2005: 29:28, 54th,
2006: 27:40, 29th,
2007: 26:09, 14th,
2008: 25:15, 13th,
2009: 23:36, 15th,
2010: 23:05, 9th,
Incidentally my first 3 races I ran in 31:32, 32:35, and 28:52.
There is an advantage to competing with your last year's self. It is easy to get in the mind of your competitor, and you know exactly what you need to do to beat him. This year I had my work cut out for me. In 2009, I was intent on a sub 24 hour finish, and had focus and urgency to complete that goal. This year was complicated by injury, travel, coaching soccer, and a very busy work schedule.
As is tradition Fred Riemer drove me to the start with Kevin Shilling, though breaking with tradition “The Rocket” (Errol Jones) was not along. The start was chilly and the trail was damp with precipitation from the night. Dave Hunt pointed out several large puddles after the starting line to avoid in the mad initial dash. A wet foot at the start would be unpleasant. While there were few clouds above us to obscure the stars the mountains were capped in clouds. There was guarded optimism for good weather in how the runners were dressed. This was the start of my ambivalence, just not knowing what the best strategy would be. I started with a wind shirt, but needed to shed it not long after the start.
I was relieved to finally start running after much preparation and anticipation. As we started the climb there were some white patches on the ground in spots. In the dark it took me a minute to realize that it was snow. While there was never much, parts of the trail were frosted in a layer of fresh snow. About half way to Chin Scraper, I settled in behind David Larsen. We had a nice conversation and caught a couple of runners including Glen Merrill and Darcy Africa, but by Grobben’s Corner I knew that his pace was a faster than I cared for. Darcy Africa caught us around this point as well. Dave and Darcy continued on as I eased back, thinking about the long day ahead. I didn’t expect to see either of them until the Homestead.
The views heading into Francis Peak were spectacular. The clouds were beginning to clear; the sun was shooting beams of light making small parts of the valleys glow. Glen Merrill caught up to me around Francis Peak. I expressed my concern and hope that the day would stay cool. Glen assured me that the temperatures would remain cool, and added he was a weather man. That statement of absolute confidence in the conditions buoyed my hopes of a good day. Glen and I would see each other off and on until Lambs Canyon, and then not again until late in the night. I was lucky to get to run behind Glen and watch his efficient gait. This was his first 100 miler, but he looked like someone who knew exactly what he was doing, and I knew he would have a very strong race.
Between Francis Peak and Big Mountain aid station I kept my times fairly close to last year's splits. My legs felt good, though I occasionally got a hint of pain in my right calf. The thought of a residual injury from last Spring interfering and possibly ending the run was unsettling. Fortunately, it was’t the tip of the iceberg, but the typical noise of discomfort that is bound to occur in an ultra. Nonetheless, I wasn’t confident about anything, even though the miles were passing by with few troubles.
At Big Mountain, my weight was even. Jessica, Astrid, and Mats were there to meet me. I turned off the music, saying goodbye to Mumford and Sons, K’naan, the Clash, Jose Gonzalez, and Gomez. In two minutes I changed from carrying two bottles to a Nathan hydration pack, ate a few ginger snaps, said goodbye to my stellar crew and hit the trail with Chuck Konopa. I was going to go without a pacer from Big Mountain to Brighton, but two days before the race Chuck called my office and asked if I needed a pacer. Chuck entertained me pointing out all of the backcountry skiing spots, and was invaluable doing the math along the way calculating differences in splits and times we needed to make. It is amazing how quickly simple math skills go while running, so having an engineer-math whiz running by my side was wonderful. The temperatures along Alexander Ridge were about as favorable on a race day as I have experienced. The 70 ounces in my Nathan Pack was more than I needed for the entire section, but I was happy be ahead on fluid intake.
