Looking back on my Grand Slam effort over the summer, I've tried to find some depth to the experience that would incite strong emotions now that it's over. Especially because I failed to complete it. But it's not there. I feel bad...for not feeling bad. Kinda. But not really.
I've tried to determine the root of my indifference to what happened, but I keep coming up empty. At the end of the day, I end up at the same place.
It's just running.
Me and My Best Friend at the Wasatch Start
I had run the Wasatch 100 last year, so I knew the course and was comfortable with the terrain. I'm well conditioned for running at altitude, and I've been fit all summer. The variable that concerned me was the weather. This year, more than any other, I've been suffering in the heat and the forecast for race day suggested that I was going to struggle in this final race of the Slam.
My plan was simple. I wanted to start deep in the pack so I would be forced to move slow, jumbled in the conga line all the way to the top of Chinscraper. Then I just had to maintain a slow, methodic pace all the way to the finish. I had no regard for a decent finish time. I just wanted to get through the slam and be done with the pressure of it all.
My plan worked. Mostly.
I was moving so slowly in the first few miles that I could hardly stand it. But I knew it was the right move. Making my way up the first enormous climb, I refused to pass anybody unless they stepped off the trail to let me by. I was finding patience that I didn't know I was capable of possessing.
Topping out on Chinscraper
Photo Courtesy of Lane Bird
When we dropped over the top of the ridge, I felt great. I tucked in behind some runners and plowed along at this newly discovered patient pace.
I was in and out of the first aid station as fast as they could get my hydration pack loaded with ice and water. The sun was high in the sky and I knew the hard part of my race was about to begin.
The climb into the Bountiful B aid station was moderately taxing, but I climbed well, chatting with runners the entire way. When I came into the aid station, I reloaded my pack again while eating fresh fruit from the table and while chatting with the volunteers.
So far, things were good. Not great, but much better than last year and I felt like I was finally showing some maturity in my race management style. My competitive, impatient attitude has claimed a few DNF's in the past, so I was hopeful that this agonizingly patient approach would pay off. It better, because it's super annoying...
I was eager to get to the Sessions Liftoff aid station because I had a lot of friends volunteering there and I was excited to see everybody.
The sun was beginning to wear on my body, while my race strategy wore on my mind.
I began to hate myself a little bit because of my new found weakness for running in the heat. I don't know how I developed it, but it's a problem that requires a solution.
I was uncomfortably warm but tried to keep a positive attitude.
I stayed at Sessions Liftoff aid station a little longer than necessary because I wanted to chat with friends and suck up some of their positive energy. I didn't know it then, but this would turn out to be the highlight of my 2015 Wasatch experience.
Photo courtesy of Kimberly Hunt
The trek into Swallow Rocks aid station was when I sincerely began to worry about my race. The course provides no cover and the sun was really beginning to bother me. I went from casual and chatty, to focused and determined. I put my head down and tried to run smart.
I was fueling well and my hydration seemed to be perfect. I was draining my 50 ounce hydration bladder between every aid station and I was very cognizant of my electrolytes. I was confident that my body was being taken care of.
But I could feel it slowly slipping away under the heat of the day.
At Swallow Rocks, I sat for a few minutes and savored a couple of delicious Popsicles while I chatted with the aid station volunteers. Before I could get too comfortable, I was back on my feet, headed down the trail.
The entire section between Swallow Rocks and the Big Mountain aid station is totally exposed and full of rolling hills and rocky trail. This is definitely my least favorite part of the course and I muddled through it under the blazing sun.
I began to have doubts.
I was certain that if I could make it to Lambs Canyon, I would definitely finish this race. By then, I could meet up with my pacer, the sun would be fading, and we would head off into the mountains to wrap this thing up.
Just get to Lambs! I repeated this in my head thousands of times.
A couple of miles before reaching Big Mountain, I started to feel nauseated as I ran. I walked intermittently to let my stomach settle, but it would eventually fire back up again.
Just get to Lambs!
Dropping into Big Mountain Aid Station
The Big Mountain aid station is at mile 39 and is the first time I get to see my crew. In that 39 miles, I had gone from light footed and jovial, to desperate.
I sat in a chair, under the first bit of shade I'd seen in hours. I asked for ice water and a moment of rest so I could cool my body down. Jo had a fresh pack waiting for me and like always, she was ready to push me down the trail. I just needed a minute.
Because I wasn't feeling well, I made a last minute decision to take a pacer. My good friend, Jason Howland, was helping Jo crew, but he came prepared to run. I headed down the trail while he got geared up. It didn't take him long to catch me.
