A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Wasatch Report 2013 - Heaven and Hell

So here I was, three races down, including Leadville, my nemesis for the last 2 years. 

With so much focused on completing the Leadville race, not much attention was trained on Wasatch until after finishing Leadville. I've heard conflicting reports about Wasatch.


1) Wasatch is the toughest race of all the Grand Slam races.

2) Wasatch gives you a more generous 36 hours to finish as opposed to the three other races (30 hours).

3) Wasatch has 26,000 ft. of elevation gain., about 10,000 feet more than the other three races.

4) Wasatch should a victory lap for the Grand Slammers after getting by Leadville.

So which is it? Heck, this was a mountain race, and a 100 miler to boot. I was  definitely not going to treat this one lightly.

Yes, Leadville was tough. With 95% of the race at 10,000 feet and above (climbing up to Hope Pass at 12,600 feet twice), I figure there will be a little easing with Wasatch having a 36 hour time limit instead of 30 hours.

I was wrong.

The Wasatch course is tough. Really tough. In fact, most people claim it's the second toughest 100 miler in the country behind Hardrock.

A "victory lap" for the Slammers? None could be further from the truth! It's a tough race and I found myself fighting all the way through to the last mile of this race to complete the Slam.

And on top of it, it seems like the hot and humid weather has followed us even to this normally semi-arid climate. Can you say "high 80s and humid as hell?"

Luckily, I spend a week up at 7000 feet of altitude with my extended family. Yep, my whole family came on down to see me complete the Slam, and I wasn't going to disappoint them. I would do everything in my power to get to that finish line.

Pre-race Morning - Friday September 6

At 4:30 in the morning, everyone gathered at East Mountain Wilderness Park for the start of this race. Of course, my strategy for this race is just like Leadville, having a Camelbak on with essential clothes just in case it gets cold in the mountains that night to make sure I don't freeze to death. And even though the morning before the race was quite hot (around 70 degrees F), we weren't really high up in the mountains at the start, where it can get cold.

Since it was quite warm, I had my normal running shirt and shorts on and was ready for the start.

I wished most of the other Slammers well in their race. We all reminded each other to drive toward the finish line, whatever it takes. The goal is to all make it 100%. No drops at all. If we had to lean on each other to do it, then do it.

No drops!

"5...4...3...2...1..GO!"

From the Starting Line to Grobbens Corner (13.82 miles)

In the darkness of the East Mountain Wilderness Park, the final countaown toward 5AM started, and I had the feeling of deja-vu. A countdown toward a long 100 mile race, in the dark, not knowing what was in store for me during the day. Or days.

I started very conservative.

Knowing that the first 10 miles was going to be a huge climb up into the mountains (about 5000 feet of climb), I started off at a very slow pace on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. The first 4 miles were only slightly uphill, so it was easy to get the running and the walking into gear with the rest of the people.

Finally, about 4.5 miles later and after a bit of conversation with the people around me we finally made the right onto the Great Western Trail and started the largest climb of the course into the Wasatch Mountains. There were switchbacks galore as we climbed higher and higher. My mood was still quite jovial as my hill legs easily kicked into gear. Looking to our west we can see the lights of the city of Kaysville more prominently; it was quite a sight! I was in with a group of people that was slowing a bit as they climbed. In with this group was fellow Slammers Keith S. and Liza C.. All of us weren't satisfied with the pace, but Keith was the guy who made it known and told the people up front to let us through. Keith found a slight trail where he can pass and took the opportunity to fly out front. I quickly dashed in behind him to follow him to the front. We quickly put some space between us and the rest of the group as we climbed the latter half of the hill. As we climbed, the approaching daylight was starting to make its effect, and by the time we finally climbed to the foot of Chinscraper, the day was in full bloom.

Right before Chinscraper, a couple of hikers had put out some water and some treats for us, which was a pleasant surprise. I wasn't expecting much all the way up to mile 18, so I took advantage of the stop they provided and had some pretzels and water.

Then it was time to tackle Chinscraper.

Chinscraper was easy to spot in the distance. It was a ridge of mountains shaped like half of a bowl, and we had to climb up the right side of this bowl to get on top of it. As I approached it, a guy at the top yelled at us down below:

"Watch out! Rocks!"

I looked up to see a rock tumbling behind where I was, dislodged from a person climbing the last of Chinscraper.

Chinscraper. The last little bit is really, really steep.

OK, so it was steep. But aside from the occasional rocks tumbling down the climb was not so bad. It was only the last few yards in which Chinscraper gets its name. I had to scramble up on all fours to finally get to the top of the ridge. Thankfully, I didn't dislodge any rocks that might hit the runners below me.

Once up on the ridge, the trail meanders up and down, usually on one of those annoying sloped, crooked trails. Here I had to be careful with the footing since one missed step can have me tumble down the slope, which wasn't good at all.

