Choosing Day….

Western States 100 Header

SunriseattheEscarpmentAsk any ultra runner what the most prestigious race in the sport of ultra running is and the answer is simple. Western States 100. 30 years ago, a young man named Gordy, was racing the Western States Trail Ride, a 100 mile horse race, when 30 miles in, his horse was pulled for lameness. He decided to proceed on foot. And the following year, he came back and finished the entire 100 miles on foot within the same 24-hour cut off as the horses. The 100 mile ultramarathon, and ultimately the sport of ultra running, was born. And should you finish one of these ultimate tests of endurance, the highly coveted belt buckle you receive, has stayed true to its origins.

When people ask me, “How did you get into Ultrarunning?”, I tell the same story I always do. About my first Ironman, the slight disappointment I felt after not getting the soul searching experience I’d hoped for, and stumbling upon the book, “Born to Run” just after. But really, there’s a little more to that story I tend to forget.

Waiting in line at registration for that very same Ironman, I was filled with a million different emotions. I had never even run a marathon at that point in my life, and not only was this going to be my first Ironman, but my first marathon as well. That was of course after swimming 2.4 miles and riding 112. What could be more challenging than that? As my mind was starting to build on this huge challenge in front of me, my boyfriend at the time hit me on the shoulder and said, “That guy is wearing a Western States belt buckle!” “Huh? What’s Western States?” I had no idea what he was talking about. And just as I said that, the gentleman in front of us turned around and as I looked to his waist, I saw the most gorgeous, shiny, gold belt buckle I’d ever seen. Of course months and even years later, the meaning  of that moment and the memory of that belt buckle, grow more and more.

Western States Endurance Run belt buckleThere hasn’t been a race or trail run I can’t recall Western States not coming up in topic. My very first ultra, Bel Monte 50k, the first woman I met was running her qualifier for Western States. Every race this year.. every race LAST year, every race EVERY year, the question always comes up, “Have you gotten your qual for Western States?!” The running community revolves around this race. Even my friends who have finished Leadville, Hardrock, or Wasatch… it’s Western States they hold their breath for each year, hoping they’ll get the opportunity to toe the line.

Western States LotteryGetting into Western States could arguably be almost as hard as the race itself. Out of thousands of runners, only 270 are chosen, with an additional 100 spots going to a few special considerations, a few volunteer spots to reward them for their dedication, the previous years top ten men and women’s field, and mainly professional athletes who have had to win certain races to gain entry. For the 270 “normal” folk, they must run a race Western States has deemed a qualifier. Up until two years ago, this included many 50 milers. However, with the demand so unbelievably high for the lottery, a much shorter list was made of 100 milers, with a few 100k’s, that are now the only races that can qualify you. If it’s not enough you pretty much have to run 100 miles just to qualify for the lottery, your chances of being chosen are even worse. Each year your not picked, that lottery ticket carries over to the following year, however you must re-qualify in order for that previous ticket to count. So if you qualify two years in a row, you’ll have two tickets. I have one friend who’s been in for seven years. SEVEN years!! And unfortunately, this year he did not qualify. So all seven years worth of tickets went out the door. Thankfully, WS is adding a multiplier, so years going forward, someone with years of tickets, would have much better odds of being picked. But… you get the gist.

Frankly, I’m just thankful to be in the lottery. I never want to forget how far I’ve come. I mean, let’s be honest. Two years ago, I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be able to run 100 miles. It was a tough journey getting to that point for me, of which many give up along the way. But I stuck it out. Now, I know it’s not only attainable, but I see the path to improve and where I need to iron out the kinks. I really consider it an honor to be one of the runners whose name sits in that hat and never want to forget that.

I have a lot of friends who, prior to the lottery, they plan their year around Western States, as if they will be running it. This always seems a little presumptuous to me. After all, there’s what? Less than a 9% chance you’ll be picked? Not to mention, it’s Western States! In thinking about it, everyone I meet is trying to qualify for the lottery, but RARELY do I meet someone who IS actually running it. That being said, the lottery isn’t something I lose sleep over. I guess I assume I need to buy my time, keep trying to qualify, and my time will come. Eventually.

A runner coming off "No Hands" Bridge, a point in the race you know you're close to the finish.

A runner coming off “No Hands” Bridge, a point in the race you know you’re close to the finish.

This year I happened to just be getting home from a workout as the lottery was beginning. I thought, ech… would be some nice background noise while I make breakfast. So, I put it on. I admit, it was fun! Hearing them discuss the odds, how the lottery works, the race itself, it occurred to me what a huge day this was for thousands of ultra runners. Of those thousands only a couple hundred would be chosen. So few! Name after name they called. I thought of the lives that would be changed for the next year, and probably forever. I heard a lot of Southern California towns called, a few back east, some abroad. I even remember thinking, gosh they’ve called so many SoCal towns, there’s no way any more from down here could get in this year. And then, about 50 or so people in, out came “Carlsbad, California”. I think I said, “Oh no” out loud. And then I heard it. “Jennifer Cosco”. I said a four letter word. It started with an F. And it was the shocking type, you know.. where you drag the last three letters out for a while. I mean.. HOLY $%*#. They called my name. MY name??!

I was shocked. I should have been elated, and I was, but one detail I failed to mention was, one of my closest high school friends had asked me to be in her wedding and it was the same weekend as WS 2015. The second she told me this, I knew this was bad. But I didn’t think I stood a chance. Last year I didn’t even pay attention to the lottery. I knew I wasn’t going to get in. I thought it would be the same this year. I’d probably not get in, do another 100 next year, and have more tickets the following year. Easy peasy. I guess fate had other plans.

