On Friday I met Aaron Kennard, a friend of mine from CO in Sugarhouse at 2pm and after a quick stop back at my house to pick up my pillow we were off to the trail head at Henry's Fork on the north side of the Uinta mountains. We arrived right around 5pm, quickly set up camp, and then decided to go stretch our legs up the trail for a very easy run. We targeted the turn-off to Alligator Lake, only 2.3 miles away. It would make for a very easy 4.6 mile run. When took off at a super easy pace and once we got to the turn-off we decided to just head up to the lake as it was only another half mile or so away. The lake is gorgeous. In the 8 times I've been on that trail I've never gone up to see the lake. It was totally worth it. We took it just as easy back to camp and upon our return I felt like I had just gone for a short walk. We then made dinner (pasta), organized our gear for the race, and planned a solid race strategy. Our goals were as follow:
Run the first 10 miles up to Gunsight Pass in 1:40:00 (super optimistic).
Hit the summit by 3 hours.
Down in 2 hours.
Finish in 5 - 5:15:00
Then we just sat around the fire and waited for family and Scott Wesemann to arrive. My parents were scheduled to arrive at about 9pm and Scott would get there around 11:30pm. As the night wore on Aaron and I decided that something was amiss and by 11pm we just decided to call it a night and go to bed. It was difficult to sleep and at midnight I was still awake as a car pulled up and a light shone into our tent. My parents had finally arrived. As it turns out they had missed a few turn-offs and spent the last three hours driving around the backroads of Wyoming and northern Utah. And still no Scott. Aaron and I decided that since no one else was coming up there was no point in starting at 6am and just decided to sleep in a little and start around 7am. But when 5:40am struck Scott was there trying to wake us up. He had rolled in at 2am. We told him about our delay and he went back to rest in his car. We all then got up around 6:30am.
Scott was already awake and ready to go. He decided to leave a bit before us and I think got out on the trail at around 6:45am while Aaron and I made breakfast, warmed by the fire, and got ready to go. At about 7:15am we each took turns ringing the cow bell and then walked over to the trailhead. The rules of the run are simple; start your timer at the fence near the trailhead, get to the summit using whichever route you feel is best, and get back without getting lost, hurt, or dehydrated. The fastest time back to the fence wins, regardless of the route taken. Aaron and started our watches at exactly 7:20am. The run was officially ON.
Ringing the cow bell before the official start
I don't know what happened, but from my first step I just wasn't feeling it. My body did not want to run. Each step felt heavy and I didn't have the energy I was expecting from my 400+ calorie breakfast. Normally I am giddy and chatty as I run, especially early on in a race. Instead, that day I was solemn and reserved and just fighting to maintain a steady pace. Within the first mile I also started to develop a cramp in my diaphragm, something I'm used to happening. It was very aggravating though and I spent the next three miles trying to get it to go away. Aaron was content to hang with me and we still made good time getting to the first check point - Elkhorn Crossing, mile 5.3.
Start to Elkhorn Crossing - 5.3 miles, 58:45
Approaching the new bridge at Elkhorn Crossing
Just past Dollar Lake
After Elkhorn Crossing the trail is very easy for another mile, then a steep climb up into Henry's Fork basin, and then a very casual uphill all the way to Gunsight Pass. I was feeling a little better and we finally caught sight of Scott. We had expected to catch him by Elkhorn, but he had obviously been pushing the pace and was doing really well. We didn't catch him until after Dollar Lake, mile 8. The three of us ran together for about a mile. When the trail steepened we dropped Scott and then Aaron took off up the trail when it got a little steeper as I needed to walk. He didn't get too far ahead though and as we approached the base of the switchbacks up to Gunsight Pass I yelled for him to stop and refill on water and caught up to him. Unfortunately, there was only a trickle and not enough to refill with. We decided to push to the pass and try and get water from the remaining snow field at the cut-off up to Anderson Plateau. We passed four hikers who were very impressed with what we were doing. We made it to the pass a little behind schedule, but probably in a more realistic time.
Elkhorn Crossing to Gunsight Pass - 4.7 miles (10 miles total), 1:07:06 (2:05:52 total)
Approaching Gunsight Pass
We started up towards the cut-off to Anderson Plateau, stopping to try and pull water from the snow pack, but like below there just wasn't enough running off to refill our bottles. We both felt like we had enough to make it to Anderson Pass so we pushed on. We probably wasted close to 8 minutes between the two stops. Moving up towards the plateau we passed another half dozen hikers, all with their large day packs, jackets, boots, and hiking poles. We were in short running shorts, t-shirts, and hydration packs. We must have looked like a real sight. Again Aaron got ahead of me through the cliff section and hit the plateau before me. He appeared to be following the correct path around the hill, but when I got around to the other side he was nowhere in sight. As I made my way out onto the plateau I looked around, but couldn't see him. Finally, looking north towards West Gunsight Peak I finally saw him on top of the hill he was supposed to go around. He had made a wrong turn and headed up the hill. I was now ahead of him. He caught up quickly however and we both made our way over to the main trail. Just as we got to the trail we found a nice running stream and were able to refill. No, we didn't purify. I generally don't purify water above treeline if it if free flowing. He took a little longer filling up and I was able to get ahead a bit. Once again though he caught back up by the time we hit Anderson Pass, mile 12.2. Aaron is in great shape for running mountains and was on his "A" game, for certain.
