Zion 100k Race Report

Not a bad view!

Not a bad view!

Yeah, the race was two weeks ago. I am posting this race report pretty late, but come on, those new miles really kicked my ass and it has taken awhile to wrap my mind around what actually happened down there in the desert.  There is one thing I know for sure- when I finished the race I told my crew I never wanted to run again.

When Bobby G and I decided to do this race it was partly because of the terrible taste left in our mouths after the Sean O’Brien 50 in February. We wanted adventure, we wanted redemption and we wanted more miles! As we scrolled through Ultrasignup.com we landed on Zion after this brief discussion-

Bobby- Dude, it’s only 6,000 feet of vert! That’s nothing bro!!

Me- Sick! Perfect for our first 100k!

 Haha, it was just about 6,000 feet of vert (when my Ambit died at mile 50 it had registered 6,119 ft of vertical ascent) but it was really technical and really steep and felt like way more than 6k.

Right after the super mellow briefing from the race director, (The only thing I remember is him mentioning something about closing a gate somewhere on the course so cows couldn’t get out.) we all headed out into the darkness. Halfway up the first climb, the sun began to rise revealing the immense beauty of Zion. I was so interested in looking at the scenery it almost caused me to fall off the 6-inch wide trail- 2,000 vertical feet back to the valley floor. In my defense, it was possibly the most technical trail I have ever ran on, one woman was so sketched out she held up traffic for about 15 minutes clinging to a rock in the middle of the trail. Luckily we didn’t get stuck behind her; Bobby would have started to free solo the cliff to get around her.

By mile 20, my stomach was giving me fits- luckily Mrs. Wasatch was there with my mom. As my mom was force-feeding me Pepto and salt tabs, Mrs. W was squirting ginger ale down my throat. It seemed to work, I started to feel quite a bit better. Just in time for a fast 8-mile section. After pushing pretty hard through that section, I realized we were running straight into a mesa. A mesa that had to be climbed, an insanely steep 2,000 ft. climb over a half-mile ensued.  At least there was aid at the top. I could hear cheers from way below the rim.

Bobby G topping out on the second big climb.

Bobby G topping out on the second big climb.

From aid at 28 we did a 6-mile out and back on Gooseberry Mesa, incredible views but brutally uneven rocks as a running surface, I felt this section in my ankles for about a week after the race. The markings were pretty tough to find and quite a few people lost their way. Bobby G was up ahead of me and he beat the volunteers to the aid at the point of the mesa. No food. Just Coke.

When I came cruising into aid at 40 I was in a pretty crummy mood, it didn’t improve after my mom, trying her best to encourage me, mentioned that I only had 22 miles left! Just 17 more until I got back to this aid station and then back down that hill I came up earlier… Wait, WHAT? Hearing that I had to go back down that hill, most likely in the dark, after 17 more miles- was too much for my fragile psyche. I looked at her like she told me I had to hop the rest of the way on my left leg and it was all her fault. It wasn’t, she was just trying to help me but I was feeling pretty sorry for myself at this point. *

Fast-forward 7.5 miles to the halfway point of the longest 5 miles of my life (Honestly, I haven’t been alive very long and I haven’t been running for most of it, so take that for what it’s worth.) it was starting to get dark and mentally I was having a pretty rough time. The sun setting was a very demoralizing experience. When I got to aid at 51, my crew and Bobby G were waiting for me. (Yeah, Bobby was already done. He is the most hardcore person I know.) I couldn’t eat anything but warm broth and some sort of espresso chocolate Bobby convinced me to eat. After walking a quarter mile Mrs. W, I took off. Flow was with me for the next 8 miles, even down the section my mom had warned me about. It didn’t matter I felt like I had just started the race it was magical. It made all the pain I had suffered through up to this point worth it. I was happy, really freaking happy.

When I crossed the finish line, all I wanted to do was get into the car and lie down. That’s when I told my crew I would never run again. I said it again later that night when I was lying on the pool deck at our hotel puking, trying my best not to get it in the hot tub. In that moment I was positive I never wanted to run again.

The next morning as I hobbled around I remembered the feeling I had when I found Flow at mile 51. As I thought about those 8 miles of bliss, I turned to Bobby and said, “So, when is our next race bro?”

* A special thanks to my crew, my wife and mother. You guys are endlessly patient and kind even when I am being a total ass. I couldn’t do it without you.

Zion 100k Race Preview

Training for Zion 100k in variable conditions.

Training for Zion 100k in variable conditions.


Wasatch Willy-As I am writing this email, we are 7 days away from toeing the starting line in Virgin, Utah for the Zion 100K. After we both had disappointing results at the Sean O'Brien 50 (as well as disappointing race shirts, seriously what was that about?) how has your training progressed? Are you feeling prepared or waking up to nightmares about DNFing? Also, in the past you have started your taper 1 day before the race... how's the taper going?

Bobby Geronimo- Yeah, Sean O'Brien was a big disappointment but definitely a very informative experience.  I walked away from that race with a new outlook on a lot of different aspects of training and race day execution (and that dishrag they were trying to pass off as a t-shirt).  The Zion 100 has crept up on us quickly over the past few weeks but I feel infinitely better than I did heading into the SO5050.

