Before There Was “Wasatch”:
Trail Running in Utah – August 1980
By Dana Miller
In 1980, before the Wasatch 100 began, trail running and especially hundred-mile trail running was in its infancy. Road running in the United States, by comparison, was experiencing a boom that was fueled, in part, by Frank Shorter’s 1972 and 1976 Olympic marathon medals. When I started running in 1978, there was already a handful of road races in northern Utah’s Cache Valley where I lived and pretty well a full running season’s calendar if I wanted to travel to Ogden or Salt Lake. My first official race was Logan’s 8-mile Run Cache Valley Run in April 1978 and I followed that with a finish at the Golden Spike Marathon (Brigham City, UT) a month later.
I didn’t become aware of trail races until the spring of 1980 when I heard about the Bair Gutsman. Actually, I saw someone wearing a t-shirt with the phrase “CONQUER THYSELF” silk-screened in huge letters on the back. Intrigued, I stopped the wearer and learned about the event for the first time. I entered the August race that same year, finishing 10th of 170+ entrants and the realization that I was a significantly better runner on trails than roads.
There weren’t any trail races in Cache Valley in 1980 and I don’t remember hearing about any in Utah except the Bair Gutsman. Based on my research, however, there were at least 5 trail races to choose from in 1980:
Bair Gutsman (1974)
Jan Cheney, a former Weber State College (now University) runner, started the Beehive Track Club and staged several of Utah’s first road races (including the Molestus Half-Marathon and Garden of Eden 10-miler). If anyone deserves the title “Father of Road and Trail Running” in Utah, it’s Jan.
Jan Cheney in 2014 during Mr. Goodyear’s Neighborhood interview. Photo courtesy of The Banyan Collective.
In 1974, Jan Cheney organized the 11-mile Bair Gutsman that started in Farmington, climbed 4300 feet up Bair Canyon to Francis Peak, then descended to the Bountiful Peak campground following the main gravel road. Jan touted the event as “the steepest race in the nation.” Despite that description, about 75 runners tackled the inaugural race. Richard Barnum-Reece took over the race from Jan in 1980.
The front of my 1981 Bair Gutsman “long course” t-shirt. The race slogan that year was “Reaffirm Thyself.”
Sometime before 1979, Jan organized the Mountain Goat Track Club to cater to the fledgling trail running community. According to a 1979 newspaper article, “He started the Mountain Goat Track club for those who have run a 29-mile race.” (Ogden Standard-Examiner, Sept. 26, 1979, “The Pain of Jogging Is a Natural High”, Richard Barnum-Reece) My hunch is that requiring a 29-mile race finish to quality for Mountain Goat Track Club’s membership was to honor those who finished the Bair Gutsman long course (see below).
Jan added a longer, 29-mile (or was it 32?) option to the Bair Gutsman in 1979 or 1980. After completing the 11-mile course, runners could continue south over the top of Bountiful Peak, then descend to the “B” on the mountain east of Bountiful. Seven runners chose to run the longer event that year, including Laurie Staton and Greg Rollins, who would finish the first Wasatch 100 a few months later.
Highline Trail – Uintah Primitive Run (1979)
Another Jan Cheney creation, the Uintah Primitive Run was a 30-mile, 2-day run from Mirror Lake to the Granddaddy Lake area and back. Mountain Men packed the 11 runners’ camping gear in on horseback. Winner Rick May recalls fellow runner Paul Hart picking wild mushrooms and catching trout to add to the evening’s meal for the 11 participants. (The other participants were Richard Barnum-Reece, Karen Darden, Cheryl Hart, Irv Nielsen, Becky Nielsen, Richard and Pam Carlisle, Conrad Eliot, and Merit Glenne).
That’s “Gorilla” Irv Nielsen in the photo (L)!
Article from Ogden Standard-Examiner, Sept. 26, 1979. Newspaper clipping courtesy of Rick May, 12-time Wasatch 100 finisher.
Flight of the Eagle (1979)
Richard Barnum-Reece, photo from his obituary published in the Desert News, February 2-3, 2008.
Richard Barnum-Reece, a newspaper reporter and distance runner, staged an approximately 40-mile race called the Flight of the Eagle that started in East Layton on Highway 89 just south of Weber Canyon. The route is familiar to all early Wasatch 100 runners: Beginning at Winder Dairy, the course went east to Chinscraper, then south along the ridge to Francis Peak and dropped down the road to the Maintenance Sheds before going up over Bountiful Peak, then downhill to what became known as “Bountiful B” and finally down the long, winding gravel road to the “B” on the mountain east of Bountiful. Steve Baugh remembers Rick May, Laurie Staton and Greg Rollins joining him for that inaugral Flight of the Eagle.
1980 Flight of the Eagle results – September 6, 1980, newspaper clipping courtesy of Rick May.
[Note: There is conflicting information about the Flight of the Eagle. In a July 30, 2014 “Mr. Goodyear’s Neighborhood” podcast, Jan Cheney used the name “Flight of the Eagle” when talking about the 29-32 mile Bair Gutsman long course. From what I have been able to learn, however, the Bair Gutsman long course never started in East Layton. I ran the “long course” in 1981 (its 2nd year) and never heard it referred to as the “Flight of the Eagle.” Perhaps Jan’s memory of those early Bair Gutsman and pre-Wasatch days is a little fuzzy.]
Park City 40-Miler (1978 or 1979)
Richard Barnum-Reece kicked off the Park City 40-miler in 1978 or 1979. The race started in Park City, went over Guardsman Pass to Brighton, then up the ski slopes, over Catherine’s Pass to Albion basin, down past Alta and Snowbird, up over Cardiff Pass and down to Big Cottonwood Canyon, then up to Solitude and Brighton; and finally back over Guardsman Pass to Park City. According to Steve Baugh, who did the run, there were “quite a number” of participants. I got the impression that there may have been up to 20.
Wahsatch Steeplechase (1979)
According to the event’s website, McKay Edwards dreamed up the race in 1979. Starting in Salt Lake City’s Memory Grove, runners could choose from three courses: Twin Peaks Derby (8 miles); Black Mountain Classic (15.5 miles); and the 26.2-mile Wahsatch Crest Marathon.
It is interesting that two of the five pre-Wasatch 100 trail races continue to this day (Crazy Bob’s Bair Gutsman and Wahsatch Steeplechase). Also noteworthy is that the original Wasatch 100 course followed Richard Barnum-Reece’s Flight of the Eagle route from its start on Highway 89 to the “Maintenance Sheds” at 14.6 miles before dropping east towards Hardscrabble Canyon. One year, the Wasatch 100 followed the Bair Gutsman “long course” from below the Maintenance Sheds up over Bountiful Peak before resuming the current route at the “Bountiful B” aid station. Coincidently, in 2016, the race committee was forced to abandon the route to Chinscraper and chose to follow most of the Bair Gutsman course up Bair Canyon, then down the gravel road to the Maintenance Sheds. The current Wasatch 100 course also traverses a small section of trail that was in the Park City 40-mile run. According to participant Rick May, that early run included the section from Brighton to Catherine Pass, miles 67 to 69.75 on the 2017 Wasatch course.
From what I could learn, race organizers and the handful of participants characterized themselves as “just runners who loved playing in the mountains”.