Gunsight Pass to Anderson Pass - 2.2 miles (12.5 miles total), 42:50 (2:48:50 total)
I had been fueling great throughout the whole run, but like I said, my body just didn't want to go. I tried to stay positive, but was also fighting a deep mental battle and not winning. I told Aaron to push to the summit and I would try and keep up as best I could. I usually love climbing the technical rocky climb up to the summit. I know the route well and am fast at making my way through the large talus. Not that day though. I've spent a lot of time recently at altitude, but I was still feeling dizzy and slow. I didn't ever feel sick, I just didn't have the legs for it. I kept Aaron in my sights though and even caught up at point. And then something amazing happened, coming towards us was Eric Jeppson, another friend who I had hoped was going to come but I figured couldn't make it. Apparently, he had decided to come the night before, but was unable to let us know. Because he didn't know about the late start he hit the trail at 6:30am. He had reached the summit in about 2:55:00 after making a few wrong turns. He is wicked-fast and after chatting for a minute Aaron and I resolved to take 2nd and 3rd knowing that he would smoke the trail on the way down and maybe even go under 5 hours. Eric mentioned that he would probably take the longer trail to the bottom, thinking that he could do more running and less scrambling, even though it was further. I didn't think it would matter which way he went, he'd still beat us. We said goodbye and kept pushing for the summit. Aaron got there about 5 minutes before me and we chatted for 2 seconds as he passed on the way down. I stopped only long enough on top to take a picture and then head back down.
Anderson Pass to Kings Peak Summit - 1 mile (13.1 total), 30:31 (3:19:13 total)
Aaron coming down as I near the top
On the summit
As soon as I left the summit I felt better and was able to fly down the ridge. To my surprise Scott was about half way up and looking strong. This would be his fastest trip to the summit by over an hour. We said a quick hello and I was off. I was moving so well I even caught up to Aaron before hitting Anderson Pass again. And I was finally in a good mood. FINALLY.
Summit to Anderson Pass - 1 mile (14.1 total), 19:37 (3:38:50 total
Scott on his way to the top
Aaron and I together pushed the technical trail back down onto the plateau and made another quick stop to top off on water and were off again towards the cut-off to Gunsight. Aaron opened up a lead on me, but I was able to catch up just before the drop down the cut-off because he had stopped to talk to two guys coming up. One was a friend of his, Andy, and the other was the 2009 NCAA National Champ in the steeple chase. Holy Crap these guys were fast. They were at the top of the cut-off in 1:50:00, 20+ min faster than us. The NCAA champ, Kyle Perry, looked tired though. He commented that this was further than he had ever run and he was on mile 11. Ha. Aaron and I took off again and hit the pass together. We then dropped straight down the pass, avoiding the long switchback.
Anderson Pass to Gunsight Pass - 2.2 miles (16.3 total), 30:36 (4:09:27 total)
At the bottom of the pass I told Aaron I needed to top off again, but I would have to deter to the spring since the trickle wasn't good enough. This allowed Aaron to open up a big lead, one that I would be unable to overcome. After my refill I bushwacked back to the trail, getting very wet in the swampy brush. Back on the trail I was again depleted of anything in my legs. To make matters worse my left foot was really hurting and my right ankle tendonitis was acting up. I was still fueling great and felt like I had energy to run, but there were a few times when it was just too painful. I was back to my mental war and not winning. I didn't bring my iPod with me and that didn't help. Normally I like running without it, but that day it would have been helpful because it would have allowed me to get out of my own head. I tried to run as much as possible and managed to keep the walking down to only one or two minutes total over the next 5 miles. I got back to Elkhorn Crossing, took more fuel, allowed myself to walk again, and continued the battle in my head.
Gunsight Pass to Elkhorn Crossing - 4 miles (20.3 miles total), 47:24 (4:56:51 total)
My goal of doing the whole run in 5 hours was officially out. Now I just wanted to finish close to 5:45:00, but even that would be tough with 5.3 miles to go, painful feet, and doubt filling my head. But I found that even with wanting to walk, when I did so I didn't like it and would just start running again. The turn-off to Alligator Lake couldn't come soon enough, but when it did I knew I only had 2.3 miles left and started to pick things up again. I passed another trail runner returning from the summit and he commented on how fresh I looked. I definitely didn't agree, but it did pick up my spirits a bit and I pushed even harder. Then a couple of hikers on their way out had some nice things to say also and that allowed me to continue on even faster. I zoomed back to the trailhead at exactly 5:57:00. Wow, what a trip.
Elkhorn Crossing to Finish - 5.3 miles (25.6 miles total), 1:00:08 (5:57:00 total)
I signed the trail register and then walked back to camp. Aaron was there greet me with a high five. I was pleased to find out that he had only beat me by 12 minutes and was feeling great. I was super happy for him. Unfortunately, my family had already left so I was unable to chat with them. Aaron mentioned that he had talked with a couple of hikers who saw Eric coming out and they said he wasn't looking good at all. So that made us think that maybe Aaron had a chance to win it all. We then went on a short recovery run to finish off a full marathon and came back to sit in the river. We then took down camp and headed out, meeting his wife Nan in Mountain View at a burger joint. He then left with her and I headed home. I found out later that night that Eric finished in around 6:01:00, with 27.5 or so miles. In this race though miles aren't the most important part, just hitting the summit and getting back. So Aaron won and I took 2nd. Wahoo!!!! I found out also that Scott finished in 8:28:20, smashing his PR by more than two hours. Way to go Scott.
Even with the tough day I had a great time. I was there with good friends and running an awesomely tough trail. I wish I could have run more with Scott and Eric, but I'm glad I at least got to see them. It would have been fun if they could have gotten there early enough the night before that we all could have hung out around the fire. Thanks for coming along guys. Next year I'll be even more organized and we'll hopefully have even more people come along. What a great trip!
Congrats Aaron - 1st Place Overall