Sunday, June 22, 2014

"Let This Be Heaven"

A week after running the Bryce 100, I found myself lacing up my Salomons under the pavilion at Ruffner Mountain. I had signed up for “Race Against The Sun” (a very brutal 36m overnight Barkleyish type race) long before I even knew I would be flying out to run Utah. After the 100, I had planned to volunteer at the start/finish area… zero intentions of actually running the race at all… heck I’d put in 10 miles earlier that afternoon and had a few drinks by the pool with my long, lost BFF Rachel… but alas… race director Kyle convinced me to at least come run one gnarly loop. I’m so glad I did. It was an amazing course and I had a blast drinking and dancing all night at the start/finish area with all my crazy trail obsessed friends.

A good friend of mine wasn’t running RATS but came to the beginning of the race to mix and mingle in the excitement of the run. I say good friend but that doesn’t really do him justice… he’s become more like a brother. I saw him and his daughter in the parking lot and he told me he had something for me. We walked over to his car and he handed me something wrapped in newspaper.

“What’s this?”

I unwrapped the newspaper to find an old postcard in the center of a handmade picture frame…

He looked at me and said, “Let me explain how this all came about… it’s crazy.”

My friend was downtown at a 2nd hand store browsing and he came across some old postcards. He started looking through and saw a “Utah” tab and for some reason, it grabbed his attention. He flipped through a few postcards (5 to be exact) and stopped at the 6th one. Why is this fact important? Only a handful of people on this rotating sphere know that my favorite number is 6.
In the Bible, the number 6 symbolizes man and human weakness… number 7 is the number of completeness and perfection…
I personally don’t want to be perfect. I don’t want to even begin to try… what fun would it be to be perfect anyways?
“May I never be complete. May I never be content. May I never be perfect.”  - Fight Club -
In Tyler we trust.
Whoooooaaaaaa horsey… reel it back in Andrews… geez.
He stopped and read the postcard and it sent chills throughout his body… much like the same ones I have currently… it was perfect. He went home, put together a picture frame from some scrap wood, etched "Bryce 100" at the bottom, and placed the post card in the center.
I could have cried… but to save face in front of the cute little blonde hanging from her dad's 4runner, I opted for a hug instead. This is seriously one of the most meaningful gifts I have ever received. This .39 cent post card incased within a picture frame crafted out of leftover scrap wood, holds more value than the buckle I brought home from Bryce Canyon.

I wanted to share the poem from the post card… because if you’re anything like me… you’ll enjoy it.

“Let This Be Heaven”

H.R. Merrill

Oh, God, let this be heaven –

I do not ask for golden streets

Or long for jasper walls

Nor do I sigh for pearly shores

Where twilight never falls;

Just leave me here beside these peaks,

In this rough western land,

I love this dear old world of Thine –

Dear God, You understand.


Oh, God, let this be heaven –

I do not crave white, stainless robes,

I’ll keep these marked by toil;

Instead of straight and narrow walks

I love trails soft with soil;

I have been healed by crystal streams,

But these from snow crowned peaks

Where dawn burns incense to the day

And paints the sky in streaks.


Dear God, let this be heaven –

I do not ask for angel wings –

Just leave that old peak there

And let me climb ‘til comes the night –

I want no golden stair.

Then, when I saw my last adieu

And all farewells are given

Just leave my spirit here somewhere

Oh, God, let this be heaven!


This post card was dated 1938 and pictures the Great White Throne in Zion National Park.


I seriously couldn't ask for better people to share this life with.
Thank you bro... this gift will always remain dear to my heart.
Till tomorrow…

Friday, June 20, 2014

Bryce 100 - "It's Just Utah"

This is a long write up so I present you with 3 options for this read:

1)      the Cliff note version – I finished my first 100. The End.

2)      The race report – please scroll  down to the race report “Bryce 100”

3)      the epic tale of our Utah adventure – please pour yourself a drink and continue to the next paragraph

Earlier this year I was blessed with the opportunity to be an ambassador for the FARM. Dr. Beard and Dr. Burdick decided to start up their practice here in Birmingham, Alabama and they took an interest in the trail running scene. They decided to sponsor two runners, myself and Vanessa Stroud. We both have run a few local races, but Beau and Sloan wanted us to take the Farm out West and represent on a bigger scale. Mid March, we began emailing back and forth discussing options for places to race… Idaho, Washington, Wyoming. Vanessa said that she had some airline vouchers, but they had to be used before July 1st so we finally had a time frame of when we should go out West. I didn’t have a preference on where I wanted to go, so I gave Vanessa the choice on where to go… but only under the following circumstances:

