I went to run the Salt Flats 100 for the fifth time near Wendover, UT. I enjoy the course because it has fast sections, fun climbs, and challenging mud flats. In most years, the weather has been a factor with at least passing thunder storms. This year the salt flats were under several inches of rain and yes, the weather became a major factor during the race.
At 7:00 a.m., about forty 100-mile runners were away, along with many 50-mile and 50K runners starting at the same time. Instead of swimming across the historic flats, we ran across the causeway to Silver Island. We then would run on the Silver Island road and link up with the original course at the third aid station for nearly the exact same mileage for both routes.
The really speedy guys took off fast on the causeway and I held back with the second group. A week ago I took a nasty fall on top of the Sanpitch Mountains and bruised a rib in my back. I was uncertain if I would run the race, but I decided to give it a try. So I started carefully.
Things went well across the causeway and along the Silver Island road. I became confident that I could go the distance. We pushed against a headwind and at times I tucked in behind a runner who passed me. The detoured course was slower without the flat-as-flat Salt Flats run for the first 18 miles, but I still ran fine.
I arrived at Aid Station 3 (mile 22.5) at 3:48. This was 20 minutes slower than my fastest pace to this point. I stopped for ten minutes at the bathroom there and met friend Andrew Jensen arriving as I was ready to go.
Next up is my favorite challenge of the course, a 1,200 climb in 3.1 miles to Cobb Pass. I love to charge up this hill, trying to run the entire way, passing runners. This year, I didn’t quite have the strength and speed as the last two years, but I did well, getting up in about 40 minutes, passing one runner.
On the other side is a fast downhill to the floor of the desert. This year, with the recent rains, the road had turned into a wash that was a better surface than usual, not quite as rocky. Near the bottom, I passed another runner who complimented my speed.
Now again on the Silver Island Road, I ran at a solid pace and nearly caught the runner ahead. I arrived at Hastings Jct. (mile 31.5) at 5:47. Two years ago, I was leading the race and arrived here at 5:05. I grabbed my drop bag, retrieved my gloves and garbage bag, preparing for the likely storm ahead. My stop was less than five minutes so I probably passed another runner or two.
As I headed north toward Crater Island, two runners were right ahead of me, a guy in yellow, and the leading woman runner. I quickly caught up and passed the woman runner and nearly caught the guy in yellow, but he saw me and kicked up his speed. All of our efforts were solid. I was surprised that I just couldn’t drop the woman runner behind, she kept me in her sights. I nearly caught the guy in yellow again on the next big climb, but at the top he really kicked in the speed and dropped me for good.
I arrived at Sheep Camp (mile 39.9) with the woman runner at 7:37. We were told about some very speedy runners ahead on course record speed. My best time to this point was 6:45 when I was running on adrenaline and still leading the race. I stopped to sit and drink, enjoying the views and the short rest.
On our way again, my legs felt good so I passed the woman runner, built a lead, and headed out on the challenging mud flats. All was good for a while but all soon changed as the real mud started. In all my years at this race, the mud flats have never been this bad. Mud would cling to my shoes to the point of being in the shape of a snow shoe. They would become so heavy that only a slow walk was possible. I would stop to try to get some mud off, but that would only last for a little while. Eventually, I had enough of that and took a longer route. I ran to the shoreline, cleaned my feet off on big rocks there and ran along the shore at a much faster pace than slogging in the mud.
Eventually, the woman runner took my cue and followed after me. Thunder started to roar behind me as a terrible storm was coming close, surely slamming runners behind. (I later heard tales of grape-size hail and mud flats turning into a lake.) This gave me further motivation to run harder. I kept looking back to see the storm growing. We caught the edge of the storm and were pelted by small, but painful hail. I put on my garbage bag and the woman runner caught up as we arrived at the unmanned station (mile 46.9) at 9:30. Now, nearly off the mud flats, she had better speed and went on ahead. I was a little low on energy and tried my best to keep her in my sights. I hit the 50-mile mark at about 10:20.
I came back to Hastings Jct (mile 50.4) at 10:16. The weather ahead looked better, so I took of my garbage bag, stuffed it in my pocket, decided to stick with the muddy shoes, and was on my way with only an eight-minute stop. My aid station stops thus far were very short.
There was no sign of runners ahead. They were likely a couple miles down the road. After a mile or so, the woman runner caught up again after her longer stop and she passed me for the last time running fast. The flat dirt road in this section always makes me struggle to find the speed. I reached Ghost Dog (mile 57.2) at 12:06, more than an hour slower than my best time, but still 13 minutes faster than last year when I finished in less than 24 hours.
At about mile 60, Matt Jensen drove up and told me that next runner behind was a couple miles back. That surprised me because I had not seen any sign of runners behind for many, many hours. His brother Andrew was about a half mile behind that. This helped me find more motivation to run faster. Rain sprinkled so my garbage bag was put back on. It would remain there for the rest of my race. I reached Silver Island Pass aid station (mile 61.5) at 13:19, now 12 minutes behind last year. I had been doing too many walking breaks.
