"100 Miles of Heaven and Hell"
That may sound bad but it least its not "The race that eats their young".
Warning: This is very long winded and includes all the gory details (good and bad). Uh, enjoy I guess.
It took a bit of a journey to get to the start line of the Wasatch Front 100 Mile race. I originally applied for the lottery (yes, there are lotteries to get the opportunity to run these things) back in 2013 for the 2014 race. I got in the lottery on my first try but ironically during the mandatory 8 hours of trail service I got really sick (Mono) and it took months to fully recover.
DNS (Did Not Start) in 2014.
DNS (Did Not Start) in 2014.
I ran the Bear 100 in 2015 and didn't apply for the lottery (but paced my friend Mike at Wasatch for 35.5 miles that year).
In 2016 I applied for the lottery and did not get drawn. But I paced my friend Erik for 22 miles at Wasatch that year instead.
I finally was chosen in the 2017 race lottery and was happy to be healthy at the starting line. It was time to race!
6 weeks before the race, I asked Matt VanHorn a race veteran of multiple years to run the first 30 miles of the course together. We met up and he showed me the junctions and highlights. This tour was extremely valuable for multiple reasons. The main reason was during the race this year multiple people went off trail early on while I was able to go the correct route. A few more course markers were needed on some critical junctions. Course knowledge is king. The other main benefit was knowing exactly how hard the climbs and descents were so I could moderate my pace (and mental anguish) perfectly.
(Bair Canyon Climb)
I guess it is scenic huh? - Photo from my phone
This is Beth's version...she is a bit shorter. And a better photographer.
Aside from the heat stroke I got that day, it was perfect training. Yep, apparently training on an exposed ridge in July requires 100+ ounces of water. I probably needed that much just to drink, plus that much more to dump on my body to cool off. I learned that there are not enough streams to moderate my temperature. Dizzyness, tingling, almost fainting slurring of speech mandated that Matt and I drop off the course and find water in City Creek to cool down. After sitting in the creek and dumping gallons of water over me I was feeling much better. It was a bit of a close call there. After that, I knew what to do during the race to manage that section better (obviously having aid stations was the biggest help).
Race day dawned and I found myself in roughly 12th place (keeping it chill) climbing up the first big climb (Bair Canyon). It was a doozy. At the top I caught and chatted briefly with Matt who was having an off day and dropped at Bountiful Aid. I tried to keep things pretty chill on the downhill to the (now demolished) shed. However, I still managed to pick up a few places. Things continued along like that. I moderated my pace, cooled off every chance I got (it was warming up quickly), kept the fuel coming in at ~200 calories an hour, picked up a spot or two on every downhill and came into Bountiful Aid (mile 16.4) tied for 6th place. 15 mins behind 5th place.
The next few aid stations went by quickly as I was familiar with this section from running it with Matt. So far things were just cruising along nicely. I let the legs open up a bit on the final downhill into Big Mountain aid (Mile 31.7) and passed the French guy who I had been leapfrogging with for a few hours.
Big Mountain! The first crew spot. The spot where I would pick up my first pacer. I was happy to spend a few mins to get situated with a change of gear and to fill up my bottles. I quickly downed a whole bottle and had my awesome crew chief (Bethany) dump a bottle of ice cold water down the neck. Wow, that was refreshing. I left the aid with 3 full bottles and a buff chock full of ice. I was ready for the crux of the day. Big Mountain to Lambs. I was stoked to have my friend and occasional training buddy Jake join me. He is a great pacer (especially for his first time). Loads of enthusiasm, jokes and random entertainment. He regaled me with tales of complete BS. We went over Unicorn hill and through Juniper forest to Rocky Crest. Or was it Ball Busting Hill? I can't recall for sure.
Cooling off at Big Mtn (Photo credit Beth)
The time passed quickly and as we approached Alexander Ridge Aid I finished off my last bottle and caught Joseph Taylor (now tied for 5th) on the technical downhills. After getting icy water and dumping some on me we headed out together. Joe is like 2 feet taller than me (no joke) and his hiking pace was destroying mine. I was literally taking twice the steps he was. I had to let him go as his pace was making me red-line. I think Jake was at the end of his rope too as things got awfully quiet back there. Joe stopped for a fueling break as we finally reached the shade and the top of the climb. No lie, this section was rough. Hot exposed and not scenic. Definite hard section. Spirits were lifted as we finally made it to Lambs Canyon Aid (Mile 45).
