This race takes place North of Utah’s Zion and Bryce canyons, in the seemingly remote and beautiful Tushar Mts. I had never heard of this range prior to signing up. I completed most of the US Skyrunning ultra races last year and fell in love with racing these types of courses. I have had the opportunity to see more and cover more terrain in 1 day than most will see in a lifetime. I am blessed. Because of the love and support of my husband and children I made it to this race. Todd could not arrive until the afternoon before the race, so I loaded up the 3 kiddos on Wednesday before the race and we drove to Utah. We were stunned by the 15 mile road climb into the resort. Elk and deer everywhere, Mt range views so unique to this area, not like the Colorado or Georgia or SE Oklahoma Mountain ranges I have experienced racing in (yes Oklahoma has mountains). Truly unique is the only way I can describe them.
We picked up the ATV rental (only access to aid stations was via atv) on Thursday and drove 30 miles on the Paiute trail back to the condo. What a blast! My 8 year old Avery was quite nervous, cried a few times, but I think enjoyed the ride….or at least I don’t think will suffer any sort of PTSD. My boys loved it! Up and down and all around, we got views of some of the course and aid stations being set up. It was also intimidating to see the descents into the valleys and the climbs to the peaks. I couldn’t wrap my brain around doing 58 miles of it in 1 day. I’ve done a few 100s, including Leadville 100, a high elevation race, but I’ve never done that much climbing, summiting so many peaks and ridges and descending into so many deep valleys in such a short (relative to the 100 mile) distance. There would be 11 peaks or ridges to climb over with close to 17000 ft climbing and 17000 ft descending total. Based on my climbing and descending on training runs, I suspected it would take me at least 15 hours. The one reassurance was that I felt fully prepared and knew what I was getting myself into. I knew it would be brutal at times. I knew the terrain would be gnarly with a few reprieves of ATV trail or dirt road. I didn’t have any illusion of anything less. I knew I would have problems along the way and would need to continually “work the puzzle” of nutrition, hydration, electrolytes, pacing, good form, etc., managing aches and pains and everything else that pops up unexpectedly. I’ve learned to expect nothing and accept everything, continually adjusting and adapting. Last but not least, I knew the course profile and the map. I had memorized the climbs, knowing which ones were steeper and about how long each of the 11 would be. This was critical. I was surprised at how many people showed up with no real idea of the magnitude of the course. That could explain what I think was about a 50% finishing rate. I could be wrong but I think there were close to 80 starters and only 40ish finishers.
So, the race….Start at 5am with headlamps on. Temps in the 40s, I had my Salomon race vest with 2 full bottles of water/elecrolytes (I used SOS electrolyte mix), 2 energy bars, 2 gels and super light rain jacket just in case. Down the rutted out double track atv trail about a half mile before we hit the first climb. No visible trail, just flags across the rocky brushy mountainside up. Several small stream crossings. I settled into a low moderate effort climb, alternating hiking and running depending on grade and terrain. We summited the first climb and descended again. On the second climb to a ridgeline the sun was rising. It was gorgeous. This was around mi 4.
My plan was to take in at least 200 cal per hour, hopefully mostly with bars/solid food and 1 water bottle/electrolyte mix per hour. I had eaten a big breakfast 2 hours pre race and wasn’t hungry, but knew I would need it and wanted to stick with my plan. We came down and then up again to the first aid station at mi 8, Allunite Ridge. The volunteers were fantastic, taking my water bottles and refilling them, asking me what I wanted. They were cooking bacon over a portable cooktop. Nothing sounded really good and I was ok with bars so I gratefully declined. I did drink some cola and maybe grabbed a handful of crackers munching my way out of the aid station and on up the ridge. Over the ridge and down what I vaguely remember as fairly techy single track trail mostly, better etched and less overgrown. We hit the bottom of the descent around mi 11. My hands were starting to swell a bit and I was feeling more full, almost a little nauseated. Wanting to stick with my tested strategy, I continued to eat a 200 calorie bar/hour and 1 17oz water bottle/hr. My biggest fear was bonking. The first mile of the climb was on super techy trail, followed by no trail with flag finding….unfortunately we lost the flagging, likely to hungry deer and elk. Here are some early pictures of the tamer terrain and a miner's cabin.
The whole course was marked really really well, however, for some reason this section just wasn’t there. I and a few other runners spent about 10-15 minutes zig zagging up and down and around trying to locate flagging. Finally a yell from above hailed the trail and we were back on and moving up. All the rest of the way up, no real trail, just some trampled sections from other runners, flag to flag to the summit of Mt Delano. Beautiful Vistas awaited.
