This past weekend was the 33rd (I think) running of the Wasatch 100 and I was fortunate enough to be a part of it. After spending the summer running mountains and tramping all over the West, one would expect that I would be in pretty good shape for such an undertaking but the truth is this, while we did spend a fair amount of time running trails, we spent very little time actually training with a purpose. That combined with a week of very little sleep, an unexpectedly tough mountain bike ride on Sunday and a far too speedy run on Wednesday and my body was feeling wiped. So, when race morning rolled around, I really didn’t know what to expect. At a minimum, I wanted to finish but I also had a secondary goal of breaking 30 hours – I thought this was reasonable but things would have to go well for it to become a reality.
Standing at the starting line, I was nervous. Paige reassured me as we snapped a few pictures and said a few hellos to friends. With a final kiss goodbye, I left Paige behind with Rob and Rina – the next time I would see them would be several hours and nearly 40 miles later. I quickly found a good friend from Chicago, Vishal, who was finishing up the Gram Slam (Western States 100, Vermont 100, Leadville 100, and Wasatch 100 – all in the same summer). He was nursing a recently bruised (broken?) rib, ouch, but was determined to finish and knowing how tough he is, I had no doubt that he would. We ran together for the first nine or so miles and had a chance to catch up on his engagement, our summer, his work, my job search and a lot of other tidbits – it was wonderful and made the first climb pass almost without notice. The final stretch of the first big climb is called Chinscraper, the trail turns into a bit of a scramble but just as soon as we were over the top, we were greeted with an amazing view of the Salt Lake valley below just as the sun was beginning to illuminate things. I was still nestled in the middle of a good size clump of runners but the trail had flattened out some and we were moving along at a decent pace. Here and there, I would take the opportunity to pass someone moving slightly slower than I but for the most part, I just enjoyed the company and tried to settle into a nice relaxed pace. The first aid station was just over 18 miles into the race, for some reason, this really tickled me. In Chicago, there are 5K races that have multiple water stops along the course – what a funny contrast. I tried to stay focused and keep my stops as short as possible: grab some GU and top off my water and then get out. Around mile 22ish, my stomach was acting up a bit. I don’t normally have stomach problems so I quickly reacted by trying some real food instead of my GU, it didn’t work. I accepted that I may have to just deal with the stomach issues and switched back to GU but I was out of mine and started using the ones they had at the aid station which was the Roctane variety – almost immediately, my stomach started to improve. I don’t know what is different, but that stuff was amazing.
The day started to warm up and I did my best to keep moving at a decent clip but soon, I hit my first fuzzy spot of the day. I got real sleepy and I just wanted to lay down for a few minutes, this usually doesn’t happen except in the middle of the night but here I was, dealing with it in the middle of the day. I didn’t lay down and it passed. Once I pulled out of that little dip, I was feeling pretty good and started moving a little better again. Before too long, I could hear the Big Mountain AS where my crew was waiting for me – I got butterflies just thinking about seeing them. As I came down the hill, I could see Paige waiting – what a sight! I got weighed in and quickly found Rob and Rina who were waiting with my stuff. I took my time at this stop, I was so happy to see them and sit down for a minute. I drank several cups of Coke, had some fruit, emptied my shoes of the accumulated dirt/rocks, and swapped out some gear. Rob was onto my stalling and started pushing me to get going, I needed and appreciated the push. As I made the climb out of the AS, I noticed that I felt strong and decided to take advantage of it, I pushed hard on the ups and ran everything else until the next AS – it felt awesome to make so much ground. The afternoon was hot and the long gentle climb out of the Alexander Springs AS slowed me down with another bout of fuzzy head – this time, it didn’t last as long, nor did it get as bad. Once I hit the top of the exposed section and entered into the trees, I was running a pretty good clip again down toward the next crew stop. Upon reaching the AS, I knew I was slightly over the halfway point and I was still feeling pretty good, I let my mind wander to time goals, I was still on pace for a sub-30 hour finish and now I wanted to ensure that happened.
