April 4-5, 2014
You'll be wistful for the "wall" of the marathon,when you hit the "death grip" of the ultra.- Bob Glover
April 4, 2014
tweet: heading to the race start...feeling nervous now...but Zion 100 here I come!
In the wee hours of the morning in Virgin, Utah, runners gather at a small town park ready for a 100 mile or 100k adventure. My crew/pacers Roger and Jerry hang out with me as we wait for things to start.
Start to Smith Mesa (Mile 7)
The race kicks off. In the middle of the crowd, I follow everyone up the road, across Highway 9, and onto the ATV trails towards the first mesa climb (there are five big mesa climbs in the race). I run a little bit with my friend Tim and his friends but they disappear ahead of me in not too long.
We reach the first climb: Flying Monkey. A steep 2000 feet climb. At the bottom of the climb, I stop to tie my shoe and see Maggie and Marnie come up the hill. We kind of hike together for a little bit.
I continue climbing up the mesa, crawling with my hands at times to help brace myself at times. I hit one rocky climb that I can't quite get up as it's a bit higher for me to pull myself up. I do not have any rock climbing abilities so I get stuck. A girl climbs up ahead of me and then gives me her hand to help pull me up.
I stop a few moments here and there to take in some of the scenery. It's a good thing I am not afraid of heights as there's a pretty steep drop to the left of me. The views from this climb are pretty spectacular.
Finally, I reach the top of the mesa. I run through some trees and rocks and make it to the Smith Mesa Aid Station.
tweet: Ran, hiked, crawled and rock climbed the first seven miles up the first Mesa!
After a quick stop at the porta-potty and aid station, I go out to the overlook at the aid station to enjoy the view for a moment before heading back down.
For the descent, we don't go down Flying Monkey but down Mesa Road instead. This is a lot less technical. Some of it is fire road and then we hit some unmaintained asphalt for a number of miles. We were warned to not go down this hill too hard as one could really kill one's quads going down this hill. I run along at a conservation 10-11 min/mile pace.
I put on my ipod. I have some podcasts on it. But, I also have some of recordings of my friends. Prior to the race, I had some of my running friends call and leave me some voicemails that I could listen to during the race. I sometimes struggle a little at away events. Not being on home turf, around my local support, can sometimes get to me. In anticipation, I asked some friends call me earlier and I converted the messages to mp3's to put on my ipod. Now, I play some of the messages. They make me smile and some messages make me laugh. I know this will be helpful to hear again later on. I then flip over to the podcast and listen away as I trot down the mesa.
I am running in relatively new shoes, the Altra Olympus. They're a lot more cushioning than my older runner shoes and I am enjoying the extra cushion now as I can feel the slight pounding as I run down this mesa.
I run down and down and down. About halfway down, one of the straps on the front of my pack breaks. The front strap that goes across my chest has come undone. This causes the front bottles and front pouches to flip flop all over the place. I stop to look at the damage. It's definitely come fully undone. I think about whether I can make it to the aid station with it undone. I can but it won't be comfortable. What can I do to secure it? Ah! I have four safety pins holding my bib together. I take one of the safety pins off my bib and safety pin the strap back onto my pack. It seems to work. At least for now.
I continue down the hill with the pack holding together just fine.
I cross Highway 9 and head into the Sheep's Bridge Aid Station, where Roger and Jerry are ready for me.
tweet: Mile 14! One Mesa done!
After a quick bathroom break, Roger and Jerry help me refuel and restock my pack. As I am telling them how my pack had broke earlier and I need more safety pins, the safety pin holding the strap pops open and my strap breaks off again. Jerry scrounges into his bag and pulls out a little carabiner. He attaches it to the strap and the pack and viola, my pack is all fixed up!
Sheep's Bridge to Virgin Dam (Mile 23)
It is nice and overcast today so even though I am running in exposed terrain, it is not too hot. I can see where it can get really hot. I feel fortunate with the weather. I run along the JEM trail getting into a pretty good running groove as this is all pretty runnable terrain. Just easy rollers. Nothing too crazy. It is beautiful out here and stop a few times to take some pictures.
I change my socks and rub on a little extra vaseline around the tips of my toes. I put on my Altra Superiors shoes. I know there's a big technical climb at mile 30 and I think my Superiors will be better for the climb.
They do have a lot less cushioning than the Olympus so hopefully my feet hold up okay.
Jerry and Roger really make me drink a lot and eat before letting me leave. But then, off I go.
Virgin Dam to Goosebump (Mile 31)
I run along some rolling trails listening to my podcast. I am moving along at a pretty good, steady pace.
I reach the bottom of the Goosebump climb. About one mile, 1000 feet up. I tell myself this is just like going up K2 (a big hill near where I live). I climb my way up. Around mile 30, I switch my Garmins out as the first one is already running low on battery.
I keep climbing up. Climbing is something I am comfortable with so I just move up and up and up. I think about Death Ride again and how this is supposed to be the backside of Monitor. No problem. Just up, up, up.
What concerns me as I climb this mesa is that I know I will be going down the same mesa later in the night and going downhill is something I am not very comfortable with. While I feel strong going up the mesa, I can see how difficult it will be for me to go down this. There are some slippery soft dirt sections that I can just picture myself slipping. Maybe I'll just slide down the hill like a slide later.
Tweet: Almost to 50k and almost to top of goosebump, my second Mesa,..steepest climb of the race!
I move up the mesa and can hear people up top cheering. I climb over the rocky terrain near the top. Then, I see Jerry at the top cheering me up as I make my up there.
I walk into the aid station feeling a bit hungry so I start grazing on some food. Jerry helps refill my pack as I graze away on fruit and potatoes. Maggie then appears next to me and we talk for a moment. Then, Bill pops out of nowhere to hug us both. I tell them both how Marnie isn't too far behind me and should be up the hill soon. They wait for her to arrive while I go back to Jerry to grab some things for my pack.
I hand Jerry one of my Garmins to recharge and he seems rather surprised to see me already wearing my second Garmin. [Little did I know that earlier, both Roger and Jerry had frantically searched my motel room and all my bags for my Garmin that I was carrying all along.] Not knowing what the guys had gone through to find my Garmin, I dismiss Jerry's surprise and say "well yeah" a little confused as to why he's so surprised I switched my watches when I told them I would switch things out here.