I took inventory as I went over the top. Swelling a little worse, tummy nauseated and full feeling. Hmmm….too much water? Not enough lytes? Definitely not absorbing the food or water I was taking in well, but energy level was very good. I decided to go ahead and continue to try and get 200cal and 1 bottle per hour at least to the next aid station and then decide if I need to change things up. Down a mile or two and then a gradual up into Mud Lake aid station at mile 16. At that point I was pretty miserable and starting to worry that I would not be able to turn things around. I really hated to divert from my fueling/hydration plan. It worked well at my last 6 hour long training run at altitude with lots of gain/descent. Unfortunately, I have a long history of tummy trouble and swelling during races as well. I decided to back off just a little on the fluids. Bars now sounded terrible and the thought of trying a gel made me gag. Cola sounded good, the thought of peanut butter crackers did not make me gag. So, I grabbed a package of peanut butter crackers, downed a cola and was off.
The next section would be about 3 miles down and then 2 ½ miles up. The down was okay, good energy and nice and cool which helped. Got to the bottom still pretty swollen and full/nauseated feeling, but I had been able to munch crackers a bit. The 2 ½ miles up weren't great, but not as miserable as when I pulled into Mud Lake aid. I had scaled back just slightly on fluids and food and was noticing a slight decrease in swelling and nausea and a slight increase in energy. Here is a mountain lake I found as I descended..
I hit Buillon Aid station at the top of the climb at mi 23. This was the first time I would see Todd and the kids. Avery was worried about me going into this race, so I put on a good face for her but shook my head at todd, and quietly told him of my swelling and nausea. It was here I decided to test a change, rework the puzzle a bit. I decided no fluids, no food until I hit the next aid station, which was probably only 20-30 min away and re-evaluate there. Down I went. I was feeling better and better. I got to Copper belt aid at mi 26 feeling pretty ok. Hands less swollen. Not hungry, but not nauseated. Better energy. All good signs. I drank more cola, drank a cup of broth and grabbed a huge handful of peanut butter filled pretzels and headed up the next 3 mile climb to Copper Belt peak. This would be a 6 mile out and back section. 3 miles up to the peak and 3mi back down, then continuing on the loop course. This would also give me my first glimpse of where I stood in relation to the other females on the course. About 2 miles in I saw Sarah White-Woerner, looking awesome running down the mountain. We said “hey”, I was thinking…”Can I just borrow your legs for a bit? I’ll give them back...in say...20 miles? Then the second female, then the 3rd. All three seemed out of reach as I climbed and they descended. I knew there was 1 more female ahead of me at that point. I kept climbing, hoping I was closer to the 4th place female. I kept trying to eat and drink as I went up, but not pushing fluids or food, just a bite here and a sip there, just under the nausea threshold. About 5 minutes from the summit I saw the 4th place female. I was excited, I knew she was within reach if I could continue to hone in and keep the nausea and swelling in check while still getting enough calories and fluids/electrolytes. Coming down felt good, I passed a couple of males on the downhill and made it back into copper belt aid at mi 33 in better shape than ever. I downed another cup of coke and grabbed as many peanut butter pretzels as I could and headed out. I stuck another bar in my pack hoping it might sound more appealing as I went. I thought about eating a gel, but wanted to puke just thinking about it. At this point pretzels and peanut butter were my saving grace. Todd made it down while the kids were up at the top of the next climb. I was thrilled to see his face, gave him a quick kiss and on I went. It is so rejuvenating to see loved ones on the course...to see that tough love and determination in his eyes gave me confidence.
Baaaack up to Buillon aid at mile 36 where the kids awaited. Noah’s first question, “so when do you think you will get finished?”....Fortunately I still had enough sense not to say what I was thinking. “I don’t know” was my response. I really had no clue. I was focused on aid station to aid station. I think if I had to stop and think about how many more hours...at that point I had been running/hiking over 9 hours, and reality was I would be running/hiking another 7. If I had stopped to fathom 7 more hours I would likely have sat down and quit. I didn’t think time. I knew I was behind my goal, but all I focused on was the next aid station in miles. 5 miles, 8 miles, 7 miles. just bites. Some harder to swallow than others….like those damn energy bars.
