YABRR: Zion 2018 Edition
I want to start my race report by thanking all the folks who helped me at the race. First and foremost the DDR traveling road show: Nikki for setting it up (and pacing), Martha, Michael, Gary, Richard, Robin, and Chris for spoiling the 100 mile fools, all while still running their own races. Brent, for providing humor and crew duties throughout the race, and Ginny for letting me accompany her as she finished her first 100 (the first of many more to come). Also, as always Shellene for putting up with me, and the rest of DDR just because.
For those who don't like long posts, the important stuff is over. For those that do, get comfortable, we might be here a while.
As a lot of folks know, last year the race at Bryce Canyon was a bit of a mess (understatement, but I wasn't there), and I had been warned to expect a small disaster at Zion. This gave me a chance to overpack for this race. Considering we flew into Zion I did leave some of my "normal" gear at home. Since we were staying at a house 10 minutes from the start, I probably didn't need to bring tent stakes. Let's just say that my drop bags were well stocked, most of which I didn't touch. That included two different shoe choices for the start, as well as two changing on the course. Also, there was some concern on my part about course markings, which like supplies was not an issue.
Race morning I got up and had a nice leisurely breakfast, and then headed out with Robin and Chris (both doing the 100k) and Ginny, with Brent driving. We found a parking spot and waited until the last minute before walking to the start line. It was a bit chilly and damp (37f and a light rain) when we started. This year to avoid a backlog at the rope on Flying Monkey, we used a new route that included a road climb to get to FM the first time. I used the time to shake out my legs, moving just fast enough to stay warm - without raising a big sweat. Went through FM the first time, grabbing some PB&J and continued climbing, only things had changed from a wet road to a muddy trail. "Run in Utah they said, it's a desert they said". Since I chose my Speedcross for a shoe this morning, I wasn't doing that bad in the mud. I moved at a reasonable clip, and where I could see that other runners had slid, I was able to run/trot through without any issues. Moving well, feeling good, and heading back to Flying Monkey. Sadly, there were a lot of runners who were thinking the same thing, and we all hit FM at the same time: when they were out of sandwiches. It wasn't a case of lack of supplies, they had everything they needed, I think they just weren't expecting to get slammed with that many runners at one time. Grabbed a couple of cookies, instead of waiting and started down the trail. It was foggy, wet and a long way down if you went off the side - I took my time. In this section I ran with a runner from the beast coast, he had never seen gumbo mud before, he was not amused. We missed the sunrise, but as the rain would occasionally let up, the clouds lifting made for some nice views.
From there it was a short run over to the Dalton aid station, in this stretch I managed to find a spot to fall on - and then avoided hitting the deck. Met Brent at Dalton, gave him my opinion of the conditions and then headed to Guacamole, I hate guacamole, and wasn't too fond of the mesa either. On the way up to the aid station, there was a Prius parked in the mud, I wonder if it's still there. As I was walking up the muddy road, I got to watch the leaders run down it. Once I got to the aid station it was 7.5 miles of solid rock, only broken up by all the water from the ongoing rain. There were a few times when I thought it was going to stop raining, only for it to rain a little harder. When I got to the aid station on the return, they were talking about the fact that there was snow falling (it sounded like they were talking about the flying monkey area), and I knew at least one runner had already DNF'd due to not being able to get warm (and she was from the northern climes). Slid down the hill back to Brent at Dalton. When I got to Dalton, Brent gave me an update. He let me know that Ginny was running close to Robin and Chris, who were about 20 minutes behind me. That was the good news, he also gave me the bad news: they had closed the road to Grafton Mesa aid station, he was supposed to park a mile a way and hike through the mud in order to crew Ginny. Since his foot is in a soft boot, that wasn't really a valid option. I told him that I would probably wait for her at Goosebump, if she wanted the company, and off I went.
At the base of the climb up to Goosebump, off to the left there was a section of steep drops for mountain bikes. For some reason I didn't think to get out my camera. To me it looked like the type of place they would practice for the Red Bull Rampage, I was only slightly mistaken: they actually hold the Red Bull Rampage there. That area, ( I figure it's proof that there are stupider things to do than run 100 miles), and the sun finally coming out, helped counteract the evil nasty (and somewhat scary to me) climb up to the Goosebump aid station. At Goosebump I finally got out of my muddy shoes and socks. It was also there that I ran into the guy from the beast coast again, we ran towards the Gooseberry Point aid station, which was advertised as only water. At Gooseberry I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was fully stocked, and also to find Ray. I understand why they advertised Goosebump as only water, it was a long haul for them to get supplies to, and they didn't want runners to expect a full aid station, only to find out that it would be a total of 12+ miles without anything. I traveled with Ray to the point and then part way back to Goosebump, but decided to slow down since we ran into Robin and Chris, who let me know that Ginny was close by as well. I got to Goosebump, took care of a few things (they use portable outhouses instead of port-a-johns, reminded me of the Appalachian Trail), and waited for everyone to catch me - which they did. While I was waiting they announced, over the radio that the 100 mile leader was heading down (I was only 18.5 miles behind the leader). The views from Gooseberry Mesa were incredible, without the clouds you could see for miles, and that was just looking down over the edge. Ginny showed up and was willing to put up with my company, so we said goodbye to Robin and Chris (they didn't have to do the Grafton loop). We settled in at a good mileage eating pace, alternating run/walk as we felt like. We had plenty of time to finish, which was the main goal. I actually think her goal was to see if she could walk my legs into the dirt with her 14-minute walking pace (she did). There were a few times when I had to run to catch back up, which she took as me telling her that we should be running. As we got close to Grafton, we got another pleasant surprise. The RD had decided that folks could crew their runners at the parking area, so Brent was there. This gave Ginny an extra boost, as she was able to get supplies that she didn't think she'd see until Virgin Desert. I gave my camera pack to Brent as well.
