Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Zion 100 Race Report - 2017

I don't understand this fancy thing you kids call "Twitter". It seems like it would be limiting. I mean...you can talk about how Justin Bieber's hair looks like the Grinch's fingers...but you have to do it in 140 characters or less. Although I do like how Twitter features hashtags that often tell a funny side story. #Isoundold

I just finished the Zion 100 so I thought I'd give you the race report in hashtags. #butseriously #JustinBieber'shairmightreallylooklikeGrinchfingersifitwasgreen. I've run the Zion 100 every year since it started, if you're willing to count last year where I worked at the finish line during the race so I ran it solo a few days beforehand. #somuchsleepwalking

I planned to run the whole race with my amazing friend Catherine Van Tassell. We've run countless miles together, including her first 100 miler years ago. Click on the link to see the original #ultramarathondanceparty

Shortly after the race started, I enjoyed my first stunning sunrise of the race. #crazytoseetwosunrisesinonerace

The Zion 100 doesn't gently lead you into the suffering. You get a swift kick to the groin right from the start by climbing up the Flying Monkey Trail. There was a huge line to get up a section that requires a rope. #20minutelogjam


We managed to make it up the Flying Monkey Trail, traveled along the top of Smith Mesa, then went back down the mesa the same way we came. #anotherlogjam

At the bottom of the mesa we arrived at a river crossing. The race guide said if you're careful you won't get wet. #theguidelied

Next on our To-Do list was to make the long ascent up Dalton Wash to the Guacamole Trail. The trail is challenging and technical with lots of slick rock that shreds your legs. But it has some seriously incredible views. #love/haterelationship

This is Catherine on the Guacamole Trail with Zion National Park in the background. #shoesdriedout

At mile 30 we got back to the Dalton Wash aid station. It was great to see Mel and Jackson. #familyrocks

I love my wife more than anyone on the planet. And I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all her support. Though I do question her ultra food choices just a tad. While running Badwater she bought me a gigantic burrito called The Bomb. (I passed on The Bomb because I didn't want a gastro-intestinal #nuclearattack.)

When I arrived at Dalton Wash she had a huge tuna sandwich waiting for me. I mean...there's a reason why tuna sandwiches are never served at aid stations. The place where she bought the sandwich put in TONS of onions. #Ialmostbreathedfire

A few miles later Catherine and I got to the hardest part of the course - the brutal climb up Gooseberry Mesa. The trail is vertical, climbing around 1,500 feet in less than a mile. There is always so much carnage on that climb. People barfing, people crying, people hunched over trying to coax air into their lungs. (HERE are some good pictures of the climb.) #peoplepaytodothis???

The view at the top is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. #Ididn'tcryorbarf #win!

The miles on top of Gooseberry are very challenging. The technical, rolling slickrock makes 10 miles feel like 20. Catherine caught this jumping picture of me up on the mesa. #vanhalentoldmeto

I don't remember what mile it was, maybe around 30, when Catherine said "Should my IT band be hurting this much this early in the race?" I could tell that she was struggling. Her knee was especially grumpy on the downhills. #houstonwehaveaproblem

There is this one spot on Gooseberry Mesa that is unbelievably beautiful. During each race I try to catch a runner going by this spot. (HERE is the 2015 race report where I caught a good shot.) This time I caught Catherine going by. #Ican'tthinkofacreativehashtaghere

Night approached. A few minutes after I turned on my headlamp a big moth flew into my mouth. #ittastedliketuna #mothpowered #fueledbymoths #proteindrinksareoverrated

The sunset......#ridiculous.


We had been fighting cutoffs all day and this continued into the night as well. It is an amazing adventure to run so many miles with the same person. You help them during their rough patches and they help you through yours. Mel, Jackson, and Kylee met me at the mile 53 aid station but we didn't stay long because of cutoffs. But seeing them for those couple minutes was a tremendous boost for me. #notuna

This is when my race made a huge shift. Over the next few hours in the dark, here's what happened:

1) We got lost on Grafton Mesa. We were with a few other runners and somehow got turned around. After 4 miles I said "We should have dropped off the mesa by now." Then we met up with runners coming the other way who told us we were going the wrong way.

