Speedgoat 50K at Snowbird Ski Area in Utah is billed as the toughest 50K in the United States. It runs more like a 50-miler given the time-on-feet that competitors can expect while navigating the steep terrain and persistent climbs. My whole perspective of trail running was altered from this race. For the good? Read on and find out…
Climb to Hidden Peak: I was lead to believe this was the toughest part of the race. The beginning 8.5 miles of the race meanders over a few peaks and ultimately reaches the Hidden Peak Tram Depot tucked away at 11,000-feet elevation, where fans were eagerly anticipating our arrival.
I felt that I ran this beginning stretch well. The terrain skipped from access road to single track to single-shale track. I was immediately surprised by the grade of the access road, as it was less suited for vehicle activity and seemed more-so only accessible for snow-cats.
I maintained a conservative pace and took notes from the surrounding peloton of runners and hiked as needed. There was lots of power hiking. I really hadn’t pushed myself in training on terrain that demanded power hiking, so I was a bit shell-shocked by the severity of the steeps to come.
As we climbed above treeline, our path quickly turned into switchback single-track through a rock field. This final stretch of the climb was exciting for me, as the Hidden Peak aid station was within sight, and the exposed mountain face, allowed us to interact with surrounding competitors, as we were strung out among different levels of switchbacks. I was elated and jubilant as I rolled through the Hidden Peak aid station, received some water and Honey Stinger gels from Julia, filled my bottle and began the descent into the sunrise.
Here’s video of my Hidden Peak aid station visit.
Descent to Mineral Basin: I knew from the course profile and various blog reports that the decents would be just as steep and challenging as the climbs, offering little reprieve to the exhausted muscular system. I was feeling hippety-hoppety on the descent and let my legs cruise a bit faster than the terrain would accept. I found myself catapulting out of control down a steep path of loose skree and baby boulders. I reached maximum falling potential and new that the only way to regain control of my flailing body would be to ditch into the grassy gutter of the path. I took a baseball slide to the ground, rejoiced that I was still “in-tact”, gathered my belongings and gingerly continued the decent to the valley of Mineral Basin, bloodied, dirtied, yet happy to be roaming free through the pasture. More on the repercussions of that slide later…
Halfway Turn-Around: After more controlled descending, and some “good for your soul” climbing, we came to the “flat” portion of the race: a 2-mile jaunt to the Pacific Mine aid station and course turn-around at mile 15.5. In most people’s dictionary flat means: easy, runnable, coasting, rejuvenation. At Snowbird Resort flat roads are more like dried up river beds, offering the support of baseball sized rocks to cushion a runner’s foot strike.
I was feeling good at the turn-around and enjoyed the exchange of “good job, keep it ups” with those still heading into the turn-around. I had been eating gels every 20-35 minutes and was refilling my 20-ounce bottle at each aid station. Now it was time to head back up the Hidden Peak via a more circuitous route.
To the Tunnel: The next stretch was a tough one. We were tasked to climb back up to 11,000-ft. Have fun. The road out of Pacific Mine, yes that rocky dry river bed called a road took a steep & curcuitious path through the densely wooded forest. It was this stretch of gruel that the doubt started to creep into my head. I was able to thwart the doubts as I began trading positions with Mike Wardian, a professional Ultra maniac from Virginia. If you follow Mike’s career, you know that he loves racing, races anything anywhere, and has a relentless drive to improve and excel. I kept my brain busy trading places with Mike as we alternated between the struggle jog and the power hike up the rocky road. I was able to pass Mike once we hit a stretch of descent toward Mineral Basin.
As I rolled into the Mineral Basin aid station for the second time, I asked how many climbs were left. The short answer was two. The long answer was two of the hardest climbs you’ll ever see in your life, but they’re beautiful. Here it goes, I thought. I chugged some water and hit it. After a few switchbacks through a beautiful wildflower meadow, the course took a drastic turn. All of a sudden the familiar blue Hoka course markers were laced straight up the mountain-side. Literally, straight up a 45-degree pitch. I took a glance uphill and saw the back of a white t-shirt about 400-feet up. Time to grit.
I delicately stepped up the mountain-side, finding footholds in clumps of grass, with both hands hovering inches off the ground for balance. My gaze was no more than 2-feet ahead, as I scaled the mountain, one baby step at a time. This climb led to the most demoralized I had felt in a race. My mind started to waver and I started to doubt my ability to complete the race. I regained some enthusiasm as the heads of spectators popped up over the ridge, and the cowbell kicked me into gear.
