I think, therefore I blog
RSS icon Email icon Home icon
  • Zion 100K Write Up

    Posted on April 19th, 2019 Michele Sun No comments

    It’s still very surreal that I have toed the start line of Zion 100K, and finished, but the cuts, bruises, blisters and swollen feet are telling me “Yes I did it.” Crossing the finish line at 2:10am on Sat morning was extremely emotional for me, and I was just so overwhelmed and speechless that had to fight so hard to hold my tears. Running 100K is a pretty big deal for me, and Zion 100K not only is my first 100K Ultra but it’s THE race for me for the last three years. I don’t know what motivate other runners to do ultras, but this 100K is not just about running. The journey of coming to Zion 100K and finishing it has been a long, slow, tragic, up-and-down, heartbreaking and healing journey, both in body and mind.

    “I will be with you every step, from start to finish. Trust me, I will bring you to the finish.” — Dennis said that repeatedly since we signed up this race, and he was still encouraging me to try this again last Sept. He wished to see me finishing this 100K more than I did.

    The initial thought of running my first 100K was seeded in 2016, after I got hooked running at beautiful trails every weekends with Dennis, and after I “almost” paced him at Quicksilver 100K which he missed the Mockingbird cutoff before I picking him up there; he bought me the “A Glimpse of Heaven and a Taste of Hell” book as a “thank-you-my-wonderful-pacer” gift. He molded me into a trail/ultra runner, and he encouraged me to up my game.

    This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9dATLLObk7cXBnpJIsKz2_xIkVZTNCe5up0sG-VhztAmwNg7borhDzWyoFkyo_bvgYqqGEAHJc91oeUaA3f3aldATQJtLLbC9gyEQ7VlcHQmm27kK7c2hE1tAMfBBBJ0ZQ13kpFmCFmNu9dJM19m1A-Z29E5FozYZBOtT62DNG7-IngWHFvcyVIQ5bz-LOnUeynmPVsNOB_d9v9f2L82zSjeA61ysj3QWBRFtAe_bJnd8Au7QY9SC07vn0fQG0SoMBw_sWSKGb6yYzM7h9ufvpzuwMF0qp98HKSV3AnviaW6t5tDjllkOcrnjRllHcP6UUWOPogKeF0Z2juYtrUczWkMlWXoClmCbg4BiWU3eCwn2ovYPqbss_5jhd8o_n7sWlpSWTck_d2LJNJTzS05FQkKDX0-WmykxI15eGebBRXnSSPLoX2pF--ltbWeb98MbyoHOHhWryPyj0KDs7czhhnXma3-pottzqSjpt1vP32LaZ5dcfLtuWB5AKSMY1-BeCyPNZNpwRXvvUJMsvTwl6IipzmAlMtNVqtKGookgLEqdkMT7Sr229SU_msrKuDYz8QVpkVQCsWWALYv2H2JtptmpVfiesgWXgto8SSysCniyiEZRVSTINNc9DCHqNi3EIyey7fUeGIUNZOHk-rJDLjlfzrajHc2=w706-h529-no
    Dennis at Quicksilver 100K

    I picked this race, Zion 100K 2017, because I loved the Antelope Canyon 55K so much, and this is in the same series. Dennis drafted my training plan and he signed up the race as well so he could run with me; “I will be with you every step, from start to finish.” The training plan looked fun, with Yosemite, Tarawera (NZ), MUC50 miler, and several 50Ks as training runs. I even ran back to back to back races in Nov, Kobe Marathon + Mt Fuji Marathon + North Face 50K. I was rolling like a boss!

    Fujisan Marathon

    Dec 8, 2016, we went to Yosemite; Dennis was so excited about running at picturesque Yosemite, though he has always been a minimalists but he bought me trekking poles, merino wool shirt and jacket so I could be equipped with fancy stuffs for running in cold weather. But he didn’t foresee and prepare that we would be running on ICE. We ran to check out the waterfalls, but on our way up I slipped and fell many times on the icy trails. The last fall was so bad that I jammed my right foot into a split rock when crossing a stream, and unfortunately I sprained my right ankle and broke the last two toes.

