Zion 100 - 2012

I was somewhere in the mid 40's out of around 100 people. I forget the exact time and the results seem to be a bit elusive..

This is pretty boring, just a fact dump.

Best. Race. Ever. Instantly tied with Leadville (Leadville gains a lot of awesomeness just for the fact that it IS Leadville and I dig CO so much, Zion is up there of its own merits.)

The organization of this race was mind blowingly fantastic. The course was marked better than any race or hell, even any trail I’ve been on. The course was really well thought out in terms of challenging us, giving us beautiful views, making access easy, mixing up terrain... on and on. The aid stations had a good variety of stuff and the aid workers were knowledgeable about the race itself.

I arrived in Vegas Wednesday after a flight that was entirely worth the price of the ticket. This is my first time flying out west and I stayed glued to the window the entire time. A large cloud system covered most of the US from Iowa to Utah. Still, I was able to see some peaks in the continental divide sticking out and some of the beautiful parts of western NY near the great lakes.

When flying through Utah I couldn’t help but grin at the martian looking landscape. An absence of the trees I was used to, the land was mostly covered in what I guess is called “scrub”. I knew inside that long, dry and hot miles awaited me. In anticipation for this race I had been attending some hot yogas classes which definitely help to familiarize the body with exertion in a hot environment. We would luck out over the race with near perfect temperatures for running.

During the day Wednesday I walked a few miles on the strip, getting lost in the hotel/casino/mall clusterfucks that line Vegas, the most absurd human settlement going. My feet started to ache towards the end and when the sun was focused on you the heat was intense.

I thought of the radiation pounding my body, traveling over such a vast distance. I try and compare it to the radiant heat from a campfire. Even a large fire doesn’t reach very far with its heat while the sun sits in the vast cold of space and bombards us with energy. In feeling the energy react with our skin we are connected to the sun and the vastness in which it crosses.

I eventually purchased some sun screen from CVS and made the only smart sun screen related choice of the week and applied some. I knew I would need it for the race and planned to have it in a drop bag. That evening I picked up my buddy from the airport and we got some bangin’ milk shakes. I ended up going to the peppermill 3 times.

Thursday we headed out towards Hurricane UT where our hotel was that we’d stay the night before Zion. The drive allowed a more detailed look at the terrain that was in store for us.

Afterwards we headed towards the start line to see everyone setting up and get an idea of where we’d be heading in the morning. The volunteers were filling giant jugs of water which already made me feel better about this race then Double Top.

After checking out the start we headed up to a little rented cabin that was serving as the race start headquarters. Well, cabin is a bad description. It was a beautiful home decorated in a rustic desert fashion. Skulls and beautiful wood abounded.

The pre race festivities included some cool gestures on the part of the RD. We were treated to some damn fine pizza cooked in a portable oven on a trailer and a preview of all the belt buckles we’d be able to choose from. The temperature was encouragingly cool that night.
We headed back to Hurricane for some beer and second dinner. I chose a brew from the Wasatch brewing company called “The Devastator Double Bock”.

Come morning we prepared for our wait at a cold start line. I ate a little bit of dry bagel and some gummy sharks.

I ran the whole race wearing a Mountain Hardwear Way2Cool tank top, some Arm Warmers, and my salomon shorts. I had my AK vest with a shell in it and a Salomon pullover waiting at one of the aid stations. In our rush out the door I never applied sun screen, which would prove to be a pretty ugly mistake. I was also wearing my silly outdoor research cap which did a great job of keeping my neck and face safe. It was the space between my arm warmers and the tank top that would be seared by the sun.

The start was a nervous gaggle of ultrarunners. There was a bucket of relay batons, done in the Boston Marathon colors, at the start that they wanted to hand out to the runners. The idea was that after the race was over they’d get them engraved and send them to the victims or the victims families. It really did sound like a sweet gesture and I grabbed the first baton they offered up and bungeed it to my AK vest. I carried Marilyn Kight through the race (http://www.redding.com/news/2013/apr/16/redding-nurse-injured-at-boston-marathon-day/). Or she carried me, it was hard to tell at times.

A large clearing provided our imaginary start line that is so prevalent in these races. In the end ~100 something people were running the 100M and some more for the 100k. As we gathered I put my hand to the start button on my stopwatch and breathed some steadiness into my body amidst the shivers. I mentally reviewed my training. I had gotten some good long runs in. My last 100 wasn’t that long ago so the memories of the pain and nausea and mental barriers was still fresh. I felt okay enough, confident and in a rested state.

I thought I heard a few weird countdowns or shouts and suddenly we were moving. The line of us snaked along out of the park and onto the main road. Virgin is a tiny town with a few houses lining only a couple of roads that branch off in a grid from the main “highway”. The houses all have the look of southwestern abodes. A very dusty design style.

