Race Report: Speedgoat 50K (A.K.A. Graduation Day)
As I was coming to the end of my 6 month coaching plan that I had signed up for back in February with Karl Meltzer, I viewed doing his race (The Speedgoat 50K) as my unofficial final exam. 30+ miles and 10,500′ of climbing would make for a pretty stout test indeed.
Here’s a sample of the test questions:
- Can you run uphill?
- How steep of a hill can you hike up? What if there’s snow on that hill?
- Should one use ropes to descend cliffs on steep trails?
- When a river is in your path, what is the fastest way to get across?
- Popsicle, or no popsicle?
- How many times can you run past a cheering Scott Mason in one race?
- What color signals that you have gone off route?
- Say (hypothetically, of course) that you get hit by a baseball-sized rock going mach 2. How many seconds are you allowed to recover before moving on?
- If you have no skin left on the bottoms of your feet, do you stop running?
The morning air was warm as 100+ runners mingled nervously at the start. I had a great time catching up with friends new and old, all of us anticipating the grind that lay ahead. All too soon, the one minute warning was given. With a few final words from Karl and a loud BAAAAHHH, we were off!
I felt amazingly good as we traversed through the woods across the base of the ski resort. Then we hit a sharp left and started to climb. Yeah, not so good. I was trying to stick to a plan of holding back and saving some energy, but soon found myself pushing pretty hard just to keep up with the tail end of the front pack of 40 or so runners. I didn’t want to loose contact so early in the race, so against my better judgment I dug deeper than I wanted to and kept up.
Due to running the first few miles of the course with Karl a month ago, I knew there would be a couple of good downhills along the way where I could hopefully rally and start making up some ground. The only problem with going down, is you had to regain that elevation that was lost – that would be the theme for the day.
The night before the race, I was talking with Scott when he mentioned that we had a new member of our team. His name was Tom, and he was fresh off an amazing 8th place finish at Hardrock two weeks ago. I didn’t get to meet Tom before the race, but about 3 miles into it I spotted a guy ahead of me that was wearing a Wasatch Speed Goat racing team shirt and looked like he could eat a bowl of nails for breakfast. I knew immediately it was him. He was rocking with some headphones on, so I maintained a respectful distance and followed. It would have been stupid for me to redline it and pass. I knew that if anyone could cover a course like this well, he could.
I tried to match his super efficient and fast hiking pace, but would always end up losing just a bit of ground that I would have to make up when we broke into a run when the course allowed. It was great to watch and learn like that. Thanks, Tom!
We passed a cheering Speedgoat Scott on our way up to Hidden Peak. Scott had withheld his best “4-hoof drive” climbing technique from me that would have come in very handy on some of the steeper parts of the course. See for yourself, it works! I’m counting on that buying me an extra 10 minutes next year…
I hurried through the aid station at the top and then started the traverse over to Baldy. Now life was good! Still behind Tom and a couple other people, I stole a glance at the amazing sights when I had a chance. It was an outstanding day to be in the mountains!
After a really steep and gnarly section, the descent into Mineral Basin was begging to be ripped. I started to let myself go faster and faster, overtaking Tom and giving him kudos on his Hardrock finish – and shaking my head at doing this race two weeks later. He told me to kick it in and I did. I ran that downhill super hard, splashing straight through the stream and charging down the rock-filled road with everything I had. I said a brief hello to Tim as he was removing a rock from his shoe, and continued to let it fly. It was the best I have ever run on a technical downhill. No slips or trips, skimming over the rocks totally in the zone, I passed 10-12 people from Baldy to Dutch Flat. That was fun!
Once I arrived at the 14 mile aid station, Roch and his crew (true to their reputation) took excellent care of me and had my pack filled, some calories stuffed in my face, and I was on the trail again in record time. I started marching up the huge climb that is Mary Ellen Gulch (sounds like the Wicked Witch of the West’s cousin or something). Should have been named Mary Ellen’s Steep as Hell Road to the Freakin’ Sky. I think my toenails were hurting from trying to dig into the ground as I propelled my way forward up the huge climb.
