Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wasatch 100

This is a long read - it might take as much endurance to read this as it did to run the race. Drink plenty of fluid and maybe go for a run in the middle somewhere to re-energize.
Let me know if you finish, and I will get you a belt buckle.

Part I:

Two years ago I made my first attempt at finishing the Wasatch 100 endurance race. At the time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The race that year was one of the highlights of my running career. I had so much fun flying up and down hills with my pacers, motivated by texts and the support I received from my family, friends, and athletes. In the middle of the race, while my team was running at the BYU Cross Country Invite, I moved up into 5th place and was feeling incredible. I was motivated by how well the kids had run, and I knew I was going to finish strong. A group came to see me at mile 53 and really lifted my spirits. I had a ton of energy, and nearly every thought I had was positive—it was one of the funnest things I have ever done. . . for 70 miles. Then in the next 8 miles everything changed. I struggled the last few miles coming into Brighton Ski Resort (mile 75). The downhills had torn my quad muscles to shreds, and my knees were screaming in pain with each step. Still, I left the Brighton aid station around 9:30 pm in high spirits, knowing I was going to finish. Within a half mile I was throwing up and shaking uncontrollably. I could barely lift my feet, and for the first time I was scared I wasn’t going to be able to continue. The climb leaving Brighton is about 2 miles with 2,000 feet elevation gain to the highest point in the race (10,500ft). I made it about 1 mile in 55 minutes and could not go any further. I lay down on a flat rock for another 45 minutes—each time I tried to go on, my legs would give out and I would collapse to the trail. Each time I tried to eat or drink, my stomach would immediately reject the food and I would throw up. I was shaking, I was cramping, I was cold, and I decided I was done. Jed, my pacer, did all he could to try to get me to continue, but he eventually he was too worried about my health. I climbed on Jed’s back and he slowly carried me back down the mountain to Brighton. Every now and then I would try to walk a little, but it was a really slow, painful trek back to the aid station. I have never felt such intense pain. I had never pushed my body quite to its limit. When Stefanie came back to pick me up, I could not stop crying. I cried all the way to my bed—stopping occasionally to throw up on the side of the road.
I could not believe my own thoughts the next morning. I knew that I had to try the race again. Even after all I had been through that night, still unable to walk, the pain fresh on my mind and in my legs, I committed to myself that I would finish the race.
It took me over a year to get the courage up to register again, but I did it, and I got into the race through lottery that is held for entrants each year (can you believe that more people want to do the race than they can actually let compete?). I had figured out my two main problems from my first attempt: 1) I didn’t eat enough calories—my body just ran out of gas; 2) my quads weren’t strong enough—I needed to do more mountain running. A lot of people tell me that keeping their feet feeling well is their challenge, but I always boast that my feet can make it through anything, so I wasn’t as worried about that.
In preparation for this year, I trained in order to conquer my two main problems. I did more long training runs in the mountains on the course. After each training run my legs felt great. I was feeling little if any knee or quad weakness. Last time I had gone through many discouraging training runs where I thought about quitting before I started. This time I finished each training run with confidence. I was also learning what kinds of foods I could manage. My stomach was like iron. On every long run I was able to eat plenty of calories without ever throwing up or cramping. This was going to be my year. I set up my goal time as 23 hours and 15 minutes. I would need to set the same pace as last time, and then be able to finish strong from Brighton to the finish. I laminated a 3 x 5 card with my goal splits for each aid station on one side, and a picture of my family on the other side.
In the days before the race I was scared and nervous because of what I went through last time, but I was also confident that I would be able to feel so much better late in the race. I ate well coming into the race, I wasn’t having any injury or other problems, and I was ready for a positive experience. Plus I had tons of support from my family and friends, and I had some of the best pacers I could imagine lined up to help me through it.
I found myself excited and positive with 245 others at the starting line at 5:00am on Friday morning. I had run from the same trailhead with my cross country team all summer long, so I was very comfortable with the first portion of the race. As we started, I saw a few familiar faces and met a few new people, but mostly I was content to throw on my headphones and find my own rhythm.
The first 24 miles went by pretty quickly and with relatively few challenges. I had made it through the first monster climb up Francis Peak (5,000 ft elevation gain) without too much trouble, and I had made my way through a few groups until I found myself running in 9th place. I ran a lot of that first 24 with a friend of mine named Eric Storheim. I had met Eric at my previous Wasatch 100. He also dropped out of the race in 2007 because he was throwing up blood at mile 69. Through this first section I was eating a lot, and I was moving quickly. I was nearly 15 minutes ahead of last time’s split at the aid station above the Bountiful ‘B’ at mile 24. I sent out my first and only text update to my friends and team at this point letting them know I was doing well.
