Lambs Canyon Aid Station at mile 53.1 where I’d just come out of the hottest section of the course where temps topped in the upper 90s. Picked up Sean as a pacer here. Many runners had been throwing up or dealing with nausea (due to the heat) at this station. Photo by Jennifer Browning.
Upper Big Water was a drop bag site where my Dad and brother Joel helped get our night gear together (switching to a pack and new bottles). They were an excellent crew, and paramount in getting us in and out of key checkpoints quickly. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.
With our gear situated, we were heading to the aid station table (my Dad following with water bottles) for some quick calories and then back on the trail to climb up to Dog Lake. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.
At the post-race awards after we received our Sub-24 hour belt buckles and they hold a “special” ceremony: The induction into the “Royal Order of the Crimson Cheetah.” Pretty funny stuff. We received Burger King/Spider Man crown as they read a poetic yet humorous speech and made us kneel (ouch!) and get tapped on the shoulder with a wooden staff by a man in a crimson cape. It was quite comical. Photo by Jennifer Browning.
Wasatch Mountains, Utah
September 11-12, 2004
A Little Background
For those who are not familiar with ultra running races, this footrace starts NE of Salt Lake City and runs the Wasatch Range south to Midway, Utah, near Heber City. It consists mainly of very rocky old sheep and single track trail and 4WD and ATV roads (if you can call them roads) with a few highway miles to link it all together point to point for 100 miles. Most of the miles are run at elevations above 8,000 feet and hits the high point at mile 78 at 10,480 feet.
This race is one of the 4 oldest hundreds in the U.S. This year marked the 25th Anniversary of the race and is part of the Grand Slam Series (the Grand Slam is running and finishing the 4 oldest 100 mile races in an 11 week span).
This race is extremely steep and technical, and boasts 26,824 ft. of elevation gain and 26,050 ft. of loss over 100 miles. This year’s finishing rate was 56%. 230 started, 131 finished. The race starts at 5am on Saturday and you must be finished by 5pm on Sunday (36 hours). Normally, the weather can range from 25 degrees to 100 degrees.
However, this year the forecast was for a heat wave to hit Salt Lake City and the Wasatch Range on race weekend. The weather on race day topped out in the upper 90s and only got into the upper 50s at night. So, it made for a challenging afternoon and a perfect night.
My plan for this race was to attempt to break 24 hours and get the coveted Crimson Cheetah Belt Buckle. I knew it was a hard goal to set for myself, but what good are goals if they are easily attained, right? My race day plan was to go out harder in the cool morning and cruise the middle part of the course when the heat hit, then push hard the last 20 after Catherine’s Pass (the high point of the course). I knew to break 24, I’d have to stay on my hydration and nutrition and never get so behind I couldn’t compensate quickly to turn it around. The race start was in the upper 60s and clear with a slight breeze.
We headed out at 5am with headlamps. I started out in the upper quarter of the pack. The plan was to work my way up into the top 20 in the first 5 miles before the first major climb (4,000 feet in 5 miles). This proved to be an easy task, as the trail was wide and well traveled and easy to pass in the dark. After chatting with Montrail teammate Krissy Sybrowsky briefly (the eventual women’s winner) and a quick “hi” to her husband Brandon, I worked my way up further.
I settled into the first climb behind several guys who seemed to be going at the pace that I was comfortable and we all settled into the power hike pace for the next 4,000 feet. It started to get light a bit at 6:30am and by 6:45, my headlamp was stashed away and we were nearing the first natural spring before Chinscrapper, a gnarly steep section of the climb through a rocky scree-filled bowl to gain a 9,000 foot ridge. The spring was barely putting out any water. I filled one of my bottles about halfway and decided to get moving due to the slow process of it.
Once I gained the ridge, it rolls for a while and I was able to do some running and power hiking transitions. I came upon the second natural spring (which we were told at the pre-race meeting on Friday was dry) and it was gushing water. I quickly filled both my 28 oz. bottles and got moving again.
