Powered by pickles and salted boiled potatoes, cooled by a bandana filled with ice and supported by a crew that performed with NASCAR-like expediency, Cody Priest of Anchorage won the Wasatch 100 ultramarathon early Saturday morning in Utah.
It was Priest’s rookie run in a 100-mile race, and it took him 21 hours and 24 minutes. The race started at 5 a.m. Friday, and Priest reached the Soldier Hollow finish line around 2:30 a.m. Saturday.
He finished 27 minutes ahead of the second-place finisher.
A math teacher at Hanshew Middle School, Priest faced some daunting numbers on his way to victory:
— Altitudes greater than 7,500 feet for most of the race through the Wasatch Mountains;
— A cumulative elevation gain of about 24,000 feet (and a similar amount of downhill running);
— A distance twice that of any he had previously raced.
“I’d only gone 50 miles before,” Priest, 33, said after a five-hour nap Saturday morning. “It’s a different animal, and I knew that going in. I talked to a lot of people and got as much information as I could. The pace is so different, and you have to eat a lot of food, real food.”
The Wasatch 100 is billed as “100 miles of heaven and hell,” and besides altitude, it has a difficult technical terrain that made Priest grateful for the hours he has spent in the front range of the Chugach Mountains.
He stopped for food at many of the race’s numerous aid stations — his favorite bites were pickles and salted potatoes — but he never sat down and he never changes shoes or clothes, all on the advice of a 75-year-old uncle.
Rick Miller, who lives in Salt Lake City and opened to his home to Priest and several others for the weekend, is a veteran of several Wasatch 100s. He placed 25th at age 61 in his last Wasatch ultrarun.
“He kind of lived and breathed this race for about a decade,” Priest said.
“He told me to keep it simple. Since there’s about 15 aid stations, he said make them as quick as possible. If you’re fast, you spend two minutes at each station, so that’s 30 minutes of time just at aid stations.
“I had plans to maybe switch my shoes or change clothes, and he talked me out of it. He told me to keep moving and going forward.”
Miller was part of a race crew that included Alaska runners Allan Spangler and Andrew Dougherty, who served as Priest’s pacers. Race rules require runners to go the first 35 miles on their own but they can have pacers after that.
The race starts at 4,400 feet, hits 9,000 feet in the first 7 miles and reaches a peak of about 10,500 feet at 72 miles.
Priest, who lives and trains at sea level, said he was gasping for air from the start — and that, he said, turned out to be a good thing.
“It almost played to my advantage, because from the start I was out of breath. I wasn’t able to run real fast and damage my legs because I was breathing too hard,” he said.
Priest was one of two Alaska mountain runners to post big results to recent races in the Lower 48.
While Priest ran 100 miles in a single stretch in Utah, Christopher Kirk of Anchorage claimed second place in the trifecta at The Rut Mountain Races in Big Sky, Montana.
Kirk, 24, raced a combined 50 miles in three grueling races on Labor Day weekend. He competed in a Vertical K race with 3,600 feet of climbing on the first day, a 28-kilometer race with 7,500 feet of climbing on the second day, and a 50-kilometer race with 10,500 feet of climbing on the third day.
Kirk placed ninth in the vertical K, eighth in the 28K and 16th in 50K to finish with a cumulative time of 11 hours, 34 minutes, 20 seconds. Trifecta winner Ryan Becker of Colorado had a combined time of 9:59:59.
Priest was in or near the lead for most of his race. Spangler ran with him from mile 35 to 50; Daugherty was with him from mile 50 to mile 70 — “It poured rain on Andrew and I for about 10 minutes; we were completely soaked,” Priest said — and Spangler rejoined him for the final 30 miles.
When he reached the aid station at Brighton Ski Resort, 70 miles into the race, he trailed past champion Trevor Fuchs by two minutes. He seized the lead with a speedy pit stop.
“Because I had such an awesome crew, we just NASCAR’d it and we left a few minutes before Trevor, which mentally helped a lot,” Priest said.
He said one of his aid-station rituals during the heat of the day was to fill a bandana with ice and tie it around his neck so it draped down across his back.
He said the idea to use a bandana for an ice pack came from fellow Alaska runner Tracen Knopp, and it made a difference.
“It was 85 and sunny,” Priest said. “Having that on my back and melting, I was never really hot.”
Priest beat his goal of a 22-hour finish by more than 30 minutes. The race record belong to Juneau’s Geoff Roes, who clocked a mind-bending 18:30:55 in 2013.
A cluster of fans greeted Priest at the finish line — his wife, his mom, an assortment of aunts and uncles and some friends.
He stayed long enough to watch Jose Cruz of California finish second and Fuchs finish third, and then headed to Miller’s house for a shower, a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich and a nap.