A Story of Soldiers and Saints
“It’s so HOT! I’m so HOT! I can’t stand it”. I remember saying those words as I bent over the aid station table at mile 39, Big Mountain, of the Wasatch 100. My pacer, Jennilyn, was pouring water all over me and packing a large Zip Lock bag full of ice over my neck. She and the aid station worker were trying to get me to sit down, to rest, and try and lower my core temperature. But I have a strict “no sitting” policy during the first 50 miles of a 100 miler, so I stayed on my feet, restocked, and left the aid station much sooner than I should have; sooner than was actually safe.
The next 13 miles are the hottest along the entire course – exposed, lower in elevation than anywhere except the start and finish , and generally covered during the hottest hours of the day. I was jovial and at face value, slightly recovered. However, on the way to Alexander Flat aid station, only 7 miles from Big Mountain things quickly deteriorated. I lost energy, dealt with some mild cramping, and I started to get a little dizzy. With the slowing pace my time to get to the aid station before my water supply ran out was slipping away. Jennilyn was critical in helping me eat, take my electrolytes, and ration my water. But with less than 2 miles to the aid station I found myself with only a couple of sips left. She offered her water to me which I drank from heavily. After only three or four large swallows, however, she was fully out. By now I was no longer running. I was delirious, stumbling as I walked, incapable of speaking a full sentence, and unable to focus. For a short moment a cloud covered the sun and I was forced to sit and rest. I literally stumbled into the aid station at mile 47 and sank into a chair under the shade of a canopy.
Aid station workers quickly pumped me with water and watermelon. I was brought cups of ice cold coke and freeze pops. My eyes rolled back in my head as I nearly lost consciousness and I doubt I was saying anything coherent. But over the next 30 minutes things started turning around. I could feel my core temperature dropping and my wits returning. I noticed other races around me, all looking as dejected and beat up as myself. Now back in control of my faculties I started chatting and sharing my confidence in being able to make it to the finish. Maybe not in my goal time. Definitely not a course PR. But I would finish and I would do it well. And so could they. I left Alexander Flat, mile 47, forty minutes after arriving, fully recovered, and back to my old self. I went on to finish the Wasatch 100 in a time of 28:15 and 46th place. I couldn’t have done it without Jennilyn and Matt and their great pacing, nor the help of good friends and their help and kind words at key aid stations.
I saw this kind of determination and saintliness all throughout the race and it was truly inspiring.
Lamb’s Canyon, mile 53, was a train wreck. It literally looked like a medical tent straight out of a World War II field office. There were racers lying on cots, nearly passed out people in chairs, and grown men sobbing as their pacers and crews attended to blistered feet and heat exhausted bodies. I’ve never been in a place like that. I found myself encouraging fallen comrades, telling them to take their time, that even with a 3 hour nap they could recover and finish well under the 36 hour cutoff. I may never know just how many listened to me, but it was a spectacle to see.
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I honor those that can go it alone, to race 100 miles without the aid and company of a pacer. Those people are rare heroes, true fighters, and resilient participants. For the rest of us, our ability to run through 95 degree temps, recover, and continue to the finish line were likely attributed to those who came to help us along the way. People like Jennilyn and Matt, my pacers. People like Davy Crockett, who found himself without a pacing job at mile 70 because he got word that his runner dropped. So he started running all along the course helping other runners, most of whom he helped didn’t have a pacer. He’d run with them for 10 or 15 minutes, make sure they were ok, and then continue on. Then find someone sitting along the trail and sit with them until they were ready to move again. All of this mostly after midnight.
There were pacers like Zac Marion who stayed with his runner, Scott Wesemann, while he laid on a cot at Scott’s Hill aid, mile 70, for an hour and a half before he could trudge the next 5 miles to Brighton Lodge where he planned to DNF. But once there Zac and new pacer Rob Bladen wouldn’t allow it. They forced him to lay down some more, then eat, and then after a full 2.5 hours, get up and start hiking up the trail, now with the cutoff hanging over his head. He went on to rally and set a staggering pace to the finish, getting there well under the final cutoff time.
Aid station volunteers came out of nowhere to offer food, water, medical attention, and random comfort and support. Their diligence and selflessness in willing to help those who needed it will never be forgotten. As in every 100 mile race I’m in complete awe of their thoughtless ability to give and then give some more. They are the true heroes of a race.
Wasatch 100 had more than a 30% DNF rate. While it wasn’t excessively higher than other years, the reasons for it in 2013 were likely similar across the board. The heat. To those who fought valiantly, yet found themselves in that 30%, we honor your effort and wish the best in your next attempt. And to those who fought through and finished on a very difficult year, we solute you. Glory in your victory and relish the sweet taste of success. It was a battle, every step of the way.