Recap: The Wasatch 100 Mile

[Writing this took a while. From September 9, 2018 to March 13, 2019, to be exact]
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In the days before flying from Denver to SLC for the Wasatch Front 100 Mile, my mind was restless. In a flurry of different thoughts and race plans, I decided to open up a journal and pen them down.

Principles for the Long Run.

  1. F[orget] the ego. Leave it.
  2. The mountain makes the rules.
  3. Is the issue worth the worry?
  4. Pay attention to detail now to not pay attention to mistakes later.
  5. Eat or die.
  6. Hydrate or die.
  7. Mile 50 is not mile 90.
  8. If you feel good, you’ll get worse.
  9. If you feel low, you’ll get better.
  10. Check your drop bags. You packed them with a clear mind.
  11. Positive thoughts = positive reality.
  12. Volunteers do this because they care. Thankfulness > grouchiness.
  13. You can’t change your training. Trust it..
  14. This mile is a gift. This footstep is a gift.
  15. Everybody is running the same race.
  16. Leave it on the course.
  17. Chase the stoke.
  18. Everybody has a story. Listen.
  19. Have a helluva good one to tell.

Looking back, I am so glad I wrote these down. These principles guided me through the race and were a huge factor in making the experience a memorable one.

———–

It was a Saturday morning in July 2017. Tired and sleepy, cold, slightly shivering, numb hands, and feet wet with frigid snowmelt, I watched the first rays of sun illuminate the San Juan range of Colorado. I was cresting a notch in the mountains, better known as Kroger’s Canteen- an iconic point of the Hardrock 100 mile run, and perhaps one of the sport’s most admired aid stations and crew. I was volunteer pacing John, a Hardrock veteran, whose initial pacer was unable to continue.  I think it was that moment- the contrasts of darkness to light, snow to dirt, tiredness to elation, that made one of the more notable impressions on me. My decision was made that I will do whatever it takes to be able to someday return to this spot as part of the Hardrock 100 run.

And the journey began.

I’ve always enjoyed the spirt of the mountains, and especially an authentic, gritty, point to point race. Wasatch 100 was an obvious choice for me to target as my HR100 lottery entry, plus, it doubles as a Western States lottery entry race too. Double the reward, double the pressure.

I decided my official training block would begin in May. I went into the month with 20 mile long runs and plenty of vert, planning on using an attempt at the Pfiffner Traverse FKT as a final prep test, sometime in July. The route, which essentially is a “pick your route” from the north boundary(ish) of RMNP to Berthoud Pass/Empire, CO. Mountainous. Point to point. Just like Wasatch 100.

On opening weekend (memorial day) of RMNP’s Trail Ridge Road, I arrived to the north terminus of the route, put on my gear, and headed out for what was planned to be a 28 mile day of scouting the planned route. Three miles into the route, I tripped on a small rock, rolled my ankle, and knew my summer had just changed drastically. Following a loud snap, I went down to the dirt screaming. I pulled out my Spot GPS and sent my “Something has happened, will attempt self rescue. Take no action.” pre-made message. Seven hours later, I had limped my way out of the alpine, driven myself back to Denver, and an urgent care doctor had confirmed a “5th metatarsal avulsion fracture with roughly 8-12 weeks off my feet, but let’s get you scheduled with a podiatrist to see for sure, and if you’ll need a cast.”

I think I was in some kind of denial or ignorance at this point, numb to the diagnosis. Maybe I was just about to wake up, be fine, and lace up my shoes.

This was not the case, and I found myself in a boot for 10 weeks, with an ultimate 13 weeks before getting the strength in my foot back enough to run.

Weeks 2-10 I found myself waking up around 3am to ride my road bike, putting in a couple of 240 mile weeks in there, with a 100 mile, 10 hour, 11,000ft gain ride from home to the top of Mt. Evans and back- with about 70% of my power coming from my right leg. This workout was one of the biggest mental boosts I had had in weeks, and snapped me out of a pretty extremely low funk.

I had been denied by two different volunteer coordinators when I tried to show up to do trail work with a broken foot. I emailed Claude, the race director assistant, and essentially told him that I was trying my hardest. I finally stopped disclaiming my injury when signing up, and was able to sneak in my volunteer hours for the race with a couple of weeks to spare.

