Thursday, May 28, 2015

2015 Zion 100 Race Report - The Long Road to 100 Miles

After a 12 hour drive, and a speeding ticket, we arrived in Virgin, UT where I was to run my first 100 mile run (and finish). We arrived when the evening sky was bleeding red onto the surrounding mesas and deserts. Gorgeous colors on the multicolored rock formations. Really an amazing sight that we never got tired of…even when I was running the race.


We drove directly to the packet pickup/checkin area in Virgin, UT, which seemed to be a park about a block down off of the main highway. Virgin is surrounded by mesas and desert. A harsh backdrop that was starting to get me a little nervous now that I was seeing it with my own eyes. The check-in itself was really laid-back but well organized. We were there around 4pm and my crew was not supposed to arrive until 6pm so we had some time to kill. I picked up my packet and we decided to take a short drive to do some race scouting. My crew arrived a little late but they were there for the briefing and we all went to dinner afterwards. We talked about the race and mostly outside subjects to help keep my mind off of what I was going to be doing the next day.

A little background…In December of 2013 my name got drawn in the lottery for the prestigious Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run which was to be run in June of 2014. I spent the next 7 months training in the canyons, hills, and dirt in and around Auburn, Lake Folsom, Lake Natomas and Lake Tahoe areas. I met great people and ran 100s of miles to prepare along with those others who were running and supporting the event. Two weeks before States I developed a virus that was leaving me run-down, chilled and I even broke out in a rash. When I visited my doctor, and a dermatologist, they both told me it was a Pitoriosis Rosea. This is a harmless rash/virus that I would get over in 5-6 weeks. There was no treatment and I just had to “let it run it’s course”. I still showed up at the starting line, anyway, and by mile 30 had lost 11 pounds. I was run down, light headed and dehydrated. After that I was chasing cutoffs all the way to Devil’s Thumb before I was pulled at the top for missing the cutoff by 15 minutes. Three months later I attempted the Pine to Palm 100, which was my backup 100 if I didn’t get into States in 2014, and after climbing the first 10.5 miles up 5000 feet I rolled my ankle going around a corner on the way down. At mile 15 I dropped from the race because it was getting worse with every step and I knew I couldn’t go 85 miles on it. 0 for 2! So “Third Time’s a Charm” became my mantra.

 Race morning was chilly the next day. I bundled up to brace against the desert air and Mary and I went to the starting line. My crew, Veronica, Roger and Barbara, met me at the starting area and we milled around waiting for the gun. The run starts in the dark so we were all under headlamp for the first hour or so. We ran 2 miles towards the first mesa of the day and the Flying Monkey Trail climb which is our first mesa of the day. This trail was a couple miles long and took us from about 3800 feet to around 5200 feet. The trail was narrow, rocky and crowded. If you are afraid of heights, and sheer drop-offs bother you, this is not the trail for you to be on. Luckily neither of these are a problem for me most of the time. I traipse up the trail in a semi-conga-line and make it to the top. We run a 6 mile loop through some rolling scrub-lined, sandy trails and return to the aid station which is perched at the top of the trail. By this time the field has spread out a bit so the descent is not backed up. While running/climbing down the trail there are several places where I need to use by hands to climb down, a couple of places where I have to slide down on my feet/butt and even a place with a rope to help you get down the trail. It’s strange how sometimes going up a trail is easier than going down…this was one of those instances.

 From the bottom of the trail we run 3 miles to the Dalton Wash Aid Station. We run across the desert, snaking our way and going up and down berms, cross a stream and go over a no-joke hill before running down the trail towards the sounds of people cheering at the station. This is the first place where I got to see my crew and the day is starting to warm up. My crew is happy to see me, and I feel pretty good at this point and I have a seat. This is mile 15. We have a really nice camping chair with a side table that we brought specifically for this. Easy-in easy-out and fairly comfortable. Basically I just need to get off my feet and legs every once in a while to keep things going. I grabbed a couple of pieces of light food and chatted with them a bit then got up and headed off to Guacamole.

