Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Speedgoat 50k: An Ultra Runner I Am Not . . . Yet

Every so often, the body needs a good thrashing.  If I were to place some of my adventures on a thrashing scale, with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest, I would rate running the Speedgoat 50k a solid 7.5.  I would say that it's right up there with long speed ski traverses and epic bike rides.  I went into the Speedgoat 50k thinking that it might be my entrance into ultra running.  I came out of the Speedgoat 50k thinking two things: (a) ultra running is really hard, and it's going to be awhile before I even can fathom being a real ultra runner, i.e. the kind that runs 100 miles, and (b) that was totally awesome!

The Course

According to my Garmin, the Speedgoat was 31 miles, gained about 11,000 feet, and descended about 11,000 feet.  The Speedgoat started at Snowbird, criss-crossed the front side and eventually topped out at Hidden Peak (11,000).

From 2010-08-03

From Hidden Peak, the race went to the top of Baldy, down into Alta, and nearly to the top of Alta's Sugarloaf lift.  It then descended sharply into Mineral Basin and down Mary Ellen Gulch and bottomed out somewhere in American Fork Canyon.  From there, it climbed back up towards Mineral Basin via Miller Hill.  It then took us up Mineral Basin the Peruvian tunnel.

From 2010-08-03

After exiting the Peruvian tunnel on the frontside of Snowbird, the course forced racers to run down before we were able to climb back up to the top of Hidden Peak via the Devil's Backbone.  After topping out at Hidden Peak for the second time, the course turned down down down to the start at Entry 1 of Snowbird.

From 2010-08-03

This course was covered in 5:43 by Kevin Schilling.  Nick Clark finished a few minutes later.  Luke Nelson finished in third.

My Race

All the stats are compiled here.  I took 7 hrs and 27 minutes to finish the course.  Out of 152 "Billies" and "Nannies," I was 32nd place.  I was happy with that result given that I was venturing into some unknown territory -- 31 miles is by far the longest I have ever run.  But more importantly, I was happy to simply be out and running in the mountains, with other goats.

At the start, I enjoyed seeing some of the heavy hitters of the sport.  Immediately, an elite pack formed at the front.  I joined the pack right behind them, and held on as long as I could.  While doing so, I was able to meet and chat with other runners.  Jared Campbell told me he was going to attempt WATOJA, which is the Wasatch 100 on Friday and LOTOJA on Saturday.  Another guy told me that I make a loud thud when I hit the ground.  About 7 miles into the race, I was running downhill, caught my toe and went down hard, cutting my hand, scraping my chest, and bruising my hip.  Kind of a sucky way to begin a race.

One of my favorite moments of the race was topping out on Hidden Peak the first time (my second favorite moment was topping out the second time because that meant it was all downhill).  There were people on top with cowbells and the like cheering.  Plaid shirt guy had taken a direct route -- on foot -- up to Hidden Peak and was there to cheer on racers.  The sun was peeking over Baldy.  It was a nice scene at 11,000 feet.

As I scurried across the ridge to Baldy, I laughed to myself as I watched the guy in fluorescent green scrambling up Baldy.  It was Andy Dorais, a partner from the WURLOS ski tour.  During the WURLOS, Andy skipped Baldy, and he was finally making it right.

The run down into Mineral Basin wasn't very fun.  After I thudded on the ground, I lost my downhill mojo.  The blood smeared all over my water bottles was a constant reminder of the thud and a hindrance. The fact that the course plummeted down a scree covered, rutted road didn't help either.  Like skiing, it's best to simply "point 'em" on the downhill; if you're tentative, you tend to be too tight, look bad, feel bad, and burn too much energy.  I wasn't able to point 'em.

Much to my amazement, when I reached the bottom of Mineral Basin, the course jogged up over a ridge, and then plummeted down another several thousand feet down Mary Ellen Gulch to somewhere in American Fork Canyon.  I wasn't able to run these miles confidently, and at the bottom, I face planted again, filling my wounds with black dirt.  Ouch.  Ouch. And ouch.  (I might have been a bit more profane than that in the moment.)

A little over 16 miles into the race, Andy and I hung out for a few moments at the aid station.  I washed my wounds and argued with one of the workers over whether I had to do a penalty lap for going off course (for once in my life, I didn't).  Andy was lounging in a lawn chair eating popsicles and said he wasn't feeling good; so I left him for dead and kept going.

3 miles after that, I hit my wall, and saw a fluorescent green shirt gaining on me.  Soon, Andy passed me, and left me for dead when I stopped to examine some blisters on the ball of my foot.  Luckily, I had some new friends to nurse me along.  Mark Christopherson and I seemed to be moving at the same pace, and we did some hard miles together.  Jared Campbell and Pat McMurty whizzed by, but slowed up long enough to offer me a gel, which I gladly took and which enabled me to get back up to Hidden Peak the second time.

As I was climbing up the Devil's Backbone, I wondered why I was going so slow.  At that point I probably had done about 10,000 feet of climbing, which isn't out of the norm during ski season.  Why was I feeling so beat?  I'm still not sure.  It might have to do with the different mechanics of running.  It might also have to do with the thrashing my body took running from the top of Snowbird to AF Canyon.

Although my body forced me to go slow, I never was miserable.  (For example, the last 20 miles of the Highline Traverse were bloody miserable.)  And the whole time I had fun, which was a blessing. Perhaps the novelty of the challenge rendered me blessed.  Perhaps it was being on new trails and seeing yet another aspect of the Wasatch.  Perhaps it's because I'm born to run . . . HA!

When I got to the top of Hidden Peak, I felt that the race was basically done, which wasn't truly the case.  My legs conveyed this to me quite loudly as I hobbled down the trail for the next 5 miles.  My pace was in the 10 to 12 min/mile range.  And I got passed by several people, two of whom were "Nannies," and three of whom were wearing moon boots.  But I didn't care, I had only lost one toenail (I'm down to 5 good ones), was still running, had covered 31 miles, and was going to finish.

Over the last four months, it's been a struggle to become a runner, to cause my body to adapt to the demands of running.  I have a long way to go, but I'm finally to a point where I am relatively comfortable, running. Runners often describe their sport as being "pure."  They describe feeling "free."  As I have a run the Wasatch this summer, I agree.