With a week left before getting out of the boot officially, I had started wrapping the heck out of my foot and walking around in my shoes again to feel some kind of normalcy. One Friday night, I told Kaitlyn I was going to go for a bike, loaded the bike into my Jeep, and took off to the North Fork Trail, a favorite of mine. I was fully aware that I was not going for another bike ride. I’d also brought my trail shoes, despite her advising me to just stay patient.

I moved like I was 85 years old on that trail. My left leg was stiff as could be, and that calf slightly atrophied. But I was so relieved to be back out there; ecstatic to place my feet back onto the mountains.

Within a couple of weeks I was starting to run with normal form again, and get back into the swing of things.

I had planned to do my peak week long runs at night out in Leadville. On Friday going into peak week, four weeks out from race day, I got a phone call saying there was a family emergency back in Michigan, and it was probably in my best interest to make an emergency trip home. I left work, my bags already packed, and hopped the next flight.

That week was tough, and when not with family members, I was out running to keep my mind at ease. Michigan is flat, and the terrain is nothing like what the Wasatch would offer. Nonetheless, I was able to fit in 110 miles that week, breaking apart the runs to fit them around family time. It would have to do. You can’t change your training. Trust it.

Race week arrived, and I felt at peace with how the summer had developed the this point, deferring control to the forces that may be. In prime consideration, however, was the fact that three years worth of WSER lottery tickets rested on finishing Wasatch, as well as another year of waiting for a Hardrock qualifier attempt. This would be a huge, huge attempt. Wasatch would be the most vert I’ve ever done in a race, as well as one of the hottest races I’d ever attempted. My strategy and gear revolved heavily around these factors.

I decided there would be no racing at this race. No plans for time. No plans for placement. Finishing was the number one goal. This would be an adventure within the mountains, and a walk against devil, should he choose to join. Forget the ego. Leave it.

Common sense says don’t do anything new for race day. Common sense also says don’t train on a broken foot, do plenty of heat training, and train on terrain that resembles the race. Strike one. Strike two. Strike three. I threw that all out the window and ordered new race apparel two days before my flight; all white compression tights and shirt. I would use these for evaporative cooling, keeping them drenched as the sun rose higher and higher on race day. I knew this strategy would entail lots of extra weight to carry. Precisely, I planned to carry 140oz of water between bottles and reservoir on each segment, and have an empty floppy bottle for another 20oz should the need arrive. Most of this would be for drenching, and the rest for drinking. I would fill the back of my back with ice to melt down my back, and have an ice bandana around my neck. Weight.

After about 6 hours of packing luggage and drop bags, I was set and ready. I flew out to SLC and dropped off my bags to the race meeting the night before. Back at my AirBNB, I laid out all of my starting line gear for the morning. Reviewing it all, I realized I had made a critical mistake. All three headlamps were in the drop bags, and I hadn’t left one for myself for the 5am start. It was 7:30pm.

I asked my host if he had an extra one- anything. He did not. “But, there is a Harbor Freight right down the road. They close at 8. I’ll be back.” Mike drove out and bought a headlamp for me, despite my asking to let me deal with my own mistakes. Mike and Lisa, I know you’ll read this, and again, I thank you for an absolutely astounding experience as this is one of many ways you went above and beyond to accommodate me on my trip.

Saved. I was finally ready to start the race.

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Gear check! Thats the Ultimate Direction PB 4.0 vest, a makeshift sun suit, 120oz of water, BDZ poles, a jacket, and about 500 calories to start.

I went to bed around 8:30, and went pee six times before finally either silencing my nerves or just getting too tired. I dreamed repeated that I had missed my scheduled Lyft ride in the morning. At 3am, in real life, my phone went off, notifying me that my Lyft was on its way. In a panic, I sat straight up, wide awake. Realizing I was all good, my heart rate went back to normal.

At East Mountain Wilderness Park, I joined 300 other starters. We gathered around the trailhead gate and listened as the countdown began with ten seconds to go. “Three. Two. One. Have a good race!” The front group of the race, including myself, were bolting out of the gate. About a half mile up, we would go from a truck-width trail to single track, which would bottleneck nearly immediately. I was glad to get there in time to avoid any congestion, and dropped back to a sustainable pace as we began a nearly 5,000ft climb up Bair Canyon.

at mile 4, just after busting out my poles, I heard a loud scream in the dark around the corner ahead of me. It seemed the Wasatch was taking victims earlier than expected. Rounding out the corner, it became evident that the race was going to be doling out suffering from the start for lots of people. I was standing in a cloud of wasps, and dozens more were coming out of the ground in front of me. I backed up a few steps and strategized my next move. To my right was a drop into darkness. To the left was thick brush. The wasp infested trail was the best, worst, and only option. I took a breath before sprinting through dozens of wasps, winding up swatting just one off from me before it had a chance to sting. Adrenaline high, Looked back and let out a sigh, returning yet again to a sloggy, labored, slow climb. Periodic screams continued to fill the dark from below.

