Part 1: http://tntultracoachmike.blogspot.com/2015/07/western-states-100-miler-2015.html
Part 2: http://tntultracoachmike.blogspot.com/2015/07/grand-slam-race-2-of-4-vermont-100.html
Part 3: http://tntultracoachmike.blogspot.com/2015/09/grand-slam-race-3-of-4-leadville-trail.html
There was a bit of drama leading up to the last race in the Grand Slam. On Monday, someone posted on Facebook about a forest fire near the finish of the race and said it wasn't looking good. By Tuesday evening, news outlets were reporting the fire had spread to 750 acres and was only 5% contained. Without hearing anything else, I thought there would be a chance the race may be cancelled or there would be an alternate route planned which would likely use more roads. While waiting for my flight on Wednesday, word came from the race director that the race will proceed as scheduled on the original course. The first problem was averted.
I flew into Salt Lake City Wednesday evening and used Uber (first time) to get me to my hotel (Motel 6) close to midnight. Here is where problem number two began. First, as the car pulls into the parking lot, there are two police cars there and I overheard one of the officers telling someone who asked that there was something about a guy pulling a knife on someone. Coming from NYC, I ignore all temptation to nose around and find out what's going on and head inside to check in. I get my room key and proceed to my room. As soon as I open the door and take one step into the room, I'm hit with a full blast of stale cigarette stench. It's overpowering. I look on one of the counters and there is an empty ash tray. The ash tray and the intense smoke smell had me wondering how this was a non-smoking room. Then I saw a second concern. There were a number of mosquitoes on the walls/ceiling. I killed about 6 fairly quickly. With the cigarette smoke and the mosquitoes a big concern, I went back to the front desk and asked for a room change and wanted to know why I was given a smoking room when I requested on my reservation a non-smoking room. The clerk, said since I arrived very late, they give the rooms away on a first come first serve basis (this makes no sense to me if I have a non-smoking room, I should get a non-smoking room whenever I arrive) and the hotel was fully booked so I couldn't change rooms. So I was stuck that night killing a few more mosquitoes and then making sure my suitcase stayed closed to avoid getting all of my race clothing smelling like smoke. After waking up the next morning, I asked the new front desk clerk if I could change rooms because it was not the room I reserved. At first she said no, because the hotel was supposed to be full again that night. Then I told her that the clerk last night said rooms are given on a first come first serve basis so why can't you give me the room of someone that hasn't checked in yet because obviously, people will check out sometime today. This logic worked and she was able to find a room (and somehow it was ready to be check into- weird since they were supposedly fully booked the night before. Maybe the night clerk though I only wanted a queen bed when in fact, I only wanted a non-smoking room), and I feel a little bad for a non-smoke that may get stuck in my old room. The old room was a complete piece of trash. There wasn't even the circular thing that hold the toilet paper in place. The new room was a normal room and what I expected to get from the beginning.
Following that room change in the morning, I prepared my drop bags for the race and then got my laptop and went to Starbucks to waste some time before I had to head to number pick up and the athlete briefing. I was still pissed off about the room situation (although much less than before) and decided to look up the reviews for the hotel and was horrified by the responses. There were comments like drug addicts and meth heads congregate there and knock on guests doors and windows and beg for money or try to break in. There are tons of shady characters hanging around at night and one review said the guests were told to stay in their rooms and all non-guests had to leave immediately as the hotel was now ordered under curfew for some reason. Now I was starting to worry about the things I would leave in the hotel room from Friday morning until Saturday evening when I would get back from the race. I decided to pack all my important things (including my laptop) in my backpack that I can drop off at the start line and would be transported to the finish. Then it was time to go to the number pickup and give in my drop bags for the race.
I used Uber again to take me to that location as it was too far to walk and public transportation would take 90 minutes (instead of a 10 minute drive) and that would be assuming I wouldn't mess up because I would have to take 2 or 3 buses. I got there right about when it began at noon and the briefing was at 4PM so I used the time to chat away with people. Someone was selling homemade gaiters (they prevent rocks, dirt, etc. from getting into your shoes) made in Brooklyn. I spoke with her (Adrienne) a couple minutes before she introduced me to her fiance, Thomas Wong who was also running Wasatch. Thomas is crazier than me! He attempted a 200-miler last year called the Tahoe 200 but did not finish (along with a lot of other people) but he didn't let that bother him and he signed up for and finished the inaugural Bigfoot 200-mile race that take part in the Cascade mountains. I then met a guy named Max who also finished Bigfoot and was running the Wasatch 100 for the 19th time. Luis Miguel Callao showed up and we all spoke for a while as more and more runners filtered in to check in. David Snipes texted me a picture of a runner, Shannon Scott that was running and for me to say hi to her for him if I see her, which I did. Closer to 4PM, the place was now really packed. I saw Steven Pack who was pacing Emmanuel Odebunmi, then Makato Kitamura once again at one of these races, and then Mary Arnold. It was great seeing all of these NYers here! Then I saw Zsuzsanna Carlson who had a great run at the Grand Slam last year but cut off at Leadville and is hoping to get a shot at the slam again. Then she said that Tom Green was here. Tom Green is the original Grand Slammer back in 1986. He attempted to finish it again last year and made it all the way to Wasatch but couldn't finish the race. Earlier this Spring, Tom was cutting down some trees around his home when a terrible accident occurred. The tree fell but then catapulted back up, hitting Tom and causing massive damage to him. He was in the hospital for about a month I think and has been going all out with physical therapy to get back to doing what he loves to do, be outside walking, hiking, and hopefully running. Given the amount of damage that was done to him, it was amazing to see him at Wasatch, walking slowly around with trekking poles to help with his balance. I would imagine if it wasn't for his sheer determination as an ultrarunner, he would be like tons of people still in a wheelchair after an accident of that magnitude. I went up and said hi to him and let him know how inspired I was to see him there and that I was running the Grand Slam. He gave me some great words of encouragement, noting that luck plays a huge role in the Slam and semi-jokingly, in life as well. His life took a quite unlucky turn with the way the tree bounced, but he was also lucky to be alive and on the road to recovery.
