“Seeing is believing. Believing is seeing. Yet, if you believe in the things you can’t see, then you will appreciate even more what you can.”
This just happened. I almost cannot believe it. I have waited since January for the chance to tackle the behemoth that is Wasatch 100 but it feels way longer. My decision to make a 3 week taper only made the final countdown tick even more slowly. After pulling a pretty hefty (even against the advice of some friends) haul of 3 big runs in 3 weeks with little to no rest, I felt it necessary to give my body a proper rest before toeing the start line at Wasatch. During my rest, the more people I talked to, the more I realized the reputation of Wasatch was gaining a lot of validity. I was fortunate enough to volunteer at Cascade Crest during my resting. If you want to be a better ultrarunner, volunteer at a race. You will learn a ton and see the other side of our sport; you will undoubtedly fall even more in love. I did.
As the plan to head down to Salt Lake City began to solidify, the race finally felt real. My friends from South Carolina, David and Justine, had just moved to SLC a few weeks prior and really stepped up and offered to help over and beyond anything I could have even asked. I arrived a week before the race to try to acclimate. The only concern I had going in to Wasatch was the altitude. I am born and raised in Louisiana and have lived in the Pacific Northwest (at sea level) for the past 4 years.
I immediately went to Brighton to make the climb to Point Supreme, the tallest peak along the course, with David and Justine. I wanted to take it easy because I was still trying to respect the taper but also to not throw my body into some form of altitude sickness. Since I would be hitting this section in the middle of the night, I wanted to catch some of the views. Pretty stunning.
The next day I (along with David and Justine) met up with a new running buddy from the PNW, Deb, who is a very accomplished adventure runner now making her way into ultras. We decided to take a look up the first climb of the course. Initially, we wanted to do the infamous Chinscraper, but decided with our taper judgment to not try for a 16 mile total hike just to see it. Instead we opted for a 12 mile hike. The race starts at 5am so we were getting a glimpse into what we would be up against in the dark of early morning. Fall colors were starting to appear, making it an incredible sight to behold, with all of SLC below.
Checkin // Standing with giants
Reality hit when I drove to the airport to pick up my friend and pacer Jen. We went directly to the checkin and I got weighed and my packet. While waiting for the race meeting, Jen took my drop bags to their locations. I had decided I would be stupid and start the race in my new TrailRoc 245′s. I had only gotten them during my taper so the furthest they had ever gone was 10 miles at once. I had strategically placed my 295′s in at some of the aid stations in case I needed to switch. As the meeting began I scanned the crowd to see some of the biggest names in ultrarunning. I knew Wasatch was one of the Big 4, but seeing these legends and how nice they were gave me even more pride in the sport of ultrarunning — humble heroes.
Start // The Faceless
No moment in life gives as much hope while at the same time being the most anti-climatic moment than the start of a 100-mile run. We stood, nervous energy palpable, emotional. We are equals, faceless in the dark. Only headlamps. I had heard Wasatch was a very low key event. The start consisted of 300+ runners standing at an opened gate wide enough for 4 people as the RD counted down. I was feeling calm and excited. The time had come. 3. 2. 1. GO!
Chinscraper (Start to Francis Peak – 18.76 mi) // Slow Beginnings
“If you are feeling good at the beginning of a 100, slow the f— down.” This advice was passed down to me by my pacer. My goal was to blast a few of the first miles since I knew the real climbing did not start for a while and there was a tendency for bottlenecks a few times before then. I found a good rhythm trying to go slower than I wanted. We looked like a massive glowing worm, winding through the rim of the canyon. All beginning our journey along one of the toughest races in the world.