The climb out of Big Mountain was slow. We tucked in behind a train of guys that seemed friendly enough, so we hung with them and allowed them to meter my pace. They all chatted away. Jason and I were quiet.
Jason has paced me more than any other person. I'm extremely picky about pacers and will usually forgo their use unless I can get one of the trusted few that I can count on. Jason knows my style. He gets me. I knew he could see the reality of what I was dealing with.
We remained silent.
Photo Courtesy of Jason Howland
When we made it to the Alexander Ridge aid station, I took a seat in the shade while Jason brought me some ice water and a few pieces of fruit. I nibbled and drank while Jason hovered over me. After a minute, I looked up and told him I was going to have to puke. He pulled the tarp away from the back of the tent and I slipped out back to take care of what needed to be done.
I sat in the grass and emptied my stomach for several minutes, surprised by the massive volume of its contents. It was clear that my body wasn't using any of the fluids or nutrition that I had been taking in. It was just sitting there, on the ground...mocking me.
Being a Type A personality, I throw myself into everything I do. Even puking. When I hurl, it's a pretty spectacular event. Every muscle in my body gets into it, leaving me depleted and shaking.
After my vomiting subsided, I rested for a while before pulling myself off the ground. I couldn't stomach the though of food, so I sipped a little water, put my pack back on and hit the trail with Jason in tow.
The climb out of Alexander Ridge is gradual and rolling, but it was more than I could handle at any decent shuffle. I stopped a few times to rest and catch my breath. After a couple of miles, I plopped to the side of the trail and sucked on a gel, hoping to gain a bit more strength and to slow my steady rate of physical decline. It took five minutes to get the entire gel down.
Meanwhile, I was being passed by runners, many of them friends that could see the pain in my eyes and the desperation of where I was. I felt for them, because I know they were feeling for me. But nothing is ever said.
Coming Out of Alexander Ridge
Photo Courtesy of Jason Howland
What the Lambs Canyon Aid Station Would Look Like in the Daytime
When Jason and I got to Lambs, we were greeted by Jo and my next pacer, Jen Richards. They got me in a chair and we discussed my situation. My entire team was determined to get me patched up and back on the trail, but I needed calories and my body wasn't processing anything.
I nibbled on some fruit, drank some water and sat long enough to let it settle.
And then I puked it all up.
Again, the volume of my stomach contents proved that my body wasn't processing anything that I was taking in. I was surviving on reserves that had already been tapped out.
We spent the next two hours trying to coax some fuel into my body, but it wasn't working. I watched the minutes tick by, knowing that things were getting desperate. If I couldn't pull myself together soon, it would be too late.
There came a point when it was obvious that my race was over. Wasatch and the Grand Slam were no longer in my grasp and all the planning and focus that had been invested in this endeavor would be for nothing.
I called it. I made the decision that I wasn't going to try to recover and carry on. I was a hopeless mess and the remedy for my situation was beyond my ability to manage.
And I'm OK with that.
I have anguished over DNF's in the past, but not this one. I knew I had done everything within my power to solve the problem and I was fighting physically and mentally to get back on the trail. It just wasn't going to happen. I had nothing to regret because I had met the challenge head on. I failed, but I failed fighting. I can live with that.
I was a little surprised by how easily I shrugged it off, and I think others were too. I suspect they thought I was putting on a front, trying to act indifferent, but it wasn't an act at all. It really didn't bother me. It still doesn't.
And in the days since then, I've had time to consider a lot of things, but the thing I think about the most is my future. I have a lot of things planned that I am excited about. Deeply excited. And now that the Slam has passed, I can focus my attention to the things that I've had to push out of my mind all summer. I realize I'm relieved to be beyond the grasp of these races and all the expectations surrounding it.
I just want to run and be happy. I wasn't happy running the Grand Slam. Maybe someday I'll find the spark that will drive passion into running the Slam, but this wasn't the year for it.
The day after Wasatch ended, I hiked my battered body up to the top of Mt. Timpanogos with Jason. Our new home in the mountains provides a spectacular view of this mountain and I've looked at it all summer, wishing to be on top of it. But I couldn't do it for fear of risking my conditioning while running the Slam.
But I could do it now and it was the best thing I did all summer. And I really needed that, because those are the things that make me happiest.
Top of Timp
I'm more content now than I've been all summer and I'm excited to finish out my 2015 race year doing events that bring a smile to my face. Because that's why I started all of this in the first place. I just needed an opportunity to regain that perspective.
As always, thanks to all my sponsors, supporters and my awesome wife for making all of these adventures possible. And thanks to everybody that reached out to me after Wasatch. I hope to share trails with all of you again soon.