Thursday, July 17, 2014

Skyline Mountain 50 - Race Report

By Matt W

Some people generally consider signing up for a 100 mile race to be a little crazy. What they probably don't fully realize is all of the other crazy things that you have to do to prepare for it. The signing up is the easy part. 

For me, one such decision was made when I hit the 'submit' button to tackle a first year 50 mile race in the middle of July - it was sure to be complete with brutal climbs and scorching heat....which all sounded good in March as I sat behind my computer screen watching the snow fall outside my window. 

As the race date got closer and the temps started to be consistently in higher upper 90's, even I began to question my own sanity. Even still, I was excited to hit the trails - some familiar and others, brand new.

Race morning came early, I found myself stumbling into my car at 3:15am in order make the drive to the finish line in Eden, where we would then be shuttled to the start line for the 5am start. The temperature already read 74 degrees - yes, it was going to be hot. Treating today as a training run, I thought I would try going full liquids for the duration of the race, including breakfast - so as I made the 45 minute drive I nursed my bottle of tailwind, which would give me a couple hundred calories to start the day.

74 degrees at 3:15am

Once on the shuttle to the start, I noticed that Zac was nowhere to be found. My text messages went unanswered. I figured he must be driving and would show up any minute. No sign of Zac, however, when the countdown began. 

Runners checking in at the start line under a bright moon

We started - as any good ultra will - with a very casual 3-2-1 countdown, and we were off into the night, a herd of 50 or so runners plodding down the hundred yards of pavement until we funneled onto the single track trail. I settled in mid pack and just took it nice and easy for the first couple of miles. No need to jockey for position at this point in the race. 

After a couple of miles the trail momentarily flattened, so I ran ahead of the group I had been with and then began a steep climb up the mountain. I was happy to see that I was hiking well within my limits and was passing people. All the vert this year is paying off - I usually get passed on the steep uphills. From there the trail turned into overgrown cat tracks through some beautiful pine and aspen forest. A couple of guys passed here and I let them go - it's early.

As we finally gained the ridge we were welcomed by a beautiful sunrise looking over powder mountain resort. My phone beeped with a text from Zac "Shoulda called...I was passed out!!!" I replied with by snapping a picture of the sunrise and sending it back.

Beautiful sunrise over Powder Mountain

A quick downhill brought us to the first aid station, which I ran through - we were only 3.5 miles in and I certainly didn't need anything yet. It was fun to see friends there. More beautiful ridge climbing gave us a spectacular view of nearly the entire course, and took us up to the end of our first climb - James Peak. It was a short, steep climb to the top, with prayer flags and an amazing view to greet us.

Final push of the first climb - James Peak

Coming off the ridge there was no trail. I loved it, carefully picking my way down the ridge and just trying to stay upright. We then met up with a very steep service road, that every part of me wanted to bomb down. However, I could tell that this downhill was very long and we were only 5 or 6 miles in - too easy to wreck your quads on that! I settled in with a (new) friend Tyler and we spent the next several miles chatting away as we worked our way down the mountainside. I also got a call from Zac, who said he was on his way to Avon road, that he would just meet up with the course there and at least get a good run in for the day.

Heading down from James Peak - the course lies ahead. Willard and Ben Lomond dead ahead.

Still heading down - now on a trail

In no time we were on Avon road then at the Altra Aid station, about 10 miles in. It was already starting to feel warm, but a quick refill on water and ice and we were off. Zac decided to join in with me rather than chase the front runners - a decision he probably regrets. :)

Coming in to aid two on Avon road

The three of us hung together for the next several miles, which included another quick aid stop a mere 3 miles later. I was happy to see I had finished a whole bottle in that section - might as well get started early. The aid guys were great "lets us know what you need, if you don't see something you want...well, we probably don't have it!"

Tyler heading up the dirt road...and there's my finger

Less than a mile out of the third aid we were running some soft, smooth double track, where of course I caught a toe and went down. I did my usual barrel roll, but felt a pop in my back. Oh no! I yelled out, I probably startled the guys...they asked if I was Ok. Yes, yes, I was fine, the 'pop' I felt was the lid shooting off my newly filled water (and tailwind) bottle, spilling the entirety of its contents onto his the trail! On a day like today water was something you didn't want to be out of! Luckily it was still early, and we were in some shade. Zac was also kind enough to share his bottle for that stretch.