Keith put a little space ahead of me, as I backed off a bit making sure that my footing was secure through that section. Keith was definitely easy to spot; he was the guy in the pink tutu, his standard running outfit for the Slam. So every so often, when we crested a ridge I would still see a flash of pink, I knew that Keith wasn't too far ahead of me.

As the heat of the day was approaching, we finally started to see the Francis Peak Radar Domes in the distance and know that Grobbens corner was coming up. Sure enough, after one more hill, we finally got up to the dirt road and the awaiting pick-up truck that had water in it.

At that point I was feeling great. I took off my Camelbak and replenished it with water for the next section; one that would get us to the first legitimate aid station of the day, the Francis Peak Aid Station.

Time at Grobbens corner: Around 3 hours 45 minutes.


From Grobbens Corner (13.82 miles) to Francis Peak Aid Station (18.40 miles)


The day was now promising a lot of heat and humidity. As an East Coaster, I was used to it, but apparently, to a lot of people in the race, it proved to be their boom. About 100 people eventually had to drop from this race.

For me, I really didn't feel it as much. I definitely worked it to my advantage.

This was a great downhill section on a smooth dirt road, perhaps the easiest section of the race. I caught back up to Keith, said a few kind words to him, and went ahead. There were a lot of people passing me on this hill. One person from NYC, Elizabeth A., wished me well as she passed me. Slammers Liza, Dennis A., and Iris P. were also passing me down the hill as we were approaching the next aid station. It was a nice section where people can get a good conversation before we start hitting the tougher sections of the course.

I approached Francis Peak, ready to eat a ton. I was not going to suffer problems with lack of nutrition as I did in Leadville, so I was going to pause a bit at this aid station to make sure I get in all the food and drink I need.

Time at Francis Peak Aid Station: 5 hours 5 minutes.


From Francis Peak Aid Station (18.40 miles) to Bountiful B Aid Station (23.40 miles) 

"Wow, this is easy. Where are the hills?"

I was my snarky self when I was talking to the volunteers at the aid station. A gentle downhill slope on a smooth dirt road will do that to me.

The reply? "Well, the honeymoon is over." I laughed and told the volunteer I knew what was ahead was was only joking. She understood. Well, let's see about this "eating" thing I have to do at the aid station.

Iris was also there doing the same thing, sitting down and eating a cup of noodles. She suffered a bit in Leadville so I know she was adopting the same strategy I was taking, which is eating a ton at every aid station. As for me, I ate bananas, lots of cantaloupe, and some Twizzlers as I replenished my Camelbak for the next section, which was 5 miles to Bountiful B.

Dennis had gone ahead and Iris left a few minutes before I left for Bountiful B.

This next section follows along a rocky trail going uphill, so the easy stuff was done and the hard stuff was about to begin. The conversation quickly ended, it's time for the real race to start. The trail was quite rocky, but was making my way very well along this section. Some ups, some downs, and soon I was pretty much alone. With a race of only 300 people, it was easy to quickly get some space on the nearest runners. We crossed a couple of streams, and then, with about 1 mile to go before the next aid station, the trail took a huge, pretty steep climb up the mountain. My climbing legs were still fine as I passed a couple of people on this hill.

At the top, we had to step through the fence before gaining the next aid station that was on the road.

Time at Bountiful B: 6 hours 43 minutes.


From Bountiful B Aid Station (23.40 miles) to Sessions "Lift Off" Aid Station (28.16 miles)

"That little hill is it? I thought there will be mountains here."

Joking again, as usual. Hey, it gets me through races, OK? :-)

Keith, Liza, and Iris were at the aid station as well as Elizabeth, so I was in good company. The aid station did have popsicles. That was DEFINITELY up my alley, so I took two, one for the aid station, and one for the road, as I was walking away from the aid station. The day was unnaturally hot and humid, so those popsicles cam in very handy.

Again Keith, Liza, and Iris took off ahead of me as we walked up a dirt road at the top of a ridge. I took my time as I was doing short work on my popsicle. The heat was definitely starting to make itself felt, and I see some of the runners starting to be affected by it. I passed several of them in this section. I was largely "bomb-proof" in the heat and humidity and I came into the Sessions "Lift Off" in pretty good shape.

Time at Sessions "Lift Off": 7 hours 49 minutes.


Sessions "Lift Off" Aid Station (28.16 miles) to Swallow Rocks (34.62 miles)

"Be forewarned! Make sure you have a lot of water for the next section because you're going to need all of it!"

One of the other runners at the aid station was warning everyone about the next section, and he was right. I'm glad I listened to his advice. I filled my Camelbak all the way to the top. I wound up drinking the entire 2 liters in the next section.

