Friday, September 30, 2011

Wasatch 100 2011

About two and a half years ago, my friend Paul "Busto" had just finished running the Speedgoat 50K, and said that he was going to run the Wasatch 100. I was still getting over the fact that the webpage for the Speedgoat said that pacers were not allowed because it was only a 50K. Now he was going to run 100K.

I couldn't believe it.
"100K?", I said, as I quickly did the math. "That's 62 miles!"
Then he said, "No. It's 100 miles."
I couldn't believe it, but a year and a half later, I was signing up for it.

Before the race, on the Wasatch 100 facebook page, somebody asked for tips and advice about doing the race. There was one piece of advice by Jim Milar that stuck with me: "Remember this is fun, it will be over before you know it so soak up every minute and remember you are one of a lucky few."

One of the lucky few indeed. Lucky enough to get into the race. Of about 500 applicants only 325 made it through the lottery, and of those, 253 people made it to the starting line. Lucky enough to be physically able to reasonably attempt a 100 mile run in the mountains. Lucky enough to have a family that put up with all the training. Lucky, or foolish enough to believe I could do it.

The piles of stuff for my drop bags.  I used about an
 eighth of what I packed.
After many, many miles of training runs, running at night, running when tired, learning how to stay nourished and hydrated, and smaller 50K and 50 mile races, it was finally going to happen.  I had done my homework.  Made spreadsheets with possible paces, sunrise and sunset times, and what I thought I would need in my drop bags.  Gels, ginger candy, ibuprofen, headlamps, batteries, socks, warm clothes, cool clothes, first aid, and anything else I thought I would need for an adventure that was going to start before dawn, go all day, through the night, and into the next day until some time in the afternoon.  While I was preparing my drop bags and doing some last minute shopping, it felt almost surreal.  I was going to run 100 miles.

5am.  Start of the race. 
The race started at 5 am in Farmington. There's something real cool about a line of headlamps and flashlights in the mountains. I wonder what people down in the valley thought when they saw a line of lights heading up the mountain in the early morning hours.

Everything was going great. I felt strong and healthy, and was enjoying looking at the lights in valley below. After my watch beeped for the first mile, I thought to myself, "All I've got to do is 99 more of those".

Then, at about mile 1.5 I felt a small rock inside my shoe, under the arch of my foot. I didn't want to stop and take off my shoe, so I decided to just keep running unless it got worse. Plus, I thought, how could a rock be in my shoe at this point? I keep thinking about how something small can become a real problem over time, so at about mile 6 I stopped and took off my shoe to get the pebble out. But there was nothing there. "That's odd", I thought as I put my shoe back on.

After about an hour and a half, the sky started to get light, and soon the sun rose. The Great Salt Lake in the valley below lit up by the early morning sun was stunning. As I was running through fields of flowers, past a spring, and up Chinscraper bowl, I was truly "soaking up every minute of it". This is why I run in the mountains. The endorphins one's body produces mixed with the beauty of the Wasatch mountains is quite addictive.

It still felt like a pebble was in my shoe, but it wasn't getting any worse. Maybe it wouldn't be a problem for the next 90 miles to go.

Francis Peak "golf balls" in the distance
Off in the distance I could see the "golf balls" on Francis Peak, which are really radar towers. Then they got closer, and then I was passing them. As I looked South, off in the far distance I could see the mountains that I would have to cross later in the race. It was kind of humbling, yet exciting, to know that I couldn't see as far I as would be running.

The phantom pebble was still in my shoe, but it wasn't getting worse. At the Francis Peak aid station I checked my shoe again just to make sure there was something in it. Nope, nothing there.
Francis Peak in the distant past
 After a while longer, the "golf balls" on Francis Peak started to fade into the distance.   At one point, I could see the peak where I came from, and where I was heading, and they were both in the faded distance. To my left I could see Morgan, Utah, and Lewis Peak. Lewis peak is about 4 miles away from my house, so I could also guess where my house was. To the right I could see the Salt Lake valley and the Great Salt Lake. Awesome. Pure bliss.
In the distance you can see the blue-gray silhouette
of the mountains I'll be crossing later in the race.

What was that in my shoe? It wasn't getting worse, but it wasn't going away either. Then I figured it out. It was the same pain that started when I was backpacking the previous weekend. My wife didn't think it was a good idea to go backpacking the week before, and I knew she was right. But then again I'd been too selfish with my time already. I wasn't about to miss my annual backpacking trip with my son.

