WASATCH 100 2009

My pacer Bruce and Milada Copeland, who was a masterful crew mentor. Those are all my shoes on the right. Yep. All of them

Excitement at the start. I'm in the Army jersey

Getting ready to start.

John Grobben removes the barrier.

 

Guy in orange (Jeff Roes, the eventual winner): "Holy crap, he has a lot of stuff!"

"Karl (Meltzer), do you see how much stuff he has?" "Oh, that's just Phil."

Ready!!

Air assault Jake leading me into Lamb's, Mile 53. Very sexy.

Very hot day.

Heading into Lamb's.

(Images courtesy of Robert Bagley).

 

We Danced All Night in A Ditch Full of Rocks

Wasatch 2009

Ultrarunning, like any other kind of sport, can be broken down into distinct elements. Dana Miller, now a good friend and mentor, was once the hands-down dominator of the Wasatch 100. He told me that every training run should refine one or more of those elements: foot speed, downhill, climbing, nutrition, altitude, heat, hydration, gear (shoes, clothes, pack, etc.), length.

Sometimes the need to refine these elements does not fit within our schedule or, worse yet, our desires. If I weren’t training for Wasatch, I would be content to climb a local 10,000’ peak four times a week on cool summer mornings and call it good. This year, however, except when tearing down that peak once a week for a downhill gut-check (go as fast as you can, and pray you don't trip), I found myself running through miles of sunny and hot scrub oak groves, or doing detestably difficult one-mile repeats for 20 miles at a time on the gravel Skyline Drive at 10,000’.

And then there were the donuts. Or lack of donuts. Having bloated to 185 pounds at Army Airborne School, in April I resolved to no longer eat donuts and actually start training runs on an empty stomach, eating Gu gels for fuel during the training runs. I dropped 15 pounds by race day.

So, when I toed the line on September 11, I hoped that some of the more bitter training runs would yield sweet fruit. Getting there was not easy. The Monday before the race my 14-year-old son got the stomach flu, and my wife, in her patient way, could see that I was about to die from anxiety. She told me to leave and check in to my pre-race digs at the Brighton Lodge a day early. I arrived home from work Monday afternoon, gather up my drop bags, loaded up the car, and left without announcement to avoid the inevitable departure embraces that I usually receive from my many children. I wonder if this event was really worth such a wrenching experience.

Things got worse on Tuesday. I called my wife that morning. She was flat on her back with the same stomach flu. So, our hopeful theory that an adult would not get it was false. I had been exposed, and, worse, my wife was home ill without my help. It sucked. I felt both guilty and apprehensive as I waited for my own guts to tighten and wrench.

This also fouled up my crew plans. The 14-year-old was planning on working on my crew with my 19-year-old daughter. He had recovered, but she had been exposed. In a panic, I called my friend and fellow Utah National Guard Ultramarathon team mate Milada Copeland. She was in DC at a National Guard conference, but would be flying back on Thursday. I asked if she could crew for me. To my amazement, she said she would. As it happened, my kids ended up being fine, and all three of them got to watch us runners dance all night in a ditch full of rocks.

This year I resolved to make a video blog of the race. I interviewed myself in the race director’s truck before the start, and made videos throughout the race. Unfortunately, I stopped making them after about mile 70. Mentally, things just get too stressful. And, things got busy in the night. The starting line boded poorly for the day. It was balmy warm. Highs were supposed to get near 90 in the City. Been there done that. The three or four oppressively hot Wasatches I have done have been miserable. At least I had heat trained this year, so much so that I needed to wear a coat in my air-conditioned office during the month of August.

Once we got going, I could feel the ebb and flow of cool and warm air as we dipped in and out of drainages and in and out of scrub oak bosques. I was frustrated as hell. I promised my anchor pacer, Bruce Copeland, that I would hold back for at least the first 40 miles. I tried mightily to keep my heart rate under 150, but my anxiety and the fact that I was in a less experienced cohort of runners was about all I could handle. At one point, tired of see-sawing among runners who did not know how to maintain a constant pace, I just screamed, “Make a hole!” and charged through about four runners. I made it Fernwood, Mile 3.5, in 38 minutes, a fast time but still reflective of restraint. It did little good. Unless I was willing to put on my customary speed, there was no way to break away from the B group and slide into the slot between the A group and the B group, where I was used to being. So, I stayed in the conga line and just waited.

