Zion 100k

Race Report 2022 (The full version)

Joy Ebertz
32 min readMay 1, 2022

Note that this is my really long version (mostly written for myself). You may be more interested in my shorter version.

I originally registered for this race because my friend Cory signed up and talked me into signing up as well in 2020 but like all the other races that year, it got canceled. We both opted to defer our entries and re-registered this year. To be honest, I did zero research on this race before signing up the first time or the second time. Eventually, I looked a bit at courses and elevations but that was about it. Starting a few months before the race, Cory started telling me horror stories about how this race was going to be miserably cold. It was going to snow, it was going to freeze, we were going to be very sad. I personally don’t do well in the heat and have never really had too much of a problem with the cold, so I didn’t worry about it too much. About two weeks before the race, Cory tells me that instead of cold, we’re going to have highs around 87. Remember how I don’t do well in the heat? Now I was freaking out.

The other thing we noticed about this race was the elevation profile. The 100k only had around 6000 feet of climbing. I’ve run 50ks that had more. In addition, there was a giant climb that had abound 2000 feet in 1.5 miles (900 of that in .75 miles). That meant that the rest of the course should be relatively flat compared to almost all of the trails I normally run. Easy, right?

Leading up to this race I’d also been struggling with some leg stuff. My left hamstring had been a little tight for a while and then my knee on that side got really bad. We cut back my training a ton and the knee got better but the hamstring was still a little tight. The week before the race, I did a 15-mile run and it was both hard and painful.

In the end, my two biggest worries were my leg and the heat. Honestly, though, the far bigger worry and the one that kept me awake the night before was the heat. The leg felt pretty binary. Either something would go really wrong and I’d stop or it would be mostly fine. I’m sure there are things that could make one of those scenarios more likely but I didn’t know what they were, so what’s there to worry about? The heat meanwhile, felt like something I could potentially make decisions that would affect outcomes. I’ve had enough trouble with heat in the past to have some general idea of what my problems are and what I maybe should be doing. I still haven’t had a good outcome exactly though. Thus the worry and fretting.

Our group from Observation Point

We all arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday and drove up to our Airbnb in La Verkin. Friday those not running did a loop run on the edge of Zion and Cory and I joined as far as Observation Point and turned around. It was a bit more than we probably should have done, but it was gorgeous. I do not regret that choice. The rest of the day involved food, drop bag packing, and packet pickup. We totally failed at our first couple of choices for carb-loading for the dinner meal (because there was some kind of race in town). One of the places told us they had run out of pizzas (this was at like 6pm) and the other just never answered. We ended up just getting Dominos, which turned out to be a pretty solid choice.

Ready to start!

They had rolling starts for the races meaning I could start any time between 6 and 6:30. I left the house around 5:30 figuring that I would basically just start the race whenever I got there. We arrived pretty much exactly as they were starting the 100k. I used the bathroom got a start picture and started the race around 6:05. It had looked like the majority of the people started at 6, which made me realize that in most races you can start whenever for a little bit after the official start anyway and as long as you’re not chasing the win, the timing chip will give you your time anyway. It’s interesting how framing it as a rolling start made me think about it totally differently and made the start less stressful. Right before I started, I noticed when I started my watch that it told me that I should take a rest day. I then checked Oura, which also said that I should take the day extra easy. So. Perfect day to go out and attempt to run 100k.

Sunrise from along the dirt road. Everyone was stopping to take pictures.

I started the race wearing a white sun shirt with a 30 SPF and 3/4 length tights. It was a little chilly at the start but not cold enough that I was ever sad. I was alone when I started but quickly passed a couple of other people. Sunrise was around 7, making dawn around 6:30, so I started with a headlamp. I probably just need to practice more, but I’ve never loved running with a headlamp. Over the next 4.5ish miles to the first aid station, we were running on a flat dirt road with very gently rolling hills. I passed many people over this period and it got light enough that I no longer needed the headlamp somewhere in the middle. I ran pretty much this whole section including the uphills but I really didn’t push the pace.

The first dirt road section.

