Monday, September 9, 2013

Wasatch 100-How to have a good time in the heat

Wasatch 100.  Just the words perk me up.  I first moved to Utah back in 2004 from the flatlands of Illinois and within two weeks had made my first trek up to Chinscraper.  I stood at the bottom, looked up and turned around and went back down.  Just looking up that face scared me.  The thought of going up that on race day was petrifying.  Once I got back down, I thought "this is stupid, how will I ever run Wasatch if I'm too scared to go up Chinscraper".  So two weeks later I made the trek again and this time forced myself up.  Since then, I've been up that face dozens to times, to the point where I really don't even need to use my hands anymore, just walk up it.
Chinscraper is just one of the many obstacles that you need to overcome in order to complete the Wasatch 100.  Well, this past Friday I started the race for the 7th time, and for the 5th time managed to overcome the obstacles in my path and finish.  Here's the blow-by-blow.

Curtis, Ryan, Harrison and I at the start.   Photo: Lori Burlison

As I do every time I run Wasatch (or any other 100 mile race), I learned a lot.  Here's what I learned......ooops, you'll have to wait until the end to find out what I learned.
My training this year has been ok, nothing to write home about, but sufficient to at least be able to finish Wasatch (hopefully).  I've always had the goal of going under 30 hours for this race, and I thought that just maybe this year I might be able to do it.
I went into Wasatch with a few long runs, but nothing over about 32 miles.  I was hoping that would be good enough.  I did manage to recon the last section to check out the new finish.  I had a good run at El Vaquero Loco three weeks earlier, some good elevation and climbing.
Race start - 5am - temperature - 75 degrees.  Holy cow!  It's usually in the low 50's when the race starts.  This did not bode well for most of the runners.  I was perfectly happy with it.  It meant I didn't have to stand there and freeze waiting for the start.
Once we started, I kind of settled into the middle of the pack.  Since I kind of had a time goal, I did this on purpose so I wouldn't be tempted to go out too fast.  I've learned that going out too fast is not a good thing.  One consequence of ending up in the middle is that it can be hard to pass people that early in the race.  312 people going down a single track before the sun comes up means it can be a bit crowded.
So anyway, the first section to Francis Peak went pretty uneventfully.  Weather was gorgeous, I made it up Chinscraper at about the time I normally do (7:30am), chatted with some friends until the crowd thinned out a bit.  I tried something a bit different this year.  
Early morning view from 9500'. We started way down at the bottom

Normally I don't run with music, but thought running with music might help me focus a bit better.  Take away some of the outside distractions.  It actually worked.  Since I've run this race several times plus I train here, I really didn't see the need to take in the scenery during the race.  With the music on, I was able to focus my eyes ten feet in front of me and just go.
I arrived at Francis Peak (18.76 miles) about 9:28, fastest time is 9:20, goal time was 9:10.  I was already 20 minutes behind but I felt great, and figured I could make it up somewhere.  Here I tanked up on a dose of Ultragen (320 calories) and left the aid station with a rice and bean burrito (in my drop bag, another 320 calories).  Yep, 640 calories down the hatch.  Seems like a lot, but I've found that tanking up on food at the aid stations is key to a consistent race for me.  I don't eat a whole lot in between because I don't want to.
Next up was the section to Bountiful B.  Not a fan of this section.  Almost a bushwack in years past, steep climbs, just not fun.  Well, this year Ryan Lauck, along with some fellow runners have done a lot of trail work on this section.  Some of the trail was rerouted, brush cut back, a couple of switchbacks installed on the steeper portions.  In other words, it wasn't too bad.  So, I made it to Bountiful B (23.95 miles) at 10:52, fastest time was 10:42, my goal time was 10:30.  Well, I didn't really lose time, but I didn't make up any either.
The next section to Sessions Liftoff Aid (28.23 miles) is all dirt road or 4x4 trail.  Not difficult at all.  Nice views since you're mostly following a ridgeline at 8000'.  At Sessions I was still feeling really good.  Time in 11:55am, best time 11:41, goal time 11:25.  Ooh, now I'm 30 minutes down from my goal pace.  Still, I felt fine, I was happy, let's get it done.
Enjoying some ginger ale while Kelly tries to close my pack.  Photo:  Jo Agnew