Downhills were, in my opinion, the key to a successful race. Lack of foot speed and downhill audacity had killed me in the past. It was time to be audacious. But the first 15 miles had precious little downhill. So, I was well behind pace when I left Grobben’s Corner at Mile 15. It was so warm that no one Grobben’s Corner was even wearing a coat. Unbelievable.

Now I had a chance to stride out. The next 3.5 miles were downhill on a dirt road that descended from 9,000 to 7,500 feet. In the past this stretch had been maddening, as it would introduce knee pain that would dog me for the rest of the race and keep me from really running well. Last year was the first time I had not had that pain, and as I pressed the pace to 7:30 miles, I knew that not only was the pain licked, but more good things were happening from all those dirt road miles. I felt great as I reeled in about five runners on this stretch.

When I got to the Francis sheds aid station (Mile 18.5), I grabbed a local runner in the spectators to help with my bottles. Wendy Holdaway’s husband Jose and her pacer (and my physical therapist) Troy Marsh jumped in to help me, also. This year I was using a new nutrition system. I took a Gu or a big swallow of EFS solution every 20 minutes, without fail. In my bottles I alternated between Hammer Perpetuem or Heed. I started the system the first 20 minutes, trying hard to stay out of deficit. In my first years of racing I ate very little in the first three or four hours. I remember in 1996 or 97 subsisting on a handful of Jolly Ranchers in this stretch. In contrast, in the last few years I have suffered debilitating hunger in the last 30 miles, with very few food solutions really hitting the spot. The down side to the new system is that it requires a lot of drop bag coordination. Every bag has to have enough Gus and EFS to last me to the next drop bag. Since Francis was 21 miles from the next drop bag at Big Mountain (there were two more aid stations before Big Mountain, but no drop bags), I had to pack both lots of Gu and two extra baggies of Perpetuem powder to mix at the interim aid stations.

My makeshift crew rose to the challenge and got me topped of quickly. I promised Jose a kiss at the finish, slammed down a full Muscle Milk and a cup of coke, and hustled out of there in three minutes, along with my friend Tom Remkes.

And then I got sick. My tummy physically hurt, and I really wanted to hurl. Heart rate down to 135, and no getting above it. Tom asked how I felt, and I lied and told him I felt good. This really was bad. I had never felt so awful so early. It was so bad I wondered if the Muscle Milk I had drunk was off. I concluded that I just had fish tank tummy (too much fluid too fast), and just sucked it up. Slowly my heart rate began to crawl back up, plus I got from the sunny side of the ridge to the shady side above Farmington Flats. I was holding my own despite the nausea.

Tom and I had a great time talking, along with Davy Crockett, who see-sawed between us. We passed over Carriger Saddle to mules’ ear run, where the course is always ever-changing. This year someone had cut yet another road through the hillside, which will hopefully finally put that meander to bed. Arthur’s Fork was, as usual, thick, brushy, brutish, nasty and short. The heat was already unbelievable on this east-sided slope. Soon enough we had finally gotten into the bottoms of the stream, which was blessedly cool and shady. Just then we caught Crockett and Rodger Smith, both of whom would finish well (28.5 and 26 hours). Good for Utah County!

We exchanged the usual insults, and Crockett then raced ahead on the steep climb. I was surprised, until I saw his ulterior motive: he hid behind a bush and popped out to startle us all. “Roaaaaaahhhr!” Dork.

I immediately switched on the video and announced that after only 20 miles we had chosen the Asshole of the Wasatch: Davy Crockett. Good stuff. Rodger fell back, a victim of stomach woes, and the other three of us pulled into Bountiful B (Mile 23) at the same time. The forest service had put a fence across the trail, which looked like an obstacle. The aid station worker waited for us, and I screamed, “I will engage and master this obstacle, sar-JUNT!” Charlie Allen, the aid station captain, walked up and said, “Oh, that’s just Phil. He’s crazy.” He asked what I wanted. I told him nothing—just fluids and a banana. I wasn’t going to repeat Francis. I was discovering that carrying all of my calories was very convenient at the aid stations. I wanted to stay and visit, but time was at a premium. Holding back did not mean being lazy. Charlie responded, “OK, let’s get you out of here.” “Yes, sar-JUNT!” I was having fun.