I got to the first aid station feeling fresh. It seemed like there was a backup of people there and I had two bottles still nearly full of Skratch, so I just ran through, slowing down just enough to figure out where I was going. Leaving the aid station, you start a loop around the mesa and it immediately became somewhat technical singletrack. It was fairly flat (in a macro sense), so it wasn’t really treacherous, but large chunks of it involved running over large rocks. Additionally, it was a mountain biking trail and it was obvious that the lines were picked for gnarliness, not for run-ability. Given that, there were at least a few times that I’d follow the trail over some sort of hill only to see that I could have taken a much flatter route to get to the same place. This part of the trail was marked with pink ribbons for the race, but the mountain bike trail itself was marked with white dots painted on the rock. It was complicated slightly by the fact that we didn’t always 100% follow the mountain bike trail and the fact that there were still a few places where it wasn’t totally obvious where to go.

The terrain we were running over

There was one out and back section along here. I was starting to run low on water when we got to it, so I was kind of grumpy about it. However, there was a really spectacular view when I got to the end. So I get it. I was sad there wasn’t water at the end, but still, I get it.

The view from the end. Everyone was stopping for pictures.

There was one spot where I lucked out because a large group had gone off the trail in front of me and were just realizing that they were going the wrong way at the point when I would have left the trail to follow them. I was able to take a sharp left and not leave the trail. In another spot, I actually did go off trail — probably only by about 20 feet or so and I realized it almost immediately. There was another guy near me who also called to me, so even if I hadn’t noticed, he would have helped me out. I’m making this section sound terrible, but it also had some really stunning views of the surrounding areas. Even ignoring that too, the top was kind of pretty in a rugged sort of way. It was just way more technical than I was expecting for something with such a small elevation profile. So through this section, I slowed down and a good chunk of the people that I passed in the previous section passed me back.

One of my favorite points in the race was that after that guy yelled at me to stay on course, I ran with him for a little while and chatted — he was from Colorado, but originally from Missouri (Yay midwest!) Eventually, we exchanged names and he mentioned to me that he’d read something (I don’t remember the word he used, but my brain translated it into a devotional. I know that wasn’t the word he used though.) that morning. The topic of the reading was finding joy in suffering. We both had a good laugh and I told him that he’d found me! While I was running with him, we finally made it to the aid station.

A rock formation on the first mesa loop

I really should have checked where the aid stations were before the run, but I had kind of thought they were all pretty close together and hadn’t given it much more thought. I had passed through the first one somewhere before mile 5 with 2 almost full bottles of Skratch. I ran out probably a mile before the next aid station (which was just after mile 14) and was worried about running out for a mile or two before that. We were still pretty bunched together, so there were quite a few people at the aid station. Everyone was standing in line for the water dispenser but there were two tubs of gnarly (the electrolyte drink of choice) with no line at all, so I filled up with gnarly. I kind of thought it was better to try to stick to the electrolytes anyway. As I would soon figure out though, gnarly, especially at full strength is pretty gross. Or at least I really disliked it.

I also used the bathroom at the aid station. This is probably TMI, but I’m going to take a minute and talk about the bathrooms on the course. So all of the toilets they provided were composting toilets, which means none of the blue liquid and after you do your business, you scoop this fine woodchip type mixture on top. First of all, these things smell worse than standard portapotties. I’m assuming they’re way better for the environment, so I can give them a pass, but less than pleasant. So the toilets in places with easier road access were in standard portapotty enclosures. However, probably because of all of the added mass from the woodchips, they were also higher off the ground than standard toilets. At least two of the ones I used, I could not touch the ground when I was sitting on them. Like even with my toes pointed, they were a good 6 inches off the ground. I haven’t felt like that since I was a little kid. It was kind of a weird experience. The bathroom at the mile 14 aid station (and a few of the others in more remote locations, were in little popup tents. This one had a step-stool, so it was better from the no-dangling-feet perspective. However, those tents are not big enough. It’s pretty awkward when you’re sitting there and your knees are basically pressed to the tent wall and you realize that you didn’t pull the zipper down all the way and you’re pretty sure nothing is showing, buuuuut…

