I frequently hear runners prior to a 100 mile race comment that they are "ready to lay one down", "crush it", that they feel as prepared as they have ever felt, etc,. Maybe this is their way of pumping themselves up, or of "psyching out" the competition, or maybe they truly feel that way.
Me...... I don't think I've ever gone into a race with those feelings. I typically feel under-prepared, under-trained, and wonder if I'll be able to make it through the next 100 miles and 24-36 hours. Could be that I sub-consciously minimize my expectations, possibly I'm not a very confident person at heart, who knows? All I know is that I was fairly apprehensive going into this year's Wasatch 100 Mile Endurance Run.
Why? I'll try to keep it brief. Last summer I suffered a strain to my left posterior tibialis tendon, and rather than stop running all together and let it heal, I merely reduced my running, and over the next few months ran less and did other stuff more. It got to the point that in November I was in a boot for 3 weeks following fluid aspiration from the tendon sheath with a cortisone injection to the same area. I was optimistic that I would return to full strength and took my recovery very slowly, starting with 5 minute walks on the treadmill. By the time I ran the Squaw Peak 50 in July, I was feeling fairly fit and running about 90% pain free. Unfortunately, Squaw Peak was not the recipe for continued recovery and while I ran well, by the end of the race I was hurting. Stubbornly hoping that I could "run through it" without any changes other than daily icing and wearing compression socks almost 24/7, I continued running, and tackled the Uinta Highline trail in July with Peter, Ben and Jason. We had a great time, but contrary to my plans, the foot hurt even more during recovery. After wearing Altra's as my shoe of choice for the past 1 1/2 years, I decided that maybe I needed a little change in footwear for a bit. I began wearing Hoka's every other day as a "recovery shoe" and lo and behold, my ankle started feeling slightly better. Following the theory that if it works, keep it up, I went for a BIG change and 3 weeks before Wasatch, started wearing the Hoka 100%. I finally had to admit that, while I LOVE the Altra shoes, and they have done so much good for my running (no more black toe nails or blisters, good bye plantar fasciitis, better running form and economy) the current selection is not working for me right now. One of Altra's basic premises is that the arch is a natural shock absorber. Unfortunately, I have no arch-I'm completely flat footed- it kept me out of the military- and over time this put an over abundance of stress and strain on the posterior tibialis. I started wearing the Hoka's with a Montrail Endro-sole, my foot felt better and better, and by the time of Race day, I was feeling more confident. Don't get me wrong, the ankle still hurt, and I knew it would be a long day of hurting, but I was optimistic things would hold together.
OK, the prologue is over, now you know why I was hesitant about how Wasatch was going to pan out. Plus, it was going to be HOT. Oh, and it was 100 miles. That's a long way for things to go wrong, no matter how you feel or the number of times you've run that far.
Start Line with Rich McDonald
Photo: Barry Miller
My two goals going into the run were to slow down, especially through the first 20-30 miles, and then just run on how I feel. Too often I get caught up too early with "racing". This year I would run my race, not worry at all about who was in front or behind me, and see where that put me at Soldier Hollow.
The race started out just like that. I enjoyed spending time running with good friends, and meeting a few new ones. I stuck to my plan and ran a more conservative pace than normal, arriving at Francis Peak at 8:40, right on schedule, 15-20 minutes behind "normal" times. By this time, I had separated from any other runners, and besides pacers, this is largely how the next 80 miles would be run, solo. However, until Lambs Canyon, I played some leapfrog with speedy Robert Mueller, who had an outstanding finish after spending some time at the Lambs Canyon aid station recuperating from the heat. I felt really good all the way to Big Mountain, with my only "incident" being a full water bottle that dropped and cracked halfway to Ant Knolls. Not a great time to be stuck with 5 oz of salvaged water and 45 minutes of heat to get through, but I made it to Ant Knolls, savored a popsicle, and left with extra water to get to Big Mtn.
Down to Big Mtn.
Photo: Derrick Lytle
Kate-cheering me up as only she knows how!!
