Race Report: 2013 Wasatch 100 Mile Endurance Run by Elizabeth Azze

Nothing is going to stop me from getting to the finish line! I am tired of feeling defeated and weak. Today I am going to finish!

People often ask me why I run ultras or why I prefer the 100 mile distance? There are several reasons why, one is the feeling I have right now while sitting in my living room in NY,  the memories of the amazing people I met, the 100 miles of endless beauty I got to see. The soreness in legs that reminds me of my accomplishment.  When I close my eyes I’m still in the Wasatch Mountains breathing, smelling, seeing, the trail begins to define me and I yearn for more.

After the Tahoe Rim 100 Mile Endurance run won the war against me at mile 80 a few months back, I was hell bent on not letting the Wasatch 100 win. The Wasatch 100 Mile Endurance Run is one of the toughest races around! The course is a point to point course that boast 26,500+ ft of climbing and descending as it  travels through the heart of the epic mountains of the Wasatch range in Utah.

The start:
We milled around at the start eager to begin the adventure that was before us, we nervously chatted with fellow runners and made any last minute adjustments. 5 minutes until race start the announcer exclaimed! Julian headed closer to the front, Harry and I went to the middle, Zsuzsanna was behind us, 10, 9 , 8 , 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 1, we were off! I wouldn’t see Joe until mile 39 and the first fully stocked aid station (AS) wasn’t until mile 18 (Francis Peak). We all had the same goal of getting to the finish line but most likely at different speeds. Joe would be at the 3 crew points along with Phil who at the last minute decided to drive from CO, to help out and possibly pace. Harry and I chose to start the race together to see if we could help each other stay on the sub 30 hour pace. 

The start meanders up and down a relatively wide trail for about 4 miles until you begin the first 4,000 ft climb of the day to the Chinscraper summit. My legs were feeling pretty good until we started climbing, then I knew right away what kind of day it was going to be. In 2010 I bounded up Chinscraper, today I was already fighting to put one foot in front of the other. Harry was looking at his watch and trying to give me pep talks but I know myself by now, I knew I needed to stay in a comfortable place especially this early on. It was important for my mental state to stay positive, my breathing continued to labor as if I never hiked a day in my life. I even began to reach for my music; yes this early... I told Harry to carry on without me, I’ll be fine! I watched him disappear into the crowd ahead and wished him good luck.

Heat? Who would have thought? Back during my attempt in 2010, where I dropped shortly after brighton mile 80 or so due to extreme altitude sickness, it was cold! We even had a bit of snow to contend with, I believe I wore a long sleeve shirt most of the day and layers during the night. Not today, it felt as it was in the mid 70’s at 4:30 in the morning, with the forecasted high temperature of 95º. 

Keith Straw photo by Joe Azze

I kicked it down a notch and told myself to enjoy the sunrise, it was too early to think about anything else. Be present Elizabeth I told myself, look around at the beauty that surrounds you and feel how fortunate you are to be here again, with all these wonderful people.  I looked ahead of me at the beautiful parade of runners, one by one scrambling up chinscraper, all of us with the same goal of covering 100 miles. It didn’t matter if you were in first place or last place, the soles of our shoes and souls of our beings were in the same place.  I totally cleared my mind of anything but moving forward. 3 miles or so from Francis Peak I met some pretty cool folks, Keith Straw who I ran closely behind during the Badwater 2009, he was wearing his normal pink tutu costume. We talked a bit about the day and his amazing summer of participating in the grand slam of ultra running, including a Badwater finish. Then Tyler kept me company a bit, he was from the area and knew the course well. 

Finally the Francis Peak Aid station (mile 18), I looked down at my watch to see close to 5:00 hrs, oh well, I guess I am way off the 29:00 hour mark. The wonderful volunteers handed me my drop bag etc. I was sure to eat & drink enough, and boy it was getting hot! I kept pushing forward meeting new folks, a great man from Ohio and a nice women by the name of Helen Wu. I recognized Helen immediately from the Tahoe Rim 100 in July.  She didn’t remember me but we shared at least 20 miles together at TRT, discussing hiking poles etc.. Today we chatted about the difficulty of this course compared to Tahoe and our goals. Yet another great thing about running 100 milers is getting to know the other crazy people who you are sharing 100 miles of trail with. 

