This was a great race! After Western States was canceled this year Wasatch became my focus race for the season. With a solid Vermont 100 and a quick recovery behind me I focused on hillwork and altitude training in the six weeks leading up to Wasatch. I think the combination worked as I felt solid all day with only the occasional bad patch keeping me from breaking 21 hours.
The race started in perfect conditions. Under a cloudless sky my pacer and good friend Craig Thornley drove me to the start and within minutes we were off to the races. The first three miles were along beautiful rolling singletrack and a small pack of five gradually assumed the lead. As we began the 4500 ft climb up Chinscraper the sun emerged in the east and Geoff Roes, Jack Pilla, Larry O'Neil, Leland Barker and I took it all in with smiles on our faces and excitement in the air.
After cresting Chinscraper we cruised the long rolling downhill to the first major aid station of the race at Francis Peak (Mile 18.6). Geoff and Jack had a 30 second lead on me and Larry and Leland were close behind. I met Craig and Jeff Riley at the aid station and ate my customary yogurt and granola, dropped off some stuff and was on my way. In my haste to catch up with Geoff and Jack to have some company for the next section I quickly went off trail and wandered around in the woods for about 10 minutes before I found the trail again and was on my way. Much to my surprise, a few minutes later Geoff, Jack and Larry came up behind me having also gotten a bit off course and we began running together. As the day warmed we enjoyed the scenery from the high ridge line above Salt Lake while Larry regaled us with stories of the powdery old days at Alta and Snowbird. Jack and Geoff were running well and I quickly realized that they were stronger than me on the climbs. Only over the last downhill two miles into Big Mountain Aid Station (Mile 39) was I able to catch back up to them on the long, 1200 foot descent. I knew this was going to be a tough day. In addition, I had already taken two hard faceplants so I was a bit bloodier than usual and had strange pains in my shoulders.
From Big Mountain we continued to run in a pack of four until the downhill into Alexander Ridge. At this point I tried to test my legs on the long technical downhill and thought I had gained a slight edge on Geoff and Jack only to have them quickly reel me in about a mile out of the aid station on the long, sloggy climb between Alexander and Lamb's. From there we ran together into Lamb's during the only really hot part of the day.
I got out of Lamb's quickly but Geoff didn't let me get very far. As I was eating my turkey sandwich he quickly ran by and within minutes had a 200 yard lead on me. As he made the right hand turn onto the singletrack trail heading over BearAss Pass I had a feeling that this was his move. I did not see the tough young Alaskan again until the finish line when he woke up to congratulate me.
The climb up BearAss was a struggle and by the time I got to Elbow Fork and ran in to Hans Dieter in his RV Geoff had a three minute lead. Running every step up the road to Upper Big water gave me a 1:50 split for the Lamb's to Big Water section and I was still within four minutes of Geoff. Craig started running with me here and we made steady progress up to Dog Lake and Desolation Lake where I saw Geoff's silhoutte up on Red Lovers' Ridge. He had 10 minutes on me. "Man, the dude is tough!"
Craig and I hiked hard up to the ridge and ran the entire way to Brighton. My 2:45 split from Big Water to Brighton kept me within 10 minutes of Geoff and I felt great getting into Brighton before 8PM. Looking back on the race now, this 14 mile stretch was by far the most enjoyable section of the day for me on what is, truly, one of the most beautiful sections of singletrack trail I know.
After a quick reload and one last visit with Shelly, Carson, Logan and Tully we were on our way up Catherine's Pass and the high point of the course, Point Supreme. Darkness came about halfway up the climb and we made it into Ant Knolls about an hour after we left Brighton. I was still feeling good. Geoff now had 20 minutes on me. The climb up The Grunt (600 ft vertical in a half mile) really beat me up and I ended up getting into Pole Line Pass 10 minutes behind schedule. At the aid station I pounded some soup and ginger ale and felt much better as Craig and I forged on into the night chasing the Alaskan Flash. If I had any hope of getting close I had to hammer now.
I was happy with my split from Pole Line to Pot Bottom as I took some major risks on the dive and the plunge and powered up the climbs as best as I could. By the time I got to Pot Bottom I was wiped out. It was shortly before 1AM, Geoff had an hour lead, and I was smelling the barn. I took 94 minutes to get home from there. It was a tough last stretch but I was pleased when I finished. Craig did an amazing job of pushing and guiding me to a second place finish and my crew, as usual, were awesome.
It must be said that Geoff's performance was truly outstanding. While he didn't break 20 hours his 5:15 from Brighton to the finish must be the fastest split ever for that section and he old-schooled it the whole way with no pacers or crew and only minimal drop bags. At 32 years old he clearly has many more great runs in his future. Vermonter Jack Pilla should also be congratulated for setting the 50 and over course record and giving me yet another scare (he was nipping at my heels in Vermont earlier this summer) with his 21:47.
As for me, it is time for some time off to enjoy the trails while not being in training mode. I may do something shorter this fall like the Quad Dipsea or perhaps Firetrails before gearing up in the Spring for another shot at Western States. In the meantime I will savor the fact that Wasatch was my 20th 100 mile finish in 20 attempts and continue to revel in the wonder of 100 mile mountain running.