The evening previous to the race we all gathered for a pre-race meal and instructions at the Hampton Inn in Orem, UT. It was great to see some good friends and meet others. One couple that stood out was Ross and Catherine who were visiting from England. They have been on a year long vacation around the world, culminating with an extended stay in Utah to run the Wasatch 100. They had run the Speedgoat 50k last weekend, the countries hardest 50k and were now running Katcina Mosa, a contender for the toughest 100k. They were very nice and would be fun to see out on the trails the next day. After a few other hellos Emily and I headed back to my parents for her to pick up the kids and go home and for me to gather my things and head back to the starting line to camp out and get up at 2am to prepare for the 3am start.
I pulled into the parking area and laid out my bouldering pads to sleep on, then my bag and pillow. I went back to the car to organize a few things and when I came back there were several spiders crawling on my sleeping bag. No way was I going to spend the next four hours trying to sleep with spiders crawling all over my face. I gathered up my things, put away my pads, and tried to make myself as comfortable as possible in the front passenger seat. It never went well. I was up three or four times to use the bathroom, could never get comfortable, and was still looking at the clock at 12:30am. I was now only looking at 1.5 hours of sleep, at best. I'm not sure I even got that, but waking up at 2am I felt strong and ready to go. I got everything ready to go and was up at the starting line with about 20 minutes to go before the race. A few solemn hellos and we all made our way up to the starting line, which was nothing more than all of us just standing at the fork in the road as the race director gave us a few last words of advice and then a loud 'GO'. We were off.
The first section of the race is 2 miles up the paved road then a left turn onto a dirt road that we will follow for another 5.5 miles up to the first aid station at Camel Pass. We would gain 2500 vertical in 8.5 miles. It was a very gradual uphill run with only a few sections that required walking. I ran with Mark Ellison from Saratoga Springs for the first few miles then broke away going up one of the steeper hills. I passed a few people on the road and then caught up to two other guys; Danny and Chris. We ran the rest of the way to Camel Pass together, having a great chat and enjoying the beautiful night. Both had run a few 50 milers previous to this and were looking strong on the long climb. I thought for sure I was going to have friends to run with for most of the race.
Leg 1 (start to Camel Pass): 8.49 miles. Goal - 1:45:00, Actual - 1:44:20
We were in and out of Camel Pass in just over two minutes. As we were leaving Mark was rolling in and quickly caught up to us. The four of us ran up the road together enjoying being able to share this with each other. We could see all of Utah Valley and the lights were beautiful. We had another 1000 ft of climbing to the top of Horse Mountain and then another mile downhill to aid station 2 at Slate Canyon. A few miles into the 2nd leg Chris and I dropped Mark and Danny and came into Slate Canyon just the two of us. Another quick stop and we were back off down the road for the long downhill descent to Rock Canyon.
Leg 2 (Camel Pass to Slate Canyon): 4.7 miles. Goal - 1:00:00, Actual - 54:27
It was only 3.3 miles of downhill dirt road so I picked up the pace and enjoyed letting my legs stretch out. With about a mile left Chris said he needed to slow down so I pressed on ahead. I really enjoyed this downhill section. Back at the aid station I was told the road was rocking and difficult, but I found it to be very pleasant and smooth. I strolled into aid station three at Rock Canyon feeling great and looking forward to the big climb up to Lightening Ridge ahead.
Leg 3 (Slate Canyon to Rock Canyon) 3.3 miles. Goal 30:00, Actual - 30:24
Just before heading up to Lightening Ridge
I was now alone, but I didn't care. I started up the very overgrown trail towards Lightening Ridge, 2500 ft above in about 5 miles. The first couple of miles were very steep in a narrow canyon. I passed two early starters and gave them words of encouragement as I moved on ahead. As I came into the cirque I could see a runner up ahead and a couple more higher up on the trail. I made an effort to catch the one not far ahead and was able to pass him before hitting the first major switchback. He graciously let me pass and after that I began to push the pace even harder. Over the next mile I opened up quite a lead on him and was quickly coming closer to passing the next runner in front of me. I tried to catch him before cresting the ridge, but was unable to do so.