Goosebump to Gooseberry Point (Mile 36ish)
I run out of Goosebump towards Gooseberry Point. There's a lot of slick rock here. At first, it's okay moving across it. But then, the rocks become more like rock mounds (think sand dunes but with rocks instead of sand). Lots of ups and downs. A few of the rock mounds require me to jump down (being a bit too high to step down). I can tell my quads are a little tired to be jumping down. Some rocks I have to go up on require me to use my hands to pull myself up.
Another runner and I get a little confused as to where to go. Some sections we have to stop and scan around to find the next flag. We chit chat about how different it looks over here. She says it's almost prehistoric looking. I agree. We continue following the flags. Climbing up some rocks. And sometimes hopping down.
It feels like the longest four to five miles ever to get to the next aid station. My legs are worn out from all the rocks. I am mentally worn out from all those rocks. I grab a quick drink at the aid station before heading out the half mile to the overlook. And, what do you know? More rocks!
I eventually make my way to the edge of the mesa, at Gooseberry Point. And, it is a spectacular view. You can see how far the land expands and some of the other mesas. I stop to take in the view and snap a few pictures.
Tweet: Made it to gooseberry point...the 30s have been hard...hiking lots of slick rock...
Gooseberry Point back to Goosebump (Mile 43ish)
I head back to the Gooseberry Aid station. There, I grab my drop back and restock my pack. I am really hungry now so I fill up my pack with all the snacks I had put in my drop bag. While I am restocking my pack, I see a girl coming into the aid station (on her way out to the lookout point). She says "that was the longest four miles ever!" Oh good, I am not the only one who thought that. Then, I see my friend Hector come into the aid station. This kind of lifts my spirits to see a friendly face. After a quick hug, I continue on back to Goosebump.
The course continues to traverse across more rocky mounds as it wraps around the edge of the mesa for a bit. I trudge along. I befriend a peppy girl from Brazil and chit chat with her for a little bit before she seemingly bounces away. Her peppiness was nice for a bit.
The course weaves away from the edge of the mesa and it's just a mass of slick rocks. More rocky mounds. I follow the white dots and flags in what I hope is the right direction but there is not a direct pattern as to where the white dots and flags are going. It seems to just zig zag this way and then that way and then another way. I have no idea what direction I am going. I just follow the dots. I feel like I am playing the longest game of connect the dots ever! Dot, dot, dot, flag, dot, dot, dot, dot, flag, dot, dot, dot, etc. . . .
At some point, my friend Hector catches up to me so we hike along together. I think he can tell I am a little frustrated and he says this is good that we are conserving our pace right now. He assures me that we are still doing good on time. I enjoy having a friend to talk to as we wander our away over more rocks, following more dots and flags.
We occasionally hit some single track dirt, which is runnable and I run as much as I can before we hit more rocks. Oh, I can hardly wait to get back to Goosebump!
Finally, we hit more dirt than rocks and I am to start running a little more than hiking. I move along, hoping to make up a little time I lost during that loop. I look for the windmill that is near the aid station. I think I have been drinking a bit too much because I feel like I have to stop to pee every five minutes or so.
I keep moving and continue looking for the windmill. They said when you see the windmill, you know you're close to the aid station. Where is the windmill? Where is it? And, I run along and along and along....and finally, I see the windmill.
But, I still have to run a bit more before I finally get back to the aid station. It is a lot less crowded here now than when I was here earlier. I am tired and I am not even halfway done yet. Sigh.
Tweet: Felt like I played the longest game of connect the dots for 12 miles but made it mile 43
Goosebump to Grafton Mesa (Mile 49ish)
At the aid station, I change my shirt and shoes and grab my jacket. I retape all my toes with paper-tape and put vaseline all over them, possibly a bit too much vaseline as it's tricky getting the tape to stick. I am worried as to how my feet will hold up. They got bad at my last 100 that I really want to avoid that. I also put back on my Altra Olympus, which have the cushioning but are also slightly bigger than my Superiors.
To the next aid station is mostly on fire roads so a lot easier for me to run again. Though, my legs are a bit tired now. All those rocks had really did a number on my legs.
I think I have too much fluids in me as I continue to stop a lot. My stomach seems to be holding up relatively well otherwise but I stop at a few bushes, and one bathroom as I move along.
Because of all my stops, I leap frog with Hector a few times. When we are able to run or hike together, he tells me how he ate a burrito that's not sitting too well for him. I give him a couple ginger chews which he tells me later has helped a bit. I run along, sometimes with Hector, sometimes alone.
Needing an energy boost, I start playing the recordings of my friends. Hearing my friends' voices is great comfort.
Nicole: "...I'm thinking about you...I'm thinking about your strength...I'm thinking about how beautiful it must be in Zion. Don't forget to take in the surroundings. Look around you. It is one of the beautiful places on Earth. I wish I was there with you. Just remember that you are in a beautiful place and this is a great opportunity. You are strong. You can do this. You got this. . . ."
Hearing Nicole's message, I take the moment to look around me and really enjoy my surroundings. It is beautiful here. It is starting to get a little dim but it is spectacular where I am right now, in the middle of Zion.
I run along the fire road and start nearing the aid station. I pass some crew cars parked along the side of the road. Bill suddenly pops out from behind the cars. He's really cheery and full of energy. He gives me a hug and he walks with me to the aid station. I ask about Marnie and Maggie. He says they each have their issues but doing alright. He then tells me that Roger and Jerry are around the next corner and he disappears almost as quickly as he arrived.
Grafton Mesa...the first loop (follow the green flags) (Mile 54ish)
I sit in the chair for a bit, oh so tired. Jerry reads me some messages from our friends. He tells me Cathleen says I need to wear my sweatshirt as it cold at night (I had borrowed Cathleen's sweatshirt at RDL in the middle of the night as I was freezing then). I put on my hoodie and grab my gloves and headlamp and prepare for the night. I drink some of my Starbucks frappicino, hoping for a little coffee boost.
