Having done relatively well at the American Canyon 25k in February (race report here), I had great expectations for the 50k. My goal was to shave about 15 minutes off my previous time and go under six hours, which I deemed to be a "realistic expectation". The forecast for race day was calling for cold temperatures and possible snow, which definitely caters to my strengths as I've been running in that kind of stuff all winter. When we arrived on the island Saturday morning, it turned out to be clear and cold... 27º at the start with a very stiff, cold wind dropping the temps even lower. I ended up running the entire race in my shell (lightweight windbreaker), beanie, and gloves, as it was just too damn cold without them. The first 25k lap was pretty uneventful. I was moving well but keeping my effort in check so that I saved enough energy for the second lap of the same course. I ran past a bunch of 25k runners (heading out as I was heading back... they started an hour later), including my coworker Stevie and my wife Ashley. I felt great until the last mile or so to the finish/turnaround, when my foot started to hurt a bit on the downhill. I completed the first lap in 2:50 and was quite pleased with myself, as that left me a bit of cushion to possibly achieve my sub-6 goal. Mentally, heading out for a second lap of the course is tough. I half considered calling it a day and dropping down to the 25k, but realized that I'd later be pissed off at myself for doing so.
I headed out on the second lap and immediately things started to feel a bit "off". I walked up the initial two-mile climb instead of running it as I had the first lap. Anytime I tried to run this uphill, a muscle in my hip/groin area cramped up and forced me to walk. Once the terrain flattened out a bit, I was able to run pretty smoothly. Upon my decent into the large, open valley I ran past Stevie and Ashley again and was feeling pretty good. Once the terrain tilted upward again, I was forced to walk. Thus began the downward spiral. By the time I reached the Elephant Head aid station for the third time (2x per lap), I was not feeling too hot. I took a few minutes there to down some Coke and a few handfuls of potato chips (after eating gels for a few hours, these are amazing). I started on the long two-mile downhill to the shore of the Great Salt Lake and I was unable to run most of it because my feet were hurting so bad. No bueno. Upon return to the uphills on the far side of the course, I was forced to walk yet again due to cramping. By the time I returned to the aid station at mile 27-ish, I was in a very bad place. I had walked almost the entire stretch and my stomach and feet were not happy. I sat for a good ten minutes at the aid station trying to psyche myself up to go the remaining 5+ miles to the finish. I finally walked out of the aid station around 5:45 on the race clock, knowing that my time goal was unattainable. I walked almost the entire way back and then was greeted with a slightly happier stomach and a boost of adrenaline for the last few miles, so I ran it in for a 6:47:13 finish. Ugh.
At first I was very disappointed with how things went down. Instead of lowering my time on the course, I added 33 minutes to my 2011 finishing time. Upon further review, however, I heard that many people struggled with the frigid wind that day and posted slower times than in the past. On a more personal level, I realized that it had been a full year since I had run an ultra. Sure, I had a handful of shorter races and a few runs in the 20-22 mile range over the past year, but nothing quite long enough to remind my body what an ultra feels like. Most of all, after a season of injury and little racing last year, I am just happy to be healthy and out there doing my thing. I honestly think that this was an excellent early-season test of fitness and practice for many a slog-fest to come.
A huge congrats to all of the race finishers, including those who dropped down in mileage and still ran a hell of a long way (you know who you are). This race really is a homecoming for the local running community, and it is great to see so many familiar faces and friendly volunteers out there having fun.
|Cresting the first climb of the day. Quite the conga line.|
|Insert frigid wind here. Nice clear day on the island though.|
|View north from the top of the climb to the Elephant Head aid station.|
|Close encounters of the buffalo kind. A small herd grazes near the trail on the western shore of the island.|
|I just figured out why the trail is named the Split Rock Loop!|
|Singletrack with a view.|
|Greenery and scenery.|
|Climbing the dreaded switchbacks.|
|Headphones are in... time to get serious.|
With that race in the rear-view mirror now, it is time to focus on future happenings. In May I'll be running the Timp Trail Half Marathon with Ashley and her parents, who will be driving out from SoCal for the race. This is a favorite of mine and I am really looking forward to it, although I will be taking it fairly easy on race day. Two weeks after that race, on June 1, I will be undertaking the biggest athletic challenge of my life so far by running the Squaw Peak 50 miler. Squaw is a classic race in the Wasatch which boasts approximately 11,000' of climb (and the same of descent... ouch!) over rugged mountain terrain, topping out at 9300' atop Windy Pass. I am totally stoked for the race and plan on getting in some very long runs in the mountains to prepare. We'll be moving to Denver in July (if not sooner, depending on my job search), so this will be my final farewell to the Wasatch and probably a fairly emotional run. And now I must go train...