“As flatlander, you may find you have to choose between breathing and drinking.” This was the advice of Derek Ward, a Utah resident with recent Wisconsin connections in Sussex. He had run Utah's SpeedGoat 50k last year and found that he was breathless enough for long stretches of the race that it was difficult to drink. Huh?!
Looking up at the 3,000 gain from the 8000’ base of Snowbird ski resort up to the race peak over 11,000’ at Mount Baldy, I had both an impending sense of doom and just a little giddiness about the adventure that was about to unfold.
The SpeedGoat 50k is the sadist brain-child of Ultra-Star and Race Director Karl Meltzer. His goal – Set up a course that he can comfortably boast is the toughest 50k on the planet. I think he may have done it.
While I knew I wasn’t in top-shape, I was buoyed by the fact that I do a fair amount of hill-running and stair-repeats, and feel like I’m a relatively good climber. I also did two 50k races this year clocking a 4:14 at Clinton Lake and a 4:07 at Double Chubb. With the course record for SpeedGoat at around 6 hours, I figured that gave me 3 hours to slow down on the hills and still finish within an hour of the leaders. Ummmmmm…. Nice try…. Turns out with the climbs being MUCH longer, and the lack of oxygen available to flatlanders at altitude, I would spend much of the day hemorrhaging time. I found out very quickly that I did indeed have to choose between breathing and drinking. Breathing won out – Wasn’t even close.
Just climbing the switch-backs up to the top once and descending would be a relative challenge, but Meltzer likes to “flirt” with the peaks. The course relentlessly climbs and abruptly drops just as you think you might be topping out. None more cruelly than the final climb at 26 miles.
Here the peak appears obvious as you can see the gondola towers and service road where the 7.7 mile aid-station and your drop bag await. Grinding up the switch-backs and eventually along the ever-ascending ridge, the goal is always in sight like a carrot on a stick. HOWEVER, when you reach the “summit”, you run about 20’ along the gravel service road that you know leads to your drop-bag, round the corner… And… they re-route you up another twisting single-track wall of trail. “Only about eight-minutes to the top!” was the exclamation of the course marshal stationed to ensure all could partake of this last piece of evil. ARRRRRGGGGGG!
And then to push it even further, not only are the climbs steep, so are the descents. This negated much of the recovery I anticipated by seeing 12,000 feet of ascent and descent. The elevation map showed that there would be a three-mile downhill near the halfway point and I was anxious to get there. Unfortunately, much of it was in a wide ditch filled with boulders that ranged from bowling balls to fists. My progress was less than relaxing and barely counted as recovery. Along th e course there were even “down-hills” with rope assist!?! Controlled falling was the order of the day.
The only exception to the down-hill treachery was the last 5 miles, which featured only one short boulder-field to impede your steady and relatively easy progress to the finish. This is actually cruel as well as it gives you a chance to recover such that you aren’t wrecked at the finish and may indeed forget what a bastard the balance of the course was. You may even be optimistic enough to sign up again next year. I’m thinking I will… (Idiot).
Final time: 8:51 for 50k ?!?!?!? I was actually thinking I might not break 10 hours at some point during the race. My time was slower than most of the 50 milers I have done!!!? Not sure about the place, but I wasn’t a factor for sure!