I think my biggest change has been a pretty large bump in my running volume.  In the past I have been more concerned with consistency, but now that running everyday has become second nature to me, bumping my volume to the point where I'm getting in at least two hours everyday has really helped improve my overall fitness level.

I also started wearing a hydration pack on my long training runs for the first time. This may be a drastic change for many but as a die-hard minimalist with a serious propensity to under-pack, this decision did not come lightly or devoid of serious skepticism. But, I have to admit, I love the freedom it has given me-- I've just decided to extend long runs on a whim-- a decision a never could have made before I was carrying two liters of water on my back.  And just not having to stress about water is nice.

As for the taper, that isn't in range yet.  I'm going high volume through the weekend and then I'm going to back it off.  The art of the taper is one I have yet to master.  But with the new miles we're going to be adding next weekend, I think the taper is going to be important. I don't want to go into the race with tired legs obviously.  What are your plans for the taper??

Willy-It sounds like you have been dialing things in these last couple of months, it's crazy what a bad experience can teach us. I'm not going to lie to you, I am pretty pumped about your hydration pack, I've been carrying one for awhile now and I love mine. You are right about them, they give you all sorts of freedom that you don't have with a handheld. Even though it isn't the most minimal thing, it sure helps when you are going long!

I love your taper strategies, or should I say your lack thereof. I am going to go hard like you through the weekend and then really rest up the next week, and try to get some good spring back into my legs. They have been feeling a little tired the last few days and it'll be good to get them a little break,

I'll be honest with you, I've got some serious stoke for this race, I don't know if it's because my training has been going so well or the excitement of the new miles. It's probably a little bit of both. I Think it definitely has to do with the awesome scenery we are going to be running through, you know how much I love Utah!!

I'll tell you what though, before every race I always get super excited thinking about all the food I get to eat afterwards. The weekend of the race is also the Final Four so I know we will be chilling and eating all day Saturday!!

What are you most excited for? How are you mentally preparing for the new miles?

Bobby-The new miles are always a little scary, especially when the number is significant (like the 12 new ones we're going to be hitting).  The unknown is always a little bit scary, I think that's one of the major reasons why I can't bring myself to really taper.  I want as much volume as I can get on my legs right now- I'd rather go into the race a little bit tired, coming off a week where I put some pretty big numbers up than go in feeling like I haven't been running enough.  Maybe I'm crazy but my fitness level always feels the highest after a big volume week with a lot of vertical gain, even if I might feel a little torn down at the same time.  

I'm definitely excited for this race too- it's been a long couple months with a  Sean O'Brien DNF lingering over our heads.  I'm super stoked to be running through such beautiful, unique terrain but maybe even more stoked just to be getting back out there and finally put that last race behind me.  

I think the most important thing for me is to go into this race relaxed, focusing on enjoying myself and staying within my limits.  A lot of the hype and expectations surrounding Sean O'Brien made it difficult to handle.  With Zion, everything feels a little but more relaxed and the bump up in miles certainly keeps you humble and will (hopefully) keep me from going out too fast.  Knowing that you have to deal with 12 new miles should keep things under control at the beginning.  

But I'm with you- having this race on a Friday is going to be great for the post-race weekend of lying around bingeing.  We get two days this time instead of one!  I'm ready for next weekend to get here already!  It's time to find our flow in Zion! 

Be Evolutionarily Relevant

As I’ve been tacking more and more miles onto my personal odometer, it’s become harder to keep my running obsession under the radar.  It’s not that I’m trying to keep it hidden; I’m incredibly proud of the running I’ve done and what running has done for me.  It’s just that I skew introverted to begin with and as soon as people start to realize what I’m doing, it inevitably leads to questions.  Questions that I generally have no interest in answering.

Every ultrarunner understands exactly what I’m saying because every ultrarunner has been asked, at some point, ‘Why?!?’, when something like the distance of your next race happens to be disclosed through casual conversation with a non-runner.  And we all know that someone who would ask that type of question has no idea how to fully understand the answer.  At least not in a real, practical sense.  So we utter clichés and talk vaguely about the intrinsic value of running.  

More often that not, when I arrive back at work after a long run in the middle of the day, I’m forced into some variation of a conversation that goes something like this:

“Bro! You were running this whole time?!?” You’ve been gone for like three hours!”

“Actually that was about four and a half... bro.”

“That’s nuts man!  I can’t do anything for four and half hours besides sleep. Why would you do that?”

“Oh, you know, I really enjoy getting away from everything—getting out in the mountains—and just running around.  It calms me down.”

  “You’re insane!! Why would anyone do that?! What do you think about while you’re out there?  Does your ipod last that—Bro! Where you going? Why you walking away?”

When looking at the human body from an evolutionary perspective, it seems odd that nobody ever has conversations like this:

“So, how was your day today?”

“Eh—it was pretty rough.  I sat at my desk at work for eight hours and then I sat in my car for an hour on my commute home before sitting for another five hours in front of the TV.”

