This year I ran the Wasatch Front 100-mile Endurance Run 40 minutes faster than I ran it last year. Even as well as I felt like I did I still had my challenges. The biggest thing I faced at Wasatch this year was repeatedly coming across sections of the course that I didn’t remember or at least didn’t remember as being nearly so hard or so long. It was pretty unbelievable because I did remember Wasatch as being the hardest 100 I had done but the reality was it was even harder. The section from the start to Bountiful B was fantastic and pretty much exactly as I remembered it. I love the climb up Chinscraper with its huge views of Salt Lake City both in the dark and the morning light then culminating in a scramble to the crest where you can look down on the train of people below as they pick their way up the six mile climb. Then comes the morning run across the ridgeline through Grobin’s Corner to Francis Peak with its awesome views on either side of the ridge, cool temps, easy trails and long downhill dirt road section. Francis Peak arrived before I knew it but everything from Francis Peak to Big Mountain seemed elongated, similar to what I remembered from last year but longer.
Francis Peak to Bountiful B is a mellow run for the most part and I just kind of zoned out and enjoyed the day but it started dawning on me that I might not have a precise memory of the course. Bountiful B to Sessions was again pretty much what I expected it to be but Sessions to Swallow Rocks was interminable. I wasn’t tired really it’s just that probably within a mile of departing Sessions I came across a section of trail that, to me, suggested that Swallow Rocks was just around the bend, which it was not and was not and was not and was not. I seemed to have entered a series of repeated bends in the trail that I knew singled the imminent approach of Swallow Rocks and I was always wrong. Early in this section I had begun to praise myself for getting to Swallow Rocks feeling so fresh when I had arrived there last year feeling like death warmed over and had to take a fairly long rest before trudging on down the trail. By the time I got there I was not in significantly different shape. I was already feeling a little beat up and dumbfounded at how long it seemed to have taken me to get there. It didn’t help that this segment is almost entirely exposed and is where the day starts to heat up. I took a bit of a rest and then headed out with a sense of foreboding at what else I may face given my obvious failure to recall the course as well as I thought I had.
Swallow Rocks to Big Mountain was a lot longer than I had remembered as well but it didn’t get to me as much because I kept expecting that whatever I thought I saw that would signal the approach to Big Mountain was a misremembering of the course, which it invariably was. Finally I saw the reservoir far down the mountain and off in the distance and I knew I was getting near.
The Big Mountain aid station is where things really began to change. The section from there to Alexander Springs, a section I got sick on last year, was considerably longer and harder than I remembered. It actually is the longest stretch of the course without aid but somehow this didn’t register with me. For some reason I had it in mind that after a short steep climb out of the Big Mountain aid station it was a gently undulating short hop to Alexander Springs. It wasn’t. Instead it was a pretty long series of climbs and descents that were all unwelcome, nothing severe just enough to keep you slow. To make matters worse I was right on the verge of feeling sick much of that segment so even when I could run I was pretty quickly reminded to keep my pace down so as not to upset the stomach. Before the race I had told someone that this section was really easy and gentle. I spent a lot of time wondering how on earth I could have thought that. Like I said, the section isn’t overwhelming and doesn’t have any of the huge, steep climbs but it wears you down bit by bit.
I did roll into Alexander Springs feeling pretty good though, far better than last year when I came in sick to my stomach and feeling completely beat up. I took a bit of a respite to pile on some additional calories and I thanked the aid station volunteer from last year who had taught me the secret of sniffing an alcohol wipe to help stop nausea and then was on my way. The segment from Alexander Springs to Lambs Canyon was pretty much as remembered, probably the gentlest portion of the entire course. I walked a lot right out of Alexander Springs just because I had taken in so many calories and wanted to give it time to settle but in pretty short order I was power hiking again as opposed to the feeble slogging I had been doing since Big Mountain and then that broke into alternating some good running with some fast hiking. Before the sun was down I made it in to Lambs, refueled, changed socks, shoes and pacers and was back out on my way to Mill Creek before sunset, which was a major goal for me at this year’s race. Last year it was completely dark before I had reached Lamb’s.
I really took a beating after leaving Lambs Canyon this year though. Last year this section was a problem because I missed the turn off onto the single track trail and added 40 minutes and a little more than 2 miles to my race. This year I made the turn just fine but the climb out of Lambs on that single track is a monster! I remembered climbing last year and I actually climbed well and passed a lot of people but not this year. This year I was feeling pretty good at the beginning but rapidly wound down and began slogging as people passed me like they were on an escalator. Not only was that climb considerably steeper than I remembered but, of course, it was considerably longer I mean freakishly long. I realize it is posted right on the website, it’s a three and a half mile climb that gains over 2000 feet but holy hell had my memory betrayed me. One factor I think is that I was so much further back in the pack that relative to everyone else I was doing quite well because I actually should have been a lot further along. Another couple things might have been going on, I may not have taken in enough calories at Lambs Canyon. I was pretty focused on getting in and out and my highest priority was to make sure I had my good night running lights and plenty of warm clothes to carry with me to avert the hypothermia I experienced last year. The second problem is that I was starting to get sleepy, really sleepy. At one point during the climb I started yawning repeatedly. I was sure that I was about to just keel over on the trail and pull a Rip Van Winkle. I finally sat down on a log and ate a couple gels and took a caffeine pill. That helped quite a bit and by the time I finally reached the summit of the climb I was feeling ready to run down the other side and into Mill Creek.