1)      any race 50k-100m

2)      had to be super scenic

3)      had to be extremely hard

Well… she found the Bryce Canyon ultras. The 100 miler had 19,000ft of gain and 19,000ft of loss and stayed at an altitude of 7000-9500ft the entire race… with a lot of time spent at 9000ft. This ultra offered three options: 50k, 50mile point to point, or 100 mile out and back. Vanessa was obviously going to go big and chase after her 4th buckle. I have never run a 100 miler before, but I figured this would be an epic first for me… so with a click of a button… I was signed up.
Over the past few years I have changed my mind set on trail running and training in general. I used to train specifically for events and worry about mileage and I kept getting hurt. I decided to change up my training and run based on how my body felt… worry more about getting a lot of time on my feet instead of hitting a certain mileage goal. This may not work for everyone… but for me… this works. When I trained for certain events... I was only excited about that particular event... but when I began getting into the mountains every single day, I found that I was more excited about running. So when people ask me what changed in my training for the Bryce 100… my response has been… “nothing.”

I’ve never been one for the traditional taper. It just doesn’t work for me. I’m a firm believer in doing what is best for yourself. If a normal taper works for you and produces the best results… by all means do it! There is no “right or wrong” way… there is only your way. So… the Sunday before we flew out to Bryce was like any normal Sunday. I was bouncing around Oak Mt throwing down 12 or so miles with a few local trail runners Jonathon and Kyle...

Tuesday I got off work a little later than expected, but got a chance to knock out an hour run with Ryan at the preserve. The stormy weather made for a humid evening run, but resulted in a beautiful sky…


I hate to pack. Tuesday night I started laying a few things out, but I just wasn’t feeling it… and this feeling continued on into Wednesday night. So what do you do when you are avoiding packing? You sing rap songs to your friends…



My Thursday morning 3am wakeup call came too soon. Our flight left at 630am so this required me to be at Sloan’s apartment around 4ish. I threw my bags into Sloan’s car and we started out of her apartment complex to pick up Vanessa.

Me - “You want to turn on your lights?”

Sloan – “Oh sorry! I forget sometimes!”

Oh the foreshadowing…

We picked up Vanessa, parked our car and were shuttled off to the Birmingham airport. Vanessa whipped out her “Big Book of Awesomeness” and handed us our boarding passes. This woman was prepared. Everything from splits, elevation charts, and predicted aid station times... to boarding passes, hotel confirmations, and directions... the "Big Book of Awesomeness" was truly awesome. We got to the TSA checkpoint and walked through. Vanessa and I grabbed our bags and walked towards the terminal… but we were missing something… Sloan.

“Mam… it appears that you have 2 knives in your bag.”

I knew it. I freakin knew it. This innocent looking blonde was a terrorist. The whole Bryce 100 trip was just an elaborate coverup…

Dear United States Government… for the record: Dr. Sloan Burdick is NOT a terrorist. Her fiancĂ© accidently left 2 knives in his Camelback.

After the whole “I’m not a terrorist” ordeal… we boarded the plane for Dallas. Dallas smelled of eggs… ok maybe it was Sloan’s ho-made zip lock meals…

But we needed a snack... Powerbar sauce and rice cakes... yum.

Once in Vegas we picked up our rental car… a silver Porsche. We piled in and headed down the strip to see the sights and grab some food.

Ok confession. We didn’t have a silver Porsche. It was a Nissan Marano. But I was a little tempted to hop in the Porsche and take off.

A quick stop at In/Out Burger and we set off for Bryce.

I felt like I was in an action movie as we were leaving Vegas… I could see a Ferrari flying around a track with a fighter jet making passes… yes... all in the same picture.

We passed through Arizona…

When we got to Utah we stopped at a gas station near Zion National Park. Sloan walked in to ask the punky kid behind the counter where we could find the entrance to the park.

Belieber: “Ummm… I dunno. I just started working here.”

A mile or so further down the road… the road literally runs into the entrance of the park. Kid must have been nervous… or high.

Zion was beautiful. We drove slowly gazing up at the massive mesas and rocks. I’ve never seen anything like it in my entire life.

We stopped at the welcome center to pick up a few items and to plan a short hike. Although we were exhausted from the long flights and early morning, we decided to at least loosen up the legs a little.

Apparently… Sloan was driving too slow for some people. Some d-bag decided to pass us… on a sharp curve… with a long drop off… idiot. The arrow indicates where previously mentioned d-bag passed us...
We stopped and took a few pictures along the way before heading through the tunnel to the trail head. We started up a short trail that was supposed to have an amazing overlook.

Simply amazing landscape…

The hike was basically one big photo shoot…

We finally made it out to the lookout...

It felt good to loosen up the legs with a short hike and some climbing after a long day of travel...

Onc last glance back at the beautiful scenery...

We piled back into the car and headed to our hotel. We checked in and headed downtown for some local food. The town we stayed in was Panguitch. It had one traffic light… that blinked red. But you know how much trouble you can get into in small towns like this… so it wasn't long before we found ourselves in jail...

After a delicious meal and local beer… we called it a night.


