The Race I Almost Had – A Bear 100 2016 Race Report

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After completing the Grand Slam of Pacing (probably my life’s crowning achievement – still waiting for that belt buckle or oversized trophy ahem) with Tommy’s races this summer, I felt a little apathetic to my own upcoming race.  I had dumped so much emotionally into this summer that I didn’t feel the fire I had expected and wanted to toeing the start line of the Bear.  Previous to the chaos that ensued leading up to the weather and forest fire cluster that had left the poor race directors scrambling to make last minute course changes, I felt fairly confident that I could and should be aiming for a sub-26 hour finish.  I finished last year in 26:24 and felt like I should be able to cut out both some time at aid stations as well as time in the first half to get that sub 26 hour.  When we found out the day before the race that it had been changed to an out and back course, turning around at Tony Grove to finish back at the start line at Hyrum Gibbons Park in Logan, I honestly didn’t even know if I would finish, let alone dare shoot for any sort of time goal.  I gave my crew some generous splits and figured that since I had nothing to compare to, I would either go out with a bang and race the crap out of it if feeling well or just coast in before the cutoffs due to weather and poor trail conditions.  The morning of the race, I felt surprisingly calm and knew that my chance with the best trail conditions possible would be to stay ahead of the main traffic so I decided to swallow my apathy and light a fire under my feet.

I will post some quick details at the end of the recap in terms of what I ate, wore and how I trained for the Bear this year so if that’s all you are looking for – scroll on down to the bottom.


I have always maintained the idea in an ultra that minutes saved on the front half can cost you hours on the back half and with that in mind, I was extremely conscientious of my effort levels at the beginning.  I usually have no problem letting people run past me as I walk the uphills knowing that I will pass them later in the race.  That being said, I was surprised at how well I was able to move for the first 22 miles into the Leatham Hollow aid station.  There was a steady rain falling which caused a lot more thought into foot placement and staying dry and less into where I was at in the race.  The first clue I even had as to how I was doing was when a lady yelled out to me that I was 3rd place female as I left Leatham Hollow at mile 22.  To be honest I was shocked.  I have never been in third place.  I was also not getting too excited because I know how much changes in the later miles and how early it really was into the race.  Either way it was a nice mental boost.

As you leave Leatham Hollow, you have a nice rolling runnable section of dirt road before you turn and head up the long uphill grind of Richards Hollow.  I walked plenty of this section but was able to pass a few men along the road before the turn up Richards.  At one point, I turned around to see my dear friend Chelsea just a few hundred feet behind me and hoped she would be able to run up to me so we could chat and take our minds off the climb I knew was coming.  The morning stayed nice and cool and the rain bounced back and forth from a drizzle to a downpour.  I just left my hood on over my head, kept my head down and maintained a solid 70% effort on the climbs.  I thought back to last year and how bad I had bonked along this section, leaving me at a slow death march with people passing me right and left.  It felt soooo good to be able to plug along at a strong pace this year.  I looked up to see what appeared to be another girl a ways ahead and figured she had to be 2nd place.  I knew better than to try and speed up to pass her but instead maintained my own pace and before hitting Cowley aid station, I had passed her and left Cowley in good spirits and a cup of warm broth in hand.

Many thanks to all the aid station volunteers.  You are so amazing!

There are so few things you have direct control over in an ultra and one thing I feel like I did well with this race was keeping a consistent flow of good calories going in.  I aimed for a minimum of 150 calories/hour but surpassed that easily for the first half of the race.  I ate a lot out of my pack (quick burn calories like flasks of raw honey, GU stroop waffles, gels etc) and always grabbed a handful of food as I left an aid station.  I tried to get as much salt intake as I could from the aid station foods, so I always grabbed a few small potatoes dipped in salt, potato chips, chicken broth etc.  I knew I was making good time so I came into mile 37 Right Hand Fork with a giant smile on my face knowing that my solo miles were over and I would have the company of a pacer for the rest of the journey.

Running into Right Hand Fork.  PC: Matt Williams

I reminded Heidi (my first pacer) that after feeling so good thus far, my only goal was to finish sub-26 hours and my placement was only a bonus.  I knew that even though I had created a nice time buffer for myself, the trail conditions would worsen as time went on and the temps would get colder.  Nonetheless, the next few hours went by rather fast with Heidi’s company even though we spent most of it running through mud that caked to our shoes and left us feeling like we had an additional 10 lbs on each foot.

I picked up my poles at Temple Fork just before the climb up to Tony’s Grove and I was grateful to have them as the single track turned into a swamp under our feet.  I purposefully slowed down on the climb because I knew I was already coming into Tony’s way ahead of my projections and was worried about blowing up.  I slowed down to a conversation pace and let a few people pass me on the climb.  Two women passed me before we reached the top of the climb where the rain turned to snow as we descended into Tony’s Grove.

I came in to Tony Grove at 5:46pm, 11:46 on the race clock and feeling solid.  The previous year I had arrived at 7:06pm and just coming off of hours of nausea.  I was in such a happy place mentally and physically!  My amazing crew (Thank you Annie, Heidi and Benj!!!)  had a chair next to a heater ready for me as I sat down and did a complete wardrobe change.  I put on fleece lined tights, a new dry long sleeve, thicker waterproof coat, dry beanie and dry socks & shoes.  Chelsea came in and sat down just as I was leaving.  She looked happy and strong.  I was in and out under 13 minutes, fully dry and fueled and now in the company of Benj Becker who would pace me the next 33 miles until Leatham Hollow #2.  He assured me that I had more than plenty of time to get to the finish in a sub-26 but I had the lingering cold and worsening trail conditions weighing on my mind.

Road out of Tony’s Grove before the single track bobsled.  The white against the yellow Aspens was breathtaking.  PC: Benj Becker

The descent back down from Tony’s Grove was the first indicator that my back half wasn’t going to be as fast as I had hoped.  In just the hour between my climb up and coming back down, the snowfall and foot traffic had turned it into quite the slip n slide.  At one point I ended up in the chinese splits straddling the trail and couldn’t help but laugh.  Unfortunately there is no photographic evidence and only Benj got to enjoy this amazing physical feat.  We were in good spirits still, laughing and happy to see a lot of familiar faces going up the trail as we were going down.

I turned on my headlamp just after leaving the Spawn Creek aid station and started up the single track trail alongside the river.  The way down that had left Heidi and I with inches of mud on our shoes had now turned to soupy sludge with the out and back traffic.  Benj and I would try to run along the sides of the trail through the brush as much as possible to miss the most slippery parts but this left my legs wet from the tall brush.  We continued to move slow and steady, running when we could but mostly unable to due to the slippery trails.  Very few people passed us though so I felt confident that I was still making decent time.  As we neared Right Hand Fork for the second time, I talked with Benj about what I needed to make sure and do before leaving the aid station.  I knew from there, it would be 18 miles before I saw my crew again and also knew that the climb out of Right Hand would leave us very cold at the higher elevation coming into Cowley Canyon #2.  I felt reasonably warm and up the this point had very little issues with my fingers or toes getting too cold.  I had decided to change my shoes and socks at the aid station and that would be enough.  I did just that and off we went on the longest climb I have ever experienced.  I am sure looking back, that Hell is actually at a high point and that you have to climb to Hell instead of fall.  About two miles from the top of the climb, the rain had turned to snow so I knew the temps were dropping.  Unfortunately I couldn’t move faster than I was and could feel my core temperature start to drop.  I just kept telling myself that as soon as I got to the top, there was a nice downhill into Cowley where I could run a little and try to raise my core temperature.  By the time we reached the top of Hell, the snow was so thick and the dirt road so saturated with water that I couldn’t jog very fast.  I was doing my best to miss the large puddles of water but would come up on them without realizing it and splash ice water up to my thighs.


By this point I had started to panic.  I was so soaked and getting so cold that I literally could not think about anything other than getting to the aid station.  It’s kind of interesting thinking back to that moment because my decision here completely changed my race.  I keep wondering what would have happened if I had never entered that warming tent.  All the woulda coulda shoulda’s that eat you alive.  But the fact of the matter is that I was in shock.  I have always thought that what I may lack in physical athleticism I make up for with mental grit.  The grit didn’t do me a lot of good going into Cowley.  Had I not stopped at this aid station, I am fairly positive that I would have been pulled from the race at Richards Hollow, or quit.  I sat down inside a warming tent next to a heater and began to shiver.  I pulled out my drop bag and fortunately had a dry long sleeve shirt and socks.  I changed those out and continued to shiver.  Benj was extremely attentive and made sure I was drinking hot broth and hot chocolate in an effort to raise my core temperature.  By the time I came to my senses, I decided I needed to get out of there so we headed out the door.  As soon as I felt the cold air I turned around and came back in, soul crushed at my quick fall from a great race.  I began all the scenarios of what happens if I quit here.  I pushed that thought aside and told Benj that we needed to try and leave again but that if I came back into the tent, I thought my race was over.  I just could not stop shaking and the panic going through my head seems so foreign now and hard to describe.  We left the tent and I made it about 200 feet before I panicked, turned around and came back into the tent.  As I sat there, I talked with Benj about how I was going to reconciled a DNF in my head.  How was I going to make this okay tomorrow or the next day, when my body was warm and I was wishing so bad I could go back and do things differently.  Anyone that has gotten to this point in a race can understand the mental agony I was going through.  I knew that if I quit here that I would go through some pretty severe post race depression in the following months but I knew that if I chose to continue that I had hours of slow misery in front of me.  Someone came into the tent and announced that he was the only drive back to Logan for the rest of the night so if I wanted to go back, I needed to leave right then.  I told him that I was done.  My heart broke.  He said he would go get the paperwork.  I couldn’t believe myself.  It had already been almost 90 minutes and I was still shivering and so miserable from my own mental weakness.  I looked at Benj, ashamed of myself.  I knew he understood how torn I was.  Immediately I thought of telling my kids the next morning about how I had chosen to quit because I was too cold and too miserable.  “Did someone tell you that you had to quit?”  I pictured my son saying.  “No”.  “Then why didn’t you just wait a little longer and try again?”  The reality of that moment was that if I didn’t just leave that tent right away on my own two feet with hours of cold ahead of me then I would be leaving in a truck with months of misery ahead of me.  I couldn’t reconcile the DNF in my head.  I stood up and told Benj that we were leaving right then.  He later told me that he knew I would never sign those papers.  I myself have not fully convinced myself of that.

I was actually surprised at how fast we tackled the next 1.5 mile climb, alongside friend Cody Reeder who had spent an hour with me in the warming tent.  I started to warm up and was consumed with regret knowing how much time I had lost after having such a solid race.  I figured at this point that Chelsea, who was just minutes behind me at every aid station, was now likely a hour or more ahead.  Gah!!!  Anyone who ran this race understands how hard it is to describe the next 5 mile downhill section into Richards Hollow.  There was a solid 3 inches of snow on the trails but the ground was warm enough underneath that everything just puddled to the middle of the rutted out singletrack.  There is little side wall to try and run on to avoid the ruts so by the end we just ran down the middle of the ice water, simply counting the minutes to the aid station.  I fully realize that there are 200 other people that ran this same section of trail with the same or worse conditions than I did.  I will never complain about the situation I put myself in but hope to keep the description real so that someday I can come back to this recap to remind myself of the mental and physical state I was in on the section between Cowley #2 and Richards Hollow #2 to remind myself after this, nothing should feel unbearable.