Deep down, as hard as it is, I know what I have to do. I know what it means when they call your name. And it’s not just about the race. And it’s not about the finish line. It means your life is going to revolve around getting to the starting line. Your life is about to change. And you have to be ready for that challenge. My friend Pon said it best.. Western States may only come knocking once or twice, but you may only be ready for it once. And if so, you gotta go for it. I admit, there was a bit of fear. I know what it’s going to take. And it’s gonna hurt. It’s gonna hurt a lot. But I’m ready. I’m coming off a great year. In October and November, within a month I ran two 100k’s, the second being my last race, which was the best running I’ve done all year (minus a mentally torturous, boring course.. definitely no loop courses in my future). This is my year. And as sad as I am to let down a very dear friend of mine, of which I’ll spend however long it takes to make it up to her, I know I have to do this. My first Ironman was really like my first big athletic accomplishment in my mind. No matter the amount of hours and hours spent in the pool, on the bike or running… I thought of one thing. Crossing that finish line. I was obsessed. There’s something special about the fire you have on your first. And not that it’s not there for other races, its just different. But, I feel like I’m getting a second chance at that with Western States. I get emotional thinking about it. Every run since I found out, that’s all I’m thinking about. My sister said I won’t shut up about it. I can’t help it! I really feel like I won the lottery! I know this may be silly, but it’s as if the worlds a little more golden. Nothings changed, but everything’s different. I’m so grateful. It’s going to be an amazing journey. And I’m so thankful to have such wonderful running friends, who immediately volunteered to be apart of it. Really… that’s what it’s all about. And it’s only just begun ;) Squaw Valley… here we come!

WS trail sign







Posted in Adventures, Future Endeavors, Running, Training, Ultra Marathon | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Endeavors

My absence has not been unintentional. Nor has it been because I haven’t been running. On the contrary, I’ve been running and racing a lot. However, running aside, up until a couple months ago, I’ve felt lost. Even more so because it has been my intention through this blog to provide encouragement, and hope. To make even one person see that those impossible things, may not be so impossible. Yet I realized, I was taking that advice in certain areas of my life, but not in others. So I kind of felt like…..well, I felt like a fraud. I had to take a really deep look at myself and question why I was willing to take such risks in certain areas of my life, but not in others. It’s not easy. And for the first time, maybe ever, I was in a canyon I wasn’t sure I knew how to get out of. It was hard for me to write knowing I was trying to find my way, and if I couldn’t find my way, how could I try to encourage others, when I couldn’t encourage myself. My dad has always said, when you’re at the bottom of those lows, that’s where greatness comes from. That’s when the magic happens. And he was right. (He usually is). So, I’m taking my own advice, taking a leap of faith, being courageous, and taking matters into my own hands. New professional endeavors, new personal adventures… 2015 is gonna be a BIG year. I hope you’re all with me ;)

Posted in Adventures | Leave a comment

To all the Teddy’s Out There

It’s not uncommon for me to tell out-of-state friends all the wonderful things I love about California. In fact, after the winter they had back East, it’s VERY hard not to! Of course going back for the occasional snow storm is always fun, especially when you can leave and head back to perfect SoCal weather. Friends here say they can’t imagine having to “hunker down” for a hurricane, or being “snowed-in” during a blizzard. One thing they didn’t mention… were fires.

It was hot last Wednesday. But having just been in Florida where 80 degrees with high humidity left me sweating constantly.. 90 degrees of dry heat, frankly, wasn’t feeling too too bad. I got to work, only to find our entire computer system was down. AKA.. we couldn’t do a thing. The prognosis was “it could be five minutes, or it could be hours”. Finally at 10 o’clock, people started leaving to work from home. Some of us stayed. I live down the street, but like most people near the coast, I don’t have AC. It was nice and cold in the office and I knew the moment I left, it would be fixed. So I stayed. As we were waiting for the system to get back online, we saw a massive cloud of smoke rise from what didn’t look like too far. Sure enough we turned on the news and about a mile up Palomar Airport Road, a wildfire had broken out. It looked huge.

smoke1We watched out the windows, watched on the news… it was definitely growing. A few people started to leave, knowing how close it was. But I thought.. it’s a mile? It can’t move THAT quickly. We looked out the window as our usually sleepy parking lot started to jam up as people tried to leave via Palomar Airport Road. We even chuckled having never seen anything like it. Most of us still stayed, especially now that our computers were back up. Then they told us the fire was now visible, as we ran to the window to see the hill adjacent to us burning. We had to evacuate. Immediately.

smoke4That hill was my “hard” lunch running route. The trail has a very steep ascent in the first half mile that usually left me tasting iron in my lungs for miles after. I’d avoided this hill for months, choosing easier routes just so I would not have to run it. But Tuesday, just the day before, I found myself running towards that hill. I wanted to walk, but forced myself not to, letting my lungs burn and pushing on. I remember thinking how much I’d missed that trail.. the view.. the magnificent house on the edge with a panoramic view of the ocean and all of Carlsbad. And now it was all burning. Worse… this house was probably a mile from mine? And it was blowing straight in that direction. I thought about my cat at home. I had to go, and fast!  It took me thirty minutes just to leave the parking lot.. and Palomar was even worse. And there was nothing we could do but just watch, and stare, and pray.

smoke3A helicopter doing water drops was going back and forth overhead, up and over, picking up water just north of Palomar near The Crossings, and dropping it just on the other side of the road. It was amazing to see the precision. Finally I got to Aviara which is maybe half a mile from where our office is off Palomar, (this might have taken 45 mins?) I usually turn on Aviara Parkway to go home, because well, I live right there. It was closed.. as I later would find out, the most damaged homes would be at the top of that hill. I could not get home. It didn’t help that my gas tank was on empty. After what seemed like years, and having to call my brother-in-law to rescue my cat, I made it to the next cross street a couple miles down the road, and decided to try and get to my house to grab what I could just in case. I passed Pacific Rim just as they were evacuating, and drove up the street to get my things. It was like a ghost town.