We woke up Friday morning and headed to a small down home country breakfast spot. Delicious. After breakfast we swung by the local grocery market to pick up a few supplies. Vanessa's "Big Book of Awesomeness" had planned out a drop bag for every aid station… I had planned 2. I decided to at least pick up one more drop bag from the thrift store… I didn't put anything in it except a gel or two... but it was pink... and said DANCE across it... and I could practically hear it begging me to be a drop bag...

We got back to the hotel room and started packing drop bags. The plan was to go back to Zion for a hike, so we wanted to have our drop bags packed and ready so we could go straight to the packet pickup at Ruby’s that evening.

We headed back to Zion to catch a shuttle to the trail head. I kept getting messages about how epic the Angel’s Landing route was… so Angel’s Landing it was.
Angels Landing is a 2.5m (5m round trip) trek with about 1500ft elevation gain. Probably not the best idea for a hike of this stature before running a 100 miles the next day… but I assure you... I have had worse ideas.

The first part of the hike was mostly a concrete path that wrapped up the side of the mountain.

We finally got to a section that flattened out and saw a sign that said Angel’s Landing - .5 miles away… little did we know… .5 miles can be a loooooooooong way when it’s straight along a spine of a massive rock.

Vanessa - “Did I mention I was afraid of heights?”

Vanessa does not like heights. This route literally puts you on the edge of 1000ft cliffs while holding onto massive chains. We continued to trek along, holding the chains for comfort until we came upon a flat lookout. So here we are… the day before a 100 mile race… Friday the 13th… trekking up this huge, technical route in high winds… yea… I guess ultra runners and their crews are a little nuts…

Vanessa - “Are we at the top yet?”

About the time she asked this, we looked up to see these tiny little specs marching up the spine of the mountain. Nope. We still had a long way to go.

Finally…we successfully tagged the summit of Angel’s Landing.

We hung out on top chatting with a guy from Florida and another from Germany. The hike took a lot longer than we had planned, so we needed to start heading back down in order to make it to packet pick up.

Of course we all know trail runners… the "hike" down was more of a slight jaunt down…

Did I mention it was a little windy?

We finally got back down to the shuttle and realized that we may or may not make it to packet pickup at this point. Little did we know the true awesomeness of the person crewing us for the Bryce 100. Sloan is AMAZING. We hopped in the car and we were off. For everyone’s peace of mind, I’m not going to say how we got there… but Sloan got us to packet pick up with about 15mins to spare… Dale Jr. would be proud.

“Utah is just like Alabama… but not.”
We got to packet pickup and picked up our swag in the conference room of the hotel. We started across the parking lot to the grassy field where the drop bags were being divided up.

In my most giddy school girl voice, “V! I think that’s Hal Koerner!!!”

I knew Timothy Olson was going to be at Bryce because I’ve stalked him enough to know that his wife was running her first 50 miler… but I hadn’t read anything about Hal being there.

We put our drop bags in the designated spot and grabbed a pizza before returning to the hotel general store.  Yep. Hal Koerner was walking back to his room carrying grocery bags. We walked into the store and low and behold… Timmy Olson checking out with his family. I started to lose focus on the reason I came into the store… beer. I needed a beer. I picked up a 6pk of Hoo-Doo beer and checked out.

Once back at the hotel there were problems. I didn’t have a bottle opener so I was struggling to get my beer open… in the struggle... I somehow managed to pop Sloan in the nose…

I lied. She had a nose bleed. I DID NOT hit Sloan in the nose. I was on that struggle bus trying to get my beer open though… but finally managed to pop it open on the safe. After my normal "beer the night before" ritual… it was time for bed.


I awoke around 1am to the sound of a load BUUUUUUZZZZZ coming from our room fridge. WTF. STOP! STOP THE NOISE! After hammering away on the fridge for a few minutes I gave up… mumbled something to the ladies in the other bed, and went back to sleep... but sleep only lasted a couple more hours before the race alarm went off.

Once up, I heated up a waffle that was left over from the day before and we all began to get ready. We walked outside and were greeted by the cold morning air. The temperature had dropped significantly overnight.  We piled into the car and headed to the hotel where we were supposed to meet the shuttle. We swung by the hotel for a quick bathroom break. The shuttle was actually across the street. We got there a little early so we were going to park across the street and just stay warm in the car. Sloan pulled out into the road…

Sloan – “Does this car not see me?!?”

Me – “Sloan. Your lights are not on.”

We loaded up onto the bus and Vanessa and I headed to the starting line. We got there and tried to stay warm, but there weren’t any vacancies around the fire. 

Me – “Dammit, I forgot my second bottle.” I guess one bottle will do for the next 40 miles…

Almost immediately after realizing I had left my second bottle in the car… I get a phone call from Sloan.

Sloan – “Hey! Where are you? I think I’m at the right place.”

She ran up to the starting area with my bottle. Life saver. I gave her a big hug and we walked over to meet up with Vanessa. Seriously… I can’t even begin to describe my appreciation and how much Sloan helped me throughout this entire race.

