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

Race Report: Squaw Peak 50 Mile

The Squaw Peak 50 is considered to be the hardest 50-mile trail race in Utah and is rated as the third hardest in the United States (based on average finishing time of its racers); even finishing it is quite an accomplishment!  Last year was my first time running it and it ate me alive!  I finished last year in 13:44 and I was beat to hell afterwards.  I poorly trained for altitude leading up to the race and had bad blister problems during. But I am not about complaining or making excuses; this year was about personal redemption! There was no way I was NOT signing up again for this years race. So instead of whining, I learned from 2013 and went in this year aiming for HUGE improvement. Squaw Peak 50M Course     Such a beautiful loop courseSquaw Peak 50M Elevation Profile Crazy elevation!

The race starts at Vivian Park, about 6 miles up Provo Canyon.  After a surprisingly good night of sleep and a cool, but not overly cold morning, I was feeling ready to go.  The course starts with a 2.1 mile stretch on a wide, paved trail before it turns up onto the trail and heads up the canyon.  This section is used to spread out the crowd before hitting the single track.  I felt really good in this section and got out to a quick start, settling in somewhere around the top 25-35.  I wanted to get out early because it is hard to pass on the climb up, which definitely worked out well because it was a lot less crowded on the first 8 miles.  Despite jumping out early, I had to stop and take in the view at times because as the sun is coming up around mile 5-6, the views are absolutely breathtaking! SQ50M2014-1  The City of Orem and Utah LakeSQ50M2014-2I think this might be the City of Provo

I was definitely in cruise control and feeling great.  I ran into a former co-worker at about mile 13 who was in the early start group.  He said I was probably in the top 20 at that point.  I knew that wouldn’t hold as I didn’t think I could sustain my fast start, but was glad to hear I had a bit of a cushion to work with.  I continued on my way for the first 26 miles or so and was just taking in the beautiful scenery…it was largely uneventful at this point.

SQ50M2014-3 Love the scenery!

Shortly after jumping off of the pavement around Hobble Creek I was still cruising and hit the 27 mile mark in about 5 hours, which I was ecstatic about.  Even though the course difficulty is backloaded, I was feeling good at hitting my goal of 11-12 hour finish at this point.  Like every good plan in a race of this distance though, you are likely to hit a snag.  Somewhere around mile 29-30, I felt a slight tweak in my left glute, which felt like a minor pull.  This forced me to shorten my stride a bit, but I was still able to power through it and continue on.  My climbing was still strong through this point, but I was slowing down a bit on the flats and downhill since the shortened stride was limiting my speed a bit.  I continued to chat with people as I encountered them.  Had a couple people pass me at this stage, but was still feeling in great spirits – enter the second snag!

Right around mile 36-37, we start making the climb to the highest point on the course, which ends with a 1600 ft. climb in about a mile and a half between mile 39 and 40.5.  This is also the longest stretch between aid stations on the course, so I was being cautious with my water by holding off on drinking so I didn’t run out on the big climb.  As it turns out, I was a little overly cautious (my only misstep strategically on the course) and, when combined with the rapid altitude gain and fatigue of already running 40 miles, I started to get a really bad side stitch that reduced me to speed hiking until I could get rid of it.  I ended up hiking the flats/downs from mile 40.5 to the Windy Pass aide station, chugged a bunch of water, then hiked the next 1.5 miles downhill until I dropped below about 8000 ft.  I got passed by about 10 or so more runners in this section, including my boys and fellow Wasatch Mountain Wranglers Tim Shupe and Nate Younger.  Despite the issues, they were relatively minor.  Constrast this with last year, where I had to stop and sit for nearly 40 minutes due to altitude sickness.  At least this year I was always able to keep moving!

SQ50M2014-4 Some avalanche carnage!

More water and hiking to lower elevation ended up being just what the doctor ordered as I was able to run again once dropping below 8000.  I am a notoriously bad downhill runner that is susceptible to rolling my ankles, but despite this, I was still able to throw down some sub-7:00 segments.  I did hike through some of the more technical sessions just to be careful since fatigue was making me a little sloppy, but tried to run every section where I was comfortable with the terrain.

After hitting aid station 10, the final stretch is a rolling descent down the canyon road back to Vivian Park.  I LOATHE this section of the course.  There are few things that suck more than nearly 4 miles of pavement after already running over 46 miles.  I left the aid station with Ironman Triathlete Brian, who was running his first ultra (on his 40th birthday).  I asked him what was harder, and he quickly replied “with this course profile, this was harder than both of the the Ironmans that I finished”.  I will take his word for it.  We ran together for this whole stretch to the finish.  He was grateful for pacing him that last 4 miles…anything for a fellow runner!

SQ50M2014-5 About to hit the pavement for the last 3.5 miles

The best part of finishing (besides being done) is seeing my wife and two daughters cheering me on.  They are so supportive of what I do and I am glad I have them.  As is tradition, Ellie and Kate took me across the finish line.  Watch the video here!  My finish time was 11:32:05 for about 50.9 miles, which is right in the middle of my goal for the day and a crazy 2 hours and 13 minutes off of my time from last year.  To top it off, I felt infinitely better than last year.  I truly love that I get to do this stuff!

Now time for thanks.  Of course, thanks to my family for being so supportive during my training and racing.  Thanks to Josh and the team at Orange Mud for supporting me and letting me run in the new HydraQuiver VP2 (available for sale soon).  See my gear review coming shortly and swing by their site, OrangeMud.com, to view and buy their products! (Use discount code THEMANJOE for 10% off) Thanks to all of my Wasatch Mountain Wrangler friends.  Your support on and off the course helped me immensely!

What I used:

  • Orange Mud HydraQuiver VP2 hydration pack
  • Salomon Sense Mantra
  • Garmin Fenix 2 GPS watch
  • Tailwind Endurance Nutrition mixed with water
  • Honey Stinger waffles
  • Headsweats race hat
  • CEP compression calf sleeves