Until this weekend, my experience with ultrarunning had been limited to a handful of 50km (are these still considered ‘ultra’?) and 50mi races. The latter of those two distances had been met with mixed success, but the framework was generally the same: trying to reach the finish line faster than anyone else. I was curious what would happen when there was nobody else at the starting line, let alone the finish line… no podium hopes, aid stations, or irunfar coverage? I was curious how stripping all that stuff away would change the experience of ultrarunning. So this weekend i set off on the 50 mile High Sierra Camps Loop in Yosemite, alone, with virtually zero planning, specific training, or expectations. Just a desire to go out for a big day in a beautiful place.
As the name suggests, the route connects the 6 High Sierra camps of the Yosemite high country. While the camps themselves are of little note to a runner, they define a highly aesthetic, well-marked route that covers a nice cross section of the region’s scenic wonders. Granite domes and spires, glassy alpine lakes and quiet meadows that tempt even the most ambitious runner to stop and have a picnic. The Yosemite high country is a special place indeed.
For being a 50 mile route in the mountains, the terrain is relatively mellow – only 7600-ft of vertical (without any of the optional side excursions) and all between 7,000 and 10,000-ft in elevation. Given its popularity with backpackers, the well-trodden path is always very runnable, allowing attention to be allocated toward the incredible scenery.
This time of year, the rivers and waterfalls are gushing with such force that the roar of their descent is heard throughout the route. This was a perfect occasion to test out my new Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest (thanks dad!). At every river crossing, i simply pulled out one of the front bottles and scooped up the freshest, tastiest water money can buy. No excuses for dehydration on this run!
Despite my inspiring surroundings, i found myself struggling with the effort most of the day. Early on, my steps felt labored and I found my thoughts turning to work-anxiety and other life stresses. Hiking seemed like a fine idea. Reading a book back at the campground with a sandwich even better. Clearly i was not in race mode.
But as the day went on, my connection to the landscape grew stronger, and with it my resolve to keep running. It felt awesome to be self-reliant out there in the wilderness, not just for resources, but also for motivation. It’s easy to keep running when you know 4th place is hunting you down and a podium finish is at stake. But the factors that motivate one to keep running 8 hours into a route that nobody knows you’re doing are a bit more complex — or perhaps subtle. I’d like to say it’s the sheer enjoyment of it, but honestly that doesn’t quite capture the essence of it. I found out that running 50 miles is darn hard whether competing or not. And when things get that hard, the feelings of joy start to be replaced by something else more elusive. It’s an exploration of sorts, and one i’m immensely curious about as i feel i have only scratched the surface of it.
More details of the route can be found on my Strava page: