2013 has been a tough year. We have had some bad luck. My wife fractured her femur skiing. When the pillar of the family has a broken leg, things tend to unravel. We also chose some disruptions, like taking on a puppy (a lifelong dream of my daughter). Being grounded with a puppy meant no summer travel, which translated into my taking no time off over the summer, not a day. September 6th was my first vacation day of the summer, and it was going to be a good day!
|Photo by Derrick Lytle|
Unlike most years, I had no pre-race nightmares. Sure I was nervous about how the day would unfold, but I had done everything I could to prepare given the constraints I had on my training. Besides I had the relatively fresh perspective of being “crew” and “pacer” following a serious injury for my wife. 100 miles is not that far, and it is after all just a race.
I prepared well most of the summer, including an 85 mile run/hike of the Uinta Highline Trail, that was complete with an unforgiving beating of the feet and a prolonged high altitude headache as I tried to keep pace with Erik. While none of my weekly mileages were anything heroic, I kept up about 50-75 miles a week with about 13,000 feet of vertical during my biggest weeks. During my weeks of hospital rounding and weekend call I cut back to around 40 miles a week.
Early in the summer I took part in a running shoe study at TOSH, comparing running efficiency, economy and gait mechanics whilst barefoot, with a minimal shoe, and a traditional running shoe. At the end of the study I sat down with Jim Walker, Director of Sports Science at TOSH, and talked about my gait mechanics and some training strategies. I took home some pearls about upper body movement, stride angle, and gait with respect to running efficiency and economy, and a personalized speed work-out plan. Our short conversation prompted a few more speed/threshold work-outs than I would have otherwise done, though I never made it to the track for the true speed work-outs. That was left for the backyard sprinting after a puppy and playing soccer. Incidentally, 3 weeks before Wasatch I broke a rib playing soccer with a bunch of 11 year-olds. Unfortunately, I had no one to complain to at home as my wife felt I deserved such an injury for deciding to horse around with the little ruffians.
This was the first year that our entire MRC group was running the Wasatch, and partly because of that I chose not to have a pacer. While we didn’t have specific plans to run together I did imagine that we would spend a little time together on the trail. In the crowd at the start we found each other, and formed a nice congo line to travel the rolling first miles and the first climb. The temperature was in the mid 80s at the start. I felt like I was struggling to keep up with Jay, Kevin, Greg, Erik and Christian. I dropped back and fell into another small group with a shirtless-due to the heat David Hayes on our climb towards Chinscaper. Eventually, while keeping my effort level in check, I caught up to Greg, Erik, Kevin, and Jay before we hit the ridge. Christian was a few minutes ahead of us. After Grobben’s corner, mile 13ish, we ran together off and on to Francis Peak, mile 18, occasionally holding hands (seriously we held hands). Erik was a few minutes ahead and would steadily get further and further away. While the pace seemed reasonable I was behind my previous year’s splits. The group think, however, was that running slower was more reasonable than trying to keep pace with splits from much cooler years. Ben Lewis stopped me at the start to say that these conditions would play right into my strategy of holding back and dealing with the diminished state of other runners late in the race.
At some point before Bountiful B, mile 24, we caught up to Christian, and had the whole gang together minus Erik who was blazing ahead. While I failed to notice it, Christian was already starting to have problems (he would eventually drop at Big Mountain). By 10 AM the oven was heating up. There was a pleasant breeze that made it feel comfortable, but I knew what was ahead in terms of weather and exposure. Mindful of Tim Noake’s book, “Waterlogged” I took the simple strategy of drinking to thirst, careful not to take in too much. While I wasn’t peeing very often, I figured I was staying well balanced with my sweat losses, and didn’t overdo my intake. Between Sessions, mile 28, and Swallow Rocks, mile 35, I ran out of water. This seemed like a bad day to miscalculate the amount of water in the pack between aid stations. I dropped off the pace even more.
The Swallow Rocks aid station was run by the Cottonwood Canyon Foundation. Last year’s Wasatch 100 runner up, Cottonwood Canyon Foundation Outreach Coordinator, and former soccer star, George Grygar, was there with plenty of ice and encouragement. George noticed my “soccer legs”. Thinking of George, I responded that former soccer players make the best trail runners, which for the last 25 miles of Wasatch I think is true.
Worried about making the mistake of running out of water again, I left with nearly 2 L of water in my reservoir to run just 4.5 miles to Big Mountain. I very nearly finished it before rolling into the Big Mountain aid station where Jessica, Astrid and Mats met me. It had been a stressful morning for them with a dead car battery adding to the urgency of getting to the aid station on time. Even so, they focused on the task of getting me in and out. In 3 minutes I had everything I would need to survive the oven that I was about to run through.
My strategy, if you can call it that, was to go slow and use a bottle of ice water on my head along the hot exposed ridges. It was fantastic... while it lasted. Somewhere along the ridge I saw the “Wizard of the Wasatch,” Bob Athey, who snapped the photo below. (If you haven’t looked at his website wowasatch.com, do. Bob captures the big and small beauty of the Wasatch mountains in his photographs.)
|Photo by Robert Athey|
Somewhere on the way to Alexander Ridge I was passed by a runner (Andy Johnson) who apparently was using my previous year’s splits as a guide. His voice was strong as was his pace. My response was thready and weak as was my pace. While I was flattered, it did little to boost my energy level as we climbed up hill. He and Damian Stoy quickly left me in the dust. My legs were starting to feel the miles, and I was wary of going any faster in the heat. Mick Jurynec was resting off to side of the trail in some shade; he would later drop out. In retrospect I feel quite bad that I didn’t stop, though I was not in any shape to be of help anyone else.
By Alexander Ridge, mile 47, my quadriceps were feeling the effects of the downhill running. The uncertainty of whether my legs would recover and being behind my anticipated splits was a stress, though I knew that I only had a few more miles in the heat before the temperature would drop to something more comfortable in the shade of Lambs Canyon. On the last little climb before the descent to Lambs, Jared Campbell passed me with arm warmers on. Jared is an inventive guy, and had stuffed them with ice to aid his cooling. I wished to be as clever. As he went by he commented that he was just trying to survive until Lambs Canyon. Weren’t we all.
Lambs Canyon came quickly enough, though the ability to see the aid station from a few miles away is always mentally challenging. At the aid station I weighed in a few (7) pounds down. No big surprise. Jessica, Astrid and Mats again surrounded me like a focused pit crew with a cold wet towel, watermelon, and supplies to get back on the road. Robert Mueller passed by and gave me a fist bump on his way out and encouraged me to catch him. He spent 20 minutes in the aid station drinking fluids as his weight was down (7 or 8 pounds). Interestingly, my weight was down a similar amount, but I was not held to hydrate, which I suspect would have hurt me more than help. I caught up to Robert on the road going up Lambs. His legs were great. Mine were not. My stomach was great, his was not. I have to think that a fast intake of water, even an electrolyte solution when your body is trying to hold onto water, just leads to fluid retention and hyponatremia.
In any case, Robert and I hiked together from Lambs to Millcreek. We were frightened several times by cyclists flying down the Millcreek road. Once we hit the trail most all of the mountain bikers were exceptionally courteous in their passing, which I took as an indication of how beat at least I looked. When we got to Dog Lake Robert offered me 10 dollars to have a drink from the lake. At the time if I had the legs to move down to the lake and back up, he would’ve been 10 dollars poorer. At the time I had nothing extra. My legs were heavy and plodding even on the descent to Blunder Fork. As we climbed to Desolation Lake from Blunder Fork, I fell off the pace a few times, but kept Robert close. I got to Red Lover’s Ridge at twilight a minute behind Robert, but was about to experience something of a rebirth. There was a light rain, a slight chill, some downhill, and my quads were all of a sudden downright peppy. Suddenly I was calculating how fast I would need to run to get to Brighton before 10 PM. A sub 24-hour finish was starting to look possible again. With this in mind I set off. 50 minutes from Desolation Lake to Scott’s Pass. 45 minutes from Scott’s to Brighton.
