Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Race Report: Wasatch Front 100 Endurance Run

When I started to see my breath reflected in the light of the headlamp, I felt it might happen: I might actually finish my first Wasatch Front 100, something that in the early hours of the race seemed as remote a possibility as winning the thing outright. But as I made my way off the final major climb up to near 10,000 feet, descending to the moister and richer air of the lower elevations, I could not only feel a measure of energy and calm returning to my body but also see it in the slow steady breaths that seemed to crystallize in the light. With fewer than ten miles to go to the finish at Homestead, I let myself for the first time truly believe.

Twenty two hours earlier, I had been hunched over and vomiting, a victim of total gastric shutdown, which began just after Grobben's Corner (mile 14) until a couple miles past the Bountiful B aid station (mile 24). It was disappointing. My outside hope for a near 24 hour time was quickly replaced with the hope of just finishing, as one hour of walking and very slow trotting on runnable terrain spilled into two, and then three hours. Nevertheless, I knew I had no choice. I kept coming back to something my friend, training buddy, and eventual pacer that day out of Lamb's Canyon had told me a year earlier after my disastrous (he would say ridiculous) drop at the Teton 50 the previous September: take the time to settle your system when things turn south before they reach past the point of recovery.

So, I walked, and walked, and vomited, and walked, and watched scores of people pass me. And when I got to Bountiful, I sat reclined, two chairs over from a disappointed looking and skinned-up Prudence L'Heureux (whose day turned out to be done). There I stayed for close to ten minutes, drinking a lot of ice water and on the sage advice of the aid station captain, a cup of flat Coke with ice. Then out I went, ambling toward Sessions (mile 28), and things started to turn around.

The knot in my system started to loosen. I could begin to run a bit. A few miles later I was moving at my regular pace and began to baby my stomach with food and fluid. A few ounces of Coke here. A Cliff Blok or two there. The metronome intake of 250 to 300 calories an hour that saw me to the finish at the Bighorn 100 in June, was replaced with what I came to call the "tolerance" nutrition plan. Whenever I felt like I could stomach some calories, I'd take them in, which came to about 150 to 200 calories an hour for the rest of the journey - not horrid but not an amount that left much wiggle room, as would become clear later heading out of Brighton (mile 75), but I get ahead of myself.

Finally feeling better, I was able to start tapping out some strong miles and making up some ground. In 69th place out of Sessions, I was 30th or so into the major Big Mountain aid station (mile 39), where I got to see my fabulous, one-man crew, Brad Mitchell, who I'm pretty sure knew before I even told him that it'd been a rough ride to get there. He met me, took all my stuff, and ushered me to the scale (down 3 pounds). While he filled my bottles and hydration bladder, I quickly grabbed some gels and bloks (most of which I knew I wouldn't be able to eat) and headed out for the overgrown and overexposed 14 miles to Lamb's, enjoying the brief chance to chat with Brad as we walked to the trailhead.

The trip to Lamb's was uneventful, if hot. It had turned out to be the warmest Wasatch in 12 years, and although I typically don't thrive in the heat, I wasn't feeling too bad. I kept drinking and drinking (five plus bottles by the end of the section), had a chance to chat with Tom Remkes and Scott Mason, and came into Lamb's feeling pretty strong and ready for the company of my pacer, AJW.

Yet again, Brad was great: filling bottles, arranging for some soup, and taking a quick assessment of my overall state. Walking out of the aid station, and through the underpass to the checkout, Andy updated me on happenings at Lamb's - a number of people were dropping from the heat and eventual 3rd place woman, Darla Askew, was 5 minutes ahead of us - and we made our way to the climb up Bare Ass Pass (mile 57).

After the heat into Lamb's, the cool and shaded woods out of Lamb's was amazingly refreshing, as was the chance to share some war stories with Andy, who I knew was assessing the damage of the day and figuring out out what he needed to do to get me to the finish. He joked, cajoled, praised, navigated, waxed nostalgic, and always fell silent at the right times. The perfect pacer from beginning to end.

We made good time
up and over Bare Ass and then up to Millcreek (mile 61), hitting it at dusk, where with Brad's help we refueled and grabbed our nighttime gear for the trip to the high country of Desolation Lake (mile 67) and Scott's Transmission Tower (mile 71). Though I felt fairly good overall on this section, my low calorie intake really made the steep climbs at over 9,000 feet tough. What little bit of energy I was getting from my fuel, the climbs would eat up instantly. After the seven mile traverse of the ridge that oscillated between 9,400 and 9,900 feet, we took the long-feeling, but not really that long, descent to the Brighton ski lodge aid station (mile 75).

