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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Zion 100: A Day of Redemption

"Being defeated is often a temporary condition, giving up is what makes it permanent." - Marilyn vos Savant

That quote has been burning in my brain for 11 months and now was my time to show that I hadn't been defeated.

While lying in my hotel room after my DNF at the 2012 Zion 100, I made a promise to myself that I would return to this race and finish what I started. Zion was my first DNF and it had a profound effect on me and I went through a lot of emotions in the weeks that followed. I questioned my decisions, my strategies, my ability and my commitment to running. 

But I never questioned my decision to return.


I was relentless in my pursuit of this finish line. I planned and trained all winter, I visited the course, I ran several sections with the Race Director and I spent countless hours perfecting my race strategy.

I had never been so focused on a single goal and when race day finally rolled around, I felt prepared but still nervous. I don't think that ever goes away.

I had developed a very conservative race plan that showed a finish time of 22:45. I wanted to run the race much faster, but I was deeply concerned about blowing up or falling victim to dehydration like I did in 2012.

Sometimes it's hard to set the ego aside and allow myself to drift further into the pack, even if it's the smart thing to do. Preparing myself mentally for this race was as hard as the physical preparation.

Jo and I toured the course and aid station locations the day before the race. By now, I knew the area very well and this exercise helped me mentally prepare for what I was about to do.

Jo and I on Smithsonian Butte Road

After reviewing the course we headed to packet pickup at Smith Mesa. Matt Gunn (RD) set this up at an amazing vacation rental that had beautiful views of the park and the sounding area. It was a stunning location. Matt goes out of his way to make this race inviting and memorable.

Having my picture taken for the search and rescue folks

The race began at 6:00 AM at the city park in Virgin, UT. We showed up early, got checked in and mingled with other runners.

Me and Rob Goeckermann checking out our pre-race weight

Local running friends, Harrison Fluman and Jim Skaggs

A few minutes before the race start time, we all began to get in place. Lining up for any 100 mile race is a bit nerve wracking. It's difficult to process the emotions, but one thing is clear, once we're off, we'll be out there for a LONG time. The thought is daunting.

Here we go...

I started the race with my hydration pack, filled with Endurolyte Fizz and I only carried a few chewable Perpetuem tabs. My first aid station was 10.6 miles out and my goal was to reach aid in 1:55 and have my pack dry by the time I got there.

The pack was dry, but I was 15 minutes early.

Stripping off my pack, getting ready to hand it to Jo

I had covered the first 10 miles much faster than my plan, but I was feeling really good and decided not to worry about it.

After leaving the aid station, we had 7 miles of rolling desert terrain before reaching the ascent to Gooseberry Mesa. This is a climb with 1200' of gain in one mile. It's a brutal climb and this is where the field really starts to spread out.

There's no other way to describe this...it's a bitch!

Making my up the "Goose Bump"

Cresting the top, headed for aid

After getting to the top of the mesa, we're at the mile 19 aid station. We'll hit this spot 3 times in the first 58 miles of the race.

I refilled my pack, got a fresh bottle of Perpetuem and rolled out onto a 12 mile loop of rolling slick rock trail.

Nice to be back on flat ground!

When I left the mile 19 aid station, I was 20 minutes ahead of plan. That was all about to change.

I made a huge mental error and miscalculated my distance on this loop. I simply forgot how long it was. I was taking my time, trying to ease into the early miles so I could preserve my legs. When I got to the next aid station, I realized my mistake when the volunteers said I had 6.5 miles left on this loop. CRAP!

I suppressed the panic and began to run with a purpose. By the time I finished the loop, I had burned through the time I had built up, and was now 10 minutes behind my race plan. I wasted 30 minutes screwing around on that trail.

Coming into mile 31 aid, 10 minutes late

I was still feeling great, but now I was upset with myself for making a mental error. I had to get that under control so I could focus on the things that mattered.