What ensued in the hours and days after, was amazing. We have one hell of a fire department here in Carlsbad, and all across San Diego. The winds changed soon after I was in the car and in the process, coupled with the amazing work by our fire departments, helped to save so many homes. At church that Sunday, (which saw some of the worst of it), there were so many amazing stories of good citizenship, faith, and even with those that lost their homes, a strong realization of what truly matters. It really was AWE-some. And as if that wasn’t enough, they had asked the firefighters to stand.. and the applause and ovation that followed, could have made even the most stoic person cry.



When I was hurrying to collect my things from the house that day, I was reminded of a tough memory I hadn’t thought of in a long time. In life, you play these scenarios over and over in your mind and you think  “If I had seconds to grab my most important possessions.. what would I take?” At a young age, my most beloved possession was a teddy bear named, Teddy. Creative, I know. I’d had him from the moment I was born, and you will be hard pressed to find a picture of me as a kid without Teddy right beside me. In various scenarios and from a very young age, our parents had always practiced… “What do you grab in an emergency?” I would always reply, “Teddy”, and Linds would always reply, “Blanky”. Now granted, most times, this is in the scenario that we’re sleeping, which of course these items would be right next to us, but to affirm in our minds that we’re not to be hero’s and grab our entire toy collection, wardrobe, etc. WE were the most important thing. But my parents, especially my Dad, treated our most prized possessions, Teddy and Blanky, like members of the family. I also think he couldn’t bear to see our faces if he told us we were to leave those behind, even if just in our make-believe scenario. I think there were times I asked my Dad, “Do I have to give Teddy away when I get married?” He would say, “Of course not. We’ll get him a glass case to sit in.”  But, unfortunately, despite our preparations, and faced with the cruel scenario for us to be tested one sad day, we grabbed NOTHING. And I remember, the moment it was too late, seeing everything up in flames, and realizing my beloved Teddy, was still. in. there. It was an awful moment. I still remember how much that hurt. Writing this, I realize it still hurts. Probably always will. He was right next to me. Why didn’t I just grab him? How could I not have remembered to grab him?! Don’t get me wrong.. we were happy to have saved ourselves, and despite losing all of our clothes and important “things” at that age, realized…. It was JUST stuff. All except for Teddy and Blanky. There are just some things that are irreplaceable. And as those fires rolled through last week, your thankful for the lives saved, the homes saved… our beautiful land and trails burned, hopefully to be reborn again soon.. but all those “Teddy’s”, lost forever. My heart goes out to those families and their lost “Teddy’s”.

Teddy is in the pink Osh Kosh Overall's at the bottom right of the trunk. Had to be in the family photo!

Teddy is in the pink Osh Kosh Overall’s at the bottom right of the trunk. Had to be in the family photo!

Rest in peace my friend. Thank you for all the wonderful memories.

Posted in In Memory, Running | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It takes a long time to become young”

It’s official… I’m 30. The big 3-0. I thought I would DREAD saying that… but it’s actually, kind of fun. :)

Awesome...Since 1984

Awesome…Since 1984

I’m not a birthday fan. While I tend to be a pretty strong individual, for some reason, my actual birth-day can bring me to tears and on more than one occasion has. I think this is because on my birthday, I tend to feel pressure. Some people find this funny and I have a hard time explaining it, but that’s really the only way I can describe it. As if this one day HAS to live up to something. Some years I won’t even know what that something is, but man, I decide it in fact hasn’t lived up to that, I crack and the tears flow. So naturally, with the big 3-0 approaching, I was bracing myself for waterworks on a grand scale. After all, leaving my 20’s? Kind of a big deal.

If I haven’t discussed my sister Lindsay enough in this blog for you to realize how close she and I are, let me elaborate. We’re tight. No, I mean REALLY tight. In high school you’d often find us sleeping in the same bed because it was closer than me being in my room down the hall. In college we lived together, and I would walk to class up the road at American University, and she drove the two or so miles to her campus at Georgetown University. Now, we live down the street, and from time-to-time, we still have sleepovers. That’s just us. So when she said she had an idea for my 30th, I was ready to roll with it. While she may not run extreme distances or enjoy pain to the extent that I seem to, don’t be fooled. She is quite the adventurer and like me, will act on the crazy ideas that find their way into her head rather than just talking about them. Waiting to hear her idea, she said, “Well, you have to take a test first?” What? A test? So there we sat in her living room down the street from my living room, and I proceeded to take her multiple choice question, “test”.

  1. Would you like to go – A. Away for the weekend B. Away for the Day or C. Stay local?
  2. For your backdrop, you would prefer – A. Mountains, B. A City, or C. The Beach?
  3. On your feet, you would like to mostly wear – A. High heels B. Hiking Shoes or C. Flip Flops?
  4. Would you like to sleep on – A. Pillow top mattress B. Blow up mattress or C. Camping Pad?
  5. Would you like to mostly wear – A. A dress B. Hiking clothes or C. A bathing suit?

