Speedgoat 50k

 I hadn’t intended on writing a race report for Speedgoat, but when Ultrarunning Magazine asked me to contribute a report for their upcoming issue, i was happy for the external motivation.  Please visit their site for additional photos and full results from the race.

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Photo by Jordi Saragossa

“Why are we even racing tomorrow?”

That was the thought that occurred to us as yet another colorful wildflower meadow unfolded before us on a sunny evening above Snowbrid Ski Resort. It was the night before the Speedgoat 50k, and I was on an easy shakeout run with Rickey Gates, Anna Frost and Fernando De Samaniego Steta, my Bay Area travel buddy for the weekend. Indeed, the act of exploring new trails with friends while the evening sun kissed our backs now seemed reason enough to justify the lengthy trip from the Bay Area. But the race would certainly provide this and more the following day, so we reluctantly turned around to get some rest.

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Photo by Bryon Powell/iRunFar

The next morning we awoke to a clear dawn, and after exchanging a few quick hellos during the anxious starting line warmup, Karl Meltzer sent us off on our journey. Before the race, I had debated if I should go for $1000 prime that awaited the first runner to the top of Hidden Peak (8.5 mi). But when Sage Canaday burst out of the gates like a charging bull, I was somewhat relieved to have that decision made for me. So I tucked into a pack that included Rickey Gates, Alex Nichols and Paul Hamilton, while Patrick Smyth and Jim Walmsley gambled with the Sage’s hot pace ahead.

It felt good to breath hard. To me, that’s altitude running in a nutshell; the willingness to breath hard while moving relatively slow. Although I’ve called sea level home for the last six years, my notion of running was forged in the relatively thin air of Boulder, Colorado where I went to college and spent the first six years of my professional career. Hiking and running in the mountains was the perfect counterpoint to the mental demands of my education and subsequently cerebral job, and I soon found myself competing in high altitude races like the Imogene Pass Run, Kendall Mountain Run, and the Pikes Peak Marathon.

Since moving to the Bay Area where the trails are gentler and the air is richer, I still find myself yearning for the rugged mountain running experiences and thin air that first attracted me to the sport. Karl’s Speedgoat course answers that call. With 11,000 feet of climbing crammed into the 50km distance, there is hardly a flat section of trail to be found.

At the top of the first climb to Hidden Peak at 11,000-ft, I was in sixth place and feeling like a champ. My plan for the long descent was to relax into a comfortable effort, fuel up, and save my energy and legs for the second half. The descent proved uneventful, if not a bit lonely with a sizable gap both in front and behind me.

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Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

The short out and back section at the bottom of the descent serves as the halfway point and provides an opportunity to evaluate one’s competition. Those who went out too hard in front have a pall of doom on their faces, while those who started relatively easy look fresh and hungry. Sure enough, at this point I caught Smyth and Walmsley — the two guys that went out hard with Sage — bumping me up to 4th place. But I also caught a glimpse of Rickey Gates and Mike Wolfe, who were both looking far too casual. I would be seeing them again later.

The best part about running a race like Speedgoat is the training that it inspires: namely, running as much vertical as possible. In Marin, vertical is parceled out in relatively small hits of 1000 ft or less, with the exception of Mt Tam, the highest mountain in the county with around 2500 ft of vertical relief. It’s no accident that this mountain serves as the backdrop for the home of many ultrarunners, including myself. I tagged its summit on 54 occasions leading up to the race and was averaging around 20,000 feet of vertical per week. Not bad for a working dad from sea level.

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Photo by Criss Furman / iRunFar

At the top of the final climb up Hidden Peak (mile 27) I was still in 4th place and had only a 5 mile, 4000 ft descent between me and the finish line. As I reached the summit, I looked behind me to see a figure that I have come to expect in the closing miles of any race I compete in: Rickey Gates. Perhaps it’s a pattern that I’ve grown too comfortable with, but he is an outstanding character with whom I’m always grateful to share some miles with, competition be damned. Despite his encouragement to stick with him as we began the descent, I was still recovering from the grueling climb, and had to let him go. I wouldn’t see Rickey again until the finish line where he would finish 4th.

Just as I was beginning to recover, Mike Wolfe caught up to me, and we continued to bomb down the mountain together for nearly a mile. But we soon found ourselves at a trail junction absent of any course markings, and realized that we had somehow traveled off course (we would find out later that some unsavory individuals had intentionally pulled flags). Mike and I split up in search of the course, but it became apparent that our detour was considerable. Precious seconds gave way to what felt like eternal minutes. The spirited competition amongst craggy peaks and brilliant wildflowers that had left such an impression on me only hours before now felt like a fairy tale, replaced by the sinking feeling that my hard fought effort was being lost – literally – in the convoluted trails of a deserted ski resort.