Zac doin' work as we near the 20 mile aid stop

After some winding roads through the forest, we were at the 20 mile aid station, nestled in some trees along the road - what a great spot! As I walked to pick up my drop bag, where I had strategically left another handheld bottle, my heart sank. I had labeled my 2 drop bags wrong, so the one for mile 36 was here, and the one for here was waiting there! Fortunately I had stashed a soft bottle 'just in case' and it turned out be the best mistake I made all day. Rather than have to carry another handheld, I would have the soft bottle filled with ice and water, and then would suff that in my front pouch, where it would sit against my chest and help keep me cool. I would then use that to spray my arms, head and face. The bottle in my pack was my nutrition/hydration. I accidentally found my new hot weather setup!

There were a couple of shady spots at first...

The climbing really starts again from this aid - a long 7 miles up a well maintained, very exposed dirt road. It was really starting to get hot. Much of this was somewhat runnable, but in the heat I didn't want to over exert, so Zac was nice enough to humor me as we hiked our way up the mountain. Even though we were on a (dirt) road, the views never disappointed.

We could see across the valley to James peak, where we had come from, with Willard and Ben Lomond looming up ahead. There were a couple of downhill reprieves, which we were able to run, and we passed a few people along this stretch that certainly looked to be hanging in the pain cave (or pain-sauna, maybe).

We crested into the gorgeous Willard basin and enjoyed some faster downhill running. I knew an aid station was coming up, and someone had even mentioned there may be a spring in this area. I was dreaming of jumping in a lake and drinking a slurpee when I started to notice water wetting the road. I immediately began searching for a spring as I ran, thinking it was probably a small dribble from a rock. Once I saw Zac stopped ahead, I knew he was there. It was no dribble - it was a 2 in pipe with icy cold water just gushing out. We spent a good 3-4 minutes there, washing our dirty, salty faces, and cooling down our heated bodies. It was heaven...

Most spectacular place of the whole day

Reluctantly leaving, it was only about 100 yards around the corner to the next aid, that was run by a local scout troop. I had a fun time joking with them - I asked them if they were having fun and was met with a resounding 'No!'. Wouldn't expect anything less! I took a minute here to drink a bottle of Coke...errr Sams Choice Cola....and then we headed out.

Climbing up to Willard

We were now back on single track and this is where the course goes from awesome to truly spectacular. The climb was fairly short and not too steep, which gave my stomach enough time to settle all the liquids I had ingested. Then we were curling around the base of Willard peak and were running towards Ben Lomond. Wow. Some of the best ridge running there is, right there.

Running the ridge

We quickly made our way to Ben Lomond, crossing a small snow field (stopping briefly to cool down, of course), and then had a grand ol time running down the rocky switchbacks to the saddle, where another aid was waiting. As it had only been 3 miles, we didn't take too long here, though as we were about to leave I decided to take another minute to fill up on ice - they've got it- I might as well take some! They were real troopers, baking in the sun with none of the the cover that many of the other aid stops enjoyed.

I love the run down from Ben Lomond. Some great single track and we made decent time getting to the aid station at the North Ogden divide, about mile 38. The last couple of miles had been very hot and exposed, so it was great to see a lot of friendly, familiar faces AND they had POPSICLES! The HUMRs know what's up. I grabbed some more tailwind from my dropbag and again drank a bunch of coke and ginger ale...probably a little too much this time, but it tasted so good! Another Popsicle for the road and we were off to tackle the last big climb of the day.

Beginning the last climb

It was a doosy! Nice and shady for the first little bit, and then it throws you up on a super exposed ridge, right in the hottest part of the day. Zac was feeling good and pushed to the top. When I showed up a minute later I just kept moving as I could now see the next aid station. My stomach was still feeling very full from the last aid, but I figured I should at least try and drink some tailwind. I took a small sip. Nope! The second that hit my stomach it turned over. Luckily the coke was still cold, and really didn't taste too bad the second time around. Like any good friend would, Zac took pictures and video while I watered the trail.

Moving up the sunny ridge.

Instantly feeling better, we ran down to the next aid. I wanted to fix my shoes, it felt like I had a rock in the the back rubbing on my heel. I took my shoe off and didn't find a rock, but rather a pretty healthy blister, something I rarely have issues with. A little too much play in the heel of the Olympus, I guess, a shoe I don't wear too often. Said an 'oh well', cinched them back up started another long, 7 mile descent towards the last aid station.

Top of the last climb - Photo by Zac

I was having a hard time getting into a rhythm. My foot was certainly slowing me down, and the heat, I'm sure played it's role. Finally after a little shady running, and being able to down some more tailwind, we were back in the groove. With about three miles to go to the aid, it began to get really hot as we descended further. Zac was now out of water and ran ahead to get to the aid a few minutes earlier than me. I liked that this section had mile markers - it gave you something to look forward to.