Along the road section I tried to land myself around people with a similar pace to reduce crowding. After a few minutes we spilled onto a dirt road, then the desert floor. We wound or way through a single track worn into the scrub. Dry, determined life licked our ankles. The views as the sun rose were beautiful. We could see Mesas all around us, and we knew we’d be hauling ass up two of them throughout the day. Also in the distance was the weird rock formations of Zion National Park.

The first aid station came 10 miles in, located off a dirt road into the desert. By this time I had peed 4 times, which seemed odd. I brushed it off as me being overzealous with my hydration. I was able to consume a lot more Gu in this race than I normally do and I picked up some corn tortilla with nutella at the first aid.

At this aid station I noticed one of the ladies I had leap frogged a few times was being filmed by some dude with a professional looking camera. She was wearing a hoka tank so I assumed she was a hoka athlete and it was a marketing thing. I said something dumb to the guy filming about how the landscape made me feel like I was on a hollywood movie set and that the Mesas weren’t real.

The next aid was the goosebump aid station and lived on top of our first steep climb, around 1000 feet in less than a mile. Some folks I was running with at some point laughed when I asked about the switchbacks. They said the trail was simply chewed into the plateau and there were no switchbacks. I tried thinking about what that would look like but in the end it was still a comically steep climb.

Before I got to that climb I met and chatted with good folks. We talked a lot about what happened at Boston and I reassured everyone that MBTA commuters were back to acting like assholes and that our city on average seemed to recognize the acts were a very rare occurence. I learned about the different places the runners were from and what their ultra experiences had been. After mile 17 or so I wouldn’t run with another person for the remainder of the race.

We drew closer to a Mesa and after winding around some of the shorter edges the approach up to Goosebump finally came into view. There was a loose dirt path that climbed at a steep enough angle that footing sometimes wasn’t solid. I hiked the climb as best I could but I was running out of breath and pegging my heartrate in no time. Just before cresting the top I looked back to see the landscape below us, sprawling out like some hidden basin of that dry life. Plateu’s and peaks surrounded the area where we started.

We would run through the Goosebump aid station 3 times throughout the day. I left a drop bag with extra Gu and my GoPro camera here. Before grabbing the camera I chugged some heed and perused the aid table. My stomach was starting to turn which usually happens, but not this early. Something else I didn’t give much thought at the time and it felt a little better after the Heed settled. I also slurped down a cup of peaches. This is where I neglected to apply the sunscreen that was in my drop bag, the first time.

The course continued along the edge of the Mesa now, through a mix of juniper trees and scrub and large round rocks that we’d have to climb up and over and around. Water had left strange indentations and patterns and holes in the rocks. This section of the course was the most complained about last year because it seemed maze like. The route did seem rather arbitrary sometimes as it bobbed and weaved around the rocks, but this was the actual white trail that we were using for the race. Last year the entrants had done it during the night but we had the benefit of following along in the day.

Eventually we did a brief section where we would run .5 mile or so out to a scenic overlook and then return to the Goosebump loop. This little was a very thoughtful and very awesome section. The video I posted earlier is basically the end of the spur where we were treated to a hugely panoramic view of the area. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5PwDTErt5U)

My stomach continued to give me some issues as we winded our way back to the 38 mile stop at Goosebump. The terrain also proved to be rough on my legs as the running on hard rocks and previous climb made my left knee begin to ache. It didn’t feel like the pain was getting worst after an initial onset so I figured it would just be something I’d have to manage. I only mention it here because it might slow my progress when I get going again.

Pulling into Goosebump again (31 miles or something), and again skipping my sunscreen, I made the mistake of trying a “Marinated” potato. It almost tasted like it had been marinated in pickle juice. I had to throw half of it out. In retrospect I had eaten a very small amount of solid food for being this far into the race. The sun was feeling intense and I noticed I had been peeing reguraly, and it was clear, but I still was feeling naseous and drinking more fluids was helping less and less.

The next section started the decline of fun for me. After leaving Goosebump the course followed a dirt road section for a few miles. This felt like it dragged on endlessly. At times the roads had impercetibly small upward grades that forced me into a walk without really looking like I needed to. Cars passed us along the road and kicked up large amounts of dust. It was getting towards the hottest part of the day and we were trudging along exposed on top of the Mesa.

Partway through this section we encounted our first long ass painful downhill. The grade wasn’t too steep because it was an auto road but my gait was getting goofed up and I couldn’t carry signifigant speed down. At the bottom of the hill we came through a water stop that had a bucket and sponge. I drenched my back in water, and subseqently my gloves and shell. The second time through I’d do the same thing but also manage to soak through a bag of s-caps.

What followed was a paved road section that had some beautiful southwestern style houses on it. There were a few sections on the course where out and backs allowed us to see other competitors and I was able to spot a few people I had been looking for in this section. At the end of the road we started another signifigant climb, this time a dirt road climb. Again the grade was good for cars but made for long slow climbing. After a few hundred vertical feet we were treated to an aid station (Eage Crag) and back down we went.

