Zion 100k Ultra Marathon Race Report
Instead of blogging about this entire race experience, I’m going to just cover my drama filled final hours here and I will create my very first V-Log on YouTube sometime soon. It will cover a complete race and venue recap. Check back here for a link.
Now to recap the after dark activities starting at miles 45 ish. When the lights went out in Zion close to 9 PM I was on a wide open dirt road. EzPz for starters. My trucker chest lights illuminated the path perfectly.
There were 2 loops left to finish the race. One was eight miles long and the next one was five and a half miles. For the record, I hate running this type of course at night. I put it out of my mind but knew when the time came that I would just have to suck it up for a couple/few hours. The faster I ran during the day, the less time I would have to spend out at night. That didn’t exactly pan out the way I hoped.
Trails are marked by reflector ribbons every 20 to 50 yards. Once you see one you know you’re going the right way. If you don’t see one for a while, you’re probably off course and need to double back to the last one you saw and figure out where you went wrong. Now sprinkle in some exhaustion from running the last 15 hours in the heat plus the dropping temps in the desert at night. All of these ingredients made for quite the adventure.
The first eight mile loop was a MTB single track. The aid station crew said spotting the ribbons and staying on course wouldn’t be too difficult but I was still a bit nervous. Then he asked if my camel back was totally filled with water and if I had enough snacks on me. “You’re going to be out there for a while” was unnerving to hear.
Being that this was a mountain biking trail I just channeled my inner MTB’er and kept thinking which way I would turn if I was actually riding. This worked well but I did get increasingly nervous because there was NO ONE around. Not behind nor ahead of me. After a mile or so I got more and more comfortable and actually really started enjoying the solitude.
This trail was at the top of a Messa similar to the one you’ll see in the V-Log at the start of the race. I was never far from a 1,000 ft drop off but that didn’t scare me as all I needed to do was stay on track away from the edge.
Staying on course proved to be as easy as advertised. Running on a technical mountain bike trail is difficult, especially on legs that were approaching 50 miles of stress. I got into a walk/jog/speedwalk rhythm and started to take in the fact that I was actually going to finish my 1st 100K. I didn’t see a single soul for over two hours until a 100 mile runner passed me at around midnight I think.
After completing the loop I jogged to the next aid station and started looking for company for the last section which sounded like it was going to be much more challenging. I had no luck finding a co-sufferer. I pulled an insulated wind breaker out of my drop bag because it was getting into the 40’s and the wind was picking up too. I considered taking my extra battery pack but my phone was at 40%. With Alaska memories (mistakes) still fresh in my mind I decided not to carry any additional weight.
Spotting reflector bands and staying on course was much tougher here. Then at the one mile mark my light goes out. WT?!??! I didn’t know if it was a malfunction or dead battery. I considered going back to the last aid station to get the battery pack I left behind. I jiggled the wires and it lit up again so ahead I went. 10 minutes later it went out again! For good this time. Now I’m in the middle of nowhere and it’s pitch black outside. My phone light was useless. I immediately started getting cold due to lack of movement that generates body heat. Boy was I happy that I put on the extra layer.
There were some hundred mile racers doing this loop too. Some came by and I tried to keep up with them but that proved futile. Much respect for these athletes that can still keep an awesome pace at that distance. Then one stoped to help and he had a spare light with him. It was tiny and barely better than my phone’s light. Almost impossible to scan for reflector ribbons but I tried. After 10 minutes I was completely off trail and lost.
I called Larisa at around 2 AM and asked her to head to the start/finish area and let them know #712 needed a rescue. She was over 30 minutes away.
I continued to try and find the trail but to no avail. I finally saw some head lamps bobbing in the distance and started waving my lit phone around and yelling for help. It was really windy and we were in a forest like area so no one heard me. This went on for a good 5 to 10 minutes but felt like hours.
Finally I hear “hey…are you off trail?“. My savior had arrived. I bush waked towards his head lamp and asked if he was running or hiking and he said “both”. Yes!! I may get out of this without an embarrassing rescue. I tagged along and was elated to be able to keep up for 10 minutes. I called Larisa and told her to not send a search party and that I should be done within an hour.
What ensued was nothing short of a miracle. I’m using this poor excuse of a hiking lamp to light up the steps ahead of me on this uber technical trail while keeping an eye out for the guy’s light ahead of me. He’s doing an awesome job of staying on trail and I’m doing all I can not to trip and fall onto cactus all around.
I trip and yell out many times but manage to keep my balance. I’m cursing and panting and get the occasional “you ok?!!” but he doesn’t look back at me nor slow down. I’m so thankful for his help that I don’t ask him to and know that I can suck it up. My feet are being torn up something awful and I don’t care that I’ll probably lose all my toe nails from banging into rock after rock.
The trail became increasingly technical. Like really hard. Something that would even be tough to enjoy on a day hike unless you really wanted a challenge. I use my lame light only on a downward angle to see my next step. This prevented me from seeing a low thick branch that I wack my head into at a decent pace. This knocks me onto my back and I hear what I thought was my camel back popping.
The next “Are you OK?” actually came with a pause in forward progress. I actually felt bad that I was inconveniencing this kind soul. The miracle continued as I was able to just dust myself off and get going again. Feeling around behind me I didn’t notice any moisture so it was only air that I heard escaping the water bladder. I confirmed this by sucking out a mouthful of water, so it was working just fine.
After a while longer I was getting a bit nervous that we weren’t getting passed by any 100 milers. My “guide” agreed. So he checked some app on his phone that confirmed that we were heading in the right direction. Maybe I should have had an app?!? Hmmm. This stop and check occurred two more times because we really weren’t 100% confident we were on the right path even though the ribbons kept appearing.
Head pain and exhaustion was leading to some delirium. Every shadow off his head lamp looked ominous. “How am I not falling on my face?!?” occupied my thoughts. Along with “Good thing I still have phone battery because we’re going to need a rescue really soon”. “Is my watch still working? Why is the mileage barely increasing?” “What masochistic race organizer would leave this part for last and in the dark?!??!”
Then at exactly the 5.5 mile mark for this segment we hit the last aid station to cheers. “Great job guys!! 2 miles up the road to the finish!” were the instructions. This less stretch was uphill. Of course it was. A speed walk was the most we could muster. I never learned my savior’s name but I did thank him profusely.
At 4:30 AM I crossed the finish line. 22.5 hours after I started.
On the ride back to the hotel all my wife could think of while I told her all of the above was “Why?!?!?”. All I could think of was how fortunate I was to toe the line with hundreds of others that all came out for their own personal “Why’s”.
I didn’t think I would have a glamorous performance by any account but reaching a new milestone of completing a 100k Ultra for the first time felt incredibly rewarding. I love proving Anything Is Possible. That is my “Why?”.
In addition to incredible memories, my souvenirs included a finisher’s medal and several whopping blisters. Sterilizing a needle, draining them, and applying antibiotic cream and bandages for the next few days fixed up my feet. Kind of. Surprisingly no lost toenails (yet) that ultra runners wear as badges of honor.
|TMI ?? Sorry!|
This concludes the first of several goals for this year. Next up is the Ironman World Championship in Kona Hawaii in October. Training for this will include a June pit stop at Ironman 70.3 in Coeur d’Alene Idaho.
|Thank you Larisa for your endless support!!|
|Cheers to everyone that follows my crazy adventures along!!|