After the race briefing I said goodbye to everyone and was given a ride back to the Motel 6. I went to a local Italian place for dinner and afterwards, got everything set up for the next morning. I decided to pack my laptop in my bag that I would bring to the start line that gets transported to the finish. I did not want to leave any valuables in my room for 40+ hours given the reputation of this Motel 6 and my experience from staying in it just one night. I asked the front desk to cancel any house keeping for my room for Friday and Saturday (spoiler alert, housekeeping still came in and made my bed and gave new towels). I put on my course elevation and aid station profile tattoo that was given out to us at packet pickup. Just a note about this tattoo. It was really annoying because there are parts that look like nothing but downhill, yet we had some steep uphill sections in reality. It did have the aid station mileage numbers and was probably better than nothing but having those uphills out of nowhere when looking at this map was annoying. People I met during the race said, "what did you expect, this is Wasatch! You go up!".
My alarm was set for 2:40AM and I went to bed at 8:15PM. I slept about as well as I could have expected, which meant waking up frequently either because of nerves or because of noise outside the room. Finally, my alarm went off and is was time to get ready. I pooped, which is always a plus. I wore pretty much the same clothing I had for Leadville with the exception of starting off with short sleeve shirt today since the weather wasn't as cold in the morning (glad I forgot to pack my $2.14 throwaway jacket I purchased in Leadville!). After making sure I had absolutely everything I needed and packed everything I would need for the finish line (including valuables), I left the room to first head to the gas station across the street to get some breakfast. I picked up a muffin and some breakfast bar but only ended up eating the muffin. Then I walked about 3 blocks to where the buses were stationed that would take runners to the start line and boarded it. The buses departed on time at 4AM and I slept a good 15 minutes on the bus while it took about 30 minutes to get about 1/4 mile from the start line where we were dropped off.
This race is the toughest of the 4 in the Grand Slam. The elevation gain/loss according to the great website www.run100s.com is 26,882/26,131. That's nearly double Vermont. Here's the elevation profile:
The starting area was very crowded with runners and their friends/family/crews. The 6 Port-o-Pottys plus the real Park bathroom had an insanely long line but luckily I didn't have to go. I just really hung around and waited for the race to begin, staring up at the very starry sky. Soon enough the countdown was on and we went right onto the trail to start the race.
Before we know it, we're basically at a dead stop. At some point, the course takes a short steep turn higher and creates a huge logjam. It was very strange because it was a very short steep part and it was just perplexing why the line backed up so much.
After a little more running, we had a nice view of the city lit up below us., but we still had a clear star filled sky. From here, the course started its long trek upwards.
I latched on with some people and listened to their conversations. I felt like I had to pee but there were no good spots to stop so I just held it. After about 5 miles, the morning sun gave a different view of the city below us.
As we continued on up, the grass around us got bigger and really was very overgrown on the trail. This was a theme of the run in many places. I had a lot of scrapes from running through so much dry and overgrown shrubbery. After making a hard right turn, we continued to climb and we then got a nice view of the Great Salt Lake. The more we continued to climb and go in this direction, the better the view became.
A short time later we are able to see the steep climb barely come into view. Around mile 9-10 is a climb they call "Chinscraper". The description the race gives of this part is as follows: "The trail heads through the brush southwards climbing through some tall fir trees into the steep "bowl" below the ridge. This is Chinscraper and is the correct way. Once entering the base of the bowl observe carefully the yellow and red flagging. There are many ways up the bowl to the top but the safest and most used route stays to the right (west) side. PLEASE BE CAREFUL NOT TO DISLODGE ROCKS AND SEND THEM TUMBLING BELOW ONTO THE OTHER RUNNERS." We still had a mile or two before we reached it. So a the description said, we continued on through the brush. We reached what they call "Aid Station 0" because it is not technically an aid station listed but someone hikes up there with supplies. There was fresh water coming from a tube sticking out of the mountain and the awesome volunteer brought cookies, and crackers, etc. I saw oreos and grabbed about 4 of them. They were delicious and a good supplement to the trail mix snack of honey roasted almonds and crispy M&Ms that I was eating up until that point. After that, I still felt the need to pee and finally saw a nice area to take that break. Shortly after that, we were very close to Chinscraper and could hear some crazy spectators cheering from the top. Climbing it was a lot of fun. I wanted to get a video of it, but since it requires you to use both hands to climb up, and I had trekking poles, I made a quick decision and put the Go-Pro in my mouth. Hopefully you can get an idea of how steep it was to climb this even though the video may not really show it that well.
The view from the top was fantastic. After clearing it, I ran along the ridge a very short while before I needed to stop and take another video of the fantastic view of Salt Lake City and the lake.
Nothing looks remotely good for views on the Go-Pro as it does in real life.
After I took the video, I continued running and caught up to Mary Arnold. She was stopped at this point to take some pictures because really, that's what you do at this point and during so much of this race during the day. The views are so amazing. The race is basically climbing up to the top of a mountain and then running along the ridges to the next pass and then down into a valley before heading back up and running along another ridge. As I'm running with a small group, one of the girls ahead of me shouts and falls right into some bushes on the mountain side (not the cliff side). She gets up and says she's ok but feels it a little in her knees. She continued on. I really was feeling quite good at this point. It was about mile 10-11 and I was moving nice and slow as I expected to be for the first 10-11 miles. I was averaging roughly a 3 mph or slower. I thought about this and wondered if my sub-30 hour goal would be possible given I was under that pace this early in the race. I figured this first 11 miles is mostly uphill and there is a lot of the race left to go that had downhills or relatively flat sections along with other uphill tough parts. So maybe averaged out, it would be possible to go sub-30. Around mile 12, I don't know what happened but I tripped over something and flew forward. I threw the pole in my right hand about 5 feet ahead of me and a little to the right and I landed hard on the ground but very quickly recovered, Luckily, my pole didn't fly off the mountain and was in a bush right near the trail. The bottom of my right hand got cut in a perfect circle about a 1/4 inch diameter. It was bleeding and also full of dirt. Perfect. Let's come down with some infection during this race. I take my water bottle and wash it off as best I can and continue running. A little over a mile later we get to the next fake aid station which is the race director's truck pulled up where the trail meets a jeep service road. I filled up my water bottles here and kept it a short stop. Only 5 more miles until the first real aid station. I'll keep repeating this but the course was so nice, with single track and fantastic scenery. Notice the sun though. It is big and bright in the cloudless sky. Things were going to heat up.
