I was hot. I was sweating and uncomfortable. I was at the starting line of the Wasatch 100 miler in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was 5:00 am and I was already dealing with the heat. It was in the sixties and the sun rise was still hours away. I was expecting hot. I was wearing a visor and sun block on all exposed surfaces, I was pre salted with s-caps, I was wearing short shorts and a sly grin. I had a race plan to negative split the course as a way to abate the inevitable heat caused blow ups I had witnessed last year when I had come here to pace. As the bodies clustered to the line I could feel the heat close in until we burst forth into the night all shadow, lamplight and sinew.
Wasatch is a race built to make you uncomfortable from the start and keep you that way to the finish. The footing is horrible. The climbs are relentless in the fact they seem runnable but are not. The downhills too seem runnable but are not. The sweet single track sections are only reminders of what you would rather be doing with your energy before they end in more eroded descent or winding climb.
2013 was the second hottest race day on record for the 34 years of the race. The humidity was higher than usual and the drop rate was at an all time high. Many Utah locals who had finished five or more times found themselves cashing in their chips early and finding shelter. I was not so lucky. It was my first time racing this beast and I was in for the long haul. Or was I?
I left Seattle on Thursday morning for the Friday morning race. I had everything packed and ready. I had my Victory bag drop bag ready for mile 75 (Brighton aid station). I had another drop bag ready for mile 52 (Lambs Canyon). I had my running pack loaded with sandwiches, croissants and peanut butter crackers. I landed, drove the rental to the race check in and meeting then met my hosts and pacers Ben, Bethany, and Ada Lewis for pizza before settling in to their house for a restless night of waiting for the alarm.
I have a deal with my wife Jane. My kidneys are worth more than my running career. Daddy on dialysis is not something I want for my kids. My deal; I pee blood, I stop. I've never done it but it seemed like prudent thinking. I was moving slow through the heat and climbs of the first part of the race. I was battling the heat like crazy. I was drinking as much as I could and gorging on watermelon and cantaloupe. I was feeling lousy from the first climb. I was still within striking distance of the sub 24 hours I came to accomplish but just barely. I had gone out strong in the morning and tried to collect many miles before sunrise. It rose. I wilted like a dandelion on a dashboard. I fake smiled through early aid stations. I got passed by groups of local runners. I stayed on a trajectory to make the half way point in eleven hours. Then the cursed section of the race was in my sights. Big Mountain to Lambs Canyon. This is where everyone blows up. I knew it from last year and from every race report and here I was, trying to stay hydrated running straight into the sun at 96 degrees. It sucked. Everyone I saw was suffering and the trail told a tale of lost stomaches in the wet earth splattered near cactus and baked grass. I felt like I was pulling through. My stomach was still in tact. I was drinking and eating and doing the best I could. I was slow but still on plan. I headed to Lambs Canyon to meet my first pacer Ben Lewis (third place last year) and to cool down. I stopped a mile or so from the aid station to pee and what came out was the color of old transmission fluid... red, blood red. I couldn't believe it. I wanted to cry. I wanted to call Jane. I knew my race was over. I was mad. I ran hard to the aid station to get in one last good mile. I got in and the scale said I was down 9 pounds from check in. It was wrong of course, I was probable only down 5 or 6 but still I never lose much weight while running. I collapsed into a chair and Ben went to work. I told him I was done because of the blood. Ben is in the medical world and so was a nurse at the aid station. They both checked me out and decided it wasn't a kidney issue but rather a dehydrated bladder which, with rehydration could bounce back. I chugged a bottle of water, then became a fountain. Next I was covered in Ice. 6 one gallon bags of ice all over my body and head. Ben said I was to sit there until I shivered. I sat and melted ice for 40 minutes. Finally something inside me went "twing" and I felt human again. Then I got goosebumps, then a shiver. I drank ginger ale and if stayed down, I threw down some watermelon, yes! I got up, sauntered to the porta potty, I exited with two thumbs up. We left the triage aid station and headed on up the road.
Ben brought me back to life and got me going again for the next 25 miles. I was grateful beyond words for his calm way of allaying my fears of the situation and getting me out and back into the race. My time was secondary now to finishing. Night descended and the temperature dropped but remained hot. We chatted our way to Brighton and the pacer switch.
Brighton was where my runner, and many beside him, dropped last year. There are two rooms in the lodge, the front room and the morgue in the back where runners lay down or attempt to remotivate. I stayed away from the morgue. I tried to duct tape a heel blister and changed socks. I replaced the batteries in my Princeton Tec headlamp and reloaded my pack with food. I headed into the night with Bethany Lewis, Ben's wife and a very talented runner in her own right. We chatted and climbed in the heat of the night. Thankfully she knew the trails and I didn't have to spend energy in route finding. We were heading up the "grunt" climb when we were passed by my friend Tom Remkes. Tom said, "come with me." I said, "Thanks but I have to stay here and puke." So I did. For what seemed an eternity. Blowup number two of the day. I lost both my lunch and my will to push hard. From there I decided I liked the look of the blue buckle you get for finishing between 24 and 30 hours. I slowed and Bethany and I passed a pleasant evening chatting until we hit the "Dive and Plunge" section of the course which is steep, narrow chutes with marble size, loose rocks for footing and no bail out sections. One must jog/ski/shuffle/swear/butt slide/ run down these horrible parts then they repeat over and over again on quads which have already seen too much. By the time we hit the new reroute section of the course, with but 8 or 9 miles to go, the forrest started to mock me and the grass started to dance. My head was becoming a liability as I started seeing things which were not there. I slowed more. We power walked our way to the last aid station. Five miles to go and I suddenly smelled the barn. Actually we saw the finish from way above the valley. I started to run. We ran, we ran hard and fast. We started passing people, some with their shorts around their ankles in bushes, but still passed. We hit the final paved road section of two miles and passed two more runners. We were doing sub 8 minute miles as we finally got to the finish line. I clocked in 26 hours 19 minutes and 23rd place. A fairly pedestrian time but considering the course, the heat, the blowups, the fact I thought I was done at mile 52, I'm pleased with the finish and the lessons learned.
The worst thing about running such a tough Wasatch 100 this year is that I know I'll be back to try to get under 24 hours. I do not look forward to that day.