    Yosemite Falls

    That accident and injury had totally derailed the trainings and races on my calendar; Dennis was feeling so bad that he wished it’s his foot got broken instead of mine. He blamed himself for not knowing better, and for taking me to risky trails without proper research and planning. He loved risky adventures but he never realized that he could possibly put me in danger.

    It took me about 5 months to completely healed and I didn’t have time to train for Zion. Therefore Dennis and I deferred the race to 2018. 2018 came, and Dennis drafted up the second 100K training plan for me, and this time it’s time based instead of distance based. He felt that since I had been sidelined for a long time, therefore I should focus on time on my feet as much as possible instead of speed or distance — “speed will come later” he said. He plotted the training plan so well that we would run at different trails every weekend, plus Wed Mission Peak after work; every run with it’s purpose, and the runs/trails were never repetitious.

    Fort Ord

    I would just rolled out of my bed in the morning, and Dennis would pick me up with breakfast and coffee ready, and then drove me to our training runs. All I had to ask was “how many GUs do I need to carry?” Most importantly, it’s always fun, beautiful and challenging! He even got me a Dell notebook so I could write about my runs; he couldn’t believe that I blog on my little iPad. I was so grateful to have Dennis coaching me, guiding me, helping me, and the only thing I could return was buying him a sandwich and a beer(s), because by the time we finished our runs there would be no breakfast nor lunch served :-p

    March 10, 2018, we went to ITR MUC50. Dennis loved this challenging 50 miler course, and he always said “if you can run MUC50, you can run anything.” It turned out to be one of the most memorable runs that we had ever done together, and it continues to amaze me how he and I did it. On race day, I had problem with my contact lenses after mile 2, and very soon I could only see about 10% because everything was just so blurry. At the beginning he let me run ahead of him, so I could enjoy the scenery without him blocking the view. After I couldn’t see much, he ran in front of me and I just followed his foot step and voice cues. We formed a powerful and efficient team that ran steadily from Rodeo Beach through the ridges, cliffs, single tracks… all the way to Cardiac Hills, and was an hour ahead of the cut-off when we came to Cardiac Hills the second time. But he knew that he needed to make the right judgement call here! He asked me to stop at Cardiac Hills, mile 30, because he didn’t think he could guide me through the next 20 miles safely, and if you have run MUC50 before you would know it’s the most technical section and very slippery throughout the race. He did not want to repeat the Yosemite accident.


    MUC50 was a success in his book, and it also gave me great amount of confidence since I could manage that distance in such unfortunate circumstance. Next day we went hiking at Muir Woods, did recovery yoga, and then Dennis drove me to surprise Kiyoko for her birthday. It’s so stupid and almost comic that I fell and sprained my left foot right outside of a bakery. I didn’t know I should cry or laugh. Only 4 weeks to Zion 100K.

    I didn’t make it to the start of Zion 100K again, and this time I was even more depressed than 2017. I was at the peak of my training, and I was feeling so strong & confident. This terrible fall not only injured my foot, it also damaged me mentally. I told Dennis to go ahead with Zion 100K on his own since he had a great training block while training me. Dennis asked me to join & accompany him but I refused, because I felt 100K is a jinxed distance and it’s meant to Not Happen!! I didn’t want to see or hear about it. Eventually he made a quick solo trip and ran the race alone, but he didn’t talk about the race later because he was so worried that I would feel even worse about myself. The self-pity me was acting really rotten during that time; I once snapped at him “you are living my dream and why don’t you get your own dream.” Of course I knew very well that running Zion 100K with me was his dream, but I was too damaged to act sensibly. I was being very unfair to him when I felt life was unfair to me. Why do we act so cruel toward the person that’s closest to us?