Big Mountain pass.
  Still having fun.
At Big Mountain pass, I quickly changed socks, patched the start of a blister on my big toes, and looked around to see if my wife and kids were there to greet me. Nope. They're not here. Maybe I will see them at Lambs canyon in 13 more miles. I ate some boiled potatoes with lots of salt, and grabbed some watermelon in a baggie for the trail. Before the race, being the computer geek that I am, I made up a spreadsheet with all the aid stations and what time I would be there with three different average paces. There was a fast, a medium, and a slow. My legs felt great, and I was ahead of my "fast" goal. At this rate, I could finish sub-30 hours. Maybe.

Sunset while coming down Alexander ridge.
As I headed down Alexander ridge on the way to Lambs canyon, the pain in my foot went away. It went away because now my knee hurt. I must have been compensating for the pain in my foot. Great. I can usually run downhill really fast, but not with a hurt knee. Oh well, only 55 more miles to go. As I got closer to Lambs canyon, I watched the sunset, and was still enjoying every minute of it. Sure, there was a little bit of pain going on, but nothing compared to the pain of a kidney stone. It wasn't even as annoying as the weekenders by my house on the 24th of July weekend.

At the Lambs Canyon aid station.  Still fun.
I got to the Lambs canyon aid station at dusk. I ate a cup of soup, refilled my water, and patched a blister that was forming on my other big toe. Then, off into the dark and up Lambs canyon. I had now run farther than I had ever run before, and was just barely past half way. Most people run with a pacer from Lambs canyon on, but I was running without one. The thought of running alone, through the mountains at night, was exciting.

As I was heading up the Lambs canyon road, I accidentally bumped my hurt knee into some stinging nettle. It stung the surface of my knee for a few minutes, but the pain inside my knee went away. Magic? Placebo? I didn't care.

While I was running up the trail in Lambs Canyon I met a couple who was running their first 100 miler together. Not only that, they were going to get married at the finish line. As I was passing them, the guy noticed that he had dropped one of his gloves. Their pacer told them to keep going and that she would go back and find the glove. "What a good pacer", I thought.

During a training run I had planned on saving some strength for the run down to the Millcreek canyon road, because the downhill part was very runnable and fast. I was really looking forward to flying down it in the moonlight. I had plenty of leg strength left, but my left knee had betrayed me.

The three miles up the Millcreek canyon road seemed more like 10 miles, because it is on pavement, and pavement sucks. On the way up the road my friend Paul "Busto" drove by. He was going to pace somebody for the last 25 miles from Brighton to the finish, but his runner wasn't able to start the race due to a family emergency.

Busto is the person who got me into trail running. Two years ago, eight weeks after I started running, I was going to pace him from Brighton to the end, but he dropped out of the race at the Brighton lodge. I knew what it was like to be ready and excited to pace somebody and then have them drop out. Because there was no long term parking in Millcreek Canyon, I told him to meet me at Brighton, and he could pace me from there. I had some blisters forming on my heels, and tried to patch them up. I drank a little coffee at the Millcreek aid station and ate some ramen noodles. I didn't drink the Red Bull that I had in my drop bag because I just drank some coffee.

I left the Millcreek aid station and headed out alone in the moonlight to Dog Lake. On the trail I ran into the couple who was going to get married at the finish line. Their pacer was concerned that the bride-to-be wasn't drinking enough water, and asked her about the color of her urine. She said that she could not tell the color of her urine because it was dark outside. Then, just 30 feet in front of me, the girl dropped her shorts and began peeing on the side of the trail as their pacer squatted down and checked her urine stream with a flashlight. "Wow. That's a really, really good pacer", I thought as I passed them.

Soon I started to regret not drinking the Red Bull. The side of the trail looked so comfortable and inviting. I wanted so badly to just lie down and take a little nap. Just 10 minutes. If I did take a nap in the dirt, other runners would probably wake me up to see if I was okay. When I got to a junction in the trail I was tempted to go down the trail off the course and take a little nap all alone. Even though I was tired and wanted to sleep, I knew that would be a real bad idea. What if when I woke up I forgot where I was? Or worse, what if I slept too long? Since I was off the course, nobody would find me. Then Search and Rescue would get called. I'm sure they would find me, but after waking me up I doubt they would let me continue the race. No dirt for me. Maybe I could run with one eye closed and sleep halfway.

The moon was big and bright. It was a beautiful night. I may have been tired, but I still remembered the advice. "Soak up every minute". So, as I ran past Dog Lake under the big bright moon I turned off my headlamp. A big smile came across my face and the lyrics, "I'm being followed by a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow", play inside my head. Exhaustion, pain and bliss all at once.

Finally I got to the Desolation Lake aid station. I sat by the campfire and put on some warmer clothes, filled up my water, and had some Coke to drink. Ahh, caffeine. Wonderful, precious, life-giving caffeine. I felt pretty good on the uphill climb to the Wasatch Crest trail. The Wasatch Crest trail is mostly rolling hills, with no real steep or technical parts.

