Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Triple Comback: A Wasatch 100 Race Report

First off, I didn't take pics during Wasatch so I scanned the internet looking for som pics of Wasatch and got some great ones off A Trail Runner's Blog, who also races Wasatch 2011. Give credit where credit is due.
Wasatch begins on broad single-track trail skirting the base of the mountain range between the wilderness area and residential neighborhoods. The trail rolls gently and in the darkness of the morning you can see sections of the city lights spread out below you. My plan, as usual, was to go out slow for the first 30 or so miles and then just see what I could do after that so I set out at between a 34 and 36 hour pace.

The first major climb of the race is called Chinscraper and it looks wicked on the elevation profile. Chinscraper basically starts at mile 3.6 and then climbs 3960 feet in the next six miles. While it is a six mule long steady climb it really isn't as bad as it looks or sounds. I'm sure some of that has to do with the fact that your legs are still fresh but the other thing is that there are several switchbacks. People do blow themselves up on Chinscraper, that is one of the big dangers of Wasatch, throwing yourself against Chinscraper when you are feeling fresh and thinking "Oh, this isn't nearly as bad as I thought." The final stretch of the climb does get steeper and maybe the final 20 yards pretty much requires that you climb using your hands. I suppose you could hike that final stretch but it wouldn't make much sense because it is very steep and the rocks are loose. If you hike it you are more likely to either slip and fall or kick rocks down on the heads of the runners below.

I think it took me about 3 hours and 6 minutes to get from the start line to Chinscraper Summit and once on top I felt great, the morning was cool and sunrise had come. The trail was flanked by an abundance of wildflowers and the views of the Salt Lake Basin were fantastic. On worry I did have between the starting line and Francis Peak was the lack of aid. It's 13.35 miles to the water only aid station Grobbens Corner, the first aid station on the course and 18.76 to Francis Peak, the first full aid station. However, the morning was cool so I didn't need much and there are two springs, Cool Springs at mile 8.93 and Landis Springs at mile 10.58. Both springs are immediately on the side of the trail, flowing and obvious. I refilled my handheld bottle at each of the springs and each time drank the full bottle so the water is good.

The next two sections are called Bountiful Peak and Skyline and they encompass the Bountiful B, Sessions, Swallow Rocks and Big Mountain aid stations. These sections contain a pretty equal measure of very runnable dirt roads and narrow single track that can be very overgrown and somewhat rocky. Actually, some of the trail through here is so overgrown that it is more like bushwhacking than trail running, however, it still isn't terribly hard to follow the trail and there was only one spot where a couple guys in front of me continued straight when they should have turned but I caught it and yelled at them to turn back.

Unless you are a front runner the Bountiful Peak and Skyline sections are when day one starts to heat up. The increasing heat coupled with the big stretches of very runnable terrain makes it another dangerous section for going out too fast. I continued to just take it easy and took the several short, steep climbs very slow. On one climb that came shortly before Swallow Rocks I was creeping up the hill and a few people blew past me breathing really hard. The footing was good but the grade was really steep and as one guy passed me he asked if I was ok and I told him, "Yeah, just taking it easy. This early stuff is all about mile 90 and once you spend the energy you can't get it back." A few runners nearby commented that that was a good reminder and they immediately slowed. Another couple, a man and woman who were actually planning on getting married right at the finish line, decided that it would just be a good idea to fall in behind me and pace off me on the uphill stretches. I didn't mind but it became a problem later.

By the time I came running on the long, downhill single track into Big Mountain I was still feeling great and was right on pace for a projected 34 hour finish, may be a little ahead. This year Big Mountain at mile 39.4 was the first time of the day when you were able to see your crew because of some heavy construction taking place near the Francis Peak aid station. Big Mountain is also the place where you are allowed to pick up pacers for the first time. I came into Big Mountain and met up with my crew, which included the GeekGrl, fellow New Mexican ultrarunner Ian and a younger guy named Eric who I met through the Wasatch website who was from the area and looking to pace a few miles. I changed out my shoes and socks at Big Mountain and also washed off my feet. Washing your feet at Wasatch is a good idea because the trail is really dusty in many areas and you are really going to need your feet to be in the best possible shape for the last 25 miles of the course because it is absolutely brutal.

I departed the Big Mountain aid station with Eric as my pacer and we ran a long for a little as he asked numerous questions about ultrarunning. Eric told me that this 13 miles to the next crew stop would be his longest run in years and he hoped his knee would be alright because it had been injured a few years back and that is why he had stopped running. I was thinking, "great, I have a non-runner as a pacer in one of the hardest ultramarathons in the country." But things worked out. Eric was good company and his knees never bothered him. I also got to teach him a lot about ultrarunning.

