Thursday, May 9, 2013
Salt Flats 100 Mile Endurance Run (Race Director Recap)
The 2013 Salt Flats 100 Mile Endurance Run is in the books, full of epic individual struggles, amazing experiences, and the joy of running in some of the most stunning landscapes on the planet! First and foremost, many thanks to EVERYONE who participated, volunteered, crewed, sponsored, or simply supported someone who was a part of this event! A successful 100 is the work of hundreds of people, and this was no exception! After packing the trailer with all the gear for the event the previous two days, my wife Chriss (who is also the Assistant RD in charge of Volunteers) and I drove from our home in Bluffdale, UT to the Bonneville Salt Flats, parked the trailer, and went to sleep knowing we had a LOT of work to get done. Wednesday morning came too soon and we were up and at it. After unloading, Sam Collier, fellow ultra-runner, friend, and part of the Idaho ultra community pulled up in his car and asked if there was anything he could do to help as he'd finished up work a couple days early and decided to come down and hang out before running the event. I took him up on the offer, and we rigged up and set out to flag the first 23 miles of the course. Heading out on the salt, we flagged all the way to the first aid station without issue, but only about a 1/2 mile beyond we started breaking through the salt crust and bogging down into the slimy mud underneath. Rather than make my truck a permanent feature of the salt flats, I decided a reverse-at-full-speed departure was the prudent option, and I'd flag the course via ATV or on foot from Aid 1 to Aid 2. I dropped Sam off at the Start/Finish, he agreed to run the back side of Crater the next morning to help flag it, and he headed off to get some rest. Chriss and I drove into Wendover to check in with the Fire Department, get some supplies, and drop off the deposit check for the community center. While there, I decided it would be a good idea to wash the several inches of salt-mud off the chassis of the truck that I managed to accumulate extracting us off the edge of the flats. The Squaw Peak 50 shirt I was wearing is now permanently "speckled" from all the salt spray... if you ever want that "spilled bleach" look on your running clothes, I now have the solution. After finally returning to the start/finish area, I set out to flag more of the course. After driving the long way out towards Aid 2, before I even arrived I realized something was really wrong with the Truck... start phase one of "operation fix the truck while still getting the race off successfully". The cooling fan clutch had failed, and my big 7.4 liter V8 was gasping for cooling air, and thus overheating very quickly. A long, temperature-balancing drive back to the Start/Finish put me there around midnight, and thus ended that day. The next day after Ray and Becky Smith arrived (Assistant RD), we dropped the truck off at the local repair shop in Wendover, and headed out to flag Crater Island with Sam. Ray and Becky dropped Sam and I off just past Sheep Camp Aid Station (6), and they flagged backwards towards Hastings Aid Station (5/7) while Sam and I headed forwards towards Hastings. Sam and I had a great run setting the course through the "moonscape" on the back of Crater, stopping to punch pin-flags into the pie-crust of baked mud. I always enjoy the novelty of running this section of course as it's been my favorite part of the course since the first time I ran it. Once finished flagging that section, we continued backwards from the Hastings, flagging through 4 all the way to 3. We then headed back to the finish to drop Sam off and start on the water and Honey Buckets. Ray and I continued placing water, Honey Buckets, and flagging through the evening and all the way till about 5 AM, when we headed back towards the finish so we could get the race started, and head back out to get the rest of the course setup. By the time we arrived at the Start/Finish, runners were already milling about, placing their drop-bags, and making their final preparations. I was able to get a few things organized, say hi to Jay Aldous (who had literally just arrived in Utah from Italy the night before), see a few other friends and then get everyone lined up for the start. At 0700, I kicked it off and 53 runners headed out onto the salt, for what I sincerely hoped would be an awesome experience for each one. Then it was time to get back to work. On a side note, we lost an Aid Station Crew late in the game, and so Aid Station 3 became our own and several folks, including a couple who were just there to crew their runner out to Aid 3. Ray and Becky's daughter Rachael saved the day there by teaching the adults how to setup the canopy, and then she took over recording the runners in/out times. Thanks to everyone who stepped in to make Aid 3 possible! Ray and I split up and went to work, he, Becky, and his son Parker took off to continue to drop water and Honey Buckets, and I jumped on one of a couple borrowed ATVs (THANK YOU Bastian Cowsert and Mark Pledger!)and headed out to keep the course flagging ahead of the racers. About 11:00 AM, I headed back to the Start/Finish to find out if my truck was ready to pick up at the shop, and it was! Ray was inbound, so as soon as he arrived, he and I headed into Wendover to get my Truck. Upon returning, Steve Gerritsen, friend and volunteer was at the finish so I grabbed him and we headed out to finish flagging from the "concrete bunker" through to 14. However, at the turn off of Ranch Road that starts the climb out to 13, the