Zion 100-DNF Part I Miles 1-35
I had a 3-part post planned for this race, detailing my journey from Miles 1-30, 30-60, and 60-100. Unfortunately, I never made it to the third part of the race. This experience was so much more personal to me than any other race I’ve been in. After having a few days to process what happened and what I could have done differently, I don’t regret anything I did, but I never would have imagined it turning out this way.
I came into the race with a few goals in mind, sub 24, sub 26, sub 28 and if need be, sub 36 (cut off). There wasn’t an option of not finishing. Before the trip, I had dropped all my running plans for the following week, made sure I ran all my errands knowing I would probably be coma toast after the 100. Disappointment is a hard pill to swallow, and I choked it down at Zion. Waking up on Saturday after the race was the worst; not from physical pain, but knowing I should have still been out there. I woke up with no buckle to admire, and reality finally settling in that I never made it to the finish. As I read through all the texts, e-mails and Facebook/Twitter comments from throughout the day, I couldn’t help but feel so disappointed that I had let everyone down. I disconnected myself from the outside and just sent personal e-mails and texts to those close to me to let them know what had really happened. People would find out soon enough that I had dropped, but I wasn’t ready to make anything public yet. I felt broken in a million pieces and was afraid one single thing might trigger another meltdown. Even when Matt asked if I was okay that morning, I couldn’t help but feel so sad that things didn’t work out the way I had hoped. If anything, I learned so much about myself this past weekend, I’m more than humbled by this sport and the things I will take away will always be with me as I continue on as a runner.
Because there’s no way you’re not crossing the finish line. It’s a misery that non-runners don’t understand~ Costello
Race weekend started on Thursday, we flew into Vegas, rented a car and headed out towards St. George. The race started in Virgin, 30 minutes away from our hotel where we were almost the last ones to pick up my race stuff. We had forgotten about the one hour time change in Utah, but glad we realized it before the actual race started on Friday. I dropped off my 6 drop bags, all encasing different things I would need throughout the race, from gels to headlamps to extra batteries and medical supplies. I had a race plan that I had written with checkpoints, mileage, pacing, estimated time and what I needed to do at each aid station. My crew was also given one of these spreadsheets so they could keep track of my timing. It was a little stressful thinking about all the different scenarios that could happen out there and what to put in each drop bag. My estimated finish time was 22.5 hours based purely on the elevation, my running ability and descriptions of the course so everything in the bags reflected that finishing time.
Friday morning couldn’t come any sooner. I didn’t get any sleep the night before, the usual race nerves and just not being in my own bed. Even though I was wide awake and ready to go, I was more excited/curious than nervous. I knew I was going to do it, I just didn’t know how the day would turn out and when I would finish. How would I feel at Mile 70? 80? 90? I have never run more than 50 miles before in one day. Would I have to walk it into the finish? I never ever would have predicted how the day was about to unfold out there.
We got to the race start around 5:30AM, 30 minutes before the start, which was at a town center park, I thought there would be a crazy line to get weighed in, but it wasn’t too bad. They were moving people along pretty smoothly. I jumped on the digital scale, got my starting weight and listened to the RD, Matt Gunn, give out his pre-race speech. At this time I decided with 15 minutes left until the start, I should turn on my Garmin watch just so it could have time to catch a signal. Right when I turned it on, it beeped that it was low battery. I left L.A with it fully charged, but it must have turned on somehow on the way over. I panicked and tried to decide what to do. I couldn’t hear a thing the RD was saying though I did catch a glimpse of “it’s going to be a hot and brutal day, you guys will be baking in the sun during the afternoon”. Great, if my watch problems weren’t enough, now the RD doesn’t even sound that confidant himself about the conditions out there. He mentioned that if we were able to make it to the night, we would be solid. Nightfall was 14 hours away.
Matt made the decision to drive back to our hotel 30 minutes away, grab Meg’s watch and meet me at Mile 5 to give me the watch. We departed ways and I headed towards the start line. I lined up somewhere in the middle, but there were only 100 or so runners so we were fairly scattered. I eyed around and looked at everyone. We would all be going on this journey together and help each other get to the finish, no matter what happened. Famous last words. Most everyone was dressed in white head to toe. With the heat forecasted in the 90’s that day, we wanted to cover up as much skin as possible. I had my white Moebens arm warmers, compression socks, buff, visor and glasses to protect me from the sun. My mom and Meg were still there taking pictures of the start. The RD blew his trumpet horn and we were off! Adrenaline pulsed through my body, 100 miles or bust!
I waved to my mom and Meg as we crossed the road that turned into the trail and immediately fell into a fairly slow and steady pace. No one was going fast and I didn’t want to push it. If there was one thing I took away from talking to veteran 100 milers was to start slow, very slow. I walked when others walked and ran with others ran. Most people looked like veteran runners so I knew I should do whatever they were doing. Every time we hit one little incline bump, people would immediately start to walk. I stayed behind these two girls who looked pretty steady, I didn’t dare try to pass anyone yet. It was cool and comfortable, the sun was just starting to rise and if only the temps remained this way, the race would have been so much different. Unfortunately it was only 6 in the morning with these mild temps.
We ran on rolling terrain before hitting our first climb of the day, the Flying Monkey Trail. It was a brutal scramble steep ascent up this trail, about 1 mile of rough singletrack, climbing over 1,000 ft to get up onto Hurricane Mesa. Even on fresh legs, it felt hard. The air was thin making it harder to breathe. The rocky trail was steep and we had to climb a lot of boulders to get to the top. At one point during the climb, they had a rope set up which you could hold onto as you lifted yourself up. This was unlike any race I have ever been in. The higher we climbed, the more spectacular the views got. I was taken back by how stunning the panoramic views of Zion were. The girl in front of me let out a hoot and holler as she snapped away on her camera. It would be a beautiful day and I was so lucky to be here. I told myself no matter what happened, there was nowhere I would rather be than right here.