I see Tim wander into the aid station so I walk over to hi say to him. It makes me happy to see him. I had been wondering how things are going for him. At this aid station, you first do a five mile loop then a fourteen mile loop. He has already completed the first five mile loop and is about to start the second loop. Upon hearing that I'm about to start the first loop, he forewarns me that it's very technical. More of that rock garden crap. He puts his arms up to demonstrate the large rocks we will have to traverse through. Jerry thinks Tim is exaggerating but I know what he is describing and I dread it. Tim tells me I'm doing awesome as I head out for my loop. His encouragement is always nice. I tell him good luck.
Jerry and I head out of the aid station just as things are starting to get dark. They tell us to follow the green flags. There are green and pink flags. The pink flags are for the second loop. The green flags mark the first loop. Not too long on the trail, some runners come up to us and ask if we are just doing the first loop. We are. They then tell us that we had missed the turn. We turn around and follow the runners to where there was a left turn. Jerry feels bad that he has already led me off course. But, we laugh it off and continue on our way. Fortunately, we did not go far off course.
After the turn, we find ourselves traversing across some technical rocky terrain. I tell Jerry how earlier I had just followed dots and flags so really pay attention to the flags. We go from flag to flag. Again, there isn't a coherent path. We just kind of go from rock to rock in random directions. A few times, Jerry would run ahead to make sure there was a flag ahead and that we were going in the right direction.
We reach one rock and look around for another flag. We see it down a little ways. We head that way and see a six foot drop. Jerry crawls down the rock. I am not so sure how I am to get down there. I turn around on my hands and knees and start crawling down the rock. Again, I am not a rock climber so it makes me uneasy balancing on a rock and trying to climb downward. Jerry helps hold me as I slowly move down the rock. He later apologizes for touching my butt. I tell him it's alright as he was doing it within pacer duties to help me down the rock.
We continue through the rock garden following flag to flag. At one point, I tell Jerry I have to go. He moves ahead while I step off the trail. He tells me to watch out for the cactus. I am careful to not squat on a cactus. But, while doing so, I accidentally place one hand on a cactus, quills and all! After relieving myself, I stand up to a stinging hand. I try to pull off as many quills as I can but I can feel them pricking each of my fingers. Jerry attempts to help. We get what we can and continue moving on. My hand still stinging with pain here and here. I see my hand bleeding slightly. I tell Jerry how I have the blood part. This race will entail blood, sweat, and tears. Blood, check. Sweat, check. No tears yet.
More rocks, more flags. We smell a skunk in the air. I think about how awful it would be if I got sprayed right now. Fortunately, we do not see the skunk. Only smell. We continue on following the flags. I think about how much I want to talk to Craig right now. Maybe I'll call him later (when he's off work). He will give me some comfort. I put my hand on my necklace. I wear a necklace that Craig gave me before my first 50 miler. On the necklace is also my engagement ring (I can't wear the ring when I run as my hands often swell up). Throughout the race, I reach up to touch my necklace to make sure the ring and necklace are still there and because I am thinking about Craig. I think about Craig and yearn to hear his voice. But, I continue following Jerry and the flags.
We hit a few stretches of runnable dirt and we try to run on it before hitting more rocks. As we near the aid station, we have more runnable trail so are able to shuffle our way back to the aid station the last stretch.
Roger and Jerry help me refuel and restock my pack. I am getting sleepy so I drink some more coffee. I am concerned a little bit about the time so I take a quick look at the pace chart. I have stopped caring about plan A to finish in 28 hours. I am now concerned about plan C, finishing on time. I look at what the cutoff times are for the next few aid stations. 12:30 a.m. Eagle Crags, 3:00 am Grafton Mesa, 5:00 am Goosebump. Okay. It'll be a little tight but I need to make sure I'm moving on a steady pace.
Grafton Mesa to Eagle Crags (Mile 60ish...think it was more like 62!)
Roger reminds me to make sure I am back by 3 a.m. Then, Jerry and I head off down the fire road. I am so grateful to have some smooth(ish) fire road to be running on. I can kind of shuffle along a run on this. My legs are definitely really tired and sore. But, I move along as well as I can. I have at least a fairly decent brisk hiking pace going if I am not kind of running.
We move along. I have to stop a number of times to relieve myself. I kind of think I am drinking a bit too much fluid. Jerry says it's good I am peeing a lot. My stomach starts getting a bit more agitated. I try to eat more ginger chews to help keep things at bay. So far, nothing has gone too horribly bad.
We reach a "T" intersection and head to the right. We some runners heading in the other direction. They have already reached the aid station and on their way back to Grafton. I see Tim and his friends. After some quick hey's, we continue on. We start going upward. Up and up and up. I am wondering if we are nearing the aid station. According to my garmin, we should be there in about half a mile but I have a feeling that the course is running a bit long.
I then see Maggie and Bill hiking along. We say hi to each other. I ask Bill how far is the aid station. He says "3 miles."
3 miles? It should be in a half mile. Is he messing with us? Jerry wonders too. Is he messing with us or do I really have to go three miles. I think it's mean if he's messing with us. And, it's awful if I have to go three more miles to the aid station.
We go about half a mile and still no aid station. I see some cars parked randomly in some spots and it throws me off as it gives me hope that we are nearing an aid station but it's nothing. Just random cars parke in the middle of nowhere for who knows what. Ugh. I continue hiking up the hill another mile. Still no aid station. I look at my watch and it's nearing midnight. Where is the aid station? It should be here by now.
We pass a pizza that's been dropped on the ground. I'm hungry for pizza now. I hope they have pizza there.
My feet start hurting. I want to get to the aid station to tend to my feet. I need to tend to them ASAP. I tell Jerry that I want to fix up my feet at the aid station. I know leaving the aid station will be a lot of downhill so I definitely need to rebind my feet before all the downhill as I can feel the rubbing starting already on the pads of my feet. It was around mile 60-something when my feet got really bad at RDL. I know my feet are starting to have some issues and I want to take care of it soon before it gets bad.
