Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Inaugural Zion 100 Mile

Moving in a 100-mile running race is a good thing.

Moving, as in moving your stuff from one house to another, really sucks.  Especially for an ultrarunner.   For instance, it is harder to enjoy the 5-hour training run for which you really don't have time when you are stressed about all the crap you need to sort through and throw out or pack or more often than not throw into a box so you can deal with it later, so then afterwards you feel guilty because you did none of the above and the house is turned upside down.

Due to my work schedule, I had to pack and move whenever I could.  In fact, I managed to pack and move another Rav4 load (#8) right before my flight on the morning of the day before the inaugural Zion 100 Mile Run, Friday, May 11, 2012.

Thursday morning.  putting that ottoman in the front seat was probably not the safest thing

Aside from muscle soreness from all the lifting and moving, my expectations going into the inaugural Zion 100 Mile were modest for many other reasons.

Even without the move, I was undertrained anyway.  I had only raced three 50k's year since January, one was a fat-ass, so not really a race.  Nothing longer.

Second, the way my work schedule came out, I had to work six overnight shifts in the two weekends before the race:  Saturady-Sunday-Monday (the Monday goes into Tuesday) and then Friday-Saturday-Sunday.  The sleep during the day was inadequate, and I never really recovered.

A major reason I couldn't recover was my feeling palpitations in the days (and especially nights) with increasing frequency.

I see patients who present to the ER with this complaint all the time.  Sometimes there is a physiologic basis-- a dysrhythmia, an abnormal rhythm of the heart.  If there is none detected while they are symptomatic during the visit or while wearing a device as an oupatient, we assume it is most likely anxiety.

I didn't have to convince myself.  I was anxious, and it was a sinus rhythm (triggered by the heart's normal pacemaker in the right atrium).  It obviously wasn't just about the race-- I race so often, and not being super-fast, don't have too much at stake.  But with the stress of the move (including financial worries related to it) and work, what should have been just-another-100-mile-run was apparently on an unconscious level REALLY FREAKING ME OUT.

Tactical Error #1 -- lodging and probably my communication about lodging

Gary Gellin, who was, had emailed me months prior, and very vaguely suggested coordinating travel and/or lodging.  I was equivocal about whether to take him up on this, and after my getting mildly soaked in my old tent after Chimera 100 mile the previous November had bought a new 2-person Marmot Limelight that I was eager to use, but decided that since I was travelling so far by myself and as usual was not going to be crewed or paced, that I should be social.  A few weeks prior I told him, sure, if he has room, we could share a room, which (I thought) he confirmed.

When I showed up at the pre-race check-in, where we all enjoyed a complimentary Grumpy Goat pizza, Gary then asked me something like, "So where did you end up deciding to stay?"

Awkward silence.

You don't have to read all the of the following thread, but doesn't this look like a confirmation?  Maybe I should have re-emailed to confirm a few days before the race, but I thought I'd beat it to death by email, and with the moving, I was a bit distracted.

After the awkward silence and some gingerly phrased tentative discussion, Gary graciously offered to have me stay with him in a motel in Springdale right next to the entrance to Zion National Park.

  • Aside Tactical Error 1a -- packing clothes.  Back at the motel, after I took a shower to clean off all my sweat from the sweaty drive through the hot desert (air conditioning left off intentional to acclimate me to the heat), I noticed I had only packed one pair of underwear, and no boxers to sleep in.  So the briefs went back on.  I washed it while taking another shower the next morning (gotta start that dirty trail run feeling squeaky clean, and I was up early anyway) and hung it up in my rental car.  Process was repeated at my brother's house to where I drove directly after flying back Saturday evening for Mother's Day.  Four days on one pair of underwear-- it can be done, but not recommended.

Gary's friend Jim graciously offered to sleep on the floor.
This made me feel a little guilty, but he insisted it wouldn't be a problem, and since I was offering to pay for half (and not a third) of the room, I took the bed.
Gary's friend warned me that he snores.  Loudly.
He did not disappoint.
My earplugs didn't work.
If I ever did sleep some, Gary got up really early; he had warned me.  Something like 3 am.  I can't remember if he ground his coffee or just made it.  But all the lights in the room came on.

And to think there was a campground really really close to the start.  Oh well.

Gary setting the Way Too Cool 50k record two months earlier.
Bryon Powell's interview with Gary about that win and other stuff.

Tactical Error #2 -- lip protection

Gary let me use some of his sunscreen, but I managed to forget to apply any lip balm in the morning, which resulted in no sun protection for my lips until mile 42.  This sounds trivial, but this resulted in my lips being the most painful part of my body for days after the race.  Eating anything slightly acidic was extremely painful.  I was slathering Aquaphor on my lips every hour with only partial relief.  Flecks of skin kept peeling off round the clock.  My patients were probably grossed out.  My wife was too grossed out to do much smooching.

unaltered photo!  (I never alter my photos.)  Tuesday morning after.  As uncomfortable as it looks nasty. 

