Disclaimer: Before I dive into this head first, my goal here isn’t to provide a reason for people to say, “that’s not for me”. My experience, I’m sure, will be different from yours in many ways, so think of this more as a, “I’ll do my best to make sure that isn’t going to be me”. Done correctly, it could be one of the most amazing adventures in your lifetime.
Until this past weekend, I had never ventured down to the Bryce Canyon or Zions National Park area in all my nearly 31 years in Utah. If you live in this state, or have the opportunity to visit here, do yourself a favor and add these to your bucket list. The views will leave you speechless. The hoodoo’s are so mysterious and incredible, how they stand the way they do is fascinating, simply put. The mountain goats are fearless as they scale the slick mountain sides and approach the roads to graze with zero cares in the world.
The day before the 50 mile run, we ventured into Zions National Park for some views, a little hiking (not sure if that was a good or bad idea before a 50 mile race), and an escape from reality, which was desperately needed at the time. On the way there from Panguitch, UT, we made a stop at one of the many rock shops on the way to the National Park. They sure do love their rocks down there, as I’m sure they have an abundance of many different kinds in the surrounding area. We grabbed a couple souvenirs, some for the family, and pressed on to the park. Needless to say, if all the roadside shops pass you by, and you make it through without stopping at at least one of them, you have far greater self control than us…either that, or I’m very sorry you missed out.
Zions did not disappoint..besides the $30 entrance fee (which ultimately we’d pay anyway to be able to continue to enjoy things like this for many years to come). The weather was a little on the hot side, but made for a perfect, clear day to see as far as the mountains would allow. How some of the sights and formations are created on this earth are mind bending. The lines, curves, and colors that have been created over the years on the rocks and ranges are gratifying. At one point, we pulled the car over to snap a couple photos of a small mountain goat family picking some leaves off a nearby tree. They surely made sure to keep a couple eyes on us while we were there, but after a short while, they made their way back up a steep mountain face and carried on with their day.
Later that day, we made our way to the race expo by Ruby’s Inn. The expo had a fire going, where people could roast marshmallows to make one of the world’s best desserts known to mankind. The drop bag station was lined with everyone’s bags of survival for the following day, and vendors where lined up showing off their products for the runners/spectators to demo and purchase. Each race entry came with a meal ticket that was attached to the race bib, and the expo had a few different options on how to use your ticket. We ate, spent a few minutes putting together our drop bags for the next day, and made our way back to our motel room in Panguitch (say what you want, I’m fairly certain our motel has been featured on Cops, on numerous occasions). That night, we watched the movie “Everest”, which may not have been the best choice, seeing as how it was based on a group of people trying to survive the elements of nature, but in an exact weather opposite scenario from what we were about to run in the next day.
The next morning began at 3:00 A.M., an hour later than the previous weekend when we got up for the Utah Valley marathon, so that was a treat! Got ready and made our way to the shuttle buses, where we heard that out of the 212 runners that signed up for the 100 mile run, over 100 runners had taken themselves out of the race, voluntarily and involuntarily, due to the heat and exhaustion. It left us with an uneasy feeling right out of the gate, but we had pre-race adrenaline flowing so the idea of getting a DNF was at the very back of our brain.
We reached the start line with a little under half an hour before the start, which to me was perfect. I love not having to stand around and stare at my watch, counting down the minutes until the gun goes off. Once it was go time, we all spent about the first mile or so in a single file line until the trail opened up. It was interesting beginning a race this way, and I’ll tell you right now, looking back, I was not 100% mentally prepared for this race. I was far from ready from having the aid stations spaced anywhere between 8-11 miles apart. I wasn’t ready for the altitude difference in what I normally trained on, and I surely wasn’t ready for anything the next 12+ hours was about to have in store for me.
(Above) Course map and elevation of the trail. Over the entire duration, over 10,000 feet of elevation gain. This graph makes it look so silly….but was not silly.
For the first few miles, I was having some shin pain that made itself noticeable after the Utah Valley Marathon the week before, and as I’m now writing this, I am beginning to realize I don’t always make the best decisions in my life, and my planning skills are sometimes poor. I probably shouldn’t have logged 26.2 miles the week before attempting my first 50 mile race. So, fast forward to aid station at mile 22.5, the sun has been doing serious work the last couple hours, and we’re all feeling it. I had 1/2 a can of Coke, and it was maybe to date, the best 1/2 can of Coke that has ever touched my lips. But, with the shin pain present, I think I made the mistake of asking if anyone had an ibuprofen. A kind lady gave me two, and I threw them down not thinking that 3.5 miles later, I would regret it, severely.
Around 26 miles in, I found myself hunkered in the shade of a bush-tree, feeling incredibly dizzy, which led to me laying down and clearing my stomach in 5 valiant, very aggressive upchucks. My wife made her way back down to see what I had going on, told her my tummy was a little angry and I needed a rest. We had moments before, passed a lady passed out on the side of the mountain, who was requiring some help. As I laid there, a man from an aid station came running down the trail, looks at me and goes, “you’re an ugly girl”. I looked up and laughed, and he said he was looking for a woman in distress, we told him she was about a mile further down, and he headed back down.
