Wasatch 2012 (Report started in November 2012 and finished in June 2015)
It has been over two months since I ran the Wasatch Front 100 and I think it is about time I got something down in writing before I forget all of it. I find that if I write my experience right afterwards it turns out to be a short novel. If I wait too long it either never gets done or the details are so faint it turns into…Went for a run. Good times!!
So here I am, somewhere between those two extremes. Hopefully the passage of time has given me perspective on what is truly important, what is worth writing down, and what I should data dump.
Michelle and I carpooled with Dennis Ahern and Lynette McDougal downto Salt Lake on Thursday before the race for the pre-race meeting. It was fun to get a chance to say hello to some friends and hear crazy stories from the trail. There was a particularly funny one about an angry badger at Leadville 100 that Mark Kreuzer relayed. If you know Mark, ask him about it!
We got our packets and headed back to the hotel for a rather uneventful night. Dinner was Mexican food. It sounded good, but I wasn’t entirely sure my body would agree with my brain the next day. Surprisingly I had no stomach issues during the run which was astonishing.
The race starts in a parking lot at the end of a residential street that has enough parking for maybe 15 cars. We got on a bus at 4am to the start for the 5am start. As with just about every ultra, the start is quite uneventful. Ready, set, go! After we got headed out the conga line of people stretched on for what seemed like forever but the first few miles are fairly easy going and the trail is wide enough that the crowd shuffles fairly easily.
At mile 4 or so the trail turns uphill for the next 96 miles! At least that is what it feels like. The morning was cool but welcome during the long climb. One of the more well known sections on Wasatch is called Chinscraper. When we got to that part of the trail I was actually expecting it to be a lot worse. That section is quite steep but only maybe a quarter of a mile, with the worst of it covering less than 100 yards. The first aid is Grobbins Corner at mile 13 and 5,000 feet of climbing. They had water and gel as recall and I took them up on both.
The race is now running on the backbone of the Wasatch mountain range above the Salt Lake valley and the views are amazing. The maples and scrub oak were turning a rainbow of yellow, orange, and red which were mixed in with the pines and patches of aspens.
Between Francis Peak at mile 18 and Bountiful at mile 24, I had to opportunity to run with an older guy who was in his 60’s. He was doing a run walk on the flat sections and he told me his hamstring was having problems. I hung with him for 3 or 4 miles with him leading the way. He told me he this was his 7th time doing Wasatch and he really enjoyed spending time on the trails. I figured, who better to stick with than a veteran, that and he was kicking my butt! I continued on and never saw him again after Bountiful.
Sessions aid station is at mile 28 and I recall they had the Wizard of Oz theme going. There was a sign that said ‘click your heels and say ‘There’s No Place Like Homestead!’ (Homestead is the finish line in Midway, UT) I came in feeling good and gave them a heel click then did the math. Only 72 more miles!
**Note to self – Don’t do the math. It just makes things worse! I usually try to just focus on getting to the next aid station so I don’t feel too overwhelmed.
The section from Sessions to Swallow Rocks at mile 35 was fairly uneventful. I do recall they had popsicles at Swallow Rocks which were amazing. The aid station is perched on top of one of the craziest rockiest roads I have ever seen too. From there it is a looong mostly downhill section into Big Mountain aid station at mile 39. This was the first aid station where crew, friends, and family could meet the runners so there were a lot of people. I wasn’t sure who would be there other than Michelle. Christine Kollar and Tim Burch came down with Tony Huff the morning of the race but they weren’t sure if they would make it to Big Mountain.
Christine would be pacing me and Tony would be pacing Dennis during the 2nd half of the race. Anyway, they all made it and it was wonderful to see some familiar faces to perk me up. This aid station had a weigh in scale to make sure people weren’t getting dehydrated and I was down 1 pound after nearly 40 miles which was amazing. I ate and drank everything I could possible stuff down my pie hole during my brief stop there. Another Popsicle hit the spot and then I was off again, almost. I walked out the wrong way and was alerted of my error by about 30 people! NO NO NO!! This WAY!!
Somehow I had gotten past Dennis before Big Mountain and we happened to arrive about at the same time. After walking out of the aid station, the correct way, we caught up for a bit and then settled back into a comfortable run. In the months before the race I asked other veterans who had done it what the one biggest piece of advice they would offer me. At the Pocatello 50 in June, Evan Honeyfield, Roch Horton, and Luke Nelson all told me…TAKE IT EASY BETWEEN BIG MOUNTAIN AND LAMBS CANYON!
The reasoning here is: it’s early in the race and you still feel decent so don’t overdo it. It is also a south facing slope with little to no vegetation to block the afternoon sun and heat. I felt like I was doing a decent job of keeping it reigned in until I got to Alexander Ridge which is at mile 47. I thought the speed was ok but the heat left me little dehydrated. I sat in the aid station and downed as much liquid as I thought I could handle. I was feeling OK but could tell I took that last section too fast.
