Where do I start? Months ago, when I asked a complete stranger to pace me at my second attempt of the 100 mile distance? Or, at the start line where I was shivering in the desert? Perhaps somewhere in the middle? Well… here goes. I will include my pacers brain dump (in italics) as it makes for more fun.
For just about every past race that I signed up for and ran, I played it by ear. Sure, I had time goals, and there were a few races where I was competing for the second or third time. Others, both my coach and I knew the course, so it was easy to know what to expect. Preparing wasn’t high on my list of must do’s ahead of a race. Haliburton was my first real attempt at planning for a race. I didn’t finish that one because my body stopped working, not due to the lack of planning. Anyway, all this to say, I hadn’t learned the value in preparation. There are so many details, so many variables that can end you, or more appropriately, end your race. How do you really anticipate them?
A while back, it is probably November, I asked a stranger, Jody, to pace me. For some crazy reason, she accepted the challenge and that was that. As the race approached, she would ask a flurry of questions to which I had one answer, “I don’t like to think too much about the race ‘cause I don’t want to freak myself out.” She, probably a little disappointed, would say something along the lines of “OK that’s great that you don’t let yourself get freaked out.”
Time passed and we Skyped on three occasion. We talked mostly about nothing, I guess we were more or less just getting acquainted with each other. The last time we talked, it dawned on me that that the race was about a week or so away. I got a little freaked out and decided it was time to really study the map to try to estimate how long it would take me to finish the race. There are so many aid stations at this race that I decided that I would depend on those for nutrition. They were fully stocked with food and would have Tailwind as the electrolyte drink. I decided that I would rely entirely on the aid stations with the exception of a few staples, Hammer Gels, Salt Stick, and a canister of Gu Brew as a backup in case Tailwind didn’t agree with me.
I arranged all the flights so that Lindsay (my gal) and I would meet Jody in Vegas. My friend Donna, who was taking on the 100 miler solo arranged to meet us in Vegas. I offered her the option to stay and drive to Utah with us. Two days before we were flying out, we discovered that she asked her husband to join her and offer his support as she prepared to run her first 100-miler.
We all arrived in Vegas two night before the race. First Jody from Omaha, then Donna, then Lindsay, Mark, and me on a flight together. I arranged for Jody to be able to check-in to the Hard Rock Hotel since she would arrive first. We surprised Jody when we got to the room where she was patiently waited. We all walked in and introduced ourselves, and then there was Mark. I was surprised because the room was pretty small, and it was against fire codes to add a cot to the room. Donna and Mark tried to get another room, but the Hard Rock claimed it was sold out, which seemed unlikely. Jody took the floor after we called on guest services three times to get more blankets and pillows. I guess it wasn’t too comfortable, because she spent most of the night roaming the casino. I don’t know that she tried her hand at any of the slots, but she napped by the outdoor pool and worked out when the in the gym opened.
In the morning we picked up the car, which needed an upgrade to fit the five of us and our stuff. We were scheduled to pick up a Sentra, but upgraded to a Ford Exploder. I took the driver’s seat and you’d think it was the first time I ever drove. I was privileged to get lessons about keeping my eyes on the road, but I was so excited to see the mountain ranges and outdoor scenery in the states of Vegas, Arizona, and Utah. I was a little distracted.
Despite the need for all of the lessons, we made it to Springdale to check in at the Cable Mountain Lodge, just outside of Zion National Park. (It was very nice and worthy of a second trip even without ultra). We all settled in and made it to race registration and the prep meeting at the Virgin Town Park. We chatted with Team Ontario (not a formal team, just all the folks that run OUSER races and happen to be at Zion) and other runners with the same coach. After the presentations, we all headed back to the lodge to eat and get our stuff ready for the big run.
Jody pulled out her binder of maps and crew plans. She knew it all – the distance between each aid station for the runners, the directions the crew would need to get to aid stations, how long (miles and kilometers) each drive was, what the crew would need, etc. I was blown away. So much work! My planning, or lack there of, got us to the hotel, and now that I look back, it appears to be very last minute. This poor planning did not give me or my crew enough time to rest, especially with the time change, the long days of travel, and short sleeps before the race. We discussed what my needs were, firmed up the change of plans as certain aid stations were more or less inaccessible (as we learned at the pre-race meeting), and prepped the gear for the morning.
The night before the race, I’m packing the magic bag with Lindsay and working on the spreadsheet and crew calculations. Our plans have changed drastically, complicated by having to crew two runners of differing speeds from one vehicle, and also eliminating an aid station from our plans. Byron tells us stories of his shoes, their history, the love he has for them, but decides to start with the Inov8 245 shoes that I brought for him. We promise to bring the shoe bag with the others. We also have a conversation about pooping that grosses Mark out and so we stop. Everyone eats Kraft Dinner (not called that in the US, we just call it Mac & Cheese from the blue box) and goes to bed. I’m on a cot in the kitchen reading the race (Ultra Adventures) website/ twitter/facebook before falling asleep for a few hours.
4 am came all too early and it was time to try to get the machine running. I ate my normal breakfast of bacon and eggs, and got suited up. We drove to Virgin and froze as we waited for the start.
BAM – we were off.
5am- We leave for Virgin in the dark with Mark driving and arrive at Virgin Town Park to a small crowd that gets bigger and bigger. Lindsay hands me a cup of coffee. It’s cold and gross so we toss it. We take some pictures, Byron is chatting with running dudes, everyone’s using bathrooms, composting toilets on trailers, and then it’s time to line up for the start. Something that is funny is that RD Matt Gunn is wearing his little Chihuahua, Nacho, in a satchel. Everyone starts to move so I head to the start and I’m the first person just to the right side of the starting line. I take a video of the start and manage to call out to both Byron and Donna as they embark on their journey. Me saying “Go Byron!” makes it so “Work the shaft” (referring to his method of administering a Hammer Gel into his mouth spill-free) is no longer the last thing I say to him before his race.