I topped out of Bair Canyon at exactly sunrise, along with a group of about 10 other people. Alpenglow illuminated a horizon of mountain ranges that extended into infinity. The views of these mountains, and others like them, would not cease until the finish line.

After winding downhill for about 800 feet or so, I arrived to the first water-only aid station. I was pretty full on fluids still, but chose to fill up my waist bottle. I drenched myself with it, depleting it within the next couple of miles. About five miles later was the first official aid station, Bountiful B. I dropped my no-brand headlamp here, surprised with how well it had worked through the first few hours of darkness. I ate some salted potatoes, filled my reservoir and was on my way.

Those first couple hours of daylight were spent climbing through mature aspen forests. Leaves were turning yellow in the canopy high above, and leaves were falling onto the grassy ground beneath. Apart from that, my memory at this point of the race is quite void.

When I arrived into Sessions Liftoff aid station, I was greeted by some fellow Ultimate Direction ambassadors. I got out my neck/ice bandana at this point, and dug out my chamois cloth, which i routed from my neck, under my shirt, and to my shorts. The melting ice would provide for a cool, soaked core, and prove to be a valuable piece of gear.

About ten minutes after leaving Sessions, I realized I’d been going downhill for a while and had not seen a marker in that time. I cycled my watch to the race course map, and found that I was not on the route. Is the issue worth the worry? I decided it was not, and began to hike back uphill, forgiving myself for the slight blunder. Another runner comedown the hill in front of me, asking if we were off route. I said yes, he had a valid explanation of how we WERE on course, and I turned around to go downhill again. A minute later, we ran into three more runners who said they’d been running for twenty minutes downhill until the trail dissipated. Officially, we were all off route, collectively accepted it, and hiked back up to find the course again. Losing about of 15 minutes of time was a drop in the bucket, and i wasted no mind on it. We found our mistake was failing to go straight through a narrow fork, and opting for an obvious, but incorrect right turn seconds after leaving Sessions.

After pushing more vertical through shaded forest, we arrived to Swallow Rocks aid station. I was stoked to find pumpkin pie at this stop, and ate a couple slices. Volunteers joked with each other, saying “I told you it was a good idea!”. Don’t bet against the pumpkin pie if I’m at a race, volunteers. I’ll be taking it! I also decided to fill my waist bottle with ginger ale and ice at this station, a combo I’d never carried on me. It wound up being extremely satisfying, and I continued to do this at every aid station for the future 70 miles or so.

The next section was following a ridge, though it was getting warm, the sun was hidden by clouds, a welcomed mental boost. Coming down from the ridge, I felt like I hit a wall of heat. The clouds disappeared, the temperature rose drastically, I had used up most of my water, and my endorphin high was starting to dwindle. If you feel good, you’ll get worse.

wasatch 100 mile ridge line
One of many ridges throughout the day.

I wasn’t much for thinking when I got into Big Mountain aid station, and was starting to feel the heat of the day more strongly. I thought I had just come off from Alexander Ridge, the hottest section of the course. This was not the case, and I was a bit bummed. I struggled to figure out what I wanted to eat, so just grabbed some PBJs and fig newtons, downed a glass of pickle juice, got fluids and ice, and left. About 200 yards up I realized I had left my bottles on a chair, and turned around to retrieve them. “Bib 212, checking out again…”

Though I was still in a bit of a funk, I was moving steadily. I was spending lots of time looking at the ground, keeping the sun out of eyes. I became startled by a loud crashing sound, and looked up to see a large bull moose standing about 30 feet in front of me. I’d never seen a moose before, and being this close was certainly a bit intimidating. I stopped moving forward to give the moose its space. After about 30 seconds it shook its head and took off into the woods again. I was amazed at how beautiful and powerful of an animal they are.

Continuing forward the next mile, the ground look almost as if it had been sprinkled in rose petals. The leaves had been falling for a while; all of them red and pink.