The next 7 miles would be mostly down. This was where I started to race. Ha! You should see what “racing” looks like at mile 40 in the mountains! But I was focused, I felt fueled. I was still swollen, but not miserable. About 5-6 miles in, I could hear this rushing water. I thought it was a stream or a creek, but it was so loud. It kept getting louder until finally I saw it. A huge waterfall! A couple hundred feet from top to bottom easily. I was stunned….nobody told me that was on the course! What a sweet surprise!
I kept on, I noticed on this descent my quads were starting to get a bit tender, but knew I didn’t have any more long descents left, just 1-2 milers at most. I crossed the stream at the bottom and headed up into Miner’s Park aid station. I was so excited, I had caught the 4th female here. She was headed out as I was headed in. Suhweet! Race is on! All of the volunteers, this station included, were so attentive and kind. Asking what I needed 10-20 feet before I came into the aid. Handed off my water bottles and pack. I knew this next climb would be the crux of the race. 5 miles up and 4,000 feet of climbing. I had no idea how long it would take me and the next aid station was 6-7 miles away. I was sure it would be over 2 hours, so to be on the safe side I asked the volunteer to fill both bottles and put 20 oz water in the hydration bladder as backup. At this point I think I was drinking more like 15oz water/electrolyte mix per hour. This was keeping me hydrated and I was less swollen. I think my calories were more around 150 per hour, but not sure as I was now eating more from aid stations. Downed more cola and broth, no peanut butter cracker or pretzels, so I opted for a package of Teddy Grahams and ate them as I climbed.
I saw 4th female about 200 yards ahead, climbing with 2 guys. I watched. She was using climbing poles, she seemed awkward with them and she looked tired. I laughed, wondering how tired and pitiful I probably looked as well. I felt pretty good though, and decided to try and catch and pass her. I took a big breath, started swinging my arms and hiking as efficiently and quickly as I could, running the less steep grades. I was trying to be stealthy (you should also see what “stealthy” looks like at mi 46). I got about 10-15 feet behind them and let out as cheerful as I could muster, “hey guys”. They turned and looked, we chatted for a minute, but I wanted to hurry and pass as I didn’t know how long I could “look strong”. I passed them and thought, “make it look easy Lori” I felt like a runway model...a short, stinky, swollen, nauseated runway model. I was working it! I stood tall, swung my arms and tried to look as comfortable and efficient as I could. I kept this up until I was sure I was completely out of sight. Then I exhaled huge and slumped for a second and thought, Oh shit, I’m dying! I eased up just a tad, but stuck with the arm swinging, efficient and fast feeling climbing. I ran when I could and hiked when I couldn’t. I wanted to gain as much distance between us as I could on that climb, yet still have enough juice to descend down the other side strong. I had to force the teddy grahams. 2 little guys at a time, every couple minutes and water/electrolytes in between. Then I saw 2 runners coming back down the mountain. I asked what was wrong, she was suffering from altitude sickness and couldn't go up over the next peak. She smiled and said, "you are now in 3rd, go get it! That had to be tough to be 9 + hours in and not be able to continue. I continued to climb. I was getting nauseated again and swelling a bit more. Then I saw a male runner ahead. We had about a ½-1 mile left of climbing. I saw what was ahead though. I knew it was coming and here it was...It was straight up very loose gravel and small clods of grassy/thorny bush thingies. The runner in front of me sat down on a rock and deflated. I could tell he was just crushed at the thought of starting that section. I offered a little encouragement...really, what do you say at this point anyway? I knew exactly how he felt, I had been there many times before. Nothing anybody says helps and encouragement seems to sting even more, but I tried. Then I tried to go up. I slid back down 3 times before getting a foothold. This was boosting neither his nor my confidence in getting over this peak. I then told myself, “Make this as EASY as possible, DON’T make it hard”. Baby baby steps. One tiny step forward and often 1 slide back. “Just focus on the next flag, Lori”. I finally hit a more rocky section and it was a wee bit easier. I passed another male and we commiserated and cursed together as I passed. Finally made the summit. That 1 mile took 35 minutes. Down the other side toward Allunite aid at mi 50. Going down my legs felt horrible, my quads were getting very tender and I now had a little “hot spot” over my R knee cap stabbing me with each foot strike down. I tried to put more calories in going into allunite hoping I would feel better. A little climb into allunite I was running. The aid station rang the cowbell for me. He stopped ringing it about 20 feet out. I said, gasping, “more cowbell...I need more cowbell”. He laughed and rang it more. He smiled and told me, “The second place girl just left and she looks rough”. I laughed and said, “We are all a little rough at this point”. He said, “you look good, You can catch her”. Man I did my best to down more broth, cola. No crackers at this aid and nothing else they had looked appealing at all. I had the volunteer fill my bottles with water and I added my SOS electrolyte mix to one of them. I left out of the aid running up the hill.
