Thursday, May 17, 2012

Zion 100

There is so much to write about for this race and in such a busy schedule it's hard to find the time and energy to do this race justice with a complete and well thought out report.  With that caveat, I'm going to do the best I can and apologize for what will probably be somewhat disorganized.  I'll start off with logistics which, as expected, is turning out to be a huge part of this challenge.  

Logistics:  We flew from GA to Las Vegas where we had parked the RV for 8 days arriving just at midnight Thursday morning.  I drove for an hour or so and parked just off the freeway on the way to Virgin UT and the site of the race start.  After a few hours of sleep and some coffee we continued the drive arriving at the Virgin town park in the early afternoon after a grocery stop for supplies.  Post race we had two days to drive the 600+ miles to Denver to catch a 6am Tuesday flight back to Atlanta.  I'm glad we had two days because this race took it out of both of us, though Liz took the hardest hit.  We are now back in Atlanta for the next month with weekend plane trips scheduled for Keys this weekend, Nanny Goat's next weekend, and Old Dominion the following weekend.  A busy month to be sure.

Pre-race:  Looking at the website I anticipated a well organized and well thought out event.   Seeing the supplies and work being done at the park supported this.  I chatted some with RD Matt Gunn's wife Danica and mother Chris shortly after we arrived and learned that this race was to be a family affair though many friends and locals would also be key in the execution of the race.  Chris told me that she had 5 sons and one daughter and that all would be there to support Matt and us racers.  She is a sweet person and was interested in everyone's story and eager to help in any way she could.

Packet pickup was easy and the race briefing was a typed sheet with bullet points of last minute details thought there was a short briefing again in the morning just before we took off.  It was easy to see how pre-occupied Matt was with all the work and all the details that he was attending to in putting on this first time event.  Any first time 100 would be a huge undertaking but this race was an even bigger task than most with the course utilizing very little repeat course sections.  There was also the unseasonable heat and need to be sure there was adequate water in some very remote areas of the desert.  There was course marking which Matt did largely on his own, I was told.  On top of all this were all the little extras such as on course gorillas and a post race party with live music, catered dinner and a dunking tank!

I think Matt aged several years this past month despite all the help of family and friends.  Matt, your work is appreciated and though there were some hiccups during the race, your work and efforts paid off  with a great event.  I'm sure it will grow and become quite popular though I don't think it a "good first time 100 miler" race.  The challenges of the course and the possibility of hot weather like we had provided a challenge even to the veterans.

Race:  My description of the course will be pretty brief but for more detail and some cool pictures you might want to check out winner Jay Aldous' report or Manners' report.  After a few miles through the at this point cool desert we came to the Flying Monkey climb up onto Smith Mesa.  The name comes from a military ejection seat testing program that used monkeys as test subjects on or near this cliff.  Looking at the cliff as we approached it was difficult to tell exactly where we would go.  It just looked to steep from afar but the actual climb wasn't that bad though there was definitely some exposure.  I should mention that the course is roughly a figure of 8 course with the first, shorter loop, mostly on Smith Mesa and the second loop mostly on another mesa called Gooseberry Mesa.

Once on the mesa we had some nice gravel road running that continued on to AS2 at mile point 18.5.  There were some stunning views that I wish I had pics of as we were running in the direction of Zion National Park with it's towering sandstone wall.  The wind was whipping here keeping things nice and cool but it was blowing so hard that there were intermittent dust clouds blown along the road most of the way.  From AS2 we dropped off the road and into the ropes course.  It wasn't really that bad but the ropes really were needed to stop some serious butt sliding.  Once at the base of the ropes it was a very technical 1/2 mile or so of newly minted trail that ever so gradually turned into some nice singletrack.  

The track was nice but this turned out to be one of the hottest sections of the course for me due to the fact that we were in a canyon where the air wasn't moving and the sun was working with the canyon to produce a quite effective convection oven.  This long 8 mile stretch ended at AS3 and the start of a nice 4 mile downhill road section and then another trek across the low elevation desert to the next aid station which was right on the road which goes into town.  There were lots of people, a weigh in, cold drinks and electrolyte slushies, and a portable shower which I used to douse myself to cool off.  

