Trails of Glory

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Wasatch 100 Mile

“100 Miles of Heaven and Hell”
By Chase Duarte

That title is a direct quote from the Wasatch 100 Mile website. How very true this description is, was verified for over 30 consecutive hours in the Wasatch Range east of Salt Lake City, Utah on the 8th and 9th of September 2007. I traveled to Boise, Idaho the week prior to the event for work purposes which turned out nicely as I flew back through Salt Lake Friday morning and met my pacer and crew, Chris and Denise Fall that afternoon.

Due to my own intensely busy schedule this year I went into this 100 miler a little mentally unready or unstable. I felt tired mentally coming into this race which is natural from training but more so because after turning 40 this year I put some thought into doing some different things with running over the next year or two. The 100 miler in my mind was an uncertainty in the future. Of course when I entered the lottery in January I had an idea what I was getting into and also learned some details from Chris who had previously finished the run in 31+ hours. The elevation profile looks like an electrocardiogram on speed with a baseline of 6,000 feet. The website advertises 26,842 feet of climb and 26,100 feet of descent. My last two experiences with 100s were Western States and Angeles Crest. Both of these runs are ranked on the high end of difficult. At weigh-in I was up at 168 lbs dressed in shorts and sandals; must have been the 6 or 7 microbrews I had in Boise. I really enjoyed the pre-race meeting, it lasted 8 minutes. Jon Grobben, the race director, basically said the course was in great shape, the forecast for Salt Lake is 80 degrees, leave your dogs at home, and if you DNF and don’t tell anybody then you are paying for the rescue attempt to find your dumb ass.

The fact that this race is in September means that the meat of the training is during the heat of the Tucson summer. My wife, Trish, and our family vacationed in the Pecos Wilderness east of Santa Fe for a week in mid-July so I got a great boost of running at above 8,000 feet covering about 67 miles in 4 days. In Tucson by early August I had lost motivation to run over 3 hours because of the heat. My only solution was to find a southwest 50 mile race a month before Wasatch and if all went well then I would have enough mental confidence to at least get to the start line of Wasatch. Chris Fall, Jerry Riddick, Kyle Blasch and I traveled to Pasadena August 11th to run the Mount Disappointment 50 Mile and 50K. It started and finished at Mt. Wilson in the Angeles National Forest on a very hot day in southern California. The run is extremely mountainous with a masochistic 3.5 mile 3000 foot climb at the end. I puked, I got leg cramps, I ran 10 hours, I was ready!

On the day of Wasatch the weather couldn’t have been better. The race starts in Kaysville, north of Salt Lake near Ogden at about 5,000 feet elevation at 5am. The temp was 55 degrees with clear skies. The first 10 miles of the course gain 4300 feet topping out on a ridge after a final scramble up a slope called “Chinscraper.” I was warned about this little ascent from the race description when it warned, “If you are not on the heels of another runner then you should stay back due to falling rocks.” As part of a chain of runners we heard a voice yell from above, “Rooockk!!” And here it came, a volleyball sized rock bouncing straight down a slope right in between two of us as we passed on the warning to those below. The first manned aid station isn’t until 18.6 miles at Francis Peak so I made the decision ahead of time to carry a 100oz. Camelbak. Actually I planned to use the Camelbak up to 62 miles due to a couple of 8 plus mile sections between aid stations and running during the heat of the day through exposed areas.

This course has absolutely beautiful views of the city lights in the morning twilight with grand mountain vistas and green meadows evident during sunrise. I continually felt like I was either going up or down a mountain. The profile does not lie. I reached 39.4 Big Mountain Pass some time after 8 hours where I saw Chris and Denise for the first time. I felt pretty good with no concerns except getting to the next aid station. I learned not to get ahead of myself by thinking past the next 5 or 6 miles. I found that dreaming about the finish and wanting to be done too early causes much more mental suffering. I used good electrolyte management and was hydrating well except for the last 3 miles coming into 39 when Chris went to refill my Camelbak and discovered it was already full. The last couple of miles getting to this point were downhill and I got to talking with another runner and didn’t think about drinking.