I started running into some stomach trouble when I left the 24 aid station. It was quickly getting hot, and I was suddenly beginning to feel nauseous. I had food in my hand that I knew I needed to eat, but everything began to sound very unappetizing. I tried a bite of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and had to spit it out because I couldn’t swallow it. I angrily chucked the rest of the sandwich into the bushes. I was still able to stomach some of my EFS drink (a high calorie electrolyte drink that tastes like a yummy caramel shake), but most things made me want to throw up. Still, I knew I had to keep the calories going in, so I forced myself to take bites of fruit, potatoes, cliff bars, candy bars, power gel, and jelly beans. With each bite, my stomach got a little more uncomfortable. I figured the problem would go away if I just gave it some time.
Around mile 30 was when I first started thinking about quitting. I knew the first time I would see Stef would be at mile 39. I began coming up with excuses to tell my family and athletes about why I had to drop out. None of the excuses really seemed good enough, but I was definitely not thinking positively, and I was definitely not having fun like I had before through this stretch. My stomach pain was getting worse and worse, and although I wasn’t slowing down too much, I was only focusing on the things that were going wrong. I sat down in some shade a little before the 35 mile aid station and I read some of the text messages I had been getting. Brad had said “Keep it up Stud. Thorbin will not be denied.” (‘Thorbin’ was a nick-name I had earned chopping wood at camp 2 years ago). I was not feeling like a stud—and was definitely not in ‘Thorbin’ mode. At least the text made me smile. Every text was uplifting and told me I was doing great and that I could make it and to keep going. People were also reminding me to eat and drink, but my stomach was fighting me on that one. The texts got me going again, and it helped a little when I ate a popsicle at the aid station. As I worked my way down the hills to the aid station at Big Mountain (mile 39) where I would see my family and pick up my first pacer, I had decided I would keep going, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to stop. I had never felt so much doubt. I was trying to fight it, but I felt weak and sick, and I let myself continue to think about quitting.
I have learned to fight through pain and self doubt sometimes in 5ks, 10ks, and even marathons when I am hurting early, but facing the pain with 70 miles to go seemed impossible.
Big Mountain is the first big aid station. It is the first time runners get to meet up with their crew. Stefanie was my crew. I have to tell you how awesome she was. She was so prepared with everything I needed at every aid station she was allowed to come to. She had the food I needed, the clothes I needed, and she had always prepared my pacers with what they needed to do for me. At Big Mountain I had to smile when I saw her and Ashlyn. It was the first time I had felt okay for a while. I talked with her about my stomach while she washed my feet and put some fresh socks on. Ashlyn was pretty funny. She asked me how my run was. Of course I lied to her and told her things were going well. She asked if I wanted to go to Grandma’s house with her. I desperately wanted to say yes, but I told her I still had some more running to do. They were both really positive which is just what I needed.
It was also a boost to leave Big Mountain with a pacer who was going to take me to mile 53. I chose to have Jed as my first pacer this year. I figured it was only fair to put him first this time because it nearly guaranteed him an opportunity to run some of the course with me without having to carry me. The way things had been going though, I began to think Jed was my curse and that I would never make it through a section of the 100 with him. Luckily things were still fairly manageable while I was with Jed. It was good to have someone to talk to because it distracted me from all the negative self-talk. I was still thinking about dropping out, but it wasn’t as bad. We made good time and were able to run most of the trail until right before the next aid station (mile 46). The stomach troubles were coming in waves. At one point the urge to throw up was unbearable, and I had to stop for a few minutes at the top of a ridge. I fought really hard to keep from throwing up. I was afraid that if I started throwing up I wouldn’t be able to stop and I wouldn’t be able to eat anything. Then I wouldn’t get the calories I needed to keep going. One guy passed us while I was sitting there. I think it put me in 11th place. I was still trying to eat, but I was already getting behind on how many calories I was supposed to be taking in. I was quickly putting myself in the same position I had been in 2 years ago, only it was much earlier in the race.
At the next aid station we ran into an old friend from Wasatch. Dave Hunt had passed me two years ago while I was laying on the rock above Brighton. He had given me some encouragement and told me he would buy me a beer at the finish line. He proceeded to cheer for me while he ran off in the darkness until he was out of ear shot. Dave saw that I was having troubles as we left the aid station at mile 46. He said he had a secret for me which might help. He slowed down a little to stay with us for the next mile where we went 50 meters off course to a cool spring. We completely soaked ourselves and filled up with some refreshing water. It did really help a ton. Dave left us – he would go on to run a solid 23 hours and 19 minutes. I felt much better the rest of the time with Jed—at least good enough to decide to go on past Lamb’s Canyon.
