The slogan that Wasatch 100 uses is “100 miles of heaven and hell.” This year I got my money’s worth and visited both places multiple times but still made it to the finish. This would be my fourth Wasatch 100, a tough mountain race in the Wasatch Mountains from Kaysville to Midway. Locally, the race gets over-shadowed in the minds of recreational runners by the Ragnar relay called Wasatch Back. It’s funny to try to explain to people the huge difference between the two. No, there would be no simple 10K runs with friends on this race, I would be faced with running 100 miles by myself climbing more than 25,000 feet along the way. This year I would do it without pacer or crew. I joked that I was going to do it without drop bags and aid stations this year and some people thought I was serious.
My main attraction to doing this race each year is to rub shoulders with so many friendly local runners. The pre-race meeting on Thursday afternoon is less about learning about the course, and more about having a reunion with so many ultrarunning friends, swapping stories and showing each other your recent battle scars. My hand incision from my busted hand at Bighorn 100 was a big hit. We had joked on Facebook whether race director John Grobben could conduct a pre-race meeting faster than Bear 100’s and we conspired to drag it out by asking stupid questions. He knew what was going on and it was funny that he didn’t even ask if there were any questions.
I was kindly hosted for the night at the home of Matt Williams in Kaysville. We had a great dinner. Speedy runner, Stephen Young (not the QB) from Colorado came over and shared with him tips about the course. He would indeed finish fast, in 5th, in 22:00. Scott Wesemann was also there, trying to calm his own nerves prior to his first 100-mile attempt. He had trained very hard and would indeed finish well, in 32:45.
The last two years I finished Wasatch in about 28.5 hours, but I had problems each year that slowed me down and I hoped to avoid those and finish in less than 27 hours. However, just two weeks ago I ran Cascade Crest 100, so I knew that would have some effect, I just didn’t know what.
In the morning, Scott and I went to the start together. It was warm, at the start, in contrast to last year’s cold year. I heard John Grobben comment as we were waiting around, that the cold year last year really helped more runners finish.
At 5 a.m. we were away. I was pretty surprised how many runners this year sprinted off like crazy for the first three rolling miles on the Bonneville Shoreline trail. I immediately rejected trying to keep up with all of them and settled into a fast, but comfortable pace. Soon Dave Hunt (finished in under 24 hours many times) caught up and commented, “I usually pass you later.” I replied, “I’m taking it easy.” “Good move.” But as I thought about it, I did consider that I was going out just a little too slow, so several minutes later I passed Dave and he said, “You just couldn’t hold back.” He usually passes me about mile 8, so we would see if I could stay ahead until then. Soon I caught up with Phil Lowry who finished in less than 24 hours last year. This looked good. With all the runners sprinting fast ahead, I knew Phil ran steady but strong. If I was up with him, that was fast enough.
I reached Fernwood Picnic area in 34 minutes, which was right on pace for my usual fast start. Matt Williams was there in the dark and cheered me on. From there, I tried my best to see if I could keep up with Phil. Two years ago I was running with him at mile 26, but I knew this year he was again determined to break 24 hours. As our climbing got steeper, and tougher, I just couldn’t keep up. I discovered something rather alarming; I just didn’t have the strength for steep hills today. This would be a problem for the entire race, probably due to not being recovered totally from Cascade Crest 100. What was funny, is that I could run mild uphills very fast at will, but if a steep hill came, I slowed to a crawl.
As I continued to climb, slower than normal, I was passed by many runners. Dave Hunt caught me about mile 6, two miles early. Usually I can fall in line with him all the way up to the top of Chinscraper. Not today. In just a quarter mile, he disappeared ahead. I was getting discouraged. Under Chinscraper, buddy Quinten Barney (finished in 33:12) caught up and passed. It was great to see him, he was having a fantastic start, but for me, I was struggling. Finally, at 2:29 I reached the top of Chinscraper. I was 12 minutes slower than last year. I did my best to recover, eat something and find my wheels again as we continued on the climbs ahead.