The Patios were manning this aid station. It was warm and friendly. I retrieved a rain jacket and put it around my waist, expecting a drenching downpour ahead. Next up was a favorite section, a nice uphill to the top of Silver Island Pass. I charged up the hill pretty well and turned on my green flashlight as I was descending down the other side. I could not see any lights of the woman runner who was now probably more than two miles ahead.
I arrived at Jeep Trail (mile 67) at about 14:40. Next up was the Jeep trail, a rougher trail back up and over the pass. Last year I got off trail here, but the course was much better marked with reflectors. As I ascended, I kept watching for runners across the hillside, coming down from the pass. I never saw any lights, so the next runner was about five miles behind me. But also, there was no sign of any runner ahead, probably at least three miles ahead. I was again caught in a lonely no-man’s land, not quite up with the fast runners, but most of the runners behind were now doing a lot of walking.
As I approached the next aid station, it was lit up with colorful lights that could be seen more than a mile behind. I arrived at Rock Pile aid station (mile 74.3) at 16:27, about 15 minutes slower than last year. As I arrived, I looked back up to the pass and still could not see any runner lights coming down. I told that aid station crew that they probably would see another runner for an hour.
As I continued on to finish the dirt road climb to Leppy Pass, now feeling much better, a couple vehicles passed me going out. It looked like they contained runners who were quitting after they had been pounded by rain. Somehow again this year I had been lucky and dodged the worst storms. But it was now sprinkling and getting windy and cold. My garbage bag was soaked and I almost stopped to put on my rain coat, but the rain soon stopped for good. As I ran down the paved road toward Nevada, I could see stars poking through the clouds. That was a good sign.
Once on the paved road (Pilot Mountain Rd) heading down, it is easy to see where the runners are behind. From the best I could tell, the next runner was 4-5 miles behind. I could see many who were more than ten miles behind. I flashed my green light across the desert at times to see if anyone would flash back.
I arrived at Nevada aid station (mile 80.6) at about 18:15, about ten minutes slower than last year. I was still in great position for my usual sub-24-hour finish. I stopped for 12 minutes and after fumbling around with my drop bag stuff, decided to not change, no coat, no warmer gloves, to just stick with what was working, two shirts, a garbage bag, and shorts. I looked up and the sky was clear, full of stars.
I knew the drill from here, a three-mile downhill to the sharp turn and a challenging six-mile climb to the next aid station. I continued on at a solid 13-mile-minute pace down the road. I was very surprised to see a headlamp looking back toward me about a half mile or so ahead. I kicked up the speed, but so did the light. I knew that near the sharp turn I would be able to clearly see this light after they made the turn. But when I reached the turn, there was no light ahead. The only reason is that this runner missed the turn and continued on. I flashed my light hoping to catch some attention, but still saw no light. This is the biggest problem point of this course. Too many runners miss this turn every year, including my brother last year. They unfortunately need a flashing light with a sign.
Now I pushed the long tough 1,000-foot climb. With no one ahead and on one behind, I lacked the completive motivation to run fast, so I took it easy. After about four miles, I looked back and could see a light behind me. The lost runner must have figured things out. They were gaining on me fast.
Now it was my turn to blunder. I missed a very important turn, probably looking at the time, and continued on up a road toward Wendover. There were no flags or reflectors along the way and just one other set of footprints. I finally convinced myself that I missed a turn and ran back. My blunder was exactly one mile and cost me 18 minutes. The mystery runner was now far ahead of me.
I arrived at Utah aid station (mile 89.7) at 21:20, now 45 minutes slower than last year. I knew that because of my blunder, that a sub-24-hour finish was now gone unless I sprinted to the finish. I chose to instead enjoy the beautiful early morning. This year my legs felt wonderful on the long downhill and I had fun on it. As I neared the road along the freeway, I looked back and could see the light of a runner about three miles behind me. There would be no one pushing me to the finish this year.
The sun arose as I was running across the final 3.8 miles of the causeway to the finish. All looked beautiful and I had the causeway to myself, no one ahead and no one behind. I did my best to keep a run going. I arrived at the finish to a couple very tired cheers from the Romneys. I finished in 24:28:50, in 10th place. This was my 5th Salt Flats 100 finish, the only one with five finishes. (I could have been six, but I missed running the race in 2013 because of a stress fracture, and instead put on the aid station at Hastings Jct.) I felt amazingly fine at the finish, but looked forward to going home so I didn’t stay long.
This year’s Salt Flats 100 was truly a classic experience. Many runners behind me shared tales of terrible storms and impossible mud to slog through. Only the toughest runners made it to the finish this year. It was my 79th 100-mile finish of my career, and 5th finish already for 2016.