 The trail from Dalton to Guacamole is dirt road that snakes it’s way up the wash to the base of the Guacamole Mesa. It’s an uphill run to the base of the mesa and the climb up Guacamole is fairly steep. I learn what real “steep” is later in the run, though. I get to the top of Guacamole pretty much on schedule. There is a lively aid station here and after a quick water check and couple of pieces of fruit I head out on the 7 mile loop that is Guacamole. This loop is on what is called “slick rock”. Mountain Bikers and 4x4 drivers love this stuff…not so much runners. It’s hard, rolling and hot. The footing is never flat and you are going up and down and sideways on this stuff in a way that makes it almost impossible to run on. And when I was done with the loop my legs and feet "felt like guacamole". By the time I got to the aid station, too, they were completely out of food. I topped off my water and tailwind and asked if they had ANYTHING? The aid station worker said she could give me a spoonful of peanut butter and she pulled some out of a jar and handed me the spoon. It was better than nothing. I thanked them and started the 4 mile descent back to Dalton Wash. Now it’s starting to get hot on the white dirt road. I’m starting to pass some people on this descent and find myself walking on the uphills already…trying to conserve energy. I really don’t know if I can do this distance since I have never run more than 50 miles, so throughout the run I am constantly trying to conserve.

I make my way to Dalton Wash and there is my wonderful crew waiting for me at the entrance to the AS. They walk me over to my chair and Mary is there with a big smile and words of encouragement. As I walk to the chair I notice that they’ve put it in the ditch at the side of the road and I ease my way down and climb on. I remember complaining about it a little as I exited…but I think I was just trying to advise for the next placement…I think it came out kinda’ negative. Amazing how things sound when they are laced with hot fatigue. Then I tried to eat one of my Hummus and Avocado Wraps here with some Pepsi. I have trained with the HAWs before but today it wasn’t hitting the spot. I ate it anyway as I headed out of the aid station pausing just long enough to thank my crew and kiss Mary (an aid station tradition as the event continued…I’m glad I never mixed those two up ;)).

 The day is really heating up now as we head across the highway to the desert and some more dirt road towards the Goosebump Mesa climb. 4 miles and some climbing later I make it to the base of the big climb. This is a zig-zag trail that I have looked at many times on maps, looked at the flyover and even saw it from Virgin...cut into the side of the mesa. It is intimidating to look at and I found out that it is worse than it looks. I am at mile 34 at the base of this mesa. It’s a steep climb covered in rocks, some large, as it twists and turns its way up about 1700 feet in a little over a mile. It goes from 3500 feet to about 5200. I start climbing up the trail and quickly realize how hard it is. About a quarter mile later I find that I am out of breath. I stop momentarily with my hands on my knees catching my breath and then I continue. 4 steps later I stop again to catch my breath. I don’t know if it is the altitude, an asthma attack (which I rarely get) brought on by all the dust or what…but I continue the 4-5 steps/stop catch my breath…the rest of the way up the hill. It was the hardest thing I’ve done in my 4 years of trail running and over 30 years of running in general. Now I know why those guys climbing Everest take a step and catch their breath and then take another step. I finally get to the top, my crew, and the Goosebump Aid Station feeling destroyed at mile 35.5. I no longer have the ability climb without having to catch my breath. I have a seat at the aid station and complain about the climb to my crew. At this point I am offered food and nothing sounds good. My stomach has pretty much shut down and my quads and feet are killing me. I have a few pieces of fruit and some Pepsi and am rushed out onto the trail before I can think too much. Next stop Gooseberry Point AS at mile 40.


