Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Week In The Desert, & A Hundred Mile Run

I have been trying to focus on 100 mile runs for a while.  Last year I decided to hit the road on the motorcycle and run the Skyrunning series instead of the big summer mountain hundred milers.  I finished my year with an attempt at the 107 mile Mogollon Monster near my home in Arizona, only to have the race called off at mile 58.  With the offseason taking me through the winter, I geared up for a big 2015, including 2 of the hardest hundred milers in the world in Europe in July and August.  My spring so far has been hit and miss with racing, running mostly mediocre races and not being able to find my competitive step.  A steady day at the Black Canyon 100k, a controversial fun run in Mexico, a painful 50k at Mesquite Canyon.  

I didn't want to wait till summer.  I had been craving a hundred miler for over a year.  Enter Zion 100, some 10 days away.   Impulsive, arrogant, disrespectful, I needed another 100 mile finish.

My friend and climbing partner Josh Bradley (aka Diabetes) leave Flagstaff Monday morning and head north.  We comment on the ridiculousness of driving through so much amazing terrain on our way towards Zion.  Why drive so far for exploration when there's so much to be had nearby?  We pass one of my favorite spots in the world, Lee's Ferry on the Colorado River at the top of Marble Canyon.  Little Colorado Gorge and River, Marble Canyon, Vermilion Cliffs, Paria Canyon, what's left of Glen Canyon, The North Rim, Escalante, etc etc etc all within an hour.  Josh and I muse at the idea of climbing The Tooth.  One of the largest sandstone spires in the world is visible from the access road to Lee's Ferry.  It has a wild history in desert climbing lore, being freed for the first time only just in 2007.  We drive on.

Surprisingly we make it without to many delays to Zion.  We arrive in the afternoon and decide to get our feet wet on an adventure route and get a taste of the climbing grades here.  We find a route 800' up Aries Butte on the east side of the park rated 5.7.  The approach may have been more fantastic than the climb.

We rope up and simul climb the easy frictiony slab and are up in about 20 minutes.  

 On the decent of the route dubiously named 'Led by Sheep,' we find this desert bighorn.

The next morning we head for a more traditional, but just as amazing day within the park at Angel's Landing.  We link the Emerald Pools trails to log a few extra miles, and head up one of the coolest trails out there.

At only 2.5 miles up, Angels landing may be the coolest 5 mile run in the world.

We spend the rest of the day climbing and exploring the lesser visited areas of the park.  

 The next morning we head to Kolob Canyon, the northern section of the National Park.  It didn't

I'm not much of a sport climber, but with climbs like this...

Dramatically overhanging sandstone with varnished pockets and jugs, I have never seen anything else like this spot.  It was absolutely made to climb.  By far the coolest sport climbing wall I have ever been to.  We left a bit early as it was absolutely freezing in the canyon, and I didn't want to push my luck with the race on Friday.

Thursday morning we wake up and I plan on a whole lot of nothing besides eating and hydrating.  That lasts till about noon and we head to Snow Canyon State Park and climb the 4 pitch 5.10c Living On The Edge.

Top of pitch 1. Photo by Steve F. Gray Photography.

Photo by Steve F. Gray Photography.

Photo by Steve F. Gray Photography.

Photo by Steve F. Gray Photography.

Zion 100 Mile

4 am we decide to make coffee on our camp stove in the hotel room.  Needless to say a fire breaks out, we get it out quick, fill our room with smoke and blast the a/c with windows open hoping the alarms don't go off and evacuate the hotel.  Pretty good way to start the day.

It's hard to know how to feel the morning before a hundred.  You know rationally what you are about to do, but to actually understand wholly what you are about to undertake, the emotions you are about to experience, the pain you are going to push through, its hard to comprehend.  You just kind of go for it, start without too much thought, and try not to push your self to early.

For me that morning, the pain started early.  I found myself struggling to keep the pace of the lead pack by mile 20, and by 25 I was spent.  If the race was a 50k, I would have had a hard day.  Megan surprised me at mile 30, she said she could not come because of work.  I wish I could have shown more excitement but was already hurting.

As a competitive runner, its a difficult decision to make.  We come to compete, to race.  On days where we don't have it, whatever it is, do we throw in the towel, or gut out a finish.  We know we can finish, its not about the finish.  We have 34 hours to finish, and realistically could walk in the last 50 miles and still finish.  Do we save it for another day, or do we put our ego aside, and give it the best effort we can for that day, even though we may not be proud of the time or result afterword?  I'm still not sure what the right decision is on days like these.  I have DNFed before, but always in 50ks.  I think that for whatever reason I have something in me that demands to finish the longer runs.

I damn near collapsed at mile 48.  I sat with my crew, Josh, Megan, Brianna.  I sat for along time debating my day.  I had decided to drop about three times already.  I asked when pacers were allowed to start in and Megan found out that it was now.  I decided to stagger my pacers and use them for the 6-8 mile legs in between aid and alternate with pacer then without pacer for these legs.  About 20 minutes later, I get up and head out.  The next 6 miles I seemed to wake up.  Running with Josh, for a reason I have no idea why, made me feel good.

Photo courtesy of PhotoSynthetix.

What proceeded for the next 9 hours or so was a fairly uneventful evening of emotional and physical hills and valleys.  Constantly feeling destroyed, followed by brief moments of looseness and clarity.  I kept moving and with my awesome crew and pacers was able to come in just under 19 hours.  My second 50 was better than my first, and at the end of the day, am super excited to finish. 

My Zion 100 crew.
 Although obviously disappointment I wasn't able to race,  I came away with a much more humble and authentic gratitude for finishing.  I guess sometimes the only thing that matters is the running.

Photo courtesy of PhotoSynthetix.

On another note, I was super happy to partake in an Ultra Adventures event for the first time.  Matt puts on Grade A events and I'm already looking forward to the next.

My first race buckle that I will actually wear.

Its interesting to note that in Utah, 100 milers are held on Friday instead of the usual race day Saturday.  This is to accommodate for the fact that many of the participants are Mormon, and since most runners go well into the next day, they would not be able to partake with a Saturday start going well into Sunday. 

We hung around on Saturday, soaking in the Virgin River and mingling around the race finish.  We watched the 50k runners come in for while and drank beer.  Sunday, Megan and I headed home for Flagstaff, stopping every chance we could to get out and move around.  Just outside of Colorado City, we found some amazing bouldering.

Colorado City is home to the fundamentalist sect of Mormons made famous by Jon Krakauer's book Under the Banner of Heaven.  I highly recommend the read.  We drove around and looked at all the bunker style homes, then decided we had pressed our luck enough (one does not want to get stuck in Colorado City) and moved on.  

Of course, we made another obligatory stop at Lee's Ferry for another ice bath in the river.

Back in Flag, I spent the next couple of days running and climbing.

Monday I spent about 4 hours trying to get from the right side of this rock to the left.  I didn't do it.

Adios nos vemos pronto...

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