I was now clearly in mid-pack. This was much different than usual. There were groups of runners all around me. Usually at this point there are big gaps and running starts to get lonely as the front-runners are ahead and the mid-pack behind. There were a bright spots: it was very fun to be able to run with friends who I usually never see. Also, I would now have fun trying to catch and pass many runners. But my struggles continued as I started to have GI tract problems. After a short stop, Scott caught up! That was cool. He looked like he was doing OK, but starting to look tired. But he passed me and reached Grobben Corner ahead of me.
Once we hit the downhill my legs came to life. I wished Scott well as I passed and then really kicked it in gear on the long downhill into Francis Peak aid. It was great fun. I looked at my Garmin and was determined to run all those miles in under 7-minute-mile pace. I was totally successful, sometimes hitting 6:30 pace. I flew by the other runners who were doing 9-10-minute pace or more. I reached Francis Peak Aid (mile 17.7) at 4:15. I had reclaimed several minutes but was still 14 minutes slower than usual. My stop was fast and I set my sights on continuing to catch and pass runners.
I caught up with Rodger Smith (finished in 28:20) and started a pattern that would continue for hours. I would pass him going strong, but somehow he would catch up due to my stops and problems. We ran together for a little while but I was running the mild uphills strong, so I ran ahead and went into the bushwack section toward Bountiful B. It was pretty overgrown, but nothing really terrible. I concentrated on keeping my pace fast. But once again, as we hit the steep uphills, I slowed to a crawl. I reached Bountiful B (mile 24) at 5:42, over 30 minutes slower than I hoped.
After that checkpoint, I knew I had to stop to solve my GI problem, so I went off and visited the bushes for 10 minutes. When I came out, I was greeted by Quinten Barney again. Those who I had passed before Francis were now around me again. I wondered if Scott was now ahead of me. Something that was very evident was that almost all these runners were walking almost all the uphills. I ran everything I could because I knew the runners several miles ahead were doing the same. I wasn’t going to fall in pace with everyone else, I needed to run my pace. I reached Sessions (mile 28.2) at 6:51, 33 minutes behind last year.
Well, the memories from the next 11 miles to Big Mountain are now a blur, just a pattern of blasting by many runners going fast, but having them catch up as I crawled up the steep hills. It probably wasn’t that bad because I do recall passing a few runners on the steep climbs. As Big Mountain came into view, ultra-legend Dan Brenden (finished in 31:04), who has finished far more 100s than I have, came into view behind me. “Is that you Dan?” It was. I was flying down the hill and Dan kept pace for awhile. He commented, “I could follow you for miles, you have such a good pace.” Dan’s a great guy, one of my ultrarunning heros.
Once we came within earshot of the Big Mountain aid station, I was feeling great and let out some whoops. It was funny, the people below heard me and the cow bells and whooping started and lasted solid until I arrived several minutes later. Mike Place was leading the cheers. I sprinted fast into the station (mile 39.4) at 9:49, nearly an hour slower than last year. Last year I only filled my water bottle and ran on. This year, I took a slow 22-minute stop with 10 more minutes in the bathroom. I also cleaned my feet and changed into my Hokas. I had decided to not start in Hokas because they tend to give blisters on steep uphills and your feet slide around in them on bushwacks. I knew the trail ahead was rocky, so it was time to switch.
As I finally got on the trail again, once more with runners who I had passed hours earlier, I was flabbergasted how fast I could run with the Hokas. The change was dramatic. I realized that I had been picking my way around rocks at a slow pace, but now I could just roll over the rocks with great speed. Well, this was going to be a blast! I made some adjustments, got my music going, and then prepared to run as fast as I could to the next aid station and count how many runners I passed. Most of them had pacers now. I first passed Marc Sanderson (finish in 29:36) who seemed to be struggling. Then many other runners came into view. Paul Grimm was surprised that I caught him so soon. He had hoped to stay ahead for awhile longer. I flew by them all including Quinten Barney. I told him that I thought I was passing him for the last time (it was) and wished him well. I also passed Rodger Smith again and wished him well. I was having a hard time catch a runner and pacer ahead, both with yellow hats because their pace was strong, but I finally did. He was Jeremy Suwinski (finished in 27:18). Then ahead I could see Dan Brenden who I knew had made a fast stop at Big Mountain. This was good, I had nearly made up for my very long aid station stop. I passed 23 runners on that segment.
