Monday, May 7, 2012

New Zion Traverse FKT and a week in Zion.

My Favorite tree on the West Rim

A little over a year ago I ran the Zion traverse for the first time.  I had heard my dad talk of backpackers crossing the entire park in 5-6 days, trips he led when I was very young.  My first exposure to the park immediately forged deep connections and appreciation for the desert.  During that trip a year ago a group of us ran various shorter "day hikes" in the park and then culminated our Vitamin D Camp with the whole traverse, starting at the East Entrance of the park and connecting to dots to finish as near the west entrance that you can on trail at the Lee's Pass Trailhead.  On that trip was the Fastest Known Time (FKT) holder for the traverse, Matt Hart.  Matt had run the 48 mile trek in 7:58:07, our group ran 11:56:07.  Although we took our time getting across the park, stopping for lots of pictures and traveling mostly as a group, the seed was planted in me to get back and try to go a little faster than Matt.

Vitamin D Crew- Photo Jim Speth

Fast forward to the day after Thanksgiving, Ty Draney and I headed out to attempt to break the FKT, but chose to try to run west to east.  We moved very quickly until we got bogged down in the muddy muck climbing wildcat canyon.  There Ty started to have trouble with his left hip/psoas, I problem that had been plaguing him for some time.  This time when it manifest it slowed progress dramatically.  We pulled the plug at the Grotto, roughly 36 miles in.

Ty Draney cold November morning in Hop Valley

Several times during the summer and fall I day dreamed about running in Zion, and discussed the park with many people.  During a discussion with my good friend Krissy Moehl she mentioned that we should both go for the FKT starting at the same time but on different itineraries.  The more we talked about it the more excited we got.  During the winter Outdoor Retailer Tradeshow we casually mentioned it to Fred Marmsater, an excellent photographer.  I'll spare you the details but we put down some tentative dates to head to the park, run the FKT and shoot some pictures.
I got back in the park one more time during the Ultraspire athlete retreat about a month ago.  The group ran from Lee's Pass to the Grotto.

Me, Joe Grant, and Krissy West Rim durin the Ultraspire Athlete Retreat

 It was a great time out on the trail with so many amazing athletes, and during that run I spent a lot of time thinking about logistics and details for the FKT attempt planned for the first week of May. As things continued to evolve plans were made to spend 5 days in Zion, 3 shooting pictures with Fred and video with Patagonia photographer Jeff Johnson, 1 day for Krissy and I to attempt the FKT and the last day to spend with family.
On May 1st at 9:00 am Tanae and I loaded our girls in to the truck and left for Zion.  We stopped briefly in SLC for lunch and then pushed on for the rest of the drive.  That night after setting up camp we had birthday cake to celebrate Brynlee's 5th birthday.  Wednesday we spent most of the morning shooting pictures and video, with a short hammock session in the afternoon.  That evening after the shoot we sat down and went through logistics for the next days FKT attempt.

Enjoying the Hammock-Photo Tanae Nelson

At 6:10am on Thursday morning Krissy and I both hit start on our watches and set out from the East Rim TH.  We ran about the first 1/4 of a mile together and then drifted apart as our paces dictated.  I relied heavily on the "relaxed is fast" mantra as I tried to keep my stride smooth and controlled, yet near the edge of what I thought could be maintained.  Very fresh mountain lion tracks added a burst of adrenaline just as I started into echo canyon and down the descent towards the Weeping Wall TH. I pushed the leg turnover on the pavement to the grotto.  At this point I confused Matt's splits a little and although I felt like I ran well, I thought I was behind.  I crossed the bridge at the Grotto in 1:34:50.  There Cherie from Ultraspire helped crew me by taking my Isomeric Race Handheld and handed me my Spry race vest with 20 oz of concentrated EFS Slurry and 60 oz of water.

