Monday, September 12, 2011

The Wasatch 100 Mile Endurance Run - To The Brink And Back

This weekend, I had the great pleasure of joining 275 ultrarunners for the 31st running of the Wasatch 100 Mile Endurance Run in Midway, UT. This mountainous and beautiful course, with 53,000’ of vertical change at altitude, proved to be the toughest race I have ever attempted. It required my whole team of crew and pacers to get me to the finish under 30 hours, proving once again that these big races are truly team efforts. In short, it was an epic adventure shared with plenty of new friends.

(Wasatch 100 elevation chart)
I put my name in the lottery for Wasatch last year after quizzing a number of 100-miler veterans about “the most epic courses” they had experienced, and hearing Wasatch come up again and again. Reality set in when I got into the race, and those same people said “you’re one crazy bastard!”. Wha? But you said it was epic! “Well, epic yes, but I don’t think I would do it again…it’s relentless”. Ha! That’s what you get for asking ultrarunners.

The Wasatch 100 is EXTREME mountain adventuring. It’s nature unbounded, bold and vigorous, beyond what the human imagination is capable of conceiving. It is inescapably romantic, bursting with wonder, delight, and adventure. It is Sex On Fire. 

(Wasatch wildflowers in bloom)
In my mortal ignorance, I decided a regiment of daily double climbs to be worthy training to take on the 10,000'+ monsters of Wasatch. But I was smart enough to recruit my Dad to be Crew Captain, and was lucky enough to find locals Mick Jurynec (5th last year) and Kirk Thomas (paced Mick last year) to help with pacing. I didn't have adequate time to acclimate, but I was healthy and ready, and eager to let this majestic course take everything I had and more.

(Crew Captain Larry Dunlap sends me off at 5am)
We hustled down to the 5am start, and I saw a lot of front runners getting their 'A' games ready. Karl Meltzer was miraculously back from a bulging disc that had taken him out of Hardrock a month ago, lining up with local Jared Campbell (who has done well here many times), Troy Howard (always a contender), Luke Nelson (back with a vengeance after a sub-24 finish last year), Evan Honeyfield (the odds-on favorite), Peter Lindgren (going for finish #10, faster every year), Becky Wheeler (2nd Woman here last year), and Emily Judd all ready to roll. Weather looked good, so off we went!

The first 13 miles were a humbling climb, zig-zagging to the heavens on a windy ridge, and requiring all fours to get through “Chinscraper” at the top. I paced along with Franz Dill, a Grand Slammer looking to cap off a great season, who was from…La Honda, CA! That’s just a few miles from my house! Such a small world. We chatted until the altitude stole the stories from our breath.

(Hiking up towards Chinscraper)
(Getting there...)
(Why do they call it Chinscraper?)
(Watch that footing!)
I wasn’t worried about my finish time at this point, and was comfortable to find myself about 50 minutes behind the 24-hour pace at Francis Peak (mile 18). I had grand visions of getting the sub-24 “Cheetah” as the race approached, but quickly retreated to “let’s just finish” after pre-running some of the last 25 miles two days before the race. This race had A LOT of ups and downs in the final section, including named beasts like "The Dive" and "The Plunge", and it was clear that a conservative pace would be important to get through it. Best to be comfortably fast, and decide your goal pace as you go.

(The morning sun kicks in)
(Running the east side of the mountain ridge)
(Nettie is smiling and cruising fast!)
I met many great people as we ran along the ridge, including Nettie Pardue (from the Bay Area, trying her first 100) and Walter Edwards (getting teased from his buddies for his cheering section of attractive older women...something about Order of the Cougar?). I ran a few miles with Ironman Ben Brooks who was also giving the 100-miler his first go, as well as a spunky Rachel Woods from Squaw Valley (also her first 100), and an ever-positive Philip Hall. Geez, what's with all these 100-miler rookies going for the big time? It was good to have eager company as we alternated between exposed ridge trails and bushwacking through the backcountry.

(Sweet! Cell phone reception!)
(Aric Manning on his way to a sub-30 finish)
(Everyone is having fun!)
(Ben Brooks refuels on a climb...)
(....then charges the downhill)
I got to see Mick (who would later be my pacer at mile 75-100) as he and his wife Jen helped manage the Sessions aid station (mile 28). He filled me up, and I let him know all was good so far! Then Ben Brooks and I took a wrong turn soon after and added a bonus mile. Whoops. Yackity-yack, get off track!