The race began on a looooooooong  2 mile stretch of gravel/dirt road. I started in the mid/back of the pack to take away the temptation of going out too hard. Needless to say… the gravel road was boring. After 2 miles we finally hit the trail head and slipped onto some single track. This section was beautiful.

We started into the canyon…

Constant up and down…

So desolate...

Thunder Mt – Mile 10

Before I knew it… I rolled into Thunder Mt. aid station. The first 10 miles went by fast. I refilled and started back onto the course. Although I could feel a small hot spot on my right foot, I felt good leaving Thunder Mt. AS. The next few miles were easy breezy. I chatted with a few runners from various regions of the country before the group started to spread out a little bit. Let me preface this by saying I'm sure he meant well... and was a great guy... and I’m all for advice from seasoned ultra runners… but just because it’s my first 100… doesn’t mean I have no idea what I am doing. I don’t need someone to tell me what I “need” to do at an aid station… or that I “need” to slow down. Don’t get me wrong… I’ve asked advice from seasoned veterans… but these are people that I personally know, trust, and look up to. So… “that” guy seemed to be around every single corner… ugh. I finally decided to stop and “stretch”  to get away from Zanzibar (his name was not Zanzibar… but this is what he shall be named).  Before long though… Zanzibar was back in I my sights. I kept my distance until I saw the blue canopy of the Proctor Canyon aid station.
Proctor – Mile 18
I still could feel the hot spot on my right foot, so I decided to re-lube my feet. A quick Vaseline lube and I set off into the open field.  The trail flowed through an open field between the canyon, and the next 3 miles climbed 1000ft. The climbs on this course were brutal. It was like they never ended. As soon as I topped the climb… it barreled down almost 1000ft for the next 2 miles. Ain’t no rest for the weary here. This was my first low spot of the race. My head felt fuzzy and I just started feeling bad overall. I started the long climb up to the next aid station. Awful. I felt awful. Like college hangover from cheap Aristocrat vodka awful. This was the worst I’ve ever felt in any run I’ve ever done. Something had to give.

Blubber  Creek – Mile 27

I rolled into Blubber Creek aid station and plopped in a chair. I had to get myself together. I was a little on the dehydrated side since my pee was the same color as the Gatorade I was drinking. So I took my time here. The dirt out on the trails was extremely fine... like a sandy silt type. The more traversed a trail… the more the fine powder would float in the air. I took my shoes off and dumped out mounds of sandy dirt. I changed out my socks and cleaned out my shoes while I downed 3 bottles of water. I usually don’t take long at aid stations… but I knew this was necessary. I had a long way to go. I ate a few pieces of fruit, lathered up my shoulders with sunscreen, grabbed a few pieces of liquorices to go (candy addict)… and headed out of Blubber Creek.  The trail followed the rim of the canyon for a few miles…

I finally felt normal again and my pace picked back up. I ran a few miles with a guy from Texas that had recently won the Lake Martin 100 out in my home state of Alabama. I chatted with him and another girl Lani for a few miles. Lani was out running her first 50.

I had my head down, power hiking a climb when I noticed someone up ahead hauling down the trail. I look up to see Timothy Olson bounding down like a mountain goat. Full speed… just as smooth and graceful as anything I had ever seen…  it was like a slow motion moment in a movie… he smiled, said hi, and continued barreling down the mountain…

Kanab Creek – Mile 35

I cruised into Kanab Creek aid station in high spirits and still feeling good. My hydration was back where it should be and I just saw one of my idols. Life was good. I emptied my shoes, re-lubed my feet and tossed on some more sunscreen. I was determined not to get burnt. I hate wearing shirts when running, but being a race with lots of sun exposure… I took precautions and bought some sun sleeves to go along with my tank. I left Kanab and headed back along the ridge.

The ridge running was followed by a few miles of double track…

I ran a few miles with a race director from Utah. He was only doing 50, and he started talking about how amazing a beer was going to taste at mile 50. Humph. I thought to myself “I want a beer right now.” We continued chatting about local brews, our favorite brews, and just in general how amazing beer is as we ran down a dirt country road. We saw a man walking down the road towards us…

As if I ran with the man every day I said, “Hey Hal… how’s it going bro?”

We chatted with Hal for a few minutes about the race and where we were from and what not. He told us his wife was out running the 100 and he was going to be pacing here from mile 60. Of course… I had to get a quick picture with him… J

Straight Canyon – Mile 40

Straight Canyon aid station was the first aid station where there was crew access. Crews were allowed at Straight Canyon (40/60) and at Crawford Pass (50 mile turnaround).  We could see the aid station as we came down the dirt road.

Sloan - “Zach!!”

OMG. It was incredible to hear a familiar voice and see a familiar face.

“You want that beer?”

Me – “Hell yea I do!”