I cruised along and into the first aid station at 13 miles, filled my bottles and continued to the next aid (Francis Peak) at mile 18.7 and the first spot I would see crew. My brother Joel and my friend Sean Meissner, who is a training partner and another Montrail runner who would be pacing me from mile 53 to the finish, were ready and waiting with my stuff. I made it into Francis Peak at 8:49am (11 minutes ahead of my pace chart). Sean and Joel shuffled me through, and after some green machine juice and a banana, gel refills, and my MP3 player and 3 minutes burned, I was off.
The next section was mainly a dirt 4WD road for a few miles before it starts hitting some steep up and downs on single track. I settled into pushing the ups hard and running relaxed and quick on the downs while jamming to some bluegrass on my MP3. The next few remote aid stations passed quickly and it was starting to get hot as I made my way to Big Mountain Pass aid stations (the next crew stop) at mile 39.4.
This station is cool, because you can see it for a few miles out as you descend on it. There are a lot of people yelling and ringing cow bells. It has a sweet single track descent the last few miles. As you switchback through some scrub oaks, your crew can get glimpses of you coming in. The whole scene got me pumped up and I hauled on the descent into the aid station to my first weigh-in checkpoint at 1:02pm. I was 155 pounds, 3 pounds heavier than pre-race weigh-in. Excellent. I was staying on my hydration and food intake, important, because it was really starting to get hot.
Sean ushered me over to my stuff and family: Mom and Dad, Joel and my wife, Jennifer and son, Benjamin…who I might add, looked like Pigpen from Charlie Brown. He’d been playing in the dirt. Nice, that’s my boy!
Sean and Joel refilled my waste pack with Gu and Succeed (electrolyte pills) and ditched my MP3 player (was very sick of it by now because I’d listened to every song on it 3 times…I need a bigger memory chip). I downed a mango juice and a quarter of an avocado/cheese/butter/sourdough sandwich. I walked through the station while eating and drinking and got moving again.
As I left Big Mountain, I really started to feel the heat hitting, so, I stuck to my game plan and went easy. My right knee was really starting to bother me too (little bout of runner’s knee the last 3 weeks). I took 600mg of ibuprofen, put on my knee strap and ignored the pain. Got passed by quite a few runners in the 8-mile section to Alexander Ridge aid station. I knew I was going to be cutting it close on having enough water. The heat was kicking hard. The ridge is exposed and SW facing and the sun is just beating on you in the afternoon. I had 56 oz. of water and ran out about 15 minutes from the aid station.
However, others were running out sooner and I started to reel some of the runners in who had passed me. I got to Alexander Ridge aid station at 2:56pm (right on my pace). I was bonking just a bit from running out of water. So, I stayed an extra minute to down 3 glasses of Poweraid and a banana and melon. Drank another glass of water, dumped one on myself, put ice in my hat and took off again. I had run the next section in training, when I came out with Rod Bien for Outdoor Retailer a few weeks earlier. So, I was happy to know what was coming.
The large amount of liquid I consumed was starting to kick back in and I felt hydrated and started feeling good. Since I sweat A LOT, I had been taking up to 2-3 Succeed pills an hour through the hot part of the afternoon, so my salt intake was fine.
NOTE on Succeed/Salt and calories: This season I really started to listen to my body by my nausea. If I felt any nausea, I would immediately pop a Succeed tab. It always went away after a salt tab. So, I took that as a sign my body needed salt. Sometimes I would take a gel packet and a salt tab together at the hint of nausea. This is what I did throughout this race and I never really felt too much nausea (and never threw up either). I also never went more than 25 minutes without some sort of calorie intake, whether gel (Gu) or aid station food (depending on where I was on the course).
I pushed it down into Lambs Canyon aid station (mile 53.1) and came up out of the creek bed and scrub oaks (right before the gravel road climb up to the aid station) to see Jennifer standing there.
Oh, she was like a shimmering oasis.
She was holding a bottle of water, but quickly informed me I could not drink it, only dump it on myself. Cool with me, I dumped it all over my head, torso, and legs. I swear I heard a sizzling sound! It was SO hot. As we hiked up to the station, she said I looked good and continued to tell me that I was one of the only ones who looked okay and that I was in the top 10.
She said everyone else was coming up hammered from the heat. As I topped the gravel climb, I gave a “YEE-HAWWW!” only to hear my brother Joel echo his signature Crewmaster J hillbilly yell…sweet. He crewed for me at White River 50 Miler in July too and we always yell in and out of stations where we see each other. Gets me pumped up. Nice to have some country boy yelling going on, reminds me of my Missouri roots. Gotta let Bronco Billy out for some roustin’ occasionally.