We then hit a jeep road that takes us to the first official aid station. I am given my drop bag while at the aid station table. I'm not that hungry but force some food down. I change into my TNT purple singlet, refill my water and then ask if they have any sunblock. They only have what someone left there so I use whatever was left which wasn't enough since the spray ran out but I hoped it would be ok until the next aid station. I debated putting my headlamp in my drop bag but thought I should keep it in my hydration pack in case of emergency later on or to use as a waist lamp. The next 5+ mile section was some short flat running and then some ups and a medium downhill followed by a long uphill into the aid station.
A lot of it was exposed but here I believe is where I also had my first smell of what seemed to be weed. I remember walking with a few runners during the race later on and then after the race and asked them if they remembered smelling that and they all laughed and said yes. One person said it could have been sage while others said some people may have gone up to these spots and planted it there to harvest later. Either way, it just proved to me at least how hot things were that those plants were giving off such a strong odor. When I post these blogs, people ask me how I remember things so well from the long race. One answer is that certain things are just stamped into my mind. Such as I vividly remember feeling good or bad at mile x before or after an aid station. When I have my phone or camera on me, I take some videos of how I'm feeling and where I am in the race so I can put it in writing later. At mile 22.7 according to my watch, I took a video as I'm going through some brush that it was really starting to get hot and things were only going to get worse. A mile later I arrived at the next aid station. They had sunblock and I applied it everywhere. They also had ice and I filled up my pack and bottles with water and ice. I overheard a woman runner next to me calling her husband and telling him that she's been nauseous most of the race and asked him to get something out of the cabinet in the kitchen (some kind of anti-nausea medicine?) and get it to her at the next crew aid station. The heat was really hurting people. I ate some sandwiches and they had fruit salad. This wasn't just ordinary fruit salad. It was frozen fruit salad! They had ziplock bags which allowed us to pack some food to go so I packed a bag full of the fruit salad and got going. Eating the frozen fruit salad on the go was great! It was refreshing, had the sugar I needed, and raised my spirits. However, it didn't last that long because this next section was rolling hills but most of them were a lot longer on the way up. I continued to eat and drink from my bottles. Eventually, we get to the aid station. More sunblock applied and more water bottles filled up. I didn't refill my hydration pack though. That would end up being a mistake.
Shortly after the aid station, we head upwards through beautiful Aspen and Pine trees. It is a relentless uphill. As you can hear in the video below, it is mile 28.5 and 8 hours into the race. I'm now on pace for sub-30 assuming I stay at this pace. I wondered if I would be able to do so given the general slowdown in pace that occurs at night, not to mention the slowing down that normally takes place between miles 80-100.
The heat is really relentless here. We pass by some cold water streams and I stop at each one to splash water on my face, legs, arms, and neck. I take out my bandanna from my pack and dip it in the water and then tie it around my neck. I take my hat and submerge it into the stream and then put it on backwards on my head so the water can drip onto the back of my neck. We climb out of the forest and run along the side of the mountains. The course is amazing. I say this in my videos over and over again.
I can see what is possibly the aid station ahead. I'm happy we will get there soon because my bottles and hydration pack are almost out of water from drinking and from spraying myself down. Unfortunately, the trail winds around the sides of these mountains for a while and I don't reach the aid station for at least 45-60 minutes from when I first spotted it. I ran out of water and was feeling the cumulative effects of the heat all day. I take a video saying how this section of the course was so beautiful but so exposed to the heat and that I really needed ice and water at the next aid station.
I finally arrive at the Swallows Rock mile 34.6 aid station close to 3PM. I've spent the good part of the last the last 2 hours since the prior aid station in the heat of the sun, not to mention the previous 8 hours of running before that. I was ready to load up on ice and water and was thoroughly disappointed when I arrived at this aid station. They were very low on ice and were only able to spare a few pieces to each runner. They were also low on water. I was only able to refill my hydration pack with the few pieces of ice but did refill on water. However, not having water in my bottles to cool myself down was a big negative. I hoped I would find some streams along the way. They did have popsicles at this aid station though. That was a wonderful treat.
The next section has a few small uphills but is mostly downhill. I thought this would be a good thing because I could get to the next aid station faster. Generally, this was the case but it didn't feel like I was moving as fast as I wanted to go. My legs felt heavy and I was starting to feel more like it was mile 77 than mile 37. In this section, I saw more and more people taking breaks along the trail in the shade when there was some. I saw people vomiting and trying to just get themselves back into it to get themselves to the next aid station where we were promised plenty of ice and water. Similar to the last lead up to the aid station, here I was able to see and also hear what looked like the aid station. The course had other things in mind though and took us winding down and around before getting into the Big Mountain Pass aid station and mile 39. About 0.5 miles before reaching the aid station there were signs of the American flag and I knew I was getting close. I needed to refuel and cool down in a major way at this aid station and was happy to finally get into it.
This aid station was a major one at the Big Mountain Pass. There were tons of pacers, crews, spectators, and music. This is where runners can first pick up pacers for their race. I was feeling wiped out and needed to regroup. I get into the aid station and I fill my bottles and hydration pack with ice and water. Then I eat some turkey and cheese sandwiches and some seedless watermelon. They also had sliced peaches in ziplock bags so I grabbed 3 of these bags and put them in my pocket to eat later. I would need more calories before leaving and calories on the go because this stretch to the next aid station was nearly 8 miles. I put on more sunblock and got another popsicle and then thought I had everything I needed and was about to leave before remembering ice. I went back and put ice in my bandanna and tried to wrap it around my neck but it probably took me two minutes to finally tie it around. Then I put ice in my hat and left the aid station.
Now I didn't know this at the time, but I made a big mistake at this aid station. Now I could blame others for it but it always comes down to individual responsibility. I would say that at this aid station, in my opinion, I didn't receive much help from volunteers as I did at others. I didn't have people asking to refill my bottles and pack or asking if I needed anything. Anything I wanted I got myself. I could have easily asked someone for help though and they would have helped me. This was a very busy aid station and people were all over the place. My big mistake was that this was a drop bag aid station and no one asked me if I had a drop bag as I arrived so I just assumed it was not a drop bag aid station. I should have known better and that is completely my fault for not knowing. In this drop bag I had another ziplock bag of my almond/M&M trail mix and my good headlamp. I knew there was a chance I wouldn't make it to mile 53 before it gets dark so I purposefully put the headlamp in this drop bag to pick up early and keep in my pack in case I needed it. Without asking for my dropbag at this aid station, I left without my good headlamp. This would cause me some mental anguish later in the race. If I had a crew or pacer, they probably would have asked if I had a drop bag here. I didn't have that luxury and should have done a much better job familiarizing myself with the course.