The long, hot climbs to Swallow Rocks (mile 32) took a beating on me, and I ran out of water a mile short of the aid station. Quick math told me I was still drinking as fast as I could (~35 oz/hour), but the high altitude heat was sucking me dry. I slowed a bit, enjoying a few root beer popsicles before heading out.
(Hot climbs that keep going and going and going)
(Catra Corbett points out the best things about Swallow Rock aid staiton - popsicles! Photo courtesy of Andy Kumeta)
My Dad greeted me at Big Mountain (mile 40), but our smiles soon dropped when I stepped on the scale and found out I was 7.5 lbs light. Darn! At a pre-race weight of 156 lbs, I could only lose ~11 lbs before I hit the 7% weight loss limit, and apparently I was headed in that direction with gusto. I felt hot, but wasn’t showing too many other dehydration symptoms. My Dad got me cooled off with cool towels, and I pounded down coconut water, iced tea, and PB&J’s and hit the trail again, with Stevie Ray Vaughn playing on my iPod for some company.

(Phillip Hall gets throughs the steamy climb)
(Amazing views at every turn)
(The ridges get hot and exposed as we move forward)
(A little break, thanks to some new clouds forming)
Within the hour, the heat started to hang on me like a 600 lb gorilla with bad breath. Nausea forced up a bunch of liquid (so much for "trying to catch up on hydration"), and I found myself on all fours on the trail yacking up what few gels I had gotten down. Crap! I’ve been in trouble like this before in hot mountains, so with a bit of trail wisdom I concluded that a lack of acclimation was allowing the mountains to dehydrate me faster than I could take it in. As my Crew Captain says, "food is good, but hydration is essential". I needed to get out of the sun, pronto, and find whatever pace conserved the most hydration. I took a long, shady break at Alexander Ridge (mile 47), then scooted to Lambs Canyon (mile 53) where the scales spoke their evil truth again – I was down 9.5 lbs now.
(I lost 9 lbs in one day - ask me how)
Utah Jeff (a blog fan!) stopped by, using the extraordinary live runner tracking to come down from his house up the way to say hi. He helped my Dad and I assess the situation, and we realized it was time to take a good long break and let the sun come down a bit. I ate and drank everything I could get my hands on – a couple of iced teas, a couple of coconut waters, two ginger ales, two cups of soup, a candy bar – basically anything but gels. Then I sat there for 25 minutes and let my body absorb it. As dusk settled in, my Dad walked with me and I was feeling much better. Who knew the body could absorb so much! All it took was one 45 minute aid station break. ;-)
(The sun sets, and we strap on the lights)
As the sun set and I weaved up the trail, I found my second wind in the cool evening breezes along the creek. Phew! This section to Millcreek (mile 60) was much more runnable, and ended with a 3 mile stretch of road. My Dad was there to run/walk me in and hand me some poles that pacer Kirk Thomas had suggested. Hey, these are handy! I decided these would be good to take along as I changed into my full night gear.

(Super Pacers Kirk Thomas and Mick Jurynec)
Kirk was an angel in scrubs (his favorite night running pants), feeding me spaghetti and helping me get my night gear on, and we soon set out at a great pace to Dog Lake. Kirk was upbeat and funny, sharing stories of running marathons in the 70's with Irv, the evolution of mice genetics, and moose sightings on one of his many visits with his wife and dog to this canyon. He also had plenty of tips for using the poles that proved to increase both my uphill and downhill speed. We got soup by the fire at Desolation Lake (mile 67), charged through Scotts Pass (mile 70), and kept a brisk pace into the 35 degree cold to Brighton (mile 75). My speed and mood were great and I weighed in only 4 lbs down, a significant improvement over my 9.5 lb deficit. The only problem was this coffee-colored urine which is always an uncomfortable symptom to witness.

It’s great to have a former ER doc as a Crew Captain, and he quickly assessed that it was likely normal cell damage, and was pleased that there was ample quantity. We decided to keep an eye on it, and I took one last break to brush my teeth with the provided toothbrushes (sponsored by a local dentist - great idea!). Mick took over pacing duties, and after swiping my Dad’s sweatpants for some added warmth, we headed up the tallest climb of the day at 10,400’.
Mick was amazing as a pacer, and I realized what an unfair advantage it was to have him along. He knew exactly what was coming up along the dark ridges, but more importantly, he often paused to have me look over my shoulder at the long line of headlights to delight in how far we had come. Sure, I was fatigued, but our smiles lit the way in the wee hours of the morning. Of course, there were also plenty of stories of misspent youth, endurance achievements and plans that go horribly awry, travels, his charming adoration for his wife (Jen), and the pleasures of living in such a mecca for outdoor adventure. Such a great gift to have a big chunk time to do more than meet good people, but truly get to know them.

