Speedgoat 50K – Training and racing the weakness

“You can never run a hill too hard; you will collapse before hurting it.”     -Adam Born

Race: Hoka One One Speedgoat

Distance: 50 kilometers

Date: 7/25/2015

Note: This does not include the final ~500 ft climb around mile 28.

The Lead Up:

After spending a week or so training back at home and after a great weekend down in the San Juans with my conservation corps buddy Brad Knipper and Jess it was finally time for my first adventure in the Wasatch Mountains.  I have spent months of my life guiding trips in the Uinta Mountains in Utah but had never been to the Wasatch so I wasn’t sure what I was in for.  The smooth granite cliffs, waterfalls and top-notch wildflowers blew me away and the two days before the race I enjoyed a little shake-out run to Cecret Lake where I found a spot away from the wedding photographers and crowds to just sit for hours enjoying the alpine, and getting a few more moments at altitude.  My parents arrived on Friday and I headed to bed early in the hotel room while they went out for dinner.  I don’t know if it was pre-race jitters or the endless barrage of fireworks that went off until 2 am, but I only managed to get ~3 hours of sleep before I was up, eating oatmeal and donning my race kit.  I drove to Snowbird early and checked in right at 5am.  The race didn’t start until 6:30 so I set up the back of my car and took a quick 45 minute nap to try and make up for the night before.  By 6 am my parents were at the starting line, Karl had us chant that we would not trample any meadows and the countdown was on.

Going into the Speedgoat 50K I knew that it would force me to train on the steeps and the race itself would play much more to my weaknesses than my strengths.  In any race I have competed in I am usually dropped by my competition on the ups, but can compensate with my downhill speed and technical running comfort.  I had also dedicated 6 weeks of the summer towards the Idaho Centennial Trail and had no idea if the fastpacking would help me on the hills or if I was going to be at a disadvantage from taking the time off from running.

The plan was to stay at the top of my aerobic zone the entire race and save enough energy to take advantage of the final 6 miles of downhill.  Because of the great weather forecast and the shorter distance I wanted to try and go as light as possible and opted for a single 20oz handheld instead of a vest or carrying two bottles.  I also chose not to carry trekking poles to get ready for Run Rabbit Run 100 where I will be running as a Hare and where trekking poles are not allowed.  My “A” goal was to try and finish in 7 hours or less…

The Race:

After watching Sage Canaday bolt out of the gates for the $1,000 bonus at the top of Hidden Peak I settled into the river of runners as we began the ascent.  I didn’t feel the pop in my stride that I often get after resting but I felt solid as I made my way up the first climb.  I let my self go a little harder than I was planning on the first two miles and then following the first short switchback descent I held firm to a more sustainable heart rate/effort.  I ran out of water with only about a quarter of a mile to go on the 8.4 mile climb and topped out on Hidden Peak for the first time under 2 hours, right on pace for a 7 hour finish.  I made quick work of the first descent but was then stuck behind some slower runners for much of the singletrack sections.  A quick top off on water at Larry’s Hole and I flowed down towards Sinners Pass.  Over Sinners Pass we entered the notorious road down to the Pacific Mine Aid station, and it was everything I had hoped it would be.  Mountain bikers would refer to the trail surface as “baby heads”: a section of trail that is made entirely of melon sized boulders with occasional slabs mixed in.  There was some water and mud hidden in the patches of gravel and as I started into the most technical section I saw a runner in front of me make a sharp diagonal across a steep slickrock section of the road.  In slow motion I watched as his wet feet failed to find traction and flailed in the air as he flew across the road and then ~10 feet down the vegetated embankment.  I stopped, as did the runner behind me to make sure he was okay, I grabbed his handhelds and we were all off again picking our way as quickly as we could.  I caught a group of runners that had passed me on the first big climb and I was hopeful that I would be able to keep pace with them for the length of the course.