For the first time in the heat in a running race I was wearing a long sleeve white technical shirt.  I wasn't sure how this would work for me but the verdict is positive and I'll be using it again this weekend at Keys.  The one issue that I didn't forsee is that the loose fitting shirt moved around a lot and I ended up with some irritated man nipples.  I tried covering them with some medical type tape but that didn't stay on very long with all of my sweating so at the next aid station I found some duct tape.  Now that stayed on! though it wasn't that fun taking it off after the finish....

After the busy road aid station we had a nice section of slightly uphill single track to another aid station and then a bunch of gravel/dirt road that took us past another aid station called the Virgin Desert AS (Matt's mom Chris was in charge here - thanks Chris!)  A couple of miles past this was a manned water only stop at the base of the gnarly and steep climb up onto Gooseberry Mesa.  It was about 6pm here and exposed to the sun but not as hot as I had feared.  I put it into my short-stepped granny gear and just plowed on up.  I didn't feel as if I had pushed too hard here but it was at this point that my stomach started to feel a little edgy.

After the mini AS at the top I started off across the mesa walking for a mile or two trying to let my stomach settle and to try to catch up some on fluid intake.  I was walking here with Janet an interesting woman from San Francisco starting schooling to become a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner.  We eventually started shuffling and soon reached the Gooseberry AS which had a 1 mile round trip out and back to a scenic vista.  Leaving Gooseberry was mile 52.5 with a 10 mile stretch to the next aid.  I picked up my light here but forgot my Nutella tortilla!  Oh well, late in these races I don't eat much anyway and I had a couple of emergency gels on me in case of bonking.  

I ended up leaving this AS with Liz and a Tucson runner by the name of Ken Greco.  Liz and I walked a short while talking about the day and then I eventually pulled ahead running with Ken for the next 6 miles or so.  It turns out that Liz was just behind us as she said she could see our lights for much of this section.  At one point I stopped to empty my shoes of sand and Ken pulled ahead.  A few people passed me as I sat but once moving again I repassed them and reached the AS at 62.5 after much zigging and zagging around the edge of the mesa.  At one point 5 miles or so out we could actually see the AS a mile or so away!  It seemed this section would never end.  It wasn't hard so much as just slow with all the up and down and back and forth and routefinding.  Here's a video of part of this section of the course.

Though I had no trouble with route finding here many others did have a LOT of trouble with this section including both Ken and Liz.  I'll talk more about their troubles later.  After aid at 62.5 there was a section of nice smooth gravel road to 77 miles.  The sleep monster hit here despite the cold air.  I stopped for a total of 30+ minutes trying to fight off the monster.  Finally I reached 77 miles and my warm clothes and gloves but found myself on the steep descent off the mesa just 100 yards past the AS.  So after a couple of hours of being a bit chilly fantasizing about my wind jacket and gloves only minutes after I got them I was taking them off and carrying them!  Doh!  Should have studied the map and route description.  Though many people had trouble with the course markings up on Gooseberry Mesa I didn't really have any issues until this section.  There was a section through a golf course especially that had almost no markers.  I did run into some guys that were out to beef up the course markers though and told them where I had trouble and where to direct their efforts.  In the end I probably lost about 10 minutes trying to figure out where to go but many others lost HOURS.

There was a bunch more desert dirt roads and singletrack as the new day lightened and a nice long downhill into the Hurricane View AS at 90 miles.  At this point I had been running on blisters for about 20 miles which has become a new tradition for me since Labor of Love.  I need to figure out how to avoid this!  I'm not used to blisters and don't like them.  Anyway, up to this point it had not gotten too hot but as I left this AS and started up a long hill on desert singletrack it started to heat up.  It was supposed to be 5 miles to the final AS but it seemed much longer.  The final section from this aid station started with a very sweet slightly downhill singletrack section along some canyon edges.  I was enduring the blisters and moving well but about 2 miles out the blister on my left foot extended or something and shut me down!  Wow did that hurt.  When my blisters get bad I usually pop them and they hurt worse but as I run on them it eases off.  This seemed even worse though.  I took my shoe off and tried draining it but nothing came out.  Oh well, best just get on with it.  I limped for quite a ways gritting my teeth and there may have been some profanity but eventually it did ease off and I was able to make slow but steady progress to the end.