I would eventually find the course after 20-30 minutes and 2 miles additional miles of hiking and finish several places back in 9th. Mike Wolfe somehow managed to find the course much faster than I and finished strong in 5th.  Next time i get lost with Mike i’ll be sticking with him.

As an athlete, it’s natural to yearn for a performance where the outcome matches the effort that goes into it… a result that demonstrates your ability on the day. That didn’t happen for me in this instance.  But I remind myself that these races, so full of unpredictable variables, are about much more than a result. They are about the experience of bringing together a talented group of friends to inspire the best in one another. I think we all found this at Speedgoat, and for that I am grateful.

More: Strava data | iRunFar Coverage | Full Results 


Thanks to San Francisco Running Company, as always, for supplying me with the best shoes on market (or off the market as was the case with the pre-release Hoka Huaka shoes i used!) and Ultimate Direction for my complete hydration kit (AK Race Vest, soft flask bottles, and gel flasks).  And to my Bay Area running buddies for raising the bar – you all are a tough act to follow!  And above all, thanks to my wife Kristin and daughter Autumn for supporting me in this time consuming hobby of mine.

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Photo by Galen Burrell

High Sierra Camps 50 mile Loop

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.Mt Conness as viewed from Glen Aulin

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.

The High Sierra Camps Loop

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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.

Classic high sierra meadow

Sub-alpine terrain

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!

Gushing creek bed

Loving the UD gear!

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.

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My favorite post run food groups: fat, salt, protein, and beer. Favorite post run food groups: fat, salt, protein, and beer.

More details of the route can be found on my Strava page:

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Way Too Cool 50k

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Finishing Way Too Cool 50km

Thought 1: Sometimes getting to the starting line is the hardest part.

It’s cliche, but it’s so true. Focus and motivation have never been the problem for me, it’s controlling all the other variables in life that proves challenging when trying to be the fittest you possibly can on a specific day. Historically, injuries are the variable that i’ve struggle with the most leading up to a race. I’ve had my share of stress fractures, hamstring tears, glute strains, groin pulls, etc that have sidelined me in the last three weeks before a race.

Thankfully, in my “old” age, i’ve gotten better at detecting early warnings signs, taking necessary precautions, and just generally training smarter. But in my preparation for this year’s Way Too Cool 50km, I got thrown two curveballs in the 2-3 weeks before the race that had me wondering if I would make it to the start: Two straight weeks of stressful work deadlines, combined with two – count ’em – two nasty colds in a 3 week period. The second, which hit 8 days before Cool, was a real doozy. I ended up going on antiobiotics (for only the 2nd time in my life) 3 days before the race, and that thankfully got me over the hump enough to make the ‘go’ decision the night before.

I had wanted to run Way Too Cool for years but something would always come up that prevented me from, well, making it to the starting line (usually injuries…).

But there i was at the starting line on a beautiful sunny morning, a little worse for the wear, but there nonetheless… getting to the start was the hardest part, right?

Thought 2: I’d rather race my best against the best than win a race with no competition.

This year had Max King, Chris Vargo, Leor Pantilat and last year’s winner, Gary Gellin on the start line, so the challenge was certainly not over. Not surprisingly, the first three took it out hard and we hit the first 8 mi aid station in 6 minute pace. I decided to forgo my naturally tendency to be conservative, and hammered with them for those first 8 mi (“the end is going to hurt no matter what”, i told myself). After that, i let them go (not that i really had a choice in the matter), and settled into what would be a solo time trial to the finish, pushing my pace as much as possible. I felt on the edge the whole race, which in and of itself was an interesting thing to experiment with in an ultra.  I struggled with GI issues a bit (i’ll spare you the details) but fueled right, never bonked, and held on for a solid 4th place (3:25:59 or 6:53/mi pace), under the previous year’s course record. I finished 4 minutes behind Leor, but a whopping 17 minutes behind Max King, who, as it turns out, was not hammering at the beginning, but simply running the same 6 minute pace he would continue the whole race! Incredible new course record for him.

So yeah, sometimes getting to the finish line is pretty tough too.

I feel fortunate to finally take part in it this classic spring event; it lived up to its stature as one of the best 50k’s in the country. Also thankful for the support of San Francisco Running Company, Injinji socks, and above all, for Kristin and Autumn!

Check out the Strava details here.

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My buddy Brett, and owner of San Francisco Running Company, crushed his 50km PR, finishing a solid 8th!

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Autumn and Kristin post race (Autumn’s dance moves not shown).