This year is the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Pony Express which captured the imagination of the country. In 1860 the Pony Express greatly sped up cross-country mail delivery using courageous endurance riders who were “young, good horsemen, accustomed to outdoor life, able to endure severe hardship and fatigue, and fearless.” One hundred fifty years later, 38 endurance runners retraced the hoof prints of history by participating in the 5th annual Pony Express Trail 100-mile and 50-mile endurance runs.
The race runs on the historic Pony Express Trail, in the very remote stretches of western Utah. It passes by five Pony Express station sites along the way marked by huge monuments. Each runner is supported by a crew and staggered starts are used (slower and faster groups) to spread the runners out on the desert floor. They all converge about 50 miles out, with views of expansive salt flats in the distance.
Photos by Carl Hutzler
I started with the second group of 100-mile runners. For the next few hours I would be chasing the first group who had a two-hour head start. The course starts at a low mountain pass and descends in to Skull Valley which in the 19th century was referred to as “Piute Hell” because “it is hot as the hinges of hell in summer, cold as the polar regions in winter.”
Running fast near Simpson Springs
I pushed the pace very fast and by the time I reached Government Creek (mile 9), the site of a telegraph relay station, I had established a mile lead over the rest of the pack. I passed my son Kevin who was running the 50-mile race with his brother Davy riding his bike along side. He saw me running fast and he asked, “Dad, what are you doing, trying to make a statement?” I laughed, wished them well and continued on.
Long straight road toward Dugway Mountains
At mile 17 I reached an amazing 18-mile straight-away across the desert toward the Dugway Mountains. It is only interrupted briefly by a mile-long dip in and out of a massive dry ancient riverbed. This long stretch can really mess with the mind of the runners as they gaze at the mountains ahead which never seem to get any closer.
Runners heading up toward Dugway Pass
I caught up and passed many of the early starters who had great smiles on their faces, some being paced by family and friends.
View near Dugway Pass
By the time I reached the top of the only significant climb, Dugway Pass, at mile 38, I had greeted and passed every early starter and had about a three-mile lead on the 100-mile competition.
Struggling near Blackrock
Now in the afternoon, the desert heat took control as we had near-record hot temperatures in the 80s. My pace significantly slowed and soon Damian Stoy of Park City Utah, the leader of the 50-mile race passed me, also mentioning that he was struggling. Damian and his brother Alex had dueled during the day for the 50-mile lead, both starting an hour after me.
Damian Stoy finishing the 50 in course record time
Damian would continue on well, finishing in first, setting the new 50-mile course record of 7:37. I hit the 50-mile mark at about 8:51and continued on in the heat through the amazing Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge. As the sun was setting I could see across this desert oasis of pools, 10,000 acres of marshland, that is the migratory habitat for up to 277 species of birds. The lush greenery was in stark contrast to the brown shades of desert I had been viewing for hours.
At the turnaround point about mile 59, my race started to crumble in the continued heat. My lead evaporated and Ed Ettinghausen and John Wog passed me and I found myself now in third place. I had to take serious action to regroup. I pulled myself into my air-conditioned support vehicle to cool down and rest for 10-15 minutes. This worked. Finding new-found energy at dusk, I raced ahead, soon passed John, but was still more than two miles behind fast-moving Ed.
At one of my stops to refill my bottle and eat, I discussed our situation with my crew chief, Josh. We plotted a sneaky strategy to catch Ed. I would run the next ten-mile uphill by the setting moonlight, without my light on, so as not to tip off Ed as to my whereabouts. My crew would hold back and not drive ahead, making it appear that I was not gaining on him. I pushed hard up the hill and by the time I returned to Dugway Pass, I was less than a half mile behind. Carl, at the checkpoint there asked, “where is your light?” But then added, “I know what you are doing, sneaking up on him!” Looking down on the other side of the pass, I could see Ed ahead. I blasted down the steep switch-back and when I was about 30 yards from him, I turned on my light to his great surprise. “Is that you Davy?” he asked. I laughed, “yes.” He was struggling and pointed ahead, “The win is now all yours.”