The next section starts with a short 1+ mile climb right out of the gate. Then it goes down through some forests and brush for a mile before doing another 1 mile climb up. Then we are running along the top of the mountain down and up over some rolling terrain before heading mostly downhill with some short ups in the way. Here's the view around mile 42 with the sun still beating us down.
After about 4 miles into this section, I met up with Jeff Stowell. I ran with him for about a mile at Western States and found out he was also running the Grand Slam and he knew a Jim Breuning, a friend of mine from NYC who he had run Wasatch with in 2012. He had run Wasatch twice, finishing once and DNFing the other. He gave all the slammers some info on the course via Facebook earlier in the week. I read that info a few times over and by the time the race began, had completely forgotten what he said. I told him this and we laughed about it. He knew it was a lot to take in. At this point, he said we were on the same pace that he was at when he finished in 2012 but he noted that he had to walk in the last 30 miles of the race. He finished in around 34:30 in 2012. Coming up to mile 44, he told me a great story about how he will never forget how the course goes at this point. He said it was about 10-15 years ago where he and a friend went mountain biking up here. On the way back, they missed the right turn that we take and he was supposed to take. Here is what the course directions say about this part, " Turn right here, and do not continue on a trail straight ahead. DO NOT CONTINUE STRAIGHT AHEAD! If you are looking at your feet at this point, you will get lost for a long time". I chuckled when I first read these instruction but after hearing Jeff's story, it is 100% correct. He said he and a friend (I believe on July 4th) missed that turn and continued to bike on the trail. They went on for at least an hour and then it started to get dark. His friend said he didn't have the energy to backtrack and find the way back before sunset so they had to sleep overnight on the trail. He said even in July it must have gone down into the 30s at night and it was terrible sleeping out in the open. Yes, they had to cuddle for warmth. It doesn't matter what you may say you will or won't do in those situations but all that goes out the door and you do what you have to do in order to stay warm. The next morning, they were able to backtrack and find their way onto the proper trail and home. He said that path really leads to nothing. It was just a path created many years ago as a way to get emergency vehicle up or down the mountain. Although that doesn't explain why it leads to nowhere unless it's for the vehicles to get to nowhere in order to rescue people or put out fires. Shortly thereafter, Jeff had to take a restroom break so we parted ways. I got some nice video of my shadow running and then of the course before descending downwards.
This section was just long. It took 2.5 hours to do those 8 miles, even though a lot of it was downhill. I got to the aid station and ate watermelon and other food. I filled up my bottles again and left quickly, knowing I wanted to get to the next aid station before dark so I could get my good headlamp.
The section had some long up and down rollers through a grassy section where it seemed like I had to constantly change from running on the left side of the trail to the right side and then onto the middle and then switching every minute because where there was trail would then be 5 foot high grass growing. There were many signs warning of crude pipelines in the area. There was no oil smell though which was good. I can imagine how muddy and messy this section would be if it was raining or it rained heavy leading up to the race. This section was 5.5 miles long and it took me 90 minutes. That's not too shabby given that there was a 1-2 mile section of heavy brush uphill once we left that crude oil grassy field. I was hoping it wouldn't take that long though because it began to get dark. Before the darkness settled in and we were headed back down, I was able to see the aid station. However, like the aid stations before this one, we see it well before we head towards it. It snaked around a forested area where there were many deep holes to fall in and some wooden boards were put up over some parts to cross. The sun was setting over the mountains and getting dark. I knew I must be close to the aid station and wanted to go as long as I could before taking out my headlamp. It got very dark but as that happened slowly, my eyes were better able to adjust. Right as I was thinking it may be safer to take out my headlamp a runner comes from the opposite direction (someones pacer) saying the aid station is about a 1/4 mile away. I got to the Lamb's Canyon aid station at mile 52.5 pretty worn out and knowing I was just 52.5% done with the race. I knew this would be an aid station I needed a little extra time to regroup at but I would be ok once I picked up my drop bag and got my charger for my Garmin and looked for my good headlamp. As I mentioned earlier, I was in shock when I couldn't find both my headlamp, or my bag of trail mix in my drop bag.
I spent at least 5 minutes rummaging through my bag looking for my headlamp. I couldn't figure out where it went because I knew it would be dark leaving this aid station and at best it would be light for an hour. I thought I made a stupid packing mistake and put it in the drop bag at the next aid station 8.5 miles away. I was really frustrated at this. Also, everyone had their pacers and crews and I was alone and no volunteers were offering my help (and I was too stubborn to ask) while I was sitting in a chair going through my bag. I was at least not completely worried because I was lucky enough to decide not to put my other headlamp away in my first drop bag and kept it in my hydration pack. If I had no headlamp at this point, I would have been screwed, unless someone that dropped out agreed to give me their headlamp. I didn't have to worry about that though. So I finally get up and go around the corner of the tent to get food and refill my pack with water, one water bottle with water, and now that it was dark, I filled the other water bottle with Coke. The only problem is they only had 1/2 a can of Coke left so I filled the remainder with Dr. Pepper, not that bad a combination actually! I got two cups of Ramen Noodle soup at this aid station and had some pickles and potatoes. Then I left after spending nearly 20 minutes there.
