Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Zion 100 Race Report

Well, let’s just say that things went well and according to plan for awhile then…..umm….not so much. So pull up a chair....this is a long one!

The trek to Virgin was pretty uneventful, made it to check in, grabbed some food at a cool little trading post then went into Springdale to check into my room (thanks to my awesome sister for hooking me up!). Once at the room I got everything laid out and ready so when the alarm went off at 4 am all I had to do was get dressed and drive back to Virgin for the start. Looking at the weather report I knew Friday would be tough but I really had no doubt I would finish if I played my cards right. The plan was to get out a little quicker than normal to log some solid miles before the heat hit. Once the sun started to cook me I knew I could go a bit slower then rally in the evening and morning. Solid game plan……check. I had all my ducks in a row and drop bags laid out, split cards looked good and even a bit conservative I thought. From here I would turn off the lights and hit the hay.

The alarm went off right at 4 am and I got up and started to get ready- shower, breakfast, pack the car and I was on the way to run the first ever Zion 100. At the start we weighed in and the RD went over the course and how hot it was going to get. There about 120 runner and about 20-25 first time 100 milers. I got to see a few familiar faces and meet a few more. Once the countdown started it was game time! GO! We took off up the road and headed for some ATV trails heading towards the Smith Mesa. There were a couple of miles of windy up and down hills that led to the trek up to the top. We started up Flying Monkey Trail and had a rather good climb for about 1.1 miles. There was a section with a rope and a nice single file line- first one to the top gets a $100 (Congrats to Jay Aldous for the $100 and a pretty amazing 1st place finish). Once on top we ran on a dirt road for about 15 miles. Around 7.2 miles in I came around a corner and sure enough, there was a flying Monkey (more of an Ape but who cares, it was pretty cool).

There is a Flying Monkey!

I hit the first aid station in good shape and was moving pretty good. I felt I could have even pushed a bit harder and still been okay but decided to keep it calm. I was about the 20th person through. I got to run with Mike Place and Dan Widerburg for a bit and it always nice to run with familiar faces. The road was long and dry and felt like it would never end. I still was moving along fairly well heading in to AS #2 around 18.5 miles. Once here you finally get off the road and start on a pretty crazy trail with rope and ledges and rocks and a small waterfall- it was my favorite part of the course (that I saw anyway).

Once through that section its back to a dirt/rocky road with no cover and the temps were really picking up.

Some rare shade....for about 30 yards.

Well this looks a little warm and dry...

 I slowed a bit to be sure to make it through the heat of the day and came through AS #3 about Mile 27. I got refueled, stood under the mister and took off. This next section was more brutal- 4 miles on road/pavement downhill – YUCK! After those 4 tough asphalt miles we hung a right and worked our way on some more ATV trails. I started to slow a bit more here and could tell I had not taken in enough calories to this point. I had hydrated well and got my electrolytes but because of the heat and my drop bags cooking in the sun, my EFS LS was super runny and very warm…a.k.a. really tough to get down. The heat was starting to get to me and any type of food or calories was just not agreeing with the heat and my stomach. I finally stumbled into AS #4 at the highway (mile 35) and picked up my first pacer- Shawn. This was a longer stop than I wanted but I was trying to get my temperature down a bit and take in a few calories. Far as time goes, I was ahead of my splits and under a sub 26 hour finish.

Shawn and I took off through the DAMN DESERT. I could feel my stomach turning, my energy starting to slide and the heat starting to kick my ass. Those that know me know I HATE HEAT! Hate it. Anything over 80 degrees is horrible. So over the next few miles I kept asking Shawn and myself- “What the hell was I thinking?- This is the son of a bitchin DESERT!” We both would laugh and meander along.

The sweet, sweet desert...

 This proved to be a tough section on me and I lost a bit of time. Shawn had bought a small spray bottle and would shoot me with water every so often which definitely helped. We finally reached AS #5 at mile 42 and I told her I needed to really gather myself, eat something…anything to get some energy for the climb ahead. We were there and watching people come through in bad shape. The heat was really getting to people and the fact the AS ran out of ice proved to be even more troublesome for many. I finally got up and we marched on.

Thinking WTH?

About mile 45.5 we hit a water only AS right before the big climb to Gooseberry Mesa. Here it was- the most daunting part of the course (besides the heat or so we thought). As I walked over to the cattle trough a guy was yelling at me not to drink it…really? I may be a little slow minded but come on. Shawn and I giggled about that and headed out. There I was the base of the climb. It was a bugger and turned out to be steeper than advertised. It was a beast!

The Climb

 A little over a mile to the top and we did it- not before encountering our first snake though. Once we hit the top there was a small station set up offering electrolyte slushies…man were those ever tasty!

Having a slushie on Gooseberry Mesa

 We followed the rocky windy trail over to Gooseberry Mesa AS- (Mile 51.5 and 52.5). I was there a bit and noticed I was behind my splits but mentioned to Shawn that the toughest part of the course was over and I thought I could rally and make up some time. My stomach still wasn’t 100% but with the night creeping in and the temps dropping I liked my chances. We grabbed our headlamps and headed out. Our night clothes were at the next AS- Mile 62.75 so we had about 10 miles to go to get there.

