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Most runners just glad to finish 100-Mile Wasatch race

Posted: Wednesday, September 19, 2001

BRIGHTON, Utah (AP) -- Joe Winch appeared in the A-frame ski lodge shortly after midnight Sunday and announced to no one in particular: ''I feel great.''

That got a few laughs among Winch's fellow ultramarathoners who were refueling at this ski area in Big Cottonwood Canyon for the last and toughest quarter of a 100-mile footrace through the Wasatch Mountains.

''If I really thought about what the next 25 miles entails, I would not get out of this chair,'' said Tim Seminoff of Park City, the 1996 champion of the Wasatch Front 100-Mile Endurance Run. ''I'm going to keep going. It's important for me to get my 10th finish next year.''

Seminoff, who finished 35th, and 184 other runners left Kaysville at 5 a.m. Saturday, beginning the race's 22nd edition with a 4,000-foot climb up Francis Peak in bitter cold. With the mercury registering 27 degrees, the water froze over in the cups that aid- station volunteers filled for the runners.

Nearly 22 hours later, the runners were spread over 40 miles between Mill Creek Canyon and the finish in Midway, where Leland Barker cruised in for his second win at 2:44 a.m. Sunday. At that moment, first-timer Ari Menitove of Salt Lake City was hobbling up the steps of the Brighton lodge.

''I see why you call this place the morgue,'' Menitove, 30, said. ''I'm ready for a dirt nap.''

The jokes were a good sign, but still, Menitove could only stare at the soup and hash brown potatoes his friends put in front of him, wondering how to consume the nourishment without actually eating it. He rested two hours in that triage ward before continuing on to the finish at 2:34 p.m., in 82nd place, hardly 2 1/2 hours shy of the 36-hour time runners must meet to be credited with a Wasatch finish.

Between hell and fun is a fine divide that makes the torn feet, vomiting, supreme fatigue and hallucinations all worth it for those who can endure. Competition is not the point of the annual race, longtime racers say; rather, runners seek a sense of camaraderie built from a shared ordeal.

Ten-time Wasatch racer Brandon Sybrowski, who ran all but the last few miles alone, reached the finish with Jeff LaMora of Sandy in 23 hours, 27 minutes, which qualified both men for induction into the elite Royal Order of the Crimson Cheetah. But Sybrowski insisted LaMora get the higher finish position, sixth, in gratitude for his company and putting up with ''the 100 miles of funk'' steaming off his body.

''I had some tough moments out there. There are blisters on all of my toes,'' said Sybrowski, 30, a former Utah high school track star who works as an archaeologist in Colorado. ''The exhilaration of breaking 24 hours raises your threshold for pain.''

Despite the misery, runners from all over the country sign up for the Wasatch 100, one of 28 100-mile races scheduled this year in the United States.

''It's amazing how much the sport has grown,'' organizer Steven Utley said. ''When I started 10 years ago, we couldn't fill the race. Now it's full by January, and we could run 1,000 if we accepted all the applications.''

The race is permitted for 250 runners, but organizers accept up to 275.

''Seventy or 80 will drop out before race day because of injuries, they come to their senses, or whatever,'' race director John Grobben said.

Barker added to this growing list of races two years ago when he established the Bear 100 in the Bear River Mountains of southeastern Idaho. Between 20 and 40 runners are expected at the starting line at Deer Cliff Inn near Franklin on Sept. 28.

Fatigue and pain felled the race's two front-runners, Karl Meltzer and Susan Hunter Yates, a former Utah resident now living in Seattle, who were on pace to repeat their wins of last year. Yates, 29, folded somewhere after Brighton, and Betsy Nye of Truckee, Calif., was the first woman to the finish, in 26:17, 17th overall.

Ten hours into the race Saturday, Meltzer and Barker went through the Lambs Canyon aid station at mile 53 a few minutes apart. Arriving first, Meltzer took a seat, probably for the first time all day, rubbed his left knee, then forced a big grin for a camera-toting fan and held up a tube of his vanilla-flavored energy gel in a mock product endorsement.

Meltzer's arduous racing schedule, which includes a record-shattering victory two months ago at the Hardrock Hundred, was apparently catching up with the 33-year-old Snowbird bartender. About 10 miles later in Mill Creek Canyon, he bowed out, ceding the race to Barker, a 43-year-old fish farmer from Smithfield.

Another front-runner, Ken Jensen, 33, of Salt Lake twisted an ankle coming down Catherine's Pass in the dark and spent four hours hunkered in a sleeping bag at the Pole Line Pass aid station before finishing the race in daylight, in 16th place.

The course has seen about 15 permutations over the years, this time featuring a new finish stretch to Midway's Homestead Resort. The prior finishes at Sundance involved more climbing, but this year's route had a much more technical descent littered with countless ankle-twisting obstacles.

''It's extremely steep and rocky,'' said Derek Blaylock, 32, of Riverton, who finished third, just two minutes behind Curt Anderson's 22:37.

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