The Zion 100 (or 84) and the 100/100 Initiave
After the series of training blogs recording my training progress toward my goal of completing the Zion 100 in support of the College of Law’s 100-100 initiative, I thought I was finished with running blogs. But College of Law staff convinced me to add one post-race reflection. (I confess that I am not used to, and not comfortable with, so much attention on me personally, when the story is really about the success of our students.) So here are my final reflections on the entire experience.
At the risk of sounding like an Oscar winner, my list of thanks is long enough that you will hear music begin to play, but here goes. I could not have done this without:
- Lots of great training partners, who I run with routinely for fun, friendship, health and stress relief, in particular Brian Kamm, Dan Barnett (SJQ ’99), John Bartley, Dee McLaughlin, Eve Davies, and Jeff Bertot, plus a longer list of other “usual suspects” in the Utah trail running community.
- My “professional” trainers, Allison Beatty who has helped with cross training for strength and flexibility, and Jenny Winkel, who is a superb massage therapist.
- The race directors, other organizers, volunteers and sponsors of races I used as “training” races along the way: the Antelope Island Fall Classic 50K, the Moab “Red Hot” 55K, and the Buffalo Run 50-mile, as well as those at the Zion 100.
- Members of the College of Law staff who helped with publicity, fundraising, and other details, including (and I simply can’t list everyone) Kevin Carrillo, Dana Wilson, Melinda Rogers, , Jonelle White, Lori Nelson, Barry Scholl, Megan Tippets, Miriam Lovin, Mary Wheeler, and Mary Ann Edwards.
- Everyone at the College of Law who is working so diligently on the substance of our 100/100 Initiative to improve bar passage and professional employment for our students, including (but again, not limited to) Lincoln Davies, Barbara Dickey, Reyes Aguilar, Bill Richards, Dave Hill, Louisa Heiny, Cliff Rosky, Jess Hofberger, Megan Green, Jaclyn Howell-Powers, and Lori Nelson.
- The SBA and the student team that organized the 100-mile (turned out to be 177-mile) “Spirit Run Relay” around campus the day I left for the race.
- My race crew, who among other heroic efforts drove through rain and dangerous, muddy roads in the middle of the night to support me, especially my wife Michele Straube, and my daughter Sierra Adler, who was also responsible for the race-day photos and Tweets.
- My running partners and pacers during the race, including Dan Barnett, Brian Kamm, and the three students who finished the race with me: Will Edwards, Tyler Budgen and Connor Plant.
- Everyone who attended the post-race “tailgate party” in Zion Town Park the afternoon following the run, despite the chilly and still threatening weather.
- Last, but by far not the least, all of our generous alumni, faculty, students and other supporters who have contributed scholarship donations to the 100/100 campaign, helping our students succeed by making law school more affordable. Thus far, through the 100/100 campaign we have raised approximately $140,000 in new scholarship funding for our students, and other people have told me that they still intend to add to that amount. If you still want to help, please go to http://www.law.utah.edu/100-100/100-100-challenge/.
Race week can be a combination of anticlimactic because you are tapering (resting rather than continuing to train hard) and anxiety-ridden because there are so many factors you can’t control. You can be healthy for months of training, for example, and catch a bad cold the week of the race. (Luckily, that didn’t happen to me here despite being exposed to lots of late-semester germs in the weeks leading up to the race!) Or, the weather can decide not to cooperate…
The week of the race the forecast was looking so bad (rain and anticipated muddy and slippery trails) that the Race Director offered participants the opportunity to withdraw and apply their entry fee to another race in his series. Then, he sent a long e-mail explaining that they would decide mid-race whether to close some trail sections and shorten the course if it got too muddy, which in some places would be dangerous (think falling off steep cliffs) or would damage valuable trails. But by race morning the forecast had improved, with predictions of only scattered, light showers. Fortunately, I did not “detrimentally rely” on that forecast, but rather kept good raingear stashed in drop bags throughout the course.
The weather was, in fact, beautiful from the 6:00 a.m. start through late afternoon. The course is truly spectacular (for anyone who is really interested, you can find a course description, a photo gallery, a course map and elevation profile at http://www.grandcircletrails.com/zion-general-info/). Armed with good preparation, perfect weather (relatively cool and some cloud cover), Dan Barnett’s good company, and a great, experienced support crew, I stayed ahead of schedule until close to halfway. To be sure, in races like this most mortal runners have mental and physical ups and downs, and I had some, but overall things were going well. We did have one place at about mile 45 where the course markings went in two opposite directions within a maze of twisting slick rock with no clear explanation! About a dozen runners put our heads together, ran back and forth in both directions to scout the route, and ended up “guessing” correctly. Speculation is that someone not involved with the race thought it would be “funny” to confuse the runners, perhaps because “their” public trails were being used by others that day. Sorry, but that is not “funny” when someone could get lost on a very large, confusing mesa and be in serious trouble in the middle of the night during a 100-mile foot race.