We continue on and I get more and more agitated in not seeing an aid station. Jerry keeps saying "we're almost there." Finally, I snap at him to stop saying we're almost there. Don't say we're almost there until you actually see the aid station. He tells me to keep going and I just get more and more irritated. God damn it, it should be here by now! I am concerned as the cutoff time to the aid station is 12:30 a.m. Then I have until 3 a.m. to go 8 miles from that aid station. But, it might be long. Every aid station seems to be going a little longer and longer than it should have and right now, this aid station is definitely going long. It's going to be close.
At Eagle Crags, we grab my drop bag and I fish out some clean socks. I tell Jerry to find me some vaseline and bandages. Jerry finds some vaseline and the aid station worker mentions they have duct tape. Jerry continues looking for bandages but I tell him to just give me the duct tape. I can see a small blister forming on each of the pad of each foot. I tape my foot up and wrap the tape around my foot two times to make sure the blister is covered completely. I make sure my entire pad is covered as I had some bad blisters form at the edge of tape at RDL when whoever taped my feet didn't cover everything. I spread some vaseline over my feet and around my toes too. I also some chaffing in my shorts/skirt and attempt to put some vaseline under my shorts as well.
I also pull the inserts out of my shoes. When I bought these shoes, my friend Paulo got me a size bigger than I normally wear and he put some inserts inside so the shoe wouldn't slide around. But, I could easily take out if my feet started swelling up. I take the inserts out now and my feet are enjoying the extra breathing room. I am happy my shoe plan seems to be working.
Jerry gets me some delicious potato soup and some blueberry pancakes. I eat all of it as I finish up with my feet. My friend Hector and his pacer sit down beside me for a bit. We're all a little concerned by time.
Jerry grabs me some more food and we start heading out of the aid station.
Eagle Crags back to Grafton (Mile 68ish)
Two and a half hours to get back to Grafton. That's eight miles with one mile of a super steep climb. I run the calculations in my head. I need to get to the bottom of that climb before 2 a.m. I think it'll take me an hour to get up that steep climb and to the aid station. So, that's five to six miles in an hour and half. If I keep a 15:00 min/mile pace, I should be okay. That means a little more than hiking. Must start shuffling when I can.
So, I shuffle run down the hill. The duct tape seems to be working okay as I am able to run without too much pain. Unfortunately, I have to stop a couple times to relieve myself. The downhill bouncing on my stomach is not helping at all. Darn stomach! I eat even more ginger chews hoping that will settle my stomach down. Jerry and I move along down the hill at a relatively decent pace despite the few stops I have to make. We are at least moving under the 15:00 min/mile pace I've calculated in my head we needed to go at.
At one point, Jerry tells me to move a little faster. I tell him "we only need to go a 15:00 min pace and we're going 12:00 right now so we're good." He's taken aback that I've calculated things so precisely. Thinking about the pace and time has been good in keeping my head occupied so I don't get too sleepy as I definitely feel tired. It is definitely way past my bedtime.
We shuffle along at a pretty good pace and reach the bottom of our big climb in relatively good time. We have more than an hour to climb up it and make it to the aid station. I am feeling a bit better about the time but know it is going to be close.
We start our climb up the Grafton Mesa trail. This too is a steep mesa climb. Approximately 1000 feet in a mile and then some more climbing beyond that (but not as steep). We weave our way up the mesa. I catch glimpses of headlamps above us on the switchbacks. We hike along up, and up, and up. It's rocky and technical and steep. My calves start tightening during the climb. They are weary. I try to take more gels and electrolytes as I can tell they are on the brink of cramping. I push on through and move up the mesa.
My legs are weary and making the climb more challenging. It's hard to get over some of the rocky sections so I use my hands to help crawl my way up. We keep going and going and going.
We reach the top of the steep section but there's still more climbing. It goes on and on and on. I power hike up as best as I can but I can feel my right calf is getting really tight. I am getting sleepier and sleepier too. I try to focus as best as I can. At RDL, I got so sleepy at one point, I started sleep walking and moving at a snail's pace. I do not want that to happen as I do not have the time. I try to focus. I tell myself to stay focused and stay awake.
I ask Jerry to tell me how he found my missing gloves (I had lost a pair prior to starting the race). He tells me the story of how him and Roger didn't see my second Garmin, not knowing I was carrying it. He tells me how they had searched through all of my drop bags and rushed back to the motel room, went into my purse to find the room key and then ransacked my motel room in search of my Garmin. This story amuses me and clarifies why Jerry was so surprised to see me wearing my second Garmin. The story helps keep me going for the next mile.
We keep going and Jerry keeps saying "Alight, let's go" to me and I get tired of hearing it so I tell him to shut up. He chuckles and we keep pushing up. Eventually, we make it to the Grafton Mesa aid station at 2:45 a.m. (just before the 3 a.m. cut off). Earlier, there were lots of cars and people all over the place. Now, it is quite desolate. There's not even a person standing at the aid station. Jerry checks me in with someone sitting by the fire. I follow Roger to our crew car.
Tweet: Racing the cutoffs but made it to mile 68 aid station (70 on my garmin)
I sit in the chair for a bit while the guys help restock my pack and get me some food. I call Craig. I had been yearning to hear his voice for many many miles now. I am so glad I have some phone service. The phone rings and few times and he answers with a sleepy voice. It gives me so much comfort to hear his voice talking to me. My hand twiddles with my necklace and engagement ring as I talk to him. After a short conversation, I hang up and get ready to continue on in the journey.
Before I go, Jerry takes out the stick and helps roll both of my calves. On my right calf, he feels a big knot and helps roll it out. It really helps relieve the tightness.
Grafton Mesa to Goosebump (Mile 74ish)
Roger will be pacing me now. Roger and I trudge along the fire road back to Goosebump. I tell Roger about some of the challenging terrain we've had to go on. I tell him that the descent we have at mile 74 is going to be really hard. Roger stays positive about everything and says we'll deal with it.
I start to feel sleepy. Cathleen's message goes through my head.
Cathleen: "Hope you're enjoying your run. I just want to remind you while you're out there to don't forget to enjoy the sunset and especially, the sunrise. Remember when the sun comes up, you're going to feel SO much better. But that toughest part is going to be between 3 and 5 so just make it through and listen to your pacers and you'll do great. . . ."
