The Eagle Has Landed

It’s been a full week since the Wasatch Front 100, and it still feels a bit surreal how the previous 11 weeks have played out:  400.2 miles raced, 80 hours and 53 minutes total time, good enough for 8th fastest time in Grand Slam history (since 1986) behind seven last names you might recognize: Gorman, Kulak, Jurek, Torrence, Barger, Trason, and Schlereth.  Proud to also bring home the 14th Grand Slam of Ultra Running eagle and the first sub-24 hour Royal Order of the Crimson Cheetah buckle to Texas!

And yes, these are cast in Provo, unlike the Vermont 100 buckles which are cast in Denison, Texas!

I can’t begin to thank my wife, crew, pacers, sponsors and supporters, and “advisors” who I reached out to for advice on approaching the Slam and each individual race itself.  Their selfless service and advice has been invaluable!

The Wasatch race played out on a PERFECT September day, we could not have asked for better weather or course conditions.  Seemed like everybody I talked to said that the last 25 miles of the race were the hardest, and race day was no exception.  Despite wearing a real headlamp for the 5am start (unlike at Leadville where I wore a pathetic excuse for a headlamp) and tripping on a rock and going to the ground not 20 minutes into the run, I made my way up the first climb and fell into a steady-moving group of experienced locals and some out-of-towners, one of whom was Scott Wolfe from Bend, Oregon.  Now Scott told me he doesn’t run 100s very often for himself, but rather has been Andy Jones-Wilkins go-to pacer for many races, including Wasatch.  Scott’s advice was simple, “save some legs for the last 25!”  Easy enough right?  The group was pretty chatty and I was more than happy to listen while they cracked jokes and talked about gear, trail shoes, etc.  We made pretty good time up to Grobban’s Corner (mile 13) where a table was set out with water and some gels, as the first real aid station was not until mile 19 at Francis Peak.  I started with my North Face pack, so I just topped off my handheld bottle which had fuel in it, grabbed 2 gels just in case, and enjoyed the scenic gravel road downhill to Francis Peak in the early morning sun.  It was here that I had a brief bittersweet moment of, “wow, I wish I could keep running like this all summer”, as after Wasatch there would not be “another” 100 miler to get ready for.  Time for the tunes to go on, thankful that Meredith encouraged me to take the iPod Shuffle along.

We hit Francis Peak at 8:40am, refilled, reloaded from my drop bag, donned visor and shades, and I was out of there in 4 minutes.  The next 20 miles were relatively uneventful, except for one small missed turn that led me and one other runner up a VERY steep climb, which at the top was clearly not the right route.  It only cost me a couple of minutes and in hindsight it worked out great because I fell back into the group of Scott Wolfe and fellow Slammers Mike Le Roux , Jay Smithberger, and others, who were setting a super-steady pace through some thick brush.  It was also a reminder to keep scanning continuously for the trail marker ribbons, as they were somewhat sporadic and not always in the most obvious place.  Other notable experiences: the Bountiful B (mile 24) aid station treated us to cold wet towels, saw a friendly face from Austin at Sessions (mile 28), and Swallow Rocks (mile 35) had frozen popsicles for us, mine was root beer flavor!!!  Coming into Big Mountain (mile 39) was fantastic, as you could partially see and hear the parking lot aid station while descending.  I was looking forward to changing shoes from my Brooks Cascadias to the Hoka Bondi Bs that I had successfully worn for most of Vermont and Leadville, giving the hydration pack a break in lieu of 2 bottles, and picking up my first pacer Todd Jones for the 14 mile stretch to Lambs (mile 53).  Meredith made quick work of the shoe change and had me in an out in 2 minutes!

Being early-afternoon with the temperatures rising, Todd and I eased into a steady pace and made sure I stayed ahead with calories, hydration, and electrolytes.  One of the ridges going down to Alexander Ridge (mile 47) was INCREDIBLY windy and we had to hold on to our hats/visors to keep them from blowing away.  Here we saw local ultra-legend Karl Meltzer  running the course backwards and that fired us up pretty good.  We showed up to Alexander Ridge just about out of all our water and I feel bad for folks that only had one bottle for that stretch.  It was nice to have some extra water to keep my head and visor wet.  My split was 1:37 but it felt closer to 2 hours!  The Alexander Ridge “hillbillies” had cornered the market on ice so we loaded up as much as we could, and I took on a couple cold cups of Sprite.  The short but steep exposed climb out of AR was tough, but we hiked it fast and got to the wooded single-track which was fabulous.  The descent into Lambs (mile 53) took a while, as you came within sight of it and then wound your way away from it a couple of times.  Todd did a great job picking up some trail trash and a cardboard ammo box, good karma for later!

