Wasatch Front 100 – 2010

It’s taken me a while to sit down and write about this one. I’m still not quite sure how to describe this experience. This was probably the most physically and mentally exhausting experience I’ve had so far. 33 hours is a long time to spend on the trail and my hat is off to anyone who has the determination to stay out until the very last cut off to make it to the finish line. By comparison, this made my 19 hour finish at Western States seem like a 5k fun run.

The day started off well enough. The 5am start is pretty early but made a world of difference from the 4am starts at Leadville and Vermont. I at least started off the day feeling somewhat rested and normal. But I already new that I was going to have a difficult day. In the three weeks after Leadville I cut back on my running mileage significantly and started taking more rest days. But the more I tried to rest and recover, the worse I felt. My last easy social jog with the Fort Collins Trail Runners the previous Tuesday felt like a chore. I was getting winded on easy climbs and my legs were aching and sore. I was in no condition to race …let alone finish a difficult mountain 100 miler. But I had set out to finish the Grand Slam series 9 months ago and couldn’t quit after finishing the first 3 events.

Chris and I at the start. And no, we didn't plan to coordinate outfits.Chris and I at the start. And no, we didn’t plan to coordinate outfits.

Chris and I at the start. And no, we didn't plan to coordinate outfits.10-Sep-2010 04:32

The first 18 miles went fairly well. I started out fairly slowly and settled into a nice easy pace somewhere in the middle of the pack. The weather was cold and foggy for most of the morning and there was a dusting of wet snow at the top of the first climb on Chinscraper. It would have liked to see the view with clear skies but the cool weather at the start of the race made for perfect running conditions and I was able to keep on top of fueling and hydration fairly well.

Still doing OK so far.Still doing OK so far.

Still doing OK so far.10-Sep-2010 08:30

Eric met me at the Francis Peak aid station and gave me some reassurance that I was running well at a good pace. At the time I was roughly on pace for a 24 hour finish. But 18 miles is far too early to start thinking about the finish line and I knew that my current condition and pace wasn’t going to hold up much longer. Shortly after leaving Francis Peak, somewhere around mile 25, fatigue finally set in. My legs felt like they did at mile 75 at Western States. At Vermont, it was mile 60. And at Leadville, it was mile 40.

Still running but my legs are in serious pain.Still running but my legs are in serious pain.

Still running but my legs are in serious pain.10-Sep-2010 13:36

By mile 30, my legs were starting to hurt and on the last downhill coming into the Big Mountain aid station at mile 39, I was in serious pain. I stopped to sit and eat and try to pull myself together for the next leg. Eric informed me that Chris was only about 45 minutes behind me. I thought it would be nice to have some company on the trail so I told Eric that if Chris could catch up a bit more, I’d wait for him at Lamb’s Canyon. Now I had something positive to look forward to. I just needed to get to the next crew checkpoint at mile 53 and I could meet up with Chris. But shortly after walking out of the Big Mountain aid station I realized that Chris could probably catch up with me on the trail and if he did, I wouldn’t be able to keep up. The pain in my legs was getting worse so I focused on alternating walking and jogging at regular intervals. The downhills were getting more and more difficult and I could barely manage a slow shuffle down some of the rockier sections.

Sure enough, Chris arrived shortly after I made it to Lamb’s Canyon. We both took some extra time to get ready for the next long leg to the Mill Creek aid station and then headed out together. It was a huge help to have Chris’ company on this section. He really pulled me a long the entire way keeping a strong, steady pace on the uphill climbs and even pulling ahead on the downhills. This part of a 100 miler is always the toughest – 50 to 60 miles is far enough to hurt like hell but is too far from the finish to comprehend making it through to the end. I really don’t know if I would have been able to make it on my own.

I remember feeling pretty lousy at this point. But I guess I still managed to keep smiling. Getting crew support from Eric and meeting up with Chris really helped.I remember feeling pretty lousy at this point. But I guess I still managed to keep smiling. Getting crew support from Eric and meeting up with Chris really helped.

I remember feeling pretty lousy at this point. But I guess I still managed to keep smiling. Getting crew support from Eric and meeting up with Chris really helped.10-Sep-2010 17:58

We covered the last few miles up the Millcreek road in the dark and by the time we reached the aid station, it was freezing cold. Neither Chris or I had packed enough cold weather gear in our drop bags but fortunately Chris’ friends Jay and Erick drove up to meet him and they pulled every bit of extra clothing they had in their van out and made a nice little yardsale for Chris and I. Erick loaned me a fleece jacket and Jay gave me the sweatpants he was wearing. If I hadn’t been lucky enough to meet up with Chris and if Jay and Erick hadn’t decided to drop in to meet Chris at Millcreek, there’s no way I would have finished this race. And aside from the extra warm clothes, it was really nice to meet up with friends and get some positive encouragement. Jay said we both still looked great. I told him that it was dark and he obviously couldn’t see very well.