Coming into Lamb’s Canyon (mile 53) was nothing like last time. Two years ago, I had a huge fan club of my high school athletes waiting at the aid station. Because of the twists on the trail coming down to the station, the kids had been able to cheer for me for about 1 ½ miles. I was pumped when I saw them, and it carried me through the next 10 miles at least. This time it was much quieter coming into the aid station, and I had a lot of difficulty being positive because I still had half the race to go. I was only 15 minutes behind my pace from last time, so if I started feeling okay, I might be able to make some decent time, but I was so doubtful that things would get better. I have a picture from last time where I am choosing out some food that looked good to me to take on the trail; this time all food was repulsive and I only took it out of absolute necessity.
Coming into the aid station, it was great to see Stefanie again. She had Ashyln and Sammy with her this time. I really wanted Stef to just tell me that if I wasn’t feeling well, I ought to just drop out and go home. She wouldn’t even think of it. Her complete confidence in my ability to finish helped me through this aid station and the next two which would be much more difficult to leave. My parents were also there. The way I looked at them told them how much I was struggling. I can’t look my dad in the face at times like these. He is very emotional, and at this point he was very concerned about me. If I looked right at him I knew I would break down crying. My mom, like always, was trying to do anything she could to make things better.
It was also good to meet up with my next pacer, Caleb Ward. For all the hell that I’ve put up with from Caleb, he is still one of my all-time favorites. I really feel that Caleb would do anything for me. When I had a spot for a pacer, I couldn’t believe that Caleb was who came to mind. I knew he would keep me entertained, and I knew he would carry me if I needed it (physically and emotionally). Seeing him standing there quietly at the aid station, I was assured that he would give me his all again.
It was fate that I would also run into Roch Horton at this point in the race. He is now 51 years old. When I think of toughness, Roch comes to mind. I first met Roch on the top of a mountain above Snowbird during my first ultra-marathon, the Wasatch Speedgoat 50k. 20 miles into that race I had been cramping so badly and had definitely not prepared myself for the brutalities of mountain racing. I barely made it to the aid station at the top of the mountain (11,000 feet) and I said I was done and that I was going to take the lift back to the bottom. I had already made up my mind. I thought Roch would take care of me and tell me that I had done well and allow me to quit, but Roch gave me a bunch to drink, some electrolyte pills, and some tough love. His exact words were “You’re not even close to done. You have a great run going and there is no way you are stopping now.” He had so much confidence in me—I had to believe him. I left the aid station and went on to finish 2nd. The second time I saw Roch was at Wasatch two years ago. He stopped and gave his all to try to get me off of the rock above Brighton, but I couldn’t respond. He finished that year in under 24 hours as a 49 year old. This year when Roch came up to me I thought it must be some sort of dream. I hadn’t seen him in two years. He was there as the crew of the top woman runner who was coming up just behind me. He could see I was struggling, and went through a quick checklist with me: electrolytes, water, food. He put some ginger candies in my pockets and got me a bag of ice cubes—both, he said, could settle my stomach.
One of the things I love most about the group who runs ultra marathons is that they always look out for one another. I would have to include seeing Dave and Roch through this point of the race as part of what kept me moving and ultimately got me to the finish line.
As Caleb and I left my family behind, I told him I would have to walk for just a while. I had run most of the race to this point, but I figured I might just have to walk the last 47 miles. He was holding a ton of food for me, but I didn’t want to touch any of it. He had some McDonald’s fries, more EFS drink, a Luna bar, and some other snacks. I was right about Caleb keeping me entertained. My mind wasn’t really working, and Caleb and I had some weird conversation. I am sure he has never seen me like that before. I was complaining about a lot of things because that’s what felt good to do. I think I was being quite irrational. Caleb has promised to never tell anyone how odd I was being for that first 4 miles while we climbed to the top of Millcreek Canyon.
