On a hot dusty Saturday afternoon sitting on the side of a trail completely whipped from swinging a Pulaski, I asked another Wasatch trail work “volunteer” if he had a goal for his race. He said both proudly and reluctantly that he was aiming for a sub-24 hour finish. I internally grimaced. He was a tall fit guy, probably a fast marathoner. I wanted to tell him that he should just be happy with a finish for his first ultra. Honestly, I felt threatened, I was just now going for my first sub-24. Until this year I had not publicly or privately aimed at a sub-24 finish. In 2001, before my 3rd Wasatch, I commented on the ride to the start that I had the race "figured out". “The Rocket” laughed and turned around seriously and said "Those are dangerous words." I got it. There are so many variables at play that a good race sometimes doesn’t happen despite the best preparation. With this in mind my first goal was to finish. The final time, according to Dave Hunt is just icing on the cake. So with my pace chart set for 23:48, Dave’s time from last year, I set out to finish, and hopefully Chase the Cheetah.
As is tradition, Wasatch Fred (Riemer) and “The Rocket” (Errol Jones), drove Erik, Christian and me to the start. Fred, who says that he is not responsible for anything, is responsible for introducing me to the Wasatch 100, and getting me to the start on time. For both I am forever grateful. On the ride to the start, Erik said that it would be great if we could all stay together. I wasn’t sure if he was expecting a bad day for him or a great day for me. At least we would all try to run together for a few miles.
Erik, “Armani” Jay and I all found each other at the start. Erik’s misfortunate drawstring break to his shorts minutes before the race was comical, but I really was worried that he might be running Chinscrapper bare-bottomed. (He ran the first 40 miles with shorts that would barely stay-up. The picture above shows him at Big Mountain running to change.) Christian it turned out was cutting it close (time-wise) in line at the Porta-John. (Shilling would eschew this as frivolous since there is plenty of time to take care of business just off the trail.) Within minutes though, Christian caught up through the tight traffic of runners on the first section of trail. By the first major climb, Erik and Jay took off ahead of Christian and me. As we climbed the temperature stared to drop, and there was a pleasant chill that I tried to remember and enjoy. The day was going to heat up. We passed a few ambitious folks who started out fast only to slow down. Christian thought he knew one of the guys that we passed, and asked his name. Christian introduced the two of us by first name. The guy asked if I was Peter Lindgren, which shocked me. I
certainly didn’t think that I had any type of name recognition, but used the ego boost to send us down the trail.
Christian and I ran the first 18 miles together to the Francis Peak aid station. We hit the aid station about 8 minutes earlier than I wanted, but with very little effort. We both fumbled around in our drop bags, got rid of headlamps, picked up supplies of food (gels, sports bars, etc.), and filled water bottles. As we got going again, Christian returned to the aid station to throw away his wrappers. I walked a little and he quickly caught up, and we were running again.
The sun was now up and we were both very conscious of staying hydrated. Christian drank a full bottle more than I on the initial climb, and I started to worry that my strategy of keeping my fluid status even and my energy stores up was already falling short.
The next 5 miles I kept pace with Christian, and we hit the Skyline Road aid station together. Rich was there and offered some cold bottles and encouragement. He told us that Goeff Roes was 5 minutes ahead of Karl, but with a salt-caked face. We couldn’t have imagined that Goeff would not only hold Karl off but destroy the course record.
We caught Shane and Carter shortly before Sessions. I was starting to have trouble keeping pace with Christian, and knew that I shouldn’t push any harder than what felt was an easy pace. I consciously let go of trying to keep up, but at the same time was able to keep the gap to a few minutes. During the section between Sessions and Swallow Rocks the terrain was hot and exposed. I regained time on Christian and was able to catch him at the Swallow Rocks aid station. We both enjoyed popsicles, and ice in our bottles. We were caught by “Uncle Dave” before Big Mountain. He greeted us as his two favorite nephews, put his arms on our shoulders and lifted his feet off the ground for a ride. After a few yards of being carried, and a few laughs, he was gone.