The next section was Alexander’s Ridge. High above the aspen trees, out of sight of any civilization, and overlooking a sky blue lake, this ridge was one of the best views all day. It was also of the most difficult sections of the day. Temperatures here hovered around 89-90, making it miss, just barely, the title of the hottest running of the race ever. I used nearly all of my water on this section- 140oz of it- between drinking it and dumping it on myself.

I arrived into the aid station feeling quite depleted after this section. There was a kiddie pool full of questionable looking soaking water. I debated having a sit, but dismissed the idea of getting comfortable. I listened to a guy tell the volunteers that he was DNFing here, about 40 miles into the day. That confirmed that I definitely did not want to get comfortable. I loaded all my waters up, soaked myself to the bone, and thanked the volunteers, but especially for their leader’s 30 years of managing that station. Incredible.

The next section was gentle rolling through grasslands, but nearly all exposed to the high sun. I encountered the second wasp nest of the day here, this time with plenty of forewarning. I was able to avoid most of the cloud of wasps, but had to dodge through a few in order to avoid a swampy water hazard. Again, my luck held up with no stings.

As I crested a hill and wound a couple of corners, Lamb’s Canyon came in to view. The trail teased, heading away from the aid station before ultimately making its way back. I’d gotten lucky a few times earlier in the day with little streams that allowed me to soak my hat and sleeves. Multiple times, I crossed streams on this section; the only problem was they were 3-4 feet down in a dusty crevice and out of reach… so close!

Once into Lamb’s I took a moment in less-than-privacy to wipe down and reapply the Glide. If you warn people not to look, and turn away, it counts, right? I learned the hard way at Leadville that no matter how much of that stuff you apply, you need more at the halfway. Trust it. I told the guys I was picking up my pacer, Nolan at this station.

I’d never met Nolan before. He had saw my “help wanted” ad on the race webpage requesting a pacer from Lamb’s Canyon to Brighton Lodge, and had reached out. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical. Not much race history online, young, never had paced a runner… I sat on it for a few hours. Forget the ego. Volunteers do this because they care. Be thankful. I thought to myself about how it was to be Nolan’s age. First getting into the sport, being stoked about it, and wanting to get out to experience it all. Shoot. I’m still probably young by most definitions too. I gave him a call and accepted his offer to pace, thankful to have him along for the ride. If it didn’t work, life would go on.

 

Lambs canyon utah wasatch 100
Lamb’s Canyon, finally feeling some relief from the sun.

“I’m picking up a pacer here, Nolan. I don’t know him though.” Boom. There he was, introducing himself to me. “What do you need?” From the get go, Nolan was on top of it. He got me all my food, made sure I left with my bottles, and had ice in the back of my pack. We walked up the pavement toward Lamb’s Canyon for about 10 minutes before starting to do a jog. I was still feeling quite good at the time, and Nolan was good for conversation to keep my mind off the miles.

We connected on running in Leadville and skiing. Though from Utah, Nolan had skied many of the places I do in Colorado. He mentioned he had used his Park City ski pass something like 130 times last year, if not more. I was impressed, to say the least. And, he knew the trails pretty well. My initial pacer worries were gone, giving credence to the old adage of “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Nolan and I topped out Lamb’s Canyon in a gorgeous grove of Aspen and other colorful foliage. Perhaps it was because we were on the topic, but this section really reminded me of Hope Pass in Leadville, CO. After a few minutes of descent, I stopped to take a couple of Leg Cramps, a homeopathic that is supposed to relieve leg pain. I choked them down. Realizing I was next to a stream, I also stepped aside it to soak my hat. I quickly realized that wasps were coming out of the ground again here, and wasted no time getting away from there. Such was my third and final wasp nest of the day, and I’m thankful for no stings.

After a quad banging descent, Nolan and I were on pavement again. My guesstimate would say that for 2-3 miles we were hiking on 10-15%-ish grade. The sun was behind the trees, and as Nolan told me about snow being present in some areas of the mountains already, I noticed the air starting to get cooler. I was excited to get out of the wet gear and drop pounds of water capacity and chamois.

At Upper Big Water aid station, I felt like I had the undivided attention of the volunteers there. They were so incredibly helpful with helping me sort the gear in my drop bag, load/unload the gear in my vest, and get me food. I specifically recall one of the ladies made homemade ginger snap cookies. They say not to do anything new on race day, but I ate four of those cookies. They were incredible- totally new to the palate to break up the food monotony. Luckily, I had no ill repercussions from them.

