DAVIS COUNTY, Utah — Athletes and staff who took part in the DC Peaks ultramarathon are sharing how they managed to get to safety after encountering an unexpected blizzard.
Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. Saturday, more than 80 runners set off on the 50-mile trek that can take between 8-12 hours to complete.
“It was raining when we left, but it was actually warm,” said Annie MacDonald, who has taken part in ultramarathon races since 2004. “We got up to about mile six and it started snowing. But it was light. It was kind of like, we knew there was going to be snow, we are prepared for this.”
But as MacDonald and the others continued to climb the backcountry trail, the snow worsened.
“The wind was 30-40 miles per hour sideways,” she said. “You couldn’t see anything. It was foggy.”
At that point, the goal for the athletes shifted from getting to the finish line to survival.
“I just kept following the girl in front of me. I was following her feet. That’s the only thing I could see,” MacDonald said.
Word soon reached race organizers of the challenges the athletes were experiencing. As soon as they were made aware of the conditions, the race was called off and organizers developed a plan.
“I told them the next aid station — the first aid station Francis Peak — is a half a mile to a mile away. You are going to go there, get warm, get food and run five or six miles downhill to the Farmington aid station,” said Jake Kilgore, one of the race’s two organizers.
Athletes began making their way to that aid station, but the journey was slow. MacDonald says her post-race stats indicated she was traveling at a pace of about one mile every 30 minutes.
“It was the coldest I have ever been in my life,” she said. “You knew you had to keep going. You had to get to that aid station because there was no other way out.”
The aid station was the nearest spot where all-terrain vehicles driven by race organizers and rescuers could reach due to the difficult terrain and conditions. When athletes arrived at that point, they could be driven to safety.
MacDonald described feeling relief at the sight of those trucks after being in the harsh elements for roughly five hours.
“The word went out from Mick and Jake [race organizers] that we need to get runners off the mountain and they all mobilized,” MacDonald said. “I was shivering uncontrollably. I was incredibly grateful they were that organized. It was immediate.”
MacDonald and another race participant contacted by FOX 13 credited race organizers with acting quickly and without hesitation with making sure all race participants were led to safety.
Davis County Sheriff's Search and Rescue teams also assisted in getting people off the mountain.
“Search and rescue was phenomenal,” Kilgore said.
The Davis County Sheriff’s Office said minor injuries were treated on-site and nobody required hospitalization.
While the first edition of this race ended abruptly and unexpectedly, Kilgore is already planning next year’s 50-mile event.
“The ultra running community thrives on risk and excitement and completing hard things and doing hard things,” he said.