From the Goose Bump aid station, I had to run 6 miles of dirt road to the Grafton Mesa aid station. These were fairly easy, rolling miles and I was enjoying the run while I took in all the beauty of Zion.

I was settled down, happy and totally focused again.

On my way to Grafton Mesa aid station

Arriving at the Grafton Mesa aid station, I had made up 5 minutes and was still in great shape. I loaded up on my Hammer fuels and headed out as fast as possible.

Note: The girl behind me in this photo is the former winner of the Kettle Moraine 100 miler and is a beast on the trails.

Coming into Grafton Mesa at mile 37

After Grafton, I had a brutal 15 mile loop before returning to this same aid station. This loop takes us down a steep descent to the valley floor, then back up a tough climb to Eagle Crags. From there we turn around and head back down into the valley, run along Grafton Road, then head up a 1000' climb to Grafton Mesa before heading back to the Grafton Mesa aid station. This is the point that a lot of runners ended their day. But not me...

I made it back to Grafton Mesa and was still feeling great. I was now 30 minutes ahead of my race plan and began to have visions of an early finish. The remaining miles were budgeted very conservatively and I knew I could make my finish time unless something really began to fall apart.

I also made a mental note that things COULD fall apart, so let's not get cocky.

From Grafton, I headed back to the Goose Bump on the same 6 miles of dirt that we had run on earlier. It seemed much longer this time.

Despite knowing the course very well, I kept wondering where the aid station was. After a while I began to hear cow bells off in the distance. I got closer as the cowbells got louder. I was beginning to swell with anticipation as I rounded a corner, expecting to see the aid station...AND? NOPE! Cows, wearing actual cowbells!!! Who ever heard of such a thing?! I was a little deflated, but had to laugh.

Coming into the Goose Bump for the final time. Mile 58.

I had given myself 12 hours to reach this point in the race. I got there in 11:16 and still felt pretty strong. I decided to get ready for my night running at this point and loaded my extra layers, headlamp and other necessities into my pack. I was going to see Jo again in a few miles, but if we happen to miss each other, I needed to be prepared.

I bombed back down the Gooseberry Mesa and made my way across the desert floor toward Dalton Wash Road where I would begin the climb to the Guacamole loop.

At this point in the race, I'm rarely seeing any other runners. But as I neared Hwy 9 in Virgin, I saw I was being chased by two men and they looked pretty strong. When I reached the highway, I had to head to the right, toward Dalton Road. 100k runners head to the left, toward the finish. These two guys headed left to end their day and I was all alone again.

Jo made it to Dalton Wash just ahead of me. This proved to me that it was a good idea to load up for the night run. We filled my pack, got a fresh bottle of Perpetuem, and I headed up the grade to Guacamole.

I won't see Jo again for 20 miles, so this was an important stop for me. A lot can go wrong in 20 miles...

Loaded with gear, heading up...again

The climb to Guacamole was uneventful. Boring really. I didn't see any runners, and if it weren't for the frequent markers, I wouldn't think there was a race going on.

I got to the Guacamole aid station, fueled up and was ready to head out. I stopped before leaving so I could ask about the route back out. I was unclear on the course after finishing the 10 mile Guacamole loop.

Here's the exact conversation:

Me: Where do I go after returning here?
Volunteer: You go back out the same way you came in.
Me: Down Dalton Wash?
Volunteer: Yep!
Me: I didn't see any runners headed out on my way up.
Volunteer: All the lead runners are still here. Nobody has headed out yet.
Me: Gotcha. So back down Dalton, then head right toward Flying Monkey.
Volunteer: Yep! Take a right at the highway.

This exchange will be important later...

I made the loop around Guacamole and had a lot of fun. I had run this section in training, but it had been rerouted a bit to manipulate the mileage. About halfway through the loop, it got dark.

