I ran the Bighorn 100 back in June, and the further I distance myself from that event the more unimpressed I am with my run. I finished in 8th place, which is pretty good, but I feel like it wasn’t a committed performance. I was too conservative, scared of the heat, and I copped out at the end; I didn’t run like a man on a mission.
Wasatch 100 is a different beast of a race than Bighorn: it is much more elevation intensive, rugged, and dry. Almost perfect. I was lucky to get into the race through the lottery and I was determined to make my chance count. I didn’t know where that would place me in the race, but I was going to find out.
My training leading up to Wasatch was good, even if it was a little disjointed by the birth of our second daughter. The real hiccup was a bad ankle sprain 4-weeks before the race started. It made for a more mellow taper, but after rehabbing hard I was ready to rock on race day.
|My squad at the start|
At 5 AM, we were off into the darkness at the base of the Wasatch mountains, just north of Salt Lake City. I felt blind: it was a moonless night, I had no idea who was around me or where I was going. I was watching the ground like a hawk making sure I didn’t re-sprain my ankle in the first few miles before the climbing began. I thought a few people zoomed way out ahead of me, but I knew I was somewhere near the front of the pack. No worries: the plan was to start out relaxed, maybe tuck in behind some leaders, and see what I could do later.
|Beautiful morning at The Chinscraper (Photo Credit: Lane Bird)|
After a couple miles of plodding along in the dark, I passed a runner. Turns out it was Dominick Layfield, and he asked me “Are you going for the win?” I was confused why he was asking me this. I replied, “I’m just trying to have a good race.” We wished each other luck and and continued our 4,000 foot climb up to “The Chinscraper”. A little bit further on a runner caught up to me; it was Travis Macy, and we casually chatted as we hiked and ran up the climb. As we went over The Chinscraper, the guys at the top said “I don’t think anyone has ever gotten up here this fast before!” I was confused again. “What about the dudes ahead of me?” A few miles later as Travis and I were cruising the ridge line, I asked him, “do you have any idea how many guys are ahead of us?” “Uh, I think its just us, man” he replied. What?! It was all starting to make sense now, but I had no idea that I had been leading out the race. I almost didn’t quite believe him. I asked the race director at Grobben’s Corner how many were ahead of us. “Just you and the three pretty girls ahead of you,” he said. I promised him I would try to catch up to them.
|Descending into Big Mountain Pass Aid Station, mile 39|
Travis and I continued to run at a relaxed, conversation pace, through the rest of the morning. We did a little leap frog now and then; Travis would spring out of an aid station ahead of me, but then I’d catch up and get a minute on him for awhile. It made for a fun morning of Wasatch mountain running.
|Leading at mile 39|
I felt great coming into Big Mountain Pass at mile 39. I had a couple minutes on Travis and I was excited to see my crew. It was starting to warm up and I had stuffed ice into my pack, hat, and neck gaiter and I was delighted at how good that felt. I fueled up and headed off into the dreaded 13 miles of trail until Lamb’s Canyon at mile 52. This section is notorious for being hot and uninspiring as you run beneath power lines and above buried gas pipelines. It got really hot here, and I started to suffer a little as my ice melted away shockingly fast. I was determined not to let the heat get me today, so I eased the pace, let Travis go a little bit, and tried to stay positive.
As I plodded along I was surprised to see Travis coming towards me. Uh oh, I knew that meant we missed a turn. We explored a little bit together, running all the way to I-80 before we knew we were way off. We could see the Lamb’s Canyon aid station, but had no idea how to get there. We found a very obvious, but unmarked trail that went through an archery range. It was a risk, but we took it. We wandered around all over the place until we got onto what looked like old railroad grade trail. We followed that until it finally dumped us back on track. I figured we lost a lot of time, and I was nervous to see how much damage had been done. “More miles, more smiles, right?” I said to Travis. I’m not sure he agreed with me. By the time we got to the aid station it was clear we weren’t leading anymore.
|Finally arriving at Lamb’s Canyon, mile 52, after some exploring|
|More miles more smiles|
Rather than getting down about losing 30 minutes (or so), I was just pissed. All that hard work for the lead was erased while wandering around the Alexander Ridge inferno! I left Lamb’s Canyon with a fire lit underneath me and was determined to track down the new leaders. Surprisingly, after going beneath I-80, almost instantly everything got better. There was shade, tall trees, and lovely cold creeks flowing. The air felt dramatically cooler and I was ready to rock. I passed Dominick, Chris Schurk, and I think I regained the lead in about 5 minutes. Awesome.
|Never thought I’d run under an interstate highway! Pissed off and charging up the road.|
As I climbed up the Lamb’s Canyon trail Chris tucked in behind me. He’s a strong climber. I was thrilled to find some lovely smoothish and steep downhill after Bare Ass Pass so I decided to push a little. It was cool out, I felt great, we were in the second half of the race, why not? I was quickly out of sight from Chris and I took a more relaxed approach up the road to Upper Big Water. Chris caught up with me on the road and we ran together and had a great time chatting. Turns out he’s a Wyoming boy too. Yeehaw! We arrived at Upper Big Water aid station together, mile 61, and I still felt great.
