BHS 100K

Here is some video and pictures from the 2013 Bishop Ultramarathon. I completed the 100K in 14 hours 22 minutes.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Zion 100 - Race Report - April 4-5th, 2014

Climbing "The Goosebump"


     It was about six o’clock in the evening when Amy and I pulled up to race headquarters for the Zion 100 just outside of Zion National Park and I remember how cold it felt.  The wind was cutting right through us on that early spring evening the night before the race.  I think that was when I first started having serious second thoughts on the wisdom of the adventure I was about to put myself through.  Was I ready for this?   In just 12 hours I would begin this run of 100 miles through the canyons and mesas north of Zion.  The immensity of this 100 mile race  was beginning to weigh down on my psyche as I realized that I would already be totally exhausted the next evening at his time, it would be at least as cold as out there as it was right now and I would only be finished half the race if I was lucky.  I was imagining myself wandering around in the cold pitch black night of the desert wilderness trying to find my way around the course. Now tell me, why again was I compelled to put myself in this situation in the first place? Hopefully I would only be scaring up jackrabbits and mice along the trails and no rattlers or scorpions.  That night’s frosty cold bite was causing me to shiver on the outside as the thoughts I was silently contemplating were in turn causing me to shiver to my bones on the inside.  Yep, and though it all I kept a brave face on it, laughing and joking with Amy telling her I wasn’t worried about a thing.
 
Race morning - all dressed up and ready to go

      The wood fried pizza that they had for us at the check in was awesome and the entire race turned out to be very well organized.  Amy and I then checked into our room that we had reserved in the park where I laid out my things for the morning and got to sleep as quickly as possible.  Amazingly I slept well that night and made it to the start line with plenty of time for once.    The race started in the dark at 6:00 am and we were already halfway up the first of 5 challenging climbs in the race before the sun started to illuminate the course.  Each of those climbs to the tops of 5 different mesas averaged between 1 and 2 miles of horrendous 15 – 30 % grades.  Lone Mountain in Las Vegas provided me with the best local training options for these climbs but it was only ½ mile in length and averaged about a 20% grade.  Although I made numerous repeats of this climb during training it turned out to be inadequate.  I did alright on the first climb keeping up with the mid-pack runners but after that I felt like my legs were already cooked for every other climb.  After about 5 miles and an hour of hard climbing we had a fun little 2 mile romp down a slight incline though a sparse forest to the first aid station that was bathed in an early morning glow.
Aid Station #1 - Smith Mesa Aid station - Mile 7 - Thank-you volunteers, all of you were awesome

       After the first aid station we had a steep decent down some gravel and a bit of paved road where I was feeling real good and averaged a nice pace – later on I would think back and wish I had slowed down at this point.  Shortly, in under 3 hours, I arrived at the second aid station and I got in and out as quickly as I could.  From there the course undulated up and down as we followed the Virgin River with its spectacular views for about 6 miles.  I continued pushing the pace and came upon the Virgin Dam aid station at mile 23 in under 5 hours.  Some quick calculations indicated that if I could maintain anything close to this pace I would finish in under a phenomenal 24 hours for my first 100 mile race.  That thought right there was telling me “slow down buddy,” but I wasn’t listening.  I continued to feel good as the course started to slowly rise again towards the 2nd and most difficult mesa climb which is “affectionately called the Goosebump.”  At this point in the race I was still running all the small inclines and only taking short walk breaks when things got a little too steep.
Poor picture quality but some easy running down to the 2nd aid station.
We started the morning climbing these walls first thing in the morning and now were on our decent.


View of the Virgin River: Photo by Ron Board - http://static.panoramio.com/photos/original/59210708.jpg


     The climb to the top of Goosebump Mesa involved some wicked 15 to 30% grades for close to 2 miles and I took a lot of breaks heading up this one and most of the other runners were doing the same.  There were places where I took 25 steps or so and had to stop and catch my breath it was that bad for me.  I felt unprepared and dwarfed by these climbs.  I finally reached the top where there was an aid station and I had access to my first personal drop bag where I restocked on my food supplies.  The food and refueling situation was one thing that went really well for me this year.  My pre-race strategy for this event was to stop eating any meat four days prior.  Then two days prior was when I did the last of any heavy carbohydrate loading.  The day before the event I ate normal except that I got as many calories as I reasonably could from liquids.  My theory which I heard other runners had also successfully use was to limit the load that I had on my gastric system at the start of the race and for the remainder of that day.  In every other ultrarun I  had completed before this I have always suffered from an upset stomach during some point of the race but not this time making my whole experience a lot more enjoyable.  Also this time I was eating primarily bananas that I had dehydrated myself and dried figs; I was limiting the amount of gels and other foods that were available at the aid stations.

