Thursday, September 11, 2014

My quest to run the Wasatch 100

In December of 2011 I entered the lottery for the Wasatch 100 and got in, 6 months later my running season came to an abrupt stop due to a serious case of Rhabdo. What is Rhabdo?.. 

In December 2012 I entered the lottery for the Wasatch 100 and got in, 6 months later I had a serious ankle turn during training that resulted in a torn ligament and a severe bone bruise which ended yet again another running season.. 

In December 2013 I once again enter the lottery, this time I was once again selected and this time I VOWED that I would make it to the start line on September 5th no matter what.. 

In 2014 I focused 100% on delivering my body intact, healthy and happy to a 5am presence at East Mountain for the Wasatch 100. My goal was a single purpose: to run the race I had focused on, trained for, and looked forward to for 4 years.

A little bit about the Wasatch 100 - From their website @ Wasatch100 

The Wasatch Front 100 mile Endurance Run, Inc. starts at 5:00am sharp on the first Friday after Labor Day. Runners must reach the Finish Line at Soldier Hollow in Midway by 5:00pm on Saturday to successfully complete the race. The race begins just past the entrance to the East Mountain Wilderness Park (650 North 1600 East) about 1/2 mile east of Highway 89 east of the Davis County Animal Shelter (about 17 miles north of Salt Lake City). The online application period begins December 1st and typically ends within the first week of the following January. The lottery is held the first Saturday in February.


The Race: The Wasatch Front 100 is one of the most uniquely challenging ultra running events in the world. It is a study in contrasts: peaks and valleys; trail and scree; heat and cold; wet and dry; summer and winter; day and night; Desolation Lake and Point Supreme; "I can't" and "I will!" Dickens had the Wasatch in mind when he wrote, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." The primitive and isolated nature of the course is both its beauty and its challenge, for it requires the individual runner to rely primarily on himself or herself rather than the Race's support systems. Wasatch is not just distance and speed; it is adversity, adaptation and perseverance.

The Course: The Wasatch 100 is a point-to-point race that traverses the heart of the central Wasatch Mountains, one of the most beautiful ranges of the Rocky Mountains. The course begins in Kaysville, Utah, at East Mountain Wilderness Park running north to the Bonnevile Shoreline Trail to Fernwood Picnic Grounds, the foot of Francis Peak, and ascends nearly 5,000 feet in 9 miles to the ridge line. The trail then turns south and follows the crest of the Wasatch along Francis Peak Ridge, through Farmington Flats and Arthur's Fork, along Sessions Ridge, over City Creek Pass, Big Mountain Pass and Bald Mountain, through Parley's, Lamb's, and Millcreek Canyons, by Desolation Lake and along the Wasatch Crest trail, through Big Cottonwood and American Fork Canyons, and up to Pole Line Pass and Baker Pass. After leaving Baker pass, the course drops down Pot Hollow Canyon to join the Provo Deer Creek Canyon dirt road. The course then turns up this road until it climbs onto the ridge above Heber Valley and heads South on the ridge road crossing the Cascade Springs Road until reaching the head of Decker Canyon. The course descends through Decker Canyon to its mouth at the Deer Creek Reservoir Trail that leads to the finish at the Pavilion at Soldier Hollow in Wasatch Mountain State Park, Utah.

Many people ask me "how do you prepare to run 100 miles?" Running 100 miles is one thing, running Wasatch is more than running a 100 miles. Wasatch is running 100 miles while you ascend and descend 26,000+ feet of some of the most magnificent mountains in the western United States. Wasatch is a beast all of it's own.

During 2014 my training schedule plan was simple.. Miles and miles of running coupled with the most vert I had ever done in a season. I figured that the best and only way for Larry to successfully get to the end of the course at Wasatch was to put as much time on my feet as I could, but more importantly with more vertical miles than I had ever done.. and that is what I did. 

2014 training thru Sept 4th

Miles of running = 1997 mi
Vert = 237,000 ft

For those that know me know that running 2000 miles by Sept. 1st is kind of a light year for me..  In mid-February I underwent surgery which laid me up for 5 weeks with no running at all..   this was the longest stretch of non running I had had since my weight loss..   but as soon as the doctor gave me the green light I was off to the races.