 I am told that there comes a time in every 100 where average runners have to get past a dark place. Some  call it the pain cave, others just say it’s a sucky place where races go to DNF. I was there. It’s hot and every step I take hurts. Quads are shot. Feet are shot. My mind is burnt. I start saying negative things to myself. Maybe I’m not built to do 100 miles. Maybe I’ve found my limit. Every uphill step I take requires me to catch my breath. I’m speed walking in more slick rock now and the ups and downs are killing me. I start planning my exit. My pacers can run the 50k tomorrow. I can just relax the rest of the weekend. This is far enough. I probably "just can't run 100 miles". I finally get to the AS at mile 40 where you now have a 1 mile round trip to the point where you have to use a hole-punch on your bib to show you got there before you return to the aid station. I have a seat at the AS. I’m trying to get my head back online. I go to the table and get some fruit…stomach still not working. I decide before I drop I should go see the view at the point. So I head out there...gorgeous views of the surrounding mesa and valleys below in 3 directions. I punch my number and head back to the AS still intent on dropping. I get back and walk over to the table and they have something there that I have never had on a run before…fruit cups. I take one back to the chair have a seat and open it. I drink down the sweet liquid and it tastes great! I shake the peaches out of the cup into my mouth and chew them greedily. Now I notice a truck at the aid station and the owner rummaging around like he’s getting ready to leave. I ask him if he’s going to Goosebump AS and he says he is. I ask him if he can give me a ride and he says "sure". He says he’ll be ready to go in a couple of minutes. I send Mary a text message that says “I’m gonna drop…getting a ride from Gooseberry Point…can’t continue. Don’t have a light with me anyways and I won’t make it there before dark.” Now I see another runner there who has his pack off and looks like he’s going to go in the truck also. As he’s walking to the truck I ask him “Do you have a spare light I can borrow?” He pauses and then says yes he does and starts fishing it out of his pack. I get up off the chair, take the light from him, reassure him that I will mail it to them, and thank him, and head out of the AS towards Goosebump. Just like that…a small decision made a huge impact on my day. As I am traipsing my way back to Goosebump I get a text message back from Mary that says “No F’ing way you are dropping! Roger says just get up and get moving back here and you won’t need a light! No Dropping!!” About a quarter mile later I get a call from Mary (thank goodness, and AT&T, for the great coverage on the mesas!). She is frantic on the line and I assure her that I have borrowed a light and I am on my way. She is relieved to hear this and 10 minutes later I run into her on the trail coming to meet me.  She has a slice of pepperoni pizza that she says she was "ordered" to make sure I eat. My stomach still isn’t really working but she begins picking off fingers-full and feeding me like a bird on the trail back. These are the times when crew is invaluable. She talked through the next 3 miles back and totally got me off the “ledge”. She said all the right things and helped me get my mind back in the right place. Also…my legs returned and I wasn’t losing my breath any longer. I was back online. We got back to Goosebump shortly after I turned on the handheld flashlight Mary had brought to me. She never turned her light on…I’m sure to make a point…but I didn’t want to roll an ankle at this point in a hole or on a rock I couldn’t see.

Back at Goosebump for the second time now. I tried looking at things being brought to me by my crew to see if anything looks appetizing. I see someone with a fruit cup (yes like what was in your lunchbox as a kid) and I ask for one. It went down great with the sweetness of the syrup and the chunks of fruit. Also, I try some top ramen that looks good from the aid station. Both go down well and I didn’t know it then...but these became my staples for the remainder of the race. I wasn’t scheduled to get my first pacer until mile 53.5 but I’m told that Barbara will join me on the road between here (47) and there. I get my night gear put on, which includes a new shirt, headlamp, and my favorite beanie. The latter feels so comfortable and warm when I put it on that it brings a big dopey smile to my face that gets  a laugh out of my crew. It’s the little things that make a big difference in events like this...the small luxuries. I get up and we take off down the road. Mostly walking but we add in some jogging here and there. It’s a rolling dirt road, with cars travelling down it every couple of minutes kicking up dust. It wasn’t too bad, though, and the conversation definitely made the road go by faster. At one point Barbara tells me that someone has sent me a video and she hands me the phone. It’s Sunny, Nicole, KC and Cathleen in their car driving to Zion for their 50k run later the next day. I won’t transcribe the content here but suffice to say it basically was telling me that there is no dropping and not to be a “pussy”! Hah! I get a huge kick out of this and has me laughing on the trail, feeling a knot form in my throat. Such great friends and encouragement! Priceless. I got many texts and posts throughout the event that really helped keep me going!