The climb up to Chinscraper was gorgeous. The sun began to rise over the city and from high above I could see the Salt Lake appear in the new light of day. Cresting the ridge, the Chinscraper climb loomed. As I ascended it became apparent that it was not as steep as I had though it would be. It was actually enjoyable and I just soaked in the views and focused on keeping in a low gear. The first aid station is not until 13 miles and is just water. Running along the tops of the ridges to Francis Peak will always be etched in my mind. There are not enough demonstratives to describe the beauty. Before rolling in to Francis Peak aid station another new friend AJ, from Wyoming (who was making Wasatch his first ever 100-miler), appeared. We began chatting and the miles seemed to melt into the distance. I was so thankful that after completing the longest climb of the course, the problem areas in my legs that have haunted me all year were still feeling fresh and relaxed. I was glad I had started in the TrailRoc 245′s because of how light they are for uphill slogs. They still were treating me well after running a few miles to Francis Peak along the dirt road.
Bountiful Peak (Bountiful “B” – 23.95 mi) // Stay Cool, Man
The sun was starting to come out as AJ and I made our way through the jeep roads and dense overgrown trails that make up this section. The climbs were pretty intense and taken at a slow pace. I had made my ‘pie in the sky goal’ pace at Francis Peak and wanted to make sure I did not push myself too much. I had a lot of time to spare (use wisely). AJ’s watch and mine were about a second off on our 30 minute reminders to take in calories. Every thirty minutes became hilarity as the beeping seemed to last forever as it jumped from his watch to mine. I pressed on, still feeling like I was doing a good job of staying on top of my nutrition and legs still fresh.
Skyline (Sessions, Swallow Rocks to Big Mountain – 39.4 mi) // What a ride
It is a good thing I was trying to move slowly during this section as I kept stopping and staring at the views before my eyes. I could not believe I was running on a ridge with sweeping views in all directions. Thankfully there was a nice breeze that kept the temperature simply perfect. The elevation does creep over 9000ft and I could definitely feel it. (I didn’t know I was above 9000ft until after the race and reviewed the course profiles) I decided to take about 45 minutes and walk quickly but focus on water and eating. At this point AJ had gone on ahead and I wanted to take my time with the altitude and not push it just yet. I left Swallow Rocks AS with an orange popsicle since the heat was getting turned up. The altitude was dropping and I could move well. Big Mountain AS made me question how low key Wasatch really is. Due to parking restrictions, only people crewing runners quickly approaching are allowed. I was expecting a small aid station but was instead greeted with a finish line-esque entrance. I could hear the bells, music, and horns over a mile away. I was weighed and had maintained the exact same weight as from the checkin. Perfection. I was staying on top of my calories and it was paying off. I refueled my pack, got a huge hug from Jen and made my way out. I only had 14 miles until Jen started running with me at the halfway point.
Mules Ear (Alexander Springs to Lamb’s Canyon – 53.13 mi) // Breakdown
HOT. HOT. HOT. I hate running in heat and this section was HOT. For some reason I thought I had remembered that there were streams along the way to dunk a hat. Apparently I was way wrong. Instead of streams, I had prickly cactus. The views were still gorgeous but I was struggling with taking in calories. I just couldn’t eat with how hot it was. My mouth was perpetually dry no matter how much water I drank. It felt like forever until I could see the blue tent of Alexander Springs AS. I had run out of water and refused to eat because I knew I would not be able to get anything down with my dry mouth. I came down a hill and heard my name called. It was David and Justine! They had hiked over 2 miles to come surprise me. I immediately broke down. I knew I was fading fast and way off my time point. They helped cool me down and calm my nerves about my time. I got a bag of chips and started to make my way to Lamb’s Canyon and Jen. It took me the whole 6 miles to eat the little bag of chips but was able to drink another 1.5L of water. I do not know how, but I rolled in to Lamb’s back on schedule, just over 14 hrs and starting to feel like a whole new person. My legs still not yet worked. My feet happy and comfortable in my 245′s. I was weighed and had lost 7 pounds. 7! In only 14 miles! This was bad. But I felt so good. I wolfed down some macaroni and cheese, grabbed my night gear and Jen to make my way out. I told Jen she had a lot of work to do to rebuild me.
