It’s been almost a year since I have written anything, that’s really a shame. Tonight I opened a bottle of New Belgium La Foile, and decided to let the cards fall where they will. What follows is a bit of prose on my personal experience running 100 miles for the first time, and a bit of race report. I can appreciate that some lost souls may be searching the web for information about the Ute 100 wondering if it’s the right race for them. In that vein, I will happily provide some details about the course and other logistics. Shall we?
Into the Dark, Into the Light
If you’re only interested in the race report, it won’t hurt my feelings if you skip down to it. Otherwise, please, let me share a few thoughts about what running 100 miles in the mountains meant to me, and what I took away from it.
2018 has been a year of difficulty. Depression is a common bond that, for whatever reason, too many of us in the ultra community seem to share. Explaining how depression feels to someone who has never experienced it, is a bit like explaining why you run 30, 50, 100 miles to someone who doesn’t run. Maybe there, we find something reassuring in others who do endurance activties, something that says “hey brother/sister, I get it. I know. I’m searching for something out here too”. None the less, it can be hard to talk about, with all the related stigmas that are attached. I am an open person though, and the judgements of others fall on me as leaves in the wind.
Relationship struggles and depression left me in limbo, as a result my training for this race fell by the wayside. I kept up with my running, but I never made it to the Sierras for the 2-3 weeks to acclimatize, that I hoped for. It was through a very chance meeting with a couple of other runners that the Ute 100 became possible for me. It’s one of those long stories, so I will try to shorten it here, because I do need to talk about it. It was a day of bad weather, on top of Mt. Tam, that I found myself running with Julia Millon, whose name you might know if you were present when Western States honored her with a memorial this year, or maybe you have also shared some miles during a race, or just out on the trails. She and I crossed paths a handful of times that day, waving to one another, finally our paths joined as we headed up the East Peak for the second time. In just a couple of miles I was able to glean so much from this young woman. She had a spark for life, and for running, that was fiery. Her openness and charismatic nature was, simply put, wonderful. There is no faking being fearless, and I recognized that in Julia immediately. When she and I reached the parking area at the East Peak, we bumped into Ginny LaForme. Meeting Ginny up there wasn’t the pivotal moment though. Another runner came down from the summit, yelling and laughing about hail and nasty weather. His name was Dan, and Julia says, “hey, I know that guy! I haven’t seem him for a year!”. So they hug, and we all start talking. Dan and I exchanged information since he was local, and eventually we all went our separate ways.
Several months later, I get a message from Dan out of the blue… “Hey man, I saw your name on the roster for the Ute 100, I’m running it too. I have no pacer, and no crew, you should ride up to Utah with me and do this thing!”. It was one of those bad ideas that you just know is the only thing that makes any goddamn sense! I was hesitant though. I called Dan up and as we talked he mentioned how tragic it was about Julia. I was floored to find out that she had died just a couple of months prior. I felt a bit awash in emotion right then. Julia had touched me in a way that day that I didn’t realize, her passing was a wake up call that life is fragile, and spending time other than chasing your dreams must be some kind of travesty, because we have so little time as it is. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. Dan was a catalyst here, but I think Julia would be both surprised and over joyed that it was a chance meeting with her that inspired me to run my first 100 miler. I can see that she touched the lives of so many people, and I consider myself lucky to be one of them.
I really did not expect to finish this race, being very under trained for it. One or two other running friends encouraged me, saying “the 100 miler will change you”. This kind of thinking isn’t foreign to anyone who has been around the ultra running scene long enough. The mysticism that shrouds the hundred mile distance is the kind that swirls into your dreams in thick, billowing clouds, and steals your focus at any moment in your waking hours. In running films we hear others tell of their shamanistic journey into the dark, going into the pain cave, finding bottom, etc. Yeah, if you run 100 miles something should happen! Right?
As I ran, I found myself coming back to those words “the 100 miler will change you”, and I kept waiting for that moment. Whatever it was, I was sure I’d know when it arrived. The miles came and went, and somehow the great spiritual experience eluded me. Was I too broken to allow myself to have it? The thought was deflating. I wouldn’t accept the idea that in the midst of a personal crisis, I could go out and run 100 miles in the mountains, and it would be just like any other day. Then the epiphany came. What I realized was: this is me, this is what I love to do, and this is where I love to be. It wasn’t a transformative experience I was having, it was an affirmative experience. In a sense, it was also a kind of transformation, because in the last year I have been a little distracted from what I love to do, and it was a reminder to get back to being who I am.
Many times I have driven hours to arrive at some dusty trailhead, sleep in the dirt, wake up early, throw down some coffee and a quick breakfast, then hit the trails for what usually turns into a long and difficult day in the mountains, desert, or wherever. So yeah, this was a bit more mileage than my typical self supported jaunt, but more or less it was that experience that I know and love. My thinking became clear at that point, and I really dug in. I became very present and stopped waiting for something to happen, it was happening!
I came away from this feeling I have never had a more clear understanding of where my center is. The instincts and actions that come from that center are those that can be trusted and relied upon. On too many occasions in the past year, I’ve not listened to my instincts and acted in ways that were contrary to how I felt about situations and other people. I allowed myself to be a little off balance, and it brought a lot of suffering into my life. Now, my feet are back under me. I am reminded to live by my ideals, and to act from my center, to be genuine in all I do.
I have already planned my next mountain running (self supported) adventure, and I will more than likely sign up for Javelina Jundred. Tramping around the trails is where I belong. The Ute cemented that idea with me, I don’t think it will ever be something that can be shaken.
