Thanks for visiting my blog. This is where I document and share all of my running adventures with my friends and fellow runners. The good, the bad, and the unquestionably painful. All for your entertainment! Enjoy!


Sunday, April 6, 2014

2014 Zion 100: Bouncing Back From the Dead

"Curiosity is gluttony. To see is to devour."- Victor Hugo

Gluttony. A term that is largely tied to habitual overeating, but that's largely because we're a nation of habitual over eaters. Gluttony can apply to many things.

The Glutton, Ready to Race

I had a shakeup in my (very well planned) race schedule when I was asked to run the Pickled Feet 24 Hour race. I desperately wanted to run the 24 hour event but it smacked right up against the Zion 100, which is a personal favorite. The only solution was to run them both.

I had run back to back 100 milers in the past (once), so there was precedence here. Not entirely new territory. I had some small measure of confidence. Not much...but some.

I had set the modest expectation of a sub 24 hour finish. That sounded easy enough. I knew the course well from my previous races and I had a much faster finish there the year before. I had a solid, reasonable plan.

After logging 130 miles at the Pickled Feet 24 Hour race, I rested some. I logged some miles during the week. I tested my body and assessed my readiness for running 100 miles, and I felt like I was prepared.

I wasn't. It didn't matter. I was running the Zion 100 no matter what.

Start of the Zion 100

When the race started, I found myself running with a friend, Danny Widerburg. We fell into discussion as easily as our feet fell into a synchronized rhythm. We chatted as we approached the climb up Flying Monkey. I was happy to have the company because it kept my mind off the upcoming climb, which is my least favorite ascent on the course. But like death and taxes, this climb couldn't be avoided and we eventually began the ascent. 

Danny, Giving the Monkey a Solid Spanking

Danny and I laughed and joked our way to the top of this ugly climb. Our banter mostly consisted of typical juvenile bathroom humor, which most certainly impressed the nearby runners in our endless conga line. None of the other runners joined our banter and I like to think it's because we had them paralyzed with our comedy routine.

We really are amazingly funny people.

After finishing the Flying Monkey ascent, we ran across the top of Smith Mesa and began a daunting downhill run on a well groomed dirt road. This dirt road led us to a poorly groomed paved road. We proceeded to crush our quads with a brisk pace and lack of long term thinking.

I was forced to take a quick pit stop on the way down, thus leading to the culmination of the Danny and Kelly Show, much to the detriment of many nearby runners, I'm sure.

Crossing the Highway, Heading to Sheeps Bridge Aid Station

Sheeps Bridge Aid Station comes at mile 14. I was happy to see my amazing wife, get some fuel in my belly and head out to the JEM Trail for some winding single track. I was in and out quickly.

Sheeps Bridge Aid Station

The JEM Trail is a twisting mess of rocky single track that mostly follows the Virgin River. I've always enjoyed running this section of the race and this time was no different. Initially, anyway.

After a couple of miles into the JEM, my legs began to stiffen up. My feet got heavy. My turnover pretty much stopped turning over.

16 miles into the race and I was already falling apart. I expected this to happen, but not at mile 16.

I shuffled down the trail, falling into a funk and cussing at myself for trying to run these races back to back. A body needs rest and I was failing to allow that to happen.

I realized there was no possible way I could finish this race. I accepted my fate.

Virgin River Along the JEM

I made plans to drop at the Virgin Dam Aid Station at mile 23. I even began mentally drafting my race report, creatively crafting a story about my eyes being bigger than my stomach. An epic crash and burn tale for people to learn from.

It sounded pretty good too. I like to think it would have been a popular blog post.

Our Friend Cherri Coming into Virgin Dam Aid Station

Me Pretending to Run into Virgin Dam Aid Station

I told Jo I was going to have to DNF and I headed for the truck, eager for a ride back to the hotel for a shower and a meal.

I sat in the backseat, popped my cooler open and drank a beer, trying to wash the self pity away. I explained my situation to Jo and she listened intently. When I was done talking, she told me I wasn't allowed to DNF at Virgin Dam. If I wanted to drop, I needed to do it from the top of Gooseberry Mesa.

GOOSEBERRY MESA?!?! That's one of the NASTIEST climbs on the course! I was content to drop closer to sea level!

She was throwing down a challenge and I recognized it right away. She had no sympathy because she knew I was just being a baby. She wasn't going to tolerate it.

I Can SMELL the Self Pity Clinging to My Clothes

Defiantly, in the way a 3 year old is defiant, I grabbed my crap and began heading toward Gooseberry Mesa.

With a beer in hand and a bad attitude, I recruited a buddy, Matt Hagen, to run with me to Gooseberry Mesa. Matt is a great guy with a big smile, a warm heart and stellar attitude. Because of these traits, I forced him to listen to my whining for the next 7 miles.

