September 5-6 1014
In July I regretfully asked to be removed from the runner list of the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run. I finished Wasatch the two previous years and 2014 was going to be the year I finished well before sunrise. However with a serious, chronic knee injury that prevented me from training and running Wasatch (and perhaps running ever again), I wanted to be involved in the race as much as possible without running a step. On the morning of the first day I took my living room up to a part of the trail near Sessions Mountains, at about mile 27 of the race course. I chose a wide, grassy ridge top with views of Bountiful and the Great Salt Lake below me and to the West, and Morgan Valley to the East. I set up a living room: La-Z-Boy recliner from our upstairs bedroom, end table with shaded lamp, bookshelf with some of my favorites, a small cooler, and a large rectangle rug that really tied the room together.
I had prepared poster boards with the names of runners I knew or would recognize as they ran or walked past. I kicked off my shoes and reclined, and picked up my copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The first runner appeared in the distance and down the dirt road to my left. I was surprised it wasn’t George, the second place finisher 2 years ago. The first several runners were all business, smiling but quickly moving past. Friends started arriving and I pulled out a poster with their name and held it up in the wind. I didn’t recognize Phil until he was right in front of me taking a photo of me, and I didn’t have time to find his poster before he was gone. I wasn’t trying to delay the runners. The big comfy chair was for me, not them. Although one runner asked if he could get a photo of himself sitting in the chair. I obliged while his companion took the shot. Several runners asked if I had beer in the cooler. If I did I wasn’t giving them any. I pulled out a foot long sandwich and a Coke and watched the race. I hate sitting at home checking updates and receiving trickling news and photos from an electronic device. I saw the entire field of runners go by. I received several hugs from beloved friends, and hoped each would finish in Soldier Hollow sometime the next day.
Later that evening I dressed as a pan-handler, wearing a wig of scraggly hair, frayed brown and ill-fitting pants, open zip hoodie with no undershirt, and held a sign that read: HELP: STRANDED NEED LIFT TO SOLDIER HOLLOW SPENT ALL MY MONEY ON EXPENSIVE RUNNING SHOES AND ULTRA RACES WIFE IS PREGGO AGAIN GOD BLESS. I stood at the trailhead for Bear Pass up Lambs Canyon. Nobody got the joke. They thought I was a real pan-handler there to inconvenience them. I decided that after 54 miles, tired and irritable runners just do not want to read much. I changed the sign to read WILL WORK FOR GELS, and alternately NEED MONEY FOR ULTRA RACES and FREE BODY MASSAGE.
These worked a little better, getting some laughs and hopefully lifting spirits as they began a big uphill hike to the pass. But only a few keen runners recognized me. I removed the costume and visited the big aid station at the underpass. I received the sweetest greeting from friends I haven’t seen for months, who told me they missed me and were thinking of me. We waited and watched other dear friends arrive to begin their second half of the endurance run. Through it all I wished I was making the hundred mile journey with them. But it was beautiful to play a part in the support side of the race.
I left Lambs Canyon and drove down to the valley, then up Little Cottonwood Canyon. Phase 3 of Operation Runner Distraction was going to be the most difficult to pull off. I drove to Albion Basin and hiked up to Catherine Pass carrying a large touring backpack, a school backpack, a Coleman lamp with a propane bottle, cooler with ice and drinks, large beach umbrella, camp chair, beach towel, 3 blankets, a frisbee, sunscreen (it was full dark at this time), radio, and beach ball. At the highest point of the course, called Point Supreme or Inspiration Point, there is a short section of sandy trail called The Beach. I chose a good spot on the trail that resembles a small sand dune and set up a beach party. I could see across the basin to the Wasatch Crest and Scott Hill. I could see light from headlamps of Wasatch pilgrims twinkling and dotting the crest. Below me I could see the headlamps of runners (hikers now, all of them) approaching and within 2 minutes they would arrive at my party. I played the music of The Beach Boys and turned the lamp up to full brightness. I lay on the towel for several hours and watched many endurance athletes hike up the hill. They were almost always in pairs – the participant and their pacer. Most runners looked very fatigued, and their countenances fallen, sweaty faces reflecting light from my lamp. They were out of breath, feeling low on the highest point of the course. One runner out of habit told me his bib number thinking this was a check-point. Again, I did not recognize Phil until he was a few feet away from me, his headlamp shining in my eyes. As he marched past me I shouted hey I have a sign for you. Since I missed having it out for him at my living room I brought it up to The Beach. I pulled it out but it was upside down. He glanced at it, shrugged, and turned uphill. I don’t know if he made any sense of it. The sign read in big black letters: HYPERPHIL. He was anything but hyper as he stormed The Beach. I thought about running up to witness him kissing the sign at Point supreme but thought it best to let him have the moment to himself and his pacer. Other friends hiked through. Stephen Lindsay was one of the few who looked strong and happy after making that climb from Brighton. I tried to encourage everyone that they had reached the top. Earlier my brother Peter left Lambs Canyon with a runner he paced to Brighton. He then continued up to meet me at The Beach. He happened to show up as I blasted KISS’s Rock and Roll All Nite into the darkness. When Peter showed up it finally felt like a party. Until then it was mostly me shivering under a blanket watching and encouraging the hikers as they passed. I didn’t want them to stop but I wanted them to have some distraction from their tired bodies and minds.
