January 19th, 2020
2010 Wasatch 100
Friday September 10th, 2010
2010 Wasatch 100 Race Report
The Wasatch 100 is a big, bad mountain race. It covers 100 miles, point to point, from Kaysville, Utah to the finish at Midway, Utah. Along the way, it has climbs totaling over 26,000 feet. That’s five miles worth of vertical ascent, and about the same amount of descent. It’s a bruiser! There were things I knew about the race going in. I knew about the first 18 miles of the course, including the section called Chinscraper, which climbs over 4,000 between mile five and mile ten. I knew that there was a lot more climbs after this. But, I decided that I didn’t want to get caught up in too much worrying about this part and that part. So, I decided that I’d just take the rest of the course as it came. I’ve been working on living in the moment more, lately. I’ve adopted the theory of “think like a dog”. My dog doesn’t have regrets about things that happened yesterday. He doesn’t wish he was somewhere else today. He doesn’t have worries about what may or may not happen tomorrow. He lives in the moment.
As usual, I got a pretty lousy night’s sleep before the race. I may have slept for 4 hours. It seemed like I was awake periodically during most of it. No matter. I’ve learned that it’s not that important. Nerves and adrenaline were plenty to keep me going for now. The race starts at 5:00 am. At 4:00, I boarded the bus in downtown Salt Lake for the 40 minute bus ride to the start. Most of the other runners were pretty quiet. A few chatted with their seat mates.
I checked in at the start and said hi to a few runners I knew. I also met Chihping Fu, a California runner who I had come to know through the ultra list, but had never met before. This would be his third running at Wasatch. The countdown started and without much fanfare, about 250 runners set off. I stayed in a very comfortable pace for the the first 4 miles, until the big climb started. I had a long way to go and a fairly long time (36 hours) to get there. My plan was to stay within my training. Busting out a big move on this course could easily lead to a DNF (did not finish). My first goal is always to finish these things. Today, my secondary goal was to break 30 hours, and get the fancier belt buckle. I had a pacing chart for a 29 hour finish.
The first climb came and it was a grunt! I got into a good smooth hiking pace that I could maintain. I had to work on my breathing and controlling my heart rate a few times. As we approached the summit near 10,000 feet, we started to see some snow. Just an inch or so had fallen, but sometimes it made for slippery footing as hundreds of runners had packed it down into a bit of an icy film. At last, the top was in sight and we turned onto a jeep road for the next several miles to Frances Peak aid station. It was positively surreal on top. The clouds and fog were closed in and visibility was only a hundred yards, at times. Just as I reached Frances at mile 18.6, the clouds opened up and the views were amazing! Pretty much the entire course had incredible views. Much of the time, the trail traversed high ridges where one could see both east and west at the same time. Some of the views of Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake itself were just unbelievable! I arrived at Frances Peak around 5 hours. This was about an hour behind my 30 hour plan. Oh well! Think like a dog. Stay in the moment.
The next section covers a few miles of jeep road, then turns onto a trail. I call this a trail, but it’s hardly that at all. I’ve seen deer trails that were much better defined. On the climb up to Bountiful B aid station, the trail was crazy. At times, it was so overgrown, you could hardly see the 6” wide dirt path below. It would dead end at a huge, 5 foot wide fallen tree, which we would have to climb over. The climbs were short, but incredibly steep. It was lush in these little canyons, just over grown with low scrub, big conifers and giant aspen. It was beautiful, but tough. I remember my pacer, Bob, telling me to remember this section. He said it would be very difficult, but to remember that the rest of the course was NOT like this. Good thing.
More rolling ups and downs brought me through the next aid station and up high to another wonderful, high ridge section. The two sided views were awe inspiring and the trail was smooth and buttery! There was a great section of about 4 miles of this undulating, smooth trail into the Swallow Rocks aid station. Swallow Rocks had good soup and Popsiciles! Yum! I motored out after a 10 minute stop (too long). Big Mountain, at mile 39 was the next aid station. Overall, I had been moving fairly well, not fast but not slow. My energy was good and consistent and my hydration and electrolytes seemed to be working perfectly. So it went into the next aid stop. As I came in, it was like a huge party! People were screaming and ringing cow bells. I even heard a vuvuzela, the loud, annoying plastic horns they blew at the soccer World Cup.
