Part 6: The Wasatch Front 100-Mile Run: The Final Chapter
Dreams Do Come True
by Ian Torrence
Labor Day weekend found me traveling four hours north, a week before the Wasatch Front 100 Mile. My purpose was to etch in my mind the last 60 miles of a course I’d never seen. I pulled into Salt Lake City and crashed all weekend long at Nate McDowell’s (my excellent pacer from Western States) and Petra Pirc’s apartment. Little did I know I’d be running that Friday with the next winner and course record holder of the Wasatch 100. Nate and I ran the scenic stretch of trail from Upper Big Water (mile 61) to Brighton (mile 75). We ran the section in 2:15, a nice training run—or so it seemed. It turns out Nate would run the same stretch only five minutes slower come race day. Now we know how he won the race!
Saturday arrived and I covered the miles between Big Mountain (mile 38) and Lamb’s Canyon (mile 53) with the Hardrock 100 Mile, Squaw Peak 50 Mile and Zane Grey 50 Mile course record holder Karl Meltzer. What did Karl do on Wasatch race day? He collected second place.
Sunday started with a rap at the window. Brandon Sybrowsky had arrived in the wee hours of the morning for our 25-mile journey over the last portion of the course (Brighton to Midway). I bet you can guess where this story is going. That’s right; Brandon finished third on race day! He also completed his tenth Wasatch, a remarkable achievement.
So what about me? Having seen the last 60 miles of the course proved to be a definite advantage in the race. In my mind, course familiarity was more important than being totally rested for the race. My objective was not to win the race, but to cover the course in less than 22 hours and 41 minutes. That was the time I needed to better the current Grand Slam “speed” record, held by California’s Dan Barger. The task would be tough, but I was nervously prepared for the challenge.
I couldn’t have asked for better weather when I awoke on race morning. The entire day and night would stay cool (almost too cool and too windy at times), wet and overcast. The trails were slick, but I was more than happy with the wet conditions, rather than facing air laden in the lung-choking, blister-causing dust, which I had experienced with Brandon a week earlier.
The start of the race was very conservative. I found myself surrounded by my training partners from the past weekend: Meltzer, Sybrowsky and McDowell. A long centipede of runners finally broke apart on the first climb of the day called the “The Chin Scraper.” I spent most of my time, until the first crew accessible aid station (Francis Peak, mile 18.5), with fellow Grand Slammer Greg Loomis.
Most of the morning was glorious. We crossed ridges, climbed mountains and ran through the mountains’ new fall colors. I was doing well and in high spirits until I passed through Sessions aid station (mile 28). After leaving the station with a mouth-full of peanut butter and jelly, I missed an important left-hand turn and continued running downhill on a well-worn ATV trail. It wasn’t until my mouth finally became unstuck that I realized I was running where no other runners had passed. Where were their footprints? I did a 180 and headed back up the hill. I had just added ten minutes to my finishing time. I tried to relax, resisting the urge to sprint ahead and catch up to where I should have been. I settled in behind Jim Nelson and let him take me over the next two large climbs. No need to get excited, right?
I arrived at the Big Mountain aid station (mile 38), collected myself and picked up my first pacer, Susan Hunter-Yates. I originally met Susan when I lived in Seattle. She’s a past winner of Wasatch and proved to be excellent company on my way to Lamb’s Canyon (mile 53). Along the way we discovered what Wasatch mud can do when it gets wet. After a nice rain shower, our shoes accumulated all sorts of slime, grime and dead grass. Just what we needed in a 100-mile race—five extra pounds on each foot.
At Lamb’s Canyon, Anne (my crew) had a chair, a change of socks, and food and drink ready. After a quick stop I picked up my second pacer, Hal Koerner, who would take me the rest of the way to Midway. Hal, a good friend, was my tour guide at Leadville three weeks earlier. He was intent on getting me to Midway ahead of my projected goal time.