I began to hear cheering as we closed in on the top. It wasn’t an official aid, but spectators and crew were able to access this point to enjoy the scenery and cheer on their runners. I saw my crew soon enough as they handed me a new watch and Vitamin water. I wasn’t too thirsty yet, so I just took a couple sips before heading back out on the trail. It was nice to see them even if it was only an hour into the race. I was pretty much on schedule. I waved off to them and said I would see them in 30 miles at Mile 35 where Matt would join me.
I crested the top of the mesa, shook out my legs and continued onto the next aid at Mile 8.5. I got to this aid in 2:04, only a couple minutes behind schedule, no big deal. I ran through this aid pretty quickly, grabbed a couple cups of electrolyte and headed out towards the next aid at Mile 18.5.
The aid stations were pretty far apart for being a 100 mile race. They had water between the stations that were unmanned with pales of buckets with sponges in them for runners to cool themselves off. Unfortunately many of the buckets were bone dry by the time I got to them or dirty from all the runners scrubbing themselves off.
Miles 8.5 to 18.5 were very runnable and fast. I got to Mile 18.5 in 3:43, 20 minutes ahead of my predicted schedule. I met a veteran runner along this section who had run many hundreds before and listened to his advice for my first 100. He told me this pace better feel really really easy for me because it was going to be a long day. The sun was already beating down on us, we had a huge headwind we were fighting through, but for the most part, the soft dirt made it easy to run on as we cruised through rolling terrain.
I knew it was going to be a really hot day, so I made extra sure to stay on top of my hydration, drinking more than I normally would even if I didn’t feel thirsty. I was adamant on my salt and calorie intake the entire time because from previous experience, bad nutrition can really damage a race. Right after this aid was where the trail got really technical. We dropped off of the mesa on a little used trail through a steep wash which was the most technically challenging section of the course including some boulder hopping.
There was an exposed ledge that we traversed with volunteers making sure we got down safely.
I saw a hiker coming up and told him I was so scared to go down. I pretty much sat on my butt and slid all the way down. There was no trail to follow, just a rope to hold onto as we descended into the canyon.
The terrain was rough making it impossible to run on. Though the volunteers were nice, one guy ran in front of me leading the way and showing me where to go as I held onto the rope for dear life. When we finally got down to the canyon, there was boulder hopping to be done which slowed down my pace a lot as I tried to find the right footing without slipping and falling.
After all that technical trail, we were rewarded with a rolling single track and even though there was more cover from the trees, it felt hotter because the heat was just trapped in the canyon. I fell into a steady pace again and made friends with another runner who I would end up running with until the next aid at Mile 27. We talked about running and laughed at the fact that the cut off was 36 hours. He had done one 100 before this and said at the pace we were going, we could probably get in under 24, though with the heat, it could be later.
The time flew by as we both steadily ran together to the next aid at Mile 27 in 6:03. I wanted to take some more time here at the aid station to recharge and refocus because it would be another 8 miles until the next aid. I grabbed my drop bag, rehydrated, put on more sunscreen, ate some aid station food and got scrubbed down with ice cold water. I packed some ice cubes into my buff to keep myself cool, which ended up working really well. It was noontime and the sun was out in full force, I needed all the energy I could save for the afternoon when it was supposed to be the worst at 5PM hitting well over 90 degrees in the desert heat.
After the aid, we descended on pavement (Kolob Terrace road) for about 4.25 miles until we hit a dirt trail. I was hoping to make up some time during this section since it was downhill and pavement, but the road felt so damn hot that even running on it was difficult. I was slowly deteriorating from the heat and kept drinking as much as I could when I could. The friend I had met told me that we should run this section together and this was where we could make up the time we had lost. I let him get ahead of me since I couldn’t pound the down hills as fast as I normally do.
Once we hit the dirt road, I caught back up to him. We followed this trail for 3.5 miles across the desert until the next aid at mile 35. We yo-yoed back and forth along this trail; I was feeling okay given how hot it was just telling myself to grind it out to the end. I could do this. As long as I was moving forward, I would be okay. I even felt good enough to slowly jog up the small hills and ended up passing a few runners during this stretch.
From the distance, I could see the next aid, Sheep Bridge road, where my crew could visit me for the first time. It looked closer than it actually was as we winded around the desert before finally exiting the trail towards the road. The parking lot was littered with cars and people and gave me an immediate burst of energy knowing this would be a fully stocked and well-manned aid. I was so happy to see my crew and surprised to see my friend Dave who was running the 50 the next day there as well.
I quickly hopped on the scale for a weigh in and found out I had lost 8 pounds in 35 miles. Before the race, they stated that they wouldn’t let you leave the station if you dropped more than 3% of your weight, so I thought it was strange that they just let me go.
Nothing sounded very appealing at the station. I ate their electrolyte shaved ice, hydrated some more, made sure my hydration pack was filled because it would be another 7 miles until the next aid. I had asked my crew to bring me a turkey sandwich so I could eat some real food on the course. However, I only managed to choke down a bite before giving it back to them. I just didn’t have the stomach to put anything down, so I stuck to eating my gels for calories.
I left the aid with my first pacer, Matt in tow. I was beyond excited that from here on out to have someone to run with till the end. Unfortunately, this is also where everything started to unravel and fall apart. The next 17.5 miles would be the hardest and most humbling miles of my life as I struggled both physically and mentally to stay in the race. It was during this section where I found my limits, but it also made this stretch the most memorable for me.