About a year ago, after I finished my 100 mile race in Monument Valley, I immediately fell in love with Utah and I thought it would be cool if I could have a race with my friends there sometime. So I pitched an idea to my friends to race the Zion 100 in 2016. Some answered the call and here is where the story started.
A challenging, scenic run through the southern Utah desert adjacent to Zion National Park. 4 distances will be offered in 2015, a Half Marathon, 55k, 100k, and a 100 miler. The 100 miler & 100k will be run on Friday, with the half marathon and 55k on Saturday. The 100 mile course includes 4 steep climbs onto mesas that offer incredible views of the varied geological features of the area.
55K (original course) This route begins by heading straight towards and then up onto Gooseberry Mesa, then does the 12 mile loop on top. After dropping back off the mesa, the trail heads west to the Virgin Dam aid station and then to the finish.
The Wheel Fell Off From the Wagon
2015 had been a shit show for me. Almost every month I injured myself and set me off the track from races. It was also made me having improper training. Then the bike accident, before NY Marathon, put me on the bench. I did finish the marathon, though poorly.
In 3 years of running ultra, I had been doing trial and error by myself. With the amount of races that I did, between 15 to 20 a year, I had been collecting too many injuries and none of them were fully healed. Then I realized that I had been doing it all wrong. In 2016, I made a decision to have a coach. So I joined in with Mountain Peak Fitness, with Elizabeth Azze as my coach. Why I chose them? Since they and their athletes had been in almost every race as mine in North East, so I know they have the same flavor as mine. And they had been good to me on and off the course for these past couple of years.
One of the first decision we made was to downgrade my Zion 100 miles into 50k. As much as it hurt my ego, but that was exactly why I needed a coach, to direct me to the right direction.
A week before the race, Matt Gun, the RD emailed us about the bad weather forecast. So some of us took the differ options, but we still went there to crew, cheer, and hang out. Ryan Seher, Claire and Joe Del Conte were doing the 100 miles. Harald “the German”, Dennis Ball, Keila, and Juerg Bandle were on the 100K. And it was only me who did the 55k. Originally it was 50k, and this year they had to move the start and finish line about 1-2 miles further from the previous course.
I drove to the parking lot, where I would take the shuttle to the starting line around 5.30am. And suddenly, I received a text notification about the starting time delay to 7am, due to heavy rain over the night. So I decided to take a nap in the car. I woke up around 6.30, and I had a panic moment, when I found I didn’t have my BIB. I left my BIB belt in the restroom, at the house, when I had a nervous attack before I left. Keila and Susie told me to just ask for a new BIB, instead of driving back. So I did. It was still raining when I got into the start/finish festival area. It was even pouring on and off throughout the morning. And they decided to delay the race again till 8am, and created a new course since not only the old course was impassable, but also some sections became hazardous. At that time the 100 milers were still finishing. What brave souls. While I was waiting I met Rob, who I met in the Trans Rockies last year. I also met Ron Seher, Alison and Michelle Mason who was waiting/crewing their runners for the finish line.
Slip & Slide
Finally we all put our toes on the starting line. And the clock was on.
So, the game plan that Elizabeth gave to me was to take it easy, just hike the course and if I felt good I could start to run during the last 10k. She said it was ok to finish 8-10 hours. My goal was to finish without pain, kept my ego in check, and enjoyed the scenery.
I started the race with Rob’s friend, Joe, who was planning to finish in 7 hours. On the first bend, I met Claire finishing her first 100 miles race. She looked a little out of the real world, but looked pretty well and in good spirit despite had been up for over 26 hours in the wilderness. About a mile later I met Ryan, Brittany (pacer), Joe Del Conte, and Lulu (pacer) were finishing their last mile. It was Ryan’s first hundred mile race too. Both of them look tired but still shared their happy faces with me.
After the second mile I shed off my rain coat since I started to feel overheated. The mud had turned into clay, some were becoming soupy clay and slippery, thanks to the never ending rain. They worked me out pretty good, and made my shoes sticky and heavy. Then I remembered Keila’s suggestion after she finished her 100K yesterday, to keep moving. She was right, when I kept my cadence a little higher and less weight on every step, the mud was less sticky and fell off more from the movement.
When I got into the pavement section, there was a 2 mile-ish uphill. There I could do my fast hike, since it was solid ground. I started to pass a few runners who passed me in the beginning. The rain got even harder at that moment. And a few crazy drivers would not even slow down for us.
When I got into the aid station, I took a leak break. I also met a fellow Orange Mud ambassador, Joe Dean, who man up the aid station and kept standing under the rain to help runners. I filled up my water then grabbed a handful of potato chips. And Joe sent me away with direction to do a 9 miles loop in the mesas.
The first half of the mesa was even more slippery and stickier than before. Luckily I followed Allison’s suggestion to bring my poles, after she insisted it to me 3 times. With poles, I could just ski my way up through the mud. Literally I was skiing the mud on the downhill. And I passed more runners till I was by myself. As much as the horrible trail situation, somehow it wasn’t bothering me that much. Probably every turn, I was looking at such beautiful mesas. I was trying to capture it with my phone, but the pictures couldn’t really justify what I saw and experienced. Sometimes I went off the course just to get a better angle, but still it didn’t help much. Too much dark clouds and pouring rain...
Also, the conditions didn’t bother me much because I was excited to run in a race again, and in such a beautiful place. This was my first race in 2016, where in any previous year I could have had 5 races already by this time. On the steepy uphill I was hiking with Mark, a runner from Florida and talked about the scenery in front of us, it was pretty surreal. I went ahead of Mark, he had a hard time climbing a slippery hill without poles.