By now, the day was starting to warm up, but I was fine.  So, keep going.  I knew the next section to Swallow Rocks would be exposed and getting towards the heat of the day.  Still, up to this point there had been a great breeze/wind to kind of fake us out into thinking it wasn't that warm.  Actually, across some of the ridges, it was very windy.
So, into Swallow Rocks aid (34.91 miles).  Last year I was feeling pretty rough by this point, stomach issues from my caffeine overload.  This year I was feeling pretty good.  Time in 1:45pm, best time 1:32, goal time 1:30.  Wow, I actually made up some time.  I'll take it.
I knew the next section to Big Mountain (39.40 miles) would be a cruiser, mostly downhill, not difficult at all.  So on I went.  I love it when I get close to Big Mountain, you can hear the volunteers and spectators blowing horns and cheering.  There's a lot of energy here.  One of the reason I like the Big Mountain station is that overall, I'm not a big fan of the first 39 miles of the course.  I think the last half is much prettier, and certainly more difficult.  So rolling into Big Mountain is kind of a milestone every year.
At Big Mountain I was met by some friends, Lindsay and Dan.  They got me my drop bag, filled my hydration pack with ice and water.  Once again, I had a dose of Ultragen and a rice and bean burrito, and to top it off, Lindsay had an ice.cold.PBR.  Now I don't know about you, but a very cold beer 39 miles into a race on a very hot day makes me very happy.  That so hit the spot.  I left Big Mountain with a smile on my face and 800 calories in my stomach.  Time in 2:49pm, fastest time 2:30pm, goal time 2:25.  Hmm, lost just a bit of time here.
Meanwhile, there was some serious carnage going on.  People were dropping out at Big Mountain like flies.  There was already talk of this being the highest DNF rate of any Wasatch.
Enjoying a lunch of burrito and PBR while being photobombed by a nordic goddess.  Photo: Dan Frey