Photo: Brooke Storheim
At Big Mtn, I was met by my incredibly supportive, patient and #1 fan Brooke, who brought along a fan club. A kiss from Kate, an ice-filled handkerchief around my neck, and a kick in the butt from Brooke, and I was out of there with my first pacer, Kendall. My only goal from here to Lambs Canyon was to survive. I didn't care if I got passed or passed anyone else. I had 70 oz of water on my back in my Gregory Tempo 3 pack, 20 oz of GuBrew in a handheld, and my thoughts were to empty them by the time I got to Alexander Ridge, then repeat to Lambs and arrive in good shape. Kendall was the perfect companion through this section, telling me fabulous hunting stories of the big bull elk that got away a couple days before, and adventures such as hiking with skis on his pack from Death Valley to the top of some 11,000 ft mountain in the Sierra's and then spending an extra day bivying while cliffed out on the way back down. A great companion, the time went quickly, and thanks to the ice on my neck and the slight breeze, I never really felt the heat. Somewhere through here we linked up with Robert Mueller again and we made a nice train heading into Lambs.
Photo: Joe Azze
I spent a few minutes at Lambs making sure everything was feeling good, changed packs to my Gregory Tempo 5 with Black Diamond z-poles stashed in the back pocket and with another kiss from Kate, a full reservoir, and Brooke's caring but firm instructions to get out of there, I left Lamb's in the good company of my good buddy, and younger brother, Matt. Again, I wasn't in any particular rush to run the Lamb's road, I just wanted to make sure I kept a steady pace, and make it to Millcreek feeling good and ready to start to push it just a little bit. Matt updated me on his kids football games that morning, assessed my overall condition, and then I took a sip from my bottle of GuBrew. Pphhhwttttthh. It went spewing from my mouth. Disgusting!!! I took a sip of water from my reservoir. Blecchhh-just as bad. Everything I had filled up with from Lambs was bad. It had a horrible chemical taste to it and I could only think that whatever container it was stored in had some kind of residue in it that tainted the water. I was in a pickle. Luckily Matt had a bottle with his own concoction in it that I was able to drink, but 20 oz wasn't really going to get me to Big Water in good shape. We still had cell reception so Matt called his wife and asked her to meet us at Elbow Fork with fresh water. I figured I could make it that far on 20 oz. We made it up and over Bare Ass Pass to Elbow Fork in fine form, and I even started sipping from my tainted water with no more ill effect than a disgusting taste in my mouth. At the Elbow, I re-filled my reservoir with fresh water (if this is receiving aid outside of an aid station I guess I'm dis-qualified) said good bye to Matt and hiked off up the road.
Erik and Matt at Lambs Canyon
Photo: Brooke Storheim
I trotted some, power hiked even more, and arrived at Big Water feeling really good and ready to join up with my good friend and neighbor Jesse Harding. I think there were one or two other runners in the aid station when I got there, but they quickly left and I don't remember who they were.
Jesse and I had a great time over the next 13 miles. While climbing up to Dog Lake, we noticed a weird mist filling the canyons below and by the time we got to Desolation Lake it had dropped 15 degrees and it dawned on us that we were smelling the lovely sulfurness of the Great Salt Lake. How weird was that? The only downer to this phenomenon was that it obscured the beautiful sunset from Red Lovers Ridge I was looking forward to seeing, and that it got dark 5-10 minutes earlier, preventing us from making our goal of getting to Scott's Pass without headlamps.
Hazy Desolation Lake Aid Station
Photo: Jesse Harding
Up Red Lovers
Photo: Jesse Harding
Looking for a Sunset. Sulfury haze in the distance.
Photo: Jesse Harding
The 5 miles or so to Brighton went quickly and while I didn't necessarily feel perky, I didn't feel trashed either, and felt like I would be able to make some good time over the last 25 miles. I felt like a celebrity as a good 20-30 people were waiting when Jesse and I made it to The Great Western House, Jay's property at Brighton that he generously made available to friends and family to wait for their runners. I tried to quickly brush my teeth, change into a dry shirt, and top off my supplies to get moving again. Brooke told me that Peter was about 25 minutes behind me and Jared was only a few minutes back. I remember telling her that it didn't matter how far back Peter was, he would catch me somewhere between Forest Lake and the Dive and the Plunge. Little did I know....
I was in and out of the Brighton Lodge at about 9:30, with my neighbor and good friend Pete Stevenson ready to help me through the next 25 miles. This was Pete's first experience with Wasatch and I was looking forward to him getting a first hand glimpse of the fun the last 25 miles dishes out.
Ready to have some fun with Pete!!
