ZION 100 MILES
During the summer of 2018, I decided along with my friend Nico to return to the USA in 2019 to run another 100 miles trail race. In 2012 we ran the Leadville 100 miles, the race is famous, it was such a great experience, so we thought, why not do another one and win a second buckle.
Looking at the calendar we decided to register for the Zion 100 miles in April 2019.
Why the USA? It is just a great place to have few weeks of holidays after the race. But more important, racing an ultra-trail in the USA has many advantages:
It was certainly the main part of the race. It started back in November, after the Amsterdam Marathon. I planned only one race during the 6 months before the race. I went back home in Lyon at the beginning of December for the 65th Saintélyon. This 50 miles race is one of the oldest ultra-trail races. Normally it is 69km, but for the anniversary, the organizer increased the distance to 85km with 2300m D+. 7000 people were at the start of the full race, whilst another 10,000 completed a race of a shorter distance.
We started in the rain at midnight. I finished the race in just over 9 hours. It was tough with lots of mud and the rain and fog made the night vision difficult even with the head torch. Anyway it was a great training race.
After the Saintelyon, I had 2 weeks of rest, then I gradually increased the mileage during the following months, also including some hill work. I had one week / 10 days easy in February because my hamstring was very tight. I also had to reduce my mileage for a few weeks of training during the months that followed because of many business trips. Running is easy to organize during business trips, but not as easy to organize during the short and cold winter months. Thankfully I did not lose too much fitness and I managed to train very hard for 5 months before the race, these months proved very productive:
November: 336 km & 3000m D+
December: 482 km & 8600m D+
January: 538 km & 5300m D+
February: 369 km & 3700m D+
March: 407 km & 6200m D+
I averaged 115km per week, during the 3 months before the race with 4 of those weeks above 140km. In my opinion another important part of my training included 250km of hiking / walking. During my walks I kept a pace of 6 km/h, this pace is very important / beneficial and it needs to be practiced extensively.
Planning the trip to Zion was important so as to avoid too much stress placed on the body. Spending many hours sitting on a bus / plane / car, is not optimal. I started my trip on the Tuesday morning and after 23 hours I arrived and spent the night in Salt Lake City. The following day I met up with my friend and his family and we finished the trip together, driving 4 hours to La Verkin, UT.
On Thursday we picked up our race numbers (I was very happy to see a very small bib that could be attached to shorts or the backpack) we also had to leave our 3 bags of essential items that we might need during the race with the organizer who would ensure that we would find them at certain points along the course.
Bag 1 : GRAFTON MESA (km18, km 36 & km45)
Short sleeve T-shirt, long sleeve T-shirt, Vaseline, 4 protein bars, salt, hat, sun cream
Bag 2: VIRGIN DESERT (km 87)
Head lamp, a long sleeve top, 1st layer shirt, socks, Nike Pegasus shoes, 2 protein bars, salt
Bag 3: VIRGIN BMX (km129 & km158)
1st layer warm long sleeve, warm long sleeve top, my Gore-Tex jacket, long and warm leggings, socks, 2 protein bars.
We met Pam Reed who is a legend in the ultra running world. She won the Badwater in 2002, in front of all fields of runners, including male runners. She spent some time helping out the organizer putting the signs on the route also she also gave us few tips about the route.
We spent the rest of the day in Zion Park. It is a really wonderful place. We went for a short walk and saw 2 eagles, one woodpecker, few squirrels, and admired the landscape along the river... Unfortunately, we didn’t get to hike as we had to save our legs for the race. We saw most of the park whilst riding on the park bus.
I went back to the hotel early for a microwave rice diner and prepared my running gear and backpack for the race, I was in bed by 8pm. I did not sleep well or deeply, but I did manage to get some sleep.
I woke up without the alarm clock at 4.30, I got dressed and went down for breakfast. Our friend Lino drove us to the start at 5.15am and we were there, in Virgin at 5.30. We stayed in the warm car for another 15 minutes. It was cold but dry. The forecast was for a dry day, with small showers in the afternoon, the next night was to be dry but cold. At the start most of the runners were around the fire trying to keep warm. At the start line, there was 260 of us doing the 100 miles and another 300 – 400 runners joined us for the first 87km as they were participating in the 100km which started at the same time.
