Sunday, September 29, 2013

Wasatch Front 100 Miler

The what, where?

In the ultrarunning community we simply call this race 'Wasatch'.  We know what it is, it's legendary.  One of the four oldest 100-mile races in the country and one of the hardest.  It is run in the Wasatch Front Range outside of Salt Lake City, and most of the race takes place above 8,000 feet, going above 10,000 feet at the highest.  Not counting the last 25 miles, it's not super technical, but those last 25 have been called some of the most difficult running in the sport.  It has nearly 26,500 feet of climbing and 27,000 feet of decent.  It has hills that are named, and people don't name hills because they have unicorns dancing on them.  They name them because they are hard.  There's Chinscraper, The Dive, The Plunge, and Irv's Torture Chamber.  Most people would say Wasatch sounds like it sucks, but there's enough of us that seek this kind of challenge that there is a lottery to get in.

After two years of trying, I was offered a spot.


In which we arrive in Utah

After a couple of painless flights to get here from Minneapolis, we step off the plane.  What's that I feel? Oh, the record heat that is settling in for the next couple days.  This was going to be the second hottest Wasatch ever.  At least it's a dry heat.  Amy and I spent the Wednesday we got there checking out the city and getting settled into our hotel in Layton, near the start.  We just had this evening alone before my parents and pacer (stud Ben Willis) showed up on Thursday.  So we found a great place to eat at The Copper Onion (best cheesecake I've ever had) and just relaxed.  I knew I wouldn't sleep much Thursday night.

Friday morning we connected with my parents (Vicky and Dennis) at the hotel then went into the airport to get Ben, and all went out to lunch before the prerace check-in.  The check-in was much lower key than I expected with areas to set my three drop bags, a quick weigh-in, and grab my swag bag.  The bag just had my bib and a t-shirt, and no extra paraphernalia.  Simple and straight to it.  The meeting was just the same, a 15-minute long instruction on not getting lost and what to do if you do stray from the course.  Then we were freed up, and back to the hotel and the last AC I'd feel for the next 2 days.

I spent that evening taping up my toes and getting gear ready for the morning, so all I'd have to do is get up and get in the car.  The race started at 5AM on Friday, and it's hard enough getting up at 3 without having to do anything complicated.  We all got going though, and my dad chauffeured us to the start.


In which I try to stay calm and start a long day.

Ben, Vicky, me, and Amy

The starting area was pretty calm when we got there at about 4:15.  It was warm enough out that shorts and a t-shirt were plenty comfortable.  I hooked up with Karl Meltzer here for some last minute advice, then spent a bunch of time sitting on the road edge watching people trickle in.  Ben mentioned to me that the general fitness of the runners here was considerably higher than what we see at races at home.  I had to agree, almost everyone here looked pretty stacked.
Duplicating our Leadville shot from several years ago.

As happens often at these, the time just disappeared, and all the runners were called to line up.  Queue anxiety peak.  We packed in like cord-wood, and I wormed up to near the front. Ten second countdown and we were off.

The first bit of trail is nice rolling single track for a couple of miles before the first and biggest climb of the day, Chinscraper.  This was really nice running, and went along pretty well, with minimal conga line shenanigans.  It was also much quieter than I'm used to, with almost no chatter among the runners as everyone focused on the trail lit only by our headlamps.  By the time we hit the climbing things were nicely spread out, and I tucked into a line for as long as my patience held out, occasionally popping ahead as the trail and energy allowed.  Eventually we got above the trees and onto a really steep section that I climbed with my hands and feet and into the pass above 9000 feet.  What a view from up here.

I settled into a nice easy pace on some beautiful ridge line running.  It was a stunning morning to be in the mountains as we all made our way to the first real AS and drop bags at Francis Peak.  I had my bag quickly as the volunteers were super efficient and had my ice bandana and fuel to get me to my crew at Big Mountain, 21 miles from here.  I was out of Francis at 8:51AM and on to Bountiful B.

Bountiful B had moist towels and popsicles.   It was like arriving to find your manservant waiting for you.  Just a quick stop here to reload water and back on the trail.  Sessions Liftoff came up soon and I did what I was instructed and tanked up on water here, as well as put some ice in my bandanna.  The hot part of the day was coming, and these next several stretches had very little shade.  It was hump to Swallow Rocks, but then I could hear the cheers and horns of Big Mountain.  I was anxious to see my crew.
Quick weigh in at Big Mountain


In which the heat gets turned up.

My crew was waiting for me along with Karl Meltzer helping them out.  It was a little confusing as I got weighed and they all started doing a bunch of things at once.  Apparently everyone had jitters.  In due course I had ice in my bandana, under my hat, and down the back of my shirt.  Waters were filled and I was back on the trail to face the hottest part of the day.  The first AS on this way was Alexander and it was really hot as I worked my way there, mostly alone.  I did hook up with another guy and his pacer for the last mile or so and she graciously dumped water on my head.  At Alexander, though, I drank some more water and soaked myself under one of their barrels.  I reloaded on ice and headed out.  The next stretch to Lambs was easy trail, but brutally hot, and I paid for it.  About two miles before actually getting to Lambs you can see it as you run long switchbacks working downhill towards it.  Starting about a mile out I was doubled over several times with stomach cramps which stopped me in my tracks.
Coming into Lambs
Recovering from cramps.
Eventually I got down to some shady area and made the final turn up to the AS.  Amy was down on the trail snapping photos, but I was in a sour mood from the cramps and couldn't work up a smile for her.  At the weigh in I was 6 pounds down from just the last 3 and half hours.  I spent about 10 minutes here cooling off and drinking.  Eventually, after hearing a guy next to me talk about peeing blood, I figured I needed to get out of here.  I too a third water bottle and headed out under I-80.  Karl ran over to see how I was doing, and he and Amy and Ben walked me up to the road and I started the long section to Brighton Lodge.