6am- After the start of Zion 100, The Crew (me, Mark, Lindsay) drives back to Springdale. Mark takes a nap on the couch and the girls go to the market to buy coffee filters. We make coffee, pack a few things we think may be useful, relax for a few moments, and then wake up Mark to head to the first aid station. The sun has come up and it’s a gorgeous day in the desert.
At the start I tried to keep my pace conservative. I knew I was in it for the long haul. My legs were screaming at me for the first 4 miles and that made me nervous. My training runs this year never presented this problem (I had ongoing issues with tight calves last summer). So I tried slowing down a little bit more. People were flying past me, and my new pace didn’t seem to help my calves. At the 4 mile mark, we started the first climb up the side of the mesa, and I never thought about my calves again.
At the start I tried to keep my pace conservative. I knew I was in it for the long haul. My legs were screaming at me for the first 4 miles and that made me nervous. My training runs this year never presented this problem (I had ongoing issues with tight calves last summer). So I tried slowing down a little bit more. People were flying past me, and my new pace didn’t seem to help my calves. At the 4 mile mark, we started the first climb up the side of the mesa, and I never thought about my calves again.
When I got up to the first aid station atop the Flying Monkey mesa I switched out a bottle that had my GU Brew in it for some Tailwind to see what this stuff was all about. It seemed to be a pretty popular brand in the US, so probably pretty good stuff. Well, as I was running the around the top of the mesa I got the chance to drink it… and you will never catch me drinking that shit again. Case in point as to why you ALWAYS plan your hydration and electrolyte strategy.
On completing the loop I started my descent down Flying Monkey mesa where I caught up with Melanie, she was a little nervous heading down. We were alongside terrifying cliffs, amazing views, and if heights aren’t your thing, the section would have you dropping bricks, a lot of them. I tried to help her out by just doing what I do best, talk and talk and talk. Once we made it down we continued talking about our race experiences and the strategy she used to finish Haliburton when a sun-beaten lady took her circa 80’s headphones off and said, “that’s not the right strategy”
Melanie turned to the woman and asked, “Are you Pam Reed?”
“You’re a legend!”
Well I didn’t know who this legend was, so I apologized for my ignorance, and was filled in on ultra running history.
“So can you give me some advice” I asked the legend.
She was happy to talk about the 100-miler and here is her advice: “The first 50 miles shouldn’t feel like work. If it does, then you need to slow down. Never use speed bursts to pass people. If you can’t pass them in your cruising gear, then don’t.” We chatted with her for a while, but Melanie and I picked up the pace a little, and before we knew it we were at the second aid station, first one where I’d see my crew..
As I was coming in to the aid station (AS), Jody was out on the trail a bit, ready for me, and asked if I wanted Tailwind or Gu Brew. I put my order in and she bbm’d my wife so that my bottles would be ready with upon my arrival. I got the royal treatment, actually, I thought I was in the ring. I was getting wiped down with wet wipes to clean the salt off my skin, and getting a cool cloth on my neck, I changed my socks, and got whatever food I wanted. Then after a 5-minute stay, they sent me off to climb up Guacamole mesa.
8:40am- We arrive at Dalton Wash, park along the road, and walk up and find a spot across from the AS. Lindsay sits and waits for me to find out if Byron wants to continue with Tailwind or have her mix up some GU Brew. I head up where the runners come down Flying Monkey Trail. I actually hear Byron before we see him – he’s talking to Melanie and the first thing he says when I ask what he wants to drink is “GU BREW!! Tail wind tastes like SHIT!!” I bbm the message to Lindsay. She says she could see Byron from a mile away because of his unique running form.
Mile15/24 KM: Byron comes in to Dalton Wash for the first time. Time is approximately 9:10am, his expected time. Lindsay fills 2 bottles with GU Brew, I take the trash out of his pack, replace a few Hammer gels, spray him with sunscreen, and he takes off toward Guacamole. He takes a glance at the aid station table and sees the sweets, not sure if he took anything. This exchange is very quick and easy. He’s within minutes of his projected 21h finishing time.
It was a long haul along a dirt road. I was fully saturated by the strong sun. I kept up a decent pace, I was passing some folks and generally greeting and chatting with them briefly. As I was catching up to this one woman I asked her, “How many 100’s have you done?”
“I’m not much of a talker” she replies. I was in a good mood and I understood where she was coming from so I laughed it off and told her that it was no problem and focused on moving right along. Maybe she felt bad about being short with me because all of a sudden I hear the word “18”.
“I’ve done 18 100-milers” she confirmed. We chatted a bit more and asked a couple of questions, the basics, you know. “Where are you from?” etc etc. I carried on.
Upon getting to the top of the Guacamole mesa we met the next challenge, slickrock. As we booted around this mesa, I overheard other runners mention that people used to have to run this section at night; poor fuckers. I couldn’t imagine running around on that mesa at night. For the record, slickrock ain’t slick. It’s kinda like granite. I liken it to Peggy’s Cove, if you’ve ever been there, then you’ll know what I mean. The coast is all granite with major cracks, it is eroded by the powerful and angry ocean pounding relentlessly. As a result, there are weird shapes and pools all over the somewhat smooth (though not polished smooth) rock surface. As I child, I remember running along the massive rocks, hopping up and down from one rock to another. The comparison came to me as I was bumping along, climbing up 4 or 5 feet, then jumping down, hopping over a crevice, short step, long step, up step, down step, it was fun, but tiring. Running on the slickrock is challenging, but even more challenging was following the “trail”. As we were literally running on a massive rock, there was no beaten trail in the dirt. Instead it was a series of spray painted dots, sometimes arrows, the occasional pink flag, or a cairn. More often than not, I found myself coming to a complete stop as I needed to look around for the next marker. Runners were catching up to me, and while it was nice to be able to follow people rather than looking around for the markers, this proved to be a little demoralizing.