This is how I estimated my race time:
VIRGIN : 0km -> GOOSEBUMP 1 : 8km - 1h05 / 1h05
At 6am we started with few miles on the road to exit the village. We were then on a Jeep road. It was a lovely road to warmup on. We could see the “Mesa” (mountains) that we would discover during the first part of the race. We started to climb the Mesa and after a short period of time, I slowed to a walk like most of the competitors. I was not sure of who was in the 100mile/100km, but it didn’t matter so early in the race. After few minutes of up-hill, we missed a right turn and we could not see any signs / marking. The runners in front started to turn back and ran back down. We lost roughly 5 minutes and arrived in the middle of the group. Afterwards the climb was much slower, it was a single track, very technical and difficult to overtake.
Anyway, we were all progressing, there was no need to take risks. It was also beautiful, dawn was upon us, the sun was rising and it would soon warm us up.
At 8km we arrived at the first aid station, I drank one glass of energy drink, ate a few pretzels (the salt will be much needed during the heat) and a few candies. I did not have a drop bag there, so I did not stop for more than 2 to 3 minutes. I also removed my head lamp and put it in my backpack.
Even with the route mistake, I am 5 minutes ahead of my estimate of 20 hours.
GOOSEBUMP 1 : 8km -> GRAFTON MESA 1 : 18km - 56’ / 2h01
Afterwards I walked for 5 minutes in order to digest the food, then I started to jog slowly. I continued by overtaking some runners, who had not taken our wrong turn earlier and quickly the positions settled. The course continued flat with a few short hills, which I ensured to walk. One 4x4 from the organization was driving on the dirt road and created such a big dust cloud that I had to put my buff over my mouth in order to avoid eating dust.
At this part of the race the scenery was a mix of small trees and low bushes with a few people camping here and there. If you like big spaces, this was a lovely remote one surrounded only by nature. Unfortunately for the campers, a few thousand of runners would soon be disturbing their quiet time. When we arrived at a T junction, we turned left and a flow of cars were driving in the same direction, to the Grafton Mesa aid station. I arrived there quickly, taking just over an hour. I had a coke, few pretzels, candies, pineapple squares and some banana slices. I had access to my first drop bag there so I re-applied Vaseline. On such a long race, preventative anti-chaffing is very important. I also put my cap on, removed my light jacket and kept on my long sleeved top, as the temperature was still cool.
GRAFTON MESA 1 : 18km -> WIRE MESA : 21km - 16’ / 2h17
We stayed on the Jeep road, the path was large and it mostly descended , so we arrived quickly at the next aid station, our time was registered by running through the dedicated gate. I did not stop and carried on this first Wire Mesa loop.
WIRE MESA : 21km -> WIRE MESA : 33km – 1h11’ / 3h28
We continued along a single track which was very nice. I enjoyed it so much that I picked up the pace. It was very flat but very twisty. It was a mix of dust and hard rocks. We were running close to the cliffs, the views were jaw dropping. I definitely ran a little too fast but I enjoyed the path so much that it was not an issue as later I would slowing down due to the rise in temperature. I was also enjoying the scenery so much that I hit a stone and landed on the ground, but I just scratched my fingers. After few other missed falls, my big toes were starting to ache. During this part of the race I was on my own and didn’t see any other runners. I soon turned left to leave the cliff edges and was nearly finished the first Mesa loop. I stopped quickly at the next aid station and cleaned the wound on my hand removing the blood and dirt. I enjoyed a cold coke and a few pretzels. It was starting to get warm at this stage.
WIRE MESA : 33km -> GRAFTON MESA 2 : 36km – 24’ / 3h52
The route took us back to the virgin aid station. We met runners on their way to the Mesa. My friend Nico should be on the Mesa loop already, I hope not to meet him. The path was mostly ascending to the next aid station. I walked all the hills and jogged on the large Jeep dusty road. Quickly I arrived at the aid station where I met Delphine, Nico’s wife, I was happy to hear that Nico was fine. I drank a few cokes, filled up the camelback, got changed to a dry short sleeve T-shirt, put on more Vaseline and then I was on my way to run a second Mesa loop.