2) The sweepers had caught up to us and we couldn't return the way we came because they had already removed the flags.

3) We were dangerously close to cutoffs. Catherine said "You have to go. I can't go faster and if you stay here you won't finish." It was such a hard decision but I decided to push ahead to make the cutoff at the next aid station.

4) I got to the aid station, then a few minutes later, Catherine arrived! She found a second life. Unfortunately when we got to the 1,500 foot descent off Gooseberry around mile 70 she knew her knee wouldn't go any farther. We gave each other a hug and I headed into the dark alone.

I sprinted as hard as I could for many miles. I had found a second life as well and I knew I'd have to push hard to finish in time. I only stopped long enough to take a picture of the sunrise. I may have had a little bit of moisture exit my eyes as I witnessed the sunrise and thought about everything I had experienced, the challenges that were still ahead, and the gratitude I felt for a body that is willing to do this kind of stuff. #justalittledirtinmyeyes.

I got to the aid station at mile 76 only 10 minutes ahead of the cutoff. My friend Jared Thorley was waiting there to pace. He has helped me through many rough points during races and seen me at my absolute worst. He knows just how to keep me moving. Every once in a while he'd offer a chunk of a Rice Krispy Treat. At first he'd be nice about it. If I refused, he got mean about it. But either way, he made sure I ate the freaking Rice Krispy Treat. #betterthantuna #betterthanmoths

I was still close to cutoffs but making up a little time. Jared didn't feed me any "you're looking good" nonsense. He just stayed far enough ahead that I had to work to keep up with him. #hatemenowlovemelater

After 33 hours and 10 minutes I saw the most beautiful sight of the whole race....the finish line! I was ecstatic that I beat the cutoff. #thatlandingisgoingtohurt

As usual, Vacation Races/Ultra Adventures put on a great race. I am SO, SO thankful for such great running sponsors. Huge thanks to St. George Running Center, Tailwind Nutrition, Altra Running, UltrAspire, and Injinji. I'm so thankful for those amazing miles I was able to spend with Catherine, and thankful for Jared helping me push to the finish. And I am so thankful for such a supportive family. Sixth Zion 100 buckle.....#blessed.

If you're interested, here is a short video clip with more pictures I took from these beautiful trails:

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Marathon Before Work Challenge!

One of my running heroes is a man named Davy Crockett in northern Utah. Many years ago I read a blog post about how he wanted to challenge himself to run a marathon before work. The idea sounded crazy and foolish and difficult…..and awesome. (I remember Davy saying that he chose to do this while his wife was out of town so she wouldn’t be able to tell him how insane it was to wake up at 1:00am and run 26.2 miles before work.)

Inspired by Davy, a few years ago I ran my first Marathon Before Work. I decided to do the Marathon Before Work Challenge again recently as part of my training for the upcoming Zion 100.

My soul cried a little bit when my alarm went off at 1:00am. I dutifully put on my shorts, shirt, and Altra Paradigms and headed out the door, passing by my house every 5-6 miles for a drink and some fuel. (“Fuel” is a code word for “M&M’s”.)

I was fortunate to enjoy a bright moon, shooting stars, and perfect weather. The early miles passed by quickly, in large part because I was still half asleep. I enjoyed watching the city slowly come to life as the sunrise approached.

I managed to finish my Marathon Before Work with just enough time to shower, grab some breakfast, then head out the door for work. Many years ago when I heard about Davy, I was intrigued by how he broke the norms of how a marathon can only be done during a race. His approach to running is unconventional. And in my mind, unconventional is awesome.

I posted a challenge on Facebook for others to complete the Marathon Before Work Challenge sometime that week. And Altra was generous enough to donate two pair of shoes for a drawing for anyone who completed the challenge. The people who decided to accept the challenge were:

Avery Frantz (check out his report on the adventure HERE.)