    Once I got my head on straight and put the idea of running Zion 100K behind me, spring and summer of 2018 was actually pretty fun, and Dennis helped me to come out of the dark phase and all the negativity. We walked to everywhere after work, to artsy films and live music, to craft beer brewery and cute wine bar, and Dennis became adventurous about food — he went from a guy that never had sushi before to someone always wanted izakaya and sake. When my my foot was healed, we picked up running again. We started from running twice a week on Guadalupe Trail near his place, and he added tempo run & speed work to those; he made the best espresso with healthy breakfast before I went to work. It’s always nice when we came across friends commuting to work on Guadalupe. I took Dennis with me to Mont St Michel which I downgraded to a half and he ran the 55K. I always love to travel solo, but we had fun traveling to Saint Malo, Nantes and Barcelona and he was so happy that he got to see the world with me instead of through my eyes.

    Mont St-Michel

    He constantly talked about traveling to places for run, food, culture.. a very long wish list, and there were so many things that he wanted to do together. We even discussed about moving out of Bay Area. First we went to check off one thing on my wish list — running on PCT trail and to see The Bridge of The Gods. Then we signed up a race in Dec to see Deception Pass Bridge that he thought was very cool. In mid Sept he had to travel to Milan for work for six weeks, which wasn’t even his job and he didn’t like to be away for so long. It’s the first time that he did not like being in Italy. I encouraged him to check out local museums, neighborhood cafes, but he complained that I wasn’t there. I found a local 50K race for him in mid Oct, and that slightly cheered him up.

    PCT Trail

    Dennis asked me to try Zion 100K again, and he asked me to promise that I would keep up with my routine runs while he was away. “I already drafted your training plan, and I will show it to you later. We will start your training when I come back from Italy.” Sat Sept 29th, he sent me flowers after I ran the very tough Brazen Rocky Ridge Half (with 4,000′ elevation gains), and he was very impressed and pleased with my keeping promises. But he broke his promises. 😭

    This has been the most heartbreaking and devastating time of my life, and I kept asking why the universe had to take him, and why his life was cut short when he finally being so happy? Why was his dream robbed? Why after he had found the person that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with? Why was life so unfair to him?Why? Why? Why? He just got that new Salomon shoes, damn it!!! I was angry, mad, sad, feeling so sorry for him and with so much guilt and regret. All the tears could not fill this huge hole in my heart….

    A month after Dennis passing, I dreamed about him and we were at a place looked like a National Park. He looked very good in a blue shirt & jacket, and was a bit sheepish when I told him that I knew he had left. We talked and laughed together while admiring those beautiful mountains. When I woke up I went through the photos under our shared folder, and I saw who Dennis was and what his passion was — running at beautiful mountains and chasing adventures. Finally I accepted that he would never come back; nothing I do or say could change that. And no matter how much I blamed myself I could not stop what had happened nor bringing him back. He always said that I am the ray of sunshine in his life, but he was the southern star for me also. I asked myself what I can do to honor his life and presence? How do I celebrate his life?

    I decided that I could check off his wish list and fulfill his dreams for him! I wanted to bring him to places that he wanna visit and I wanted him to have the chance to see them through my eyes; I believed that’s the best way to thank him for everything he had done for me. I started going to races that he liked or wanted to run. I went to Deception Pass 50K and MUC50, both were way beyond my capability. I knew it would not be an easy task to train myself for a 100K, but if there is any way that I can honor him properly, it would be bringing myself to the start of Zion 100K and finish it.

    Deception Pass 50K

    My training cycle started in Nov, running at least 20 miles long runs on every Sat in Nov. and Dec., and in Jan I ran three 50Ks that were all in cold & stormy conditions. Those races kicked my butt but it’s a great way to dial up my training and pushed me out of my comfort zone. In Feb, I ran the Fort Ord 50K in order to show him what we didn’t see in the darkness while sweeping the course last year, and I felt that amazing double rainbows on the ridge was Dennis smiling down on me 💗. I picked trails and races that he liked, and I knew he would approve the solo training that I was doing on my own. I am definitely not as experienced as him, but I am good at self-motivating and I had learned so much from him. I went to run Kyoto Marathon and hiked Kurama to Kibune to Kurama the next day; at the summit I rang the Buddhist bell for him and wished him peace in heaven! The travel derailed my training plan for three weeks; I worried that I might be behind my training, but I believed he would tell me to have fun and don’t just focus on one thing only – running.