I joked with Fred the day before that I was going to run every step of the ascent to the West Rim, he laughed and said "let me know how that goes".  I was actually feeling very good at the point and ran up to the Angel's Landing intersection in 27 minutes, shortly after I passed Fred, Jeff and Bryce and Adriene from Ultraspire.  I continued running all the way up the West Rim topping out at the springs 57 minutes after leaving the grotto.  (overall split 2:32:49).  Still feeling good I ran the rest of the ascent around the corner on to the actual West Rim, and as I ran along the rim I was able to move well, but was missing one extra gear of turnover to really speed along.  Landmarks seemed to come and go quickly as the temperature slowly started to rise.  As I neared Lava point I started to hope the Cherie would be ahead of schedule to pick up Bryce and Adriene as I was getting quite low on water.  She hadn't arrived yet so I made the corner into Wildcat Canyon.  (split 4:08:56).

Knowing I was almost out of water I stopped and drank heavily from one of remnant pools in Wildcat creek.  I rolled along down Wildcat and then on to the connector trail.  As I turned on to the connector I sucked the last of the water from my pack.  4 more miles to the Hop TH were Jim Speth would be with water, no bueno.

I have to admit that here I suffered quite a bit.  It was getting hot, and I without fluids it was tough going.  I was very relieved to see Jim and I knew at least he would have ice water.  I had been dreaming of an ice cold coke for a while, he didn't have that but the water tasted great.  I drank 4 pints while he filled my hydration pack.  I had originally planned on carrying two handhelds for the last 13 miles but opted for more water because I didn't want to run out again.  I left the Hop TH 5:34:07.  I still thought I was running behind schedule, Matt had mentioned a split of 5 hours, I made the decision there to push as hard as I could to see if I could still manage to break Matt's FKT.

As I ran into Hop valley and began dreading the sand, since sand and I don't get along well.  The descent into the valley went well.  I got an extra bonus of adrenaline as the trail leveled off by nearly stepping on a Rattlesnake.  Turns out that rattlesnakes don't like you to step anywhere near there heads and he very quickly coiled with trail buzzing.  I let out a schoolgirl scream and leaped off the trail into mid-shin deep muck.  The adrenaline boost helped me to hammer out the last bit of single track before getting into the Hop Valley proper and onto the sand.  Remarkably I still felt pretty good at this point and was able to make decent time, considering the deep loose sand.  I passed a few backpackers and couldn't help feeling sorry for them and their heavy looking loads.  I began to feel desperate as I crossed La Verkin Creek knowing that the time it would take me to finish would be very tight, and close to Matt's.

I had been climbing well all day and as I turned off the river and began the final leg of the trail I was amazed that I still had climbing legs left.  I continued digging as hard as I could passing more and more hikers, each step bringing me closer to the goal.  The hard ascent pace started to take it's toll and I crawled into my own personal hurt locker in the basement of the pain cave.  Other than the brief period of suffering while I was out of water it was the first time all day that I really had to overcome myself.  I was deep in the hole, struggling mentally when I saw Jeff up ahead camera pointed my direction.  I mumbled something about being f#$@* when I passed him.  I thought I was too far out to get the record and felt about the same.  Jeff was very encouraging, as was Fred who was shooting pictures just up the trail.  It was 7:34 in to the run and Fred said it was about 1.6 miles, all uphill.  I could hear Jeff coming up behind but new I was moving well when he didn't catch completely up.  Fred leapfrogged a few times and then tucked in behind me as I made the final two steep little climbs.  I quit looking at my watch and worked on completely destroying myself in the last few minutes.

"Bounding" the last bit of vertical- Photo Tanae Nelson

I knew I was very close when I started to hear cheering.  Jim, Adriene, Cherie, Melanie and Bryce had all made it to the the TH as well as Tanae and the girls.  I bounded (it felt like bounding but probably looked more like stumbled) up the last few vertical feet and tagged the sign in 7:48:47.  I was very emotional (mix of fatigue and excitement).  I then pretty much collapsed at the base of the TH sign completely worked.  Tanae recognized from my appearance that I had been hurting pretty bad and set to getting me some Ultragen while Fred and Jeff continued to shoot pics and video.

Hurt Face-Photo Tanae Nelson

I was pretty damn happy to have been able to shave nearly 10 minutes off of Matt's time.
The whole crew waited around knowing that Krissy wasn't too far behind me.  At Hop Valley she was only about 30 minutes back.  Krissy rolled in just over an hour later to finish her journey and establish a new women's FKT in 9:09:00.