If you read my Antelope Island 100 race report, you'll know my headlamp was lost through tragic circumstances. I was elated and appreciative when my buddy Leon took pity on me and replaced it with a newer, much nicer model. Thanks Leon! It worked great and I managed to keep it from falling into poop!

I finished my loop and headed back down Dalton Wash Road. As instructed.

At this point, a lot of runners were heading up. We exchanged greetings, like trail runners always do. The further down the hill I got, the less lively the runners were. By the time I got to the bottom, it was nothing but Zombies.

And...as instructed...I turned right on the highway. It wasn't long before I felt like I had screwed up. I kept looking for signs, markers, something that would direct me to the mile 83 aid station. Nothing.

I knew I was screwed when the finish line came into view. I decided to go to it and get directions. I had no idea what else to do.

When I got to the park, I quickly found Matt and asked where the hell the aid station was. He was shocked to see me. I explained the mess and confusion as quickly as possible and we began to run toward the aid station, back the way I had came.

I urged Matt to get back to his race but he insisted we run there together.

Bonus miles! I sincerely can't recall a race where I didn't get lost.

Finding the mile 83 aid station

Matt handed me off to Jo while I explained the obvious. I got lost. Nothing new there.

I was now over an hour ahead of my race plan. I loaded up and rolled out without sampling any of the whiskey or jello shots at the aid station table.

And this is where things got real.

It was time to make the ascent up Flying Monkey. I had done this during the day and it was scary. This is an 1100' ascent with a lot of exposure and its very technical. And I had to do it in the dark.

As I climbed up the mesa, I began to get exhausted and I was feeling dizzy. I had to maintain total concentration to avoid falling off the cliffs. I forced myself to stop and rest several times along the way. I kept looking up at the lights that mark the route and I was astonished my how slow my ascent was and by how much climbing was left to do.

The wheels ALMOST came off the bus.

After more than 2 hours, I had finally covered the 6 miles and found Jo waiting for me at the Smith Mesa aid station at mile 89. I was exhausted.

I didn't even bother to waste time. I never stopped, but handed my pack to Jo and kept moving down the trail. I had a short out and back section and would be back in 3 miles. I asked her to have my gear ready when I got back.

I came back through and grabbed my gear from Jo. It was cold on the mesa so I sat in the truck for a minute before heading out. A little warm air would make the last 8 miles more bearable.

I was totally wiped out but I only needed to cover 6 downhill miles and 2 miles through the desert before I had this thing wrapped up.

I headed to the finish with renewed energy.

On the way toward the finish, I took the time to reflect on everything that had gone wrong at this race in 2012 and everything that had gone right this year. There are a lot of lessons in those experiences and I made a point of processing each one.

Coming to the finish line

Happy to be sitting down

I finished in 21:44:02, an hour ahead of my race plan. In all of my finish line fantasies, I had envisioned a huge celebration with hugs and cheers. It was a little more subdued than that, but I was elated nonetheless.

There hadn't been a day that had gone by without me thinking about this race. It ate at me for almost a year, and a result, it forced me to evaluate a lot of things. When I DNF'd last year, I was devastated and felt hopeless. But in hindsight, I now realize it was the opposite. Failing to finish actually provided me with hope. It also forced me to slow down and reorganize my approach to ultra running. It's obvious now that I'm a better runner for the experience. But it took a long time for that to come into focus for me.

With Zion behind me, I can take those lessons and move toward other big goals. But for now, I'm going to take it easy and enjoy my accomplishment. I'll run a couple of road marathons for training and get ready for my next 100 mile adventure.

I want to thank Jo for another amazing performance. I could never make it without her taking such great care of me. With her at my side, I always have an advantage over the competition.

Thanks for reading. I hope to see you all out on the trails soon!

19 comments:

  1. WOOHOOO!! Awesome race report, almost makes me want to run 100 miles (or not!) So great to crush that race despite the detour, that is amazing! Cute picture of you and Jo too, what a tremendous team you two are. Congratulations, Kelly! That is phenomenal!!

