Race entry and lottery season is an exciting time of year on the Mountain Peak Fitness trail running team. This year I was the only one selected to run the Wasatch Front “100 miles of heaven and hell” Endurance Run. Luckily 4 of my teammates had experienced the 2013 Wasatch 100, giving me a good network of people to lean-on for advice during the months leading up to race day.
Now that I was in, one of my first questions to the team was “what should I expect?”. Julian respond with “if you like hills you’re going to hate the first 3 miles and love the last 97 miles.” Getting into one of the oldest and most legendary trail races in ultra running quickly went from “Woo-hoo, I’m in!!!” to “Um, what did I raise my hand for?!?”.
My friend and teammate (2013 Wasatch finisher) Julian Vicente was the first person to embed the reality of how tough this course really is. He was also the first person offering to crew and pace for me. I was grateful and couldn't think of a better person to guide me across the rugged Wasatch Front.
Start-line to Francis Peak, mile 18.4
The race begins 17 miles north of Salt Lake City in East Mountain Wilderness Park. Julian and I drove north from our hotel, the Double Tree that provided awesome pre-and-post race accommodations. The drive north offered a dark silhouette of the mountain range I’d be traversing for a better part of the weekend. A humbling reality quickly set in on the challenge that awaited.
We arrived at East Mountain Wilderness Park 20 minutes prior to the start allowing enough time to get gear together and chat with a few familiar faces. With the long journey ahead I didn't want to push hard from the start, I also didn't want to find myself stuck waiting for people to get through bottlenecks on the single track trail. I positioned myself in the mid to front quarter of the pack, allowing me to keep a consistent and comfortable pace.
The first few miles were rolling sandy trails. There was a lot of conversation around but I stuck mostly to myself finding a pace that worked. By mile 4 the first and biggest climb began. I enjoyed the darkness and found my rhythm. The climb was similar to my training grounds, it felt familiar. The first 15 miles offer 4,500ft of climbing switchbacks until the last 200 yards that was a scramble, more like unsupported rock climbing than running. Volunteers were at the top of the ledge yelling and warning runners of loose rocks falling that people in front kicked out during their scramble up to Chinscraper Summit. At this point the sun appeared offering amazing views and colors across the mountain range. In between dodging rocks, some the size of bowling balls ripping down the course I was able to take in the views.
Once on top of Chinscraper Summit it was a beautiful 9 mile run along the ridge line with views in both directions until reaching Francis Peak, the first aid station with drop bags. After arriving, volunteers quickly checked me in and brought over my bag. I got rid of 10+ empty Gu packets and reloaded, drank an Ensure and consumed some solid food. Knowing that from this point onward supported aid stations were closely spaced apart. I quickly thanked the volunteers and got on my way.
Francis Peak to Big Mountain, mile 39.07
There are 3 supported aid stations between Francis Peak and Big Mountain aid stations; Bountiful (mile 23.82), Sessions (mile 28.16) and Swallow Rocks (mile 34.61). This leg of the race was all ridge line offering limited to no coverage from the sun. The heat was equal proportion to the beauty of these mountains. I stayed on top of my S-cap’s, 1 every hour and Gu’s, 2-3 every hour. Each aid station was filled with experienced volunteers that knew how to get runners fueled-up and on their way while offering words of encouragement and support that kept us all in the positive.
I ran the downs and power hiked the ups, there are no flats. In the words of Harry Hamilton, “this course is no joke!”. The last 4 miles before Big Mountain aid station descents on rocky, single switchback track. I led a pack of 3 runners, all who finished the race in previous years. The runner directly behind me started complimenting me on my calves and after several minutes of compliments, he mentioned that if he couldn't find any girls to run behind he wanted to follow me to the finish line using my calves as motivation. Though I’m sure these were compliments I decided to take off, not wanting to be followed for 65 remote miles.
Getting closer to Big Mountain the course was marked with decorative pink flamingos. It was a good indicator I was approaching the aid station and to pick up the pace, shortly after the first few pink flamingo’s I could hear then see all the people volunteering and crewing runners. My friend Tom O’Reilly who’s girlfriend Elaine Acosta was also running, greeted me and had an area with my drop bag and a chair waiting for me. It was a big boost of energy to see him and to my surprise Julian was there too! I wasn't suppose to see Julian until Lamb’s aid station, mile 52.48.
Julian asked me if I wanted him to jump-in and pace earlier than planned. After being pounded on by the sun all day I was eager to say yes but also aware there was still a long way to go. Sensing my hesitation he firmly told me “I’m here to run, I want to be in these mountains all weekend!” I told him “you get what you ask for, let’s do this”. Tom wished us well and we were off.
