The Wasatch Front 100 Mile 40th Anniversary Celebration

AJW's TaproomBack in September of 1980, in the remote Wasatch Mountains east of Salt Lake City, Utah, five runners attempted the first Wasatch Front 100 Mile. The brainchild of Utah runners Richard Barnum-Reece and Steve Baugh, the inaugural edition went from Winder Dairy just north of Ogden to Sundance Ski Resort. In doing so, it became the third established 100-mile race in the United States. Borrowing heavily from the first two 100 milers, the Western States 100 in California and Old Dominion 100 Mile in Virginia, Wasatch was a true beast of a course through mountains and trails far more remote than those in California and Virginia. Of the five original runners who started the race in ’80, Richard Reece-Barnum, Steve Baugh, Greg Rollins, Laurie Staton, and Jan Cheney, only two finished–Staton and Rollins–together in a time of 35:01:21. And just like that, the Wasatch 100 was born!

This weekend, 40 years later, 12 Wasatch 100 pioneers–11 men and one woman–all of whom ran the race in the ’80s and early ’90s, are returning to Wasatch to run in celebration of the 40th anniversary. Long-time race director John Grobben, who himself has been involved with the event since the beginning, first as an aid-station captain and then as the race director since 1988, has invited the 12 pioneers back to the race and given them 40 hours to complete the course. Starting at 1 a.m. (while the rest of the field will start at 5 a.m.), these pioneers have among them a combined 114 Wasatch finishes.

Steve Baugh, age 71, who ran the original event in 1980, is running for the first time since 1992. Suzi Cope, 72, the lone female pioneer in the event, is attempting the race for the third time and also the first time since 1992. Suzi was among a group of three women, along with Helen Klein and Marge Adelman, who were the first women to complete the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in 1989. Dana ‘Mud and Guts’ Miller, 68, is returning after completing the race 20 times and both Gordon Hardman, 68, and Fred Denys, 73, are returning to attempt their 18th finishes. Other Wasatch pioneers on the start list are Rick May (age 71), Wendell Robison (67), Frank Hanson (61), Steve Kissell (58), John Moellmer (74), Karl Ryser (64) and Alan Weeks (70).

I am so pleased that the Wasatch 100 race organizers have chosen to celebrate their 40th anniversary in this way. Bringing back these 12 legends of the sport and treating them to a special starting time not only celebrates their accomplishments and longevity but also makes a wonderful statement about the power of history and tradition in a sport that is too often plagued with a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mentality.

Having run Wasatch myself twice and paced there another handful of times, I can attest that it is not only a fantastic test of grit and endurance but also an event that is unapologetically true to its roots. The race has no fanfare or hullabaloo, you are not likely to find any film crews on the course and the pre-race briefing typically takes about 15 minutes during which time John Grobben always and now famously says, “We know there are many fast and famous runners here to run the race and we are not going to introduce any of them.”

I am sincerely wishing all of the 40/40 runners the best of luck this weekend as they attempt to accomplish something truly extraordinary. For those of you who enjoy the old-school roots of the sport, I encourage you to follow along this weekend as this great tried-and-true event celebrates 40 years in classic Wasatch style.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s beer of the week comes from the Wasatch Brewery in Park City, Utah. Polygamy Porter is a deep, black porter brewed in the classic porter style. Smoky, malty and bold, Polygamy Porter is as rich as the deep soil on the eastern slopes of the Wasatch Mountains.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

As this article goes to press, this year’s Wasatch 100 runners will be minutes from starting their adventure. So until they are back from their weekend, commenters will probably be made up of previous years’ runners, pacers, and crews. Leave a comment to share your own Wasatch 100 story, past or present. Let’s collect a fun group of stories from this event’s long history!

There are 17 comments

  1. olga

    That was probably the article I enjoyed most from you, Andy. What history, and a great way to celebrate. Wishing all the old timers best in this attempt.

  2. Burke

    One of the first real mountain runs I ever did was with Dana Miller. We went about 5 hours or so that day. To me, it was like playing basketball with Michael Jordan or playing catch with Joe Montana. And my questions to him were probably as dumb as my questions would have been to Jordan or Montana. But he answered them all and showed me a couple of things about hills the hard way. I will never forget that day. Yesterday, he said he was scared as Hell but had a good nap before the 1AM start. Running in 3rd right now. This is a great story AJW. Thank you.