    March 9th, I went to ITR MUC50 and that 50 miler not only was the longest and toughest run this season (10,550′ elevation gains), but it served as my redemption run as well. I wanted to cross the finish line and complete what we didn’t last year, and it’s about earning that MUC50 beer mug for Dennis. It’s rainy, cold, wet, windy and so hard — everything that I would expect from MUC and everything he loved about it, and I finished! That night I stayed at the same hostel we did before, and I was so exhausted after the race that I couldn’t move or even simply take off my muddy shoes. I almost buried my face in the bowl while eating noodles with eyes closed. That night I could feel it — I had made him proud 💗.

    Earned that MUC50 beer mug for Dennis

    I really regret that we never actually talked about Zion 100K, the course, profile, strategy..etc, because he didn’t want to hurt my feelings when I couldn’t go. I wasn’t sure how to prepare or what to expect for this particular race, and could only keep doing what he had taught me before, including strength works on the floor at home. In late March, I started worrying about being under-trained, and I was also getting very tired of not able to sleep for 6 months already. But the thought of honoring him had kept me going, that’s my sole motivation. I wasn’t sure if he could see my Strava data, so I usually reported my training progress when I went up to Mission Peak to talk to him. The summit always provided me peace, and I saw that he had become part of the trails and the trails had become him. I felt so close to him whenever I was up there.

    Wed Mission Peak

    April came and I got panicked, and I constantly questioned myself “are you sure you can pull this off?” On my last Mission Peak sunset run, I shouted “Dennis, please watch over me! Keep me safe and strong while running Zion! You promised to bring me to the finish!

    I asked my friend Michael Van to crew and pace me at Zion. When he ran his 100 miler last Aug, Dennis went to support him cus Michael is my friend. Dennis always treated my friends and family as his own, and I knew he would agree that Michael is the most trusty friend and crew. Dennis and I had logged 975 miles, 1,110 hours, 157,193′ ver together, and not only had I never run with other pacer before but there is just no_one_like_him. But I needed Michael with me running through the night, to keep me safe.

    Thur April 11th, I left San Jose and Michael flew from Oakland early morning, then we met up at Las Vegas airport to pick up our rental car. I showed Michael the perk of being a Hertz Gold member 🙂 We made a brief stop at Whole Foods to get some water, sparkling soda (thanks to Michael Li’s suggestion), fruits, breads, and Champagne (for me of course). But I couldn’t find the canned Starbucks espresso that I like. I am lactose intolerant so can only drink the ones without cream & milk. I wanted black coffee when running into the night.

    Whole Foods shopping trip

    We checked into our hotel at Springdale and had to quickly pack drop-bags cus we lost one hour when crossing the state line into Utah. I would have three drop-bags for this race. I put my GU gels in little zip-locked bags and separated them into “caffeine-free” and “40mg caffeine.” Do you know that GUs come in caffeine free, 20, 35 and 40mg caffeine? I planned to stick to the caffeine-free ones in daytime, and wait till past 9:00pm to take the special 40mg ones to let the caffeine kick in. I never had caffeine pills before, so didn’t want to try anything new.

    GU gels

    For the two major A/Ss at Goosebump (mile 5.2, 34.4, 45.7) and Grafton Mesa (mile 11.4, 22.7, 28.2) which I would pass three times each, I had a set of shirt, socks, gloves, arm sleeves, light jacket, Body-Glide, full & half length Buffs, headlamp, and sweet potato bread in my drop bags. One last drop bag at Virgin Desert (mile 53.8) would have an old pair of Altra Lone Peak that felt wider, and I might change to those if my feet swollen too much toward the later part of the race.