I really focus hard. Must make it through these two hours. These are the toughest hours. 3 am to 5 am. I can feel my head start to get a little fuzzy. I eat a gel and eat a ginger chew hoping that will help. I feel it coming on. The hardest part of the night. Must not fall asleep. I am starting to fade.
I tell Roger, "you need to talk. I don't care about what but just talk." Roger then shares a story about his brother. He then asks me some questions about my family. This is good as it is forcing me to focus and think of answers. I am so tired and sleepy but the conversation is just enough to keep me alert and moving at a relatively decent (hiking) pace.
We talk and talk and talk. Then, my headlamp dies.
I have a wind up handheld light as my backup light but it's running dim. I keep winding it up to get a little more light but it's a pretty dim light to follow. I kind of follow Roger's light. It's a good thing the road is smooth-ish and flat-ish. We attempt to run a little but it's hard when it's so dark. So, we power hike along. I know we are getting close to 5 a.m. so I keep trying to move as best as I can.
We finally arrive at the Goosebump aid station around 4:45 a.m. I just missed another cutoff.
I start feeling cold so I put on some pants over my running skirt. I get a new headlamp and flashlight. I also grab a bottle of the Starbucks frappicino to carry with me. Roger offers me some bean burrito from the aid station. I say no and just as Roger is eating the burrito, I tell him how my friend Hector wasn't feeling good after eating the burrito from here. Jerry makes me some more hummus wraps and I pack it away and head on out.
Goosebump Aid Station to Guacamole (Mile 82ish)
Roger and I take our time descending Goosebump mesa. It is super steep and very slippery. I slip a few times. I crawl along a few spots (like a crab) with my hands along the rocks to brace myself. Other spots, I try to move sideways down the hill. We inch our way down. I slip and fall on my butt a couple of times.
After about an hour, we finally reach the bottom of the climb (I probably climbed it in half the amount of time to go down it).
We hit some wide, open trail that takes us back towards Virgin. We shuffle along when I can. I am a little more alert now than earlier. I can see the sky starting to lighten a little. I think I have passed through the worse part of the night. I should be okay now. Though they say, the last 25% is where the real race begins. 25 more miles to go. That's still a long way to go.
We meander our way through the desert back towards town. We eventually run along Highway 9 and cross the road and head up Dalton Wash Road, the road that goes up to the top of Guacamole Mesa.
As the sun rises so does my energy levels. Roger comments on how much more alert and perky I am now than earlier. We start moving at a bit of a brisker pace. My brain is clearer and sharper. I am still concerned with time. I run all the times and paces in my head. The cutoff at the top (after doing a 9 mile loop up there) is 11:30 a.m. I worry that the 9 mile loop is going to be super technical. I think if I get up there at 8:30 am., that will leave me 3 hours to go 9 miles. That is doable. So, I am determined to get to the top of Guacamole by 8:30 a.m. If I can get up there by 8 a.m., that'd be even better as it'll give me some cushioning.
So, I start moving with a bit more determination. We pass by Jerry asleep in the car at the bottom of Guacamole. We drop off our headlamps and we power hike up the hill.
As I am moving along, I see Maggie and Bill ahead of me. I am surprised to see them as I thought they were way ahead of me. But, as I pass them, Maggie tells me how she's had a lot of blister problems. I tell her I'm sorry to hear that and I continue pushing my way up the hill.
Roger and I power hike and run a little up Guacamole as the sun rises and things start to warm up more and more. I am really glad Jerry rolled out the knot in my calf earlier as my calves are feeling a whole lot better climbing now than they were earlier.
We reach the top and don't see an aid station. Where is it?? Roger asks a person in a car if there's an aid station nearby. He says we have to go across the slick rock and it's behind those trees. So, we follow some flags across the slick rocks out to the edge of the mesa.
We then arrive at the Guacamole aid station.
At the aid station, I grab my drop bag and take off my sweatpants, sweatshirt and gloves. I do a quick sock change and sit for a moment. Another runner flops on the chair next to me. He looks beat. We both commiserate a bit and I tell him at least he's on the final stretch now. I still have to do the loop.
Guacamole Loop (to Mile 91ish)
After refilling our packs, Roger and I then head out. Seeing all the slick rock has me really dreading the next nine miles. The aid station lady says we will have to zig zag across the rocks and it'll take us to the loop. We do the loop and come back on the rocks. It's more a lollipop loop. I foresee more rock hopping and I really do not have the legs to rock hop anymore. I can tell every part of my legs are worked.
So, we zig zag across the rocks. I tell Roger that we just follow flag to flag. There's not exactly a trail to follow so Roger and I follow yellow flag to yellow flag. I grumble in pain every time I have to jump down from a rock mound. My quads and now my knees are hating me.
I see some runners coming in from the other direction. I am really astounded how some are running so well. Then, Roger tells me some of those runners are the 50k runners, who just started their race. That makes me feel better. I see the 100 milers are mostly hiking through here.
We continue across the rocks and cross paths with Tim and his gang. I think we're all happy to see each other. Tim tells me to keep up the good work though he knows I am cutting it pretty close on time. I am happy to see Tim and the other guys doing well and should be finishing in not too long.
Roger and I meanwhile continue zig zagging our way through the rock maze hell. The flags are really confusing. We encounter a couple people who have gotten lost or disoriented and this makes me worry even more about getting lost. Roger assures me that we are going the right way and I continue to follow him along as he follows the flags. I want to curse every time I have to jump down. It hurts like hell with every jump. A few rocks, I have to sit and slide down as it's just too high for me to attempt to jump down.
We hike along as brisk of a pace as I can. We eventually hit the so-called loop and have a little relief running on some dirt trails that go along the rim of the mesa.
While running along the rim, we look across at the other mesas. Roger and I try to figure out where we were earlier. I can recognize Gooseberry Point across the expanse but not sure where Goosebump is but know it's all the way across the expansive field we ran across early this morning.