My answers… 1. A, 2. C, 3. C, 4, C, and 5. C. With this, she came up with camping on Catalina. It has the beach, it has the mountains, it’s only a ferry ride away, and none of us had ever been. The Friday morning before my actual birthday we headed out, Linds, myself, and my good friend Jess who’d flown in from Oregon. Our other friend Christina would meet us later that evening. After taking the hour plus ferry across the way, we’d have to hike 5+ miles along the Trans Catalina Trail to a remote campground we’d chosen called Little Harbor. The hike was tough as we climbed up and up, until we were on the top of the island, and rolled along it’s ridge-line. It was breathtaking. And after 4.5 miles of unbelievable views, we saw our tropical oasis come into view. This was paradise. The next two days we’d laugh, swim, explore, drink, eat well, and… just feel like we were another world away. Because in our minds.. we were. By far, one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had. A good state of mind, coupled with good friends and an unforgettable trip.. a girl can’t ask for much more. ;) Thank you Lilly!

And yes… another short film.

P.S. A little background about my song choice. One of my favorite artists is Dallas Green. His voice, his style of music, everything. I’ve had the chance to see his band City and Colour twice since his new album came out, featuring a song called, The Golden State. Both times, he’s opened with this. Only appropriate he would sing a song about a state he doesn’t understand everyone’s infatuation with, IN that state. The crowd goes insane every time. You gotta love the irony. So… here’s to continuing Dallas Green’s sense of humor. ;)





Posted in Adventures, Mountains, Pictures, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Fun in the Sun

Posted in Pictures, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Stop and smell the…


rosesThe high is gradually wearing off from my epic run last week. This coupled with the fact that runner’s amnesia is officially setting in, I’m already starting to plan what’s next (I made it a full week.. shocking).  But, I’m thinking of a good friend I know that would probably tell me to stop and smell the roses a little while longer, and so I think it’s important to reflect and revel in that little thing called progress.

cherryblossom2My first stab at endurance running was a 10 miler.. the famous Cherry Blossom run, done every year in Washington DC. I trained so hard, and I ran so hard, actually doing pretty decent for my first go around at “long distance running”, which 10 miles was to me back then. I even made sure my parents made the 4+ hour drive from New Jersey just to see me finish. (This is even funnier because I don’t think I’ve ever asked them to come to an ultra-marathon, nor do I see this happening any time soon.) But after my then huge accomplishment in DC, I remember I couldn’t walk. In fact, I think I spent the rest of the afternoon, laid out on the couch with my feet up, and as hard as this is to admit, I think I may have asked my mom to get me a few things because well, “I couldn’t walk”. (Eye rolling and head shaking ensues)  So that was then….

After Lean Horse 100 in August, I was actually pretty banged up. I flew out the very next day to head back home and see the family on the East Coast. To say walking was a challenge would be an understatement. Getting up to do simple things like go to the bathroom, never seemed more impossible. I’d worn out the tendon on my left foot that allows you to flex. The swelling was so severe, it wouldn’t even allow for it to engage. Thus, I couldn’t even lift my foot, I had to drag it. While yes, walking funny the day after a long race should be considered a badge of honor because man… you clearly did something to earn it, I have also come to respect those who are able to walk away, never letting on as if anything happened. There’s something in that recovery that’s amazing to me. It used to be after a 50 miler I couldn’t walk well, and slowly, after I did a few more, I was walking more and more normal the day after. Of course, your kind of like an engine after sitting down for a while, ya know.. gotta rev it up and get it going.. but once your moving, your good to go. But I remember sitting in the airport in Rapid City, South Dakota, seeing several of the people I’d run with the day before. I couldn’t get over the fact that I could barely walk, and they were carrying on as usual.

Me trying to walk to dinner the night I finished Lean Horse. It was painful.

Me trying to walk to dinner the night I finished Lean Horse. It was painful.

Despite having consumed barely even a third of the calories I probably should have over the course of Zion 100, I still had a lot of energy when I finished. After a nice shower, a short nap, I was starving, and actually capable of eating which isn’t always the case. After an ice cold beer, chips and salsa, and some delicious carne asada, I slept much better, and shockingly, was able to walk in the morning. I actually walked the quarter mile to get my tea, and asked Pon if we could even walk to breakfast! I wasn’t just walking, I was almost walking NORMAL. Slow, but normal. By the time we got to Vegas where I wanted to rule the roulette tables on the strip before flying home, I was moving just like those other runners I’d watched the year before.. as if it was business as usual (And I meant business).

photo(1)The following week, I was restless. I finally decided I needed to do something and headed back to Bar Method. I tried to tell the instructor I was just going to feel my way through and probably wasn’t going to go 100% just yet, especially on thigh work (If I didn’t say anything, I’d be teased to go lower, lift my leg higher, or worse, they’d lift it for me). What followed is the exact reason I never tell people about these races. She asked why and I said, “Oh, I ran 100 miles on Friday.” With a stone cold face she simply replied, “Oh. Cool.” Nothing else. I kind of felt like an a-hole. I might as well have said I ran 1,000 miles. But as Loic would later say, “Probably better next time to just say you ran a marathon”. :) Regardless, it’s been just over a week, I’m almost back to normal, tucking my way through Bar, sweating it out in hot yoga, and doing a short run here or there. I surprisingly, feel great.

It’s really cool to see how things have progressed over the years. Even more exciting seeing these physical changes: noticing how my body is adapting to these high mileage races. I have a lot of goals in life, and seeing these changes makes me realize I’m slowly but surely working my way towards making those a reality. It makes me even more excited for what’s to come. And as always, there is much more to come. Let the planning begin! There will be some resting in the next couple weeks as well. Don’t you worry. Luckily, I won’t be alone.


