Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wasatch 100 part 1

It was with fear and trembling that I woke before the alarm Friday morning at 3:15am. After spending a mostly sleepless night my whole body was filled with excitement in anticipation of this momentous event that I was about to attempt. Two days earlier I had returned from work and flown in from the North of Salt Lake City where I could view the entire Wasatch 100 course from the air. It was ridiculous. Even traveling at jet speeds it took FOREVER to travel just from the northern start of the course down to just past the sessions aid station: somewhere in the area of 1/3 through the course. It was also both amusing and terrifying the logistics associated with running such a long distance. My dear wife would drop me off at the starting line at 4:30am in the morning, return home, go to work for eight hours, then come and meet me again 7 miles before the halfway point. 2 more times my crew would return home, try and sleep a little, in the case of my father mow the lawn; and then return to support me again. No matter how fast you run it, the Wasatch takes a long, long time.


As I was preparing on the drive up to Layton, the sky was unleashing its fury with rain, wind, and the occasional lightning strike. Fortunately it stopped before we arrived at the start never to return for the rest of the race. The start is a small dirt parking lot at a BST entrance point that was now filled with 257 headlamps all waiting to experience some of best of heaven and hell. After a quick check in and an early morning stop at the John we where off to a rather fast start. Some of the best advice I got for my first marathon last September was to go slower than you think you should for the first 10 miles. In the case of the Wasatch, that would be the first 43 miles to big mountain. As we all funneled into a small single track trail I repeatedly returned to my heart rate monitor to make sure I wasn't getting caught in the race frenzy. Unfortunately it kept reading rates like 184, 175, etc. So I kept slowing down. After a few minutes of this I noticed my breathing was almost non existent and I did a carotid pulse check to check the accuracy and sure enough it was all wrong. My heart rate was sitting at about 128. So much for coded heart rate monitors. Once the traffic thinned it returned to accuracy and we got settled into a good pace. I decided that the Princeton Tech Arrora was a bad choice for running in the dark as the depth perception just wasn't good enough. Unfortunately I had reserved the Teka + for the second night section so I just had to deal with this for a while.


The trail turned out to be beautiful single track all the way to the ridge. Unfortunately the snow started somewhere around 6500-7000ft and the temperature dropped significantly. I had my base layer Patagonia short sleeve, arm warmer, running hat, shorts, compression socks, and thin gloves. By the time we reached Chinscraper I was freezing and trying to keep the fingers from going numb. Chinscraper, by the way, was a non-event. There was much talk about this feature before hand but it turned out to be pretty easy to navigate. After passing it the trail eased and the pace quickened, a nice relief from the long hall climb from the valley. The Sun had come up, but you wouldn't know it due to the shrouding in cold, damp clouds.

The single track ended at the start of the dirt road to the Farmington Radar towers. It was actually a very interesting section of road because you couldn't tell where you where and it seemed to stretch on for ever. I never saw the Radar towers as we ran right below them, but I did feel the cold of the ridge. This section was the coldest of the entire race and interestingly enough was the only time when I seriously doubted if I would finish the race. The side of the road was filled with rime ice and groppel, and nothing seemed to be melting.

At this point in the race I was starting to fear a serious glucose deficiency because of bad planning. I brought very little food along with in anticipation of close, well stocked aid stations. I had 6 home made Gu shot's and about 40 ounces of water. The water was fine, but turns out the first 3 water stations had nothing but water, which I had plenty of. After passing Chinscraper I started conserving even more for fear that my body would switch to eating muscle mass instead of carbohydrates. It wasn't until what seemed like a number of hours after running out of Gu that we finally reached the maintenance shed stop where the food was a plenty and I had a drop bag with warm and dry clothes. After downing a large quantity of calories and filling the water I was off for a much more optimistic section of trail. This was still all new trail for me and very exciting ground to be crossed. It was very interesting to note the level of impact caused by the internal combustion engine vehicles of this section compared to the others. I'm not trying to stand on my soapbox, but the destruction of unregulated use was astonishing. The good news was that the sun had finally came out and it was warm enough to take off the gloves for the first time.

For those of you who haven't done an event like this that is outside the norm of intense competition, a lot of the race is about enjoying a good time with people who share your interests. This is the first place I started running with Dave Evans, a strong runner from Cache Valley. I also met a girl named CJ that turns out I used to work with her back at Snowbasin a few years back. The best part of all is that Dave looked like the evil twin of another Snowbasin employee, also named Dave. We ran together for a while until about the bountiful B checkpoint through another fabulous section of single track trails. At this point I lost track of them both and continued on through my strong point, climbing.
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Like in most things, everyone has their strong and weak points in a sport, and in running my strong point is climbing. So as we left the B station we started up the big climb to sessions and again the running partners changed as I moved passed the weaker climbers. I was still on new trail, and this section was also exceptional. Beautiful single track through a blend of Aspen groves and pines forests with that perfect, soft, mossy dirt that is pure bliss to run on. This section of trail was also the muddiest and caused a bit of difficulty on some of the steep climbs. As we continued on past sessions we crossed the upper cirque of City Creek canyon where I started to be a bit more familiar with the terrain. I was surprised by how many alpine characteristics it had. This would undoubtably be a good winter skiing location. The climbs and descents mellowed and the pace picked up significantly. At this point in the course I was feeling really good, like I could win it, except that the winners where like 30 miles ahead. This is the first time I met Trash Bag Man, who was a guy from Southern California wearing a trash bag to keep warm. A fun guy, with a great costume. He would go screaming down the hills and pass me and the creep up the next hill where I would then pass him. We kept this up for some time until I finally left him for good just before big mountain. After cresting the ridge between City creek canyon and Immigration, I finally came to a section of trail I had run before. This may seem of little significance, but to me it was like Christmas time.

It is difficult to write about the emotional experience associated with these long races, but I think the Race director has good it right in the Website where he calls it "100 miles of heaven and hell." Your emotional experience is just as extreme as your physical experience. This moment was one of those moments of heaven. The place where the tails merged was a steep, loose hill with soft ball size ball bearings on it. But I was so psyched that I ran the whole thing (not my best choice). Other than a small section before Parley's Summit, I new the trail all the way to Cathrine's Pass. I wish that I could convey better the joy and excitement you have during these little victories but I am at a loss for words.

Soon after gaining the well known trail section I passed through the swallow rocks aid station with barely a slow moving on towards my crew at Big Mountain Pass. It seemed like no time at all to do the 6 or so miles down to the road where my family was waiting. Try and imagine this: You've been running since 5:00 in the morning through cold, wind, steep, mud, fog, sun, heat, and snow for the last 11 hours. Noon has passed, the sun is starting to sink in the sky and you haven't seen anyone that you really know... You've experienced lots of darkness, big climbs, descents, falls, unknown trails, beautiful almost untouched wilderness. You are tired, dirty, salty, and definitely stinky. As you round the top switchback at big mountain on your way down to the pass you hear the music, the cheering people and of the cow bell. You have less than a mile to go to see your family for the first time. As one very fast finished noticed, the emotion can be overwhelming. He actually took a fall here and broke a finger (Although he still finished in under 28 hours). I could have been crying with excitement here if I had the extra salt and water. This was probably the apex of the race for me. Everyone is happy, the sun is out, and you still feel good at 10-11 or so hours into the race. Its a great experience, unfortunately this is mile 43. And I might add, its the easiest of the 43. Up ahead the trail starts to get steep, rocky, technical, high, and the worst of all: dark.