Pacing at the 2014 Wasatch 100

We Utah trail runners are so fortunate! We have one of the oldest, toughest, and most classic 100 mile races in North America right in our back yard. The Wasatch 100 is iconic for sure, but definitely not a race that you should ever take for granted.  If you do, it will destroy you (of course, it is likely to do that even if you don’t).  While I have not run it before myself, this year marked the second occasion that I have had the privilege to step in as a pacer for a “lucky” soul who decided to give it a go. This year, I jumped in to support my buddy DJ Loertscher for his first attempt, pacing with him through much of the night from the Lamb’s Canyon aid station at mile 52 until the Brighton aid station at mile 74. As always, I wanted to take some time to share my perspective and observations from this years race.

I arrived at the Lamb’s Canyon aid station a bit early at about 3:30 on Friday afternoon.  At this point, I just missed seeing the eventual winner, George Grygar, but saw everyone behind him starting to roll in.  The Lamb’s station is always a party, with lots of people there to see their runners, pacers waiting to join the party, and an awesome crew of volunteers.  Here I ran in to a bunch of Wranglers and we chatted and messed around until our runners came through.  It is interesting seeing the runners at this point because you can tell a lot about how their day is going.  At just over half way, some came in very energetic and some just looked like hell.

Lambs AS Wasatch 2014 Lamb’s AS starting to get busy

At around 7pm, DJ rolled in as part of a “Wrangler conga line” with Kenzie Barlow, Matt Williams, Kendall Wimmer, and Scott Wesemann.  Despite being 52 miles in and coming off of the hottest, most exposed section of the course, DJ was looking in good spirits despite going off course for a bit (thanks to Aaron Williams for going and getting him).  After a quick turnaround time of 3-4 minutes, DJ and I got heading up the road towards the turnoff to climb up Lamb’s Canyon.

DJ at Wasatch 100 2014 DJ having fun!

The section between Lamb’s and Brighton is probably the most familiar to a lot of us from the Salt Lake Valley, but during Wasatch, most come through it in the dark which gives it a very different feel.  We made most of the climb up Lamb’s before it got too dark and didn’t have to throw on the headlamps until around the top of Bare Ass Pass.  Once at the top we hydrated a bit (I will neither confirm nor deny that there may have been some Jim Beam involved) and started down into Millcreek canyon toward Elbow Fork.  We were able to run most of this section at a pretty steady pace down to Millcreek Canyon Rd, where we then started the second climb up toward the Upper Big Water aid station.

The climb up the road takes us about 2 miles and over 1000 feet to the back of Millcreek Canyon and the Upper Big Water aid station.  Here, we took a bit of extra time to take care of some blisters DJ was getting on his heels (the only time you will ever catch me touching another guys feet – but that is what a good pacer is willing to do), change socks, and get into some warmer clothes.  After that, we were back on the trail.  Over the next 5 miles, we would head down past Dog Lake and up our next climb, which took us to the Desolation Lake aid station.  This is my favorite section of the course and one I run often, but again, it looked totally new in the dark.  At this point, DJ was starting to struggle as the fatigue of 65 miles and 18K ft of climbing started to catch up with him.  We were able to do a little running during this section, but it was mostly speed hiking.

Wasatch 2014 DarknessHave seen this trail many times…uh, where are we?

After leaving Desolation Lake, we began another short climb up to the Wasatch Crest.  DJ had to stop and sit for a few as fatigue was really starting to set in, but after a couple minutes we were back at it and pushing toward the Scott’s Pass aid station.  After a few miles along the ridge, we arrived at Scott’s where we found that they had a warming tent with a cot…this was too tempting for DJ to pass up.  He took a 15 minute power nap in order to recharge a bit.  After waking up, he drank a few cups of hot soup with noodles and we began the final push to Brighton.

This section is mostly downhill, starting with Puke Hill and then out onto the Guardsman Pass road.  This downhill was really causing issues with DJs knee and he was starting to experience pain, so we resorted to speed hiking as quickly as we could until we pulled in to Brighton.  When we got there, luckily, fellow Wrangler Steve Frogley was there to work his chiropractic magic on DJ to help get him going again.

For me, this was the end of my journey as I passed the pacing torch to Jeremy to get DJ to the finish line, which he did, for a finish time of about 31:30.  I was glad that I got to be a part of that journey.  Despite seeing the trials and suffering on the course, it still makes me yearn for my first 100 mile finish.  We ultra runners are a sad, psychotic bunch of people, but there is nothing more fulfilling than pushing the limits and conquering.  Congrats to all first timers and veterans that crushed Wasatch 100.  I will get my turn soon enough!

Lessons Learned:

  1. DJ Loertscher is tough as nails and a complete badass!
  2. The Wasatch 100 experience cannot be put into words…it is amazing!
  3. The Wasatch Mountain Wranglers are the best running group out there…we all are totally there for each other.
  4. I need to get off of my ass and finish a 100 miler.

What I used:

  • Orange Mud Vest Pack
  • Salomon Sense Mantra
  • Injinji Trail 2.0
  • Garmin Fenix 2
  • Headsweats race hat
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