My journey to the finish line of Zion 100 began well before the morning of April 19th. That’s not unlike anyone who has run 100 miles. There is usually elaborate preparation, from the training to the taper, that readies a person to optimally show up healthy, rested and ready to push the body to the brink of it’s own existence. In my own little world, however, my health was so compromised from chronic and severe insomnia since November, that I questioned if I could ever really race again the way I wanted to. Seeking answers, I sought out physicians, acupuncturists, herbalists, therapists, and beyond to gather information on why my body was not able to rest. Labs came back normal. I couldn’t get any quality sleep for 5 months.
I had to pull out of the Antelope Island 100 mile run in March as I found myself struggling to get by day to day. And then as I was on the brink and at the edge, JB sat me down and said, “you need to go spend a weekend alone, meditating and relaxing. That is what is missing.” I normally wouldn’t consider this and yet, I had no choice.
After some pushback, I finally picked my first solo weekend at Zion National park for a chance to do some healing. The red dirt and volcanic rock, slick rock mesas and steep climbs all spoke to me in a way I hadn’t felt for a really long time. I wanted to slow my pulse down and just be calm for a bit. I didn’t look at watches or phones, I ate tons of great food, I slept when I could, but didn’t stress about it. I knew my daughter was happy with her Daddy at home and I was on a mission to heal, repair and to find strength in something much bigger than myself. Zion was it. My heart was feeling alive and happy. Then something really amazing happened the very night I got home, I slept. Deep, dreaming, refreshing and healing sleep. My trip to Zion was magical. My body was recharging and my eyes looked clear. It felt really good to be on track again. The timing of it all was just serendipitous I guess, because I decided to run the Zion 100.
My pacers would be Roch Horton and Krissy Moehl, who have been my dear friends since my early days of ultrarunning back in 2003. JB was going to be by my side as my trusty crew and cameraman. (think …Women’s Ultrarunning Film with some pretty cool ladies. Should be out end of this year).
Once again, I arrived at the start line of Zion 100 with a bit of a cold that my daughter brought home a few days prior. What’s hilarious, is this is 3/3 on post-baby 100 milers that have left me sick in taper week. It’s part of being a mom for sure.
Zion 100 is not a flat course despite a glance at the topo map and the estimated 10,000 feet climb. My Garmin totaled just under 15,000 feet of climbing for the 100 miles. So in setting my goals, I noted the previous women’s course record held by Hannah Roberts (HURT 100 2013 champ) was 22:45 as well as the men’s CR holder, Jay Aldous, a super speedy Utah runner, in 18:25. Solid times set by amazing runners. I was likely underestimating the course but thought I’d run aggressively and see what would happen.
Race day at 6:00am on the button and Matt sent us forward. I found myself running comfortably and chatting with Mark Tanaka for about 18 miles. Rolling, fast terrain and a few aid stations and one gorgeous sunrise later I woke up. My position was moving between back an forth between the other top ladies in the 100 mile and 100k. One particularly strong runner Larisa Dannis, was looking strong and took the lead as we began a big climb to the mile 19.5 aid station. It was so early, didn’t really feel the need to do much about it. I reached the top just a minute after Larisa and found JB up there waiting with my supplies. He helped me get in and out of the aid station quickly, just ahead of Larisa as I hit the first slickrock mesa –Gooseberry. At this point, I felt the race was beginning.
Mesa running is tough. The thing about the mesas is that they are a hot mess. You are winding, short stepping, scrambling, climbing, and forever looking for the next course marking as they resemble a maze. (Course markings were impeccable). The slick rock is exactly that- hard, concrete like surface with lots of chances to stumble. The running rhythm is hard to find and you are working hard to maintain some pace. At this point, my hamstrings felt sore and I felt achy all over, which I’m sure was the cold virus working its way out. It was a little concerning that I had to take 2 advil that early in the race, but I just knew what was going on and I wanted to quell that flu-ish feeling. I finally felt good around mile 25 and got myself back to the Goosebump aid at mile 31.5 feeling solid again. I was still in the lead, but was told I only had a few mins on second place.
The air was definitely warming up and there was famous wind that Zion was notorious for having. I was just cruising along, starting to feel the distance and the pace, but still comfortable.
A big grind and first low point was around mile 42. It was an out and back grinding climb up to Eagle Cragg aid station. On the way back down I got a glimpse of the race unfolding around me. It was fun to see other ladies close behind me and the front running guys ahead. I decided to try a packet of almond butter for some added calories. I love that stuff and was sure it would be satiating and good during the race. After taking it down, I then felt pretty wicked for the next 8 miles.
Right about mile 47, I saw a couple of smiling faces at the aid station when I was nearing the need to puke. Krissy was right there ready to pace me and get my mind off the stomach. Roch was concerned and told me I was running too fast for the split, but I told him I was motivated and hoping to hold steady. He told me to stay patient. Krissy and I made our way up the climb to Grafton Mesa where she kept me entertained, laughing when I wasn’t wanting to puke and just chatting like two girls tend to do. I finally got out of the funk as we started back to the Goosebump one more time. About half way through that section, we heard a helicopter circling overhead, and I knew JB was up there filming. Krissy and I jumped and cheered and it was super fun to have him circle us a few times. I put my ipod on, bumped some tunes and put my head down to stay the pace.
