Getting into the Wasatch Front 100 lottery is typically followed by two conflicting, and immediate, responses:
1. "WooHoo!!! I got in!!!"
Then, only moments later...
2. "Oh no!! I got in!"
Please allow me to admit this publicly...I am NOT a good mountain runner. However, I love running in rugged places at high altitude because that's what I find to be challenging. I was nervous.
My nervousness was compounded by the fact that I had pushed myself pretty hard a few weeks early, in pursuit of the famed "Big Buckle" at the Leadville 100. I was nowhere near recovered or prepared for Wasatch, but why should I let a small detail like that get in the way of a perfect opportunity for an epic crash and burn?
Pretending to be Prepared at the Start
Heading into the Mountain at 5:00 AM
The race started out simple enough. We meandered down the rolling trail, choking on dust, while we warmed up. I was having a lot of fun chatting with runners and I felt good. When we made a turn to begin the first climb, those feelings of "fun" and "good" became a distant memory.
This ascent covers about 4200 feet of climbing in approximately 4 miles and is capped off by summiting the aptly named "Chinscraper Summit". Sounds exhilarating!
First Light on the First Climb
Photo Courtesy of Kendall Wimmer
In the middle of the climb, I caught up Kendall Wimmer, another local runner that I never fail to meet up with whenever we run the same race. Kendall and I are so similar in pace and finish times that I stole his split data from a previous Wasatch finish so I could estimate my own run times. It was no surprise that we found each other on the course.
Kendall Wimmer Heading to Chinscraper
Looking DOWN Chinscraper
Looking UP Chinscraper
The climb was working me over, but I kept reminding myself that this is the biggest climb on the course and once I got through this, things would get easier. This notion shows my own ignorance of the Wasatch 100 course. Things NEVER got easier.
I eventually scrambled over the top, tried to fill my lungs with air, and pushed on down the trail in search of the easier parts of the Wasatch course.
View at the Top of Chinscraper
I was greeted with the realization that once we topped out on Chinscraper, we would just run on over the tall peak to the South and climb that next. I wasn't expecting that, but off we went!
Up Next? Another Stupid Mountain to Climb!
After grunting my way to the top of the next climb, I enjoyed some leisurely running while we traversed the ridge lines for a while...until we had to climb over the next ridge...
Climb, descend, traverse...repeat!
Photo Courtesy of Kendall Wimmer
The first aid station on the Wasatch course comes at mile 18, just after descending Francis Peak. It's unusual to wait that long for an opportunity to whine about the race course to aid station volunteers, but what choice did I have?
At mile 17, I began to feel sick and sluggish. My stomach was churning and I realized I hadn't taken in any calories yet. I was so busy scrambling around the mountains that I had completely bailed on my nutrition strategy. I sipped some water and gobbled down a Hammer gel trying to fix the situation. From a caloric perspective, I was in a deep hole and needed to dig my way out before my race was ruined.
A few weeks before the race, I had told a friend that the only thing that would prevent me from finishing Wasatch would be a mental error. This was that error.
I came into the Francis Peak aid station and took a few minutes to collect myself and get some useful calories in my gut. When I was fed, I walked my way out of the aid station hoping to recover along the way.
I wasn't going to see Jo until the Big Mountain aid station at mile 39. I decided to DNF at Big Mountain if I couldn't get my body back on track. I kept a slow pace and focused on fueling my body.
I eventually caught up to a group of local runners from the Wasatch Wranglers and decided to stay with them for a while because they seemed to be having a lot more fun than I was. As we approached mile 27, I saw an unusual sight in the distance and realized somebody was sitting on the edge of the trail in an overstuffed chair. Then I could hear the music playing from a radio...then a huge sign with my name on it appeared. I knew immediately who it was.
Our friend, Matt VanHorn, had set up a portable living room on the side of the trail so he could cheer for his friends in the race. His presence was well timed because I really needed a boost at that point and his classic antics helped to remind me to not take this too seriously.
VanHorn Just Relaxing in His Living Room in the Wasatch
Photo Courtesy of Kendall Wimmer
In another mile, we reached the Sessions Liftoff aid station. I had worked this aid station the previous year and was given a warm welcome by my fellow volunteers. They seemed excited that one of their own was running the race. Their enthusiasm continued to boost my spirits.