The race goes two miles up the road in Lamb’s Canyon, then a steep two mile climb through the trees followed by a steep two mile descent to the Millcreek Road. On the steep part of the climb, I was running out of gas because I hadn’t eaten the last part with Jed, and I hadn’t touched any of the food Caleb was carrying. I tried the ginger and tried the ice, but nothing was working. We were getting passed by quite a few people at this point, including the top 2 women. One of the guys who passed us offered me a Tums which he thought might help my stomach. He handed me a green Tums. Once it was in my hand, I had the biggest urge to throw up. Just holding a Tums in my hand made my mouth salivate and my stomach churn. I started breathing really deeply. It was the first time (of many times to come) where my breathing sounded like I was in labor or something. I was breathing deep and loud with each step. There was also a lot of moaning involved. I carried the Tums for 3 or 4 minutes then finally chewed it up. A few minutes later the pain and nausea was more than I could bear. We had nearly hiked to the top of the climb. We were moving slow, and I wasn’t even using my arms any longer. It was the worst I had felt. I sat down and told Caleb I could take it no longer—I was going to make myself throw up. I threw up about 5 times, each time cleansing my stomach a little deeper and each time a little more painful. It was mostly fluid, but I also saw some cantaloupe in there from mile 24. That was enough to keep me away from fruit the rest of the time. Caleb was great through it all. Had I been a girl with long hair, he would have been holding it back for me. He kept patting me on the back telling me I would be okay. I am positive that he did not really know what to do. I stood up and immediately felt this great relief and this rush of energy. We started flying. I ran the rest of the climb, then hauled butt down the steep trail into the canyon.
At the bottom of the trail, there was a river that ran parallel to the road. I had to get in for a quick dip. It felt great on my legs. In the last 75 miles of the race, the best I felt was during these second 4 miles with Caleb. I was also able to really eat without wanting to throw up for the last time in the race. I ate an entire thing of french fries, a Luna Bar, 6 ounces of EFS, and some peanuts, I also drank about 64 ounces of water. I knew I had to get it in while my stomach could handle it. It was nice to feel positive for a change.

Part II

I picked up Kenneth Richardson (Janae’s husband) at the top of Millcreek Canyon—62 miles into the race. It was just before 7:00pm, and I knew it would be getting darker and more difficult in the next stretch. I also knew Kenneth would be a solid pacer and that he would make sure I took care of myself. Two years ago Kenneth had paced me from Lamb’s to Millcreek and had been forceful about getting me to eat. At this point I was both grateful to be going with Kenneth, but also dreading the eating he would have me do.
Stefanie had warned him that I was having trouble with my stomach, and Kenneth created what he thought was the perfect plan. He set his watch to go off every 3 minutes. When the watch would beep, Kenneth would give me a bite or two of food to take in or something for me to drink. Three minutes may seem like a long time between bites, but I was with Kenneth for 4 hours and 15 minutes—that’s 85 beeps. It became incredibly annoying. He did give me some breaks when I really needed them, but for the most part we stuck with his stupid plan. Within a few minutes of leaving the aid station, I was already having the dreaded stomach nausea, and I didn’t want to eat. Ken would hand me things like cookies, peanuts, chips, cereal, pieces of candy, electrolyte pills, or the flask of EFS. Nothing was appetizing.
Before we finished the climb to Dog Lake, I had thrown up again, which brought some relief, but not as long lasting as before. I figured I would just go on with that cycle: eat what I could, endure the nausea for 90 minutes to 2 hours, throw up, repeat. Actually, what I really began planning was how I would get out of the race and convince Stef to take me home from Brighton. It would be a miserable ride away from Brighton, something like what I experienced 2 years ago, but it would be better than continuing for 25 miles feeling like I did.
Kenneth was so damn positive. It was really getting on my nerves. He kept talking about how good I looked, and how fast I was moving, and how well I was doing with the food, and how I would be able to finish, and how awesome I was, and how incredible it was that I would be finishing 100 miles. I just wanted him to shut up. I felt much more comfortable allowing myself to feel unhappy and afflicted and I didn’t even want to give the effort to make myself think anything positive. Each time Kenneth would say something uplifting, I would nod my head to appease him, but inside I was secretly making my getaway plan. I would make it to Brighton (even though I didn’t even really have the will to get that far); once at Brighton I would tell my family, my athletes, and my pacers that I needed to take about a one hour nap. I would tell them that after the nap I would get up and finish the race, but that I didn’t want them to wait around or to go to the finish. Then when I woke up, I would have Stefanie take me home. I couldn’t think of what I would say to any of them the next week when they asked about why I stopped, so I figured Stef and I could just move out of the state—then I wouldn’t have to answer any of their questions and I wouldn’t have to face them as a quitter. I was getting a bit delirious through this section. I had also resigned myself to the fact that Brad would give me crap again about paying for the entire 100 miles, but not finishing it all—not getting my money’s worth.