After that time-wasting diversion, as Dan and were closing in on the next aid station (at mile 47.5), it began to rain. First just a drizzle, then a light rain, and then it actually began to rain hard, with moderately strong winds. We made it to the aid station, which had some large tents, just before the sky opened up with strong winds and pounding rain. A dozen or so runners huddled in the tent, refueling, donning warmer clothing and raingear and checking headlamps.
Eventually, Dan and I decided we needed to get going, and headed off on the 6-mile stretch to Grafton Mesa, where crew and my first pacer Brian would be waiting. The weather improved for a while, but faster runners coming back the other way were all in heavy raingear, so we knew that it had rained or was still raining hard farther on. The dirt road on which we were running in fact got muddier and muddier as we proceeded, and we arrived just after we had turned on our lights.
My trusted friend Brian, a superb, experienced ultra-runner, then proceeded to get me through the next, very difficult 23 miles running (and walking, and plodding) in off-and-on rain and increasingly slippery and sticky mud, through the night. We once again “dodged a bullet” when it began to rain fairly hard a mile or so out from our return to the Grafton Mesa Aid Station (Mile 62.5) after a particularly grueling climb. Once again, the sky really opened up just after we got inside the tent, but again, we eventually decided we just had to leave in the rain and hope for the best. It was slow going, both due to fatigue and because it was increasingly difficult to stay upright and to find which part of the track had the best and safest footing. Fortunately, the steepest and most challenging remaining descent (on which the race organizers had placed ropes for safety, but which as experienced but overly proud trail runners we ignored and bypassed!) was actually not all that slippery or dangerous. I did fall on my butt once as I tried to open a gel packet to stay fueled while still moving on mud, but that only enhanced the drama of how I looked!
Hours later, soggy but happy because it was beginning to get light and the finish was now well within reach, we arrived at the Virgin Dam Aid Station, where crew awaited along with three enthusiastic 1-L students (Tyler Bugden, Will Edwards and Connor Plant) waiting to pace me in three trail loops that start and end at the same place, plus the 6-7 mile final dash to the finish. Absent unexpected disaster, I had a 3-hour cushion, and expected to finish in roughly 31 hours, which was still within my predicted range (or maybe just a bit slower) despite the tough conditions.
It was then that race officials announced that the Bureau of Land Management had asked them to shut down the three loops because they were becoming badly damaged from so many runners in the poor trail conditions. Instead, they re-routed the course off the most sensitive trails, which resulted in a total distance of 84 miles, but told us that we would still be credited with an official “finish” under the circumstances. Apparently, some runners were less than gracious about this, because it is disappointing to set out to run 100 miles and “only” complete 84. But as public trail users, we need to respect decisions designed to protect the resource for us and all other future users. Life happens.
My one “accommodation” was that, rather than having each student take different segments, all four of us set off to complete the remaining distance in the early morning light, with the weather forecasters predicting of more rain before I would be able to finish. The rain did not really begin in earnest again until the very end, but some of the trail segments were streams of mud by then. The students actually had more fun with that, whooping and hollering as they tried to run really fast up and down some of the slippery slopes (no one fell even once!). I crossed the finish line in a bit less than 26 hours, to an unexpectedly large cheering crowd simply because of the timing – the 50K race was about to start, so there happened to be a large group of those runners there at the time, along with my crew and some other friends.
First, I want to end this blog where I began, with tremendous thanks for everyone who helped, and continues to help, with every aspect of the 100/100 initiative. We appreciate it, and most important, our students do as well.
Second, I want to respond to one cynical but characteristically anonymous commenter on one of the law school blogs who commented that the fact that I could only finish 84 miles – even though the commenter acknowledged that this was beyond my control – just highlights the fallacy of the whole initiative. His or her point was that we might try our hardest and still fall short of the goal. I see things very differently. In both bar passage and employment, many factors are beyond our control. All we can do is to give it 100% effort, and by doing so, we end up with a better result than if we gave it 90% effort. More students will succeed than otherwise, even if we don’t reach the 100% aspiration. Using the race metaphor, had I not trained adequately, I may not have made it even 84 miles under those difficult conditions. From a slightly different perspective, in the past I have completed three races going the full 100 miles. So if you don’t try, you can never reach that higher goal when the conditions are favorable. Likewise, perhaps in some years everything will click and our students will actually approach or reach our lofty 100% goals. Again, they will be better off than if we hadn’t tried. Just look at our student relay team, which set out to organize 100 miles and finished with 177! That’s all part of the message I’ve been trying to communicate with all of this. In any event, to those of you who have gotten so far in this blog series, thanks so much for all of your interest and support. And happy trails!