With the most competitive men’s field in the US (and a not too shabby women’s field despite Anna Frost’s unrivaled domination), 31+ miles of running and somewhere between 11000 & 12000 feet of vertical climbing, I don’t even know where to begin describing the epic Speedgoat 50K race this past weekend. Thankfully, I took a lot of photos along the way so, hopefully, I can keep my blabbing to a minimum and let my pics tell the story.
I put together some pre-race thoughts in the week leading up to the race. Not much changed in the days and hours before the start other than a build up of nerves and excitement. The fact that I ended up making my debut on the irunfar.com coverage of the race by finishing amongst the top 10 women was beyond my wildest expectations. Ryan, too, had an amazing day out there running with the top men and placing a very respectable 14th overall.
[Me, Ryan and Mike before the start, blissfully ignorant yet slightly apprehensive of what would be in store for us over the next few hours. Photo by Danielle.]
As I lined up at the start, all of a sudden, I found myself surrounded by the likes of Tony, Anna, Kilian (who looked like he’d just woken up), Joe Grant (the hairy dude on the left edge of the photo below), and this Scottish bloke named Ryan… I took a few steps back before the final countdown… 3, 2, 1… BAAAAAAHHHH!
Right off the bat the course tended mostly uphill and would basically continue to do so for the next 8 miles to the Hidden Peak aid station at the top of the Snowbird ski tram station. It was a long climb up but nothing too crazy so I jogged along comfortably right behind Jennifer Benna (ultra filmmaker JB Benna’s wife) and Gina Lucrezi (Team Inov8) most of the way up. I was purposefully trying to run conservatively as I knew that from here on out the day would only get steeper, rougher and harder. To be honest, I’m not sure I really kicked into “race mode” until about 20 miles later.
Look closely at these next two photos to get an idea of the size of these climbs. Teeny tiny runners dot the trail up the rocky first ascent to Hidden Peak.
I could hear the cheers from the Hidden Peak Aid Station through out this whole section. I looked up over my left shoulder and could see the tiny aid station waaaaaayyyy up there… 1000 vertical feet overhead! Time to put my head back down and focus on making some forward progress over the rocky switchbacks:
Plodding along up, up and up. 6 hours later I’d be running down run this same rocky section.
I loved hearing the loud and energetic cheers as I crested the saddle and tackled the beastly final climb to the top.
My friend, Danielle, updated me on Ryan & Mike’s position. Ryan had come through in 1 hour 34 min, Mike in about 1 hour 50 and I hit the top in exactly 2 hours. The first male and female runners to reach the top of the climb (Ricky Gates and Anna Frost) were awarded $1000 on the condition that they cross the finish line in sub 6 and sub 6:30 respectively (which they did).
Off the top of Hidden Peak and down the fire road towards the blue-green slope ahead:
The course lead us straight through one of the most beautiful moments of trail running I’ve ever experienced. I felt like I was floating. My entire body was so full of energy and pure happiness. If only I could have captured the smell in this photo!
Some runners laughed, others hooted and hollered, others of us ran through in complete silence but with eyes wide open and the biggest smile on our faces. Check out photographer Kevin Winzeler’s amazing shots of the leaders and one of Ryan blasting through the field of flowers.
Down and down and down we went, past the Larry’s Hole aid station, up a sharp ridge and then down for the next 4 miles to the Pacific Mine aid station. This section from about mile 11 to 15 through the horrible Mary Ellen Gulch trail was my worst moment of the whole race. The 2500′ descent was relentless. The trail was covered in baby-head sized rocks that 100% suck. It reminded me of the section on the North Face Endurance Challenge Bear Mountain 50K & 50M called Timp Pass, except for the fact that this was about 4 times longer and much steeper. Runner after runner after runner passed me as I fumbled down. It was getting hotter with every footstep. I was not in a happy place:
Thankfully you are rewarded for surviving that descent with about a mile of flat trail (the only flat section on the entire course). I took it happily and watched the runners coming back out from the Pacific Aid Station at the end of the road. One of the runners yelled out something to the effect of “popsicles and ice!”. I thought to myself “Did he just say popsicle?!” Sure enough they were handing out ice cold sugary deliciousnesses on a stick at the aid station. One of the volunteers put a cold wet towel around my head and neck as another one filled up my water bottle and I stuffed a giant piece of watermelon down my face. It left the aid station feeling completely renewed as if that nightmare down the Mary Ellen Gulch trail had never happened.
The trail out of Pacific Mine back towards Larry’s Hole was much of the same nastiness that I struggled down in the previous miles. But, the upside was that it was all uphill this time. 5 miles of rocky, lovely, awesome uphill. This is where I got my second wind and rocked it.