    We then drove to Virgin where the expo/start/finish was. After dropping off the drop bags I got a light dinner from the food truck for us, and watched the traditional American Indian dance. There were some vendors onsite, and I saw a very cool light called Kogalla, and it’s so bright that I decided to buy it so Michael could use it when pacing me. I liked my Ultra Aspire, but this could be a good addition in my pack. During the run I found a design flaw to it and almost made the lamp useless, a different story for later.

    Kagola light

    While waiting for the race briefing, Michael Li, Christina and Liz (Michael’s runner) arrived, and surprisingly I saw Jack Hsueh as well. Very glad to running into Jack and he was surprised to see me as well. I gave him an one min briefing of why I was here, and the gentleness in his eyes and voice welled up my eyes. Jack and Dennis had shared many trails before though they were not buddies, but the supports & cares from ultra community are just amazing. Thanks to all the runners far and near, including the ones that I have never met before, that had supported me the last 6 months 🙏.

    Friday April 12th, waking up by the 3:10am alarm and I spent 30 mins to go through my usual race day morning routines, and shocked to find that Michael and I both made the same mistake — we had packed all our GU gels into the drop bags!!! Luckily that I had brought the new GU Hoppy Trails in the metal pint glass as a gift to Michael, so I had IPA as breakfast :-p We got to the start around 4:10am and secured a good parking spot and napped & had breakfast. It’s so cold outside so we stayed in the car till 5:00am to use the porta potty and came back again to stay warm.

    6:00am, the 100mile and 100k started at the same time, and I stayed at the back as usual. Pacer is allowed after the 2nd pass at Grafton Mesa (mile 22.7), but we planned to have Michael pacing me after the 3rd pass (mile 28.2). Due to unexpected last min change of plans, we couldn’t find a ride to take Michael to Grafton Mesa, so he decided to run there from the start. A good 11.4 miles warmup for him, and to avoid me being disqualified Michael stayed at way back to do his own thing. The course first took runners into the desert and after couple miles I faced the steepest climb of the entire race — 1,500 feet of ascends in 2 miles, on loosed gravels and rocky single track. I had set my mind to “run your own race,” so I approached the long and slow climb patiently and just focused on being there at the moment; besides it was not worse than going up to Mission Peak anyway. When the sun rose around 7:00am, I turned around and admired the majestic landscape. What an amazing place and I knew Dennis would love it.

    Gooseberry Sunrise

    When I got to the Goosebump A/S (mile 5.2), I left my poles and the quiver that Dennis gave me there, because the rest of the course would not be as steep, lots of rolling hills according to the course map, but I didn’t train with poles and using them would just make my arms sore like at MUC50. I found my drop-bag and leave the poles & quiver in them; took out and stashed the caffeine-free GU gels into my pack. In and out of this A/S in about 2 mins — I had learned not to waste too much time at A/S from Dennis.

    After Goosebump, the course took us through double track dirt trails and very run-able except a bit dusty. I was cruising until I heard a “wrong way, wrong way!” Oops, I had missed a turn while feeling awesome; thank you trail sister. 😘 I chatted with runners that I came across, and met a Korean women named Allen from L.A. (running with her coach), and Jill from Vancouver, the three of us were all doing our first 100K. I was surprised that the longest training runs they had done was 50K, and I thought I was under-trained with only one 50 miler :-p

    I had worked out a spreadsheet with A/S and time goals, one for “everything goes smoothly” and one for “I just want to finish it.” Last year Dennis had predicted that I would be able to finish this race in about 20hrs plus few mins, and I hoped I can hit that target with me being my own coach. When I came into Grafton Mesa (mile 11.4) at 9:17am, I was ahead of my target#1 by 18 mins; quickly grabbed some turkey sandwich and refilled my bottle and I left the A/S.