The path goes under an overpass for the freeway (Highway 80 I think) before continuing uphill on road until reaching the trail head for Lamb's. This section is quite tough. There is a roughly 2,100 feet of climbing in a 4 mile stretch with 1,500 in 2.1 miles. Then the course drops 1,500 feet in 2 miles. Finally, there is a little more climbing to do before the next aid station. This section started the beginning of my long miserable night period. The road section leading up to the trail was felt annoying because I wasn't running it. I was busy digesting my food and being annoyed at not having my good headlamp. There were occasionally cars coming towards us on the road and I wondered how long before we got to the trail. Once we got there, the long climb began. During this climb I started to get sleepy. I recalled from UTMB last year how I felt good on the climbs and wondered why I was sucking so much here. I used my knowledge knowing that I made it through UTMB to help me here. I needed some motivation to stop me from sleeping so I took out my iPod and put on some music. This did help for a short period of time but I wasn't moving well on the descent. Part of it was I still felt it too early to open up my stride and hammer the downhills, because I knew there were some big downhills to come after mile 75 and I wanted to make sure I had legs for that. The other reason was still just feeling exhausted and sleepy. I was taking some solace in the sleepiness was thinking things would be better at the next aid station when I get my good headlamp and a 5-hour energy. Just look at how relaxing and peaceful it is at night and the sounds of the forest lull you into a Walking Dead slumber.
A couple notable things happened along this section. While on the climb, there was someone I passed not looking too good. I asked how he was doing and he said extremely sleepy. I told him to turn on some music if he has any because that helped me a little. The next moment was on the long descent, there was a runner coming back up asking if we had seen runner #301. Apparently, this was #301s pacer and the pacer stopped to pee and then took off fast down the mountain to catch up to his runner. He kept running and running but didn't catch up to him and thought he should have by then so he started hiking back up the mountain to find him. I told him that he probably should not hike back up and instead, should wait for 15 minutes and if he doesn't appear, then just go to the next aid station to find out where he is and wait there. This pacer was worried that his runner was laying on the side of the trail. The pacer decided to continue to hike back up. About 30 minutes later, that same pacer comes flying back down the mountain, still looking for his runner but having no luck. Finally, the trail ends and we are back on a road. This road though heads uphill. Only this race would have you head uphill to enter the trail and then uphill after leaving the trail. This long uphill road section sucked. I was very tired and getting a little cold. I was sleep walking on the road a lot, but being woken by cars coming from one direction or the other. Looks like some crew would head to where the trail section on this side starts and wait for their runners here, then meet them up at the aid station. I hoped the aid station was close, but it was actually 3 miles away. I didn't know that or couldn't do the math at the time and the sleepwalking pace of 20+ minutes per mile didn't get me to the aid station any faster. I was trying to motivate myself out of this funk by thinking of two people. One was Dave Mackey, an elite ultra runner who got into a serious injury while training in Boulder. A rock he stepped on a million times in prior training gave way and he fell many feet down and was pinned there and broke a lot of things on the way. He was lucky it wasn't worse but who knows when he will be back running. He was supposed to run Western States. A prior Grand Slam finisher and also a former TNT coach out in LA advised all of us in the Grand Slam to think of Mackey when we are feeling low and like we want to quit. As bad as we feel Dave Mackey would love to feel that terrible instead of being in a hospital bed of now in daily physical therapy trying to walk properly. The other person I thought of was a fellow Grand Slammer this year, Craig Norquist. He read my race recap on Leadville and saw that I was fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society with Team in Training. He messaged me and thanked me for that because he was diagnosed with Lymphoma two years ago. If he could take on this race and the Slam, then so could I and I should just suck it up and suffer a little now. The situation was the same though, it was getting cold and I was very happy to finally see the aid station after this 3-hour section.
Upper Big Water aid station was a weird place. They had a fire going which I stayed away from. It was very cold at this place as we gained a decent amount of altitude and we are in a certain part of the canyon where the airflow is cold. I take a seat and am helped by some wonderful volunteers. They bring me some noodle soup and some Coke and my drop bag. When I look through my drop bag, my confidence just sunk. No headlamp, and just a long sleeved running shirt. I had arm warmers in my hydration pack but I thought my singlet would still be too cold. So I changed into the long sleeve and then had to tackle my next problem, not having my good headlamp. Since I used my other headlamp for 1-2 hours in the morning and then 3 hours so far in the night section, I needed spare batteries which I did not prepare for because I expected to have my good headlamp with me. Luckily, the aid station had some spare AAA batteries and I decided to change them out now and keep the used ones in my pack as the emergency. I ate another cup of Ramen and cup of Coke and was still cold so I took out my lightweight jacket from my pack as well as my new windproof gloves (since I lost my old pair at Leadville). Then I was ready to go. I profusely thanked the volunteers at this aid station for all of their help. Now to get done with this next 5-mile section
I don't remember much about the section leading to the Desolation Lake aid station. Most of it was uphill and shortly after I left, I had warmed up and took off my jacket. At the beginning I was just hiking up. Then there is a 1 mile downhill which I felt better on. In fact, I ended up passing someone that looked familiar who was having a lot of trouble on this downhill. It happened to be the pacer for runner #301. It turns out that his runner was indeed ahead of him the entire time. He ran down that earlier section hard, then hiked back up, then ran down hard again to the aid station to try and find his runner. His runner was actually at that aid station and apparently running very well! With the pacer putting in such a hard effort for that many miles, he actually ended up trashing his legs and he couldn't run downhill anymore. So all that effort he put in to find his runner because he was worried he lost him and though the runner needed his help and he felt terrible for leaving him alone, now it turns out that his runner will still continue to be without a pacer because the pacer's legs were dead. I've seen this happen before but not this quickly. What really sucked for the pacer is that the next aid station is a no dropping aid station. They actually hike the supplies in from a few miles away. It took me 2 hours to do this 5 mile section mostly on uphill which was good. I reached Desolation Lake aid station, mile 66. I ate some soup and some Swedish Fish. I continued my process of filling up one bottle with water and the other with Coke. Once I finished the soup, I filled up a ziplock bag with Swedish Fish for the next sections. There wasn't much for me at this aid station and as soon as I filled up the Swedish Fish bag and thought about eating more I had an urgent need to find a bathroom. There were no Port-o-Pottys here so I decided to check out of the aid station and found a nice spot in the woods about 50 feet down the trail.
