Monday, May 14, 2012

The Journey is the Reward

Zion 100 Mile
May 11 – 12, 2012
DNF at Mile 63 at 21 hours

Anyone following my blog and who knows me was probably bracing themselves for the complete breakdown of Suann having heard of my DNF at the Zion 100. I sensed "proceed with caution, she’s gonna cry, scream and flog herself for the next few weeks".

Honestly, I'm ok. Better than ok. I'm proud of what I did. It was a tough course, the hardest I have ever been on and I made it 63 miles. The longest I have ever run on the hardest terrain I have ever been on. That's an accomplishment. 

Lesley and Martin graciously agreed to pace and crew me on my adventure. I would not have been able to get to mile 63 without the two of them. With very few runners, I was out there by myself for long stretches. It was hot, the aid stations were very far apart and what kept me going was the fact that I knew I would see them both after my first climb and then again at mile 35 where Martin would start pacing me. The plan was for Lesley to take over at mile 82 and run me in.

Race Start
I toed the line with 103 runners. It was a nice 55 degrees and felt fantastic. As we went off on our journey, I settled at the back of the pack. I was forcing myself to run slow. I had a long day ahead with some tough climbs ahead and I wanted to purposely run slow the first half of this race. 

Many folks zoomed ahead and I couldn't help but think, "Do I even deserve to be toeing this line? I'm not last but I'm pretty far back."

Climb Up Smith Mesa
Right off the bat, we had to climb Smith Mesa, about 1,000 feet in a mile. I was handling this pretty well. It was early in the race and cool out. Then I saw the rope they put out for us to get up the side of this mountain. And I thought, "What have I gotten myself into?" The climb went pretty quickly and I was super excited to see Lesley and Martin waiting at the top for me. 

I'm half way up Smith Mesa!

The next section continued to go up, but on a nice jeep road. Nothing technical, but it was more up.

A gorilla told me I was doing a good job. 

Mile 18-27: Some technical stuff!
I knew from the Facebook pictures that there was some technical stuff coming up in this section. I don't even need to say it because these pictures pretty much tell all. I arrived at the mile 27 aid station about 20 minutes later than what I had planned.

I had to go down this. 

Some boulder hopping. 
Mile 27-35: The Death March
By now it is in the 90s. There is zero shade on the course. I'm extremely hot. I ran out of water on the last stretch. Every aid station I got to was out of ice, soda and there never was a single potato chip to be found. The course is remote and the aid stations are not accessible but by 4-wheel drive, so no crew until mile 35.

It got very hot and lonely here. We started off with about 4 miles on a concrete highway, which really ticked me off. Then we got back on the trail. I went through 110 ounces of water. They had a water only stop exactly where I needed it because I drained my 60 ounces completely.

What kept me going was that I knew Lesley and Martin would be waiting for me with ice, my cold Dr. Pepper and a ham sandwich.

I spotted Lesley about a half mile away, waving. I almost cried I was so happy. I had been running alone for pretty much the entire time, I'd pass a few people, but I had no one to talk to. I usually don't mind being solo. In fact, some times I prefer it. But I really needed a mental boost and a friendly smile. And Lesley waving to me looked like an angel! She ran up to me and shoved a ham sandwich in my mouth and told me to eat before I weigh. Like me, she was worried my weight was down. And it was, I was down about 4 pounds. But they let me go on and told me to drink more.

Martin joined me here to pace me. We set off for the journey up to Gooseberry Mesa.

Mile 41: Breakdown!
After several hours in the heat we made it to the mile 41 aid station. I had been fighting nausea ever since it started getting hot. I didn't eat much between 35 and 41 and felt like I was really down in calories. We arrived at the aid station and they are out of soda, ice and pretty much anything I could eat. I didn't know what to do, so I did the only think I could think of...cry.

In my head, I'm thinking I have nothing to eat. I have to climb 1,500 feet at mile 46 and I have zero energy. Then I started worrying about being down and weight and having them pull me from the race. Martin, being the hero he is, told me to have a seat and tried to find something that my stomach would tolerate. I choked down a saltine cracker, but was still crying because it has zero calories. And honestly all I wanted was a damn soda with ice. A volunteer handed me some broth and I spit it out. There was a can of peaches and Martin offered me a peach. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the nutrition label and got excited when I saw it was 70 calories. Through my tears, I nodded and he handed me a peach. It stayed down and he gave me another. I ate half of it. I felt a bit better and off we went toward the Mesa.