Tristen (Timothy Olson’s son) was kind enough to let me use his chair to sit down at the aid station. For the record… that kid has amazing hair. Yes... I’m jealous of a child's hair.

Sloan had everything laid out nice and neat and was ready to assist me with anything I asked. I switched socks and snacked on a few things while I took a few sips of my PBR. I filled in her in with the details of the last 40 miles and in return she filled me in with her last few hours. I still had a hot spot on my right foot, so Sloan doctored it up with some tape.  We chatted for a few more minutes before I chugged the rest of my beer and headed down the road. 

Z – “See you in 10 miles!”

I headed onto a dusty road for about half a mile before it returned to the single track... and of course... Zanzibar... always lurking...

I danced along the single track for a few miles before I hit a rocky atv road leading up to the top of the canyon.

I continued following that until I reached a steep climb up to the Pink Cliffs overlook. The climb was super steep, but the top was well worth it…
I hung out for a few minutes... taking in the beauty of the canyons before heading to the next aid station.

Pink Cliffs – Mile 45

I stopped at the Pink Cliffs aid station just long enough to fill up my bottle and grab a small snack. I knew it was a long descent to the 50 mile turnaround and I wanted to go ahead and get a start on it. I started down the long atv road descent...

The views helped pass the time on the way down…

At the bottom ,we veered off onto some single track for the last few miles.

I finally could hear some cheering going on at the 50 mile finish line, so I knew I was close.
Crawford Pass - Mile 50

Sloan lets out a cheer and comes running up to greet me. It was like a little celebration every time I saw her! I felt like a dog that hasn’t seen his owner all day. I sat down, cleaned out my shoes and had a coke. Of course Hal was there right beside us waiting on his wife to get there, so we got another chance to talk with him. About the time I was wrapping up my aid stop… a kid began screaming. There was a small little  metal bridge that connected the road that had grooves in it. The kid had stepped in the grooves and fallen on the metal bridge. Sloan darted over and picked up the kid and walked him over to his mother. His mother had no idea he was even wandering around. Thankfully the kid was alright and not badly injured. I put on my Patagonia pullover, said bye to Sloan, and headed back for the last half of the race.

The next few miles were full of the normal “great job”… “looking good”… “almost there” type of talk as I started passing the folks coming into the 50 mile finish/turnaround. I met Cherri-Anne, a BA triathlete from California. She had been waiting on her runner and got cold at the turnaround so she decided to go meet up with him a little before the turnaround.  We started to trek up a climb and low and behold… “VANESSA!!”

We chatted for a moment before we parted ways. I got back to the atv trails and Cherri-Anne and I started the long trek up. We talked a little bit about Bryce, her race plans for the Fall, and a few other things like… the baby bear she just heard as I was talking with Vanessa. Her runner finally came in sight, I thanked her for “pacing” me, and I continued up the road alone until I finally reached the Pink Cliff aid station.

Pink Cliffs – Mile 55

I rolled into the Pink Cliffs aid station as the sun was starting to set. I refilled my bottles, grabbed a snack and went ahead and put my headlamp and Puppastache gloves on. I looked around and saw my Instagram bro Nicklaus Combs and of course we had to grab a selfie…

I left out of the Pink Cliffs aid station and started back towards Straight Canyon. I stopped again at the Pink Cliffs overlook to soak in the view one last time before starting the long descent. I was feeling really good and kept a pretty good pace down the mountain. It was completely dark by the time I reached the end of the atv trail and turned onto the single track. I pushed hard down through the smooth single track until I hit the dirt road. I could hardly see anything in front of me due to so much dust/dirt in the air. I felt like I was back up in the Georgia mountains battling blinding fog. I would have taken the fog over the suffocating feeling of the dirt.

Straight Canyon – Mile 60

Aid Station Worker - “What’s your number?!”

Me – “6!”

About the time the word “six” got out of my mouth Sloan lets out a cheer and sprints into action.

Sloan – “You got here a lot faster than I thought you would!”

I sat down in a chair and cleaned out my shoes again. Sand/dirt constantly crept through the upper mesh of my Salomons, so at almost every single aid station I poured ounces of sand from my shoes. I noticed Zanzibar sitting in a chair a few feet away... not looking so well. We had been back and forth for the first 50 miles playing leap frog… me doing my best to keep my distance. Sloan came over with a stick of Vaseline and a cup of noodles/chicken broth. Some jackass in a jacked up truck came rumbling through the aid… they slowed down enough to let the truck idle before breaking the night silence and tearing off down the dirt road in the direction where runners would be coming. I would have happily hurled a brick through his window if it were possible… I guess dumb-ass is country wide disease...