I reached Alexander Ridge (mile 47.4) at 12:07, 1:14 behind last year, but my split was much faster. As usual, I arrived out of water and I was careful to drink plenty to avoid dehydration. So far I had been successful to avoid it. My fueling seemed to be good. In each of my drop bags I included a ziplock of bacon that I had cooked the day before, and I had been enjoying that treat all day. At the station, Ryan Lauck was kicking back, sitting in the shade of the tent. “Davy, take a load off, come and join us.” I laughed, no, I needed to keep going, I could see Dan off ahead and needed to catch up. I had caught up with Dennis Ahern (finished in 29:35) and we shared how things were going so far.
I hoped to continue to run the next section hard, but the uphills quickly started to get to me. I just couldn’t reel in Dan and soon Dennis and a couple other runner passed me. But as I reached the turn to Lambs, I discovered that at least three runners ahead had missed it. I yelled up the hill and waved my hands. The runner ahead got the message and eventually passed it to all those ahead, including Dennis who missed the turn. I ran on. Once I reached the steady downhill, I flew. I looked at my watch as was again running at 7-minute pace. This was nice.
I arrived at Lambs (mile 53.1) at 13:40, 1:35 behind last year, but I was feeling great. Craig Lloyd and Matt Williams showed up to greet me and crew Scott. I was surprised to hear that Scott was about an hour behind me. With all my struggles, I thought he was ahead. Many runners were taking their time in the station with their crews, so I quickly got what I needed and headed out. I saw Eve Davies there, she told me that buddy Charlie Vincent was just about 5 minutes ahead. I intended to catch up. I discovered that I could run up the paved road with great speed. I wished I had this strength on the very steep hills. I passed a runner and caught up with Charlie at the top of the road, but he went into the bathroom for a stop.
Usually I can charge up the trail to Bear Pass very fast, passing about a half dozen runners. Not so today. My pace was steady but others caught up with me including Dennis Ahern, near the top. I turned my light on right before the top. That was a little discouraging because last year I didn’t need a light until after Big Water. I knew that I was about five miles behind. On the downhill into Millcreek Canyon, I could fly again. It was now fun to see runner lights ahead down the mountain and set my sights to catch them. The road came quicker than expected as I caught up with Dan Brenden again.
I could see all the runners walking up the road. I wasn’t going to do that. I ran. No, not jogged, I ran hard with my blue headlamp. The running felt great and I must have passed about 10 runners, all who gave me nice compliments. I tried my best to eat as I went because I knew that every year I have bonked after this road run.
I reached Big Water (mile 61.7) at 16:20, 1:33 behind last year. Eve greeted me. Charlie wouldn’t be arriving for another 15 minutes so she helped crew me. I sat down next to a heater to avoid any chills, changed into a clean shirt and gathered my things together for the night. I ate well and went on my way.
Then as usual, disaster struck. All four years at this point, just about a quarter mile from the aid station, I start to have stomach problems and feel a bonk coming. Again it hit. Why? Do I just worry about it and it happens? Soon I threw up four times. I knew I needed to slow down, stop eating gels, only drink straight water, take extra S-caps, and slowly start eating again. The only question left was how long it would take me to pull out of this terrible problem that makes most runners DNF.
A stream of runners passed me. I had to stop a couple times to catch my breath, reduce my heart rate, and get my stomach to calm down. Each time it was funny how the very kind runners treated me like a rookie, trying to give me advice. I thanked them and assured them I was fine. I’ve been in this difficult spot many, many time. There were no easy cures, but I knew what needed to be done. I ate some bacon and I knew that would start helping and just kept going at a slow pace.
Finally, moving as fast as I could up the trail, before reaching Dog Lake, I decided I needed to crash for awhile. So instead of lying by the trail, to be disturbed by every passing runner, I went off on a side trail and hid for about five minutes, and went down on the ground. Why did this happen again? Why does it seem to always happen in the same place, the first big climb after sundown? It happened at Tahoe Rim and Big Horn too. I thought it was altitude related, and it could be. My new theory is temperature change on my body. Perhaps with the longish stop at the aid station, after the hard run up the road, as I start to shiver, it causes my body to transfer blood away from my digestive system. Next year I won’t even stop at Big Water, and just continue to run hard all the way to Desolation Lake.