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GRAFTON MESA 2 : 36km -> GRAFTON MESA 3 : 45km – 1:05’ / 4h57
I left the aid station with a runner from the 100km. We ran together again at a good pace. We didn’t speak much, but after 4 hours of race, it was nice to run with another runner. We were perhaps a little too fast but these single trails were so fun that it was difficult to run slow down . We were like children. We had to concentrate on the marks as we nearly missed few sharp turns. It was now very sunny but not too warm. My cap was protecting me from the sun and we were often in the shadow of small trees. I finished the loop in just over an hour. At this stage, the race was proceeding fast, we had already been running for 5hours and had run our first marathon.
At the next aid station, I filled up my bag with protein bars, put Vaseline on again, spoke to Delphine, asking her to say “hi” to Nico and then I was off again.
GRAFTON MESA 3 : 45km -> GOOSEBUMP 2 : 55km – 1:04’ / 6h01
On my way back to the first aid station, I walked on the large Jeep road uphill. I needed to use the buff to avoid eating sand each time I passed a car. Quickly I turned right and started the long desert “flattish” dirt road and apart from a few 4x4 cars, I only overtook 1 or 2 runners so I had lots of time by myself. I ran very well on this part of the race, but certainly should have moderated the pace much more. I arrived at the next aid station pretty tired. I was more than 40 minutes ahead of my estimated time of 20 hours.
GOOSEBUMP 2 : 55km -> GOOSEBERRY : 68km – 2:00’ / 8h01
At the aid station I stopped to put on a long sleeve shirt because the wind was chilly even though it was sunny. I ate few pretzels, filled up with water and continued the race walking, even though the track was flat. Ultra marathons are a succession of high and lows. It was certainly a LOW part of the race for me. It was mainly a single trail. It was funny, the views were great, but I had lost my strength. The race was still very long and i needed to ensure that I would reach the finish line.
I was overtaken a lot during this period and I was hoping most of these runners were 100km runners! I just knew that I am not leading the race because I think the guys at the aid station would have told me... We met a lot of mountain bikers who were enjoying these great paths. They were perfect for cycling, a giant BMX course that was modeled on the rocks by thousands of years of rain, wind... I took few pictures.
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It took a long time to reach the far end of the Mesa. There were just a few rocks and a sign stating we need to turn back. There was no timing checks here by the organizer, it would have been easy for runners to take a short cut, but we were here to run 100miles, not 99! I felt emotional along this part, I took a few pictures and ran on the other side of the Mesa.
It was more a walk than a run, a few more runners overtook me. Anyway, I was moving and kept going. The other runners were not much faster than me and sometimes it took them more than 15 minutes to get 50m ahead. There is a small water station at Gooseberry, where I made a mistake not to fill up my camelback. I thought the main station was closer.
GOOSEBERRY : 68km -> GOOSEBUMP 3 : 74km – 58’ / 8h59
We were heading North, crossing the Mesa. It was a long trail. I finished the water in my camel pack and I was looking forward to the next station to refill it. It took me another while to arrive at the aid station.
I think I stopped there for 10 to 15 minutes. One runner was lying on a camping bed. I rehydrated with coke and water. I also tried to eat some fruit, pretzels and candies. There was also soup with pasta but I didn’t feel like eating it. I could see a few runners starting off from the aid station downhill, but the majority were on their way to the Mesa loop. I am now 15 minutes behind my estimate of 20hrs. I lost nearly 1 hour on this Mesa loop, but the path to the finish is still a long way away…
GOOSEBUMP 3 : 74km -> VIRGIN DESERT : 87km – 58’ / 8h59
Ok let’s go, I left the Mesa, 8 hours after climbing it at 7 am.
At this point my right knee was painful and I struggled on the technical downhill. 2 runners overtook me and it was frustrating to walk down. I usually love running down these technical paths. Even walking the downhill was fast. The view was great, but it was important to concentrate. I arrived quickly on the crossing, the point at which I missed a turn on the way up. Down in the desert, we were lucky that the weather was not too warm.