While running along the trail I could see the lights of the Salt Lake Valley and the lights in Park City. I could also see Lewis Peak and one light that could have been my house. I wondered if my wife was having a hard time sleeping and was up wondering about me. Just in case, I blew a kiss in that direction and thought to myself, "See you in about 12 hours, sweet girl".

I passed quickly through the Scotts Pass aid station and headed for what I knew was going to be an unpleasant run down "Puke Hill". I think the hill got its name from mountain bikers because the steepness has a tendency to bring out the best in them.

I arrived at Guardmans Pass road with some other runners just as two bow hunters were getting out of their truck. Sounding rather surprised, they asked if we had run there all the way from Millcreek Canyon. "Millcreek", I laughed. "We started in Farmington and still we have another 28 miles to go."

Up next was the Brighton aid station. This was going to be the hardest part of the race. The aid station is located in Molly's Green, a restaurant and bar. I've been there many times when I snowboarded at Brighton. I had also been there during the Wasatch 100. That's where I waited to pace Busto two years ago. That's where he dropped out of the race.

The aid station is at the 75 mile mark, and that's where the real race begins. It's warm inside. There's hot and cold running water, disposable toothbrushes and washcloths. There's food, tables and benches, and even a back room that allegedly has cots and blankets for people who need a nap. How nice, yet so cruel.

The next 25 miles also happen to be hardest part of the whole course. Parts of the course have names like, "The Grunt", "The Dive", "The Plunge", "Irv's Torture Chamber", and my favorite, "The Seven Hills of Babylon".

Two years ago, in preparing to pace Busto, we ran this section. I had only been running for 8 weeks when I did it, and it was brutal. I knew if that was my only memory of that section it would be near impossible to leave Brighton, so I ran it again early this year. It was a great run. I took note of a bench half a mile away from Brighton. If I had to rest, I thought, I'd rest there. Not inside the lodge. That's where runners quit. That's where hope dies. When I was there two years ago, there was almost a smell of death in the air. I wasn't going to get trapped there.

I left notes for myself in my drop bags to remind me of what to do. Stuff like "leave headlamp, warm hat, warm gloves, grab sunscreen". For Brighton, my note had two things: "Change Batteries", and in big bold letters, "GET OUT".

As I got near the parking lot for the Brighton aid station one of the volunteers was out with a radio to call in runners' bib numbers so their drop bags could be waiting, and to give directions to Molly's Green. "Thanks, I know where the morgue is", I jokingly said.

I woke Busto up from his nap in the parking lot, and went into the aid station to get weighed. As soon as I opened the door, an aid station worker sternly told me, "This is not the morgue. We are NOT going to bury you. We are going to fix you up and get you going." She brought me moleskin and scissors so I could patch the blisters on my feet, and a toaster hashbrown to eat. I slowly patched the blisters on my feet. I wasn't in too big a hurry, but I also wanted to make sure that I patched them well. I ate the hashbrown, and downed a full can of Red Bull, then brushed my teeth and washed my face. I felt rested and refreshed, but I knew what lay ahead.

Mt. Superior in the early morning sunlight
Busto and I left the aid station during the early morning dawn. About a half mile out of the aid station we saw young bull moose near the trail. He didn't seem to care about us, and I had better things to use my energy on than worrying about him.

We made fairly good time to the top of Sunset pass as the sun was rising. The early morning sunlight shining against the rocky south face of Mt. Superior was stunning. Whenever I see that rocky face in the summer, I amazed that it is skiable, but it is one of my favorite backcountry runs in the Wasatch.

As I stood at the top of the pass, I told myself, "This is it. This is what you came for. Time to get it done." The downhill was slow at times. My blisters weren't hurting, but my left knee still was. My right Achilles tendon decided to balance things out by tightening up. I couldn't run down anything very steep.

The point of no return.  Standing on top of Sunset Pass.
Still fun.
I knew that the last bit before the Ant Knolls aid station was very steep and rocky, so I handed my empty water bladder to Busto so he could race ahead and fill it for me. Having a pacer is a real advantage at the aid stations. Your pacer can run ahead and get things ready, and then stay behind and put things back in your drop bag.

I ate two link sausages at the aid station. They were so good. Everything my body was craving. Protein. Salt. Fat.

After leaving the aid station we headed up "The Grunt", a nice long climb. I was able to make good time on the uphill climbs, because I still had plenty of leg strength. At the top of the pass we saw a guy and his pacer. He didn't think he would have time to make it before the cut off. I told him, "You have 7 hours to go 19 miles. You can do it". He said he wanted to rest. "Rest while you're walking", I replied. "You have to keep moving." Busto was worried that we wouldn't make it in time, but I knew we would.