I spent some time in Richards Hollow trying to warm up, but to be honest, by this point I was just emotionally broken which I am not proud of.  As Benj and I actually ran most of the section of road between Richards and Leatham, I saw a headlamp coming toward us and realized it was Tommy.  I completely lost my shiz when I saw him.  I am getting emotional just writing this and thinking back to that moment.  He hugged me and grabbed my hand and assured me that I was going to be okay and I would change my clothes and get warm in Leatham Hollow with the help of my crew.  He had heard somehow from someone that I was quitting but running down to Leatham Hollow to meet him for a ride home (which was not the case).  I changed my layers, socks and shoes again and headed out with Tommy for the last 13 miles.  I cannot thank Benj enough for gutting out the most miserable hours of my existence and not once complaining about his own discomfort.

With Tommy in front and setting the pace up the Leatham Hollow climb, I moved consistently but slow, never having anyone pass me until the downhill into Millville.  I knew at this point that any hopes of a sub 26 or any sort of placement were out the door.  I was proud of myself for not calling it quits but the obvious heartbreak of being so close to a race performance to be proud of (and may never happen again) was as heavy as the mud on my shoes.

Last mother freaking climb.  Almost to the top of Leatham Hollow.  It was probably 46 miles long. PC: Tommy


I was able to slowly jog the technical descent of Millville Canyon (as Tommy walked by me while I was “running”) and noticed a cramp in my left calf.  It wasn’t horrible but knew it would be something I would need extra recovery time from.  The last 5 miles along the Bonneville Shoreline trail were slow and long, filled with several full on temper tantrums on my part.  One of the benefits (or downsides depending on how you look at it) of having your spouse pace you is that you have absolutely zero care about how you look or act at this point.  There was one point where I was sobbing like a 2 year old in the grocery store because I could see the finish line down below me but  Right about this time I saw my mom approaching us on the trail.  She has rode her bike to the trailhead then walked along until she found us.  All she really had to do was follow the giant boobing until she came across my sorry sight. 🙂

Losing my mind. Leave it to Tommy to snap a picture of this stellar moment 🙂  PC: Tommy


I crossed the finish line in 28:40.  8th female to cross.  It’s a far cry from the race I thought I would have by Tony’s Grove.  My emotions were so caught between gratitude for my resiliency and ability to push through hard things and disappointment that I had not made just a few different choices that could have changed the course of my race.   I should have changed my base layer at Right Hand Fork.  I should have grabbed a puffy jacket.  I should have never stepped foot in that warming tent at Cowley.  I do believe I made the choice my brain had the ability to make with the mental state I was in going into that aid station.  It’s very hard to let ourselves off the hook sometimes.  I spent nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes in aid stations after Right Hand Fork #2.  I wonder how long I will chew on that.  I laid at the finish line next to Chelsea, who had finished 2 hours before me as 3rd place female!  For her first 100, she ran an incredibly strong and smart race.  It was so comforting to hug her at the end, feeling the empathy for what we had just finished.

PC: Matt Williams

It’s been a few days and lots of time thinking back.  I am proud of my race.  I have never ran such a strong and smart race for so long.  I feel confident after how I felt that I have a solid finish and at least near podium finish in my future.  I would have never said that before this race.  I never over ran, I never physically imploded due to pacing or fueling choices.  My stomach and legs were solid gold the whole race.  I made poor choices at Right Hand Fork that allowed me to get too cold.  That’s part of the race and kudos to those who did it right and did it smart.  I believe part of my mental hold up is that because I surprised myself with such a solid front half, it seems as though I finished a far cry from my “goal”.  When I was standing on the road the morning before, I had no idea whether I would have a blow it up or blow up kind of day.  Had I just slogged along to start with, I would be ecstatic with a 28:40 finish time in these conditions.  Once I let go of “the race I almost had” and embrace “the incredible race I did have” I will find myself happy and satisfied with where I am.  Perhaps that longing to have more of that fire I had on the front half will fuel me into a great finish if I keep trying.  I know I have that potential.  I woke up the next morning wishing I was back out on the course, sliding along the downhill section of Tony’s Grove and smiling at all my friends as we passed each other.  I know I’m hooked.  I know this is where I love to be.  I’ll see you guys again in 2017.  Until then, health and happiness and never take our amazing machines for granted.

PC: Matt Williams


How I trained:

I started the early season this year with something new: a 70.3 distance triathlon.  I completed that at the first of April before I began any sort of trail running.  I found that my speed and endurance were actually better by mid April on the trails and after just a few weeks of playing catch up on my climbing legs, I was hitting PR’s on my Strava segments.  I plan to do this same thing again for 2017.  I averaged roughly 45 miles per week, running 4-5 days per week.  By mid July, I was logging 10k-12k vert per week which is much more than I did last year.  My long runs were mainly pacing Tommy at his four 100 milers this year, pacing him 20-33 miles at each one.  A lot of these miles were power hiking since it was at the end of his 100 miles.  Outside of pacing duties, I ran a handful of 20-25 milers but aside from pacing Tommy 33 miles at Wasatch two weeks before Bear, I never ran more than 25 miles at one time.  I had a few solid weeks at 60 miles and 13k vert.  I aimed to do one tempo run on the trails per week.

What I ate for Bear:  

I had reread my 2015 race report and tried to duplicate my eating both the day before and the morning of.  For lunch on Thursday I had a pasta salad and half a turkey panini.  For dinner we ate at Texas Roadhouse where I had a 6 oz steak, sweet potato, salad and approx 326 dinner rolls.  For breakfast the morning of, I woke up at 4:00am to try and get my food in at least 90 minutes before go time.  I had two scrambled eggs, 2 slices of bacon, a piece of toast with jam, a Core Power protein shake and a banana.

I covered my fueling on the course in my race report but I ate approx 150 calories/hour out of my pack with raw honey, GU stroop waffles, GU’s, and Swedish Fish.  I ate at every aid station and had potatoes dipped in salt, watermelon, potato chips, a cup of hot chicken broth and at night I had a cup of hot chocolate.  I drank to thirst but hardly drank more than 17 oz between aid stations and was peeing more often than I would have liked to.  No one likes pulling down their pants during a blizzard.  I took salt for the first 70 miles of the race but stopped after that and may attribute my horrible left calf cramps at mile 95 to no salt.

What I wore for Bear:

I changed my shoes 4 times.  Looking back this was likely overkill and could have gotten away with one or two shoes changes as I have read other’s race reports.  I change my socks at every aid station from Tony Grove on.  On the bright side, my feet were never cold with the exception of the ice water downhill into Richards Hollow and not one blister or hot spot.  No signs of swamp or trenchfoot which was my biggest concern.  I wore running tights and a long sleeve top with a waterproof coat over the entire time.  I changed to insulated tights and a slightly thicker coat at Tony’s Grove.  I should have changed to a dry long sleeve and added a puffy coat layer under my waterproof coat at Right Hand Fork #2.  I used hand warmers inside my gloves from Tony’s Grove on.  I wore a buff on my head and changed to a beanie at Tony’s Grove and never once had problems with cold fingers or head.  The only time I got cold was allowing my core to get too cold before Cowley.

Lovefest and Thank You’s to my Crew and Pacers:

There is no adequate words that can extend the full appreciation for what a good crew and pacers can do for your race.  To mine, I only hope you know how much I relied on you when my emotional state failed me and had it not been for your attentiveness, would have likely not been able to leave Leatham Hollow #2.  You were up all night, froze your arse’s off and not once did I hear a word about it from you.  I hope that one day I can return the favor.  Except for Tommy – I paid up front for that favor 4 times already this summer. 🙂  But would do it again in a heartbeat.  I love you.

Wasatch 100 Race Report 2016 by Tommy Barlow– “Wasatch- from the dead”

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After completing the Leadville 100 I was in a pretty euphoric state, having overcome what I saw as the biggest obstacle standing in my path to finishing the Grand Slam. That race decimated the entire field with DNF’s and took 11 people out of their Slam journey, with 10 other slammers finishing in the 30th and final hour. In all, 19 of us were left with the opportunity to move on to the final stage at the Wasatch 100, which starts literally in my own backyard. Knowing that while Wasatch is the most difficult course of the four, it isn’t necessarily the hardest to finish because it is the only race in the slam with a cutoff of 36 hours, which meant 6 more hours over the 30 hours that we were allotted in the previous three events. In addition, I knew that I would sleep in my own bed, eat in my own kitchen, be surrounded by my friends and family, and would have my parents waiting for me at the finish for the first time in a 100 miler so I felt ready. In the short two weekends off between Leadville and Wasatch I often imagined my dad standing up and cheering me in as I finished, and I knew that nothing was going to prevent me from making that image a reality. It was time to cap this summer of running off, and I was going home to do it!


If the time between Western States and Vermont felt like it went by faster than expected, the time between Leadville and Wasatch was a mere blink of the eye. It was an odd feeling because on one hand I was feeling the cumulative drain of racing three 100 milers and certainly could have benefited from more recovery, yet I almost couldn’t wait to start running again just so I could get to the ultimate finish line and allow myself to soak in the feelings, thoughts, and emotions that had been pinned up since December when I decided to take on this wild ride in the first place. My body was feeling better than between any of the previous races, and in fact I would even say that from a physical standpoint I was healthier than when I started Western States, although I was certainly fatigued which is very different than being injured or dealing with the bumps and bruises that we all face in training and racing. It’s hard to explain it all to someone who hasn’t been there, but anyone who has taken on a huge endurance event (or really anything completely overwhelming in life) can probably sympathize with the fact that it’s so much more than just the running part. It’s the time, emotion, brain drain, sweat, anxiety, passion,…. I’m running out of words but it’s just EVERYTHING that goes into something so big…and you have to do that FOUR times! The emotional dump and endorphin roller coaster of just one event often leaves me out of whack for months at a time, and each of these events was no exception at all. One could say I was completely drained and oddly energized at the same time.

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Look at that CREW!! ^^

Race week came quickly and I was fortunate to assemble an all-star crew and pacing team featuring Ashley Maudsley, Eric Johnson, and my superstar wife Kenzie. In all seriousness I think I fielded the best looking crew in the history of ultra. I also had the chance to share a dinner and conversation with Gina Crosswhite who was in town to race her 2nd 100 miler, and by no coincidence I decided to meet up with her at the same pizza place where Joshua Holmes first explained to me what the slam was just one year prior as I was prepping for my first 100 miler at the Bear 100.


Thursday and the pre-race meeting came quickly, which was the shortest of all 4 races, then we hurried home for some smoked beef and chicken on the Traeger with the legendary Crimson Cheetah Matt Van Horn and family. In bed and trying to sleep by 10 PM….staring at the ceiling and heart pounding!!

I never sleep well the night before a big race and this was no exception. I think I managed about 3 hours of real sleep and another 2 of so-so rest, and if I were wearing a heart rate monitor for the entire Wasatch experience, I am quite certain that it peaked at 3:45 AM when I could FINALLY crawl out of bed and get this thing started.


As always, I started my morning by applying about a pound of Rock Tape on my knees, hips, hamstring, and back. At the last minute I decided to throw on my ¾ crop white tights to help manage the heat and keep my legs from the brush on the trails. Mostly I didn’t want to jinx myself because they had treated me really well in all my previous 100 milers and I’m a little bit superstitious. I take a lot of flack and ribbing from other runners for my odd attire (not wearing shorty shorts) but it works for me so I just do my thing. For breakfast I ate a blueberry bagel, some fresh fruit, and started sipping some Gatorade. Out the door by 4:20 and headed over to the start!