Chris and I saved from freezing at Mill Creek with warm clothes borrowed from Jay and Erick. There's no way I would have survived with what I packed in my drop bags.Chris and I saved from freezing at Mill Creek with warm clothes borrowed from Jay and Erick. There’s no way I would have survived with what I packed in my drop bags.

Chris and I saved from freezing at Mill Creek with warm clothes borrowed from Jay and Erick. There's no way I would have survived with what I packed in my drop bags.10-Sep-2010 20:25

Shortly after leaving Millcreek, Chris started pulling ahead again. I knew I couldn’t keep up with him and I told him to go on ahead at his own pace. It was too cold to slow down and wait for me. The next sections to Desolation Lake at mile 67 and Scotts Tower at mile 71 were a complete blur. It was dark and I was cold, hurting, and exhausted. It was a struggle just to stay awake and I had to stop several times to just lean on my trekking poles and rest my eyes. I was afraid of stopping in the cold so I started using my poles to keep myself upright walking hand over hand one step at a time. At Scotts Tower, I stopped to sit in the tent and take a longer rest. Scott Kunz was just getting ready to leave when I arrived. He invited me to join his group but since they had passed me somewhere in the dark after Millcreek, there was no way I’d be able to keep up. It was still nice to see another friend there – even if it was just for a minute. After a couple cups of hot soup and coffee, I got myself back on my feet and headed down the hill to Brighton. I was able to shuffle along OK for the first couple of miles but exhaustion set in again and I could only manage the same hand over hand walk one pole and one step at a time. I don’t remember much about this section other than a seemingly endless paved road into Brighton.

Somehow I made it to the lodge. I think it was sometime around 3am and since I had until 5pm to officially finish the last 25 miles, I decided to take some extra time to stop and rest. The lodge was crowded and cold but I found a corner space on the floor to sit and eat. I got changed into fresh dry shorts, clean socks, and the rest of my cold weather gear that I had left in the crew bag with Eric. And after a second thought, I put Jay’s sweatpants back on over my running tights. I tried to take a short nap but it was too noisy and cold to really get comfortable. At the very least it was good to stretch my legs out, lie down flat, and close my eyes for a while. At about 4:35am I was ready to head out again and hoped that this short break had been enough to get me to the finish.

Trying to pull myself back together at Brighton Lodge. Changed into dry, warmer clothes and fresh socks. Got some good food and hot soup and tried to take a 30min nap.Trying to pull myself back together at Brighton Lodge. Changed into dry, warmer clothes and fresh socks. Got some good food and hot soup and tried to take a 30min nap.

Trying to pull myself back together at Brighton Lodge. Changed into dry, warmer clothes and fresh socks. Got some good food and hot soup and tried to take a 30min nap.11-Sep-2010 03:02

The climb out of Brighton to the high point on the course at 10,500ft was still freezing cold. But with fresh warm clothes and a little bit of energy, we made it to the top at a steady pace. But on the next descent down the other side, I started falling apart. The downhill was steep and rocky and my legs were completely shot. I supported my weight on the way down almost entirely with my trekking poles which was an exhausting and difficult process. It started to get light out but it was just a cold gray reminder that I had been up all day and all night. Instead of feeling a boost of energy with a new day, I just felt dead tired. My eyes blurred, I got dizzy, and just barely caught myself on my poles before pitching forward onto the trail. I held on for a couple seconds before my legs buckled and I dropped to the side of the trail and lay flat on my back. I barely remember lying there but Eric says I was out cold and snoring in 10 seconds flat. We were only about 500 yards from the Ant Knolls aid station but I just couldn’t quite make it.

The Brighton rest stop wasn't enough. We left at about 4:35am and made it over the highest climb of the day and was on our way to Ant Knolls aid at mile 80.3 by dawn. I passed out at about mile 80.1.The Brighton rest stop wasn’t enough. We left at about 4:35am and made it over the highest climb of the day and was on our way to Ant Knolls aid at mile 80.3 by dawn. I passed out at about mile 80.1.