I finished my tour of the mesa and started back to the Dalton Wash AS for the second time. I noticed my heart rate was in the mid 150’s, which wouldn’t have raised eyebrows if it wasn’t for the fact that I was running between 7- 8 minute/km. At that pace I should have been around 130 bpm, sometimes even lower. I wasn’t the only one trying to figure out the heat and dryness. I came across this tall dude, he was trying to keep up a good running pace but would have to stop and walk, and sometimes even bending over. I think he mentioned he had a cramp. I had extra fluids, and knowing we were approaching the AS, I offered him salt or fluid. He thanked me but declined. Funny thing is that I was coaching him to stay hydrated, slow down, and take it easy. As it turns out, he had a little more experience than I do.
Mile 30.5/48.8 KM: It’s hot now and it’s full on sun. Byron comes into Dalton Wash for the second time at approximately 12:20pm. The first thing he says is “I need to take a shit!” so I grab his pack and take it back to the crew and he heads to the composting toilet. We fill 2 bottles of GU Brew, fill gels, place salt tabs in the bitch pocket, we wipe his body with the wet wipes, and spray him with sunscreen. He decides to change socks but keeps the same shoes. I give him my GOATz buff and a small Brooks towel for a cooling device because it is hot. He’s a bit of a diva as he sits there as we take care of him and he orders us around. We are very entertaining to some of the other crews nearby. Byron is doing well and takes off towards Virgin. We know we won’t make it to him in time to see him at Goosebump AS the first time, but we know we’ll see him the second time through after he gets to see the beauty of the view from Gooseberry Point.
I made it back to the Dalton Wash AS, I cleaned up and after 10 minutes I started my journey to the Goosebump AS. I was feeling great, things seemed to be moving well, I was on track for my 24-hour completion. I was in the zone and running down the highway. There was a section that was being fixed up and only one lane was open. A pacing truck was leading cars in either direction and when the driver of the truck noticed me he honked at me.
“Hey – you missed the turnoff back there” he said to me.
“Ah shit” I blasted out.
“Sorry man” he said as he left me in my shame.
“Not your fault. Thanks for letting me know.” I turned around and headed for the turn. I lost a solid kilometer. In the long run (ha ha), I guess one kilometer isn’t a big deal. Still, it was just another time that I went off track and spent precious energy unnecessarily.
I crossed the desert floor and made my way to the steepest and longest climb of the race – up 1154 feet over a 2 km stretch to the Goosebump aid station. At first, I was taking the hill too aggressively and my heart rate would spike. The sun was pounding down on us and it made that much more difficult. I met Josh mid climb and then left him behind as I got into my groove; slow consistent and minimalistic steps. I kept an eye on my heart rate to ensure it was steady in the high 140’s.
We were informed at the pre-race meeting that the drive from Dalton Wash AS to Goosebump AS would actually be longer than the run. As planned, I check-in at the Goosebump AS, and since there was no crew, I grabbed a couple of bites and some Tailwind (did I mention that I think this stuff is completely disgusting?) and I was on my way after 2 minutes.
Mile 35.5/56.8KM: From what I read off the volunteer’s checklists, Byron came through Goosebump AS1 at 1:49pm. We are not at the location at that time. On route to Goosebump, the crew makes a few stops: to check race headquarters for GU Brew for Donna, to get gas, and to pick up some lunch at ALbert’s Mexican in Hurricane UT. I order rice and also a chicken enchilada, which I decide not to eat after looking at it (not a good pre-run meal). After an hour-long, bumpy, slow, dusty drive, we finally arrive on a road with a ton of vehicles at 3:50pm. We end up parking far away and walk up to Goosebump AS carrying as many items as possible. We of course, don’t even think about bringing Byron’s giant grocery bag of shoes…
I was getting tired and my legs were much less responsive than when I started (pretty obvious eh?). As I was running along, I noticed that we were running along the edge of the cliff. I joked with others by saying “don’t trip”, but it is honestly a very serious warning. I heeded my own advice and switched to a power walk when the trail brought us right along the edges. I couldn’t and won’t complain about this. It was along these trails that you had the opportunity to take brief moments and absorb the vast valley in between the mesas. I don’t know how to articulate the feeling of looking out over the desert floor except to say that it has some power over you. Is it spiritual? Who knows, I guess it makes you feel like you are looking over something very special and unique.
As I was getting close to completing the loop back to Goosebump, I started running and chatting with another Pam. Talking with her was a nice distraction since most of the loop was on slickrock. So we had two pairs of eyes looking for markers. It’s so funny because I will see her again at Fat Dog in August. Turns out she was in the Zion 100k race and was testing her fitness in preparation for the 120 mile challenge in BC.
My run was slowing down, when I started to hear people, and, it really seemed like the aid station was right around the corner. At one point, I knew it was about a kilometer away and my pace just picked right up. It’s amazing how, provided the right motivation, you can get your body to move no matter how badly you hurt. In this case, I was motivated by seeing my crew and sitting my ass down.
I was anxious to swap out my shoes because my feet were aching so badly. Jody was out on the trail waiting, so I handed her my pack and parked myself in the chair. I followed up by demanding for a change of shoes.
“Which ones do you want” Lindsay asked nicely.
“I’m not going with the centerfolds, I need the special edition girls on my feet.” I said.