I quickly began logging the miles and vertical as hard and as fast as I could.  My body post surgery was a little new to me and I had to learn to run all over again..  I know that sounds funny to some but learning to run with a tight core is so different than running with the excess that I carried post weight loss. It sounds simple,  not so much.

As days progressed things got more comfortable and I began running further and higher.   I really never focused on speed I knew that if I prepared for my day on the Wasatch with finishing in mind that I would get there..  Over the next several months I worked hard, logging miles and put in a tremendous effort in climbing hills, pounding and pound the vertical.  

Part of my plan during 2014 was to have a building race schedule which included several "warm-up races".  The crazy thing, my racing schedule between April & July ended up being a total bust. I ended up having to back out of every event I had signed up for before Wasatch..  Where was I going to get the confidence that one needs to finish a course like Wasatch?   How could I do this with the challenges I've had since Vermont of 2012.   It just seemed that I was not meant to run this year.  Work,family, and other priorities conflicted with just about every event I had scheduled for the year.  

What helped change it all for me?   In early August I had the opportunity to attend the Alaska Ultrarunning Camp in Juneau Alaska with Geoff Roes and a group of absolutely amazing ultra-runners.  In Alaska I began to gain the confidence that I could actually complete the Wasatch 100. Juneau is an awesome but very different kind of place to run than Utah or anywhere I have run for that matter. I had never experienced technical trails quite like I did in Juneau and I felt overwhelmed and out of place by the nature of the trails and terrain. In order to complete many of the vertical runs we did I had to literally slowdown to a power-hike and just simply put one foot in front of the other.  Many of runs put me into a complete walk just to stay on my feet due to the slick technical conditions.  I didn't realize how important this learning was for me..   Slow down, make sensible decisions on the trail, be safe..  Finish

One evening during camp Geoff Roes and I had a pretty serious discussion about my running.  During the talk he asked me what my goal is at Wasatch.. I told him honestly to finish strong but injury free. He sort of looks at me funny and then looks me in the eye and said - "Larry you've got this, getting around in the mountains requires being strong, and you've got that. Go do it." I guess that's when I decided I could actually get it done.

A last minute hiccup -

About a week before the race I call both of my pacers - Dave Adams who was planning to pace me from Brighton to Soldier Hollow, and my nephew Jason who was taking me from Lambs to Brighton. I connect with Dave, not only is he pumped, but he is jazzed and excited for the "opportunity.  I then call Jason who "had begged" to pace me despite my concerns that he'd never run in the mountains before.  Fast on the flats doesn't mean you can survive the mountains.  Anyway that call to Jason delivered a surprise I wasn't anticipating this close to the race. "Uncle Larry I've been called to duty, and cannot make it". Oh ok no problem is my response to Jason, but in my heart I know that's not good. I know one of the issues I struggle with late in a hundred is loneliness.. Yep I tend to really feel the pull of being alone out there and I tend to spend more and more time in aid stations, and it impacts my time and my self belief. What do I do here?? I'm not one to ask people for help, as a matter of fact I avoid it because I just realize how busy people are, and to be honest I'm uncomfortable asking.. I love to pace personally and volunteer ever chance I get, I just can't get myself to ask someone. So what do I do? I turn to Facebook and mention in the Wasatch Mountain Wranglers forum that my pacer was called to active duty.. within a few hours I have five volunteers, and the next struggle is who do I feel comfortable with? I'd personally never run with any of them. One name stuck out, and at the time I had no idea why (I do now), but I asked Paul Killpack to take my nephews spot. That decision was probably one of the best decisions I made in preparing for Wasatch. Paul knew precisely on every turn in every hour what I needed between Lambs and Brighton. For me those miles, miles 53-75 are the most critical miles, and I'll explain later how he brought me through them. I will tell you now that having the right pacer(s) can make or break your race.. Running with a pacer is new to me, but I may never run another hundred without one. 