As Rob and I left the AS, it took me several minutes to loosen up but soon, we were moving well again and passing some people on the climbs up Lambs Canyon. This was one of my favorite sections of the race, the sun was getting low in the sky and the forest was gorgeous! Rob kept on top of my drinking and pushed the pace when I appeared to be slacking off a bit. When the climbing stopped and the descent started, we were running. We made good time down to Elbow Fork and hit the road with just a touch of daylight left. It was completely dark when we got to the Big Water AS and the temps were dropping quickly, we grabbed my drop bag and changed into our warm tops and hats. Paige and I had run the climb out of Big Water several times during our training, its an awesome stretch up to Dog Lake but with 60+ miles in my legs and the stiffness that had crept in at the AS, I was reduced to a brisk hike for much of the 2.5 mile climb. Past Dog Lake and down we dropped before starting the steep ascent back up to Desolation Lake AS, an oasis in the night. We stopped for a few minutes and I had a cup of chicken soup – it tasted a bit funny but it was warm so I finished it. After thanking the volunteers, we headed into the night. Almost immediately, my stomach started to ache and then I started to get waves of nausea. We slowed and it would feel a little better but with the smallest bit of running, it would flare up again. This was the section I had been most looking forward to all day, its rolling and totally runnable, even on tired legs but now my stomach was being feisty. Rob kept me moving and, slowly, I began to feel better. When we hit Brighton AS (mile 75ish), amazingly, I was still on pace for sub-30 which combined with feeling better was very encouraging. Brighton was great for so many reasons, Paige was there and would be joining me, I was 3/4 the way done, Meghan got me a grilled cheese sandwich (thanks!), and I got to brush my teeth!
As we headed out for the final section of the race, I was cold and stiff but the climb up to Catherine’s Pass has a way of warming a fella up. I noted that despite being tired, I still felt strong on the climbs which was good because there was plenty of climbing left to do. As the night worn on, the headlamp tunnel vision began to wear on me and the thought of consuming another GU became almost unbearable. I let nearly two hours pass without eating anything which led to less than stellar results, my energy dropped, I got sleepy, I began tripping more frequently – I decided to choke down another GU and quickly noticed an improvement, lesson learned (for the thousandth time). We passed people, some looking pretty rough. We got passed by people, some looking incredibly strong. It was that time of the race when waves of energy come and go. Aid station to aid station, we kept moving. Paige was great company and provided regular encouragement. Running in the woods at night is an amazing experience and the one thing that really sets apart the hundred mile distance from other race distances, I simply love it. The second to last AS was a bit of a turning point for me mentally. I knew I only had 13ish miles to go and that I no longer needed to hold anything back, plus, the sun would be up soon – I started to push myself a little harder. Soon, we were running more and hiking less, it felt good. The first signs of a sunrise began to appear, I pushed a little harder. We hit a slight downhill section, I was in full stride. The descent steepened and I knew we were getting close to the final AS, I continued to push. We started passing runners. As we came into Pot Bottom AS, I shouted to the volunteers, “119 in AND out” and passed through without even slowing down. I turned uphill and kept the pace churning, I could hear Paige’s footsteps behind me, I loved this feeling. A sub-30 hour finish was nearly guaranteed but now I was getting greedy, I wanted to go under 28 hours – it was possible but it was going to be close. The last seven miles were much tougher than I had pictured with rutted and rocky trails but, at this point, I was focused on the finish line. Paige saw my pace slow and pulled in front of me to help keep me moving. We made a turn onto a beautiful smooth dirt single-track path and hit the gas again. We knew that once we hit the road at the bottom of this trail, the finish with just a mile away… it seemed it would never come and we only had 13 minutes to get there under 28 hours. Eventually, the road did come and I shifted into yet another gear; according to my watch, I had just over ten minutes to cover the last mile. With Paige by my side, we flew down the road and made the final turn into the Homestead. The final stretch of this race is amazing, people camped out cheering runners across the final 100 yards of green grass and under the finish line banner. I saw Rob and Rina as I pushed through the final yards and passed under the banner in just under 28 hours.
When I signed up for Wasatch last November, we were living in Chicago. Who would have thought that by the time the race rolled around, Paige and I would have spent the summer running mountains all over the West and be living in Salt Lake City? Not me. I can’t thank Rob and Rina enough for dedicating an entire weekend to helping me cross the finish line, you two are beyond awesome! And Paige, my training partner, my adventure partner, my life partner, my support system, my wife… you are wonderful, I can’t wait to crew and pace you at the Bear 100!