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Squaw Peak 50 is a classic and tough 50-mile race held in the mountains above Provo, UT. During the early miles, the course climbs the slopes of Squaw Mountain (aka Squaw Peak) a prominent peak that rises above Rock Canyon, frequented by day hikers and rock climbers. It received its name back in the 1800s for “Big Elk’s squaw” who died in the canyon following a battle with pioneer settlers.

For years I had wondered if running a double Squaw Peak 50 would be possible and how tough that might be. I succeeded in 2015, running a double Squaw Peak in 29:32. I ran the first 50 loop solo and then joined the race for the second 50 with a couple hours head start. It all went very well and I was able to run with my son during portions of the second 50. that year was a mild year temperature-wise with no snow. Last year, I again attempted to run a double, but the weather was very hot and I wisely aborted after finishing the first 50.

A week before the 2017 race, I finished Pigtails 100 near Seattle, Washington. I recovered fast, so a couple days before Squaw Peak 50, I contacted John Bozung, the race director, and again received permission to run a double. Why, I’m asked? Why not? Back in 1981 I hiked up to the course for the first time and it deeply inspired me to one day explore that Wasatch back country. Little did I know. . . 

This time, I planned to start 2.5 hours earlier than my 2015 double. I planned to start on Friday, at 10:30 a.m. Friday would cool and pleasant in the mountains, but Saturday would be blazing hot. I needed to make sure I finished the first 50-mile loop by around midnight in order to get through the hottest sections of the second 50 early so the heat wouldn’t kill me. I dropped off a cooler with supplies at the 22.3-mile mark, at Left Fork, Hobble Creek Road. During the first 50, that would be my only “aid station.” That was a good plan, but plans do not always work out, especially when running 100 miles.

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I started right on time. I love running this course solo, especially at night. This was the 5th time I would run the course all alone. I knew the course so well, I could almost do it in my sleep, which came in handy when I would be sleep-walking later on. As I ran the first few miles, I could already feel fatigue in my legs from running the 100-miler just a week earlier. I attacked the first huge climb and reached Hope Campground (mile 5.5) in 1:20, seven minutes slower than two years ago, but I wasn’t concerned.

The run on the high Squaw Peak dirt road above the canyons (Rock Canyon, Slide Canyon, Slate Canyon) went very well. The temperature was cool and I refilled from streams and snow. My pace was comfortable, not race pace. I mentally just can’t run race pace if others are not running around me. I reached Kolob Overlook (mile 14.5) at 4:07, more than 20 minutes slower than planned. I knew I needed to push harder and ran all of the downhill to Hobble Creek Road. I arrived there (mile 22.3) at 5:36, 40 minutes behind my planned schedule. I now knew that I should have started even earlier. My hidden cooler was undisturbed and it was great to drink the ice-cold Coke. I rested, ate well, and then continued on.

It was about 4:00 p.m. and I was now faced with 3.8-mile paved road climb. Thankfully since I hit it in the late afternoon, the trees along the way shaded it well and I ran nearly the entire way, hitting the top of the road (26.1) in 6:44, nearly 50 minutes behind schedule. On the bright side, I felt great and finally my legs felt warmed up. I know that sounds stupid, to take a marathon to warm up, but because I finished another 100-miler just a week earlier, it took quite a while to shake out kinks. The climb through the forest to Little Valley was great fun. I arrived there, at the 9-hour mark, at 7:30 p.m. The aid station crew was already there, setting things up. Someone yelled out, “Here comes the first runner.” He was joking, but when I arrived, I explained what I was doing, and they quickly wanted to help. I just refilled my bottle and continued on. “See you tomorrow!”

The early evening temperature cooled nicely. During my entire run, I ran in shorts and short sleeves. There were a couple times during the night where I felt a bit too cold but those times passed. I reached the base of the Bozung Hill climb at about 9:15 p.m. I took out my handheld light and headlamp for my night navigation, and put on my microspikes for the snow. The snow up the nearly 1,500-foot steep climb was already icy and firm, but that made for a great surface to be used by the spikes. I charged up the snowy slope probably faster and easier than if I would have used the dry trail on the side.

I reached the high-point of the course (9,297). The skies were clear and a half moon was out. I loved being there in the peaceful night and looked around me at the various lights off in the distance. I next headed down toward Windy Pass. I knew that trying to follow a marked route wasn’t important and just enjoyed bounding along a snowy ridge and running down a bushy slope to the defined trail. I reached Windy Pass at about the 12:30 mark, at 11:00 p.m. I tried not to think that my best time to this point when running a single 50, was 9:45. I was conserving energy to make sure I could go the entire distance. The aid station crew was there, sleeping in hammocks. I found the water jugs and as I refilled, someone stirred. I explained that I was Davy, running a double. He warned me about the slick steep slope ahead.

