Sunday, July 27, 2008

Speedgoat 50K Report

In retrospect, I may have taken that whole "toughest 50K in the US" thing a little too lightly. Saturday marked one of the most difficult days in my life. (This is a slightly different version than my journal.) Here's my report:

Friday afternoon, my dad and I drove up to Snowbird and checked into The Cliffs resort. After reading for a bit, we went for a swim and then a soak in the Jacuzzi. At dusk, we walked some of the trails to help adjust to the altitude. Turns out we should have been doing that for months at a much higher elevation, but anyway. Dinner was at the Wildflower restaurant. I had spaghetti and meatballs, and my dad got a pizza. We swapped halfway through. All carbbed up, we hit the sack around 11:00.

Up at 5:00 after waking up at least once every hour or so all night. Changed, packed, and ate cereal with soy milk for breakfast. Picked up our bib and packet, stretched, and turned in our drop bags. There were about 150 runners for the second annual Speedgoat 50K. (31.07 miles) For the first time, I was wearing a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, and handkerchief around my neck in a race. All 3 turned out to be lifesavers.
My dad is 62 and one of the oldest registered for this race. (in yellow below)

He may or may not have early stages of Parkinson's disease, depending on who you ask, so my mom and others in my family weren't thrilled about him running this race. We started out slow, sticking together on the single track trail for about a ½ mile or so. After that I sped up a little as we began our first series of climbs. 95% of this race is either climbing up or going down. Flat stretches were almost non existent.

This elevation chart gives you a rough idea of the course in the early stages of creation. We never did get a map of the final course, but we were assured it was only 31 miles.

It was a long, calve punishing ascent to the top of Hidden Peak—about 11,000 ft. The air was thin and I was breathing heavy. I wolfed down some PB&J sandwiches, pretzels, banana, Red Bull, and donuts. Anything I could get my hands on. I was starving. Checked out of the aid station, a requirement in this race.

Continued over to Mt. Baldy, a slightly higher peak reached by traversing a tricky ridge trail.

It wasn’t until I begin the descent into Dutch Flat that I realized how truly difficult this race was going to be. I was terrified something bad was going to happen to my dad, as I was struggling to keep my feet myself. It was a nearly vertical descent down from Mt. Baldy. There was no running, just careful hand and foot placement, while trying not to drop rocks on the racers below.

Black Diamond had a girl there to help guide us down—she wisely wore a helmet. The steepest part had a 25’ rope which I used to rappel down. The whole time I was thinking, “How is my dad going to get down this thing?” I asked the staff lady to keep an eye out for him.

End of his rope

After the worst part, I passed 3 other staffers surrounding a woman who had slipped and smashed her head on the rocks. She had blood in her hair, on her face, and down her jersey. They were bandaging her entire head with gauze. I was already making mental plans to leave the country if anything bad happened to my dad. I honestly had no idea the course would be this gruesome.

I ran a fast 2000 feet or so down to the next aid station. Just water. The station attendant gave me the greatest compliment as I arrived: "I was watching you come down. You f-cking killed that downhill!" The pounding I gave my legs would come back to haunt me later. Filled up my two bottles and continued downhill on some of the worst terrain I’ve ever traversed. Picture a dirt road filled with boulders of all sizes. You don’t run so much as hop from rock to rock. One misstep and it’s sprained ankle city. 

This was the only spot the entire day where I lost focus and smashed my foot into a rock, the pain of which soon became a distant second to the one coming from my palms as I landed into the gravel, scraping away bits of skin. I had to stop and give up precious drinking water to rinse out the dirt.

The boulders and rocks eventually turned into a stream, where I did my best to leap from place to place, trying to keep my shoes dry. This trail took us into American Fork Canyon. I passed lots of 4x4’s, ATV’s, and motor cycles. The bandana around my neck, which did a great job of keeping my neck cool, came in very handy for keeping out their dust and exhaust. I soaked it with icy water each time we crossed a stream.
Reached the Mary Ellen aid station, the lowest point, 7500’ at mile 14 ½. About half way. I was overheated, tired, and having trouble making complete sentences. They sat me down and put a cold rag around my neck. I drank and drank, ate some food, and rested for a bit. 

Back on the trail, it was time to go up. Over 3 miles of steep climbing in the hot sun. I reached my breaking point after 2 miles. The little water I had left was warm, I was devoid of energy, and I felt slightly ill. My feet throbbed with pain, plus I had little rocks in my shoes. It took too much energy to stop, pull them off, and empty the gravel, only to have more rocks a hundred yards later, so I just left them there. I didn’t dare remove my socks for fear of seeing how bad my toes really were. 

So when the trail crossed a glacier fed river, it was a tiny miracle. I dipped my head in until it was numb, washed my face, soaked my bandana, drenched my clothes, and rested for a minute. Then it was back to the climb, one foot in front of the other, like an endless Stairmaster in the desert. 

There’s no celebration upon reaching the top of a mountain because it means you now have to go down the other side. This brings a whole new set of painful opportunities. I was out of water now, and my only thought was getting through the next mile to fill up again. There wasn’t much of a trail to follow, just orange flags deposited amidst the trees. I climbed over logs, tromped through tall grass, and slid down muddy runoffs.
Eventually reached the water station, tanked up, and then what else, more climbing. Back up the mountain on a different trail to Hidden Peak. Scaling another 3500’ after the punishment you’ve already endured is psychologically draining. You look at the runners on the switchbacks above you—tiny specs in the distance—and think, “they aren’t even halfway up!”