I started tagging runners one-by-one, recognizing the ones who had blown past me on the descent. I caught one, two, then three, then four women. I was on a roll and feeling strong. I alternated running and power hiking gaining ground with every step. The final woman I caught and passed was Patagonia sponsored runner, Denise Bourassa (blue shorts & green shirt in the photo below):
The views from the top of this climb were incredible and put the whole race into perspective. From the top of Hidden Peak (at mile 8.4) we ran down through the field of flowers to Larry’s Hole (10.6), up and over a big ridge and down down down to Pacific Mine (miles beyond the bottom right corner of the photo below). Then we turned around and came all the way back up to where I took this picture. From here we’d run over the ridge back to Larry’s Hole a second time before hitting the steepest part of the race (upper right of the photo) on the way up to Mt Baldy.
I caught up to my friend Mike (in the orange shirt in the photo below) at the Larry’s Hole aid station (mile 21) and began the steep climb with him.
After a steep section of fire road, the orange flagging led us straight up the slope to the Mount Baldy ridge. I pushed up with my hands on my quads and sometimes even on the ground above me. The 1900 vertical feet in 1.3 miles works out to a 27-28% grade. Now add to that the fact that we were between 9500-11000′ above sea level! Needless to say there was a lot of heart pumping, grunting and heavy breathing going on!
I loved every step of it. What a world of difference between how I was feeling 10 miles ago cursing every step down the Mary Ellen Gulch trail!
We hooked back onto a trail on the ridge with Mount Baldy’s summit within reach ahead of of us. After the section through the field of flowers, this was the most magical part of the course for me.
The views down Little Cottonwood Canyon into the Salt Lake City basin to the west:
Here’s the view from the top of Baldy. I’ve marked it with the aid stations and our route to give you an idea of what you’re looking at.
OK, let me explain: From the top of Baldy we ran down to the Tunnel entrance aid station. When we came out of the tunnel (yes we got to run through the tunnel!)….
…Meltzer could have just sent us straight up 500′ vertical feet to Hidden Peak via those big switchbacks on the photo above. But that would have been too easy! So, instead, he had us run 1000′ down, before we headed over to the ridge for a 1500′ slog back up to Hidden Peak!
I was alone for the most of this section and hit the Hidden Peak aid station (the last one before the finish) all by myself. I was downing a few ounces of Coke and shoving a piece of orange into my mouth when I noticed that JB Benna had followed me into the aid station and was filming my every move. Thanks to the incredible aid station volunteers, I was refueled and gone in a matter of seconds… with JB Benna and his camera still following me. Of course, my first thought was that he must just be filming everyone coming through… maybe because he’s bored? But then it finally dawned on me, for the first time in the entire race, that I might actually be doing quite decently… maybe top 10?! Turns out, I was actually in 5th place!
I tried not to think too much about it because I knew that these final 3000 vertical feet down to the finish line could potentially destroy me physically. The pounding was rough at times but I surprised myself at how well I was moving considering everything. I looked back a few times to see if anyone else was around me, not in terms of scouting out my competition, but because I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me either and started to wonder if I was on the right track here…
The course was well marked so of course I was on the right track but it was still slightly unnerving to be alone for nearly the full 5 miles to the finish. Nearly. With a quarter mile to go a blur of green and blue flew past me. It was Denise! She had snuck up on me like a ninja! I shifted into the fastest gear I had and held on to her as well as I could.
After 50 kilometers and a ridiculous amount of climbing and descending, it all came down to a mad sprint. I guess I shouldn’t have “wasted” so much time snapping photos and taking videos along the way… but to be honest, I like taking photos so I don’t regret it all, even if it cost me 5th place.
Here are my stats based on my non-sophisticated stopwatch and assuming that the aid stations were at the mileage marked on the official elevation profile:
|AS |||MILE |||ELAPSED TIME |||MILES BETWEEN AS |||TIME BETWEEN AS |||MIN/MILE PACE|
|MY FINISH STATS|
|Official finishing time
[Finishers! Photo by Danielle.]
In terms of total elevation gain, the official elevation profile marks it as 11000′, the website lists 11400′ and a few other places mentioned it as 11600′, Ryan’s GPS marked it at 12200′, so who the hell knows. All I know is that it was amazing. I feel super happy to have survived it without taking any tumbles :-)
Here are couple of (very wobbly) videos I took while on the run and then a few seconds that Ryan filmed of my final sprint at the end:
Now, I’m trying to convince Ryan to write up his own race report since he had such an amazing day out there. He blazed the course in an impressive time of 6:11 keeping up with and even beating several of the big names and sponsored runners in the race. I believe Karl Meltzer asked him when he crossed the finish line “Who are you?! I need to remember your name…!” ;-)
The top men who all also broke the course record:
Congrats to the top three women mountain runners!