By Mike Campbell
I have heard in the past that everyone has a race they refer to as “the best 100 miles you love to hate” and yes, I have found it. It all started when I saw the elevation chart (a cumulative elevation gain of approximately 26,882 feet, as well as a cumulative loss of approximately 26,131 feet).
The Wasatch Mountains were beautiful with some of the best scenery that I had ever encountered. I can understand why people love to settle down there.
For this Ultra, I had a crew of two: my son, Michael Jr., who came in from Houston and my oldest daughter, Andrea. We all flew into Salt Lake City on Friday in time for the weigh in and pre-race meeting. An interesting topic was clothing because the temperature ranged from below 30 degrees up to 100. Last year reports said temps climbed to 95, which kept the finishing rate down around 50%. I met up with several VHTRC members so we had a good contingent from the east to uphold.
I picked a Super 8 Hotel that was close to the pre-race meeting, and then one in Heber City by Homestead for Sunday night. Our pre-race pasta dinner was at Olive Garden, so by six or seven o’clock I had everything ready to go, and time to hit the sack. The drive was about 20 miles from the hotel and the race started exactly at 5 a.m., which made for a 3:15 a.m. wakeup.
Since our crew was limited to five aid stations, I had to pack more than I normally do. My belt had two 20 oz bottles, one filled with Gatorade and the other with water and Sustained Energy by HammerJel. We had to run our first 18 miles without an aid station, so they gave us a 16 oz bottle of water at the start to drink and then dump at mile four where volunteers collected them in trash bags.
So off we went in the dark. It felt like 55 to 60 degrees so I wore shorts and a tank top because temps were supposed to climb to 90 or so that day (I also started with my usual weight lifting gloves to protect my hands when falling on the trails and rocks). We made our way on the narrow trails, and crossed an ankle deep stream to mile four to where we tossed the empty bottles (time: 41 minutes, a little over 10 minute pace). Another mile and we started up the famous Chin-Scraper Mountain (can’t image where it gets that name) where the elevation started at 5,200 feet and in the next four to five miles climbed straight up to 9,300 feet at the ridge line. The temp dropped to around 38 degrees and the wind blew 10 to 15 mph. It felt like it was below freezing and of course I still have only a tank top on. A fellow runner passed by and said, “hey you must be from Alaska,” …well not exactly since my fingers were like icicles! You know it’s cold when you are running into an aid station with a singlet and shorts and you see all the crew wrapped in sweatshirts and hats like Eskimos in September! The fog set in before we got to the top where we met the race director, John Grobben, who gave out water around mile 14.
We descended to Francis Peak aid station and I met up with Michael and Andrea, put on my nylon jacket that I could tie around my waist if it warmed up later on and dropped off my headlamp. Loaded up with two full bottles, downed an Ensure 8oz and it was now 9:40 a.m. at mile 18.7. The next crew aid station “Big Mountain” would be at mile 39.4 which would add another 21 miles, so I carried an 8oz bottle of V8 and another Ensure to hold me over until the next aid station.
This section at Francis Peak starting at around 7,500, dropping a couple of hundred feet then ascended back up to 9,120. I remember on the east side that after the fog lifted and the sun started to shine it would start to warm, but as soon as you crested the peak on the opposite side it cooled off in the shade and the temp seemed to drop 10 to 15 degrees with a wind that could stand you straight up. From the peak we proceeded to drop all the way to 6,100 by the time we hit Lambs Canyon. Running down these trails were not all the joyful, you definitely had to hold back and ride the brakes. I finished off a PowerJel & piece of a Powerbar along the way. Many rocks, from the size of a pebble to the boulders dashing to and fro, ankles, knees and quads were taking the tolls. As I’m toiling along, thinking I don’t think I want Andrea to pace me at night as steep as this slides go, maybe it wouldn’t be a good idea to come out at all, since she has not run on trails in many years. So I’m holding in there and arrive at Big Mountain at 3:05 p.m., jesh most of the day is gone and I’m only at mile 39.4. To my surprise Andrea was raring to go, got fueled up and took off. I needed a little pick me up at that point and chatting was the reward. A few ups and downs to extremely steep, but footing wasn’t all that great. We refer to these narrow paths as “deer trails” because the sagebrush is touching you on both sides winding its way along as if only an animal had trotted through before.
For the most part I was gingerly saving my right foot, having Neuroma in two places, and was luckily able to land each step on an open spot avoiding rocks. I slipped and fell once and landed on my rear which luckily saves your hands and face! My success was about 60/40% accurate, but when you missed and caught a rock, you knew what pain was when it shot up through your foot. Andrea was right behind me, pushing the edge. These were the kind of downhills that made you WANT to see a steep uphill again! The rocks were loose and shifting and were steep like the downhill roller coasters that send your stomach into your throat. When I was tapping the brakes coming down, Andrea was riding them, so it took a bit longer, never the less we came into the next aid station together (Alexander Ridge) mile 47.4 about six miles to the next aid and Michael. Grabbed couple of pieces of watermelon and a few grapes, not to upset my stomach too much.