    My major worry at this race was getting lost, and feared that people couldn’t find me. I had tested out Strava Beacon and found it not ideal at places that have no data, and at Michael Li’s suggestion I downloaded an app called Whatsapp, so I can record a message and send out when I leave every A/S, and Whatsapp would send the audio message with time stamp whenever a signal became available. I sent that to Lucia and Michael Van so they would know where I was at when; Lucia followed my race virtually and I got teary whenever getting her messages. Last year when Lucia finished Zion 100 miler, Dennis called me “did you see what Lucia posted? Very nice words about you, and you should value yourself more because you make positive impacts on people.” 💗

    From Grafton Mesa we ran through beautiful mesas, single tracks, with amazing view of Zion National Park, rocks, canyons, mountains, sky… so many colors in multiple dimensions, picture really does not do any justice. I leapfrogged with the Korean woman and her coach couple times; the coach took a picture of me and asked “are you running in memory of someone?” pointing at Dennis picture on my Salomon pack. That question brought tears to my eyes and I really wished Dennis could have been here, “my best friend.” 💗

    Grafton Mesa

    The views were amazing and I was feeling great, except the weather was kind of confusing — sometimes it’s cool with the breeze and sometimes it’s warm when sun hit my face. At some sections I could feel my heart rate shooting up when I picked up my pace; luckily Michael Li past me and I asked him like an on-site tech support. He told me to take salt tabs. I had trained the whole season through windy & rainy weather, so forgot about salt tabs completely. Michael Li went ahead like a mountain goat and I wished I could run like him when I grow up :-p

    I got into Grafton Mesa the 2nd time (mile 22.7) at 12:31pm, 23 min ahead of my target#1, and was happy to see Michael Van there,  but the first thing Michael said was “you better hassle.,” without hug or high five. I told Michael that I needed to use the porta potty while he refilled my water bottle, and I didn’t need anything else. I also told him it’s getting warm and I wanted to shed off a layer — let go of my vest, but he said my drop bag wasn’t there. !@#$%

    I left Grafton Mesa and thinking how different my crew/pacer for the day is, not being judgmental or complaining, and I absolutely appreciate Michael being here with me. Dennis has always been the most encouraging person I ever known, when he was training me for my first 50miler I found that I was the star in his eyes. At the finish of AR50 toasting Champagne, there were just so much joy, pride and proud in his eyes and tone. Later I told him that he was like the father that I wished I have, because he always made me feel like I was the most special one. I am the best!

    After leaving Grafton Mesa, I had to do a 5.5 miles loop on the mesa, and then came back to Grafton Mesa again. The dark cloud moved in and I felt some light drizzle; I wished it would rain to keep it cool. The single track trails circling the mesa offered fantastic vistas, and at around mile 24 I came upon a spot that offered 270 degree views of Zion. Sunbeam came through the thick cloud and I was completely mesmerized by the wonder of nature. I carefully stood on a steady plate rock and shouted “Dennis, I am here! I know you can see me from above!

    Dennis, I am here!!

    Continued running through the mesa and I could feel some hot spots under and on the inner side of my feet; I told myself that I had to change socks at next A/S and I also figured Michael probably was looking for wrong drop-bag this morning. Grafton Mesa (mile 28.2) came, and my watch said 2:31pm, 2 min ahead of target #1. Michael came up and said “you are early” with surprise.. ; darn it, Michael had his phone on airplane mode and all the voice messages I sent went unnoticed. I quickly told him that (1) I am very hungry and I need to eat, (2) I need to change my socks and it’s in the drop-bag, (3) my drop-bag is BLUE with my bib# 754 on it. He went to get my bag and stuffs while I went to use the porta potty. Michael made me sit down and helped me to change my socks, took off my vest, and he refilled my bottle again while I grabbed some quesadillas. Oh boy, I am lactose intolerant and this got cheese in it. Wish me luck!!


