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!
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...
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...
Having a slushie on Gooseberry Mesa
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.