First off, the Zion course was so amazingly beautiful, the hills were so long and so steep, and the volunteers and other runners were so awesome. I loved the challenge and felt like I executed my plan and strategy fairly well, all things considered. I still didn’t finish. There were things I could have done better, and things out of my control, but isn’t that life?
Wednesday night, the night before we were leaving for Utah, my pacer, my son, was out skateboarding and fell and sprained his ankle very badly. So we were up late at the ER with him. He was so upset because he wanted to pace me and felt like he had let me down. It was an emotional time for us, but we both knew there was nothing that could be done. I’m so glad he decided to come with his dad and me anyway.
We spent the night in Gallup, NM had some good New Mexican food and headed out to Hurricane, Utah the next day. Somewhere near Tuba City, AZ we got a flat tire. We put the spare on, but didn’t want to necessarily drive the rest of the way on the spare. We were in such a remote area of Arizona we didn’t have much of a choice than to keep going. The delay put us in Utah a few hours later than I expected to be in and it definitely stressed me out for a little while. I got somewhat of a good nights sleep considering I got up at 3am! Ate some food, had my coffee and drove to the start.
The morning was perfect. Cool, but not cold, I didn’t even wear my jacket. I started just after 5am and the night was so dark and clear. I saw two shooting stars in the first hour of the race.
The course ran for about 6 miles on a dirt road and then we got on slickrock trail to Gooseberry Mesa. I ran with some people that I met right from the start. We kept a good conservative pace and all was well. The views were just glorious.
After the Gooseberry Mesa loop we then headed down Mondo Z, a 1.5 mile 1500’ descent down rocks. Pictures don’t do this justice. It’s pretty much straight down. Eventually it winds down to another trail in the desert towards the next aid station.
I met D and Aaron at Virgin Dam aid station around 26 miles in. It was so good to see them. They filled up my water and resupplied my gels and foods. Derreck got me ice for my bandana which was so awesome as it was really heating up. The next section was going to be hot!
By now my watch was tracking me almost 2 miles ahead. Pretty much everyone around me was, so it was a little frustrating not getting to aid stations when we expected to, but what can you do? Just keep moving. We got to a water only aid station and almost everyone was out. I think it was about 85 degrees and we were cooking! There wasn’t a food aid station for 5 more miles and we had a giant 4 mile road to climb to get to it, Smith Mesa.
This hill is where I really slowed way down. It was just sooo long and relentless. I never stopped moving but I lost a lot of ground on this hill. The aid station was great, and I had a quesadilla and some coke. I hoped to make up time on the top of Smith Mesa, but it was pretty technical up there and the conditions of the trail were really poor. I did not make up any time.
The next section off of Smith Mesa is called the Flying Monkey Trail. That was the sketchiest trail and it freaked me out in some spots. The trail was so narrow, rocks so loose, and the drop off so steep. I was extremely careful going down this section and by now I was worried it might be dark before I got to the bottom. I had no light with me until the aid station at mile 51, Virgin BMX. Part of this trail has a rope to get down about a 10-12 foot section of rock. Thankfully a nice guy was right by me and told me how to lower myself down. It was basically repelling down. Scary!
The trail finally started to become a smooth single track a little bit after that. I ran in the next aid station happy and hungry! Derreck and Aaron were there at Virgin BMX and took care of me. I decided to change my shoes and socks. My feet had large blisters from going straight down the Mondo Z hill. I stayed a little too long at that aid station but it was so good to see my family. By now it’s completely dark but I had my headlamp. I finally head out to the next section of trail and not even a mile into it I step into swampy stinky mucky water. I knew there was a river crossing here, but this was not a river. This was yucky cow pattie water. I finally got to the actual river and crossed it. That sucked. Those fresh shoes and socks were for nothing. Another rocky climb, but not too long and then up a dirt road to the top of Guacamole. I had a drop bag there with warm clothes and my Kogalla light. Good thing, it was cold up there. I stayed with a guy named Rodger. For some reason he started calling me Tanya. It was funny. Anyway, we stuck together for that section because the flagging was so hard to see. We did not want to get lost. We were already now almost 4 miles over what the course map said. This section took so long because we stopped to make sure we saw the next flag before proceeding. But it was better than going off course. I was getting tired but still felt alert. I made up some time coming down the road and then it was the river and muck again. But then I saw Derreck and Aaron again. It was around 4am by now. Here is where I broke down. My feet hurt so much. The blisters were huge. Derreck put my first pair of socks and shoes back on because the new ones were soaked again. I knew I was slow and was now worried about missing the cutoff time. I also knew I had to climb that stupid Mondo Z hill again. I wondered if I would be able to make it. Derreck and Aaron gave me hugs, fed me, made me laugh and I continued on.
There were a few people around me but I was slower than they were. I lost sight of their lights after awhile. I surprisingly felt okay at this point. I ran a little when it was flat and was doing ok. Until I stopped seeing the flagging. I went a little farther thinking maybe I had just missed the last one. Still no flags in sight, it’s dark and I am all alone. I pulled out the map on my phone and saw I was about a mile off course. That sucked. I backtracked as quickly as I could and found the spot I missed my turn. Now that was on the right course I guess my emotions released and I cried. I pulled myself together quickly and approached the big hill. By now the sun was starting to come up, which was good because it would have been so hard to get good footing in the dark. That hill was so steep I needed to rest so often. I started counting 30 steps and then I would rest on my poles. 30 steps, rest. On and on, up and up.
I made it to the top, finally, Goosebump Aid. I sat in a chair and had coffee and an egg. I was calculating the time and with 25 miles to go, I had to stay under a 19 min mile to finish. That would normally be easy. But I didn’t think I could do it, mostly walking. Of course, now I wish I had tried. My feet hurt so much. I was tired. I felt bad for Derreck and Aaron being up waiting for me without getting much sleep too. If I stopped it would all be over. I had nothing to prove to anyone.
I got out of the chair and headed out of the aid station. I had a 5 mile section to get to the next aid station and see the guys. As I walked I cried, seeing my dreams disappear before me. I was sad.
I called Derreck. Told him I didn’t think I would be able to finish in the time allotted. He told me the math and we both knew unless I really picked it up I wouldn’t make it. So he came and got me. I turned my bib in and took my DNF. I made it nearly 80 miles! That is a huge accomplishment. All in all, it was a wonderful experience and I learned so much. I met amazing people and did the hardest trails I have ever seen. The race was tougher than I thought it would be, and even though I didn’t finish, I am tougher than I thought as well. Had I known how hard this course was, I probably wouldn’t have even attempted it. But I would have missed out on the beauty of it all, and so much more!! Sometimes our goals should be so big we aren’t sure we can complete them. How else will we see where our limits are, where we can improve and grow? Life is full of unexpected and unwanted outcomes. Ultra running can be a way to practice dealing with hard times and disappointments in a way that really has no significance in everyday life. But the lessons learned, the willingness to suffer and continue transfers to every day life. We have to get up and keep going even when we are unhappy with our situation and try to make the best of it. And we need to celebrate all we have done and accomplished even if we didn’t meet our goal. They are all stepping stones to improving ourselves. Isn’t that really one of our purposes in life, to improve ourselves? If we do, we are in a better position to come along side others to encourage and uplift. That’s what makes the world go around.
So even with a DNF, I still call it a win. I ran longer than I have before, met amazing people and spent so much time in God’s Country.
Because I completed at least 100K, I was still able to take an award. I chose the Coffee cup!