I left Big Mountain anticipating a couple of short climbs and a 5 mile downhill. It wasn’t really going to be that way, though. The two climbs were about as depicted on my elevation chart. But, the downhill seemed to come…and then become another climb, over and over again. It was maddening! At one point, I just needed some help. I had been running mostly alone through the race. I sat down out of the wind, pulled out some food (I think I was bonking from lack of calories) and called my wife. Smart woman that she is, she told me to eat. She asked me what the view looked like. I told her it was amazing. She told me that there were two experienced runners at mile 53 waiting for me. All I had to do was get there and I’d be fine. So, we said goodbye and off I went. Problem was, I didn’t know if I could get my sorry butt to mile 53. I was at mile 42 and Things were pretty rough. I really had no choice but to get to the next aid station, so I kept moving. Even on the downhills, I just couldn’t get a run (or a jog) going. I went through the process of evaluating dropping. I just didn’t think that I could maintain anything better than a brisk walk for any length of time. Hiking in the last 58 miles was not an appealing option. I’ve been in this spot enough to know that it would likely pass. I had to get to the next aid station, anyway. I’d get there and then decide what to do. Finally, Alexander Spring appeared.
I got a bowl of three bean soup (kind of like chili) and ate. My other problem was that it was almost dark. My other light and batteries were 5 miles away. The light I had form the morning had weak batteries. If they gave out part way through, I was screwed. I imagined standing in the dark, and scaring the crap out of some other runner who came along, and asking if I could share their light with them. Instead, I asked if they had any batteries at Alexander Spring. They offered me a flash light that another runner had left there an hour earlier. They said to just leave it at the next stop and send it to lost and found. I was back in the game. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in the game, but I had no excuse. I picked up some energy from eating and put on a good speed walk. I met up with a couple of other runners and Keith Straw (known as Tutu Man). Keith is known far and wide because he runs virtually all of his races in a pink tutu and pink shirt. He even has a small fairy wand. He has run Badwater in this get up. I have no idea why he does this. But, I do know that everyone seems to get a big smile when they see him and he’s one hell of a runner. He was aiming to finish Wasatch to complete the Grand Slam of ultrarunning, finishing four tough, mountain 100’s within a 14 week period. So, the four of us power walked the 5 miles up and over to Lamb’s Canyon, where I would meet my pacers.
I arrived at Lamb’s sort of wanting to just go home. But, I couldn’t really bring myself to tell these guys who were total strangers to me, that I just wasn’t into it. Like the good pacers and experienced runners they were, they asked me how I was doing. I said I was not doing so well. They immediately sort of dismissed it and got down to diagnostics. Was I drinking? Yes. Eating? Yeah, mostly. Was I peeing? Yes. Okay then, what do you want to eat before we leave? This was a pivotal point in the race for me.
Mark would take me up and over the first climb. I think it was about 2,500 feet of climb and then a big descent to the other side. It was so nice to have some company! Almost immediately, I felt so much better, had so much more energy. We hiked steady up the climb, even passing a couple of others. The trees in the deep canyon were huge. Giant aspens would loom at the edge of my head lamp, then disappear into the night sky. We ran some of the downhill sections, but mostly kept a brisk walk. When we got to the bottom of the trail, we hit the asphalt for three miles of uphill to the next stop. It was COLD in the bottom of that canyon. I later learned that the temperature had dipped to 23 degrees. I was also getting sleepy, from the obvious effects of 19 hours on my feet. I had to stop a few times, just to try to clear the fatigue from my mind. We made it into Millcreek and met up with Bob. After unsuccessfully trying to warm up in the car, we headed up to the check point and sat in front of the heater. A few minutes did the trick. Combined with some food, I was ready to go. I bid farewell to “Jeff”. We had had some great discussions on building and other things. Doh! His name was Mark! Man, was I really that out of it, or just forgetful? I apologized to Mark.