Looking up at Lightening Ridge
Timpanogos Peak way off in the distances looking very small
The trail down the other side of Lightening Ridge was very steep and technical. I passed the person in front of me quickly as he was taking it very easy down the trail. I pushed past very fast and cruised the extremely technical trail for the next few miles down to Big Springs aid station. I probably passed six or seven runners, most of whom I assume were early starters. I flew by all of them and they were very nice by stepping aside. Each had words of encouragement and I responded likewise. It was fun to see other people on the trail enjoying it as much as myself. I rolled into the aid station and began to devour everything in sight. I also switched to my waist pack so that I could carry more water on the very long, hot trail up to Windy Pass.
Leg 4 (Rock Canyon to Big Springs), 7.07 miles. Goal - 1:40:00, Actual - 1:44:24
Heading out of Big Springs I actually got to run on some trail I was familiar with. This one mile section is part of a short race I did last year as part of the Cascadia Trail Series. It's a nice rolling section through trees and long green grass. I passed three runners on this section and then two more as I started the climb up to Windy Pass on the Great Western Trail. I was told that this part of the race would be one of the most difficult. They said it was a long march up a steep trail directly into the sun, gaining nearly 3000 vertical feet. Yet, I found it to be absolutely beautiful. The two canyons I hiked up and through were gorgeous, there was a ton of shade in the towering trees, and while the sun was higher in the sky it wasn't particularly hot. I got tired nearing the top as I passed another early starter, but made it to the top of Windy Pass, the 2nd highest point on the course, feeling pretty good. I was within 3 miles of being half way done with the race.
Leg 5 (Big Springs to Windy Pass), 6.1 miles. Goal - 2:00:00, Actual - 1:45:41
Heading out of Windy Pass up towards the ridge I looked back and instead of seeing the early starter I passed I saw Ross, the Englishman from the night before. I had dropped him early on in the race, but he was obviously a very strong climber and had caught up without much effort. I also started into a low point as I was cramping in my right diaphragm which was impacting my breathing. I was walking more than I wanted to and wasn't feeling very optimistic. Ross caught me quickly and I offered to let him by. Instead, he said he would hang with me for a while. It was great having him around. I hadn't talked to anyone in a few hours and could use the motivation of having someone around. We ran the next 9 miles together talking and sharing experiences. There was some wonderful single track trail that I had to walk a lot of, but he still stuck around and it really helped push me to the next aid station. Little Valley aid station couldn't come soon enough. My feet hurt, I had a blister under my left foot, and I was just generally worked. But it finally came and I had the respite I so needed. At this aid station we were required to do a very short out and back up an ATV trail to a couple of marked trees and back. Ross and another guy from Alaska headed out before me while I lingered at the aid station, but I soon followed. I walked all the way up to the trees, but was able to run all the way back down. Back at the aid station for the 2nd time I bid Ross goodbye as headed out. It would be the last time I would see him until the finish line. Alaska guy left seconds after him. At the aid station was Heath Thurston, brother to Jarom Thurston who has run Badwater a couple of times. Heath was not looking good and I would find out later DNF'd at that spot. I felt bad for him.
Leg 6 (Windy Pass to Little Valley): 9.1 miles. Goal - 2:20:00, Actual - 1:53:00
Little Valley aid station
So I headed out from Little Valley alone, again. From here on out I didn't know what to expect as far as the trail was concerned. I thought it kind of rolled up and down to the next aid station. What was thrown at me was drastically different than what I was hoping for. Within a mile I was climbing up a steep dirt road that never seemed to end. I wasn't managing my energy very well, I still had some residual cramping in my diaphragm (which salt was not helping, but I think actually hurting), and the weather was starting to get nasty. I liked the cloud cover, but it was getting windy and there was a lot of thunder. If the trail was flat or downhill I would run, but otherwise I was walking everything. I thought for sure I would fall off of my pace during this section, even with the 20 cushion I build coming into Little Valley. I was feeling really low coming into Bath Tub and just hoping that I could push on from there and keep a relatively good pace.
