Best. Crew. Ever.
Where do I start with the Wasatch 100 race report? I have now had 6 days on the Pony Express with Karl to reflect on my first Wasatch 100 Mile Endurance Run. Either I spit this report out now or it ain't happening.
I’ve had a love hate relationship with racing in Utah. I love it, but it typically kicks my ass.
I recruited some top notch crew talent from Seattle. Long time friend, one time coaching client and La Sportiva runner Ellen Parker, clients Miriam Rabitz and Darryl Easton where AMAZING. A crash course for the latter two and I’m off at 5am. I ran steady and easy to start, basically fast long run training pace. Although the expected front pack had pulled away I was comfortable with my effort. I will never beat a guy like Luke Nelson to the top of a short climb, and I'm ok with that. I was in good company for the early miles, spending them mostly with Kevin Shilling, who as Karl says "has been the best ultrarunner in the Wasatch this summer". Eventually Kevin decided it was GO time, and in an instant he was gone. I settle into a pack with Eric Storheim and the eventual 2nd place finisher Neil Gorman. We got off trail for a bit trying to cross a stream during a bushwhack section. A veteran of five Wasatch's, buddy Jared Campbell caught up to us and showed us the way. As my massive low hit me near Sessions all of these talented runners just ran away from me. Although our low and high points seemed to oppose each other I still very much enjoyed having Jared Campbell out there with me. We’d leap frog each other and pass encouraging comments back and forth. I passed him as he tended to his “issues” just before Lamb’s aid station. Sitting there I was super achey. As I regrouped, Ellen rubbed arnica on my knees while Jared and Darcy Africa (eventual 1st place woman) came and went. Jared grabbed my shoulders on his way by and said his customary “GOOD TIMES!”.
Before the race I was really leaning toward no, or very little pacing. Wow would that have been a mistake! I picked up Ellen’s boyfriend Justin (who I didn’t know that well) at Lamb’s Canyon just to change things up. I had nothing up Bare Ass Pass, but Justin kept me on an eating and drinking schedule that worked well. I was going slow, but at least I’d be refueled. Once we hit the road I got into a good rhythm and was slowly coming back to life. By the time I got to Upper Big Water I was actually feeling good… but didn’t want to believe it yet. My steady hike turned intense as we approached Desolation Lake. I was actually starting to get mad at myself for not taking better care early in the race. I like to race with a little fire in my belly. As we headed up towards the Wasatch Crest I though “We’re now in my territory.” I’ve been living on Guardsman’s Pass Road for 5 weeks. I started to pick up steam. I caught a couple doods I didn’t know, and then Darcy Africa on the climb to the crest from Desolation Lake (around mile 70). Once on the Wasatch Crest I was revitalized! I simply love the views and the terrain up there.
Through Scott’s Tower I started to get excited again. But I had to chill and arrive at Brighton ready to race. Roch and Catherine’s advice was stuck in my head, “The race doesn’t START until Brighton”. I arrived at Brighton in 9th place feeling awesome and got a nice hug from my buddy Ty Draney. “Matt you just have to hold back until Brighton. Get there looking good and you will have an amazing finish.” Rocho couldn’t have been more right. Although I was 50mins off my sub 21hr splits, I arrived at 8:50pm ready to put in work.
Sad to see Justin off I picked up Ellen as a pacer for the last 25 miles. One week before the race Roch, Jared, David Hayes and I had run this section to the finish. We started at 9pm and finished at 3am. Running into Homestead that morning Jared said “You know this could happen on race day. You and I could finish together at 3am (22hrs)”. I really liked that idea. This last section has got to be the toughest last 25 miles of any 100 miler, with 6,000+ feet of uphill and 9,000+ of gnarly downhill. Our run time for the training run was 5h 05min, with lots of stops to regroup. Course record holder and Montrail athlete Geoff Roes ran that section in 5hrs flat. I knew I needed to run under 6hrs to run under 22 hours, really I didn’t care about how I placed at that point. Although I must admit all day I was simply confused with the fact that I was running sub 22hr pace and NOT IN THE TOP 10! What became clear is that a lot of runners were simply going too fast early, and underestimating the course.
Ellen was awesome. I didn’t want to bury myself too early but I was anxious to start moving fast again. On the way up Brighton to Catherine’s pass I saw Jared’s light up ahead. I ran into a puddle of what I figured was pee and then Erik Storheim. He had just emptied the contents of his stomach and wasn’t feeling so great. We wished him luck and continued on with Jared’s light just up ahead of us. I really wanted to run with him, but the way Jared climbs I figured I’d just have to settle for seeing him at the finishline.
Once through Sunset Pass I started to turn it over. I entered the pain cave. I would run the downhills fast, no matter how much it hurt my achey knees. I would also push the uphills to my redline. I was concerned at times that I was giving too much too early and not partitioning the effort out. Even though I didn’t feel like eating I would force the gels down. I knew I’d need it, and Ellen kept me on it. On our way down into Pole Line aid station we passed Jared and his pacer, adventure racer Mike Dawson. I was on fire and it seemed like Jared was not. Regardless I tried to pull him along saying “Come with me Jared! We can still go under 22hrs”. There was no response, and I was rolling so I just rode it.
I was sort of embarrassed to be moaning and groaning a lot, but if you've ever been there.. then you know. Emotions would come and go but I was wholely focused on keeping my effort pegged. At the last aid station I ran into Nick Padatella. Most of the day I had heard that he and Nick Clark were passing 1st place back and forth so I was very surprised to see him. I asked him “Nick! Are you alright?”. He just shook his head and said “No”. I was too close to the finish line to chat, I could smell it. Ellen lead me up the last dirt road climb at a great pace. On the last downhill to the finish Ellen had had enough and just said “If you got it.. GO!”. From there I was basically running 10km pace, charging. I passed a runner named Anthony with a few miles left. I was running sub 7/min miles and they were shuffling. I heard his pacer say “do you want to try and chase him?”, but I was gone before I heard the response so I focused on my cadence. Coming out onto the road I knew I’d get sub 22hrs. The soft, wet and cold grass of the homestead felt amazing to my beat up feet. I crossed the dark finishline of the great Wasatch 100 Mile Endurance Run in 21 hours 54 minutes for 3rd place overall.
I’m super happy with my race, but I know I can run that course much faster.
Thank you Sean Meissner, Justin Angle and Bill Huggins for the support from a far. Getting your positive messages was such a confidence booster for me in the days before the race. I had started to question my preparation and my injuy issues and my sanity, so it was perfect timing.