There were some definite low points when I was with Kenneth. I don’t know how in the world he kept me going. Possibly the worst single point in the entire race was the climb away from Desolation Lake. (Who organizes a 100 mile race that passes Desolation Lake at mile 67? Bleakness, darkness, emptiness, waste—all synonyms of desolation, and all descriptions of how I felt.) I will look back on that climb as the most mentally and physically challenging obstacle I had to overcome. Kenneth got me through it and I absolutely hated him for it. Just ask him—I told him more than once that I hated him. I really love him to death, but at the time he represented all that I didn’t want around me: the positive attitude and the food. The climb took us a good 30 minutes to cover just less than a mile. I said very little, but there was a lot of heavy breathing and moaning, and even some crying. Kenneth made me continue eating little bites. It was on this climb that he told me to put back my hand (he was walking behind me). I said “no”. He then demanded, “Corbin, put back your hand.” I still managed a quiet “no”. I was actually crying. He practically yelled at me, “Corbin! Give me your hand!” I gave in.
I can’t describe how much I despised that beeping from his watch. There were a few occasions when I knew the beeping was coming, and I would take off running. Kenneth thought I was feeling good and trying to make up some time—but really I was just trying to get away from him and his watch and the disgusting food. The only problem was that my run couldn’t have been faster than 10 minute mile pace. It was more like a 90-year-old’s shuffle. Kenneth stopped at the last aid station before Brighton to refill the water bottles (mile 70). It was the only aid station in the entire race where I didn’t stop at all. I just announced “54 in! 54 out!” (my race number) and kept moving. It was my chance to get away from Ken. I sprinted (shuffled) down the trail as fast as I could. It had to have been the fastest I had moved in over 30 miles. I thought about diving off the trail into the trees to hide, or maybe I was moving fast enough to beat him to Brighton and I wouldn’t have to deal with eating anything the next 5 miles. It hurt my knees quite a bit running down the mountain, but it was a pain I almost embraced because it was getting me away from eating. Kenneth’s just too fast—he spoiled my plan. I think he caught me in less than a half mile.
At this point I knew I would make it to Brighton, but was still working out how I would get out of leaving Brighton. I called Stef to tell her we would be to Brighton in about 40 minutes. I told her it had been the roughest section yet. I was doing a good job complaining to her and I was just waiting for her to tell me I should stop at Brighton. She wouldn’t say it. And Kenneth kept telling me to say something positive to her. He wanted me to tell her that I had done a great job eating enough calories. I couldn’t even say that one positive thing. I told her Kenneth wanted to talk to her. I tried handing him the phone, but he was like “You say it! Right now!” I had to cry to get it out, but I managed something like “Kenneth wants me to tell you I’ve been eating.”
The craziest thing happened a mile before Brighton, I started thinking I would go ahead and try to finish. Maybe Kenneth’s persistent positive attitude had rubbed off on me. For so long I thought I was done, that I wouldn’t make it, but I started thinking about my motivation to finish. A few things had gotten me this far, and they would inspire me to leave Brighton: 1) I didn’t want to ever run this dreadful race again. If I didn’t finish this time, I would have to try again. 2) I really, really wanted to order this shirt I had seen online. The front of the shirt says “Ultramarathoner” the back of the shirt has the question at the top: “You finished a marathon?” and below: “That’s Cute.” I couldn’t order or wear that shirt if I didn’t finish. 3) The belt buckle. Each finisher gets a Wasatch 100 belt buckle. I had missed out on it before and would have felt bad, but Meghan Hedquist and her mom had made me a belt buckle with “World’s Greatest Coach” written on it—possibly one of my all-time favorite race medals. This time I wanted to add the real thing. 4) The greatest motivation had to be the people who were showing me so much love and support. My family, friends, and athletes were pulling me along. Stefanie had done so much for me in preparing for the race, and she was doing even more during the race to keep me going. She was the perfect crew. I wanted to finish for her. I also wanted to finish for my athletes. In the final 2 miles with Kenneth he read me off about 40 texts from my phone: “Talley, you can do this. The whole team is looking up to you. Don’t let them down.” “Be positive, be patient and believe in yourself. Keep going, you’ve got this!” “Talley, you are the reason I did so well in my race! You’re amazing! Keep it going!” “At the beginning of the JV race today we yelled out ‘FOR TALLEY!’ It was like Narnia.” “All us girls ran for you today, Talley. We all wrote it on our arms. You can do it!” “Talley, this is your goal! You have worked 3 years for this day! You have this!” “Talley! You can do it. Be strong and eat food and drink your EFS stuff” (that one didn’t motivate, it just made me laugh). “You can do it, Talley! Pretend a bear is chasing you!” (I said to Ken that I would let the bear catch me). “We have total and complete faith in you.” “Talley, I, Cade Cloward, love you. Never give up. Everyone’s in pain with ya! Show them what’s up!” “Talley, you have been a continual reminder of someone who gives their best.” “Never back down, Talley” (why do I always have to tell them stuff like that? They were using my own motivation against me). There were others just as motivational. I was trudging down Guardsman’s Pass with tears rolling down my face because I was feeling so much love and support (shoot, I am crying even as I type up the texts). I was also crying because I knew it would be painful the rest of the night, but I knew I was going to give it a try. Looking back through my texts I found that I got 34 texts between 10:00 and 10:45. My athletes were really there for me when I needed them most.