Britta Rottschy

Carol Manwaring and Sunny Ellsworth

Crystal Boren

Dave Stephenson

Drew Adams

Jesus Garcia-Fernandez

Kit Brazier

Scot Weaver

Scott Hughes

Shannon Haus

Sheryl McMillan

And Peter Van Horn

My daughter drew two names to win the shoes from Altra. And the winners were.....Dave Stephenson and Peter Van Horn. Congrats!! (A quick shout out to Altra - I recently picked up the Altra Escalantes from the St. George Running Center. I took them to Death Valley this past weekend and they ROCK! They are light and comfortable and fast. I predict many happy miles together in the future.)

If you want to add something new and unconventional to your running, take the Marathon Before Work Challenge yourself! (And make sure you have some Dr. Pepper or coffee ready for your work day. I promise you’re going to need it.)

Monday, March 13, 2017

5 Easy Steps Guaranteed To WIN Your Next Marathon

I used to struggle with anything beyond mediocre finishes at marathons. When I wanted to find my name in the race results, I just needed to scroll toward the bottom. But that was then. This is NOW!

I'd like to teach you my 5 Easy Steps Guaranteed To Help You Win Your Next Marathon. I have used these tips time after time, and I have won 100% of the races I have used these tools. I used them most recently the Sand Mountain Marathon last week.

1) Find a 26.2 mile run and don't invite a single soul. If you consistently run with a training partner, lie and tell them you have the flu, then go run your own 26.2. Inviting anyone else significantly decreases your odds of winning. It's no accident why this tip is ranked #1. I chose to run on some trails around Sand Mountain in southern Utah.

Follow tip #1 and you should win the marathon. The following 4 items are bonus tips to help you have more fun as you crush your (non-existent) competition and earn a podium finish:

2) Your aid station can have anything you want, so make it good! I had snacks and water in my car, then came back every 8-10 miles to restock my pack. No more of the traditional nasty Gatorade and brown bananas you typically find at marathon aid stations!

3) Don't obsess over your pace. Stop and smell the roses. This is a marathon. It's supposed to be fun for crying out loud. You should probably stop and take a jumping picture. And then when you stop in the same place a few hours later, take another one. (I'm terrified of heights. There is a ledge right to the side of me so I'm not right on the edge of a cliff like it may appear.)

4) Choose a cool route. The views at the top of the mountain are absolutely INCREDIBLE. Take, for example, THIS video by The Piano Guys which has nearly 60 MILLION views. They filmed it up here.

I made a few trips up and down the mountain taking some different trails. Cool rocks like this were strewn around.

Near the end of the marathon I ran on some trails at the base of the mountain. This is what the cliffs look like from the bottom:

5) Don't forget to tip the race photographer. (I hear he accepts Zingers and will probably just set the camera on the ground to take a staged running picture.)

Not only are the costs of race registrations like this highly economical, but you can hold your head high in victory as you stop at the gas station on the way home to buy a Dr. Pepper. Now go for it! Go run, and WIN your next marathon!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Jackpot Ultra Running Festival Race Report - 2017

My wife Mel has a love/hate relationship with running. Approximately 3% is love. And the other 97% is hate. So you can imagine my surprise when she said "Maybe I'll do the 48 hour race with you!"

Months ago I was talking with her about the Jackpot Ultra Running Festival in Las Vegas. I told her I was planning to run the 48 hour race and asked if she wanted to run too. (Jackpot has 12 hour, 24 hour, marathon, and 100 mile distances as well.) She said she wanted to come along. And she set a goal to reach 50 miles in those 48 hours. With timed races like this, you just go as many miles as you can within your time limit. No cut-offs, no DNFs, you just do what you can do.

We rented this sweet rig from Escape Camper Vans for the race because Mel said she wasn't going to run during the nights, so this would be a cozy spot to sleep. Plus, it gave people an easy opportunity to say "If this van is a rockin', don't come a knockin'." Because the stink of runners in the middle of an ultramarathon is a huge turn-on.

Jackpot is a 2.38 mile loop around Cornerstone Park, a wildlife reserve area with a 31 acre lake. There is a mix of pavement and smooth dirt trails that make it a fast course. A loop race has its challenges mentally, and some people get bored doing loops. But for me personally, I think they're pretty fun. I like getting to know fellow runners, and you're never too far away from an aid station. Given the choice, I still love trail races, but I certainly don't mind loop courses.