We ran and hiked strongly to the next aid station at Upper Big Water (mile 61). As we arrived I found my good friend and training partner Brandon Sybrowsky sitting in a chair waiting for my arrival. Krissy Moehl, Brandon’s pacer, fiancée of two days, and Montrail representative, would be accompanying him for the rest of the race. We all left the aid station together. I had gone from being a solo runner, alone on the remote Utah trails, to part of a group comprised of four joyful souls. We would stay together for the remainder of the race.
We crossed Red Lover’s Ridge (mile 68) as the sun began to set behind the clouds that had enshrouded us all day. The winds really began to pick up there. We did not delay and headed quickly to Brighton (mile 75) for more food, clothing, and civilized bathrooms, equipped with a fresh supply of toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Under the cover of night, with headlamps donned, Hal and I followed Brandon and Krissy up and over Catherine’s Pass (mile 78). After descending some very steep and rocky trails (expletives deleted) and just before the Ant Knolls aid station (Mile 80) we came upon Leland Barker, last year’s Wasatch winner. As he sat on a rock next to the trail, he cradled his head and stomach. His race was over, but not his run. After a three-hour nap he recovered to finish the race.
The rest of the race was a blur. Knowing where I should walk and run I put it on cruise control and shut out most of what was happening around me. Poor Hal. I continued to check my progress against the clock as we progressed through aid stations. It was only at the last aid station at Pot Bottom (mile 93) that I knew I would set the new Grand Slam record. With only seven miles remaining and almost two hours to do it, I knew I was there. Even so, the hills seemed to grow longer and every descent played havoc on my knees.
I crossed the finish line in 22 hours, 18 minutes and 31 seconds. I had set the new Grand Slam “speed” record (78:22:47) and placed fourth overall, behind three classy gentlemen that had taken time out of their schedules to show me the course a week earlier.
I feel that Wasatch was my best “race” of the four that comprise the Grand Slam. I ran well all day, and stomach issues didn’t hamper me. I finished in good spirits (with no need for IV’s or oxygen). It was a pleasure and honor to receive both the Crimson Cheetah Buckle and the Grand Slam trophy. It was a long, difficult summer, but my toil had finally had paid off. I was proud that I was able to accomplish all the goals I set for myself when I first decided to commit to the Slam last winter.
Am I psyched? More than ever! Along the way I saw some awesome country, ran with some great people, met many others, covered some tough miles, and cried, laughed, and cursed. I was inspired by some and cheered by others. I have many people and organizations to thank. I must start with my crew and main supporters: Anne Raney, Glenda Torrence, Paul Torrence and Jessica Torrence. I will go on to thank the pacers that joined and pushed me along the way: Justin Snow, Kevin Setnes, Nate McDowell, Susan Hunter-Yates, and Hal Koerner. I thank the race directors and volunteers that allowed me the chance to challenge myself and helped along the way, along with my fellow Grand Slammers and all other runners that participated in every race I ran; we all shared wonderful ultra experiences together. I also thank all those who wrote to me during the course of this endeavor to pass on advice, encouragement and enlightenment. I cannot forget my supporting sponsors: Montrail, Patagonia, Clif Bar, Petzl and Smart Wool. I also would like to thank Don Allison and UltraRunning magazine for the opportunity to share my Grand Slam experience with all of you.
Information and results on the Wasatch Front 100 Miler can be found at: www.wasatch100.com
Congratulations to all the 2002 Grand Slammers who saw their Grand Slam Dreams come true on September 8, 2002.
- Paul Schmidt, 50, CA
- Luis Guerrero, 38, MEX
- Jeff Sauter, 45, CA
- Greg Loomis, 28, VA
- Roger Ackerman, 55, GA
- Bill Rideg, 36, MT
- Jeanine Carlson, 48, MA
- Matthew Moore, 45, CA
Information and statistics on the Grand Slam can be found at: www.run100s.com