At the turn around I was surprised by fellow Pearl Izumi Champion Team member Jon Peachy.  He snapped some photos, and I got loaded up on high fives, watermelon and water.  On my way out I crossed paths with another Pearl Izumi runner Tommy Barlow, just moments behind me and looking strong.  Coming into Pacific Mine my quads were already numb from the effort and the buzz of the aid station quickly wore off as I started the long jeep road climb up towards Baldy Peak.  My quads were powered down so much that I was reduced to a powerhike for most of the ascent back to Larry’s Hole.  Racing my weakness was starting to play out as I had feared.  I ran out of water with almost two miles to go before Larry’s Hole and I was losing the strength to maintain a competitive effort.  My heart rate continued to creep down as I slogged through the miles to Larry’s Hole.  Once at Larry’s I reloaded on water and took time to drink a whole bottle and some Coke before heading out with a full handheld.  I knew I was already dehydrated and needed to take the extra time to mitigate it as best I could.  The climb back up to Baldy was steeper than any of the local hills I train on and there were moments where I was forced to rest-step on the ascent despite having a low aerobic zone heart rate throughout the climb.  The top of Baldy snapped me out of my low as I soaked in the beauty of the Wasatch and took off on the scenic singletrack leading towards the Tunnel aid station.  I had lost a lot of ground on the group I had been running with on the ascent and the field was spread thin at this point in the race.  I passed only two people on the descent on the other side of the Tunnel and then started up the final climb on the Ridge Trail headed for Hidden Peak again.  At this point in the race my quads were completely numb, my glutes were tingly and I had transitioned from my 7 hour goal to just trying to finish strong and safe.  My mind quit about half way up the climb and I got a good dose of what Michael Arnstein describes as true ultrarunning – the point where your body has quit, your mind has quit and you are running with heart alone.  The great spectators, the beauty of the location and the meditative practice of running kept me present, in the moment and deep within myself.

When I arrived at Hidden Peak for the second time I took full advantage of the Ice Pops, spray down, Coke, watermelon and water and made sure to ask where I was supposed to go.  The aid station volunteers made sure to tell everyone that it was mostly downhill for the next six miles, but that there was one more sneaky climb left.  The first couple miles were incredibly technical rock and steep dirt descending where I caught up with a group in front of me and followed them to the base of the last climb where I was promptly dropped.  I concentrated all of my remaining dehydrated energies on keeping my running form, integrity and efficiency in check as I finished the climb and began the final descent.  I had been warned by some veteran Speedgoaters in Grand Junction that you will think you are at the finish line before the trail actually gets you there a few switchbacks later.  Finally, as I reassured myself that there was probably another switchback for the tenth time, I rounded the corner and saw the finish.  Amid the cowbells I heard my fathers trumpet cut through the crowd.  He had opted for the classic “Charge!” riff and by the second go round had a large group joining in with a “Charge!” cheer as I rounded the final corner and slipped across the line, just over 8 hours after setting out.

Final Switchback
Charge!-ing down the final stretch.

Though I did not do nearly as well as I had anticipated/hoped for, I feel that I left nothing on the course last weekend.  I put everything I had out there and feel accomplished.  I learned a ton about where I need to focus my training (strength and hills to balance out my aerobic capabilities), will continue to tweak my hydration strategy and I reaffirmed my love of the mountains, my preference for long courses, my love of running, self improvement and how much I enjoy the ultra community.  Karl Meltzer puts on a great event – the course was expertly marked, aid stations were efficient, fun and well stocked and the trail allows a large number of runners to compete without creating dreaded conga-lines.

Pizza for zombies
Post-race pizza party.

The apres race scene was also well done.  In addition to the Patagonia race shirt, everyone received an UltraSpire bottle with Ultragen already mixed inside, pizza, a Black Diamond Windblocker beanie, DryMax socks and a complimentary ART/massage session with the pros from REVIVE Sport and Spine.  While I couldn’t speak very clearly from my fatigue and dehydration, I was stoked.

Free ART
Free ART from the REVIVE pros = happy IT bands.

Gear:  Pearl Izumi Fly Endurance Shorts, Pearl Izumi Elite LTD Team Singlet, Pearl Izumi Fly Visor, Smith Parallel D-Max, Nathan SpeedDraw Plus handheld, Injinji socks, Pearl Izumi Trail N1 shoes, Suunto Ambit and iPod shuffle (best new song: Barracuda by Luke Atencio featured in Billy Yang’s Lake Sonoma 50 video (starts at 0:48): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3EA7Mdb4Dg

Results and Strava:



What’s Next?

I am planning on running the Mesa County Search and Rescue Ground Team’s fundraiser Kokopelli Classic at the end of August (check it out here: http://www.mcsargt.com/kokopelli-classic) as a final tune-up going into Run Rabbit Run in mid-September.  Time to train!

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