Big Mountain to Lamb’s, mile 52.48
There was a new energy with Julian joining in. I felt like a major milestone was reached and whatever challenges come our way, we would overcome. This section offered a climb, more ridge line running, descents and rolling hills. At this point the sun had paid its toll, I was feeling beat up and eagerly waiting the cool, dark night. Running 100 miles is paradox; in the heat of day you want coldness of night and in the darkness of night you want light of day.
At this point I started focusing on being present, enjoying the amazing Wasatch Mountains and being grateful for sharing this journey with a good friend and running into so many people I’ve met at previous races. Julian challenged me to run when I could and took over the responsibility of telling me when to take a Gu, drink or pee. I don’t know where else it’s okay to tell another person when they need to go to the bathroom but it was nice being able to solely focus on constant forward motion.
As we arrived into Lamb’s, the sun was setting and I heard my name cheered by a few people. The halfway point is always a pivotal point in a 100 mile run and a good chance to check-in with yourself. Any necessary adjustments are critical; nutrition, hydration and gear. One of my friends,Todd Kearns who I met at the Telluride Mountain Run came over to offer support. He was a huge help getting me a coke, noodles and broth as I changed gear and prepared for the long, dark and cold night. Todd was waiting for his friend to arrive who he was pacing, we both wished each other a safe, fast journey and Julian and I were on our way.
Lamb’s to Upper Big Water, mile 60.94
As we left Lamb’s AS, the sun had set and darkness surrounded us. Refueling, changing clothes and the drop in temps offered a new serge. Julian and I moved quickly up the road several miles until reaching Bear Pass trailhead. It was a big climb, up and over the pass but I’d hiked the trail a few days prior so I knew what to expect. I took out my Z-poles for the first time during the race and kept a consistent 15-18 minute/mile to the top of the trail. The top of the pass offered amazing night time views of Salt Lake City. I thought about the thriving city in the distance and all the people enjoying their Friday night. I was glad to be in the mountains and away from city living.
We picked up the pace on the downhill with our head torches lighting the way. I was getting tired and my eyes began to play tricks on me as we passed runners with reflective material on their hydration packs and jackets. Coming off the trail there was a long, grueling uphill road section to Big Water aid station. There was a good mix of running and walking. Along this section we’d catch up with runners walk for a bit then run to the next group. We eventually reached the aid station. Big Water was awesome, fully stocked with warm food, drinks and my drop bag. I stayed away from the heated section with cots and sleeping bags. I knew it was a trap that had attracted many runners who took advantage of the cozy space. I could tell Julian was getting tired saying he’d wait for me near the heat lamps. I told him no-way, let’s go!
Upper Big Water to Desolation Lake, mile 66.02
We got back on the trail and pushed up another big uphill. These climbs are relentless. It was late, cold and each step my eyes were staying shut longer. I was trying not to think about the cozy, makeshift heated room at Upper Big Water aid station with all the runners warm and comfortably sleeping but I couldn't divert my focus elsewhere. As we got further along the climb and closer to Desolation Lake Julian said he was going to need to rest for a few minutes. I was feeling the same and welcomed the quick rest. Desolation Lake aid station is a campsite in the middle of no where with limited supplies. Julian jumped in a chair and shut his eyes, I laid on the ground next to the campfire with smoke covering my lifeless body. I felt the wet ground seep through my clothes but I didn't care. I was asleep as fast as I laid on the ground. Julian woke me, I was in rough shape but stayed mentally focused and knew we had to keep moving.
Desolation Lake to Scott’s Peak, mile 69.94
The uphill climb continued and became more vertical. It was that point in the race the course paid its toll on everyone, There was total carnage, people were laying out on the side of the trail and mountain, everyone battling struggles that are brought on during the darkest hours of night. We reached the top of the mountain when I heard Julian let out a loud scream. I turned around, he was on the ledge of the trail with both his arms up looking down into a steep, dark void. He said he was dreaming and caught himself before going over the edge.
We regrouped and pushed the last few miles to Scott’s Peak aid station. We were both in agreement that we needed more rest, again. Scott’s Peak also had a makeshift heated room that I warmly embraced. Only one cot in front of a heat lamp with a sleeping bag. My biggest fantasy for the last 10 miles was now in front of me and all my drive to keep moving forward was subdued. I was quickly asleep and have never been more comfortable. Julian woke me up saying we’d slept for 20 minutes and it was time to go. I’d later check aid station splits that showed we’d spent an hour sleeping the race away!