John Pieper escorted me into the Brighton Lodge where Jessica, Astrid and Mats had just arrived to prep me for the last 25 miles. Mats knew the moment we looked at each other that I was feeling good and was going to race hard to the finish. Piep did the unenviable task of helping me change my socks and shoes. The Hoka Bondi B’s were perfect for the first 75 miles. A fresh pair of Drymax socks and a pair of Hoka Evo’s for the last 25 miles seemed downright luxurious. It was the first time all day that I got to see my painted toenails (“My Own Private Jet” was the color applied, thanks to Sarah Polster). Jay promised that I would be at least 20 minutes faster with painted toenails. I figured that I could run the last 25 miles in 6 hours, which would get me close to last year’s time. The 20 minute bonus from the toenails would help me set a personal best, though more than the toenails, I was carried out of the Brighton Lodge with the most amazing feeling as a parent and husband of having been sent off by my wife and two kids with their complete confidence and pride. Now, I just had to get to Soldier Hollow on my own.
The climb to Catherine’s Pass seemed altogether short. Everything was holding together. I was able to run short sections of the uphill. While I didn’t know it at the time I was starting to close in on Mike Mason, Erik Storheim, and Jared Campbell. Erik left Brighton 27 minutes ahead. By Ant Knolls (mile 80) his lead was only 16 minutes. The Ant Knolls aid station volunteers encouraged me to chase Mike and Jared. In truth I wasn’t interested in chasing anyone, I just wanted to better my own time, though from years past I knew that if I was close to anyone before Rock Springs, I would catch them in the Dive or the Plunge.
At Pole Line Pass (mile 83), I caught Mike Mason. We left the aid station together, though I quickly left him and his pacer, so I could again run alone with the songs I had listened to earlier in the day still playing in my head. My trance of trail dance was interrupted when I caught up to my dear friend and dentist, Erik. I joked that I was so relieved to finally catch him after chasing him all day, as I had something caught in my tooth. Erik’s stomach was like many others on the trail, in a state of mild revolt. I figured as much, as there are only few things that can slow a guy like Erik. This summer, I have been with him for a dislocated finger (which I reduced on the side of the trail), countless sprained ankles including a severe snapping injury with 9 miles of technical downhill running to go on our 85 mile Uinta excursion, and a damn good case of the “runs” all of which were minor issues that he powers through. Erik and I stayed together to Point of Contention where I decided it was again time to run.
The last nightlight that I would catch belonged to Jared Campbell, who was also having stomach issues. Jared was filling a bottle at Rock Springs. While I said hello and wished him well, I wasn’t certain that he heard me go by. While my legs certainly could feel the 87 odd miles that I had run, there was a certain odd pleasure running down the perfectly retched technical downhills known as the “Dive” and the “Plunge”. This was where my soccer legs would come into play, dashing around imaginary opponents trying to knock me off my feet. At times there isn’t a trail as much as a groove in the hill with a lip on either side that narrows and widens in a frustrating way so that you end up hopping and skipping from side to side scrambling in loose rocks and dust. Given that I had lobbied hard to keep this section of trail as part of the race, I was going to enjoy every little last bit of it as it might be the last time this section is run as part of the Wasatch 100. Before I knew it I hit the turn for my final descent into Pot Bottom (mile 92). I ran the last mile more conservatively than usual, as I didn’t want to blow up and allow someone to catch me over the last 8 miles.
The Pot Bottom aid station volunteers were in disbelief when I arrived, as there were 3 runners they expected to see before me. “You must be having a good race,” the woman checking me in said. There were thoughts in my head about what to say, but I politely offered a quick “thanks,” grabbed a few pretzels and water and was off, knowing that I might need the time to keep my 7 minute lead on Erik. I would hold this 7 minutes until Staton Cut-off (mile 95). From there I was cautious, knowing that I had a sub-24 hour finish in the bag and didn’t want to blow up on the road. The ATV trail finally gave way to a perfectly graded dirt road that turns into a paved road. While a road isn’t the most aesthetic way to finish a mountain race, it does afford the ability to see a long way in front and behind for runners to catch and elude. Unfortunately, there was no one to catch as Rod Bien had finished 34 minutes before me in third place. Erik or Jared could have been closing the gap however, so I still needed to run. Erik has always talked about running on stealth mode as he is chasing, so I wasn’t entirely sure I would see his light coming Once I hit the road, I decided not to give him a target to chase, and turned my light off.