We get to Grafton Mesa Aid Station next, mile 53.5. Here I change out Barbara for Veronica as pacer and get more top ramen and a fruit cup. I even tried a pancake before I took off and it actually tasted pretty good. My stomach could only handle a few bites of it but my stomach seemed to be turning around finally. Veronica and I head out on the road that quickly turned into single track towards the cemetery aid station at 57.5. There is what seemed like a long single track rolling trail to the top of the rocky trail that heads down to the ghost town of Grafton below. As we finally reach the top we can see lights from other runners down in the valley below. It looks like they stretch on forever and I’m wondering just how far it is. We head down the trail, which is about a mile, over rocks and through ruts until we make it to the bottom and eventually to the aid station. There is a nice fire going here, it’s about 39 degrees out, and I stand there a second to get warm. Then we sit down and I have a fruit cup and some top ramen. We don’t hang out long…it’s cold and there is a little breeze down here…and I long for the climb out so that I can get warm. So we take off. Going up the hill Veronica points out the people that we are passing. She later tells me that she was purposely pulling me along at a faster clip so we could pick some people off. It works as we pass several runners on the ascent. As we get to the top and start heading towards Grafton on the single track Veronica gets a text, announced as it was several times during the night by the “ding ding” alert. She stops behind me and yells “keep going”…hah like I was going to stop. She catches up with me and says “Mary says she wants you to start doing 17:30 miles as opposed to the 18:20s you’re doing now”. So I respond “you tell Mary this is all she’s gonna get right now”. I was trying to conserve and had a certain effort-level I was trying to keep. Run a little, walk a little. You have to admire the patience that crew shows in moments like this. There was no more discussion about pace.

We make it back to Grafton…more food…and quickly head out back on the road to Goosebump. More cars, more dust, more great conversation and constant movement.

We reach Goosebump aid station at mile 68.5 and I can hear Mary in the distance yelling “they’re here…they’re here”! We come into the aid station and I find Mary there  getting things ready. Then in comes a bleary-eyed Roger and Barbara. I think I caught them napping :). So glad they were able to get some rest…but I harassed them anyway ;). I get some food and a jacket here and Veronica and I strap our shoes tighter to prepare for the long decent down off the mesa. I had been dreading this descent ever since I ascended it several hours before. Roger and I had both been talking about it and by the time we reached it Veronica was nervous about it too. We start heading down. In the end it was not as bad as either of us thought it would be. I think we descended it in about 34 minutes. Considering the rockiness and pitch it was a really good effort and we were both surprised how quickly we reached the bottom. Way easier than going up.

The road between the base of Goosebump to the Virgin Desert AS is only about 8 miles but it felt a lot further. Veronica and I passed the time with more conversation and joking around as usual. Veronica was also pointing out other runners on the trail, identified by their headlamps, and then increasing the pace to catch and pass them. We made quite the game out of it and it kept us occupied. We must have passed 8 or 10 runners on that stretch. Our other goal was to reach the next aid station before the sun came up. So we moved quicker and quicker as we got closer. At this point we are jogging here and there but mostly walking a fast pace…or at least what felt fast. This part of the trail is rolling and is mostly soft road to run on. It was so much nicer than the slick rock and rocky terrain that the earlier part of the course was made of. On this stretch we hear our first wildlife…a coyote howling and then the answer mewling from his buddies. It’s an eerie sound to hear as we round a corner and see the moon peeking out from behind the mesa. A beautiful site and definitely a “moment” during the run.


We reach the Virgin Desert Aid Station at mile 76.5 just as the sun is coming over the horizon. Veronica and I end this stretch jogging down the long straight final half mile of trail pulling into the aid station just in time to see the sunrise. Another amazing moment out there. I was so glad to be able to share these moments with the wonderful people that made up my crew. Veronica had said that Roger was chomping at the bit to get started and she forecasted that we would see him there hopping up and down ready to get going on his stretch of pacing finally. I came into the aid station feeling pretty good and had a seat next to the fire where others are gathered. Some pacers and some runners. I see my pal Emily Yu sitting here, who is waiting to pace her friend when she arrives. Emily and I got pulled at  the same time during Western States in 2014 and shared a ride to Foresthill. We’ve seen each other at many races since then and have been Facebook friends.  I am sitting here quickly eating and taking off my night gear to get ready for the 3 laps in the desert, followed by the final stretch to the finish. Cathleen is here also, now, and has joined my crew. It was so nice to see her and she brings a whole new energy to the team.