As we approached Pole Line (mile 83), the moonlight illuminated the wildflowers with an eerie ferocity, while the canopy of stars blended perfectly with a comet tail of headlighted runners along the ridge. Mick and I said nothing, just staring and smiling, letting it burn into our memory with the rhythm of our steps. By being present, we were connected to the cosmos, and all the stronger for it. This was a great spiritual moment!

(A borrowed photo, but you get the idea)
The second sunrise peaked over the hill as we took a brief stop at Rock Springs (mile 87) before tackling the gnarly sections of The Dive, The Plunge, Irv's Torture Chamber, and a Pot Bottom Trail that had been root-canaled by motorcycles. I was VERY thankful to have the poles, which allowed some recovery to quads on the brink of locking up.

(The Plunge)

(I guess he needed a break!)
We persevered to the final aid station, Pot Bottom (mile 93). I looked at my watch and told Mick I didn't think we were going to make it under 30 hours...he said "plenty of time, just keep moving", and helped me strip down to warm weather gear. An enthusiastic 11-year-old volunteer named Justin escorted us up the next mile, showing us how to jump the creeks.

(Pot Bottom is steep and tricky)
We careened down a fire road that was as rocky and dusty as a coal chute before finally getting some soft single track and a mile of pavement to the finish. I felt good, picking up the pace to a whopping 9 min/mile, and finished in 29:35 for 69th place. Mick was right - plenty of time to spare! Mick shook my hand, and went off to run the last 3 miles of the Mid Mountain Marathon with his wife. Now that is a Super Pacer!

(Dad helps me run it in)
(We did it!)
(Sensory overload with a smile)
Race Director Irv was right there to shake my hand, and I was soon chugging chocolate milk and munching pancakes before stretching out on the grass. My head was spinning with sights, sounds, smells, laughs...what a day!

A few hours later, I caught a special moment as Dmitriy Kernasovskly and Sarah Stokes crossed the finish line together in a shower of rose petals, then walked to a tent with their friends and family and got married. Wow! If you can run an ultra together, I think that marriage is going to do just fine!
(RD Irv and Sarah's Dad greet Sarah and Dima as they cross the finish line)
(Then make it official!)
A quick nap, soak, and beer was all I needed to get stoked for the awards ceremony. Evan Honeyfield had won in 19:31 (3rd fastest ever), with Luke Nelson getting second in a sub-20 finish, and Karl Meltzer getting third in 20:59 (all results). Becky Wheeler won the Women's division in 25:53, with Emily Bell coming in an hour later. All in all, 13 had made the "Cheetah" under 24 hours, and succumbed to the induction ritual.
(Getting induced into the Order of the Cheetah)
(Ohio's Jay Smithberger picks up his plaque and sub-30 buckle)
I couldn't put into words my thanks to my crew, pacers, the great volunteers, Race Directors and Committee, and community of this great area for putting on a world class event. I congratulate all who gave it their all, no matter how they contributed. When I close my eyes, my heart sighs with visions of wildflowers under moonlight and the sounds of laughter with new friends.

(Plaque and sub-30 buckle; stoked!)
Thank you, Wasatch, for overfilling my soul!

- SD


  1. Scott,
    It was really nice to meet both you and your father at breakfast on Sunday. Amazing pictures! Wonderful story! This was a beautiful summer in the Wasatch, I am really glad that you had a chance to experience the magic of these mountains that mean so much to us.
    One of your fans,
    Peter Lindgren

  2. Scott -- what an incredible report -- incredible effort. Congratulations, and thanks for writing a report so soon after the race! I am so impressed. Saying that it's the toughest race you've ever attempted speaks volumes, given your prior experiences at the blazing-hot States and other 100s. I also appreciate how the report isn't just about you; it weaves in anecdotes and snapshot profiles of others.
    Coincidentally, I just wrote a blog post that ponders the question of what makes a race "the hardest," and is harder always better? Your report seems to suggest it is, or at least the greater the effort and tougher the course, the greater the feeling of satisfaction at the end. I can't help but feel inspired to attempt the distance after reading this.

  3. Marilyn Oberhardt9/13/2011 05:23:00 AM

    Scott - I always enjoy your blog, but this report may be your best ever! Congratulations on your race and thanks for sharing it with all of us so eloquently.