truck lost the cooling fan again... MURPHY! I called Ray, who had been diverted trying to assist a runner who had a stress fracture and had to be extracted back to the start, and he started heading our way. Then I called the repair shop, and as diplomatically as possible, told them that they were going to come out and pick up the truck, and fix it before they went home for the weekend (Steve volunteered to go with them so that as soon as it was done he could drive it back), and Ray, Rachael, Parker and I headed out to finish the flagging into 14. Upon reaching 14, we headed back to the finish to regroup, and there I received the call that Steve was on the way back with my (once more fixed) truck. I also learned that Jay was running at least an hour back from his expected pace, so I had a little more time to get the last 5 miles of the course flagged, and the finish setup. Steve and I finished up the flagging by 6:30PM, and the finish was setup by 7:30PM. Somehow, with all the challenges, we still managed to pull it off. (I would learn later, that with the truck breakdowns, and the runner extraction, we failed to get the unmanned water placed at mile 48... FAIL!). My new, checklist-based approach will ensure that we don't let unexpected issues let a water placement slip by again. All during the race, the aid stations were competing for votes by the runners for "best aid station" of the year. All of the aid stations stepped up and provided OUTSTANDING support to the runners. Many runners, including Traviss Willcox who has run 246 marathons and ultras, stated that this was the best supported race they had run! Aid 4 had an amazing setup, as did 12, and they ended up tied for 1st place. Close behind was Aid 13, who were lauded by all for their expertise in moving runners through with both encouragement and tough-love. The biggest win for me this year was that I was able to be at the finish for every runner who came through! It was an amazing experience being able to congratulate each finisher, and hand them their buckle personally. I recognized myself in many of them, having that mix of pain, euphoria, and just plain relief at having it over. It's an odd thing this ultra-running... particularly the 100 distance. Jay Aldous finished first, coming through at 17:59:30. His travel schedule and it's impact on his training was evident, but he was happy none-the-less for having the opportunity to finish another Salt Flats among friends. He is always a class-act, and it was fun to chat with him and Peter for a few minutes at the finish. As more and more runners finished through the night, I enjoyed seeing old friends and new friends crossing the finish line. My cousin Davy Crockett came through just after sunrise, finishing this 100 miler after completing a 104 miles the previous weekend. Next, good friend Sam Collier finished his first sub-24hr 100! He was obviously stoked on the great finish, and also pretty spent... a great accomplishment to be sure. Another great accomplishment is a runners first 100... as Galen Garrison approached the finish of his first 100, I could see the pride that only a 100 finish can give. This is definitely one of the coolest parts of being an RD, is seeing the emotion of completing a first 100... I know how cool it felt for me, and it's a genuine joy to see others do the same! As the morning worked towards day, I decided to sit down and rest for a minute, as I'd been up for nearly 50 hours at this point... and of course that turned into a 30 minute nap until the next runner was approaching the finish. Milko Mejia came through the finish, having completed his fourth 100 miler. This course is not the easiest 100 by any stretch. It's very doable, but not easy, and Milko stated that very plainly to me... he's a new convert to the unique challenge and pain that the Salt Flats provides, and yet another new friend. The remainder of the day was a repetition of amazing efforts by unique individuals, all of whom came to this race with amazing personal stories and challenges. I watched our oldest runner, Bob Mercil (72) finish, followed by our youngest runner, Kara John (25) . Both endured some amazing challenges just to get to the finish. Somewhere along the day, we had a most unique visitor... Neil Young, who arguably shaped much of my musical taste as a youth arrived in his 1959 Lincoln Continental (modified to be a Hybrid Electric). He chatted amicably with a couple of the runners and crews, and then drove off. Had my head been in the game, I'd have grabbed a shirt and handed it to him, but alas, as I was chasing 60 hours without anything but a 30 minute nap, I wasn't really all there. Overall, this was an amazingly successful event this year. We had phenomenal volunteers at the aid stations and with the organizing committee. We had outstanding support by the Elko County Sheriffs Department Search and Rescue, South Jordan City and South Jordan Police Department along with the Amateur Radio Public Service Events (www.arpse.org) which provided medical and communications support, as well as kept the website updated with real-time-ish results! Six Nutrition did an amazing job as title sponsor, and all the other sponsors stepped up and provided prizes and support which made a great impact on the runners! I felt privileged to host every one of them, as well as all the runners, their crews and supporters, and see them cross the finish of what I consider to be one of the most amazing courses on the planet. Thanks again to everyone, and I look forward to next year!
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