Justine holding the sign she made for me at Lamb’s Canyon.
David helping me bring it in to Lamb’s Canyon.
After the Mules Ear breakdown. Refueling at Lamb’s Canyon.
Bear Bottom (To Millcreek – 61.68 mi) // Let the fun begin
The temperature started to drop. Jen was helping me shove calories down my throat. I was back and ready to move my legs. I finally picked up a good pace. I was either fast hiking or running the uphills and enjoying myself on the downhills (read as – fast). The sun went down and the headlamps came on. I saw one of the most spectacular sights at the top of this section. The moon, orange from the setting sun, hanging gently above a mountain laced Salt Lake City. I took a moment to engrave this image in my mind.
“To look at the wonders of creation is to look into the heart of God.”
It was time to fly downhill. I love downhill running and I love running at night. The descent ends at a road that goes uphill for 3.3 miles. My passing streak continued as I speedily walked or slowly ran the uphill. I was in disbelief at how good I was feeling and Jen was ecstatic at how good my climbing was going.
Desolation (To Desolation Lake – 66.93 mi) // It hasn’t started yet
I was still hammering out a good pace on the uphills and slamming the downhills but was starting to reign it in. Anyone who had run Wasatch before told me the race does not really start until Brighton (mile 75) so I was trying to save my legs until then. On the way to Desolation Lake I began to fade. I realized after the race that it was because I was again hitting above 9000ft. At the time I was attributing it to the fact that I had been moving for quite some time. Oddly enough, my legs were still not feeling that worked. Jen was busting at the seams to tell me how ahead of my time schedule I was and I had thoughts of running a negative split. Just the fact that this possibility even remotely entered my mind is a success for Wasatch for me.
Brighton (Scotts Peak to Brighton Lodge – 75.61 mi) // Huffing
The climb after Desolation was setting me back. It felt like I was making no headway whatsoever and every time I tried to climb I was left with my hands on my knees gasping for oxygen. Instead of taking long deep breaths, I had tried multiple short ones and it had made me lightheaded. There were times I think crawling would have made me move faster. All of the climbing for this section is above 9000ft. The altitude monster had reared its head and was winning. But I pressed on. Everything else was feeling fine. Scotts Peak AS is dangerous. They tempt you with a tent holding heaters as the strong winds batter you with near freezing temperatures. I had been warned that this aid station in particular was the worst to enter. So I let Jen go inside to get my food and then we quickly made our way. After Scotts Peak AS it is 4 miles and almost all downhill to Brighton. I was back running, though starting to chafe in the cold temperatures which partially slowed me down. I had no idea where I was in my timeline but I was excited to get to Brighton and get out. I had also heard of the allure to sit inside with the heat (and toothbrushes). I had to be weighed, so I went inside, made note that I had gained 4 pounds back and went to stand outside with David and Justine while Jen gathered my goods inside. When they called out the time of my checkin I realized I was still on pace for a negative split!
Supreme (Ant Knolls to Pole Line Pass – 83.39 mi) // Oh no
As I left Brighton I saw the signs that David and Justine had put up – my new all time favorite joke. “What’s the nosy pepper up to?” “Jalapeno business.” I laughed as much as the thin air would allow and tried to move onward and upward. I don’t know how long the climb took me but it felt like it was forever. I couldn’t even run the flatter sections of it. The course hits its peak at 10500ft along this section. Altitude had grabbed me by the feet and was not letting me go. The downhills from here on out are just simply not runnable. Especially at night. It is V-ed out bike trails with deep fine dirt and foot-sized rocks sitting in the middle. Running with my feet out and angled proved to be extremely difficult and not efficient. So I walked as fast as I could. The climb out of Ant Knolls was brutal. In all actuality it isn’t that bad, but given my current huffing state, I was not making progress and the thought of hitting a negative split had to be relinquished to the altitude monster. I still had hope to finish in under 30 hours though. If I could keep moving.