Iris, Keith, and Liza were at the aid station and took off ahead of me again. Heck, this station had popsicles too, and I needed to get my fill of them, as well as other food. One I was sure I was ready to traverse the next, long section, I started off.

After a small downhill, I went back onto the Great Western Trail where there was a really long and steep climb. Walking this, I started to make sure I stayed hydrated by drinking some of the water that I had in my Camelbak. After what seemed like forever, we finally emerged onto the tops of the Wasatch Mountains where the trail goes from ridge to ridge. It was a beautiful sight to behold, running along the ridge going from peak to peak, with beautiful scenery all around! It definitely took my breath away. Unfortuately, the tops of the mountains don't provide much shade and we were all exposed to the sun. The sun was plenty angry at this time of day baking the tops of mountains with intense heat.

The tops of the mountains were serious rugged, and seriously beautiful.


This was the first really tough section in the race, and a lot of runners were definitely feeling it. I passed several runners, including Keith at this point, and although the heat was affecting me too, I was handling it quite well. This section was quite long as well, amplifying the difficulty of this section. after running on the tops of the mountains from ridge to ridge, we finally started to see the aid station in the distance. We still had to run a couple of more ridges  to get to it, so it was pretty slow going before we were finally making it onto a dirt road that had the aid station on it.

I hit the dirt road that led to the aid station and found Dennis, Iris, and Liza here. All had some issues from the heat and sat down to recover a bit.I was actually feeling OK, but I took a couple of extra minutes to make sure I ate at this station. Dennis took off before I did. Liza and Iris remained a bit, but I wanted to tackle the next section, so I wished them well and took off for the next aid station, Big Mountain, where my family was going to be.

Time at Swallow Rocks: 9 hours, 51 minutes.


Swallow Rocks (34.62 miles) to Big Mountain (39.07 miles)

"4.5 miles to the next aid station, and it's a big one.", one of the volunteers said.

Oh, yeah. Big Mountain Aid Station, the first crew accessible aid station, one where I will see my family. That's incentive enough to run harder than usual. So off along the dirt road I went.

The road continues at the top of the hills for a while, climbing a couple of more ridges. My legs were getting a bit tired at this point, still feeling it from Leadville, but they were still doing OK. I made the last bit of climbs as the road turns back into trail. Once hitting the last peak, the trail finally started to go down hill back through the trees. Soon after, I finally saw the asphalt road to the right and knew that I was closing in on Big Mountain Aid Station. The last mile turns out to be a bunch of switchbacks as we descend to the very noisy aid station. As I made it across the road, my family was there to great me. After some hugs all around I told them I was doing great and proceeded to get some food down as quickly as possible.






Looking great at mile 39.




Here I saw Dennis and Keith and was talking to them a bit. Dennis was biding his time, making sure he plays it safe so that he can run faster at night when the heat dies down. For me, I was just generally playing it safe throughout the entire race; all I wanted was the finish and the Grand Slam.

I took a good bit of time at the aid station (about 10 minutes), but after a while, I hugged my family goodbye and started to tackle the next section of the course. This section turned out to be a really mean, tough mother I never expected.

At this point Keith took off ahead of me but I was off ahead of Dennis.

Time at Big Mountain: 11 hours 3 minutes.


Big Mountain (39.07 miles) to Alexander Ridge (46.90 miles)

"99 bottles of beer on the wall..."

Yeah, yeah, when you're alone, at mile 40 of a race in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, in close to 90 degree humid weather, I'm sure you'll be delirious also. And yes, beer was on my mind also...

After the aid station, the section started off with a nasty climb back to the tops of the mountains. I was really starting to feel a bit of heaviness in my legs at this point, but I was still going at a decent clip.  As we got back to the tops of the mountains and danced from ridge to ridge, the heat was really putting the stamp down on the day. We climbed over the ridge and found ourself overlooking a pretty big mountain lake in the distance (Little Dell Reservoir). The trail was a bit rough at points and the footing was questionable. I had to drink a lot of water in this section. As the course crests another ridge and goes by the eastern part of the lake, the long section finally took its toll and I finally ran out of water. At this point, I didn't want to chance it so I slowed down a bit to accommodate for the lack of water and allowed some people to take the lead on the trail. With about a mile ago, the trail decidedly took a steep jaunt downhill with very loose rocks. It was all I can not to slip and fall on my butt as I slid down the slope. I was starting to get very frustrated at this point, hoping that the aid station would finally arrive so that I can replenish my supplies and regroup before moving on.

Now is when things started to hurt. It was a bit troubling.

After what finally felt like forever, I crested one more ridge and finally found the tents of the next aid station waiting. I walked in, plunked myself down on a chair, and started to eat and drink generously.

Time at Alexander Ridge: 13 hours 33 minutes


Alexander Ridge (39.07 miles) to Lambs Canyon (52.48 miles)

"What is going on with the weather?"