The next couple miles through the snowy forest was slow and frustrating. The snow was firm and icy which made footing pretty good. The aid station crew had done a great job carving out steps in the steepest slopes which were firm at night and supported my weight well. But the frustrating part was knowing which direction to head. The flagging was very sparse and with no reflectors nearly impossible to pick out with my lights. I had to rely on foot prints, but the prints were faint in areas and I constantly started to head in the wrong direction and needed to backtrack often. I knew the trail direction well, so was never concerned about getting lost. I just wanted to go fast and couldn’t. I yelled out loud, “Flags, where are the flags?”

I finally reached solid ground at Shingle Mill Canyon and could run fast for the first time in several hours. My energy was high and I kept a constant run going all the way down to Big Springs Park. Since I knew the course well, it was easy and I made good time. While running down the paved road to the finish, a car stopped me, asking where campgrounds were. Running by the park along the way, a guy actually came out on the road to see what I was doing. My green light had freaked him out. He explained that he just wanted to see what I was doing at nearly 2 a.m. “I’m running,” I replied and continued on.

All was quiet when I arrived at Vivian Park and I ran over the finish line, 51.2 miles (by my GPS, with a few wrong turns in the snow) I finished in my slowest time ever, 15:44:41, two hours slower than I hoped for. It was also four hours slower than my fastest Squaw Peak 50 time. But I felt just fine with no thoughts at all about quitting. I just wished that it was midnight instead of 2:15 a.m. I should have started my run even earlier. I was very motivated to make a quick stop and get back on the trail for my second loop.

I started my second trip at 2:34 a.m. I fully knew what I was faced with ahead and how hard this would be. My tired legs could only manage 12-minute-mile pace on the paved trail down along side of the Provo River. On the Bonneville Shoreline trail, I ran into Rodger Smith marking the course and hanging glow sticks. He had started up above and was anxious to get done before the 4:00 a.m. early starters came through. I next stopped to take care of a problem foot.

Once I hit the steep trail toward Hope Campground, I knew I was in trouble. My uphill strength was almost gone. I really struggled to find any speed and pain arrived. I reached Hope Campground in a very slow 2:05 into my second loop. I paused there to eat a breakfast of pancakes and sausage. I explained why I was so tired and the aid station captain remembered me from a couple years ago when I also ran a double.

As I continued up the huge climb, the leading early starter came running quickly up the trail. It bothered me that someone that fast, at front-runner speed, took the early start. As I neared the top of the first 2,500-foot climb, Julie Pierce and Wendy Holdaway caught up. They had started a half hour after I started my second loop. It was great to see them and they looked very determined to finish this year. I ran ahead of them on the downhill, but I would see them many times in the miles to come.

The true leader who started at 5:00 a.m. passed by me about half way to the next aid station and hordes of others came by while I was at Rock Canyon aid station (mile 60.4). It was a discouraging thought to consider that despite my 2.5 hour head start on this loop, some of my friends had already caught up to me. But it was now great to have people around me. It helped encourage me to run faster and try to keep up for short times.

Many runners asked me to take my picture with them.

Many runners asked me to take my picture with them.

It soon became very evident that the race director had announced to everyone that I was out there on my second 50. Most of those who passed me greeted me by name and knew what I was doing. Many slowed down to see how I was doing, ask if I needed anything, and treated me like some sort of hero. In reality I was starting to feel like a slow old man. But I did pretty well keeping up a good pace on the high road. Many would ask me what mile I was at and I would simply reply, “50 more than where you are at.” I reached Kolob Overlook (mile 65.7) in 21:42. It was 8:42 a.m.

As I made the turn downhill and now out of the shade, the heat of the morning hit me and I realized that I was faced with a very long hot day ahead. My feet were starting to hurt terribly, so I stopped along the road for about ten minutes to clean them. I was amazed how much better I felt with clean feet. As I ran downhill, Vince Romney caught up and kindly slowed down and ran with me for a few miles. It was good to have his company and he took my mind off difficulties I was having.

I reached Pole Haven aid station (mile 71.7) at 23:31 (10:01 a.m.). It was already very hot and I quickly found a chair in the shade. John Bozung, the race director was there. He called out loudly making sure that everyone there knew that I was on my second 50. People were so kind and brought me anything I asked for. I had begun to worry a bit about making the final cutoff time at Little Valley, but knew I would continue on anyway because I can support myself. I asked John and he told me not to worry, that I didn’t have a cutoff. We joked that I had already beat the cutoff there last night. So I no longer worried.

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I reached the Hobble Creek road, got my cooler out and asked some kind lady to deliver it to the finish for me, saving me a two-hour round trip to drive and pick it up. I was deeply grateful. I was now faced with the long hot pavement run/walk up the canyon. My plans were to do this three hours earlier when it was cooler, but I failed on that plan and now really suffered in the heat. I was now running with the back of the pack but still couldn’t keep up.

When I reached the top of the paved road (mile 77) it was 11:37 a.m. I was delirious and hammered by the heat. John was there again and quickly announced my arrival and kind people started flocking to me, asking to help. They brought ice to cool me down, got me to eat a popsicle, and life slowly started to come back. Those people were like angels to me. Four were taking care of me at once! Soon I started to joke around and I knew I was pulling out of it and would be OK. My stop was only for ten minutes.