Krissy moments after finishing- Photo Tanae Nelson

There were a lot of high fives and hugs. It was awesome to have been able to be on the trail, working hard, pushing personal limits at the same time. I think although we didn't run together we provided extra strength to each other by simply being out there together.
After the finish celebration we headed back to our camp and got in a good soak in the river.  Our daughters had their first experience with a solar shower, Brynlee loved it and Chloe didn't care too much for it.
Brynlee and Chloe pre-solar shower-Photo Tanae Nelson

Then it was off to Oscars in Springdale for a an amazing dinner.  Thee next morning we got up early again to shoot more photos and video.  It was super fun to be able to get back up in the high country the day after the traverse and to spend it with super talented photographers and a runner as talented as Krissy.  That afternoon we headed into St. George, visited Ultraspire HQ and then parted ways.  Our family went to Bryce's house and got in some pool time, and a wonderful BBQ with Bryce and Melanie.  The next morning we left early to drive back in time to make it back in time to go to Tanae's brother, Casey, graduation.  When we rolled into the driveway late Saturday night Tanae and I sighed heavily, completely exhausted, but very content with our previous 5 days of fun in the sun.

Shoes:  Patagonia Tsali 2.0
Socks: Patagonia ultra lightweight merino anklet
Shorts: Patagonia Stridor 3"
Shirt: Patagonia Ariflow T-Shirt
Hat: Patagonia Ariflow
Hand Held: Ultraspire Isomeric Race
Pack: Ultraspire Spry (custom)

Pre run: First Endurance MultiV, Optygen, 3 Prerace timed release caps. 1 large bowl Krissy's concoction.
1st 12 miles: 1 20 oz bottle First Endurance Dreamsicle Slurry (25% concentrated): with 5oz EFS LS (vanilla), 1 scoop EFS (orange) topped off with water.
Next 22 miles: 2 10z bottles of Dreamsicle slurry (50% concentrated) 5oz EFS LS (vanilla), 1/2 scoop EFS (orange) topped off with water.  70oz plain water.
Final 13 miles: 2 10 z bottles of Wild-berry/Orange Slurry (25% concentrated) with 5 oz EFS LS Berry, 1 scoop Orange EFS, topped with water.  70 oz plain water.
Recovery: Two 20 0z bottles ice cold Orange Cream Ultragen.

Split Comparison: Based on Matt's Blogpost
Grotto: Matt 1:40 Me 1:34

Here is where I got confused:
Matt reported his split at the Junction of Wildcat and the Connector as 5:10.  I didn't record that spot but the junction prior (Wildcat and West Rim) I was 4:08:56 and the junction past (connector to Hop) I was 5:34.

My Complete Splits
Grotto: 1:34:50
West Rim Springs: 2:32:49
WildCat Canyon: 4:08:56
Hop TH: 5:34:07
Finish: 7:48:47


  1. Congrats on the FKT. Quite a support team you have there.

  2. Awesome work Luke! Impressive run man. I was having flashbacks reading your description of the last climb to Lee's Pass. I was a wreck myself, dehydrated, bonking and trying to overcome my own thoughts to stop or slow down.
    Well done buddy.

  3. Grats. Two questions. How many calories is all of that intake? You still interested in returning from the River of no Return with me in June? This is Clint on Jill's account.

  4. Great run, congrats on the FKT!

  5. Jim- Thanks, and you're right I have a great support team!

    Matt- Seriously thanks, means a lot coming from you.

    Clint (aka Jill)- Calorie wise each Slurry is about 500 kCal, which brings total caloric intake for the run at about 2000 (the last two bottles were about 250 calories each). Then the Ultragen servings added 320 calories per serving and I had 2. I am still interested in the River of no Return but may have a hard time finding the time to go. I am going to be in San Diego for a week for the San Diego 100, and I am going to the Phillipines for 10 days at the end of the month. Fire me some dates and let's see if I can tag along.

    Jason- Thanks, and thanks for providing good inspiration all winter long with your adventures.