I did my first official ultra the other day, the Wasatch Speedgoat 50k in Snowbird. This wasn’t your typical ultra as it was designed by the Speedgoats, two guys that include Karl Meltzer, the best trail runner in the world. Karl hates running on flat ground. For him, the more rugged the better. The course would end up outdoing their initial estimate of 20,000′ of elevation change for 50k.
This was all fine with me. I dislike flat running as well. In fact, I almost never run on flat ground anymore. If I can’t get to a trail I don’t run, and most of the trails I choose are really more hiking than running anyway. So while I kinda knew this course would suit me, I had no idea if racing such a thing would.
Turned out to be a blast. With 100 degree temps at home, the altitude was just where you wanted to be this day. The air was cool and the wildflowers were going off. And, as it turns out, ultra-running is a lot like what I do when I roam around in the mountains anyway.
The race began with a massive climb to the top of Snowbird. This gave us plenty of time to sort things out and even though I had no clue as to what I was getting into, after about 15 minutes I was in the group I’d be with most of the day. I learned that everyone has strengths and weaknesses in these things. Some can fly on the downhills while others prefer the uphills. I didn’t find out about flats because we never had a step of such terrain (the Snowbird tunnel being the closest thing to level).
My forte was anything technical, so I put in an attack going over the top of Baldy to catch a large group before we decended the “ropes” section. I knew this would not provide a challenge and didn’t want to end up waiting for people. I ended up meeting another climber in this section, Joy, as she passed me with a cool bold move as I was tactfully waiting for someone I’d caught at a roped section. We ended up with a pretty good gap during this and spent a fair bit of the race together, mainly talking about climbing and her upcoming trip to be old backyard, the Sierras.
The main difference between what I normally do in the mountains was not stopping. Normally I move fast but stop to eat. This, I think, caused some problems with my nutrition and on the last big climb I started to lose it. I couldn’t tell if it was lack of water, salt, too much gel or too little calories but something had me on the verge of puking. Greg, A guy I’d spent much of the first part of the race with, caught and quickly dropped me here. He was training for the Wasatch 100 and, I could tell, was going to need to sort this problem out to complete that sucker. While I was a bit worked there was no doubt about finishing. I was moving fine, just not as fast as I would have liked. I’m thinking this is just part of this whole ultra experience.
The final downhill was a steep fast pounding down a loose dirt road. Here I found a place where more rugged shoes would be better than what I was wearing. I generally don’t like stiff trail runners but, on a course like this one, they would be an advantage. Guess this is why Meltzer is always pimpin’ his Montrail Vitesses.
I was catching someone on the early technical section but as soon as we hit the steep road he reversed this and pulled away. Not wanting to risk getting injured (my so-far successful training goal for the year) unless getting passed was on the line I slowed down. This didn’t last too long as near the end I saw Sarah, who’d been with Greg and I for the first third of the race, bearing down on me racing with another guy. I knew Sarah was a fast downhill runner because Greg had been passed and beaten by her at the end of their last race. This caused me to pick it up to hold them off. Thankfully there wasn’t a lot more course left.
At the finish I was offered a beer and Ultragen. I accepted both. Of course, beer first. Maybe this was a sport I could embrace. I had no idea how long we’d been out there. It could have been 5 hours, it could have been 10. I was surprised at hearing 6:25. It seemed pretty fast until we heard the course was short. The winning time, 5:40, also didn’t seem impossible to me at all as I was tentative during a lot of places I could have gone faster. All in all, I felt okay and wasn’t injured, so it was a success.
While the course was short, it also had even more elevation change than anticipated, nearly 12,000′ in each direction. This profile would make it the toughest organized 100 in the world. Though I’m not too sure I’d want to do nearly four laps on this course, the proposition of such a challenge is intriguing.
While waiting for Sandee, who’d come up from sea level to experience eight hours of hypoxia (the course averaged over 10,000′), I hung out with the ultra crowd who, not surprisingly, reminded me a lot of the birthday challenge crowd. It was a nice afternoon with good people, drinking beer and laughing at the absurdity of what we were doing.
In the end, Sandee and I both picked up some schwag (thanks, Nathan) and I won an award, one of the coolest trophies I’ve ever recieved. We all got “chicked” by Petra McDowell, which isn’t odd for ultra running. And since Karl said he had expected her to win, I’ll assume she’s as good at this stuff as she looks–which is fast. I was a little beat up (Sandee ran the next day–sheesh) but will probably do some more of these things, or at least this one each year.
Special thanks to the Speedgoats, Scott and Karl, for putting on an outstanding event. Being new to this I asked runners along the course what their favorites races were. “This one’s pretty damned good,” was a common reply.
Three scrapes, guys. Baaaaahhhhh.