September 7th I ran the Wasatch Front 100 mile endurance run for my 46th birthday. Wasatch is quite possibly the second hardest 100 mile trail run in the U.S. next to Hardrock and though some may quibble about its relative difficulty all ultrarunners know it is a tough event. Of course this year I was also running Wasatch as the final leg in the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, running the four oldest 100 mile trail runs in one summer. This added a level of difficulty because of the cumulative fatigue that had been building all summer long.
In the days leading up to Wasatch I started thinking about what I was like at different 15 year increments of my life, what I would have thought about a 100-mile trail run and what is the likelihood I would have been able to accomplish such a feat. Of course looking furthest back my chances of finishing Wasatch would have been very slim indeed since I was a baby in diapers though as life often does, I came full circle and by the end of the race I was pretty much a baby in diapers.
At the age of 16 I was young and strong and fit and it never would have occurred to me to run unless I was forced to do so by my football coach, track coach, I was a shot putter and discus thrower by the way, or if I was messing around with friends playing catch, basketball or an impromptu weekend touch football game. At 16 I was living in Wichita Falls Texas and had at least heard of a 100 mile event though it was the now famous Hotter than Hell 100, which I believe is now the largest armature cycling event in the United States. Back then it was just in its first years and when I heard about it I was completely dumbfounded to hear that people could actually ride a bicycle 100 miles. They also had 50 and 25 mile events and I thought I might be able to pull off the 25 mile event. The 50 mile event seemed unlikely and would most likely lead to considerable pain but the 100 mile ride…incomprehensible. Interestingly though, when I was 16 Wasatch was in its first or second year so it would have actually been possible to attend the race unlike when I was a toddler and Western States was still eight years away from being run for the first time.
However, the question had posed to myself was at the age of 16 if I had heard of a 100 mile trail run and was inclined to give it a try would I have been able to finish? Most likely not; I was deeply interested in playing football, lifting weights, meeting girls and as I recall very little else. Let’s just assume that my parents would have paid the entry fee and travel and taken time off for such an event, there is no way I would have followed through with the necessary training plan. I wouldn’t have even had the foggiest notion where I might get such a plan and I’m pretty certain the trip to my football coaches office wouldn’t have gotten me far with respect to an ultra distance running plan. I probably would have made it to the top of Chinscraper and then been bored with the whole ordeal but pushed on until I thought I couldn’t go any further. If I didn’t get pulled earlier I give myself to Big Mountain at best, 39 miles into the race.
At the age of 31 I was heading toward the end of my Ph.D. program and I was all about books and research. I had been attempting to resurrect my old exercise habits in the form of going for walks but after years of dormancy I was incredibly out of shape and tipped the scales at about 260 pounds. My college years were the years of massive weight fluctuation with a low of 210 and a high of 310 all probably within a span of five years and the weights I remember hitting repeatedly were in the 250s, 260s, and 270s. The high and the low are weights I came close to only once. I had still never heard of a 100 mile run before but it really doesn’t matter because I had no free time and had developed an actual hatred of running during the six years I was in the Marine Corps. I left the Marine Corps about as opposed to exercise as a person can be. The upside of detesting exercise is that I piled all my energy and exuberance into my studies and genuinely excelled in college unlike my lack-luster high school years. The obvious downside is the tremendous weight changes noted above and the ultimate dramatic and negative effect on both my mood and sense of well-being.
However, again the question had posed to myself was at the age of 31 if I had heard of a 100 mile trail run and was inclined to give it a try would I have been able to finish? Not a chance in hell would be the only possible answer. My chances were a hundred times better at the age of 16, probably better at the age of one. I would have needed the discipline, determination and desire to train and plan and complete the race but all of that would have been completely absent, as would have been money. Even if by some cruel joke of fate I had somehow found myself at the starting line I wouldn’t have even made it the 3 miles leading to the long climb that eventually leads you to Chinscraper and if I had, well, I certainly wouldn’t have proceeded I mean, they don’t call it Chinscraper because it’s flat.
Forty six is a different story altogether. While I am not the best of 100 mile runners I do know them and I know them well enough that I have a better than average chance of finishing whichever one I try. Considering this state of affairs and looking back at myself through time me at the age of one would have probably been pretty happy about the belt buckle and then stuck it in my mouth. Me at the age of 16 would have been totally stoked to think that at the exceedingly ancient age of 46 I would be a big enough stud to run 100 miles through the mountains. At the age of 31 I most likely would have derided the accomplishment as a waste of time and as something done by someone that didn’t have the intellectual horsepower to produce real achievements like earning a Ph.D. but I would have secretly been both impressed and inspired because at that time I was beginning to feel the longings of getting back into sports.
At the age of 46 I not only ran Wasatch but I finished it with a 40 minute PR for the course and ran it as the last race in the Grand Slam, a rare achievement in and of itself. In this whole reflection what I find most interesting, and most comforting, is that at the age of 46 in many ways I am far more like the person I was at 16 than the person I was at 31 and that is a good thing.