And if I haven’t said it enough, thank you, THANK YOU for following along and being apart of my journey!

Posted in Recovery, Training | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Zion 100


Faith – : strong belief or trust in someone or something.

1a :  allegiance to duty or a person :  loyalty b (1) :  fidelity to one’s promises (2) :  sincerity of intentions

2a (1) :  belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) :  belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1) :  firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) :  complete trust

3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially :  a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>

I couldn’t help but think it was over before it even began. It was Thursday, one week before the race. There I was, laid out with a low-grade fever, some sort of bronchial viral infection, and an ever flowing faucet of thick mucus coming out of my nose every five minutes. This was it, the wheels had officially come off. I couldn’t breathe through my nose, I couldn’t inhale without breaking out into a coughing fit (the good kind where you hear the liquid in your lungs), and I was in a dazed flu-like fog. I talked to the medical professionals in my life, the pharmacist, and unfortunately, over the counter drugs were the only thing I could take. Mucinex, Tylenol Cold & Flu, NyQuil, Vicks Vapor Rub, Airborne… I was doing it all. Every day I told myself I felt better. “I still have 6 days!” “I still have 2 days!!” But it was hard to stay hopeful. I told myself I didn’t have a choice.. I HAD to have faith. Maybe this race would be a test of more than I realized.

I met Don and Diana in Vegas on Wednesday morning, thankful I’d opted to fly and catch a ride with them, verses making the 7 hour drive from San Diego. This race would take place over Friday and Saturday, as Utah is very respectful for their holy day on Sunday. So we piled into the car, and caught up as we made the 2.5 hour drive to Springdale, Utah. It was cold and damp, with temps looking to be in the low 60’s on race day. But there was no denying the awesomeness that is Zion. And not awesome in the current day slang… AWE-some in the biblical sense.

I still felt like crap. Food hadn’t looked appetizing all week, but I’d forced myself to get enough calories in hopes my energy wouldn’t be too zapped. All in all, I needed a miracle. I was happy to be spending time with my dear friend Don, and now new friend and fellow ultra-runner, Diana. Diana’s upbeat, energetic personality was infectious, but long list of 100 milers including Hardrock 100, Hurt 100, and having been a sponsored Montrail athlete for years, I had to admit was a bit intimidating. After all, I still consider myself the novice. As soon as we got to the hotel I felt like I needed to sleep. I was exhausted, and all I’d done was fly on a plane and sit in a car. It also didn’t help that these east coasters now being on Mountain time were up at the crack of dawn the next day while I lay groggy from NyQuil, dazing in and out of sleep, still feeling awful. Gosh, how was I going to get through this?

What's off in this picture?

What’s off in this picture?

I decided to take the early start option for the race on Friday morning. The main field started at 6am, but Matt, the RD allowed individuals who needed more time or wanted less time during the peak of the day, the option to start at 4 or 5am, giving you up to 34 hours to finish. The unofficial “real time” to finish was 32 hours, which would also qualify you for Western States. Given the past week, I figured I needed all the time I could get.  This course had 12,000 feet of climbing on it, but Matt said it would feel like much more given the terrain and steepness of the climbs. It was going to be brutal.

I was happy and surprised to wake up at 2:50am on Friday feeling pretty good. 20 or so gathered for the very informal 4am start. It was freezing and I worried that despite running I might not warm up at all, but still made sure not to overdress. As I anxiously waited, I thought about the fact that it was taking everything in me not to walk away and say F it. I’m always humbled at the start of these races, because frankly, it takes a lot of courage just to even toe the line. Whether I showed it or not, I was a nervous wreck. Luckily, now that I’m actually well trained, as soon as we start running it tends to dissipate, but getting up that morning, waiting for the start, I was just a mess. You can’t really fathom all that your about to do. 100 miles?

jenstartmeandponOff we went. Right out of the gate we’d make the long climb up Flying monkey to the first aid station at mile 7. Going to sleep I’d visualized this over and over, hoping I’d be calm and patient no matter how my body felt. I’d expected to be walking most of this first section, but was pleasantly surprised the beginning was very gradual uphill with rolling sections on a dusty dirt road that was extremely runnable.  I’d made a point to not wear my Garmin, keeping it on my back pack so if I needed to see pace or mileage it was there, but by no means easily accessible. I wanted to feel my way through the day and often my happiest runs were done much the same. The stars were out and it was a gorgeous night. I actually felt pretty good. I thought to myself, “I think I can do this today.” We ran, and I chatted with a few people before starting the climb. It’s always fun to watch the headlights up ahead climbing a massive spread of darkness. Here we go. My rule for the day with all of the climbing would be slow and steady if needed, but always at a pace to where I never had to stop mid-climb. I was strong on this section, coughing up a lung every now and then, and meeting Susan for the first time who’d I play cat and mouse with all day. We chatted and climbed suddenly coming up on a rope. What the heck? The trail stopped as a rock formed a sheer cliff continuing well above our heads. Have you seen people repel down a cliff? Well that’s how we looked.. legs on the side of the cliff, with our head and upper body outstretched away from the mountain side, only we had to climb UP. Gosh, this was going to be a long day. I had told myself this climb would go on forever, so after some more scrambling, this time more like bouldering and crawling up another massive amount of rocks with my hands, I was surprised when things leveled out and we were on top of the mesa. Shockingly, I felt great. I immediately started running and winding my way along the trail, climbing one more section, I made it to the first aid station. Now we’d have seven miles of almost all downhill to the second aid station at mile 14. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad after all.