The Wasatch Pre-Race Meeting

On Thursday afternoon all of the runners gather in Sugarhouse Park in Salt Lake City to check-in, weigh, drop of bags, and to pick up packets. At the checkin both David and Paul both meet there, we discuss strategy and plans for the race, then sit through about a 10-15 minute pre-race meeting.. and it's over.. Time to head home, eat, and rest.

 Photo courtesy of Bryan Hitchcock



The Wasatch 100 Start.


On Friday AM (the morning of the race) I arise around 3 am down some buckwheat cereal, dress and head to East Mountain at around 4 for the start of the race. As we arrive at the start there is the usual happy chipper 100 mile crowd. Pretty awesome to think we are happy to be running 100 miles..  those that don't know ask "what are you running from", those that do know know that we are running to something, not from something..   I see lots of my close friends, we express good lucks, and then await the start. 

Finally 5am comes and we are off.. The first 4.5 miles of the trail is about as well known to me as my backyard, actually to be 100% honest I probably run that trail section more than I go into my backyard. From the 4.5 mile mark we begin to take the next 5 miles of ascent up to Chinscraper. Chinscraper is probably the hardest climb in the race.. I actually did this climb probably 4-5 times in prep for the race. It's a tough ascent and it takes me about 1hr 42 minutes to cover the distance from the valley to the top..

Looking up Chinscraper - Photo courtesy of Kelly Agnew         

     
Looking down Chinscraper - Photo courtesy of Kelly Agnew

The next 4-5 miles of the run actually is a series of climbs and descents.. at this point I start having some stomach issue which gradually begins to escalate.. Great there is nothing worse that stomach problems when you are out on a run.. I decide to just to deal with it, I get into a relatively comfortable rhythm and make my way up and over Thurston, then Francis, and then take the long plunge down from Francis Peak to the Sheds.. 

This first Aid Station @ mile 18.5.

 
 Arriving into the Sheds - Photo Courtesy of Lindsey Louck

The best part about arriving into the Sheds is that the HUMRs are manning the aid station.  I known just about virtually everyone there.. The HUMRs are best trail running group that exists, bu I'm prejudice to say the least.. They quickly see to all of my needs, find me some TUMs to help settle my stomach and get me out as quick as they can. In the excitement of it all I didn't even realize that Dave Adams (my pacer) is also volunteering at the aid station.. Thanks David.. again. :)

HUMRs doing what they do best, running or helping others accomplish their goals.
Photo Courtesy of Harrison Fluman

I get in and out of the aid station and begin my least favorite section of the run.. The section between the Sheds and Bountiful B (mile 23) is "mostly" jeep trails, except for the last couple miles which is a pretty steep ascent from the bottom of a gulch (~7200 ft) up to the aid station at the top of Bountiful B (8153 ft) not bad, but not my favorite section.

The last view of Francis Peak before leaving the jeep trails.

From Bountiful B the next section of the race is along Sessions Mountain Road up and down some winding and rolling hills.  At this point I'm still dealing with stomach issues but kind of decide it'll pass. I stomach more TUMs, make sure I am eating and hydrating and then make my way down to the Session Mountain Lift Off @ mile 28. 

During the section between Bountiful B and Sessions the most memorable thing was coming down the road and seeing Matt Van Horn sitting in a lounge chair on the side of the trail cheering everyone on.. Matt had injured his leg earlier in the season putting him out of the race, he could have stayed home but as those of us have come to know when we're hurt you are still in it for our friends.. 

Matt thanks for the support and the laughs.. It got me all the way to the liftoff and beyond. An injury may have slowed you down, but certainly didn't stop you from making an impact.


Along the next section I start to slow a bit, my stomach just won't quit. I'm not sure what it is, but it's just feels horrible.. Nothing seems to work. I finally get into the Sessions Lift-off aid station at mile 28 refill my water bottle and electrolytes and get out of there.. It's during this section that I catch-up to Missy Berkel and we run together for the next 5-6 miles to Swallow Rock.   