After only a short period on runnable dirt, we are back on the rocks again and weaving our way to who knows where. I am not sure if we are even moving in the right direction and keep asking Roger if he's sure we are going the right way. He says we are. Does this look like we were here earlier? I want to know to know if we are getting closer to the aid station (versus farther). Roger says it all looks the same but he can see runners ahead so he knows we are going in the right direction. Roger must have better vision than me because I look across the expanse of rocks and don't see anyone.
My legs start hurting and aching in all sorts of places. I start slowing down and Roger keeps telling me to move along. Roger keeps saying "you're going to do it. You're doing alright." I want to him to stop saying that. I do not feel alright. I feel like crap. I am moving but it's taking whatever willpower I have to move. I hate this place. I hate these fucking rocks. I just want to be out of this rocky hell!
It's also starting to get really warm up here on the mesa top. And the heat is starting to affect my breathing. I keep moving along, slower than I should but as best as I can. Roger continues urging me along though he's put some distance between the two of us. I can see him but he's no longer just ahead of me. I kind of appreciate the space. I am angry and grumpy.
I then decide this is a good time to pull out my ipod again and play the voice messages of my friends back home. The messages I listen to stir all kinds of emotions from laughter to tears.
Veronica: "I'm pretty much guessing by now that you're listening to this that maybe you need a little something more. . . . you're feeling kind of crappy and you probably don't want somebody telling you you look so good but don't worry, I told Roger, make sure you tell Helen when she's feeling crappy she looks good. . . .NAH. i'm just kidding. I wouldn't do that to him (her chuckling). I know you're going to make it through this. You know you're my rock. You make it through everything. You have awesome mental fortitude and you're going to do it. You're in an awesome place with some awesome people and we're all cheering you on. I am with you there virtually. Keep on plugging. You got it!"
Hearing Veronica's message has me chuckling a little. I wish she told Roger how much I hate being told you look great a bazillion times. Though Roger hasn't said "You look great," I am really getting tired of hearing him saying "You're doing alright." I am not doing alright. I am hurting all over. The second part of Veronica's message brings some tears to my eyes as I continue moving along through the rock hell.
David: ". . . I want to wish you a great run. You are probably even listening to this as you're running along. Think of it as if the Java Joggers are with you. . ..think of it as something easy like nine loops of Lake Natoma. No. Kidding. You've done 100 miles before. We know you can do it. . . ."
Hearing David's message, I think how this is so NOT like the Lake Natoma loop. I so wish I was doing nine loops around Lake Natoma right now. I continue on moving over more rocks.
Theresa: "Helen Fong. You are a fucking amazing person and I can't believe that you are doing this shit. . . . You are doing amazing. I love you so much. . . .Keep pushing. I know it's hard. Well, I don't know. Fuck! 100 miles! You're crazy! Keep pushing. You're going to make it . . . ."
I curse along with Theresa's message. I can't believe that I am doing this shit either. This is hard. Yes, FUCK! 100 miles. I am crazy! This fucking sucks! I hate this rocky hell. My leg starts tightening up even more and it makes it even harder to move but I must move into the 90s. I am almost done with these awful 80s. Just keep going.
I hate there fucking rocks. I want out of this rocky hell. The rest of the race I can handle but I want out of these rocks. I hate them! Hate them! Hate them!!! I grumble to Roger about how much I hate these rocks and how I want to be out of this place! He tells me "you're doing alright" (I want to smack him).
I listen to more messages and feel my eyes welling up. I hear Scott's voice (my running husband and usual pacer) and it makes my eyes water. I know he would say to me right now if he were here with me and I keep moving along.
I listen to Cathy's voice singing me a silly song and her chipper voice lifts my spirits up but also brings tears to my eyes. I listen and laugh (and nearly cry) to Diane's two messages ("take one and take two"). I hear Barbara's voice and laugh when she says "This is Barbara, one of your running buddies . . ." as if I didn't know who Barbara was.
I move along listening to more friend's voices (Kelly, Adam, Edd, Kellie, Wendy, and Nicole). I feel miserable. I hurt. I hate with deep passion all these rocks and stupid yellow flags. It's hard to hike now. My legs are starting to tighten and nearing cramping. I push on but I am so utterly miserable right now.
Then, I listen to Bruce's message. . . .
Bruce: "....Hmm. You're looking for a motivational message. . . .I think I can do that. I'm pretty sure. Well, here it goes. So, I assume if you're listening to this right now, you're hurting and you're not really loving the situation and as beautiful as the surroundings are, the discomfort is putting an edge on that. So, here's a little something to get you through the night. So, here's what I'm thinking. You got yourself into this mess. No, just kidding. That's not really helpful. What I'm thinking is that you're the energizer bunny and what the energizer bunny does is keep going and going and going so that's what you're going to do. You don't need to like it. You don't need to be happy about it. All that will take care of itself after you're done. You just need to do what we do which is the Gordy-ism of one foot in front of the other. And, you know, these things are never that great during. They're always much better after. So, just focus on one step at a time and everything else will take care of itself. You got this thing. . . . .."
And his words really hit home. It is as if he is talking to me right here, right now. Knowing exactly how I am feeling right here, right now. I am hurting. I am not really loving the situation. The discomfort is putting an edge on things. I don't care about the scenery anymore. But, he's right. I need to just keep going and going and going. I like he's telling me I don't have to like it right now because I don't like it. I don't like this at all! I don't have to be happy about it. I am not happy at all! But, it is going to be much better after. It IS going to be much better after. I need to do what we do. One foot in front of the other. This is what we do. We don't do it because it's easy.
I stop thinking about the pain and I start moving forward (a little faster). 11:30 a.m. cutoff is nearing so I need to be moving faster. I start power hiking a little brisker than before. I can feel the heat is starting to bother my breathing but I keep going. My legs are tight and achy but I keep going. I think about how good the massage I will get from Tom when I get back home. I just need to keep going now. I need to make the 11:30 a.m. cutoff.
We find some other 100 mile runners on the rocks. Some had gotten turned around but I think we are all moving in right direction now. It's 11 a.m. now and I am really worried about time so I start shuffling a run when I can. I power hike as brisk as I can when I cannot run on the rocks. I need to move. It's tough to move with a hard effort as I feel my breathing getting a bit labored. I probably should use my inhaler now but I don't want to stop to fish it out. I keep on pushing. Just need to get to the aid station.
