then Justin did the same just a few minutes earlier. I decided to put some extra effort into the climb and just start dialing it up more and more to see what I had. Its time to party! Mile over mile I was picking up the pace and reading off our mile splits to Jen. This was the moment of truth and what I came to Zion for…what was I going to face in those final miles?
By the time we got to the top of Little Creek Mesa, I was in 2nd place and we had opened up a good gap to everyone else on the climb. We got word that Jay also got lost and I was only about 30min back(I dont think that was correct but I got a kick out of it). We caught the sun setting on the last part of the climb and welcomed the cooler temps. Jen pulled me through some tough spots and I was so stoked to be running down life with her. We put on our head lamps and started the decent down the switchbacks and arrived at the golf course before the next runner was starting the decent. Then….we got lost. Dumped onto the golf course we took a few roads out and back but nothing was marked more than a few feet off of the switchbacks. After a few attempts and some bush whack we finally found an old road that headed down the valley in the right direction and jumped on that until we somehow managed to get back to the main fire road into the Goulds Rim aid station at mile 83.
glad we made it out alive
James was waiting there with some soup and a lot of special items for me to sit down and enjoy but I was in no place to stop. We arrived at Gould’s Rim only to find we not only lost our gap on the group but we were now 12 minutes behind. At this point it really did not even phase me nor did the slater-aid that James setup. LETS GO! I told James to grab his stuff and hit the trail. The switch was flipped and I wanted to RACE! When we ran into the station I heard Jen telling James “he is on fire” and that just got me even more pumped. Trail time! James and I took off out onto some of the sweetest single track I have ever had the pleasure of running at night. Twisty flowing turns of the Goulds Rim, JEM and Hurricane Rim trails that that only felt like it got better mile after mile. yeee haa!!!
The final 15 miles had a pull of the finish line I have never felt before and a twisted glow of gnar and glory that you only get after running all day and most of the night. I felt like I had zero pains, concerns about blowing up or fatigue from the day. The first part of the course is slow but I ended up with a negative split and I was running the fastest I had moved all day. I am sure I was slowing down but I have only felt this awesome this late in the race once before and it was the same elements that set the stage. What the freak was going on? I kept thinking my stride would be shortened and I would be walking the final climbs but we were running down 8min miles trying to catch up to Gary and his pacer. By the time we rolled into the Hurricane aid station at mile 90 we had made up the time and caught the lights of Gary just heading out and up the next climb. A surprising burst of adrenaline shot into my body as I pounded my last flask of Vitargo and a few potatoes that James had in his pocket for …I dont want to know how long. Time to empty the tank. We past Gary and traded some congrats and then got to work on the series of climbs and turns ahead. We were soon out of sight but the pace kept getting faster. FUN! It felt like we were running on a weeknight after work just laughing and eating up the trails. I was talking James ear off and trying to take in every second. Sky filled with stars, flowing water from the gorge below and single track trail ripping right along the edge of a drop feeling better than I ever expected in the 90s. If I could bottle that up and give it away the world would be a happy place!
Just before 2am we crossed the finish line in 19 hours and 39 minutes. Slapping high fives to the crowd and blinded by the flashes from all the cameras going off as we ran down the final shoot was intense. I scored some bonus miles when I got lost to get in 102.4 miles total and I remember telling James that I wish we had another 50 miles so I could try and catch Jay. Ha! What can I say, I’m a dreamer.
as my mate Mike says, “More Than The Finish Line”
The Zion experience was amazing and I am super grateful. It was a huge team effort and I felt very lucky to be able to see the entire course. Matt Gunn and the entire race organization crew put heaps of effort and heart into the details of the race and are always looking to make improvements. As ultra folk, we work on the same level but we had a lot more sleep than Matt did going into the race. We celebrated the finish the next day in the park with a live band, catered food, kids playing in a dunk tank and water balloon launcher just to name a few of the extra touches to round out a rad race. Monique ran the 50 miler after crewing for me and getting just a few hours of sleep the night before. That was some nasty heat for the pace but she still finished up in under 11 hours and with a smile on her face.
Mighty Mo doing work
Almost makes me scared because I know I may never have the support and finish like I did at this race. I placed 2nd but that experience in the final miles with the journey into it for my first 100 is something that was of true dream crushing magnitude. As much as I was surprised by how good I felt, I was more stoked about my recovery so far. My feet were fine and I had no real fatigue or soreness in the following days. By Wednesday I got in a quick run and plan to keep it easy for a while but I have never felt this good after a big race. And this was a big one. I need to give credit to my crew keeping me fueled because I think it was a huge help that I never bonked, Vitargo for letting me get in a massive amount of calories in the heat- then for recovery and Sole for keeping my feet happy. Paul also gave me this ultra Omega-3 oil and it was the_edge for defeating inflammation that causes the lingering damage. Add in my 110% gear and its no surprise I had almost no swelling in the days following the race – I know it made the difference. Thanks to everyone who sent txt messages, FB posts and prayers my way. I often feel like the luckiest boy alive and that put it into overdrive.
Until the next adventure – I hope to see you out there.
Live Wide, Love Deep