Spring Flingin’ (Antelope Island 50K, Maze District Honeymoon, Zane Grey 50M)

“Great Faith.

Great Doubt.

Great Effort.”

The Three Essentials of Training – Zen Proverb

After getting married at the end of January, Jess and I knew we would only have one shot at getting in a honeymoon amid her hectic senior year of researching and interning: spring break!  There are plenty of items on the bucket list with places we have wanted to go explore, but with our imminent departure from the American Southwest and our recent acquisition of a truly off-road worthy Tacoma the Maze District in Canyonlands seemed the obvious choice.  We secured one of the 11 backpacking permits a couple months ahead for a 5 day backpacking trip in one of the hardest to get to wildernesses in the southwest and we were counting the days…

As much as I love backpacking, this also fell right in the middle of a peak training block ahead of the Zane Grey 50 and the San Diego 100 so I had a bit of a think to figure out how best to leverage the backpacking trip for training.  I looked for races that would fall either at the beginning or the end of the trip so the backpacking could work as a taper or recovery week and settled on the Antelope Island 50K in Syracuse, UT the weekend before we were to begin.  Talking with my coach Paul we decided on to use Antelope Island as a training race without a serious taper and the week after would be a perfect time to have some long days of active recovery with an exaggerated weight vest on the whole time.   And then there was Zane Grey…what follows is a bit of a recap:

Antelope Island 50K(ish):

The school bell rings.  5 hours straight to the Island.  Kill literally 1 million mosquitos driving across the causeway.  Pseudo-sleep at the start as 100 milers are struggling through the wee hours of the day.  Leisurely start, meeting the crew from Altra (Mike, Brian, Gediminas and Sondre) and we are off to run with the buffalo (bison really…🤓)

On the first climb I just tried to keep it right at my threshold and immediately got dropped by the leaders pushing me back towards 10th place.  Not worried with plenty of miles to go I just kept plugging away and tried to take advantage of every runnable downhill clicking off some 5:30 min/mile pace in the cool morning air.  The trails on the island are really easy to follow and all of the intersections were marked perfectly so there was little wasted mental effort in staying found.  The aid stations were well stocked and staffed with local runners eager to fill your bottles and facilitate Coke shots.

The back half of the course is beautiful and it feels like you are running along a rugged ocean coast with the Great Salt Lake before you and craggy but runnable trails guiding you up and over the peaks on the island.  By the time I reached the switchbacks I caught a couple runners and we moved together up the sections and back through to the aid station.  On the final descent to finish the first loop I caught one more runner and was starting to mingle with the 25K racers on the course – I figured I was in 7th or 8th place.  On the short out and back I was happy to see that I was only 6 minutes off the leader (Andrew Combs) and that there were only 3 runners between us, including Gediminas.  My 25K split was 2 hours on the nose.

The second half was all about staying cool as the heat built, maintaining form and trying to ride the edge of my threshold as long as possible.  I managed to run the hills and push the pace until the last mile when my abs started cramping and I just hung on.  Crossing the finish line amid 25K runners was a bit hectic but most of the Altra crew finished around the same time (including Sondre that took the win in the 50 Mile) and we set up some chairs in the sun to enjoy everyone’s finishes.  I finished the second loop in 2:08 scoring a PR for the distance despite the long course.

Some highlights from Antelope Island:  Great course, great staffing/volunteers, great free massage, great chili, great homebrew and sweet awards (although it took about two weeks for the actual results to get sorted out and for a while I was listed as the winner though I knew that there were at least 3 runners ahead of me at the turn around – a quality timing system would do the trick).

I ended up getting 3rd overall and scored a giftcard to the Wasatch Running Center where the excellent staff helped me order some gear and shipped it to me in Colorado – check them out if you are in the area.

I took exactly zero photos but here’s a great recap video produced by Derrick Lytle Photography:

A bit of kitAltra Paradigm 2.0 shoes, Altra racing singlet, Altra race shorts, Pyllon Race hat, Swiftwick Aspire 4 socks, 5 Honey Stinger Limeade Chews every 30 minutes during the event, First Endurance Ultragen recovery drink at the finish, Ultimate Direction Mono hydration belt with 600 ml soft flask, Garmin Fenix 3 with HR strap, iPod shuffle with Yurbuds.

Favorite song:  Tom Rosenthal – It’s OK

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The Maze District:

Drive home.  Wash off bugs.  Wash off bugs again.  Worry about bugs later.  Load up the packs and GO!  And by GO!…I mean drive four slow hours to the Ranger Station, check in and then drive on the most terrifying, technical and sandy road I have ever been on for an additional 2.5 hours to get to the trailhead.  But the solitude was intense.  Most days we saw no one, occasionally we would see one or two people during the day but it was serene, silent and stunning.  After getting annihilated trekking in Idaho two summers ago with inadequate gear and food we were backpacking in style this time around.  No real agenda, 10 miles a day, naps under alcoves, hours spent just snacking and staring at rock art, incredible stars and zero marked trails or signage once off the road.  Time seemed to blur and after not seeing one another all that often during this busy year it was so easy and relaxing to just chill together and reconnect.  I don’t want to say too much about the Maze, but go there.  Make the effort and enjoy some of the finest wilderness that Utah still has to offer.

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Standard scenic canyon.  Just walking up seemingly endless washes.
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The Harvest Scene.  No signs, no warnings and no shenanigans either.  Plus a figure with a finger that is actually a blooming corn stalk.  Awesome.
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My darling wife and a wee cairn marking the sketchy ascent out of the South Fork of Horse Canyon.
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Previewing the Maze Overlook climb before heading out the next day.  Chocolate Drops in the background.
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The Land of Standing Rocks, and napping backpackers…
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Final day.  The wife badassing some Class 4 to exit the Maze.  Happy to headed up and to have empty packs on this section.