I swapped man-pris for shorts, compression shirt for a loose fit poly shirt, dropped my bladder and backup bottle, and put on trucker hat vs the desert hat. I felt like a new person as I left the aid station. “Nice work, you are looking good!” “Yeah, give me like five minutes though… it’ll change!” I joked with a spectator on the way out. Nolan and I set out running a pretty good pace despite the uphill grade. I stuck with this pace for probably the next 45 minutes until we hit Desolation Lake. We saw the final moose of the day just before the Desolation Lake aid station.

At the aid station, the sun had set about 10 minutes prior. I didn’t see much food that caught my eye. Still feeling satisfied from the last stop, I downed a coke and PBJ for good practice. Nolan got my headlamp from my pack. As we headed out I turned it on, getting settled in for a long night ahead.

Just ahead of Nolan and I was a 700ft-ish climb to the top of Wasatch Ridge. We reached the top in perfect timing. The last drops of pink sunset glow were falling behind the silhouettes of the mountains on the skyline. The 360 degree jagged distant peaks made for a truly unique sunset, and while I was 60 miles into a race, I couldn’t deny feeling a sense of peace as the blanket of night fell.

I passed by another runner just after the crest of the ridge, adding to my existing endorphin high. If you feel good, you’ll get worse. This time of day has always been my favorite time to run. Right after the sun has set and the star have come out. I don’t often listen to music while I run, but I had my night playlist on to help me set the mood right. Jay Z’s No Church in the Wild followed by Royal Deluxe’s Dangerous plus some Spirit in the Sky (yes, really haha) had me feeling on cloud nine, and flooring the pace pedal on the gradual downhill descent into Brighton Ski Resort. “Nolan… Music is a drug, man.” He agreed, though, now I understand he was probably sympathizing with my impending crash.

I spent 45 seconds at the next aid station, quickly grabbing a PBJ and some pretzels, and deciding not to waste any time. As i ran, I took my phone off airplane mode to voice text my next pacer Bruce “3 mi. above Brighton. Feel good.”

After a couple of miles on pavement, I arrived at Brighton. Bruce was at the entrance of the resort and guided me up to the little ski shack where all the drop bags. I’d read in plenty of race reports that this was the most “dangerous” aid station. Indoors, warm, accessible to crew, sitting room, hot food… the good stuff. I had previously told Bruce to “get me the hell out of Brighton, fast.” I kept this in mind when I stepped in to the bustling building. I made a beeline to my drop bag, and dumped it all out. Remaining focused and moving fast, I changed out my socks, had Bruce pack up my extra layers and gloves, and refill my salt tabs. A volunteer brought me various foods, of which included a hash brown patty. It was perfect. I had him promptly bring me two more. There was a Little Caesars on the table, and I excitedly asked “is this real?” He said it was, but on seeing it was pepperoni, my desire turned away from wanting it.

I thanked Nolan as Bruce and I stepped out into the chilly night air, managing to get out of there in about nine minutes or so. Right out of the door, we began climbing. The trail was much rockier than earlier in the day, or so it felt. My running high lasted for that first mile out of Brighton and then rapidly descended. I was starting to lose my appetite. Luckily, I had thought ahead and brought a toothbrush with me. Yes- I cut a toothbrush down to about 1/4 length and had just the bristle head and a finger-width of handle packed away in my shoulder pocket. I got it out, forgetting that it had inconveniently fallen into mud earlier in the day. I spat out some earthy crunchiness, not caring about what might have been in that dried mud. After a couple of minutes of on-the-move brushing, my palate was refreshed and I had a newfound interest in food. However, my mood was now dropping with each step we climbed upward.

My lack of night training began to show as midnight moved farther behind us. To Bruce’s credit, he was talkative with the best of intentions. I, on the other hand, had zero interest in conversation at this point, and had to ask Bruce to let it rest.

Our first descent in the night was steep, full of loose rock, and trenched out. Basically, the worst conditions of the day. Poles were useless; it was all quads and cursing. Really, this was one of the toughest downhills I’ve experienced in a race. My quads were on fire. Our mutual friend, Carolyn, was heading the aid station we were descending to. The prospect of getting to see her for the first time in a few years kept me going.

Arriving to her aid station (Ant Knolls), we exchanged a quick hug and I was sure to vent about the hill I had to drop down to get here. I filled up my bottles again, but still didn’t have much desire for food. I picked up some salty stuff and bagged it up for later, and chugged a cup of coffee. I could feel some irritation in my feet, likely a couple of blisters working their way into existence.