At the Big Mountain aid station, mile 39, I was met by Jessica, Astrid, Mats, Greg and Greg’s wife, Marge. They took care of getting a few things together and I was off with Greg as my pacer. While I felt pretty good, the day continued to heat up. I was not peeing. I downed my bottles pretty quickly, and then used an extra bottle of water that Greg carried to pour water on my head. We made it to Alexander Ridge in almost exactly the time I had
expected for that section. I caught up to David Hayes and left before him. In retrospect I should have hung around and had more to drink. I didn’t though and in addition to a headache, started to feel sleepy over the next several miles. I wondered if I had consumed too much free water and not enough salt. I wondered if I was starting to have cerebral edema from
hyponatremia. Next, I thought I might have a seizure on the side of the trail. That would certainly make an interesting story that I didn’t want to be part of. I took an electrolyte capsule from Greg to be on the cautious side, even though I had little to no peripheral edema. By the next aid station I got my diagnosis from the 12 year-old checking runners in on the scale, dehydration. My weight was down 6 pounds. My very excellent crew of wife and children, fixed me up with fluids and food, and again Greg and I were off for another climb, finally escaping the heat.
Christian I found out was still at Alexander Ridge dealing with his “damn stomach” (Betsy’s description). This was almost an exact a replay of his race a two years ago. This time though I knew that he would allow and make things turn around. Even with a few hours lead I thought he was capable of catching up.
Climbing up Lambs Canyon, I really started to fade. I was passed by three people, Betsy Nye, Mandy Hosford, and another guy that I would catch much later. It was little consolation, but as I climbed this 3 mile section, I was able to catch Corbin Talley. He was in pretty bad shape, so all I could do was offer feeble encouragement as we slowly went by. After some vomiting, Corbin seemed to get better and passed me at the top of Bare Ass Pass. Coming down to Elbow Fork Greg and I encountered two woman and a pack of no less than 8 dogs that were barking uncontrollably. I was glad to make it through the pack unscathed, and hoped that any hikers and runners to pass these morons and their dogs would be safe as well. We passed Corbin again just before the road. I thought, as a fast marathoner, he would for sure catch and pass on the road, but we never saw him again.
By Big Water, mile 62, I was 41 minutes behind where I thought I needed to be for a sub 24 hour finish. I was met by Jessica, Astrid, and Mats with smiles and encouragement. I put on a new short sleeve shirt and a long sleeve capilene top, that I quickly removed after the Millcreek aid station and had Greg carry the rest of the way to Brighton. While the day was too hot the night was proving to be very comfortable for running. I didn’t yet feel great, but I was starting to pee, my headache was gone and I passed Dog Lake without lying down on the ground for a nap.
At Desolation Lake, mile 66, I was now 49 minutes behind. By Scott’s, mile 70, I had only made up 4 minutes. I was still 45 minutes behind the pace. The good news was that my legs felt great. Greg kept encouraging me that we would make up some time on the ridge to Scott’s pass (mile 70). While we hadn’t made up much time, a few pieces started to fall into place. Greg started to work on my energy stores and gave me sesame seed cookies to eat. At this point I was still trying to eat nauseating gels. No energy in meant little energy to run. Now I had some fuel, and we were headed for 4 miles of downhill and another 0.8 miles of a gradual climb on the road to the Brighton Lodge. This was the now or never point, and I decided I had little to lose. I ran down the dirt trail as quickly as I could without breathing hard. Once we hit the road, I slowed down some, but was still able to pass one runner. This would be the last runner I would see the remainder of the race.