I lubed up my feet and took my time eating my noodles and talking with Sloan. I knew I needed to be going, but this was the last time I’d see a familiar face until sunrise. I finished up my meal, picked myself up out of the chair and headed off into the cool night. The next few miles were very lonely. I hardly saw a soul as I retraced my previous footsteps. The silence was incredible. It was nothing like Alabama. Even in the Alabama wilderness… you can oftentimes hear the soft “hum” of the interstate… but here… you were so far removed… in such a remote area… that you literally could stop, hold your breath… and hear NOTHING. Beautiful, peaceful, silence.

Kanab Creek – Mile 65

I was starting to get a little sleepy on my way into this aid station. I found myself wanting to fall asleep on the long extended climbs, but immediately woke back up when barreling down the descents. I took in a few cups of coffee before heading out of this aid station. I knew it was a very very long 8ish miles until I reached Blubber Creek and I needed to perk up. I stocked up on a few granola bars before heading back into the night. The temperature was dropping and it was starting to get chilly, but my mind strayed from the cold for a few miles when the clouds parted to reveal a beautiful orange moon. I put on the cruise control and started to coast through the night.

At the bottom of the canyons you could see head lamps bobbing around at the top. When you got the top, you could see head lamps bobbing far below in the valley. I couldn’t help but smile, and I silently hoped the other runners were enjoying themselves as much as I was. I got to the top of the ridge and the trail started leveling out at 9000ft. Somewhere around mile 71 I heard a noise in the woods. I have been hearing noises all night... mostly resulting in deer and smaller animals… so why I decided to scan the darkness for this noise… only God knows.

I stood frozen staring at the upper body outline of an animal with rounded ears who was crouched behind a downed tree… mountain cat.

I drew a deep breath and exhaled… “Sh*t.”

I slowly crouched down, picked up the biggest log I could get my hands on, and slowly stood upright. I knew I shouldn’t keep staring at this animal, but I sure as hell wasn’t about to let it out of my sight. I’m in Utah’s remote wilderness with a death grip around a massive stick, staring at a f’n mountain lion. What… the hell… is wrong with me?!

I stood there for FOR-EV-ER… which in non “mountain lion” time was probably only a few moments. I didn’t know what to do. The plan was to stand there until:

A)     another runner came along

B)      the mountain lion went away

C)      it attacked me

Luckily I saw 2 lights bobbing up the trail in the distance. I turned to glance back at my rescuers and swung my light back on the cat. It was gone… “sh*t.” I took a few steps up the trail… still with my club of protection tightly in my hand… and looked back into the wilderness. “Sh*t!” The cat was parallel with me again.

Again I froze. I decided I was going to simply stand in place, with my club of protection and wait for the other runners. I could finally start to hear the chatter of a runner and his pacer. The cat turned to look at the oncoming runners… my light didn’t stray from the cat’s glowing eyes. The cat turned back and looked at me before retreating down the side of the mountain. I dropped the stick and took off running when the runners came closer.

Blubber Creek – Mile 73

My adrenaline carried me the next few miles to Blubber Creek aid station. I sat down for a cup of coffee and a few blueberry muffins. It was starting to get colder so I decided to put my second pullover back on before heading out of the aid station. I was dreading this next section since it was the same section that had broke me earlier in the day. However… this time I was on top of my hydration and electrolytes were spot on.

Well… that didn’t matter. This section was hard.  It sucked. I felt like all I did was climb and climb… and climb some more. It seriously felt as if it would never end. My second low point in the same section as the first low point… great. There were some steep/sandy sections in this area. I lost my footing a few times, slid and fell down a few feet. After a few falls, I decided that my head was too fuzzy for the steeper descents… so I moved onto the “sit on my butt and slide down” method for any steep sections that looked as though I could fall. It worked. No more falls. After a long, slow 8 miles I finally hit the open field I had longed for. I felt like Gladiator running through the open field, waving my hand through the tall grass…

Proctor – Mile 82

A few feet from the aid station tent I turned back and threw up a middle finger in the direction of Proctor Canyon. Did she deserve it? No. But that’s how I felt about her at the moment. She got the best of me… twice. I could literally feel her smirk and lift me up from that awful “low” spot that I had been in for the past few hours.... and just as simple as that… she let me go and turned to greet her next victim.
Me - "Coffee?"

AS worker - “I don’t really know how to make coffee, but I’ll try.”

It was awful. I didn’t mind though… I needed some caffeine running through my veins before climbing out of Proctor. There was a small group huddled around the fire. I overheard runners talking about how they had been there for hours… how a few people had taken naps on the side of the trail… how they needed just an hour or so more by the fire. I got the invite to come join the festivities… but I knew better. I didn’t need their warmth or comfort *insert a spit of disapproval*. There was no longing in my heart to be nestled up with the other runners by that forbidden fire. I simply wanted to keep moving forward.

Daylight was breaking as I climbed out of Proctor. I removed one of my layers and headlamp once I reached the top of the canyon. I meandered through the ups and downs slowly watching the morning devour the world. The morning was a small victory. I was through the night and slowly creeping up to the finish.

Runner – “Only 2.4m to the next station.”