Krissy and I descended the steep mesa, which would only allow for side stepping or slow downhill hiking- a running pace means tripping and falling. After that descent, we found our legs again and got into a great groove.
We hit Highway 9 and made the turn to continue on the 100 mile course. A very alluring left hand turn meant you could tap out and finish a 100k course. I’m sure that was hellish for so many people to consider. 100 miles or bust was all I could think.
We found JB and Roch a mile later and Krissy hugged me and wished me well as she switched with Roch. Krissy had UTMF to run a week later and yet she still put in about 15 miles with me. (BTW, She won UTMF and it was a tough, tough course).
Running alongside Roch is like running next to your Dad. He wants to get you there safe, quickly and with such wisdom and selflessness, you think he must be the kindest person on the planet. I still think he might be.
Roch and I ran 37 miles together. He kept me steady, advising me along the path, keeping me moving as fast as I could and yet giving me a few moments when I needed to take them. We toasted our bottles at sunset and he told me to run like a champion. I believed it. I felt damn good and the day was flowing.
We handled the dreaded Guacamole mesa as well as I could have hoped. Though it was some of the toughest running I have ever done. How the other runners tackled that in the dark is beyond me. 180 degree turns, rolling rock, navigating some crazy trail. It was a long 9 mile section that at one point, I felt myself go dark and get anxious. But just as that feeling of dread crept in, we hit the aid station and I reset. The aid station said we had about 30 minutes on the next lady back. That’s not much in 100 mile racing. Certainly no time to waste.
I usually dread the last 20 miles of a 100 mile race. It’s where I slow down and the death march ensues. I realize that’s how it can be for many people, but I wanted something different on this race. I wanted to run fast and hard and stay steady.
And it hurt so much like it always does, but I was able to keep at it. I dialed in my pace and just kept trying to keep it steady on the dial.
Night unfolded and our headlamps were at full blast. Mile 83 and Whiskeytown Aid Station was the place to be. Roch and I rolled in, added some clothing layers and got to see our buddies waiting for us. Krissy, JB and most of the Ultraspire team were there to help us through. Karl (Meltzer) informed me I had moved up to 5th overall just as we left with the two other guys. I told Roch, I couldn’t even contemplate any of that yet. 17 miles was still a long way to go, and I didn’t know how close the second woman was.
We made our way along the deceivingly calm single track to the base of Flying Monkey. A 2000ft climb in one mile. It was hands on knees steep and myself and the other 2 male runners had to pause to catch our breath more than a few times. At one point, there is a rope that I couldn’t’ reach to pull me up. So I had to scramble and find foot placement to get up a rock wall. It was scary at times and pretty hard. A misstep would have resulted in a 1000 foot fall. After some deliberately careful steps, we crested the steep climb and then began the several mile uphill grind to mile 89/92 aid. That was a tough section for me. It got cold, the course wasn’t relenting and I wasn’t sure where my competitors were. But we were having a good time still and despite wanting to be done, I was trying to savor this amazing journey. There is something pretty awesome about being 92 miles into a race. Pacers, crew or anyone else aside, at the end of the day, it really is just you, with your own heart and body and mind surpassing all barriers when everything in you is yelling “Stop!”
I was still running hard and motivated as ever, not knowing how far ahead I was of the second woman. About 45 minutes later we saw the second place female, Larisa Dannis, was powering her way up the road. She gave us a great smile and hello. She ran a tough race all day, looked super strong and definitely made me work. She was within 5-10 minutes of me all day, until the later stages of the race. JB told me I would have to walk it in, for her catch us, but I just didn’t believe him, so I sped up. We descended about 2500feet in a few miles (on road) and my quads were screaming for mama. I was hurting but I was happy. I told Roch about a mile from the finish, that this was the race of my life. To execute your race plan doesn’t often happen and it’s pretty great when it does.
We wound down some more canyon singletrack and the finish was in sight. I let myself believe it and realize I was about to win this race. I thanked the mountains and the trail. I crossed the line in 19:01, 5th overall, a new course record by 3.5 hours..
Ten days later and I am thankful and humbled by what my body let me ask of it. I am so grateful to JB, Roch and Krissy for being my family that day. Ultrarunning is good. The people who crew, pace, volunteer, race direct are even better. Congrats Larisa and Pam Reed on a great run and all of the other ladies out there as well.
Thanks Matt Gunn for a great course, perfect course markings and excellent aid stations. I can’t wait to run another one of your races.
I have Transvulcania less than a week from now. WHAT! My wheels are wobbling, but who knows, maybe I can right the ship in time for a fun day in Spain. But who cares, I’ll be in Spain.
RACE KIT: The most simple and dialed kit yet:
Feet- Hoka One One Stinson EVO trail and the Drymax short trail crew sock- not one change of shoes or socks for 100 miles. The best combo for me.
One or two handrunners, no hyrdration pack this time and I felt light!
Lights: Princeton Tech APEX PRO and the REMIX headlamp. Love the REMIX headlamp- 100 lumens and light, along with the AMP 3.5 handheld torch.
FUEL: VESPA energy junior every 4 hours or concentrate.
GU roctane, GU BREW, GU plain, GU chompies every 30 minutes.
Only solid food- bananas, peaches. Broth at mile 83, Coke beginning at mile 58 and on. Succeed salt tab once an hour every hour.
Lululemon skirt and HOKA One One Jersey (2XU).