The sun was starting to come up and I was shocked at how I felt. I was happy. Happy to be running, happy to be able to race, and happy that I actually felt like a runner. After all, I had trained extremely hard, probably the best I had trained for a race in years. We followed a dirt road for several miles along beautiful country that was slowly showing itself more as the sun was just starting to rise and I ran most of this section. We then turned onto a paved road that became much steeper as we descended and came out on the side of the mountain, winding down along side of it. I turned to my left and could see the runner’s headlamps from the 6am start making their way up Flying Monkey. Did I just climb that?!


Looking out over the climb up Flying Monkey

zion4I made it in and out of mile 14 aid station, pretty uneventfully. This next section was mainly single track, winding through rolling hills in the open fields beneath the mesas. From a distance it looks flat, but in it we’d come up on massive ravines and more sheer cliffs you wouldn’t even think were there. Somewhere in here a runner came up on me and said hello. To my shock and awe it was Karl Meltzer.. that was pretty cool ;) . I mostly ran this section, making sure to gel every 45 mins, and felt pretty good to be running so strongly into mile 23. Here I dropped a layer, as well as my first headlamp and hat. The next aid station would be Goosebump, but before we’d reach that, we’d have to climb the steepest section of the course. I was definitely nervous.

zion11zion10We covered some more dirt roads and the faster 6am runners were now coming up on me. I was so happy to be running. I even got several comments on my shoes, or should I say lack thereof. I like the Minimus New Balances, which I admit, don’t have really anything to them, but I never even think of it like that. Hoka’s were definitely the shoe of the day, as it seemed EVERYONE was running in a pair. But it was still surprising my shoes were a subject of talk.


When we came up on Goosebump, you almost had to laugh; looking at the tiny bodies climbing what was practically straight up. And all of a sudden, I think I actually felt excitement. Not fear. I was ready to knock this thing out. One foot in front of the other, it began. Since I had taken the early start, I was right in the thick of things. The faster people from the original start were starting to come up on me more and more and I kind of liked trying to stay with them now and again. The comforting thing in Goosebump, while extremely steep, it was short. Roughly a mile to the top. To be honest, it was over quicker than I thought. As we crested the last bit, I noticed a very large crowd gathered at the top. Of course they wanted to see people dying coming up this hill. And trust me, there are rarely “crowds” at 100 milers. I laughed, made some jokes, and got some food before heading out to mile 35.


goosebumpupMile 31 to 43 were somewhat uneventful. We did have to run a half a mile out to the edge of a mesa where I got some amazing pictures. We then continued to run along the top of the mesa, mainly on slick rock. Correction.. you can’t exactly “run” on slick rock. You run, then your forced to jump, hop, or climb onto another section, then you try to run again. There is no rhythm that can be found on this stuff. Luckily, I wasn’t alone in this.


jenmesazionslickrockSo we forged on…hitting Goosebump Aid Station for the second time, and then the 6 mile section to 49 which was dirt road and rolling. I came in to mile 49 wondering if Pon would even be there as I was way ahead of the time frame I gave him. But he’d also been sick and I wasn’t sure if he’d even be good to run. But, there he was and ready to go! Phew! I actually had made excellent time. My watch was at 12 hours and 30 mins, which was well above my expectations even on a good day. I changed my shoes, grabbed some ramen noodles, and we set off on the 5 mile loop before coming back to the same aid station. I was still running at this point but my energy levels were fading. I was not taking in nearly enough calories. What else is new. We made the 5 mile loop, thankful to have a sidekick with me now and I was still able to run quite well. We got into mile 54, our second time at Grafton Mesa. I took a seat, we refueled, grabbed some night gear, and prepared ourselves for the next two sections which would be tough. We’d have to run 6 miles mostly downhill to Eagle Crag, then make a long climb back up to Grafton Mesa Aid Station for the last time, which would be mile 68. 8 miles is a long way, especially when it’s UP.

I should point out that I took snot rockets to a whole new level on this race. These weren’t rockets. These were high speed LONG, LONG trains… I basically felt like a 3 year old the entire day with snot just oozing from my nose. Ech, people didn’t seem to mind. Non-runners probably can’t even believe I’m saying this. But when you’re out on the trail, A LOT of stuff happens, and your will to care just goes out the window. I ran with a guy named Jason for a while and had a great time talking to him. He was a quarterback in college, always had drive in him, and was introduced to running in the past couple years. After the first hour or so of us running together, he told me not to be shy about bodily functions, aka farting. I told him not to worry, I wouldn’t hold back on account of anyone.

zion12 Running down the dirt road on our way to the Aid Station at mile 60 I was starting to hurt, but still able to run. From here on out, the miles between aid stations would seem to take longer and longer, and when we thought we would be close, we’d still be a ways away. This was especially true when we turned a corner thinking we were close to Eagle Craigs, but we were so much farther. This only made it even worse when we noticed people starting to climb a very steep dirt road. Luckily, we climbed thinking the aid station was at the top. Of course it wasn’t. We climbed another section thinking it was at the top of that. It wasn’t. And we climbed again. And again. Finally… after what seemed like ages.. we hit it. It was now dark. I pulled a chair away from the fire and sat in the dark. When I said I couldn’t sit by the fire, a little girl popped her head over the back of her chair right up against the fire and said, “Why not?”. I politely said, “I don’t want to sit by the fire because it looks too comfortable. I’m afraid I’ll like it too much and never want to leave.” She said.. “Oh. Well it’s past my bedtime. If I were home, I’d be asleep already.” I told her, “Me too!”. I had some noodles and broth, a cup of fruit, and a few potato chips. Nothing else seemed appetizing. And it was starting to get cold. VERY cold. A very kind woman working the aid station explained to me that she would be at the last aid station later on in the night and described the sections to me. This would prove to be crucial later on. I thanked her and said we’d see her later and told Pon who was still eating I had to get going and to catch up.