On the way to Swallow Rock - Picture courtesy of Missy Berkel

From Swallow Rock to Big Mountain it's all kind of a blur to me.. I run some, I power hike some, but more than anything I just moving best I can dealing with the stomach.  I put up with the heat pushing myself the best I can through it. As I begin to make the descent off the mountain down to the aid station at Big Mountain I take my eye of the trail and inadvertently step right off the side of the trail "falling" a little bit but catching myself before it becomes "worse than and could have been". In the fury of it all I realize I'm a little stiffer in places than I was before the fall.. the stiffness slows me a little more but I keep moving to the aid station at Big Mountain or mile 38.



The aid station at Big Mountain was a great stop. It was here that I finally sat down for my first time since leaving East Mountain. I clean-up a bit, and thanks to Anne Watts and Lori Smith I finally felt good for the first time all day. Anne and Lori wait on me hand a foot, they dash for food, fluids, a cool cloth.. and then Anna delivers a slice of NAAN with a half of avocado.. I suck in back, I down some coke (I'd never do that anywhere else), I change my shirt, and OFF I go a new man.. Lori and Anna may have saved my day on the Wasatch.. I'm so glad they were their when I needed them most.. Thank you, thank you, thank you..

A great picture of Anne and Lori stolen from Anne's Facebook page.. :) with Matt in the background - Matt was smiling like that every time I saw him on the course.. especially at the end.

I leave Big Mountain feeling great, fed, fluids in me, dry shirt and a few snacks to get me to Lambs Canyon where I'll finally pick-up my pacer and see Anna and my father in law Don anxiously awaiting my arrival. It's at this point that I realize I'm probably 2.5-3 hours behind where I "thought" I'd be at this point in the race. I evaluate and re-evaluate my position and then just hunker down and get moving. From Big Mountain it's 8 miles into Alexander Ridge, during this sections its dusty and rather warm.. I know a lot of the course but this section of the trail is 100% foreign to me and I just focus on get it done. It's mostly nice single track through this section and then it descends down into grassy section until we reach the Alexander Ridge Aid station at mile 47. 

I finally roll into the aid station asking for pickle juice.. It's here I realize that I'm starting to cramp up a little bit and I want to treat it before it gets out of control. The aid station staff think I'm nuts, but they have pickle juice and I down a half cup or more, grab a GU and a half PB&J and start to head out when I get this "hey hold up, what does the pickle juice do?" I explain how dense the salt and potassium is, and the next thing I know 5-6 others at the aid station ask for pickle juice and I am now known as the pickle juice guy. For the next 8-10 hours these two ladies running the course from Bountiful would call out every time they saw me and call me "the pickle juice guy".

I leave Alexander Ridge and begin what seems like a long but gradual ascent up to the ridge and then start to descent to the aid station at Lambs Canyon... Not a bad sections for me.. my only issue was you could see the aid station from miles away but just as you thought you were getting close the trail would divert a different direction and you just never seemed to get there.. By this point it's getting twilight and into some of my favorite time on the trail. I settle into a nice relaxing pace and enjoy the descent down from the ridge to I-80. As the trail turns west along I-80 it begins to meander it's way along a creek bed when out of the blue three moose decide I am not a desired guest in their neighborhood and they clearly let me know it. 

The moose didn't chase but I did get snarled at and all sorts of fun noises made at me, but non the less I didn't stay on the trail waiting to see if they were going to be friend or foe.. I found my way out of the creek bottom, but gradually got back on the trail and work my way into the aid station at Lambs Canyon - Mile 53, over half way in about 15 hours. Not exactly the time I was planning for but I'm glad to be there... 

Anna and Don (my father-in-law) meet me there with dinner, with a change of clothes, fresh socks, a new pair of shoes and the best addition for the day Paul Killpack my pacer.

Paul, Anna and Don see to my ever need.. I sit down, they remove my pack, shoes, socks, (feet are dirty but no blisters or hot spots.. thank you Injinji and Altra). Paul and Anna clean-up my feet, refill my bottles, make sure I have enough fuel (GUs, ShotBlox, and Stingers) for the next part of the race, all the while I eat a few bites out of a warm bean burrito Anna brought for me. I change my shirt, put on a warmer layer kiss Anna and head out.