I go around the the runners as I am really worried about time. It's racing the clock time. We should be near the aid station but I don't have much time if the course is long. Roger and I hustle over the rocks and then we finally arrive back at the Guacamole aid station at 11:25 a.m., just in the nick of time!
Tweet: Been fighting cutoffs all night and morning but made it to the last aid station within time. Mile 91
I am so relieved to be back at the aid station and finally done with that rocky hell. I think it's basically all downhill to the finish. It should be easy here to the finish. I overhear someone mention that it isn't 9 miles to the finish but closer to 7. That will be nice since everything has been going a little long. Maybe I'll end up doing 100 miles instead of 103-104 miles. I tell Roger thanks for pushing me back there.
It is definitely getting hot now so both Roger and I unload our jackets. I take a couple huffs on my inhaler. My lungs do not like heat. We refill on water and I grab some edible food I could at the aid station. Then, we start our way back down Guacamole.
As we head down, Roger points back to the rocks and says "yeah that. That can stay there." And, I am filled with joy to finally see Roger's equal hatred for that rocky hell maze as me. He had been so good in staying positive and keeping me moving during but now that we are out of it, he is venting about how awful it is. Yes, it was awful but thank goodness, it is over with!
Being in better spirits, we start shuffling down the hill. My abs start hurting me so we slow down and power hike it at times. We are moving along okay. My feet get a bit too hot so I stop to change my socks. Then, we start moving along down towards the finish.
Some sections are really hot with the sun bearing down on us but other moments, the sun goes behind a cloud and it's bearable. We occasionally try to run a little to the shade and start walking in the shade. I feel fortunate that it's warm today and not yesterday.
As we run and hike down Guacamole, out of nowhere, huge gusts of wind come blowing at us. It feels like an intense wind storm we are in the middle of. All this dust and dirt come swirling at us and into our eyes and mouth. We try to block it as best as we can but I feel dirt in my mouth.
The wind was kind of random but we keep moving on down. I am thinking how we reach the bottom and just run into town to the finish the last few miles. Roger says I think there's a few more hills after we reach the bottom. I think he's joking and ask him if he is. He pulls out his course map and says no, he's not and shows me the race profile and sure enough, a few little hills are left. What, there's more! Ugh. But, it's not too much and we should have some more downhill to the finish. I look at my watch, concerned with how tight of a finish it will be. But, I didn't spend all night and morning fighting all those cutoffs to get cut off in the end!
We pick it up a little and go running down the last stretch of the hill where Jerry is waiting for us.
At the car, I change into my Java Joggers shirt. I want to finish wearing my Java Joggers shirt. I don't bother refilling my pack or anything. I need to get to the finish. Jerry runs next to me and hands me a coke to sip off of for a bit before we head out of the water station.
We head onto some single track trails that start going up a hill. We power hike up it. On the way down, I start hustling and am moving pretty well. I can smell the barn. I want to get there. I bomb down the hill and run along on more trails. I see the flags ahead continue to go on and on and on away from the road. Where are we going?
I run along until we start climbing again. I power hike up it and but all of this is getting hard. I don't have much time and I thought I could shuffle a nice easy run to the finish. This terrain is tough to move very fast on (at least for me). I move along a trail as it wraps around and runs into a creek. A creek crossing at mile 97-98ish!? Are you kidding me?
Roger and I wade across the creek. There's no avoiding getting your feet wet. I just walk on through letting my feet soak up. I can feel the water going in between my duct tape and aggravating my blisters. My feet are screaming with pain right now. Ugh!
I hobble my way out of the creek feeling my blisters (which have been under control so far) burning in pain. We hit some soft dirt, which is just perfect when we have set shoes, and hike our way up yet another hill as our shoes drain of water.
Are we getting close? I ask Roger. He says we should be. We continue weaving on some trail as more wind blows at us. I feel like the flags are not going anywhere near the road and worry how much longer I will have to go to the finish. If the course runs long, I might not make it. But the flags finally turn and go down towards the road.
At the road, Jerry is there with the car. He tells me it's 1.25 mile to the finish. I ask him to repeat it a couple times to be sure I hear it right. Yes, 1.25! I like the sound of that. I know I can finish before the 2 pm cutoff now. I give my pack to Jerry and start taking off down the road. I am running hard and fast down the road.
I think I started my kick a bit too soon as I start running out of steam and start slowing down a bit. I am still able to run but my legs are exhausted. We then reach Highway 9 and since there's no one there to stop traffic so I have to stop and wait for a few cars to pass.
When the road clears and I start running again, both of my hips are screaming in pain at me. OMG, that really hurt to stop and restart. My hips are aching so badly but I know I am getting close so I keep pushing on. It's hard to run at any decent pace so I slow down and hike a little bit but I really just want to get to the finish and have this over with.
We run into town and weave through some neighborhood. I turn and start running up a small hill. I see Jerry at the top of it. Roger tells me the finish is up there where Jerry is. Where? I hike a bit, conserving whatever energy I have left for my final kick. I have just a little bit to kick it in. I just need to see the finish.
Tweet: Finished Zion 100! That was f-ing brutal...hardest thing I've ever done!
Finished: 31 hours, 25 minutes
The feeling of finishing is still a high that cannot be described.
And, 31 hours, 25 minutes, 100 miles....as always, I was good to the last mile! ;-)
Post Race Thoughts
For Zion 100, the course was a lot tougher than I had anticipated. Those slick rock sections were brutal and made it really hard for me to run. My legs were thoroughly thrashed in the 100 miler. The race was definitely harder on my body than my first 100.
But, even though it took me a lot longer to finish Zion than my last 100, I think I did a better job overall in this 100 than the last one. I seemed to overcome the problems I had with the last one (i.e. the feet problems and the sleep walking). It was just a tougher terrain that made me slower this time.
