Monday, July 27, 2015

July 20-26

Tues: Easy 10 mile loop up Sullivan and Westridge with Katie and Peter. Soleus seemed to be totally fine with the gradual terrain and easy pace.

Wed: Tried to pace Katie to a Temescal PR, but it wasn't in the cards for her that day. Katie has a solid PR on the climb, and running faster than her PR takes some ideal variables all lining up just right. It's funny how frustrating short runs are that are decided all too fast, as if running 2 minutes slower for a segment on the AC course would define a 100 mile performance.. But in the instance of a Wednesday morning run, the taper crazies can make a mind wander.

Thurs: Easy Westridge with Peter.

Fri: Travel to SLC

Saturday: The Speedgoat 50k has become a mecca for hardcore mountain runners, so when I got an offer from Greg in June to take his spot, I took it because I'd rarely have the race on my radar with my traditional summer 100s that make it very hard to run well at Snowbird. In June, things were looking good. My fitness had been coming along since the end of April, and no major injuries were present. I injured my soleus over the July 4th weekend, and I spent the last three weeks of July doing very little mileage to keep the injury from carrying into August. The stretching, low mileage, and lack of workouts did the trick, but I also lost a bit of fitness and mountain running strength.

I was optimistic my time at Hardrock would count for something, and it essentially let me hike all day without any issues. However, the Speedgoat course is so involved (there's something for everyone: Steep, really steep, extremely steep, runnable, technical, extremely technical, buffed out), that running in the 6 hour range requires some strong lungs and limbs to run as much of the gradual terrain as possible. I spent the first climb trying to keep a modest pace a few switchbacks behind the leaders, but the altitude and technical terrain wanted a bit more effort to hold that "modest" pace, and by the time I topped out at Hidden Peak at 11,000 ft. (9 miles in) I was accepting the fitness I was lacking as a sign I should really make it a training race (i.e. slow down and don't blow up for no reason, because finishing the race would be much better for UTMB than trying to race hard and blow up).

Mile 1 with Jenn Shelton, Photo by Zac Marion

The course had a general pattern: unpredictability. Coming over the peak, we descended on a fire road for a bit before hitting up a stretch of singletrack overgrown by wildflowers. I think Unicorns running in wildflowers is about as American and the American Flag Store (SLC has one). I enjoyed the segment for all of a minute before I missed a large rock that was hidden by the flowers and went parallel and revolving with the terrain. Bloody hooves, busted gels, and a bruised toe reminded me to chill out and let the course come to me. The course continued winding through the basin, and climbed steeply up to a saddle to drop into another valley that featured a fire road from hell. I felt some tendinitis in my toe flaring up so I tried to carefully dance with the bowling ball rock field and avoid any further damage, but it was frustrating. Eventually I reached Roch Horton's Pacific Mine Aid Station with a pack of runners, and headed back up the long and gradual (run-able) climb through the Aspens with Ryan Lassen. The temperature climbed with us as we hiked/ran and talked about ultra running. As with most things in life, talking about a difficult activity while doing it seems to make it less mind numbingly hard.

Eventually Ryan picked up the pace, and I started getting protein bonks. Taking gels only in a race only works for so long for me, and eventually I have to get in some protein to catalyze the sugar. I got back to the Mineral Basin Aid Station on fumes and had 10 grams of protein and a couple cups of coke to get ready for the big climb up the looming Baldy Peak. Heading up to 11,000ft three times in a 50K is pretty stout, but it would be foolish to think that the characteristically unpredictable course would just take a natural ascetic line up to the peak. Instead, we marched from 9,500ft to 10,500ft and then avoided the ridge trail that led up to the peak and instead dropped 300ft to a nondescript, steep, grassy bowl where we found a line of blue flags going 800ft straight up the bowl.

To put it in perspective, it would be like if you were on the 5th floor of a building, and you needed to get to the tenth floor, and for no reason at all, you took the stairs down to the 2nd floor and then turned around and took the stairs up to the 10th floor. This would be the overwhelming pattern for the rest of the race.

From Baldy Peak I could see Hidden Peak less than a mile away, the top of our last descent. I had 23 miles on my watch, and reasoned one could run down to the saddle and up to Hidden Peak to retrace the first 9 miles of the race and call it a day. Instead the course took a left at the saddle and headed down to Tunnel AS (where we ran through a tunnel), and dropped down to 9,600 for a 3rd climb to 11,000 ft.

Climbing Baldy Peak from the bowl to the right, Photo by Brad Harris

It was warm and there was good reason to take salt and hydrate, but I seemed to be favoring an overly minimalist approach to just get the race over with. A foolish mistake on my part, and good reinforcement to be patient at UTMB and force in the calories, salt, and water. The climb up the ridge to Hidden Peak was unnecessarily slow in my stubborn and stupefied state. I could've easily taken 10-15 minutes off my 30 minute mile with proper nutrition, but I wasn't feeling very considerate for myself.

There was definitely a bit of a "dark with no silver lining" place I was at between the two peaks. I was mad at my shoes, mad at my gel soaked shirt, made at the course, and mad at myself for wasting this trip to Utah with my injury in July. My mind raced from mistake to mistake that made me wonder what I would do in France, how I would recover, and what I needed to avoid any more mistakes in this long and painful year. Ultras are at an unsustainable place right now: elite runners go all over the world with expectations to have all the experience and fitness to dominate. However, there's a lot of opportunities for new ultra runners to come into a race and excel with talent that hasn't been burnt out, mistakes that can be easily absorbed, and injuries that haven't accumulated to any measurable amount. In a way, it reminds me of being the middle son (with two sisters) growing up. 

I'd like to say I've done a ton of races, but I'm not even halfway to 100 ultras. I'd like to say I'm young at 28, and ready to run hard, but I'm actually carrying a few injuries and recovering slower than before. I'd like to say I'm on the verge of a great race, but I know that great is easily diluted today in races that have dozens of new up and comers that can melt themselves down to their core and make a hard fought finishing time appear average. Growing up, I wanted women's equality to mean that my sisters and I did equal chores, but I did the majority. I wanted my sisters to get punished for their transgressions as severely as I did, but alas I got the best punishments. I wanted to freedom to stay out late and do as I please, but alas I had the tightest leash. 

At Hidden Peak at mile 27, when I heard we had another 6 miles to go as I was getting passed, I gulped down some Coke and gingerly tip toed down the trail of talus. I understood all the fairness that I perceived was simply never there, and I worked my butt off to stay upright and hold my position for another 5 miles of rough terrain and unnecessary hills, shoulder to shoulder with 5 runners that had finished less combined ultras than myself. 

I crossed the finish line and felt a huge relief wash over my sore and exhausted body. Though we stood at 7,800 feet, it felt very similar to my first 50k finish seven years ago. The summer afternoon air of July was calm and warm; the trail smoothed out to a buttery and merciful grade, and my body pumped with adrenaline allowing my mind to leave the pain and soreness of the previous 31 miles behind for a gentle landing among kind and welcoming volunteers.
The "Final" Descent
32.6 miles, 11,800ft, 7:36 

Weekly total:

  • 58.1mi
  • 11h 27m
  • 16,627ft


Anton said...

It's a great race. I'm psyched that it seems to have maintained its relevance this year despite the competition from Power of Four and lack of Skyrunning affiliation. Major kudos to Karl.

Dominic Grossman said...

It's becoming a classic, and pretty popular at that with hundreds of happy customers. Might see the day when these courses are all over the country