A surly woman runner was not happy with my enthusiasm. She grimaced, and said “Yeah, get him out of here.” I reflected for a moment, and then let it roll. No point in confrontation with someone who was already trying to be confrontational. Besides, clearly I was having a lot more fun than she was.

I left the aid station right after Crockett, and for the next five miles the two of us played tag, running along the ridge line on the dirt road. At one point I told him he was just toying with me, like a cat. I knew I was holding back, but even so, he looked very good to stay with me so well. We arrived at Sessions (Mile 28) after a short but wicked downhill, which Crockett told me really surprised him. He never had seen me cook on the downhills before, and he told me later that he abandoned any hope at that point of staying with me (he had always used the downhills to catch me in the past).

Brian Beckstead, who is on the Runners’ Corner Ultra Mountain Team with me, was working the Sessions aid station. I needed water for a second dose of Perpetuem, and asked him to top off my Heed bottle. Somewhere the communication got lost in the shuffle, and I ambled out of the aid station with a banana and only 30 oz of water—10 oz short. Halfway up the brutal climb out of Sessions I made the discovery, and immediately resolved to push forward to Swallow Rocks on what I had. The climb was very nice, being in the shade, and I passed Crockett for the last time after stopping to check my left shoe. It was rubbing the outside of my ankle, a problem I had had before with these shoes (and I thought I had permanently fixed).

Once at the summit, I descended rapidly to the pass, and then began climbing the steep hill above the top of City Creek. Someone had cut a new road here, and it was likely disgruntled hunters who were claiming that the Great Western Trail is an illegal trespass on private property. Such land conflicts are common on this stretch of the trail, between the hunters, Hardscrabble owners, and East Canyon resort. Their legal arguments are beyond ridiculous, but when confronting a pot-bellied ATV rider with a rifle who tells you to turn around, those will less legal training than me are likely to turn around. I, for one, would video the whole thing, or, even better, serve their butt right then and there.

As I topped out, my thoughts morphed from misanthropic idiots to my lack of fluid. I passed a runner carrying three bottles, and came within a whisker of asking for some of his fluid. But some things just aren't done in an ultra, especially by the faster runner. I was on my own. Inevitably, I rationed my fluid (a mistake), but still drained dry a good 20 minutes outside of Swallow Rocks (Mile 35). In the interim I dropped into City Creek Pass, where I stretched my downhill skills again. At one point I tripped and recovered, which caused my left calf to completely seize. I got it back in about three seconds, but for a second I thought I was done. I immediately took a salt tablet, and wished for a banana. Running in the heat was like running along a cliff. You can do it, and you can even do it well, just as well, indeed, as running down the middle of a road. The difference is, running in the heat, just like running along a cliff, means one mistake and you’re dead. The question was, had I made such a mistake?

I arrived at Swallow Rocks aid started pumping fluids right away. To heck with fish tank tummy. I would risk it in favor of dehydration. Dave Toone was there, whom I had met at previous races. He wondered how I had passed him, and I had no idea. As it happened, I was still sweating well, and while I wasn’t peeing at all, this was typical for how I function in the heat. I had already sweated so much that I could feel my shirt stiffen with salt, and salt was beginning to crystallize visibly on my heart rate monitor chest band. This was gross, but good. After three cups of coke and a cup of heed, I grabbed a grape popsicle and headed out.

This was the beginning of Hell, and I remarked to Dave as we left how cool it had been the year before, and how it would be a very nice night. But I also moped how the next 20 miles were going to be just awful. Soon I was trying to engage my new downhill skills on the descent into Big Mountain (Mile 39), hoping to fight off my stiffening calves and just deal with the maddening oppressive heat. This stretch was all south facing with no shade, and I could see the aid station drawing closer through the heat waves. I descended strongly into the aid station, and coming out of the aspen I saw Pip, my 14-year-old, waiting by the trailhead sign. I tossed him my Perpetuem bottle for refill, and ran to the scales. Maria and Milada were there, ready to go, asking me what I needed.