When I left that aid station, I started to pass a few people. I realized that at least some of the people I was passing were people running the 100-mile race. My husband had mentioned in the car on the way to the race that you already run a lot of an ultra by yourself and if you start the race at different times, and especially if you start behind the main group, there’s a good chance you won’t see many people. It turned out that he was pretty wrong, likely for two reasons — I didn’t actually start that far behind the main group, and we hadn’t really considered that we hadn’t started that far behind the 100-mile folks, especially when considering just how far the race was. Anyway, I made it to the next aid station (which was the same as the first aid station). This time I slowed down a bit more. I drank part of a can of mountain dew, stashed my headlamp in the drop bag I had there, extended my poles, and ate some pickles. For some reason someone had (I assume accidentally) purchased spicy pickles, which seems like a mistake for a race, but I ate them anyway. I filled up my bottles and I got ready to head down the hill.

View (taken later) from the top of the hill

Now this hill was steep. If I’m being honest, it was bad, but the part that made it the worst was knowing that I’d have to come back up later. I found myself behind a man going probably a bit slower than I would have gone on my own, and he offered to let me pass, but I decided that I wasn’t trying to win this race and I didn’t really want the pressure to go fast on this hill, so I sort of just tucked in behind him. We chatted and chatted with a few other folks around us on the way down. As soon as the trail started to level out into the rollers that were near the bottom, I sped up and left the small group behind.

From the bottom, it was a very short distance to a water-only aid station. These were extremely large water tanks lifted off the ground with water spigots coming out the bottom on every side. They were lifted such that the spigots were probably a little higher than my waist. I topped off my bottles and attempted to put away my poles while walking. I managed to fold one up but then eventually completely gave up on the other, so I put the folded one into my pack and just carried the other. It actually turned out to be okay — I used my single pole a bit on the uphills and just carried it otherwise.

This whole section was wide dirt roads (although with only one actual car that I saw) with gently rolling hills and absolutely no shade. Actually, that’s a slight lie, I did come across one tree and a small voice in the back of my head told me to stop in the shade (although I didn’t). I suspect that it was warmer at the bottom of the mesa, but also we were just starting to get into the warmer part of the day. In theory, it was just under 7 miles between the water-only stop and the next aid station, but it felt way longer. I also should have filled up a third water bottle, but I didn’t think of it. As it ended up, I ran out of water over a mile before the aid station (probably closer to two miles). Throughout this whole section, I walked the uphills and ran all of the downhill. I also passed a bunch of people. That said, I was struggling by the end. The last couple of miles were really hard — I was hot, I was out of water, and we got our first view of the aid station from around a mile away and you could tell it wasn’t close. The only thing saving it was that this whole section was downhill and I knew that I would be picking up a pacer at the next aid station. It was somewhere in here that I also became very aware that the course was long (although I suspect the extra distance was in the mesa loop, not actually in this section. Anyway, the aid station was over a mile further than where I thought it should have been based on the mileage on my watch (and trust me, I was checking).

My crew had texted me that they were near the bathroom at the aid station. I didn’t immediately see them when I came into the aid station and I was SO thirsty that I filled up my water twice before I went looking for them. I eventually texted them because I still couldn’t find them and I guess they had walked towards the aid station while I had walked towards the bathroom or something. Once we figured things out, they lead me over to an ultralight chair they had brought and filled my water bottles for me. They also got me ice (which I proceeded to pack everywhere I could), got my hat out of my bag for me, and convinced me to eat some pretzels and pickles. I actually don’t normally like pretzels, but they were surprisingly tasty. I guess hot and tired you get a lot less picky. They had also attempted to bring me a slushie. It was pretty much entirely melted by the time I got to the aid station, but there were still a few frozen bits and I drank most of it.

My mango slushie and pretzel.

