The Last Great Race (Part 6) - 2019 Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run

9/07/2019 07:27:00 PM

Phew, what an amazing ride...uhum...run it has been this summer. 14 weeks, 6 races, 600 miles and 110,000' of vertical gain. The six oldest 100 milers in the United States, to be exact, Old Dominion 100, Western States 100, Vermont 100, Angeles Crest 100, Leadville 100 and Wasatch Front 100, and in the process I completed the Western Slam, The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning and The Last Great Race.
The Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run was the final piece in the puzzle and while I already gave away that I accomplished my goal, it was definitely the most difficult of all "puzzle pieces". But it wasn't just because it was the last of the six or because of the 24,000' of vertical gain or because of the extremely varied technical terrain. Most likely, it was a combination of all plus I suspect I started to battle cold symptoms early on in the race that turned full on head cold the day after the race.
My buddy Jerry, whom agreed to crew and pace me during this final stage of the challenge, and I arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday afternoon, just in time to pick up my race packet and to attend the mandatory pre-race briefing, This briefing was by far the briefest of all race briefings I attended all summer. Jerry and I were joined by fellow "Last Great Racer" Sean Nakamura and headed to a great local vegan joint, Vertical Diner.
I devoured a breakfast combo with a stack of pancakes and washed it down with a local brew, you know, just your typical pre-race dinner. Afterwards, we headed straight for our hotel to lay out and prep our gear for race morning and to catch as much sleep as possible. I have to admit, I was quite nervous about this race, but not because of its elevation profile or the terrain. It was because of the various social media posts and race reports mentioning an infamous section of trail between miles 3 and 7, where runners apparently regularly encountered aggressive wasps or hornets.
For someone highly allergic, this had me worried about an early race departure. I did what I could to improve my chances of finishing. I renewed my Auvi-Q (epinephrine injection), carried one one me and left one with my crew. I also planned to run off the front along with the leader group to avoid getting caught in a conga line going up the first major climb that covered the mile 3-7 stretch. I'm happy to report that this plan worked out great. Then again, it appeared there was no stinging insect activity at the race this year, so it seems everyone as safe.
Jerry and I got to the race start with about 30 minutes to spare on race morning. I managed to find Sean so I could wish him luck for the final leg and after he returned the wish for good fortune, we were off. I settled in just behind he front pack to make sure I had room to escape to should the hornets from heel decide to strike. Thankfully, that never happened. Instead, I enjoyed great conversation with a guy I shall call "Coach Adam" as we climbed the first 7 miles of the race. As we approached the top, I decided to pull back on my pace a little and to settle into a slower pace. I also started to stop frequently to take photos of the amazing scenery surrounding us.
My goal for this race was first and foremost to finish within the 36 hour cutoff to ensure completion of "The Last Great Race" and if things felt good, I would go for a sub 30 hour finish. The early stages of the race looked and felt pretty good. That was greatly helped by a cooler than expected morning due to an unexpected rainstorm that dropped temperatures significantly. In fact, these cooler temps also almost became my undoing. Because of the forecast calling for ridiculously high temperatures, I had made the rookie mistake of leaving all of my extra layers with my crew, whom I would not see for another 4-5 hours. I was only 13 miles into the race and my hands were turning blue as we ran along rainy ridge lines.
Thanks to a fellow runner and all around good samaritan, I ended up with a fancy long sleeve shirt that I tied around my waist as I continued to make my way along the course. By the time I finally made it to mile 30 or so to meet my crew, I swapped the shirt (which I thankfully did not really end up needing) for my trusty Patagonia Houdini. I enjoyed catching up with Jerry, but I was already dealing with foot issues way too early in the race, which was also uncharacteristic for my summer of races so far.
In fact, Jerry wasn't supposed to join me until mile 68, but because I was already dealing with issues, he offered to jump in much earlier at mile 45 to run the final 55 miles with me. My pace actually wasn't that bad even with me taking more than usual time in aid stations to try to regroup, but as my feet deteriorated I was losing my motivation to push. When I arrived at mile 45, I had to take off my shoes and socks to let them dry out. I had managed to develop trench foot over just 45 miles. I decided to let me feet air and dry out for 30 minutes before putting on fresh socks and shoes. I had started with Altra Timp 1.5 and now changed into Lone Peak 4.0. Side note, one of the Altra co-founders, Brian Beckstead, shared a cool story with me after the race about how the Lone Peaks were originally developed for Wasatch after he developed similar foot issues to mine at his first go at Wasatch.
I had heard a lot about how scenic this race course was and the Wasatch Front Range certainly did not disappoint. I found myself stopping quite frequently to take in the scenery and to take pics. Only after I started to slow down due to foot issues did I stop taking as many pics. Thankfully, at that point I had captured the beauty that is Wasatch already.
While the sock and shoe change did make a difference in how I felt, the damage had been done already been done with hotspots on the ball of my foot slowly turning to stinging blisters. While climbing did not hurt my feet, descending became more and more painful, especially on the mostly technical terrain. Thankfully, Jerry kept me on task. We may not have been covering ground very fast, but we did keep moving.
Jerry was a trooper, he definitely got some serious "time on feet" out there with me. And because he jumped in so early he also got to see a lot more of the course than he otherwise would have. You're welcome, Jerry:-)
Jerry continued to pull me along the course. Thankfully, then temperatures stayed fairly mild and the rain held off for the remainder of the race. Jerry even had calculated that we still had a shot at sub 30 hours 60+ miles in, but my drive to beat up my feet even more had long faded. I was determined to finish, that never changed, but I wasn't determined to make it even more agonizing than it already was. My feet were shredded, so we continued to put one foot in front of the other.
When the second day finally broke, I was even able to run some, but the hopes of picking up the pace were squashed pretty quickly when the short section of smooth downhill quickly turned to steep and boulder covered trail. So much for making up time.
This race course never allowed me to find any kind of rhythm. The terrain was ever changing, beautiful, but unforgiving. Jerry and I continued to shuffle forward even as the day turned hot. In fact, the final 10K were more or less exposed without any shade. It did not matter, I knew were were going to have plenty of time to make it under the cutoff and I was ready to get this thing done. When Jerry and I finally made the final turn into the finish chute, the clock hit 32 hours and 32 minutes. And just like that, I had not only completed the Wasatch Front 100 Miler, but also the six oldest 100 mile races in the United States over the course of 14 weeks. The Last Great Race, the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning and the Western Slam were done and I had become only the 39th person to do so in over 30 years. It will take some time to process this summer. I think I may even do a brief write-up specifically about this summer and how it all came together and played out rather than another race blow by blow. For now, it's time for some rest and recovery...until the Arkansas Traveler 100 Miler in October, the 7th oldest race in the US:-)



















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