Western State Colorado University Mountain Sports Trail Running Team member Bryan Schlinkmann recently completed his first 100 mile race ever at the 2015 Zion 100. Here is his epic race report:
Friday, April 10, 2015 was the day that I attempted my fourth 100-mile endurance run in beautiful Virgin,Utah. Having attempted this distance three times prior meant that I knew what was ahead of me – at the same time, I had no idea. Finishing in 33 hours 14 minutes was no easy feat, and one that I will forever hold dear to my heart.
Luckily this year we were able to stay at the La Quinta in Springdale, Utah, so I was able to get up later than I usually would for a race. Up by 4:00, I hopped in the shower (a usual pre-race requirement for me), and then got as many calories in me as I could endure. This time those calories consisted of poppy seed muffins (without lemon), my usual bowl of fruit, and an Odwalla smoothie. The stress that an event of this magnitude holds was surprisingly non-existent as I lube up with a hearty dose of A&D Ointment on those key areas, finished assembling my duffle for my crew, and finished assembling my Ultimate Direction race vest. My shoe of choice for the race was the new Altra Olympus 1.5’s – in my opinion the BEST max cushioned trail shoe in the world. By 5:15, we grab everything we need, and my crew (Katie and mom), my pacer (Kevin Geisen), and I are off – headed towards the starting line of my 4th 100 mile attempt.
Upon arrival to the small town park in Virgin, Utah, I quickly go through my mental checklists to make sure everything is in order. Katie and I said a quick prayer, we snapped a few pictures with our Mountain Sports banner, and I was off. In first place I might add. Not being able to choose where to start to make it up Flying Monkey climb before the herd of people creates a conga line, I situated myself right next to the front of the starting chute where I could jump on at the last minute. Luckily,it paid off! I can officially say that I was in the lead of a 100-mile endurance run – For a whole 100 yards. Quickly noticing that the pace was a wee bit fast for me, I backed way down, simply maintaining a decent warm-up speed on my way towards the first mesa.
Start – Flying Monkey Aid Inbound The first 4 miles of the course are a combination of flat single track, back-country roads, and a final 2-mile climb up the stunning Flying Monkey trail. The sunrise takes place for most on our way up the side of the mesa, creating some of the most intense sunrise views I’ve ever seen over the vast Virgin Desert.
Flying Monkey Aid Inbound – Outbound The loop we take on top of the mesa is in my opinion one of the most beautiful on the course. You’re in vegetation quite a bit unlike some of the other mesas, and the cool morning temperatures make for a very runnable section. For some reason unknown to me, my left foot was cramping my mile 10, creating for a very…memorable experience trying to navigate back down Flying Monkey – a trail I learned is MUCH easier going up than down.
Flying Monkey Outbound – Dalton Wash Inbound After surviving the death-defying leaps and bounds descending Flying Monkey (pun intended for the pace I was actually moving), we work our way across the smooth red desert dirt towards Dalton Wash. This included my very first river crossing (more like stone-hop) of my ultra-running career. Knowing I was about to see my crew at their first access point, I quickly went through another mental checklist (you can never have too many…) on how I was going to have a quick turnaround once there. My goal through the first day was to keep aid station stops to a minimum, and have quick turnarounds.
Dalton Wash Inbound – Guacamole Trail –Dalton Wash Outbound The road leaving Dalton Wash is a gradual climb that at first seems to deceive one’s mind if they are not familiar with the course.After a few miles on what I thought was the top of the mesa, we had another final push up the road towards Guacamole Aid Station. Once there, we head out for an absolutely stunning loop on the slick rock trails on top of the mesa. Running right along the sheer edge, I am reminded why it is I love doing these events. We can see Dalton Wash Road down below, and the runner both in front and behind us slogging and pouncing their way towards their own personal goals for this race. I stop to remind myself that all of us, all of our crazy souls, are going to be out here for literally the next day – more than 24 hours to the finish line. With this reminder parading through my head, I slow down, catch up on my breathing, and notice a buzzing noise coming from ahead on the trail. Out of nowhere comes a drone filming the event. After this, I quickly reach Guacamole Aid the second time, and descend back down to Dalton Wash.
Dalton Wash Outbound – Goosebump Aid #1 After running the short distance down to Highway 9 from Dalton Wash Aid, I decide to walk the short section of pavement until we reach the dirt again. Once on dirt, you can peer off into the distance and see the splendor of the Gooseberry Mesa climb looming in the distance. Partially a combination of my feet both cramping by this point, and being able to see the climb ahead, most of the few miles towards the climb were spend power-walking for me, and almost everyone around me. Having made it up Gooseberry last year (I dropped before coming down), I knew what lie ahead. The truth is, the climb up really isn’t that bad. No matter how slow we took it, the views looking over all the land we just covered were so worth it. Coming up the climb is when I first noticed the single largest struggle I would face the remainder of the race – I was developing blisters (yet again) on the pads of both my feet. Upon reaching the aid station in perfect timing with my crew, we attempted to tape the bottom of both my feet, and as quickly as I came in (hey, more pun!) I had left again for my loop on top of Gooseberry Mesa.