The race itself

Here is the card with a race map and course description on the back for the 2012 race, which I carried during the race, but which I've wasted too much time trying to rotate 90 degrees.  A desert run with two big mesas and fantastic scenery.

 First 18.5 miles:  relatively flat, fast, nontechnical running on wide dirt roads, except for the steep 1000 foot climb from mile 3 to 4, with stunning early morning views long before things got hot and a large ape hanging from a rope, who I guess eventually got cut down from it.

Lots of company and conversation.  Among those I talked with were Justin Faul, recently completed his medical residency and practicing near Flagstaff.  His medical partner was allowing him to run across America this summer-- hope that went well.

Here I am running on Smith Mesa with Matt Smith from New York.

I also chatted some with Mikio Miyazoe originally from Japan and at the time living and working in Oregon, though in the scene below I am running too far behind to chat.

Mikio's race report

There were others, but six months later it's fuzzy.  I would run into many of them at 100-mile races in the Rocky Mountain Time Zone later in the year, and get everyone's names confused.  Awful.

Early on many of us would keep running into Gary, who was pacing himself well, and using this race more as preparation for his Tahoe Rim Trail speed attempts anyway.  Most of us slower runners figured if we stayed with or behind him, we weren't running TOO fast.

Right out of the 2nd aid station, there was a 180 degree flip in technicality as we descend this gully, hanging on to ropes, jumping from boulder to boulder.  It was a blast, though later in the race I would feel pains that I could attribute to some of those impacts.  Then a few miles of pretty, fun single-track.  Talked more with Josh (Joshua Malpass) from SoCal, with whom I shared a campsite half a year ago at Chimera 100 (report will some day get finished).  Chimera was his first 100 miler; he finished less than 10 minutes after me, so I imagine he was feeling more comfortable than I at that pace.

Chatting so much entering the 3rd aid station, I forgot I had left my Garmin Forerunner #2 in a drop bag there, and being anal, ran back (at least 1/4 mile) to pick it up, tactical error #3.   Running down the paved road, my bowels started feeling more uncomfortable-- maybe this started before the aid station, when I could have but didn't grab some wipes.  So behind a some desert bush at the side of the road, I did my thing, wiping with some leaves I picked off a tree and started running, but feeling unsettled for several miles.  Not worried that about 5-6 people got ahead me during the whole process.

The Race Director's mother, whom I met at pre-race the day before was at aid station #4, Virgin Desert, mile 42.  Here I had stashed one of my Ultimate Direction Wasp packs (essential gear for my longer training runs), so dumped my 24 ounce handheld.

The course largely followed down a dry wash (= an intermittent streambed in an arroyo or canyon that carries water only briefly after a rain, from Dictionary of Geologic Terms
which was all pretty, fun and dandy until I got to a 4-way intersection without any trail markings.  There was no mention of a turn at this point neither in the detailed course directions card I was carrying that were available pre-race, nor in the narrative course description I printed up from the race website (yes, I was prepared).  So, I did what you are supposed to do in this situation, which is to keep going down the dry wash and ignoring the trail it just intersected.  After about half a mile of continued descent without any course markings, I got the heebie jeebies and decided to turn around and go up, where I saw Josh or Justin or someone I was talking to earlier whose name began with J, who somehow thought to turn right.  (Later on the steep climb to the mesa, I complained about the lack of course markings, to Justin or Jason, who told me he himself had marked the intersection, so suspected a rancher had removed them-- this happens, but I was irked that the turn didn't make it onto the course description I was carrying.

RD's mother, who initially was too shy to be photographed

RD Matt Dunn's mom

The psychological impact of the bonus mileage probably slowed me down for a while, but as I noticed my relative pace slowing even before the really steep ascent to Gooseberry Mesa, I realized it was more physical than psychological.  I regretted only having grabbed one packet of peanut butter crackers at Virgin Desert.

Hannah Roberts, who won HURT when I ran it in 2011, passed me up the hill.  Also some other guy wearing Sportiva's minimalist Vertical K's.  With my upcoming move, I hadn't had time to get my own pair of these really cool shoes (and didn't want something else I had to pack and move).

There was a "water only" station at the top of Gooseberry Mesa, but it had among other extras, a bin with boiled potatoes in it.  The next full aid station was not for several miles and I was so calorie-depleted that I downed three medium-sized ones, even though I knew it would probably slow me down in the short-term which it did.

The trail at the top of this mesa mostly zig-zagged slick rock close to the rim.  The trails were already marked with blotches of usually white paint.  At times I had to slow down or even stop to figure out where the next blotch was.  I thought to myself that my kids would have extra fun hiking here, as the search for the next blotch would give them a continual challenge.  But then I thought maybe not for at least a couple of years since my kids do a lot of spontaneous running ahead during our hikes, and there were many places that a few yards off the side of the trail would result in a fall to serious injury or death.