Then Kyle and I headed out. So this race allowed two spots where you could pick up a pacer, the first was at mile 25.8 (this aid station) and the other was at mile 42. Honestly, I had thought that 25.8 seemed really early and 42 seemed really late. I didn’t feel like I really needed a pacer until a little later, but I’d be lying if I tried to pretend that I wasn’t really happy to have one. My crew had actually originally planned on only giving me a pacer for the last leg and no pacer for Cory, but then Elena said she’d pace me for that last leg and Kyle decided that if he could make it work, he wanted to pace me for the hot sun section (heat training) and then take a nap and then pace Cory for the last 20 (night running training). Luckily I was slow enough that my crew managed to get to the aid station after what I hear was a short but awesome Zion run/hike (is anything ever really a hike with our group if it isn’t right after a race)?

Heading out with Kyle

The next aid station was less than two miles away. This actually eventually ended up biting me. So I mostly only ate pickles and a small piece of watermelon and topped off my water here (I don’t even remember if I got ice…probably? but I don’t remember), but it really wasn’t far from the previous one and I still felt good. The thing I love about pacers is that you can tell them stories, they can tell you stories and generally distract you from the ridiculousness of what you’re doing. The great thing about Kyle too is that because he now lives in Colorado, I had lots of great stories I could tell him. For example, I got to tell him all about my 1-week jury duty adventure (how I got selected for the jury and the trial), which is a whole entire story. Most of this section was just rolling dirt roads still. At some point, we found a river, which I was very excited about but Kyle was quick to tell me that it was nowhere near as good as any of the water he had seen in Zion earlier that day. I was still mostly walking the uphills, running the flats + downhills and it was now legitimately hot.

The underwhelming river.

The next aid station was only around 4 miles further, but it was a water-only aid station. In this case, when we say water only, we really mean water only. No electrolyte drink, no ice, no food. When we got there, however, someone else’s crew had (illegally) showed up with a lunchbox-sized cooler full of ice and were handing the rest out to any runners who happened to be around, so I managed to get some additional ice. At this particular aid station, there was a runner there who started asking about where to effectively put ice and I told him that ice in the sports bra is pretty amazing. He laughed and said he didn’t wear one and I told him that he could. We all had a chuckle (and Kyle gave him some actual thoughts). One thing about attempting to run this far is that at some point some of your filters start to go. I’m sure I told Kyle way more about sports bra chafing than he had ever thought about before or ever really wanted to know. (Future pacers, you’ve been warned).

Leaving the water, we headed out towards the road. Kyle had downloaded a GPX file of the course and was doing routing on his watch, which turned out to be useful. Right in this spot, however, the GPX file was slightly wrong, so it was telling him that he was off course. I convinced him that we should keep going and this was where the course went. Luckily, I was right.

Running along the road — it was actually on the shoulder not much further than this.

This next part of the course followed highway 9 for just over 2 miles through a small town. This was probably one of the low points of the course. There was still no tree cover, there wasn’t a ton of shoulder and there were a decent number of cars. We got some cheers from people out of car windows, but all in all, I could have done without this part. From there, we turned back towards the giant hill. It was probably about 2 miles to actually get there, but you could see it from pretty much the point at which we turned. It wasn’t fun, let me tell you.

For long races, our group always has two whatsapp channels. One is for everyone. Runners post updates to this channel. The other one is for crew and pacers only. This is used for coordination, updates on the runners, or to tell about problems so that the runners won’t worry. When I was on my own, because I wasn’t carrying a tracker, I was posting where I was when semi-regularly to the chat with everyone. At some point after Kyle joined me, he started telling me about the adventure that the rest of the crew was having. So amongst our group, we had rented 3 rental cars, mostly because we wanted to leave at three pretty distinct times (Sunday evening, Monday morning and Monday evening). Apparently the car my husband had rented had just randomly died and wouldn’t start again. I won’t get into the whole story here, but lets just say that a few of our crew ended up on their own (very separate) adventure for much of the day and some of the next. It ended up being really good that we had multiple cars so that they could take two cars to deal with that and still have one for the remaining crew to continue to take care of the racers.

Our crew having their own car-related adventure.