I knew he was wrong. I knew we had at least 6 miles to go. For fact… you sir… were wrong. But my mind latched onto that 2.4m comment and drug out the next 6 miles. Every canyon I rounded… I could see the trail wrap around another… and another… and yet… another. Thanks bro… appreciate what you just did there…

Thunder Mt – Mile 90

When I began descending the road down to the Thunder Mt aid station, I could hear the cheers from Sloan. Finally… after 30 miles… a recognizable face. Although I haven’t known Sloan but for a few short months… this trip being the first time we’ve actually spent any time together… it felt like seeing a family member each time. She’ll never understand how much I appreciate the simple smile, cheer, and her willingness to aid me in any way possible throughout this race.

I heard the word bacon. Bacon was mentioned at this aid station. Bacon. Bacon was at this aid station. There was mention of bacon… bacon.

Slaon – “What can I get you?”

BACON!!!! Holy mother of Pearl…. bacon.

Apparently I wasn’t paying any attention to the one of the aid station workers that kept asking if I wanted eggs with my bacon. She asked approximately 5 times in less than 2 seconds… yea… you do that math. Sloan told her I didn’t like eggs… yet… she still persisted in asking.

Bacon Lady – “Sir… do you want eggs with your bacon?!?”

Me – “I don’t do eggs.”

Sloan shot the lady an “I told you so” smile.

After an entire plate of bacon, I tossed up the deuces to Sloan and marched up the next climb…


It was at the top of the climb that I realized I forgot to grab my sunglasses. Ugh. The shadeless, red dirt canyon just got harder. Although the last 10 miles were the same as the first… I hardly recognized anything. It was constantly climb, drop, climb, drop, wind around, drop, climb drop…

Canyon after canyon… my squinting eyes battled the morning sun...

I passed a few mountain bike riders who swore I was “almost” there. What is it with people lying to me? “Almost there" turned into a few more canyons to climb and descend. I finally dropped down out of the last canyon and saw an unmanned aid station. 2 miles to go. I had this. As much as I felt like walking out the last 2 miles… I didn’t. I ducked my head and started running. The road was a lot longer than I remembered. I could see the tent at the finish area… but it seemed to keep getting further and further away…

29hrs10mins later… I was the 24th runner to cross the line and had officially completed my first 100 mile foot race.

I sat down for a few minutes, drank a nice cold coke, and chatted with a few runners about how flippin hard that course was. Sloan had planned to run the last 10 miles with Vanessa... so thankfully an aid station worker drove the car to the finish so I would have it when I wrapped up my race. I changed out of my shoes, slipped on my flip flops and hopped in the car. I drove a few runners up to Ruby’s to pick up our pizza and more importantly… our buckles.

After destroying a pizza, I started to head back to the hotel to get cleaned up. I apparently didn’t pay attention the entire time we were out in Utah because I had no idea where I was going. I just drove… turned around… drove some more… and turned around again. Thankfully… Sloan called and said they just finished up the last 10 miles. Well… it took a lot longer to get to V and Sloan than they probably would have liked… but again… no clue where I was going. I blame the lack of sleep… and the elevation.

I picked them both up and we headed back up to Ruby’s to pick up Vanessa’s buckle and pizza. We stopped in the general store again to grab some food. I grabbed a bottle opener and some Advil PM to make my night a little bit easier. I’m not sure if people were staring at me because I was a filthy mess… or because my eyes were completely blood shot. My eyes hurt so bad from running through so much of that fine dust… my sinuses were jacked up from the thin air… every time I blew my nose it was a mixture of blood and dirt. Disgusting… I know. But we all suffered from it.

Denied. Our room key didn’t work. One of the managers of the motel came over to assess the situation. Denied.

Manager Terri – “Just pop off the screen and see if the window is unlocked.”

The window slid open. Good to know we were safe… but honestly… the town had a quilt festival going on that week… I think we were ok with an unlocked window.

Vanessa… having just run a 100 miles… climbed through the window to unlock the door. We got cleaned up and settled in for an afternoon nap when Big Joe decides to knock on the door to fix the card reader. After 15mins of hearing Big Joe and Manager Terri chit chat and cuss about God knows what… they left us in peace and we drifted off to sleep.

After a small nap, we woke up and went to another country diner for dinner. Chocolate milk and BBQ chicken. Nom nom nom. Sloan got the scoop at one of the aid stations that there was suppose to be a beautiful spot to catch the moon rise over Bryce Canyon, so we loaded up the car and headed into the park. We slowly winded our way up the mountain taking pictures of animals…

We stopped by the Natural Bridge. The temperature had dropped again, so Sloan hopped out and ran over to the lookout. As for me and Vanessa… we eventually made it to the lookout…

We continued our journey up to Sunset Point. The clouds were rolling in and it wasn’t looking like we were going to get the moon rise we were hoping to see. We still carried on in hopes of seeing at least a beautiful sunset. We eventually got to the top. At this point we had all been up for a good 42hrs. Vanessa was half asleep in the back seat, so me and Sloan walked up the pathway to the lookout. Beautiful. Perfect way to end an extremely long and epic 2 days.