“The shoes are in the truck” mentions Mark.
I was pissed, I snapped right back at them “What the fuck are they in the truck for?”
“What do you want to eat” asks the sister wife, Jody.
“Just get me a plate of food! Can you take my shoes off? I can’t bend the fuck over.” I reply.
After a nearly 40 minute break, I got up and started to walk slowly to get the legs moving. Jody walked with me for a bit and offered support and we covered the the distance to the next aid station, distance to next crew point, and when I would see her next. The next time I would see her would be when she would actually accompany me on the trail and start pacing me. We snapped some selfies and then I was off to Grafton Mesa AS.
Mile 47.5/76 KM: The crew is still at Goosebump when Byron comes in on the edge of the mesa around 5:00 pm. This was way longer than expected, but it was as tough as I had read about, and all novice runners on this course underestimated how long it would take to run the loop at the top of Gooseberry mesa. He comes in exhausted & hot and knows he has to cool off before leaving. Byron checks in and finds our spot in the shade. When I ask him what he needs besides he makes a gesture with his hands and says, “I want a big plate of food!” I went into the tent to raid the aid station. They don’t have plates, but I grab a few cups and fill them up with ice, sandwiches, fruit, and all sorts of snacks. I wipe off his legs, arms, neck and applied sunscreen. Luckily for us, he ices his own balls. The funny thing is he takes the neighbors cutting board and spreads out all the food on it. He wants his North Face shoes and is pissed that we don’t have the pageant bag of shoes. Mark runs to the car to get the shoe bag, and he makes Lindsay take his shoes and socks off his feet. When she can’t get the clean socks back on his feet, she hands the job over to me. Anyone who knows me knows I am a hater of all things feet, but I am called up to bat. With slight hesitation, I grab the socks and pulled with all my might. I get frustrated and yell, “Do these socks even fit on your baby man feet?” Byron yells back something to me about how great his feet are. It is a funny banter and I am glad that he is still himself and in good spirits. I think this is when he wipes his own face and gets the fuzz from the wipes stuck in his stubble. There are so many humorous things happening in this transition. After a few moments of pace/distance calculations, I decide to stay at Goosebump AS in case the crew can’t (crew Donna at Grafton Mesa and) get back before Byron can. We also plan for him to carry everything he needs in case it gets dark before he can see the crew again (in case Donna is too late coming into Goosebump and the crew misses Byron at Grafton Mesa AS his first time through). We pack his long sleeved shirt, gloves, headlamps and extra batteries into his pack. We put ice in all the bottles (he ended up taking 3 bottles and was weighed down), refill Hammer gels and salt tabs. I run him out of the aid station and we head down the road together towards Grafton Mesa. We take a selfie of us between the cars on the side of the road and it seems to be getting cooler. He hands me the wet towel and heads down the road. The next time I would see him would be when my pacing job would start.
When I run back to Goosebump AS, Donna is in and Mark and Lindsay are crewing her. I don’t remember any details, but I walk her out of the aid station and down the road and do the run down with her about the crew and upcoming aid stations. When she’s out of sight, I get to the vehicle and get the things I need to run with Byron. I change into my Brooks Pure Grit shoes, take my hoodie, hat, gloves, gaiters, buff, water bottle, Garmin watch, and two headlamps. Mark and Lindsay come to the car while I’m getting ready and tell me they left a bag of food and my camping chair in our spot. I do some final calculations and leave them with the paperwork. They tell me to wear pants, so I grab my Lululemon Studio Pants (not running pants). It feels weird to separate from the crew, but if Byron is moving too fast or Donna too slow, it’s the best option. They take off in the car and I don’t plan to see them until Virgin Aid Station hours later, when I’m with Byron.
It was a long road, a dirt road. It was dry, dusty, and filled with plenty of traffic. My nose got plugged with dirt. I was picking the cement-like snot out of my nose so I could breath. I noticed that the dirt caused my nose to bleed a little since my boogers were slightly bloody. I was losing my mind. The drivers of the cars had no concern for the dust they kicked up. What was more baffling was that most of the cars contained crews for the runners. I should have listened to Matt Gunn (Race Director) and taken something to filter the air, like a buff or something similar.
I finally made it to Grafton AS where I got some food and took another break. I mean, I was about 85 km in and really slowing down. My mental state was suffering. I was thinking:
What the hell am I doing here?
Why am I doing this stupid race?
Why am I signed up for Fat Dog? I will never be able to do that! I can barely do this stupid race.
What the FUCK!?
Well after feeling sorry for myself for 12 minutes, I got up, pushed those feelings aside and pressed on. I focused on getting to the next AS, Cemetery AS.
At this point I was mostly running again. I caught up to Andi, the woman who wasn’t so chatty on the road up to the Guacamole mesa.
She called out to me “Is that you Ontario?”
Andi, as it turns out, really does like to chat. I think when I first bumped into her, she may have been in a rough spot. But I can assure you, that provided the right conditions, you are happy to talk to just about anyone, and now it was my turn. I was grumpy considering we were only half way through this beast of a distance and I felt like there was no end in sight. I didn’t really feel like talking at this point, but she was helping me move forward. We got to the start of the descent to Cemetery AS. We could see it on the valley floor, it seemed so far away. so far out of reach… “WHAT THE FUCK” – this race is never going to end. “FUCK MY LIFE!”
The Cemetery AS had the best food of them all. I didn’t want to leave, but Andi had different plans. So after a 9 minute break I got out of the chair and we started back to the Grafton Mesa. About a quarter of the way up, we had to get our headlamps out as the sun fell. Atop the mesa again, we twisted and turned through the dry vegetation and wondered how much longer it would be until we got to the AS.