The next section was terrible. I thought everything would be ok, having just gone to the bathroom. The trail starts out climbing up to 9,900 feet to the ridge of the Wasatch range. Then it basically rolls along the ridge for another 2 miles before going onto a smoother dirt surface for another mile. I was fading fast here though. I was staggering and sleepy again. Out of nowhere, a runner comes up and asks how I'm doing and I let him know. Then he realizes who I am and tells me who he is (Steve, pacer for Emmanuel) and tells me to hang in there and latch on to them. They were going to fast for me to keep up though and within a few minutes were out of sight. I continually looked up at the night sky and saw so many amazing stars. I was able to recognize the big and small dippers and Orion. I wish I knew the other ones because I'm sure I could have seen them on this clear night. With 2 miles to go to the aid station, another runner comes up from behind and asks how I am doing and I say the same. He says not to worry and lets me know that he was the runner I told to put music on. This was Josh Holmes who was also in the Grand Slam. He stuck with me and we talked and kept each other going (although he helped me more than I helped him). We got to the aid station and the food was served inside a warm tent. I went in and the only seat left was on a cot. I sat on the cot, ate some food and was just so out of it. I was so tired and I needed to do something to battle it. So I decided for the first time in my career to nap during a race. I woke up and most of the people that were sitting in there (along with Josh) had left. I asked how long I was out and they said about 5 minutes. I had another cup of soup and then left. As soon as I checked out of the aid station, I had to go to the bathroom again. They said there was a real bathroom provided by the forest service about two miles away but I couldn't hold it that long so I found another good spot on the side of the trail, turned off my headlamp and did my business again.
I was surprised at how that nap helped me. Although it was also a combination of spending 20 minutes at that aid station. I was moving well enough down this trail and then it turns into a road. We first head up the road and then down for a while. The entire way, there were buses heading in my direction. Saturday morning was the day of the Brighton Marathon/ half-marathon and they were
busing in the runners to the start. My initial energy boost from my quick nap slowly faded and I was back to stumbling around this section which was a little dangerous because of the traffic on the road. There were also a few spots where I would have missed the turns had there not been people there for me to see where to go. It took 80 minutes for me to do this 4.5 mile section. When I got into Brighten, it was around 5:30AM and I was in bad shape. The aid station is in a ski lodge and was very warm and comfortable. I knew what I needed to do and that was to take another nap. Since I already took one nap, I might as well give in and take another. I got my drop bag and went all the way to the back room where other runners were napping on some Yoga mats set up or cots. There were no chairs for me to sit on so I sat on the mat next to a wall and told the people there I'm going to take a quick nap. I sent a quick text to Snipes letting him know I was going to take a nap at Brighton. I took the 5-hour energy out of my drop bag and gulped it down and then lay down for my nap. I recall during this nap that I overheard a lot of conversations going on. People checked up on me occasionally and finally, after about 15-20 minutes I woke up. I thought about napping a little more but saw a response from Snipes saying, hang in there but don't get too comfortable in there. To me that meant no more napping. Anyway, I was starving and the volunteer there got me some eggs and a hash brown. I talked to the people there including a doctor who was making sure all runners were ok. They said that 110 people had already dropped out of the race which was a lot except for years when it was this hot. Then I changed into a short sleeved shirt and a volunteer told me I should put some sunblock on now because the sun will come up in an hour. She got me the sunblock and I put it on and then thanked everyone in there. Before I left to get some more food, the doctor asked if I wanted a pacer. I thought about it for 5 seconds and decided to take one because why not?! I asked who was going to pace me and he points to a woman sitting in a chair. At first glance, I wasn't sure if she would be able to keep up with me. I was feeling very refreshed and ready to go and had a feeling once the sun came up I would be moving fast. She asked how fast I would go and I told her I had no idea but to come along anyway and if you can't keep up, no big deal. She needed to get a few things so I went to get more food and packed some watermelon to go. We were ready to go and headed out the door to take on the last big climb up to the highest part of the course at 10,500 feet.
My pacer Tara, explained that she was a runner in the race and dropped out at the first aid station. I can't remember what her reason was for dropping out. Possibly something to do with the heat and dust and problems breathing? She lives in Utah and had run this part of the race in one of the practice runs. It was helpful because there were some parts of the course here that I wasn't certain on the direction to go but she pointed me in the correct direction. I was moving ahead of her and sensed that she was struggling to keep up. I had told her when we started that if she didn't feel like she could keep up, it would be ok for her to turn back and find someone else to pace later on. After maybe 15-20 minutes, she was breathing quite heavy and told me that she was going to turn back and she apologized. I thanked her very much for giving it a go and pointing me in the right direction and hoped she would find someone else to pace the rest of the way. I was a little passed mile 76 and the sun was coming up. Time for more scenic views once again. I got a video of the sunrise over the mountains.
I've noticed since putting these videos up on the blog that I appear to be breathing heavy in a lot of them. Most of that is probably because I took the videos after a climb and maybe the altitude was affecting me more than I thought it was. Anyway, up and up I climbed and it got steeper until we finally appeared to level off but still go up slightly. I was with a small group of runners/pacers as we approached the highest point on the course at Catherine's Pass and one of them said the tradition is to kiss the sign at the top.
Then we decline about 1,500 feet quickly and over some rocky terrain before heading into an aid station at mile 79. I was hoping to get in and out of this aid station quickly but I needed to eat and make sure I was good for the last stretch. It took me less than two hours to do that last section which is pretty good considering the climb. I spent a little over 12 minutes at this aid station because the food was great. They were cooking pancakes and sausage so I asked for sausage wrapped in my pancake. I devoured the first one along with a cup of ginger ale. Then I ate a second one and had a second cup. I filled my pack with water and had my normal combo of water in one and Coke in the other bottle. I thanked the volunteers who put up a great aid station (they said they had this set up at Burning man a week or two earlier).
The next section before the final drop bag aid station is only a little over 3 miles but but starts out with a tough climb called "the Grunt". It did feel like the name and there was a lot of grunting getting up this part. Once over, it was more running on the ridge line and before heading just a little lower into the aid station. I did take one pee break on this part before reaching the aid station.