I was looking out over the mountains and saw nothing, we were in this huge cloud obscuring everything. There was a salty taste to the air as the wind whipped up.

Dennis responds, "I have a friend who knows this weather. There's a cold front that goes over the Great Salt Lake that kicks up the salt everywhere.

Wow. A salt cloud over the Wasatch Mountain range. Now that is a weird sight. It does block out the sun a bit, so I guess it was a small advantage.

Keith made his way into the aid station ahead of me, but took off very quickly. At that point I thought I was not going to see him again; I would be staying at this aid station for a pretty long time.

Dennis came in and took a seat. He was a little down but was still biding his time for the night. He described the second half of the course to me after Lambs canyon and stated that it wasn't like the first half as the trails were a bit more runnable.

Encouraged, I finally took his leave and started to walk away from the trail down a pipeline road that was to serve for the course for the next 2 miles.

With the day starting to wane and the salt cloud in full effect, I generally walked at a pretty brisk pace as the slope generally went uphill out of the aid station. With the half-way point approaching, I was asking myself some questions on whether I still had some of the energy left for the second half of this race. There were a lot of hills left in this course, and my climbing legs were already a bit taxed, so I had to play this very smartly so that I can manage to get myself to the finish line.

After what seemed like forever on the pipeline, questioning whether I was still on course or not (the course markers were few and far between), I finally got to a point where the course veered off the pipeline road and onto a single track trail.

After a small but steep uphill on this trail, I finally heard it...the traffic from Interstate 80.

I-80 cleanly cuts through the Wasatch range right down the middle. Crossing it means that I would truly be in the second half of the race. The noise from the highway was a welcome relief. I knew the Lambs Canyon Aid Station was there at the highway, so I started to run for it.

After cresting a small ridge, I finally saw the highway in the distance. It was a welcome sight.

The course was a nice gentle downhill approaching Lambs Canyon, so I ran pretty fast through this section, passing about 2-3 other runners in the process. As the darkness started to fall, I finally got into the aid station would the need for a headlamp., sat down in the tent, and proceeded to have some pierogies that they were supplying. It definitely hit the spot!

With the next section very, very long, I sat there for about 10 minutes making sure I ate enough to make the next aid station. As I made my way out, headlamp on, I saw Dennis making his way in. Keith was still ahead of me somewhere.

Time at Lambs Canyon: 15 hours 10 minutes.
 

Lambs Canyon (52.48 miles) to Upper Big Water (60.95 miles)

"Asphalt. I hate asphalt." I mentioned to other runners, walking along a road one mile after the Lambs Canyon Aid Station. The other runners cracked up a bit.

Night running. I never thought I would look forward to it. But it went in perfectly with the next phase of the race, so any change is a welcome one. Still, it was about 9 miles to the next aid station, so I had to be prepared for this next long, tough section.

Leaving the aid station I crossed under the interstate and continued onto the asphalt road that led up into the southern Wasatch range. The road continued for about 1.5 miles. At that point, I hung a right onto the Lamb's Canyon Trail and started a hugely steep climb that taxed my legs even more. This hill basically sucked, and I struggled up it. At several points, it got so steep that I had to take baby steps just to pass those sections. My quads were screaming, but still, I actually wound up passing some people who were having an even harder time climbing the hill.

After what seemed like forever, I finally got to the top and proceeded my way down the extremely rough back side of the hill. With rocks strewn every so often, the downhill section was very rough. Again, I got very frustrated going down these hills as it just destroyed my quads. Finally, I got to the bottom of the trail and it ends at a trailhead; I was to run along this asphalt road for 3 more miles before we finally got to the aid station.

I actually caught up to Keith at this point and we walked along this road together, talking about his previous Grand Slam finishes and his Badwater finishes. Keith is quite the accomplished ultrarunner; this was his 3rd Grand Slam he was chasing and the conversation turned out to be quite interesting.

After a long, long time on this road in the black of night, we finally made our way to the next aid station at Upper Big Water. As I arrived, Keith thanked me for the company on that lonely stretch of road and we went about our business recharging ourselves at this aid station.

Time at Upper Big Water: 18 hours 11 minutes


Upper Big Water (60.95 miles) to Desolation Lake (66.02 miles)

"Wow, this aid station is, like, in the middle of nowhere, man.", I mentioned to a volunteer when he handed me some food and drink.

I sat down and had about 3 cups of noodles with chicken broth, The night was rapidly getting cold, so I pulled out my long sleeve jacket and hat to keep warm. I was starting to hurt pretty much all over, so if I was to ever do the last 39 miles of this course, I would have to do it smartly.

I got up out of the aid station after about 7-8 minutes and started toward the trail that was to bring me to the next aid station. Keith was still sitting down at this point. He was still OK though; I know he would come through soon.