We were a group of runners with a couple of miles to get back to Grafton Mesa AS. We were all very anxious to get to it so that we could recharge. This time I was 12 minutes in the seat. I was in a better mood than the last time. I got some food, cursed, but was anxious because at least I knew the road back to Goosebump. It would be a good distance, but a familiar one. There would be no wondering how much longer. There would be no wondering where I was going. I knew I would just walk up the road to the top of the hill, turn right and it would be a “fairly flat” run to my pacer.
Mile 62.5/100 KM: Lindsay and Mark are still at Grafton Mesa crewing for Byron and Donna. Byron got to Grafton Mesa for the second time at 9:48 pm because my phone has a bbm from Lindsay that reads “9:48. He’s on his way. He’s tired. But body seems good.” My phone is dead so I don’t receive it. I’m still at Goosebump, so I’m not going anywhere.</jody>
I got back to the Goosebump AS after cursing about a truck that was pacing and muling for one of the runners. I considered informing a race official, but I didn’t say anything about it. Really, if you can’t do it without a car, then that is on you. Whatever… I stumbled in and sat down in a chair in the food tent. It was dark and getting cold. The tent had delicious food and it was heated. I think I apologized to whomever the chair belonged to, but they let me stay there. Jody found me and crouched beside me. I was in pain and a little delirious. I thanked her for pacing me and started petting her face with appreciation for her sacrifice. I got some more ramen and ate as much as I could stand. My quads were killing me. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to go down the 1154 foot descent down the mesa. I was not in any hurry.
Lindsay and Mark appeared out of nowhere, I was shocked. That meant Donna wasn’t far behind. It didn’t make much sense to me because I was looking out for her as I climbed up the mesa but I never saw her on any of the pathways where there was two-way traffic. We must have passed each other not realizing it.
Mile 68.5/109.6 KM: I was at Goosebump AS for 7 hours total, alone for about 5.5 hours. During this time I sat and chatted with the Folsom Trail Runners from California, watched the most beautiful sunset from Gooseberry Mesa, hung out with some dudes that were making videos with drones, checked out the top part of the trail that we would descend into the Virgin Desert, sat and stoked the fire, helped out in the aid station with Matt Gunn’s mom, and waited and waited for Byron to show up. It was so dark and I expected it to be him each time I saw a runner’s headlamp. I was in the aid station when in stumbles a runner. I don’t notice that it’s Byron until I read his bib number to the volunteer “162”. The time is a little after 11pm. Zombie Byron stumbles into the tent and plops himself down in the middle on a camping chair that was the check-in volunteer’s chair (she had just gotten up for a minute). He is tired and cold. I start massaging his quads and they’re trashed. He wants ramen and broth, he tells me what to do with the bottles and replace one bottle (Lindsay mixed before she left) and mix the leftovers from two other bottles into just one. I put a ziplock bag of GU Brew powder mix into his pack. I want to know what I should wear for this pacing gig because I normally run in shorts. He tells me he’s shuffling and walking so I decide to keep my hoodie, but leave the pants. As I’m running around doing things for Byron and stripping off my clothes, Mark and Lindsay show up in the aid station. Boy, am I happy to see my sister wife! They help me get Byron moving, as it seems like he could stay forever. I know that we start out of the aid station together at 11:42pm according to my Garmin.
I guess I was kicked out or dragged out of Goosebump because I was on my ass for a good reason. I was on my butt for 20 minutes and I bet you I could have stayed there all night. As we walked to the trail down to get off the top of the mesa, Jody called out to a runner that missed the trail but was looking for a way down.
“Who are you” It was Andi. She had an unmistakable Tennessee accent and had a feisty way of talking.
“Are you the one I was mean to?” She got it right, apparently Jody handed her some soup that was way too hot to drink. Jody hadn’t tasted it, and was just lending a helping hand, she wasn’t one of the volunteers. Andi joined us as we were stepping carefully down the trail. She heard my voice and put it all together.
“Your pacer is a guuurl!?” bewildered.
Nothing wrong with that I thought, and there shouldn’t be right? I continued down the path, sidestepping, it was the easiest, and slowest way down. My legs just weren’t moving no matter how hard I wanted to run. Once we were down the mesa we started to ‘run’, until I realized that Jody was walking while I ‘ran’. I blurted out a “Fuck this” and continued to “power walk”. No sense in wasting energy if I can’t even run faster than I can walk.
Coming down it’s dark, steep, rocky and dangerous. We are warm on the descent but it gets super chilly when we hit the rolling hills at the bottom. It is definitely not as flat as we were expecting and we’re moving very slow, not fast enough to generate the heat we need to stay warm. We’re walking as fast as Byron’s quads can take us. His legs are shot. The 8 miles to Virgin Desert AS is super long and cold and we’re convinced us Canadians are going to die of hypothermia in the Utah desert. We decide that we’re going to wait for Mark and Lindsay to pile on our clothes. We get to the aid station we just park our asses by the fire and defrost a bit.
We made our way to the Virgin Desert AS, the last AS we would visit, albeit we would visit this AS 4 times! We tried to keep up the pace so that we would generate heat. It was futile! No way this Canadian could figure out how or why the desert was so cold.
We got to the AS and no crew in sight. I didn’t care, I wanted to warm up. I plopped my tired ass in front of the fire. Practically asleep, my wife came about and asked what I needed. “We need warm clothes” at which point we learned that Mark gave Donna Jody’s pants. ” What the fuck did you do that for!”. I was pissed off, sabotage, interference, those were the clothes of my pacer. What the hell! Thankfully Jody kept her head in the game and suited up with some super fashionable jeans. Luckily for me, Lindsay got me to bring my running jacket which I wore overtop of my Haliburton hoody. I really didn’t plan for coldness like this and so I didn’t pack any running pants. I grabbed my Roots sweat pants and rolled up so I didn’t walk on the ends of the legs. I finished of my chic look with the G.O.A.T.z Buff, left my hydration pack and took my handheld in its place. We left to start the red loop.