I arrived into the aid station at 4:09 (9 minutes slow on my pace chart). This was another weigh-in check point, my weight was 150 (2 pounds light). Not too bad considering the last 14 miles were an inferno. I downed a bunch of liquid, ice in the hat, banana, grapes, melon, and left with Sean as my pacer.
Sean and I transitioned between running and hiking up the paved road the few miles to the single track that takes us over Bear Ass Pass (1500 feet in 2 miles). We were now in the trees and this was great. I knew the bad heat was over. I had also trained this section and knew the climb and descent off the backside of the pass into Mill Creek Canyon. Sean and I pushed the pace up Bear Ass Pass and I let it loose a little on the descent. We picked a guy off on the descent and hit the road on the uphill to Upper Big Water aid station and picked off another.
With some more country boy yelling, we met my brother and Dad at Upper Big Water at mile 61.6 at 6:25pm (still 10 minutes slow on my pace). They had my drop bag out and my stuff ready. To get ready for night running, I switched to my Ultimate Wasp pack to carry gear and layers and ditched my waste pack. I still carried two handheld bottles instead of a water bladder because I find it easier to monitor my water intake by the hour with bottles. I get too lazy on hydration sipping on a bladder.
After some soup and Poweraid, we headed out on the climb to Dog Lake. This section is a wide single track trail with lots of runnable sections. We settled into hiking and running transitions up to Dog Lake. Next, the short descent after the lake, then the climb up to Desolation Lake. This climb was tough for me. I was bonking a little and going pretty slow. We got passed by someone on the climb. Oh well, still early. Race doesn’t start until after Brighton. Anyway, I was in a bit of a funk at this point. We got into Lake Desolation aid station at mile 66.9 at 7:55pm (30 minutes slow).
However, this was the best station. It was starting to get dark. So, while I ate and drank, the aid station staff got my lights, gloves out of my pack, and massaged my quads. We headed out and started the climb up to the 9,000+ foot ridge above. I started feeling better and came out of the funk once we gained the ridge. Low on calories, I suspect. This section runs at over 9,000 feet of nice rolling single track. I was feeling good again, and pushed it a bit.
We came into Scotts Peak aid station only 6 minutes slow on my pace goal. Nice. We now had a long fire road then highway descent into Brighton ski lodge. We settled into a nice efficient pace and spoke briefly about strategy for the remainder. I told Sean I thought it best if we didn’t “push” up Catherine’s Pass climb due to the high elevation and save my legs for all the downhills and smaller climbs in the last 22 miles after the pass. He agreed and we soon arrived into Brighton (mile 75.6) at 9:52pm.
Another weigh-in, weight 151. Good. Ate soup and drank Poweraid while my Dad massaged my quads. Headed out of Brighton and started the climb to Catherine’s Pass. Right at the beginning, Sean and I were following another runner and his pacer up a gravel road with are heads down and I looked up to realize that I thought we’d passed the trail. They said, “No, it’s this way.” However, I’d run it in training and was 95% sure we were wrong. I asked Sean to run down the hill to check. Sure enough, my memory served me correctly. We only wasted a few minutes. We quickly dropped those guys and continued up. Just below Lake Mary, we passed another runner and his pacer (he was sitting on a rock looking hammered). We continued up and got to the top at 10,480 feet with that runner right behind us (funny how getting passed makes you get a burst of energy). We quickly dropped off the other side into the steep singletrack descent and dropped them.
The remainder of the course is mainly downhill from Catherine’s Pass at mile 78. So besides 3 small climbs of 600, 800, and 800 feet respectively and a dozen smaller grunt climbs, the last 22 miles descends from 10,400 feet to 5700 feet. BAM! Come on quads, buck up! Lord, give me focus and strength (yes, praying is a good thing in such times.)
My quads (and right knee) were really hammered at this point, but I just kept pushing it and massaging them for about a minute at each aid station. Sean was leading the way and I was trying to stay on his heels. At midnight, Sean and I shouted a “happy birthday, Jenn!” Jennifer’s birthday was Sunday. (Yes, she’s an angel to let me do this on her birthday, I owe her BIGTIME. She’s getting presents for weeks to come.)