I loaded up at the aid station with ice, ate some gels and drank a few cups of Coke before shaking hands and moving on. I felt like I was beginning to feel better, but I was still in a bad place physically. However, mentally, I was doing great.
It took me nearly 20 miles of concentrated fueling before I began to snap out of my physical funk. By then, I had lost a tremendous amount of time.
Big Mountain Aid Station
Running into Big Mountain
By the time I got to Big Mountain, I was on the mend and feeling better. Jo got me into a chair and started to go to work on me. She handed me a new pack, fully loaded with everything I needed and brought me some food from the aid station. I gave her a quick update on the grim reality of my race and she hurried me off down the trail.
The climb out of Big Mountain was hard. I had lost contact with other runners and was working through these miles all alone. Part of me wished I had DNF'd at Big Mountain. I even stopped once and looked back down the mountain toward the aid station wondering if Jo was still there. Maybe I could catch her before she left and we could just go home? I shook that thought out of my head and pushed my unwilling legs up the mountain.
A Rare Example of Smooth Trail on the Wasatch Course
Over the next few miles, I began to feel great and was running with renewed ambition and energy. I was fueling and hydrating well, and knew I only had about 13 miles to cover before getting to see Jo at the Lambs Canyon aid station. I just needed to hold it together along the way.
Unfortunately, that didn't happen.
As I approached Alexander Ridge, I began to feel overheated. I kept drinking heavily to stave off dehydration, but my body was boiling under the sun. There was no escaping the heat because the trail was totally exposed. I began to feel dizzy and nauseous as I ran toward the Alexander Ridge aid station. I started to walk so I could reduce the workload on my body and hopefully cool off. Nothing seemed to help.
When I got to the Alexander Ridge aid station, I was wrecked! I kept myself pulled together because I was worried they would pull me from the race if they knew how damaged I was. I loaded up on ice and tried to cool off. I was pointed in the direction of a kiddie pool that they had set up as an ice bath. Excited, I ran over to it only to realize there was no ice in it and the water was warm from sitting in the sun. Just like me.
I headed out of Alexander Ridge, disappointed and worried.
Out of Alexander, Headed to Lambs
About a mile down the trail from the Alexander Ridge aid station, I began to feel pretty desperate. I staggered off the trail and dropped myself in some shade under a tree. I just laid there trying to cool off while deciding my next move. I dug my phone out and sent a text message to Jo, telling her I was in trouble and probably wouldn't be able to continue.
I laid under that tree and weighed my options. A DNF sounded delicious, but the sting of failure seemed like it would be too much to bear. I eventually decided to get up, get back on the trail and head toward the Lambs Canyon aid station. I could make up my mind along the way.
Here are the four thoughts that probably kept me from dropping:
1. I had pacers waiting for me and they took time out of their lives to be here.
2. I didn't want to spend the next 3 weeks listening to people telling me I "did the right thing".
3. I had cleared my social calendar for this race and nothing else to do later.
4. If I dropped, I would have to come back next year, and that was probably enough to keep me going!
As I was heading toward Lambs Canyon, the sun began to dip and the air temperature dropped. I began to feel much better and started to run again. Then I ran faster. For the first time in about 50 miles, I started to think there was a chance to actually finish this race.
Being Greeted as I Came into Lambs
When I arrived at Lambs, I was greeted by my crew and several friends that were were waiting for their runners. Jo and my pacer, Jen, went to work on me to get me cooled off, fed, and geared up for the next long push into the mountains.
I had planned to make it to Lambs Canyon in 12 hours. It took me 14.
I was overwhelmed by the care and attention I got as well as the encouragement that came my way. I was beginning to feel like I was fully back on track. Again.
Yeah...That's a Flower in My Hair, Cuz I'm Cool Like That
Getting Ready to Leave Lambs
Jen would be pacing me from Lambs Canyon to Brighton. In my mind, this was the most important part of the race. I knew if I could get to Brighton, and was still somewhat mobile, I would make to the finish.
As soon as we left the aid station, Jen and I began a long, grueling ascent toward Upper Big Water. I was happy to have company again and we chatted, whined and whimpered our way up the mountain.
Admittedly, most of the whining and whimpering came from me.
Jen had printed out the detailed course description and kept me totally informed regarding whatever impending misery was headed my way.