Enter Bob Adler, rock star pacer. Bob was simply amazing. He knew every turn, every climb. At one point, he said “Watch out for holes along this area, there are some marmots and things up here.” I looked down and said, “There’s a hole now”. It was uncanny. I could not have asked for a better pacer to help me through the run. I should mention that I never met Bob before the race. He saw my posting on the race website, looking for a pacer to help with the night hours. He graciously offered to pace me for most of the last half. I have rarely met nicer people in other walks of life. Ultrarunners are really something special!
I was beginning to come to grips with the fact that I may not finish before the cut off time of 36 hours. At my average pace of 20 minute miles, it was a prayer, at best. But I didn’t mention it. I would just ask about the cut offs for Brighton (mile 75). It was 10:00 am. That left 7 hours to cover 25 miles. Simple, yes? Well, no… not at 3 miles per hour.
Bob brought me through the darkness, keeping me eating, keeping me drinking, keeping me up on caffeine. We arrived at Scott’s Pass just as the sun was rising. It was just beautiful! I had some hot chocolate, ate some food and we headed for the long downhill into Brighton. As we jogged, we discussed the pace and what was to come. There was a big climb after Brighton. But, the sun was now up and with it I was getting a nice boost from the second sunrise. They had hot food, specifically potato pancakes (hash browns) at Brighton. As we came into Brighton, I had resigned myself to the fact that I was probably not going to have time to finish. As I sat there, I watched runners quit. I watched them shuffle off with blankets wrapped around them.
The volunteers kept saying that I needed to get out of there. They would say. “See that girl over there. Stay with her. She has left here at 8:30 and finished. She knows how to do it.” One volunteer told me that this was her motivation, pointing to the back of her shirt. It said something catchy like “You can do it. You’ve got more strength than you think.” I reached in my bag and pulled out a small card that my daughter made for me. I told her, “This is my inspiration.” As I read it, it said “Do you know how much I love you, Dad? I love you a lot.” I got choked up and had to hold back the tears of joy I felt. My girl knew I could do this. She always told me that she believed in me. I couldn’t tell her that I had decided to quit, because it was too hard. I shoved the hash browns in, I drank a chocolate milk and told Bob, “I’m leaving. I’ll see you up the trail when you get there.” I think he was startled. My line of discussion had been about not being able to make it. It’s funny how total strangers start telling you things, and you just do what they say. I didn’t want to try to tell these people some lame excuse why I couldn’t do it. I think they would have said something like, “Nonsense. Others have done it. Why can’t you?” They would have been right. Plus, I couldn’t face my daughter. I owed it to her to set a good example.
The next 15 miles were just a brutal slog. There were occasional good stretches. I got my running gear back periodically. But, the climbs were killers. Bob would describe them in advance. “This one sucks. I won’t lie to you. Just keep moving and don’t stop. You don’t have to move fast. Just keep moving.” Then, he would say, “We have to run this downhill. Can you do it? Let’s run this next ½ mile.” My energy would come and go. Finally, just before Rock Springs (at around mile 88) I hit a wall, literally. There was a long climb to a small pass we could see in the distance. It just would not end! My energy was through the floor. I would eat a gel, or some food, with almost no effect. Bob finally suggested I take an ibuprofen, which I never do in races. The chance of kidney damage just seems to outweigh any potential benefit it provides. He suggested that one would not be a big deal I agreed, so I took one. It definitely helped, after a few minutes. Combined with eating some more food at Rock Springs, I was coming back around.
I’ll interject here a little fact from the pre-race meeting. The RD said that after 15 years of keeping statistics, they could estimate a runner’s finish time by when they left each aid station. “In fact”, he said, “we can project your finish time plus or minus five minutes, when you leave Brighton.” I later learned that when I left Rock Springs, my projected finish time was 5:43 pm, or 43 minutes after the allotted time. This was not information I needed to know. Happily, I didn’t hear this until later.