Last year Mill Creek is where I was freezing my butt off and had to be stuck in a warming tent for an hour to get my body temp back up. Not this year. I did take a rest there and really spent some time eating and drinking as much as I could because I knew there was a long climb out of the aid station and I would have plenty of time to digest. It was cold at Mill Creek though, I sat near a heater and wrapped myself in blankets after putting on my cold weather clothes and was still on the verge of being chilly and when I dropped the blankets and walked off into the night I was immediately shaking from the cold and it took a little time to get warm again but the climb out of Mill Creek was on top notch trail and was very mellow just as I had remembered it.
From Mill Creek you hit Desolation Lake, Scotts Peak and then Brighton Lodge. All of this is done in the depth of the night and whatever the segment may look like in daylight, there is nothing at all to see at night. For me the most remarkable thing about this section was that I was aware of it at all. I remember the climb out of Mill Creek last year as I said but at some point during or just after the climb my brain must have started shutting down. From last year I remember a couple flash memories of being in the woods on a rockier trail than the climb had presented, a slight dampness in the air and then my pacer suddenly saying “were at Desolation Lake” but for the life of me I don’t remember anything else and I sure don’t remember any Desolation Lake aid station. This year I was pretty much aware the entire time and was able to get in a fair amount of running and enjoyed the fire and hospitality of the super remote Desolation Lake aid station. Most of all this year I was aware of the big climb out of the depression that Desolation lake sits in and while that climb is pretty stiff it’s actually not all that bad, at least if you are feeling good as I was.
Maybe more surprising is that last year I did some really good running during the section between Desolation Lake and Brighton Lodge, I mean dropped my pacer a few times good, but I had absolutely no memory for the Scotts Peak aid station. After the climb out of Desolation Lake there are some really runnable single track and dirt road sections and I was ready to run it on in to Brighton Lodge but since my brain was working what I couldn’t figure out is how Brighton Lodge could be so close when I knew there was a lot of distance between Desolation and Brighton. My attention was diverted when I popped out onto an exposed ridgeline with a cold wind howling over it. I rapidly became cold and struggled to hurry up and get warm clothes on while the wind was tearing at it. Shortly after getting dressed I could see a faint light in the distance and knew it must be an aid station. Even dressed I was cold and getting colder so I made for the light as fast as I could and soon found myself at Scotts Peak, a place I had absolutely no memory of whatsoever.
Scotts Peak is a small canopy with flimsy walls that sits on the exposed ridgeline and while I was there was constantly buffeted by a freezing wind. However, it is equipped with a nice heater and they serve hot soup among other things. I wasn’t tired and could have done a quick refuel and been on my way but I was really cold and I knew heading right back out could be a race ending mistake so I sat down near the heater and savored a few cups of hot soup. When the warmth had finally reentered my body I ducked back out into the cold and windy night and started running for Brighton Lodge.
From Scotts it doesn’t take long before you start descending off the ridgeline and are out of the wind. The segment between Scott’s and Brighton has a lot of good running if you are able but it is also very cold, every bit as cold as the Mill Creek sink hole. I ran, and ran, and ran and Brighton never seemed to get any closer. I finally hit the road section immediately before Brighton only to discover that while immediately before Brighton it is a long ass immediate. My feet started to get really sore from the constant pounding and friction caused by running downhill on pavement. In addition to the cold this is another section with a moisture in the air that causes the you bones to shiver. Brighton Lodge is a welcome relief.
Brighton is often referred to as “the Morgue” because so many people that arrive are in such bad shape. I definitely remember that from last year but this year everyone looked surprisingly good. I felt good as well, which was a bit of a disappointment only because I wasn’t able to savor the hash brown and egg sandwiches quite as well as I had last year. If fact that seemed to be another theme for my race this year. I had spent the last 12 months obsessing over how spectacular the aid stations are at Wasatch, all the delectable foods, everything was so heavenly. This year they had all the same stuff as last year and they were equally well organized and supplied but nothing was quite as magical. It turns out they are just really well run aid stations after all.
Everything past Brighton is also where the course itself punishes you severely for having the temerity to have continued this far. There are a few nice sections, the climb out of Brighton isn’t so bad, a small section just before you get to Pole Line Pass, another small couple sections before you hit Rock Springs and then the last maybe three miles of the race. Everything else is comprised of sections called “The Grunt”, “The Dive” and “The Plunge” as well as other sections that are not named to my knowledge but should be. Sections that should have names like “Steep Rocky Hell” and “Frying hot ass dirt road” or “Brutally steep and unreasonable climb number 164.” These sections should have names like that but instead it is mostly just a long, harsh and lonely slog to the finish. Sometimes you perk up a bit and do some jogging. You may even slowly slog past a few other people but then next thing you know it you’re doubled over next to a tree either trying to catch your breath from that blazing 18 minute mile you just pulled off or you’re “making room” for some more aid station fare while seemingly thousands of other runners blow past you virtually humming with vim and vigor.
And then you are done, completely done as in you get to sit down in the grass by the finish line done. In my case I was done 40 minutes earlier than last year but had the same utterly depleted feel. I think I drank a little, maybe ate a little, but I mostly sat and stared nowhere at nothing. I eventually got up and Misty and I headed to our hotel room, which was maybe three hundred yards away. There I painfully crawled into the shower and pretty much turned the tub black before gingerly crawling into bed and started begging for food.
Wasatch is a fantastic race, still my favorite 100 though I don’t think I’ll be back next year. Wasatch conflicts with another race, a 50K run through ancient Hopi villages on ancient Hopi trails, that I have been dying to do and so that’s what I think I’m going to do instead but I may yet come back to Wasatch, who knows. I’m not really one to repeat races because there are just so many good races, so much to explore but Wasatch has powerful pull. It really is a severe test of endurance in a beautiful and remote area.