Sunday, April 3, 2016

Zion 100 Race Report 2016 (Solo)

I love the Zion 100 mile race. I've run it every year since it started five years ago. I committed to work at the finish line of the official race coming up this weekend, but I didn't want my consecutive streak to I just ran the race solo a few days before the official start.

It helps that I only live a few minutes away from the course. I started the 100 mile journey early Friday morning before the sun came up. It was as cold as the reception to the new Zoolander 2 movie.

The first destination of the course is the top of Smith Mesa via the Flying Monkey Trail. One of the things I love about the Zion 100 is that from most spots, you can see other areas of the course. Depending on how far you've traveled, this can be rewarding....or terrifying. I could see Gooseberry Mesa in the distance which I'd climb to the top of later in the day.

Once I got down Smith Mesa, I was at mile 15 and headed over to Dalton Wash and the Guacamole Trail.

The climb up the mesa to the Guacamole Trail was another lung burner. (The race is basically a series of going up, then down gigantic mesas.)

I'll admit, I'm not a huge fan of the Guacamole Trail. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's my nemesis. Every single time I run there I get lost. This run was no exception. The trail requires some navigational skills....of which I possess 0%

It sure is nice to look at though! There had been some recent rain which filled some of the pockets in the rocks. I always love me a good reflection picture.

Guacamole is right on the outskirts of Zion National Park. I suppose the views almost make up for the wild goose chase you go on to find the correct route.

There is no story involved with this squirrel I saw on Guacamole. I just wanted to put it in the race report because I thought it was cute. And because the word "cute" has never been in a race report. Ever.

I finished the Guacamole Trail and was heading down Dalton Wash Road when a mountain biker flew past me with....wait for it....wait for it....a Yorkshire Terrier poking his head out of the backpack. 

I made it to the bottom of the road and my first "aid station". The night before the run, I put a drop bag at Dalton Wash (mile 15 and 30), Grafton Cemetery (mile 57), and Virgin Desert (mile 76.5 and 87). Each aid station had a gallon or two of water, some baggies of Tailwind Nutrition, some Goldfish crackers, and some fun size Butterfingers.

My quads and calves were getting sore by this point. They kind of felt like they were being pecked by an ostrich. Which, incidentally, could have literally happened when I ran past an ostrich farm. I swear this one had his eye on me.

There is almost no shade on the entire course. Late in the afternoon a few clouds floated on the horizon, but nothing nearby to give shade. They looked like clouds from the opening scene of The Simpsons.

I passed in between a huge herd of cows that seemed to have disapproving glances, implying that they thought this whole running hobby seemed very, very foolish.

Finally it was time for the biggest crotch kick of the course - the climb to the top of Gooseberry Mesa. It climbs around 1,500 feet in less than a mile. I've never seen a trail so steep for so long. The trail could be considered a lethal weapon. People on Death Row should be able to choose the electric chair, a firing squad, or a climb to the top of Gooseberry.

For some perspective, here is a picture I took during a past race. Each arrow points to a runner somewhere on the trail.

At the top, Mel was waiting with my other drop bag for miles 35, 47, and 68. It was great to see her. I am infinitely thankful for all her support and encouragement. She is basically amazing. She brought a new St. George Running Center shirt to change into....and a gigantic Dr. Pepper!

She planned to do the 12 mile Gooseberry loop with me despite the fact that it was cold and windy and would be getting dark soon.

The trails on Gooseberry are a challenging, twisting, turning mess of slickrock that puts your legs through a meat grinder. I've got a pitch for the tourism board: "Gooseberry Mesa - where 12 miles feels like 9,471 miles!"

The trails skirt along the edge of the mesa and and boast some of my favorite views in southern Utah. The setting sun made the reds of the mesa just glow.

It's always crazy to think that only a few miles before this view, runners are standing on the valley floor.

Here is Mel with a good representation of the meat grinder called Gooseberry.

At mile 41 we reached The Point on Gooseberry Mesa. This very location is my favorite spot of the entire race.

The sun continued to set and the cold wind continued to blow, but we lingered in this spot for a while admiring the beauty that surrounded us.

Mel snapped this jumping picture (which happens to be at the same place I took a jumping picture during the race last year....and proceeded to split my shorts opened.

Once the sun went down we plowed forward in the dark. After about an hour something jumped on the trail a few feet away from us, followed by loud movement into the bushes. Mel yelled a four letter word and said, as she was hyperventilating, "What was that?" I told her it was just a cow. She said it was so big it could have been an elephant. She said "I'm scared! I don't want to go anymore." The problem was that we were many miles from the car, not exactly a good place to stop for the night.

We eventually, after 9,471 miles, made it back to the car. I was so thankful for Mel's company, and now it was time to head into the night alone. I came across many more pairs of glowing eyes as I headed to the Grafton Cemetery. Look closely. You can see them.

During the night I struggled SO, SO much with sleep monsters. Of all the 100 milers I've ran, I don't know if I've ever been so tired at night. It was a horrible feeling. I kept stumbling myself awake, and truly felt worried that I would fall asleep, then fall on the ground and hurt myself. I tried to take a short cat nap on the side of the trail but it was so cold that I just laid there shivering.

I had made it back down Gooseberry Mesa as the sun started to rise on day two. The beauty was breathtaking as I watched the sun light up Smith Mesa in the distance where I had stood 24 hours before.

There was a good chunk of miles still to go in the Virgin Desert. Though I know the trails in this area well, I still managed to get lost a few times trying to follow the exact course. It is much easier to follow the course during a race when the trail is marked.

The night before the race, I asked my daughter Danica if she'd make a little baggie with some wipes...just in case. Turns out it was a good thing she did. I was surprised to see this sweet message from her written on one of the wipes.

