10 September 2013

Wasatch 100 Pacing Report

 “Success goes to the ones who do. Get up. Show up. Throw up if you have to. Do it afraid, but do it no matter.” 
-Toni Sorenson
Date: Sept 6-7
Location: Wasatch Mountains, Central Utah
Distance: 48 miles
Time: 19 hours

Of the five mountain hundos I am participating in, The Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run is widely regarded as the 2nd hardest 100 miler after Hardrock. The course, with it's 26k feet of elevation gain, is famous for its difficult terrain, steep climbs and descents, especially in the last 25 miles. The highest point of elevation is at mile 77 (10,467 ft) and at mile 87, runners are forced to endure the notorious "Dive & Plunge", two steep 600 ft descents over loose rocks. Add to this the amount of off-camber terrain, birthing blisters in new places, it's a brutal way to end a long day in the mountains. But I'm getting ahead of myself here...let's start from the beginning.

Sheila's participation in the race was uncertain and she subsequently did not start due to an injury. I still wanted to pace there since it would be a great training run just before I begin a taper for The Bear. So I found another runner looking for a pacer -- Matt Baker from DC -- and made plans to pace him instead. This would be Matt's fourth 100 miler, after completing MMT, Grindstone and Western States. His wife Lindsey would also be there as his crew chief and she could get me out to the Lambs Canyon AS to begin my pacing duties.

I met up with Matt & Lindsey at Sugar House Park last Thursday, dropped off my bags and we went to dinner to get acquainted and talk about the race. I got the impression that Matt would be a lot like my other two runners (Sheila & Jeanne): very self-motivated and mainly wanting the company on the trails. He didn't need a lot of data regarding mileage/pace etc, just some help with getting water refilled & getting refueled at aid stations. I was warned by Lindsey that he'd be a whiny pee-pants in the second half, but apparently Matt donned a different persona because I didn't hear a single whine the entire time we were out there. In fact, he was conversational, positive and a very pleasant person to run with, even when the going got tough. 
Wasatch Mts from Sugar House Park
The first of many "thumbs up" shots
The race started at 5am on Friday and it's always a slow, relaxing morning / afternoon for me as I wait to meet up with my runner later on in the evening. I spent a leisurely morning in SLC before heading over to Park City. That afternoon, I went to the only place I knew of -- Atticus Coffee -- which seems to be the second office of Bryon Powell from iRunFar. I took a local's recommendation and had the Wrap of the Mohicans and Dirty Chai. Oh my, that was a tasty lunch. They also had an open mic and it was nice to have some live music in the background as I read this month's Trail Runner, my blogs and followed the race. Met a nomad by the name of Shytei Corellian who is living the outdoorsy life, working at ski resorts, house sitting and writing novels. She's got one out called Merehr and working on more. It was great to share some friendly conversation with her & the folks behind the counter. If you go to PC, be sure and stop in there, it's a great place to eat and hang out.
Waiting isn't so bad...
Since Matt was holding a 34.5 hr finishing pace, we expected to see him sometime between 8-9p. I met up with Lindsey around 5p, dropped off my car at the finish line, grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed out to Lambs Canyon (Mile 52). We got there a little after 8p and Matt arrived around 8:43p, looking good after going through a couple of rough patches earlier. Temps earlier in the day were in the 90's and runners were dropping. A total of 105 DNFs out of 312 starters. Since I drove all the way from CO to pace him, Matt stuck with it and got through the low points -- one of the incentives of having a stranger from out-of-state pacing you, I guess.
"100 miles is not that far!" Sure, Karl.
Ready to roll out of Lambs
Anyway, Matt got some food, we got his pack refilled and we were on our way around 9p. The weather was warm - I had arm sleeves pushed down and pulled them up only when stopped at aid stations. I didn't need anything else for the rest of the night. After a short road section where Matt ate and brought me up to speed on his race we got on to some nice single track for our first 1500 ft climb out of Lambs Canyon up to Bare Bottom Pass. He was hiking the climb at a good pace and we were passing some folks. This was where I learned that Matt liked to sit down and eat a GU rather than eating it on the go. I told him he'd knock an hour off his total time if he kept moving each time he took one, but he insisted that this break gave him add'l energy, so that was that. Stubborn kid, I tell ya. Sheesh.

We got in to Millcreek (Mile 61) at 11:53p without incident. At this point, I was already hungry and was thrilled to find that my favorite aid station food - grilled cheese - was being served. I shoveled one down along with some watermelon and chased it down with some Coke. Both of us had hot spots on our feet. I put a blister bandage on mine and after we checked out and started on our way, Matt realized he needed to do the same thing. So I ran back to the AS and asked for a piece of duct tape to hold another bandage in place since his feet were dusty. Not ideal, but it got him to Brighton, where he had it tended to properly.