Here is where everything went wrong. We followed the course best we could. The marking were not real visible and there were no glow sticks, lights, balloons anything. We followed white dots on the rocks and a few transparent pink ribbons. We got off course 4-5 times through here but quickly turned and got back on track after Shawn would go ahead and scout it out. We were literally a few feet from the edge of the Mesa and a 2000’+ drop- Shawn and I laughed about that a lot but I think that helped us cope with it. I probably hit my lowest point here and had to stop and lay on a rock for about 5 or so minutes. The energy was zapped but I was still trying to nip the old LS flask much to the disagreement of my stomach. We were less than one mile from the next AS (so we thought) when we ran into 3-4 lost runners. They were absolutely frantic. They had been lost for over 4 hours. Once we got together and tried to assure them they were now on the right trail we came across multiple different markings and then another group of about 5-6 other runners…LOST. We all huddled together and looked a map that one of the guys had on him. We decided where we needed to go next. After about 25 more minutes of this, we ran into 2 more runners….you guessed it- LOST! They thought they knew where they were as well so we all started out. We wandered around a bit longer and I kept thinking- we have gone too far, we should have hit it by now. The wind was picking up and the temps were dropping. Shawn and I only had our run shirts and shorts- no gloves, sleeves, jackets, beanie…basically nothing warm. A while later we had found the trail again but something wasn’t right……wait- we see headlamps coming right at us. We asked where they were coming from and they told us- “Gooseberry AS”- WHAT? We were heading back to Mile 52.5…this proved to be huge blow to us. There we gathered and thought of our next plan. We could turn around and go another 8 or so miles and try and find the next AS but since it hadn’t been located in over 7 hours I didn’t think our odds were good. Most were out of food and water and it was really starting to get cold. A group of 5 of us huddled together to come up with the next game plan. Here is where I thought long and hard and really knew there was only one “smart” choice. I battled inside my own head for a few minutes but it seemed like eternity. If I do the “smart” thing, I would DNF and my race was over. If I chose option #2, I would be risking more I thought. Listen, I hate to fail. I know nobody likes to fail but I HATE to fail! It eats at me. It makes me questions myself more than normal. It makes me sick. With all this going through my head, I leaned towards Shawn and quietly told her I decided it would be best to head back to Mile 52- Gooseberry and call it. She knew it was the right choice as well but I think she wanted me to decide since it was my race. She helped every step of the way up to this point and it was my decision. We told the other 3 and 2 of them decided they would try again to find that AS. One person, Martin from San Jose, decided to come with us. After about 30 minutes and MORE searching in the dark and taking a few more wrong turns we found the AS. It was time to drop. The way over there I was lagging behind a bit- partly because of a couple bad blisters but the other part was I was in a bad place mentally and I wanted to be alone. I was disappointed with myself, angry, hurt, upset, discouraged, saddened and just plain mad. We were out there for over 6 hours and ended right back where we started. We finally talked the HAM radio guy to let us sit in the truck to try and keep warm, he offered a jacket, blanket and even offered one of us a chance to share his sleeping bag in the back of the truck…I will let you guess who the lucky lady….errr I mean person was. The 3 of us (not the radio guy) piled into the front of the truck and waited for someone to come get us. Shawn and Martin slept a bit but I just couldn’t sleep. I kept replaying everything through my head and couldn’t get over the disappointment and also wondered if the others were safe.

When morning broke, someone came to get us and we headed back to the start/finish. We found out we were really no where even close to finding that AS and that there were over 30 people that got lost. Some ended up on the highway wandering around, some showed up at the wrong AS and many just dropped like I did.

Overall, this will take some time to get over. I still feel like I made the right choice but I am still having a difficult time of wondering what if. Even though the trail was poorly marked through a few parts of the race and the area we got lost was not marked well for night time, I still recommend the race to those who like desert, heat and something different. Matt (RD) and his group really did put on a great race. It was the first year but I have been to many other races that could learn a lot from the Zion 100. I have no doubt that next year things will be different and better than ever. The volunteers, runners, RD, sponsors…everyone was extremely nice……even the radio operator that offered to cuddle. It’s unfortunate of to what happened and I really don’t blame anyone. I guess it is part of racing. Sure there are plenty of what if’s but I am trying to convince myself that what if’s are just that and nothing I can do now. I am excited to get back on the trail. Maybe I am just not a 100 mile runner. I still have another 100 miler this year- Wasatch, and I am hoping to PR it again and go sub?????? but until then I still have some beauties on my schedule.

Huge thanks to Shawn for helping me get as far as I did. I made it to Mile 52 and it only took me 73 miles to do it. HA! And Jim, I am very sorry you drove all that way and didn’t even get to pace. I am extremely humbled by all the support I got leading up to the race: the calls, the voicemails, the texts, the facebook comments…everything. Truly humbling and I definitely feel like a lucky guy. As I type this I am still scratching at the Cedar Gnat bites all over my legs and wondering if I will go back next year. I am not one to make excuses though….I just didn’t get it done this time.

Congrats to all the people who not only finished down there but those who toed the line. Now the healing process begins…..physical and mental.


Weeds19 said...

I enjoyed reading your race report and chatting with you at the 42 mile AS (I was the guy you sat down next to upon arriving). That section between 53 and 63 took positively forever to navigate, fortunately it was beautiful along the rim and through the slickrock sections.

Your "no excuses" approach is the only way to approach these type of races and events. Keep the positive attitude / personal responsibility and I'm sure you'll crush Wasatch!

Cory Reese said...

Reading your review was daunting and humbling. I'm so sorry that things didn't work out.

I was with two other guys on the Gooseberry section and we made it through, but I felt so sorry for people we came across who were alone and lost.

When I run up there I get turned around even in daylight. In the dark it's a whole different ballgame.

Hopefully moving the race up next year will help avoid the heat. Great job on what you accomplished in the middle of a heatwave.

Jon Allen said...

Sorry for the DNF, man- always hard to swallow, even if it is more a course marking issue than an issue with how you ran the race. Maybe you can get revenge/redemption next year?

Danni said...

Oh man, getting lost like that is awful and reminds me of my Splitrock experience, where I went back to an aid station after however many miles of apparently wandering randomly. Try to think of it as sort of a good story to tell. We need those. They are better than "oh yeah it was uneventful and awesome." Boring.