I arrived at the finish line 5 hours and 41 minutes after leaving Brighton, 22 hours and 35 minutes after leaving East Mountain Wilderness Park (12th start and finish, 5th Crimson Cheetah), into the arms of the best crew a guy could ever ask for. Five minutes later I greeted Erik at the finish line. Not long after Erik, Jared came running in. After a few short finish line conversations we made our way back to the Homestead for a bath, a few hours of sleep, and a dip in the pool before heading back to Salt Lake for Mats’s soccer game. (Despite the lack of sleep he set up 3 of the 4 goals in his team’s 4-0 win. I couldn’t have been more proud.)
While a few people at the finish were surprised to see me as the fourth overall finisher despite my fourth the previous year, Jessica, Astrid, and Mats were not. They had a tough day, with unexpected obstacles and had struggled to overcome them. Jessica has been and continues to be my model of toughness and endurance for many years. This year after a complex femur fracture requiring internal fixation with a titanium rod, she took one lortab after coming home and not even an ibuprofen ever after that. That is toughness. It is impossible feel sorry for ones self or to complain about a little muscle pain encountered on a long run after watching her walk the day after fracture. Instead I concentrated on feeling every little bit of discomfort, owning it, feeling alive, glad to able to run at 3 in the morning, knowing that this was only a fraction of what she endured. As finishers of a hundred mile race, we get many cheers and pats on the back, but there are tough folks all around us who conquer life’s ups and downs, traumas and obstacles and rarely if ever get a cheering section, finisher’s plaque or belt buckle for their efforts. The Wasatch race is a reminder to me every year to make sure to appreciate the amazing things that people do and are capable of doing every day, and to appreciate their supporting crews that make all of these endeavors possible. Rarely is there a race report that doesn’t end with thanks and acknowledgement of the support that each of us has received along the way. Truly, I wouldn’t have been able to get to the starting line without the help of many people (Fred Riemer literally gets me to the starting line each year for which I am truly grateful, and inspires me to appreciate the stars that I am running under). With no pacers, crew was more important than ever. Jessica, my wife, has been my foundation. My two children inspire me. My father has been an active sounding board all summer, as I have prepared for the race. My mother is the endurance athlete that got me going and gave me the example of pushing limits with careful grace. My step-father taught me to work. The MRC has been the best training partners and friends, and are the reason I continue to run.
While I am certainly not a sponsored runner, I do receive some product support. John Pieper and Gregory have been incredibly generous in their support of designing, producing, and supplying me with the best running packs for ultra running on the market. Gregory painstakingly worked with our group of no-names (though Jay is a 100 mile age group world record holder) to design running packs that are the cream of the crop. John Evans with Petzl has continued to generously supply me with headlamps (Petzl Nao) which made it possible to hop and skip (without falling once) through tough technical sections like it was the middle of the day.
Finally, I am indebted to the race committee for listening to us about keeping the Rock Springs to Pot Bottom section of the course. Wasatch wouldn’t be Wasatch running down a paved road. Sure the Dive, Plunge, and Irv’s Torture Chamber are tough, but aren’t these races supposed to be tough? You guys put on a spectacular race yet again, with probably the best aid stations that I have experienced in my 12 runnings of Wasatch, making it an honor and privilege to run your race. Until next year...
Pack: Gregory Tempo 3
Poles: Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z Poles (Lambs to the finish)
Shoes: Hoka Bondi B and Hoka Stinson Evo
Headlamp: Petzl Nao
Pack: Gregory Tempo 3
Poles: Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z Poles (Lambs to the finish)
Shoes: Hoka Bondi B and Hoka Stinson Evo
Headlamp: Petzl Nao