Me and Matt Getting Ready to Begin My Pity Parade

My Dramatic and Pathetic Exit From the Aid Station

Running with Matt did a lot to help me sort things out mentally, but it did nothing to help me overcome the physical problems. My body was just exhausted and there didn't seem to be a solution that somehow involved running a 100 mile trail race. 

The biggest issue was the fatigue in my calves and hamstrings. These muscle groups are particularly important for hill climbing. When Matt and I reached the base of the Gooseberry Mesa ascent, I encouraged him to go on ahead because I knew the climb was going to be slow and painful. Matt reluctantly agreed, and I was alone again. Or nearly alone. I had my self pity to keep me company.

Starting the Gooseberry Climb

The climb is exactly how I remembered it. It sucked. Every single step was an annoying and painful reminder of why I wanted to drop back at Virgin Dam.

The Final Steps Up Gooseberry

When I arrived at the Goosebump Aid Station, I was fully prepared to drop from the race. I was 31 miles in and I didn't see any reason to go any further.

Jo refused to let me drop. She insisted that I run the slick rock section of the Gooseberry Mesa and then consider my dishonorable exit from the race when I was finished.

I kinda saw that coming. No need to argue about it. I loaded back up and got ready to go down the trail.

Chatting With Hammer Nutrition Teammate, John Fitzgerald Before Heading Out

Gooseberry Mesa Single Track

As I ran the slick rock, my mood lightened and so did my legs. I seemed to be slowly pulling myself out of my funk, but I was skeptical that it would last. I just tried to focus on enjoying the race for as long as I could and I tried to push the negative thoughts from my mind.

View From Gooseberry

I made good time on the Gooseberry loop and found myself back at the Goosebump aid station sooner than I had expected. This time, I didn't even bother to mention dropping. I refreshed my gear, downed some Hammer Nutrition gel, and headed down the dirt road leading to the Grafton Aid Station, a mere 6 miles away.

I came into Grafton at mile 49 in about 11 hours. That's painfully slow for me, but it was the best I had to offer. Annoyed by my slow time and focused on taking advantage of my mild rejuvenation, I was in and out of the Grafton Aid Station quickly.

The next section was a fast 5 mile loop that would bring me right back to Grafton. I ran that trail like I was angry with it.

Cactus in Bloom on Grafton Mesa

Coming back into Grafton, I loaded up and got ready for night running. I took my larger pack, some extra layers and my headlamp. I also changed into a pair of tights because I was expecting slow running and cold temperatures.

I was off like a herd of turtles!

Grafton Mesa Aid Station

Before I could leave the aid station, our friend, Jennilyn Eaton, FORCED me to stop running so she could make a video of me dancing. DANCING! I don't dance. I explained my lack of interest, but she was insistent. I danced. On camera. It's a good thing my mood was improving, otherwise, it's really hard to say what the status of our relationship would be today.

Jo and Karen Skaggs Waiting on Their Men at Grafton

Matt Hagen at Grafton, Having a Great Race

I ran off the mesa, headed toward Eagle Crags. This is a 14 mile loop, which brings me back to the Grafton Aid Station for a final time.

I ran the descent well and was really beginning to feel good. I hit the bottom of the hill and ran every step to the climb up Eagle Crags. My uphill hike was speedy and felt good. I made a fast turn at the Eagle Crags Aid Station and headed back toward Grafton Mesa.

I passed several runners along the way. I was getting small pieces of my confidence back.

The climb back up Grafton Mesa was daunting and some of the pain began to return to my legs, but before it became unbearable, I was on top of the mesa. I walked for a few hundred yards and allowed my legs to settle down before running again.

This was when I actually believed I could finish the race. I had 4 of the 5 major climbs out of the way. This could happen. Not fast, but I would be happy with any finish. Sub 24 seemed totally impossible, so I prepared myself for a daylight finish in the 25-26 hour range.

Jennilyn Eaton Posing With a Mystery Animal Oddity at Grafton (What goes on at aid stations while I'm out running?) 

It was fully dark now and getting cold. The dropping temperatures helped me to stay focused on moving quickly enough to stay warm. Freezing to death is a great motivator.

I ran the 6 miles of dirt road leading back to the Goosebump Aid Station. I saw some headlamps in the distance, but I ran this entire section alone.

I reached Goosebump at mile 74, saw Jo, made a brief stop at the aid station and bombed down the 1200' drop. This is best described as a "somewhat controlled free fall". I was skidding and bouncing my way off the mesa. I was passing nameless, faceless runners, apologizing for the dust I was kicking up. The descent was a total blur.

Once I landed at the bottom of the mesa, I ran/walked/slogged my way through 5 miles of rolling desert floor, ran down the shoulder of the state highway and crossed over to Dalton Wash Road where my lovely bride was waiting.

We changed headlamps, restocked my pack with Hammer gels and I headed up the final major climb of the race to the Guacamole slick rock loop.