As usual, the climb to Catherine's Pass was long, and I struggled getting into a good rhythm. My stomach felt a little rumbly and rather than fight the queasies like I'm prone to do, I decided to embrace it and initiate Peter into a true late night climb with a stomach emptying. He observed in silence, and I chuckled silently to myself. I could see lights catching up to me as we climbed up towards Catherine's Pass and I knew that it had to be Jared. If he caught me on this first climb, than it would be hard to hold him off. I gave it all I had, dropped towards Ant Knolls and the lights got farther away. This was our game for the next little while. He would get closer on any little climb and I would put a little distance on the descent. I started subsisting on my usual late night/end of race caloric intake of a cup of broth, a cup of hot chocolate and a cup of coke at each aid station. It's what my stomach handles, and it seems to work The only downside is that I end up spending more time than I should at aid stations. Peter was super positive through this whole experience, continually reminding me to look at the stars, enjoy the night air, live in the moment. Even though I spent most of the time in silence, not having the mental energy to start or carry a conversation, it was great to have Peter along for the ride and feed off his enthusiasm. Just after leaving Pole Line Aid Station, my stomach rebelled again, and I bent over to make an offering to the trail gods. Unfortunately, the Coke, Hot Chocolate and broth had mostly cleared my stomach and there wasn't much to leave on the trail, just a lot of noise to alert Jared that I wasn't too far ahead. Sure enough, as we started our way around Forest Lake, Jared came bouncing by in his good natured way, and then a few minutes later, Peter Lindgren popped out of nowhere right behind us. I swear he had been stalking us with his headlamp off, but he denies it. I tried to hang with Peter, and it was here that I arrived at an interesting observation. My stomach had normalized, my energy and spirits were good, but I didn't have another gear to switch to to chase Peter with. All summer, due to my irritated ankle (by the way it hurt for the first 75 miles, then everything went numb and nothing hurt. Interesting how that happens, but it's almost universal for me when I run Wasatch), I hadn't been able to do much intense running. No tempo runs, no intervals, just a bunch of long, moderate paced runs with LOTS of hiking. So when it came time to chase, there was nothing to chase with, however, I felt fantastic keeping my same steady pace. So I held to it, and as we made our way through the Dive and the Plunge and entered Irv's torture chamber, we came upon Jared, emptying his shoes of rocks and dust. He thanked me profusely for lobbying to keep that wonderful section of the finish intact and then we parted ways. I knew I had to make some time if I wanted to stay ahead of him with all the little climbs left. Arriving at Pot Bottom, I finally told Peter what I had been trying to calculate over and over as we ran. Barring any un-forseen problems over the last 7 miles (turns out there were 8!), I might be able to PR if we could keep a good pace. We ran as fast as I could with Peter's marathon training pulling me along. Jared was in back, Peter somewhere up ahead, and more important was the time goal of 22:42 to beat. After the climb to the Staton aid station and the long ATV road down, we were finally on the homestretch with 2.5 miles of pavement ahead of us and a 20 minute window. I could see glimpses of Jared's light behind, but couldn't see Peter anywhere ahead on the big loop of pavement. We ran what felt like a 6 minute pace which in reality was more like 9-10. Down the road, past the big barn, then up the road, time was running out. I could hear Brooke and my family cheering, we criss-crossed the meadow and then it was done. A handshake from John Grobben sealed the deal and I could sit down. 22:40:43. A PR by 2 minutes.
My #1 Fan. Thank you Brooke!!!
Photo: JoAnn Miner
While there were so many things throughout this day that could have gone wrong, for whatever reason, they didn't. I ran a steady pace. Never had any huge highs, but never had any lows either. I stayed hydrated, stayed cool when I needed to, kept my head when water bottles broke and water was tainted. Had awesome pacers and company along the way. Had the best support crew and fans along the way. Thank you Brooke, Sam, Andrew, Kate, Mom, Paul, Kathy, Jack, Dad, Denise, Kendall, Matt, Jesse, Peter, Ashley, Erin, Becky, Bryce, Pieper and everyone else that I know I forgot about along the way.
Thanks to the best group of friends anyone could be lucky enough to train and spend time with. Christian, Greg, Jay, Kevin, Peter, Rich. Thank you to everyone else who intentionally or unintentionally imparted of their wisdom and advice, served to motivate and inspire, and who otherwise helped out in another great adventure. Thank you to John Grobben and the Wasatch 100 Race committee. Without your tireless commitment to making this race the best it could be, without listening to runners and spectators, without working closely with land-owners, federal and state land agencies, none of this "fun" would occur every year.
Thanks most of all, again, to Brooke, Sam, Andrew and Kate for putting up with and encouraging this strange, addictive behavior!!