For Zion, I think I ran less in training than I did for RDL. I did focus a bit more on quality training over quantity. It became hard to get in all my miles with wedding planning and work and just life but I got in the long runs when needed and made sure my short ones were of some quality. What I think also helped in preparation for Zion was that I started doing a little bit of yoga and core work, somewhat routinely. It was a not a lot but I think it was better than nothing.
All in all, I think most things executed pretty well. I was running fairly decently until the end, when I could run. Despite feeling like all my leg muscles were thoroughly thrashed, I think during the race, I moved relatively well. I no cramping or serious pain that kept me from moving at a steady rate until the end. It's a good things the legs held up as well as I did as I am not sure I would have been able to push it to catch the cutoff times.
Things worked a lot better with my shoes and feet this time. I was happy how the Altra Olympus (with the inserts) worked out well. Duct taping my feet was a big life saver. I heard many suffered from blisters but I fortunately ended up with only a couple small ones on the bottom of my feet. And, all my toes in tact. I think I was smart in making sure I took care of things earlier. I think it helped that I did the taping myself. I know my own feet so I knew where I needed the tape and such. My feet ended up a whole lot better than how my feet ended up after Rio del Lago. But more importantly, my feet never got to a point where it really slowed me down. So, I am happy as to how things went with my feet considering they were a primary concern for this race.
The second thing I was pretty happy with is how mentally alert I stayed throughout the race. At RDL, I ended up basically falling asleep while standing up. I was incoherent and had a hard time functioning, much less moving. I really focused hard to not let myself get to that point. I was well aware of the cutoff times and what paces I needed to go to make them. I think doing the pace calculations in my head definitely helped keep my brain engaged at times to not fall into slumber. Both Roger and Jerry told me how they were surprised as to how coherent and mentally alert I was the whole time. The night was hard but I continuously did what I could to keep my brain engaged. I knew all I needed to make it was make it through the night awake. The sun rising does really amaze me as to what it does to the mind and body.
My stomach didn't hold up as well as it could have. I stopped a lot more than I did in RDL. Though it wasn't as bad as other races I have done. I think that's always going to be work in progress. I think the taking the Immodium, eating the ginger chews and drinking the miso soup helped. Things at least didn't go to horribly bad. Just some discomfort at times. And I learned, if you're going to relieve yourself on the side of the trail, do not put your hand on a cactus! ;-)
I definitely took in a bit too much fluids. Roger and Jerry kind of pushed a lot of liquids on me and I probably should have told them to stop it. After the race, I was quite overweight. The race did not have any weigh in's so I was obviously to how much weight I was gaining. I might have cut back on some of the fluid intake had I been attentive to my weight. I made adjustments at RDL when I had gone overweight mid-race. I was pretty fat with fluids after the race but fortunately, it didn't lead to any major problems.
I won't go into detail but let's say there was some pretty bad chaffing in the shorts area. This kind of happened at RDL too. This was pretty bad and painful.
Thank you to all the friends who sent so many wonderful supportive messages before, during, and after. Thank you for all the support. It means a lot to me and it really helps me get through these crazy things I seem to get myself into. And special thanks to my running friends (Java Joggers, FTRs, etc . . . ). You are my family and I am grateful I have you to train with, to inspire me, to motivate me, etc. . . Thank you!
Roger and Jerry - Thank you so much for traveling all the way out to Southern Utah with me. It was wonderful sharing the adventure with you all. You two were awesome crew and pacers. Both so organized and prepared to handle whatever I threw at you. And thanks for pushing me when I needed to be pushed. You guys were great in taking care of me and helping me get to that finish line. Thank you!
Veronica - Thanks for being the communications person and updating things to the facebook world and/or friends as to my progress. Your voice message was also helpful during some rough patches. Thanks!
David, Cathy, Diane, Wendy, Kelly, Kellie, Adam, Nicole, Cathleen, Barbara, Edd, Scott, Theresa, Sara, and Bruce - Thank you so much for calling and leaving the voice messages. Your voices and messages that I could listen to during the run. I played them at a couple low moments and they really lifted my spirits. It helped having some of my friends with me in some part. -The messages were all wonderful. Some really made me smile and laugh. And some really made me tear up at times. And special thanks to Bruce for your message. Your message was the right words at the right time. I was in a really dark place and your message really reminded me what I needed to do. Thank you all!
Bill, Maggie, and Marnie - Great seeing you all out and about on the course! Hope you had a great adventure out there too!
Hector - Thank you for your company on some sections of the course. And thank you for being at the finish cheering me on when I came in. Sorry things didn't go well with that burrito but it was nice seeing you out on the trails!
Tim Ruffino & company - Thank you Tim for all your support and encouragement leading up to Zion as well as during and after. I remember you telling me you believed I was a tough one when I was at the Grand Canyon and it really helps motivate me when I need to grind it out when needed. I am glad we went into this adventure together and both came out together. It was a brutal one. And, it was really nice meeting your friends as well and glad your team and my team were able to bond during the adventure. Thanks!
Paulo (and Gold Country Run & Sport) - Thank you so much for all my shoe assistance the past few months. You definitely helped me become an Altra girl. I love the Altras! Also, thanks for helping me with the Altra Olympus before I left. I knew I wanted a bigger shoe for the race and you cutting those inserts for me made it great for me to get the shoe that fit but also get a shoe I could make larger when I needed to. How things would go with my feet and shoes was an important concern. And, things went well and I have you to thank! so, thank you!
Tom Self - Thank you for all the massages that keep me in good working shape. You helped me train and get through my last hundo just like you did for me with Zion. I think going to you has helped immensely. I put my body through a very brutal course but everything held up fairly well considering the conditions. I was moving fairly well in the end and fairly well after. I think I was stiffer after my first marathon than I was after Zion. I think you've also helped me understand my muscles better so I knew the little adjustments I could do to keep things functioning (i.e. rolling my calf mid-race). I always know I can play hard as you'll always be there to fix me back up. Thank you for everything!
And as always, thank you to Craig, my wonderful fiance who lets me run off for a few days to do these crazy things. Your love and support in all that I do always means so much to me. I love that I know you spend the whole day bragging to your coworkers about me. I really thank you for letting me call you in the middle of the night just so I could hear your voice. I so needed it then. Thank you for all that you do for me! I love you!