Between the last aid station and this one I’m pretty sure I got stung by something major, the back of my leg began to swell. I was carrying an epi pen but I wasn’t sure if it was a Bee, I decided to wait to see if my throat started to close up. I asked people who were behind me to check it out to see what it looked like, one guy gave me an advil, I didn’t want to startle anyone by saying I was allergic to bee’s so I kept it to myself. I wasn’t sure what to do if I should take the stinger out etc.. So I kept marching on waiting to see if it got worse. Then a gentle giant by the name of Will Jorgensen catches up and says boy you’re one hard women to catch. He was wearing an awesome umbrella hat, I loved it! He was on his way to finishing the grand slam as well, we shared tales from our ultra running accomplishments and our goals for the day. I explained to him my issues with altitude etc. Our conversation boosted my spirit and took my mind off my bite. Soon he was gone and thank god no severe symptoms flourished. 

I started to wonder how far Julian was ahead and I was hoping Harry and Zsuzsanna were having a great time. I arrived in to the AS Sessions Mountain “Lift off”, mile 28.

I saw fellow New Yorker, Shannon MacGregor, he seemed to be in good spirits saying that Harry was about 30 min ahead and he was going to try to catch him; I thought, “wow, he is feeling great!”, good for him!  At this point it was the heat of the day, the dirt beneath my feet reminded me of the beach but there was no water to be found. I looked into the distance what looked like a body of water and fantasized about frolicing around in it, jeez its too early to be in this state... I carried on thinking, “didn't I complete Badwater?”. 

Big Mountain Pass Aid Station, mile 39.4

Finally the Big Mountain AS, mile 39! I stood on the scale, my weight was only 3lb down, I was doing pretty well with my hydration. Phil quickly found me and brought me to a chair, I didn’t see Joe and started to panic, “where is Joe?”.  I really needed to see him at this point, I’m not a fan of chillin at aid stations too long so Phil and I repacked my bag and I started to head out. All of sudden, Joe came running toward me and said do you want me to come with you? I said what? I wasn’t expecting a pacer at this point, what a nice surprise for the first time in 7 years my husband is going to join me on the trail for an entire section, rather then having to track back to get the car, how cool. Are you sure? He said yep, Phil will meet us at Lambs mile 52.

We headed out excited about sharing the next 12 miles together, as we were hiking my stomach was not feeling right so I said to Joe “i’m going to puke now”, just like that, nice and calm, no dramatics. I continued on hiking / running while looking at the views, Joe was in awe of our surroundings. Soon after, it was time to pull over again, I had to get the rest of it out. Then I felt like a new woman. I continued down the trail without a hitch in my step. We reached the top of the ridge & the wind started to pick up, the dramatic mountain views in the distance were disappearing in a haze of smoke, dust or sand? Later someone said it may have been shrimp brine being swept off the lake. All I knew was I found great relief from the wind. Joe captured most of it live, he was filming & facebooking while helping me get refueled with solid foods. Due to the extreme heat I couldn’t digest things I could normally. I cut my nutrition back until the temperatures dropped. 

Lambs canyon AS (mile 52.48, elevation 6111) to Brighton:
Now I was on my own to face the bulk of the night. I left Lambs feeling alone but good! I actually felt great during most of this section. I started to remember things from 3 years ago but the only difference was I reached upper big water as the sun was setting. This year I’m about 3 to 4 hours behind my time from 2010. I cruised up a 3 or 4 mile road climb to upper big water aid station. When I arrive I notice lots of carnage. Will from earlier was sitting under the tent along with Keith, etc. I came in feeling strong, got some food, yelled out to Will, “come on, I can use the company”. I left to make my way to desolation lake. Will caught up with me, we chatted for awhile, then I turned it up probably a little too much; in hindsight, I should have been a little more conservative here. I passed many people on this climb, feeling good. My main goal was to get to Brighton! Scott's Tower AS (mile 69.94, elevation 9,882) came quick, my energy was now lacking,  I should have eaten more at Desolation Lake. I knew from years prior that its downhill from here... Too bad I can't run, so deflating, finally reach pavement and your legs stop moving. It pissed me off! I kept telling myself you have to make it past Brighton! This section took forever! All of sudden I hear, “hey Elizabeth are you ok?”, It's Will in full stride! I tried to stay with him but fell off. Finally I came into the home stretch for the ski lodge.