One thing I provided him was a great first hand education on how to do something stupid and how to recover from it. The first segment out of Big Mountain is the longest stretch between aid stations of the whole course, though not by much. It's an eight mile stretch from Big Mountain to Alexander Ridge. The section isn't difficult, it's mostly pretty mellow single track with some climbing thrown in but it is the one section where I really got sick. About a quarter mile out of Big Mountain the aforementioned couple that was going to get married at the finish line came up behind Eric and I and the woman immediately started going off about how I was her favorite pacer for up hills. She and her fiancé had a pacer but she was all, "This guy is awesome, he is the best uphill pacer ever, he is my favorite uphill pacer. We need to stay right behind him." I had just come from consuming a lot of fluids and food because I was worried about getting behind on my nutrition and hydration so I had a full stomach and was moving much slower than they were. I told them as much and said that they should really pass but the woman insisted that she and her group stay behind me because I am "awesome on the up-hills."

As I later discussed with Ian I should have insisted and if that didn't work just stopped and made them pass but that's not what I did. Instead I just kept going but I was feeling pushed from behind because they were clearly wanting to move faster than the pace I had chosen despite my apparent awesomeness. I guess that subconsciously I increased my pace and that combined with talking with Eric lead me to feel nauseous because with all the blood going to parts other than my stomach for digestion everything I had taken in at Big Mountain was just sitting in my gut like a rock. Once I got sick I really slowed and then of course the people who had been riding my tail no longer thought I was awesome so they quickly passed with a cheery "I'm sure we'll see you later!" I was now sick and grumpy with probably six miles to Alexander Ridge and poor Eric still had a thousand questions.

We went along slowly and I explained to him how I was feeling and the stupid mistake I had made. I explained to him what I needed to try and to and how I was going to try and regroup at Alexander Ridge and make a comeback. Of course this eventuated numerous questions from Eric and even speaking was making me sick but I trudged on keeping my attitude in check knowing that this would eventually end. By the time I finally got to Alexander Ridge I had gone for about two and a half hours with nothing to eat or drink and I was feeling like absolute crap. Eric was good in the aid station and he spent his time getting things for me and alerting the aid station workers to my condition. He also grabbed a couple blankets and wrapped them around my shoulders because I was getting chilled since evening was approaching and I was still sweaty from the day.

As bad as I felt at the Alexander Ridge Aid station I have to say that I am very glad I felt bad at that particular aid station because I learned something that is pure gold. One of the aid station workers is a nurse as is her sister apparently. When she heard I was struggling with nausea she said, "You need to sniff rubbing alcohol". I didn't have any idea what she was talking about and said, "I need to do what?" to which she repeated, "You need to sniff rubbing alcohol. It will stop your nausea. I can't take credit for it because my sister told me about it but that's what they do with cancer patients who are going through chemotherapy to help stop the nausea." Of course I was thinking that my nausea was bush league compared to the nausea experienced by people going through chemo so if it worked I should be as good as gold.

The nurse broke out one of those paper packets with the alcohol wipe in it and handed it to Eric who opened it up and brought it over. I began sniffing in the fumes and it really did seem to help almost immediately. I continued to feel some mild queasiness but I think that's because I immediately started to eat and drink as much as I could stomach. With the full-blown nausea gone I knew I had to pile on the nutrition because I was way behind. It was disappointing to see people pass through Alexander Ridge that I had passed miles before but sometimes you just have to suck it up and be very, very patient. Within about 20 minutes I had a full stomach and no nausea. Eric and I got back out on the trail and began the nearly six mile trek to Lambs Canyon where we would meet up with Ian and the GeekGrl.

By the time Eric and I arrived it was dark and my crew was worried but I was feeling good and was back on top of my nutrition. At Lambs Canyon I thanked Eric and we said our goodbyes, I put on a warmer shirt for night running, grabbed my mega-beam headlamp and hand-held flashlight and picked up Ian who was slated to pace me for the final 47 miles of the race.

You depart the Lambs Canyon aid station on paved road and the segment of the course between Lambs Canyon and Mill Creek, also know and Upper Big Water, has about five miles of road in total. It is very important that you know exactly how this road is split. When Ian and I left Lambs I had it in my mind that it was five miles of road and then some trail into Mill Creek. Ian was impressed by how few course markings he had seen on the road sections he had driven earlier while scoping out the course. It turns out this was a bad combination of impressions to have.