Prior to the race, during my planning, I told Pon some of the things I like or need to do during these long races. One and probably the most important, is I like to sit down for 3-5 mins at every aid station as we get farther and farther into the race. Just enough time to get some weight off my feet, let those hot spots die down a little, and revive myself a bit. Pon was surprised to hear this, more worried probably as most people can tend to get too comfortable, and never want to get up. It can take some coaxing to get them out of the aid station. I don’t think that’s ever been my problem. More so just making sure I eat enough, which I wasn’t, drinking enough, which I also wasn’t, and not going too slow. Later on, Pon would tell me how shocked he was that I was always the one to leave the aid station first, never having to tell me we should go. ;)

I was much happier to be heading down the steep long climb we’d just made. And for a change, it was nice to see so many people still making their way up as we were still making great time. Here I started yawning. A LOT. All week I’d had trouble sleeping.. so exhausted from being sick, but for some reason so restless too that I couldn’t fall asleep or if I did, I didn’t sleep well. The past couple nights I’d finally resorted to NyQuil to knock me out. I think it was catching up with me. It was probably 10-11pm at this point and I wanted to hold off as long as I could on using 5Hour Energy, as to not then be falling asleep again at 4 or 5am too.

We made our way back on this couple mile out and back, until we’d break off onto new trail to head to the big climb back up to mile 68 aid station. Pon and I talked about family, how we were raised, anything to keep my mind off what was to come and how sleepy I was starting to feel. Finally I got so sleepy, I started worrying how I’d make it another mile, let alone the rest of the night and decided I needed that 5hour energy. Within minutes I actually started feeling better and we picked up the pace a bit. Then we started to see the headlamps winding their way up the side of a huge mesa. And so it began. We made good pace as we climbed, Pon leading the way,and I not too far behind. Correction.. we actually killed this climb, not stopping once, no matter how steep it got, and before we knew it, we were at the top. I’d even had a guy right behind me the entire way, and despite my asking him if he’d like to pass several times, he stayed right there. At the top he thanked us for setting a great pace. On top of the mesa, we found ourselves winding through trails, up and down, now in a much bigger group, as Pon and I had caught up to a bunch of people that had passed us in my sleepy haze before the climb. This part dragged on, but finally, finally.. we came up on the aid station. Now it was too cold to sit away from the fire, and I plopped down in a comfy chair, with my hands over the fire, surrounded by spectators waiting for their runner. I joked that I had no idea why I did this crap. We talked about the tough last two sections.. and as I sat and ate my noodles. I was excited that I knew the next six miles, and finally, the next aid station we’d hit  would be what I considered respectful mileage.. 74. Something about once you hit 50 miles, the 50’s and 60’s just drag on. Your in this middle in between zone, and only once I get towards 80 do I feel like the end is ALMOST there. Right then, all I could think about was just getting to the next aid station.

I told Pon I was ready to boogy, and to catch up once again. He did and told me it was time to put on the layers I had wrapped around my waist. He was right. It was freezing. We were walking at a decent pace and told him I was happy with anything in the 14-16 min range, therefore running wasn’t necessary. But we ran when we could. My energy was dragging. Because I hadn’t eaten much, I’d also laid off the Ibuprofen. Two things working against me. I was constantly on the verge of bonking and while I finally had legs that could run well after 68 miles, my energy just wouldn’t allow it. So we fast hiked it. Here Pon and I talked some more, and after another section that dragged on, looking entirely different than it did earlier that afternoon, we finally came up on Goosebump Aid station for the third and thankfully, final time. It was FREEZING. It didn’t help that this aid station is on the edge of a cliff and the wind was just blowing. Here the fire didn’t even help and people were covered in warm blankets. I didn’t want to get too comfortable. I tried to eat, but again, this was minimal. Now we had three sections left.. but three LONG sections. We’d head down Goosebump, the steepest section of the course, eight miles to the next aid, and then two 9 mile sections before the finish. First we had to get down. After freezing long enough, I told Pon we should get going and it would be warmer once we got to the bottom.

Here the top section was extremely narrow, slanted, and dangerous. Did I mention it was 2am and we’d run 74 miles? We made our way down the first section, and came up on the part I feared. A woman was clinging to the rocks and scared to death. I couldn’t pass her and waited for her to clear the section. I nervously made my way and even tripped, but luckily fell into the side of the mountain and moved as fast as I could to get to better footing. The rest of this downhill was much the same, but the faster I could get down, the better. It was killing my feet! We got to the bottom and actually started running again. And not like shuffle running where I could barely average 16 min miles running, but like, REAL running. It was amazing. It was an enjoyable section and Pon and I talked about our favorite movies. After what seemed like miles, we came up on paved road, slowly making our way back to the highway and then crossing it. We started to see cars as we jumped on another dirt road and it was definitely some sort of aid station. A woman was up ahead and I called out to her to ask if this was in fact the next aid station. She said no. We had 4 more miles. This was definitely a mental setback

So, with really no choice at all, and being somewhere around mile 78, we made our way up the dirt road. Only it started to climb. There was someone behind us and I asked if this was Guacamole.. which would be the final climb of the race. He didn’t know. Pon told me not to care and just keep going. I thought back to what the lady at mile 60 had told me. She said Guacamole was a dirt road climb, at the top we’d do a 9 mile loop. But then we’d have to do the last nine miles down. This had to be it. Up we climbed. Finally we saw more people, and I asked, and they confirmed this was in fact Guacamole. We crested at a flat section, making our way. All of a sudden we started to notice headlamps up above. Oh gosh.. do we have to climb that?? To say this was my lowest, and probably Pon’s lowest moment as well, is probably accurate. I had nothing in me. We climbed more, and more. I was dragging. After what seemed like forever, we finally saw the aid station and I slumped in the back of the tent in a chair. Man, I was exhausted. I tried to eat. I had a fruit cup, some more fruit. Two sections left. Only, this was nine miles, and apparently, it was all slick rock. It was going to take a long time. I actually got up thinking I was going to be sick, almost hoping, so that I could feel better and actually eat MORE. But I didn’t. I decided to grab the other 5hour Energy and take a swig. We needed to get going.