In which I cool off and start to grind.

The climb up to the pass on the way to Millcreek cooled me off, and I went up pretty slowly, diligently working on my water.  It was pretty uneventful as I climbed up and up, finally hitting the top in the sun and beginning the long decent.  I felt an inkling of cramping, but nothing happened, and that was the last of those for the race.  I could tell I'd paid for the running in the heat and getting behind, and perhaps for the long effort at altitude, my legs just weren't there for the climbing.  Once at the bottom of the pass it was a long road slog, which I mostly did with Sarah McCloskey (womens winner), and we chatted our way up.  We pulled into Millcreek, where I grabbed my lamps and put on a long sleeve shirt for the night.

Sarah had taken off before me, but I was soon back on the trail and climbed up to here, where we walked in silence for quite a while, dodging mountain-bikers careening down the mountain.  This was another long climb with a short decent into Desolation Lake.  It was starting to get dark and cool, but I was able to see the lake still, and it was a beautiful site for the AS, and they'd probably have a great time camping up there and tending the runners.  I was pretty knackered when I came through, but I always have trouble over 9000 feet, though I really didn't know what altitude I was at at the time.  I just got some more water and moved on.

I was slow and wonky heading up to Scotts.  It took me over an hour to do the four miles up there.  And shortly before getting there Sarah passed me and asked how I was doing.  I told her I couldn't focus on the trail, to which she said 'that's rough' and moved on.  I was still walking so no real need to worry.  As I made into Scotts I had little motivation to move.  I wish I had remembered how high I was up there and I would have just meandered on down the trail.  But I ended up sitting for 16 minutes, sipping broth and liquids.  They offered me the cot, but thankfully I had it in my head to turn that down.  Finally after seeing several people come through and move on, I got up and started downhill to Brighton.

Again, over an hour to go less than 5 miles downhill, with just a short climb to the lodge.  I knew that my hopes of a 24 hour finish were shot, but I'd probably finish more where I actually expected to, somewhere between 24 and 30.  Anyway, as I walked the last little bit up to the lodge, my crew was out there cheering, and I walked right by them, asking where to go.  My mom came over and pointed up to the lodge building, and only then did she recognize me exclaiming 'Oh, it's you!' and the rest of them came over.  My shirt change and use of only one lamp instead of two, totally threw them off.

I got another weigh in and my weight was good.  The got me saddled up, and again Karl was here with some last advice for the 'toughest 25 miles in ultrarunning'.  Ben was all set to do it with me and after getting fueled up with broth and my rig all set we headed out the door and up to the course high point.


In which what goes up must come down.

Ben and I started the hike up to 10,500 feet and down to Ant Nolls.  The climb felt pretty good, not fast, but it was nice having company and the sky was beautiful.  In about an hour we broached the top and headed down to Ant Knolls and were in and out pretty quickly.  The rest of the night quickly devolved into a hideous repetition of slow climbing and slow jogging on flats and downs.  I could still run at least, but the climbing was killing me.  I was happy to make it past the landmarks of the Dive and the Plunge figuring I was making decent progress.  I wasn't really ready for Irv's Torture Chamber, however.

This was a section of a lot of climbing and descending over and over again without seeming to end.  There was whining.  Lots of it.  Ben is a patient man.  After getting through all of this treacherous terrain there was a fair bit of easier running on the way down to Pot Bottom.  I was once again experiencing that lack of focus on the trail, sometimes stumbling off the trail as I fell asleep on my feet.  Ben was afraid I was going to have to take a nap out on the trail.  I managed through, though, and experienced hallucinations for the first time, seeing a cork message board in one spot then a little later a box of pop-tarts on the side of the trail.  Ben kept telling me Pot Bottom was coming up soon, for the better part of an hour.

We got there, though, and I sat for a few minutes drinking Coke and eating some soup.  This finally provided the kick I needed, that, and being only 8 miles from the finish.  We started our jog down the road, no more trail, and only had to putz around at one poorly marked intersection.  The running was easy though and we duly hit the Station Cut-Off where Amy was waiting for us and joined the party for the last five miles.  Her and Ben had a good time while I spent the next hour kicking rocks and swearing up a storm.  Fortunately the last bit is all down hill and we made good time, eventually coming out on the paved road.  It was confusing figuring out where to go as it was very poorly marked, with markers randomly on either side of the road.  We hit it right, though, and Amy provided me constant reassurance that we were going the right way, since she'd already been to the finish line (where my parents were waiting).

The sky was just lightening up as we approached Soldier Hollow, and Amy and Ben split off to take a shortcut to the finish line as I did the last little u-turn to bring it home.  I was so happy hitting the final straightaway and crossing the line in 25:38:50.  All in all, in better shape than I usually am at the end of a hundred, no shakes and my mind was (fairly) straight.
 I was really happy with this run, particularly given the hot weather, I hadn't seen any of the course, and I live at 600' and didn't acclimatize.  I'd really only change a couple of things next time, mainly bring a third bottle from Big Mountain to Lambs and trekking poles out of Brighton for sure and maybe Lambs.

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