Beginning right in Salt Lake City’s Memory Grove Park, the Wahsatch Steeplechase serves as one of the opening events for a long season of Wasatch Mountain trail running. This year’s race starts at 6:00 am on June 11, 2011. Taking place since 1979, this 30+ year event has become a genuine Utah tradition.
Covering 17+ miles in total, this race begins at the northern end of town at an elevation of 4,500 feet, heads up the foothills flaking City Creek Canyon, and summits at 8,200 feet on the craggy top of Black Mountain (after 7.5 miles of running) -where a rocky, spiny ridge must be navigated. The racers then descend the western slopes of this mountain quickly to reach the bottom of City Creek Canyon after 2.5 miles’ steep, somewhat backcountry descent, which they will follow downward via road and then trail at a more gradual incline to finish back in Memory Grove Park.
Most racers finish in just three or four hours, with the slowest taking six hours (the mandatory cut-off time), and the race winners coming in usually around just 2.5 hours. The men’s all-time course record was set at 2:15:05 by Carl Swenson and the women’s at 2:37:57 by Lori DuPaul.
With a total of roughly 9,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, this is not just a matter of aerobic endurance, but also a feat of calf-draining climbing, as well as subsequent leg-cramping descent. Even with an early start and a few aid stations dotting the course, the racers are largely left alone to contend with the Utah sun and its heat.
Race registration is capped at 300 participants; those planning to train and register for the event should do so ahead of time! You don’t want to be ill-prepared on either front!