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100-mile ‘win’ for Utahn, 72

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Grant Holdaway finished the Wasatch 100 in just under 36-hour time limit.

Grant Holdaway finished the Wasatch 100 in just under 36-hour time limit.

Jay Taylor

Amazing. Inspirational. And a little nuts.

Grant Holdaway, 72, became the oldest finisher ever Sunday in the 23-year history of the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run. Yes, he actually ran and hiked through the Wasatch Mountains for 100 miles, and in just a hair under the official 36-hour time limit.

To watch him finish sent tears of joy into the eyes of anyone with a heightened awareness of what it is that Holdaway accomplished.

A crowd cheered wildly as he hobbled into The Homestead in Midway — in pain, hot, dehydrated, bloodied, dirty, but smiling, with less than two minutes separating him from the heartbreak of not finishing in time.

When he was a younger 69, this stubborn farmer and former teacher from Vineyard finished in 35 hours, 31 minutes. This year, all he did to prepare was run a 100-miler in Texas, a 50-miler in Tucson, another 50-miler in Utah and a 100-kilometer race.

"I've been paying the price, you know," he said. "You have to take care of your body."

For him, the big payoff is the finish.

The 2003 Wasatch 100 was his fifth try. Twice he finished after the clock watchers had punched out, once only a few minutes after the cutoff. On Sunday he fell into the arms of his wife, Barbara, and to the ground, where people aimed their cameras and adoration.

His recovery began with a few moments of just lying in the cool grass, 100 miles away from the start near Kaysville. Then a few Popsicles and a massage. Early Monday morning, he was back at work, blisters and all.

By his side Sunday was daughter Wendy, whose third try at finishing ended at the 75-mile mark. Son Jeff finished his fourth Wasatch, about seven hours ahead of his dad, in plenty of time for a congratulatory hug. For the Holdaways, it's about the challenge.

Still, a lot of people who hear about this race react by saying only things like, "insane" or "crazy." They don't know half the story.

Consider that 218 runners started this year, but only 134 made it — that's 84 people, many much younger than Holdaway, who for either medical, physical, mental or emotional reasons couldn't cross the finish line.

Holdaway's first pacer, Kim Struthers, kept telling his charge to "make hay while the sun shines," a favorite saying of Holdaway's. When he fell a few times down the stretch, pacer Matt Mills would joke with him, "You saying your prayers down there?"

In this race against the self, runners laugh, cry, sweat, throw up, nearly fall asleep on the trail and play games in their head to trick themselves into putting one foot in front of the other.

They plod over roots, rocks, past mountain lions and rattlesnakes, in the searing sun, rain and lightning and in the bitter cold.

Outside of being physically fit, it takes guts just to start the Wasatch 100. Finishing takes ironclad determination, drive, mental and emotional toughness, pacers and crew members who will stay with you throughout the chilly, wee hours of the night.

Holdaway did it at 72.

Some runners get choked up at the end. Holdaway just smiled — everyone else cried and cheered for this celebration of life.

E-MAIL: sspeckman@desnews.com