I spent many loops running with my friend Ed "The Jester" Ettinghausen. Ed is one of my running heroes and has always been an inspiration to challenge my limits. He has been a source of encouragement and support ever since I started running ultras.

Ed holds the World Record for the most 100+ mile races in a year (40!!). I had the pleasure of running many of those races with him. Any race where I get to share miles with Ed is a good race.

Cornerstone Park is home to many different kinds of birds. It was funny to listen to geese honking incessantly throughout the day and night. One person writing about Cornerstone Park on Yelp said "It's difficult to enjoy the scenery here when you're being swarmed by 10 pound hell beasts. Almost lost fingers." Mainly, I just wanted to add her comment because the phrase "10 pound hell beast" is really funny. I didn't 1) Get swarmed by any hell beasts, or 2) almost loose any fingers. (Disclaimer - the following picture is NOT a hell beast.)

Now let's talk about Mel for a minute. The fact that she was even out there is pretty awesome. She hasn't had the greatest experiences while running. (Take, for example, a year we ran the St. George Marathon together. The pre-race lines at the porta-potties were gigantic so many runners headed for the hills in the dark right before the race for a quick bathroom break. Mel did the same. Remember, it was dark. Well, she stepped in someone's poop. And then I won the Husband Of The Year Award for running with her for the next five hours while she smelled like poo.) She did so good at Jackpot. She didn't go fast, but she maintained a steady pace hour after hour.

I ran the Jackpot 100 miler back in 2014 and set my 100 mile PR of 22 hours, 24 minutes. I truly still can't believe that happened. But this year, knowing I'd be running for 48 hours I knew I needed to be more conservative. I just kept a manageable, steady pace, mixing in some running, some power walking, and some jumping.

The evening of the first day we got pounded with a storm more fierce than most I've ever seen. The storm system had just come across California causing some mass destruction and massive flooding. When the storm arrived over Nevada, it just parked. It relentlessly dumped rain hour after hour after hour. The storm had a name...I'm not even making this up...it was called Lucifer. LUCIFER!! It was nice to have the camper van during those times with the flooding was the worst. Strong wind actually caused the van to be "a rockin'."

While most people stayed under cover during the worst of the storm, I was so inspired by the few runners who were still out covering miles in the downpour. I was so thankful that the storm mostly broke up mid-morning on the second day. It was great to get some miles with my friend Clair Coleman whose race started Saturday. Clair was one of my crew members when I ran Badwater last year. He has seen me through some very dark times in races and I love him for it.

Sharing some soggy miles with Clair...

Saturday night something AMAZING happened. Melanie, my wife, the one who stepped in poo and isn't a huge fan of running.....hit 50 MILES!!! I am so, so proud of her. It wasn't long ago that an achievement like this would have been absolutely unfathomable for her. To celebrate, she went to get some non-aid station food. She went to a place called Raising Cane's. HOLY WOW. If eating 2,000 calories worth of friend chicken and fries in the middle of an ultramarathon is wrong, I don't want to be right.

I slept for a while on the second night, then hit the course again at 4am to take advantage of the last four hours of the race. My left knee was being a little bit of a hell beast so I wasn't running much but could keep a steady walking pace. The sunrise after 46 hours was beautiful.

After 48 hours the race was over. I made it to 111 miles which I was very happy with.  And I'm so thankful for my amazing sponsors St. George Running Center, Tailwind Nutrition, Altra, and UltrAspire. I feel very blessed.

Ken and Stephanie Rubeli with Beyond Limits Running who put on this race are exceptional. They've created such a fun running environment. I can't recommend Jackpot highly enough. It was so awesome to see Mel set a crazy goal...and then go tackle it! Really, that's what ultramarathons are all about. There is a finish line so far in the distance that you can't wrap your head around it. You're not sure how you're going to get to the finish line, except to just keep moving forward one step at a time. A crazy thing happens when you do that mile after mile, hour after hour. You find yourself standing somewhere you weren't sure you'd get to - a finish line! And it feels so, so good.