The trail from Upper Big Water climbed a bit; after about 5 minutes of walking, I was warm enough to take the jacket and hat back off and place it into my Camelbak...after which I proceeded to climb the hill.

The trails here were smoother than everywhere else on the course, so I pretty much climbed up the hill at a rapid pace. After quite a few switchbacks, I finally got to the top of this hill and started to descend down the other side. Aside from a few rocky areas, this section wasn't really bad at all. The last downhill got me over to Desolation Lake Aid Station without much problem.

They did have a campfire going, so I decided to sit down, stay warm by the fire, and have a couple of cups of the chicken broth and some soda to keep hydrated. Worried that I was going to get too comfortable, I decided after just 5 minutes to get up and start the move toward the next aid station.

Time at Desolation Lake: 20 hours 12 minutes.


Desolation Lake (66.02 miles) to Scott's Pass (69.94 miles)

"Thanks for the campfire guys, but it's time for me to move along. The rest of the course is summoning me."

"Good luck!" came the response from the volunteers.

It it wasn't for the fact that it was night, I would say that this would have been quite the scenic part of the trail! After Desolation Lake, I managed a pretty strong climb back to the ridge of the Wasatch Mountains again. This time, it was the main spine of these mountains I was traversing. As I was going from peak to peak I there was a lit section way below me with buildings down toward my right. Looking closer, I thought I saw some runners approaching those buildings, but when the trail meandered away from that section, I thought it was just my mind playing tricks on me. I did manage to do some running in this section, and it was after a short while that I arrived at Scott's Peak, which is still at the main ridge of the mountains. I was a bit sleepy here, but nothing indicating that I was in a crisis.

I'm not sure what I ate there, but I wanted it to be done quickly. Brighton's was next, and that aid station is the gateway to the last part of the course. So, mentally, I was driven to get this last stretch done as quickly as possible.

Time at Scott's Pass: 21 hours 35 minutes.


Scott's Pass (69.94 miles) to Brighton's (74.63 miles)

"The warmth of Brighton's Lodge is next", one volunteer told me, "you just have to get down off these mountains onto the road."

"Thanks, I'm looking forward to it." I replied.

After leaving Scott's Peak, we were back up on the ridge again when I saw the same lit area with the building way down at the bottom off to my right. Again I thought I saw runners with headlamps approaching the building on the road there, but again, as the trail lead away from it, I thought I might have been imagining it again.

After a couple more peaks, the trail finally started to descend, a lot, down to a trailhead which lead to an asphalt road. Both my feet were in a bit of pain, so I wasn't really able to get a good pace on the road. The road did descend, so I was able to move it fast through there.

The road then did a switchback as it descended even more towards Brighton's. Running down the road, I approached a lit area with some buildings. Wonder of wonders! That's the same area that I saw up at the tops of the mountains. I wasn't hallucinating after all!

I looked up to my right to see where I have been, and sure enough, there were scattered lights all along the spine of the mountains! What a sight! All those lights were runners trying to make their way toward where I am now; it was such a surreal sight. I kept moving, always looking toward my right, looking at the little lights moving from one peak to another.

That is why I run these races. Sights like that will always be etched in my mind forever. It's such a great thing to see!

After finally turning away from the lights, I finally descended into a small hamlet where Brighton's Lodge was. I climbed the steps and into some welcome warmth as I checked into the aid station.

It was time to change things a bit. I changed my original short sleeve shirt to another, drier short sleeve shirt. I also changed the batteries in my primary headlamp to make sure that they shine all the way through to the dawn. And last, but not least, I changed my Leadville shoes to the Hola One Ones to relieve some of the pain I was getting on my feet. It turned out to be a great choice.

I also ate about two grill cheese sandwiches there, drank a lot of Rocktaine and coke, and refilled my Camelbak for the next section of the course. Knowing that the 10,000 foot Catherine Pass is next, I wanted to make sure I was fully ready for it.

One other thing...I encountered fellow Slammer Traci F. at Brighton. She is usually way ahead of me, so to see her meant that she was not having a good race, and she indicated as much. She was settling just to finish and complete the Slam, and knowing her, she would definitely make it.

I got back out into the cold, ready for the last 25 miles of the race. Little did I know that these last 25 miles were the most difficult and sinister of the course, and the entire Slam.

Time at Brighton's Lodge: 23 hours 9 minutes.


Brighton's (74.63 miles) to Ant Knolls (79.14 miles)

"You've got to be freaking kidding me. You've GOT to be FREAKING kidding me!"

The last 25 miles of the trails were pure insanity. I must have said the following, oh, maybe two hundred times. I've never seen trails turn so sinister before, especially in the last 25 miles of a 100 mile race.