Todd brought me in to Lambs in great shape and with good legs for pacer #2 Bryan Morton to take me 23 miles to the Brighton lodge at mile 76.  Bryan and I took our time with the long climb out of Lambs, and he got me caught up on my crew’s activities so for the day which included: master’s swim class in Bountiful, pickup basketball, slurpees at 7-Eleven, and a temporarily misplaced wallet!!!  Can you believe all the fun I missed while I was busting my ass running through the Wasatch National Forest??  Bryan and I ran a little extra between Millcreek/Upper Big Water (mile 62) and Desolation Lake (mile 67) after missing a turn that could have been marked better.  We both saw the markings on the 2 trees and decided to “split the uprights” which turned out to be the wrong way!  Fortunately, we kept our eyes peeled for the next ribbon which never came, so we turned around and came across another runner in the same predicament.  No biggie, but soon enough we were back on Scott Wolfe’s heels who had made the correct turn!  On the way from Desolation Lake to Scotts (mile 71), we were forced to break out the headlamp that Bryan carried from Lambs and the small handheld light that I picked up at my Millcreek drop bag.  We were treated to a pretty fun descent down into Brighton (mile 76) which ended up with about a 3 mile stretch of pavement which was less fun.  We did spot a foraging porcupine on the side of the road!  The whole time, Bryan and I smartly kept moving as the temperatures were slowly dropping and we were still in our Rogue singlets with no gloves, arm warmers, or beanie (I was carrying an emergency plastic garbage bag in my pack in case it got REALLY cold).  We hit Brighton at 9:20pm, and Meredith and Todd quickly had me out of my damp singlet and into a dry Adidas Rogue tech shirt, thin North Face windbreaker vest, Drymax arm warmers, Hind gloves, Pearl Izumi beanie, and Petzl Myo XP headlamp.  I forget what I consumed there, but it definitely was not the pancake feast that I expected and in hindsight I did not even get to brush my teeth there with one of the complimentary toothbrushes (the aid station captain is a local dentist)!  Oh well, maybe next time J.  Pacer #3 Meredith had me out of there in 5 minutes and up the mountain we went!

The climb out of Brighton was a doozy but I sipped on some warm fuel.  Meredith and I found our rhythm and we got used to scanning the trail ahead for the next reflective ribbon.  At one point, we had not seen a ribbon for a LONG time and thought for sure we had missed a turn.  Meredith ran up the trail and then back to a local racer and his pacer who knew the course cold so we followed them as best we could down into Ant Knolls (mile 80).  “Sketchy” is an understatement for some of the terrain that we had to navigate, I’m glad we did it at night!  I forget what Pole Line aid station (mile 83) was like and I think somewhere heading into Rock Springs (mile 87) Meredith took a nasty tumble coming down one of the very sandy and rocky chutes that shook her up a bit.  As she was bent over bleeding she yelled, “go on.”  I went up a little ways and then turned my head back to check on her.  She saw my light and said, “what are you doing.  Why are you looking back.”  I said, “you are my wife!”  When she realized that I wasn’t willing to drop her, she came running up and continued on with her pacing duties.  So along we went, and for once I was temporarily doing the pacing work in front.  The 5.7 mile stretch to the last aid station, Pot Bottom (mile 93) takes FOREVER (which the course description is nice enough to warn you of), 1 hour and 50 minutes in our case, but once you’re there, the barn starts smelling pretty darn good.  We spent less than a minute here, as none other than Scott Wolfe showed up just as we were leaving!  The 7 miles from Pot Bottom to the finish is about 2 miles up and then 5 miles mostly down.  Meredith and I found our power hiking legs right away, and then came across fellow racer Jason Koop (with no pacer) going the wrong direction on the trail!  He got turned around somehow further along the trail, so he was relieved to now be going the right direction, but still pissed off that it happened.  When we finally hit the downhill section, we punched it and let gravity take us just as fast as possible without tripping.  Then, a headlamp appeared behind us, and we wound it up even faster through the best singletrack of the whole course, not wanting to get caught in the last couple miles.  This played out for a good 20 or 30 minutes it seemed, and then he caught us.  Not Jason but Scott Wolfe, who obviously could sense that we were trying to avoid being caught.  The 3 of us had a good laugh about it knowing at this point that sub-24 hours was in the bag and the top-10 payday was going to be the same: $0!  We cruised to the last mile on pavement where Scott easily could have dropped me but politely excused himself to the side of the road while Todd and Bryan met up with us for the last mile or so into the finish.  We enjoyed briefly catching up after 7 hours of separation to make sure that the wallet had been successfully recovered!  Final time: 23:17:25 and 8th place overall.  Scott finished less than 30 seconds behind.  Wasatch RD John Grobben and winner Jeff Browning  were there to greet us, and my traditional finish line pushups never felt so satisfying!

After a very long post-race shower, ice bath, and a couple of hours of restless shut-eye, we returned to the finish line to greet fellow Slammers Mike, Jay, and Po Dog Vogler, who is also from Todd’s home state of Arkansas!  Then, off to Chick’s Café in Heber City for a MONSTROUS egg, hash brown, bacon, and pancake breakfast as our appetites had returned with a vengeance.  The awards ceremony was conducted right after the 36-hour course cut-off at 5pm, where the Crimson Cheetah induction ceremony and Grand Slam awards were presented.  The slight hint of fall was in the air, and the leaves high up in the mountains have already turned brilliant yellows and oranges.  For some, this signals the end of their season, but for me, I’ll be at it again in 4 weeks on the hot pavement in Kailua-Kona, home of the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon World Championships.  This will be my third time competing there, and I can’t think of a better way to cap off this summer!!  The quest to be the first finisher of the Grand Kona Slam  continues, thank YOU for all your prayers, support, and encouragement, from near and far.

Special thanks to the Wasatch Race Committee for the fantastic finisher

plaque, and

P.S. The post-Wasatch New Belgium Trippel Ale was FANTASTIC and the best one yet, only one more to go!!!! (Melissa and Mike strike again!!)


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10 Responses to The Eagle Has Landed

  1. Ian Sharman says:

    Nice work, Paul. WS lottery again?

  2. Jana Gustman says:

    Tremendous, Paul! The crimson cheetah was truly the cherry on top. Huge respect.

  3. Eddie Church says:

    Congrats on an amazing year! You & Meredith make a great team! I’m looking forward to hearing more in person.

  4. Nick Clark says:

    Congratulations, Paul! And fine choice in beer.

  5. Kevin Babb says:

    Awesome report Paul. Thanks for sharing and good luck in Kona!

  6. swolfe says:

    Cheers, Paul. Looking forward to following Kona. You and Meredith have a fun.

  7. You are a freakin ROCKSTAR!!!!

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