Then in one section, there was a tiny creek crossing that was in between steep dirt bumps. I had to utilize not only my poles, but also scrapping my legs and buttocks sideways to get some traction. I waited a little bit for a runner behind me and helped her climb up using my poles. Then I went back to ski again, me myself and the mud.
After halfway through, the surrounding was getting eerie. I was surrounded by black burned trees. Maybe there was a forest fire. I started to hear people talking ahead of me but I couldn’t get a glimpse of them. Then, I saw an abandon aid station, and from there the trail was less muddy. There was also a muddy river that went straight to the edge of mesa, maybe it was a waterfall, but I didn’t dare check. I am afraid of heights. I did stop for a bit there to rinse my shoes and wash the mud out from inside, and of course taking more pictures.
On the way back to the aid station, after I finished the loop, I saw those people in front of me.
Every Step’s Worth the Price
When I got into the aid station the second time, I refilled my Tailwind and grabbed some solid food. Thanks to Jenny from Tailwind that gave me an education about fueling a week before, and it worked well, I didn’t feel out of gas at all. But the crazy thing that happened in this aid station was I saw the first person, Mike Wolfe just finished his out and back, and on the way back to the finish line. It was amazing, he looked like just had a morning jog.
After I left the aid station, I had to run back to the aid station because I forgot my precious running poles. I was a mess in this race, I had been out of the race situation too long and forgot the routine.
This section was a 4 mile-ish out and back. On the turn to the muddy trail, I asked the bystanders what time was it, and it was almost 12pm. So that meant it took me almost 4 hours for half of the course, I was on schedule. I jogged on the flat and hiked on the uphill. Every mile I had to shed off the mud from my shoes, since I couldn’t even lift my legs anymore. And at one point (or plenty) I had to knock my poles together to shed some of the mud because they were becoming too heavy to lift also.
Slowly but surely I started to pass more runners. I met Rob and another runner from Trans Rockies, they were on the way back. The course kept going up and even slightly steeper on the last mile. Then on a very muddy area I saw those runners in front of me make a sharp turn to the right, which I found out a minute later was the turn around point. And it was on the edge of the cliff with a view of rolling mesas, hills and a vista of sands and trees. It was worth every struggle I did. This exact moment is why I love this sport. How bless I was to be able to see a beautiful place where my legs could take me. Yes probably anyone could drive to this view, but I believe it would taste differently.
More runners came and joined me, some already went ahead of me. I probably spent a few minutes too long at this spot to take it all in, but I didn’t care. If not because of the raining and cold, I might have stayed longer.
On the steep downhill, I was a little carried away with running it too fast and passed these 2 Brazilian girls who had been ahead of me all day long and another female runner. But I reminded myself to check my ego and hold myself to a jog while I was snacking. In the out and back I met Mark, but only saw a few runners that I had been running with earlier. I guessed plenty were DNF-ed due to the race condition.
Time To Run
Time went by pretty quick that I got back to the Flying Monkey aid station already for the third and last time. It was pouring again, I think every time I got here, the rain was always heavy. Joe was so kind that he filled up my bottle, while I was eye-browsing the food. I grabbed a pancake, couple slices of oranges and a banana, and eat them on the run. This would be my last 10k and I felt good, a little tired but no soreness, cramps or any pain.
So I decided to ramp up my pace while munching all the foods under the heavy rain. After a mile, I passed those Brazilian girls again and they gave me a hand bump (kind of). I probably hit 6.5 pace at this downhill section.
So Elizabeth training plan works. It was kinda odd to me that I didn’t spend any high mileage on my training. 16 miles was my longest run 2 weeks ago. I spent more time on cross training with building leg and core strength, mobility, and spent many hours on the hike sessions. In the beginning it did bum me out not to have many running sessions, but little by little it was making sense to build strength to support me in doing longer exercise and putting extra stress on my body. And here I was, running sub 7 pace after 20 miles-ish of mud fest, and it was only a little more than a month ago I was released from my physical therapy treatment.
The road ended and I made a left turn to the trail, to go back to the finish line, and back to another mud fest. Although some parts did have dry sections. So I had to run and hike the whole time, and slowed down dramatically. I might not had the endurance or the cardio to keep fast pace the whole time, but I was surprised I made it this far and still felt good. About 2 miles away from the finish line, those girls passed me again. Same as me, they were just having fun, taking pictures and video. At one point we stopped and they asked me to take a photo, before they made me eat their dust.
Finally I crossed the finish line, and I didn’t believe to see 2pm-ish on my watch. I was about 2 hours early.
Done And Done
I really owed Elizabeth and Mountain Peak Fitness a beer(s) next time I see them. I didn’t believe I did it under 7 hours with this trail condition!
I went to the river to clean up my shoes and feet from the mud, and my feet are pretty as this morning. Thanks to Trail Toes and Swiftwick to make sure I had blister free, even after over 6 hours on my feet in a wet and mud fiesta. Also Orangemud and Tailwind who always supported and kept me fueled up. I hung out with Rob and his gang for a while. And made new friends while I was eating pizzas. My group didn’t know that I had finished, since I was early. So I put my mud-caked gears and shoes in the bag, put my Gladsoles sandals on, and slid my way back to the house. It was a good day.
- Distance : 28 miles-ish
- Elevation : 4393 ft Elevation Gain, who care what s the lost.
- Finish : 6:22:03
- Rank : #28 (overall)
Gang of New York
So I was the last person who finished the race from our Gang of New York. It had been a blast to hang out, crewing and cheering my fellow runners. We all finished what we started. Of course Keila won 1st female, despite just arriving 2 hours before the race started. Harald finished just before dusk and Dennis an hour later, though they had not much training. Juerg finished 2nd in his age group, I think. Ryan, Claire, and Joe got their hand-made buckles. It was the first one for Claire and Ryan. I think we should do this more often, minus the mud.
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