Monday, July 30, 2012

Week in Review: 22-28 July 2012, and Speedgoat 50K Race Report

For the first time in a while, a list of dates and mileage:

22 July: 11 miles (77 minutes) on a soupy-hot morning, across Baltimore and back, west-to-east

23 July: 10 miles (70 minutes), in and around Patterson Park

24 July: off

25 July: 10 miles (70 minutes), in and around Patterson Park

26 July: off

27 July: 1+ mile (12 minutes), in the morning, running with bags to catch a train at Penn Station in Baltimore, to kick off this wacky weekend. 3-ish miles (33 minutes) evening at White Pine (8,000-ish feet altitude) to shake out before Speedgoat

28 July: Speedgoat 50K (444 minutes, 31+ miles), 7:23:17, 39th overall

Total time: 706 minutes

Total distance: 66+ miles

And now, the Speedgoat 50K:
The 2012 Speedgoat 50K course (photo credit: Tetsuro Ogata)
I'm putting the picture first, because that's the most unequivocally beautiful thing about Speedgoat. A 50K that, with 11,000+ feet of gain/loss (this year, with the course changes, it was probably over 12,000), all at altitudes above 8,000 feet, going as high as 11,000 feet, with nasty, steep, rocky climbs that will haunt your dreams, runs more like a 50-mile race, is not exactly the easiest sell. But it's that way on purpose; as the t-shirt tag line goes, the course is "A Meltzer-Designed Nightmare."

Taking on this monster just 10 days after Badwater, without the benefit of altitude or mountain training, seemed like a a terrible idea. But it also seemed like an exciting challenge. I had been signed up for the race since January, just after Bandera, where my performance there inspired me to raise the bar once more in a competitive field. Still, I didn't know how I was going to feel after Badwater, but after a few days of "normal" running earlier this week, I felt ready for the challenge. As I saw it, it was a great opportunity to

(1) get a "Wasatch 100 preview" (i.e. determine how likely I am to die on the mountains during that race)

(2) compete against a strong field

(3) have a fun day in the mountains (probably)

So the "exciting challenge" assessment won out. Tina helped me make travel plans just a few day before the race, and on Friday, I scrambled through three trains, a bus, two planes, and a baggage-loaded run to Penn Station to make it to Salt Lake City at around 6 pm, just about 12 hours before the start of the race. Collin picked me up at the airport, and we went about the business of picking up supplies for the race, and heading up the mountains towards Snowbird for pre-race camping and shake-out run. After our shake-out run, I was a little worried about dying on the mountain. While I wasn't exactly gasping for breath, my legs were still feeling a little tired from Badwater, and the thin air was just making me feel . . . slow. Collin was moving along much better than I was, and, for the first time in my life, I felt severely disadvantaged for living at sea level.

But whatever, the race was happening, either way, so by the next morning, when I was dressed and ready to run, all of that was in the back of my mind . . . at least until the gun went off. Within about ten minutes, maybe a fifth of the way up the first climb, I was probably in about 100th place. Everybody seemed to be charging up the mountain with reckless abandon, while my poor tired legs were screaming at me to slow down so they could suck down the paltry amount of oxygen that my lungs were delivering to them from the disturbingly-thin air. It occurred to me that maybe this should have gone into the "terrible idea" bin instead. But here I was, out on a beautiful, sunny, 70-degree day, climbing some awesome mountains, and taking in some awesome views (sadly, sans-cell-phone, which I had forgotten in my rush to the starting line - otherwise, there would be more pictures here), so I figured I may as well soldier on.

By the time I hit the steep, rocky climb to Hidden Peak (mile 8+ into the race), my place had stabilized a bit, and I was getting into a little better rhythm on the climbs. I tagged the top at 1 hour, 58 minutes, and hauled down the backside of the mountain with reckless abandon, smiling and laughing as I skidded down an alarmingly steep drop over loose dirt and rocks, overjoyed to finally have gravity in my favor, and to be passing people.