Loop on Goosebump – The loop on Gooseberry Mesa is another one of my favorite trails on the course. The trails are world-known as mountain biking meccas, but serve equally well for us running folk. You follow the rim of the mesa both outbound, and coming back in. Gooseberry Point is one of the most iconic locations I remember from any race I’ve ever had. You stand on the edge of the mesa with the thousands of feet-drop looming below on 3 sides. After punching a cute little star in my race bib, I continue back to the aid station, stock up on nutrition, and head back towards Gooseberry Aid. When all of a sudden “CRASH BOOM EXPLOSION” – the blister on my right foot decides to violently explode within my shoe with enough force that I thought for a split second I was attached to a rocket. The pain was absolutely immeasurable, and all I could do was limp my way back towards the aid station. The pain of my foot still didn’t stop me from finding a cute heart-shaped rock to throw in my pack to bring back to Katie. She sure appreciated that.
Mile 47.5 Goosebump Aid #2 Upon arriving back at the aid station, I immediately fell into a chair and called for my crew. I didn’t care what was going to have to happen, I was NOT going to let my blisters get the best of me for this race. Having no idea what to do at this point after already taping my blisters up, my crew reached out to the community there. Luckily they did – because one of the sweetest ladies I’ve ever met came to the rescue. Apparently she is some sort of “foot and blister doctor” for the Western States Endurance Run – which was EXACTLY who I neededat a time like this. Realizing that she was going to open up the other blisters on the bottom of my foot, I quickly freaked out remembering what had happened last time someone tried popping my blisters at Javelina Jundred a few months prior (I passed out hardcore). After resting for a solid 15 minutes while she went to town bandaging my right foot, I was off again, this time picking up my pacer Kevin who would be with me for the remainder of the race.
Goosebump Aid #2 – Grafton Mesa The first jaunt out with my pacer proved to have helped me mask the pain of the blisters. We moved at a nice solid pace for the entire way. The sunset was beautiful as we now moved southward on the roads.
Grafton Mesa Inbound – Cemetery Aid – Grafton Mesa Outbound My goal for the out-and-back from Grafton Mesa was to have a quick stop at Cemetery, and continue on, getting back to Grafton reasonably fast. This worked out well. I was passed none other than the infamous Fast Cory on the climb back up from Cemetery Aid Station, where we exchanged a few mid-night words, then preceded back to Grafton Mesa again. I was feeling pretty solid at this point, so I over confidently told my crew to skip Goosebump Aid #3, and proceed directly to Virgin Desert Aid to sleep until the morning.
Grafton Mesa – Goosebump Aid #3 – Virgin Desert This section of the race was by far the most challenging section of a race I’ve ever endured. I loaded up on coffee, and was off. Although it started out pretty good with my crew following me back up the road blasting none other than T-Swifts “Shake It Off”, the 9:00 minute pace quickly vanished as my crew disappeared from view and we proceeded towards Goosebump Aid. The night grew darker, the temperature grew colder, and my mind was now starting to play games with me I’ve faced many times before. Kevin and I reach Goosebump Aid and I decided to sit down and eat a quesadilla (thanks, Turtle!). While my legs were thankful for the short break, my body became frozen in place. In an attempt to warm up for the rocky descent down Gooseberry Mesa, I downed a cup of hot chicken soup. Then… it was into uncharted territory. I’ve never made it this far on this course. Excited to see what the next several hours and remaining 50k had left for me, we slowly worked our way down Gooseberry Mesa. Words cannot describe how uncomfortable the descent was, and how treacherous the 8 miles were to Virgin Desert Aid Station. My pace was at a slow gimp, and I completely lost all sense of time. Earlier in the race I decided to tape my Suunto, so that I could not see my time, pace, or mileage. Lucky for me, it had paid off until this point. All I can remember from that 8-mile stretch was pushing back the tears as the time passed by. 3:00am, 4:00am, 5:00am… Up and down the rolling dirt road in search of something I was convinced we would never find. Kevin kept me sane with the simple sound of his feet pat pat pattering in front of me while the empty void of the nighttime desert landscape crept in from behind. Finally, the sun began to rise, and the highly anticipated Virgin Desert Aid Station was within view. I came into the aid-station with a few measly minutes to spare, so I knew if it was time for me to finish my first 100-miler, I wasn’t going to have time to sit and enjoy my morning coffee.
