It had been a tough year of running ultras. I hadn’t finished a running race since a year ago at UROC 100k. I tried to race my first 100 miler at Rio Del Lago last November as a last chance effort of getting a Western States 100 qualifier. I use the word race because I was overly confident in my fitness. I had a great summer of mountain running in the High Sierras. Since RDL100 is fairly flat, I was not at all worried about the course there. Not even about the distance. I ran hard for as long as possible until injuring my left hip flexor at mile 96. I could not finish. I was broken. I DNF’d (did not finish). Lesson learned: 100 miles is never guaranteed.
Winter came and I switched focus to new sports of splitboarding and cross country skiing.
The hip pain went away by the new year but I gained a new injury in my right ankle (tendonitis that was likely due to doing way to much training on skis for my first season on them). I raced a couple local xc ski races while waiting for the ankle pain to allow me to run. 6 weeks before Canyons 100k in May, I was finally able to put in high running mileage. My fitness and uphill running was near its best ever. I showed up to the race feeling fit, healthy and ready to race. Then I DNF’d at mile 42 of Canyons from my right hip flexor. Perhaps 6 weeks of running was not enough to prepare for running fast downhill.
I spent the next two months cycling, swimming and climbing lots of 14,000ft mountains with my splitboard. With a good snow base this year I was still snowboarding multiple times off the summit of Mt Shasta until the end of June. My endurance was great all year even while injured as I could still put in all day adventures climbing with my snowboard. With a 2 month block to training for Wasatch I had to start trying to run again. For the first few weeks my training looked as if I was going to race an Ironman with lots of brick workouts including cycling, running, and swimming. Many of the days were all three. I told myself I was going to Ironman train my way to Wasatch. Slowly I built up my running as my hip would allow. I just had to get the running fitness into the legs. I prematurely forced the long runs longer each weekend, with as much vert at as high of altitude as I could. Long runs went from 13 Miles, to 18 miles, then 32 miles, then 37 miles. Each time at higher than the race course’s altitude. After each week the pain was going away and running fitness was improving. Three and a half weeks before the race I spent 4 days in the Eastern Sierras at high altitude. Not for the only purpose of training, but for an adventure that I felt I might be able to recover from. I crammed in 110 miles with around 35,000ft of gain while climbing 14,000ft mountains, running on and off trail in some of the best mountains in North America. I was as fit as I could get. Then, of course, two weeks before the race my right hip flexor was in pain again.
On September 9th, I showed up to the race with a cold I got a few days earlier. I was worried about my hip and not even sure I could finish it. I figured worst case scenario I make it half way and have to drop but still got to see some new mountains and run with over 300 likeminded athletes. Heck, it was a lottery to get into the race and it was already paid for. I came up with an A goal of getting on the podium, a B goal of finishing under 24 hours, a C goal of finishing just to get a Hardrock and Western States qualifier. I didn’t know what the winning time that would be as the course changed and they added even more elevation gain for 26,000ft of total gain for the 100 miles this year. I never worried about my competitors for this race. I have never run 100 miles and I have never climbed this much at once either. I had mixed feelings of being scared about running 100 miles over the Wasatch mountain range. At the same time I was very excited to see new mountains in a different state.
The race started as any other race with most people going out way faster than they should. I settled back in 30th or 40th for the first few miles. I slowly worked my way to around 10th place by mile 16.
By mile 25 I had a weird feeling of sleepiness. I kept an even easy “all day effort” and maintained position until mile 42. My whole body locked in cramps (I’m guessing because of the cold I had). It took 90 minutes to go the next three miles. I began telling myself that my day was over and I switched to my C goal of just finishing. Jared Campbell soon passed me during my low patch and told me “Everything gets better after Lambs aid station, the cooler temps and better scenery will turn everything around.” I continued to tell myself that for many miles.
My headlamp was at mile 67 and I was now freaking out I would not make it there before dark (stupid overly optimistic planning). I was passed by a friend (Thomas Reiss) at mile 52 who was pacing Jadd Martinez and he gave me his spare emergency headlamp. I was sure I could not make it to my own headlamp by dark. I continued to hike as fast as I could without causing cramps. Then around Mile 56 I was back to running again. I pushed the pace as hard as I could to get to my headlamp. I arrived to Brighton aid station, mile 67 at 8pm. I made it there at dark. I picked up my headlamp, warm clothes for the 30 degree night, and my pacer Makai Clemons. I told him my A goal is out the window but we might be able to salvage my B goal and finish under 24 hours.
We climbed up the highest pass of the day at around 10,500ft in the dark. I apologized to my pacer that we didn’t get to see this in daylight since it is the most scenic area of the race. Following the climb is the steepest and toughest descent of the race at mile 70. My quads go into a cramping fit and I am back to walking. Soon enough the cramping goes away only to be replaced with very painful IT Bands. I am back to fast walking some more. As I continue on down the trail in self pitty I tell Makai that we might be walking it in. He yells back to me “whatever it takes to finish”. It was exactly what I needed him to say. I was thinking maybe a 26 or 27 hour finish with the pace I was walking.
After lots of stretching breaks and Ibuprofen I was able to shuffle into the mile 85 aid station somewhere around 15th place. The volunteer told me I was 7 minutes behind 24 hour pace, but that I looked way better than the rest of the people in front of me. “I feel great but I can’t run downhill” I told the volunteer. My pacer and I thought I could try to make up time running the uphills hard since I was walking the downs. I slammed two gels with some Coke. We left that aid station and ran as much of the climb as I could. I am not sure if it was getting the legs moving fast again or the gentler terrain but the pain in my IT Bands went away and I was running the downs again. By mile 90 aid station we were 9 minutes ahead of 24 hour pace. We started to run as hard as my quads would allow passing runner after runner. The last 5 miles I was running out of breath as I pushed as hard as I could. Unfortunately, I looked over to my pacer and he looked very casual at my blistering pace (it was likely a jogging pace but felt fast).
I crossed the finish line in 23:07 and in 9th place. It was a very anticlimactic finish with a crowd of the race director to shake my hand along with a few other finishers and their pacers. We were all shivering in the cold night in sweaty running clothes with the only warm shelter was the park bathroom to huddle in.
Whatever, I finally broke my DNF streak! I finished my first 100 mile race! I didn’t meet my A goal, but completely surprised myself with that fast finish. My ultramarathon thirst has been quenched.
What are my thoughts on the course? It is a challenging course that would have been even harder if it was a hot day. It was not a technical course at all in my opinion except for a few short steep sections. There are really no flat sections. You are climbing or descending all day. The scenery was excellent for about half of the course with the other half just ok. It’s hard living in California and visiting the High Sierras or even the northern sierras all year long in your backyard to use as a comparison. In my opinion again, our mountains are sexier than yours. The aid stations were very well managed with great staff that treated you like your crew would. The worst part of the event is the terrible course marking. It is probably the worst marked course I have ever seen. There were lots of mile or further sections without any markings. Many intersections were not marked. How I did not ever make a wrong turn is simply a miracle. Maybe again I am just spoiled with such great race management companies in Northern California like Inside Trail Racing, Canyons 100k, Castle Peak 100k, Silver State 50 Miler etc.