Back 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.
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!