Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Zion 100K - an actual race that happened

Early in the Covid Days, most everything got cancelled.  Especially races, which are large gatherings where people tend to breathe a lot.  I was supposed to run the Zion 100K on my birthday in April, but instead we hunkered in Austin for an extra month and a half.  And then spent the summer racing virtually across Tennessee.  Which was great motivation for getting in a bunch of miles, but did nothing for my quest of finishing a Western States qualifying race this year.

It is rather miraculous that the postponed edition of the Zion 100K actually happened AND that we're parked just up the road in Beaver AND that I just happened to hear about it (since I'd cancelled my entry, didn't follow up on the postponement, and wasn't looking particularly hard for races that probably weren't going on).

As soon as I caught wind of it, I grabbed my phone and signed up.  John was more than happy to spend a day in the Zion area.  We drove down Friday afternoon, rolled through the drive-through packet pickup (nice!), and slept in the truck at a dispersed spot just up the road from Virgin.  Super easy.

Geared up and ready to roll:

Even easier was the start.  We had a half-hour window to cross the timing mat, and the race was chip-timed so we would get our individual total time at the end.  Zero stress as I finished slathering on the sunscreen, watched a group of people take off at 5:30 am, used the porta-potty, and ambled across the mat a few minutes later.  I'm now a huge fan of this method of starting a race!

John took a very-brief video of my relaxed race start:

The first several miles in the darkness were very nice.  All morning, actually, was very nice.  I caught up with a few people here and there, chatted a little bit, and agreed with one guy who said something like, "I'm so grateful to be here!  I plan to remember that later this afternoon and still be grateful!"

Me too, all-around grateful.

The only big climb came at about 5 miles in, up to the mesa we'd be exploring for most of the day.  It was a steep, steep trail and all the tidbits of talk I heard revolved around wondering how hard it was going to be to get back down later.  There was a bit of a conga line near the top but no big deal.  Compared to previous iterations of this race, when this climb came later in the day, getting it out of the way early was a piece of cake.

A quick pause to grab my drop bag for a minute, and I was off and running down the road.  These next miles felt great.  I suspected I might regret it if I ran too hard, but I also was enjoying the cool temperature and easy surface so I tried to keep it smooth but didn't rein myself in too much.

Beautiful views!  We could see over to the National Park and it was awesome.  Here's where I'd love to share the scenery with you, but this ain't an FKT run and I wasn't carrying a camera.  Go see Zion if you haven't already (or even if you have).

The sun popped out and I figured it would get hot soon.  But not yet.  The first loop around Wire Mesa on bike trails was great fun.  More views.  A couple guys on bikes who chatted with us.  Trekking along the edge of the mesa for smile-inducing glimpses of the valley below.  Lots of winding around, seeing places we were about to be, and then seeing them again later after we were somewhere else.

That was the farthest-away section.  After each "mesa" we came partway back on the dirt road.  Grafton Mesa was next, another good bit of singletrack.  This one had more elevation change, a drop to the end with another awesome view of Zion, then a climbing, winding return to the aid station.

I saw a few other women off and on, and it was pretty easy to keep my "competition brain" in check.  That part of me definitely still exists!  It was ready to go if I wanted to push.  But I knew the heat was coming, there was zero reason to try to outrun someone, and I had one goal = 19 hours to qualify for Western States.  So I tried to maintain a respectable pace and most of all not dawdle in the aid stations.

The aid stations were great, with more options than I had expected.  They had advertised only packaged food, but they had fruit, wraps, even avocado pieces - yum!  The water jugs were plumbed to a long pipe with 4 spigots that flowed plenty of water at once (and John told me I missed the foot pump option?!), super easy.  Volunteers all wore masks and stayed behind the tables.  Good shade and wind and benches for working with drop bags.

The 6 mile road run back to Goosebump was less than fun.  Partly from the kicked-up dust with every passing truck - I was glad I had a wet buff around my neck to put over my mouth/nose to breathe through.  And the sun.  The bike trails all had partial shade from small trees, but the road was just warm.  Still not super hot yet though, thankfully.

I think the biggest thing is that I'm well trained for a 50K.  Not running (and especially not racing) anything much longer this year means that I'm very much not-trained for anything beyond that distance.  First half was easy.  Second half was about to get hard.