At this point I was definitely feeling the heat of the day, and the intensity of the sun. I was still peeing reguraly but I wasn’t really sweating. I couldn’t tell if the Way2Cool top was drying fast or... I don’t know. I ate some potato chips and headed down the hill. After passing through the water stop again we had a little more of a road section before another Mesa climb. At the base of the Mesa was a cemetary which probably had some famous cowboys buried in it.

As I climbed the Mesa I paused freqently to let my heart rate get under control. I finally put two and two together and realized I was suffering a bit from the altitude. We flirting with 5.2k or something throughout the course and I know that when I was in Boulder at 5.5k I definitely felt it. To add to the confusion over whether I was dehydrated or not I noticed that my hands were a little swollen.

After topping the Mesa I sat down on a rock and took some inventory. Over the next few miles things would get pretty hairy. I’d walk a lot and the taste of water turned my stomach. Tried to take in some calories and salt but still felt horrible. After reaching the next aid station I sat down in a chair and went through a few cups of Heed and Gatorade, trying to get in liquid calories. An aid station worker grimaced when she saw the sunburn forming on my shoulders so she applied some sunscreen.

There are tons of people on the Vegas strip handing out little cards that advertise escort services. They usually all wear the same bright T-Shirt that says something like “HOT GIRLS DELIVERED TO YOUR HOTEL” with a phone number. I laughed when one of the aid station workers was wearing the same shirt in the middle of the woods.

We retraced our steps on the road section outside of Goosebump to get back there. This was our last trip through Goosebump and denoted the 56 something mile mark on the course. I was relieved to drop my GoPro off and slip on my Hokas. I sat down with two cups of broth and took a burrito for the road. Immediately following Goosebump we had to go down that super steep incline to get back down to the start area. I could manage a little bit of a shuffle down that made my shins ache from the effort of slowing each of my steps.

After getting back to the same road we started on we crossed the street and began a dirt road climb up another Mesa. The sun was setting as I crossed the “valley” floor and the lighting was beautiful. I turned to the sun and shouted at it, “SET ALREADY!”. After crossing the road we were no longer running with the 100k participants and ended up being very spread out. The trip up this next Mesa allowed ample time to see people that were miles ahead of you. I was able to spot the running buddy I was traveling with and saw he was kicking some ass. I told him that my stomach was bothering me and that I was prolly going to throw up soon.

Right on queue a few minutes afterwards I tried to puke and rally. It took a few upchucks before I felt better but afterwards I was able to get a little shuffle going and tried getting some water/salt/calories in. I was naseuos just a few minutes later. My heart began to sink as I realized it probably wasn’t going to get better anytime soon. I proceeded to vomit my way up the incline before arriving at the Guacamole aid station.

This aid station was pretty awesome and the guys manning it were hilarious. I told them how sick I was and that I was going to take a seat. I ordered some ramen and sat down while they made it. I immediately started shivering from the cool night air. I was entirely lucky that I shoved my Salomon pullover in my drop bag for this aid station, without it I would have probably been hypothermic. I figured some caffeine was in order to and I had some coke with my brothy ramen. I decided to try and lay down for a few minutes to shut my eyes but I was shivering too much and they hadn’t recieved any blankets at the station yet.

Knowing that I had to get moving before I got too cold I grabbed my cup of unfinished Ramen and began a 9 mile lollipop that would end up being a miserable 4 hour march. As I started down the stem of the lollipop my hands were shivering so violently that I was spilling my coke everywhere. My gloves were too soaked to use so I dump the soda and alternated the cup of Ramen in either hand.

The course markings at night included these SUPER bright pinpoint LEDs that could be seen from incredibly far away. This was mostly due to the fact there were no trees to block views. Sometimes it has hard to tell if you saw someones headlamp in the distance or a course marker or a star in the lower sky. The loop part of the lollipop was ontop of a rocky section kind of like the top of Goosebump. It required running over and around all different types of boulders. Sometimes the distinct feeling of being on the edge of the Mesa would take me as the world dropped sharply down to our sides. The light breeze would cause a haunting whistle noise as it passed through Marlyn’s baton.

I followed the seemingly endless line of lights that stretched before us. I threw up freqeuntly. I think almost as much as I did at Leadville. Maybe more so. I couldn’t muster anything more than a walk and it had been hours since I had been able to eat or drink. I normally don’t stress too much about it but the fact water was making me naseous and that I was out in the heat all day and probably dehydrated had me a bit concerned for my kidneys. I couldn’t even keep a single ramen noodle down and proceeded to carry the cup of noodles with my through the whole lollipop for some reason.

