If you just want to read about the race itself feel free to scroll through all this other stuff, I won’t be offended.
I’ve been wanting to take a shot at a hundred miler for awhile now. I guess ever since I started running and heard that hundreds were a thing that people do. It seemed so far out of reach, but like everything it’s all relative. When I started running, even 10 miles seemed unattainable. Now, after years of running, I knew that if I could wrap my head around it, a hundred miles was a possibility. It would only be like running from Lynn to Ossippee.
Also the time was now. For the last few years I spent most of my summers thru hiking and although I guess I was building up endurance, I felt that hiking took precedence over training to run a long race. This year was different. I was running well through the fall and had no immediate thru hikes coming up so I had enough time to put in some decent mileage over the winter.
Leading up to the race I ran a 50 miler in October and another one in November. I registered to run Zion in early December. From then until March I was doing 50-60 miles a week, regrettably mostly on the treadmill with some on pavement and not as many as I’d have liked on trail. In early March I developed a shin splint in my left leg and convinced myself it was a stress fracture. So I rested. I rode a bike and got on the stair master to keep my legs busy but I stopped running. Besides a 6 hour race in mid March that I took very easily, I didn’t run at all for the last 5-6 weeks going into Zion. I also had a head cold that whipped my ass for about 3 weeks during that same spell.
Race day I was ready though. My cold was gone, my shin felt good(I wore a compression sleeve on it just in case), and I had been sleeping well the week leading up to the race. No excuses. I had confidence in my crew and pacers and all that was left was to do the damn thing.
Sara and my parents came out to Utah with me and for the couple days beforehand and we did some nice easy hiking around Zion NP and tented at night. I usually sleep better in a tent than a bed anyway so I got some decent rest. We spent the night before the race camping at Zion River Resort(campground) a mile from the start so at 5:30 am it was a short drive for them to drop me off.
At 6am, after a quick talking to, we were off. All the 100 milers and 100K runners starting at once through the dark. Something like 500 runners with headlamps through a neighborhood where one of the houses was blasting Queen’s ‘We are the Champions’(I requested ‘Radio Gaga’ but they either didn’t have that or didn’t hear me). The course took us out onto rt 9 for a mile, where we ran by my crew who were watching from the campground. Across the street in a field next to the road, there was about 40 horses running alongside the runners. They probably wait all year for this. From Rt 9 we took a right onto a dirt road and followed that for a relatively flat 3 miles until we got to the bottom of a massive 1 mile 1500 foot climb to the top of Gooseberry Mesa. This was to be the biggest climb of the course and the timing was perfect, everybody was still jacked up, the sun was coming up and although we were all right on top of each other there was still enough room to pass or get out of the way if necessary. I loved it. At the top was the first aid station, Goosebump Aid(5.2). I shoveled some food in quickly and packed a few Oreos to go.Let’s Party! From Goosebump it was about 6 miles of dirt roads to Grafton Mesa Aid(11.4). This was the first crew access aid station and it was jam packed with spectators and fans and stuff, including my own which was nice. I ate good here, reloaded my fluids then carried on a couple miles downhill on dirt roads to Wire Mesa(13.3). There was an aid station here that we would hit twice so even though it came up quick I did my best to eat something and also pack my pockets with snacks. My plan was to eat as much as I could throughout the race(that’s actually my plan for regular life too) and so far I was executing. From our first stop at Wire Mesa Aid, the course went out on a really nice 7+ mile single track loop along the edge of Wire Mesa. It was very runnable and there were some spectacular views of Zion along this section.
When I got back to Wire Mesa Aid(20.8) I ate a handful of bacon and had a memorable avacodo and mayo wrap. The course went back on the dirt roads to our second stop at Grafton Aid(22.8), uphill this time. For the beginning of this race I kept myself entertained talking with and meeting people from all over the place. It was fun seeing runners I met throughout the day and into the night at different points of the race. At Grafton Aid my crew was waiting for me and this was the first point that pacers were allowed out on the course. My mom, even though she thought she retired from running 5 years ago, joined me for a 6 mile loop out and around Grafton Mesa. This loop was a nice combination of slick rock and single track, it had some killer views, was very runnable, and having my mom with me was a pleasant distraction to the accumulating miles. When we got back to Grafton Aid(28.2) I ate a bunch of food and said goodbye to my crew as it was the last time I’d see my them for about 25 miles/6 hours. The next section was fairly boring. It was on dirt roads with what seemed like a lot of uphill(which I was mostly walking) and the field of runners had really thinned out.
Once I got back to Goosebump Aid(34.4) I loaded up and started out onto an 11 mile loop on Gooseberry Mesa. Now this was tough. There was a lot of slick rock which was difficult to navigate and slow for running. It was awesome though and included what I thought was the highlight of the course; a huge slab of rock around mile 39 that went out and back like a peninsula high up over the desert. It was rad. I let out a good scream on what seemed like the edge of the world. A few miles later we got to Gooseberry Aid(42) and I had the most delicious orange slices I’ve ever had in my life. So refreshing, especially since it was starting to get warm up on the mesa. From Gooseberry Aid back to our third stop at Goosebump(45.7) it was mostly slick rock and single track, difficult but relatively enjoyable.
I loaded up at Goosebump Aid and began the 1500 foot descent off of the mesa. This was the downhill version of a climb that I enjoyed so much 40 miles ago. This time it kind of sucked. I knew it would though, and I also knew it wouldn’t last long. Plus I lost a water bottle at some point, or it fell out while I was on the hopper at the last aid station. Don’t worry, I had 3 other ones and judging by my relatively clear pee I was doing a good job staying hydrated. Back on the desert floor the course followed a bunch of rolling jeep roads and was decent for moving along. Although I took the descent nice and slow I was feeling good and moving well back down low and the miles seemed to be clicking away.