Virgin Desert Loops By now the sun was up, and my energy was back. While I was sleepy, my legs new it was time to dig deep, and that they did. The first lap, the red lap, was 4.7 miles in length. I took off in front of Kevin while he rested for a bit at the aid station. He quickly rejoined me a few miles into it. “Think you could push 3 miles per hour?” He didn’t want to directly tell me that I was chasing the next cutoff again. My heart said yes while my body said no. Every step was a challenge as I bore through the pain of my inflamed blisters. Not much running on lap #1 left me with 5 minutes until the cutoff coming into Virgin Desert Aid #2. The second lap, the white lap, was 5.9 miles in length. By now, the heat of the day was beginning to set in, and while my heart was still saying go, go, go, my body was still trying to say quit, quit, quit. I finally found a decent pace at which I was now running again – something I hadn’t done since well before Goosebump Aid Station in the wee hours of the morning. I came into Virgin Desert Aid #2 with 15 minutes to spare. “Yes!” I thought. I knocked 10 minutes off the cutoff. Absolutely pumped at this point, I knew what I needed to do to meet the next cutoff at 2:30pm. A 20:00 pace would be required over the most difficult of the three laps, the blue lap, and its larger ascents and descents over its 6.9 miles. I was off, and off fast. I was booking it. 6.9 miles in 1 hour 10 minutes, one of the fastest paces of the race. Arriving back at Virgin Desert Aid #3, the FINAL stop on my way to victory, I managed to knock an HOUR off of the cutoff time. A well deserved rest and drench in water was in store for me… but only for a few minutes. I still had 6 miles to go if I were to complete my first 100-mile run.
The Final Stretch to Mile 100 The final 6 mile stretch back to the finish line was an emotional roller coaster for me. My legs had officially decided to quit, as I was no longer chasing time cutoffs. I had 2 ½ hours at my disposal to cover the remaining distance. I remember trying to psych myself up, but the 34+ hours of no sleep would not let me. I remember crying at so many earlier stages in the race just thinking about that chance to cross the finish line, but at a time like this, even crying consumed too much energy. Other passerby’s did the crying for me. A couple who were running the 25k that left earlier that morning passed me on the way to their finish, and one of them teared up at my appearance. She told me I was extremely motivating for her to see, and that my true endurance inspired her. Finally,we reach the pavement of Highway 9 once again for the final mile stretch to the finish line. The cars are whizzing by, 25k runners are passing every few minutes, and all I can think about is how exhausted I am. Finally after 33hours and 12 minutes, I round the final turn towards the small town park in Virgin, UT. I am greeted by my crew, my pacer, Fast Cory, Bryan Clocker (who ran his first 50k that morning) and his family, and a slay of spectators there to welcome us home. After YEARS of dreaming of this day… it finally came. I finished my first 100-mile endurance run in 33 hours 14 minutes, setting a record for myself. Not a record measured by pace or time, but a record measured by a rough past, and pushing through it. Little did I know sitting in Saturday School reading Born to Run on a late April day back in High School would have sparked a conversation with one of my good friends, Rob DeCou, about this crazy sport called ultra-running, which would lead to my first marathon my junior year of high school, my first ultra my freshman year of college, my first 100 mile attempt,second 100 mile attempt, and third 100 mile attempt over the last year, and to now my first 100 mile finish. The high from the events that took place on April 10th and 11th, 2015 are still being felt to this day. The 2015 Zion 100 will forever remain the turning point in my ultra running career where I learned that the limits I placed on my life from the passing of my father, and from the poor choices I made growing up do NOT define who I am today. What defines me is not in my history, but in the now. I am an ultra-runner. I am an athlete capable of battling the elements for 33 hours straight. I was once weak, but am now strong. No matter how physically fit or unfit I may seem to others, I am a warrior at heart.
It would not be right of me to not stress an incredible amount of thanks towards those people who made this possible for me. Thank you Rob DeCou for the inspiring conversations we’ve had through high school, as well as for pacing me for my first 2 marathons. Your stories from Leadville have always been in my mind.Thank you Noé Castañón for all the help, support, and advice through these last two years. I’m so thankful we were able to finally meet at TNF 50 in December! Thanks to Gay Hunter, and the herd of Washington runners that supported my visions for this long. Thank you to my friends and family especially my mom, girlfriend Katie, and Aunt Judy whose kind words were always there for me through all the DNF’s. Thank you Duncan Callahan for the coaching, and believing in me even when I had a hard time believing in myself. Thanks to Dave Wiens and all of the Western Mountain Sports Team for their financial support, and for providing me the many opportunities to share what Mountain Sports is all about with the ultra-running community. Also, thank you to EVERYONE I haven’t mentioned that simply takes the time to read my posts (ESPECIALLY this one), write an encouraging memo, or show their support through social media.
This summer brings many changes for me, all for the better. See you all back out on the trails.
-Bryan Schlinkmann (April 2015)