There were big clouds miles away and they released heavy showers in the valley. I hoped it would stay dry. I continued to walk and only few runners overtook me. We saw cactuses, great red flowers, flowers of all colors and at this time of the year they were blooming making the desert more colorful. There was not much else to see during this long stretch in the desert. It seemed a few of these roads were used by buggy’s. At this point It was not very dry, we had to cross a few rivers and few of the dirt roads were full of mud.
It was a long walk and a few times my brain suggested that I turn right at the next aid station and finish in Virgin after 100km. I was not here for the 100km, and trained very hard to get the 100miles buckle. A few of the 100 mile runners took a right here. Looking up at the Mesa, many runners were up there now, certainly Nico too! They were going to be at the finish line Saturday afternoon. “Stop thinking about the easy route, and concentrate on the 100 miles.”
When I arrived at the aid station I heard: “Allez Jérôme”! It was 17h15. It was super, all the supporters were here. I gave high 5’s to everyone, took pictures, selfies... I had a drink ,took a few pretzels and found my second drop bag and a seat to prepare myself for the evening. I changed my socks, saw that my poor toes were in bad shape. The next 70km were going to be tough for them. I had another pair of shoes available, but decided to stay with my Merrells. They are light, have great grip, comfortable and were ideal for the race. The runner on the next chair, would certainly not continue the race and was being comforted by his wife... There is always a small line between continuing the race or not finishing. I put back on a dry long sleeve T-shirt and thanked all my friends and left on the remainder of the 100 miles route! I also picked up the headlight for the night, but left it in my backpack as I would need it later. I told Delphine that I should arrive more at 6am in 24 hours than at 2am (optimistic estimate to finish the race in 20 hours)... Let see how the evening and night go. At this point, my estimation for 20hrs is off by 1 hour.
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VIRGIN DESERT : 87km -> VIRGIN DAM : 101km – 2:11’ / 13h26
Although there was a runner a few hundred meters away, this part of the race was going to be lonely. I continued walking and certainly enjoyed the next few hours of brightness before a long night in the mountains.
A few runners overtook me when we left the desert part of the race to the canyon. The canyon was a lovely place. When I was at the cliff side just above the river / canyon you could see the runners in front and behind you, even though there was just a few of us. The canyon was deep and very twisty. It was so twisty a runner could be 20m away, but it could be a full mile away along the path.
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I saw the next aid station but it took me another 10 minutes to reach it. The 100km runners didn’t really stop there because they were on the final stretch and they tried to finish before night time. I had a long pit stop in the toilet, then had more food (pretzels, fruits, candies again, without taking soup or pasta as I didn’t feel like it). I was happy because at this stage in the Leadville 100 miles in 2012, I was feeling very sick and could not eat / drink between km 90 and km 120, but knowing my stomach it was important to ingest as much calories as possible, keeping my upset stomach at bay. I did not have any gels during this 100 miles but ate many protein cereal bars covered with white / milk chocolate.
VIRGIN DAM : 101km -> SMITH MESA : 114km – 2:11’ / 13h26
The 100km runners were back on the same path for a few km’s. They were much faster on their last “sprint”. On the bridge over the river, my friend Francesco was there to motivate one last time before the night approached. I wished him the best of luck for his half marathon Saturday morning. We would celebrate both races on the Saturday night!
We were going up to the main road with the 100km runners, on their final sprint. It was now dark, but I have few minutes before I have to put on the headlamp, we crossed the road, and the 100km runners, follow the road and entered Virgin.
I saw a fellow runner’s light 200m in front of me, this runner would be my motivation for pushing up this hill. I put the light on my head ready for the night. We were climbing 500m to 1600m altitude and it was all on a concrete road. At the start of the climb, I put the light ON. We would need the light for the next 10 hours, less if I run faster... I had then a strong pain on the back of my right foot. It was the big blister that just burst. The pain was very acute, and I was afraid if I would have to continue with such a strong pain! “Luckily“ the pain reduced after 5 minutes. I was back concentrating on the race and the climb. The runner had walking sticks, and I said good race as I passed him, but did not reduce my speed to stay with him, it was cold. Finally the climb finished and I arrived at the aid station. There was a nice warm fire at the aid station. The 3 volunteers had a long night there, it was very cold, I thanked them, we could not run without them. It was the same for all the aid stations, but this one was very remote. They offered bacon/pasta... but I kept my pretzels / protein bar diet. The other runner arrived just when I left the station.