“The race starts at Upper Big Water” my coach Ty had told me. I was stoked, time to push on and see if Chris would come with me. We both climbed well, and I maintained about a minute lead on him. After passing a “Dog Lake”, there was a relatively short but steep section of downhill. I licked my chops and dropped in like a skier into a couloir. My feet were moving brilliantly fast until I was suddenly stopped dead in my tracks. It was that knife sharp pain in the back of my hamstring that, I thought, could only be a cramp. No worries, stay calm, I thought, I can deal with a cramp. I popped some electrolyte pills, drank some water, and ate some potato chips. As I was taking care of my leg Chris came scampering by. I wasn’t worried, yet.
I tried to start running again, but I couldn’t. I walked down the rest of the descent, and then gingerly started the next climb. I was itching to run, but my hamstring was just too tight feeling. Once I thought about it, my hamstrings had been tight for a little while, but what isn’t tight after 65 miles of running? I stretched a little, took some ibuprofen, clenched my teeth, and soldiered on. I purposefully did not have a headlamp with me; I needed to get to Brighton, mile 75, before dark.
|That cheese stick is about to get stuffed down my throat. Brighton Lodge Aid Station, mile 75|
I didn’t move well, but I did move. The descent into Brighton on the road was extremely challenging. I felt like my hamstring could go on me at any minute, but I did run the whole thing. I made into town right at dark, but I couldn’t figure out where to go. After wandering around Brighton in the dark for 5 minutes I eventually made it to the aid station, happy to see me crew one more time and still be in second place. I was also glad to pick up my pacer, Maggie Heller, for the nighttime running. 25 miles to go didn’t sound bad at all. However, I was nervous; I knew this was the critical section of the race. Chris was only 10 minutes ahead of me, and I was totally confident that if my hamstring held on I could chase him down and maybe even win. I also knew with the ridiculous amount of descent left that if my hamstring did not work, I was utterly screwed. Ella literally shoved a string cheese in my mouth and Maggie and I headed off into the night.
|Make it or break it time|
Maggie and I began the rocky 1,600′ climb up to Catherine’s Pass and I can only describe it as one of the low spots of the day for me. I think one of the toughest parts of running 100 miles is the lack of sleep, and I sure got sleepy. My eye lids felt like lead weights and I just wanted to close them so badly. I tried talking Maggie into letting me close my eyes for 45 seconds, but we agreed on 30. So, I sat down and covered my eyes for 30 seconds while Maggie timed me. She did a 5 second count down and I hopped back up, and I actually felt a bit better. The descent down Catherine’s Pass is loose, rocky, and pretty fun. However, I think this was the last downhill I was able to run. I made it to Ant Knolls Aid Station, mile 79, in one piece, but I could tell I was being hunted down, as I could see headlamps in the distance behind me.
|Maggie and I heading off into the night|
I marched up “The Grunt” after Ant Knolls at a tolerable pace, but the stabbing pain was really getting to me now. It finally occurred to me that this was not a multi-hour cramp (duh), but that I had really hurt my muscle. We were finally into the easiest part of the course and I just could not move efficiently. I’d try to run and would last only a minute before the pain was too much. I’d rally, tell myself I came here to suffer, and I’d start again. I’d only last 45 seconds. Then 30. Next only a handful of steps. The utterly runnable trail down to Pole Line Pass Aid Station, mile 82, just about killed me; the pain was excruciating as I hobbled down. Travis finally caught me and drifted by with a friendly “Good job, Gabe.” It was at about this point it really started to become real how screwed I was. Since I couldn’t run, I tried to fiercely hike as fast as I could. That got slower and slower too, of course. Maggie even tried to get me to skip down the trail to see if that helped. Still no luck. Another guy glided past me in the night. Damn. It was all just unraveling.
I was tired and worked, of course, but the desire, motivation, and energy to run were all still there. My legs felt pretty good, besides the one hamstring, but I was starting to feel helpless. Maggie asked me what I was thinking and I told her I was thinking about pulling the plug. At first she tried hard to talk me out of it. She told me only to considering quitting if I might actually be hurting myself. I told her I think the whole muscle was about to split in half. As we slowly walked down to Staton North, mile 87, I knew I was done. The aid station crew asked if I needed anything, I replied I just wanted to pout for awhile.
So that’s it, that was my Wasatch “100”. Am I disappointed and frustrated? You bet. I poured everything into this race, and I was close to having my dreams come true. But let’s be real, its a race; a totally arbitrary 100 mile run through the Wasatch mountains. I signed up and paid money for this crap. On the bright side, I accomplished every other goal for the day: I ran with full commitment that never faded, I “ran my own race”, I managed heat and hydration the best I ever have, and I had a great time in some beautiful and new mountains. Maybe best of all, I know I can do it: I can compete with some of the best in the business. Its a brutal sport, and anything can always happen in 100 miles, but on a different day I know I can finish right up there at the front. How exciting is that? Next time I get a chance to run Wasatch it won’t be about “revenge” or anything ridiculous like that; it will be another great opportunity to spend a day running in the mountains and see where my limits are.
I also had the pleasure of being surrounded by an amazing crew: my dedicated wife Jenny, my energetic girls Ella and Cora, my parents Bob and Ginny who took all the pictures and were instrumental in child care, my super pacer Maggie, and my super crew friend Lindsey Thalacker. My gratitude for them is simply beyond words. I also have to thank my coach Ty Draney who got me physically and mentally in bangin’ shape for this race. Thanks also to all the folks that followed the race online and sent good thoughts, your energy is powerful.
|My oldest and youngest fans|
Congratulations to Chris and Travis on awesome races. They are definitely two good dudes who deserved to finish well.
What’s next? Time to get some firewood, some quality family time, and start dreaming big for next year.