Loop 1 is about 5 miles and Roger and I take off to cover the rolling desert course as quickly as possible before it gets too hot. The trail is a mountain biking trail, mainly, and so it is rutted and rolls up and down as if it is providing “jumps” for the bikes. Hard to get a rhythm here…but we keep moving. A few minutes into the loop Roger says back to me “Is there anything special you need me to do for you back here while we are running?” I say back to him “Well Barbara and Veronica both ‘flashed’ me as part of their pacing duties (not really) so you have a lot to live up to”. We both laugh…and he says that he may not be able to compete with that. The goofy things you say when you are on the trails. We finish the first loop and get back to the aid station and Mary walks up with a BIG bag of MacDonalds food and announces that she spent the most she has every spent for breakfast at a MacDonalds…she has $40 worth of food. I immediately rummage through the bags and find an egg mcmuffin and hashbrowns and sit down sand start woofing it down. Mary brings me an orange juice and it seems like a FEAST at this point in my adventure. I get two bites in on each and Mary says…”Okay…it’s time to go!” I say “geez I haven’t even been able to eat anything! (grumpy)” Mary says “eat as you walk” I say “I can’t carry all the food and orange juice and I need the orange juice to eat or it will be too dry” I know…what a primadonna right? Mary volunteers to carry my orange juice and out we go to loop 2.

Loop 2 is around 5.9 miles and is much like the last one…rolling mountain bike trails cutting through the desert. There are many mountain bikers out now and we pass many and have many pass us. Some slow and some don’t. A couple ask us what we are doing out there…how long the run is. When we tell them 100 miles it’s always the same reaction…”HOLY CRAP”! Others pass by and say “nice job” or “keep it up”…every little bit helps! It’s during this lap that I really start to feel that I might be able to finish this. Up until this point I was wondering if I could even complete such a crazy task. You try not to think about it but those doubts sneak in here and there. Loop 2 ends with a long, winding trail, where you can see the aid station way off in the distance as you make your way towards it. It seems to take forever to get there. We finally do and I tell Mary that that particular food really didn’t seem to give me much energy and that we need to try something different. I eat a breakfast burrito with a little more orange juice to see if that has different results.

The Final Loop is approximately 6.8 miles…the longest of them. This loop heads in the opposite direction of the others on the other side of the road. Still dirt and rolling but it heads up and down some larger hills. It makes its way towards the river and I come across Fast Cory and his pacer and we play leapfrog for a while on the trail. Eventually Roger and I get to the river and we run along the ridge for a couple of miles heading back up the hill towards the aid station. Now it is hot out here and each mile seems like 5. I start to play mind games with the miles. Every mile I tick off as another I don’t have to run! Eventually I say to Roger…”we are in single digits!!”…meaning we are under 10 miles to go. At this point we are painfully stepping off the trail often to let mountain bikers go by. I try not to let it get me riled-up…but its hard when you have over 90 miles on your legs. We roll our way up and over the last hill and I can see Veronica and Barbara yelling about a half mile away. Roger turns to me and says “well we can’t let them see us walking right”? So we take off running again, towards the yelling. We get to them and we all head down the final stretch to the aid station together. I get there and Cathleen and Mary are there waiting for me with some food and words of encouragement. I quickly eat and talk to them about the final stretch to the finish. Mary tells me it’s 6 miles and if I hold my current pace we will be comfortably below 32 hours. I repeat back to her “So if I just do the same pace back I will break 32 hours?” She says yes and this brings a smile to my face. I’m gonna do this thing! The race cutoff is 34 hours, my goal was under 30 hours…but under 32 would be just fine for my first 100.