It's mile 82 and 9:15AM. I have 8 hours to go 18 miles. I know I'm going to finish, it's just a question of how fast (or really, how slow). I know that I will be running during the heat of the day and it wasn't looking good as it was already hot at 9:15AM. I pick up my drop bag and get down to business on what I need to survive this. First, I change out of my short sleeve into another purple TNT singlet. Then I change my socks and put on some lighter shoes (switching from Hoka Mafates to Hoka Stinson Lite). I take out all the things from my hydration pack that I will no longer need; all the warmer things like gloves, arm warmers, jacket, headlamp, batteries and so on. I fold up my trekking poles and put them in the bag. This was a tough decision for me because there is a lot ofo downhill coming up and the poles can help with stability. However, I felt that my arms were tired of using them and my legs felt ok and that I have great balance on the downhills to be able to go without the poles. Basically, I thought the poles would tire me out more than help me, especially in the heat. Then I went to put sunblock everywhere. After that, I ate some food at the aid station and packed away two bags of seedless watermelon. Before I left, I put ice in my hat and instead of using the bandanna, I took out my Buff and dipped it in ice cold water and put it around my neck and stuck it into my shirt, pack so it was tight against my body. Then it was time to get out of there.
The next section was 5 miles long and had some fast technical downhill parts which I bombed down. I was feeling awesome. Everyone saw I was feeling great and marveled how I was moving down these parts at this point of the race. I cross a stream and wet down my body/hat/Buff and continue running. We then got to an uphill section for about 1.3 miles where I felt it was better to walk. When it flattened out I ran what I could and that brought me to an aid station in the middle of this dusty dirt road. It took me 1:16 to do this 5 mile section which included some uphills. I passed a ton of people. Compare that to the 2+ hours other 5 mile sections took and it's obvious I found my second wind. All I needed here was more Coke and water and sunblock and a dousing of cold water. I was in and out of this aid station in 2 minutes. The next section was 6.5 miles long and had some easy rolling hills before heading mostly downhill. The problem with this section was that it was completely exposed there was no relief from the sun. I started this section close to 11AM. The mistake I made at the last aid station was filling one water bottle with ice and Coke. This section got so hot out that my only relief that let me run was spraying myself down with water from my bottle. Cold water on the back of my knees, my shoulders, neck, and wrists. Every time I did that I was able to run for a short while. The water seemed to evaporate in less than a minute and I would feel like I was burning up. My arms looked pink to me and I wondered if the sunblock had completely worn off. I continued to push on ahead and ignore that sun but it was tough. I took a lot more walk breaks than I would have liked but I didn't want to risk getting heat stroke so close to the end of the race.
With two miles to go before the aid station, some runners' crew set were waiting before a short climb. I asked if they had sunblock and someone had some which I took because I felt my skin was so hot. I thought about asking for water but this wasn't an aid station and felt bad taking other people's water. Had they offered I would have taken. The last 2 miles of this section went through someones private land. Apparently they owned cows because there were a ridiculous amount of piles of cow droppings all over this part. There were also some very weird fences with signs asking runners to close the fences after opening them (they basically were wire fencing with wooden poles and you had to take some of the wire that was made into a hook and hook it over some other part. Although the first gate looked like you had to stick barbed wire into a piece of the wood. After 1 minute of trying to figure out how to close it, I gave up. Other runners were going to come through anyway. I had run out of water in my water bottle and the Coke bottle for the last mile but had water in my hydration pack. I was walking down the hot and steamy unshaded grassy hills and trying to avoid stepping in cow poo. I had hoped to do this section faster but the heat was relentless. A couple runners passed me here and my only guess was they were able to get water from those people in the cars a couple of miles back. It took 1:50 to do this 6.5 mile section. All in all, not bad, but I was hoping for closer to 1:30.
I finally make it to the last aid station. As much as I wanted to rush in and out of this one, I needed to cool down. I sat in a chair in the shade and applied some more sunblock and ate about 6 Oreo cookies while drinking Coke. I filled up both water bottles with ice and water and then filled my hydration pack with ice and water. I ate some watermelon and took two ziplock bags of it to go. I finished up with putting ice in my hat and in my calf sleeves and then I was off. I was running and walking but tried to do more running. In this video you can hear the ice moving around in my bottles and see there is still no shade and a relentless sun overhead. It was nearly 1PM as I left the last aid station.
I just continued to run and to take walk breaks as needed which were plentiful, especially as there were still some uphills to go. We run a long way on this dirt and grassy trail. Then we make a left and run above and alongside some rail tracks which is right next to this gorgeous lake which is actually the Deer Creek Reservoir. People are Jet skiing in there and boating and just having a grand old time in the water that looks unbelievably refreshing, but it so far away! I'm still run/walking and constantly spraying myself down with my water bottles in order to do the running part. I feel like I'm moving fast and I guess I am if you consider 14-15 minutes per mile fast. The course continues to wind around constantly and I have no idea when it is going to end. I look ahead and see people fairly far ahead and I don't think I can catch them. So I put my attention to the people behind me that I just passed. I don't want them to catch me to I try to put some distance on them. It's not that I care what place I finish in, it's just that I don't want to be out on the course any longer than I need to be at this point so whatever motivates me to finish faster, the sooner I'll be finished and the better I will feel. There is another runner behind me most of this last 2 miles. I try my best to shake him and it's not until the last mile that I'm able to do so. Finally, I feel like I'm approaching the finish but it is a false finish. We run by a small lot and another area and there are people cheering the runners. Then there is a girl cheering and I say thanks and she says, "wait, I think ran with you early in the race!" It was the girl who had fallen a couple miles right before I took my fall. I told her about my fall and she laughed and congratulated me on my near finish. I guess she dropped out of the race because I didn't remember her passing me and she looked extremely refreshed and cleaned up. I was hoping the finish was right around the corner but the course takes a left turn onto a road and seems to go on ahead for a while. I run for a little bit but then decide to walk. I'm all out of water from my water bottles at this point but I can make out the finish line area. I run/walk a little more before taking a final run without stopping until I finish.
Finally, 33 hours and 19 minutes later I was finished with the race. I did the last nearly 3 miles under an 11 minute mile pace which felt like sprinting in that heat. It's actually a pretty good pace considering the walking I was also doing. I finished and shook hands with the race director as well as Steve Baugh (former RD of Wasatch) who was compiling the results of the race and is also in charge of the Grand Slam. Steve realized I was a Grand Slam finisher and congratulated me on that and told me to stick around during the awards ceremony to collect my Grand Slam award and take a group picture.
