I decided more than 14 months ago that I wanted to run the Wasatch 100 this year. This was very much a focus race for me, one that I really wanted to get just right. This race became even more important to me after my DNF's in the Ultrasport and the GDR. I knew I would not be very happy with my season if my three main races all ended up in disappointment. This said though, I didn't really have any specific expectations for this race. As usual I just wanted to have fun and feel strong and let things play out for themselves. I ended up having about as much fun as I've ever had in any race, I felt very strong, and things played out pretty well.
For one of the first times ever I slept really well the night before the race. It felt really strange to be on my way to the race start and feel awake, alert, and ready to go... rather than the usual feeling of still being half asleep and wanting more than anything to be able to go back to bed for the entire day after laying awake with anxiety all night. After waiting in line to use the outhouse I just about missed the start of the race. That was perfect though. I didn't have to stand around with 200+ other runners just waiting for some guy to give us the go ahead. I just walked out of the bathroom, jogged over to the the mass of runners jumping up and down to stay loose, and started racing.
I never really plan strategies for races because I don't generally stick to them anyway so what's the point? This race was no different. I had no idea what my plan was, but almost immediately off the start I fell into a line near the race lead in about 5th place. This felt like a good place to be so I just hungout, feeling very comfortable with the pace.
We climbed quietly from the foothills up into the mountains and just near the top of that first big climb darkness faded into sunlight and the mood seemed to lighten. I chatted with a few of the other racers and we made our way up Chinscraper and on toward Francis Peak.
A bit past the first aid station (near mile 20) Jack Pilla and I had pulled a bit ahead of the rest of the racers but then we got lost for 5 or 10 minutes which caused the leaders to group back together in a pack of 4 near Sessions Aid Station (mile 28). Joining Jack and I were Andy Jones-Wilkins and Larry O'Neil.
From here the four of us ran bunched tight together all the way to Big Mountain (mile 40). It was a fun group to chat with and the pace felt very comfortable. Larry and I were a little slower than Andy and Jack getting out of the Big Mountain Aid Station so most of the way from there down to Alexander Ridge (mile 48) I ran just behind Larry, a couple minutes behind Andy and Jack.
Going into the race I was kind of dreading this section of the route. I knew it would be the hottest time of the day and when I scouted this section it felt very hard, dry, hot, and boring. On race day though I felt pretty good in this stretch, aided a lot by the fact that the weather was much cooler than I'd anticipated. This was the first point that I began to realize just how strong my body was feeling. I remember thinking at one point that I was almost halfway through the race and was really just beginning to feel warmed up. I had absolutely no muscle fatigue and I began to feel that I could easily increase my pace if needed. It was still early though and I decided to just hang tight.
I was a little quicker than Larry getting out of Alexander Ridge Aid Station so I decided to push for a bit to group back up with Jack and Andy. I caught them pretty comfortably just before mile 50 and we ran together down to Lamb's Canyon Aid Station (mile 53).
I ran my race with no crew or pacers. This certainly slowed me down a bit at the aid stations where I had drop bags that I had to locate, dig through, and repack before I could be on my way. At Lamb's Canyon though I didn't have a drop bag so I was in and out of there right away. Andy was out at the same time as me but within 5 minutes I had pulled ahead of him on the paved road up to the trailhead that would take us over to Millcreek. I don't feel like I picked up my pace at this point, but as it turned out I never saw another racer the rest of the day!
Somewhere around mile 65 things really started to click. I knew I had opened up a 15-20 minute lead and I was feeling very relaxed. I just kept plugging along and time began to drop away in chunks of hours rather than minutes. I had expected to arrive at Brighton (mile 75) worn out and dreading the last 25 miles, which by all accounts is the hardest stretch of this race. Instead though I felt surprisingly upbeat, fresh, and anxious to head back out on the trail as night was coming on quickly.
After a 6 or 7 minute stop at the Brighton Aid Station to swap out some items, eat some soup, and visit with Jill's parents who had driven up the canyon to see me come through I powered up the hill under the ski lifts just as the sun faded on the horizon. I put on some arm warmers, a warm hat, my headlamp, and fell back into a groove right away. I had 25 miles to go and I knew I was going to win.
About halfway to the finish from Brighton I decided that I wanted more than just the win, I wanted to try to break 20 hours. I had basically been running the same pace for 17.5 hours so it took awhile to convince myself to run faster. It just seemed so easy to keep plugging along the way I had for the entire day. Eventually though, somewhere between Rock Springs Aid Station and Pot Bottom (near mile 90) I finally convinced my body to make a serious push at breaking 20 hours.
I hit Pot Bottom (mile 93) with 70 minutes to go. If I were going to break 20 hours I would have to run the last 7 miles, the first 2 of which consisted of a steady climb that would eat up almost half of this 70 minutes, faster than any 7 mile stretch of my race so far. With 5 miles to go I only had 36 minutes to spare. The last 5 miles is pretty much all downhill, but was there any way I could possibly run just over 7 minute mile pace the last 5 miles of the Wasatch 100? Turns out that answer was no, but I came pretty close, finishing with a time of 20 hours 1 minute 7 seconds. I don't think I ever really cared if I broke 20 hours or not, but it was really nice to have something to push for, which helped me really enjoy the end of the race, probably more than any other stretch.
It turned out that the dreaded Brighton to the finish stretch only took me 5:15 (15 minutes faster than I had done it as a training run) and was by far my favorite part of the entire race. I loved running under the moonlight on the steepest, most technical, most remote section of the entire route. I felt so alone out there at that time, but never lonely. I had spent 14 months working toward this race, had done almost all of my training alone, scouted 80 miles of the route alone, raced alone with no crew or pacer, and now it was so comforting to get to finish this thing alone. When I blew through the last aid station I didn't even look up, I just stayed focused on the ground I could see through the beam of my headlamp and yelled out my number so the volunteers would know who I was.
The actual finish was a bit anti-climatic for me. Not because there were only a few people there (including Jill's parents who decided to drive around to the finish after seeing me come through Brighton in the lead). I actually prefer the finish to be low key and quiet like that, but it was very anti-climatic because I had to stop running. I was enjoying myself so much that I kind of just wanted to keep going, but stopping made me realize that it was over and for some reason I was a little uncomfortable with that right at first. I guess I had gotten so comfortable with being out there on my own that it took me a little while to warm up to "sharing" this moment with others.
Quickly though I adjusted and then it really began to sink in that I had just won Wasatch with one of the fastest times in race history (4th fastest to be exact). By this time I was very happy to share my time with the other people who were around. I vomited up a bunch of liquid (I think I took in a little too many electrolytes throughout the day so my body was absorbing a little too much liquid, especially when it got cool at night and I wasn't really sweating any more) but other than that I felt really good.
Two days later I am now in New York visiting my family and I feel amazingly well recovered. My feet are a bit sore and blistered but my energy level is normal and muscle fatigue is amazingly minimal. I thought for certain that this would be the hardest race I had ever run, and in many ways I guess that it was, but it sure never felt like it. Not during the run or after the run. It's such a great feeling to prepare for something for so long and have it go so smoothly. So much so that I never even really felt like I pushed myself all that hard during the run, other than the last hour or so trying to come in under 20 hours. The rest of my race was just slow and steady and in a groove. I guess one of these years I'll have to come back to Wasatch and push myself more to the limit and see how much faster I can do this route now that I have an actual understanding of this race and what I'm capable of doing in it.
For now though it's time to focus on getting some rest and slowly begin thinking about my next race. My plan was to not race again until the HURT 100 in January but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about another race or two before the end of this year...