Micheal was the lucky lottery winner this year. He was able to land a slot in both Hardrock and Wasatch. He thought for sure he would only get into one and therefore the choice would be made for him. Fortunately for him his tickets came jumping out of the hat for both races. It was the first time he had put in for either so the rest of us unlucky folks were giving him the eagle eye along with a thumbs up. Now what to do? The obvious answer is of course both. It only took him about 2 days to come the right conclusion but with Coyote Two Moons already on the books that meant some serious mountain running for Micheal. Wasatch is my favorite course. I have run the full race twice, had my only DNF there and paced and crewed. Bill and I love the area so much we bought a vacation property there and try to spend as much time as we can in those mountains. So when Micheal got in we made sure we were ready to help him out on his pursuit of the very challenging but amazing course.
A couple of days before the race Micheal called to inform us it was going to be hot one. Wasatch is tricky that way. It can be very hot or very cold and sometimes both. Being prepared for everything is the best approach. Wasatch offers it all, big mountains, altitude, weather, technical trails and one of the toughest last 25 miles I have seen. There simply is no freebie at Wasatch. Micheal was overly prepared and I wouldn't expect anything less. Lisa and I left Thursday and met Bill in Salt Lake City airport. Micheal retrieved us and off to the hotel for a good nights sleep and the Friday start.
Waking up on Friday morning and only needing a light long sleeve shirt to stand around the start area meant it was already warm. Micheal's pace chart was my Grand Slam Wasatch time which I knew he could easily
beat. We got to the first crew point early enough to watch the leaders blaze through. That's always really fun since it's the only time I ever see them. Micheal cruised in 20 minutes ahead of my sub 28 hour time looking strong and at ease. He did tell Lisa his stomach seemed full.
On we went for the long wait before we could see him again at Big Mountain (mile 39). We drove to the house and dumped our luggage, had lunch and made our way up to the checkpoint. It was definitely warm because all I needed was a tank top and generally it would be chilly up there. The runners were coming in one after another. Most looked strong but hot. We prepped for Micheal's early arrival complete with all the items he requested and few more just in case. Micheal arrived now 40 minutes ahead of schedule but as he ran down into the aid station I could tell he was dehydrated. How? Because his muscles looked depleted. Sure enough he was down 6 pounds I think. He wasn't feeling good but he was sure moving well. He reported stomach issues and felt he needed a moment to regroup. He sat and drank his fuel while we dumped water all over his head and shirt. The full stomach he felt at Francis Peak never passed and he reported some vomiting. No worries, ultra runners vomit all the time, right? We doubled up on his salt and he left with water, his gels but no solids. His job was to take it easy in the Wasatch oven (Big mountain to Lamb's is very hot).
With the fabulous Wasatch website we were able to track his progress to Alexander Ridge and could see he was slowing. That was good and bad. Good because he needed to get his stomach
back in the game but bad because that meant the remedies we tried at Big Mountain weren't working. We set up at Lamb's and had all our toolbox out and waiting for our hot runner. I was going to pace Micheal from Upper Big Water to Brighton (62-75) but I was geared up and ready to go at Lamb's (mile 53). If he wasn't better then I would offer to go with him. He arrived moving well and strong but his stomach was no better. In fact, I think it was worse. He took a few minutes to cool down and get himself prepped for the next section. The good news is he was done with the heat. After Lamb's we would be heading back up to 8,500 feet and it would get dark before we reached Upper Big Water (mile 62). We left Lamb's with one goal. Our only job was to arrive at Brighton (mile 75) with his stomach. From 53 to 75 we would do everything we could to get things moving in the right direction....down not up. :) There were moments when things seemed to be turning in the right direction but nothing was sticking. We tried it all and I am not kidding. There wasn't one thing I can think of that we did not attempt. He needed salt but couldn't keep down the gel caps. He needed fluid but couldn't keep that down either. Broth seemed to be a good bet but his stomach was having none of that. All through my pacing duty he would ingest something and we would be seeing it again within minutes. At this point Micheal had not had any fuel stay down since mile 39. Things were not going to get any easier going forward.
On the descent into Brighton we talked about what to do. The only thing left was to take a load off. We felt that maybe a nap would serve him well. Besides becoming the amazing puke man he became the amazing minimalist. The guy was moving very well on NOTHING! I was getting worried. I had visions of severe dehydration and the awful dangerous effects that has on the body. His will was incredibly strong and determined. It was quite a sight. Micheal agreed to lying down, calming his system and stomach then proceeding. We have always referred to the Brighton checkpoint as the Wasatch vortex. Once you go in and sit you never come out. Of course that's an exaggeration but I make my crew set up outside. Micheal felt the same but when we arrived there was obviously going to be a change. Micheal immediately laid down and dozed off. He would wake up occasionally and make sure his barf bag was handy. Bill was geared up and ready for the last 25. Even though I would NEVER encourage someone to drop I was nervous for Micheal and state he was in. Despite having zero calories he was surprisingly astute. He didn't show signs of bonking and was not acting like a zombie. He wasn't acting like a depleted ultra runner. After a 45 minute nap he stood up, looked at us all and with what appeared to be watery eyes announced, "I can walk so I guess I can walk and puke, let's get this thing done". Off they went with water and table salt dumped in a baggy. His instructions were to drink water, dip his finger in the salt and eat it, repeat and if things turned...try to eat.
Lisa and I sat in the parking lot waiting just to be sure they didn't come back. We both knew they weren't. Micheal had that severe determined look on his face and Bill was his perfect partner, calm but steady. We left and went back for some sleep. I had Bill's I-Phone so I could keep good tabs on them via the website. Lisa and woke up looked at his progress we were pumped. He was moving very fast and we were sure he had come back from his puking fest. We drove to the end and parked at the trail head where it spills onto the final bit of pavement. Before we knew it they emerged. Micheal, Bill and John hopped on the pavement for their final mile into the finish. Micheal crossed the line and never looked so relieved. I was prepared for a trip to the medics for an IV. I had all sorts of plans in my head so we would be ready to take care of our sick dehydrated runner. We kept him walking around so he wouldn't shut down. His stomach never came back and besides table salt and water Micheal had nothing for 60 miles! It was pretty unbelievable and if I wasn't there to witness it for myself I would assume it was ultra runner lore. Bill got a serious workout and was pretty beat up from Micheal's "Let this end", determination.
Sometimes the best way to learn is to watch. I have never experienced anything like what Micheal went through in any of my 22 100M races. I am pretty sure Micheal has never experienced either. Of course
we have been sick, had sour stomach, puked, bonked but always emerged at some point. There was no emerging from this. His will and determination to see it through was neat to witness. Though I am not sure I could have done it myself I am overly happy and amazed he did. I am definitely putting this effort in my tool box. The best part about ultra running is once you think you have got it all figured out you get reminded how hard this sport is. What does it take to push through what seems to be impossible? What does it take to turn the awful into triumph for yourself? I am not sure where Micheal went to pull this out but I would have loved to jump inside his head on our way into Brighten. But.....I would have wanted right back out because that projectile vomiting over and over again was craziness. It's so great to be part of someone else's race. The energy, the lessons and most of all the victorious outcome was so cool. Thanks Micheal and Lisa!
GREAT WORK MICHEAL!
P.S. you will have to excuse any weird spacing or alignment. I have made the switch from a PC to a Mac and let's just say I am not sure you can teach an old dog new tricks!