With new life, I left with Julie Pierce who was still pushing ahead determined, but I knew that she would have a tough time meeting the final cutoff time at Little Valley. She pushed on ahead. When I reached a stream crossing, I paused in the middle of it to cool my tired and hot feet down. It felt so nice. Soon after that, a very cruel person by the name of Phil Lowry, came up quietly behind, screamed, and scared the bejeebers out of me. He got it all on video. Finally, after many years he got back to me for jumping out behind a tree screaming at him at about mile 20 of Wasatch Front 100.

All the runners around me were now desperately trying to meet the 2:30 p.m. cutoff at mile 33.5. As I got closer, I knew I would miss it by about ten minutes. Sadly, I came upon Julie Pierce sitting on the last steep climb to the aid station. She was done. I soon came across another runner throwing up, disappointed that he didn’t make it in time.

I arrived at Little Valley (mile 84.4) feeling well, but slow, at 2:47 p.m. They were starting to take down the aid station. I just filled my bottles, grabbed some things and sat down for ten-minute rest. I finally let them know that I was continuing on. They remembered me from the evening before. I joked that I hit the cutoff last night, the first runner to do so. They were on the radio talking to John asking permission for a runner from Houston to continue on. They never tried to make me stop. I left a little before 3:00 p.m. with the other runner. Soon we caught up to the sweeps who were surprised that other runners were coming. They were talking to Tara Tully who had started at midnight, still determined to continue. But about a mile later, Tara turned back.

On a hot climb up to the next ridge, I had to stop to calm down my breathing and heart rate. It finally dawned on me that the two fresh runners behind me were the sweeps. Wow! I was now the last runner. I had not been pushed by sweepers since my very first 50-miler in 2004. I apologized to them and promised to start running faster as the temperature cooled down. But it was very comforting to know that there would always be someone behind me. They told me not to worry. But I pushed forward faster and soon passed a couple other runners. It stayed very hot and about six of us stopped under a tree at the bottom of the Bozung Hill climb. I was totally overheated and stopped for 15 minutes to recover and eat. Soon it was just me and the sweeps again.

Bill Hiatt photo

Bill Hiatt photo

I dragged myself to my feet and face the steep hill ahead.  I tried climbing in the snow but it was too soft and slippery this time, so I used the dry trail instead.  Soon I found my climbing strength and passed a couple runners.  The altitude was really bothering me and I felt crummy, needing to pause for short rests.  But I made it to the high point ahead of two other runners and then bounded down to Windy Pass.  It was 7:30 p.m., the 33-hour mark into my run. Other runners were there and a big group had just left. I didn’t want to hang around long, so just filled my bottles and continued.

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Andrew Barney photo

I was shocked to see how slippery and scary it now was during the day compared to my first trip at night when it was icy.  I fell many times and slid down slopes toward trees. That was terribly painful with nearly 90 miles behind me. But I made good time and passed about six other runners.  At this point, it just wasn’t fun. Finally on dry trail at Shingle Mill, dusk arrived.  I looked forward to running again, but I had a bad lower back spasm that just wouldn’t let me run.  So I marched ahead.  At one point I missed a turn and ended up on a longer-more difficult trail, but soon connected back up.  There was some confusion about the course markings and I think someone had moved them or put them up wrong.  I just went the way I did every year and finally arrived at Big Springs Park (mile 98) passing the 36-hour mark. This was now the slowest 100-miler I had ever run.

I tried running down the dark paved road, but a painful bister finally appear to slow me to a fast walk.  I heard a voice yell out in the dark from a front lawn, “You are almost done, at mile 46.5.”  I yelled back, “no, I’m at 96.5! I ran it twice.”  He called back, “What! Twice?” “Yes I ran a double.” “You are my hero.” Other runners caught up, asked if I needed anything, and went on ahead. Finally I stopped to pop the blister and hobbled on.  The death march continued.  The finish finally came into sight and cheers went up as I slowly crossed the finish line in about 36:55. John made a big deal about my finish, but I was thrashed and quickly got my things and went to my car for the half hour drive home.

It was past midnight when I arrived and my wife had been worried of course but she helped me get the things I needed. The next couple hours were very painful and rough, but I eventually found sleep. I slept about 20 hours of the next 30 hours and then headed to work, feeling much better. The heat had really taken a toll on me.  By Tuesday I was pretty much recovered with no sore muscles and a quick pace to my walk again.

That was quite an adventure. Because of the heat and snow it became the toughest 100-miler I have ever finished.  It was my 7th 100-mile finish for 2017 so far, and my 93rd lifetime. I told John at the finish to never let me do that again. But a few days later, I was looking forward to my next Squaw Peak 100. I’ve now finished it twice, the only person (dumb enough) to ever attempt it.

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