Meeting up with Aaron - We're a couple of dorks :)

With a little more than a mile to the aid station, I was happily surprised to see my older brother running up to meet me. I caught up on his race earlier that day, and it was good to see a familiar face. As I ran quickly into the aid station, I was greeted by my wife, brother and sister in law with Zacs wife (and all the kids) in tow. My 6 year old was super psyched to show me a huge stick (ie branch) he had found. 

Dad! Check out this stick I found!

Dr Mark was running this aid, and I could have stayed there all day! They gave us the royal treatment, rubbing ice all over my face neck and legs, helping to get my core temp down. Canice Hart, who had been at the divide aid, had gone and bought Popsicles just for me, after seeing my reaction to them at the other aid. So awesome.

Zac getting treated right by Dr Mark at the Windsurfer Beach aid station

As much as I hate to see any Popsicles left uneaten, I knew it was time to go and finish this up. 3 miles to go would make course nearly 52 miles, but at this point in the race, you don't really worry about that - you just go until you get to the finish.

These last miles took us along the banks of the Pineview reservoir, on some decent single track that took us through some lush growth. I struggled through here to keep a good pace, but once we hit the paved path and the homestretch, it was all systems go.


I was tired, I was hot, I was sweaty, but I really felt great. My time was 13:15, a little longer than I had planned on, but given the circumstances and how good I felt, I got just what I wanted - an excellent training day and a fantastic time in the the mountains with some good friends. After running this I feel much more confident in my strategy for running in the heat at Wasatch (and elsewhere for that matter!). 

This will be a race I run again. While it is close to Speedgoat, I think it's a great alternative if you didn't get registered in time, want the extra distance, or really want to up the ante by doing both. It is an amazing course well worth doing, especially if you're gearing up for a fall 100.

Hanging out at the finish - thanks to this guy for kicking with me for most of the day

I'm not really one for medals - but this is one of the coolest I've seen - includes course map and elevation profile!
What's next? Well, Wasatch. Between now and then - a lot more running in the mountains, climbing high and running fast. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Fighting Fear, Exhaustion, and Failure on the WURL

by Craig

OK, I wasn't really ever that scared. But in my dilapidated state, I knew I would be when it mattered.

We sat on top of Sugarloaf, about 2/3 of the way through the WURL (Wasatch Ultra Ridge Linkup) torn between two worlds - the one in which we had just come where we had spent hours in the hot sun scrambling over technical rocky ridges and up and over 11,000 ft peaks, and the one we had in front of us where there would be even more very technical rocky scrambling, more 11,000 ft peaks, but this time in darkness, cold, and no real knowledge of the route exit. On fresh legs with a clear mind that last 1/3 sounded like a fun challenge. On tired uphill legs and a foggy, heat-reduced brain it sounded terrifying. Enough so that I was ready to quit.

My problem with the WURL isn't the physical requirement, I'm more than happy to suffer for an end goal. My problem with the WURL is the investment. To do it successfully you have to want it even more than the required suffering, otherwise it is too easy to bail out. And I just didn't want it that bad. It has yet to make my bucket list and definitely hasn't been a goal of mine. Our attempt was a fall-back for not being able to head out to the Uintas for our 13ers attempt. It was planned just 2 days prior to the trip and we went into it nearly blind. And because of my lack of investment I did Jennilyn, my partner for the day, a disservice.

Aside from the 13ers, WURL is Jennilyn's big goal for the year - to become the first woman to complete it and to do it in a quick time. As we sat on top of Sugarloaf we played the math out and the result was a potential 30+ hour finish. That wasn't the way Jennilyn wanted to do it. For her it isn't about slogging it out just to be the first. She wants to put up a monster number and finish with style. I respect her for that. And for that reason, she was happy to call it a day also. She will go back when everything is perfect and I'm certain she will crush it.

Now, a few days later, still on tired legs, I reflect not on failing at the WURL (everyone who has ever done it failed their first time . . . . and they knew the whole route first), but on a nearly perfect day in the mountains. Jennilyn and I got to spend the first 10 hours and 11 peaks with her husband, Ben. You won't find much better company in the mountains. WURL jokes rolled off our tongues like sour candy ("Hey Ben, it means the WURL to me that you'd come do this") and we mocked Jared Campbell and his devilish concoctions. We laughed our way over the miles and the peaks and we scoffed at the route description authors who made some of the sections sound so terrible, when they were some of the funnest along the whole Cottonwood Ridge.

