The Wasatch 100 is an iconic and classic member of the ultra-running 100 mile Grand Slam. It’s origins date back to 1985 (I believe) and continues to set the standard for what a 100 mile mountain ultra should be. Unlike many modern 100s, Wasatch still puts the responsibility and safety of it’s competitors in their own hands. From their own website, “The primitive and isolated nature of the course is both its beauty and its challenge, for it requires the individual runner to rely primarily on himself or herself rather than the Race’s support systems. Wasatch is not just distance and speed; it is adversity, adaptation and perseverance”. It is literally 100 miles of “Heaven and Hell”.
My Wasatch 100 mile adventure began four years ago when I first paced Davy Crockett on a short section between miles 39 and 53. I’ve returned each year to pace a different friend and have enjoyed each and every experience. Having the opportunity to race this year was the culmination of years of anticipation and preparation. I had set lofty goals for myself, all based on previous running experience. However, my success would be a mystery because I had only run the back half of the course and knew little about the front. I wanted to get the often coveted, but rarely achieved ‘sub-24 hour’ mark and make it into Wasatch’s honor society, the Cheetah club. It was a dream though as this was my first time running the race and I just didn’t know what to expect. Were I to run 26 hours I would be elated. And that’s what I trained for.
The night before the race my good friends Matt and Alicia Williams host a BBQ for all of his friends, their pacers and their families. It has become a tradition of sorts and I can’t thank them enough for the effort they put out in making us feel comfortable. Because he lives so close to the starting line he also plays host to several of us to stay the night so we can sleep longer. I woke Friday morning feeling very good and relaxed. Along with Scott Wesemann and Josh Greenwell, who also spent the night there, we were up, fed and at the starting line by 4:30am. We all lined up near the front and went out comfortably fast, but not too fast. I quickly got separated from all my friends, but settled in with a great group of guys and we chatted our way through the rolling first four miles and then had a great time going up Chinscraper, a 5000 foot climb in 5 miles with a bunch of cool people that I would run on and off with throughout the whole race.
At the top of Chinscraper, mile 9, you run the ridge above Davis County for a few miles before a long drop down into Francis Peak aid station. I was still running in the same group, but falling back a little, making me think I might have gone out a little fast. After Francis Peak aid you run along dirt roads through grazing lands low in the mountain valley, then start climbing and bushwacking through a nasty section up to Bountiful B aid station, mile 24. Things kind of broke down coming up to Bountiful B. I wasn’t ready for the bushwhacking climbs and it started getting hot. Regardless of taking plenty of salt and trying to eat a lot I just didn’t have energy and was cramping in my legs. The climb out of Sessions aid station (mile 30ish) is long, steep, and hard. While very challenging, I did have fun running with Emily Judd, the eventual women’s winner (who finished 15 min ahead of me). She passed me a couple of miles before Swallows aid station (mile 34), then the 2nd place woman, Sarah Evans, passed me just minutes before that same stop. I was doing a great job of keeping my aid stops down to 2 – 3 minutes. That being said, within minutes of leaving Swallows I couldn’t see either women any more and was also passed by four other men. They were all flying and I just couldn’t manage any speed. I was told by a hiker that I was in about 30th place. I did all I could to move forward the next 4.5 miles into Big Mountain, where I would pick up my brother as my first pacer . Seeing him would change my race.
At Big Mountain aid station, mile 39, I made quick work eating and drinking, then Brent and I headed off up an easy climb toward Little Bald Mountain. I still wasn’t feeling like I had energy, but I had my brother and I knew that would change. Half way to Alexander Flat (mile 47) my fueling and electrolyte intake got balanced and things started to click. I was really moving and Brent was having a hard time keeping up. I left Alexander Flat and was surprised at how fast I could make the long, easy climb in the exposed heat. I came into Lamb’s Canyon (mile 53) at 11:30, an hour behind my goal time splits, but still on 24 hour splits according to a lot of breakdowns (just not mine, I wanted a bigger cushion). It was at Lamb’s I switched to Matt who would take me 47 miles to the finish.
All I’ll say about the next 22 miles to Brighton is that we were a blur. I was meticulous about my fueling and salt, we were running up hills I would normally walk while fresh on a training run, and I doubt we ever went more than 5 minutes without laughing. We actually made it all the way to Desolation Lake (mile 67) before we had to turn on our headlamps. On the Wasatch Crest trail we passed a couple of other runners and then again a final person near the bottom of the road down Guardsman Pass. I came into Brighton on a real high.
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Brian Beckstead, a good friend from Altra, who was pacing another runner not far behind me ushered me out of Brighton in 6 minutes. I probably should have stayed another few minutes to refocus because as soon as I went out into the cold with Matt my climbing legs and energy failed. Completely failed. I knew in that first 100 yards that my ability to do the next 25 miles in 6 hrs 20 min (that’s how long I had to go under 24 hrs) just wasn’t there. I couldn’t push the uphills, at all. I hoped that taking it easy up to Point Supreme (mile 77) would get me back into pushing mode, but my uphill legs just never came around. I could run the downhills fine and the flats were ok, but anything uphill was a shambles.
I was now grinding, hoping to go under 25 hrs. I had three groups behind me pushing hard and it was all I could do to stay in front of them. I kept good distance on them until mile 88, when you hit the Dive and the Plunge – two crazy, nasty descents in 6 in deep dusty troughs. They are killers in the light, treacherous in the dark. For some reason Matt and I didn’t care and we flew down these with reckless abandon. It was a miracle neither of us got seriously injured.
After that is a section called Irv’s Torture Chamber, a series of rolling hills that wind in and out of finger canyons. We cursed the uphills but pounded the descents. I think we passed 10 people in this section. The turn and last 1.5 miles into Pot Bottom, mile 93, was a crazy blur. We shouldn’t have been running that fast. It was hard, but really fun. Once there we spent less than 2 min in the aid station, ushered the 2nd place woman, Sarah, out and we all took off to try and push the last 7 miles and go well under 25 hours.
It’s a long, but easy climb out of Pot Bottom only to have to spend the next 5 miles running steep downhill dirt roads covered in softball sized rocks. After 95 miles this is not what you want to be doing and it really hurts. You can only go so fast and its even worse in the dark. I finally got passed just as we started the descent by someone who had been chasing me since Brighton. I was fine letting him go by, he was moving well. I was now in a fight to try and stay under 24:30 and we were pushing pretty hard. We hit the pavement and Matt’s goal was to just keep me running. We slowed to a walk only twice and for less than 1 min each time. When we hit the grass it really set in and finished our run to the overwhelming cheers and clapping of the 4 people who were there and awake. Ha. The RD shook my hand, I walked over to Brian Beckstead who had gotten his runner in 45 min before me and gave him a hug, and we all laughed about our journey.
I had run the 2nd hardest 100 mile event in America in 24:25:26, something I really didn’t know was possible for me. Brent saved my race at Big Mountain and I owe him everything. Matt is an absolute machine. He ran his 2nd ever 50 miler unbelievably fast, on one of the hardest sections of course around. He is undoubtedly the best pacer on the planet. I’m grateful to all of my friends who came out and supported me. And to everyone else who was following online and on Facebook, you are the best ever. I can’t believe the overwhelming amount of support. Thank you. Time to start planning the next most awesome thing.
I got to spend the rest of Saturday watching great friends come in and socializing with other racers. What an awesome event.