Zion 100 miler Utah
I’m at the race start of the Zion 100 miler in Town Park, Virgin Utah. Both the 100km and 100 miler races start at the same time so there are quite a few of us standing around chatting nervously. Despite having travelled across the world for this race, I instantly feel part of this community.
I see my new friend Cindy. I met Cindy the night before through our mutual Facebook friend Karen. Karen is a running pal who saved my arse a few years earlier when I left my Garmin at the airport before the Kep Ultra. Cindy too would save my arse before this day was through. It’s a beautiful community!
(Cindy and me at the race start)
6:00am comes too quickly and we are all off, my wonderful pacer, crew and friend Erin jogs the first few steps with us and then she is out of sight. It is still dark at this time. The sun is yet to rise. Though I know the sun will have set again and it will be dark once more before I see her again.
We head toward Flying Monkey trail. This is a steep trail that climbs around 600m in 1km and requires the use of a rope to scale parts of the Mesa, however once at the top, the views are stunning. The sun is beginning to rise. I am happy.
It’s a 10 km loop at the top of the mesa over undulating terrain. I try to run slow. It’s going to be a long day. I make conversation with some of the other runners. They have all run plenty of milers. Their advice quenches my novice thirst. I am warned about some of the more technical aspects of this particular course and told wisely “there is no shame in walking.”
It’s time to descend the Flying Monkey Trail and while I try to use the rope to get down the sharp descent, I realise I will be better off if I just use what my Mamma gave me and toboggan down the smooth rock on my backside. I check to make sure I haven’t ripped a giant hole in my pants and quietly encourage myself for my wise wardrobe choice. That could have been a very long day at the office with my backside out in the desert sun.
Soon I check in at Dalton Walsh Aid Station. We’ve already run 30km but I feel super fresh. I leave quickly heading out on a long dirt road that heads toward the second major climb of the race. There is a lone RV out in the desert and I say to another runner “look, it’s Heisenberg.” He tells me this is an awkward conversation so I am forced to run a little faster to make my exit. I channel my spirit animal for this race, the cassowary – bright, colourful, powerful (and slightly awkward).
At the top of the second climb, I encounter slick rock for the first time. I had been warned about this stuff but didn’t appreciate just how awful it was going to be until the first 10km stretch across the rock is under my belt. It is the equivalent of running on undulating, jagged pavement.
Eventually it’s over and I’m back at Dalton Wash. From here we head out onto another dirt road that slowly climbs up toward the third and meanest climb of the race, Goosebump Mesa. The heat starts to affect me. We are out in the open and the sun pummels its rays down upon us. It’s nauseating and it becomes difficult to keep down calories. My pace slows but I keep moving forward.
I become very interested in every runner I meet. I push the pace a little so I can catch up with a woman with wild curly hair. She’s from New York. She is struggling in the heat and can’t talk much so I day dream about the types of trails she might train on in New York. It keeps me occupied until we hit Goosebump mesa.
As we start to climb Goosebump the wind is knocked out of me. It’s a hands on knees grind to the top. Runners are perched on rocks around each switch back. I’m not the only one struggling but I don’t stop. Short strides and a scramble to the top and I reach Goosebump Aid Station.
From Goosebump we head out on a loop that should take me around two to three hours at the pace I’m going. I’m happy because I know the second time I pass through Goosebump I’ll see my lovely pacer Erin. However there is a slight problem – I’m three hours ahead of my most optimistic, speed demon schedule. I don’t have a phone that works in the USA so I don’t really have any way of contacting Erin. I try to send her a mental message by holding my temples, scrunching my face and hoping really really hard that she gets it, but I don’t like my chances.
About twenty minutes after leaving Goosebump, I start to wonder if I’ve taken the wrong trail. I haven’t seen another runner for some time. Then I hear foot-steps – it’s Cindy! We run together for a bit and then I tell her my predicament – that I’m three hours ahead of schedule and don’t know how to tell my pacer. She offers to text message her. Cindy is running faster than me now so I yell out the phone number as she runs off into the desert.
About an hour later, Cindy and I pass each other again and she lets me know that Erin got the message but won’t meet me at Goosebump as planned. Instead, she will meet me at the aid station 12km out of Goosebump.