Before coming into Lambs Canyon Rich McDonald caught up me. We ran into the aid station together, which was nice because we had twice the cheers from our combined families. Rich was in and out of the aid station in a flash. After weighing in and being efficiently taken care of by my wife and two kids, I sat down for the first time and had a leisurely (six minutes) meal of pita bread and baba ganooj from Mazza’s. This was my attempt to get away from the sweet crap that is consumed all day long. I have never eaten baba ganooj on a trail run let alone during a race, but a few days before I thought that it sounded good. It should also be known that I have a history of losing my stomach contents after Lambs Canyon. Last year while I didn’t throw-up, I had to sit on top of bare-ass pass for a ten minutes to regain my composure. This year as I headed up the road, feeling good, I was cautious to keep my pace slow enough to allow at least a little digestion. Phil Lowry ran past me up the road, and Aaron Spurlock “hiked” past me about half way up the Lamb’s climb. When Aaron and his pacer approached us, we asked if he wanted to pass. “No you are fine, “ was the response. I pulled off the trail and he was gone in no time (walking). My dinner was still settling and I wasn’t about to challenge the logic of the stomach.
At the peak Chuck and I decided to run. In not too much time we caught Rich. By the road at Elbow Fork we had closed the gap with Aaron. This would be the story of the remainder of the race, slower climbs and fast downhill running.
As we came up the road, Jay, Marge and Greg met us. Jay had on a shoulder immobilizer from his surgery just days before but looked to be in decent spirits. I was happy to see Jay, but would have preferred that he was in his Armani shirt at the front of the pack. Jay gave me the encouraging words that stuck in my head the rest of the night, “You are a fast finisher on the last part of the course.” With that Greg and I headed into the Brighton Lodge and made a fast transition with the aid of Fred and Alan. We spent 6 minutes in the lodge and were off into the cold night air.
Greg and I climbed to Catherine’s Pass and then Sunset Peak without any drama. I was tired though, and I wasn’t feeling “fast”. I could tell that I was losing time to my pace last year, and wondered if I was going to keep fading. The long decent to Ant Knolls was as usual, difficult. Greg tried to encourage me that he was going to try to float down the hills like I do. I started to try to roll through the rocks and keep some speed. Sure enough with a little encouragement and some faster turn over the blood was flowing to muscles happy to get some use and I was floating. “The Grunt” burst my bubble. I was no longer floating, but struggling to climb up the steep rutted trail.
While I lost some time into Ant Knolls and then to Pole Line, I was fueling well on gum drops and was adequately hydrated. As Greg and I climbed toward Point of Contention we could see some headlamps in the distance. I ran this section last year alone without seeing a single soul until the finish. Still I didn’t think that I would catch anyone, but as we got to Rock Springs with plenty of water and food we skipped the aid station and started to run for the dive and the plunge. We first encountered Erik and his pacer Ken Jensen. Greg and I were shocked to see Erik, but we were moving well and a long conversation was not in order. We motored down the deep dust towards the next challenge. At the bottom of the “Dive” I started my count of the seven climbs in “Irv’s Torture Chamber”. We caught Glen somewhere in here as well as Darcy, and finally Dave Larsen. The downhill running was fun and I genuinely was enjoying myself.
We hit Pot Bottom just before Dave Larsen. He transitioned quickly, while I downed a few noodles and broth which were heavenly. Near the top of the climb from Pot Bottom we caught Dave and walked with him until the the downhill. Greg and I paused to once more empty our bladders before the downhill. We quickly closed the distance on Dave and added a few minutes of cushion to a top 10 finish. To our surprise there was one more runner to catch and add some darkness between us for a ninth place finish. The switch backs at the bottom of the decent were the last challenge, but by now I could smell the barn. Just as I was feeling invincible I caught my toe on a root and ate some dirt. Greg and I quickly finished the twisty trail and then cruised the road and ran into the finish. Our time from Brighton was a respectable 6 hours and 11 minutes. Jessica, Astrid and Mats were waiting for us in sleeping bags at 4:05 AM on a cold morning. John Grobben gave me a handshake and a huge hug at the finish line. After a warm shower at the Homestead, I settled back into a sleeping bag to rest and cheer and watch the finishers come in. Amazingly Grobben was there to meet the finishers over the next 12 hours. (That is endurance).
Wasatch is a great event because of the people associated with the race, and I have been lucky to get to know many of the folks who run and support the race. I am blessed to run with the best group of guys (Christian, Greg, Jay, Erik, Rich, and Kevin). My family continues to be an integral supportive team before, during, and after the race. I couldn’t run it without them. Alan and Fred were invaluable crew at Brighton (6 minutes of pure efficiency). Of course many thanks to the race committee and all the volunteers for making this the day that I look forward to all year long.