Well, my struggles continued. About a mile before Desolation Lake, I again had to stop for a snooze. I went off in the woods and lay down in the bushes. The moonlight above was wonderful and it felt so peaceful as I calmed my breathing and continued to try to recover. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the rest for awhile. When I finally came out, I discovered that I was now around runners who I had not seen since morning. Almost all those runners I had passed were now ahead of me.
I reached Desolation Lake (mile 66.9) at 18:59. It had taken me about 2 ½ hours to travel the 5.2 miles. I was out of water, so drank up. The Coke tasted fantastic. That was a cheerful sign that I was recovering. I ate more bacon and other things and sat by the fire to stay warm. But suddenly I began to shiver, a sure sign that my body thought my run was over and wanted to recover. I knew if that happened, I would be down for another 15 minutes, so I jumped up and quickly got going again.
On the climb up to the Wasatch Crest trail, I came upon a guy sitting by the trail. I said I would join in. He was also struggling with his stomach. I tried to cheer him up. As a couple runners passed us, I joked with them, inviting them to sit down join our pitty party. They didn’t say anything. Laughing at runners going by, I thought of those two old guys on the old Muppet Show who would always sit in the balcony making wise cracks during the show. I was one of those guys. Despite me woes, it was nice to be in good spirits.
On my way again, I reached the top of the ridge and then hoped without the steep climbs that perhaps I could quickly recover. I did! Finally! Three hours of agony were over. I was careful, but I kept bringing the speed up a notch. Finally on the rolling trail as I was passing runners again, I looked at my watch and I was running at 7:30 pace. Sweet! My stomach was still tender, but functioning again. Energy was coming back.
With spirits sky high, I sang out loud. I found myself singing the Beatles song, “Help” that was playing on my Mp3. I stopped singing. I realized that singing loud, “Help, I need somebody” is not the right thing to be yelling out in the middle of the night on top of a mountain.
Next, I saw a very dark big figure ahead. That was strange. As I got to it, I shined my light on it, and just ten feet away was a huge moose. We both were startled and it ran away. That got my heart pumping.
I reached Scotts (mile 70.8) at 20:29, 2:20 behind last year. Paul Grimm was there having struggles. I had passed him after Big Mountain, he had passed me while I was snoozing. He did seem to be in good spirits and looked like he would press on soon. (He finished in 35:01). As I started again on the road, I noticed that all the other runners were walking. I shouted, “It’s time to run again!” And I did, and sprinted off quickly down the road, feeling good again. I hoped to run very hard all the way to Brighton, but now a couple painful blisters were bugging me on the downhills and chafing had started, so I got lazy. As I was running on the Guardsman Pass road, with my lights off, other runners behind were starting to catch up. I came into Brighton at: 21:39, still 2:20 behind last year.
I took a long stop (25 minutes), needing to change into clean shorts to stop the chafing problem. I also cleaned a foot and lanced a blister. When I was preparing to leave, I was surprised to see Bryce Warren there who should be pacing Phil Lowry. He explained that Phil had crashed hard while going up Cathrine’s Pass and returned to Brighton. His crash sounded just like mine. He was now snoozing in the back room. Many people were having the same struggles I had. We discussed if Phil was done or not. I offered to let Bryce pace me, but he wanted to be there if Phil chose to continue. I went in the back room, hoping that I could talk to Phil. I called his name, but he was dead to the world. “Rest in peace, Phil” was my thought, and I went on to continue my quest for the finish.
The next stretch, yet another steep climb was tough. Chris Avery caught up (finished in 29:49) and very kindly offered to stick with me all the way to the top. But I told him to go on. I was going too slowly and didn’t want to hold him back. By the time I finally reached the top, I was surprised to see that Clark Hirschi (finish in 31:28) was in a group that caught me. He should be hours ahead but was having his own struggles and had stopped at Brighton for several hours. Shane Martin (finished in 31:15) was also there. As the steep downhill to Ant Knolls station arrived, I jumped ahead wanting to try to run the downhill fast. I pushed a good lead and soon passed Chris Avery who had taken a wrong turn. But the rough trail bugged my blisters and I slowed as we arrived at Ant Knolls (mile 80.3) at 24:01, 2:35 behind last year. Last year I arrived too early for breakfast. Not so this year, so I sat down and was served pancakes and sausage. They were fantastic. Stan Williams, who worked with me several years was there and kindly took care of me.