SMITH MESA : 114km -> VIRGIN BMX : 129km – 3:09’ / 18h49
During the next 3 hours, I only saw a few head torches and running completely alone. I could hear a few noises in the trees from wild animals. It always reminds me of the story of the trail runner who killed a lynx using his bare hands. I had just discussed this story with my friends the day before. The noises were more likely that small birds than a Lynx. The continuing path was very technical and my slow walk down it was certainly not much slower than the other runners who also had to walk or slow jog down this section. I really needed to concentrate to follow the signs, and on several occasions, I had to turn back a few meters to ensure I was on the good path. After a loop at the top of this mountain, I started the downhill. I saw a few video’s of this downhill mountain section called the flying monkey. It was very technical. The headlamps in front are far away, and I cannot see any behind yet. I could see lights in the valley, it was the BMX aid station. The half-moon was lighting the valley and we could distinguish the mountains around. It was a lovely but very cold night. The path was technical, very narrow with the cliff on the right and the mountain on the left. Then all of a sudden the path just disappeared in front of me. “Did I miss a sign?” No, just 3 meter ahead, there was a rope. It is fix few meters above and it had few knots to improve the grip. The path continued but few meters down. I reached out for the rope and climbed down it to reach the lower path... It would certainly be a very challenging path for people with a fear of heights, but in the dark, I did not really see how deep the drop was.
On the race report from Amy P, from Zion 100miles, she took a picture of the trail (runners were there during the day) :
A great video on YouTube of mountain bikers on the trail:
Quickly then I was in the valley and after few miles, I arrived at the BMX aid station, I finally saw humans after walking for 3 hours in the mountains. It was just before 1am when I arrived, I am 3 over my estimate of 20hrs, I should have been on my last long stretch at this hour of the morning, but it will more likely closer to the time I communicated to Delphine yesterday. A runner arrived and his crew congratulated him. In 25 minutes he should be at the finish. He was certainly on his way to victory.
I picked up my third drop bag, which was covered with ice. It was very cold. There was a gas heater in one tent and I sat down to get changed. I put on long leggings, a thick 1st layer, a thick long sleeve T-shirt and my gore Tex jacket. The supporters and volunteers were all around a campfire.
VIRGIN BMX : 129km -> GUACAMOLE 1 : 143km – 1:44’ / 20h33
Here I go for the final stretch of this race. It was a lonely start, only meeting 2 reindeers down to the river during the night... there was lots of mud on the path and I had no choice but to walk in the mud up to my ankles. It was cold and the shoes were full of mud. There was a river without a bridge which I had to cross this, it was too wide to jump and it took 3-4 steps to cross it, but it cleaned my shoes. Afterwards there was a short steep hill (100 meter altitude gain). It went straight up without a real path. When you reached the top, the route goes straight back down again. The elevation loss was also 100m. On the way back we would need to use the same large jeep dirt roads, soon after arriving on this path, I started the last big climb. A few 4x4 cars were driving past creating big clouds of dust and I used my buff to protect my mouth and lungs. I could see a few headlights above me, they disappeared and reappeared depending on which curve of the road they were running on. Then I saw my shadow on the road in front of me. I looked back but didn’t see anybody? Strange. I was convinced a fellow runner was running behind me and his head torch was projecting my shadow in front of me, I looked back few times but nobody… After a while, I understood that the half moon was projecting my shadow like this on the ground. It was funny, I just laughed at myself. I enjoyed looking the sky with all the stars. There was no clouds and the night was lovely (but very very cold). I also saw a few headlights on top of the cliffs. They are the runners ahead doing the last loop on the Mesa.
I didn’t win or lose any positions. I closed the distance with the runners in front of me and still could not see any runners behind.
