After some inconsistent performances at my favorite running distance, I strived in 2018 to get the 100-miler dialed in and be steady on the long run. Prior to this season, I’d never finished more than one 100-mile race in a year, and frankly that’s the sort of thing that keeps me up at night. I believed that I had what it takes to complete three in one year, and even though there is more than 70,000 feet of climbing between Orcas Island 100, Bighorn 100, and Wasatch 100, I knew I could perform well at all three burly mountain runs.
If Orcas Island was an appetizer and Bighorn a main course, then Wasatch was desert for the year; a quality performance against steep competition at Wasatch 100 would make for a really fantastic season. But, it’s not that simple of course. Putting my body back together after running Bighorn 100 on a sprained ankle was a challenge, and I certainly could not have done it without the support of Ty Francis at Wind River Physical Therapy. There are many good PT’s in Lander, but Ty’s experience as an athlete and deep understanding of running mechanics was crucial in helping me feel healthy, strong, and confident again. In my build-up to Wasatch 100 I also switched to wearing La Sportiva shoes, which not only performed extremely well, but so far have done a phenomenal job at helping me stabilize my ankles and stay injury free. As they say, sometimes the hardest part is just making it to the starting line.
It was an almost uncomfortably warm September morning at the start of Wasatch 100, which was fine with me, as I’d carefully constructed a nutrition and race plan to cope with the high temps, as well as done my heat homework in training. There was a really competitive field at Wasatch this year, and I was in a good mental place to handle that as well. A pacy front pack broke off quickly early on in the race, and if I learned anything from following along at Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc this year it is that nobody cares who is leading at mile 5, 15, or even 50, in a 100-mile race. I stuck with the lead pack up the first 4,500 foot climb, but the pace quickly got silly-fast at the first long, cruiser descent. Feeling like a savvy veteran, I backed off, and let the five or six lead runners go.
Even when you think you have things under control in 100-mile race, often you don’t. I thought I was setting myself up for success with a conservative start, but a bout of early morning stomach problems had me hiding in the bushes several times, and a missed turn added some distance, vert, and frustration to the equation—and it was merely mile 20. Feeling a bit depleted from the bathroom stops, I eased my effort even more, consumed as many calories as I could, and forged on knowing that there was plenty of time to turn things around.
To my surprise, it didn’t take long at all for me to start reeling runners in one-by-one. My body was coming around and I was moving pretty well with minimal effort. By the time I left the Big Mountain aid-station at about mile 32 I was in 2nd place and feeling pretty darn good overall. I fueled up, iced up, and hydrated even more in an effort manage the notorious heat that was lurking in the Alexander Ridge and Lamb’s Canyon sections of the course.
It seems like all runners trip on a rock and take a real digger a few times a year, but I’m not sure that had happened to me yet in 2018—until Wasatch. I was descending a relatively mellow hill through the other kind of Wasatch “powder”— the impossibly fine moon dust that covers much the trails. My left foot caught a rock and I started to go down, and as I stuck my hands out to break my fall, the tips of my two longest fingers on my left hand just barely caught the edge of a log that was just off the trail. My ring and middle fingers bent ludicrously far back and to the outside (later I found out that I tore a couple ligaments), and I ended up in a heap in a pile of dust that was finer than flour. I hopped up right away, kind of in shock, and just kept running. It took just a few minutes to realize that my left hand was basically useless and that I looked like total shit covered in all that dirt. I tried to brush it off as I ran, and told myself that you don’t need fingers to run so it wasn’t a big deal.
I pulled myself back together, again, and cruised along well enough. It wasn’t too long after my tumble in the dirt that I caught the leader and he tucked in behind me. It’s true that you really don’t need fingers to run 100-miles, but you do need fingers to open Honey Stinger waffle wrappers, Skratch packets, to take bottles out of your pack, etc. I started to make little mistakes that were going to add-up and cost me, like not putting my Skratch mix in bottles at Alexander Ridge because I couldn’t open them with one hand and I didn’t feel like waiting for the aid-station volunteers to do it—really dumb, I know.
I got big time off course in 2015 at Wasatch 100 (after running with another guy in the lead…) and I was paranoid about not letting that happen again. I watched for every course marker like a maniac, and was pleased that the guy I was running with was from Salt Lake City; he’d scouted this section of the course and had the .gpx file of the route on his watch. We followed all the course markers exactly, but ended up on the hot I-80 frontage road that leads to the Lamb’s Canyon underpass. I knew this didn’t seem right, but I hadn’t done this section of the course right last time so I didn’t really know. The guy showed me the map on his watch and we were right on track, so I reluctantly ran down the road to the aid station. I had ran out of my plain water not long before this and was starting to get cooked, so taking a leisurely aid station break to cool off was just what I needed.
As we approached the Lamb’s Canyon underpass, immediately the aid station captain came out and shouted at us that we were way off course and needed to turn around. I wasn’t even pissed—I half expected that to happen. I just turned around and ran back up the black top another mile back to the trail, and traced my way back to the last course marker. A volunteer was there trying to find out where we had missed a turn, but he had no idea where it was either. The three of us wandered around, wondering where the hell to go in this inferno. Close to that frontage road I eventually found a faint, completely unmarked trail, that went in the direction of the aid-station. I was really hot and thirsty by this point, and decided to take the risk and follow the unmarked trail. Thankfully, several minutes later I found a marker and was back on the right track.
In many ways my race ended right there. The eventual winner, who had run the course before, did not miss that unmarked turn and continued on to have a great race. After getting overheated my stomach went south on me again, and I had a terrible time taking in calories, much less opening any of the food packaging. I did my best to stay positive, keep moving, and set myself up for success further down the trail, but in reality I was just way too cooked, depleted, and under fueled. I simply moved too slow. DNFing was a thought that wandered in and out of my mind for a few hours, but I knew that was simply unacceptable. My pacer, Josh Fuller, was instrumental at prodding me along through the winding Wasatch trails at night. When the temps cooled off and I got some Mountain Dew in me I was able to push harder for a barn burning finish and hold onto 5th place; not what I was hoping for, but definitely nothing to feel sorry about.
Without a doubt part of the allure of racing 100-miles in the mountains is that they are completely unpredictable. Nobody wins the race based on past accolades and every runner is equal on the starting line. Ultimately getting to the finish line in one piece is just about every runner’s objective. Finishing all three 100-mile races was what I set out to do in 2018, and I certainly can’t complain about a couple of wins and a 5th place finish.
What an incredible year of racing it was, and it absolutely could not have been possible without the support of so many. My wife Jenny paced, crewed, took care of our kiddos—and took 2nd at Beaverhead 100K in July. Not bad. Ty Draney kicked my butt into shape again while Ty Francis and Courtney Hansen put me back together. Honey Stinger and Skratch Labs helped keep me fueled, Julbo Eyewear helped protect my eyes, and La Sportiva provided me with the best 100-mile race kit I’ve ever ran in (I finished Wasatch 100 with zero blisters and all my toenails wearing the La Sportiva Lycan). And of course, thanks to all of you who helped cheer me on throughout the year—I appreciate your support so much.
100-mile racing season might be over, but 2018 isn’t over yet. Stay tuned for some more adventures. Giddyup.