So somewhere in the next two miles, the heat started to really hit me. It was around mile 37 on my watch (the official race map claims 35ish). I had been feeling relatively good up to this point. My legs actually felt fine, I wasn’t nauseous, I was still eating and drinking, etc. I wasn’t moving super fast, but all in all, things were going pretty well and I was mostly passing people. Somewhere in mile 37, nausea showed up. I then tried taking a salt pill from Kyle and things got worse. I do think the salt pill made me feel worse, but it may still have been a good thing overall. That part is hard to tell. Anyway, I’ve started to get good at telling the first signs of being on the verge of blackout. Specifically, I started yawning with more intense nausea, so I stopped. We did a few stints of standing and even a bit of sitting. Eventually, I pulled it together enough to walk to the next water-only aid station.

To make the terrible hill even worse, you can see it from super far away. The kind of s-shaped tan line just left of center on the hill is the trail we took up/down. This picture is taken from the road section several miles away.

When I got to the water-only aid station, Kyle (smartly) told me to stand on the shady side of the giant water dispenser. I felt only slightly guilty as other runners came to the water stop and stood on the sunny sides… I filled my bottles, ate a few snacks, and with Kyle’s help, doused my sleeves and pretty much everything else. I must say that there were a couple of cupfuls of water that he dumped on me, that I wasn’t quite expecting and it was quite shocking. That said, I was warm enough that I wasn’t at all upset by the surprise water. On one of the cupfuls he got some in my ear and I yelped and said something about that, so he told me that he was trying to cool me down from the inside. At this water stop, I saw some of the only wildlife I saw on the entire run — some cows lying around nearby in the shade of the one tree in the area.

We somewhat reluctantly left the water and started toward the giant hill that I was dreading. The approach to it is those rolling hills again. Coming from this direction, Kyle and I noticed what I hadn’t when I was coming down — two the left side of the trail, there were obviously tracks of some sort. Our best guess was that they were for BMX bikes but like professionals. These things were STEEP and generally looked insane. We didn’t see anyone on them, but it was still a nice distraction to try to think about who might possibly try to use that sort of thing. Even with it being water only, I was moving a bit better out of the water stop. I think the water on the sleeves especially helped. That was true until we hit the hill.

So the lowest part of the hill is REALLY steep and like it’s just packed dirt with some loose dirt on top, so unlike rocky hills, your actual footing is at a pretty steep angle. Additionally, with the loose dirt, it’s slippery. Admittedly the slipperiness was more of an issue going down than up. Going up, my issues were mostly that it was still hot, the fact that unlike the trip down, the sun had moved and the full hill was now in full sun, and you know, steep. For reference, the steep part of this hill climbs 973 feet in 0.74 miles (or 24.7% grade), and in a few sections of that .74 miles, it’s almost flat (meaning that it’s even steeper in the remaining sections). Kyle told me at some point that he was kind of glad he got to experience the hill because he didn’t think that he would have believed how bad it was otherwise. He also said that it was harder than pretty much anything in Colorado partially because of the lack of any way to get your foot on something flatter — especially in the lower section. In general, my trip up the hill was lots of starts and stops — at times I was able to do many steps between stops, and at others, I got about 3–5 steps in between pauses. I went as far as sitting down at a couple of points, but I mostly tried to keep moving (even if extremely slowly). I was experiencing heat symptoms again, so I didn’t want to push it too much, but I also knew that there was an aid station at the top and I really just needed to get through it somehow. At a couple of points, Kyle squirted water from one of his bottles on my arms. It was this weird experience where the water felt really warm when it first went on my arms, but then it almost immediately switched to cooling (at least for a bit). I’m fairly sure that it helped overall.

The lower section of the hill. It’s hard to tell just how steep it is from a picture, but it really is.

I got passed in this section. A lot. A lot of the other people were taking generous breaks as well, but most not nearly as long or as often. It also seemed to me that there was a trend of older women crushing that hill (at a slow but steady pace). It was definitely inspirational — maybe someday I can be that cool. At some point in here, I got passed by two guys who looked young. I couldn’t imagine any teenagers doing a 100k, so my guess was that they were in their very low 20s but looked young for their age. I checked the results later and there were, in fact, two 14-year-olds — one who finished a bit after me and one who DNF’d, and a 17-year-old. I’m pretty sure those were the guys I saw (I re-passed one at the crew station later). We talked a bit with some of the people who passed me. We all joked about how the hill was terrible but that we were probably all going to go out and sign up for another race as soon as we finished.

