Speedgoat 50k is certainly the most challenging 50k in North America. 50 kilometers with 11,000ft of climbing between 8,000ft and 11,000ft elevation in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah = awesome. Speedgoat is also the most competitive 50k in North America and one of the most competitive all around trail races. For two years now, I have made Speedgoat a top priority race. Last year I ran Speedgoat (race report) and placed 7th (arguably 6th) in 5:44. As last year’s race report spells out, I was fortunate enough to spend the two months leading up to Speedgoat training in the San Juan Mountains, my favorite high altitude mountain playground. Unfortunately, I landed a bit of a cold the day before the race which put a bit of a damper on my energy levels during the race. My training leading up to this year’s race has been going well, but was not as specialized to steep, high altitude climbing.
Jeremy Wolf and I drove in from Missoula Friday afternoon to a the picturesque Snowbird Ski Area which was full of excitement with families walking around, people flying down zip lines and alpine slides. There was a movie in the courtyard at dusk, a fee concert on Saturday, trampolines, obstacle courses, a wedding, a pool, massive hotel, a tram, etc… Snowbird, like many ski areas, is an anomaly of big hotels, pools, restaurants, roads, etc… located magically in the high alpine wilderness. Seeing lush alpine wildflowers while walking on the sidewalk to a 10 story hotel is kind of strange. Regardless of how you feel about ski areas in the alpine (I love skiing at Snowbird), Snowbird enables Karl to put together a world class trail running event with super easy access and convenience. Jogging back to the car to grab a bag, I could certainly tell I wasn’t at 3,000ft or acclimated to 8,000ft, which was probably my biggest concern for my race.
I shared a room with Anton Krupicka and Jeremy and while they both slept well, I tossed a turned as I usually do full of anxious energy. Toeing the line, it certainly is exciting to look across and see so many world class athletes: Sage Canaday, Tim Olson, Max King, Anton Krupicka, Luke Nelson, Jason Loutit, Cameron Clayton, Mike Wardian and a few other guys that have amazing potential or are just getting into trail/ultra running. I like to run fast the first minute or two of a race, it clears my head, most race starts are flat (and this was the ONLY flat section of the day) and then I settle into my rhythm. After a few minutes Max bursted up a hill with his poles and the pack started to disperse. Sage and Max were up front, Anton and a very bold 2:20 marathoner wearing no shirt and running pack were behind them along with Cameron Clayton in there somewhere. Behind the top 5 was was me, Justin Yates from Missoula who I had never actually met, Jon Tribbia, who I was sort of friends with in Boulder and a younger very friendly looking guy that I didn’t know. We were all very close to each other with Yates leading in the front. Somewhere around halfway up, we were catching Cameron when he took a wrong turn and we all followed for about 70 feet and then turned around. Maybe a third of a mile from the top of the first climb just before you reach the aid station and an unusually big crowd for a US race, I passed Yates. I was feeling very under control, challenged, but having my body and energy as a whole checking out with a “green light” if you will. I remember last year all the top guys running the top of this hill despite power-hiking less steep sections earlier, purely due to the excitement of the crowd. I had all intentions of hiking this section, like I did last year, but got caught up in the moment and ran for the crowd, it was worth it.
Next up was the most important part of the race for me, the long somewhat technical descent to the half-way point turn-around. Last year I did not properly train for down-hill running, just focusing on pushing the ascents and was totally crushed physically and mentally. Last year I was passed by no less than 10 people on the descent and was pretty much decided to pull out from the race once at the turn-around. Luckily I didn’t quit last year, but I promised myself to be ready for the downhills next year. I was prepared this year. While cruising down technical steeps still isn’t my forte, I can hold my own with the fast guys. All the way down I was mentally preparing for, Yates, Cameron, Tribbia and company to catch me, but not “destroy” me. A mile passed, then another and I was very pleased with my progress over last year. Then the unexpected happened, I saw the 2:20 marathoner who was running in 4th ahead of me, then passed him. Yates did actually make up some ground and eventually catch me somewhere a bit after the turnaround and we ran together for a minute or so but then I pulled away once we were headed up-hill again.
The next section of the course from about 17 to 21 was the most challenging mentally and physically for me. Completely removed from recognizable features and far away from Baldy, it is hard not to go to a low place. Mile 17-21 is the toughest physically for me with its moderate grade jeep road ascent. While it might not seem logical, I was more comfortable off trail hiking the steeps hard than jogging up the jeep road. This section of ascent isn’t steep enough to power hike, but a really challenging grade to run and it also has poor footing with loose dirt, rocks and funky angles. Nasty thoughts crept into my mind that I had run this section must faster last year, that the altitude was catching up to me and that my climbing legs were done. One step at a time. I did my best to keep my mantra, which Tony Prichard gave me the night before during his visualization exercise, of “everything I need is within me now” on repeat and say it verbally from time to time. I smiled, I hooted, I made it. I was done with the my nasty spell and running past the aid at Larry’s Hole receiving encouragement from my buddy and RRR100m RD Fred. No looking back. As I had learned in College running and reinforced by Dave Mackey, you should never look back. It is tempting to look back and I cheat when the trail affords an easy glance, but looking back does nothing but bring you down if you happen to see competition or if you don’t see anyone, it makes it easier to slow down.
Then I see the legendary Max King above me as we scramble and hike off-trail to Baldy. I tell myself, “that is Max King”. I frequently surprise myself, when my hear rate and breathing calm on gnarly steep high altitude climbs. I resisted the urge to go any faster, as that would result in seriously wasted energy on the terrain I was hiking. Once we crested the ridge, Max was off and out of sight, but I was encouraged. Down the ascent to the last climb up Baldy. Making my way up to the ridge I could hear the clicking of poles on rock. As we ran and hiked up the trail I reeled in Max and then passed him a half mile from the top with a “go mullets!” Last year on the ridge leading to the final climb to Baldy, the EU Salomon teamates Lorablanchet and Reiter passed me and I nearly blacked out with exhaustion on the top of the climb. This year I remained comfortable and was actually able to joke with the photographers and fans on the trail that I had no chance against 2:14 marathoner Max once the climb was over. I didn’t slow down or give up, I just accepted that Max was capable of unnatural speed and that just like last year against Anton, he would use it to crush me.
I put a minute, maybe two on Max and began the descent. As I descended the technical trail I built a fierce focus on running as fast as I could without falling. After the technical mile or so down, I was surprised to not hear Max. I was going to do my best, even though I was confident Max would pass. On the steep jeep road section down I let go of inhibition and bombed down. On less than friendly, winding off road terrain at the end of this burly race, I was giving 100% and splitting miles in the low 6 and sub 6 range. I only had a couple miles to go, I cheated and looked back, no Max. I shouted, I battled and I ran as fast as I possibly could. I had a chance at the podium. Seeing the finish before the last bit of an out and back, I poured out the rest of my Vitargo, put the bottle in my pants and brought it home.
I finished 3rd in 5:19, 5th fastest all-time behind 5:08 Sage and 5:09 Anton.
With the exception of 17-21, I ran comfortably, confidently and with with mental positivity and had my best ultra-marathon performance ever. It was wonderful.
Today I ran in the Hoka Rapa Nuis, the best Hokas yet. Light, fast, but with Hoka cushion… the Rapa Nuis are plain awesome. I used approximately 130 calories of Vitargo an hour in my Ultimate Direction bottle and never had any bonks or stomach issues the whole race. My feet were happy and blister free in Injinji socks and my eyes were covered by Ryders Eyewear on the few sunny sections of the race. My pre-race nutrition was, as it has been for the last year, supplemented by Udo’s Oil and Seven Sources by Flora.
Course Conditions & Weather
The course conditions were great, it was relatively cool, maybe a little humid (for what I am used to) and there were a few sprinkles of rain along the way. The course was a bit more challenging than last year with a few short sections of more direct off trail running and ascents.
To my wife Maggie and sone Felix, as always, you guys are the stars of the team and I could never do it without you. You enable me to be my best, thank you. Thanks to my sponsors for enabling me to make my dream job a reality while using the best equipment in the world. Thanks to Karl for putting on an amazing event hitch free… not easily done at all, awesome job. Lastly, thanks to my friends, training partners and new community in Missoula.