Out of Brighton's I girded for a major climb. What I wasn't prepared for was how ROCKY the climb was going to be.  This turned out to be a hellish climb, with so many rocks that it actually started to resemble Massanutten's rocky course. Loose rocks, slippery rocks, stepping on the few holds to propel me up was a challenge. The climb lasted forever, or so it seemed. I was in with a small group of 3 people, but we never really talked as our attention was turned toward keeping ourselves upright while climbing this thing.

At the top, I was in for another shock...the steep downhill section was a hell-raising rocky section too.

The small group that I was in, was looking at each other at the top. Nobody wanted to go down the hill first.

I relented and was the first unwilling victim down the hill.

"You've got to be freaking kidding me."

I fell about three times down the hill. My increasingly sore butt is a constant reminder that I was not taking to this crazy downhill section well.

About half way down another runner came down and was so adept at getting down the hill that it made us look like we were standing still. Unbelievable! The hill flattened just a tad toward the bottom, making it slightly more bearable to descend. Still, in that section alone I must have fallen on my butt twice.

I finally made it to Ant Knolls at the bottom of the hill. I was battered, and so were the people I was with. At the aid station we were all talking about that person who descended fast and how he made us look silly. Well, some people are used to the mountains, and can descend very well.

At Ant Knolls, I asked the person when the next aid station is, and he told me only about 3 miles, one major climb up to the ridge, and 2 along the ridge. I thought, "hey, that doesn't sound so bad, let's do this."

Oops.

Time at Ant Knolls: 25 hours 21 minutes.


Ant Knolls (79.14 miles) to Pole Line Pass (82.31 miles)

I didn't know it at the time, but that major hill climb turned out to be The Grunt, perhaps the steepest climb of the course. My legs were tired, and when that trail just turned up, up, up, they were screaming! Looking ahead was this wall of a hill with no end. Each step was agony. I finally pulled myself to a switchback on that damned hill, and when I looked up the rest of the climb, it got even steeper! I stopped there just to catch my breath before tackling the rest of the bloody hill.

"You've got to be freaking kidding me!", under gasps of breath as I looked at the wall a hill that I had to tackle.

After a million more lung busting steps, I finally arrived at the top of The Grunt and the ridge. After a few more seconds to catch my breath, I was off again along the ridge trying to make it to the Pole Line Pass Aid Station. The trail still had its small steep sections, but I finally stumbled into the aid station looking to sit down and settle down.

The sun was up for the second day. And it promised more heat and humidity.

Little did I know that the trail was going to get even worse.

Time at Pole Line Pass: 26 hours 32 minutes.


Pole Line Pass (82.31 miles) to Pot Bottom (92.05 miles)

"Did I hear right? 9.7 miles to the next aid station? Holy $%^&"

Due to tough logistics, they took out an aid station between Pole Line Pass and Pot Bottom, leaving a huge, sadistic stretch of 9.7 miles between aid stations. From what I know of this stretch, there is a significant climb in the beginning, then a couple of really steep downhill sections called The Dive and The Plunge.

This is definitely going to hurt. Bad!

Reluctantly, I left Pole Line Pass Aid Station, hoping that I would be OK in this long stretch. I encountered some downhill sections that I was able to run in. After which that significant climb started in earnest.

Yeah, it sucked. My quads were burning all the way up to yet another ridge. I was get extremely tired. After infinity, I finally staggered up to the top of the pass.

At 4 miles, I encountered the spring where the old aid station used to be. I was at mile 87. Knowing that the Dive and Plunge were next (mile 88), I girded myself.

It wasn't enough.

The Dive and Plunge basically look like steep chutes with golf ball sized rocks thrown in for kicks.

"Are you freaking kidding me? Oh, $#%^!!!"

I've must have fallen on my butt 5-6 times, after which I had to stop along the way and take a deep breath. That is where Dennis went by me, as he slipped  and slid his way down the Plunge. It took me several tries, but I finally, FINALLY, got myself down to the bottom.

The insanity wasn't over yet.

Right after The Plunge were these huge, severe rollers, steep uphill sections that burned quads, to steep downhill sections resembling miniature Plunges and Dives.

"Are you freaking kidding me? I thought I was done with the steep uphills!"

I was out of water, and burning up in the heat of the day. This. Just. Sucked!!!

I was beaten like I've never been beaten, in any of the four races that I've done. And yet I still had a distance to go before getting to the aid station.  After 5 or 6 of these leg numbing rollers, the trail finally started a meaningful long, forgivingly gentle descent, into Pot Bottom.

3.5 hours on this stretch alone. Ouch.

I practically collapsed getting into Pot Bottom.

Time at Pot Bottom:  30 hours, 14 minutes


Pot Bottom (92.05 miles) to Staton Cutoff (94.76 miles)

"Hey are you alright?" the volunteer said.

"Did anyone see the license plate of that bus that just hit me?" I responded.

