I thought this sounded like an interesting race and figured it would be a good chance to explore Utah, so I signed up for it as soon as registration opened on January 5th.
In the months leading up to the race, life got in the way of training and I found many excuses to skip runs quite often. I got a new job, it was too humid outside, I was too tired, blah, blah, blah...
Anyway flash forward 6 months. Kelly and I arrived in Snowbird Friday night before the race. We got a bite to eat at the restaurant in the ski resort we were staying at. It had big glass windows and a nice view of the mountains. Usually such a view would be relaxing, but the night before this race it was just intimidating. I couldn't believe how big the hills (I mean mountains) were and pointed out a guy hiking up there to Kelly. He looked like an ant and really gave perspective to how big this mountain actually was. All I could think of was my lack of training and how hard this was going to be. I was also thinking about how I've never DNF'd a race. I was not about to give in to the course, but knew this would test that streak.
The race was set to begin at 6:30am. Morning came fast and before I knew it, we were walking down the path to the start line in darkness. As we got closer, you could see a line of cars pulling in for the race. I got checked in well before the start time. We sat and talked to a couple other runners while we waited for the fun to begin.
It was cool to be around so many great runners and feel the excitement and nervous vibe in the air.
We were given a few instructions about the course. It was also mentioned that 4 or 5 moose were sighted on the other side of the ridge.
Just as quickly as the race had begun, everyone started walking. The course climbed up and up and up until mile 8 for the first aid station. There was a mix of different terrain including snow and rock piles as we got higher. There were also wild flowers out at different points.
|The first climb|
|Some sections were snow covered and a little icy|
|Almost at the 8.4 mile aid station|
I got to the first aid station and was excited to see Kelly had taken the gondola up Hidden Peak at 11,000 ft to cheer me on. It definitely helped boost my moral! Somewhere along the first 8 miles, my Camelback water bladder mouthpiece fell off on the trail and water started pouring out. So for the rest of the race, I had to tuck the tube upwards and always be careful so I didn't lose all my water. A few times it slipped out and water came pouring out.
|The climb up to the first aid station|
As I was heading down the other side of Hidden Peak, I saw Karl standing there with a group of people. I yelled over at him, "You're a sick sick man!" and he replied, "That's only the beginning. It's about to get a lot worse!"
And worse it got. Following the aid station, the course went downhill for a couple miles. This was a nice break from the constant uphill climb, but soon enough another hill brought us back up to 9500'.
Next up was one of the worst, or most fun, parts of the race depending on how you look at it. At the time it was definitely not fun. The downhill descent from around mile 11 to 14 dropped a couple thousand feet. My quads were feeling pretty tired at this point. The trail was a mess of scattered rocks of all shapes and sizes. It was like running downhill through a dried up river bed. I had to watch and plan every step because one wrong step would mean a twisted ankle. And with over half the race left, that would be the end of my day and hopes of finishing.
I somehow made it down this stretch only turning my ankle 2 or 3 times and able to pop out of it enough each time to avoid any serious damage. The next mile or so was an out and back to the Pacific Mine Aid Station. This section was a pretty exposed dry trail with some dust kicking up. The cool morning start to the day gave way at this point to a clear sky with direct sunlight beating overhead. The temperature was definitely rising. My face was getting saltier and I was sweating less and less.
A few more climbs and downhills followed ending up at Larry's Hole Aid Station. You came to this aid station twice, once at mile 11 and again 20 miles into the race. The first time through I saw the leader, Sage Canaday. I told him good job and wished him luck. He was cruising.
My second time through the aid station, I fueled up for the big climb ahead on Mt. Baldy. There's a 2 PM cutoff here around mile 20 and another two miles later a little after 3PM. I made the first cutoff with plenty of time to spare. I can't remember exactly, but I think I had over an hour to make the next cutoff. Anyway, I thought I had plenty of time...
Wrong. I can certainly say this was the toughest part of the race. It was the definitive make or break moment and I'm quite sure Karl designed it as such. There was a point on the trail where it turned (either left or right) and the trail took a drastic change in grade. It was at this point you could literally hear the runners give a groan, and a few swear words. It was almost funny. Almost. It made me think of the last climb of McDonald's cross country course in high school that required you to go on all fours. Except this was 20 miles into a race, not 3, and 11,000 ft' higher than Ohio. There was a guy standing there giving motivation. It was almost like it was planned. Like Karl had some sign of sympathy for the runners who made it this far, like when the Grinch's' heart grew three sizes that day.
|The climb up Mt Baldy|
My pace slowed down considerably and the cutoff time was getting closer and closer. Many runners passed me on this climb. My legs were shot and I had no energy and ran out of water. I was counting out every 10 steps and then literally laying on trail resting. The view was beautiful, the hill not so much. Somehow I eventually made it to the top. This middle-aged guy reached the top around the same time. I talked with him briefly and he told me we only have about 15 minutes till the cutoff! I had no idea I was cutting it this close. I instantly stopped reveling in the accomplishment of scaling the last climb and pushed it down the other side of the mountain. I made it to the dirt road, looked at my cell phone time and saw I would make it! I got to the aid station with about 5 minutes to spare. The volunteers there would not let me lollygag (and I'm glad they didn't). I was shoving anything and everything on the table that I could get my hands on into my mouth. Salt tablets, pretzels, bananas, M&Ms. And at the same time, a guy was squeezing cold water from a sponge over my head. This felt great because I was pretty hot and parched at this point. He did that about three times. I felt revived and like I was brought back to life. After a few more snacks and drinks, I was on my way to finish this damn race.
This aid station is called the "Tunnel" because right after it, you go through the Peruvian Tunnel which is used to connect ski areas in the winter (see skier's video of the tunnel to the right). The tunnel was nice and cool, especially since my shirt and hair were soaked. When I got in the tunnel, I let out a loud yell or cheer, or some kind of noise. It all hit me how much effort and determination it required to get to this point. This was one of my proudest moments in running and the closet I've ever come to a cutoff. I still had 8 miles left in the race, but there were no more cutoffs. Inside I knew that I would finish now, it was just a matter of when.
The rest of the race still had some climbs including a 1500' ascent back up to the Hidden Peak Aid Station at 11,000' (the same one as the first aid station in the race at mile 8) and an eventual 3500' descent back to the finish.
I met this guy named Troy, a Native American from Salt Lake City, and ran and talk to him throughout the race. We pushed and motivated each other along. The course eventually winded down this dirt road for about 2 or 3 miles to the finish. Troy had more energy than me so he went ahead and ran this. I mostly walked this part and ran when I could. Slowly, but surely, I made it to the finish and a rush of emotions came flooding in. I finished in 12:48:55. The finish line balloons were taken down by now, but the people left watching clapped and cheered and made a human tunnel to run through.
|Troy and me|
|Karl and me|
Here's a link to a video I made recapping the race. And another made by Trail Runner Magazine recapping the race. Thanks to Karl and all the volunteers who made this such a great event!