Paul and I begin the night part of the race, at this point I'm calculating in my mind the best strategy to finish.. at mile 53 I'm about 3 hrs behind where I thought my best time could be on Wasatch. Paul and I kind of discuss the strategy as we make the climb up to Bear Bottom Pass and over to Upper Big Water. At Upper Big Water the aid station is rocking.. One of my neighbors and fellow-Ultrarunner Dee Wolfe is manning the grill under the tent.. Dee hands me a half a slice of grill cheese sandwich I down it with a hot chocolate and bolt out of there as quickly as I can. At this point the last thing I want is to get sucked into sitting and enjoying the heat at the fire or under the tent.  

Paul keeps my head occupied with lots of other thoughts. We talk family, kids, travel, running, and whatever else comes to mind. He's awesome and I can tell his plan is to simply keep me moving strong and get me into Brighton as quickly as possible.. we take on a trot/power hike strategy. As we do we begin to pass quite a few runners and then motor our way through Desolation Lake, across Scott's Pass where we connect up with Aric Manning in the aid station and then we make our descent down and onto the road above Brighton. By this time there is a fair amount of local traffic most appearing to be hunters getting out ahead of dawn for a day in the mountains. As Paul and I make our way down the hill I start getting passed by a number of runners literally sprinting down the hill "smelling the barn door" as we get closer to Brighton. 

We finally arrive at Brighton, I weigh, see a number of familiar faces, eat, change shoes, shirt and gloves.  It's at Brighton that Paul transitions off to Dave for pacing duties. Dave has been about as patient as possible with me getting there.. Yep I'm now 3.5-4 hours behind my plan, but still on track to get this done. Paul and Dave quickly see to my needs.. Paul and Dave re-fill water and electrolytes, make sure I get a quick bite to eat and we head out... 

In prior 100's I've been sucked into spending way to much time in aid stations, particularly towards the end of the race.. at Brighton I have to get the last 25 miles done.   That's it, less than a marathon.   All and all I feel OK, yea I've just covered 75 miles and 18000+ feet of climbing, but all I need to do now is to survive the last 25 on my feet, and I have almost 12 hours to do it in.  I roll out of Brighton in the dark ready to get it done.

Dave and I take off up the hill towards the sisters, Mary, Martha and Catherine.. My legs a bit tired and I really slog my way up the hill.. Brighton sits at 8700 ft, Catherine sits at 10.2k., the climb is over about 3 miles.. overall not really a HUGE climb but at this point in the race it feels 10x what it really is. I finally make it up, over and onto the highest part of the course elevation wise. 

Everyone that knows me knows that this is why I run the mountains. I love the high country and absolutely relate to John Muir's coined phrase "The mountains are calling and I must go!" This is it for me, the why I do this. 

     

I could stop here, stay in the high country and enjoy the day or I can get this thing done.. Dave and I take a few pics, or should I say Dave takes them as I meander my way along the trail and then we head out and begin the journey to the finish..


We push into the Ant Knoll Aid station at mile 79 then out as quickly as possible.. By now the downhill  is pretty hard for me, legs are sore (as can be expected).   I struggle with my footing but keep moving best I can. Dave is a great help reminding me every 15 minutes to drink, and every 30 to eat.  He even reminds me how "amazing I am", thanks Dave that kept me motivated and moving.

My uphills are strong, hmm maybe from climbing 51 vertical miles in training?    I actually don't remember ever having a problem the entire race climbing uphill.  My weakness really stands out now as we begin the long trek downward. We arrive at Pot Bottom where I know several people in the aid station.  It's nice being greeted by first name. I get some warm food here, re-fill my bottles and once again head out as quick as I can..   I don't think I spent more that 3-4 minutes at any aid stations other than Big Mountain, Lambs, or Brighton..  The rest were in and out..  keep moving..

