Everyone in our area knows of Western States, but few have heard of the Wasatch Front 100-Mile Endurance Run, unless you’re an ultrarunner. I chose this race because it fit in with my knee recovery and that it seems like a right of passage for any ultrarunner who lives in Truckee. We have legends of that race who live right here: Laura Vaughn, Betsy Nye, Paul Sweeney, Chris Luberecki...
I was lucky enough to bring Chris with me as my crew leader and pacer for the final 25 miles. Sam Skrocke and my parents rounded out my support team. Now, before I talk about the race, one thing is for certain — I could not have finished this race without them. They all played such an important part that I’m not sure how I would do another without the same group.
With nearly 27,000 feet of climbing, nearly the same amount of downhill and a thermostat that was expected to be at least 15 degrees warmer than previous years, I knew I had my work cut out for me. Trying to be realistic, I had a goal to break 24 hours. I had loftier, dreamier goals too but I reminded myself of the true prize when the suffering began, and that is to finish.
At 4:50 a.m. the 290 runners began to gather around the starting line. It was already a comfortable temperature. Headlamps were bobbing and nervous energy permeated the air. Not the same as a short race, the energy was about completion more than competition. Then at 5 a.m., we were off along the hillside leading away from Layton, Utah.
The first 5 miles or so are rolling through the trees. I stayed close to the lead pack, more so to steal some of their light. Once the climbing began we all slowed to a power walk. Like Paul likes to say, “walk with a purpose.” One after another runners were pealing off to either take a bathroom break or adjust their shoes. Next thing you know, I was leading the way up Chinscrapper — yeah, that’s the name of one point on the trail. Once on the ridgeline I cruised along with four others until the trail opened up and led down. That’s when the real frontrunners turned on another gear. This was at mile 18.
From 18 to mile 38 there were many vistas, creek crossings and nearly undefinable trails. Large rocks littered every downhill, making for difficult descents. Each substantial downhill the leaders pulled away. Call me chicken, but I’m not really interested in ruining my new knee, yet.
The temperature was going up and I found I was drinking a lot of liquid. I was also trying to eat often and a lot. At mile 38 I came down this long set of switchbacks and ran across my crew for the first time. My Mom was out front waving a Norwegian flag, Chris and Sam flanked me and took my water bottle to refill and my Dad was ready with food and a place to change my socks. I weighed myself and found that I had only lost 1 pound. That’s OK. I ate and drank and was off for what I didn’t realize was the toughest section of the course.
It was midday, hot, there were no trees and the trail was really difficult. I continued on drinking and moving forward. Next thing I knew, I was out of water. It took me nearly an hour before I reached the next aid station, but by that point the damage was done.
I was weak, fatigued, a little delirious and very dehydrated. I sat at the aid station for about 10 minutes — at least if felt that way — until I thought I was ready to go. And when I did, I stared into the distance of this long, rolling, grassy climb that had a breeze blowing down it that was more like a blow dryer. I mentally gave up.
With less than a mile to go to mile 53 (Lambs Canyon), Sam ran out to meet me. I was walking. I told him I was done. He tried to talk me out of the bad state I was in and we got to the aid station. I weighed in. I’d lost 10 pounds. They were on the verge of holding me there, but I did it to myself. I sat down by my truck and my mom threw a blanket over me as I immediately began to shake.
I told Chris I was done. He ignored me. Instead, he tore off my shoes, slapped a bunch of Vaseline in them and continued to prep me to take off. I sat there drinking a recovery drink for about 45 minutes. Finally, I said fine, got up weighed myself again (gained 2 pounds) and headed off. This time Sam ran with me.
Miles 53 to 75 went pretty well. It took me another 90 minutes or so of shuffling along to get a bit more hydrated. By the time Sam and I got to the next aid station, I was feeling much better — still not convinced I could finish, but enough to convince me to go on to the next aid station.
Once I hit Dog lake I began to feel what I could best describe as OK. I was able to pick up the pace and start racing. We were now in the dark and we could see headlamps ahead of us. Our goal was to pick off another headlamp, then another... (while sitting at mile 53, about 15 people passed me and I was now in 27th place).
Sam kept pushing me to Brighton, and once there I went straight to my truck where my crew was waiting to feed and fuel me up. I took a good 15 minutes of eating and drinking before I went to get weighed in. Finally at about 10:15 p.m. I went to get weighed. I gained 2 pounds — still underweight but not enough to hold me.
Now Chris got to work and we charged up the ski resort mountain. The trail reminded me of going up Shirley Canyon. Once we crested the top we saw several headlamps ahead of us. We strategically picked off each one, pushing past them so they would not want to hang on to us. With 10 miles to go, the trail became brutal — steep, rutted, rocky and covered in 6 inches of silty dust. The dust was so thick I couldn’t see the footing, so slow was the only option. This seemed to be never-ending, and then the last aid station came in to view. Only 7 miles to go.
I did my best to push hard here. Each mile seemed to drag on. But Chris had the watch and a beep would sound with every mile completed and he would say, “another one done.” We finally popped out of the woods and were on a paved road. A mile to go. I tried to pick up the pace. I ran it in to a dark finish line.
I was done — 23 hours, 37 minutes. I was happy. And there’s no way I could have finished without my crew.
— Peter Fain is a local trail runner who competes regularly in regional trail races and snowshoe runs in the winter. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.