Mile 76.5/122.4 KM: We get to Virgin Desert AS slow and tired and parked by the fire. We don’t know where Lindsay is but we’re too tired and cold to look. I go into the tent to grab food for Byron (Ramen and a bean burrito). Lindsay finds us and shows me where the vehicle and then brings all Byron’s clothes to him. I see Mark and he says, “Donna is wearing your pants”. I don’t know if I even felt mad for a second. My cold brain turns to my luggage that I have in the back of the Explorer. I start to rummage in the back. Mark feels bad and offers me his jeans. I tell him that I have my own and I pull them out of my bag. I also pull out every single long sleeve layer of clothing in the bag. I pull my jeans over my running shorts; I take off my hoodie and put a long sleeved layer over my tank top and arm sleeves. I throw on my long sleeve zip up jacket, then the hoodie over top, AND then I add the thinnest rain jacket in the world (but I’m all about layering man). I look fucking ridiculous! Lindsay takes Byron the clothes that he wore to the start of the race to see if he wants to layer with those, he ends up wearing his long sleeved shirt, a green hoodie, a black jacket, and his sweat pants, rolled up at the bottom. We were quite the sight! Thank goodness it was dark! But we were freezing and we needed to get warm and start the first loop – The Red Loop. Byron drops his pack and takes a handheld water bottle. I take nothing. My Garmin starts at 3:08am when we leave Virgin Desert AS for the first time. This would be the lowest point of the race.
I don’t remember much on this loop. Jody was pissed off in a good-humored way, and it’s dark out and she couldn’t see anything. Really, it wasn’t scary or anything, just a total pain in the ass that you couldn’t see anything. I think Jody was chit chatting with me, but I was grumpy and grunting responses while I tried to stay in good humor. I stumbled around barely keeping my balance and I hear:
“Maybe we should take a nap” Jody suggested.
Before she could even turn around I found a spot on the ground. My feet were in the trail. She harassed me to move them out of the way so I wouldn’t get pissed on or walked on, probably the latter… “OK – let’s go” I said as I pushed myself up. Jody said that I slept for 3 minutes and was snoring and all. She talked about how she stayed up with the light on as people passed me by. I guess they asked if I was alright, I was, I was better than alright. Poor girl, stayed up to make sure I would get pissed on. If I were the pacer I’d likely have fallen asleep.
The red loop is Five Miles of Hell because we are so tired after being up for 24h. I can’t imagine what Byron feels like after being on THIS course for all of this time. I feel like the worst pacer ever because I didn’t take a nap, but I didn’t feel comfortable enough to doze off waiting at Goosebump and I needed to help Lindsay and Mark crew during the day. The course is hard to follow in the dark because everything looks the same. I swear we are on a desert/tumbleweed treadmill. It’s all the same, hard dirt ground, dust in the headlamp, tumbleweed all around, can’t see anything and it looks like we’re just going to go off a cliff. We just can’t get away. It’s so boring and we are doing a death march of about 23-25 mph. I am in front leading and I’m trying my best not to get too far in front. He starts complaining about his legs, and at times he’s barely moving. I don’t really worry until he stops talking. He tells me he can’t do downhills very well. It kills me when he says “I WANT to run so bad…. but I can’t.” He tells me that the “My stomach is fucked up because of that bean burrito!” Things aren’t looking so good. I come up with the idea that we should rest for a bit at the next pass through Virgin Desert AS, but I only have to say, “Maybe we should take a nap…” and Byron is down on the ground ready to nap. By some miracle he’s not lying in a cactus and the ground is soft red dirt. I tell him his legs are on the trail and he moves them ever so slightly. He ends up lying parallel to the trail and within seconds he’s snoring. I’m worried that someone is going to pee on him or trip on him because he’s that close to the trail. I turn my headlamp off and it’s like I’m blind. There is no light. I turn my headlamp back on and shine it on him. In the three minutes that he’s asleep about 8 people pass us. It’s crazy and I’m sure it was real. He wakes himself up and we start moving again, barely though – slow, boring, quiet, and I start hallucinating…seeing tumbleweed creatures, human shadows in rocks & trees, hearing noises (my rain jacket), snakes in cow patties, etc. I know it’s not real, but I’ve never been so tired in my life. We even come up on cow gates that are not closed and we struggle together to close them behind us. We decide that once back at the AS, we will eat and sleep until the sun comes out. I ask Byron what he would wish for if he had one wish. He says, “To be done.” I ask if he wishes: 1) we were at mile 100? or 2) that the race only has 81 miles? He says he can’t answer that. My one wish is that we would be walking on soft cushy grass instead of this hard dusty trail.
We got back the AS and Jody and I made plans to eat and take a nap. As soon as I got to the AS I headed for the cots, found myself a sleeping bag and a cot. I slept for 45 minutes.
I got up, I think I may have gotten some food, don’t remember, my wife scrambled to get Jody and we started off to complete the white loop. The white loop was a lot like the red loop, for the most part, dark and cold – just a plate full of shit. We started out on the white loop and we crossed by Pam Reed on the two way traffic section.
“Oh hikers!” she said a little shocked, I guess that hikers would be out so early. Jody and I thought it was funny. I guess we must have looked like fools, people that go to the gym in their jeans, or people that ski in their jeans.
We carried along the trail. I was feeling better. I must have been because earlier on the red loop Jody asked me, if I could have one thing at that moment, what would it be? I answered that I would want to be done the race. For some reason the thought came back into my mind and I offered another answer.