Towards the top of the hill, there’s a flatter section that had gravel running across the trail perpendicularly and it was really narrow what was actually stable footing. I remembered this being super treacherous on the way down, so of course, I talked it up to Kyle, but then it really didn’t seem too bad. Not sure if the conditions had changed slightly or if it was the speed I was going (snail’s pace) or if it was the fact I was going up rather than down.

The sketchy gravel section

Eventually, I made it to the top. I was so excited to see that aid station (this was my third time at this one too). I saw that people were eating Cup Noodles and I immediately asked for some. Unfortunately, they had to heat more water for me to get any. Kyle had me sit in the circle of camping chairs they had in the shade — there were a bunch of other runners sitting there. He kept an eye on my Cup Noodles progress, helped fill my bottles, made sure I picked up my headlamp, and talked me into eating a Nutella and banana sandwich quarter. When Kyle brought over the ramen, he told me he’d hold it while I finished my sandwich and I told him that I didn’t really want the sandwich and just wanted the ramen. To which, he (obviously) responded that in that case, I wasn’t allowed any ramen until I finished my sandwich.

banana Nutella sandwich

I finished the sandwich. As soon as I got the ramen, it was hot and it immediately occurred to me that the whole thing was kind of dumb (eating hot food when I had just been suffering from heat-related things) so I asked for ice in it. In the end, it was lukewarm and tasted wonderful and I ate the entire thing. I made sure to get ice in my bottles this time and also put ice in my sports bra and sleeves again. I’m not convinced ice in my hat really does anything with all of my hair. I never really feel it.

The dirt road back to the crew access point

As we left the aid station, I started by walking. I was feeling good again, but I wanted to let the food settle a bit and I think Kyle didn’t want me to run into issues again. After probably 5 minutes though we switched to running the flats and downhills and walking the uphills. There were a couple of hills where I wasn’t paying attention and ran nearly the entire uphill. I doubt Kyle minded…It was only around 5 miles from there to the crew access point. This was where I was swapping Kyle for Elena. I was feeling kind of excited to get a new pacer — not so much because I was tired of Kyle (he was amazing), but it was a good chance for me to have a new victim to tell my stories to. Plus this one I could tell about everything that had happened while Kyle was with me.

Pickle juice shot!

The crew access point was the biggest disappointment ever. Apparently, Cory was also very disappointed, so I don’t feel alone in feeling that way. Basically, it was marked as an aid station on the maps, so I had assumed it was an aid station, but there wasn’t an aid station, only our crew. And then my crew, being the very helpful people that they were made me sit and tried to make me eat, but I didn’t really want any of their food (I wanted aid station food). I’m not sure what it was, but by this point, I was fully convinced that wheat thins are not nearly salty enough and told multiple people multiple times that next time we need to salt the wheat thins (or at least bring salt along to do it on the fly). So I refused the wheat things, but I did end up eating a few pita chips, which were saltier but still not quite salty enough, drank a pickle juice shot and a couple of grapes, and swapped out a bunch of the food in my vest that I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to eat for a few things I thought I might. My crew tried to give me twice the food in my vest of what I was asking for, I tried to refuse, so my pacer ended up taking it. I ended up eating almost none of the food in the vest, so I do not regret my decision there. I did charge my watch and phone even though they both had enough battery that they probably would have been fine. I did notice Kyle and Elena not so covertly discussing me over to one side as good pacers do. I refused all of my warmer clothing — I was still feeling pretty warm and I had warmer clothing in the drop bag at the next aid station (which we would see 3 times) anyway, so I still had options later. I also gave my crew my poles. I was a little unsure if I wanted them or not and then they mentioned that Cory had broken one of his, so I gave them my poles so they could pass them along. I never wished I had poles after that point, so I’m sure that was the right decision. Then we headed out.

With the crew (right) and my two pacers (left). Thanks all!

The actual aid station was probably only a couple of miles later and it was largely downhill, which I was pretty sad about since it meant that I’d have to go back up it at the very end of the race. Elena told me not to think about it. She also took a lot of pictures during this stretch, while it was still light out.

Both Elena’s and my favorite picture from this section.

At that first aid station I used the bathroom and got some vaseline to re-apply (still slightly sketched out by the fact they just gave me the tube of vaseline which I then took into the bathroom…not that I’m complaining, but still). I ate half of a Cup Noodles — I happened to mention that I wished that they were smaller because I wanted some but I didn’t want the entire cup and there was another woman there who said she was thinking the same thing, so we split one (and Elena got to try to split it into one of the mugs they had there). This aid station had a big container of ‘hot’ water, so we got the Cup Noodles almost immediately. The tradeoff was that the water wasn’t exactly hot, so it was very crunchy ramen and looked much harder to try to split than it would have been otherwise. It still tasted pretty good. I think it was at this aid station that I also ate a very small cheese quesadilla wedge and a quarter of bread with avocado, that I immediately dipped in the salt plate they had. It picked up a little more salt than I wanted, but apparently, I inspired at least one other runner near me to do likewise. I asked Elena for ice in my water bottles and some for icing me. I’m not fully convinced she put any in the bottles, or if she did, it wasn’t very much. They still mostly seemed warm. She did give me some ice though, so I re-iced the bra. I kept expecting to start noticing chafing from the icing, but it actually never came, so that was a nice surprise.

The next aid station was only a couple of miles further, so I didn’t really stop — I topped off a bit, but otherwise mostly kept moving. I had wanted three bottles of half electrolyte, half water, but Elena talked me into two and a half. We then started the first of the final two mesa loops. This was the longer of the two — an 8-mile loop, so it would be 8 miles back to the aid station. The terrain on this loop was kind of similar to the first mesa loop, but with a lot more runnable dirt trail. This also meant that the trail was much easier to follow, which was a good thing because we needed to turn our headlamps on probably a mile or two into this. From the first part of the trail, it looked like there was a good view, and there were a couple of points where it looked like the trail was near the edge of something, but I mostly didn’t look too closely. At some point in this loop, a guy caught up to me and we passed each other back and forth a few times. It generally seemed like he wanted to go our pace and wanted to stay in the back though — he mostly hung out behind me. I think he was a bit worried about getting lost in the dark. To be fair, I was too, but I had Elena, who was fresh. At some point towards the end of this loop, I had a pretty spectacular almost-fall. It was one of those situations where I stubbed my toe on a rock causing me to fall forward, I caught the fall but immediately lost my balance again and it was a good four steps before I really fully caught myself. I was pretty happy that I hadn’t actually fallen but still felt the adrenaline rush (and my toe was pretty sore for the next mile or two). At various points in this loop, we could see headlamps ahead of us. Elena said it made her happy because it meant we were still on the right track. I’m not sure if I told her, but it made me really sad every time because it told me that we weren’t at the aid station yet and if I could see people moving ahead of me, that meant the aid station was even further.

Along the first mesa before it got dark

Those 8 miles felt REALLY long though. By the end, I had drunk all 2.5 of my bottles of water. I probably ran out like half a mile before the aid station. To be fair, I could have gotten water from Elena, but I wasn’t quite that desperate yet. I was a little anxious about it though after the previous couple of times when I ran out. I was also talking about getting more ice when we got back to the aid station. Elena was much more skeptical this time. The temperature had dropped a bit, but it was still decently warm. I forgot about the ice when we got to the actual aid station, which I think she was a little relieved about. I ate another (full) Cup Noodles. I think cheap, instant ramen might be my new go-to race food.

There were a few other runners at the aid station. One of them was in the process of DNF’ing. He did not look to be in good shape, so it was probably the right choice. We also spent a bit of time talking to a guy I had gone back and forth with several times earlier in the race. He had started the race wearing sandals (which is the part about him I remembered). Apparently, however, in the dirt road in the lower section, the dirt had gotten in there and started cutting up his feet so that his foot was bleeding. Luckily he had a pair of real shoes in a drop bag, so he was able to switch (although he said he hadn’t worn real shoes in years).