I reflect back on the glissading mountain goat, Jennilyn's faceplant into a snowbank, running into an old friend - Steve Bohman - and current friends Jason E, Mark K, and Darcie G. And then there were the views. The Wasatch has it's own kind of beauty. Every direction is a painting all it's own and one I could stare at for hours.

When I return to finish the WURL, it will be for the aesthetics of the line and the connection with the mountains. When that will be, who knows, But I will go back. And when I do I'm quite certain I will return a different person.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Bighorn 100: By Scott Wesemann

The Bighorn Mountain 'Wild and Scenic Trail Run' has been on my to-do list for a few years now. It seems like there are a lot of local Wasatch Front runners that go back to do it year after year, so I knew there was something pretty good going on up there in the middle-of-nowhere-Wyoming. The course is an out and back with over 18,000 feet of climbing in the Bighorn Mountains.
Waiting for the start

I am not a big fan of the late (11:00 AM) start that had us milling about the starting line for almost an hour in the heat waiting to run. I had 3 goals for the first 48 miles to the turnaround: Stay hydrated, don't get overheated and save my legs. After 1.25 on a dirt road we hit some sweet single track trail in Tongue River Canyon. I was pretty blown away by how scenic this run was. From Tongue River Canyon to the turn around the views were mind blowing, probably the best I have seen yet on a 100 miler. Deep craggy canyons, meadows filled with wildflowers, mountain streams, thick green forest and endless mountain vistas. Like advertised it was wild and scenic. The first climb (3400 ft. 7 miles) was pretty tough. I kept a decent pace, but definitely held back. I ran the first 13 miles with Matt Van Horn who was nursing a sore knee and decided to hang with me in the middle of the pack. We had a great time and shared some good laughs.
The start

I arrived with Matt at the Dry Fork Ridge aid station (13.4) feeling pretty good. I grabbed some watermelon and gel and walked out of the aid to let my stomach settle. I was taking 1-2 gels between each aid station and then fueling with watermelon and salted potatoes for the whole race. Matt passed me and got into a pretty good groove and I didn't see him again until just before the turnaround. It was now really hot. I felt great and got into a nice running groove. From Dry Fork to Cow Camp aid (19.5) the trail is very runnable and I settled into a decent pace. One thing that really surprised me about this course was how difficult the trails are. Long sections of trail are boggy, bumpy, uneven, rocky, muddy, rutted and choppy. It was very difficult at times to get into a running rhythm, but I did find a pretty good one on this section.

The first mile
From Cow Camp to Footbridge I really focused on fueling, taking salt and trying to stay hydrated. I ran a few miles with KendallW and hoped to stay with him longer, but his pace was a little faster than I wanted to go, so I held back. The miles were really a grind until just after Bear Camp (26.5). Right out of the aid the trail is nasty with rutted mud bogs and it was very difficult to get going, but as we came out of the trees about mile 27 the trail improved and the views running down to Footbridge were some of the best I have ever seen. I had a wide smile on my face as I gulped in the vistas.

Coming into Footbridge (30) I knew that I needed to hydrate, cool off and get some fuel. So far it had been very hot and I knew blowing through this aid station would be a huge mistake. From Footbridge there is an 18 mile climb up to the turnaround and I wanted to make sure I was fresh. As I came in my good friend Bryce Warren grabbed my gear, filled my bottles and brought me food. It was great having him there and he knew exactly what to do. I stayed 15-20 minutes. That's a long time to stop at an aid station, but for me it was necessary. I needed to make sure I was ready for the climb.

One of many climbs. Photo by Kendall Wimmer
The climb up to the turnaround (Jaws) was pretty brutal. Luckily it was in the shade and followed the Little Bighorn River for a while, so I really cooled down and felt fantastic. After about a mile there was a guy and girl (Katie) moving up the climb at a pretty good pace, so I jumped in and for the next 10 miles we we hiked all of the hills strong and ran everything flat or downhill. For at least 5 miles none of us talked or said anything until we saw a moose just off the trail. For the next few miles we chatted and two other guys joined our train.

Just before Spring Marsh aid (40) the 3 guys dropped back and Katie and I stayed together. We came across her friend Andy and for about 4 miles the 3 of us kept up a solid rhythm. It started to get dark and I was surprised how warm it was. From about mile 44 to Jaws the trails were in terrible shape. Muddy, wet and marshy. There were a few stream crossings and several sections with water running over the trail. It was impossible to keep your feet dry and it really slowed us down. On top of that it started to rain which only made it worse. There was also lightning, but it never got too close.