39 to 53 miles is mostly exposed with temps this year only in the high 70s and light breezes. A lot of this section is runnable but can lead to stomach problems if you are not careful. I held mine in check with minor waves of nausea but kept taking in the water. I reached 53 at Lambs Canyon where I met Chris to pace me for the last 47 miles. 13 hours had elapsed and the sun was getting low. My energy was fine as I chose to sit in a chair for the first time that day while Chris was preparing. I initially thought that I could duplicate my time on the second half of the course. Apparently I had not studied the profile close enough to realize the monster climbs out of almost every aid station; luckily Chris remembered from his Wasatch in 2002 and kept telling me we were almost at the top when we really weren’t. We walked quite a bit after Lambs to conserve some energy to run the downhill into mile 62 Upper Big Water. It was fully dark at Big Water and cold enough to pull out the long sleeve shirts, jackets, gloves and hats as well as spare lamps for the uphill trek to Desolation Lake 67 then the drop down a winding paved road into Brighton Lodge at mile 75.

At Brighton Lodge I sat on a bench, ate some soup and drank half a Monster Juiced. I spoke with Jerry Riddick who had already finished his 15 mile hike with Wayne. I told him that I firmly believed after I completed this event that I will not do a 100 mile race again. He laughed at me. Well, I do have about 9 more hours to reconsider it. Many have said that Brighton Lodge is the toughest place to leave because of the warmth inside. I spent 16 minutes inside and got up and walked uphill to the highest point of the course at 10,400 feet, the 78 mile Point Supreme. The trail drops a mile into another aid station at 79.

From 79 to 83 at Pole Line Pass is where I began to feel the early morning sleep bugs. I knew I should have brushed my teeth back at Brighton. Even when I was jogging downhill I became a zombie. Chris and I had already sung every hash song we knew and were now into the shiggy-shaggy repeats. I don’t know how I didn’t fall off the trail. We finally got to Pole Line where we got some coffee. Nothing could wake me up. Chris agreed to let me sleep for 20 minutes. An aid station person put a sleeping bag on the ground and I laid face flat and shut my eyes. I opened my eyes and got off the ground and looked around noticing two or three runners passed out in chairs and a female runner sleeping snuggly under a sleeping bag inside a tent (DNF). It turns out I was asleep 8 minutes. I was by no means wide eyed. I told Chris that we had better go or I was never leaving. We trudged off to 87.

Immediately out of Pole Line is another nice climb of 800 feet over 2 miles and I was still falling asleep. If it wasn’t the pure fatigue and exhaustion to remind me I was human it almost seemed robotic to keep lifting my knees over the rocks and twists of the trail. I don’t know how but we made it to 87. It is becoming twilight and I know I only have one aid station left at 93 Pot Bottom but the end is a half-marathon away and I need to see the sun. The sky began to brighten and I continued to walk mostly, sometimes shuffle and maybe ran a little down some hills which became long straight drops down the side of the mountain. I used to complain about multiple switchbacks on trails because I figured I could get there faster without them even if I had to crawl. Not true, lack of switchbacks down these mountains with no sleep turned out to be harrying at least. The pace certainly wasn’t fast as I tip-toed down these never ending slopes finally reaching Pot Bottom. The sun was up high now and almost felt like afternoon. I guess it was 8:30am or so. Coming into and out of this aid station while climbing hills my lungs developed some kind of restriction. I don’t know if it was dust or elevation or the combination of the two but I began to gasp for air on the slightest climb as I felt like I was suffocating. Something about passing out from lack of air makes one question his ability to keep going. It was disheartening to think I might not make it with a drop-out at mile 95.

The last couple of miles descended gradually down a rocky jeep road. Chris’ realism of at least an hour to go seemed like an eternity when you have already been out there for 29 hours. Eventually I made a turn onto single track trail and continued downhill until we paralleled the highway that leads to the Homestead Resort in Midway, Utah. Upon reaching the road we had about half a mile and then turned into Homestead and “sprinted” across a grassy field in the 11:15am sun under the finish banner.

The post race figures add up like this: Finish time – 30:15, eight minutes of sleep, 4 cups of coffee, strained right hip flexor, 5 lost toe nails (I already lost both big toenails from the 50 miler a month ago), 239 starters – 165 finishers, 56th place, 66% lifetime finish rate for 100 mile attempts (2 out of 3).

Jerry and I were in Park City having lunch the next day before driving to the airport to fly back to Tucson. He asked me why I picked Wasatch. For a minute I couldn’t remember. Then it occurred to me, I wanted to do something hard and experience how my mind and body would handle it. Now I feel like I don’t need to experience that again. It was enough and I’m lucky to still have my health. I will always look up to Julie Arter and her 18 – 100 mile finishes, Bob Bachani’s Hardrock and Bruce Gungle’s two Badwaters, Rick Kelley and the Angeles Crest streak and Gene Joseph who has run Mica Mountain more times than all my races combined. I’ll still see you guys out there just not in the middle of the night.