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Zion 100 Course Photo 2015 – Run It Fast

Zion 100 Race Report: The Battle to Live to Fight Another Day

Sarah Johnson Zion 100 - Guacamole Loop - Run It Fast

Zion 100 Race Report (April 10, 2015)

While pregnant with baby #4, I signed up for a 100 mile race called Prescott Circle Trail. It would take place about 8months postpartum. I thought it would be a good goal and help motivate me to get into shape after having a baby.

I started exercising at about 3 weeks postpartum. I eased slowly into things and overall felt really good. I ran my first race at 8 weeks postpartum; an 8k. It felt like a celebration of sorts. 1k in honor of each week my wee one had been earthside.

At 10 weeks postpartum I decided my body was ready for some hard conditioning and training. I started cross training and upped my mileage.

I continued to run races increasing the distance each time. I did a few races in the 25ish kilometer range until I decided I was ready for ultra distance. I started doing races in the 50k+ range. While getting adequate training runs in was a bit of a challenge, for the most part I felt strong and capable.

About a month out from Prescott Circle Trail the event was canceled. I was crushed. I had been looking forward to it for months. Every.single.run over the past several months had been in preparation for Prescott Circle Trail. I started looking for alternative options.  I considered running the course self-supported. I contemplated a Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon. There was a 500krelay race in Tennessee that piqued my interest. All I knew is I was craving a physical challenge and had the support/resources in place to make one happen.

I got wind of another race called Zion 100. It happened to start on the very same day as Prescott Circle Trail. After reviewing the race information and course map, I was feeling pretty stoked. It was the exact kind of course I enjoy; technical trail with a decent amount of climbing. The race company is committed to putting on eco- friendly events. The race director has a very positive reputation in the ultra-running community. All the information on the website indicated it was a top quality event and very well organized. The location was easy to get to if I kept my travel itinerary exactly as planned. It would just include a few extra hours in the car to get there and back. It seemed like an ideal swap for Prescott Circle Trail! Now to make it happen.

A big piece of the puzzle for me was Baby M and who would care for him during the race. I had already made solid childcare arrangements for the older three boys but M had to come with me to the race. I checked in with my mother in law about potentially coming with me and hanging with M while I ran. Without any hesitation at all she replied, “Yeah. I can do that”. I am pretty sure that is her default reply to everything I ask of her; for which I am beyond grateful.  That was the green light for me to go ahead and register.

Shortly after I shared my ultrasignup registration I got a message from my friend Julie with a screenshot of the directions from her house to Zion.

My reply “Want to come with me?”

Her reply, “Yes.”

Done. I had a crew person.

A short while later I got a message from my friend Sarah, “Need a pacer?”

I replied, “Would it be you?”

“Yes”

“Then absofreakinglutely yes!”

Done.  I had a pacer; a pacer who had run Zion100 the year before with a strong finish. All the pieces were coming together super smoothly.

Five weeks out from Zion100 I had a75k trail race that was going to be my last long training run. While that race didn’t go quite as planned I ran with fierce determination and was quite pleased with my performance.

However my runs after that race were difficult. My left knee started to bug me about 15 miles into each run.  At first I ignored it. I was almost in denial. It was the worst possible timing to have something on my body not working optimally. I wasn’t 100% sure it was related to running since I was doing an ample amount of cross training. I thought maybe I had tweaked it at the gym or in ballet class. I remained hopeful it would heal quickly on its own. Two weeks out from Zion I did a 25mile training run on a rainy Sunday afternoon in Spa, Belgium. I was in so much pain at the end I could not run. I met my husband and kids at a restaurant post run. Hubby asked how my run went and while we ate, I confessed to him my knee had been bothering me for the past few weeks.  We discussed it as we ate and came up with some ideas of things to do that might help.

I also decided it would be good to give Julie a head’s up that my knee would probably be an issue during the race. She is a physical therapist which boosted my confidence some that her knowledge of body mechanics would be in my favor during the race.

Fast forward 2 weeks, an international flight (I live in the Netherlands), and a 6 hour road trip later and I was at the start line of Zion100.  I felt pretty good although I was operating on pure adrenaline and nerves at the point as the night before the race I had only gotten 1.5hours sleep. (jet lag + nursing baby + early race start).