I was shocked at how calm I was heading out of this section. I was scraping the bottom of the barrel going into that aid station and some how had been able to revive myself on very limited food. I told myself to be patient and that this section would probably take a long time, long enough that the sun would be up as it was 5am now. And sure enough this dragged on. Only, it was also hard to navigate. I kept telling Pon I heard someone screaming for help. But we couldn’t hear it clearly. Sure enough we came up on a woman who was very lost, and extremely panicked. She’d been lost for an hour. I like to think I have a good sense of direction, but many times I felt as though we’d zig zagged our way over trail/slick rock we’d already covered. But Pon was navigating and doing an awesome job of it. We started to see newer trail that we definitely had not come up on before. I kept telling myself this section would take forever and to be patient. I couldn’t even think about the mileage. We kept on, our group growing from 3 runners to 5, thankful to have as many people trying to find the right path as there was one clear time we had to stop dead in our tracks for a good 5 mins, unclear as to where to go. But now we had Fast Corey with us. I’d read his blog from last years race, as he was a local to the area and had a great recap and photo coverage of the course. We kept on twisting and turning and looking for the sign that would let us know we had to making the two mile section back. This would be a big cause of trouble for a lot of people. Two guys who finished in 24 hours, apparently had done the loop twice. Needless to say, they were a little upset. We found our way, and made the last final miles to the aid station. One more section.

The sun was out and it was getting warmer. I couldn’t eat. I had a fruit cup, but couldn’t think of anything else. I knew I should feel comfort that the last part was 4 miles downhill, but I feared the five miles dragging on after that, knowing there was another climb in there somewhere. Ugh.. let’s go. My feet hurt. They felt like they were covered with blisters, which luckily they were not. We ran the first steep downhill back to the main part of the dirt road. I told Pon here I’d have to walk, as I was in a dark place. I grabbed some food out of my pouch, afraid I’d yack it up, but knew I wouldn’t make it if I didn’t eat more. So, slowly, we walked it down. I broke into frustration when we came up on the turn and I saw the last little climb. I had my mini-breakdown which thankfully only Pon probably noticed. But as soon as we started climbing I was determined to get it over with. We headed up and over and then through a river that actually felt ice cold on my achy feet. It was amazing.

Before we knew it, we were on a paved road and there was a group out for the 50k runners aid station. The most comfort I’d felt in the past 15 miles came when I was told the finish was less than a mile. We were almost there. And as my feet hurt and squished below me, the sun was getting hot on my back, I just tried to take it all in. Pon and I were very much alone on this last mile, and we crossed over the main highway, winding our way through the back streets until coming up on the final field. Pon told me to run it in, and shockingly, I could! And so in 30 hours and 45 mins, I crossed the finish line. It was so nice to be greeted by the people I’d met along the journey, having just finished before me. This is a small group, spread out over 100 miles. The people you meet are special. And you’ve just done something amazing together. It felt good.


First, I should probably say I’m sorry to everyone at NSA where I work for worrying them. While they know I’m crazy, seeing me so “diseased” before I left they thought this was a suicide mission, and were more so worried I’d even make it back alive, let alone finish. Special thank you to Terry for keeping me in her prayers!

Thank you to my Mom and Dad for not even telling me I shouldn’t run, despite their concern, and believing in me that I could do it. And to my amazing sister who is always lifting me up, encouraging me, and helping me through.

Of course to my dear friend, Don for encouraging me to do this course, and being right there with me. Sitting in the airport waiting to fly home, I told Don we should do the Zion traverse next year. He pulled out his computer instantaneously and was researching maps, routes, water drops.. etc. (Btw, Lindsay already said they would crew for us). You’re sense of adventure is always motivating.

Thank you so much to Pon for coming out to help me and running a tough 51 miles himself with me. I couldn’t have done it without you and I’m so happy we’ve become good friends over the years and through this experience.

The word Zion is actually a synonym for Jerusalem. It also means sanctuary, making it even more appropriate that this would set the stage for a journey such as this. Long before this race even started, I knew this post would be about faith.. in every sense of the word. I have had a hard time with faith in the past. Faith in myself, faith in my convictions, and faith in a higher power. These past couple months have been tough, and I’ve needed to find my way. Ultimately I realized, I don’t have to carry it all on my back. There are certain things I can’t control, and in those I need to trust in my faith. And so.. I have. Amazingly, aside from my awful cold, things were starting to come together before Zion. Some wonderful things. And as I sat there thinking how nice it would have been to knock this race out of the park, how it would have been the ultimate stamp that things were turning around, but maybe I was just too sick, and this was one of those things I couldn’t control… there was faith. And so I believed.

“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

– Thomas Aquinas

And last but not least… we couldn’t have done it without being #Kuykenstrong!


Posted in Pictures, Race Re-cap, Running, Travel, Ultra Marathon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments