The Salt Flats 100 starts on the historic Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway. The actual salt flats are 12 miles long and 5 miles wide covering just over 46 square miles. Near the center, the crust is 5 feet thick in places. That is 147 million tons of mostly table salt! It is the site of some astounding land speed records of more than 600 mph. My top speed would be 8.9 mph.
The course then runs along the foothills of various “islands” above the salt, up and over six significant passes. This is an “easier” 100, but not a flat run. You climb about 6,000 feet along the way. It has a very generous cutoff time, so is great for first-timers or slower runners.
At the pre-race meeting I discovered that three elite runners would not be showing up. Mike Place joked that the win was open for me. I did wonder how this race would shake out in the front. We all knew that this year the big factor would be the weather. It looked like we would be in for a huge cold rain storm during the night. I went to my motel room and planned my drop bags carefully, putting increasingly more clothes in the later bags. The race staff takes these bags to specified check points, or aid stations.
The race began on the historic speedway at 7 a.m. with about 54 runners. We would run about 15 miles straight across the salt bed to Floating Island. (Late in the day from I-80, when you look to the north, this island looks like it is floating in the air). Usually a few runners take off like rabbits, but this year no one did, so I took the lead. I settled into an even 8:00-mile pace and for a while could hear another runner behind me but after a couple miles I was surprised that I was starting to gap the runners behind.
Running on the salt was more challenging this year. With recent damp weather, salt started to clump on the bottoms of our shoes making them feel heavy. I soon figured out how to scuff my feet periodically, without slowing down much, to scrape some of the salt off my shoe bottoms.
I completed mile 7 at the one-hour mark, indeed a fast start for a 100-miler. To my left I could see large Silver Island with a storm further to the west that would miss us. Ahead I could see Floating Island that seemed like it would never arrive. My pace eased up to 9:30-mile pace and I was passed by Heather Mastrianni, running strong. Soon others passed me. I reached the Speedway aid station (mile 10.0) at the 1:28 mark, ten minutes faster than last year. I was now in 6th place. (Last year I ran the race for fun after finishing another 100-miler just five days earlier).
As we continued on, I was surprised that the lead group was not pressing the pace hard. I was about a half mile behind, but I could tell that their lead was not increasing. I also observed that those runners would take an unusual amount of time at the aid stations letting me close that gap. We finally got off the salt and arrived at Floating Island (mile 10.3) at 2:23. I was still in 6th place.
As we continued on our journey toward Silver Island, I observed that the front-runners were only four minutes ahead of me. At about mile 19, Trace Lund caught up to me. Last year he also caught up with me at this exact spot, but this year we reached it nearly 15 minutes sooner. I told him that I had been watching the front-runners carefully and with this field, I thought Trace could win the race if he wanted it, that the winner would probably finish around 20 hours this year. Trace went on, knowing that he would see me again on the first climb ahead.
I reached Cobb Peak Road aid station (mile 22.6) at 3:28 in 8th place. I refilled my bottle, grabbed some more food and pressed on. After all the flat running, I really looked forward to the next three miles with a 1,000-foot climb. Last year I was able to charge up the hill fast. Could I repeat that? During the past few weeks I had added some good hill and tempo runs to my training. I wondered if that would pay off.
I looked ahead and could see some runners ahead walking up the hill. I decided that for me, there would be no walking. My legs loved the run and I settled into a very consistent 12:00-mile pace. I first passed Trace and another runner and waved. Ahead, Heather and another runner were trying to run, but soon also fell victim of my steady pace. I lost track of how many runners I passed, but soon I could only see two more ahead. They kept looking behind, seeing me gain on them.
The road got steeper but I kept up my run and when I passed the final two, they gave me good complements. Wow! I was now in first place at mile 25! I arrived at Cobb Peak Pass (mile 25.5) at 4:06, still in first place. The race director Vince Romney was there and I could tell was surprised that I was the leader. He quickly gave me a hot quesadilla and I stopped for only 30 seconds, anxious to keep my lead.
Next up was a long fast but fairly rugged downhill. My Altra Olympus shoes worked perfect and let me run with speed over the rocks. I was very familiar with this downhill and tried to push a 8:00-mile pace. I reached the marathon mark (26.2) at 4:12. This greatly surprised me because at both Across the Years and Pickled Feet recently on flat courses, I didn’t come close to that mark. I had really thought that age (55 years) had finally slowed me down, but out of the blue, here I was in the lead running fast.
The view coming down the canyon was spectacular, looking out toward Crater Island and the salt flats to the north. When I reached the bottom and started to run on Silver Island Road, I knew the next group of runners were now far behind and not in view. I reached the 50K mark at 4:59. As I ran up a hill toward the next aid station, I looked back and could see a group of about six runners almost a mile behind.
I arrived at Hasting Pass, the historic location that the Donner-Reed party passed through in 1846 after struggling for days crossing the salt/mud flats. As I approached the aid station at mile 31.5, Anne Watts ran forward to greet me and yelled out, “Davy??!!” I yelled back, “How funny is this?” I arrived at 5:05. All the volunteers and crews cheered and clapped at my arrival. Behind me no other runners could be seen. Anne quickly explained that the aid station wasn’t really set up yet. I had never experienced this before, being the lead runner, arriving at an aid station before it was set up. Anne helped crew me (fill my bottles and get my drop bag) and I joked with the others watching me about how funny it was that an old man was leading the race. I didn’t stay long and was soon quickly on my way running toward Crater Island.
I knew that Crater Island was another chance to increase my lead because of the climbs up and over a couple passes. I tried to keep the strong pace going. When I was approaching the top of the first pass, I stopped to look carefully behind me. I thought I could see the tiny figure of a runner more than a mile behind. My lead was increasing. As I ran, I asked myself, “Could I actually win this thing?” So far the group behind me hadn’t shown much speed on the hills. But there were plenty of flats ahead where they would probably find their speed.
I arrived at Sheep Camp aid station (mile 39.9) at the north end of Crater Island at the 6:45 mark, still in first place. “You are the first runner to arrive,” remarked one of the volunteers. I was an amazing 45 minutes ahead of my last year’s pace. I descended down the steep trail back to the flats. I didn’t look forward to the next long seven miles on the mud flats where the footing was soft and mushy, making it challenging to keep the pace going. After the first mile, I looked behind me and still couldn’t see any runners, but a couple miles later, I looked back again and two runners were gaining very fast.
They caught up at the 44.5-mile mark and my lead was gone. I was running steady but just couldn’t find that crazy speed they had on the flat surface. It had been fun to lead the race for a total of 26.5 miles. It really gave me time to think that perhaps the elderly rocking chair may have to wait a little while longer. That had been an exciting experience to push that big lead up some tough climbs.
I had led the other runners off the course somewhat. The little green flags marking the right way were very hard to pick out and many had also been blown away. But I knew our objective was just to run around the island so I kept plugging ahead, trying to find the route with the firmest surface. I knew this section would be a big challenge for runners coming later and I wished the race would post some volunteers out there for safety. There were a couple guys on horses who pointed toward the right route. I hoped they would help the later runners.
I kept my eyes on the dark clouds ahead and so far we had been lucky to dodge the storms, but I knew our luck would eventually run out. Other runners passed me as I struggled because my energy had been sapped by the mud flats. I reached the 50-mile mark at about 9:02 and returned to Hastings Pass (mile 50.3) at 9:09. Despite my slow pace during the recent miles, I was pleased with the nine-hour 50. I was now in 5th place. I still had hopes that I could catch those other runners. Last year I had found great speed on the hills ahead. I looked forward to those climbs.
I plodded ahead on the long, mostly flat, dirt road that went along the west side of Silver Island. At about mile 55, the wind kicked up and the rain finally arrived. As I was putting on rain gear, I looked back and two more runners had caught up. Much of the fun blew away with the storm and I concentrated on trying to keep a running pace going. The two runners passed me and soon disappeared ahead. When I arrived at the next aid station (mile 57.2) at the 11-hour mark (6 p.m.), the two runners were in the tent, trying to warm up and get more clothes on. I didn’t stay long and they jumped up when they saw me getting ready to leave.
I couldn’t keep up with them, probably because I wasn’t eating enough, a typical problem for me. The storm soon blew by and it was pretty amazing how my spirits went up without the wind and rain. As I arrived at the 61.5-mile aid station at 12:07, I could see that a very dark storm was coming and the wind was whipping the aid station hard. If I could quickly leave, the storm’s wind from the west would blow me up and over the next pass to the other side of the island. It worked great. My pace increased and I dodged the next big storm that I’m sure pounded the runners behind me. I was 1:15 ahead of my last year’s pace and doing much better than expected.
I loved this section of the course, running up, over the island and back. There is much to see and usually you can look back and see runners behind you. But I couldn’t see anyone. I didn’t know at the time, but the next large group of runners was nearly 45 minutes behind and getting pounded by the storm. Things were calm for me on the other side of the island as I reached the Jeep Trail aid station (mile 67) at 13:22. Next up was to again run up and over the island on a rough winding Jeep Trail. As I approached the top, night fell and I turned on my green light. I was still puzzled why I couldn’t see any lights behind me but could see a light less than a mile ahead that would keep looking back to me over the next several miles.
The night was now quiet with various lights to see on the horizons. The stars even came out in some gaps of clear skies. Once I again reached the east side of the island, I could look north and see lights of runners and crews who were 15 miles or more behind me. I arrived at the Rock Pile aid station (mile 74.3) at 15:10 feeling pretty well. A runner had just left only six minutes before I arrived. I was now in 6th place. The runner in first place was about five miles ahead of me.
The runner ahead would look back toward me now and then, shining his headlamp. That would encourage me to run faster but I just couldn’t find the real speed to catch up. As I reached the top of the next pass and made the turn down the paved road toward Nevada, a light cold rain started. Thankfully the wind was calm and the downhill running easy. It was lonely out in the middle of nowhere. Last year at this point crew cars were going back and forth, but this year, near the front, there was no traffic at all on the road. Where was everyone? Finally I had a view and could see quite a few runner headlamps with their crews driving slowly with them. They seemed close, but they were actually an hour behind me.
I arrived at the Nevada aid station (mile 80) at about midnight (17:06). A runner who had been ahead of me quit here, so I was now in 5th place. A young boy there was very excited and mentioned to his dad that he was having so much fun. I was cold and low in energy. I was about to leave and then changed my mind. I decided to trade my garbage bag for a rain jacket in my drop bag. This ended up being my most critical mistake and would cost me about two hours, because that nice rain jacket wasn’t water proof!
I mostly walked the next two mile to the turn to take me into the mountains, back in Utah. I could see the light of the runner ahead and determined that he was about a mile ahead. Once I made the turn, I kept my eye on the lights of the last aid station and was astonished that I had at least a four-mile lead on the next runner. I closed the distance on the runner ahead but then the rain really started to pour and I had to cross over some very muddy boggy sections. I just couldn’t catch up.
As I became colder and wetter, my run shifted into survival mode. When I get chilled, my stomach shuts down. It wouldn’t allow me to run fast, so I just went slower and got colder. I knew this nine-mile section between aid stations would be terrible and it was. It would take me three hours. Last year this section was lit up by the lights in the sky and the valleys were beautiful. This year it was dark, wet, and foggy. I could only see about 50 yards around me. I started to really suffer badly, but knew that any comfort was ahead at the aid station. It seemed like it never would arrive. I yelled out loud, “How much further?” Near the top of the pass the water collected and the mud was very slippery. This wasn’t fun at all.
Finally I rounded a corner and there was the aid station all lit up. Volunteers came to meet me. I pleaded with them to let me sit in a warm car. I was in rough shape. They were so kind. They put a blanket around me and one of them drove his jeep around to me with the heater cranked up. It felt wonderful when I got in. They brought me hot water to drink and that helped. I took off my wet jackets and shivered badly for the next 20 minutes as I tried to increase my core temperature. They kindly brought me some food and I did my best to recover and dry out my things on the heaters. Finally after a half hour I felt much better, but just couldn’t yet pull myself out of the jeep. After 45 minutes the next runners arrived and that gave me the motivation to put my things on again and get ready to leave. I had been there for 52 minutes.
I left right before the next runner Tim Shupe and his pacer. I was amazed how fast I could now run down the other side of pass. This was great! Later I could see Tim’s light more than a mile behind. But after a couple more miles, I discovered that the rain was just pouring through my jacket as if I wasn’t even wearing it. I was totally drenched in cold rain clear to the skin. Hypothermia again set in. I could see the lights of the aid station ahead but I was now moving slowly and the wind was terrible, whipping right through me. I couldn’t remember another time in a race when I was so cold.
When I reached the 95-mile aid station, I knew if I continued, I wouldn’t make it. I again pleaded to sit in a car. They kindly let me and I cranked the heat all the way. I took off my jackets and was amazed how wet I was. This time I recovered faster. They brought me cups of hot chocolate that worked well and my mind finally kicked into gear. I asked if they had a garbage bag or a poncho to help me finish. They had an emergency poncho. They let me leave all my wet things behind, to be picked up after I finished. As I was about to leave they warned me that the next runners (Tim and pacer) had left a few minutes earlier. “I’ll catch them,” I replied. I then thanked them deeply for helping me.
On the road again, in the early dawn light, I was running again and the poncho worked great but was being blown terribly by the fierce wind. The rain was coming down harder. In a mile, I did pass Tim and we both were confused by a bunch of runners coming down the wrong road. We asked what was going on and discovered that they were 50-milers. The 50-mile race started about an hour ago, but the salt flats were flooded with water and these runners were just running out and backs on the pavement. I kicked up the speed and for the next couple miles kept up with some of those runners and chatted. But the wind became even more fierce and the pavement was pounding my painful right knee so I slowed. The finish just couldn’t arrive soon enough, but it finally came.
I finished in 24:15 in 5th place out of the 54 starters. I knew that my time ended up slower than last year due to survival-mode running. I had spent about 2:30 in the aid stations. But I was very pleased by my effort. Memories of leading the race and running fast were still in my mind. With dry conditions, I knew I could have finished in about 21 hours. Many other runners suffered more than me and had to quit.
In all, only 21 runners finished. I felt really bad for the race director, my cousin, Vince Romney. This was a race director’s nightmare to have such severe weather. Eventually the 50-mile race was cancelled. The salt flats were covered with six inches of water. Aid stations were stranded and vehicles stuck in the mud.
I didn’t stay around to talk to any runners. I just needed to get warm in my car. The storm had been huge. I immediately started to drive home and it poured all the way, three hours. Wow!
This truly was a race to remember and I learned a lot more about having the proper clothes for these conditions. This was my 61st 100-mile finish. I’ll be back to run it again.
Recovery was fast. Saturday afternoon and night I slept 14 hours and was good to go for Sunday church meetings in the morning. Because of the cold running weather and my relatively slow pace for the second 50 miles, a day later, amazingly I had no sore muscles and could already run again. The human body always surprises me.