“I always want to do my best. You know, all you have is this year so you might as well make it the best you’ve got.” – Zach Miller from the short film Mont Blanc – CCC UTMB 2015
Race: Zion 100
Distance: 100K (~62 miles)
Date: April 8th, 2016
Back in January I decided that the Zion 100K was going to be one of my focus races this year and have had it in my mind during every race, hill rep, sandy mile and easy run. Scoping out the competition in the week leading up to the event Ultra Signup had me slotted 11th with an estimated time around 12 hours.
I arrived mid-day on Thursday, took a quick nap in my car and then helped Tana get the video timing system set up, arranged the Zero Waste and EcoCommode systems with Tony and chatted with runners from all over the country and the globe at the map table, going over the course and crew locations along with fellow ambassador Adrian. My parents were down to help crew and then explore Zion after the race so I spent a luxurious night with them at the hotel before race day.
At 5:15 am we are loading onto the shuttle to the start line and the conditions are perfect – 60 degrees and overcast. After some nervous milling at the start line Matt says go and we are off in an illuminated dust cloud, rolling across the desert towards the course marshall’s headlamp way up on the Flying Monkey climb. I found myself in the top 15 runners to avoid bottlenecking on the slow, technical climb, but there were still a few spots that I ended up moving at a slower pace than I wanted – though it was probably a smarter pace. The first mesa loop went by quickly and I fell into my own rhythm allowing some people to pass. I felt fast and fresh bombing down the Flying Monkey trail (scored the KOM on Strava) and caught up to Sam Reed and Jeff Hunter. We made it across the creek with dry feet and rolled into Dalton Wash aid station together.
A quick bottle swap and light drop with my crew at Dalton (20 min ahead of schedule because mileage was almost 3 mi shorter than expected). I cruised up Dalton Wash road while chatting with Jeff, holding back a bit, but moving faster than expected. Sam moved ahead of me and shortly thereafter Chuck Radford flew by me a couple miles up the road. After a quick fill up at Guacamole AS Jeff and I rolled across the slickrock and caught up to Sam and Chuck after a couple miles of slickrock and then we navigated the six mile loop together in a pack doing about 10 min/mile pace, keeping each other on course looking for markers. On the return I saw some buddies Ben and John Paul and we exchanged power-boosting high fives.
Back down Dalton Wash road Chuck took off again and was out of sight in minutes. I held back knowing I needed to save my legs for Cry Baby Hill. Rolled up to Dalton Wash #2 right on schedule, swapped my parents for my pre-loaded vest, jammed the tunes for the first time and headed out across the desert to the distant Gooseberry Mesa and the notoriously steep hill. Sam Reed kept an even speed to Gooseberry on his way to a perfectly paced (negative split 18 hour 2nd OA finish), and I started to push it a bit. About 1/4 of the way up the hill I saw a 100K runner that I didn’t even know was ahead of me just sitting on a rock, staring off into the distance, bonking out of his mind. I checked to make sure he was good and kept charging. I saw Chuck about 2 minutes ahead of me on the climb and set a goal to catch him by the top. On the flat traverse I met him and we came into the Goosebump aid at the same time. I introduced myself while chugging some Coke, we shook hands, and then headed off on the North Rim of Gooseberry. Chuck was right behind me every time I looked but never passed so we traveled together all the way to the Gooseberry Point AS. The short out and back was a little tricky to follow but we made it out, punched our bibs, I took a moment to dump rocks out of my shoes and enjoy the view and then it was back to the aid station. I slammed 1/2 a Coke, filled my bottles and was out in less than a minute. I pushed the pace for about 10 minutes and looked back surprised not to see Chuck following. I knew he would blaze the last 10 miles of downhill/rolling dirt so I picked up the pace to try and put some distance between us on the technical South Rim. I caught one 100M runner who was relieved to see that I was in the 100K, passed a bunch of bikers and found myself remembering all of the features on the trail from MTB adventures in the past. The race deviates about 1/2 way from the heinously technical double black trail to mild slickrock and then finally heads downhill on buttery smooth dirt road. I scored some ~8 min pace mileage and reeled in the Windmill in the distance that I knew was near the aid station.