He lead me to an an empty chair in the shade and I sat down. Although I had only 7 miles to do and a very reassuring 5.5 hours to do it in, it felt like a million miles. I drank largely a liquid diet at this point, trying to keep cool. I was rubbing my legs trying to keep them loose. Just 7 more miles. Can I do it?

Sigh. I'm in agony.

After about 10 minutes, I finally got up and started to trudge towards the last aid station on the course, the Staton Cutoff.

Thankfully, the course leading out of Pot Bottom was a level road.  I did have a lot of time left to finish, so I decided to walk most of it. I was beaten and battered and I'm not sure the legs would have any more to run in. After crossing a couple of huge puddles on the road, I started to descend a little downhill, hoping that this downhill will finally take us out of the mountains and into the Midway area for the finish.

The difficulty of the course wasn't over yet...not by a longshot.

After largely walking a couple of miles along the road, I looked ahead and saw a road turn off and head up this steep hill again toward my left. "Nah, I wouldn't possibly go up this road again, right?"

Uh, yes, I do.

"Are you freaking kidding me?"

The guy at the Hairpin before the road pointed me toward the hill, and when I looked at him with this pleading look, he said, "yeah, I know. Sorry man."

Ugh.

Walking up yet another hill. Quads a-burning like crazy. Finally, I get to the top of the hill, and into the last aid station. I sat down for only 5 minutes, then I decided I've just about had it with the race and decided to make towards the finish line.

But, the race STILL isn't over yet...

Time at Staton Cutoff:  31 hours 8 minutes.


Staton Cutoff (94.76 miles) to Soldier Hollow Finish (100.00 miles)

"Less than 4 hours to go 5 miles. I know I got this, but do I actually have to do it?"

That comment produced some laughs from the volunteers.

The road finally goes downhill to the finish. Of course it wasn't an easy downhill. It was a steep, rocky downhill filled with all sorts of lovely rocks, the kind you can easily slip and fall on. The steepness of the downhill was also significant as well, and my back started to painfully lock into that position as I started to make my way downhill. The town of Midway was appearing below, to my right, so I knew I was finally making my way out of the mountains, so that was a small plus.

At this point Keith caught up to me. He was none too worse for wear also, but at least he still had some "run" left in him. After about 3 minutes of conversation, he decided to get out of the sun and decide to run it in.

I, on the other hand, found it very difficult to do.

As I finally got down towards the asphalt road and it finally levels out, I decided to try running. My quads were almost on the verse of collapse and my back was locked up; when I tried to bend forward a bit, it hurt like the dickens.

So I resorted to walking it in.

I knew I was going to get in under 33 hours, so my finish was without a doubt in the books. It took a bit more than a mile on the asphalt roads, but finally Soldier Hollow started to appear in front of me, and finally the end is in sight.

Towards the end, I locate my family, raised my fist into the air, and finally completed the race, and the Grand Slam.

I did it.

The whole plot was like the original Rocky movie. I was Rocky, the course was the prizefighter Apollo Creed, and the race was the boxing match. Although I didn't conquer the course, and although the course left me battered and bloody, somehow, I remained standing in the end.

Final few yards before the finish.

Last few yards! I've done it!


My time was 32 hours, 47 minutes, well below the 36 hours needed to finish.

After finishing. I was a mess!

Needed to sleep after showering up. It was brutal out there.


As I slowly showered up and got myself clean, I congratulated Keith and Dennis for their performances and started to cheer the rest of the Slammers coming in after me. Liza was a few minutes behind, but smiling as she crossed the finish line. Traci walked on in. She had a tough race, but she still remained standing also. Andre B. and Chihping F. as well as the other Slammers.



I'm one happy man. Getting my awards.

All the Slammers got to the finish line!

I was sitting with two of the 5 Lady Slammers right after the finish line. Stephany H. is the one on the left, Liza C. was the one on the right. They both look like they can do another 100! Both very tough women and great athletes.


We all did it. All 22 of us. All of us with our Eagle Trophies, patting each other on the back for a tough, but memorable Slam. All of us one big happy family, posing for a picture after the awards were over. All of us with willpower the size of Jupiter. We definitely needed it to complete the Slam this year, and I'm proud to be among such a great group of runners.

Official 2013 Grand Slam Photo (click for HD image).


Hopefully I can meet some of them again in the future.


The Eagle Trophy and the four belt buckles of each Grand Slam race. It's been a satisfying summer!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

SUCCESSFULLY SLAMMED!!! Completed Wasatch in 32:47:43!

It's done!!!

One of the most difficult achievements in sports and I have done it! I've captured the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning and the Eagle Trophy.

The coveted Eagle Trophy and the four belt buckles that made up the Slam races. Buckles from left to right: Western States, Vermont, Leadville, and Wasatch.


And it wasn't just me that did it. I have to give kudos to the entire group of 22 people who survived the first 3 races and ALL got themselves across the finish line to complete their Grand Slam.