  4. Thanks for sharing Scott. I'm always up for a motivating trailrunning post. In a few weeks I'll be attempting my first 50-miler (Twin Peaks 50) and itching for the race to start already. Awesome job at Wasatch!!! Maybe one day.


  5. Donnie Hudspeth, WV trail runner9/13/2011 06:19:00 AM

    Fantastic story... Thank you for sharing! The Wasatch is a special place indeed... Happy trails-

  6. You did an awesome job bringing up the memories and wanting me to go back:) This sista is brutal, and oh, so beautiful...I wouldn't want your weight loss plan, and you were so smart (under your Chief's watch) to take care of it, I am sure it allowed you to make it sub-30. The stars there are amazing, the climbs and descends are bone-breaking, the night is chilling to inside the bone marrow, this race is a must classic. Congratulations, Scott.

  7. I can't read those reports without crying. So here I am reading and choking on my morning coffee.
    Great report unbelievable race, thank you so much for sharing. Amazing

  8. COMPLETELY overwhelming! Your a stud beyond STUDS. Welcome to my home turf (live in Tooele County just 40 minutes west of SLC valley)! I love the ruggedness of Utah but sometimes the heat is well, oppressive. Try running in that heat DAILY...ugh! You did amazing, I am totally in awe of you man!! Well done you, and congrats!!!!!!! Those stars are pretty amazing...

  9. Fantastic adventure and well done Scott. All part of the reason why trail running rocks.

    On shoe choice did you go with the Hokas or Roclites?

  10. Richard - I used some of both. The RocLite 295's were best for the initial climbs/scrambles, and I could have used them for the whole race. I did switch to Hokas for some of the loose scrabble trails since they suck up all those little golf ball sized rocks. I would say 25-30% of the runners had Hokas - this is a fairly ideal course for them.

  11. Duuuuude.

    I loved this. When talking about the (INSANE, ahem) runs that you do, I always picture these huge, corporate events. This post really made it clear how personal they really are.

    Thanks for bringing an outsider in.


  12. this is an awesome report. amazed you could retain so many details, names, and places while NOT retaining any food or fluids. also impressed you knew to slow it down and take advantage of haviing a spectacular crew by your side. it takes a wise man to conquer his own expectations...

    favorite photos: anything with your dad; what an experience to share with family! And the one of you on the ground at the finish.; contement personified. congratualtions and thank you for sharing.


  13. I too enjoyed your race report. Sounds like another amazing adventure! Although, I'll have to dock points for the lack of hallucinations! I think your Western States report gets a higher rating. For you to struggle through some of these races scare the heck out of me. Still, your adventures/reports are very inspiring and I hope you continue doing these for a long, long time! Maybe you need to run a few more 100s every year so we have more epic reports to read! Congratulations on another 100-mile finish!

  14. A few months ago, Chris McDougall, the Author of Born to Run, came and spoke at the King’s English Bookstore in Salt Lake City. After hearing his interview, I immediately picked up his book and could not put it down. To say the least, I was inspired; more specifically when he talked about runners not actually peaking until they are 65. For various reasons, life after 50 was looking to be pretty dismal to me, yet, in running it seemed there was hope…I had not peaked yet--yes!

    How could I get involved in our local running events? I was looking into volunteering for the Wasatch 100 and to what was possible. As fate would have it, a friend and I met Walter Edwards, an ultra runner, quit coincidentally! When asked if he needed some supporters, Walter emphatically said yes! What an incredibly anomalous event.

    At first glance, it may have looked like Walter was the benefactor of our meeting, having the support of the “Sacred Order of the Cougars.” (“Attractive” ones at that. Thank you, Scott. Your dad not only raised a great athletic, but a gentleman as well.) However, as a participating member to which you speak, I must say, we are the ones who were so honored to be amongst some of the most courageous, interesting, inspiring and crazy people I have ever met!

    When asked by Walters’ Pacer, Jeffrey Rogers; what was the most striking impression of the event, I can think of three and not in any order. One, it appears from the runners to the volunteers, none ascribe nor buy in to culture constructs of what personal limitations are or what their bodies and minds can accomplish. Two, a major commonality amongst all appeared to be a deeper and broader sense of what it is and means to love. This point was driven home when Dan Brenden carried his wife of 30+ years across the Finish Line, apparently a regular event. Also the dedication to commitment of Sara and Dima, the couple who were married after running 100 miles, (the Bishop who married them was so excited he stopped us in the middle of a parking lot to tell us about it), and to how the runners venerated their volunteers and visa versa. Thirdly, how impressive after running 100 miles in ever changing severe conditions sleep deprived, and best pace ever, runners could still drink Ginger Margarita’s at Tarahumara’s. Fantastic!