I felt like it would be a good idea to do one last jump before crossing the finish line on a challenging but rewarding adventure. After 32 hours and 40 minutes I made it to the end.

Last week I wasn't sure whether or not I'd give this 100 miler a shot. I half-jokingly mentioned to race director Matt Gunn that I may do a solo Zion 100 to keep my streak alive. He said "Wow, really? That would be awesome! I'll give you a belt buckle if you do it." I'll get a buckle from him at the race this weekend. But until then, my daughters made some buckles to tide me over:

I'm so thankful for some amazing running sponsors, St. George Running Center, Tailwind Nutrition, Altra, UltrAspire, and Ultra Adventures. I'm thankful for amazing kids and an amazing wife who is so supportive of all these running adventures. I'm thankful for a body that allows me to enjoy God's creations.

Good luck to everyone running the Zion 100 on Friday! I've got the course warmed up for you. Tell the ostrich, squirrel, cows, and Yorkie that I said "hello".

Thursday, March 31, 2016

VibraThotics - Vibrating Orthotics

Exactly two years ago today (how is that for coincidence!) I met Jesse Kimball on a trail run in southern Utah.

Since that time, Jesse has helped develop a cool new product called VibraThotics, a vibrating orthotic that can be used as the insole for shoes. He offered to provide a pair for me to test out so I figured I'd write up a review on my experience.

The primary piece of the insole is a soft foam that can be trimmed to fit into the shoes. Each orthotic also has built in arch support.

The key piece of the orthotics is a little blue insert that is popped into the bottom of the orthotics and vibrates. There are six different levels that can be set. (3 constant and 3 pulsing.) Because of this piece, it does raise the orthotics up a little higher than average shoe inserts. Jesse said that although there are lots of people that run with them, they are generally either 1) more of a recovery tool after running, or 2) to help provide comfort for people who are working on their feet all day.

That little blue piece pops out of the insert and is charged with a USB cable that is provided.

The orthotic vibration is turned on and off, and levels are adjusted with a little remote that could be attached to a key chain. You control both the right and left foot vibration with the same remote.

I have used these in my shoes for about a month now and have been very happy with how well they work. My feet tend to get sore after long runs or being on them all day at work. The VibraThotics help make my feet feel better and relieve some of the soreness.

If you think these may be helpful for you, check out their website at where you can get more information, check out clinical research on their benefits, and order some for yourself.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Monument Valley Ultra Adventure 2016

I've been working on eating healthier. My family has been working on eating healthier. I feel better when I eat healthier.

Which is why my body did not, in the slightest bit, appreciate the fact that I found myself at a McDonald's in Kayenta, Arizona drowning my sorrows in Hot'n Spicy McChicken Sandwiches and ice cream cones.

Here's where this story started: I was asked to be the finish line captain for this year's Ultra Adventures races (Zion 100, Bryce Canyon 100, Capitol Reef, etc). I love the races and the people behind Ultra Adventures so this is a cool opportunity. This past weekend was the Monument Valley 4 mile, half marathon, 50k, and 50 miler.

I headed for Monument Valley a day early hoping to catch some sight seeing before my duties began. I stopped at Horseshoe Bend, which is unspeakably beautiful.

I recreated a jumping picture I took at Horseshoe Bend last year before my R2R2R run:

I did a short hike to this cool toadstool rock formation:

After a few hours of driving, I stopped at a gas station in Kayenta, Arizona. When I walked out of the gas station, a guy said "Your front tire is flat. Oh. Your back tire is flat too." I panicked. I drove slowly over to the air compressor. Broken. I slowly drove across the street to another gas station. Air compressor: broken.

I slowly drove to the other corner of the street to what I discovered was the only mechanic in town. He was gone for the day. No sight seeing for me, amigo. Nope. Stranded in Kayenta, Arizona: home of a few motels, a hardware store, and a McDonald's.

I managed to get the car fixed the next day, but not before a few meals at McDonald's, a few too many Hot'n Spicy McChicken sandwiches, and a few too many ice cream cones.

Monument Valley is remarkably scenic and has a spiritual feeling unlike anywhere I've raced before. (HERE is my race report from last year.) The race does such a good job of incorporating the Navajo culture. Packet pickup was in a hogan!

It was hard work getting everything set up, keeping volunteers organized, and helping meet runner's needs throughout the race. There are countless hours of manpower that go on behind the scenes of any race so that runners have a good experience.

I loved spending time with old friends, and making new friends. At packet pickup I had the pleasure of talking with Pam Reed who was the first woman to ever become the overall winner of Badwater in 2002. (Just for fun, she won it the next year too.) She gave me some excellent tips and helped instill some confidence. Pam Reed has more confidence in my upcoming Badwater run than I do!

The night before the race, everyone enjoyed an amazing presentation about the Navajo culture with singing and dancing. Even race director Matt Gunn got in on the action.

The sun set at packet pickup and we got a few hours of sleep before the excitement began the next morning with the start of the race.

I had an awesome group of volunteers to help me throughout the day at the finish line. I left for a few minutes to go to the overlook of Monument Valley and was inspired to see a runner far below me in the middle of their race. You have to look closely to see the runner on the road. Seeing the picture of this runner gives some perspective into the amazing landscape runners travel through.

The race ended at 10pm while runners enjoyed the finish line festivities. Afterward we took down the finish line and tents late into the night. The race ended up going well and was a challenging but enjoyable experience.

On the way home, I made a quick stop on the Forrest Gump Highway. "That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run." ~ Forrest Gump

Monument Valley is a place unlike any other. And there remains a high likelihood that I will never eat another chicken sandwich from McDonald's.