Shortly after Peter arrived, four dear friends Scott, Matt, and their pacers Jennilyn and Craig arrived at my beach party. They all stopped and danced to Hot Chocolate’s sexy seventies sound of YOU SEXY THING. For a moment or two it felt as if I was a teenager back in Northern California at a beach party at Half-Moon Bay. Matt and Scott looked very good considering their journey to that point. Scott had that slack-faced fatigued look but I knew he would rally the last two-dozen miles through the dark of the Wasatch back country. After the Four left Peter and I packed up the party and hiked down to Albion Basin. My knee was killing me.
Phase 4 of my Wasatch day would be spent at Pole Line aid station, mile 82. I considered skipping this effort but I had told Vince I would help him at Pole Line, and I meant to keep my word. We drove down Little Cottonwood Canyon, then up Big Cottonwood Canyon to Guardsman Pass. We then drove down into Midway, then back up Snake Canyon on 10 miles of bad road, and after a long drive arrived at Pole Line Pass by dawn. Derek W. was there, sitting and suffering from an upset stomach. I walked up to him and gave him whatever encouragement I could. I stayed at Pole Line pass until 12:30 pm, watching runners come in and helping them get back on their feet and out the remaining 18 miles. I don’t know if I was much help, being tired myself. But then I remembered Vince had been there all night with his crew and he was showing no signs of fatigue. Vince rushed around all morning cooking breakfast, arranging gear, directing his crew. My God what a devoted servant. It was one of the most impressive things I have seen in endurance sport.
The morning heated up and weary endurance athletes stumbled into the aid tent. Many of them ran but many were bent sideways or swaying as their pacers lead them to a friendly place to sit, eat and drink. Late in the morning a single figure emerged from the trees up the hill. He was walking carefully and slowly but remained in control. It was Mike P. I quickly walked up to him and accompanied him to a chair. I could feel the heat radiating from his body. He sat in a chair as we helped him cool off. Mike had not been able to keep food or liquid down. We tried to cool him down as best we could with cold, wet towels. I wanted him to drink a cup of ice water. I don’t think he touched it. It was hard for me to see him suffer so much. I had to turn away to hide the tears in my eyes. His total time at Pole Line wasn’t long, maybe ten minutes. When he left us he looked better. Other runners came in looking distressed. One woman had tears in her big brown eyes and so much anxiety written on her face. She was worried about not making the cutoff times and not finishing. All I could say is You can do it. Vince stood next to her and gave her the mileage breakdown and the time needed to get it done. If there was a filming crew there this would have been one of the best scenes to film. There was drama and suspense, and sweet pathos. I don’t know if I was much help at Pole Line. I just waned everyone who came through to get up and keep going. Vince proudly announced that they had nobody drop at his aid station.
Peter had decided to run the remaining 18 miles to the finish as a pacer for a ghost runner. This guy had started running late last year and has completed a 50 mile race. I worry for him because he is a burn survivor and has significant scarring on his upper half. The remaining 18 miles are exposed and heat up in the sun. Then I remember that he is tough and enthusiastic, and can do it.
When I drove out down the mountain to meet Peter at the finish at Soldier Hollow, I passed many of the runners whom I had seen at Pole Line. They were all still moving toward their finish, and there was one long heartbreaking hill that I do not envy them for. Mike was looking much better and I talked with him for a moment. I did not doubt he would finish. I found a new layer of respect for him and men and women on the same journey. After all the suffering I saw over two days I still wished I could be in the race, feeling what they felt. The good times and times of feeling good make up for it and stay long after the memory of the suffering fades. I hope to be able to do it again.