We headed back down the mountain… stopping every few miles when we saw a log that resembled a bear or mountain lion. We did see some type of animal… but the light was fading too quickly to make out what it was. We finally got back down to the hotel, had a few beers, and drifted off to sleep.



I woke up to the sound of Vanessa shutting the door. She was heading down to wash our race clothes for the sake of every one that would be near our bags at the airport. She’s a saint. After Vanessa returned, we headed downtown to the same country diner for another delicious breakfast. We got back to the motel, switched our clothes to dry, and started packing.


Yes… that was the sound of a beer opening at 10am.

Looking at Vanessa I said, “I have another Hoo-Doo left that we need to finish…”




We packed the car and headed back to Zion to do a little shopping. Our flight didn’t leave Vegas until 11:30pm so we had some time to kill. We walked up and down the shopping area of Zion, eating ice cream and picking up a few things for the family members back home.  Eventually we hit the road to Vegas with a pit stop or two for bathroom breaks and snacks.

We finally got to Vegas, parked and started down the strip. We were dead set on riding a roller coaster at New York New York… but it was closed due to high winds.

We decided to eat at the Twin Peaks restaurant. It had a big neon sign with two mountain peaks, looked out over the strip and claimed to have “scenic views.” A guy handed us a buy one beer get one free coupon before we walked in the door. As soon as we broke the restaurant barrier... we saw a girl hoola-hooping in short shorts, and a very revealing flannel top… it hit the three of us simultaneously… “Twin Peaks… Scenic Views.” The three of us erupted into laughter. Of course Vanessa, being the jokester that she is…  tried to set me up for a very naughty picture with a totem pole…

As we drank our beers and ate our food… “Like a G-6” was blaring overhead. Vanessa looks up from her dinner, leans in close, and asks, “Is this song about cheese sticks?”

Uncontrollable laughter. These girls were fantastic. I hadn’t laughed or smiled this much in such a long time.

We started walking down the strip and Vanessa needed to swing in a gift shop for a few last minute gifts. I was still in celebration mode so….

After we got back on the strip, we started walking back to the car. The roller coaster was working again! We only a short time before the flight left, so we hurried down the strip to see if we could catch a quick ride on the coaster before it was too late. So much for slowly enjoying my drink…
I killed the rest of my Mango-Rita and headed inside. The line was waaaaaaay too long, so we chalked it up as a loss and headed to the car.
Once in the airport, we grabbed some coffee and boarded the plane. It was a sad selfie knowing that we had 12hrs of travel time left…

The ride for the most part was a blur. I plugged in my ear phones to watch some over the top, crazy animated Lego movie and the next thing I knew… Will Ferrell was on screen playing with Legos... I don't know... it was just weird. The three of us were drifting in and out of sleep throughout the entire flight, but finally I felt a small nudge from Sloan… sunrise over Miami.

I felt as though I had been up for days… which wasn’t really too far from the truth. We landed in Miami at 6amish… I’m not sure of the exact time… jumping time zones can really screw with your head. We walked the terminal until we found a spot to eat breakfast. We had a few hours to kill before our next flight, so I made the best of it. My feet didn’t swell too much after I finished the race… but that 4.5hr flight created a bunch of swelling, so I threw in my ear phones, propped up my feet, and tried to take a nap…

Finally the time came to board our final flight. The plane was much smaller and was only about half full. My right trap had been knotted up from sleeping strangely on the last flight so Sloan made a few adjustments mid flight…
Then we were out cold...

The flight attendant woke me with a drink offer. My Coke said “Share with a Legend” so who is more legendary than Vanessa Stroud herself?

The lush green trees and Birmingham skyline was a welcome sight. There is nothing better than coming home after a long, epic adventure. We touched down and stepped off the plane into the thick, sweaty, humidity that we had been deprived of for a few days… we all strangely missed it. We dropped Vanessa off, exchanged hugs and goodbyes and Sloan and I headed to Target. I needed beer and she needed to purchase the next book in her book series. We finally made it back to Beau and Sloan’s apartment to pick up my car. I packed up my car and thanked Sloan for everything she had done this weekend.

Driving down I65 I looked back on the long, epic adventure I just had. I had so much fun. Everything about this extended weekend was perfect. I couldn’t have asked for better company… it was the perfect first 100 miler experience and I will remember the fun we had on this trip forever.

I rolled into the University of Montevallo to surprise Kati. I walked through the door and received and welcome home hug and kiss. I always get Kati a rock whenever I venture out alone to new destinations… so I gave her the Utah rock I bought from Zion.

Kati, pointing at my feet, “Hey! You have kankles!!! Haha!!”

Damn it feels good to be home J

Till tomorrow…