Leg 7 (Little Valley to Bath Tub): 7.0 miles. Goal - 2:00:00, Actual - 1:56:00
As I walked into Bath Tub I was greeted with smiles, regardless of the loud thunder and strong winds. They grabbed my water bottles and began to fill them. Then one of them turned to me and said, "aren't you Craig Lloyd?" - HUH? - "Didn't you just run the Triple Crown?" - What the.... -. I said yes, but how did he know me and what I had done. He said that they read my blog a lot. He then said that "Smooth says hi". I didn't know anyone read this blog, but hearing that they knew who I was and that there were other friends out there looking out for me seemed to flip a switch in me. All three of them were so wonderful and happy it just changed my whole attitude. And with the looming storm they offered one of their only large garbage sacks in case of rain. These guys saved my whole race. With a new attitude I left Bath Tub feeling great and looking forward to the last 16 miles, even with a climb up a dirt road ahead of me. Thank you folks at Bath Tub.
I ran down the road then made the hard left turn that would lead up the hill. Just as I made the turn it started to sprinkle. A quarter mile up the wonderfully pleasant hill it started to rain harder and then really came down. By the time I pulled out the garbage bag and ripped a hole for my head I was completely soaked. Even still, it was good I put on because no sooner did I have it over my head the hail started. I was pounded with heavy rain and hail for about 8 minutes and then it stopped. I was having a ton of fun playing in the rain and running through the now river filled dirt road. As I crested the hill I ran into Jarom who had not heard about his brother and was heading back to look for him. We exchanged remarks and I was off again, running down some technical ATV trail all the way to Dry Canyon. I stopped to eat a gel and as soon as I did I noticed the obvious bear tracks in the mud. Cool. I took a quick photo and pressed on the last mile to the aid station.
Leg 8 (Bath Tub to Dry Canyon): 6.7 miles, Goal - 1:30:00, Actual - 1:23:00
Looking back at the day I spent running
My original goal was to finish the race in 14:30:00, however, I found myself at Dry Canyon with a new option. I was only at the 12 hour mark and could possible finish in under 14 hours if I could press the last 10 miles in under two hours. I made my stop at Dry Canyon short and headed out on overgrown single-track. There was about 100m that were ridiculously muddy steep downhill. From there it enters Dry Canyon proper and the next couple of miles were just awesome single-track in and out of the small stream running in the bottom. I was actually feeling really good and pushing the pace towards the mouth of the canyon at Corral Canyon aid station. At one point I passed a full cow skeleton in the middle of the stream. I flew into Corral Canyon with someone welcoming me by name (how did they know who I was, they couldn't see my number yet?).
Leg 9 (Dry Canyon to Corral Canyon): 3.77 miles. Goal - 30:00, Actual - 42:43
From Dry Canyon to the finish was gradual downhill on paved road. My feet were hurting and the pavement was just no fun. I told myself that if I could run 10 minute miles I could be there in an hour. After the first 10 minutes I needed to walk so I changed my strategy to running for 10 minutes and walking for three. I figured after doing this six times I would be to the finish. I must have been running faster than I thought, however, because after only the fourth time I found myself turning the corner into the finish line. I finished with a total time of 13:38:34, 9th best overall.
Leg 10 (Corral Canyon to Finish): 5.95 miles. Goal - 1:00:00, Actual - 1:02:49
What an amazing race. I haven't run more than 37 on any given run since last October. While I have been doing a lot of hill and heat training I just didn't know how the long miles would wear on me. I faired much better than expected. On an easier course I could have run much further. I'm sure the good weather helped. I stuck around at the finish for a couple of hours to chat and cheer people in. Ross finished a couple spots ahead of me and his wife eventually took first out of all the women, amazing. I didn't stay long enough to watch Mark, Danny, and Chris come in. I heard later Mark bettered his last year's time by 20 minutes. I hope Danny and Chris faired ok.
This was a benchmark experience for me. I now know what I am capable of and look forward to pushing the longer distances. Thanks to all of the people who helped me train, to the gang at Bath Tub, and to the friends I met along the way. It was an awesome experience.