FKT attempt and success
May 3, 2012
Crispy bodies from time in the sun and tired legs from scaling slickrock and running back and forth for the camera, Luke Nelson and I sat on the tailgate of his truck at 6am the morning of May 3 looking over the map for the last time before starting off across park in our individual assaults on the previously established Trans-Zion records. Accompanied by photographer Fred Marmsater and video-guru Jeff Johnson we cracked a couple of jokes, laced up our Tsali 2.0’s, made final bathroom stops and stripped down to t’s and shorts before making our way over to the trailhead, our start line.
I met Luke Nelson on the trail three years ago at the inaugural Pocatello 50mile trail race. Around mile 30 I headed out of the aid station before him and on the next climb he caught up explaining his massive bonk and decision to hang with me till the finish if I didn’t mind. We chattered away, likely me more than him, and soon found ourselves quickly closing on the finish line tying for 2nd place overall. It was a great day for running in many regards. In looking back on that day and now knowing the friendship that has developed since then, it is one that I am extremely thankful for.
Our talk of meeting up in Zion started in spring of 2011 and it took a couple of attempts to actually meet up there at the same time. After a fall trip with another fellow ultrarunner Jared Campbell this past fall to scope out the traverse I made up my mind that the following spring we needed to put our plan into action. In discussing this with Fred Marmsater on a couple of photoshoots the simple run for Luke and I evolved to a Patagonia project. Now with the financial support for travel and food we also tied photo and video shoots into the days surrounding the actual FKT attempt. Fred and Jeff made those experiences a lot of fun while also appreciating the task Luke and I had established for May 3.
The sandy wash start for the trail on the east rim kept Luke and I stride for stride for the first half mile. We reminded each other how cool it was that we were finally going for this goal and wished each other well for day before Luke picked up his pace and I settled into mine.
The Trans-Zion runs across the park connecting the east rim through Observation Point and the Weeping Rock trail. Once down in the canyon runners must pound the pavement miles to the grotto before heading up Walter’s Wiggles towards Angel’s Landing and making the bend and finishing the climb to the west rim trail. We each accepted aid from UltrAspire’s Cherie Santiago at the grotto swapping bottles for hydration vests as it would be another 20 miles before the possibility for a water refill.
Climbing out of the canyon at sunrise was spectacular and I was excited to feel energy in my legs to run more and powerhike when necessary. Fred and Jeff met us near the top for a few photos ops, knowing that they wouldn’t get us to run back and forth like the day prior they were busting their butts to keep up and get ahead (especially of Luke) and snag a few shots from the day. From there it was a solo effort up to and across the west rim. In stride I checked in on Luke and was happy to hear he looked strong and was moving along well.
The leg turnover was there for me having run plenty of road miles in the heat on a recent family vacation in hot and humid Florida and with the help of music I enjoyed covering the distance up top. I caught up to Adriane & Bryce who were putting in their CCC training miles and hooted a greeting and hi-fived them on the way by. Down into Potato Hollow and on to Wildcat canyon, my 70oz of water was disappearing quickly and I started to ration. I still ran dry, and found out Luke did as well on the same section. This section became about staying in body management mode for about an hour of running into Hop Valley. The temps were in the high 80’s and the constant breeze/wind felt cooling, but I believe was drying us out quicker than we thought. I guzzled at least 4 pints of icy water while UltrAspire friends Jim Speth, Adriane Frehner ,Cherie Santiago & Bryce Thatcher cheered me on and refilled bottles. Leaving with great energy from them but a heavy belly from the water I trudged through the next few miles trying to absorb and get my legs back under me. I honestly never felt great again, but did get a good laugh when crossing the sandy wash for the final time. I caught my toe on the only stick in the mud and did a fabulous sideways dive into inches of wet sand. Probably the softest landing I have ever had, but I was still finding sand Friday night when I got back home to Boulder.
Criss-crossing the La Verkin creek bed I took the opportunity to clean up and cool off a bit and was completely relieved to see Fred poised behind his camera when I was about halfway up the climb. He spurred me on with the news that Luke had dug deep to find success for his day. The final ascent climbs about 800 feet in 4 miles and in the heat of the day having run out of water twice, I was at more of a stumble than the run or even power hike I had hoped. Fred prompted me along and as I got closer to the rim he pulled away and I listened for the chatter of our friends and found one last bit of energy to climb at a respectable jog to the sign to hit my watch at 9:09. I first looked at Luke to congratulate him on his effort and in return received a great hug that two friends can share. Luke’s impressive 7:48 took ten minutes off of the previous record and my 9:09 was a happy ending to the day. We had time to sit in the dirt, drink Ultragen and tell stories before making our way back to camp in the park and cooling off the legs in the chilly creek that flows through the South campground.
It is awesome to set a goal. Even more to team up with a friend on a similar one. And then again even better when people rally around to make it all happen. Thank you to Fred for working so hard to turn our goal into a project. Thanks to Patagonia for seeing our vision and bringing in the support of Fred and Jeff to capture the experience. Those guys brought humor, hard work ethic and an artistic eye. Thank you to the UltrAspire crew, Cherie, Jim, Adriane, Bryce and Melanie, for showing your forever support and jumping in at the last minute to keep us fueled and hydrated along the way. Thank you to Luke’s girls, Tanae, Brinley and Chloe for being such troopers and providing endless smiles. I am continually thankful for the support from Patagonia, Patagonia Footwear, UltrAspire, First Endurance and Udo’s Oil. They are my constants not only in product, but in their personal interest in the sport and their athletes. And finally a personal, public thanks to Luke for an awesome friendship that has developed quickly and for an experience that will bond us for many miles to come.