The Grafton Mesa loop was fun, as we transitioned from daytime to dark, this was actually one of the most technical sections, and it wasn't solid rock, rather enjoyable. After taking short break to put warm food in us, we headed back to Brent in the parking lot. Brent had company this time, as Jill was waiting for her runner. We chatted a bit, as we changed out gear (Ginny added warm clothing) and then headed back to Goosebump. Again, Ginny was tearing it up with her walking pace. A short stop at Goosebump and then the section I was most concerned about, the downhill. As I am slightly (understatement) terrified of heights, and there was one section where I was closer to the cliff edge than I liked, this had worried me for a "few" miles. The good thing is, I learned at Bandera, it's actually easier for me to descend scary stuff in the dark (this way I can't see my death coming), Ginny, on the other hand went down it like it was nothing, until she ended on her backside (but well past the danger zone). I slipped once as well, probably in about the same area, but was already so low to the ground that there was nothing to it.
The trek from Goosebump to Virgin Desert is listed as 8 miles in my notes, really felt like 12. During this section Ginny actually slowed down to what I'd consider a fast walk, and I think we were both wondering if the aid station was ever going to get there. We met some runners who were on the loop section, and they told us it wasn't far (it wasn't), and when we got there Brent and Nikki were waiting. I needed a longer break since my legs were tired of holding a pace that was too slow for a run, but too fast for a walk, so I told Nikki to head out with Ginny when she was ready. They probably had a 10 minute head start on the 4-mile loop, when I finally started moving. Since Ginny was using a Foxelli headlamp I knew where she was on the loop and started doing math as to when I'd actually catch them (I was figuring it would be about 6 miles to go). I came into the Virgin Desert station to see them still there. After 80 hard miles, Ginny was finally starting to really feel it. From that point on, we set out as a unit: Nikki in front, controlling the pace, Ginny and then me. My job was to yell if Nikki went to fast, and to make sure that Ginny didn't wander too far to one side or the other. We did the next loop, and on our final loop the sun came out - and it started to get comfortable. During the entire race up to that point I had never really been warm, I hadn't been super cold, but never warm either.
Once we got back to Virgin Desert, it was about 5 miles to the finish. The first section was along the river, all single track with a drop down the cliff to the actual water. This wouldn't have been bad, if our legs were as fresh as the half marathoners who had to try and pass us. We tried to be polite as much as possible, but I wasn't giving up the trail, so they had to work at passing us. This is probably my only real complaint about the race, due to the starting times the mid-pack half marathoners have to deal with the exhausted mid-pack 100 milers. We made it through that section, and then heard Ginny make a discouraging sound as we crossed the bridge over the river: "It just popped". Nikki was concerned that it was her knee, but it was "only" a huge blister on her foot. At this point we only had one option, keep moving. I know Ginny is tough (she's friends with Scott after all), and she proved how tough as she walked on her shredded foot towards the finish line. As we got closer to the turn I commented that we were 5 minutes from the 28 hour mark. Ginny misunderstood and thought I was telling her it should take about 5 minutes to finish. Nikki, who had also been pushed to the limit by Ginny's walk was happy, after getting dropped the last two times she paced, she wasn't going to get dropped this time. We turned the corner, just as I said "3 minutes". Ginny heard my words, saw the clock and figured out that I meant we were 3 minutes under 28 hours. At that point, on a massively blistered foot, she did the only thing possible: she sprinted. I was about 2 steps behind her when she started, but I didn't have blisters so I was able to catch her and finish beside her. Nikki was dropped!
Unofficially I had 27:57:xx, but the race results show me as 27:56:50, due to when I crossed the starting mat. I had actually projected a 28 hour finish for this race. Could I have gone faster, maybe/maybe-not, it that wasn't the point anyway, the last 100 yards was the point. We crossed the line, were met by the entire DDR crew that wasn't still running and enjoyed the accomplishment.
We hung out at the finish, cheered on Martha, Ray and Michael when they finished, got Ginny's foot looked at, ate food, and then headed back to the house. During this time we had multiple phone fiascoes; I left my shoes and phone at the finish, luckily Martha was waiting for Gary - who had his own phone fiasco. It was all good in the end. Back to the house, where we were treated like rock stars.
While we were doing all that running, neither Nikki nor Brent got much sleep either. They wanted to ensure that we had everything we needed to get it done, for which I will be eternally grateful (translate that to "I'll never pay them back").
Told you this was a long race report