I jumped up and left before the others, but really struggled on the next climb. Chris soon passed me, I think for the last time, as I slowly pulled myself up the steep hill. Clark and the others also passed me. But on the ridges to Pole Line Pass, something incredible happened. My energy returned, my second wind arrived, and I started to really fly. I discovered that it felt much, much better if I just ran like crazy up and down the trail. Within minutes, I was passing runner after runner again and rolled into Pole Line Pass (mile 83.4) at 25:22, 2:44 behind last year. I was in very good spirits. The volunteers offered me a seat and breakfast, but I declined. I wanted to keep flying! Dawn was arriving and I dropped off my flashlight, hat, gloves, but still needed my headlamp. I took a pancake to go and ran on fast away.
I now realized that if I kept this up, I still had a very good chance to break 30 hours, so why not try? My challenge would be the hills ahead, some of them steep. Sure enough, they eventually killed my renewed energy and by the time Rock Spring came into view, runners were catching up again. I arrived there (mile 87.4) at 26:51, 2:33 behind last year. I had run that section 11 minutes faster, so not bad. At the station, a runner who I had just caught up with, asked the volunteers, “That was the last hill, right?” I laughed, and said there were still many tough ones ahead. The volunteer then described several bad ones. I pushed on, but stopped for a few minutes to call my wife and let her know that I would finish a few hours behind my expected time.
Well, my run to Pot Bottom wasn’t bad. I enjoyed running the uphills, but the downhills were killing my feet. There was now grit and dust inside my socks, grinding away at my socks. If was really cared about my finish time at this point, I would have stopped for ten minutes to clean my feet, but I didn’t. I decided to just go with the pain all the way to the finish. It was a dumb choice because I only continued to slow down on the downhills. I got to Pot Bottom (mile 93.1) at 28:52, 2:31 behind last year. Gee, I still did that last split better than last year even with the time stopping to chat on the phone. Last year when I got to Pot Bottom, it was frigid, in the 20s, but this year it was hot.
But, now, I was just ready for a slow pleasant finish. It felt too hot to run hard. Charlie and Eve caught up moving well, going faster than I really felt like going at this point. I was being extra lazy. Next, Phil and Bryce showed up. Phil and been raised from the dead. Mark Coleman, Brighton aid station captain, told him to wake up, gave him orange juice, and booted him out the door. He was looking good. (finished in 30:56). He said to me, “You know the drill. Six miles to go and six hours to finish.” I laughed.
The rest of the race was rather painful because of gritty feet, but I just plodded along. I passed the guy with the Vibran Fiverfingers going really slowly through very rocky areas. I just don’t get trying to use those on ultras. But I guess it is a challenge he’s proving to someone or something. I’m sure he could finish hours faster in shoes.
Finally I hit the final paved road. Stephen (who had finished about nine hours earlier) and Aaron drove by, joking, asking it I wanted a ride to the finish. Ha, ha. I should have taken it! That would be a funny story to get DQed with a mile to go.
Now on the pavement, my feet felt better, so I just ran hard to the finish passing a couple runners. I crossed the finish in 97th place in 31:20:04, but the legs felt great. Wow, that had been rough. It was good to be done. My 44th 100-mile finish was in the books. No, it was not pretty, but with the highs and lows, I made it through and now could look forward to my next 100 in only two weeks, Virgil Crest 100. After cleaning up and rested at my Dad’s condo, I returned to watch the final runners cross the finish line. That is always an amazing thing to watch. The last runner to officially finish, Alisha Strobel, finished with just seven seconds to spare (35:59:23). Everyone got up from their chairs, surrounded the finish line and gave her a standing ovation. That is the spirit of ultrarunning at its best.