    We left the Grafton Mesa together and I said “thank you Michael” with all my heart. He replied “not yet, you have to finish first.” Oh Michael…😔 I had told Michael before that I prefer him running a little ahead of me but not too far, so I could see him and hear him. But he is not a chatty person, in fact he said very little for the next 12 hours. No joke or story from my pacer today. I told him that I had seen the Korean girl and her coach, Michael Li, and his runner was a little behind him, and he said “that Liz is a good runner, she will pass you very soon.” Come on, Michael, you are such a typical Asian parent and I am just never good enough 😔

    We ran on the fire-road again toward Goosebump, and some cars/crews were leaving and I was coughing badly cus of the dust; I tried to cover my mouth with the half length Buff and shuffled my legs behind Michael. I had been running for 8 1/2 hrs now, feeling good, but the double track dirt road was boring. Saw a runner walking with poles, and Michael said “that guy can walk faster than you running.” Ouch.. but that’s OK. “Run your own race, Michele!” I did most of the talking to entertain myself, and it’s kind of funny to think about this now.

    Goosebump A/S (mile 34.4), 4:20pm, 8 min ahead of target#1 and 1hr & 10 min ahead of the race hard cutoff; I felt relieved! Michael told me that we should take advantage of the buffer that I had built for myself; he had run the 50K course two years ago, and he advised that we better finish the next 11.3 miles before it gets dark. I didn’t understand why the hurry but I trusted his judgement. Efficiently found my drop-bag, stashed the headlamp and a light jacket (Thank you Dennis for the fancy merino wool shell) in my pack, and filled my bottles with electrolyte hoping to control my very swollen hands.

    At first I was excited about running on the edge of the mesa, and it offered different views of the canyons. I was “WOW“ing non stop when looking down into the canyons. But it didn’t take long for me to get irritated with those rocks. Gooseberry Mesa is a world class trail, one of the best technical trails anywhere with rolling slickrock, twisty single track, and vistas to die for. The rolling hills on course profile was actually hopping up and down the rocks. HUGE!! We had to look for the course makers between, behind, on tops, far ahead.. of those rocks, while walking, jumping, and crawling with hands & feet. OMG… so insane.

    Gooseberry Mesa

    Then there was this section of out and back to a “turn around point,” and in order to get there I had to walk/hop over gaps between plate rocks. I knew the gaps were not that big, and I shouldn’t and wouldn’t get myself stuck in there like 72 Hours. But psychologically it just frightened me and I found myself frozen and couldn’t move. Michael said “come on, it’s no big deal!‘ I put my hands on both sides of my temples trying to shield my view like a horse, but that didn’t work very well. I called out to Michael “Come back, you have to help me!” We got to the turn around point and I was like “man….. this is just too crazy!

    At the edge of the Gooseberry Mesa

    We turned around and continued to battle with those never ending piles of rocks. It didn’t look bad on the course profile, but trust me it’s the most challenging and frustrating section of this race for me. However, those crazy rocks seemed to give Michael adrenaline boost, and he started wanting to pose and take pictures. Ahaha!! So what’s my take away of this sections? Doing cross-fit training should help, so you can climb, craw, hop and jump efficiently. We finally got to Gooseberry A/S (mile 42) and I told the two friendly volunteers “man, that just never ends“, and the guy offered “you are welcome to stay here, I got a camper.” LOL

    Never ending slick-rocks

    7:15pm, I was 24 mins behind my target #1 but 24 mins ahead of my target#2; those crazy rocks had eaten up the buffer I had banked for myself. It’s getting darker and sun had just set. Michael and I discussed what we would do once we got to the next A/S. Our plan was to get some real food, preferably hot and salty ramen; don’t need to refill bottles since it’s getting dark and cold and we wouldn’t drink much. I did a quick check up on how I was feeling — my stomach was acting very funny and I needed to use the porta potty, and my sweaty shirt was making me cold, so I needed to change shirt, put on arm sleeves, gloves, and Buff.. etc, for running into the night. We reserved 10 mins for Goosebump A/S, and we did exactly that. While waiting for the hot ramen, I saw the Korean coach running through the timing mat, but I didn’t see his runner. Wondered what happen to her?