Back at the aid station I asked where I was and they could only tell me top 5, which I already knew. As I dropped down Cry Baby hill my quads were surprisingly fresh and only .25 mile down I met John Paul again and he had a huge smile on. He high-fived me, told me I was in third and I bolted down Cry Baby Hill clocking around 220 rpm cadence to stay on my feet. With one aid station between me and the finish it seemed so close, but it was a long haul between those stations (8 and 9 miles respectively). I had not scouted the section from Cry Baby to Virgin Desert aid and it looked generally downhill and flat from what I remembered on the profile. Whammy, I was wrong. The steep, rolling, dusty double track was unrelenting and I was constantly setting mini-goals of running to this point, or to the top of the next hill, or around the corner. The distant foothills finally arrived and the last couple miles to the aid station were actually downhill and fast. At this point I figured Chuck would catch me at any moment with his demonstrably fast downhill turnover and I was looking over my shoulder every minute or so trying to spot him.
I rolled into the Virgin Desert aid station at mile 55 right on my pacing schedule, met my parents (complete with my dad playing the Jurassic Park Theme on trumpet) and saw Turtle helping to set up the aid station. The volunteers where talking about some runners getting lost on Gooseberry and asked if I had. I responded that I hadn’t but they didn’t know if the lost runners were ahead of me or behind so I had to assume Chuck would be coming around the corner any minute. Turtle reminded me that I was in 3rd, wouldn’t catch 2nd since he was 15-20 minutes ahead and that I also had no business staying in this aid station if I wanted to stay in 3rd. I slammed 1/2 coke, caffeine Honey Stinger chews, grabbed new bottles from my crew and took off like a wild animal being chased.
The final 10 miles were a mixture of amazing downhill singletrack along the cliff’s edge on a tributary to the Virgin river, and then cow pattie adorned ATV double track with more steep and undulating terrain.
Once I was parallel with the Flying Monkey again and the foothills just above the finish line were identifiable I resolved to run every step of the way and visualized my legs as machinery when they screamed to power hike the remaining hills.
I was still looking over my shoulder expecting Chuck to be closing in any moment but I still saw no-one. When I could see the cottonwoods in the valley below I knew I was close and crossing Kolob Reservoir Road I could hear people below cheering so I emptied the tank in one of the most emotional half mile runs of my life. I came across in 10:24, 6 minutes under my goal and collapsed into a chair. Tana, Ultra Adventures race manager extraordinaire brought me my award as I shed all of my salt-encrusted gear and pledged to drink water until I had to pee again.
I was so blissed out by the perfect day and podium run that I forgot to put in calories for a while, finally remembering that the best pizza ever was only a short hobble away. Tony hooked it up with an amazing IPA to compliment the pizza, I got a post-race massage and then ate like an arctic expedition survivor for the next 12 hours. Sleep was elusive that first night, but after a great recovery hike up to the Emerald Pools with my family I slept hard.
Matt Gunn deserves some serious kudos for his pre-race emails about the possible #mudmageddon conditions that the 100 milers, 55k and half-marathon runners all had to battle, and for his management during the event to preserve trails even though it meant ending some runners 100 Mile journey early.
As with every Ultra Adventures race I was so impressed with the community and compassion that all of the staff, volunteers and other runners brought. I always walk away with more friends and amazing stories than I started with.
A big shout out to my coach Paul Giblin for his support this season and for believing in me. I am continually thankful for the ability to do this, to push myself and to be able to distill life down to the barest and rawest moments where you realize what you are capable of and what truly motivates you to get through the low points.
Gear: Pearl Izumi Fly Endurance Shorts, Pearl Izumi Team Jersey, Swiftwick Aspire Four Socks, BOCO Trucker Hat, Smith Parallel D-Max sunglasses, Black Diamond Sprinter Headlamp, Pearl Izumi Trail N1 V2 shoes, Ultimate Direction Groove Mono and Salomon Sense Vest, iPod shuffle and Yurbuds, and a steady diet of Honey Stinger Gels, Chews, Nuun, watermelon and a dash of Coke.
Recovery aided by Honey Stinger Protein Bars, Swiftwick Aspire Twelve Socks and quinoa.
Favorite Song of the Race: Taylor Swift – Bad Blood