The first part of the course was amazing. I moved swiftly and steady. I arrived at the first crew point (mile 15) well ahead of schedule. I needed to nurse M so I had to wait for my crew to arrive even though I was eager to go on. At that point I was aware of my left knee but it wasn’t painful. More or less I felt a little nudging sensation…almost as if it had a “Fragile. Hand with care” sticker on it.

Zion 100 Course Photo 2015 - Run It Fast

The next stretch was really tough on me. By mile 20 my knee was throbbing. The downhills were hard. I cussed a bunch on them. And loudly. (My apologies to other runners for my frequent Fbombs from miles 26 to 30). I already had thoughts of dropping in my head. I put on my headphones and cranked my music loud to serve as a distraction. I also apologize to other runners for my terrible singing. Somehow belting out Tesla, Guns N’ Roses, and Alice in Chains helped.  I arrived at the 30 mile crew point still a bit ahead of schedule however I was moving very slowly at that point. When I arrived my crew knew I was in rough shape. I said to them, “Right now I need logic and wisdom. No emotion. Ok? I have two options here.  I can drop. The consequence of that is regret. Or I can change shoes, roll/massage my leg, take an advil, put on my knee brace and assess pace at the next aid station. As long as I can keep moving and stay ahead of cutoffs, I should be ok”.  They said, “Option two!” and immediately started taking care of me while I nursed M. I left the 30 mile mark feeling renewed and hopeful.  Even with the BIG climb ahead I felt a surge of confidence after seeing my crew. Since my knee screamed hard on the downhills, I figured the next section would be ok considering it was flat or uphill.  Plus I am a hella good climber; it’s generally where I thrive on a course. The advil kicked in and the knee brace helped so I started picking up pace again. However, my gait was crazy awkward as I was compensating for my left knee and running in different shoes than usual. I started passing a bunch of runners who had previously passed me. Many asked me if I was feeling better and/or commented that I looked strong.  The comradery on the course was encouraging and reminded me why I love trail ultra runners.

I arrived at the next aid station ahead of schedule again and before my crew was even there. I wanted to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. I didn’t need to nurse at that aid station so I just wanted to check in briefly with my crew, refuel, and go. Sarah reminded me I had 12.5 miles before I would see them again and that she would start pacing me at that point (mile 47.5). Again I left that aid station feeling hopeful.

The next section of the course was called Slick Rock. It wasn’t very runnable for me and involved stepping up and down off large rocks. As the advil wore off my knee started to hurt again. I winced, clenched, and/or grunted every time I had to step down off a rock. Audible expressions of pain seemed to help. It reminded me of being in labor and grunting through contractions. (Not that the pain was on the same scale as labor, but I found myself instinctively using similar coping mechanisms). I had some advil with me and against my better judgement decided to take some more.

I didn’t see many other runners during this section so most of the miles were spent in my own head. I kept asking myself if I wanted to run a hundred miles on advil. It just felt very wrong to me. It felt as though I was ignoring my body’s natural feedback system. Was I comprising my body’s well-being for pride and stubbornness? It sure felt like it.

The last 3 or so miles of that stretch were pretty runnable (ie- flat) so I moved along at a good pace eager to see my crew. The temperature was also starting to drop and I welcomed the cooler air. I arrived at the 47.5 mile mark greeted by my crew. As usual they took awesome care of me. I nursed M, put on my night running gear, and off I went. This time with a pacer.

Sarah and I developed a smooth rhythm together.  At 14 hours I hit the 50 mile mark which meant I was still on pace for a 28 hour finish.  I asked her to try to keep me averaging at least 15 minute miles including aid station stops. I wanted to run all the runnable sections and fast hike the rest. At one point I even asked her to go faster. She said “we are doing 10 minute miles. Are you sure you want to be running this pace?”.  I did. I felt pressure to bank time as I knew going into the wee hours of the night exhaustion would set in and I would slow down significantly. We moved along mostly in silence (just like at Chimera100 where I had paced her). We long ago decided that few words were need between us to understand each other. She stayed a couple beats ahead of me, navigating the course, deciding on our pace and keeping me going. I liked how we worked together and I was very happy to have her with me. It also served as a good distraction from my knee.