Brighton to the finish...
I hobbled up the stairs to this surreal indoor aid station. It's trippie to go from being outside for 20 hours, with some of those hours being in the dark and then to walk into fluorescent bulbs, people milling around, some in good shape, others zombies. My eyes are scanning the room for Joe & Phil; where are they? I'm told to stand on the scale, my weight is now back to normal. The volunteers make sure to make direct eye contact & ask you questions just to be sure your with it. I look around getting worried, maybe they are sleeping or something happened to someone on our team. There are a lot of people who all look the same in this small place.  As I make my way back toward the food, Joe and Phil yelled out, Oh thank god! I fueled up determined to make it passed the point I dropped last time. Phil drove from CO to help make sure this happened and was there ready to take on the challenge. We left the aid station together and started the climb up. Things were going well even though my breathing was labored and I yearned to sit on every log bench I saw. We were approaching the highpoint of the course 10,467ft. We kept plugging along catching up on Phil’s new life since he moved to CO. Then I hear, “Elizabeth how are you doing”? Its Will again, he was moving strong. I told him I’m digging deep and a big hug was going to be in order if I make it to the finish line. 

Elizabeth heading out from Brighton AS mile 74  

I was looking forward to the sunrise, even though I knew along with it came another day in the blazing sun. I also knew the views were going to be unforgettable and everyone always says the morning light renews your energy, I hope its true.  Its time to ditch the headlamps as we were finally getting to Catherine Pass AS, mile 77.  It smells like breakfast, yum! I immediately sat in a camping chair in the coolest place to have breakfast. I looked up at the mountains that seemed to shoot into the sky, trees were glowing in an orange tone. I tried to choke down a pancake and hash browns, but the only thing I was really able to get down was orange juice. Phil was great replenishing my gu’s and everything else.  We headed off, of course onto another climb. I couldn’t believe my iPod shuffle from the start was still going! Ant Knolls AS came pretty quick. This is where my pace began to slow and miles seemed to take forever.  

Dive and plunge:
Words I never wanted to hear again when I crossed the finish line, the dive and plunge. The dive and plunge was made up of a seemingly endless series steep rutted downhill sections of trail made up of a loose sand, rocks. I slid with every foot plant, on very fatigued quads, this is where I started to mentally go into a different space. Poor Phil! At times I was so frustrated that I couldn’t make up any time on the downhill, where I usually excel. The section to pot bottom was extremely slow and the heat seemed to drain any energy that I had left. Phil was out of water and I couldn’t take my gu brew anymore, we were in search of any water, where is the spring they told us about.  Phil had an extra coconut water in his bag that he graciously shared with me. I felt a little bit of energy re-entering my being.

My shuffle finally died but I was prepared with a back up nano, yeah! I plugged it in and the music that came out made me want to cry! I looked at the nano “what?”, did I forget to download my music, I see nothing but Joe’s music, oh crap! I tried to listen but I felt like my ears were going to start to bleed. Heavy rock, argh! The heat and the slow miles started to wear on me. Finally a spring! We refilled our hydration bladders. Phil was kind of enough to give me the hat off his head to help me combat the sun. We pushed on!  


Pot Bottom aid station:
With 8 miles to go I still didn’t think I was going to make it in time, I began to get emotional. I told Phil to do a timed run walk and let me know the pace. We started down an exposed dirt road, with one final climb. I decided to try Joe’s music again. I thought anything would be better than nothing at this point. It worked, I listened on low volume, it was enough of a distraction to get me to the top of the hill. I can tell the other runners were in the same boat as I was. Finally we could see the finish from a distance, it never seemed to get closer. Tears started to surface, I’m almost there, I’m going to make it! I put my head down and just ran, soon the pavement was beneath my feet, 2 miles to go. My sobbing got stronger, I was overcome with emotion! I’m finally going to finish a race at altitude! I hit the final stretch, my teammates jump out of a car to run me in, I’m sobbing too much to talk! I’m in disbelief, getting worked up even more seeing my teammates and all the love we have for eachother. The finish line is getting closer and closer I can see the banner. I run in letting out a loud yelp of emotion! I did it!

Elizabeth & Will

I am so thankful to Phil for keeping me going, this is a team sport after all. Will came over and gave me the biggest hug because he saw the roller coaster I was on and knows what it takes to get here. Yay, the finish line!

Congratulations to fellow teammates Harry Hamilton and Julian Vicente for an epic summer of racing and setting the example of what true teamwork is about. Big thank you to all the volunteers, race directors, my husband Joe for all of his support, Phil for sharing 25 miles with me, my fellow MPF/Campmor teammates and our sponsor Campmor for their continued support! 

Thanks Phil for all your help!