Apparently I was lucky to do this section before nightfall, because if I had some issues navigating, it became impossible in the dark.  (The race director has changed to course for future races to make sure, among other things, that no one runs here at night.)

Even after digesting the potatoes, I found that I couldn't run even the slightest uphill.  Doing so even for a few steps (for instance up the side of a large rock) resulted in nausea and dizziness.  I was okay on downslopes or perfectly flat surfaces.  I could not figure this out.  If it was altitude, why wasn't I getting headache I usual get (even at 5000 feet)?  My paced slowed, more people passed me.  At least, I consoled myself, my inability to run too fast let me better savor the awesome views to the right.

Gooseberry Aid Station we hit twice at 51.5 and 52.5 miles.  From there was a half mile out and back to the edge of a little peninsula-cliff.  This was nice because it was the only point on the course you could see runners going the opposite direction.  The views from the turnaround point were stunning.  If I ever run this race again (and I don't have a flight to catch the next afternoon), I should plant a small camera in my drop bag to snap a bunch of pics from that sight.  I also saw a very large tortoise going out, but by the time I headed back just a few minutes later it was nowhere to be seen, which surprised me as I thought they walked slowly.

More similar trail for the 10 miles to the next aid station.   Unluckily I asked a volunteer to fill my bag up all the way unnecessarily. Luckily I got to my first light at mile 62 half an hour before it got dark.

From here there was a lot of wide flat road and I was able to cruise at a decent pace at least initially, before I started feeling the sleepies, which made me fall apart even more, followed by several navigational issues.

I think after Smithsonian Butte, mile 70, Adrian (who was running in the front pack for a while until he crumped) and his pacer and Mikio, with whom I was running earlier, were both having questions about where to go.  The card I was carrying was pretty clear.  Mikio shot out ahead, and I ran with Adrian and Colin for a couple of miles until they too shot ahead.  Most of the ascent was gentle and should have been runnable except I was starting to fail on my ability to run uphill again.

Later though, directions became less clear, and there were two places where I got lost.  The first was an intersection without clear markings where I mucked about a bit.  The second was leaving the Gould's Rim aid station at mile 82.  Volunteers told us to go down a straight road and then turn left, but there was no marking to turn left, and I ran back the half mile and found a single track that led from the right, which wasn't on the course description, but I figured was a better bet.  Eventually a couple of other runners caught up to me and we all grumbled about the confusion and bonus mileage.

One was Claude Hicks, 52, from Texas (who eventually left me behind).  (The guy who won the whole thing, Jay Aldous, was also 50.)

The other was Tim Stroh, whom I met at my first Cascade Crest 100 in 2009.  He actually helped design that course.  He was also doing better than I and eventually left me behind.

Tim, after winning the inaugural Pigtails Challenge 200 mile just two weeks later in 43:35.  
The sun came up, which I thought would only do so after I finished the race, but at least I got to enjoy more good scenery.  (My memories about those parts are now quite fuzzy, and this report is getting too long anyway.)

I lunged to cross the finish line as the seconds columns showed 00, so finished 25:27:00 (somehow I thought I was 24:27-- probably due to my GPS still being set on Pacific Time.  I could make the 1 hour correction most of the race, but after 25 hours of running while failing continued caffeine, my mathematical skills were shot.  Fourth slowest time ever for me in a 100 mile race.  Despite the heat and technically difficult sections and my modest expectations, I was expecting to run this faster.

my unique hand-made finishers buckle

There was going to be a cool post-race dinner party, but this being Mother's Day weekend, I had to get my ass home.  (Fortunately, the race has been moved to April (for 2013, the date is April 19) so this won't be an issue in the future. )  I tried to sleep in my car before leaving, which didn't quite work. I had to pull over twice to nap to make it back to McCarran international in Las Vegas.  Nuts.  Not recommended.  The summer would be filled with more of this sort of frantically-paced craziness.

About the RD-- so Matt Gunn gives great communication through his website blog (this was actually a major reason I had signed up), and really worked and continues to work to put on the best race possible.  He learned from his experience this year, and has made a lot of changes that should work out the kinks and improve the race.  I am by no means upset about the several times I got lost, and was actually surprised that didn't happen more than it did.  He gets my rookie RD of the year award (sorry, no buckle for that), and my enthusiastic recommendation.  He is the one in red below.  Run his races!  You won't be sorry.

(In the interest of full disclosure, Sportiva sponsored the race, so Matt in the end comped my entry.  Thanks again to both La Sportiva and Matt, and the many dedicated volunteers who helped us on the course!)

GPS recordings of my run:
part 1 (first 35 miles)
part 2 (next 42)
part 3 (last 23-25)

some of my splits from the webcast

results (59? finishers out of 122? starters )

link to page on race website of other's race reports that all got finished months before this one and that I probably should have read first, but I am so far behind on my blogging that it is ridiculous, so I admit to not having tried to read most of them.

the official short blurb on the lead finishers

official race website -- next year's race scheduled to start Friday, April 13, 2013.

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