At this point my feet were hurting. I could feel them blistering. I never ever blister. However I was running really differently than normal because of my knee. We were close to the next aid station but I felt like I had to take my shoes off right there. I plopped down on the trail and started working on popping blisters, all on my right foot. They were huge and ugly. I immediately had genuine empathy for people who regularly deal with blistering issues. Those bastards hurt! Many people who passed me asked if I was ok or needed anything. Again a reminder of what a generous heart many trail runners hold.

Sarah encouraged me to focus on getting to the aid station so we could tend to my feet properly. We worked our way down and once I saw how close we actually were to the aid station I felt silly that I had stopped mid trail. Sitting there in that chair at mile 57.5 I decided I did not like what I was doing to my body. I feared I was destroying my relationship with running by continuing on.  I said little during this time and was mostly in my own head. Sarah knew I was trying to figure out what to do. She seemed unsure of what to do or say to me. I asked her to tape my feet to give her something to do and buy me some time to think. I really wanted to talk to my husband but couldn’t get a hold of him on my cell phone. Sarah called Julie and asked her to come to the aid station. I didn’t know exactly what would be the outcome of her coming. Was I dropping and she was picking us up? Or was I going to figure out what I needed to do to keep going? When Julie arrived I took off my knee brace so she could massage/roll my leg. When I saw how swollen and misshapen my knee looked at that point I said with full confidence “I am done”.

Maybe I could have continued, but at what cost? I did not like that I was straying so far from my principles (to respect and honor my body) for a finish. It was not worth it to me at that point. I vocalized, “I feel like this is changing my relationship with running”.  That phrase struck a chord with Sarah and it’s as if she suddenly knew exactly what her role there was for me.

She looked at me directly and said “Will you do this again?” (meaning would I attempt another hundred miler). Without a moment’s hesitation I said “yes”. She replied in a gentle but firm voice “then stopping now is the right decision”.  She went on to say a bunch more and even though I only half heard her, I understood what she was getting at: Preservation of the passion for distance running trumps a finish.

Of course a DNF involves a lot of self-doubt and questioning of our ability as an athlete. But it also involves the opportunity for deep reflection and growth. The decision to stop running had been a hard one. I had basically been wrestling with it in my head from about mile 20. That in itself is draining.  And while I don’t expect a hundred mile race to be easy, my experience at Stagecoach100 had been positive and enjoyable thus showing me I didn’t need to “disrespect” my body to complete an ultra.

Rightfully so I was pretty down the next several hours (plus tired as heck). My usual smile, chatty, and happy demeanor was replaced with a grumpy ass version of myself. Instead of going to back to the rental house and going to sleep, I decided I want to help crew for my friend Josh. In part because I wanted to support him, but also I wanted to see the event from start to finish (ya know in case I ever decided to run it again). Josh went on to finish strong and I enjoyed watching the others runners came through the various aid stations.

The next day while I was still in a bit of a funk about the race and feeling pretty low, Josh sent me a picture he took of me as we passed each other at mile 22. When I looked at the picture my reaction was “Wow. That’s me! On the Zion100 course.  And even though I didn’t finish, my feet touched that piece of earth. I need to see value in that experience”.

Seeing myself in that pictured allowed a fresh perspective; one from the outside in. So much of an ultra (and running in general) is from the inside out. A change in perspective proved to be powerfully healing and exactly what I needed to find peace with my decision.

– Sarah Johnson

Posted in Race Reports, Ultra MarathonComments (0)

Silverton 1000 – Mountainside Photos – Run It Fast®

Finding Gold (and Bears) at the Silverton 1000 – 48 Hour (Race Report)

The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.” – Albert Camus

The Silverton Challenge 48 Hour Race Report

The gods were Mark and Sharill Hellenthal. The condemnation they had laid down on us runners was a 1 mile loop in the mountains of Silverton, Colorado at 9,500 feet with a gain of 250 ft per mile and a subsequent loss of 250 ft per mile as well.