I was at mile 50. My shoulders were getting tired with my pack, which seemed odd, it really seemed really heavy. I started to realize I probably had like 5 bars stashed in there by now. I also never tapped into the 20 oz in the bladder. I went up and up until I no longer saw flags….where’s the flags? Crap, this has to be the way? I continued up probably 5-10 minutes and decided to go back to the last flag and re-orient. I came back down and I’ll be damned there the flags were, to the left, leading off the road and onto trail. I couldn’t believe I missed em. 10-15 minutes lost. 7 miles left to go. No number 2 in sight. I ran down as best I could. I fought the feeling that my legs were dead, “Now come on legs, just do this, 7 miles” I ran pitifully down and hiked pitifully up. I kept forcing bites of bar and sips of water. I was swelling. I was nauseated. I was hurting, but I was close. 1 male caught me very quickly going up and seemed to be moving way faster than me. This was tough to swallow. I knew if he passed me with that much ease, I must be really moving as slow as I felt. I kept trying to coax my legs to move faster. I swung my arms and used my upper body as much as I could to help. It was like they were stuck in this gear and there wasn’t another to tap into. I was at least glad I only had 7, not 30 more miles to go.
Around mile 54 it got dark. Headlamp on. The last 2 miles down felt treacherous. Spotting flag to flag down the valley, overgrown and wobbly rocky. My water bottle leaked a little and as it dribbled down my leg, the numerous cuts and scratches from running through the brush all day lit up like fireworks. “Oh man, that shower I was looking forward to is gonna hurt!” It jolted me a bit, but also stimulated me to run a little faster. I rolled my right ankle on a rock and tripped several times. “Now, Lori, pay attention, don’t get injured the last mile of this race dammit!” I hit the final little 100 meter climb to the finish line and Todd and the kiddos found me and encouraged me to “run” UP to the finish. 2 men were right behind me and the kids did not want them to beat me. Awe shit, “ok” and I ran with my husband and 3 kids through the finish. 16:49 was my time. 3rd female. I was greeted by the race director with a hand carved tomahawk and a check. I shared congratulations with the 2 men behind me and made my way to the bonfire where I met 2nd place female. We had a nice long conversation over beer and pizza. I got the opportunity to spend time with other runners and let the kids look me over and pet on me as I sat by the fire. We headed back to the condo. I pulled my pack off and realized just how freaking heavy it was! I pulled the bladder out. The aid station volunteer I had asked to put “no more than about 20 oz” of water in it had filled it to over 40 oz. Ha, he must’ve thought it was going to take me a lot longer to finish than I did! I also pulled out like 5 solid energy bars, some chewed on. My pack looked like that of a hoarder. It had to weigh close to 5 or more lbs! A huge mistake on my part, I was so weighed down those last 20 miles! No wonder my shoulders hurt! and after a quick and painful shower (razor blade like cuts all over my legs) I crawled into bed…..and coughed water up all night long. My breathing all night was a little fast and I finally got up at 2 am and took acetazolomide, a diuretic/altitude sickness medication. I took another at 7am and finally started to feel better. 2 days later I am still awaiting the return of my appetite. I had to swing by the grocery store and passed the aisle with granola bars and energy bars and almost vomited.
Really had an amazing race. This was the most rugged and beautiful course I have experienced….yet. Thanks to everyone, first and foremost my husband and kids. Coach Eric Orton, who patiently and persistently works with me to reach my “cool impossible”. A big plug here to his Mountain Running Academy. Although I still have much to learn, attending his camp really helped fine tune my mountain goat skills.
To The race directors their families and all of the volunteers that made this race not only possible in its inaugural year, but a slam dunk from start to finish. They catered to us with all kinds of food and drink at aid stations, anticipated our needs before arriving, always encouraging and attentive. The course marking was phenomenal, especially considering the course and terrain and the hungry elk and deer. The fluorescent pink was perfect and whatever reflector tags you used for night were so easy to spot with headlamps. Thank you thank you thank you, as I am particularly skilled at wandering off course easily. You made it very difficult to get lost...I still managed, but only a little bit. This race helped me believe I might just be able to tackle more. Thank you for sharing your beautiful back country with us.