The next section to Alexander Ridge (47.44 miles) is probably the least liked section by any Wasatch runner.  Hot, exposed, you run it in the middle of the day.  I didn't mind it too much today.  There was a nice wind, I felt great, yeah, it was hot, but it really wasn't bothering me too much.  I made sure I was drinking plenty and just ran under control.  It was through here that I took my one spill of the day.  As I was going downhill, my foot caught a root or rock and I did a slow motion fall.  Landed on my left hand and tucked and rolled.  The trail was steep enough that I did a complete somersault.  When I came to a halt, I had to think for a moment which way to go.  Then I remembered, downhill.  Still, no damage other than a couple of small scratches.  Time into Alexander Ridge 5:10pm, fastest time 4:31, goal time 4:25pm.  Lost a bit more time but still running well under my goal finishing time.
Now I had the section into Lamb's Canyon (53.13 miles).  Down, then up the pipeline right of way, make a turn, over the saddle, down the rail trail and into Lamb's.  Not hard.  Last year I really had a bad time through here.  My stomach was churning, I couldn't eat anything, I was in shuffle/death march mode.  This year I was in much better shape.  Yeah, I was kind of tired and sore, but the good attitude was still there.  I was still having fun.  I also knew that at Lamb's I would pick up Alicia, my first pacer.  I got into Lamb's feeling pretty good.  Tired, but good.  A lot of the people just hanging out knew who I was and it was fun to hear them cheer me on.  I also saw a lot of other runners that I knew while I was there.  Britta, Nick, Missy, Jeremy were all there to greet me and wait on me hand and foot.  I tried to get through there as quickly as possible.  Drank my Ultragen, had some soup, recounted what had happened to that point, and heard about various friends' progress/dnf's.  Time in 6:44pm, fastest time 6:05pm, goal time 6:10pm.  Still down some time, but not really losing any more.
Next section was from Lamb's to Upper Big Water (61.68 miles).  I kind of like this section.  Most of it you do at a walk/power hike because it's mostly uphill, but I felt good enough to try running some of it.  Alicia and I took off up the road.  I tried running a couple of sections, but found that I was doing better walking as fast as I could.  After a mile, you turn and head up the trail.  As we were hiking up the trail, Bj, one of our friends comes bounding down.  He wasn't running it this year and was just out to see who he could see on the trail.  He turned and headed back up with us.  Meanwhile, I felt really good and my climbing skills were on.  I power hiked up that trail faster than I ever have.  I was pulling away from my pacer.  When I got to the top, I figured I had better dig out my headlamp because it would be dark by the time I got to Elbow Fork at the bottom of the trail.  As I was doing that Alicia caught back up and we headed down together.  My goal every year is to get to the top of Bear Ass Pass before dark, and hopefully before the sun goes down.  I had only accomplished that once before.  Mission accomplished this year.  When I got to the bottom of the trail at Millcreek road, I saw Lori and Bj.  Lori had to take a picture of the two of us and Bj had a beer in his hand.  I took his beer and finished it for him (there wasn't much left, probably all  backwash anyway), then headed up Millcreek road.  The grade on this road is a little less and I was able to run probably a third to half of the three miles, something I have never done in the past.  I felt great.  Alicia and I got into Upper Big Water at 9:27pm, fastest time 8:53pm, goal time 8:45pm.
We got out of Upper Big Water as fast as we could and headed up the trail over the next section to Desolation Lake.  I love running this section during the day.  One of the prettiest parts of the course.  Unfortunately, unless you're really fast, most of us will go through here at night.  My plan at Deso is to always get out of there as quickly as possible.  They always have a roaring fire, it's usually cold, and that fire can suck you in.  Get in, get out.  so we did, and headed up even higher to Scott's Pass.  Time into Deso 11:35pm, fastest time 11:08pm, goal time 11:00pm.  Hey, I made up some serious time on this section and didn't think I had.  Credit that to my pacer for keeping me on task.
We left Deso, headed up Red Lover's Ridge, passed a number of other runners, got passed by some.  Alicia and I were trotting along the ridgeline and we saw a bright green flashlight in the distance.  Well, there's only one person I know that has one of those and that's Davy Crockett.  He was up there going back and forth on the trial just waiting for the runner he was pacing to come along.  Meanwhile, helping out other runners and just hanging out having a good time.  Usually going across this ridge is pretty windy and can be very cold.  This year there was a slight breeze and I think the temp was well into the 50's.  Very pleasant indeed (at least for me).  We spent about two minutes at Scott's then headed out and down to Brighton.  Time into Scott's 1:02am, fastest time 12:35am, goal time 12:15am.  Fell off the pace a bit.
From Scott's we dropped from 10,000' down to Brighton (75.61 miles) ski area at 8900'.  This section has a few miles of pavement and I'm sorry, but it makes your feet hurt.  I tried to run as much of it as I could.  As we were making our way up the last bit of road to Molly Green's (where the aid station was) an ambulance passed us.  I heard later from the aid station captain that a 32 year old runner had a heart attack.  I have no idea if he's ok, but I assume so since I didn't hear of anyone dying on the course.  Brighton is where Alicia ended her pacing duties and I picked up Breein as my pacer to the finish.  At Brighton I always look forward to the scrambled eggs with hot sauce.  For some reason, after running 75 miles, scrambled eggs at 2am sound really good, and they were.  I had two plates and Breein and I headed out the door to Ant Knoll's aid station.
The trek to Ant Knolls (80.27 miles) involves a 1600' climb to the highest point on the course at 10,000'.  This is where I always have issues, usually with my breathing.  The first time I finished Wasatch, I had some serious exercise induced asthma from here to the finish.  This year I didn't have any breathing issues, but it was kind of slow going.  It's a tough climb, followed by a tougher descent to Ant Knolls.  The descent is very technical, rocky, and has been really chewed up over the years by motorcycles.  Really hard on quads and feet that hurt.  Anyway, when we reached Point Supreme (the high point), we stopped, turned off our headlamps and just looked at the sky and listened.  There was no breeze at all.  It was so quiet and still that you absolutely couldn't hear a thing.  I love those times, peaceful, relaxing.  Moments like this make me realize why I do this.  Anyway, we got into Ant Knolls, and as usual they had pancakes and sausage.  Awesome stuff.  Ate a pancake and a couple sausages, and got out of there.  Time into Ant Knolls 4:32 am, previous fastest time 5:52am, goal time 3:30 am.  Hmm, not good, losing some time, but I had a slow spot through here.  I knew once I got some more food in me I would speed up a bit.
Now I had the section to Pole Line Pass 83.39 miles) aid to negotiate.  This involves a short 700' climb called the grunt.  It does make you grunt.  I don't like it at all.  The reward after that is a mostly downhill run into Pole Line Pass aid station.  Keep in mind that I've never made it to Pole Line in the dark.  The sun is always up by the time I get there.  This year, the sun was anywhere near coming up.  I got in there at 5:58 am, previous fastest time 6:58 am, goal time 4:30 am.  
At this point a sub-30 hour finish was cutting it close, but I still had a chance if I really pushed to the finish.  But I knew that there were a couple of very difficult sections ahead of me, the Dive and the Plunge, plus the Seven Hills of Babylon.  All three of those sections are a nightmare after 90 miles.  Still, we pressed on.  We rounded Mill Canyon Peak in time to see the sun come up on Mt. Timpanogos.  
Mt. Timpanogos in the early morning light.