Mill Canyon Peak (Rock Springs to Pot Bottom – 93.13 mi) // I can’t move
Leaving Pole Line Pass, the inclines just took so much out of me. I could make it to the top of a climb but would have to stand for a while, hands on knees, gasping for air. After the Rock Springs aid station I realized that the altitude might even take away my goal of going sub-30 hrs. I had hoped to make up the time on the downhill to Pot Bottom. I was so so so wrong. Portions of this downhill looked like a bobsled track (U shape) filled with a few inches of dirt and big rocks. And with each slow downhill step I watched my sub-30 hr goal slip by, but I was still so happy to be feeling quite good.
Wasatch Mountain State Park (to FINISH – 100 mi) // I did it!!
I left Pot Bottom a little sad but extremely happy that I would soon be finishing this beast! After a short 1.5 mile climb the terrain got back to runnable downhill and oxygenated air. So I did what anyone would do in the last 5-6 miles of a 100-miler. Run as fast as you possibly can. I felt like I was flying, finally getting to use my legs and breathing in that sweet sweet oxygen. The jeep road ends up on a super nice single track trail. I was blazing along and would have to stop every now and then for passing horses or hikers. One ‘hiker’ looked really familiar and in my end-of-a-100-miler state could only manage “Hey! You’re Karl! You don’t know me. But you’re Karl!” Yes. It was Karl Meltzer. He looked at me and smiled, “Congrats man!! You have 1.39 miles left” and gave me a huge pat on the back.
Coming in to the finish area of a 100-miler is pretty indescribable. You just have to do it to know what I mean. I ran in as people cheered. Some called me by name, how they knew my name I didn’t know. I crossed the finish line and with great pleasure shook the RD hand. Then I was overwhelmed with hugs from Jen, Deb, and people who seemed to know my name but I didn’t know them. Then David and Justine who had been so gracious to capture the moment on camera came over, thrilled to the brim for me. I sat down, washed off my extremely dirty feet and soaked in the view of the mountains I had just descended.
I kept moving. I finished. 100 miles. Almost 27000ft of vertical gain (and descent).
I ended up finishing at 31:13:45 which was good enough for 108th place, not bad for over 300 starting. 77 dropped along the way. A HUGE thank you to all the race organizers and volunteers that make this event possible. Thanks to all the other runners for continually showing me a definition of community I strive to achieve in everyday life. Congrats to AJ on finishing his first 100-miler and thanks for the awesome chats early on. Thanks to Jen for making sure I crossed the finish line well. And HUGE HUGE HUGE thanks to David and Justine who not only were incredibly supportive of me during the race, but housed me for my entire time in the area. They are awesome. Thanks to all of you who read this blog, support me in my running, and sent me words of encouragement and congratulations. It means more than you know.
Wasatch 100 Take-aways:
- I had a complete blast
- I am in awe I did that well given my sea-level lungs
- I have amazing friends, seriously blown away
- Altitude is no joke
- I trained exceptionally well and tapered well too
- After climbing nearly the height of Mt. Everest in a single go, my legs never cramped up or gave out on me
- The BCMC is definitely a secret weapon of training
- TrailRoc 245′s are my new favorite shoe
- I really like running at night; and it’s a good thing since the majority of Wasatch 100 is in the dark
- The sport of ultra distance trail running never ceases to humble and astound me
- I can not hit my goal and be absolutely thrilled with my performance; I learned how to pace myself and run smart
- Ultraspire Surge
- Inov-8 TrailRoc 245
- Wigwam Ironman Flash Pro Socks
- Arc’teryx Moulin Cap
- Pearl Izumi Infinity Split Short
- Arc’teryx Motus Crew SS
- Mizuno Breath Thermo Arm Wamers
- Arc’teryx Celeris Jacket
- Black Diamond Storm headlamp
- Petzl Tikka 2 headlamp