I am relieved but as I jog on into Goosebump I feel so sad. The emotion is completely ridiculous but after running all day, I can’t help it – it’s all part of the course. I sit down for the first time all day and change my shoes. I am despondent. I don’t feel like talking to anyone. A camera man puts his great big camera in my face and asks me some questions. I want to tell him to fark off but instead I just ignore him. I’m not hungry. I’m not thirsty. The suddenly, I know exactly what I need…Rob Zombie!
Hellbilly Deluxe is loaded and off we go. I’m running stronger than I have run all day – hand clapping and screaming into the night. The album is over and I feel a little sad before I remember Hellbilly Deluxe 2! There’s a lot more hand clapping and singing and screaming and then I can see them! It’s not just Erin. It’s Julie! Dan! And Adam! (I didn’t know Adam – Julie’s husband, at the time but instantly he became a great friend).
The next few hours were amazing. Erin AND Julie paced me for around three hours. I don’t recall much of the trail through this section – I think it was single trail. I recall Erin had some pretty funky shoes that I just kept my eyes on and tried to keep pace. We had some laughs and giggles and then we passed a man who was having a good old fashioned ultra chunder. Julie is a doctor so she stopped to check he was okay. He was fine – ultra style. So she rejoined us and we jogged and laughed into the night.
(The top of Goosebump Mesa)
I said good bye to Julie whilst Erin kept me company all the way back to Goosebump Aid Station. This would be the final time I would pass through Goosebump. It was 2am and it was a momentous occasion. Though this was also the point I was to say goodbye to Erin. We would meet again at Virgin Aid Station in around 3 hours time, or so I thought. I wasn’t really talking much at this stage and I was getting cold. I knew it was a terrible descent down the Mesa and I took off without saying a proper goodbye to Erin.
The early morning hours find me hallucinating on a dirt trail. I’m no longer sure what is real and I’m afraid I’m getting hyperthermia. I see cartoon animals – a fox, a few frogs and a Klu Klux Klan man.
At 5am I hit Virgin Desert Aid Station. I don’t see Erin. I’m so cold. I had left my emergency thermal gloves with her and now I think I need them but she’s not here. I ask one of the volunteers if he has seen her. She’s gorgeous, tall and blonde – hard to miss. She’s not there. I can’t waste any more time so I head out on the first of three 10km loops that loop back to the same aid station.
I’m worried I’m getting frost bite. My hands hurt so bad I put them down my shirt under my arm pits. It helps but it’s very awkward to run with your hands in your arm pits.
I think my nose is going to fall off so I pull my buff over my face.
At 7am I am greeted by one of my wonderful pacers, Julie. I’m afraid it’s another hallucination. I’m so confused. When she talks, I realise she is real. She assures me that when the sun is full in the sky my aches and pains will disappear. She’s a doctor – I believe everything she says, I have to!
They don’t disappear but they do ease as my body warms up for another day of running. This loop feels like it’s taking a very long time, but suddenly I remember I packed my toothbrush. I tell Julie and she gets excited for me – at the end of this loop I will brush my teeth and it will be the best day ever!
At 9am, I brush my teeth. I can no longer stand or sit – only run. So I lie belly down on a tarp and brush my teeth. Julie, Adam, Erin and Dan gather around me and cheer. Yay! I brushed my teeth!
Erin joins me for the final miles. I am so glad to have her with me for this rough stretch. She is so good to me. The sun is so hot and I have forgotten my hat. Despite being sleep deprived and dehydrated she offers me her own hat and water. Instead of accepting graciously I start to complain.
“This is farked!”
“This is soooo farked” Erin joins in.
“This is sht!”
“This is soooo sht!”
Erin tells me I have less than 10 miles to go.
“That’s 10 miles too farking far!”
(Erin and I on the final mile)
I am raging and then suddenly I am laughing.
What a privilege it is to be out in the desert!
Sunrise to sunset to sunrise.
To paraphrase from the film Wild, “There is a sunrise and a sunset everyday. You can choose to put yourself in the face of beauty.”
I crossed the finish line at 12:30pm on Saturday – 4 hours ahead of my goal time in a time of 30 hours and 31 minutes.
I had put myself in the face of beauty. I had found my Zion.
Many many thanks to everyone who supported me in this journey but particular thanks to Matty Abel, my running coach at DBA Runners; Erin and Dan for everything; Julie and Adam – for being amazing, so amazing to me; thank you to my Dad who is always my inspiration; my mum who always believes in me; and most of all – my Liam who inspires me every day to be the best version of myself.