So, we quickly came through Pole Line Pass aid station at 83.3 and Rock Springs at 87.3 hitting my splits perfectly. As we left Rock Springs, I told Sean I wanted to put some in the bank on the 5.8 mile section to Pot Bottom (the final aid station). My original goal was to get there no later than 3:25am. I wanted to be there sooner, if possible.
As we left Rock Springs, Sean mentioned that all we had left was less than a half marathon, that we were under 13 miles to go. Sweet. He pushed the pace and I just concentrated on breathing and not falling. Right in the middle of “The Plunge” section (400 foot rocky, loose single track descent in a quarter mile), Sean says, “Use the hill, bitch.” I know it sounds terrible, but I started busting up laughing, as that is an old joke Jennifer and I use to use on each other when we were running down hills together to remind us to lean forward and use gravity. She had told Sean about it and he had saved it for the right time…perfect! In the words of my brother, Joel (and my 2-year old son, Benjamin), “Roll, homey!”
We arrived at Pot Bottom aid station at mile 93.1 at 3:06am. We asked how far in front of us the next runner was, they said “15 minutes,” no chance to catch them. So, I told Sean good work, downed some food and a coke and we left Pot Bottom at 3:08am with 6.9 miles to go. I was really smelling the barn now. Let’s get this thing over with.
From Pot Bottom, we had an 800 foot 4WD road climb in a little less than two miles. We humped up the road with a few sections of running and topped out quicker than I thought we would. Sean asked if this was the downhill and at first I said “no, couldn’t be,” but I’d run it in training and realized I didn’t recognize it in the dark.
I was excited now, I knew we had sub-24. I forgot my recently popped blister on my toe, sore quads, sore knee, sore IT band, everything. Sean stepped aside and let me lead and I let it go on the final 4 mile, 2500 foot descent on a rock-strewn ATV and single track trail. We popped out onto the paved road, 1 mile from the finish and Sean caught back up to me. He ran in front of me and said “Come, on, push it!” I was pushing, but couldn’t hang with him. So, I said, “Dude, I’m red-lining! My legs won’t turnover any faster!” We laughed and then looked ahead and saw another runner and pacer. Sean was saying let’s catch them and I thought, no way that’s another runner. But, they saw us and picked it up.
Sure enough, it turned out to be the runner just ahead of us in 5th place that had 15 minutes on us at Pot Bottom, he finished 76 seconds in front of me. Dang, if I’d known they were that close, I would have run the whole last hill. No way to know though. So, I continued into the lawn area and the last 100 yards to the finish at Homestead Resort. My official time was 23:32:09. Good enough for a 6th place finish. Only seven people made it under the 24 hour mark this year.
Sidenote: Krissy Sybrowsky came in 7th (17 minutes behind me) and became only the fifth woman in the history of the race to break 24 hours. She’s superfly tough. She ran the fastest split from the last aid station at Pot Bottom to the finish!
The race was awesome! Dave Terry, another Oregon runner, told me before the race that the one thing he’d learned after 6 finishes (this year was his 7th), was “respect the course.” Dave, that’s an understatement, dude. I’m so pumped to break 24 hours. It was SO hard and SO technical. My body is more thrashed than it’s ever been. It’s very humbling.
The entry into the Royal Order of the Crimson Cheetah is quite a comical ceremony. Fun stuff. The belt buckle is actually pretty cool. Happy to be done and recovering. Now I just have to get ready for 24 hours of Moab on my mountain bike in October. I’m on a 4-man team. No tough training for that, just fun.
Huge thanks to my family and crew, Montrail for the sweet shoes (Leona Divides rocked the house), all the gear from Footzone in Bend (Teague and the gang). I especially could not have done this without the prayer and support of my family: Jennifer, Benjamin, Mom and Dad and Crewmaster J (Joel) and my pacer, Sean. Sean did an awesome job pushing me to a great finish. He was excellent. Not much talking, all business (the way I like it). Kept me on my splits. I also have to give props to the Big Man Upstairs for the strength and focus to finish strong.
Peace and love,