Gooseberry Mesa: Climb to the Stars
We saw a lot of carnage at the mile 41 aid station. People were hot and struggling. It was 95 degrees and the heat was taking its toll on everyone. People who were hours ahead of me were now behind me. I got a little pumped because I started passing people.

We started up the mountain and it was steep, and the terrain was so loose. It was hard to keep my footing. Martin told me to take baby steps and traverse up the mountain. This seemed to work really well. I told him a few times that my heart was jumping out of my chest. He kept me calm and told me to take a few seconds to get my heart rate down. Just about to the top, we had to cross over a ledge was no wider than two of my feet put together and very loose rock. I whimpered a few times as Martin encouraged me from behind. This was the first time in the race I got scared. Here I am 1,500 feet up, nothing to grab on to if I slip. I thought, this is dangerous.

I see the top and I could not have been happier! A few volunteers were there with electrolyte slushies and ice, ice cold water. I told the gal I was going to kiss her.

And the views were amazing. Stunning. I was on top of the world.

Top of the Mesa: Shuffling to Mile 52
The top of the Mesa is slick rock. I was still able to run this section pretty ok. It was a little slower going, but I was able to run it. I felt some hot spots on my feet and told Martin I wanted to check out my feet at the mile 51-52 aid station. We had to do a 1/2 mile out and back up here. Martin was going to get into our drop bag and get our lighting out and get me some food while I went out and back.

I quickly grabbed my headlamp and a Dr. Pepper that I had in my drop bag and went out. The trail here was marked with some LED lights and reflective tape on the rock. I started heading toward an LED light in a tree and it flew away. Ha! It was a bat or a bird of some sort. Good thing I stopped because that would have been a long drop down.

I got back to the aid station. My feet are hurting pretty bad. My left big toe is in a lot of pain. I took off my socks and had a blister on the inside and outside of my heels on both feet and still had no idea what was bothering my big toe. We tried to pop the blisters, but they were under so much calloused skin, they wouldn't pop. I was wailing and creating a scene. Some girls who were dropping asked Martin if I was ok. He said, "Oh she's just worried her toenail polish chipped." It was just the laugh I needed.

I duct taped the blisters and shoved my big, fat swollen foot back in my shoe. Knowing I needed to eat, Martin made me eat a cup of broth and some rice. I told him I finished and he made me fill it up and eat it again. I really didn't want to eat it and he told me I needed to. So again, I did the only mature thing I could think of, I looked at him, took a mouthful of soupy rice and spit it back out in the cup making a very attractive noise like, "Bleh..." We both started laughing and headed onward.

The Journey Ends
Things started going downhill fast. I left the aid station and was moving pretty well. I ran when I could and power walked pretty quickly where I could. My nausea went away by the time I left the aid station. I was convinced it was heat related, but after a few miles, it's back. My blisters caused me to change my gait and about mile 55 my knee started hurting very badly. I started doing the chicken walk down hills and was looking bad. I cried. I knew it was over. It took me 30 minutes to move a mile. I calculated how long it would take me to the next aid station and then realized how bad off I was.

I told Martin, I'm moving so slow. He said, let's get to the next aid station and evaluate. But it just kept getting worse. My knee was hurting more and more. I made the decision to pull from the race. I told Martin, at best I have 12 hours more of running. That's if my knee gets better. I was thinking that don't want to be out here for 12 more hours feeling like this. We stopped and he gave me a hug and said he was proud of me. I cried few more minutes.

We made our way to open section of slick rock. We turned our headlamps off and looked at the stars. I saw Casiopea. We tried to find the Big Dipper and Little Dipper and Polaris. It was amazingly quiet and peaceful. I was ok with a DNF. I was sitting on top of the world, gazing at the stars. I just did something amazing. Ran farther than most people ever dream of running. I climbed up 2 Mesas. I've come a long way. Fu$k a DNF and anyone who says I'm a wussie for not pushing forward. I'm at peace.

The End
I hobbled into the aid station. It took me 4 hours and 30 minutes to go 11 miles. They asked me my number. I told the volunteers I was pulling out of the race. I sat in a chair and started to cry again. While I was at peace with my decision. Telling anyone other than Martin that I was pulling from the race made me feel vulnerable.