—-

Full disclosure. I stopped writing here after the race. It is now March 13th, 2019, 4pm. I’m sitting on my couch watching Alex Honnold’s Free Solo film as a winter storm warning/bomb cyclone drops heavy snow outside. Every major highway in Colorado is closed, along with airports and nearly every school and place of business in the state. Nolan, my first pacer, just texted me saying he got in to the race for 2019, and if I have any advice that he can borrow for the race. I remembered that I started writing, but didn’t finish. Better late than never, but here it goes to the best of my recollection. Best of luck, Nolan.

Bruce and I started heading up yet again. The trail was thin an overlooked a black void, which could have been 10 feet or 1,000 feet deep, but I’d never know the difference. We wound around a U shaped ridge, where I could see headlamps in the mountains far (I assumed) across the valley.

This section seemed to go a bit quicker, and perhaps was a bit flatter. Pole Line Pass aid station broke through the darkness, illuminated brightly with a lively aid station crew. I ate some potatoes and salt and had some coffee, but believe we didn’t stay for very long at all.

The next section was through the trees. The pine and aspen were huge, and my headlamp struggled to pick up much color from the changing leaves. My eyes were growing tired from the milage of the day and the early morning hour, but the black and white tunnel vision of the headlamp beam always gets strenuous. I was doing a walk-run thing at this time through the rolling hills. I also started playing mind tricks on myself, concerned that I kept missing trail markers. Bruce assured me that I was still on trail. I surely hadn’t seeing the trail fork, so could assume, from him reminding me, that he was probably right.

About a mile before we hit Rock Springs, perhaps 1-2am, the black landscape around me got a bit weird. I was starting to see No Parking street signs pop up from the ground like rapidly growing trees. Though these little hallucinations were just a few seconds long (and certainly could have been of worse things), I told Bruce that I needed to rest my eyes at the aid station when we got there.

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In a nutshell… [This is not my photo, and I have no idea where I found it.]
Rock Springs aid station was built practically on the trail. Like a tunnel of tents. Being a water only aid station, there wasn’t a whole lot but the essentials. Water, gels (no thanks), and fire. I took a seat in a camp chair by the fire, threw a heavy blanket over myself, and set my watch. “Five minutes, Bruce. Not a second more”

I closed my eyes and tried to empty my mind. I don’t know if I dreamed, or if I was just vividly recalling the day, but I seemed to be dreaming a third-person view of myself on the trail that day, and then, there I was, sleeping there at Rock Springs as the sun was coming up. I groggily but hastily roused from my looked at my watch. It was still plenty dark. Thirty seconds left to nap. “Bruce, I’m good. Let’s roll!”

We went sharply downhill from the point we left the aid station. The trail was like a trench, washed out from rain, but littered with rocks that were 5-6 inches in diameter. My legs were constantly in brake mode and trying to find balance and footing between the rocks. We were moving slow. This section seemed to go on forever, one rocky trench after another. There was a a point where the trail split even more steeply down to the left, or kept going the normally hellacious downhill grade straight. I looked for a marker, but didn’t find one, and my watch had recently died so the GPX track was out of the question.

Bruce offered to go ahead to scout the trail to see if a marker could be found. I took a moment to drop some weight, if you know what I mean, and inadvertently scared the wits out of a runner who lit me up with their headlamp due to my poor timing. I just about stumbled downhill, squatting back up, my quads were so inflamed from the pounding downhill.

“It’s here! Keep coming down!” I could very faintly hear Bruce yelling up the mountain at me. He was a far way down judging from the sound of his voice. I found him after a couple more minutes of descending, and Pot Hollow Aid Station was just a few more minutes from there.

I knew at this point that my 24 hour goal was way out of the question, and 26 hours wasn’t looking very good either. But I also knew that I had a really good shot at securing a finish, and a ticket for Hardrock, if I just kept playing it smart. I took my time at Pot Hollow, eating warm foods and drinking more coffee while sitting by the fire. Beware the chair is a pretty common adage in the ultrarunning world, and I was a living example of why you don’t sit down in chairs. I could see my breath in the air, and put on my Ultimate Direction Ultra Jacket and some mid weight gloves before leaving. We cross a bridge over a river and I was shivering a bit from how cold the air was… and we were heading back up.