We passed Jennilyn coming back the other way. She was the first place female and I could tell she was having a rough time. She didn't have a pacer and I was worried about her, but I was happy to see her out in front and hoped she could keep it that way to the finish. A few more miles and we ran into Van Horn who decided that he was going to drop because of his knee, so he ran back to the turnaround with us.

I stayed a long time at Jaws. Way too long. I ate, changed my clothes, washed my feet and changed my shoes and socks. There was an older guy there working the aid station that insisted I throw on another jacket. He demanded that I put my "tight pants" on, but luckily Matt already had them on. It was cold when I went back out, but within minutes I was warm and wishing I hadn't put on the extra layer.

The trail conditions from 48-52 were horrendous. My feet were soaked pretty fast and caked with mud. I found a couple of guys that I ran with for about 3 miles. About a mile out from Elk Camp (52.5) I started running with another guy and we ran about 5 miles together until I had to stop to get a rock out of my shoe. From there it was a grind back down to the Narrows (62.5). I was getting tired and the lack of sleep was starting to take a toll. When I rolled into the Narrows just before sunrise I was going to quickly grab some gel and then Jennilyn called my name. She was sitting down wrapped in blankets and my heart sank. She had become very sick and threw up several times and somehow made it down to the Narrows where the cowboys were taking care of her. She told me she wanted to finish and asked if I would stay and run it in with her. I waited for her to drink some broth and I told her we were going to walk every step back to Footbridge to get her stomach settled.

At Footbridge Jennilyn was looking a little better, so we stayed for a long time eating, changing shoes and socks and getting ready for the climb ahead. The climb out of Footbridge to Bear Camp (69.5) is probably the most difficult climb of the entire course. We weren't fast, but I noticed that Jennilyn was doing great on the climb and she seemed to be coming back. We didn't stay long at Bear Camp. The next 7 miles were actually pretty fun considering how miserable we were now feeling. We laughed a lot and I complained about every hill.

At Cow Camp (76.5) they had bacon and potatoes fried in bacon grease. That might have been the best food I have ever eaten at an aid station. I also filled up on watermelon and Pepsi. We picked up another guy (Ryan) that was struggling and asked to join us and we walked out of the aid to settle our stomachs. The next 6 miles were pretty tough. It was now getting hot again and every climb was brutal. We managed to keep running on the flats and downhills and after a few miles we dropped Ryan. The climb up to Dry Fork was painful. It was now really hot, the climb was steep and we were both very fatigued. At this point I knew we had the finish in the bag, but it wasn't going to be easy. We spent about 15 minutes at the aid eating and the wind picked up and clouds moved in and now we were actually cold.
The wild flowers on the course were incredible

The miles to Upper Sheep (87.5) were a total grind. The jokes weren't as funny as they had been a few miles back and there was more time silently dealing with our own individual struggles. After the aid there is a bit of a climb. "It's the last climb" I said in jest. I had been saying that for the last 15 miles on every big climb. This time it actually was. When we hit the top some dark clouds quickly rolled in and within 5 minutes lightning started to strike a few miles away. Jennilyn took off down the exposed slope running under 8:00 minute miles. At first I wasn't happy about trying to keep up, but I quickly discovered that the faster I ran the less my legs hurt. The rain started and the lightning got closer. Bam! Boom! We were now soaked, but ran hard and fast all the way to the safety of the trees at Lower Sheep aid (92.5). We had run 3 miles and dropped about 2500 feet faster than I would have run it fresh. There were at least 10 lightning strikes and we were now completely wet. That run took a lot out of us and we slowed considerably the rest of the way out of the canyon.

The last 5 miles on the dirt road might be the toughest miles I have ever covered. It was once again hot and we had been battered by the trail and were now on our second day of being exposed to the sun and the heat. We were trashed. We whined, we laughed, we walked. Sometimes we shuffled, but it didn't last long. More complaining, more walking and walking, and walking. Then finally we made it. I was so proud of Jennilyn for not giving up and pushing through to the finish. She was barely able to keep any food down for hours and could have easily quit. We came in 85th place out of 297 starters. Not great, but we made it. This was my 7th 100 mile finish and definitely one of the most difficult. The course is much harder than you think by looking at the elevation profile. We talked to a few veterans, including Roch Horton that said it was the worst trail conditions they had ever seen there. During the last 20 miles I vowed to never go back, but after a week of letting the experience marinate I'm already feeling a pull back to the wild and scenic Bighorn.