needle in my toe nail. Or that time I inhaled two huge pieces of pizza at mile 52 while running the Wasatch 100. (More on Pizza-gate 2015 in a moment.)
Two years ago I got my first taste of the Wasatch 100...as a spectator. In my blog post I wrote "What I saw confirmed that this race won't be going on my bucket list. I am nowhere near man enough to tackle that beast."
Despite those sentiments, I ended up putting my name in the lottery for this year's race. And then my name got chosen in the lottery. AHHH! I spent the last five months preparing, and on Friday morning I found myself standing at the starting line of one of the nation's oldest and hardest 100 mile races. After the race started, it was amazing to look ahead and see a thin line of lights from head lamps weaving up the mountain. I stopped for a second to see this line of head lamps behind me.
The cumulative gain at Wasatch is 25,763 feet, which is roughly the equivalent of running to the top of Mount Everest four thousand times.
One particular climb early in the race has the adorable name "Chinscraper". I wore some Altra Lone Peak 2.5 shoes to get me to the top of this thing, and through the other 99 miles. Here is a picture courtesy of Lane Bird:
Despite all the training I had done over the summer, by the time I got to the top of Chinscraper I had already started hallucinating things like a six foot tall sheep.
For the first few hours of the race I went back and forth with a guy who was making it hard to concentrate on the trails because of the sounds his body was making. The only way I can describe it is that it sounded like he had a poltergeist stuck in his chest that he was trying to cough out. I didn't get irritated though, because let's admit it, ain't nobody wants a poltergeist in their chest.
I want you to notice something about the following picture. We started the race at the valley floor. But look at the view from here. Isn't this what the ground looks like WHEN YOU ARE IN AN AIRPLANE?!?!?
I was actually feeling okay overall. I focused on my goals of keeping my pace comfortable, keeping nutrition and hydration in check, and having fun. (Spoiler alert: those little dots weaving up the mountain aren't ants.)
In the afternoon it got really, really hot. I heard low 90's. I live in southern Utah where the temperature regularly resembles the surface of the sun so I've had plenty of heat training....and yet I still felt like a hot dog that sits on those rolling cookers at 7-Eleven for three days before someone buys one.
When I got to aid stations the first thing I'd ask is "Do you guys have any ice?" I had to laugh when I hit three aid stations in a row and at each of them their response was "Oh, sorry, we just ran out. But I could get you some cold water." And we all know what that means. "Cold water" is code for "water that has been sitting in a jug in the back of the truck since yesterday afternoon." Granted, it would have been cool to have ice at a few more aid stations, but aside from that, the aid stations and the volunteers were exemplary. I really marveled at what a well-oiled machine the Wasatch 100 is. Every single one of the volunteers deserves a medal of honor.
From there it was more miles with the poltergeist runner, scorching heat, and stunning fall colors.
For gear, I used the UltrAspire Omega pack, and clothes and Injinji socks from my favorite running store St. George Running Center. I used Tailwind Nutrition for my calories as I do at every race. It worked perfectly and I swear by liquid calories for endurance events.
Late in the afternoon my stomach was feeling a little hungry when I got to an aid station. And I attacked that place like I was a kid that had just tasted sugar for the first time. I ate Ritz covered with peanut butter. Watermelon. Popsicles. Grapes. Swedish Fish. M&Ms. Wafer cookies. Pretzels. Twix. Animal cookies. I don't know what got into me. At that moment everything looked absolutely amazing and I couldn't cram stuff in my face fast enough. Now THAT will give you a good sugar buzz! (Followed by a diabetic coma.)
Around mile 30 I started to struggle with uphills. I was running downhills fine with no exertion. But the moment I started climbing I just couldn't catch my breath. Each hill had me breathing like I had just been under water for a few minutes. It continued that way for the rest of the race. (Which is a little embarrassing when you're with your pacers and you're gasping for air while they are breathing just fine.)
Many sections of the course were pretty overgrown and brushy. The kind of brush that removes three layers of skin as you go by. Here is a view of one such section where you can almost see the "trail":
I could tell that the heat was catching up with runners. Many were looking wilted and deflated....for good reason.
I got to the Big Mountain aid station at mile 39 and was ecstatic to see my crew and pacers for the first time. My wife Mel and my son Jackson helped crew for the race. My friend Jared would pace later that night, but came up to Big Mountain to hang out and cheer people on. He brought me a Mountain Dew Freeze.....and then proceeded to feed it to me like I was a baby bird while I changed my socks.
My first pacer of the race was my friend Clair Coleman. I've run many races with Clair and am constantly amazed that even having a couple extra decades on Earth longer than me, this guy can still cruise down the trails faster than I could hope to.
Clair joined me for miles 39-52 and we watched the last light of day turn to darkness. I was sure happy about that because I was more than a little excited for the temperature to cool off.
At mile 52 I met up with Mel and Jackson. They had a big pizza sitting on my drop bag. The only thing that sounded better than being at the finish line was pizza. And if one huge piece of pizza is good, two huge pieces of pizza are better. So I grabbed two huge pieces of pizza and inhaled them. Now this is going to come as a complete shock but two huge pieces of pizza at mile 52 of a 100 miler is basically an enormous mistake. Suddenly I was the one who felt like I had swallowed a poltergeist.
It was also at mile 52 that my friend Jared Thorley took over pacing duties. More than anyone else, this guy was instrumental in preparing me for the race. He ran Wasatch last year and gave me all the tips I needed. He knew exactly when to kick my butt, and when to lay off. He pushed, threatened, encouraged, laughed, distracted, and kept me moving.
I had some rough patches during the night. I hate those times when you are just overcome with exhaustion and start sleepwalking and you just want to curl up on the side of the trail and take a nap for an hour or nine. Thankfully once the sun came up I started to snap out of it.
I saw my crew, Mel and Jackson, for the last time at mile 75. I am so thankful for such an amazingly supportive family. I'm so thankful that these guys not only encourage but enjoy helping out at these races. I am so blessed.
I must admit that a second day in the suffocating heat petrified me. I went into the race well-trained and injury free....but still found myself close to cutoffs. Unless you've been in that position, it's hard to understand that terrifying fear that you might not make it to the finish in time even though you've worked so hard and pushed your body to the limit. I didn't have time to stop for pictures but I just couldn't pass up this view.
My companion for the last 25 miles was my friend Catherine Kalian. I couldn't count how many miles we've ran together over the years. I'm positive that she's never seen me in the rough shape I was in. I felt sheepish that even the slightest effort had me completely out of breath. It was a relief and comfort knowing that she was watching the pace and as long as I stuck with her she would get me to the finish line in time.
At mile 83 I hit a very dark spot. There was absolutely no way I was going to quit, but I could not fathom how I would be able to go another 17 miles. It was indescribably hot, the difficulty of the trails was relentless, and my body was demolished. When you run an ultramarathon you're going to go to some dark places. It's virtually guaranteed. You have to ignore the voices in your head that are screaming for you to quit, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
I kept pushing as hard as I could and finally in the final hour I crossed the finish line with a final time of 35 hours and 25 minutes - a not so comfortable 35 minutes before the cutoff. I was overtaken with gratitude for my crew and pacers helping me realize this dream.
So many times during those 100 miles I asked myself what keeps me coming back to running ultramarathons. I think I boiled it down to one thing: the harder you work for something, the more it means to you. The fact that 100 miles is monumentally difficult makes the finish line that much sweeter. Being challenged makes you stronger.
The belt buckle you're given at the end of a 100 miler is a reminder of the time when you pushed yourself to the absolute limit. And then found out that you could push yourself one step farther.