It was also at this point that I first noticed a familiar pain (FIRE), but in an unfamiliar spot – bottom of my heels. I’d never in my life blistered there before. I guess my Man From Snowy River descent with soaking wet feet and socks that were a little on the big side to begin with didn’t agree too well with my skin, so it decided to bail on me. Stupid blisters. I had a matching set, one on each foot.
This is the part of the race that had me totally baffled. I knew it was going to be a long, hot, brutal climb and expected to see bodies lying all over the place while I tapped into the energy I had saved up from earlier in the morning and made up some more spots. Ha! These guys are no joke! I could see a line of people ahead of me, but the only person I caught was poor Adam. A super fast guy from West Virginia that was getting taken to school by the Utah altitude and terrain. He was suffering bad, but his attitude was great and I knew he would be ok. The rest of those climbing freaks up ahead refused to allow me to get any closer.
Wow, was I glad to get to the tunnel. The 20 mile mark and a chance to take a break from the climbing. It was nice to meet Jim Skaggs manning the aid station there – he had me on my way quickly with some bananas and gel. Another runner and myself got carried away with the descent and blew right through the turn we were supposed to make. Luckily he spotted a blue flag which let us know we were off course. He zipped cross-country over to pick up the trail while I was a good little goat and hiked a few minutes back up the hill to get to the turn we had missed and go again from there. Things got tough again in a hurry as we made our way up the spine-like ridge heading for the top of Hidden Peak again. I was a little loopy and started to head towards the tram station (it was sooo close!), thinking that was my next aid stop, when Scott hollered at me – where are you going?? Then shaking his head pointed to Little Cloud Bowl which I had (conveniently) forgotten all about.
Another 700′ of vertical climbing up a pile of rocks and snow had to be dealt with before getting to the aid station. As I was making my way up the ‘trail’, I heard someone shout my name. It was Speedgoat Sandy, 2 switchbacks above me. I had been 2-3 minutes behind him since mile 14 and now I was closing the gap. I was very happy to be within shouting distance because I knew he was coming off a good couple of month’s worth of training and racing and I was going to be stoked to finish anywhere near him.
Just as I had made my way onto the service road at the top of Little Cloud, I heard a tick tick tick sound on the slope above me and recognized it as a rock falling. I wanted to take evasive action, but had no idea where it was headed so I just held my line and hoped for the best. A split second later I heard it whistling through the air before it T-boned me square on the knee. BAM! That dropped me to the ground as if a sniper had taken me out. Luckily, it hit right at the very bottom part of my quad and didn’t really make contact with any bones. While it hurt plenty, and was bruised and bleeding, there wouldn’t be any long term damage.
The adrenaline kicked in and the knee was soon forgotten. I had a race to finish. Soon the final aid station came into sight, and I was glad to refill my pack with much needed water. I slammed about 4 small cups of coke and took off.
After running together for a while, Sandy pulled ahead and put 5 minutes into me by the finish. I ran fairly well, but the knee and blisters were taking their toll on my speed. The legs held up great. I was very happy to finish and get my diploma in the form of a high five from Karl. 7:19:18, 21st place. I had passed the test.
I had a great time at this race. It was very difficult, but what would you expect from the “World’s Toughest 50K”? Plan on taking 2+ hours longer than your ‘normal’ trail 50K time. Hanging out with everyone afterwards was awesome, it was a beautiful evening at the resort. Bring a chair and a cooler and plan on staying for a while. The volunteers were fantastic and much appreciated. Lots of prizes were given away, I got a sweet Black Diamond headlamp.
I ran with a Nathan HPL #020 hydration pack and it served me well. I only refilled at the main aid stations, skipping the water-only ones.
Here are my split times (distance was measured with a foot pod, elevation with a barometric altimiter – so take them for what they’re worth):
AS Time Lap Dist Ascent
Hidden Peak 2:00:07 2:00:07 8.33 3960
Dutch Flat 3:06:33 1:06:26 6.25 460
Tunnel 4:57:34 1:51:00 5.56 3300
Hidden Peak 6:26:34 1:28:59 4.47 2080
Finish 7:19:22 0:52:48 4.51 270