I finished just before 11am, 28 hours and 48 minutes after starting.  It was really starting to get hot.  The temps may have been a bit lower than Friday but the air was not moving nearly as much.  It felt much worse though part of it may have been from fatigue.  Whatever the explanation my heart went out to those still out there running.  I had seen neither Liz nor Ken and very few other runners since being up on Gooseberry.  My feet were killing me but my legs really didn't feel all that bad.  I sat down and let people bring me drinks.  I don't think I got up off that chair for at least 30 minutes.  And as I sat in that chair I started to hear the stories.  There were two main themes.  First, many people were saying "I never get blisters, but I sure have them now."  And the second theme had to do with people getting lost on Gooseberry between miles 52 and 62.  Most worrying for me was when Hector Aleman told me that he had been with Liz in that section and that she had been lost there for SEVEN hours!  Yikes.  I really started to worry about her.

I followed her progress with the radio operators and drove out to meet her at the trailhead a couple of miles from the finish with water, sunscreen and chafe cream.  As I drove out there I barely missed catching Matt Gunn racing up the trail with a water bottle in hand.  It turned out that Ken Greco had called 911 while on the trail after the last AS.  He turned out to be okay and even finished with seconds to spare though Matt said he had to chaperone him along the trail where it came close to dropoffs because he was staggering.  Liz looked terrible.  Like a zombie.  She refused any aid but reported that she had been vomiting for the last 6+ miles.  I returned to the finish to wait for her.  I would have walked in with her but my feet were hamburger.

Liz:  Liz finished in 35:34 and looked worse than I had ever seen her before.  She even vomited after sitting down and that was the first time I had ever seen her vomit in our 6 years together.  

Liz minutes after finishing.
Liz's burst of speed at the end.
Her story as I've gathered it is epic.  As I said she had been running not too far behind Ken and I but I had to stop to take off my shoes and Ken got ahead.  I ran on without problems but as Liz moved down the trail she suddenly came upon Ken running down the trail towards her.  (This was a common theme in the "Gooseberry stories.")  I'm not clear on the details and neither is Liz but the next several hours included wandering and wandering, completing most of that 10 mile section at least twice, finding themselves back at the 52 mile AS and another episode that knocked my socks off.  Apparently at one point with frustration mounting and desperation entering the equation, Ken said that there was supposed to be red lighted balloons above the aid station.  (The preprinted map and description which Ken was carrying said there would be such balloons but they never did get put up.)  Looking off in the distance Ken saw red lights and convinced Liz that those lights must be the balloons at the aid station.  (In fact, they were far distant lights on a radio tower.)  The two then started off on a cross country trek towards the "balloons".  This was a very bad decision in this country.  The mesa is riddled with canyons and washouts and they were bushwhacking in and out of them occasionally coming to canyons too steep and deep which they had to go around.  They were now hopelessly lost.  Eventually Liz realized this was not working and found low stars to take a bearing and move in that direction.  But before they came to a trail, while taking a short break Ken did a remarkable thing.

This shows not only how lost they felt but what kind soul Ken is.  They had passed a water only station midway between 52 and 62 but were very low on water not to mention food.  Ken had a large hip belt and at this rest stop he emptied the pack and divided his food (a number of gels) into two piles offering one pile to Liz.  Amazing.  Liz, who always goes light, had run out of food thinking she only had 10 miles to go.  She did take one gel from this generous man.  Eventually they did find a trail but still had trouble figuring out where the course went.  Imagine how frustrating it would be to wander and work so hard out there and have so many miles under your belt and find yourself back where you had started!  If you read Manners' race report linked above he describes a bunch of people wandering and huddling together here.  The relevant section is near the end in the long unbroken paragraph.  I know that Lynette McDougal also got very lost here but I would imagine that most people besides these three stubborn souls decided to quit after so much strife.  But these three struggled on finishing in the final hours and final minutes of the race.