Time to call upon previous experience to figure out how to keep moving, through the next aid station and onto the long 12+ mile loop in the heat of the afternoon.  Ice for my bottle?  Check.  Electrolytes?  Yep.  Plenty of liquid?  I hope so.  Watermelon and little pickles?  Yes please!

That all still wasn't enough to keep my shins from wanting to cramp.  Yikes, that hasn't happened in a while.  Good thing I've got plenty of spare time, and I had already planned to slow down at this point.  I sat for a couple minutes, swallowed a salt tablet, and then carefully proceeded.

The challenge was all the slickrock bumps and valleys.  I love running on slickrock, it's really fun following paint marks on the rock through the interesting shapes and slopes.  Walking on slickrock with delicate shins, not so much fun.  It took some care.

Next strategy was iPod.  Perfect answer to a long afternoon of "just keeping moving".  Podcasts are awesome.  Call it distraction, call it keeping myself entertained, whatever.  The Fastest Known Podcast and Wait Wait accompanied me through the interesting geology.

Eventually I made it to the far end of the mesa, with a wonderful view down to the road that goes to the North Rim.  I waved at whoever might happen to be looking up at that moment.

My shins improved.  I could run a little.  Now to try to find the water station.  Everything I knew about mileages and the map and split times made me realize I would need to be patient - and stretch the water in my bottle as long as I could.  I had swallowed enough Spiz and Drip Drop early in the loop that I knew I would be fine for quite some time, it was more about nursing the last drops in my bottle so I could keep my mouth from getting too dry.

Still, it would be nice if somehow this water stop could happen a couple miles earlier.  It turned out to be a miniature water tank, maybe 7-8 feet tall, with a large drum of water and a bunch of spigots around the outside.  Interesting!  I have no idea how they even got it to this spot.

Plenty of water now, another serving of Spiz and electrolytes, moving better; it was just about heat management at this point.  Which I'm familiar with, recognizing that part of it is psychological (as long as you physically don't push too hard).  Between the walking and the podcasts and more slickrock rocks to figure out, I was doing OK.

Even running some here and there, starting to gear back up a bit.

Back at the Goosebump aid station - more ice, yay!  I picked up my lights, rearranged my pack, even got some ginger ale which I normally consider fairly awful.  The chilly-cold soda was so good.  Several guys were sitting contemplating their feet and I think a couple may have dropped here.

Well, time to see what that steep drop was like!  It turned out not too bad.  Steep yes, but not as slick as it looked.  I picked my way down, happy to have plenty of time and zero reason to try to go faster.

I expected it to be hotter at the bottom, but was happy to see sections of shade here and there.  These next miles were long and filled with many, many ups and downs and turns and wondering where we were wandering off to.  This is the reason I look for race reports to read beforehand, because knowing that this section was challenging was helpful for being patient.

I ran when I could, tried to walk a bit faster otherwise.  The sun was slowly dropping toward the hazy horizon (smoke from CA fires) and I was again grateful - this time for the relatively clean air we'd been running in all day.  More beautiful views and appreciation for this place.

After some undefined amount of time, the next aid station just popped up out of nowhere.  And there was John, yay John!  He was ready to accompany me most of the way to the end.  Awesome.  He helped with my drop bag and bottles, then we were off onto the bike trail that led toward the river.

It was great running and chatting with my husband, telling him about all the great things I'd been listening to (Solvable, Mothers of Invention).  He relayed that today was free National Parks day, so there were a ton of people at the park and he didn't want to get too much in the crowds.  Still, he had enjoyed a leisurely day of looking at scenery.

It finally got dark and we dug out the lights.  The trail weaved around along the rim of the river, that was neat to check out beside us.  Eventually we got to another water tank, where John had parked the truck.  I continued on foot while he drove the truck the couple of miles to the finish.

John's view of the finish line earlier when it wasn't dark out:

A ghost town kind of thing?

Neat photo of runners finishing well before me, the last mile along the road with the mesa on the horizon:

John's view of the mesa, and our trail is faintly visible (with zooming and knowing where to look):

Just a couple straightforward miles on roads (happily it was well less than the 4 miles that the splits suggest), with John coming out to meet me right at the end.  Such a sweetheart!

He also took a little video of my race finish:

I didn't take a finisher medal (travel trailer living means being selective about what you hoard) but John was happy to take this photo for me instead:

So happy to run a race for once, happy for the excellent and beautiful course, happy to finish it, happy to be done in plenty of time and not have to push at the end.  Thank you, Vacation Races!

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