When arriving at the start line I was feeling really excited, but noted that my stomach was turning over and over from the nerves. I’d be a liar if I said there wasn’t a ton of stress going into the final leg of the slam and knowing that everything that I had poured my body and soul into was coming down to this final 100 mile jaunt over the Wasatch range. Again, it was a bipolar feeling because I was supremely confident that I would finish, yet I was terrified to think that if something really bad happened it could blow the entire summer. I think that I added some to the stress level by having decided that I would go for a 24 hour finish. It was something that I knew would be very improbable because it had only been done 13 times at Wasatch to complete the slam in 30 years, and those who did it were really elite runners. At the same time I am a dreamer and a fighter, and I knew that although I could have run a managed race and broken 26 hours without entering the pain cave, there were really only two benchmarks that I cared about: 1) finish the slam in under 100 hours which I had given myself a 30:40 finish cushion by running the previous 3 races well and 2) Run every race in the slam in under 24 hours which only the best have managed to do and was NEVER on my  radar as a guy who started trail running just 2 years ago. Since I was in a position, there wasn’t a reason to not go for it because I knew that if I blew up I was tough enough to drag my butt across those mountains and finish in 30:40 or better. This was also a suggestion that grand slammer Jeff Stowell had made and I agreed that it was worth it. It was exciting and terrifying because I knew that if the wheels fell off on this course I would be hurting more than any other race, but I was going to give it all I had and see what was there. YOLO and you likely only SLAM once!


Soon enough the countdown was on and we were galloping down the paved road. Wasatch started this year by bombing down the road to the highway, then climbing back up the road to the Bair (Baer) Canyon trail. I positioned myself just behind the first 25 runners or so and clipped at a good pace. I don’t know what that pace was because I knew that I had to manage whatever stress I could, so I elected to only use the time of day function on my watch—no GPS. I knew that the start of the race was so hard and slow that it would jack up my average pace from the get-go and I didn’t want to have to do any math or calculating splits while running. Growing up I hated two things: Math and Running. Now I just hate doing Math while running. So the plan was simple—run a steady manageable pace and see what time it is by the time you hit mile 50. In my experience after 50 miles in I know pretty much how the race is going to pan out anyways. If I was around 11 to 11.5 hours I had a shot at the Cheetah, and if not it would be all about managing the finish to break 100 total hours. I also knew that I had to be at mile 60 by 14.5 hours so that would be my second check point if I was still gunning for my own little claim on history. I know what my body can do in the last 40 miles so I really didn’t have a checkpoint after that. Anyways…we were running quickly down the road and then back up to the trail head, and before I knew it I had settled in with Jadd Martinez (the other slammer with a shot at all 4 sub 24 hours-he was consistently the fastest runner in all 4 events and ended up 1st overall in total time and barely missed the Cheetah)  and we started the massive 4,300 ft climb in 3.9 miles that kicks off the nonstop vert fest that is the Wasatch 100.


Bair Canyon went better than expected for me, largely due to the fact that I had gotten ahead of the conga line and that Jadd is a funny guy so the conversations helped me ignore any early suffering or anxiety. A couple of times I asked him to pull ahead of me but he insisted that he was going to sit tight and be patient, which I told him was a great plan as we were moving quite well. After a little over an hour in, I pulled aside to get some calories out of my pack which was part of my nutrition plan—getting them in early and often treated me really well at Leadville and I hoped that I would have another good stomach and nutrition day. I kept Jadd and 3 others who passed me in sight all the way to the top which I reached at 6:50 AM. Seeing Lane Bird’s yellow SUV and hearing the Eminem blasting was an amazing feeling- captured nicely by Lane here:



After the monstrous climb, you plug away around Francis Peak and the Radar Balls of OZ, then hit a 4 mile downhill stretch that I have ran dozens of times. Many people caution against blowing our your quads on this section but if there is one thing I trust 100% in my running ability it’s the downhill running that my legs are very well adapted for. I cruised down to mile 11 at Grobben’s Water Shed passing a few runners and slapped Jadd on the butt wishing him luck as I knew I wouldn’t see him from that point on. With my water filled, I knew that the following sections included a good amount of flat, then some downhill, followed by a pretty steep climb to the Bountiful B Aid Station. The flats are my biggest weakness in trail running so I popped in my headphones and was content to plug along while getting passed by people like Ian Farris and Justin Anderson. They both commented that I shouldn’t be feeling this good at this point in the slam, and I assured them that it was a long day and that I knew my struggles would come, and I would eventually be caught by the residual fatigue. I continued to go slow through the flats, would put time back in the bank on the downhills, then typically held my position on the climbs. Just before reaching the B, Craig Lloyd and Bob Kain cruised past me with big smiles looking like they were legit ready for a sub 24 hour finish.  At the aid station I was stoked to see familiar faces including my buddy and crew chief from Leadville, Mike Allen. The volunteers were awesome- sorry to Tara and Marnie for spraying my secret mist in your Coke ; ) Jenna Bradford was smiling ear to ear and I might have been hallucinating but I think I saw Taralyn Summers on a hand bike wearing a unicorn mask…..anyways it’s always awesome to see people you know when you are running these crazy races.


Leaving the aid station I was feeling tired, but it seemed on par with how I felt at Leadville at around mile 16. People were passing me but I wasn’t overly concerned, and while my body felt fine from a physical perspective considering aches and pains, I was feeling like I wanted to take a nap. After this point in the race, things in general seem pretty hazy to me as I try to remember the moments so as a disclaimer some details may be inaccurate from here to the finish! I knew that I had 15 miles to go until I would see my crew and pick up my pacer so I turned the volume up and kept moving forward while trying to keep on pace for the 24 hour finish. Soon I had Scott Frogley, who was another sub 24 hopeful, pushing me from behind and we did a little leapfrogging for a bit until I couldn’t hang with him any longer. I recall at one point when I had made a pass and was in my downhill mode he was asking me how much weight I had lost in the slam…which is the number one question I get at my office. Apparently I look like a cancer patient. I also shared miles with the king of of Timp, Scott Wesseman as we yo-yo’d quite a bit. I remember telling Scott how emotional I was feeling, because several times I thought about my dad and his battle as a recent amputee. I would literally break into tears at times mid-stride which would probably weird most runners out, but I knew Scott could handle it because he runs a lot with Craig Lloyd who is probably the only runner that cries more than me. From there it was a lot of rolling hills, then before I knew it we were at another aid station. I saw local ultra legend Kelly Agnew who was always supporting me throughout the slam and Jennilynn Eaton leid me. Normally I would have been super bothered by the plastic lei but I ran with it around my neck for the next few aid stations and was actually enjoying myself quite a bit until things made a pretty sudden shift towards the suck. I was cruising along on the trail and abruptly came upon a FRIGGIN HORNET’s NEST (cue Jack Black) that was swarmed by angry yellow and black demons. One stung me right in the fetching face, just below my right eye and I was pretty shocked at how bad that sucker burned over the next couple of miles. I honestly don’t know if there is a correlation, but this is when I started feeling nauseous….a feeling that wouldn’t stop again for the next 70 miles. At the next aid station I saw Jason Eichorst and was a little bummed that I was feeling so crappy because I wanted to make him proud with a “Jazzy Speed” run to sub 24 and at this point I could start to feel that my body wasn’t cooperating.


The course through this section was warming up but it wasn’t awful and certainly didn’t come close to past experiences at Western States with 102 degrees or Ironman CDA at 108 degrees. As I approached Big Mountain there was a nice descent that helped me gain a little of the lost time back, as well as some much needed confidence. Making some of the switchback turns I started to whoop and yell at the crowd below, then saw a sign that said “you are awesome”, and I said out loud to myself…”dang right you’re awesome”.




Pretty soon I was rolling into the aid station where I was greeted by Kenzie and my crew and was able to get in some solid food, ice, and pick up Ashely for pacing duties. We made quick work of the aid station and headed out to tackle the next 14 miles which is a section I had planned to move quickly through given that it was likely the most tame terrain of the day. We started slowly as I was trying to let the food digest and I told Ashley that even though we were still on the 24 hour pace chart, I was going to have to take it easy and that she would need to be patient…..and patient is about all I can say we were through this section. I felt like I did OK on the hills but the flatter and more gradual grades were really slower than I had hoped. Even some of the downhills were pretty bad by my standards. Ashley did an incredible job at keeping me moving forward and reminding me to take ice and water to fight the heat. I was still putting in around 200-250 calories per hour, but it was becoming more difficult to do so as my stomach continued to turn south. I found myself feeling overwhelmed at the mileage checks that Ashley was giving me- 2 miles felt like 4 and hearing about 7 miles between aid stations felt like it would take all day. At Mile 39 we came into the aid station and I used the kiddie pool they had to get my tights and shirt wet which helped with an evaporative cooling effect. I took in some food, a full cup of gingerale and some watermelon. As we started heading out I could see the trash can and I wanted to throw some garbage into it, but then suddenly I started feeling the quakes and shakes of a convulsive vomit dance coming on. In a split second I was on my knees puking out the contents of my stomach. I think I actually laughed and joked about how Craig and the other guys would no longer consider me one of the hottest Wranglers if they could see me in this pile of puke (it’s a funny inside joke- we are all very much straight dudes). Ashley was great at letting me regroup and we got back to our feet and started a long gradual trudge deathwalk forward. I wanted so badly to run but knew that from my Western States puke-out at mile 32 that if I got it all out of my system and continued to believe in myself I could still turn things around- maybe not sub 24 but maybe still something respectable. I just needed to be patient, so on we went…



At this point in the race I started cutting back on the calories because I knew I couldn’t afford to lose what I did have in my body, and knew that if I pushed too many I would be in the same spot on my knees. Eventually we were on the ridge above Lambs Canyon and Ashely reminded me that it looked much closer than it was. I feel like we managed the best 2 miles of our stretch together at that point because I was able to run the whole path down at an OK pace, and arriving at the aid station I had caught up to a couple of people that were previously a ways in front of me. At Lambs Kenzie wasn’t allowed in but she told the team we were still within 3 minutes of the 24 hour mark so Eric was anxious to keep me moving, still believing it was possible. I had doubts, but wanted to believe so I loaded up on some broth and a little gingerale again and we started the shuffle out towards the road. I told Eric I had been puking and that I needed to be careful so he was good to allow me the walking and power shuffling that was going on. I tried to take a small bite of a cheese quesadilla and immediately did the pukey dance again…this time was much worse feeling than the first and I had to drag myself over to the roadside for a second round of chucking chunks. I remember seeing a female runner (maybe Erin Clark??) watching me puke and saying “bummer” while looking at me the way other runners were at Western States…the look of  “that dude is done”. This is where I wondered if it was possibly the end of my slam. The puking had not gone away the way it did at Western…I still had 55 miles to go and couldn’t see myself being able to put in enough calories to deal with the course ahead. To say that it was hard to want to push on is a massive understatement as I felt like it took all I had just to get back to my feet. With Eric’s encouragement I got back up and kept moving forward.



On the climb out of Lambs I was surprised that more people weren’t passing me. At one point we caught up to Yassine Diboun and his runner Ian Golden that was having some stomach issues as well. Ian had left me in his dust super early in the race. We would move back and forth with them, losing time on the flats, gaining on the downhill, maintaining on the uphill climbs. Eventually we pulled away from them and didn’t see them the rest of the day. Further along the course at some point on the trail I pulled over to let a runner pass and it was Tyler Hall, who insisted that he wouldn’t pass me because he knew what I was undertaking with the slam. It was really a pretty cool gesture that I will never forget— a sort of showing respect from one runner to another. I told him what was going on and he offered some papaya enzymes to me. The “smart” runner in me blurted out a “NO”, knowing that the first rule of racing is to never try anything new on race day. The really smart runner in me knew that if something didn’t change I wouldn’t be going much further and that it couldn’t get much worse. I chewed those puppies up and honestly did feel some relief which was enough to keep the slow drip of calories coming and my feet plodding along.