Mile 33 aid station. The stretch we just ran was nearly an 11 mile gap between aid stations, and if I could put a pin in it, this is where the main event commenced. Upon arriving at the 33 aid station, I was feeling the worst I’ve ever felt in, almost ever. Dizzy, exhausted, and apparently, getting dehydrated. Over the course of the day, my body had taken in over 8 liters of water. Apparently, 8 liters wasn’t enough, and the heat in the high 80’s, low 90’s, probably didn’t help either. The volunteers at the aid station made me a cup of pickle juice with ice cubes, and at the time, the worst thing I think I could have drank. But looking back, it may have been responsible for leveling me out….momentarily.
Well, that didn’t last long. Mile 34ish, there I am again, in my mile 26 position, laying on the side of the trail. Up to this point, Lacey and I had ran the entire race together. But, at this point, without a small break, I wasn’t moving on. She said we should go back to mile 33 and call it a day. Now, this just wasn’t going to happen. For me, I didn’t have a problem with that outcome, but she had logged crazy mileage during her training, and with all that had happened the week prior, with her grandma passing, I know she was there with a purpose. She had a set of wings on her to help her finish, and I knew she could do it. I told her to go on, and I would make my way back down to 33. She didn’t believe me, and I’m pretty sure she knew deep inside, I wasn’t going to go back. But, she pressed on, and I pressed my lifeless body further into the dirt on the side of the mountain.
As I laid there, I truly thought if I didn’t move, I would pass out. I had a bag of amino acid powder in my backpack, so I took it out, dumped some into my mouth, and took a few good pulls of water from my Camelbak, and pulled myself together. Stood up, joined into another pack of runners for the next few miles, and tried to keep my eyes on the prize.
Well, the last 3-4 miles until mile 42 were without water. Mainly due to me taking those big rips from the bladder back on my trail bed I created back on mile 34. Every corner I took, I would imagine the aid station on the other side, and for all those 76 corners I feel like I took, the aid station continued to hide. But, in what I believe was the 77th corner, there it was. I had never been more excited to see a tent in my entire life. I reached the station, headed straight to the water area and filled my bag up. I took a couple minutes to catch my breath, and paced back and forth by the trail. One of the nurses approached me, and asked if I was ok. I said I felt awesome, that was a lie, and I told her I needed to lay down for a bit. As I laid there, I got the mile 26 feeling, which required me to lay back up, found a tree, did my best Tim Tebow kneel impression, and had another upchuck session. The outcome on this session was much different from the previous, as the previous I stayed alert and didn’t fully come to with an IV connected.
As I began to think a little more clearly, I was covered in a blanket, sitting in a folding camp chair, with 3 aid station members watching me. I was shaking, supposedly my color was poor, and they kept saying the word “dehydrated”. I laughed. I was so confused. They asked if I had anyone there I knew, and I said yes. Normally, I wear glasses, because I’m practically blind. But, I saw a girl with the same calf sleeves Lacey was wearing, and I was surprised, because I thought Lacey was way ahead. I was like, “right there, that’s my wife”. The aid station worker called her name….which was Emily, and told her to come over. As she approached, I realized Emily was actually Emily, and not Lacey. With all these facts in front of us, this wasn’t looking good for me.
Once the IV was nearing it’s end, I asked the crew if I could make my way to the finish line. Their reaction time in telling me my day was done, there wasn’t a delay. My bib was pulled, and I ended up taking a truck back down to the finish. Game over.
Lacey was able to finish the day with her first 50 miler under her belt. How excited and proud I am that she was able to accomplish such a crazy feat on a day like that, was amazing. She probably could have ran farther, she says she couldn’t have, but I’m sure she could have. She’s the toughest girl I know, and will continue to be a running legend in my eyes.
It sounds so ridiculous at first, but even though I didn’t cross the line, I got to see and experience so many different things that I never thought I would ever see or do. An ultra marathon on any resume is impressive. Any run, ANY run, is impressive. Whether a mile around the block, or 42 miles until you pass out by a tree, enjoy every mile. Look around and see all the things you’re running by. Enjoy it. As bitter as I am about not finishing, I’m blessed to have had the opportunity to be there with my lady and all those other crazy runners who thought that day was perfect for another run.
A DNF is an interesting addition to my highlight reel, one I’ll never try to forget, and to be quite honest, I wish I remembered more of it. God bless the volunteers at aid station 42 for bringing me back to life, or for keeping me alive, either way, I’m grateful for each and every single one of them.
I had a riot, and I’ll make my way back to conquer that monster soon. Until then, I will cherish every drop of water I have readily available, and never take it for granted for as long as I live.