I give all my crew hugs and thank them and give Mary one last kiss before the finish. Roger and I take off towards the finish line. At this point I turn on my music on my phone for the first time and pick up the pace running our way in. I am saying to myself that there is no reason to hold anything back any longer and I am going to finish this thing…so I don’t hold back and pick up the pace more. I can hear Roger behind me breathing hard as he catches up after texting an update to the crew. He say’s “what’s gotten into you?” I say “there’s no reason to hold back and I feel great right now!...let’s finish this bitch!” We both laugh and continue to push the pace. This stretch starts in the desert but eventually connects with an exposed dirt road that leads to the highway. We get to the dirt road intersection from the trail and Mary and crew are shocked to see me so quickly…they all start yelling encouragement and I start to get choked up. Another great moment in the run…still being able to surprise my crew after 96 miles with a faster-than-expected pace…somewhere around 10 min miles. It feels like I am sprinting and after all the slow plodding feels like sub 8 min pace ;)! It feels great to let loose. The dirt road seems to stretch on forever, though, and has a constant incline. I am determined not to walk again, though, and continue to push up the hill towards the highway. We make the hard right on the asphalt and it is stretched out in front of us. We have passed many other runners since the aid station and there are many out in front of us on the highway. We pick off one after another and in typical ultra fashion each runner I pass yells encouragement to me and I yell it back to them…we are almost there. I am looking ahead on the road trying to see the hard right turn down the last street to the finish but can’t see it. The highway is rolling as well and the small hills feel like mountains at this point…but we keep pushing. I say to Roger “I’m feeling it but I am just going to fall in behind you…pull me in Rog’!” So I fall in right behind him and watch his feet as I keep pushing. A couple minutes later Roger say “I can see the street where the finish is…can you see the cars?” I look up and about a quarter mile away there they are. The heat is radiating off of the highway and it almost looks like a mirage in the distance. Passing more runners we eventually get to the turn and we both turn right, together, down the street. I can hear the finish line now…the screaming and yelling and the announcer. This is one of the best things in ultra running…at least for me…the sound of the finish line. I run down the street and see and hear Mary yelling for me. I run towards the finish line and there is Cathleen, Nicole, Sunny and KC forming an arch with their arms, which we call a “power arch”, to run through as they are yelling for me. I run through and immediately am engulfed in a pile of arms and hugs…a great way to end a run. I look around for Mary and my crew and I finally see Mary and give her a big hug and kiss and thank her. She and the rest of the crew congratulate me as I find them and hug them all.

Two beers later, and some toasting and story reliving with my pacers/crew, and Mary reminds me that I need to get out of my comfy chair and select my belt buckle. I had totally forgotten about this…just happy to be done and alive at this point ;). I get up and Barbara and Mary follow me over where I pick out my buckle. An Orange-ish buckle that “spoke to me”. There seemed to be hundreds to choose from to my addled brain.  All of the buckles, of various colors, have some piece of the course incorporated into them. Mine had sand from the course in it and it looks really cool. I go back to my chair and continue to celebrate with my crew. Eventually the celebrating comes to an end and we all head out.

I want to thank Barbara, Veronica and Roger for making the long drive out to Utah to crew and pace me. I couldn’t have done it without the great support you provided throughout the long day, night and day. Thanks to all my family and friends that provided encouragement during training and during the race. The texts, videos and FaceTimes I received during the event really helped and reminded me of all the people who were rooting for me. And of course a special thanks to my wife, and crew chief, Mary who I definitely couldn’t have done this without. Your support during training and the race constantly inspired and assured me that I can accomplish crazy things like this. Your love and support makes every day better than the previous.


100 Miles completed in 31:41:22. Would have preferred sub-30…but you don’t know how hard to push until you’ve completed one. I’ll be ready to go sub-30 in the next one.
Note: Matt Gunn, who is the Race Director, does a really good job putting these events on. I encourage you to attend one of his beautiful races. My only wish is that they sold more swag to help commemorate your success. I would have loved to leave there with a Zion 100 sweatshirt or T-shirt or something that said Zion 100 in addition to my belt buckle.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing run and beautiful report. I'm honored to know you Scott.