I then went over to the big tents to get some shade and something to eat or drink. They had a cooler filled with 1/2 pints of chocolate milk. I drank two of those. Then I gathered my start/finish drop bag and went inside the bathroom to get in line for the two showers they had there. Cleaning up felt so great. I looked in the mirror and had a couple weird sunburns but nothing bad and not close to what I feared for my arms which were just tan and not pink/red. I brushed my teeth and got changed and then went back out for two more 1/2 pints of chocolate milk and then waited in line in a chair near the massage tent. After the massage, I was able to walk around like I did NOT just run 100 miles over the last 33+ hours in the Wasatch Mountains in crazy heat. I was wide awake and feeling so happy to be done with the race and the Grand Slam. I had heard that three Grand Slammers had dropped out of the race. One twisted her ankle, the other two were just nauseous and couldn't avoid the cutoffs. Not all of them finished though and 1 came in with less than 45 minutes to spare. All in all, out of 42 people to start the challenge of the Grand Slam this year, only 13 people finished it. That is the 3rd lowest finishing rate in the 17 year history and the most DNFs by far since it was the biggest starting class.
I found some of my NY buddies and we sat and chatted about our race. Thomas finished in 34:16 which is incredible so soon after Bigfoot 200. Luis Miguel had to drop early on due to asthma complications from all of the dust. Doctors didn't let him continue after he used up his inhaler. Emmanuel had a great race finishing just over 31 hours! Mak and Mary unfortunately both suffered with the heat and altitude and ended up dropping at 53 and 75 respectively. After the race was over at 5PM they opened up the dinner line and I enjoyed eating now that I was starving. Then they did the awards. The winner finished in 20:41, which is fast, but the slowest winning time in 13 years. About halfway through they announce the Grand Slam finishers. We all went up to collect our awards (trophy, polo shirt, visor) and then we took a group photo and congratulated each other.
After the picture, they continued on with the normal award ceremony for all the finishers. I received my buckle and plaque (with a sticker to come via mail for the plaque with my finishing time and name due to a car accident with the printer on the way to the award ceremony). I spoke with Zsuzsanna Carlson and wished her luck in getting back into the Slam and being the first person from NJ to finish it. Then they announced the rides back to Salt Lake and we took the scenic route home and the driver explained to all of us all the parts of the course we were now able to see from the car.
When I got back, I went to a BBQ place for dinner and called Aleks and Snipes. Then I packed up and went to bed to get some well needed rest for my 7AM flight. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of yelling and door slamming and who knows what else taking place outside my room on this Saturday night at the Motel 6. I just hoped that no one would start banging on my door or window. Eventually, around 3AM it all subsided and I slept until my alarm went off at 5AM. One of the best parts about this last race of the Grand Slam was the anticipation of my flight home. I signed up for an American Airlines credit card in December last year to get 50,000 free miles that I could hopefully use on flights this year. It turns out that American/US Air (they merged) have terrible flight selections out of NYC. This last race was the only flight that worked for my schedule and it turned out that all they had available was coach on the way to Salt Lake (1 hour layover at Charlotte) for 20,000 miles but then 1st class for 25,000 miles (1 hour layover in Dallas) for the flight back. I was so happy to be able to get extra leg room and a comfortable seat and free food and drinks for after the race. 1st class also allowed me to check extra bags for free so I took advantage of that by packing all my drop bags into one backpack and then checking that backpack. My suitcase was rather full from the Grand Slam trophy and the Wasatch finisher's plaque. I Uber'd once again for a car to the airport. There was a very long line for the flight check-in but 1st class has a separate priority line and there was no wait. I boarded the flight and wanted a Mimosa as a drink but they unfortunately did not have any Champagne (booooo). So I got orange juice instead. I was very disappointed though with plane as there was no on-board entertainment on the flight out and now also even in first class on the way back. However, I spoke with the gentleman next to me the entire flight about a variety of things and he was so intrigued about the 100-mile race. He didn't want his 1st class breakfast so I asked if I could have his and the flight attendants were perplexed by that (he was about twice my size). I scarfed down my meal and then his meal right after. On the next flight, I ordered a Sam Adams and then just had one dinner. There was a small tv that came down for the first class passengers on each side of the plane and they played one movie. Again, no complimentary personal entertainment. On American/US Air, 1st class is better than coach, but no way would I ever personally pay up for it. You really don't get much for the usual cost of an extra $400+.
So what did I think of Wasatch overall? The race sure is tough. I think a lot of it had to do with the heat this year, making a tough course even tougher. This was my 3rd slowest 100-miler. UTMB was my slowest, at 35:20ish. That race though started in the evening and therefore took me through two night sessions. See recap here http://tntultracoachmike.blogspot.com/2014/09/utmb-ultra-trail-du-mont-blanc-168k.html The course was also brutal, with around 33,000 feet of climbing and also descent. My next slowest race before Wasatch took that position was Virgil Crest. That had 22,000 feet of vertical and rained and was cold in the night section and I had hurt my leg during the race. Se recap here. http://tntultracoachmike.blogspot.com/2012/09/2012-virgil-crest-100_30.html That race took me 30:30. So with Wasatch taking me 33:20, while I was hoping to do sub-30, I want to know if I could do better. I think the answer to that is yes. However, there could be a year that it rains and is cold, making the course harder in a different way. In these kinds of races, you can't expect ideal race conditions the entire time. The course is absolutely stunning though. There is nothing better than running on the top of a mountain range or the ridge line of the mountains that show you spectacular views and when you are in the valleys you get other views of the mountains around you. The foliage was pretty and the different types of flora and the environments we went through all made this race special. Now do I have to go for 33 hours to enjoy this or can't I just do a nice day hike to get these same views? Sure, there is always an easy way to do something. But if it was so easy, there wouldn't be a reason to do it! I highly recommend this race to someone who wants an immense challenge. It's certainly a better choice than Leadville. It will push you more than Leadville while giving you the opportunity (36-hour cutoff) to finish.
As for completing the Grand Slam, I will write up a separate blog post on my thoughts about the entire Grand Slam. It really has yet to fully sink in. I'm feeling a great sense of accomplishment but have other thoughts about it that I would like to put down on paper. For now, here are some parting pictures of the rewards from the Slam. Congratulations to the 13 of us survivors that were able to do it.
And don't forget to donate! No amount is too small (or big!) http://pages.teamintraining.org/nyc/yourway16/GrandSlam