Off we went from that aid station to a nice stretch of dare I say ‘enjoyable trails of relief’ to jog on after the torturous rocks and downhills that were behind us. We jogged down the trail and passed four or five run/walkers, then had about a 500 foot climb before more down hill pacing, with about two miles left to go, Andrea begged me to push on and she would be fine and with many runners in the area, I decided to push it all the way to Lambs Canyon. Michael was all set up; I refueled and got my Headlamp since it would be dark in an hour or so, the time was 6:45 p.m. After I left Michael got set to back on the trail and find Andrea but she came in only about ½ a mile or so later. I’m so proud of her for the 14 miles of pacing and keeping me on track.
At lambs Canyon we were at 6,100 and had to climb up to 8,200 and drop to 7,600 before we hit the “Upper big Water Trailhead” aid station at about 8 miles. This track was especially tough since it was pretty straight up and then the same coming back down. This was all in the dark, so things slowed way down as always at night. Hit this aid station, mile 61.68 at 9:40 p.m. (8 miles in 3 hours wasn’t so impressive). After a quick V8 and bottle swap with my crew the temp was dropping so I decided to put on my coolmax (very light) turtleneck and short sleeve coolmax shirt over that with the same nylon jacket. Also put on a pair of tights with my shorts with race number on it. My race shorts have pockets in them so I can store PowerJel’s , a Powerbars cut into thirds, and my endurolytes e-caps.
I was back on the climb to 9,475. This was also a tough hill to conquer without much of a break, mostly all up, up and more up. We got aid in about 6 miles and then again in about 4 miles (Desolation Lake & Scotts Peak). As I rolled in to Brighton Lodge, unfamiliar with this area, there was a huge parking lot. Partially up the hill was a building with people going in and out, so sort of figured that must be the check in.
Once I entered the building called off my race number and got on the scale for the last time today, no problem about a pound less then when I weight in yesterday. I looked around and couldn’t locate my crew and it was 2:48 a.m. (Sunday now). I considered going down to the parking lot and trying to find the rental car where they might be catching a nap, but as I approached the door and the cold air resisted, so I politely declined. Back in the lodge I sat down and everyone was asking me if I wanted something, no I was ok.
I considered just filling up my bottles, of course it would have to be with only water, and taking off but I have had some bad experiences mixing Powerade and Gatorade in the past. Then again I didn’t have any more Ensure and still had 25 miles to the finish, so decided to stick it out until they got there. A kind lady asked me if I wanted to use her phone, well that all seemed to work out ok…. But not having my glasses on, I could hardly see the numbers and just asked the lady to speed dial #3 for Andrea …. She tried to talk me out of that idea since it wasn’t the speed dial I was looking for because it was her phone! I rattled off some number from my memory bank and after it rang for like 5 times, my brain caught up to me and said that was Mom’s phone number. The next number I blurted out she dialed (I was praying that this was correct) and after a couple of rings, Andrea answered and I said, “where are you?” she said, “where are you?” I said, “I’m at Brighton Aid station,” and she said “shit we are about ½ an hour away,” I said ok and decided to wait.
So while I was waiting I drank a cup of broth to warm up and to my surprise there were about 30+ runners milling around, eating and casually putting on clean socks, shoes, clothes and what not. They didn’t really seem anxious to get going, with a couple just laying on the floor asleep. This place was definitely too warm and inviting to just get comfortable! While I sat on a chair, a volunteer said there were other rooms if I wanted to lay down for awhile and take a snooze, it would be ok??? I’m thinking I really didn’t have excessive time to waste and still make the cut off. Then again around mile 40 I meet a ten time finisher of the Wasatch Front 100 who said you can walk it in from here and still make the 36 hour dead line, because he had done it a few times in the past. Ok, I’m counting on his calculations, and as Michelle says “just keep moving forward.”
The next thing was the point that I was really getting tired, tried to down a cup of regular coke at each aid station, but at times it was so cold I just got a cup of soup or broth, and forgot to get the coke to go. Asked the Lodge aid if they had any no-dose pills, nope, but another ultra runner pasted by and said she had some caffeine pills, so I gladly accepted two and washed them down.
I was hoping Michael and Andrea didn’t get in an accident, but before long here they come huffing and puffing (I suggested that the use the car next time) hahahaha. So I changed my shoes, had hot spots on both heels, got a volunteer to stick one with a pin to take some pressure off and then she took out the duct tape and ran about a ten inch strip from one ankle around the bottom of my foot to the other side. I put my sock and shoe back on, stepped on it and said “ouch,” …she said it was the best she could do for now. I got on my warmest running jacket, stocking cap, Nike mittens and cut out of there at a blistering pace of about 2 mph, just kidding. My legs didn’t seem to want to get back into the groove after an hour lay off.
