Zion Ultras 50K Race Report

Zion 50K was absolutely amazing - I recommend this race to everyone. I traveled to Zion with my friend, Alayna, who was running her first ever 50K. We didn't have a very long trip but we made sure to cram in all of the activity we could in a short time!

After arriving super late on Thursday night, we got a good night of sleep and then headed out for a short shakeout hike on Friday at Zion National Park. Luckily, our hotel was less than a mile from the park and we could take the free shuttle. We started up the Watchman Trail and were both stunned by the beauty of the area - the tall rock, the colors, the overall atmosphere - all of it was mesmerizing. The scenery got better and better as we continued climbing, with excellent views from the top.

My first time at Zion!

Hiking the Watchman Trail.

Posing at the top viewpoint.

Following our hike, we grabbed lunch and went to the race expo to grab the goods. The expo was at the start/finish location of the race, so we were able to scope out the parking and porta potty situation for race morning as well. One thing I love about trail races is the low key expos and friendly vibe from everyone I meet, and this race felt the same way even thought it's much bigger than many trail events.

We said this might be bad luck, but took a photo anyway.

We spent the rest of the day resting and eating in preparation for the 4 am alarm clock on Saturday. One of the things that makes me the most nervous for races is an early start; I'm reactive hypoglycemic and weird wake up times often wreak havoc on my blood sugar, resulting in major nausea and feeling faint. I had to focus to keep myself calm the night before and I also made sure to eat less at a time but late enough that it could carry me into the early morning. Everything went smoothly this time - no nausea or faintness on race morning is always a relief.

We wanted to arrive at the race start by 5:15 am to be sure we could park, and this went smoothly. It was in the 30s so we stayed warm in the car as long as possible before heading to the porta potty lines around 5:35 am. The number of porta potties felt a little small for the number of people and the lines were rough, we should have started sooner to avoid being so tight to start (we thought we weren't going to get through the line, and many people didn't.) The next thing we knew, it was 6 am and people started moving.

Headlamps at the ready. It was dark!

The first mile or so was along the paved highway and then we turned toward the beauty of the mesa. It was only super dark for about the first 20 minutes, then we started to see the scenery backlit by the sunrise. The section to the first aid station at 5.2 miles is a gradual uphill followed by a very steep climb onto the mesa. I made sure my pace stayed easy and steadily made my way to the top. My goal for this race was to see a new place (my first ultra outside of California!) and to make the soul happy, and that's what I focused on. No getting in my head about being slower than normal, keep the body feeling good.

Course profile from the race website. Despite less overall climbing than many races, the steep climb was a doozy.

Heading up and up.

It's much steeper than it looks here. I turned around to enjoy the view every so often!

As we neared the top, we had spectacular single track and views along the edge.

Eventually, I found the top of the climb and the aid station at Goosebump. One great thing about this 50K was the opportunity to have drop bags at miles 5.2, 16.5, and 24.6. I've never had drop bags for a 50K before and I loved being able to drop off items like my headlamp and long sleeve and to pick up fuel as I went along. Very convenient.

My legs were feeling good, but I unfortunately dealt with a weird stomach from the very first aid station and spent way too much time in the hot porta potty tents at every aid station thereafter. It slowed me down quite a bit, although on the bright side they had porta potties available. That's much better than trying to find privacy elsewhere...the mesa and desert aren't exactly full of large bushes and trees. I wasn't going to let this silly little thing ruin my day, there was too much to see and enjoy!

After Goosebump aid station, the terrain changed to a mix of single track dirt and slickrock. I'd heard the rock provided difficult footing, and it felt harder than I had expected. It feels almost 'sticky' and I was often tripping as I tried to run on it normally. I had to slow way down and walk a lot, sometimes it involved climbing up with hands to balance and then jumping off the other side. It was a fun adventure! This is one thing about training in the Bay Area - we don't have much technical terrain and rock to teach us to handle it more efficiently. We spent the next 11 miles or so on the mesa, and we had views galore. It was such a fantastic place!

Alayna called these 'rock clouds' which seems accurate!

View from a turnaround point on the mesa. It was so high up and spectacular.

Running on rock, along the edge of the mesa.

We passed the Gooseberry Mesa aid station at mile 12.5, then finished the loop back to Goosebump along the other side of the mesa. The trail type was similar but the views were very different on the way back because we more interior. Another thing to note about this race is that although the trail markings were great, the trail can be very hard to follow on the mesa. There are dots for mountain bike trails that give you and idea of how to cross the rock, and that helps, but the race route doesn't follow the dots exclusively. There were quite a few times where I stood still or walked in many directions until I could find the ribbons again. Luckily, I was in fairly close vicinity to other runners the entire time and had buddies to help find the trail.

At mile 16.5 we arrived back at Goosebump aid station. I swapped my headband for a hat before descending into the desert portion of the course, reapplied sunblock for about the third time (it's all exposed, don't forget!), and grabbed an extra bottle from my drop bag. We had 8 miles before the next aid station and carrying more water was essential because it had gotten fairly hot. I was using my Nathan VaporHowe 4L pack which only holds 2-12 oz bottles in the front, and I added a 500ml Salomon soft bottle in the back pocket.

We headed back down the steep path off of the mesa, returning the same way we had come up, and we turned left into the desert for the next section of the course. The trail became wide and very runnable with sweeping views of the valley. I passed a few people here and fell into pace with a great woman from Florida who was running her first 50K. I enjoyed running and chatting with her until the next aid station, Virgin Desert, at mile 24.6. At that point she stayed longer to wait on friends; I took care of my needs and kept going.

By this time it felt hot and I was getting tired. I did whatever run/walk I needed to keep moving forward. My legs still felt good, my stomach situation hadn't changed. The trail turned to single track through the desert and along a creek, complete with little waterfalls here and there. We could see snowy mountains behind the desert, one of my favorite things about the landscape.

Such contrast.

Ah yes, single track.

We popped out onto the highway again for the last couple of miles back to the finish. This section was a gradual uphill and it felt hard, but I kept making myself run because we were so close to the end. I passed a few more people, turned into the road to the finish, and excitedly ran through the chute to finish in 7:57:58.

Alayna had crushed her first 50K and finished way before me, so she was waiting and cheering on the side when I arrived. Her friend, Jessica, had run her first 100K the day before and was there as well. Congrats to both of them!

So excited, I had to jump!

With Alayna at the finish. Woot!

Overall, I had a blast and loved the event. I admit, I didn't think it would take me quite as long to finish as it did (my slowest 50K aside from Canyons which had 9200' of climbing) but I'm ok with it. I knew my training wasn't where I'd hoped so far this year, the rock was challenging, and my goal was happiness not speed. I enjoyed every part of the race, the views and unique trails and changing terrain, and I wouldn't change a thing.

To close, I'll leave you with this photo of my finisher award: a handmade mug. This is my favorite finisher award ever!


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