For some reason my recollection of the next 14 miles past Desolation Lake & Scotts Peak is a blur, probably because it was in the dark. I can't even remember the aid stations. I do recall scanning the sky for the Big Dipper, as I have seen it on my other night runs and saw that as a good omen. It was partly cloudy, but Matt thought he saw most of it, so that was good enough for me. 
GU break
We rolled into Brighton Lodge (Mile 75) at 5:03am, where Lindsey was waiting for us. We were ready to eat and to have Matt's blisters taken care of. Turns out, there was only one foot doc, so there was a bit of a wait. It was a madhouse in there, so many people crawling over each other. I had another delicious grilled cheese as well as a potato patty, watermelon & Coke. Hit the spot. Matt got his feet taped up with instructions not to change socks for the remainder of the race. Only 25 gnarly miles to go, what could happen?
Matt's thumb doesn't look as certain as mine does
We finally got out of there 30 min later and headed up Catherine Pass to the course's high point 2.5 miles later. I had been told this is a beautiful piece of trail and in first light, it was dimly apparent as Mary Lake & Lake Martha came into view. We got to the top of Point Supreme and enjoyed some sweet views. This is when I was finally able to get some pics of the course.
Mary Lake (I think)
The Beach
A GU with a view
Still had my Super Pacer socks on
Downhillin' to Ant Knolls
I recall that the descent here revealed I had a couple of blisters forming. By the time we got to the Ant Knolls AS (Mile 79) at 7:36a, it was time to change the socks. Why I didn't tape up the blisters, I don't know. Probably, I was distracted by the food. I loved this aid station and enjoyed chatting with the volunteers there. In contrast to the madhouse at Brighton, there were only a handful of runners, plenty of chairs and they had breakfast! I had pancakes, sausage & hash browns, just what I needed to fuel the short, steep climb up the Ant Knolls. 

We had 3 miles to go before reaching Pole Line Pass (Mile 82) and picking up an extra water bottle for the long, hot 10-mile segment to Pot Bottom. Thankfully, there was plenty of ice available at Pole Line. I iced my bandanna, put ice in our bottles and we were on our way.

GU time

Aspen grove & shade!
Rock Springs
As you can see above, first 5 miles of this section were beautiful. But we knew that at mile 88, the beastly part begins. By this time, both of us had blisters and Matt's quads were shot so the steep descent down the Dive & Plunge was just not fun. Neither of us fell, but there were a couple of near misses. I really didn't enjoy any bit of this section as the trail was just a mess and really tough on blistered feet. It was in this section that we saw Bighorn/Hardrock buddies Scott & Matt as well as Hans-Dieter and we would all end up finishing within 15 min of each other. As the heat intensified around noon, that was the one pleasant thing I recall from those miles.
Top of the Dive
The brief respite 
Matt coming off The Plunge
73 year old Hans getting it done
By the time we got to Pot Bottom (Mile 92) at 1p we were hot and dehydrated, despite bringing extra water. Imagine how we felt when we were told that they were low on ice and giving only one bottle's worth to each of the runners. The only soda was Diet Coke. I basically left with one water bottle and didn't eat anything else.*

The final 8 miles were nothing to write home about. Our final climb featured a dusty, jeep road in which vehicles would kick up dust, exposed to the mid-day sun. By the time we were descending the final few miles, storm clouds were moving in and the wind picked up. Once we hit the last mile of pavement, the heavens opened up and the rain fell. It actually felt good to be done with the heat, and the cold air kept us both motivated to run as much as possible.
BAM! Finished in 34:55
Matt crossed the line 183rd out of 205 finishers after a well fought fight to keep going, despite feeling ill-prepared for these mountains. It was a pleasure to join him on his journey and experience a piece of this storied course for myself. My summer of pacing is now over and I can now focus on recovering and prepping for my first hundred miler coming up in a less than three weeks! I'm getting excited about it, especially now that I'll be seeing Steve & Deb Pero there. Steve will be crewing Deb and has offered to crew me too (presuming I stick with her, of course). It'll be great having their company while I see what it's like to do one of these myself.

*I really appreciate aid station workers and their willingness to come out and help the runners all day long. Overall, the aid stations at Wasatch were great. But many of us going through Pot Bottom in the heat of the day were upset when there was little ice to cool us or our drinks. Someone had a point that if a race advertises fully stocked aid stations, this shouldn't be happening, especially when a) the number of runners can be estimated and b) the forecast is warning of high temps. I think a runner's expectation of having adequate ice/drinks is reasonable, especially when they're paying for that aid.

It's the back-of-the-packers that have to deal with these shortages, the ones out of the course the longest. And don't tell them to just run faster; we all know that developing speed takes time and there are numerous reasons why someone isn't able to run in the front or mid-pack, so let's not oversimplify things. Every race has those that come in the bottom third and they shouldn't be shortchanged because that's the speed they are running on that day. 

It seemed that aid station captains were given the discretion as to how much to supply the runners since some were well stocked and others were not. Perhaps the RD should be more involved in standardizing the basic supply levels, while giving them freedom to add their own personal touch. Maybe Wasatch can take a tip from Hardrock and have the extra aid station food brought to the finish line. 
That way, stations can supply enough for the runners and not waste the leftovers. My two cents. 

Happy Trails,


1 comment:

  1. Good job, Shelby....see you soon! Get those blisters healed and maybe tape them the night before the Bear.