As I said before, Liz looked terrible after the race.  She passed out in her chair and could not eat or drink a thing.  It's too bad she felt so bad and couldn't take part in the post race chatting and party with the live music and catered BBQ.  But as the night wore on and the next two days of driving to Denver went on I became more and more worried.  Liz was having a very hard time eating or even drinking.  I believe that most people would have taken themselves to the hospital but I could not force her.  Though she wasn't peeing that often she was putting out a decent volume and the color was not that bad so her kidney's were working.  The biggest problem was her stomach and some very worrying chest pain.  If you really know Liz you know how stubborn she is and there was no amount of nagging on my part that would get her to go to the ER.

The chest pain and stomach pain got worse then better as the days went on but she was eating hardly anything.  She looked totally drawn and her skin was tenting badly showing extreme dehydration despite her getting a decent amount of fluids down.  Some salty french fries seemed to help but she ate very little in the 3 days after the race and when she did manage to get a bit down it sat on her stomach for as long as 6-8 hours.  When we got home on Tuesday and she got on the scale she was down 13 lbs from before we left for the race!  This was now almost 3 days after the finish of the race.  This was not good.  Finally I suggested drinking some chicken broth and this seemed to make a difference and she has been able to eat and drink better though her stomach is still very much not right here less than a day and a half before Keys.

This whole episode is scary and it's especially scary because I know how tough and how stubborn Liz is.  I hope she doesn't push too hard and hurt herself.  Anyone who thinks doing all these races is easy is mistaken!  It takes a toll.  I still believe that we can reach our goal but it's going to take all of our focus and determination to come through it whole.  I'm not normally so dramatic but this episode at Zion shows the dangers.

Wrapping it up:  Though I've focused a lot on the trail marking difficulties on Gooseberry I need to make it clear that Matt Gunn and all his friends and family did a fantastic job putting on this race.  There was so much that worked so well.  There was plenty of water on the course between aid stations and the electrolyte slushies were delicious and refreshing.  There was an abundance of food at the aid stations though more cooked "real" food would be even better though I realize the difficulties of cooking and keeping food warm when stations are open for 15 or more hours.  As the race grows there may be room for more variety.  The post race party was amazing with free beer, the BBG, live music, the dunking tank, and the slingshot that was used to launch draw prizes into the crowd.

At so many races these days, especially the new ones, people show up, run the race and then leave.  I absolutely love being able to sit around and chat and cheer in the runners, at least when I'm not the last runner! : )  Doing all these races we've made so many new friends.  I'm going to mention some and probably forget to mention others but some of the people we've seen at multiple races include Claude Hicks (good luck at Badwater buddy!), Mike Smith, Yoshiko Jo & Jackie Ong, Dennis Ahern and Ed Ettinghausen.  I'm sure the network will grow as the year goes on!

Thanks again to Matt, the extended Gunn family, and all the other very very excellent volunteers!  You all did a great job and are all much appreciated!

Race count:  Liz (13)  Scott (8)


  1. What a wonderful report. My heart goes out to Liz and the others that had problems following the course. As always . . . congratulations to ever singke person that started the race!!

  2. I'm sure there are others but I must mention Lynette McDougal who we ran with at both Salt Flats and ZIon. We issed the fairy skirt at Zion tho! : )

  3. My God, that was some ordeal with Liz! Thank heaven she had made it ok, and now finally eating some more. Scary to get lost like that out of nowhere. Scott, I really enjoy your honest run-down on races in general and all the info with bullet points on new ones. Very helpful when making decisions. Congrats to both of you.

  4. Scott, it was great meeting you and Liz at the OD. I wish you both continued success in your 100 mile race endeavors. I just hope that it doesn't get as scary as this on did. Liz did look like she was beat at the end of this one. I don't know how you were both able to run the OD; congrats to you both on that. Looking forward to your next race report.

    AJ Johnson

  5. Thanks for all the kind words. We're both definitely feeling the strain but still healthy and on track. Th
    E human body is an incredible, durable and resilient thing. Good to meet you AJ. Cheers!