Point Contention with Mt. Timpanogos in the background.  
Still fun.
At the Pole Line Pass aid station, I ate two more sausages. They were the magic fuel my body needed at the time. I was feeling really good, even though my knee and tendon weren't cooperating. 

The run above Forest Lake was beautiful. When we came to Point Contention, the views of Mt. Timpanogos were fabulous. I had wanted to be at Point Contention for the sunrise, but I was glad to be there nonetheless. I was feeling good and I was able to run. It felt great.

By the time we got to the Rock Springs aid station my knee was starting to hurt again. As I was leaving the aid station, I asked if anyone knew where some stinging nettle was. They must have thought I was crazy, but the stinging nettle on my knee got rid of the pain.

I passed quite a few runners before coming to the "Dive" and then the "Plunge". These are two very steep, rocky, and torn up trails. Motorcycles have left a 6 inch rut that is about a foot deep right down the middle of an otherwise very difficult trail. The people that I had just passed were gaining on me. I knew we had some nice steep uphill climbs ahead of me and I didn't want to have to pass them again. I bit down hard and remembered the pain of my last kidney stone. Pain so bad I was delirious, and vomiting. Real unbearable pain. This was nothing like that. Not even close. I could stand this pain. I made my way down the brutal rocky trail, and looked back to make sure nobody was right behind me. Nope. They were still back a 100 yards or so.

Then we were at the bottom. I let loose. It was time to run. I flew down the slight downhill and the flat trail as I came to the first of the Seven Hills of Babylon. As the uphill section approached, I readied my poles. I was going to attack this hill. I was running, finally running, and if I could run uphill, I was going to run with all my might. I was going to run to the point of near collapse from the lack of oxygen. I could always catch my breath on the downhill parts. Busto stood to the side as I passed him and laughed. I'm 85 miles into a 100 mile race and running uphill.

Everyone must have thought I was crazy. That's backwards. You're supposed to power hike the steep uphills to conserve energy and run the flat and downhill parts. But I didn't need to conserve energy. I had plenty of that and I wanted to run.

The hills were taking their toll on my knee, but I knew there would be more stinging nettle before the Pot Bottom aid station. At the aid station I refilled my fluids and grabbed a little to eat.

Seven more miles to go. Almost done. One runner was half asleep in a chair and telling the aid station volunteers that he just needed to rest a little bit longer. "Rest while you're walking", I said as I was leaving. I saw him get up, and he passed me about 2 miles later.

The finish line with my wife and kids.  What fun!
As I started to drop down into Midway with about three miles to go, the realization that the race was almost over started to make me a little depressed. Maybe it's all the endorphins or low blood sugar. I've always felt that way at the end of a long race, but I thought this one would be different. I thought I would be glad to have it over, but I wasn't.

About that time, Busto asked me if I was going to run the Wasatch again next year. "Yes. If I get though the lottery" was my instant answer.

Before I knew it, I was running as fast as I could toward the finish line. I could hear people yelling my name, but didn't look over to see who it was. I had just run 100 miles. I wasn't going to lose focus on where my feet were and face plant right before the finish line. 33 hours, 39 minutes, and 48 seconds of fun were over. I didn't run as fast as I had wanted to, but I did achieve my main goal of enjoying every minute of it, and finishing.

During the 34th hour of the race, I overheard the second place finisher telling some people that he could not do what the runners that were just now finishing had done.  He said he couldn't be out there that long.  I've heard other elite runners say the same sort of thing and talk about how much more suffering the runners in the back of the pack have to endure and how much more willpower they have to keep on going.

I guess I don't see it that way.  I'm sure it must be real fun to run as fast as they do, but I got to see two sunrises during my run, and they only got to see one.   For some it may take a lot of willpower, but for me it was just about having fun.  I doubt if I would keep on going if it wasn't fun.  That doesn't take willpower.  It just takes the ability to focus on the good, see the beauty that surrounds you, fix what problems you can fix, and ignore the physical pain that gets in the way.  Or maybe that's what willpower is.

I've had a lot of people congratulate me on finishing.  I've had family tell me how proud they are of me.  Seems kind of silly to me.  All I did was go out and have a good time.  I spent a lot of time training.  Time away from my family for the most part.  Time away from getting things done around the house.

Once during a race an aid station worker said how she really admired the runners.  "Why?" I asked.  "We're selfish, indulgent, excessive, and make bad decisions."  It was kind of a joke, but  reflected a little of my guilt.  Then I read a friend's facebook post.  It said something to the effect of, "I ran four miles today.  It was hard but I figured if Steve was running 100 miles today, I could run four".  If my crazy running obsession inspires or motivates others to get out, get active and get healthy, then maybe it is a good thing.
I ran 100 miles and all I got was this plaque,
this belt buckle, and a real, real good time.