Wasatch Front 100 race report

How to get a place

Admission to the Wasatch Front 100 is by lottery, with applications being taken starting in December.  The lottery offers reasonably high chances of success, with many runners managing multiple entries. With many people who have completed the slam, naming this as their favourite race of the series, it ought to be a lot more popular with British ultra-runners. Applications start in December, and applicants are required to make a payment up front, but British applicants are currently allowed to defer payment until after the lottery is drawn.  Upon being accepted through the lottery, payment is made via a website of one of the event sponsors. This year I was the only UK runner to be drawn. Successful applicants are required to complete eight hours of trail work for the Forest Service, but owing to the difficulty for British runners to do this, the organisers will typically accept eight hours of work for a local charity.  The event organisers address any queries submitter to their Facebook Page, in a very prompt manner. 


Salt Lake City as a travel destination

Salt Lake City is situated about 1300 metres above sea level, which aids acclimatisation to altitude prior to the race. It is a bit like an American version of Davos, in that it is encircled by mountains, yet still has all the amenities of a major city. It is a mecca for skiers and snowboarders in the winter and hikers in the summer.  There are a number of 3000 metre peaks close to the city, which you can ascend to help with altitude acclimatisation.  You have to pay for a cable car ride to the top of the local peaks, but the ride down is free. This makes it tempting to hike to the summit, and get a free ride down.  The public transport service in Salt Lake City is sketchy, and locals use a mobile phone app called Uber, to organise lifts from other people.  Your best bet might be just to hire a car for the duration of your stay.  The local people are incredibly friendly, and I had no trouble finding people willing to crew for me, and pace me.  The City has a number of major attractions, so it would not be inhumane to subject a non-running family member to a visit.  Flights to Salt Lake City from Heathrow currently require at least one change, but Delta airlines will be running direct flights from next year. 


The Wasatch course

The Wasatch Front 100 is a bit of a beast, with nigh on 8000 metres of cumulative ascent, and a number of points more than 3000 metres above sea level.  The course carries a lot more vegetation than other high altitude races such as UTMB, and other American mountain races. Presumably this is because heat rising off the surrounding salt flats, allows the tree line to reach higher. Either way, it gives the course a distinctively wild look, compared to other mountain races.  Even the checkpoints have fantastic names, such as Big Mountain, and Lake Desolation.  The total ascent is closer to Lakeland 100 than UTMB, but the individual ascents are more like UTMB. By far the worst climb of the course is the one encountered in the first 14 miles, which takes you from the lowest point of the course to the highest in a single climb, and is a pretty sharp ascent. It is called the chin scraper for good reason. The course is pretty technical in places, and every section seems to be distinctively different. Most of the more challenging sections of the course occur in the first half, with a few notable exceptions, and it is fairly common for finishers to manage an even split in this race.  Pole use is less prevalent than in European races such as UTMB, but the local runners who live and train in the mountains, will make quick work of you on the uphill sections, even if you have poles and they don’t.&nbs


  • The foliage on the course makes poles a bit of a vegetation snagging nuisance, but I would suggest that a British runner should at least have them available.  Weather conditions range from searing heat in the day time, to occasional snow at high altitude. The local runners carry a lot less kit than a British or European ultra-runner would, relying more on their crew and drop bags for essential kit, and I was teased for the size of my pack. Wildlife encountered on the course includes bears, moose, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes. The local runners say that moose are the animal that poses the most realistic danger, because they can be aggressive in defence of their calves. In the end the only time I got attacked by a cougar, was during the flight home. 


    My race

    The Wasatch Front 100 clipped my wings I’m afraid. I was going pretty well until Desolation Lake at 67 miles, when I found myself gasping for air, like a goldfish out of water. By the time I reached the 75 mile checkpoint, I was having serious difficulty breathing. The race doctor examined me, and his solution was to send me back out on to the trail with a pacer, and an inhaler. The pacer did her best bless her, but on the climbs I was doubling up struggling to breathe every ten yard, and the inhaler was only providing temporary respite. We made some progress on the downhill sections, but faced with the inevitability of missing the 36 hour cut-off, I turned myself in at the 82 mile checkpoint. Other British ultra-runners should perhaps not be put off by my experience, since I have always struggled with altitude in European mountain races, and many people here handled the altitude much better ta UTMB for example.  This is certainly an event to treat with respect though.  I would like to thank Rebecca and David for crewing for me, putting me up during my stay, and driving me around. I would also like to thank Tara for trying to rescue my race, and the race organizers, and marshals, who put so much into this event.


  • That's a very interesting report, Ben. It's got me interested. image Sorry you had to retire. Have you done UTMB and have you suffered with the altitude on that?

  • PS you should have continued on the thread booktrunk started for you. image It was looking at that which first piqued my interest. I'd been wondering what happened to you.

  • Yes Nick I have done UTMB, and I did indeed have problems with the altitude. Of course UTMB is about 2000 feet lower, so I got away with it.  I love these mountain races more than any other running events, but they are doing horrible things to my body, and I just don’t see a solution.  

    Didn’t notice booktrunk’s thread.

    Sorry about that!

  • I'm seriously contemplating quitting my job, moving to Switzerland and adapting properly.

    By 'seriously contemplating' I mean fantasizing about, just after I finish exploiting that diamond mine I'm going to find in the back garden.

    Other than that, I have no idea.  How do you prep for altitude when you live at sea level?

  • Spend every holiday you have in the mountains? 

  • I will be doing a lot of research into altitude acclimatisation, before I attempt my next high altitude race. The definition of madness being to do the same thing twice, and expect a different result. 


    That aside, there are mountain races that do not take you to exceptionally high altitudes. The Ehunmilak has 11000 metres of ascent, but it starts near sea level, so the highest part of the course is about as high as Salt Lake City.  

  • GeeeMGeeeM ✭✭✭

    Bad luck Ben, altitude effects people differently and you never know how it's going to hit you until you try it.

    i did the Bear 100 a couple of years ago which also in Utah about 100 miles north of SLC - it's similar to Wasatch and spends most time up at 8-11,000' it was my first time at altitude.

    I find above 8,000' things get tougher - especially going up hills, and over 10,000' it's very hard! Since then though I've been up at those heights in Tahoe, Transylvania and  the Alps and not really noticed it as much. Maybe I'm just a bit more used to it?

    if I was going to something like Hardrock I'd get there 1-2 weeks earlier to acclimatise a bit, I have friends who've used those altitude tents, the verdict is out as to whether they helped or not.

  • You are definitely right about the difference between 8000 feet and 10000 feet Geem. On the flight home, they announced that we could turn our mobile phones on, because we had reached an altitude of 10000 feet.  I looked down at the clouds below, and started to see where the problem lay.  

  • Sorry to hear you had to pull out Ben. On the plus side you seem to have survived the cougar attack!image

  • DNF stands for “did nothing fatal” right?

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