And then the longest drive home ever.  But totally worth it.

Zane Grey 50M(ish):

The first few weeks after the Maze District were just back to normal.  Eggs and toast, salads and burritos, pasta and Indian food along with the teaching of wave physics and 60+ mile weeks of training.

And then the sickness arrived.

I had some sniffles on Friday but knocked out a 28 mile long run on the roads in the rain and by the middle of the next week had a full on middle-school body ache, fever, snot waterfall, death-rattling cough cold.  Took a few days off, missed a long run and then thought I was back on top when I visited family in Denver and got in a 22 mile, 6500 vertical day looping around on Mount Sanitas in Boulder.  So hopeful, so wrong.

Cold round 2 sucka!  This time it coincided with my taper for Zane Grey so I just dialed everything back, slept 12 hours a night everyday and hoped that my fitness would overcome my general malaise on race day.  Just the lingering lung-buttery cough followed me to Arizona the Friday before the race, but I knew I wasn’t 100% when the race started at the frigid 5 am sendoff on Saturday.

Zane Grey has a reputation for being one of the hardest 50 milers in the country.  10k of vertical, a net uphill point-to-point course with long and exposed sections between aid and rocks everywhere.  The course was surprisingly easy to follow and was well marked and this year was likely one of the least rocky since a ton of trail work had been done to reroute the trail from many of the deeply eroded, rebar and rock infested gullies that it used to follow.  The downside to this was an extra 5 miles so I was almost always disappointed when I rolled into an aid station and asked how far it was to the next one.  I quickly learned that filling up 3 water bottles was always advisable.

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Empty bottles in hand headed into the first aid station.  Head full out doubt, heart full of hope.  PC: Bethany Draper (bethanydraperphotography.com)

Even with the trail work, there were sections of intense rockiness, especially around Hell’s Gate and I let up my guard just long enough to superman down a nasty section luckily catching myself with my palms and knees without breaking anything or opening up any wounds that didn’t easily stop bleeding on their own.

My strategy was to make sure I stayed below my threshold on the first two climbs and then if I felt strong to start pushing the back half of the course.  The leaders (Meltzer et al.) took it out hard from the start and I settled into my familiar territory of the tail end of the top 10.  I ran with a small group of runners for most of the first section since I had opted to go without a headlamp and just bummed off their’s until it was light (I would bring a real headlamp next time even though it’s only good for about 20 minutes).

Moving out of the second aid station Rick Valentine ran with me for a bit before powering up the climb never to be seen again – Idaho hill skills!  Through this entire section I was constantly battling self doubt and negative self talk, but every time I caught it and replaced it with a positive mantra.  Still, I was seriously considering a DNF with the amount of mucus I continued to have flowing over my mustache.

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Company on the trail during the early miles.  PC: Bethany Draper (bethanydraperphotography.com)

I ran alone for most of the middle miles and after expecting an aid station 2 miles before it appeared I was feeling beaten and battered headed up the second to last major climb.  I fell into a powerhike pattern and was running well below my threshold and didn’t even respond when Shaun Burke caught me and shuffled by on the final ascent.  It wasn’t until my buddy Cody Draper caught me around mile 49 (of 55 it would turn out) that I was able to shift mental gears and get back to threshold effort.  We have raced together a number of times and are usually close to one another in the results.  When Cody caught me I resolved to staying with him as long as I could and knew that there was a downhill into the finish that I should be able to run well.  Following Cody on the climb we caught and passed Scott Jaime with just a few miles to go and when the ascent finally ended I committed to running every step to the finish and focused on maintaining good quick turnover on the descents.  I didn’t know that Nick Coury was closing in behind me, and probably couldn’t have given forth any greater effort if I had known.  The finish line was sweetly satisfying and waiting for me at the finish was a finisher’s jacket, carved wooden medallion and a photo of myself from earlier in the race (top notch event production!).  Recovery was aided by the ample supply of cookies, sandwiches, beer, Ultragen from my drop bag and all of the layers I thankfully packed in my bag.  It was never nasty out, but there was a steady wind and a bit of snow sprinkling from the overcast sky at times.

Lots of great friends and stories at the finish and I eventually bummed a ride from Amy Sproston back to my car in Payson.  She was down to run the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim the following day and it was great to meet her and chat though I was rather brain dead from the day’s effort.

I considered a hotel room, but thankfully decided to just order a pizza and camp out in the back of my truck again.  I couldn’t fall asleep until about 3 am anyway due to  my throbbing legs so a hotel would have been a waste.

A leg stiffening drive home was aided by episodes of the Ultrarunner Podcast, Freakonomics, the Moth and Trailrunner Nation along with a very ill-advised stop for a milkshake and fries at the only fast food restaurant for 200 miles.  Now, time to recover and tune things in for the San Diego 100.  I’m excited to see what might happen especially if I can show up healthy.

A bit of kitAltra Lone Peak 3.0, Altra racing shirt, Altra Trail shorts, Pyllon Racing Hat, Swiftwick Aspire 4 socks, 5 Honey Stinger Limeade Chews every 30 minutes during the event, First Endurance Ultragen recovery drink at the finish, Salomon Sense 8 Vest with an extra 500ml bottle, Garmin Fenix 5, iPod shuffle with Yurbuds.

Favorite song:  Tom Rosenthal – I got myself a finish

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