They were literally there for me as I jogged into Brighton. The first kid I saw was Logan Petty. He was so energetic, I couldn’t help but finish up strong the final 100 meters to the lodge. There was a small group of my kids—mostly graduates—at the base of the steps at the Brighton Lodge. They knew I had been struggling, and I don’t think they really knew what to say, but it was sure a great lift to see them. I couldn’t talk to them right at first because I could feel my emotions were right on the surface, so I told them to give me a few minutes in the lodge, and to wait for me just outside. My family was up at the lodge. It was great to see them as well. My sister, Dianne, and her husband were there. Stef’s sister Brooke was there. My parents were there, and I could feel the hope and the concern they had for me. Brad and Amber were there; it was great to see them, but Brad wasn’t in his normal funny mood. I figured if I had Brad seriously worried about me, I must be pushing myself pretty hard. And Stefanie was there, once again positive and determined to keep me going.
I sat down in the back of the lodge with my back to everyone and cried. The lady at the food table asked if I was okay, then she asked me if she could get me some food—it made me cry even more. Then she asked if I wanted to lie down. It was the perfect opportunity to follow through with my secret plan. I shook my head, but I really, really wanted to give in and just climb inside a warm, comfortable bed. It took me three or four minutes to collect myself then I went in the bathroom for a few minutes to calm down and wash up. When I came out I felt much better. Stef changed my socks again. My feet, the one area I knew I wouldn’t have any trouble with, were torn up. I had blisters between most of my toes, and under quite a few toenails. My feet were the least of my concerns though. I put my shoes and my warm clothes on, and spent just a few minutes taking pictures and talking with my family and with Brad. Steve Petty was definitely prepared to take me through the final 25. Plus he was getting an earful of instructions from Kenneth: “Don’t let him throw up until at least midnight . . . Make him take little amounts of food at three minute intervals . . . make him say positive things about himself . . . He may start breathing funny, but give him some time and he will pull through it.”
We went outside and I saw the smiling faces of my athletes, and it gave me the courage I needed to start up the trail. I gave them all hugs, and we took a group picture, but I didn’t have the energy to say much. I knew if I started talking too much to anyone I would begin crying anyway.
I was really scared to leave Brighton. The experience from two years ago was not completely out of my system. I was afraid that things would get even worse than they had been and that I would not be able to keep my legs and mind moving. In my training I had told myself that I would come through Brighton and still have some strength in my legs. With the amount of ups and downs in the final 25 miles, I knew I would need something left in my legs. I was scared because it felt like there wasn’t much there.
As I left, Stef reminded me it was okay if I had to walk the rest of the way. She said she would see me at the finish. Her faith and love meant a lot to me at that point. I figured she probably wouldn’t sleep much because she’d be worried sick and probably waiting for the same call she got two years ago, but she didn’t give me one sign of doubt. Leaving Brighton I began to believe, just a little bit, that I would make it. Even if it took me all night.
It was good to talk with Steve as we left. I was energized by my family and friends, and we started the climb to the highest point in the race—Catherine’s Pass (10,400 ft). We broke the final 25 into 6 phases or challenges: Catherine’s, the steep downhill on the other side, the climb out of Pole Line, the long mellow stretch to Rock Springs, the “dive” and the “plunge”, and the final downhills to the finish. It helped to break it up into manageable sections.
Steve talked with me about how the team had performed at the Murray Invite. It sounded like they had done well. I couldn’t believe the JV boys had perfect scored (1st through 5th). Their performance inspired me and it was good to think about something other than my own struggles. Before long, Steve and I were at the rock—the same big rock I had laid on for 45 minutes with Jed before deciding to go back down to Brighton. It was huge mental victory that I made it that far and was going to continue. Steve took a quick picture of me standing triumphantly on the rock. Just around the corner we had an adrenaline rush when we heard movement off to our left. We both shined our lights over and there was an enormous bull moose about 50 feet away. It scared the crap out of me, but it didn’t really seem to react much to us—just sat there chewing its food. I think Steve wanted to ride it or something. He got closer and took a picture, but I just kept moving. I did have to stop and throw up near the top of the climb, but I had held off until after midnight.