Last year I was only in this aid station for 4 minutes. This year I was shooting for 90 seconds. Jake Gunter, my first pacer, hung nearby, ready to go. Jake was a fellow JAG in the guard, and had recently finished the grueling Air Assault course. The Air Assault and Airborne schools enjoy a characteristic military rivalry, something he would here about from me, a recent Airborne graduate. Jake had on baby blue shorts, a National Guard t-shirt, and a camouflage Camelbak.

I sucked down three huge swallows of chocolate milk and a cup of coke. I felt good sitting there, but was not happy with the prospect of the next 14 miles. I debated whether to change into my La Sportiva Wildcats at this point, but the ankle rub had subsided a bit, and the Continental Divides I was using were nice and beefy to deal with the horrendous rocks in the next stretch. In about 90 seconds we popped out, and started the steep climb onto the ridge. Jeff Parker, my longtime friend, took one last picture of me climbing out of the aid station.

As I climbed, I could tell that I had, again, overhydrated and overeaten. Ouch. I also noticed that I had forgotten my flask full of EFS. We were two minutes out, but I told Jake to go back and get it. It took him a while, but he got back to as I waddled through the woods.

I was looking forward to running with Jake. We had just hired him as a clerk at my law office, and he seemed to really be looking forward to pacing. I felt that in my ill and quiet state I was a real disappointment. I told him I was a bit piqued, and to give me some time. After about 30 minutes I once gain felt my stomach draining. Jake had been in front of me, patiently waiting for me by looking back every minute or so. I picked up the pace, and as I caught him I yelled, “Move your ass, Air Assault!” The run was on.

After this point we climbed over the top of Bald Mountain, and then started motoring on the downhills. When we hit the first of the technical downhills, full of loose rocks on 20% grade, Jake pulled aside. “I can’t do this,” he said. He let me go ahead, expressing amazement at my downhill pace. If he only could see really fast runners . . . . Things felt really good going into Alexander Springs aid station, even as East Canyon reservoir mocked us below with its sparkling blue coolness. Jake marched ahead with my bottles; I told him to fill my hand bottles with iced coke, and my pack bottles with Heed.

Mistake. I made it through the aid station in one minute, but after sucking hard on the coke, my gut again rebelled. I was beginning to learn that sticking to my plan was a really good idea. That set me back a good three or four minutes in the next 30. Jake was once again patient with me, and finally we got into a little bit of shade as the gas pipeline road edged into the trees. A woman passed us, asked me what my goal was. I told her sub-27, and she said I appeared to be on track. She said that she was having to alter her goals. I told her that Wasatch was all about recalibrating goals.

Finally we reached Roger’s Saddle, and began the long but easy downhill into the aid station. When we reached the railroad grade Jake got excited, despite a nasty case of chafing. He could see that the railroad grade was very runnable. I could see that, too. I just wasn't going to do it. I dialed in at a 12:00/mile pace and trotted out, sending him ahead with my bottles.

Soon I could see the spectators above the trail, and I wondered if my family would be there. It was iffy that they could make it with all the stomach flu, but soon I saw them, cheering for me as I emerged from the brushy bottoms. It was a grand sight. My objective in this station was to get out in five minutes or less, but my filthy state, combined with the joy of seeing my family, made me sit back and take stock. After a towel bath and a change of shoes (Wildcats were getting it on early), I picked up Rich Roberts, my next pacer, and bade farewell to Jake. My kids were thrilled that I turned up my nose at the chocolate milk and ice cream sandwiches offered me, and I was greeted with messy faces as we hugged goodbye.

As we left we were flagged down by Milada, who brought me my EFS, which I had forgotten—again. The addled ultra brain. As we climbed the road I learned what not overeating can do. I felt great. I wasn’t running, but was catching up on the many people who had passed my while I spent the 20 minutes in the aid station. Tom Remkes was motoring up the asphalt, so I had a chance to visit with him again and enjoy the roadkill. The canyon was closed to crew traffic, so it was nice to have a quiet time. Temps really started to back off in the cool bottoms, but I still felt hot.