  3. KirkApt

    My one and only Wasatch was in 1992. After my one and (still) only DNF earlier that summer at the inaugural Hardrock, I wanted to get back on the 100-mile horse, and get it right. Lots of great memories from that day and night in the Wasatch, but what I remember most is the amazing sunrise lighting up the summit of Mt Timp. It stopped me and my pacer Alan Cohen dead in our tracks. We stopped just for a moment to admire the view, gave each other a knowing nod, and continued down the trail knowing we were going to get the finish.
    A tip of the hat to all the 40/40 vets Out There right now. I hope you all are treated to a magical Wasatch sunrise!

  4. Greg Loomis

    So Fantastic! Thanks for making folks aware of this great event and the cool way it is celebrating this year Andy! An incredible event and as tough of a run as there is. Bravo Wasatch!

  5. John Vanderpot

    I’d like to encourage other RD’s/events to consider this — there are some incredibly fit “middle-age” runners who, with a little help on some of the cut-offs, would no doubt have improved chances for one last finish on courses they used to run with “ease”…ha!

    1. AJW

      @johnvanderpot I completely agree! I hope more races see what Wasatch has done to honor their elders. It’s a fantastic way to celebrate history, traction, culture and longevity.

      1. John Vanderpot

        (And, in the case of say my friend Jussi, maybe let him do what he spent decades of his life working towards — 30 finishes at AC!)

  6. Richard Senelly

    Ol’ Grandslammer Suzi is now my neighbor, once helped me coach a bunch of XC kids in Hawaii, took part in several HURT runs, and like me took her sweet time finishing Hardrock. I am most certainly rooting for her today!

  7. Jon A

    Dana Miller spoke to my work running club years ago. He told amazing tales and inspired me. It was my first exposure to Ultras and set me on a path that changed my goals and accomplishments in life. Run hard today, Dana.

  8. Sarah Lavender Smith

    My one Wasatch was 2015, and I remember meeting my friend from Oakland, Errol “The Rocket” Jones (another legend) at the race briefing. He looked at me point blank and told me straight, “It’ll be fun, until it’s not, and then it’ll be fun again,” and then he laughed and laughed. I have found that one sentence to be true for most ultras since then.
    I’m grateful I got to experience Wasatch back when it still started with the climb up “Chin Scraper.”
    Great column, AJW, thank you.

  9. Frank Hanson

    Thanks to Dana Miller, John Grobben, the race committee, and all the runners who passed me sharing congrats and good wishes (just a few hundred or so). It was a day to treasure. My last event of any sort was 21 years ago w/my 9th finish at WF100 in 1998. Getting to relive a bit of my past life was very special. Maybe I get in real shape and go for #10 in 2020?

  10. Brian

    One of my most treasured ultra finishes – getting the Crimson Cheetah buckle. Love the old school feel of Wasatch and the feeling of being in remote sections of the wilderness. Such a sharp contrast to Western States. Both great events, but completely different.

  11. The Woodsman

    It was truly inspiring to see these runners out on the course this past weekend! Their bib numbers were formatted “40XX”, so they were easy to spot. I wanted to stop and talk to each one as I passed them to get their story but of course there was no time for that. We shared a few words of encouragement then moved on with our respective journeys. I understand two made it to the finish by the cut-off, but no matter- I’m sure they all enjoyed the memories regardless and were thankful for the opportunity. Definitively and awesome idea!

  12. Mac

    My first Wasatch was this year and am so grateful and thankful to everyone out there! This event was one that i believe embodies what i truly love and brought me deeper into this crazy stuff! Starting with John ending the race briefing with “There is only one more thing to do, introduce our very fast and famous runners… AND we DON’T do that here!”
    At that moment, i knew i belonged there! It was simply amazing and so humbling to see the 40/40 runners out there. At one point i was walking along behind a 40/40 runner and his pacer who pulled to the side to let me pass, i stopped and kindly asked the runner how many times he had done Wasatch, he looked at me and i could tell he didn’t want to say it but he very very humbly stated a simple “20” I couldn’t do anything but just stick my hand out for a handshake and say thank you. I am not sure who the runner was but that moment changed my mindset for the rest of the day/night/day and i brought it back around for a 34:06. Thanks to everyone out there in the Wasatch and all the other folks that paved the way for us to keep doing these amazing events! Cheers!

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