The pavement roads in this section seemed like an eternity. When we hit Millcreek canyon Eric was doing an amazing job of keeping cold water on me from the river and encouraging me to take tiny bites of my Gu Stroop waffles, which seemed to be the only thing my body could tolerate as long as it was only 40 calories at a time. We both knew that I needed more, but I also knew that if I pushed it by taking more I would be back on my knees which is a hard way to finish a 100 miler. We kept moving and I was looking for distractions from the problem at hand and soon found myself joined by Amie Blackham and her bf Seth. Those two know how to pace a race better than anyone in the local running scene, IMO, and here she was just cruising up the canyon. I told them how much Kenzie and I look up to what they have both been able to do and they were off! Although I never saw her again, she ended up finishing about 7 minutes ahead of me and 4th overall female. Congrats!


Somehow we finally made it to Upper Big Water, and while it was still plenty light out, it was cooling off. Being super calorie depleted and sick I started to shiver uncontrollably. I removed my wet clothing and begged for a shirt and hat from Altra runner Michael Mcknight. He was kind enough to find me an XL t shirt from their van and took the beanie off his own head, giving it to me with the warning that if I lost it he and I would both be dead because his wife had knit it for him. It was sad to see my ‘merica hat go, because I had run every race in it this year, but it was a necessary switch to keep me from coming to a halt. Local runner Curt Bentley and his pacer were in this aid station, as was Sean Bowman who I had run TONS of miles in every race of the slam with. Sean joked that although I was in a bad spot at the moment, he had seen me dig out of every race after this point so he was telling everyone to not worry about Tommy. I ran into Tyler again and he asked how I was doing. I told him I was feeling crappy still but that I would definitely take more of those enzymes if he had them, and he was awesome to spare me 2 more. Eric and I hit the trails again and I didn’t get to see Sean the rest of the race, but Curt and I would literally leapfrog from here to the finish which was a total miracle for me because I know where my body was and I know how strong Curt is. He must have been struggling too, and having him close by was a huge lift and motivator for me to keep moving.


From Upper Big Water to Desolation we had light and I was happy that Eric got to see some of the most beautiful sections of the course before we needed headlamps. By the time we reached the top of the Crest Trail it was dark and you could see the lights of Park City and SLC which I think was a perfect experience for me. I recalled being there a couple of years ago with Kenzie and singing Salt’ N’ Peppa “push it” as she dragged her body up over that mountain. I think I cracked a smile for the first time since mile 39. I continued to move quickly through the aid stations because I knew that I couldn’t get much benefit from them other than more water, a little bit of coke, a friendly cheer, and then it was back on me to get moving.  The climb to Scott’s Pass seemed longer than I remembered and we found ourselves almost alone for a bit there. I remember thinking that other runners were either flying out in front of me, or taking more time at aid stations because we would group up with around 4-5 runners then thin out in the space between aid stations. We walked the flat spot on top, letting some broth settle in my stomach a bit and I remember thinking that it was much warmer than I thought it would be. When we hit the downhill I felt like we moved pretty well until we got to the paved road and there were spots where I had to slow to a power hike to stop from puking. The climb up the road to Brighton seemed to take super long, but we kept the runners that I had caught up to on the downhill in our sight the whole way up so I was feeling fine about things. Eventually we hit the lodge and I stumble up the stairs into a mass of people- runners and crew-but all I wanted was to get Kenzie and keep moving. I was feeling like I was running on fumes and couldn’t spare any extra minutes on this course.


Inside the lodge I first declined a sock swap, then looked at my feet and made the good decision to throw on another pair and switch from my Hoka Challenger ATR 2’s to my Hoka Clifton 2’s. I don’t recommend road shoes for the last 33 miles after having some time to look back, but it felt great on my feet to have a changeup at the time and more importantly I was able to dump a ton of dirt and dust out that could have caused issues. The good doctor was patting my back and getting me some broth and chips, people were saying my name but I was pretty faded, Aaron Smith said “hey Tommy- it’s me, Aaron”, lots of Wrangler faces…but I can’t remember much. I hid the chips behind the chair but Kenzie saw them and scolded me. I pounded half a redbull and told her I wanted to get going so we got out in pretty good time. As we left the lodge I started to shiver again so I sent Kenzie back for a long sleeve that I had declined. By the time we started the climb up to Catherine’s and the high point of the course I was warming up some and had stopped shivering. I had another emotional breakdown and told Kenzie how happy I was to finally get to her and sobbed as I told her how much I love her. Moving up the hill I told her that I would give everything that I had in my body and we both were convinced that no matter what, we would make the sub 30 hours needed for the sub 100 hour slam.


Surprisingly I climbed stronger than I thought possible at that moment and we found ourselves way ahead of a guy who had started the climb around the same time as me. The beach was a drag through the sand, but I don’t think I ever stopped on the climb to Supreme. I had been on that section so many times before and the familiarity was somewhat comforting. I finally got to kiss the sign! While my confidence was high at this point, I still wasn’t getting in the calories needed for the battle ahead. One nibble here of a waffle, a sip of coke there, a mouthful of water….it couldn’t possibly be enough. The next 7 miles were incredibly difficult and I had no familiarity since it is a course change back to the old days of the Plunge and the Dive, and Irv’s torture chamber. I tried pushing in more calories and just before hitting the ??? aid station I had a tiny bit of waffle hit my mouth and within a split second I let out a sound that Kenzie mistook for a seizure, convulsed, and dropped to the ground. As the pukes were coming out of my mouth I saw someone moving towards me with a radio in hand. Looking back, this was the funniest moment of the day and probably the slam. My brain was obviously not working properly because I was certain that this guy was giving my bib number to someone and telling them that I was done. I told him “dude I’m good—don’t tell anyone anything”!! In fact, he was just giving the aid station a heads up that I was coming in, just in case they needed to get a drop bag ready for me. Once I realized that he was just there to help we had a good laugh and I made my way back to my feet again and trudged into the aid station, again with no calories in me and no appetite to force more.


The leap-frogging continued with Curt, and earlier Eric Nelson (my candidate for most improved Wrangler) had joined in the action as well. The three of us would ebb and flow- all while Kenzie provided serenades that would make a baby weep….in a good way. I needed more calories and was able to start putting small nibbles of waffle back in my mouth but literally nothing else would work. I even had to slow the coke intake to a very small sip—like I was living on an IV drip. Flats continued to be my goat, but hill climbs started to be my friends because it bothered my stomach less than any of the jostling that running caused.


The Plunge was insanity. I kicked a rock that caused my toenail to fully displace from the nail bed. I had several stumbles with my minimal traction road shoes but somehow caught myself time and time again with my poles. On a side note- there is no way I would have finished where I did and maybe not at all without my poles. Time and time again I pulled my body over mountains with my poles. If you know how to use them they are a major advantage in a mountain 100 miler. We worked out way to the water station which I thought would only be water, but the amazing aid station volunteers had hauled up a make-shift aid station and pointed me to a fallen tree that had food spread out on it like a table. I had held off trying to eat on the climb so I sat down and knew I couldn’t take another waffle bite. Nothing on the tree looked like it would go down without a fight either so I pulled out a nut butter packet from my pouch. As soon as I put one little gob to my tongue I lost it. Puke to the left, puke to the right, puke between your legs! It was the most backwards game of Twister I have ever played, and more embarrassingly this was right where other runners would be coming to get nutrition. I stared down at the dirt and rocks, dejected that my body was trying to sabotage me. I needed those calories to be in my body, not on the dirt. I was now in a worse deficit than when I had reached the climb. I thought of DJ Lorchester’s trick where he would put skittles in his mouth and his body would release some energy stores even though he couldn’t get in anything. I looked to my right and there was a bowl of Reeces Pieces. Those would have to be my Skittles…so I filled up two pockets and started to walk out. My first go at the experiment yielded a positive result with three in the mouth- a quick chew and spit. No puke. Mentally believing that this would somehow get me across the line.


After a ton of suffering through unknown terrain we were finally back on the old course. Aid stations were still just a quick water stop with foods that only mocked my stomach instead of feeding it fuel so I made a point to “170 OUT” as quickly as possible. The terrain mellowed and soon enough we were climbing the last real climb of the course. More hills, rumors of Cougars and Bears, breathing obnoxiously loud, listening to Kenzie, Curt, Eric and their pacers seemingly having a good time. I was suffering quietly, just holding on for a hopeful end in sight. The descent down the mountain reminded me of my time spent pacing Matt Van Horn last year. He was in the hunt for a sub 23 hour finish and we couldn’t get down the cow pasture and overgrown trail fast enough.


At Decker aid station with 6 miles to go I remembered Matt getting a hot chocolate and it sounded strangely tempting so I made the same request. I don’t know why or how but this seemed to be an elixir from the Gods…my stomach came unknotted, the sugar rush put life back in my mind, and I felt like a had a tiny bit of energy in the tank to finish this out. I had to walk some and watch Curt and Eric make their charge to the finish but I wanted to make 100% certain that I wasn’t stepping into a trap that would end my slam by collapsing in a mad rush to the finish….but inside I started to feel like running all the way to the finish was possible.


The thought of getting around the reservoir quickly seemed much more appealing than the experience that I shared with Kenzie two years ago where she could hardly take 20 steps at a time in a slow jog. Then Kenzie pushed me over the edge…by telling me that if I ran it in I could somehow break 27 hours. This seemed stupid at the time because somehow in my head with things not working right I was certain that the start time shifted from 5 AM to 4 AM, and that we would have to run to break 28 hours. That was the time that I had relegated myself to much earlier in the day, but suddenly a finish time that started with 26 was on the borderline of possibility. Along with my legs and body, my ego awoke a bit as well and I thought…”I could finish the slam at Wasatch faster than Scott Jurek’s 27 hour finish” hahhaha!! So we ran!!



FOLLOW THIS LINK for Video along the final stretch

I won’t say that I didn’t suffer, but it was more pleasant that the previous 60 miles. My legs had some decent movement in them despite having done lots of hiking and climbing and had a lot of time to get tighter. I ran down to the trail, then onto it. I ran the flats, the hills, the rollers…nearly every step of it. I kept thinking that it was impossible to break 27, and that the course was actually longer from last year’s experience where I thought we had Matt on pace for sub 23 only to miss by 8 lousy minutes, but we kept moving anyways. When we got to the last point of the trail where we could see it heading to the road I quit thinking about the time goal of sub 27 because suddenly a new emotion hit me…. HARD….


” I DID IT!! OH MY GOSH I DID IT!!” The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning was done- I only had about a half a mile left. This thing that seemed impossible was going to be under my feet and DONE!! I had gone from 0 to 5 100 milers in less than a year…first timer to grand slammer! I can’t tell you what that feels like. Part of me doesn’t even want to try because it’s an experience unique to every individual. All I can say is that I was so proud of myself, my physical body, my mind, my spirit, and of everyone who helped me get to that place.

We kept running and were soon on the pavement. I had the thought to slow and walk because now I had 20 minutes to get under 27 hours, but I saw my dad’s car near the finish in the distance and kept running up the hill, looking for my hero. As I approached, he was standing on his prosthetic leg and I fell into his arms like I’ve done so many times in my life. My dad has the greatest hug in the world. We were both shaking. I remember feeling his whiskers on my cheek. We couldn’t talk as we were both choked up like Barlows do. I wish I had captured this in a picture or video but I will never forget it in my heart and mind. Next I hugged the rest of my family and with my kids we walked across the finish line of the toughest 26:44 of my life…but I was still on my feet and finished well beyond my “stretch goal” of a sub 100 hour slam!