When you leave Alexander the trail follows what looks like a natural gas pipeline easement up and over some rolling hills. This was a very monotonous section. People were obviously feeling the effects of the heat because I saw a number of people hunched over on their knees emptying their guts on the side of the trail. The trail turns off the gas line easement and heads into the trees after what seemed like forever. There were two guys at the turn and one of them was hurling. I asked the non-hurler if his runner was going to be OK and he said, I AM THE RUNNER, HE’S THE PACER!! I felt bad for the poor guy but I had to conceal my smart ass grin. Then he tells me this next section is called Devil’s Anvil. Devil’s Anvil? I told him I didn’t want to know how it got its name for fear of something I didn’t want to hear at that point. All I cared about was the fact that there were trees and shade!! It turned out to be quite a climb but nothing I couldn’t handle. The shade was a welcome reprieve from the beating sun.
After going over the top of Devil’s Anvil it is probably 3 miles into Lambs Canyon at mile 53. Before the race Dennis had warned me that when you get over the top the aid station is RIGHT THERE but the trail takes the scenic route over to the east of the aid station. I was grateful for this nugget of information because the trail did a number of switchbacks and headed way up the canyon before taking a hairpin turn back toward the aid station. I was moving along pretty well here and even leading a small group of 3 or 4 other people who were happy with the pace and in no hurry to pass. After all the downhill you cross a creek bottom and have to climb back up a short hill to the aid station. This was the 2nd crew accessible aid station as well as a pacer pick-up so there were a ton of people there. This uphill climb meant you got to triumphantly WALK up the hill towards the waiting crowd. Oh well. As always, I came in with a big smile and the first person I came to said, ‘you’re still smiling?!?’ with a big cheer.
The first thing you do at Lamb’s Canyon is step on the scale to make sure your body is functioning properly. Since the last weigh in at Big Mountain only 14 miles and 4 hours earlier it said I had lost 10 pounds! I was instructed to go eat something and drink everything I could. So I went sat down in the waiting chair Michelle had set up for me. Christine, Tim, and Michelle all were very helpful and got me more food than I could handle. I felt like I needed to recover more than I needed to get going so I took my sweet time and had fun visiting and catching up with all of them and Tony. I went back to the scale to see how I was doing and managed to gain 3 pounds in just a few minutes. That would have to be good enough because there was no room left in my gut!
Christine was joining me here and going all the way to the finish. The 2nd half of Wasatch is harder in my opinion so this was no small task for her either. We left the aid station after a quick kiss from Michelle. I thought I forgot to check out so Christine went back to the aid station to do that while I continued on. It turned out that the checkout location was on the other side of the freeway underpass several hundred yards from the main aid station. We got it figured out and continued on.
The sun was still up but the mountains are so tall we were in complete shade which actually started to make me chilled a bit. The climb up to Bare Ass Pass from Lambs to was a nice chance to recover a bit and not surprisingly I warmed up right away. We were right on top of the last high ridge before dropping into Upper Big Water when the sun went down. Christine and I were treated to an amazing sunset. As we headed downhill I was feeling decent other than my feet were hurting (which is not too surprising at mile 58).
I was also concerned about how much weight I had lost according to the scales. I am thinking to myself….if I lost 10 pounds, added back 3 in the aid station, then ate and drank everything I possibly could that I had with me, less what I was losing during this 8 mile stretch….would put me somewhere in the down 6-8 pound range. I still had nearly 40 miles to go. So what should I do to make sure I can finish? I thought I should take it easy and to make sure I finished because that was the ultimate goal. Somehow, taking it easy turned into a total slog coupled with staying way too long at aid stations initially due to my concern about my weight, then due to how bad my feet hurt, and finally because I was just mentally exhausted.
(Note: This race report up until now was written in November 2012. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph if I don’t write something right away it turns into a….’Went for a run. Good times!!’ race report. Today is June 12th, 2015 so I will add what small level of detail my brain can conjure up.)
On the way to Mill Creek aid station Dennis and Tony went flying by us looking really strong. I was happy for Dennis and deflated all at the same time. He was looking just as haggard as I was at Alexander and Lamb’s but somehow managed to get going again. Now that I have a few years of perspective I am sure it is just the experience I lacked at the time. Guess what, everything hurts! That’s normal, suck it up and keep moving. There is a stretch of uphill pavement leading to Mill Creek that isn’t too steep but enough that it doesn’t seem like you should be running it the whole way. This is one of those spots that if I had ran the course or looked at the map closer I could have wrapped my head around but I let it get to me. The aid station was freezing cold so we bundled up in night gear for the climb up to Desolation Lake and hit the trail again.
Only a few minutes out of the aid station it got really warm again so now I was way overdressed. I unzipped my jacket, stowed the gloves, and sweat like a beast. When we got to Desolation there was one small table and some downed logs to sit on. Apparently it is really remote so the aid workers hike in with horses and filter water out of the lake for the runners. They also had an air mattress and sleeping bag laying there which was calling my name. Sadly I gave in while Christine hung out waiting for me. I am not sure how long I stayed but it was too long.
The next section is a long grind up the mountain to Scott’s aid station that is on the ridgeback. Christine and I planned to have her go up ahead, get everything I needed, and continue on. As soon as I got there I walked in the tent and sat down. I remember thinking how I was disappointed in myself for wasting so much time but these mental breaks were helping me have just enough motivation to keep moving.