I knew this was a crux stretch. I needed to nail it to finish well, or at least catch up with the previous year. I was so very tired of holding back, and in reality I had stopped doing so at Big Mountain. The heat and miserable terrain for the following 14 miles did plenty to hold me back on their own. So I needed to motor.

The key was my gut. It felt very good, and after turning onto the cool dirt path at the bottom of Lamb’s Canyon, just a couple of miles out of the aid station, I could feel a groove coming on. Soon I saw Scott Mason motoring ahead of me, but despite his strength, I was closing on him. I shushed Richard and started into stealth mode, just as I had done with Tom 20 minutes before when I grabbed his butt. Scott runs the Wasatch Speedgoats Ultra Team, and the mountain goat is his totem. When I was 20 feet away I bleated, “Scahahhaahahahtt. Scahahahahahaahhtt!” He turned and smiled. “Wow, Phil, what a comeback,” he high-fived.

After we left him behind, I remarked to Rich how it really wasn’t a comeback, but more like just keeping the wheels on. Still, comebacks are what Wasatch is all about, and after that stretch after Big Mountain, comeback was the appropriate word. As we neared 8,150’, the height of the next pass (Bear Bottom Pass), Rich fell back. I showed him the wild raspberries (ripe, but tart—they are wild), and then motored ahead to the pass, which was still bathed in sunlight and quite warm. Richard was far behind, but I had warned him I would go at my pace. The downhill in the Wildcats felt great, but as early as I was still in the sun for a quite a while as I descended. I had never quite experienced this before—hot day, good speed, sunny in places that are usually shady for me. Soon Richard caught me, but I could tell the downhill was not easy for him. We had climbed to the pass in 1:08, and the downhill was only going to take about 20 minutes. I was flying, and I don't think he was quite prepared for this. Jake had an advantage in that he can run a sub-13:00 two-mile in the Army. Rich did not have that experience, but just loved hiking in the woods.

Unfortunately, Wasatch is not about hiking, and when we finally emerged from the trail onto the Mill Creek Road, Rich was hurting. He did not say as much, but soon there was no sign of him. I had begun running up the road, knowing that was a key to a good time. In the process I passed one lady and was passed by a fellow Mountain Ultra team mate; he told me that he had been having gut issues all day, taking long breaks in the aid stations. He asked me about Rich, and I told him he was just having a hard time keeping up. A smile creased my team mate’s face, and he shook his head. The eventual race winner, Jeff Roes, would eventually drop his last pacer by two hours. No shame. It happens.

When I pulled into Upper Big Water aid station, Maria looked straight at me, unrecognizing. “Dad? Dad!” She was expecting Rich running ahead with my bottles. Not to be. She sprang into action.

The car was expertly placed in the aid station—just perfect. Valet service. I completely eschewed the aid station fare. I had learned my lesson. I grabbed my lights, and was in and out in eight minutes. Bruce and I went into the trees just as Rich, unbeknownst to us, entered the aid station. It was 1959; I was one minute ahead of last year.

I was now focused on my pace and eating. Sucking a Gu or EFS at the alarm was now becoming a chore. In the late stages of an ultra eating and drinking are what you need most, but what you want least. Even so, 40 minutes out of the aid station Bruce turned around and said, “It’s about time for a Gu.” “Whah?” I answered, my mouth full of Gu. At that moment we both smiled, realizing we were dialed in to each other.

We reached Dog Lake and I had a chance to finally test out the Wildcats on the first bad downhill. No ski poles this time; my legs needed to stand on their own. For several years I have believed that ski poles would help my downhill. This is especially true if you’re injured; they’re indispensable. But my theory that they took the edge off the downhill and sped you up was coming into doubt. I felt that they actually kept you from striding out and getting speed.

So far, I was right. Good stride was more important than any tricks with poles. We made it to the cutoff from Blunder Fork in well under an hour, and I knew that things were going to be different from last year.

Now we started the long grade up to Desolation Lake. This was not really a crux, but more of a litmus test. What could I do with this climb? Things felt really super. We switched to red lights to try to preserve our night vision. The stars were unreal, and the temps were downright tropical. Soon I could see lone flashes of light flickering in the trees, lighting up the trunks and tops of the aspen. It turns out it was a runner who just couldn't seem to hold his flashlight in place. We passed him, and he seemed a little disoriented. After we got past him, I asked Bruce what was UP with that?! The flashes were disorienting and a little creepy.