 

Dave begins to start talking to me in terms of ascents and descents left in the race.. I begin to run a little, trot a little more, and power down best I can. It starts warming up, the sun is out and the mood on the trail picks up. People are feeling the end in sight. Dave and I get into Pole Line Pass where I take a few minutes to chat with Vince Romney, Dennis Ahern, and then Matt Van Horn pops out of no where and says he's got something for me.. He takes off and seconds later he's back with a warm cinnamon bun. Now those that know me know that I would never eat a cinnamon bun, but there was something special about that bun on that day.. I enjoyed every last bite, it literally put a smile on my face. Thanks Matt it was awesome.

Enjoying the cinnamon bun @ Pole Line Pass

I was pretty chipper coming out of Poll Line Pass. Full belly, 17 miles to go.. Yes this thing can be done. Dave and I keep moving further down the trail.. We pass through Rock Springs (which I do not remember), then finally make the nastiest descent down to the Decker Canyon Aid station.. All I can tell you is that section through Decker Canyon is not my favorite.. I guess they call it a hundred miles of Heaven and Hell for a reason.. this section to me was the later.


Dave and I reach the aid station at Decker Canyon and then make our way out to the road or the last 5.5 miles along Deer Creek Parkway.. at this point Anna calls wondering how far out I am.. I tell her and hour at least but probably more. She hangs up and we begin our long journey down the Parkway... this next few miles are a real struggle for me.. it's hot, I'm tired, and it just never seems to end.. and to boot there is an absolutely amazing lake right to right that is now calling my name.. people are out boating, skiing, and enjoying the day.. and here I am making my way down this long, winding, dirty road.. ah but the end is in sight (no that's not it), maybe the next turn I tell Dave, no that's not it either.. we keep going, and going and going.. by this point other runners are passing me for the first time since probably Brighton.. I can't seem to muster anything stronger than a walk.. we finally make it off the dirt road and onto pavement around mile 99... it's at this point that another runner I had passed earlier goes blowing by me and says.. Dude  we gotta run this thing in.. I take off the best I can, round the curve and notice Josh and Brady (my sons) heading across the field to greet me.. They catch-up, hug me, and congratulate me on getting to the finish like (I'm not quite there yet).. We finally make the turn towards the Soldier Summit pavilion.. I cross the line, shake hands with John Grobben and hear the applause and congratulations from the HUMRs, and all the other folks at the end.. I start looking around and finally see Anna.. She comes over plants a kiss on me, and I'm done. I did it.. 100 Miles of the Wasatch Front.. 3 years in the making.. Goal Accomplished. Tough - YES, Rewarding - UNBELIEVABLY.

   

What an awesome experience... A huge call out to all my friends and family who supported me the whole way.. Far to many to call out by name but amazing support.. A really special call out to my pacers Dave Adams and Paul KIllpack.. it takes someone really special to take time to go 25 miles with a stranger across the mountains of Utah.. Strangers 24 hours before, now friends for life.. Thank you so much, I owe both of you, you got me here.. A real special thank you to my wife who let me sneak out of the house at 4 am for months on end to be a trail & mountain widow.. never really complaining to much but supporting on my journey to this end.    So I did what I set out to do.  Finish the Wasatch 100 on my feet.  Not fast by any term, I'll save that for another..  

 

Will I go back for round 2 of Wasatch.  You bet I will!  My lottery submission will be in the mail the first day 2015 opens with hopes that I can get that sub30 - that's a pretty buckle..

I keep being asked  what is next?   Wasatch is a year away..  what else are you going to do?  Well that answer is simple.. I have a several races in mind including two or three hundreds.  I also have my normal travel schedule where I "have to" throw in an adventure run or two or three while I'm out. I'm planning a "R2R2R".  I also have my traditional birthday run, this year is the big 50 so 50 miles somewhere..  Last year was a cold run, this year I hope to go south..   But my #1 race priority resides in the northeastern United States in a field called the Silver Hill Meadow. It is there that I have unfinished business to attend to.  I think of that meadow in West Windsor, Vermont all the time. That race will forever haunt me until I place that buckle on my belt.

Vermont Redemption = July 2015


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