At the Brighton Lodge, mile 75, I quickly weighed in, changed my shirt, and drank a Red Bull. Greg gave Alan an update of how we had done and my general improving condition. Kevin Shilling gave me a bag of gum drops, which at the time I had no idea would taste so good or be as easy to tolerate. I hopped up and headed for the door, knowing that I needed to run the next 25 miles in 6 hours and 45 minutes or less to finish under 24 hours. This was substantially faster than the 7 hours and 8 minutes that was my previous best and the amount of time I had built into my pace chart. As Alan and I headed out, I had a sense of urgency to get going. Alan, who is 60 years-old, and has been with me the last 4 years on this section of trail was breathing hard. I knew that he would warm up, but immediately he was concerned that I was going to out pace him. We made the climb to Catherine’s Pass and Sunset Peak (10,500 feet) quickly. My legs were strong enough that I ran some of this section, which is something I have only been able to do in training, and never with 75 miles in my legs. The long downhill was easier on Alan, and we settled into a conversation. We reached Ant Knolls in 75 minutes. I was now only 10 minutes behind my projected pace.
Alan was already plotting his detour to cut around the mountain and let me go as fast as I could to Rock Springs and Pole Hollow. This would leave him 8 rather and 17 miles from Pole Line Pass. We climbed “The Grunt” a 380 foot climb that is not so long, but steep. Alan struggled to keep pace, but held close. I knew that I would need the company later on and didn’t want to lose my pacer altogether. Together we easily cruised into the mile 83 aid station, Pole Line Pass. I was now 3 minutes ahead of schedule with one of the toughest sections of the course that I would run alone.
Usually I am timid about running alone in the dark deep in the mountains, but I really enjoyed this. The glow from my lights lit a little world in front of me, and I was in a trance dancing along through the night trying to run as much as I could. The moon was rising in the East in an orange glow. There was some magic to being alone on the trail in the middle of the night. I was comfortable. I made the last climb to “Point of Contention” and was finally able to see Mount Timpanogos in the distance. At Rock Springs, mile 87, I was 9 minutes ahead of my pace chart. I picked up a few Ritz crackers with peanut butter. I stowed these for later, and headed off for “Irv’s torture chamber”.
“Irv’s torture chamber” looks to be downhill on an elevation map of the course. There are however 7 climbs that follow some very technical downhill runs in powder like dirt. “The dive” and “the plunge” are not favorites for most, but I personally love these downhill sections that may have had their last running as the course may be rerouted next year. This night I filled my shoes with their dirt, and decorated my shirt and face with some dirt on a couple of little spills. My count on the seven climbs was quickly confused as my brain was running on fumes. I met up with Alan again at the top of the Pot Hollow trail. I was happy to see him, and he could tell I was in need of a few calories. I tried to eat the Ritz crackers and was able to down 4 or 5, before my stomach violently objected. I felt great (vomitus euphorius?) and was able to run right along to the Pot Bottom.
With 7 miles to go I was 10 minutes ahead of my pace chart, and now barring disaster a sub-24 was in the bag. Alan was entertaining the idea of chasing down the runners in front of us. I was too afraid of blowing-up and opted for a cruising pace. As we hit the road with less than a mile, Alan pushed the pace. I struggled to make the transition to road, but was able to keep up. About 1/2 a mile from the finish, Alan asked if I could smell the barn. I told him that I wasn’t ready to be done. My legs felt great, I was running fast and I wanted to keep going. As I ran into the finish Jessica, Astrid and Mats were awake and cheering from their sleeping bags. I was welcomed in by Erik, Dave, Dave and Carter who had finished ahead of me. I finished in 15th place, running the last 25 miles in 6 hours 22 minutes for a total time of 23 hours 36 minutes. (Incidentally the guy doing the trail work finished quite respectably in the 30 + hour range, and looked happy as he crossed the line.)
After a shower I came back outside and slept along side Jessica, Astrid, and Mats under the moon and stars, occasionally waking up to welcome runners who were coming in. I slept well, satisfied and happy to be back in one piece with my crew.
At the awards ceremony John Grobben’s daughters solidified what I have known about this race. It is about the all people that all come together to pull off an amazing feat, and form the bigger family of this race. It is the friendships that mean showing up to trailheads on cold mornings at hours that are usually unspeakable. Not to mention sacrificing a day of work and a night of sleep to accompany a friend along the trail. (Greg and Alan I am again in your debt.)
I am truly grateful to Jessica for supporting this whole endeavor. I really couldn’t do it without her.
Best of luck to Greg this weekend at the Hundred in the Hood.