I had the pleasure of accompanying Jennilyn Eaton of Salt Lake City, UT this past weekend on her Fastest Known Time (FKT) attempt of the 100 mile long White Rim Trail in Canyonlands NP. “The White Rim Road is a beautiful, 100-mile jeep road (with 7 miles of pavement) in the Islands in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park, near Moab, Utah. The “White Rim in a Day” (WRAID) has been a classic for mountain bikers since it was first done (probably) by Buzz Burrell in the mid-1980s. Paul Pomeroy and Emily Loman ran the White Rim Road in a single push of around 28 hours in Fall of 2002″ (excerpt from the FKT proboards), making that the likely first completion by a woman and current FKT until Jennilyn.
Jennilyn had a great day and a rough night, unable to keep down food after mile 70. She went on to set a new women’s FKT of 21:52:33
I sat down with Jennilyn a few days ago to reminisce about her effort, the pain, and satisfaction of running such a scenic, yet challenging course.
CL: What drew you to doing the 100 mile long White Rim trail in Canyonlands NP?
JE: When I first biked the White Rim in 2005, I fell in love with the area. As a group we biked it over 3 days, and each night after a long day of biking and mini-hiking excursions I’d lace up my running shoes, grab a headlamp, and run. At that point I didn’t have a watch, I didn’t take a water bottle, and I didn’t even consider myself a runner- I just knew what I had seen each day and wanted so badly to do it on foot (I hate biking!) On the 4th day, members of the group I was with decided to bike the entire loop in the day. I opted instead for a 10 mile group hike and a 15 mile solo run. I day dreamed about being able to come back and run it over multiple days, and wondered if it’d be even remotely possible for a human to run that far continuously. In the Spring of 2012 I went back with a group of friends and ran the white rim over 3 days with them. Those were my first ultramarathons. I promised myself that the moment I was in good enough physical shape to run the loop in a continuous push I would. This summer I knew I could.
CL: Your route was very different from previous reports. What influenced your decision?
JE: I wanted to put as much of the climbing early on as I could, as well as enable us to see the most views during daylight hours.
CL: You managed this run different than other types of races or adventure runs by having aid stops very far apart (up to 20 miles) the first 80 miles. What influenced that decision?
JE: I’m used to carrying supplies for longer than a few hours. My first rule during any ultra is no aid stops until after mile 20. I want to eat, drink, and hike on my schedule, not a pre-determined aid station outline. I’ve found I move faster when I only stop when my water is low.
CL: You chose to do an FKT attempt of an adventure run as your first 100 miler. Why that over a race?
JE: I DNF’d my first 100 attempt in late May of this year at a race. Despite the disappointment and injury from the DNF, there was a bit of relief. Every distance up to 100 I’ve run I’ve done as a “fun run” before I’ve attempted the distance as a race. It’s a grounding reminder to myself that I do this because I love it, because of the lines and places and adventure of it all… not because of the pressure to succeed/finish/be competitive.
CL: You got sick and couldn’t eat the last 35 miles, how did you deal with that for so long?
JE: I don’t know if I handled this turn of events well or not. I stayed positive; I knew I was going to finish. Other than getting angry about vomit all over my new shoes, and sadness about the loss of an hour while I sat and puked and tried to pull myself together, I remained happy and content. I’ve always had the attitude that if you want something to get done, you do it yourself. There wasn’t anything that could help me through that time, I had to rely on predisposed determination.
CL: You seem to search out difficult adventure runs over races (like the Utah Triple Crown FKT). Why?
JE: I find lines, and I obsess over them. Race, peak, trail… it doesn’t matter. Once I find that line, I have to do it. I’m sure this relationship with a line is in part because I spent a decade as an avid rock climber, obsessively working on/ training for a particular climb for months on end. That same “projecting” mentality has carried over into my running. Whether or not something is a race, an established route, or a repeat adventure route doesn’t make a difference on whether or not I feel I must do it.
CL: Tell us about Cobras.
JE: Well, there aren’t any cobras in Utah, despite my encounter! When my blood sugar was crashing from lack of calories (around mile 86) I thought I saw a cobra in the middle of the trail—poised, hissing, and ready to strike. I stopped and stared at it, scared to pass. After a few minutes of my blank stare, I realized it wasn’t moving. I started thinking about how cobras weren’t on the white rim… and then I realized it was a tuft of grass. My pacer caught up to me shortly after (at this point I was stumbling a bit) and I was excited to lighten the mood with the story.
CL: What advice would you give to people who are looking to take on an adventure run of this magnitude?
JE: Surround yourself with friends who believe in you. Knowing that they’re planning on your finish, and they took the time to support you, is an irreplaceable fuel source.
Jennilyn is also a great writer. Check out her blog at http://jennilyneaton.blogspot.com/