The Brighton rest stop wasn't enough. We left at about 4:35am and made it over the highest climb of the day and was on our way to Ant Knolls aid at mile 80.3 by dawn. I passed out at about mile 80.1.11-Sep-2010 05:51

I don’t remember getting up but I guess I eventually did and managed to make it to the aid station. Ant Knolls was by far the best aid station on the entire course. Granted any aid station that I arrived at in the condition I was in would have been a welcome sight. But they had a huge tent with cots, sleeping bags, and a heater going. The volunteers were busy cooking a ton of food for breakfast and they had muffins, apple strudel, OJ, coffee, and pretty much anything you could possibly think of. I headed straight for a cot and got into a warm sleeping bag and finally managed to get some good quality sleep. I think I slept for about 30-40min and then took a few more minutes to eat and have some coffee. The sun hadn’t hit the aid station yet so it was still freezing cold when Eric and I set back out onto the trail. But after a short half mile climb we came out onto an open ridge into beautiful warm sunshine. It was the start of a brand new day!

Early Sat morning at Ant Knolls.Early Sat morning at Ant Knolls.

Early Sat morning at Ant Knolls.11-Sep-2010 06:40

Half a mile after Ant Knolls we emerged on a beautiful ridge with warm sunshine.Half a mile after Ant Knolls we emerged on a beautiful ridge with warm sunshine.

Half a mile after Ant Knolls we emerged on a beautiful ridge with warm sunshine.11-Sep-2010 08:21

Everyone had warned me about how difficult the last 25 miles of the Wasatch course are. I had expected to endure miles and miles of the same technical, steep, nasty trail that we came down on our way to Ant Knolls. But I was pleasantly surprised to find miles of beautiful rolling single track trail with gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains. I was still tired and hurting but I was re-energized and able to stay awake and alert. My legs had finally loosened up a bit and I was able to keep up a slow jogging pace with the extra help of my poles. The trail was mostly dirt so it was easier to dig in the poles on the descents and get a good grip on the climbs. And I even started to use them on the flats getting into a rhythm alternating jogging and double poling. I don’t even remember going down the infamous Dive or Plunge. They were just a couple short, steep sections with ankle deep dust that didn’t seem too bad in broad daylight.

One of my favorite pictures from the course. I was hurting, broken down, and beyond exhausted. But this course was just spectacular start to finish.One of my favorite pictures from the course. I was hurting, broken down, and beyond exhausted. But this course was just spectacular start to finish.

One of my favorite pictures from the course. I was hurting, broken down, and beyond exhausted. But this course was just spectacular start to finish.11-Sep-2010 08:59

Bit by bit, I checked off the miles counting down to the finish. At the last aid station at Pot Bottom at mile 93, I stopped for one last time to eat, drink, and put my feet up to rest. When I got up, I set out determined to at least finish these last 7 miles strong. Eric and I power hiked up the last climb at a brisk pace and passed several other runners on the way up. Other than a couple minor dips along the way, it was all downhill to the finish line. I took off as fast as I could go. My legs hurt like hell but at this point, there wasn’t anything left to save them for. Going downhill was going to hurt no matter how fast I went and I was determined to finish this course running. I can’t tell you how good that last 100 yards of grass at the Homestead felt.

32 Hours 56 Minutes 19 Seconds.
Certainly not my best running performance but an incredible experience that I'm not sure I can describe.32 Hours 56 Minutes 19 Seconds.
Certainly not my best running performance but an incredible experience that I’m not sure I can describe.

32 Hours 56 Minutes 19 Seconds.
Certainly not my best running performance but an incredible experience that I'm not sure I can describe.11-Sep-2010 12:48

The finish at Wasatch was fairly anti-climactic. After having such amazing support at all of the 15 aid stations along the way, it was strange to arrive at the finish to find absolutely nothing there other than some other runners and crews milling about or sleeping. A guy who I assume was in charge of timing asked me what my number was and then walked away. There wasn’t a single volunteer. No medical staff. And no food. Eric found some water but I think it was from another crew who left shortly after. Fortunately other than being extremely tired and having the usual post race cramps and aches, I was in decent shape. The support from the volunteers along the way was what I really needed to finish so I can’t complain too much about the finish. I’ll would definitely go back and run this one again. I’d love to see how I could do fully trained, tapered, and rested. The course was absolutely incredible. The event was well organized with very detailed pre-race information and the course was marked extremely well. The event also had a great atmosphere of tradition from a lot of local runners who come back year after year to run or volunteer. I would definitely recommend this event and don’t think the 27,000ft of elevation gain should scare anyone off. It’s definitely a more challenging course than other 100 milers but it’s well supported and has a generous cut off. And the field is just large enough that you still see people on the trail on a regular basis but small enough that you can really enjoy the trail.