I was officially the 282nd individual to complete the Grand Slam, and the 18th from Utah. So happy to have finished this around my friends and family and humbled to have had this opportunity to put my body and soul to such a comprehensive test. Thanks to all who took part for your encouragement, kindness, and selflessness. I’ll never forget this experience and would encourage anyone to look for your own impossible, and then run it down.

Archived Post- Making A 2016 Grand Slam of Ultrarunning Attempt by Tommy Barlow

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In 2016 I’ll make an attempt at completing the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. Most of you probably have no idea what that is unless you’re a running sadist, nor would you care to participate in it because you’re probably too smart to put yourself through something like the slam…and I make that assumption because until last year I had no idea what it was either and certainly never aspired to check that box. Before you label me as a crazy and entirely write me off, let me share a little about the “what” and “why” of this challenge, mostly so I can selfishly gain as much support from you all as possible towards something that frankly is intimidating and scary, and will likely be the source of more physical and mental pain than anything I’ve ever experienced to date. I am going to be in desperate need of mega good vibes and support from everyone in my circles to pull this one off and I look forward to sharing this journey with anyone along for the ride!


What is the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning?


You can get an extensive overview on the official site here , but the short version is I’m going to run 4 of the oldest and most prestigious 100 milers in the U.S. which will feature over 78K ft of gain and about the same in descent for around 160,000 ft of total gain/loss, and I’m going to do them all in an 11 week span. YAY! The races start with the birthplace of the 100 miler at historic Western States in late June and ends with one of the toughest mountain 100 mile ultra trail courses (MUT) the Wasatch Front 100 on September 9th—all with Vermont 100 and Leadville 100 (with it’s punishing altitude) sandwiched in the middle. The history and statistics fascinate me, with only 236 men and 44 different women having completed this feat since 1985, including just 17 from my home state of Utah. Each year several runners attempt the slam, with a success rate of about 30-40%, typically with a running time totaling between 90-120 hours. Most people enter the event for the prize money, as every finisher of the slam will receive $100K per year for the rest of their life….totally kidding, you get a small trophy with an eagle head and 4 belt buckles but wanted to make sure I had your attention ; )  Entry to the slam is limited primarily by the lottery process for Western States, which is extremely difficult to get into as each year an increasing numbers of runners enter the lottery for the 270 available slots. This year 3,510 runners (all of which had to complete a qualifying run in the previous year) held 8,291 tickets. My Bear 100 finish last year qualified me to enter the lottery, and that little ticket was one of the 270 drawn. Jealous, right!? As an ultra runner who mostly identifies as an Ironman triathlete I had not expected this at all, and most of my trail running friends were left scratching their heads after years of entering qualifying races and subsequent unsuccessful lotteries. Frankly it was a 5 year plan for me as I figured it would take me years of getting more tickets into the draw before a successful entry, but life truly is like a box of chocolates, right Forrest? (run Forrest run)


Why The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning?


Given the sacred nature of the Western States, most (sane) people would immediately feel satiated at the chance to run in the mecca of trail 100 mile races, but my brain skipped immediately to the Grand Slam. I blame Joshua Holmes for this. The slam was never on my radar until I noticed his posts on Instagram last year, which from my perspective gave the impression that the dude was running another 100 miler every week. I didn’t piece it all together until my wife and I got to have lunch with him after he completed the Wasatch 100, and the last leg of his successful slam. In picking his brain and listening to his journey, I was subconsciously planting the seeds that would bring me to where I am today…but at the time I was only flirting with the possibility of something so heinous perhaps years in the future. The goal for the conversation during this casual lunch was to glean experience and wisdom that would hopefully set my mind at ease for my pending Bear 100 attempt that was to follow just two weeks later. Needless to say, his thoughts and experiences got my imagination challenging the “what’s possible” part of my endurance brain, and as a result when I drew out for Western States it seemed like the only logical thing to do was to slam it, so there you have it. Be careful who you share a lunch with!!


That’s the story of how I got to where I am, but it’s certainly not the crux of the “why”. I acknowledge first and foremost that I’m not an elite runner, nor an experienced 100 miler, and to many my attempt might seem premature, naïve, or even undeserving. Given what most people go through to get this chance, I understand those feelings. The reason I feel compelled to make an attempt at the slam boils down to my lifelong goal to adopt the single most impressive characteristic displayed by my dad throughout his whole life….RESILIENCY. My dad fought through many life challenges and growing up I watched him take on every blow that life dealt him head-on and with everything he had in him. At 75 years old he still outworks people half his age. Observing his resiliency instilled confidence in me as a young man, which empowered me to take on and get through challenges of my own as a husband and father. I’ve been knocked down more than once and expect to hit the canvas many more times, but I’m determined to make resiliency my quest and the slam seems like an amazing proving ground. By definition alone, doesn’t it sound like the perfect goal for any endurance event:


“the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy”


Having started running and endurance sports just 5 years ago, I’ve already battled a lot of demons with one knee (x2) and one shoulder having been surgically repaired. At around mile 80 of the Bear 100 this past September I tore the labrum in my left hip and have been battling through pain while hoping to avoid another surgery. The timing isn’t the best in terms of being at peak health or having more ultra running experience under my belt, but I’m up to toeing the line and seeing what is possible, fully knowing that 60-70% of us who try for the slam this year will fall a little short. Fear of failure will never stop me, because in my failures I discover who I am and thereby will have the opportunity to become even more resilient and more like my dad. So here we go… see you in Squaw for leg #1!  Hoping many of you will join me in this journey any way you can. #4bucklesandabird


Archive Post- 2015 Bear 100 Race Report by Tommy Barlow

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To start off, I’ll answer the two most common questions that I got from people as I built up to the Bear 100:


  • What if your wife beats you/ who is going to be faster?


Ultra running is her sport, and it’s really not about me versus her. Even if it was, she is way better looking and has more fans so I’ll never really be ahead of her ; )  While my time was faster I wouldn’t have cared if she finished ahead of me, in fact I would have been really happy for her. My first 100 wasn’t about the time, but more about toeing the water and seeing if I liked the distance. For the record, Kenzie crossed the line as the 7th overall female, which was more impressive than my 26th overall male finish, so technically she’s more competitive against the field.


  • What’s harder—An Ironman or a 100 miler?


Neither my first Full Ironman nor my first 100 miler were as hard as I imagined them to be. The hard part was believing in myself to the point that I signed up for an event and subsequently putting in the training hours to be race ready. Race day has always felt like my coming out party where I was able to enjoy the fitness that I had painstakingly built up prior to the event. In my experience, an Ironman takes more athleticism and technical skills, where a 100 miler takes more faith and determination that you will recover from the lows that will inevitably come throughout the 20-36 hours you’ll be on the course. Training for an Ironman is more physically taxing and time consuming for me, where trail running is very enjoyable and requires less logistical planning and equipment prep. It’s usually the athletes that have only done one or the other that ask me, almost as if they are deciding what would validate them more, so my answer is to simply do both and decide for yourself! I enjoy both sports- ultras for the ability to spend so much time in nature, and triathlon for the more intense racing experience and competition. Judging by the personality types in each community I think that most triathletes would love ultra running, but not as many ultra runners would love triathlons.


That being said…here’s my Bear 100 Race Report





Kenzie was my inspiration to run a 100 miler. Previous to pacing her during her first 100 mile finish last year, I was like most people who would declare without hesitation that running 100 miles over mountains is just stupid. However, I was able to witness a new side of the human spirit while spending over 30 miles on the Wasatch 100 course with her and recognized the way it impacted my wife in such a positive manner, not to mention the example of “doing hard things” for our three children. When she drew out for Wasatch again this year it made it possible logistically for me to sign up for the Bear 100, which is 2 weeks after Wasatch. I had an idea in my mind of how the race would go, with Kenzie returning the favor and pacing me to the finish this time around, running into the finisher chute surrounded by my friends and loved ones for my first 100 miler. Rewind a month and a half ago when we discovered that Kenzie couldn’t run Wasatch because of some missed trail work duties and to the devastation I saw in her face realizing that all she had worked for was going to waste, I immediately knew that my planned first 100 miler would have to be different. I reached out to the race director for the Bear and luckily was able to get Kenzie registered to run the Bear 100 with me, which meant we would each have to figure out our own plans for pacers, crew, and hope we could get our kids covered….and somehow with the help of friends, family, and our amazing running community we pulled it all off!



Race week


Leading up to race day, especially during your taper, it’s natural to start questioning how “ready” you really are….especially when everyone you see that week immediately asks , “you ready for your race?”. I had a really solid peak week of 113 miles in 8 days, including 56 miles on the Bear course so I was feeling good, but my longest run was 36 miles prior to race day so there was that question in my mind around how I would hold up over the distance. I had made plans for a 50 miler that didn’t work out due to weather, and with life/work events I just never did make it happen. I knew that my Ironman in Coeur D’Alene the last week of June was a solid day for endurance training, but wondered how much it would benefit me in a 100 miler. During the week we watched the forecast continue to warm up and eventually saw that it would be a record hot day, which was also a concern because of how hard some of my earlier races in heat turned out. Before I knew it Thursday had come and we had to drive to Logan for the pre-race meeting. It was go time!


Race Morning:


Luckily our awesome friend (also Kenzie’s pacer) Jena had found an amazing host family for us to stay with who happened to live about 10 minutes from the start line and also ran the Logan River aid station. They gave us an amazing place to stay and treated us so kindly that it was like being at home. We woke up a shade before 4:00 AM in order to get food in our systems 2 hours before race start time, and downed some eggs and toast with a fresh fruit smoothie and a little tuna for me. We were at the start line about 40 minutes before race start and had the chance to get out all the nervous potty breaks, chat with friends, and build up a little anxiety. Before we knew it, 5:55 had rolled around so we walked out into the street, turned on our headlights, kissed one another, and said goodbye….for the next 100 miles!


The First 37:


At the start of the race I placed myself a bit back from the front of the pack, but after maybe ¼ mile on the pavement I found myself towards the front of the pack as we made our way up the road and towards dry canyon. At the gate where people funnel into the trail I found that because I was near the front there wasn’t a lot of crowding or much of a conga line…people were moving fast. After about a mile I started to realize that the record heat had also made it unnecessary for me to have a long sleeved shirt on, so I stopped by a rock and ditched my shirt, leaving me in a running singlet and my sun sleeves, which I would stay until the cold of the night approached. After ditching my shirt I had settled into a good climbing groove and started listening to the conversations around me. It was a long grind but wasn’t crazy steep or tough and before I knew it you could start to see some of the morning glow. Before I knew it we were at the first aid station which I had reached in 33rd place overall. Through the first 10 I had recognized people running around me, including the eventual top 3 females, as well as several sub 24 hour male runners including Cody Draper and questioned if I was going too fast, but felt solid and decided to keep to the same effort level. At this point, some of the men who were chasing the title were really taking off and by mile 15 it was remarkably spread out already. I had recognized Sarah Woerner from the Tushars 93K which she won, and decided that I was certainly not a more capable runner than her so decided to settle in and run on her heels for as long as I felt comfortable. She has such a down-to-earth personality and I really enjoyed spending some miles with her in casual conversation. I took advantage of the downhills and tried to keep up with her, Jenn Shelton, and Cat Bradley on the uphills. I really thought Sarah could win this race but later found that she DNF’d at some point later in the race. Pretty soon we were at Leatham Hollow where I picked up my running pack and got to see the smiling faces of some amazing Wranglers who made my day, including Jennilyn who spread her amazing magic spray on my cooling towel that I would be huffing all day from to keep the nausea at bay.  I started back out on the course to take on another 80 plus miles! (31st overall) The first 19+ miles had gone by sooo quickly and as I left the aid station I was in such a great mood that I started chatting more with some of the other people around me. I had told one guy named Tim that it was my first 100 miler and he quickly suggested that I should take it easy because he was on splits for a 21 hour and top 5 finish…which made me think a little bit but I trusted myself and how I felt that I wasn’t pushing too hard. Turns out that Tim DNF’d at mile 50. Too bad Tim. Through that stretch we had some good downhill sections that I worked through pretty quickly but didn’t push hard at all, so I was pretty shocked when we climbed out and got closer to the Richards Hollow aid station I started feeling nauseated…..AHHHH! Only 22 miles in and I was wondering how I could battle the pukes through the next 30 miles of heat and climbs, then somehow survive that heat and make my way through another 50 miles into the night and the cold. I took a moment to stop and pee…take in some deep breaths….then while trying to get going again I saw two runners whom I knew, Nate and Dave. I knew Nate was going for a sub 24 and was capable because of what he did at Speedgoat. He asked how I was feeling and I told him that I was actually in the same spot as I was at Speedgoat…nauseated and not feeling up to the task at mile 22. Dave said that he was feeling the same with stomach cramps. We all put our heads down and trotted for a minute before we arrived at the aid station. I made a point to not waste time- took a Gin-Gin chew and some coke, and got moving. I told Dave I would see him soon but he told me it wouldn’t be until the end of the day…he ended up fighting one heck of a battle and finished a really tough day with a smile on his face and his kids along his side- congrats Dave! My goal became to move with a purpose, keep Nate in sight, but not push myself too hard to where I would puke. If I could get to mile 37 at Right Hand Fork I would have my first pacer who I knew would lift my spirits. I don’t remember a ton about the next 15 miles but I’m really proud of my execution as I stuck to the plan, worked the uphills, ran the downhills, and managed to keep myself in that perfect balance of pushing hard enough but not too hard through the heat. After a long downhill I came into Right Hand Fork and was soo happy to see my pacer and all-round stud bromigo Chad. Jena was also there and was amazing at taking care of me. While I was coming into the aid station I also saw Zac Marion for the last time as he would go on to finish under 23 hours and DJ who rocked a sub 24. Cait was taking care of DJ all day and as he pulled away from me she would stick around and help me out as well—-total lifesaver at aid stations all day long! At this point I was in 36th overall- keeping steady and glad to have a pacer!


37-52 The HOT Section


Picking up Chad couldn’t have come at a better time, physically and mentally. He is a total stud and one of the funniest people I know. I told him he needed to get me to each aid station feeling good, happy, and not puking and he did just that. Chad would dip my cooling towel in water crossings, remind me to stay hydrated, help me get ice at aid stations, remind me to take calories, and pass me his salty nuts while making a joke about salty nuts. I also started getting tired of honey at this point and began switching my calorie intake to bacon. It was a good thing that I had packed so many Gin-Gin chews because the heat made eating and running a miserable experience as everything that went in would immediately trigger some uneasiness. At this point I also started popping tums which seemed to treat me very well. Chad and I were plugging along, and I don’t remember a ton, but distinctly recall thinking again at how sparse the crowds were….I mean they were almost nonexistent. It was few and far between that we would see another runner and for the most part we stayed in the same spot. I was so focused on just surviving the heat and getting into the evening that I really don’t remember a ton about our run. The climb from Temple fork to Tony Grove was longer and slower feeling than on my training day, but when we crested out at the top and hit the descent through the pines I was in a good spot mentally again. We met a guy from Panama who told us that he was going to drop because of hyperventilation issues…which seemed odd since he seemed like he was at least in as good of a spot as I was. We tried to talk him out of it but he wouldn’t have it and wished me a good race. Turns out he’s a pretty accomplished runner and wasn’t interested in pushing harder and dealing with recovery before his next race so it made more sense afterwards but that’s a long ways to travel to drop out if you ask me! Chad and I made the final little climb then drop to Tony Grove and had a bromance moment in the last .25 of how much we enjoy our friendship that we built through triathlon training together. It’s funny how you meet people that you wouldn’t have otherwise and can become such good friends to the point that I know I can count on Chad for almost anything and I hope to be the same friend to him. Soon enough we were trotting into the parking lot at just under 52 miles and were greeted by an amazing support crew of friends like Keshia, Vanessa, Danny (pacer #2), and aid station folks like Greg and other wranglers who were lifting my spirits, feeding me some broth and chips, refiling my ice and drinks, and telling me that I could keep rocking this race! It was honestly one of the highlights of the day to feel so loved and supported during a tough challenge. I was shocked that my friends made such a huge sacrifice on my behalf. Ben was also there crewing like a boss- his experience and take charge attitude made my race day so much better than it would have been without him. He had also been there at Temple Fork but from this point on his support was vital! I told Ben that I needed the poles, which turned out to be one of the best decisions I made all day and he quickly got them to me and we were off with Danny to take on the next 24 ish miles.


The Twilight 52-76


We took off from Tony and had our focus set on one of the tougher sections of the course with long sustained climbs and some more technical downhills than earlier in the day. I was surprised at what my legs had in them as I felt like I was moving quite well. I had long expected a flood of people overtaking me at this point, but really I only recall 2 dudes who made the pass, each of them handily finishing under 24 hours. Danny was a great pacer because we didn’t know each other super well, only superficially through Ironman racing and training, but I figured he would like the experience and I knew he was generally a really positive person. We got to tell each other our life story and conversations like that really help me pass hours and miles. Danny was also super attentive, making me get in more bacon, loading up my ice bags, helping me transition back and forth from poles on the ups to no poles on the downs, and just keeping me moving the whole time. I had expected to be super fatigued and needing prodding between walk breaks at this point in the race but we really never stopped our constant cadence on the course, other than a couple of minutes at each aid station and to get headlamps and jackets when needed. Ohhh…and the one time where I had one of my last Gin-Gin chews and asked him to open it for me, and when he passed it to me the pole in my hand knocked it to the ground. I looked like the guy who lost his contact in the sand… only imagine the saddest face ever! It was in this section at around mile 62 that I had one of those “runner’s high” moments you hear about as I was just amazed that my body kept going strong all day. I really don’t think there were two happier people on the mountain at that point. Danny was loving the trail experience and I was amazed that I had just recovered from yet another round of nausea and was beginning to feel like I was unconquerable and resilient beyond my wildest dreams. By Logan River I was in 27th place and I kept telling Danny to just get me to Beaver Lodge feeling this good and this 100 miler was mine! AS we approached the lodge we had another good section of downhill where we again caught up to Jenn Shelton (from the Born To Run book) and her pacer. Coming down that hill I had felt the first sign of pain all day, in the back of my right calf and along the outside of my knee by the IT band. Danny and I talked about stretching it and taping it up at the lodge and happily made our way into a room full of more Wranglers ready to lift me up and get me back on the road with my next (and final) pacer, Steve. 30th Place Overall to the lodge. I took in more Coke, Broth, chips, a Core Power protein drink, and some pickle juice. I think this was my longest stop but was still under 10 minutes. Steve and I got up and out the door, ready to bring this home!


Last Leg 76-100


Immediately heading down the stairs from the lodge I felt the IT pain and tightness. I was actually on pace for a sub 24 at this point, but my leg wasn’t anywhere near a spot to put that expectation in my mind.  As we tried to trot down the first little descent my leg began to lock up and sharp pains shot through my knee and calf. I was pretty frustrated and tired, realizing that I had come so far and still had a lot of work to do with over 4K feet of climbing. I felt like a sad puppy as I watched a pack including Shane, Stephen, and Nate wish me well as they attacked the rest of the course with whatever they had left to try and crack 24, which two of them successfully did. This was the only part of the entire race that I felt a little bit of pity for myself and wished I was faster, which in retrospect is pretty silly but I’m a competitive person so it happens.  Steve was the perfect pacer because he had experience in watching other people gut through pain and win the battle with their body. His attitude never changed from the first step to the last step….YOU CAN DO THIS- YOU WILL DO THIS. While we both knew that sub 24 hours wasn’t in the cards, we both felt like finishing by 7:00 (25 hours) was doable. I followed his confidence into the darkness and we took it one section at a time. When we approached the next downhill I decided to try and run, putting my weight more onto my left side and we actually made good progress with only a few hiccups where my right leg would lock up again. Unfortunately, that small amount of progress came to a screeching halt as suddenly I had a new pain in my left hip flexor area. I had another little panic moment in my head and wondered if I would be able to finish the race, but quickly Steve encouraged me on and I began relying VERY heavily on my poles. For whatever reason, the angle of an uphill grade caused less pain so I almost welcomed the hills as I would lean into them and drag myself to a reasonable cadence using my poles. Steve and I were probably both wondering how this race would shake out…and I’m sure Steve started having nightmares of a 16 hour pacing section….but he kept the energy and positivity at a palpable level, switching back and forth from playing and singing through a top-notch playlist, giving religious sermons, and just talking about the peculiarities of life. I know I didn’t say much as I was dealing with a lot at the moment but I was literally laughing inside sooooo many times thanks to Steve. He is a great friend, runner, pacer, and human. I remember lots of lows- probably the worst part being the flat section in Gibson Basin. Steve and talked about how I would be able to run that section but my body wouldn’t let me….it was a long walk and I was too mad to care about the cold that many people complained about. Despite the slow movement on the flat sections, I was actually doing pretty well on the climbs and I gave the downhills everything I had through some new levels of pain. With about 10 miles to go I decided to take a Tylenol with Codeine and see if there was any way to keep in the 25 hour range. Of all the sections on the course leading up to the race, I was afraid of the climb out of Ranger Dip because it was pretty hard just on our 23 mile training day. I limped into the aid station at the base of that climb, which is the final AS of the course, and saw Ben one more time. He could tell I was in bad shape and I think all of us wondered how long it would take to cover the last 7+miles. I tried to get out of there as quickly as I could, took my poles, and went to work with one thought in my mind… “final exam”. I didn’t set any speed records, but one of the proudest moments of the entire race came on that hill as I kept moving the whole way up, covering nearly a mile with an average grade of 18% and sections with as much ad 35%. I kept hearing Steve chanting “Cohones” which made me laugh and keep plugging away until we hit the top. The last 4 miles of the course are mostly downhill with a severely steep section we dubbed “the plunge” and I gave everything I had, fighting through a ton of pain that alternated from my IT, to my calf, then to my hip. I found that running with  shallow strides and pigeon toes helped alleviate some of the pain so I’m sure it was a sight to see! There were some sections where the downhill would stop and I would almost fall over from the pain, but Steve would quickly help me get my poles back under me and we kept on moving. At one point we made the goal to finish by 6:59 and I knew it was possible when we hit the last section of a downhill graded road that turns to pavement and I knew the end was near. Steve prodded me to run 8:30 pace like he did at his finish and sure tried, but it was probably more like 10:00 miles with a few surges to 8:00 as he cracked the whip. I would let it back to 10:00 and he would tell me it was unacceptable, and when I told him how bad it hurt he smiled and told me he didn’t care…RUN HARDER!  We finally hit the bottom of the road and made the turn towards the finish and Steve let me run my pace and enjoy those last few strides….but I DID keep running!


100 miles. Something I would never have imagined possible.


I crossed the line at 24:37 in 29th place of over 300 registered runners. My crew and my mother-in-law thought I would be an hour later, so I crossed in the dark early morning hours to the sound of a few cheers from the other exhausted runners who crossed ahead of me. I collapsed onto my knees and made some sounds that probably made people in the greater Bear Lake valley wonder what the heck was going on, which would have been funny to watch. Ben and Cait quickly arrived with Danny and Vanessa and they helped me into a sleeping bag. I called my son and told him that I was finished and had a good cry because I could tell how proud he was, then sunk into the sleeping bag again where I shivered away, sleeping on and off until my kids and mother in law got to me. After a little longer of sleep/shivers someone told me Kenzie was coming in. I tried to get up but couldn’t move, and my friend literally piggy backed me over to the finish to give Kenzie a hug.