Arriving at Lambs Canyon Aid (Photo credit Beth)
Pacer change here at Lambs and I quickly (4 min stop) fueled, cooled, and left. My amazing crew did awesome once again! It would be the last I would see of them for 5 hours. I left the aid in 5th with Giff (Pacer #2) and after finishing my lunch started jogging up the Lambs Canyon Road. I did well up the road and trail and caught up to the 4th place guy 2/3 up the trail to the pass. I moved on past but expected to see him again soon. Right near the top I also caught and passed the 3rd place guy (I didn't know my place though). The downhill into Millcreek went well and before long I was climbing the paved road to Big Water Aid. I thought I was moving well mixing up short walks with slow jogging but right before the aid, 3rd place guy came flying by. He apparently recovered from his low spot and was back in action. Giff was doing a great job providing encouragement and energy and was a great companion out there. This was the first time we have really run together not in a race and it was great to chat. I was loving the scenery and would enjoy it all the way to Brighton. That is one of the main reasons I signed up for this race. The amazing scenery.
(Photo Credit Giff)
Big Water to Desolation (Mile 58.5) went well but I quickly lost contact with 3rd place guy and just chugged along at my own pace. He got to Desolation 14 mins ahead of me so was obviously moving well on the uphills. I had a 30 min gap over 5th place (didn't know it) and just hiked up Red Lovers Ridge and tried to get rolling on the beautiful Wasatch Crest Trail.
(Photo Credits Giff)
Before long I was at Scott's Peak Aid (4th place and behind 3rd by 20 mins). I made them dig out a Mtn Dew from the pile of goodies they brought to the aid and nearly drank the whole can before leaving. It was amazing. The downhill to the road was quick and the only tricky part was finding the turn off to the new trail section bypassing the road. Good thing I did my homework for this race or I would have missed it. There was a huge truck blocking the trail and the flagging. Eventually, we made it to Brighton (Mile 67) and I was still in great spirits. My downhill legs were good. My uphill gear was slow but steady. All systems go. Ready for the night section. But first, I get to see my Family.
(Photo Credits Beth)
My wife, kids and parents were all there to greet me and take care of my needs. The last chance before the finish. They fed, watered, encouraged and got me ready. We paused for a few photos outside before exchanging pacers and heading out (still with no headlamps turned on as that was my goal!). I traded Giff for Erik and he would get me to the finish, one way or another. I left Brighton 13 mins behind 3rd place and 34 mins ahead of 5th.
(Photo Credits Beth) - 2/3 of the 'Dream Team of Pacers'
Brighton to Rock Springs Aid (78.7). I was getting slower and slower as time went on. It got dark around Lake Catherine and was really dark by Point Supreme. I took a second to kiss the sign for good luck. Not sure if it helped. It could be argued either way. I stumbled down the nasty trail to Ant Knolls Aid (mile 71.8) and took a 2 minute break to fuel up. I was 9 mins behind 3rd place and 36 mins ahead of 5th (isn't it nice that they provide exact splits after the race?). The nerd in me says yes! Pole line Pass Aid (mile 74.7) was just around the next corner for a solid 3 miles or so. Another quick 3 min stop to fuel up and head out. The section from Pole Line to Rock Springs was rough. I slipped back to 28 mins behind 3rd place and my uphill gear got worse and worse. Fatigue was really setting in and the effort just to keep going was pushing me to my limit. I was feeling sick to the stomach and decided that it was all coming up against my will right before I hit the aid station. I stopped just 20 feet short of the aid and puked my guts out. I cleared it all out and then some. Not pleasant. Who knew I had that much stuff in my stomach? It looked like I hadn't processed anything for hours. That explained the lack of energy and why my stomach hurt so much. Nothing was being absorbed and processed. After that experience, I walked into the aid and tried to convince myself, my pacer and the aid volunteers I was fine. I think I had some broth and/or ginger ale and quickly got out of there.