GUACAMOLE 1 : 143km -> GUACAMOLE 2 : 149km – 1:54’ / 22h27
When I arrived at this aid station I passed through the timing check area and went for a coke. A volunteer showed me the way to continue. It took me few minutes to find the correct path and c this loop was difficult to follow. I needed concentrate even more, but it is tough after so many hours of racing. I met another runner, he told me to be cautious in finding the path. It was a very long loop on this Mesa. Many runners were getting lost. At the end of the loop, I met a group of 3 runners who certainly missed signs and got lost as they were running the loop in the wrong direction. I hope they were doing the full loop and would not be in front of me at the finish line. Even with 6 eyes, they could not find the correct path. I overtook a few runners on this loop, and arrived finally at the aid station. I lost one hour on my estimate on this short 6km loop. The GPS gave me 9.4km.
GUACAMOLE 2 : 149km -> VIRGIN BMX : 158km – 1:20’ / 23h47
Here I met many runners on their final loop. I was motivated and picked up the pace thinking about this long and not too technical downhill. I dreamt about finishing the race within 24 hours. I had 1h30 to run 12km. I started to jog, and just kept running as much as possible on this road. I overtook another few runners who were mostly walking. I met many runners walking up. I hope to meet Nico... I always said a good word to anyone I met: “Good job runner”..etc.
I really enjoyed this part of the race, I felt so strong. Looking at the speed after the race, it was a very slow jog. I ran the fastest km in 5’31“/km, but at this point it felt so fast!
I arrived at the last hill, this 100m of altitude up and down went well, afterwards I started to dream of this buckle... it would be tight for the sub 24h. The tendons were very tight now, but let’s try! The runners asked if they would need to climb these 100m again, when they met me going up and they praised the organizer who traced the race course. On the way down to the BMX aid station, this time I crossed the river first then the mud. The shoes were then dusty for the photo finish.
The car park is now full and the aid station is very busy. I just missed Nico. He was in the car changing his socks, before the last climb. I just left my drop bag there in order for it to be brought back to the finish line, but didn’t use it. It is 5:47 and I would not be able to close the race in sub 24 hours.
VIRGIN BMX : 158km – VIRGIN : 161km – 29’ / 24h16
A lady will helped me to find my way, in between the cars back onto the course route. I rang Delphine to let her know that I would arrive soon. She mentioned Lino was there waiting for me and she should be there shortly, as she just helped Nico at VIRGIN BMX.
The emotion is growing, I am on my own, no light in front of me or behind. I am enjoying every second of this final stretch, even shedding a few tears. There was months of training, 24hours of racing, so I felt a lot of emotion at this time… The last 2 miles were very long and every right turn was bringing me away from the finish line. There was a barrier with a chain to open to enter in the village. I struggled to close the barrier, but then I arrived back in Virgin, in the lit streets. It took another few minutes to reach the Main Street. I was thinking, like in Leadville, it would have been helpful to have a policeman to help us to cross the main road, but I was on my own and had to wait for the traffic to clear before crossing the road.
Another 100m and I crossed the finish line in 24h16. I did it. So happy! I shared my joy with Lino and Delphine. It was a 5 hours Personal Best (PB).
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I went to the tent in order to choose a buckle. They were all unique handmade buckles of different colours. They were made using local leaves, stones and trees. Their size is more practical than that of the Leadville buckle, so I will put it to good use.
It was so cold at the finish, Lino and Delphine were frozen but happy when I told them I wanted to drive back to the hotel. Many people asked me how many hours I slept, but the body is full of endorphins and the body was in pain. After a shower, I went to bed but could not sleep.
So I ate a big breakfast, took a few pain killers and afterwards I was able to rest for a very short 30 minutes nap.
Francesco had a great half marathon and he joined us at the hotel to drive us to Virgin. We arrived in plenty of time to see Nico finish. He finished the race with his sons in 30 hours.
We enjoyed the sunny afternoon around the finish line eating and drinking a few sodas... Nico went to bed and we met him a few hours later for a few beers to celebrate.
We certainly went to bed early that night and met very early the next day for another huge breakfast meeting a lot of stiff runners who had also competed the previous day. After 2012 Leadville picture, we did a retake, Jules grownup, Eliott is new...
One bench, 2 runners, 2 buckles:
2012 - LEADVILLE
2019 - ZION
... Looking forward to the 3rd buckle.
Thanks for the crew in Virgin, thanks for all messages I received online / on the phone during these days in the USA!