While my finish was in the quiet dark of the morning and I don’t have any images of that moment, seeing my wife finally race to her ability made this a dually special day for me. I love to see her succeed. 7th female overall. 4 1/2 hour 100 mile PR.


Huge thank you to Leland Baker, the race director for putting on an amazing event and for giving my wife the opportunity to run this year. Also have to thank the Wasatch Mountain Wranglers, the amazing running community in general, and especially my friends and pacers who sacrificed part of their days to make sure I was never alone out there! You all know who you are and what you mean to me! Off to heal, then I’ll be planning my next 100 knowing that I can do hard things….really hard things.

Leadville 100 Trail Run 2016 by Tommy Barlow

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Leadville 100!! Wow, what an event!! When I decided to attempt the Grand Slam the only thing I knew about Leadville was what I had read in the book ‘Born To Run’, and what I had heard anecdotally from other local runners which was a vastly contrasted accounting on both sides. The book made the course seem like one of the most epic courses in the world, and the challenge seemed impossible when I initially read about it over 5 years ago prior to having even considered myself a runner. In fact, a couple of years later my first time ever driving near Leadville with my work-sponsored Ragnar Relay team (don’t judge we all start somewhere), I recall seeing the sign and turnoff to the little old mining town and thinking in my head that there was no way I would ever dare take on that beast. It seemed almost like hallowed ground for someone who was intimidated by running 20 miles in 3 different legs during a 2 day relay. On the other side of the coin after jumping into running ultras last year and talking to the local experts about the course I was surprised at how much negative sentiment there was. People told me it was “too hyped” “too corporate” “too crowded” “all about the money” “poorly supported” “not that hard of a course” and more. So basically I was about to take on the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of hundos.


When it comes to any endurance event or undertaking that intimidates me in life I become a research junkie. I read any and all race reports from DNFs to winners, listen to any podcasts, lookup and cross-reference archived finishing times of other athletes, watch Strava Flyovers, and I swear by the time I am done I have mentally completed the event several times before the starting gun sounds! It’s how I deal with the anxiety-knowledge has always been a comfort to me. It’s this type of research that also piques my curiosity and was what got me into the slam in the first place…mentally envisioning myself taking on something that seemed impossible, then slowly watching it unfold in real life before me. I can’t overemphasize my belief that our thoughts which we allow in our minds and hearts eventually become our words, and finally those words translate into our actions which make up who we are and what we do in this world. It all starts with thought.


In the first leg of the Grand Slam I was really unsure if I would make the start line of Leadville because of the hamstring issue I had, but after finishing Western States and Vermont while battling through some minor injuries in each my body was actually feeling stronger by the time we got to Leadville. In fact, the 3 weeks between WS and VT 100’s flew by and I felt like I was scrambling just to get recovered enough to even think about running, but the 4 weekends off between VT and Leadville felt like an eternity and I was actually excited to get after it, although I had a healthy level of intimidation and respect for the course. As was the case for my first recovery period I did very little running- maybe 15 miles per week with some hiking as Ian Sharman had suggested in his quick tips for the Grand Slam. I made a point to spend time at high elevation which included a trip to Leadville my second weekend off where I was able to train on the hardest section of the course from Twin Lakes to Winfield and back with my fellow slammer from Utah, Brandon Wickes. I’m so lucky that he invited me out to stay at his family’s house in Colorado and get that experience on the course as it added physical and mental prep that proved invaluable on race day. Also, it was just a great time with an amazing guy. Brandon is one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet and is as gritty and fearless as anyone taking on the slam in only his second year of endurance sports. Although his slam attempt fell short, he will be back one day for sure!


By the time race week rolled around I was feeling a higher level of anxiety than other races because the research that normally added comfort and confidence was proving to have the opposite effect. It seemed that in my search for race reports more than half of them were DNFs, and in fact I found two people who had DNFd there over 5 times. More research, more DNFs… turns out the average DNF rate among starters is historically over 50%. When looking at those who managed to finish the race in under 25 hours for the “BIG buckle” I consistently found that it seemed to be a place reserved for people who either lived in Colorado and were acclimated to the altitude or really fast runners. Taking those findings and comparing them to the Grand Slam archives I found more of the same, and based on people who had finished Western States and Vermont in similar times as I had (23:26, 22:15) I calculated that my projected finish time would be somewhere around 26 hours which would officially be the longest run of my life. Yay! The other thought that kept coming into my mind was what if I started getting blood in my urine again like Vermont…if I had to slow down at Leadville could I be up against the cutoff? How would I deal with that mentally? Am I tough enough when things are stacking up against me? At this point in the slam you just don’t have time to add any fitness, change any major aspects to your racing strategy, or expect things to get easier so I packed up my bags along with this new anxiety and got ready for this awesome adventure that stood in front of me.


By the recommendation of my pacer and friend Zac Marion we had booked a cabin at Win Mar which was located really conveniently almost smack dab in the middle of the course near Twin Lakes. The cabins are ancient and super basic, but you can’t find a better location if you have a crew, and for this race I decided I wanted to bring my entire family so that my kids could share in this experience. The. Whole. Family. Which also means my massive horse dog Duke and our little midget dog Ziggy. Fortunately for me I enjoyed the drive to Leadville with my crew master and buddy Mike Allen while the kids and dogs rode with my wife and mother-in-law. Take notes- that’s a huge strategic victory ; )  We arrived on Thursday, all crammed into the cabin, and headed out for Mexican food in town for dinner. At night we had all three kids and two dogs in our room and my plan for family time started to backfire on me almost immediately. Duke the horse dog came down with severe dog diarrhea and I literally found myself outside at 1:00 AM walking him around so he could have a cleansing blowout. This happened about every hour through the night, leaving me with about 4 hours of sleep.


On Friday Mike and I went to the pre-race meeting and got really pumped up by Ken, the founder of the race. In his speech he made us all commit not to quit and told us that this race is all about learning to dig deeper…try harder…give everything you can so that you can take the stronger version of you after this race out into the world and be a better person for it. “You are better than you think you are! You can do more than you think you can!” It hit home to me because this is the real reason I do any of these 100 milers or Ironmans. It’s all about making myself a stronger and more resilient person as I’m not an elite athlete or at least one who would actually be competing in these large events for anything other than personal progress. At the meeting we also met as the 30 remaining Grand Slammers and took a picture with almost all of us and I was able to hand out buffs donated by Discrete Clothing to each Slammer so that we could recognize and encourage one another while on the course.lr12


On Friday evening I went for a shake out trot with Jonah and Duke and had one of the best moments of the entire weekend that totally made the extra hassle and cost of bringing the whole clan along worthwhile. We started a run uphill and could immediately feel the lack of air at 10,000 ft elevation. Jonah hasn’t been running as much as last year when he was doing triathlon camp for kids during the summer and he immediately started to struggle. I told him it was OK for him to head back to the cabin and that I was only going a mile then turning around. He turned back and I started running again, then after hitting a little over a mile I turned around and saw Jonah not far behind me. As I ran back to him he said “I was going to quit, but then I thought to myself that I better keep going if I’m ever going to beat all your 100 mile times”. It was priceless and that moment stayed with me throughout my race and through the eventual finish (spoiler). I’ll remember and cherish that moment more than anything I’ve written above in this recap. After our run I also called my dad and had a special moment talking to him, telling him that I was intimidated by the course and altitude and him reassuring me that I was going to kick this thing’s butt.


I brought out the maps one more time and settled on creating race splits between just barely under 25 hours as a best case and 28 hours as worst case. We ate some pizza, wrapped up race planning with Mike, Zac, and Kenzie and I tried to get to sleep by 9:00 PM. The horse dog Duke was feeling a lot better and was subdued by the Sudafed that I spiked his dinner with so I felt like my sleeping odds were in better shape this night, but the girls had a little too much Coke and were wired, giggling incessantly for the next hour. I think I finally hit a deep sleep at around 10:00 because it felt like 30 seconds later when I awoke to the jolting of my own body and thinking that I had just drifted a bit. I looked at my phone to see that it was now midnight. My alarm was set for 2:00 AM so that I could eat and digest breakfast by the 4:00 am start time. I don’t know why exactly, probably nerves and anxiety but my brain immediately started running the race at that moment and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I laid there going back and forth from closing my eyes and seeing nothing but a frantic scramble of running, to opening my eyes and thinking about the fact that I wasn’t sleeping AGAIN and that I was creating an energy deficit which would rival that of our national debt. Sucky feelings either way.


Finally 2:00 came and I got all of my running gear on and headed to the kitchen for my breakfast of a bagel with cream cheese, fresh fruit, and some Gatorade. I was a little paranoid about the lack of sleep but couldn’t do much about it. Mike and Kenzie drove me to the start line, we took some pics, I saw more familiar faces including Kelly Agnew who in on his mission to get to 10 finishes there, then the countdown was on. It was a bit funny because they started the national anthem and the clock was ticking down and I kept thinking that the anthem wouldn’t be finished before the clock struck zero, but alas the ending was almost perfectly timed and before I knew it we were trotting down the Boulevard.


I had started in the first quarter of the pack and kept a decent pace with the intention to avoid the log jam around Turquois Lake per the suggestion of my friend and fellow Utahn Jamen Nelson who is 7 for 7 starting and finishing Leadville. At the start of 100’s I always feel a bit of elevated HR and breathing but I don’t worry much as long as I settle in after a few miles which proved to be the case here. Between the town and the lake I was pacing on the heels of Hoka Elite Jenn Benna but there was another runner nearby who kept coughing almost every 10 seconds and for some reason it was really annoying me. I took the chance of giving up a few spots to stop and pee and let coughing person get up the path a bit. Funny what annoys us during these events! I actually passed coughing runner pretty shortly thereafter and eventually found myself back to almost the same spot just as we got on the tight single track around the lake. The starting temp was around 38 degrees and it stayed cool for quite a while as well as DARK. I had a cheap headlamp which in hindsight worked really well for me because if I could have seen the trail better I might have been tempted to run faster, nonetheless I was running at a good pace and had completely avoided any congestion. I had it in my head that there was a hard climb coming up but before I knew it I had rolled into May Queen aid station at 13.5 miles in 2:01 which was on pace for my best case scenario-yet still very early.

It was now getting light and I finally was able to shed my bulky headlamp. From May Queen you have a good climb up to Sugarloaf pass which was easy to spot because you could see where the powerlines headed up the mountain and I knew we would be under them. At around mile 17 I started getting passed by a few people which I was ok with because I knew that I had started a little fast with the intent of avoiding the cluster I had heard so much about. The challenge is that I was feeling the lack of sleep and started having some doubt. Everyone I looked at seemed to be stronger than me and moving faster than me, then I heard a familiar voice and looked over my shoulder to see fellow Slammer from Cali, Jadd Martinez making a pass. I was shocked that I was ahead of him at that point because he is the fastest runner in the slam by a long shot so this gave me some encouragement even though I knew that Jadd was just pacing himself better at the start and probably got stuck a bit around the lake. We gave each other some words of encouragement and he slowly disappeared up the mountain. Near the top you could see the first descending section of Powerline where I got my last glimpse of Jadd and then started running with another runner that I called “pole buddy” because he was already rocking the trekking poles and doing really well with them. On the descent we both cruised past some people who had outclimbed us and I felt like the whole “your quads will blow out here” talk around this section was a little overhyped as it was a fun and smooth downhill for someone like me who runs a lot of technical downhill.