Arriving at Goosebump

View from the top of Goosebump





      The six miles from Goosebump to Grafton Aid station was a mostly down some gentle grades and was fairly easy running.  I found myself running along with and chatting to a physical therapist from Virginia which turned out to be extremely fortuitous.   I had started getting some sharp cramps in my quads and told him that I would probably need to slow down a bit and he should go ahead.  He asked me if I ever tried Tums before during a run and I didn’t even think I had heard him right.  But, yes he was recommending Tums, the upset stomach tablets for my muscle cramps.  He had some and offered me some telling me I should take two.  I did thinking that they probably wouldn’t hurt and continued down the road not really thinking about it anymore.  Half an hour later I realized that I wasn’t getting any cramps anymore and I mentioned it to him.  He told me that it was a deficiency of calcium in my system that was causing the cramps and Tums had the fastest delivery method for getting calcium back where it was needed.  I am now a big believer and bring Tums on all my long runs.  I asked for if anyone had Tums at a couple of aid station because I had been separated from this running angel therapist but nobody had any.  They did have some packets of EFS electrolyte mix which I noticed had calcium as one of their ingredients so I scooped up a few of those which held me for the remainder of the run.  EFS is the only Electrolyte mix that I have found that has a significant amount of calcium in it and I will be taking it on my next ultra which incidentally is in two weeks from now.  I will be running the Javalina Jundred 100 in Fountain Hills, Arizona on November 1st this year. I will also have salt tabs with me but I have now discovered that the calcium is very important for me as well.

      I reached the Grafton Mesa aid station as the sun began to set. I was 12 hours and about 50 miles into the race and still moving forward at a good pace.  I felt good as I got out my head lamp for the night.  Luckily Matt and his crew did an awesome job of marking the trail with an unbelievable stream of reflective ribbons that just about anyone could follow.  Unfortuately, I am one of those that can get lost following the best of trails and I got a little disoriented coming out of the aid station as I started to run the Grafton Mesa loop.  I didn’t get too far though when less another runner coming the other way told me I had to turn around so I did.  That was my first course detour and I figure I put in about 1 extra mile.  There was a lot of up and down to contend with on Grafton Mesa and that was not an easy 6 mile loop.  After hitting the Grafton Mesa aid station for a second time I uneventfully ran about 6 miles of down and 3 miles of up though the night towards Eagles Craig aid station.  Supposedly there is a great view from up here but not at night.  I was not sore at all yet except for some minor tenderness in my feet and I was still running all the down hills and run/walking the inclines the best I could. 

      On the downhill from Eagles Craig I made a major course detour.  At some point I was supposed to make a left but I kept on going straight.  There was someone not far behind me and he followed me too, soon catching up to me and we began talking and we were more than a mile off course before we noticed there weren’t any more trail markings.  We were exhausted and not thinking right by now as we had already been running more than 16 hours and our brains were seriously glucose deprived.  It was a major buzz kill to think that we had gotten lost and we quickly went from slap happy to seriously pissed and worried.  The only thing to do was to turn back and find the course.  I quickly rethought my attitude and realized how peaceful and immense the night sky was; and, here I was in the middle of it all traipsing across this wonderful Earth being allowed to revel in it all.  So I did and about 15 minutes later I saw runners’ headlamps ahead of me and I rejoined the course.   Yipee Cayae, just over a third of the course left which...hmmmm... translates to a marathon plus a 10 miler on top of that, but who’s counting at this point? 


     I was on the way back now and this meant climbing Grafton Mesa one more time, this time form the opposite side.  It was around midnight now so I had been out on the course for 18 hours already.  I was taking quite a few long breaks up this climb even looking for outcroppings of rocks that I could sit down on.  Looking back down I could see a trail of several headlamps heading up.  Pretty soon a group of five young bucks passed me up and asked if I was OK.  I simply replied, “yep just sitting down a bit and enjoying the night sky.”  I couldn’t sit too long though because it was getting colder.  The cold never really did bother me too much but when I got to Grafton Mesa I did pull some long sleeve and tights out of my drop bag to wear along with a change into my cushy Salomon trail shoes which my feet much appreciated.  My favorite trail shoe, Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2’s, had served me well to this point but the change felt good.  Thankfully I did not have any other feet or blister problems.  I am attributing that to the Drymax Maximum Protection Trail running socks.  I highly recommended them as they have a double weave that actually keeps your feet dry and comfortable limiting blister formation and also stops dirt and debris from getting to your feet.  They actually work as they are billed too, something rather rare nowadays.  When I took my socks off after the race and looked at my feet, you couldn’t even tell I had just been running for over 30 hours.