Little did I know it was the beginning of the end....
Rock Springs (78.7) to Pot Hollow (84.5) was a disaster. This is the crux of the course. At least the crux of the night section. It includes the 'Glide' and the 'Plunge' and don't forget 'Irv's Torture Chamber'. I was not going smooth down the Glide. I was stumbling and crashing into trees and stumbling over rocks. Erik was ahead of me trying to get me to match his pace and I was failing horribly. I felt drunk and out of it. Before long I was slurring my words and getting really light headed. At some point I told Erik my hands and feet were tingling and becoming numb. I think that is bad. The stomach was still very upset and I had a great idea to eat a ginger candy I had in my vest. That might settle the stomach. It touched my tongue and 2 seconds later all the food I had carefully ingested since Rock Springs came roaring out. This one took me to my knees and then my side. Curled up on the side of the trail I began to shake and my breathing became quick and shallow. I got really cold and put on all my layers. Still extremely light headed I was in no position to move down the trail. What to do? I was sad as my race was apparently over. I wasn't thinking about how to finish any longer. I was thinking about how to get to medical aid. Or how to get aid to me, since moving was kinda hard right now. I don't recall how long we were camped on the side of the trail while I sipped water. Felt like an hour but I know it wasn't that long. 5th place guy (and pacer) came and went. I don't recall what they said to me. Something about it being his first 100. Who knows. Finally, I felt good enough to stand up and walk very very slowly towards the aid station. I knew I needed to get there, get warm, get some broth and rest. The best/only idea I had was to get food in me slowly and sleep so the food would be absorbed. Perhaps my body was just having a low blood sugar episode and if so, this can be resolved. So, slowly we walked. Downhill. It was 1.5 miles until we hit Pot Hollow.
Pot Hollow (84.5) - Heaven. I arrived and they notified me that I was in 4th place because someone ahead of me dropped out at that aid an hour ago. I didn't care. I was dying (at least it seemed that way). I asked for a cot to rest in and some broth. I got a padded bed in the back of a truck, a sleeping bag, a cup of ramen! What wonderful service. Those guys were so generous and helpful. I asked a friend who was working at the aid station to wake me in 10 mins. I ate some food, and tried to go to sleep. And more importantly I tried not to puke in the sleeping bag. This approach worked wonders. I didn't sleep but 10 mins later I felt human again. Stomach issues gone, I slowly downed another cup of noodles and told Erik to get ready we are going to get to the next aid station. In all, we spent 32 mins there. 1 guy came and went while I rested and another guy left at the same time as me. I wasn't worried about racing, only finishing. So we let him go and we walked slowly up the next hill. I was alive and moving again!
Pot Hollow to Finish - As we neared the top of the climb, I was feeling better and better. I suddenly thought a decent finish is possible again. As we started down the dirt road I could jog again. Erik did the pacer thing and told me not only could I break 24 but I could beat his splits from last year (23:46). I had left Pot Hollow 2 mins ahead of his splits. I told him I didn't care about beating his splits, I only wanted the Sub 24 (more on this later). I wanted to be in the Royal Order of the Crimson Cheetah Club. AKA, the cool kids club right? At this point I sped up from my weak shuffle jog to a reasonable 8-9 min mile pace. Downhill. I WAS BACK!
We still had 2 more aid stations to get through before the finish. I focused on running hard (as hard as was sustainable) between the aid stations then getting some quick broth and noodles then moving on. Water and broth. How long can you run with that diet? Turns out it was enough. 4th place guy pulled away from me easily but I was increasing my gap to the 6th place guy.
I guess another motivation was not only breaking 24 hours but beating Erik's time from last year. Sure at first it wasn't a priority but now it was becoming a cherry on top. I was maintaining a 4 min lead over Erik's time. I pushed fairly hard all the way to the finish but trying to enjoy it too by not killing myself for another extra minute or two.
One major highlight was all my friends and family there to greet me at the finish line. It was incredible the support I had! Even more who were standing by the phone all refreshing their screen and texting others for updates.
Thanks everyone, it really meant a lot!