After Scott’s you pass a forest service bathroom and pop out onto the paved road down to Brighton Ski Resort. The climbing from the bottom of Mill Creek seemed like it had been going on forever so this downhill was a welcome sight. Like a complete jackass I wanted to pick up the pace and run a bit faster to knock off some of the rust that had slowed me down. We ran fast…and I am sure I paid for it later.
Brighton is like an Oasis in the desert. I had heard tales of caution from everyone who had run the race before about not lingering; don’t get sucked in, leave as soon as possible…. One thing I had been looking forward to was brushing my teeth. Tom Noll had told me several years before that a dentist runs the aid station and had disposable toothbrushes. (A funny side note: At Bear in 2011 Michelle and I went back on the course to cheer in Emily Berriochoa and took a guy with us who was waiting for his sister. I was telling him all about this dentist guy and he tells me HE is the dentist guy, Mark Collman!)
I walked into the lodge and the first thing they did was weigh me. I was exactly what I had started at. I am sure the scale at Lamb’s was screwed up and felt stupid for letting it ruin my mental game. I brushed my teeth, had pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage, and laid down so Michelle could inspect and fix my feet that were getting hammered. I think she used an entire container of wipes to get the gritty dirt off so she could see what she had to work with. There were a few blisters to drain and several places that needed taping and she did an awesome job. The back room of the lodge looked like a medical ward and the guy laying next to me said, ‘Now that is true love! My wife would never do that.’ Shortly after Mark came around checking on everyone and I told him I was leaving shortly. Someone in the area said they had worked this aid station for years and never seen anyone lay in a cot as long as I had and not DNF. I am sure that was true but as horrible as I felt and as slow as I was moving I still wasn’t going to quit.
I stayed at least an hour and then we finally got back on the trail. It was really cold outside, probably because I had stayed too long and gotten used to the heat. It warmed right up as we climbed up and out of Brighton. In less than 3 miles you are at the high point of the course which is Sunset Pass over Point Supreme at 10,467 feet. The trail marking had been amazing to this point and I hadn’t questioned one turn. At Point Supreme you arrive on a pretty nice trail and come to a fork. One continues on the nice trail and one drops down a rocky gutted trail. There was another small group of people there trying to figure it out too. Several of them were locals which had me a bit nervous because I assumed they had run this section before. Someone had a cell phone and had coverage so they called the communications guys. They said if you are standing at the intersection you need to take the gnarly straight down through the rocks direction. Problem solved. It was really steep but I was glad we didn’t get off course and get bonus miles because that surely would have broken me.
Much of the trail after this was a blur until the sun came up. We hit Ant Knolls aid station at mile 79 and I wasn’t expecting an aid station until mile 82. That was kind of a boost and they had sausage and pancakes again which hit the spot. After leaving there is a section called the grunt. The ‘grunt’ section is only about 0.3 miles but it climbs almost 400 feet (1,290/mile for perspective). The sun came up between the top of the grunt and getting to Pole Line pass. This stretch is a nice ridge trail with not much up and down.
When I got into Pole Line it was nice to see a familiar face! Batman Santa Claus…I mean Joshua Bryant. I met him at Salt Flats back in April and got some pictures of him finishing his first 100 miler in the same Batman mask. He offered to take ‘the stick’ and roll out both of my legs if I wanted. I didn’t really want to endure the pain but knew if would likely help. I tried not to cry like a girl while he worked me over and afterward I felt great. I had my fastest mile of the final 25 after leaving there.
The trail from there is very gorgeous but now the heat of the sun coming up and the dust from the gutted motorcycle trails was really wearing me down. I was really slow on the uphills because I was just beat and even slower on the downhills because my shoes had worn on the tendon coming down from my shin on both legs. I was grateful that Christine had not beaten me up for being such a slacker through the night with average mile times from 20 to 30 minutes. I guess the only thing that saved me from missing the final cutoff was going out too fast and have a cushion!
On the last trail section Mike Place went blazing past me and said ‘looking good, keep up the good work!’ I said is that you Mike? Please don’t lie. He passed me with like 3 miles to go and beat me by a half an hour. Christine and I finally emerged onto the pavement road next to a golf course and I hadn’t been so glad to see pavement in a long time. I had this awkward running motion up top while my legs looked like a 90 year old woman pushing a walker. I glanced at my watch and realized I was ‘running’ about a 26 minute mile so I just gave up the stupid fake run and walked.
In the last half mile I sent Christine up ahead to let everyone know I was coming and to have Michelle come out to meet me. She bounded away so fast I think I laughed out loud realizing how wrecked I felt. Families and crews lined the streets cheering people in which felt amazing. I managed to smile and high five some kids along the way that perked me up. Michelle met me at the end of the park grass and ran in to the finish with me which was a great moment. I did have to tell her to slow down which she got a good chuckle out of hearing from me. My finish time was 33:20 and I was HAPPY to be done.
I would like to think I learned a lot that day I can use in future races. I am getting my rematch chance this September in the 2015 edition of Wasatch 100!