    Remember the steep ascends this morning? Now I had to go down the same rocky & steep trail, and I was very very very scared. The loose gravels on downhills is NO fun. The Kogalla lights that I bought at the expo was a problem; it’s strapped with velcros onto my pack and I could not adjust it’s angle. Despite it being very bright, but it’s pointing forward while I was going downhills, that’s useless. I fell couples times on my butt and hands, and thinking about this is the sort of thing that Dennis liked and very good at. Surprisingly it’s not cold here and I saw the half moon and brilliant stars above me, amazing experience despite the fear of falling off the trails. Hard to believe that I had been running for 15 1/2 hours, the longest I had ever done. PR :-p

    We got to Virgin Desert A/S (mile 53.8) and couple runners were sitting inside the tent and having food. “Man, that looks tempting but no I shouldn’t go in there. I need to keep moving.” Michael must be cold & hungry, because he went in to get two ramen and he showed me how to shove down the noodle without spoon or fork. We moved our last drop bag from the huge pile to the smaller “RETURN” pile, and I was surprised that there were still many bags left. Michael said “maybe they dropped and didn’t make it this far; I noticed that at Goosebump also.” We caught up with two runners and started walking together. Easier to find your way when you have four pairs of eyes, isn’t it? Whenever we found run-able sections, Michael and I shuffled our legs, and soon there were only the two of us in the desert.

    It’s midnight now, and I still got 10 miles to go, which normally wouldn’t mean much but after running almost 18 hours I certainly was feeling it. And out of blue Michael said “Michael Li’s runner runs well on flat, and she will pass you soon.” Oh man… that Asian parents and neighbor’s kid thingy again!! Michael did that to me when we were at AR50 also, but I ended up finishing an hour earlier than that “neighbor’s kid” that day. Running in the desert wasn’t exactly exciting or fun, especially in the dark, and just because we were done with the hills, it didn’t make the run easier. There were so many gravels and rolling sand dune along Virgin River, and Michael and I had to look very hard for the course markers. Whoever marked this section was trying to save his/her ribbons :-p

    Another thing I had learned from Dennis was calculating pace, even for someone totally sucked at math like me. My Garmin had died earlier, but I figured we were walking at about 20 min pace and shuffling at 18 min pace. I could shave off my finish time by 20 mins if I run (slowly) to the finish, and that 20 mins would make a significant difference and would make Dennis very happy. Michael couldn’t see me doing this math in my head, but I started running (slowly). My stomach was making lots of noises now and I finally had to make a stop behind bushes; well it’s a first time experience doing it in a desert and at night :-p

    We came to mile 61 approximately, and two course marshals directing us to the right, and another two runners going to the left (100 miler). We wished each other good luck! Once we were on the paved road, SR-9, I started sprinting or at least I felt that I was 😄 I ran past couple runners that were walking and I told myself “you are so close to the finish now, and you should try to speed up and every_minute_counts.” I knew I would finish but I wanted to have a better time to impress Dennis. So I ditched my pacer and running in the dark fast, next to a highway.., eventually Michael caught up with me before the arch, and we crossed the finish line together. 20 hrs & 11 mins, just like what Dennis had predicted. I checked off his wish-list and fulfilled his dream!!!

    Finish line and trying not to cry

    It took me 3 years to toe the start line and 20hrs and 11mins to finish, and if it’s not because of Dennis I would never have the courage to come this far. Throughout the race I had no low point, and I was feeling good and enjoyed the beauty of Zion, even able to laugh at myself for my short legs trying to climb those slick-rocks. I came to run my own race, and I knew everyone that toed the start line is awesome and courageous. However, when I found that I had finished way before those that I had met and leapfrogged during the race, I couldn’t help but to brag in my heart “See Dennis, your runner beat them, and I hope I have made you proud!”

    Thank you for being here with me from start to finish, Dennis! Zion 100K is all in your honor! 💗


    Leave a reply