The volunteers waited a few minutes for another few more runners to drive us down. Apparently lots of people had folded at this aid station and they would wait for a full carload to take us off the mountain.

Lesley came to the next aid station to get me. She gave me a huge hug. It was so good to see her. She told me she was a little shocked to see how well I was handling things. I had my pitty party and I was done.

I did amazingly well considering the course and the heat. I was proud of what I did. It's hard to call 63 miles a DNF.

Reading lots of race reports today, I keep hearing things like, "I made this mistake, I made that mistake." I'm going to say there is no mistakes in ultrarunning. The mistake is not learning from your experiences. Take them for what they are, a journey, and experience. No matter what the outcome was, I enjoyed the journey. I learned a lot and I'm not stopping now. Live to run another day.

I made a rather long video of my journey! Take a peak!

And here's the Garmin data before it died.

Thank you to Martin and Lesley for joining me on my journey. I couldn't have gotten as far as I did without you. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!!


  1. Well done, Suann! Very impressive!

  2. Thanks for sharing your race report! Amazing pictures and I love the one of you and Martin at the top of Gooseberry Mesa! Congrats again on completeing 63 INTENSE miles! :)

  3. Well done! I couldn't believe they didn't have chips at any stations either, it is the only thing I really like to eat along with soda. I barely ate any aid food, stuck mostly to gels and whatever I had packed. Congrats on making it that far!

  4. I just found your blog! my friend susette mentioned it in her comment on Fast Cory's race report. im honestly amazed by all of you who set out on the Zion 100 course this past weekend. i cant even imagine. im watching your video now and wow...the heat. the technical stuff. just everything! you showed incredible strength! I am training for my first 50 mile ultra this September and am super nervous (and also excited...but definitely nervous! haha!) and just trying to learn all I can and gain inspiration from the ultra veterans:) anyway. i am glad i found your blog and i am excited to follow you in your running journey! congrats on conquering 63 amazingly tough miles at Zion!

  5. Thank you everyone! Julia, thanks for mentioning Cory's blog! We climbed Smith Mesa at the same time. The group of guys were just ahead of me until about 19. Then they passed me on the technical stuff. I caught up to them again at 41 and we leap frogged up Gooseberry together. I took more time at 51 than they did and then of course, I dropped at the next aid station.

    Good luck in your training for your 50! I love that distance! Enjoy the training and the race!

  6. I'm Susette and have been following your blog for awhile now. I guess I should come out from lurking and say hello. I follow Cory's blog as well. Julia is a sweetie too! I'm a fairly new runner but absolutely am so intrigued with long distances. I'm not sure I'll ever do an ultra marathon (I need to do a marathon first) The longest I've gone was 46 miles on my 46th birthday because I turned 46 but I only ran 20 of it and walked the rest of the way.

    Anyway, I so thoroughly enjoyed reading about your zion 100 experience and actually followed you on the live feed and was cyber rooting for you. You are amazing and should be super proud of what you accomplished. I will be looking forward to what exciting running adventures you have up next :)

    1. Thank you Susette! 46 miles no matter walk or run is 46 miles! Good job!!!!! The support from the running community has been fantastic. I am humbled to have such support from so many wonderful people. I haven't decided on my next 100, but I'm running the Squamish 50 in August. It's a less technical trail, but has 10,000 of climbing. It will be a challenge, but I'm ready for it! Best of luck to you in your adventures!

  7. Loved the race recap Suann...and that is amazing accomplishment. 63 miles just boggles my mind, and you did so much of it alone, that takes a level of mental fortitude not just found everywhere. I'm sure that being proud of those hard won miles is just the tip of the iceberg that this experience has been for you. Well done !

  8. Incredible job finishing 63 on such a challenging course. Reading everything in your race report, I could have written the exact same thing. Those miles up to mile 41 seriously felt like an inferno. And the climb up Gooseberry....ugh. Pictures don't do justice to how hideous that climb is.

    I really enjoyed running with you, great to see you out there!

  9. You're right, it's hard to call 63 miles a DNF. Much longer than many people can even imagine running. Sounds like you did a great job despite the suffering.

  10. Yo Yo Yo. What's up? Great Read. We gotta hook up and talk about writing for us.

  11. Very enjoyable. I think we can all learn something from the experiences of others. Great effort and thanks for sharing.

  12. Fantastic job. Wow. What an effort.

  13. wow, you are hot