“You know, all I want is to have the sun come up and for it to be warm again.”
We were just coming in on the final stretch of the white loop and by some magic Lindsay was waiting for us with her BlackBerry. She was snapped some pics of us as we completed, as she put it, our “walk of shame.” We spent 15 minutes at the AS this time, as I ate some bacon, and other delicious food. I shed all my layers and replenished my handheld. We hit the blue loop.
Mile 81.2/129.9 KM: Back at Virgin Desert, Lindsay meets us and Byron walks into the tent with cots, crawls under a sleeping bag. I discuss with Lindsay about who should keep watch and who should go to the vehicle to keep warm up. She is so cold and tired and says Mark is sleeping in the front seat. She tells me to ask him how long he wants to sleep. I go to the tent to ask him but he’s dead asleep, snoring so loudly we can hear him from outside the tent! Lindsay says we’ll let him sleep for 30 minutes and we’ll tell him he slept for 45 minutes (she’s a genius). She says she’ll keep watch and encourages me to get to the car. I crawl under Mark’s reclined seat and it’s so warm. I plug in my dead phone and bbm Lindsay to let me know when Byron wakes up. I fall asleep hard and wake up to a message 9-minutes later notifying me that Byron is up. I head to the AS and grab Byron a pancake, stick two Fig Newtons in a ziplock bag, and fill an empty bottle with some beverage for myself. We leave for the White loop and hope for the sun to come out. Lindsay tells me the sun will be out soon and that it will be rejuvenating. She’s giving me mileage for the loops now, and taking care of the both of us. Byron brings his handheld and we’re still in our ridiculous outfits. I take my almost dead phone and tell Lindsay that I’ll bbm our location before it dies again so she knows when to expect us. My Garmin starts at 6:07am when we leave Virgin Desert AS for the second time.
The White Loop is the Tumbleweed Maze. We can see headlamps all over, in all directions, mostly in pairs all around us. The trail is flat and in the middle of the desert, utilizing lots of bike trails. Byron retracts his Red Loop wish and says he “wishes for the sun to come out”. The only drawback to the sunlight is that we’re dressed like idiots. This is when we power walk head first into ultrarunner and legend, Pam Reed, who says, “Oh, you’re just hikers.” This encounter is super amusing to us. We have this kind of conversation: Jody: “I make fun of people who work out in jeans!” Byron: “Me too!” We walk & talk & eat a Fig Newton each. It starts to get warm so we get excited as we prepare to shed some layers next pass through the aid station. He’s wearing what I called, “flood sweats” and I’m wearing “moisture-wicking pacing jeans.” I feel like I’m a mom out shopping in a rain jacket. My shorts are all bunched up in my crotch and we talk about how dudes wear boxers under their jeans (I guess those jeans need to be pretty baggy). Mine are not baggy. We’re in good spirits and the sun is just what we ordered. Our plan for the aid station is to drop layers, go to the bathroom, eat some food, and get going. As we complete the White Loop we see the 50K runners sprinting by, at the same moment, Lindsay yells out “Walk of shame” and snaps one of the funniest photos I’ve ever seen. We look like we’re out for a weekend desert stroll. Our outfits are so crazy and we can’t help but laugh at ourselves.
Mile 87.1/139.4 KM: Not sure what time we get to Virgin Desert AS for the third time In the AS tent, I run into Andi from Tennessee and say hello to her since it she obviously doesn’t know what I look like in the daylight. Her response is hilarious: “I thought that was you….but what the FUCK ya’ doin’ wear’n jeans??!!!” I take off the jeans, lose the winter hat, and remove the top three layers. Mark & Lindsay help Byron delayer & apply sunscreen. Byron grabs some salt tabs & a bottle of water. I refilled my bottle up with water and grab a Carnation Breakfast drink for Byron. We head for the Blue Loop in great spirits. I forget to start my watch when we start this third loop, so I’m not sure of the times.
We started the blue loop with a power walk and soon I was able to get in short bouts of running. It felt good. Then we got to the top of a little incline…“and we’re done. I don’t know where that came from” I said. We continued to power walk and finally came across some brilliant scenery. Don’t know why it didn’t occur to us to snap a pic here, but Jody came to appreciate the humour in my statement, “Be sure you don’t trip”. We literally walked on the edge of a cliff where the drop was straight down, and was at least 200 feet or more.
We came around a corner where we could see straight across a small valley. We spotted a chick that we were catching up to. She would be known to us as Run-Walk Girl because we watched her muster up a short bout of running followed by crawling walk. We maintained a power walk pace as soon as we spotted her, while we may have covered a kilometer or so, by the time we reached a fork in the path, we went left to pass her while she took the right side. As the pathways rejoined, she was now behind us.
We kept walking along, looking for the path to turn back toward the AS. We knew exactly where we needed to end up, but it seemed to us that the path was taking us on a crazy milk run – so close to civilization, and then we would switchback and turn to walk farther away from the AS.
Finally the path started to make sense as we took a left turn. There it was, off in the horizon it seemed. As we walked towards the aid station, I had the sudden urge and rather urgent need to poop. I was looking around the desert floor and was hoping that I could find somewhere to grin and bare it. Nowhere seemed appropriate, there was just sparse tumbleweed surrounding us. Squeezing my cheeks, we finally made it to the AS and got to unload. Feeling a lot more relaxed, I grabbed a bit of food, waited around for something, (not sure what). Our last stop was 16 minutes total.