Scott’s Peak to Brighton, mile 74.63
We left Scott’s Peak while it was still dark. My body was cold and tight but shortly after Julian made me run, I warmed up and felt well rested from the hour slumber. I was ready to push hard. Scott’s Peak to Brighton is downhill on service road that leads to a brief section of paved road. We were both tired of the night and ready for the day. I put on music and just moved. Brighton is a ski lodge and big aid station with lots of crew waiting, drop bags, warm food and friendly faces. I was ready to get in and out after my long stay at Scott’s. I changed my clothes, brushed my teeth and fueled up.
Brighton to Pole Line Pass, mile 82.31
This was the last big, technical climbing section on the course. As we left Brighton I shoved a Stinger Waffle in my mouth trying to load up on quick energy. My body had other plans and left me dry heaving outside of Brighton. People passed giving me words of encouragement; “it happens”, “let it all out”… I thought this sucks but it was over as quick as it started and I was ready to keep moving.
We climbed up Catherine Pass, 10,222ft and then up the highest point in the course, Sunset Pass, 10,467ft. We watched the sunrise and pushed out of the darkness on top of Sunset Pass. The dawn of the second day felt like an internal reset button had been pushed. My feet were pretty chewed up from running on rocks for more than 24 hours but nothing that would prevent me from staying in forward motion.
At Ant Knolls aid station, mile 79.13 I was greeted with pancakes and hash browns. Sleep deprivation, mental fatigue and physical exhaustion was affecting the behavior of other runners at the aid station but I felt surprisingly good. I’ve never slept during a race before but it proved to be an advantage later in the game. I told a volunteer at the aid station my body was pretty beat up and she offered some kind words that really sunk in. As much as running is an individual's journey it takes a tribe to help people achieve the 100 mile distance. I told the volunteers at Ant Knolls aid station how grateful I was for their commitment through the night and that I’d see them at the finish line.
From Ant Knolls we had a steep climb to a ridge line that eventually lead to a descent down into Pole Line Pass aid station. The grill was going with bacon and other breakfast food. Julian and I dropped all our night gear in my drop bag. I asked if I’d still need my head torch, that got a quick response of “we’re not going to be out here another night!”. At this point it felt like the never ending run.
Pole Line Pass to Decker Canyon, mile 93.89
SO close, yet so far. Mentally I was shot. My perception of time, distance and day was gone. My Garmin died hours ago. When I encountered people I’d ask how far to the finish; a fellow runner said “10 miles”, I ran some more, a volunteer told me “8 miles”, I ran some more, a pacer told me “9.5 miles, I ran some more, crew told me “10 miles”, I ran some more, another pacer told me “11 miles to go, good job!”. What was happening? Was the course getting longer? After a long gradual climb up the Lower Old Goat Junction we saw the finish line. Thinking this was the homestretch the course pushed us further and further away, down the mountain and back up another. The finish line that was in sight a moment ago was gone. The race continued.
Decker Canyon to Soldier Hollow, mile 100(!!!)
Though the race seemed never ending I realized coming out of Decker Canyon this adventure was in the final moments. The course winded along a gravel bike path between a mountain and Deer Creek Reservoir until Soldier Hollow was in sight. About 15 people I leap frogged with throughout the race came together and shifted into small packs for the last 6 miles. We cheered each other on during the final push. It was awesome! The last quarter mile was on road. Cars driving by honked, people cheered, it was surreal. At some point on the course Julian and I promised each other we’d never run another 100, just stick to 50’s. After crossing the finish line Julian and I stood there collecting our thoughts. I asked are you putting your name in for the lottery next year? Julian responded, “hell yeah, you?”, without thinking twice I said “you know it, I wouldn't miss this race for the world!”.
Wasatch Front 100 mile Endurance Run - Post run
The road to Wasatch was a long, turbulent journey. It was the toughest run I’ve ever done and one of the biggest goals I’ve achieved. The 33 hours and 21 minutes spent in the Wasatch Mountains challenged me physically, mentally and emotionally. It was not an individual effort. My coach, teammate and friend, Elizabeth Azze worked with me after an ankle roll that removed my tendon from the bone. When I questioned if the 2014 race season was in my future she dedicated time, believed in me and got me from 0 to 100 miles in 3 months.
Julian Vicente put his life, family and successful business on-hold to travel across the country, hold me accountable and guide me through one of the toughest footraces in the country. The race directors and countless volunteers who gave up their weekend to support, cheer and help so many people achieve a lofty goal is a pure and selfless act of kindness. All my friends that sent words of encouragement and cheered from afar kept me strong. It feels better proving friends and supporters right than naysayers wrong. This was an adventure and experience I’ll lean-on for the rest of my life. Keep adventuring, never lose hope and always move forward!
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Videos, Race Reports & Photos from the 2010 & 2013 Wasatch 100 Mile Endurance Run