This is tough for me. How do you tell a story that isn't yours to tell? A race that wasn't yours to run? As a pacer everything is about the racer, but when you are 'pacing' the full 100 miles it becomes a race of your own, with all of the ups and downs that go along with running the full distance. And this wasn't even a race, but an attempt to beat the current Fastest Known Time (FKT) on a significant trail in southern Utah.
Jennilyn Eaton, a Salt Lake City local, had been planning for some time to attempt a women's FKT of the 100 mile long White Rim trail in Canyonlands National Park. A couple of months ago she invited me along for the full ride, hoping to help her run faster end to end. I'm sure she was relying on my experience in races and long adventure runs to get her through the "tough miles". She had never run 100 miles before, but had put up solid performances in the 50 mile and 100k distances. Going into the run she was looking fast and strong. But now I'm wandering over to her story. You'll have to see the video to get the full details on her experience (forthcoming).
I didn't make a big deal about my running 100 miles to anyone prior to leaving because I figured it wasn't mine to share. I knew if she wanted to make a big deal of it, she would. I also knew she wouldn't. For Jennilyn this experience was about something deeper than just an FKT, it was personal and defining and I didn't want to tread on that.
I haven't been to Canyonlands since I was a kid. I couldn't tell you anything about a national park that is close enough to be almost a day trip. What I did know was that the route had a casual 12,000 of vertical climbing, most of it runnable. I also knew it was entirely a dirt road with about seven miles of pavement. It seemed fast and I was optimistic that her aggressive goals were achievable. For me it would be about hanging on for the ride. I would need to have a good day to be of any real help to Jennilyn, as the course would test not just my endurance, but my speed.
We started our run at 6:20am at the bottom of Mineral Basin. In the first two miles we had an amazing switchback climb of over 1000 vertical feet. And then a long 18 miles of gently rolling uphills until we dropped into the Schaefer Trail inside of the park proper. We took it easy, had great conversation, and cruised along in the morning light. Our crew (Jennilyn's husband Ben and Matt W) would periodically stop to take video and photos, but there was no planned aid stop for the first 20 miles. It was a long way to go without stopping, but turned out to be a very wise decision. I felt great and looked forward to the amazing views ahead.
Running pavement early on - mile 18
Just before dropping into the switchbacks on the Schaefer Trail
Looking down at the Schaefer switchbacks
Not feeling well around mile 45
Running on the moon
We finished the run just after 4am in a total time of 21:52:33.
We just ran 100 miles
Satisfaction that it was over
I spent my day doing everything I could to keep up with her. At my lowest points my mind would wander to the possibility of having to give up and hand off duties of pacing to Matt or Ben. My fear of failing Jennilyn drove my ability to not lose her and catch up when I felt horrible. It guided my attitude and shored my emotions when I needed to be there when she was having her lows. More than anything it allowed me to truly savor the success she would have in this accomplishment. I'm proud to have run 100 miles on such a beautiful course. More so I am honored to have witnessed Jennilyn accomplishing a goal she has had for herself for so long. It was truly amazing to watch.
Thank you to my sponsors whose gear continued to exceed expectations. And to the other companies whose gear was also incredible. I ran in and ate the following:
Altra Zero Drop Lone Peak shoes - I never took off my shoes, never felt the need to.
Ultraspire Revolution Vest - While I didn't use it the first 40 miles, it literally saved me the last 60.
Gnarly Nutrition Boost - This water additive is the best thing to happen to me in ages. So amazing.
Vfuel Gels - For long distance running, there is no better gel.
SPOT GPS Tracker - I carried the new Gen3 the full 100 miles and never knew it was there.
Injinji Trail Socks - Normally I change socks at 50 miles. Not this time.
Head over to http://trailandultrarunning.com in the next few days to see an interview with Jennilyn as well as the feature video.
**All photos by Matt Williams