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?
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?
Off 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
I 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.
We 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.
Mile 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.
So 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.
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!