It was again, only two miles to the next aid station, back up the dirt road. It was actually less solidly uphill than I would have thought it was going to be. Elena had the same reaction, so I guess we both remembered the other direction as more downhill than it actually was. Elena only let me top off two water bottles at this next aid station. Somewhere in this whole section, I’m pretty sure one of my bottles had started leaking, so I moved that one out of rotation, but I quickly realized that I think one of the others was also leaking. Luckily, both of them seemed to be leaking near the top of the bottles, so there wasn’t significant water loss or anything. The more annoying part was that they were refilling with air when they started to get more empty. Elena did a half-hearted attempt to find my drop bag to put into the ‘return to start’ pile as I started to walk out of the aid station, but she gave up and caught up with me. I had my warmer clothes in that bag but was still fairly warm and couldn’t imagine bothering to change. I would see that aid station one more time, but it would be around 2 miles from the finish, at which point, I’d likely just want to finish.

This loop was fairly similar to the last mesa loop. It was a bit shorter — around 5.5 miles. It was also slightly more technical than the last loop, but thankfully still much less so than the first one. At this point in the race, I was announcing every mile to Elena and was starting to get excited because I was pretty sure that I was going to finish. At the same time, I was also starting to get pretty sore. Nothing serious, but just general achiness all over and I’m sure I complained about all of that a lot too. I think it was at the beginning of this loop, although it may have been the end of the previous loop, I realized that up to this point I hadn’t taken any drugs and that could help my general achiness, so I took an alieve. At least according to Elena, it had a noticeable effect. I could also tell that I hurt less.

I made it back to the aid station and topped off my water bottles, even though I realized as I was doing it that it made no sense — I had around 2 miles to the finish line and I still had water left. Elena was having trouble finding my bag, so I walked over and found it immediately. It probably helped a lot that I knew what the bag looked like. It was also in a pile that Elena thought was for a different race (I never even looked at the signs).

All in all, we didn’t spend much time at this aid station and headed out for the finish. This section was entirely uphill, just as I had dreaded. It wasn’t as bad as I was worried about though — it rarely is. I had been slowly passing people for the entire time I was with Elena and managed to pass a handful more in this last section too. The other thing I would mention is that the actual finish line area was really terrible. I mean I’m sure it was lovely during the day, but it was uneven, large areas were covered in lava rock and it wasn’t lit at all until the line itself, so it was actually really hard to tell where I was supposed to be going once I turned into the field where the finish was. I couldn’t see the shoot at all and also found myself slowing to look down at the ground so that I didn’t trip and die. That’s not exactly how anyone wants to finish a race.


My crew was waiting for me at the finish line and I was very excited to have finished the race. It took me just over 19 hours, which was 4 hours slower than my last 100k. That said, given that I had been injured, probably undertrained, and was seriously worried about finishing at all, I was thrilled with the result.

One of my favorite things about the race actually came the next day. Kyle noticed that we had the second and third slowest times on the Strava segment for going up the big hill. Out of 1650 people, I was the second slowest. I would be ashamed except that it was a really hard hill and I actually finished the race after that point — I know a real number of people dropped at the top of that hill. Who knows, maybe going that slow really is the right choice?

Thanks Zion!

My lessons from this race were:

  • I should heat train more — even if I don’t think that I’ll need it.
  • I should make sure that my crew has instant ramen available.
  • Even if the elevation profile on a course looks easy, it can still be really hard.
  • The human body is amazing, and even if you don’t think you can do something, you still probably can.
  • My pacers/crew were amazing and I’m not sure how well I’d be able to do without them (although I guess I’ll find out at my next 50-mile race, where I’ll have one crew member and no pacers).

I guess we’ll see now if I actually learned those lessons or if I’ll forget them in a couple more weeks as we always seem to.



Joy Ebertz

Principal Software Engineer & ultra runner @SplitSoftware