The Blue Loop is Beautiful Redemption for that stupid Red Loop from Hell. The only downside is that it is neverending and seems like it takes us so far away from the aid station. Byron isn’t a fan of the Carnation Breakfast drink so I hold it for the entire loop. It’s warm and we both finish our drinks and try to conserve our energy. Byron starts to bust out these short burst of run mixed into our power walking. We start to play a stalking game with Run-Walk Girl and catch her quite easily and Byron thinks it’s because she’s the slowest walker on the planet. The single-track loop is really awesome, along the cliff, and has the most beautiful views. We start to hit weekend mountain bike traffic when we’re in sight of the aid station. Byron says, “I need to poop!” We contemplate letting him go, but he refuses my paper towel, and there is nowhere safe (cactus) and discreet (desert) for him to let the turtle out.
Mile 94/150.4 KM: We get to Virgin Desert for the fourth and final time! Finally arriving at the mirage and we get packed and ready for the last stretch. Byron takes his poop. I am now stripped down to my tank top and I apply a layer of sunscreen to my other dirt-sunscreen layers. I pick up my coconut water for the last 6 miles. Byron stays in his long sleeve, puts the wet towel on his head under his white cap, and decides to use the pack again with the bottles. Mark decides to accompany Donna for the last 6 miles so Lindsay is going to meet us at the finish line and leave Mark behind. Before saying goodbye to the Virgin Desert AS, I pick up two slices of watermelon, wish the best to fellow Omahan, Eric, and set my eyes on the pink flags to the finish.
I was so happy to be on our way back to town. I was having trouble though because a lot of this part was downhill or stepping down. My quads were is such bad shape that I asked (more likely demanded) that Jody what up so I could use her as a crutch to get down anything steep. We motored along nearly getting run over by mountain bikers. They seemed to forget that they had to yield to pedestrians anyway, never mind that we were in a 100 mile race. As far as I was concerned, they could suck it, if they weren’t gonna move, neither was I. I was already in a world of hurt, so I had nothing to lose. Actually, most of the time I would just step aside cause it was easy enough to do, but when it wasn’t, I didn’t, that’s when I applied my bad ass attitude.
We were moving along, quite slowly, then we saw her, run-walk girl. Jody was pissed. She turned to me, insisted that we catch up. I agreed with her saying that we could walk as fast as she could, and if I could keep up, I would. We twisted and turned with the trail and we were gaining ground on her, again. Then something came over me, like I was in the Matrix or something fucked up like that. I tapped Jody on the left shoulder, signaled for her to move over, and made another Cobra like gesture as to say, “I got you.” I started to run. Then we passed run-walk girl, I ran faster, shivers tingled up my back. Adrenaline powered me up a hill, down the road, passing a family and then another. They cheered for me. We continued running up a hill, took a short break, and then back into a run to the top of the road. We were on the highway back to Virgin. Jody suggested at this point that I should let my heart rate slow down a bit. So I did.. 20 steps or something, and then back into a run. The end was near… just down the road a bit. Jody was worried that I wouldn’t be able to hold the pace and advised that I pace myself. I complied, a bit. We kept on. I could see my wife – she was waiting to snap a picture of us on her BlackBerry. I rounded the corner and headed straight for the chute. Done.
The Final Stretch: My Garmin tells me we left Virgin Desert at 10:26 am. This part of the course is supposed to be half trail and half road to finish at the same park that the runners started. Byron makes a comment about how “six miles seems so far away”. I tell him it is far away but that we’re going to get there. This trail part of the leg is amazingly scenic and beautiful right along the Virgin River. It has everything for the senses, including the sunshine and the heat. The runners from the shorter races are running past us quickly and encouraging us. We are shocked when we spy the Run-Walk Girl. This time around she keeps turning and looking at us and doing her lame run-walk technique. Byron is in a lot of pain but he’s pushing through it like a champ. With a little more than three miles left in the race, he taps me on my shoulder and passes me. We take off running. He makes the cobra hand signal and he PASSES the Run-Walk Girl! At the same moment that we pass her, I crouch down and scoop up a small rock to mark this move, this is courage. We keep running, uphill and off of the trail, across the road, and uphill to the highway. People in cars are stopping and cheering for him! I tell him we have 40 minutes to get three miles. He doesn’t stop; in fact he picks up speed. He’s determined and he’s listening to me we run along the highway shoulder and we’re both sweating. I’m saying everything I can think of to keep his spirits up and his mind focused on the finish line. It’s almost over. It’s so exciting watching his tired legs gain strength and rise above any exhaustion. We get to 100w and Lovely Lindsay is there in the street. He turns right and heads towards the park and through the finishing shoot. He finishes at 11:40 am with a time of 29:40:10. He finishes strong and collects his Zion belt buckle, which he earned.
I imagined that when I’d finish I would cry or something. When I watched people finish Haliburton, each person that crossed the line, broke down. I remember that clearly. But it was anti-climactic for me. I finished and I felt relieved, and that’s about it. I took a couple of steps, I was happy with myself and then just let myself collapse (in a way that indicated I was OK) to the ground. Covered my face, but it was too hot. I got up, found a tent and sat in the shade. A volunteer reminded me to get my buckle. Fuck ya, I darted for the buckles.
There is more – Donna arrived an hour later with her hubby. That was nice. Her feet were wrecked. We got in the cold water. soaked for a while. Ate, drank a beer. Headed back to the hotel, cleaned up. Went to the very close pub, ate, sorta, not much of an appetite. Returned to the room, crashed.
There are so many lessons you can pull from the 100 mile. First and foremost: “Respect the distance”. You are in it for a long haul, move your body accordingly. Second, like in life, there are ups and downs, roll with it. Look inside for the inner strength to come out of your funk, know that you will be in a funk at some point. Third, PREPARE for it. Know the course, the food plans, the weather (at all times of the day), yourself, crew stops, how to get to crew accessible aid stations, how long to get to each (for crew and runner)… The list goes on.