The road out of Lambs winds and there are a few cars on it who tend to come straight at you with their headlights on. We were power walking the road because it goes uphill and I was still in my making sure the aid station food settles a bit mode. We say no course markings but there was a person or two every once in a while. We thought we saw course markings indicating a turn off about twice and Ian went and checked it out but it turned out to be nothing. Eventually we stopped seeing people but this didn't immediately strike us as unusual because we weren't seeing many people anyway. Not seeing course markings on the road section was also completely unsurprising since earlier Ian had driven three miles of road on the course and only seen one marking the entire time. Eventually, though, it became too much. We were really getting worried that we had missed a turn but for the life of us we could not imagine where. I finally said, "Screw it, let's run back as far as we need to until we find someone who knows they are on course" and so we turned back and started running back downhill. In about a half mile we came across a truck driving up the road and Ian stopped it and asked if he knew the course. The driver confirmed we were off course and that the turn off was about a mile and a half back down the road.

Crap! Oh well, at least now we were sure. We ran as hard as we could back down the road and eventually came across a group of people standing around a very obviously marked junction where we were supposed to turn off onto some single track trail. As far as we could tell there are three possible reasons, or some combination of all three, that cause us to miss the turn and add about three miles and 40 minutes to my Wasatch experience. Our strongest suspicion is that group of people at the trail head were either re-marking or marking for the first time the appropriate turn. Another possibility is that the trail was marked in such a way that it was more visible if you were approaching it slowly or from the opposite direction, in other words, from the direction you would be coming from had you missed the turn and then turned around and back tracked. The third possibility, and one I consider most likely, is that it just happened that when we were coming up on that turn a couple cars drove by us slowly with their headlights shining in our eyes so we put our heads down and shielded our vision as we walked on past the turn.

In any case, it sucked. In a race like Wasatch when you are already a back of the pack runner you do not need to add time, distance and climbing. Fortunately I was feeling really good at that time and Ian was fresh so despite the fact that the single track lead to an immediate, steep climb, we motored right up passing several people along the way. Once you crested the climb there is a big downhill on single track that leads to more road where you pick up the additional three miles of road in this section. So, to reiterate; between Lambs Canyon and Mill Creek…about two miles of road out of lambs then a 90 degree right turn onto dirt trail that goes up, up, up and then down, down, down and dumps you off on another paver road that you turn left onto and follow all the way to the Mill Creek aid station.

About a half mile before Ian and I arrived at the Mill Creek aid station I started getting really cold and kept asking Ian how much farther it was to the aid station. He was doing his best to let me know but of course he couldn't make it get there any faster. I was getting colder and colder and really starting to worry about how far away this aid station might be. We finally arrived and I dropped myself into a chair immediately in from of a portable heater and my crew and aid station worked threw a blanket over my shoulder. Despite this I started shaking uncontrollably within seconds of stopping. For the first time in a race I was hypothermic.

An aid station worker asked my crew if I wanted to use their warming tent and of course we all said yes in unison. They all walked me over to the warming tent and laid me out on a cot and piled me with blankets and placed a portable heater right next to me. They also put my running pants on me along with my jacket and a wool cap. I continued shaking almost like I was having seizures and the medical personnel manning the tent told me that I needed to try and relax as much as I could because the tensing of my muscles while shaking would constrict blood flow and make it harder for my body to warm. I laid there alternately shaking and trying to relax. I eventually warmed up, bundled up and headed back out to finish the race. At the end of the race I was talking to the GeekGrl about time I had lost on the course and mentioned that I had lost about 20 minutes in the warming tent. It turns out I was wrong, I was there for an hour! The GeekGrl told me I kept fading in and out and she kept rustling around near me trying to keep me awake.

So, now that I warmed up Ian and I headed back out heading for Desolation Lake and then on to Brighton Lodge. This section of the course had some of the most runnable trail of the entire course. The first part was a steady uphill so we didn’t run that but then there were several downhill and flat sections where I was able to make up considerable time. I’m not sure what it is about this race but when it was possible I was running through the night better than any other race I’ve done. I know part of it had to do with the fact that I have a super bright headlamp and hand-held flashlight combo but it also happened that a lot of the best trail took place during my night hours. This section between Mill Creek and Brighton Lodge went by pretty fast but towards the end I started to feel sick again. I was complaining about this to Ian when I suddenly realized that I wasn’t getting sick but I was just extremely hungry and was experiencing hunger pains. I realized that I had been fueling mostly with gels, chomps and fluids and I seriously needed some solid food.

When Ian and I got to Brighton lodge it was like heaven. The Brighton Lodge aid station is inside a ski lodge building so it is nice and warm and there is plenty of seating with tables where you can set your stuff. They also had a grill fired up and were cooking eggs, hash browns and sausage. It was also nice and warm and I was starting to get a little cold again. I sat down while Ian got me something to eat and drink. I had two fried egg sandwiches with cheese, and sausage and hash browns. I also had two large glasses of orange juice, it was awesome!