Others must have committed far worse sins for they had been sentenced to six days and three days on that mountain, repeating that same punishing loop over and over. Some even dared to piss off the gods by bringing tents to sneak naps and breaks in.  A portable shower was even spotted, but even it couldn’t diminish the stench the mountains had left on the imprisoned runners of Silverton.

My journey to the mountain was complicated, two flights to Albuquerque then a 5.5 hour drive to Silverton. In retrospect it was the calm before the storm. I checked into a small cabin, then headed over to prison headquarters, where I knew my sentence was to begin the next day. I picked up my prison number and spoke for a bit with the gods behind a veil curtain so that they could keep their omnipresence spell over us that had been sent there.

While there I saw the long faces and worrisome looks from the six and three day runners. They looked at me with jealousy knowing I was soon to retire to my cabin before returning the next day, but they also looked at me with sympathy knowing I had no clue what was about to happen to me the following morning at 9am.

I slept well that night, showered the next morning, and showed up early at the barracks to begin my sentence. I had assumed that this might do me some favor with the gods. It wasn’t the only faulty assumption I had over the next 48 hours.

The games of the gods began promptly at 9am after a group photo. The photo I assumed was to remind us eventual survivors that we had been the fortunate ones. The race started and those not long for this earth started sprinting up that mountain. We saw them again within 5 minutes as the altitude had filled their lungs and gravity had harnessed their pride back towards the laughter of the gods.

Two hundred and fifty feet of climb over a mile would be punishing enough but no, that would have been too easy for some. The 250-ft climb happened in the first 0.33 mile to the summit where we’d catch our breath, run on level ground for roughly 25 yards before our heads started falling ahead of our feet and our legs wouldn’t stop. Our legs were moving at a warped speed as we couldn’t slow down, we couldn’t stop and our minds were searching and begging for the slightest incline so we could slow down. Some thought they had fallen into a black hole.  No inclines were to be found. Our quads ignited, rocks beneath our feet gave way as we were moving too fast and cutting too hard on switchbacks down towards the gods, and spots in our shoes became hotter than molasses on a Tennessee sidewalk in the heart of summer.

The 250-ft asteroid-like fall from the summit back to flat land took just 0.25 of a mile. Flat land had never felt so secure before. It was also time to walk for a few seconds to let the muscles in the leg rescind back to where they normally reside. A third of a mile later we were back at the tented residence of the gods. The tent was full of food, drink, and mocking. The treats were an oasis of hope that did just that…it made us forget the punishment we had just endured and before we had realized it, we had exited the tent, usually with cookies or gummy worms, and were scaling back up the mountain towards the summit.

I went into Silverton hoping and wanting to reach 100 miles to repay my sins. I didn’t know if the angels would call before I reached that distance, but I thought that once I reached it that my sentence on the mountain would be over and that the gods would release me.

Just five miles into this spectacle, my hamstrings, calf muscles, and feet were begging for no more. They had run 100 miles the weekend before at the Lean Horse 100. I didn’t believe I’d be able to reach 100 miles on this hellanthalish mountain loop. I knew I could stop at any time, since it was timed, but that the gods would laugh, mock, and scorn me by flashing me with the 100-mile buckle I had fallen short of before decapitating me. Foolish pride and a constant restocking of gummy worms and grilled cheeses (upon request) kept me leaving that tent and going back up and down that mountain 100 times over.

After 100x up and down that mountain I had reached 25,000ft of gain and 25,000ft of loss. A hundred times should have been enough. It had taken 35 hours 42 minutes and 44 seconds.

There was one problem…the male and female that did the most loops on this mountain in 48 hours would receive a free pair of Hoka One One shoes ($170 value). It was a mean and cruel trick by the gods that toyed with two of our deadliest sins – pride and greed.

That’s when I realized a 12-yr old boy by the name of Colby Wentlandt was in second place and on my heels. Twelve years old and sentenced to 48 hours on this mountain. What was his crime? How serious must it have been for him to be sentenced with the adults? Had his parents abandoned him while passing through Colorado? Had he murdered his parents? It turns out his parents were on that mountain too, doing painful 1-mile loop after another, but they were so many miles behind young Colby.

