The check-in and Pre-Race meeting began Thursday night at 5PM at the Wendover Community Center, in Wendover, UT. Wendover is a study in contrast, with economically challenged, small-town Utah sitting east of the state line, and to the west, the Casinos and Strip Clubs of West Wendover, NV. The mayor of Wendover, UT had offered up the Community Center and as we setup for the meeting the ever-present winds of the area showed no signs of abating... it looked like the National Weather Service’s promised storm was soon to arrive.
Runners showed up and gathered their race bags and visited the sponsors who had set up inside the center, and received the overview of the course markings, conditions, and last minute instructions. By 7PM the last of the runners had picked up their bags and went to get some sleep. At least that was the intention. Mother Nature, however had other ideas. The wind had been steadily increasing in intensity and by 8PM, 60 MPH gusts were slamming the area accompanied by a cold, driven rain. Driving out to the Start where I was to start marking the last of the course, I passed a 5th-wheel trailer laying on it’s side in the median, a casualty of the nuking winds.
At the start area, all the Honey Bucket portable toilets had been blown over, Liz Bauer and Scott Brockmeier’s RV was parked next to assistant RD Ray Smith’s Motor Home, and all the folks who had intended to camp at the start had bailed and driven the 5 miles back to Wendover to get a hotel room. It was a very lonely looking start area. I climbed out of my truck and went in to talk to Ray about our options, and figure out how we were going to pull off this race.
The BLM had required us to have a “rain route”, which would allow us to run the race if the Salt Flats was flooded, and as the rain continued we realized this might be a reality. We knew we’d be working through the night to get the course flagged either way, but running the rain route was not what people came out here to do. As if on cue, the rain ebbed, and then completely stopped. The wind continued to howl for another hour, and then it too backed off to the “normal” 15-20 MPH. We were going to be able to have a race after all.
We shot out and started checking the flagging we’d placed earlier, and found most of it needed to be reset. By the time we’d set the flagging out to mile 30, it was time to head back and get the race started.
At 6:55, I formed up the runners out on the “Salt”, gave last minute instructions, and at 7:00AM sent them out into the white plain of salt. As the sun rose into the gray morning sky, the clouds broke up and the runners were able to experience the mirror-like reflection of the salt.
Because the salt surface is perfectly flat, the curvature of the earth makes it so you cannot see another person on the surface more than a few miles out, so the runners were guided along the salt by 4’ rebar hammered into the hard salt and bright orange streamers flapping in the wind. As they passed one of these, another would come into view.
Very quickly, the favorite to win, Jay Aldous had taken the lead and by the time he hit the first aid station at mile 10, no one could be seen behind him.
Pete Lindgren, Daryl Hultquist and several other possible “second placers” were working hard to keep Jay reasonably close as they followed several minutes back.
The weather was cool and windy, but made for great running conditions and the runners set a quick pace so I needed to get out and finish flagging the course. I took a friend and training partner, Dan Eastman out to the tip of Crater Island and dropped him off to flag the west side of the island by foot while I headed back to keep flagging the remainder of the course, checking in with the “Sheep Camp” Aid Station crew (Aid 6) on the way.
Only 1 mile from Sheep Camp, I passed a very strong-looking Jay Aldous, now easily 1 hr ahead of the next runner. He was putting down a blistering run, and I needed to get moving to ensure the course was flagged ahead of him.
I was literally putting down the course markings two aid stations ahead of him .
The weather kept improving, and by mid-afternoon the temperatures were in the low 60’s with mostly sunny skies.
Even our K-9 competitor “Elvis” with 100 mile first-timer DeeAnna Croasman seemed to be enjoying the weather. I finished flagging the course by 7PM, and started setting up the finish. About this time I received a call from Ray, who had gone out to pull the Honey Buckets from Aid 1 and Aid 2 so they could be moved over to a couple other Aid Stations.
He had driven off of the hard salt surface into the “salt mud”, and was now mired down. He started digging out while I completed setting up the finish, and thanks to some random 2x4’s in his pickup bed he called and said he was out shortly after I was done setting up the finish, but the trailer and Honey Buckets were stuck until we could get a winch or better vehicle out there.
As Ray drove back towards the finish, the deceptive illusions of the night desert took over, and he turned to what he thought were the lights of the finish, and again drove off the hard salt surface getting stuck once again. At least this time he had some experience on how to dig himself out. At 9:45 PM, we saw a headlight way down the approach to the finish. Jay was headed in.
The approach to the finish is 3.5 miles of perfectly flat road, and the lights of the finish are visible almost the entire way. Just like the Salt Flats themselves, the deceptive nature of distance in this environment adds a unique challenge to this last section.
The agonizing nature of the finish was reflected in Jay’s face as he came through the finish at 10:04PM, a blazingly fast 15:04:45.
Liz Bauer led the ladies the entire race, and finished with a 24:44:01.
From the Race Director perspective, the race was a great success. 49 runners started, 43 finished.
Most of the “first timers” also finished, including DeeAnna Croasman and Elvis,
and 18-year-old Tyler Bodily. Only one runner experienced a significant “lost” episode after missing a pivotal turn. No significant injuries, no damaged vehicles, and almost universally enjoyable experiences by all runners, volunteers, and staff. As is always the case, there is much room for improvement and the runners and volunteers have offered outstanding suggestions we will incorporate into next year’s event.
The Salt Flats 100 exposes the runner to truly other-worldly terrain, deceptive distances, and mental challenges unlike any other 100. This year’s event confirmed that unique status as virtually every competitor commented on the unique and challenging nature of the race. As we grow the event, I’m sure the experience will be even better year after year.