Happy to be well beyond Disco Dan, I pulled into Deso in record time, and didn't even stop. I had all the calories I would need. It was so nice. Bruce just topped off the fluids and up to the ridge at 9900’ feet we went.

There was not a breath of wind. Only one or two times before had I ever experienced such stable high pressure at the race. As soon as we reached the ridgeline, Bruce slowed. This was odd. His pacing method was to pull ahead and make me reel him in. Soon I saw why he had slowed—a porcupine was ambling down the trail, and it took Bruce a good 20 seconds to persuade it to go elsewhere.

My pace was good, and soon Beethoven 9 came on. I sang along for the whole fourth movement, and Bruce tolerated it—at least he said so. I noticed two things at this point. First, my gut was very solid, in all the right ways. I had not had a bowel movement since the race started (Metamucil for the week before), which eliminated what had been a real down point for me the year before. The other thing I noticed was that I was not being overpowered by nauseating hunger. I was sore, I was tired, and I had small toe blister that was killing me, but otherwise, I was gold. This might actually be a good year.

Scott’s Pass was a repeat of Deso. In and out in five seconds, top off the fluids. Bruce thought I should have some fruit to get some fiber in me, so I had a banana. Delightful. The long downhill out of Scott’s was not scorching fast, but it was the fastest I had ever done it. The pavement especially was sweet, with us going to red light discipline and enjoying the stars. I had no fear of the coming climb over Sunset Pass, at 10,460’, the real crux of the race. My legs and gut were solid. Most surprising was how fast I was going relative to my heart rate. I often was staying in the 110-120 range, but still had a good head of power even at that low a rate. I knew my climbs would go well with that kind of efficiency.

My crew at Brighton was flawless. I took three minutes, especially since I had no food worries. I busted every kind of record between when Bruce had picked me up and here. Who knew what was to come? Bruce let me know in a few minutes after we left Brighton. After we got a little off course, then back on (that trail is a rabbit warren), he said, “Let’s talk strategy.” He took the unending calculations out of my head and got me squared into a good goal. He told me he knew he could get under 27, and probably even under 26, but his goal for me was 25.5. I thought he was very optimistic, but that’s because I’m the eternal pessimist at Wasatch. Bruce told me he would roll with me until about 90 miles, at which point he would push things a bit. I told him I would work with him.

My goal for Sunset Pass has always been one hour, and I made it in 1:00:10. Bruce and I both kissed the trail sign, and now came the challenge—can I get down one of the most difficult downhills in the race in good form and good speed? Alta Dry Fork loses 1500 feet in two miles, and is stepped—some of it is steep, and the rest is really steep. The first five minutes were agony, but soon I started to hit my stride. In ten minutes I was in full burn, passing two runners and really enjoying myself.

Five minutes from the aid station the Battle of Yavin came on my MP3, and I started to recite the dialogue from that famous Star Wars scene. I was feeling that good. Bruce was patient. We got to the aid station (Mile 78) and I told Bruce to top the fluids and catch up. I saluted the aid station captain, my friend Bruce Longstroth, and carried on. I had to climb 500’ back up to ridge, and it was delightful. Solid, steady.

I got to the ridge, where the climb lessened, but kept going up for another 100’. Bruce was nowhere to be found, but no way was I going to slow down. Finally he caught me after nearly a mile. Now I was concerned; I didn't want anything to be wrong with him. Turns out he had put off a Gu for too long, and had to replenish. Now he had his legs back, and I was hearing nothing about picking it up. Indeed, he had stumbled a few times and was resolved to get some coffee at Pole Line Pass (Mile 82). He thought it might be fatigue or maybe a weird effect from the moon, which had just risen. We had planned to use red light in the moon light, but the pace was too fast for that. There were only 17 miles left, and I was focused on moving out.