The climb actually went quickly. This is a 4 mile dirt road that stair steps its way to the top of the mesa. I ran the flats and hiked the hills. I only saw one runner heading back down, which made me wonder if I hadn't climbed toward the front more than I realized.

I entered the Guacamole aid station, drank a cup of cold water and headed for the slick rock loop. I would later hear some grumbling about the course markings in this section and hear stories of people getting lost, but for me, it was a flawless run. I've run this section in daylight hours, so there may have been an advantage in that, but I had no issues finding my way and doing it quickly.

What I DID have issues with was hallucinations. I rarely hallucinate, and when I do, it's brought on by total mental fatigue. My hallucinations are always terrible. The kinds of things that force you to lose sleep.

THIS! This is What Visits Me When I Hallucinate. Every. Single. Time.

I could see the bobbing headlamps of runners that had wandered off course. I could hear a few voices. Frustrated and confused. Some knew they were lost, others were just wandering in tight circles, unaware they were lost. I know I gained several spots due to the confusion, but I have no idea how so many people were up there wandering on the slick rock.

I blew back through the Guacamole Aid Station and made a screaming descent toward the valley floor. I ran every step, gaining several more spots along the way. I covered that 4 mile section is 38 minutes and was surprised that my worn out legs could hold that pace.

I saw a glimmer of hope that a sub 24 hour finish MIGHT be possible.

I met Jo back at the bottom of Dalton Wash Road at mile 95. I had a little over an hour to make it to the finish line in under 24 hours. Running 5 miles, in my condition, in that amount of time seemed completely impossible. I accepted my fate and loaded up on a few more supplies then headed down the trail.

This last 5 mile section starts with a soul crushing climb on loose sand and rock. I scrambled, cursed and kicked rocks to the top. I was scooting down the trail with conviction once it leveled off. The end was near and I was trying to find it as fast as I could.

The trail twists and turns its way through the desert, frequently disappearing except for a few flags marking where a trail would be if somebody had built it. This was makeshift bushwhacking at its finest.

I came to a river crossing and paused before barreling across it. This is the only water crossing on the course and I wanted to keep my feet dry if possible.

As I was scanning the river for a way across, I heard a loud rustling in the brush. It was so loud, I assumed it was a deer coming down for a drink of water. I shined my headlamp around, looking for the animal and I found nothing. As I began to turn my head back to the water crossing, my headlamp revealed the animal. A SKUNK only a few feet away!


The skunk was oblivious of my presence until the beam of my headlamp hit him. This is when he wheeled around, lifted his tail and peered at me between his legs, taking careful aim right at my EYE!

My feet got pretty wet as I pushed a 4 minute pace across the river. Once I was safely across, I glanced back to watch the skunk prance off, thinking himself victorious. What a dick!

After a few more twists and turns, my feet struck pavement. I knew exactly where I was. I was close. I opened up and left everything I had out on the course, in pursuit of the best possible finish.

I rounded the final corner, saw the finish line and scooted across in 23:43:41!! I had run those final miles at a 9:20 pace. I was elated to break 24 hours in a race that I had been trying to DNF for almost 80 miles.

Greeted by Friends at the Finish

Each Zion 100 buckle is hand made and is entirely unique. Getting to choose my buckle is a pretty cool part of this race. I poured over a huge pile of buckles until I found the one that had been made especially for me.

My Latest Buckle

Sitting at the finish line, in front of the fire with good friends and a great wife was the perfect way to wrap up my race. I was warm, I was smiling and I was content. I couldn't ask for any more at that moment.

I can't properly express how thankful I am that my wife refused to let me drop from the race. She's more than just a world class crew chief, she's my other half and she often knows me better than I know myself. If I had been in any kind of danger, she would have pulled me from the race herself. She knew I was just being a drama queen, so she poked and prodded me to the finish. For that, I am eternally thankful.

Thanks again to all my sponsors, especially Hammer Nutrition. It was quality fueling that eventually pulled me through and helped me bounce back. I would have suffered dearly, or dropped from the race without their endurance fuels.

One last piece of business...I raced in the Altra Olympus at the Pickled Feet 24 Hour Race and I put 130.13 miles on those shoes. I wore them again for 100 miles at the Zion 100 one week later. I put more than 230 miles on these shoes in 7 days and I have a few things to say about them. I'll be drafting a comprehensive review of these shoes in a few days and will share it here in my blog for those that are interested. I'm no Altra historian, but I would be hard pressed to believe that anybody else has ever logged 230 miles on the Olympus so quickly, especially after having almost no experience with Altra's OR maximalist shoes. It has been an interesting experiment.

Altra Olympus

Jo and I are headed to the Boston Marathon in two weeks for what I hope will be my final road marathon. I hope to see some of you there.

Thanks for reading and happy trails!