With still 20 miles to go, I used my crew to report to me how far back Ed was. I was able to stretch the lead to about two miles. I faced the very intimidating 18-mile straightaway. Looking behind me the lights of crew cars and headlamps seemed so close, but they were actually very far away. Once past the ancient riverbed, with only eight miles to go, I could see the lights of the finish area far to the east.
A local settler in 1931 wrote about this stretch, “The long, straight road leading down from Simpson to Riverbed stands out on [a moon-lit] night with startling clearness. [The mountains] stand at attention in the weird light. The whole desert seems tense, as if waiting expectantly for something; and one finds himself scanning earnestly the far-off shadows that seem to form and move, and then dissolve again, down the broad white road toward Riverbed.”
During this stretch, runner Troy Robertson, who finished in 7th place noticed some glowing pumpkins the race staff had put out as surprises along the course in this section. He started to hallucinate about pumpkins. “I would see a little cantaloupe sized pumpkin and I would tell myself to run to it. I did this for 15 miles and never caught a pumpkin. They were always just out of reach. I would see them for a while and then they would disappear and then almost like taunting me, I would see the pumpkin turn and kind of smile then like blowing the in the wind, it would turn away.”
Finally the finish came in to view as weary race staff cheered my arrival in a new course record of 20:53. Ed finished 37 minutes later. During the next nine hours at total of 13 runners finished their 100 miles, including the first ever woman finisher, Adriane Frehner of South Jordan, Utah. Curious desert tourists paused during their journey to join us in cheering these impressive athletes, finishing their long run on the Pony Express Trail.
2010 100-mile race finishers (19 Starters)
|1. Davy Crockett||51||M||Saratoga, Springs, UT||20:53:02*|
|2. Ed Ettinghausen||48||M||Wildomar, CA||21:30:00|
|3. Craig Lloyd||37||M||Holladay, UT||22:46:12|
|4. Tetsuro Ogata||28||M||Takmatsu, Japan||25:53:29|
|5. John Blanchard||51||M||San Antonio, TX||25:58:18|
|6. John Wog||31||M||Santa Monica, CA||26:04:23|
|7.Troy Robertson||45||M||South Jordan, UT||26:09:12|
|8. Joe Larsen||60||M||South Jordan, UT||27:30:22|
|8. Carl Tippets||58||M||South Jordan, UT||27:30:22|
|10. Adriane Frehner||36||F||Saint George, UT||28:59:31*|
|11. Dean Dyatt||48||M||Fruit Heights, UT||29:35:35|
|12. Karsten Solheim||73||M||Glendale, AZ||29:37:20|
|13. Paul Losee||62||M||Layton, UT||29:41:24|
2010 50-mile race finishers (19 starters)
|1.Damian Stoy||29||M||Park City, UT||7:37:00*|
|2. Alex Stoy||33||M||Park City, UT||8:19:00|
|3. Gudrid Espenscheid||35||F||Big Piney, WY||8:37:00*|
|4. Britta Hanel||25||F||Salt Lake City, UT||9:35:00|
|5. Zachary Case||35||M||Eagle Mountain, UT||9:49:00|
|6. Rachel Wolfe||30||F||Ketchum, ID||9:59:00|
|6. David Lloyd||33||M||Ketchum, ID||9:59:00|
|8. Bronson Kelly||38||M||Alpine, UT||10:26:00|
|9. Scott Wesemann||38||M||American Fork, UT||10:30:00|
|10. Nanette Palmer||42||M||South Jordan, UT||10:40:00|
|11. Clinton Pritchard||30||M||Atlanta, GA||11:32:00|
|12. Amber Tayler||35||F||Salt Lake City, UT||11:42:00|
|13. Maurine Lee||49||F||Sandy, UT||13:07:00|
|14. Matthew Stroupe||38||M||Peoria, AZ||17:28:00|