“You mean to tell me you’ve been sitting for 14 hours today!?! That’s crazy!! How could you have possible done that?!? Isn’t your back killing you?  I’ve never heard of anyone sitting for so long!!”

“Well, I did get up a few times… I had to go to the bathroom and get something to eat… walk to my car.”

“Still, I don’t how you anyone could sit for so long!!  I would have lost my freaking mind! You’re a way stronger person than me.”

What happened to our evolutionary relevance?  As Harvard Evolutionary Biologist Daniel Lieberman points out in his book, The Story of the Human Body, humans are incredibly slow in comparison with the majority of quadrupeds.  The fastest humans top out around 23 miles an hour for—at the most—20 seconds.  Your average lion is running around 45 miles an hour for over four minutes.  

Tools like the bow and arrow weren’t invented until about 100,000 years ago and even the most basic stone spear points only appeared 500,000 years ago.  Yet there is archeological evidence that early humans have been hunting quadrupeds like kudu, zebra and wildebeest for almost 2 million years.  These animals were faster, stronger and much more agile than the humans hunting them.  But as mostly hairless bipeds, our ancestors could do a couple of things better than the rest of the animals on the planet: sweat and run long distances. 

So, according to Lieberman, we waited until the day was hot and we ran our prey down until it collapsed from heat stroke.  We evolved to be endurance runners. Now, we sit in chairs and type on computers.  We’ve lost touch with our evolutionary history.  Most of us have completely stopped using our bodies in the way they were designed.  And for some asinine reason, we expect no consequences for these actions. 

The next time someone comes up to me and asks me why I run such long distances with an incredulous look plastered across their face, I’m going to simply reply that I’m “attempting to stay evolutionarily relevant”.  I think that sums it all up nicely.  What more should I really have to say?

Now, if you’d excuse me, I’m going to run outside under the hot sun and sweat my ass off.  

The Joy of Training

Kiki And I getting after it.

Kiki And I getting after it.

The last month and a half has been magical, the running has been fast and the miles have come easy.  I have enjoyed 95% of my runs. This has been a new experience for me, in my short ultra career I have often felt that I’ve been battling injuries or anxiety or some unknown cause of stress that seems to reveal itself on the trail. It hasn’t been around lately.

One of the must appealing aspects of trail running to me is its ability to humble me in very short order. It doesn’t take much, a crappy 6 mile run can make me feel like I should take my running shoes to the Goodwill because I wasn’t made for it. Then the next day I’m finding flow and feeling like a million bucks. That is part of the deal with this whole running thing- it is unpredictable as hell. I try to control all the variables that I can, my sleep, my eating habits, my fitness and form. Sometimes it all works the way that it should, sometimes it doesn’t. For the last month and a half it has been working out no matter what.

From the beginning of December I had been training for the newly renamed Sean O’Brien 50 miler in Malibu with my bro Bobby G on Feb 2nd (Check out his race report here). My heart wasn’t in it, I wanted to be skiing the whole time I was running, I couldn’t stick to my program. If it was snowing, I was skiing- I can’t pass up Utah pow (Greatest Snow on Earth, it says so on my license plate). I literally can’t. When it isn’t snowing, it’s usually sunny and who can pass up a bluebird day? I was still putting in30- 40 miles a week, but it was because of that race hanging over my head not because I WANTED to run. It wasn’t working for me, I wanted to WANT to run. Everything changed the night before the SOB. I got sick, really sick and couldn’t even start the race. As the other runners took off, I decided that I couldn’t risk it that morning, I was too sick, but as I saw them take off down the trail I really, really wanted to run.

I got back from Utah on Super Bowl Sunday, the day after the race. I felt terrible, still puking. As I watched my beloved Broncos get destroyed I realized that I needed to run regardless of how crappy I felt. So I laced up my kicks and went for a spin around the neighborhood. It was miserable- I threw up twice and was putting down a 10 minute pace but I enjoyed every step. I haven’t looked back since that moment, I have been running a ton(I have even skipped a few pow days and almost all the sunny ones in favor of the trail) and running faster than I ever have before. I haven’t had a bad day in well over a month.

A different kind of pow day!

A different kind of pow day!

Until this weekend. I was planning on doing a personal FKT on one of my favorite mountains and took off at an ambitious pace. As per normal(lately) I felt solid, cruising up and when I tagged the summit I felt as if I had my record in hand already. This pumped me up and I really opened it up on the downhill. Then I bonked, I mean, I bonked bad. Up until this moment I thought I knew exactly what bonking was- I had no idea. My vision faded, my feet stopped moving and every bit of energy I had was gone. The remaining 4 miles back to the trailhead seemed like an eternity. Two hikers asked if I need help as I stumbled down the trail like a drunk, it was a scary experience, even Kiki knew something was wrong with me.

As I am writing this I am humbled, the mountains tired of my arrogance and taught me another lesson. What I thought would be a routine run on a trail I know well turned out to be miserable, dangerous experience. As I think back on the pain and agony of those last 4 miles, the positives are what stand out to me, the feeling I had reaching the summit faster than ever before, not the misery. I just can’t wait to get back out there this week. I might even try for my FKT again, arrogance be damned.