So this ends my Grand Slam for 2010. I’ve had dozens of people congratulate me on the accomplishment and everyone tells me how much of a big deal this is. But I really don’t think so. Plenty of other runners out there have run multiple hundreds in one season. Many have run more races and have run harder races. Many have run faster and even more have run far better than I have. There is sometimes a difference between running fast and running well. I may have finished Vermont and Leadville with respectable times but I know I didn’t run well. I deteriorated and got weaker with each race and just survived long enough to make it to the finish line. During my long ordeal at Wasatch, I didn’t overcome any monumental personal struggle. It wasn’t an achievement of will power or personal strength of my own. I only finished with the help and support of friends and family, hundreds of volunteers, and the positive encouragement of other runners along the way. Every email and phone call that I received before the race helped. And even though I had no idea who might be looking, I knew someone might be refreshing the online race results hoping to see me make it to the next aid station. I don’t remember when it was but Eric passed a message along from Kari sometime at the end of the race. Every little bit of support along the way helped. Personally I was physically and mentally beat and broken down. I just kept moving because I didn’t want to let anyone down.

So thanks to everyone who supported me along the way this year.

Next year I may run another 100 miler but before I make any plans, I intend to fill my schedule paying back favors pacing, crewing, and volunteering.

Click here for the full photo album.

Here’s the full interactive course map:



(Click here for a larger map.)
  • Rob Erskine

    September 27th, 2010

    Congrats on getting the Slam done! That picture of you passed out is a classic. Wasatch is very high on my list for potential next 100.

  • Pete

    September 27th, 2010

    Thanks. I highly recommend putting in for the Wasatch lottery. I don’t think the odds are as bad as Western or Hardrock – everyone I know who applied last year got in. And I’m sure that picture will make for some good stories for a long time.

  • Andy Guest

    October 5th, 2010

    Hey Pete, this is your cousin from Cali. Nice website and congratulations on the achievement. I’ll think of you next time I bitch about walking up the stairs carrying groceries!

  • Ross

    November 4th, 2010

    Pete – I enjoyed reading about your experience at Wasatch and Leadville…
    Here’s a tough question – I would like your input on running the Wasatch 100 v. Leadville 100 – as a first 100. I have done a couple of what some call easier 50s – the Pocatello 50 and the Tahoe rim trail 50…

    I know Leadville is an out back course v. point to point. 30 hour cut v. 36. my goal for my first is to finish. I have also paced a friend during wasatch from big mt. to lambs canyon.
    Any input or advice would be great. Thanks in advance.
    Ross

  • Pete

    November 4th, 2010

    Hi Ross,
    I’m not really a big fan of Leadville so I wouldn’t ever recommend it. But it really isn’t a good choice for a first 100 miler. The elevation is challenging but the distance between aid stations and tight cut offs are really what kill everyone. When you run into any hydration or fueling issues (which is almost guaranteed at 10,000ft) there’s a good chance that by the time you reach help at an aid station, it’ll be too late to recover. I also think a lot more people would finish the race if the cut off was a bit longer. A lot of middle-of-the-pack runners seem to end up finishing Leadville under the wire. Some of the back of the pack runners who would probably be capable of trudging out a finish over 30 hours don’t stand a chance.
    Wasatch is definitely a harder trail. But it has much better aid support along the way, a generous cut off, and it’s point-to-point which mentally I think is easier than retracing your steps. Each step forward is progress to get to the finish and you never have to take that step again. I think it also helps that Wasatch is an incredible course. Even when you’re suffering (and you will suffer), the scenery is incredible. Leadville has a few nice sections but you also have many miles to wonder why the hell you’re suffering out on an ugly road.
    I also think that Wasatch has a better community of runners. Since I had a horrible race, I got to meet a ton of people who passed me all day long. The event draws a huge group of regulars from the local running community so there’s a good feeling of tradition and camaraderie. I met a lot of nice people at Leadville but it’s such a huge event that you don’t get the same positive atmosphere.
    Wasatch is also a bargain at $175 instead of $300 for Leadville. If you want to run a high-priced, hyped-up race then I’d recommend Western States. I don’t think I’ll pay $370 to run it again because I have too many other great courses that I want to try. But their premium price is probably worth it to experience the event at least once.
    And if you don’t get into the Wasatch lottery, then the Bear would be a good second choice in the same general area and time of year. I haven’t run it but my friends say it’s just as beautiful, a well run event, and challenging but definitely more runnable than Wasatch. For an spring event, I’d run Bighorn again in a heartbeat. Bighorn is another real gem that I’m amazed doesn’t get more attention with all the other big races selling out.
    I hope this is helpful. And good luck!
    Pete

  • Ross

    November 5th, 2010

    Pete your comments on Wasatch v. Leadville really help. Another advantage for me regarding Wasatch is that it doesn’t require a hotel or any real travel.
    Again I appreciate the feedback….and will put my name in for the lottery when it opens up.
    Thanks so much.
    Ross

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