When I was in Brighton Lodge I felt pretty good and new I had some time and knew I had a hard final 25 miles ahead of me so I just took my time and fueled up. The alternative name for the Brighton aid station is the morgue and there were a lot of people who looked pretty bad. Brighton is definitely not a place you should leave feeling bad in any way because the last 25 miles of Wasatch are the hardest miles of the course containing sure trail segments as “The Plunge”, “The Dive”, and “The Grunt”.

I left Brighton fully fueled and feeling good. Right out of the aid station you climb to the highest point of the course Point Supreme at 10,450 feet. The climb up was actually pretty mellow with good trails and beautiful scenery. The beginning of the climb for me was dark and the sun rose steadily as Ian and I climbed. As we neared the top I was closing in on more people and by the time I reached the top I had passed maybe five and more were visible on the downslope.

The downslope drops 1450 feet in about one and three quarter miles on a narrow rocky trail. Much to my amazement I had plenty of quads left to go screaming down into the Ant Knoll aid station below and that’s exactly what I did. The slope was so steep and rocky I had to hold my arms out like I was an airplane and I had to yell ahead of me to get the attention of the people gingerly walking down the trail below. It was a complete blast! From behind me I heard someone yell out “Way to drop your pacer!” another thing I have some experience with. Below me people were stepping off the trail and encouraging me on. When I finally rolled into Ant Knolls I felt awesome and just focused on riding the high and getting out as quickly as possible. While there one of the aid station workers said they were watching me fly down the mountainside and he said “That was pretty cool, everyone walks down that stretch.” Ant knolls was another aid station where I saw a lot of people sitting in chairs and looking pretty beat up. I have to imagine that they had been the ones to leave Brighton Lodge without resting and fueling.

Immediately out of Ant Knoll is a short but steep climb called the Grunt. It contains maybe three switchbacks but it really is a slow slog to the top but once there you are treated to fairly mellow trails and sweeping vistas of mountain meadows. This section between the top of the grunt and the Pole Line Pass aid station is about the last descent running of the race. Once you leave Pole Line Pass it is pretty much hell from there on out. I wasn’t feeling particularly bad but the day was heating back up and a lot of the trail was extremely rocky, dusty and steep. The combination of high heat and bad trail kept my pace way down and of course the longer I was out there the hotter it got.

The final couple miles of the course finally relented and became runnable but the heat did not relent so I continued to walk. There was no need to punish myself in order to cut a few minutes off my time because that couple minutes would not get me the sub-30 hour finish necessary to get a special buckle. With about a mile and a half to go some clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped by at least 10 degrees and since the sun wasn’t beating down on me I decided I could go ahead and run the rest of the way in. I checked out my Garmin data and was able to pull off an 8 minute mile for the last mile and I crossed the finish line extremely happy to be done.

My total time, 33 hours 32 minutes and 52 seconds. My fantasy goal was sub-30 hours and that is something I think I could do with a bit better training and a bit better day. However, I came into the race predicting a finish time of 34+ hours so all in all it was definitely a good race for me. There were 270 runners who started, 183 who finished and I was number 131. Just in terms of overall placement Wasatch ended up being my best 100-miler to date.


  1. Fantastic job, especially with all the things you had to battle through. I love reading race reports like yours and Misty's and seeing just how much is out there and just how much you can push yourself if you have the will (and training to back it up).

  2. Nice race report. Congrats on finishing a really tough race!

  3. Congratulations on another awesome finish. While you are on this quest of running the most difficult 100 milers, might I suggest the Superior Sawtooth 100 for next year?

  4. I love reading your race report. The details are great, and congratulations on the successful finish.

  5. I always read your and GeekGirl's race reports with a mixture of jealously and awe, and this one probably tops them all.

    Congratulations on your race. What a beautiful course.

  6. What a great report. I followed Misty's FB updates and never knew it was as rough as it was.

    Great report, really made me feel the ups and the downs.

    (I have tried about a thousand times to sign this as me but each time it says that I am not authorzied to view the page, so if this is posted as anon then know that its formulaic

  7. Way to go BIG B!! amazing recap and although I missed out, I felt like I just ran it but I finished in sub-30! haha!!

    the Alcohol is a great tip!!


  8. Unbelievable!!! I am so impressed! I can't imagine running more than a marathon, much less 100 miles!! I don't think I could stay awake for 33 hours forget about running it! You are AWESOME!!!!