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    1. Thanks so much. I've been waiting so long to settle the score and I couldn't be happier.

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  2. You know I enjoy your blogs everytime, but this one was exceptional! Thank you, for being so transparent about your DNF baggage that was actually building a stronger you. I love the quote at the beginning: "...defeat is temporary, giving up is permanant!" Good stuff right there, brother. My favorite part of this blog (I'm afraid to say...the part that made me chuckle) was the cow bell of relief that turned out to be attached to the literal cow! I could see your face when you made eye contact with that "heffah". (lol...seriously, THAT is hilarious!) I felt your pain as you figured out that you were lost and an hour out of you way...good grief...I really don't know if DNF would have been my dimise at that point. KUDOS to you for plowing on!! The homemade buckle is awesome! CONGRATS TO YOU ONCE AGAIN! Way to go, Jo...for another one of your many supportive days in "The life of Kelly and Jo". love you both. ~ dodi

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    1. Thanks Dodi. I appreciate your comments and I love and miss you. Be well!

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  3. I thought I had heard all the funny stories about this race, but you got me laughing out loud, literally. What an awesome accomplishment. I'm glad we could be there to share it with you.

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    1. Thanks. I try to hold a few things back for the blog. I can't give away my best material for free...wait...I guess I give it all away for free. Why don't I get paid for this stuff?

      It was great to see you guys this weekend. Can't wait for another adventure!

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  4. Great report (and race) Kelly! I envy your ability to prepare for your races. I also know how it feels to get sweet revenge after a sub par showing the year before. Sometimes it's the bad races that motivate you the most.

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    1. Thanks Harrison. You're a runner that I truly admire and it's always a pleasure to see you on the trails. Good luck at Bryce. I know you're going to do great things out there and I wish I could be there to see it. We hope to see you guys again soon.

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  5. Way to go buddy! Such a pleasure to read these knowing I have shared a few miles on the trail with ya. Congrats on a great race. Keep on truckin man! You inspire many.....

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    1. Thanks Aric. It's always a great time sharing trail miles with you and the rest of the guys (and gals).

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  6. Congrats on your awesome race. It was good to see you out on the trail again. And huge props to Jo, she is equally amazing in her crewing. Good job!

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    1. Thanks Cory. Jo is amazing and I'm lucky to have her as my wife, best friend and crew chief. It makes all the difference and I couldn't (wouldn't) do this without her. It's always fun to see you out there. You bring a lot to this sport and I appreciate your enthusiasm and heart. Keep it up! I'm sure we'll cross paths again soon.

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  7. Congratulations! Very inspiring!

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    1. Thanks Renee! I really appreciate hearing that.

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  8. Hi Kelly, I met you briefly at the end of the race when I was waiting at the finish line with your wife. I had a great time meeting her throughout the day and sharing our crewing tips together, she was instrumental in helping me thought that long, long day. Congratulations on a fantastic race; I'm so glad it all played out so well this time around. What a spectacular race, congratulations!!! I heard you may be coming to my neck of the woods in Colorado this summer for a little Leadville excitement. If so, let me know and we'll get together and have a pre-race carb loading beer...or a celebratory one after. Congrats again (and I love the buckle you picked :)).

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    1. And I can spell "through" when I haven't been drinking all day!! ;)

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    2. Thanks Jill. It was great to meet you at the finish line. We'll definitely connect when we're in Leadville this summer. Good luck with your training.

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  9. Huge congrats on an impressive finish (with bonus miles at that!). The return from Guacamole was tough for me, too. I became convinced that I was heading in the wrong direction as all of the runners I passed were heading uphill. Fortunately, there were several crew cars at Dalton Wash to keep me on course to mile 83.

    I hope you're recovering well. Love the buckle you chose... :)

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    1. Thanks! I feel fully recovered and am ready for the next adventure! Zion is, and will likely remain, one of my favorite places to run and race. Thanks for checking out my race report.

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