At Virgin Desert Aid(53.8) my family was waiting for me and my dad would be joining me for the next 13 miles. We ran the next section single file through the desert with him just behind me. Running in front of him was strategic since I just unloaded my sunglasses and I didn’t want his fish belly calves to burn my retinas. We ran through the golden hour and then the sunset alongside a canyon on some absolutely beautiful trail. I had to make a movement during this section but my quads were screaming and I really didn’t want to squat in the desert. We made it to Virgin Dam Aid(62.5), I took care of business and my dad BS’ed with some friends he made earlier in the day. I think I was starting to lose my appetite at this point and only drank some broth and ate a couple cookies.
From Virgin Dam we had about 4 miles of runnable but rocky trail alongside a canyon in the dark. We were wearing headlamps and even though I gave him explicit instructions not to fall, he still ate shit hard with about a mile to go. Miraculously, he bounced right off his fake hip, got up and we booted downhill for another mile. Besides him falling, and me losing my appetite, we had an an awesome section. Making good time and enjoying some good trail. Sara and my mom met up with us at a prearranged meeting spot around mile 66.3. My dad was relieved of his pacing duties and Sara would be joining me the rest of the way. We crossed Rt 9 and started a long slog uphill for about 4 miles on dirt road to the top of Smith Mesa(70.7). I liked the climb, as I like climbing, and it gave me good reason not to run, but I was definitely starting to feel more nauseous. At the aid station it seemed a little barren, a runner there was really cold and as they were looking around for an emergency blanket for him it reminded me I should probably add a layer. I drank some broth and some ginger ale, was able to stomach a gel and got moving. There were fire pits and chairs at all the aid stations from here on out but as inviting as they looked Sara had a pretty firm rule about staying away from them. Good move, they sure looked tough to walk away from.
Up on Smith Mesa the trail got really tough. We went out onto this big loop that was super difficult to navigate. Less than a mile in we crossed paths with two runners coming back towards us, convinced that they weren’t going the right way. After consulting our phones we decided we were going the right way and continued on. If the trail wasn’t all rocky it was beat down by cows and and the footing was terrible. Even on the flat sections. Toward the end of the loop we we took a wrong turn up a wash were we immediate bumped into 10+ other runners who had made that same wrong turn. We got back on track and just had a long downhill to the next aid station. This proved to be the most difficult mile or so of the whole course. It was super steep, rocky and slow going. At one point there was even a rope to assist runners going downhill. I felt like crying(but I didn’t). Finally we got to BMX Aid(79.9) where my parents were waiting for us around 2:30 am. As glad as I was to be there, this was a relatively low point for me. I was struggling and still had 20 miles left, or ‘only’ had 20 miles left. I knew I’d get through the race but it wasn’t going to be easy. On our way out from the aid station my parents wished me happy birthday as I turned 37 overnight. Oh yeah.
We’d be back at BMX Aid right before the end of the race but for now we had a 5 mile uphill to Guacamole Mesa. After crossing a river and doing a short single track section we had a long uphill climb on dirt road. At this point I was hallucinating. Not in a scary way, things were good and I knew what was going on, but I was definitely seeing stuff. We also saw a ton of shooting stars, and what’s better than that? It was tough, but we had positive attitudes and were making relentless forward progress. The guys at Guacamole Aid(85.7) were great and one of the volunteers was from Malden so of course he recognized my accent right away. We had a 7 mile loop out on Guacamole Aid that we didn’t set any records on. Sara as usual was the chief navigator and did an excellent job getting us around the course. The footing was tricky with a lot of slick rock so we took our time and just kept moving forward.
By the time we were back at Guacamole Aid(92.5) the sun was starting to come up and finally we were able to get rid of our headlamps. The long downhill road was unrunnable for me as my quads were screaming with every step, but we were moving along. Sara kept the spirits up playing music and singing, and pointing out faces she was seeing in the rocks. This was a really fun section and I knew we were about to get through this thing. It was almost over, the sun was out, and I was getting birthday and good luck messages that kept me going. We got off the road, crushed a short uphill section, crossed the river again then were back at BMX Aid(98.3). I only stopped here briefly to drop some clothes and my vest with my parents as it was only a short ways to the finish.
The last mile and a half or so was on dirt roads until we crossed back over rt 9 then ran it into the finish. There was a half marathon and 50k going on at the same time so there was a big crowd gathered at the finish line. Crossing the line was glorious. I picked out a belt buckle, sat down, drank a soda, took my shoes off and just chilled in the sunshine for awhile. Done. Onto the next thing.
I took a nap that afternoon and an ice bath that worked wonders. The next morning I was up walking around and checking out the sunrise at Bryce Canyon NP. We spent the day exploring at Bryce and walking around the best I could.
From Bryce we made our way to Escalante and got another hotel for the night. I took an ice bath again that night and when I woke up the following morning, 2 days out from finishing the race. I was feeling really good. The four of us backpacked down into Coyote Gulch and spent a night tenting by the spectacular Jacob Hamblin Arch. We hiked out the following day, and made the long drive back to Nevada where we camped near Lake Mead. In Nevada we spent the day hiking all over Valley of Fire State Park. This place is very cool! Well worth checking out. From Vegas we took a budget airline red eye back to Boston and of course didn’t sleep. Seriously though onto the next thing. Happy Easter!
feel free to follow on insta for more pictures @endlesspsummer