That's always a gorgeous sight.  As we were moving along, I was giving Breein, my pacer, a running (pun intended) commentary of the course, as she had never been on it before.  Before long, we were at the top of the Dive.  For those unfamiliar, this is a 700' plunge down an avalanche chute in about a half mile.  The trail is v-shaped, extremely rocky (think loose rocks from golf ball to bowling ball sized) and on fresh legs it's hard to negotiate, let alone after 90 miles.  Somehow I made it down without killing myself.  After a short little section of "normal" trail, we hit the top of the Plunge.  Once again, about 700' of descent in about a half mile, but this one isn't quite as bad.  Made it down that one ok.  Now we had the Seven Hills of Babylon to go through.  This is a section of the trail that crosses several drainages, so think short ups and downs.  The ups can be steep as well.  Once past that, it was a nice cruise down Pot Bottom canyon to the aid station.  Thank goodness that eight mile stretch was done.  Time into Pot Bottom, 9:24am, previous best time, 10:47am, goal time 8:00am.  Getting in there at almost 9:30 meant that I had to run the remaining ~7 miles in 90 minutes.  Not hard on fresh legs, especially since it was mostly downhill and dirt road.  We got in and out of Pot Bottom as fast as we could and I took off down the road.  I felt like I was really running fast, but in reality probably wasn't breaking 9 minute miles.  We ran solid to the final climb, a short 400' ascent to the last aid station.  I didn't bother stopping there at all, I yelled "27 in and out" and kept going.  Since I'm an Engineer, I'm always doing math in my head.  My math was telling me that the sub-30 hour time was slipping away, but I wasn't going down without a fight.  We kept up the running as hard as I could.  Every once in awhile, I would have to walk for about 15-30 seconds just to catch my breath, then back at it.  In the distance we could see the finish line.  So close yet still so far away and the clock was ticking.  We hit that last section of pavement, 1.2 miles to the finish, all flat except the final couple hundred yards.  I was really pushing now.  Just before we turned off the road and on to the grass, I looked at my watch, the time was 11:00am exactly.  I knew that according to my watch, we had started at 4:58am, so the sub-30 was gone.  When I saw that, I told my pacer, that's it, let's walk.  So we cruised it across the grass and across the finish line.


No sub-30 hour this year.  My final time was 30:06.  My place was 72nd out of 312 starters.  10th in my age group out of 40.  Not too bad for Brody and Savannah's grandpa.  I'll take it.  I'm very happy with my time, it's 2:15 faster than I have ever run Wasatch.