Over this peak there was a traverse down to the Tunnel aid station. I took my time receiving aid here. I accepted the offer to get sprayed down, I ate a Honey Stinger Waffle, I guzzled down water, then the volunteers poured electrolyte “goop” into my water bottle. This was my longest pitstop of the day, and a much deserved respite.
I went through the tunnel and embarked on to the final climb of the day back up to Hidden Peak.
The Descent Magnifies the Climb: My directive to climb up to Hidden Peak was a fallacy. I learned that before going up, you must go down, way down. I could see Hidden Peak – the final summit of the day – I could smell the final decent and the finish line pizza. But the course signaled me downward, down a rocky access road further and further from the visible Hidden Peak Summit.
I was breaking. I was 25-miles and four-and-a-half hours into the race, and seemingly back at the starting line given the monumental climb across the Upper Cirque Traverse. Whenever I’m driving through the mountains, I always dream of floating along the rocky ridgeline high in the sky, relishing the 360-degree views. As I viewed the traverse of the Cirque ridge, however, I was overwhelmed by the reality of the task. I could see the Hidden Peak summit, I could see the entire route on the ridge, but it just seemed so far away… 1,200-feet of climbing over the next two miles.
It was during this traverse when I dug deep for positive thoughts. The only thing I really remember thinking was the acceptance of every non-ultra-runners remark to the ultra-distance. “Yes, we are crazy!” Non-ultra-runners usually quip, “I don’t even like driving 30 miles, why would you run that far?” I remember succumbing to this notion and dropping a sly smirk. Onward.
Hidden Peak to Finish: I finally made it to the Hidden Peak aid station, where I had reveled in the cowbell-ringing about four-and-a-half hours earlier. There was no time to rejoice though as there was still a 6-ish mile trek back to the base of the mountain. I retraced my steps from the morning, down the jagged switchbacks. My legs were moving, but I had to be cautious to not lose focus and take another fall.
Our descent transitioned into familiar access road and then meandered into single track lines which bombed straight down the slope. It was here that my feet and calves started to do their own dance. Like a first time ice-skater grasping for traction, I slipped and slid and triple-axeled my way into the gutter of the trail, losing control of my lower half. It was here that my calves locked up and cramped, making it even harder to descend the trail. During this struggle, three blazingly fast runners blew by me, including the leading woman, Hillary Allen.
Despite my lack of bodily control, I was glad to have some company on the trail again, and followed their lead through one menacing final-final climb of the day through the woods. This doesn’t show up on the course profile, but I’d heard about a measly 400-foot climb added in to “beef-up” the course. You can see it in mile-29 of Sage’s Strava entry.
Once I got through the climb and caught up with one of the racers who passed me through the steeps, I regained what little composure remained and motored towards the finish-line. One spectator was cheering from the 5K-to-go spot, so I knew I still had 20-minutes or so until I could finally sit down! This final 5K was a drawn-out stretch of wooded switchbacks, that I could not get myself to enjoy. I could kind-of see the base area, but the switchbacks kept coming and leading me further across the hill rather than towards the bottom.
The Final Turn: I see dirt road and Julia! I wave to her. She rallies a handful of spectators to cheer for her fiancé, Dan. I could not be more elated.
Here’s video proof of my finish.
24-Hours Later: This course was grueling and featured much more challenging terrain than anything I’ve ever run. For that, I was humbled and beyond impressed by those who excel at this type of course. For course specific training (if I decide to do a similar race in the future), I would have to attack the seemingly un-runnable Colorado front-range trails like Mt. Morrison, Mt. Sanitas, and the Amphitheater trail to Green Mountain in Boulder.
I’m a sweater. Yes, I sweat a lot. Despite my attempts to stay hydrated during the 6-hour 40-minute jaunt, I still hadn’t peed hours after the race. I’m finally accepting the fact that I my body demands more water than most, and I will test options for carrying more on-board hydration for future races.
I mentioned earlier the fall I suffered descending into Mineral Basin. I knee-d a rock which opened up a wound and has caused swelling in my knee cap. Also, my right palm took the brunt of the fall and is tender and bruised. Other than that, my muscles feel good and feet/toes/heels are slightly swollen as expected.
Despite claiming that I had retired from trail running before I reached the finish line….. yes… I am crazy and will probably be back.
Results here: https://ultrasignup.com/results_event.aspx?did=30857