The sun eventually faded entirely and we continued our run under the glare of our headlamps. We pushed through Upper Big Water and headed toward Desolation Lake.
Jen and I were running down the trail making small talk when I heard something thrashing in the brush near the trail. I shot my headlamp in that direction and caught the gaze of an enormous bull moose, chewing on some brush. I slammed on the brakes and showed it to Jen. Then my headlamp caught a second bull moose. Were we surrounded? They were staring at us pretty intently while we stood there and stared back. Enlisting an age old defense mechanism, Jen began to speak to them in sweet sounding, slightly hushed tones. In English, because it was obvious these moose were local. As Jen kept them entranced with her words, I led us in a wide arch, off the trail and around these beasts. Once we were far enough away, we ran.
Jen and I made it into the Desolation Lake aid station where I fueled up and rested my legs for a few minutes. Four minutes to be precise, because Jen was dragging me back out of the aid station before I got too comfortable. She was pretty demanding.
I was feeling better at this point of the race than I had at any other time. Jen and I made the big climbs, hurried down the descents and did everything we could to make good time through the mountains.
Before I knew it, we were rolling into the Brighton aid station at mile 75.
Coming into Brighton
I lingered in Brighton for a while because the aid station was filled with friends and bustling with activity. I ate some food and chatted for a bit before heading out. I didn't want to linger too long, because Brighton is often referred to as "The Morgue".
Jen was done pacing and I was picking up my second pacer, Jason Brockman. We suited up and headed into the mountains together.
Me and Jason Heading Out of Brighton
Things didn't get off to a great start. As soon as we left the aid station to begin a long climb, we were lost. There were no course markings at the first trail junction and we had no idea where to go. I had no interest in wandering around the mountainside lost, so Jason ran back to the aid station to get directions.
When Jason returned, we headed up the mountain, hopefully in the right direction.
Despite our best efforts, we did get off course. Fortunately, a group of trail runners saw our bobbing headlamps as we bumbled around in the woods and got us redirected. Back on track, we continued the climb.
The climb wasn't terrible, but the descent was. We navigated the steep terrain and loose rock for an eternity as Jason got a lesson in the depth of my vocabulary.
The next several miles were much the same. A big climb on rough trail, followed by a steep descent on an even rougher trail.
As Jason and I made our way down the trail, I began to feel sleepy and I had to keep the conversation going just to stay awake. I was completely drained and only focused on getting this race finished.
The sun eventually made its appearance and I turned my headlamp off and stowed it away. I've run a lot of 100 mile trail races and this is only the second time I've ever seen the sun come up while I was running. It served as a reminder of how long and hard I had been working at this.
To save time, Jason and I had stopped visiting the aid stations. I was relying on the Hammer products I was carrying in my pack. I was so eager to be finished, I didn't want to waste any time at all. Jason would run into the aid station, give them my number and then hustle down the trail to catch back up to me.
We rolled through the Decker Canyon aid station and stepped out onto the gravel path that would eventually take us to the finish line about 6 miles away.
That was the longest 6 miles of my life. This is a multi-use path that winds into canyons as it hugs the side of the mountains. Every time we emerged around a corner, I expected to see the finish line. Every time, I was met by disappointment.
I was trying to push the pace as hard as I could but eventually got discouraged when the finish line continued to elude me. I was deeply frustrated.
The gravel path eventually made way for a paved road with trail markers on it. After rounding a corner, I could see the finish line and I gave one final push with everything I had in me.
I crossed the Wasatch Front 100 finish line in 28:37:09.
Being Greeted at the Finish!
She Makes it Happen for Me!
Driving home from the finish of the Wasatch 100 takes us up the freeway, along the route that I had just finished running. It wasn't until that drive that I realized the magnitude of that run. It covered a tremendous amount of terrain in some of the most rugged country out west. From that perspective, it seemed almost impossible.
I was delighted with the finish, but disappointed in the errors that slowed me down. In every small failure, lies a lesson and I think I have learned mine.
I need to thank Jen and Jason for their selfless efforts to get me through this difficult race. It takes special people to commit to something like that. You guys are incredible!
I'm taking a few days to enjoy the accomplishment before turning my focus to the Bear 100, which is only three weeks away. Time to learn more lessons.
Thanks for reading.