Most of the Slammers posing with trophies after the awards ceremony.

We have an AMAZING group of people who completed the Slam with me. First, there were several stories of people who were on the wrong health track, but lost a significant amount of pounds, got themselves in shape, and transformed their lives COMPLETELY to earn their place in the Grand Slam. Then there were those who actually did races IN ADDITION to the four Grand Slam races to complete the Slam. One did the Badwater 135 just days before the Vermont 100. Another did the Angeles Crest 100 and the Cascade Crest 100 before completing the Slam, totalling 600 miles altogether!

We also broke records together. Out of 31 people, 22 people completed the Slam, for the highest percentage rate of 71%. And this with three of the races with hot and/or humid conditions! We had the most number of finishers of any year, with 22 people. And we had 5 women complete the Slam this year, another record (topping 3 from another year)!

Me with two of the five women who finished the Slam, Stephany Hiller on the left, and Liza Bennet Canowitz on the right. I look half asleep in the photo...


As for my little contribution to the group, I was one of a couple of people who came from a triathlon background to do the Slam. It was nice to actually do a triathlon training regimen to  gear up, and successfully finish the Slam. My thesis that triathlon training is the most balanced to use in 100 mile ultras does hold water.

I'm receiving the Eagle Trophy from the Wasatch and Grand Slam organizers.

I'm all smiles. It's done!

I become the 4th New Yorker to complete the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, and of course the first Staten Islander. Of course all this wouldn't have been possible if it wasn't for the support of the other Grand Slammers in the race, especially at Leadville when things seemed down and out. We has a group leaned on each other when the going got rough and we pull ourselves to the finish.

I also want to thank my family that actually went out there to Utah with me to actually see me finish the Grand Slam in person. It was great seeing familiar faces at the aid stations as well as the final finish line.

And remember, there is no such thing as "impossible". Oh, yeah, you'll encounter failure from time to time, but if you get yourself back up and try and try again, eventually all those obstacles will be overcome and you'll be left with success!

In several days, I'll be writing my detailed race report about Wasatch, what I encountered, and how I got to the finish. One little teaser...the course is INSANE!!!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Wasatch 100 Unfamiliarilty, Park City, and Swimmer Diane Nyad's Success

 Of the four Grand Slam races, the Wasatch Front 100 has been the most unknown to me.

Getting into Western States has been my goal for years, and even though I never saw the course before I raced it, knew where most of the challenges are on the course.

I was very familiar of  "The Wilderness", "The Canyons", and the trails near Auburn.

The Vermont course I did twice before this year.

The Leadville course I knew, up to mile 46 when I couldn't make the cutoff time 2 years ago. I knew the sections, and how tough the course was overall from first-hand experience.

Wasatch? Never familiar at all with it.

Oh, I knew of the race, but it was never really on my radar until I signed up for the Slam.

I know it's hilly. Very hilly. But where the major challenges are in the race I haven't the foggiest notion at all.

I got all the charts and the aid station info that I need. And despite the attempts to memorize the course (no, I won't be carrying papers with the course map on me during the race, I never look at them anyway), I will be basically going into this race blindly.

That's OK, my strategy still applies. If I encounter a hill, walk it, if the course goes downhill, run it, eat well at each aid station, and just keep moving. That should be enough to get me to the finish successfully.

--------------------

Utah, just like Colorado, is such a great state for fitness enthusiasts. If I actually lived here, I think I would regularly get lost in the mountains for days at a time.

Park City is a nice city to reside in. At 7000 feet, I can get some acclimatizing done before moving back down to Salt Lake City (4000 feet) the night before the race.

Park City is a great ski town. I somehow regret not knowing how to ski when I was younger. I still don't know where they put the brakes on those things when I strap them on.

Just like Frisco in Colorado, Park City has free buses to get people around, which is very convenient.

And just like Frisco, Park City caters to the fitness enthusiasts by having numerous trails to bike and run in. I really never have to worry about traffic here when I run.

Maybe a move out west is in the cards? Hmmm...

----

Diane Nyad, a 64 year old swimmer, successfully swam the crossing between Cuba and Florida.

This was her fifth attempt.

She has just proven to everyone that one should NEVER give up. In this case, every time she failed, it just strengthened her resolve to do it again, and again, and again, until she finally did it.

Nobody should be afraid of failure. It's not the end of the world if one fails. It's what one does with failure that is very important. In most cases, giving up is perhaps the worst thing to do.

On the other hand, to get back up off the ground and try again is the best way to cope with failure. To put in the hard work and go for it again is the best way to go. To take failure, turn it into a constructive learning experience, and use that as a platform to succeed is the only way to turn failure into success.

From one ultra-endurance athlete to another, I congratulate her not just on her successful swim, but her dogged determination to keep at it until she succeeded.