Tuesday, April 23, 2013

In the Long Run (and lots of walking)

The Zion 100 did not go as planned, but it was a fantastic day nonetheless.  Instead of running alone, I ran with Marshall for Miles 5 through 55, until he and his pacer, Michael, took off.  Marshall ran a personal best of 23:31.  My pacers, Dave and Kim, kept me company from Mile 52 to the finish, so I had someone running with me the entire way.  And, of course, I talked to my fellow runners, and to my SoCal Coyote teammates, who were at every aid station.

It is difficult to capture the emotional experience of being out in the desert, on trails and remote back roads, for over a full day, watching two sunrises and one sunset, and being supported by so many friends.  Whatever I write here will necessarily fall short of conveying the beauty, camaraderie, euphoria and exhaustion I experienced this past weekend.   

The race began at 6am on Friday morning in 37 degree weather, and I finished 25 hours and 37 minutes later, at 7:37 am on Saturday.  The course rolls through the countryside just outside of Zion National Park, climbing up to three different mesas, then descends back down to the start/finish area at Highway 9.  

Just before the start: Marcus, Tiffany, Marshall, Andy and Jack
The first major climb is around Mile 19, captured in the photo below, which we reached well before noon on Friday.  The worst of the three climbs is known as the Flying Monkey Trail, which we reached at about mile 84 around 3 a.m. on Saturday morning.  

Me and Marshall at Mile 19
The support I received from my crew (David and Kim), the other SoCal Coyotes who crewed and ran the race, the other runners and the many volunteers is what made the experience so special.   On a practical level, David and Kim provided me with everything I needed to get through the long race and the changing weather: food (mostly sports beans aka Jelly Bellies) water, various sports drinks, several changes of shirts, a jacket, a beanie, gloves, hand warmers, head lamps and new batteries when my headlamp went out.  Marshall provided me with toilet paper when I needed it at Mile 21.

 I started out running the flats and downhills, and walking on uphills.  By the end, I was walking on most of the flats and even some of the downhills.  The low point in the race came at Mile 88 or so.  It was about 4am, and Kim and I had just climbed up the Flying Monkey Trail.  We were on top of the mesa, on a fire road, walking into a moderate head wind.  I began to feel cold and a bit fuzzy, and wondered whether I would be able to finish.  Fortunately, Kim gave me a thin plastic jacket, which I put on over my two shirts. The jacket broke the wind.  I rested briefly at the aid station at Mile 88.5, ate a bit, and by the time we reached the final turn-around at Mile 91, I knew I would finish.

Mile 96 - with Jeff in the distance
The final nine miles of the course are almost completely downhill.  The photo above shows one of the few sections of the course that was on black top.  The photo below shows the final stretch, on a dirt road.  Thanks to Helen for the wonderful picture.

Mile 99.74, with Kim, my closing pacer

The video below shows the finish line.  Thanks to David for taking it and sharing it with me.  That's Marshall whom I'm talking to at the very end (he's off screen but you can hear our exchange)

Belt Buckle -- the traditional award for finishing a 100 mile race

A photo Brian took  on race day

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Before the Deluge

In 36 hours, I begin my first 100 mile race, in Zion, Utah.  The furthest I have run is 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, and I have no idea what to expect when I ask my body to carry me through the desert for a full day or more.   Half a dozen of my teammates, all of whom have finished 100 milers, have described their experiences, and given me their advice and encouragement.  But I cannot picture it myself; I cannot run through that distance in my mind, extrapolate from the shorter distances I have run, and imagine what it will be like to cover that distance.  Somehow it just does not make sense.

My plan is simple.  I will run and walk at the most comfortable pace possible, and will not allow myself to strain or worry about the time.  I will not chase the other runners.  Instead, I plan to shut out everyone and everything, as best I can, and focus on my body and the desert.   I'm looking forward to the peace and privacy.  No one to rely on, no one to please, and no one to blame.

Anything could happen on Friday.  My heart may not cooperate, I might not have had enough training or I may discover that my body simply isn't capable of running 100 miles.  Or I might finish under 24 hours.  But whatever happens, it will be my own experience and I will own it.