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".