Leaving Rock Springs, we started running and walking. Bob said we would be coming to a steep downhill called the Dive. I’d heard about the Dive before. It is a long, very steep downhill. It’s loose, it’s rocky, it’s very hard to run. Bob said, “If you’re going to make it, we need to run this. It’s ugly, but we’ve got to run it” We turned a corner and he pointed above his head, in a downward motion and called out “Dive!” He took off. I followed. It was nuts! It was dusty, so dusty that I often couldn’t see from the dust Bob kicked up. The trail was a rut, about 12” wide and about 10” deep. At the bottom of the rut was 5-6” of fine dust, mixed with rocks, fist sized and smaller. It was controlled falling, absolutely chaotic. But, I ran. I ran fast. I turned my legs over just to stay upright. It felt fantastic! I didn’t run stuff like this this fast in training. Hell, I didn’t even run stuff like this at all. I decided that this was exactly what training was for. I smiled. I hooted. I got angry. I was NOT going to run for 100 miles and miss the deadline to finish. I did NOT come here to DNF. I was going to run like hell! This was the final ‘rising from the dead’ for me.
We came to the next big drop, called the Plunge. It was just the same. It was crazy footing, loose and rocky. We would see some other runners and Bob would say, “Let’s catch them” I would say “Yeah, let’s go. Let’s go!” We passed several other runners on this stretch. They looked startled that we were moving at that speed, especially at the back of the pack. I was running like a dog and my tail was waggin’…hard! Bob said that we had to have two hours form Pot Bottom (mile 93.4) to make the finish. He said we had 1.5 miles to go to Pot Bottom. We made a plan to get in and out quick and he took off ahead of me to prepare. It was a race. It was a race with the clock. It was all or nothing. Coming in at 36:01 was failure. Coming in under 36 hours was success. I changed my clothes (I’d been wearing tights since the start and it was hot!) and left my pack for Bob to fill with water and gel and started up the last major hill. It was 3:10 pm, less than two hours to go.
Bob caught up and we briskly hiked the hill for 1.7 miles. We passed a few runners, including an older Japanese man and his young pacer. He looked very rough and was moving very slowly. We hit the downhill and I opened it up. We ran. We ran fast! It was a nice open jeep road, although pretty rocky. It reminded me of one of my local training runs that I’d done many times. I probably overestimated it, but I would guess we were running 9-10 pace on this long downhill. I felt like I was just flying. We passed 7-8 runners. Some would turn in disbelief. One asked if we had just started the race. We didn’t have much of a cushion to finish, if any. There was no stopping. There would be no denying a finish!
We entered the final gamble oak section. We saw some people at an intersection that said “One mile”. To which Bob replied, “No, one mile to the road. Then, one more mile of pavement.” Holy crap, it was close! No letting up. We continued to run, although not quite as fast. We hit the road. We made the last mile. We turned the corner down the grass for the last 100 yards to the finish. I turned to Bob and said, “Let’s run it in fast.” I picked it up and crossed the line. 35 hours and 46 minutes! Bob had dropped off to the side, I suppose to let me take in the ‘glory’ for myself. In retrospect, I would have insisted that he cross with me. My ability to finish was in no small part due to his efforts. There was NO way that I would have made it without his course knowledge, prodding and good company. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to both Mark and Bob for their help in getting me to the finish.
We joked along the way that if I was going to be so close to the cut off, I should really try to be DFL (dead f*#@ing last). I missed that honor by three places. The honor of last place went to the Japanese man, who we had passed at mile 95. I don’t know how he pulled it together. We had passed several people in that last 6 miles, and he was the one I thought least likely to finish. He proved me wrong. He crossed the line with less than 90 seconds to spare, and to a huge round of applause. He is 64 years old.
People often ask why I run 100 mile races, or even longer. I think that the best answer I’ve come up with is that I do it for the adventure. Everyone loves a good adventure story, a good adventure movie. A good adventure story is one in which you never know how it will end. Running tough 100 mile runs, such as this, is the closest I’ve come to living one of these great adventure stories. I plan, I scheme, I think about what it will be like. I reach huge highs, I bottom out in the lowest of lows. I learn all kinds of life lessons that are sometimes hard to come by.
Occasionally stripping away all of the trappings of everyday life shows me who I really am. To quote (paraphrase) Ephraim Romesberg, a fellow ultrarunner, “You start with all these lofty goals…Then, you get to the point, where I am now, when the best you can hope for is to not throw up on your own shoes.” To pull yourself out of a spot like that, and turn it around to make some sort of success out of it is a pretty rewarding experience. This makes it a lot easier to deal with most of the small annoyances of daily life and gives me the knowledge that I can handle the big stuff.
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November 3rd, 2010 1:52 pm
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