Colby moved at such speed it was as if he we was hoping that he could improve the fate of his parents if he could do more miles than any of the other prisoners. However, the gods had no rollover miles plan where he could convey his bounty to his mom and dad.

Colby would taunt me when we’d cross paths under the tent of the gods. He’d tell me how tired I looked and how I should go down. I’m not sure if he meant I should take a nap or if someone with a longer rap sheet should put me down behind the barn. He was sneaky wicked like that and it helped keep me alert and on my toes. I made sure to stay on the opposite side of the mountain to keep him from sneaking up behind and cutting me.

He was easy to spot from the high side of the mountain as he was always with shady characters like a Jester that went by the name of Ed Ettinghausen and two other munchkins by the names of Brandon and Cameron Plate (all sentenced to the 72-Hour and trying to keep up with 48-Hour Colby).

The taunts continued among the inmates as the night became late. ‘The Jester’ and ‘The Boy’ kept putting down 1 mile after another as Colby started to get close to tres digitos. I remained roughly 6-7 miles ahead of Colby per the prison LCD screens that were connected to our anklet tracers.

Colby hit 100 miles (his second time to reach said distance) and everyone within the tent celebrated briefly for most still had many loops left to complete before any hopes of being pardoned from Silverton.

I came in after 107 miles to learn that Colby the Cannibal had retired for the night after 101 tough and strenuous miles. I had met a rough, rugged, and dreaded female convict by the name of Sarah Johnson during these early AM miles. I had spotted a wild bear during this time as I stumbled across one of the ridges high up on the mountain. The bear was a hundred feet away or so looking for food (or bearded runners) in a dumpster near the ski lodge.

I reported the bear to the gods and they called other gods with badges. The gods had planted the bear for us prisoners. My mistake was reporting the creature as the gods then scared the bear back up the mountain near our trail where dozens of us were still circling around in the dark.

The ‘Dreaded One’ stayed close either due to fear of the bear, thinking I had Oreos, or because she couldn’t figure out if her headlamp had an actual light. The company was nice even if albeit fundamentally radical.

Often the best guys are just those that can suffer longer, who don’t give up. And it’s so easy to give up, when you’re on a mountain and it’s really hurting.” – David Millar

After 110 miles (in 40:38:44) which was a new course record I decided I needed to attempt some rest and sleep as I planned a 6 hour drive back to Albuquerque to catch my flight upon my anticipated release date of 900 hours. I knew I had to be sneaky to dodge the gods so I curled up in the back of my rental car and probably slept for 90-120 minutes.

I was paranoid that Colby had arisen early (thinking it was a school morning) and gone back out on the course for more miles before the sun came up. I went back over to the holding tent and found out that Colby was still fast asleep and far away.

I was surprised to win the race and even more impressed by Colby’s 101 miles and second place finish.

There was great joy celebrating the liberation of several of my fellow companions on the mountain as they came in after 100 miles or more. Some of the highlights were seeing Eric ‘The Fireman’ Waterman complete 100 miles after several failed pardons during other prison stays. Collen Zato was impressive in setting the 72-Hour female course record while setting up several touchdown celebrations for others as they reached memorable milestones during the event and by pacing Rachel Spatz to the female 48-Hour course record. The Jester set a male 72-Hour record for most miles on the course with or without a Jester costume. I was impressed watching Rob Distante who arose from the dead (almost literally) on day two and ran out the rest of his sentence to reach 100 miles. All four Run It Fast – Club members went over 100 miles.

Never measure the height of a mountain until you have reached the top. Then you will see how low it was.” – Dag Hammarskjold

The gods were cruel but the punishment was cleansing like a toxic bleaching to the soul. The mountain had beaten us down physically yet our bodies were renewed from the pounding. We left the mountain not knowing if we could survive again on the outside. Many of us knew we couldn’t and we’d be back. Some of us knew that the gods would not give us a choice either way.

Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that damn mountain.” – Jack Kerouac

joshua holmes (Aug 31-Sep 2, 2013)

Posted in Race Reports, Running, Ultra MarathonComments (1)



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