It's not getting any easier, but it is becoming routine.
For the fifth time in nine years, Laura Vaughan of Tahoe City was the top woman finisher at the Wasatch 100, held last weekend in Utah. The race, considered by many competitors to be one of the most difficult ultramarathons in the nation, is the third oldest race of its kind in the United States behind Northern California's Western States 100 and Virginia's Old Dominion 100.
Vaughan, 33, finished 13th overall with a time of 25 hours and 17 minutes in the race that had 190 contestants from across North America and as far away as the United Kingdom. Of the 190 racers that started, 118 finished the grueling race, now in its 20th year, that covers 100 miles over rugged, mountainous terrain, including a 5,000-foot elevation gain in the first five miles of the race and has a total elevation change for the course of 50,000 feet. The top finisher, Leland Barber of Utah, completed the course in 20:24.
"Laura's the mentally toughest racer I've known out of my 17 years of involvement (in the Wasatch 100)," said race director John Grobben of Springville, Utah.
Tough certainly describes Vaughan well. In 1996 and 1998, Vaughan competed in the race having recently given birth to her two children, Wildon in June 1996 and Emma in July 1998. She completed both races, stopping at the checkpoints to nurse both times.
The first time Vaughan ran the Wasatch 100 she won, setting a course record despite heavy rain and massive blisters on her feet. The next year she repeated as the top female finisher and in 1994 became the first woman to break the 24-hour barrier for the race. Only two other women have ever finished the race in under 24-hours.
Grobben believes it's her toughness and consistency that has allowed her to dominate the race in the 90s.
"It takes the ability to adapt, speed and to be mentally tough to win the race. you have to be tougher than everyone else that day," Grobben said.
Vaughan credits her success to her stubbornness and her role of guinea pig. Vaughan's father, Dr. Bill Vaughan of Berkeley, is a biophysicist and sports nutritionist who originally developed the PowerBar and recently the energy gel, GU.
"My success is due to his experiments. he comes up with different drinks for me to try out each year. I didn't throw up this year, which was good," said Vaughan, who is a substitute teacher and also works at Sunnyside Restaurant.
Vaughan, who ran track in high school in Berkeley and moved to Tahoe in 1988 after graduating from University of California, Davis, to learn to ski, does not employ a brutal training regimen.
"It's about having fun with other runners. I hate being out of breath and don't like hurting myself," said Vaughan.
To train, Vaughan runs a couple of times a week for one or two hours at a time and goes on one long run each week for about six hours.
"Time on your feet is more important than distance. The more stress, the better," said Vaughan.
Remarkably, Vaughan is also one of the younger competitors. According to Grobben, most of these endurance athletes come from a marathon background, but are tired of road-racing. A 67-year-old man was the oldest to finish and the youngest finisher was a 27-year-old woman. The experienced racers run at 45 percent to 50 percent of their capacity, but for a constant push.
While Grobben said it requires a patience to run the race that a lot of younger competitors don't have, Vaughan is aggressive when necessary. She powerwalks up the steep sections with a low crouch and jumbo steps, jogs on the more moderate uphill sections and runs on the level and downhill stretches. Most racers walk the steeps, jog the level parts and run downhill.
"It's a conquering feeling," said Grobben.
Runners generally hit the wall every two or three hours, but they push on because, as one racer gruffly said, "There're no grizzly bears left to kill."
While Vaughan may not be racing as a substitute for blood-thirst, the challenge is comparable for many runners Grobben thinks.
Two other Tahoe runners competed in the race as well. Betsy Nye, who had been even with Vaughan until mile 65, had to pull out of the race after mile 93 with a groin injury and Chris Luberecki exited the race after mile 65 due to exhaustion.
This page last updated on June 30th, 2001.