The Race Report
Ok, so let’s do the race report now. I’m not really going to cover information that you can easily find on the Ute 100 website. You should know that this race is in the La Sal Mountains of Utah, it has about 20,000 feet of elevation gain, a lot of time spent over 10,000 ft elevation, and peaks out above 12,000 ft elevation. This is already a serious course. Add to that, climbs that are often steep, trail surfaces that are frequently covered in large, loose rocks, some aid stations that are 12-14 miles apart, no pre-packaged food at aid stations, and temperatures that will range from warm to hot. Now you are getting the idea that this race is very, very tough… or at least you should be.
The cut off was 40 hours. Sean is keeping that for next year. Only one runner finished sub 24, and that man must be tough as nails, because damn, the effort required to do that is herculean! On this course, 30 hours or less is a good time. I suggest running the Speedgoat 50k before signing up for Ute. If you can hang with that, you will have a good idea of what awaits you at the Ute 100.
Moab is a cool (hot as hell) desert town with lots of outdoorsy stuff to do. Dan and I rented a big ol rowdy Jeep and went four wheeling out on the slick rock. We had a blast. I still can’t believe the shit we crawled over, dropped into, and bounced off of in that jeep! We also checked out Arches, which is 20 minutes outside of Moab.
I would recommend staying in town for the entire trip. The “campsite” at the start finish is a hot dustbowl. Air conditioned rooms at the Inca Inn, Super 8, or whatever will be what you want the night before, and especially the night after running!
Both the bib pickup and the pre-race meeting were late into the evening on Friday, which was not ideal. After a 40 minute drive back to the race start / camp, we set into final preparation for the next morning, and got to bed around 9:30. Cars were trickling into camp all night, people opening and closing doors, talking, etc… I may have got 2 hours of sleep. The day started early, we were awake at 1:30 AM for the 2:30 AM mandatory pre-race check in. The race start is at 3:00 AM. That’s an early start!
My plan was to go super conservative. I wanted to finish and not blow up. I thought 32 hours seemed reasonable. After climbing to Mann’s Peak at 12,300 ft, I was starting to feel more spent than I imagined. A female runner that I passed on the way up joined me, proclaiming in a somewhat nervous, yet accomplished tone “This is my first mountain… AND I’m scared of heights!”. Sean had left a boom box playing Beastie Boys on the summit, before he para-glided off (yes, that happened), so I told her to enjoy the music, take in the views, and then we could descend. A good plan, except she had fallen earlier in the day and banged her knee up pretty badly. I saw that she was having trouble scrambling down the talus field (that would be a jumble of big, chunky, loose rocks) so I offered to stick with her, just to ensure she didn’t take a fall, making her situation even worse, or potentially ending herself permanently. After accompanying her to a manageable section of trail. I ran down the switchbacks, back into the hot temps at lower elevation.
The scene at the mile 43 aid station was a grim one. I looked around… that lady looks bad, that guy is hurting, that guy dropped (a Hard Rock finisher that I had met the day before), that guy is puking… and on and on. I sat down, feeling way more spent than I thought I should be, and now behind on time. I lingered for a long time, wondering if I had maybe gotten in over my head for my first hundred. A guy that was laying down, and frequently puking, eventually talked to me: “Hey man, are you injured?” he asked. Nope, I’m just wiped out, I replied. “Well, look how effed up I am right now, and I’m about to get up, and walk back onto that course. You better be right behind me!”. Wow! That was what I needed to hear. A moment to remind myself to stop wallowing in self pity, and to remember my inspiration. That guy is Stormy Phillips and the grit he showed in that moment, and again later in the race was something special. I am only one guy with no experience at this, but his words and actions were to me, the distillation of what this is all about. Needless to say, I got up, and got back on the course – and I never thought about quitting again. We shared some miles together and talked with depth and sincerity, it was getting dark, but the light would return. (Thanks Stormy!)
One thing about the hundred miler, it offers a lot of time I learned. That time can be used to rest and recover, and things can totally turn around over the course of a long run like this. From talking with many runners during my race, I noticed another common thread; many of them had returned to races multiple times before finally getting their finish. Wasatch, Leadville, Angeles Crest… these are tough races, and to have the mental fortitude to return after not one, but 2 or 3 DNF’s is an inspiration. Lesson learned? The 100 mile distance is an excellent screed if you want to spend time with some really good people.
The night came and went. I paired up with Peter and his pacer Michael so we could all help motivate each other through the dark, and the longest climb of the race. Sunday arrived with the sunrise, and was hot again. I just kept running the downs and whatever else I could muster. I had been surviving on bacon, potatoes, and watermelon, plus about 30 gels that I brought. My stomach was ok, amazingly. There was a poop break in there somewhere, which cost me another 20 minutes or so. After the last big climb (and what an ass-kicker that was, gaining 800+ feet per mile, ~85 miles into the race) I ran most of the way in, passing about 12 runners before finishing in 36:22. I had lived to tell the tale. When Sean gave me a high five, a hug, and put that buckle into my hands I was whole. I went and found Dan, who finished in 31:44. More high fives and bro hugs, then we broke down our dusty camp and got a hotel room back in town (I will NEVER break down camp after running 100 miles again, total exhaustion!). Dinner, sleep.
Rose and Thorn
Would I run this course again? I dunno! That was punishing! The volunteering was great. Top notch showing, it’s clear there is a lot of love for Sean and his races, because people came from all over to volunteer this and take care of us. There was also the usual awesome camaraderie out on the course; other runners and their crews were very good to me (Peter, Stormy, Sean and Brenda… looking at you all). I probably would run it again, only because now I have run 100 miles and I know what to expect of the Ute course. I would definitely push for a finish time closer to the realm of 30-32 hours. If the weather was a little cooler, it would have helped too. So yeah, that curiosity is going to be in the back of my mind, and you cannot complain about the scenery at all; it was beautiful which will make it that much more enticing. I will probably be back! For now though, on to other trails!
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage” ~ Anais Nin.