The next climb and descent came and went without too much fanfare, except to say that the descent was over a pretty significant loose-ish rock-pile, reminiscent of a descent at MMT, but not quite as long, and over rocks with a bit less permanence in the landscape. This took me to the 15-ish mile aid station, the "turn-around" point, and I could see runners coming out of the aid station towards me, many not looking so great. At 4 hours and 27 minutes into the race at the "turn-around" aid station, it was around 11 a.m., and with the sun high, and the elevation "low" (as in, slightly under 8000 feet here), and 100-degree F temperatures predicted in the valley, conditions were starting to take their toll on the runners. I heard one runner say to another on the downhill, "I'm so wiped out from all of the climbing - I can't even bomb this downhill." Considering that I was still keeping a steady pace, and not feeling catastrophically bad, I began feeling optimistic about the remainder of the race.

On the way out of the turn-around aid station, fortified by an orange popsicle and an unexpected cold-water-dousing that nearly gave me a heart attack, I caught up to Collin, and we stuck together for a little while up the next climb, a long, wide service-road style, Hellgate-like ascent (except at higher altitudes). I settled into a brisk hike, and soon was passing people on my way to the top . . . which involved a very cruel left turn up a steep (but mercifully short) rocky hill, where there wasn't a trail so much as a series of flags to follow, all of which had me crawling on hands and feet to get to the top. After passing a few more people, a merciful downhill into the next aid station followed . . .

But mercy was not to be the case from there on. Not quite three miles to the next aid station, 3100 feet of climb, and a few hundred feet of drop, for good measure. When we started running downhill out of the aid station, I knew something was "wrong." Sure enough, when we reached the base of Baldy, we turned right, up a rocky, steep, arbitrarily-marked nearly-vertical grade. This was the lowest point of the race for me, as I struggled on hands and feet, stopping several times, before I finally reached the top. Once I was over the top, I gradually settled into a running rhythm again, but not before several people who were recovering much more quickly than I was managed to pass me and keep going.

And from there, it got worse. From the tunnel to the top of Hidden Peak, the last aid station, there was another descent, followed by a prolonged, nasty climb. I was with another runner for most of this climb, but I was still dragging myself through, and slowing him down for most of it, since, with a little over a mile to go, he went ahead and kept on going. At this point, being at nearly 11,000 feet altitude, climbing up a stupid-steep slope, 25 miles into the race, my non-mountain sea-level disadvantage became most painfully apparent. Fortunately, at the top, 6 hours, 30 minutes into the race, there were cheers for "Baltimore!" (I was wearing my red Falls Road Racing singlet), and promise of a 5-mile downhill to the finish line.

The next 5 miles were the happiest downhill miles of my life, even with the nasty rocks for the first mile or so. In addition to gravity in my favor, the air thickened as I followed the winding trail to the finish line. I was solidly in whatever place I was in at that point (which turned out to be 39th), so there was no need to push too hard (although at the very end, a runner did come close to me, prompting a bit of a finishing sprint). Instead, I kept a steady pace, enjoyed the scenery, and felt a sense of gratitude for accomplishing what I had accomplished in the race, in spite of circumstances.
Sweet Speedgoat swag - no fluff, all useful running stuff. (yellow is men's shirt, pink is women's shirt)
Collin came in about 20 minutes later, and we spent a little time after the race drinking UltraGen recovery drink and soda, hanging around the finish line and socializing, and watching the awards ceremony. Kilian recorded the fastest time, but was barred from prize money because he cut switchbacks on his way to the win, which is allowed in European mountain racing and skyrunning, but not in this particular race (which was a part of the skyrunning series, so that was perhaps the source of the confusion). He was still recognized alongside Rickey Gates, who took second, as the fastest runner of the day. Anna Frost took the win on the women's side. And for what it's worth, it was a lot of fun to be part of such a deep, fast race.

7:23:17, 39th overall, and the first non-mountain, sea-level competitor to cross the line, and still shaking off Badwater fatigue - I'd say that's a pretty solid result. There were definitely some steep climbs where I lost a good bit of time, and there is lots of room for improvment in my mountain-running ability, so this result has me curious to see how I could do in a mountain race with some actual specific mountain-specific training at altitude.  But that's for another time and place - for now, considering that I don't feel completely crippled after this run (just generally tired), I'm excited about my next round of races and training in August and September . . . more and better-prepared (but still most likely full of awesome surprises) adventures soon to come!

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