The night was long, quiet, and dark. Looking back, I wish I had stopped a few times and enjoyed the stars and the other beauties of the mountains at night. At one point Steve was talking about the sound of the breeze in the Aspen leaves. My only thoughts were about getting through the night. Our progress was slow. I walked as quickly as I could, but I don’t think we were moving too fast. I would occasionally run for small periods of time, but couldn’t keep anything going. Little by little we made it through those later miles. It felt like the night would never end. Everything hurt. My stomach was still fighting the nausea, my feet were cramping and blistered, my knees shot pain with every step, I could feel the muscle damage in my quads getting worse (especially on the downhill), and my tired arms were hanging uselessly at my side. I fell four or five times, but they weren’t bad spills because I wasn’t moving fast enough to really eat it. Mostly I would just slide back onto my butt, or tip over into a bush. I felt bad for Steve because he had to listen to me moan and wince and complain, but he kept assuring me that he had helped people through much worse in search and rescue situations. It helped to know that if I passed out or if my heart stopped, I was in good hands.
I’ve never been through a night that difficult, and I can’t tell you how good it felt to see the light in the east as we staggered into Pot Bottom at mile 93. You would think that at mile 93 of 100, there would be a burning determination to finish it off. I just wanted to take a quick nap. The aid station volunteer is a friend of my dad’s and I knew I would see him there. He helped me into the tent and told me he would let me sleep by the heaters for five minutes. I immediately fell asleep as my body hit the ground. It was so peaceful and comfortable. He kept his promise and was back five minutes later. Rather than waking me up, he and another volunteer just stood me up. As I walked out of the tent I could tell feel a big difference in the way my stomach felt. I actually felt a little hungry. I ate a banana and a granola bar and was able to drink some water. Steve and I set off at our best walking pace for the final uphill in the race. We even passed another runner. I hadn’t passed anyone for as long as I could remember, but plenty had gone by me. It gave me a little satisfaction to see that he looked as if he were worse off than I was. He could barely bend his right leg, so it was just dragging behind him. I flew right by him at 3 miles per hour.
The final downhills of the race brought the most intense pain I had felt the entire time. Each step would shoot pain from my feet up through my knees and quads. I couldn’t move very fast, and was realizing I had no real “fight” left in me and that I would just finish up at my own slow pace. Four or five more guys went by me. The sun was coming up and it was great to know that I would soon be done. Then I was passed by a short, stalky lady who looked like she was too old to be kicking my butt in a 100 mile race. I told her my quads were gone and she gave some words of encouragement. She had a British accent, and it bothered me a bit that she seemed too cheery for mile 97. She was quickly out of sight, and I began to realize that I needed to dig a little deeper. We hit a slight uphill, and I started to run. The uphills didn’t hurt my knees and quads near as much. Then we hit the downhill on the other side. I kept running through the pain. I started clipping along at a pace that felt like 7:00 miles. My mind and body started realizing I was getting close to the finish. I started breathing hard and sweating quite a bit, but I kept getting faster and faster. I flew past the woman who had passed me a half mile earlier and I caught one or two other guys. As we hit the final one mile trail section that climbs down to Wasatch State Park, Steve and I were really cooking. He kept saying stuff like “Finishing strong, just like the Davis kids” and “This is awesome!” The adrenaline was really flowing, and for the first time in 73 miles I was actually enjoying myself. At the same time I was feeling more pain than I have ever felt before. With each step I would grunt or scream because of the intensity. “Oh! Aw! Grr! Ow! Eh! Hrm! Aw!” Pretty much every step for the final 15 minutes. I am sure I sounded ridiculous, but it helped me push through it. I was also punching trees if they were close enough to the trail. It was the weirdest feeling of pain and pleasure and accomplishment and punishment. It’s difficult to capture the feeling with words. I would have to run 99 before I could truly experience what it was like pushing through any pain to the finish.
We popped out of the trail onto the road for the final ¾ of a mile. I could see one runner within reach. We started gunning for him. Steve was still pumping me up telling me I was running with heart just like my athletes did, and it really fired me up. I grimaced through the final half mile, catching the runner just before we turned into the finish area at the Homestead. There was so much relief as I crossed the finish line and collapsed onto the grass. My legs were so happy to be done. I thought the finish would bring an overflow of tears, but I was too worn out to cry. I just laid there and felt 100% satisfied. It was a quiet finish. Stefanie was there, and Steve’s family was there. It was how I wanted it to be. I didn’t have the strength to talk about what I had been through, and Stefanie had been with me enough that she understood how I had been feeling. I was congratulated by Dave Hunt (see mile 46), and Eric Storheim (see mile 24). They had both showered and looked refreshed. It felt so good to be a part of that group. Two years ago I left the race feeling like I was a “road racer” who couldn’t hack it. Now I felt like a true “ultra-marathoner” (and I would get to wear the belt buckle and order my t-shirt).