It was here things came a bit unglued. While Andy was seeing to his energy needs (something like 8 of the renowned Brighton hash brown bars!), I got weighed one last time (down 5 on the day) and Brad loaded up my pack and bottles, knowing more than I did at that point what I needed. I grabbed a cup of soup, and we left the chaos of Brighton for the remote trip up Catherine's Pass to Point Supreme (mile 78; elev 10,400 ft). Still in view of the lodge, the queasiness that started to come on as I gathered my things together, crashed over me and all my energy vanished. It wasn't pretty. Clutching my cup of soup, trying to take in whatever I could, AJW took the lead at what had to seem to him like a sub-glacial pace. For the first time since the early going, I was passed by a couple runners. But, we went with it and just kept moving forward and after about 15 minutes, my stomach settled and the few calories I was able to get in primed the energy pump, and once again we were able to move ahead at a pretty steady pace. It was a true relief.

Ant Knolls aid (mile 80) was next, a great station with a great crew who let us know we were currently sitting in 22nd place. After taking a couple shots of Coke, and feeling a world better than I did 5 miles previous, we headed for the "Grunt," a notorious, not very long but very steep late-stage climb. My legs felt good and we made pretty short work of it. Then it was off to the last aid station at Pot Bottom (mile 93).

Barely dodging disaster out of Brighton and having already passed the runner's generally slower than me, I thought we'd settled into our station in the race - 22nd. But on the final descent into Pot Bottom, I was surprised that we caught Darla (and her pacer, Krissy Moehl), who offered very kind words as they let us by, and another group of three (one racer, two pacers).

Trying to keep our momentum, we were in and out of Pot Bottom quickly (passing, I believe, one other racer who hadn't yet left the aid). All that was left: One final bottle of Coke; one final decent climb, and then the final, often gnarly, long descent to home. The way I was feeling, I knew I was going to make it. Though the steep ups and downs were still pretty slow, I had the legs and the energy to tap out a pretty good rhythm on everything else, and when we hit the road to Homestead, just three quarters mile way, I was ecstatic. It wouldn't be 24 hours, but it would be very close to my time at Bighorn (an arguably faster course), something Andy knew. So, just to make sure we capped things off right, he took us home in a good closing clip, and I was able to cross the line just under Bighorn time in 25:34:19.

Nearly 27,000 feet of climbing. 26,000 descending. 19th place overall, and a world away from the dark hours of 69th.

It was just a little over a year earlier that I had closed out my first ultra season with a total meltdown at the Teton 50, my confidence in tatters. But in hindsight it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. It focused my training, made me experiment with nutrition, and motivated me to sign up for races more difficult than Teton so I'd have the chance to prove to myself I'd moved beyond the early failure.

It was that concatenation of races that lead me to the line at Kaysville four days ago, and I feel privileged to have had the chance to run that amazing course, with an amazing crew and pacer, and to gather the richness of experience a long, long day on the trail offers us all.

Photo by Matt Galland; Desolation Lake in the daylight.


AJW said...


Great report! And, it was a pleasure to share the trail with you. You own the night! I see a Cheetah in your future. We just need to get the stomach figured out.

Recover well!


Mary Fauth said...

Wanted to flag you down mid-Elm street this morning to hear some details about your race! So good timing and a great read. Congratulations on what sounds like an amazing race!

intelligo said...

I read that, and I could weep. Vast courage, my man, vast courage.

Kelly Eggers said...

Thanks for sharing your experience! That's an incredibly inspirational story. Way to dig deep and come out triumphant!

Laurie said...

Way to go Hank! You did it. I'm so happy for you.

Hank Dart said...

Thanks, All, for the thoughtful comments.

Trevor said...

Great race report. A stellar performance at Wasatch....and it's only your second hundred!!


Hank Dart said...

Trevor, thanks very much. Have a good Hundred in the Hood. Hope the ankle's been OK. Cheers.

Nick said...

Nice job Hank! Kind of crazy that your stomach deserted you so early in the race. I mean when does that ever happen on a training run of equal length? Congrats on pushing through and getting it done.

I'm still trying to figure out why BH is such a slow course. Everything about it, except the footing, suggests it should be one of the faster mountain 100s; and certainly faster than Wasatch. Considering your trials and tribulations in Utah, it seems you should have been way slower than in Wyoming. Thoughts?

Congrats again!

Hank Dart said...

Hey, Nick. Good to hear from you. And, thanks.

It's an interesting question. For me, I think there were a few things at play that helped me make up for the lost early time and clock in near my Bighorn finish.

--I had a great pacer and crew, whereas I was solo at Bighorn.
--Wasatch was my real focus race of the year. And I tried to plan things so I'd get a real bounce from Bighorn.
--Having to go slow early because of my stomach, I think I was pretty fresh on some of the more challenging late terrain.
--Finally, aside from the stomach, I just felt a lot better at WF and never fell into death march mode like I did on the last 20 of Bighorn. I was really able to keep moving pretty well up to the end.

That said, Bighorn on paper does seem easier than Bighorn in reality, to be sure - Especially for those of us who finished multiple hours after you did.

Cheers. Hank

Derrick said...

Congrats. Great report. I have enjoyed following along watching you trying to figure out your stomach as I try to figure out mine. Great job hanging tough.

Gretchen said...

Great job, Hank! Thanks for sharing all the details; I really enjoyed reading. Sounds like you used your head to push through some tough places. That's what I call success! Congrats on your season!