One reason the pace didn’t quicken was that we were at 8,790 and had to climb all the way up to 10,450 in the dark. The glow lights were very randomly placed and the flags weren’t extremely visible, which made it difficult and second-guessing my direction got to be the norm. Usually I latched on to another runner and we figured out the most logical route. In only two cases made the mistake in the wrong turn but remedied the situation before too much space was lost. As we got closer to the top, I could hear that gushing sound again breathing through my mouth, but as I have learned from the past, it will subside once I get below 8,500. The trail turned very rocky with granite boulders up past Catherine Lake until we hit a sandy area called the Beach before the highest point at mile 78.46.
Followed the Great Western Trail signs and dropped on a steep jeep road with loose rocks that kept your speed down. At Rock Spring there was an aid station so I took out both of my bottles and mixed my own Gatorade and Sustained Energy Mix that I had in my backpack. After a shake or so they we reloaded into my belt, like a cowboy holstering his weapons, and off I go.
About mile 88 we had a good downhill going on, so I picked up the pace and cruised into the final aid station (Pot Bottom) at mile 93.13. Peeled off all of my garments except my singlet, shorts and shoes since the temp was up near the 50’s. The volunteers found me a plastic bag that I stuffed my Headlamp, jacket, gloves and flashlight in and was assured that it could be found at the finish with the other drop bags. So we had about 2 miles to go uphill and then some rolling hills before the drop to finish at Homestead. I saw my first and only deer on this stretch, couple of hundred yards off, but not in a hurry to leave his pasture. As I kept trucking at a good pace, I’m thinking 7 miles will take me about around 2 and ¼ hours going about 3 mph.
As I started going down, I proceeded with my hot-dog finish, the trail had many rocks but they were fairly big and I could find a bare spot between them which took a lot of pressure from my right foot. I started catching and passing several runners, and was humming Rocky in my head, as if there was nothing more to do at this point. As we run along the ridgeline, you could see the houses, golf course and roads beneath, which made for a nice picturesque view. Back on track, still rolling along and passing members of the race, I hit the road and veered right, following the flag, which were surprisingly easy to follow in the light verses what had happened last night.
After a quarter of a mile I came over a hump in the road to face another quarter, where I spotted a couple running on the other side of the road and a black SUV on my side of the road. The driver cheered the folks on and as I caught up with her, she said I had about a mile and a half left. Well that almost took the wind out of my sail, after running for all that I was worth for the last 5 miles. As luck had it once I crested that knob, I could see the turn into the grassy area and picked it up to use the rest of what I had left in me. I passed the couple running on the wrong side, turned in and had a strong finish right under the giant Hardrock Front 100 banner, to complete yet another century endurance run. I documented my finishing time at 31 hours, 42 minutes and 41 seconds, good for 74th place. About 250 registered to run the race and a little under 100 of those DNF’d .
After congratulations and pictures, and couple of glasses of diet coke, I lined up for a massage. If I knew there was waiting I could of run a couple of minutes faster? Found out it’s after 1 p.m. and the two massage therapists had been at it since 6 a.m. this morning, taking care of the finishers. Now that’s dedication and appreciation from us participants!
I took a shower at the hotel by the finish and then lounged out by the finish to cheer in the rest of the runners who had until the 5 p.m. cut off time to make it in. At about 5:30 they had a nice catered buffet for all of us, a great meal enjoyed by runners, crew, family members and volunteers. The awards ceremony followed and members were all recognized for their merits. They gave us a beautiful buckle and plaque, along with a printed sheet of our race splits.
My gratification and love goes out to my special crewmembers that double as my son and daughter. I could have never gotten through the race without their cheering support and pumping me up as I went through my ups and downs during the day or should I say two days? I was pretty shot at mile 20, and then wasted at mile 39, where my pacer got me going again, and then I was toast at the last crew station mile 75, but I held it together and survived.
In these runs the past couple of years I don’t use the aid station very much because I rely on my own crew. Since there were only 5 crewed aid stations, I had to adjust. The volunteers were always bending over backwards to support and help us all achieve our goals. I couldn’t have asked for any more help and this race wouldn’t be such a success if it weren’t for the great volunteers.
Last but not least my appreciation continually goes out to my wife and training partners, and as always for my Mom for keeping those candles lit so I can see the light.
My hundreds for this year are complete. Next I have the Marine Corp Marathon in October and the JFK 50 miler in November to finish up my year. I’m proud to say Michael Jr. and his wife Abby are expecting their first baby girl in December and I am so excited for my first grandchild. David Horton told me at the end of the race that grandchildren are the best ever…he said remember, “they are your reward for not killing your children!”
See you on the trail …..thks Mike
The Wasatch Mountains