I tried drinking water and throwing up until it came up clear so I knew that there wasn’t any lingering Heed or gatorade in there but it didn’t make it any better. I had around 30 more miles to walk to finish the race.

I was passed by a ton of people and decided I was going to drop. I couldn’t try to rally at the Guacomole aid station on the way back because I wouldn’t be able to sit for long without freezing. I thought about all the things that one thinks about when you realized you’ve failed what you set out to do. The baton wouldn’t make it 100 miles, I’d have to explain to everyone.. yada yada. I stopped trying to put anything in my stomach and wandered unsteadily like a drunk for the remainder of the loop.

As I reached the stem of the loop to return to the aid station I started to feel hungry. Still naseous, but hungry. My stomach started gurgling more and more and finally I tried ingesting a single noodle. Not only did it stay down it changed my entire demeanor. My body suddenly felt with it, so suddenly that I felt like I had been given an IV. I didn’t want to push it just yet with the eating so I started a powerwalk back to the aid with my cold noodles. As I pulled in I had them fill the rest with broth and I sat down to chow. I was able to eat the whole cup of noodles fine and took in some more soda.

As I had decided before the race I would listen to music starting around mile 75 which was the exit out of Guacomole. I was able to run again and with the help of a cup of coffee it was a managable pain to run down the Guacomole climb. At the base we branched off towards the final section of the course.

We had some meandering to do before reaching the party aid station at mile 83, and onto the super steep “character building (RD’s words)” climb that awaited us at mile 86. I felt so good and the angst and emotion of pulling things back from the brink made me choke up a bit. I was mad and happy and frustrated.

Before the party we had to do a weird section where we basically climbed up a giant pile of sand and rock while some guy with an ATV shined a flashlight on it to help us out. The scene at 83 was great. A bonfire was started and some of the finishers had returned to sit around. One of the aid workers met me a little up the road and walked me in and talked to me. When we got into the aid he slapped me on the shoulder and I yelped in pain from the sunburn. I chatted and grabbed some soda and off I went.

Knowing the 86 climb was going to be slow I picked up the pace on the dirt road sections before it. The Mesa loomed ahead of us with the outline of the course clear through the bright LEDs. When I hit the bottom I paid super close attention to my heart rate and breathing and started a very methodically climb up. It was a little different from the first climb in that it alternated between super steep that required me to reach out to grab a handhold, or something a little more gentle.

There were some really exposed sections where I crawled on all fours because I wasn’t trusting of my balance 20 some odd hours into the race. To add to the pucker factor, when you tried to grab the walls of the Mesa they just crumbled in your hands. One particular section actually had a rope hanging down as we had to pull a technical move to get up. A steep thousand foot drop off was behind us.

I took my time with it as my Hokas kept slipping when I tried to grip into the Mesa. The dirt that gave way under my shoes slipped quietly down the drop.

At the top of the climb we meandered around the Mesa before spilling out onto the final dirt road section. At the T intersection the course went 5.2 miles to the left to the finish. We took a right and started a climb with a turn around at the top. I was able to keep a pretty good walk/shuffle to get to the top. When I passed through the aid station near the top I got some updates about the situation in Boston and some Mtn. Dew.

I was so happy to be hitting the turn around point that I think it just seemed larger than life. We jumped off the road onto a trail for a little .5 mile journey to the actual turn around sign. We wandered through a little magic wooded area as the sun was coming up. The Mesa and mountains that were hidden by night were now revealed to us as silhouettes on all sides. The turnaround was a little microcosm of the course as we passed through Jumiper and climbed over scrubby rocks.

After turning around I started the all downhill 7 mile jaunt towards the finish. I kept a good pace going down and smiled and congratulated everyone going up. Everything from my waist down had an incredible amount of pain associated with use so my gait was fucked. Eventually we spilled onto a paved road downhill that again was just enough of a decline to make descent miserable. I tried walking backwards or running in a zig zag pattern to try and pick up some speed.

At the bottom we had 2 miles to the finish and the day really started to warm up again. I could feel the intensity of the suns rays through my shell on my burnt shoulders. I was too lazy to eat or drink and was uncomfortably warm. I just wanted it done.

The finish was across another road and by this point I was just sauntering. I surprised someone waiting at the finish line because they didn’t realize I was in the race. He asked me to run it in and I declined. My friend was waiting for me at the finish line and I waved and just strolled to the timing booth. Later I asked him if anyone else walked it in and he said no. Ha!

Anyway. I can’t believe I finished. It was a great filling to pull that shit out of no where. It took some weird miracle on part of my stomach. Maybe not putting anything in it for awhile helped. I don’t know why I got so sick in the first place. After the race my shoulders blistered horribly and it was evident I had gotten second degree sunburn in large patches.

I’m not too bummed that my time sucked out loud. My stomach continues to be the weak link in all my endevours. Besides my achilles and my left knee I feel pretty recovered.

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