Many thanks to my wonderful wife Karen for putting up with my silly hobby.  I called her when I was still about three miles out and she was panicking about getting to the finish line in time.  She made it and greeted me with my usual kiss and beer.

Many thanks to Alicia and Breein, my wonderful pacers.  I couldn't ask for better help during the race.  Thanks ladies.  I owe you both big time. 

Many thanks also to my ad hoc crew.  Lindsay and Dan at Big Mountain, Britta, Nick, Jeremy, Missy at Lamb's.  You guys rock.

Last of all, I had a blast this year.  I have to say I probably enjoyed this Wasatch more than the others.
I gots me some dirty legs

Things I learned this year running Wasatch:
1.  Attitude is key.  Without the right attitude, you aren't going to have a chance of finishing (duh, pretty obvious if you ask me).
2.  Having a beer at some point during the race makes you happy and helps your attitude.  See above.
3.  I have some awesome friends.
4.  Heat doesn't bother me nearly as much as it bothers most runners.  Heat training is key for a race like this.  The heat on Saturday morning descending into the finish at Soldier Hollow bothered me more than the previous day running through the mountains.
5.  Consistent fueling and drinking results in a consistent race.  I never bonked, never had a down period.  There was one time when I was a bit slower, but once I got fueled up again, I was good to go.
6.  You can push beyond what you think you are capable of.  You can ignore pain to a large part.
8.  Frightened Rabbit puts out some pretty good running music.  Wish I had more of their stuff.
9.  There really does come a point where the pain really doesn't get any worse, you just get more tired.  Don't confuse the two.
10. Get in and out of the damn aid stations faster.  I added up my aid station time this year.  It was 112 minutes.  Way, way, way too much.  There was my six minutes of lost time.  I didn't need to run faster, I needed to get off my butt.  There's no reason why I can't cut at least 60 minutes off that time.
11. Take care of blisters early.  I usually don't have a problem with blisters, but this year I felt a hot spot on my achilles at mile four.  I put a bandaid on it right away and it never bothered me until after the race and I took my socks off.  then I got kinda grossed out.
Yeah, it kinda hurts

Miles traveled - 100
Elevation gained-26000'+
Water drank-somewhere around three gallons
Calories burned-12,000-15,000
Calories eaten-6,000-7,000

Runner Number: 27 - James Skaggs Finished at 11:06 with an Elasped Time of 30:06

Aid StationDistanceAltitudeTime-InTime-Out
East Mountain Wilderness Park0 mi.4880 feet05:00
Francis Peak18.76 mi.7500 feet09:2809:34
Bountiful B23.95 mi.8160 feet10:5210:58
Sessions Lift Off28.23 mi.8320 feet11:5511:59
Swallow Rocks34.91 mi.8320 feet13:4513:50
Big Mountain39.4 mi.7420 feet14:4915:06
Alexander Ridge47.44 mi.6160 feet17:1017:17
Lambs Canyon53.13 mi.6100 feet18:4418:59
Millcreek61.68 mi.7660 feet21:2721:46
Desolation Lake66.93 mi.9170 feet23:3523:43
Scotts Pass70.79 mi.9910 feet01:0201:04
Brighton Lodge75.61 mi.8790 feet02:1302:32
Ant Knolls80.27 mi.9000 feet04:3204:39
Poll Line Pass83.39 mi.8925 feet05:5806:05
Pot Bottom91.98 mi.7385 feet09:2409:26
Staton Cut-off94.69 mi.7114 feet10:0210:02
Soldier Hollow100 mi.5530 feet

I love these signs that Lindsay Lauck made for Ryan.


  1. Great write up Jim. The numbers get jumbled in my head but I appreciate all of your details. Now I want to go hike every section... but not all at once. You kept us all smiling through the heat and DNF talk at aid stations and on the trail, and now I'm smiling again.

  2. Congrats Jim! You said from the first couple of miles in that you were feeling good. Obviously that carried through the entire race.

  3. Nice run, gramps! Beer, burritos, pancakes, eggs, hot sauce, sausage. I am taking notes... That is a huge amount of food! Cool that you had a great race and a fun time doing it.