   It was after midnight that some strange events started occurring that at first I could not understand but later realized were actually honest to God hallucinations.  The first two that I remember I dismissed as just little tricks that my eyes were playing on me but there was no denying the last one.  It must have been just a few hours before sunrise when I had the first one.  I was still able to run on the easier sections of the course and probably even dozing off a bit from time to time the way one can fall asleep while driving when you are overly tired.  I was making my way down some single track trail though a forested section far away from any aid station when I saw a man lying along the trail in front of me looking up with his camera in hand getting ready to take my picture.  This was really wild I thought.  What in the world was this man doing way out here all by himself on this desolate trail taking race photographs I thought to myself?  I was getting ready to step past him when his face quickly dissolved into the stump of a cut and fallen tree.  Perfectly reasonable I thought and how funny it was that I thought that tree was a man lying down with a camera.

   About one hour later I noticed a very large and unnatural shape about a quarter of a mile up the trail.  It look menacing as I continued to move closer and it appeared to be moving large mechanical arms up in the air above an enormous bluish-green body.  What kind of monsters did they have out here and how was I going to get by this 20 something foot tall beast.  I was genuinely starting to feel some fear and I slowed down a bit to figure out what course of action I was going to take.  That is when the monster dissolved back into the roadside side that he really was.  Because of the actually experience of fear I had this time it started to dawn on me that I might me having some hallucinations here.  I have heard of others runners’ stories of hallucinations before but always kind of dismissed them.  Until you had one yourself it is hard to believe.

     The sun finally rose and the day quickly began to brighten and warm up again.  I was just 2 miles from the last aid station called Guacamole (love that name) when a major disaster occurred that almost took me out of the race.  The tendons in the back of my left knee joining my hamstrings had had it and they were letting me know as they screamed out!  I had to pull up and try massaging them a bit.  After a few minutes I got going again but it wasn’t pretty anymore.  I am sure that I already looked like hell warmed over after running for more than 24 hours without any sleep but now my gait took on a twisted shuffle as I hobbled to the last aid station.  When I finally got there I took comfort in the fact that I had less than 10 miles to go now and the rest of that was mostly downhill.  I was not worried about making any type of time and would be very satisfied just to finish this first 100 miler and get my handcrafted Zion 100 belt buckle.
      Sitting there I noticed that it was already 10:30 am and it suddenly dawned on me that I could be in danger of making the 32 hour cut-off time and be disqualified as an official finisher.  After all the effort I already put into this event, all the months of training, the coordinating and the almost 30 hours of running I put into this and then end up with a dnf and no buckle – crap! I did some quick calculations.  32 hours from 6:00am the previous day meant I had to be in by 2:00PM at the latest.  I was exactly nine miles away from the finish and had 3 ½ hours to get there which seems like a lot under normal circumstances but my last mile had taken be about 25 minutes as I limped along now with a major injury.   If I could average 20 minute miles I thought to myself 9 miles would take me about 2 hours and 20 minutes and I would have about an hour of cushion just in case I needed it.  I got out of that chair as quickly as I could and pushed onward, but God it hurt.
      From that point on I did manage to average just a little bit better than a 20 minute per mile pace even managing to pick it up to 12 minutes per mile on some favorable stretches of downhill.  I realized that I had this thing in the bag at this point and did the best I could to savor the final moments.  With about 3 miles to go the course took a gravel road along the river and I noticed some white cups in the mile of the road that looked like they had been placed there by the race officials.  There wasn’t supposed to be any aid station out at this point but I imagine that they had just put out a few things for us stragglers to give us a little treat and some encouragement.  How thoughtful I thought and as I got closer I could see the cold sweat dripping off of the sides of those cups of ice cold Coke and something else wrapped in a foil that was probably a hamburger.  I didn’t know if I could stomach the hamburger but I really was looking forward to a swig of one of those drinks when everything slowly vanished into a small pile of rocks in the middle of the road.  It had all been another hallucination, but this one really made me mad since I so wanted that Coke right then.  It was after this experience that I realized just how powerful hallucination can be and when someone is experiencing one it can be impossible to tell if you are seeing reality or not; the hallucination becomes the reality. 
The Finish Line
 As I wind my way back into the streets of Virgin, UT I am thankful to all the people I see cheering me and the volunteers that supported us along the way and made it possible for us to overcome this seeming impossible endeavor and I feel extremely satisfied and happy.  And most of all thank-you Amy, the love of my life, for supporting me through this and understanding that which I know you can’t truly understand but accept as something I need to do.  Is it for the challenge, the experience, trying to find my own limits?  Is it some type of spiritual quest that I try to accomplish through an endurance event of a magnitude that strips one clean of all pretenses and leaves just the last drops of human power, energy and will?  Or is it just the sheer joy of galloping across this wondrous God created Earth that keeps me going?  I myself don’t know for sure but I am already looking forward to the time I run the Zion 100 again.
 

The End

The Buckle

The Stats and upcoming races