From the end of Powerline there is a road section that seems to take forever to get you to Outward Bound at the fish hatchery which is around 24 miles into the race and the first time I would see my crew. In looking at my watch I was now about 15 minutes behind best case but still well ahead of worst case but I felt increasingly fatigued. After the never ending pavement slogfest I got to see my crew and put on a happy face for them. Kenzie was as efficient as ever at getting me back out on the course and I had just enough time to give an IG buddy Ironbeard a manly hug and then head out.


After clunking through a grassy field section I found myself back on the pavement and suddenly feeling extremely tired. More people were passing me and the reality of having more than 70 miles ahead of me was sinking in. Mentally this is a rough spot to be in and the terrain didn’t make it any better because I despise running on flat surfaces (which turned out to be a false flat with slight uphill grade) in open spaces. I watched what seemed like a line of runners for miles up the road creeping away from me, then finally noticed that they turned off the road towards the hills, so relief was in sight.


I worked my way, very patiently back up towards Mt. Elbert climb and the Half Pipe aid station. The steeper the climb got through those sections, the more I started reeling some runners back in and making up some of the time I had lost in the doldrums of the flat sections. After that long but gradual climb I started feeling a little bit of life coming back to my legs as I thought about the downhill section ahead of me. I hit the water station at Mt. Elbert and started the descent. From that point I never broke my running stride to a walk for the next 3 miles and was swiftly catching and passing runners again. At one point I got chastised for making a pass on the tight singletrack but I replied by telling that runner that we all run to our strengths and I had to take what the course was giving me.


I came into Twin Lakes at mile 39 to the best emotional lift of the day getting to see my kids for the first time in a 100 mile race, and man did I need it. I was tired and feeling overwhelmed by having the hardest section of the course standing in front of me, which I knew all too well from my training section. I vocalized to my crew that I was fatigued and they provided words of encouragement, fresh water and calories, and my trekking poles. It was time to face what I had esteemed to be the crux of the Grand Slam…Hope Pass at mile 40 of my 3rd 100 mile race in a span of 8 Saturdays. Leaving the aid station I had a hard time feeling any running rhythm and it was starting to get warm so the river crossing was amazingly refreshing. Another runner asked me if I knew where we were going and I loved that he had no clue as to what was coming up next so I took delight in pointing at the gap that chased up the nearly 14K foot mountains to Hope Pass which sits at a low point between two peaks at 12,600 ft.  The masochist in me loved this moment! After letting that settle in I switched to full on power hiking mode, started loading calories, and put in the headphones.


Climbing to Hope Pass outbound is really similar to a trail in Utah that leads to Mount Timpanogos only it is heavier wilderness for the first 3.5 miles or so. It’s a remarkably beautiful climb but has a relentless grade covering 3,500 vertical feet in about 5 miles to the pass. I had given myself permission during my race plans to take 2 short breaks climbing each side of Hope, but to my surprise the first climb went really well and I maintained a consistent forward progress all the way up to the aid station which sits maybe .5 miles below the actual pass. The volunteers were awesome, sprinting down to us ascending runners (power hikers) and grabbing our bottles from us for refills. I took in some broth, coke, chips, and a sandwich and quickly got moving as I didn’t want to spend any extra time at altitude. The remainder of the climb gets steeper and the trail gets tighter while the air gets thinner but I was steady in my effort and was unaffected. Just before summiting I saw the lead runner coming inbound, drenched in sweat and looking like he was moving fast but was uncomfortable. Turns out he had good reason because he was ahead of course record pace at this point, but like every runner since 2005 when Matt Carpenter set the course record Max King would blow up and Ian Sharman who at this point was probably 20 minutes behind would go on to finish 1st overall.


The outbound descent of Hope Pass is extremely steep, losing around 2,800 feet in a little over 2 miles. The first mile features several switchbacks and some talus crossing so it’s more about foot placement and body control which I tend to have a knack for. As a result I was able to pass several people including fellow slammer Sean Bowman whom I tend to have this repeating theme with where he passes me around mile 30 then I pass him around mile 80…this time it was at mile 46 so again despite feeling tired I was encouraged in thinking that I was still doing pretty well. The last mile of the descent is almost a free fall if you let gravity take over- but there were still other athletes who had made their way to the turnaround point and were now heading back up the pass so I felt that the right thing to do was defer right of way to the faster athlete so I probably wasted as much energy breaking stride and allowing room to pass on a really tight trail, but nonetheless I made good time down and didn’t feel like my quads were blown out.


After the descent, the trail heads off to the right and traverses the side of the mountain with a gradual climb to Winfield and the turnaround point, which is also where I was going to pick up my first pacer Zac Marion. This section felt incredibly slow and I found myself breaking to a walk far too often. It was also surprisingly hot! Just as I was entering the aid station area I started to see some of the people that were passing me earlier in the day and I realized that I wasn’t struggling any more than most of them. Kenzie, Mike, and Zac met me and quickly got me rolling again and we were quickly off to tackle the steeper ascent back up to Hope.


While I had fallen back from my best case scenario, at this point in the race things started to turn for me thanks to Zac’s help. He had me focus on my breathing and keep a steady effort. Again I had plans to make one or two stops on this climb to gather myself if needed but because of the steady effort and Zac’s Sherpa skills I was able to make the climb back up to Hope Pass without stopping. We also made several passes and upon reaching the summit I planted my second kiss on the wooden stick at the pass and looked over across the valley back to Leadville knowing that I now only had 45 miles to go and that I had done the hardest climbing of the day.


The descent was bittersweet for me because I could see why there wasn’t a ton of congestion on my way back up Hope. They had recently instituted a time cutoff at the Hope aid station just below the summit of 4:30 which was in my opinion a pretty aggressive cutoff for those 45 miles (12.5 hours). It seems to me that the course overall has pretty tight cutoffs which is likely the primary reason for the over 50% DNF rate—you really don’t have margin for error and have to do a good amount of running in the first 45 miles. At the same time, I was feeling more confident than ever for the day and started a good steady run down the 5 mile trail back inbound to Twin Lakes. Upon arrival we had put 45 minutes back in the bank towards my best case scenario.


Crossing the river the second time was super refreshing again- ambient temps had reached the high 80’s in some exposed sections on the mountain and getting cold water all over my body is always a good reset so I went all the way down for a dip and the volunteer at the river commented that I was looking better than when he had seen me on my way outbound. This time I kept moving in a “jazzy speed” pace back to the aid station for another quick and efficient pit stop.


From Twin Lakes outbound we went back into steady climb mode and maintained focus on breathing. A handful of people would pass on long climbs, but then I would catch and pass them on the downhills. It became a strategy of “giving up 10 minutes to gain 15” through Mt Elbert and Half Pipe and knowing what was ahead of me helped to mentally plot out this plan of execution. Zac was incredibly helpful at keeping the water bottle in my face to drink every 15 minutes and forcing me to choke down calories to keep the engine running every hour. Drink. Eat. Jazzy Speed. At this point runners start to thin out and you see more of the familiar faces as you leapfrog one other and there is a lot of comradery that I find in these waning miles as well as funny one liners shared between runners.


By the time we made our way back to Outward Bound/Fish Hatchery on the inbound trek to meet Kenzie we had made up over 1:15 on my best case. I was feeling the residual fatigue that I had felt at Vermont which is just what you come to expect in the slam. Ian Sharman had warned that you’d feel great for 20-30 to start legs 3-4 of the slam, then after that you’d feel like you were hitting 70 miles at that point and it would stay with you until the finish. I think this is spot on advice as I’ve never felt muscle fatigue that early at the 100 mile pace. When you’re at mile 75 you just do your best to hold on and get to the finish in good enough shape to turn around and run another 100 miler. Although I had plenty of cushion to go sub 25, we made the goal to hold that 1:15 gap but were careful to not push harder with Wasatch 100 coming up in 3 weeks. Kenzie and I immediately had a long slight climb up the pavement road then Powerline at mile 80 which I had been told was the hardest part of the day by previous Utah slammer Jim Skaggs. I told her about my strategy to give up 10 minutes on the climb in order to gain 15 on the downhill by maintaining a good breathing pattern, and while I think I tested her patience she stuck with it and picked up right where Zac left off by keeping me constantly moving forward and upward.


Powerline was hard, but it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined it. We watched Salomon Elite Laura Perry climb away from us up the hill, then caught up to her and passed on the descent. When we got to Turquois Lake I told her it would be a long run with lots of rollers and technical footing and that I would do my best to run everything I could, but the main goal was to not fall in that section. Lucky for me I stayed on my feet but Kenzie hit her quota of one fall per run over 20 miles ; )


While I did enjoy looking back at the course and seeing various headlamps as well as the moonlight along the lake, I wasn’t in the mood to be a sightseer and just wanted to get done. Passing the Tabor boat ramp we saw someone who told us it was about a 10K left, but it proved to feel much longer than that. When we finally hit the Boulevard it seemed like an eternal climb and at this point I was pretty much done running. I just worked the heck out of my trekking poles and made sure that I was moving forward with purpose. We didn’t know how close we were, but I estimated that we were near 3 miles out that a 20 minute average would get us in just under 24 hours. I didn’t leave anything to chance and made sure I was moving at around 15 minutes per mile up the long dusty road and managed to pass another few runners in doing so.



As we hit the top of the road and it became pavement I could hear and smell the finish. Kenzie pulled out the GoPro and did our traditional on-course interview before the finish. I started wondering where my kids were when we hit the last straightaway and saw my mother-in-law who had taken the time to join us and get the kids there for me. A few hundred yards past her my kids came running to me and I began running to them. I was able to put my arms around them and together as a family we crossed the line of the Leadville 100 trail run, something that just a couple of years prior I had deemed impossible for me, let alone as the third leg of the Grand Slam. It was the sweetest moment of the Slam to date and I had put together the performance that I am most proud of in an endurance race. Of around 700 starters I was the 50th person to cross the line. Of 340 others who were able to complete the full 100 miles the median finishing time was 28:10 and I had crossed in 23:40. I could hardly believe it, and allowed myself to enjoy that feeling thoroughly with my family and friends. Best of all I felt like I was healthy and had no real pain to speak of which is crucial in the slam.



At the end of it all, Leadville was one of the best races I’ve taken part in. I agree more with the book’s accounting of this event and strongly encourage anyone to put this on their bucket list. The whole town is so supportive, and racing Leadville means becoming part of the Leadville family which is a very special group. I will be back again for sure to dig a little deeper, try a little harder, and come out an even stronger version of me.


Special thanks to my number 1, Kenzie. She has been amazingly patient and supportive throughout the slam, taking me home as a pacer the final leg of each race and crewing her heart out up until that point. My kids for their constant love and support. They are all keenly aware of how hard this is and are always telling me that they believe daddy can finish the slam. Zac and Mike were amazingly supportive and infinitely helpful throughout the race experience. I’m so blessed to have people who will sacrifice their time and energy on my behalf. Thanks to the running community in general- whether it’s little messages on social media or phone calls and texts—I can’t even begin to tell you how much all of your words and gestures mean to me. Thanks to Tyler Shepherd and Endurance Athletics for supporting me in my gear needs for the slam. They are runners who get this whole experience and were the first ones to reach out and offer help in getting me through this journey- please support local shops-I haven’t been the best in the past at this but have made a conscious effort as I’ve come to appreciate their role in the running community. Lastly, thanks to my loving parents and my hero dad. His battle with his amputation has inspired me and pushed me beyond anything I can describe. I will never quit in this slam attempt simply because I know that regardless of what pain I may be experiencing I still have the ability to overcome. One thought of him and I am back moving forward—constantly forward!