    Congratulations to all involved in the Wasatch 100 Endurance Run 2011 and thank you for your blog and pictures Scott! It gives us all an extraordinary perspective and a me a new sense of connection.

    Loraine S.

    An article about ultra runners in the Deseret News

  15. I can't believe you lost 9.5 lbs, so glad you recovered!! Amazing job out there!!

  16. Scott -
    You were by far one of the highlights of the race. Shooting the breeze was awesome and it's awesome to read your blog to see how your entire race went; all 101 miles. Haha. Hope to see you at another one.

  17. Loraine, your words are beautiful, and thanks for pointing to the article.

  18. Hi Scott,

    Great to meet you, and I'm glad your weight was able to come back! I was going through the polar opposite: punch-drunk, hyponatremic silliness (got through it, though!). If you guys are ever in Tahoe, let us know. It would be fun to go for a run and swap post-Wasatch tales.


  19. Great job on your finish! Wow a wedding! They don't call it ultrarunning for nothing :)

  20. Well done Scott! Followed you through the day and night online. As a Utah native I can't even imagine running some of those trails the last 20 the dark, with 80 mile legs. Way to go! I think I'm putting in for this one for next year. This report will become my bible! :-)

  21. Scott!! Great post my man. I overheard one of the runners say durring the race, "Your Scott Dunlap the blog guy!" Glad I found you on the web and feel honored to havelanded a couple pics to view here. Way to get under 30. The belt buckle is way better than the finishers one. Im oozing some jealousy. I wish I could have shaved off 40 minutes. Thanks for the possitive attitude along the trail it was much needed given the terrain and being my first ultra. I had only run 30 miles at one time before this race. Good luck in NY marathon should be a breeze after this beast. Ben Brooks

  22. It was great to hang out at alexanders ridge with you for a few - I wish I had followed your lead and had taken a nice long break at lambs to catch up on hydration. I didnt and kept pushing until my race unraveled 5 miles later on the road up millcreek. After being unable to hold down any fluid at all (autobarf) they sent me to the ER where they said I was close to renal failure and I spent the rest of my night on an IV drip. So the moral of the story is: rematch in 2012?

  23. Ben - I was ASTOUNDED at how well you did. Congrats on the finish!

    Ryan - Sorry to hear about the ER visit, but glad to know you are better. Good thing you stopped then! I'm up for the rematch, but how about as a core rule, no visits to the ER. ;-)

  24. It was a very rich learning experience that I hope to never have to learn again. Next year I'll hide the split charts.

  25. I created this for race stat junkies of the Wasatch 100:

    Good to meet you floating in the crater :) what a great and odd end to a great run. Nice pic of Nettie too! Glad you slipped in the bit about Walter's honorary Order of the Cougar award.

  26. Hi Scott,
    I just found your blog after listening to you on ultra runner podcast. Love the blog and the event write ups are great. much more than just racing/competing.
    Great stuff and i look forward to your next update.
    Marcus (Cheltenham, England)

  27. Wow, beautiful write-up Scott. I can't figure out how you make something that is clearly so painful seem so beautifully tempting. Eventually I'm gonna have to look into this whole "Sex on Fire" race. Yeah!!


  28. Scott, I found your blog by listening to your interview on Ultrarunning podcast. Thank you for sharing your journeys on your trail races. It gives people like myself who are not able to run all of these races to live vicariously through you! One day soon I hope to run Wasatch. I found it interesting what a small group we truly are as ultrarunners in that in your pics from this race, I recognized individuals from running Umstead 100 last year. Looking forward to more of your posts...and pictures!

  29. By the way, Scott, what hydration pack are you carrying? It looks like something I have been looking for. I would like to be able to attach my water bottles, carry GU chomps, and other snacks along the way. Thank you for sharing. Denise

  30. UltraMomma -

    Thanks for stopping by! The pack is the Salomon Advanced Skin X-Lab Hydration Pack, a new one designed by superstar Kilian Jornet. It's spendy ($180) and hard to find, but I've been really happy with it. Try this link to find one through iRunFar.


I LIVE for comments! Please add your thoughts, let me know you stopped by, etc., and be thoughtful of others. Always best if you sign your name, of course.

Latest Excursions