My finishing was 27:20.51. I came across in 30th place. It wasn’t anything like I had expected. I really thought if I had had a good day, I would be able to run closer to 23 hours. I felt a slight disappointment at the awards ceremony that I wasn’t part of the sub-24 hour group, but I am trying hard not to confuse that disappointment with the desire to run the race again and prove I can run that fast. The final 25 miles took me 9 hours (about 21:30 per mile). It was the greatest suffering I have ever experienced, and it was all worth it. Since the finish, I have caught myself saying, “It was fun.” That is not what I mean when it comes out. It was not ‘fun’. But I can’t explain to people the way it made me feel. It was so challenging and so discouraging at times, but I did it. I finished despite thinking for so long that I wouldn’t have the strength or the will.
There are a few people who I need to thank. It starts with Stefanie. When I say that I couldn’t have finished without her, it is completely true. She was my rock during the race. She gave me inspiration, strength, food, prepared pacers, fresh socks, the right clothing, encouragement, and a well-earned kiss and hug at the finish line.
My pacers were incredible. Jed kept me moving and eating and drinking through some tough, hot early stretches. I was glad that he didn’t have to carry me again, but I know he would have if I needed it. Caleb made me laugh, put his hand on my shoulder as I threw up, listened to me complain about every possible thing I could think of, held all my food and water when I couldn’t stand to have it in my hand, told me stories about his first kiss, and gave me strength and love. Kenneth did exactly what he needed to do to get me to finish. I don’t think he particularly enjoyed torturing me with food and his positive attitude, but he gave me what I needed, not what I wanted. I love him to death and I would now do anything for him. I hope he runs the 100 some day so I can put him through complete hell. Then he will know how much I love him. Steve was consistent and assuring. He found a way to pump me up and keep me moving. He had just about anything I needed in his bag of tricks. The little things he did got me through the longest night of my life. I am honored to be friends with each of them, and I would ask the same people again if I was ever stupid enough to repeat.
My parents have believed in me and supported me for so many years of running. Any goal I have set they have been willing to sacrifice and support me to help me accomplish it. They have always shown interest in my running and coaching, and have been my biggest fans. I know it was hard for them to see me in such pain, but knowing that they were thinking about me and cheering for me gave me strength.
I need to thank my friend Brad Anderson for his advice and for listening to me and planning with me and encouraging me over the past 4 months of training. He helped me work through my fears and doubts going into the race, and his inspiring words helped keep me moving. Plus, the thought of him giving me a hard time if I dropped gave me something to work for.
Finally, I want to thank my TEAM. Both the kids I am currently working with and the ones who are on to greater things. They are extraordinary kids who motivate and inspire me through their willingness to work hard for one another and for me. They are committed, disciplined, energetic to the point of being obnoxious, and they make my job fun and interesting. They make sacrifices for each other all the time. They do their best to listen to me, and I am amazed at the faith and trust they put in my words. I love them all, and would not have made it through the difficult stretches without their encouragement. Their belief in me made it impossible to quit. I ran for them like they do for me so often.
Thanks to all for your support and interest. I appreciate all of the congratulations and encouragement I have received through email, text, facebook, and in person. I know it was a long story to get through, but I hope you can learn something through my experience—even if it is just that running 100 miles might not be the smartest thing you could choose to do with your life.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Here we go again!!! Corbin is getting ready to run his 2nd Wasatch 100 mile endurance race on Friday. He breezed through 80 miles of it on his first try back in 2007 and then Jed had to carry him down a mountain when his body quit before the rest of him wanted it to. Good thing Jed is amazingly strong :) On Friday, Corbin plans on completing the entire distance, even if he has to roll down the mountain those last 20 miles! His #1 motivation: the huge, decorative belt buckle he will receive upon completion of the race :) If anyone reads this, I beg you to please keep Corbin in your thoughts & prayers on Friday and early Saturday morning. We want our daddy back alive and in one working piece!!
Good luck honey! You already know that you are crazy.

Here are a few fun memories from his last attempt...

Mile 39, no sweat.. just dirty feet. Probably the first foot bath Corbin had ever had.

Mile 50-something. Ken paced from Lambs to Millcreek. Still feeling good :)

Brighton aid station- Mile 76. Mark's not laughing at Corbin's weight, he's just happy he's done running. Corbin and Jed still had 24 miles to the finish. Corbin just barely made the weight requirement by the way, although 3 miles later he was wishing he hadn't eaten that piece of ham.