Now I experienced the collision of sheer exhaustion with the need to do long division. Every mile I tried to calculate the pace I would need to finish under 26. I was skeptical, but the numbers kept improving as we left Pole Line. Bruce got his coffee, and I got my banana. Bananas. Ahh. The next aid station was Rock Spring, a packed-in aid station with limited fluids. I just wanted to top off, so I left Bruce behind, assuming he would be along in a minute or two.

I was wrong. The next section is the probably the hardest of the course. Irv’s Torture Chamber has two incredibly steep and technical downhills (the Plunge and the Dive), plus seven short but steep climbs that kill by attrition. I have worked with the Forest Service for three years to build a new trail here to eliminate the horrible existing trail, and this year it looks like it will finally be approved for construction in 2010. But now I had to face it, for perhaps the last time.

My mantra had become, “Relax. Gravity. Relax. Gravity.” Let 9.8 m/s2 do the work. I veritably flew. But where was Bruce? I reached the end of first nasty downhill, and was halfway up the first of the seven climbs when he finally caught me. It turns out the Rock Springs aid station actually had to mix up the Heed I had requested. Bruce could only shake his head, and I could only laugh. It had no impact on the schedule. Maybe if I had to wait there I would have felt differently.

Every year I resolve not to let the torture chamber get me down, but this year I had a time goal and I wasn’t going to let patience interfere with that.

Mistake. I turfed it pretty good in the dust on the second downhill, and got nice and dusty. I was unhurt, but my calf cramped up again. I got it stretched out, but it was a reminder that at any times the wheels could come off.

Bruce and I finally cruised into Pot Bottom (Mile 93) at 5:10. I would need to set a PR to finish under 26. I had never done this stretch in less than 1:57; now I would need to do it in 1:50 or less. I ditched my pack, grabbed a water bottle and a Gu, and off into the cool darkness we went. I had no idea if I could do it, and so I literally started running up the 700-foot climb to Lime Canyon and the final descent. In the process we passed two runners, something that never happened to me in this stretch. I was always the passee, not the passer. Not tonight.

Venus shown brightly and the eastern sky glowed cobalt blue as we crested the ridge. My MP3 player died, and with my spare in my deserted pack, I was content with the stillness of the morning. When we hit the top, I said, “OK, Brucie, let’s fly.” Game on.

Krissy Moehl, one of the best woman ultrarunners in the world, was pacing the woman we just passed, and I fully suspected the pair would blow past us on the 1500’ downhill into Midway. It was so hard to go below 15:00/miles after the long uphill, but once again, with ten minutes of downhill work and some real resolve, my legs limbered up and I was down to 13:00/miles. The two small climbs in the canyon really got me down, as did the small new switchback that Wasatch Mountain State Park had cut in the old trail. But when we hit the pavement at 25:40, I knew that we would make it.

Now my attention turned to my rear. Where was the woman? Where was the guy we passed halfway up the climb who was having gut issues? At any time they could emerge from the woodline like wraiths. I told Bruce we needed to keep it going, and that he needed to be my rearward eyes. I had been passed in the last half mile before—me no like. A small hill folds the road into the Homestead, the last little crux of the race. It was nothing. We hit the crest and could see the orange cones across the lawn into the finish. Bruce said, “Time to make some noise.” Was he serious? How much had he already heard that night? OK, he was on.

“Airborne, Airborne, all the way! Airborne, Airborne, every day! We like it here, we love it here, we finally found a home! A home, a home, a home away from home!” We were done. 25:52:48. 20th Place. All wheels were intact.

I gave John Grobben a hug as he looked at me and said, “You beat the sun!” It was a nice surprise for my good friend to see me so early. The keys to this year were gut management, efficient crewing, and lots of good attitude. Plus, very specific training—speed, downhill, gear. It was a great run.

Now there are those that say I should go for a sub-24. We’ll see. Still lots to think about and improve.

A final surprise was at the awards ceremony, where I was given an award for service to the race, the Spirit of the Wasatch. It was a great honor for an event that has given me far more than I have given.

I was also very honored to have dedicated the race to my law partner, Craig Snyder, who has pancreatic cancer. Local members of the Utah State Bar are donating funds to the Huntsman Cancer Institute for every mile I finished and every hour I finished under 36. That made this race very special.

Thanks to all of you who put up with my training and my impatience to see me through the race this year.

9/12/09