If you want to read the longer, play-by-play version, check out my other blog post.
I originally signed up for the Zion 100k in 2020, but it got cancelled and I deferred my entry until this year. The race doesn’t actually run through Zion National Park (I don’t think the national parks allow races), but it does run just to the southwest of the park. I did zero actual research on the race until close beforehand. Even with that research, I would say there were some surprises and a few things that were exactly as bad as expected. The main themes were heat, technical ground, and THE HILL.
The race had a rolling start, but nearly everyone started at the beginning of that. I started about five minutes later at 6:05am, basically by myself, but I quickly started to catch up with other runners. Sunrise was at 7am, so dawn was at around 6:30, meaning that I didn’t need to continue using my headlamp for long. This first section was on a dirt road with some very gentle rolling hills. I didn’t push my pace but was able to keep moving well and passed a bunch of people.
I didn’t really stop at the first aid station and started the loop around the first mesa. Based on looking at the elevation profile, it looked like the mesas should be very easy running and nearly flat. What the elevation profile didn’t tell me was that they were actually pretty technical. This first mesa had amazing views for a good portion, but it also was much further to the next aid station than expected, it was easy to get lost, and as I mentioned, it was technical.
When we finally made it around the mesa back to the first aid station, we started the decent down the giant hill. This you could see on the elevation chart. I mostly took my time going down, and it was steep enough to be a bit treacherous. I have to admit though, the worst part about it was knowing that we would have to come back up it much later in the race.
At the bottom of the hill, we started a big loop in the lower area. With the exception of a short road section, this loop was dirt trails with rolling hills and zero cover. Some sections were single track, but large portions were dirt road. I think it was warmer once you got off of the mesa, but the day was also starting to heat up when I got to the bottom. Between the water stop at the bottom of the hill and the next aid station, I ran out of water. That next aid station was a particular tease too because that’s when I realized that the course was long (the aid station was over a mile after where I thought it would be) and once we started approaching it, we could see it from really far away.
The good news about this aid station was that my crew would be there and this was where I was picking up my first pacer. I friends had originally told me that I was only getting one pacer — for the last ~19 miles. However, Kyle decided that he wanted to pace me for this section (~17 miles) and then take a nap and pace our friend running the 100 mile for his last 19 miles. I was honestly feeling pretty relieved to be getting a pacer so early. At the aid station, I drank a bunch of water, tried to stuff ice everywhere and drank most of the mostly melted slushie that my crew had brought.
The next aid station was deceivingly close (it was further for the 100 mile folks, so it probably made sense in their context). Kyle and I also both failed to realize that the two aid stations after this would be water-only. And by water only, I really mean only water — no electrolyte drink, no ice, no food. I wasn’t moving super fast, but I was mostly feeling pretty good and I was continuing to move all through this section. I felt fine until around mile 37 or 38, after we got of the road section. This is when the heat finally started to catch up to me. It started off with me feeling a bit nauseous. I had been drinking nothing but water for a while, so I took a salt pill from Kyle. I almost immediately felt worse. I’m starting to think that salt pills make me feel worse (although it’s hard to tell because I basically only take them when things are already going badly). I started to feel more severe heat symptoms in addition to the nausea including yawning (which is often a pre-cursor to passing out for me). I stopped and stood/sat for a while.
Eventually I managed to push through to the next water only stop (at the bottom of the hill). Here I stood in the shade of the giant water container and wet my sleeves (and basically everything else I was wearing), and ate some food. I think all of this helped because I was feeling a bit better by the time I started heading for the hill.
That was a good thing because the hill was even worse than I was expecting it to be. I never would have been able to go quickly up it, but when you’re already feeling like you might pass out, adding a giant, steep, now-in-the-sun hill to the mix is not going to help. I ended up walking up with lots of rather generous breaks. Some of the breaks were short, some were much longer and I took as few as 5 steps between breaks and as many as a couple of minutes. Luckily the hill is the worst at the bottom, so the higher I got, the more I was able to keep going for real, although short, stretches. I felt slightly vindicated because Kyle said that even by Colorado standards, the hill was real and he wasn’t sure he would have believed how bad it was if he hadn’t done it. (I later learned that I have the second slowest time on the strava segment for the 0.7 mile steepest section of the hill out of ~1600 people. I find this pretty funny, and honestly I’m still just proud that I made it up at all). Probably the biggest thing this hill had going for it was the fact I knew there was an aid station right at the top and that if I turned around, I’d still have to go over two miles before I could really get out to anywhere where someone could pick me up and even more to get back to another real aid station.
I was so excited/relieved to finally make it to the aid station at the top. I ate ramen, despite it being hot (lukewarm after I had Kyle dump ice in it), and it was wonderful. Salt and liquid and carbs. After eating a real amount of food and getting salt and liquid in, I headed out. This next section I was back to walking the uphills and jogging everything else. I knew that normally I should have easily been able to jog everything, but I was still pretty wiped out.
We made it to the crew access point, which I was very disappointed to learn was not an aid station (other than whatever nonsense I had packed for my crew to bring). I switched pacers here and was generally sad about the lack of ramen and all of the other not-ramen foods that my crew was trying to force on me. From here, the last ~19 miles of the course was an out and back on a dirt road with rolling hills, with two more smaller and much less technical mesa loops off of the dirt road.
Honestly, a lot of this section is starting to run together in my head. The sun went down right after we started the first mesa loop, so most of it was in the dark. I basically ran out of water on the first 8 mile loop and I was very sad about it. I was still feeling much warmer than I probably should have been for this entire time. I ate 1.5 more Cup Noodles. I complained a lot to Elena, and had an epic almost-fall (I stubbed my toe and then it took me about 4 steps before I fully caught it). I mostly managed to continue to walk the uphills (and super technical sections) and run the downhills.
It’s worth noting that I went into this race slightly injured. I was worried that my left leg and/or knee would just give up. It also meant that I was fairly under trained — my longest run was probably only just over 20 miles and it was 6? Weeks prior. I’m sure the under training contributed to how slow I was over some various portions of this, but I almost think heat training would have been more helpful. My leg and knee actually felt completely fine for the entire race — definitely better than they had been. By the end, many things hurt, but in an I-just-ran-sixty-some-miles sort of way, not any actual injuries.
Eventually, two aid stations, that I saw 5 times total later, I made it back to the finish. My time was 4 hours slower than my last 100k. That said, with the crazy hill, the technical sections (which I ran much slower than expected), the heat, and the undertraining, I was just proud that I finished and was happy with my result.
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.