The ascent was relatively easy compared to some of the other climbs that day, mostly because it was a pretty smooth jeep road. After a couple of miles we topped out on a ridge that was a wide dirt road, and I knew that I was getting closer to the end of the race. Maybe by miles… but the clock was moving slowly.

Wasatch 100 mile

Bruce realized he hadn’t requested the day off from work around this point, and spent the next few miles trying to formulate a way to call in sick or change his shift… something like that. I could hear him talking and finally told him he could run ahead, letting me finish on my own if it was that important. He disappeared for five minutes or so, then showed up from behind me, apparently having resolved his work concerns.

The sky was starting to turn red, though my headlamp was still burning brightly to show the road ahead. I arrived in to Staton Aid Station and didn’t spend too much time there.

Shortly ahead, I came around a corner and got my first glimpse of the lake that we would finish at the shore of. Or so I thought. It was just six miles to the finish from here! Or so I thought. I also was able to turn my headlamp off and feel the warmth of the rising sun. The combination of all these factors was a huge lift, and I had a surge in my pace. The rush of endorphins was numbing the pain in my legs and minimized the effects of gravity. I felt good.

I could see a road and knew I was getting close! People were starting to show up to cheer runners on. I hooked a freshly weed whacked trail to head downhill, catching an astounding view of the sunrise over the lake. That’s when I realized that I was not as close as I thought. That lake was a long way down, and a while out. And I didn’t see a park. The endorphins stopped flowing, the rocks became noticeable again, and the uneven trail slope was as profound as ever.

We passed through a cow heard, closing gates as we went. At this point, I hated running, I hated cows, and I hated all the poop they left on the ground so much that I just ran through it without any attempts to avoid it. We emerged from the woods and cowpie minefields to see the Decker Canyon Aid Station. I played down on the frosty morning ground, elevated my legs, and drank some electrolytes as I told a volunteer my sob story about how this is supposed to be the finish line and blahblahblah. “You are so close! You only have two miles to go! I promise! You see that lake? The finish line is right there!”

Hook. Line. Sinker. I ate all of it.

That was a bunch of (cow)sh!%.

brandon yonke wasatch 100 mile

I looked at my watch after two miles. I was definitely nowhere close to the lake or finish line, but there were more cows and landmines.

I turned onto a wide dirt path that wound up and around the hills above the lake. Still no sight of that finish line. I convinced myself to keep running, and that after I got to the top of this hill, the finish line would be right there. Nope.

Next corner… same thing.

I threw my poles on the ground, yelling at the horizon, and kind of joking with Bruce (looking back, it was 20% joke, 80% serious “I’m gonna DNF! RIGHT F’ING HERE!” I grabbed my poles and leaned over them, kicking at the dirt and groaning in mental exhaustion.

Bruce and I kept it going, but my mental reserves were wire thin. I asked a couple of elderly ladies who were on their morning stroll “where is the finish line?”, which was returned with looks of confusion.

And there was the road.

That seemingly long-distant feeling of energy and the painlessness of and endorphin rush returned, and I picked up my pace, and my head. For the first time, I had seen the finish, with about half a mile to go. The guy at the aid station was definitely bluffing with the whole two mile thing… it had been six, but somehow, he kept me believing that on the next step I might just see mile 100.

I ran to the point of the finish chute, then took it easy, walking my way in, reflecting on the 100 miles I had just covered. I was so thankful to be here. It had been just shy of 28 hours since starting across the mountain range in Kaysville.

I took the race shuttle back to Kaysville then somehow managed to drive 20 minutes back to the AirBNB. I showered up and slept for four hours before driving the hour and 10 minutes back to the finish line. It was an astounding perspective to see the whole race by car, exhausted. I arrived just as the last finishers of the day were crossing the finish line with minutes to spare before the 36 hour mark.

At the awards ceremony, the Spirit of the Wasatch award went to a volunteer from the prior year’s race. She had administered CPR for dozens of minutes on a woman who went into cardiac arrest on the top of the first climb before being airlifted back to the hospital. The woman thankfully lived, and was married in the few months later. There weren’t many dry eyes at the end of that award section.

I collected my finishers plaque and belt buckle – definitely one of the toughest I’ve ever earned. [And, being starving, wasted no time finding the nearest pizza joint on the way home.]

Without my two pacers and the flawless efforts of so many volunteers, and two amazing AirBnB hosts, this day would have been very different. My sincerest thanks to them for making this a reality.

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Take-home from a good day.

2 thoughts on “Recap: The Wasatch 100 Mile

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