So the death march continues. One foot in front of the other, slowly making your way up the side of the mountain. Crossing snow banks, trying to keep your feet in the prints made by others so you don’t go sliding out of control. I would poke my fingers into the snow with each step for extra support, then have to rub my hands together to get back feeling. By the time I reached the tunnel at the top, I thought I had survived one of the toughest obstacles in my life. If only I knew what was ahead.

Camped out for about 5-10 minutes at the aid station, eating salty potato chips, pretzels, sandwiches, Sprite, Red Bull, etc. This was in addition to the gels, granola bar, and trail mix I was going through on the trail. It’s nearly impossible to replace the massive amounts of calories you are burning during a race like this. 

I had the guy radio other aid stations to see if they had seen my dad. The most he could tell me was that his bib number hadn’t dropped out yet. I really wish he had. I was wishing I had too, but I was going to finish after going through all that suffering. So into the cool, dark tunnel I went. It’s like walking into a refrigerator, except I jogged through. I ran at every flattish or downhill section of this course where it was possible, which kept me firmly in the middle of the pack.

To my utter dismay, I found myself dropping down, down, down on the other end of the tunnel, 2000’ into the Snowbird side of the mountain. It was a loose gravel dirt road, which made it difficult to slow down. Your toes end up sliding forward inside your shoes, smashing against the front. Very painful. Knees and thighs suffer the most on downhill. Blisters on my feet take a beating, your back aches, your stomach hurts, and it feels like you’ve been kicked in the ribs. I grunted in pain nearly every step down. 

I enjoyed approximately 100 yards of relatively flat trail before embarking on another exhausting set of switchbacks. Halfway up the mountain, I could see where others were just exiting the tunnel across the valley. I pitied them. I tried to spot the bright yellow shirt my dad was wearing. No luck.

The switchbacks took us to the ridgeline trail. Steep cliffs on one side and a steep mountainside on the other. I should mention that the views and scenery on this race were amazing.

It’s just hard to appreciate when your body is screaming in agony. The ridgeline was very difficult. Like climbing rocky steps of varying sizes, constantly hefting your body weight upwards on the strength of one leg.
The last quarter mile was impossibly steep. I couldn’t bare to look at the top, as it never seemed to get any closer. I was breathing audibly loud and fast, trying to get enough oxygen into my blood to make my muscles work. I wanted to cry, and then I did. Then I reached the top. 

I thought this was where we got to revisit our drop bags for the second time, that and the aid station. They were so close, but the arrow pointed back down the mountainside, and I had a mental breakdown. But not for long, because the pain of running fast down the single track trail soon overshadowed any mental anguish I was feeling. I was angry and I just wanted to finish. How much worse could it freaking get??!?!?!

At the bottom of yet another valley, the flags took a sharp turn towards a bleak side of Hidden Peak. I couldn’t imagine going all the way back up again. I was so far beyond fatigued. I was conserving the tiny bit of water I had left. I had foolishly poured some down my back near the top of the ridgeline trail, thinking I was almost to the aid station. Now I was faced with having to climb even further up than I had just come down, with only a gulp in my bottles. Remember this spot, because this is where I would later come across my dad.

And so I continued, across a terrible, root infested trail where I encountered other runners who were making their way back, hours ahead of me. One of them asked how I was doing and if I had enough water. I paused, not wanting to steal another racer's water, and then he said “I know you don’t have enough, and took one of my empties and filled it to the top. I don’t think I would have made it without his help.

Continued on to the giant rock slide. It must have taken hundreds of man hours to carve this switchback trail out of the giant pile of rocks covering the side of the mountain. Some were massive boulders. Very tricky to keep your footing. Then came the glacier snow drifts. The trail crisscrossed over top of them. This was slow going for me, since my shoes don't have great traction for snow. Some of the runners coming down opted to just slide down, using their shoes as skis.

After the snow, all that was left was one long, hot stretch of rocky road to the top. The last mile was perhaps the toughest of the day. It had taken me about 9 hours to cover 25 miles. The sun was at my back, I definitely had some degree of heatstroke, I was having trouble keeping my balance, and once again, the last 100 yards to the aid station was after a freaking ridiculous slope.

My breathing was out of control when I sat down in the shade of the aid tent. It took 5 minutes before it returned to normal so I could drink and waddle over to the bathroom. Washed my face, blew my nose, and then drank some more. Ate a bunch of food and rested in the shade some again. I must have been at that station a good 15-20 minutes. 

Down the backside another time, dropping about 500’ in elevation before making my final climb of the day back to the top. We had to cross yet another snow bank, and I honestly thought this might be the one that sent me sliding over the edge.

After that, I retraced the steps I had previously come up, slipping all over the glaciers, freezing my hands to keep my footing, through the rock strewn switch backs, and back over the root covered trail to where I could see my dad in the distance.

He had just come down the mountain, and like me, thought the aid station was at the top rather than being forced to come back down again. I gave him a hug and told him how glad I was to see he wasn’t injured or dead. After I pointed to where he’d have to climb back up to Hidden Peak, he decided to head back instead. There was no way he could make the cutoff at the top in time. After 6:00 pm, all runners had to take the tram down. 

I said I’d see him at the finish and to be really careful the rest of the way, then continued ahead. It was all downhill from there. Steep, horrible, painful downhill. Words cant really describe it. So many different parts of your body get hit with intense pain every time your foot hits the ground. The faster you go, the more it hurts, but you get there quicker. You amaze yourself at just how much punishment you’re able to withstand, and it’s all self-inflicted. I’ve never quite wrapped my mind around it. 

I was so happy to see the finish line, crossing at just under 11 hours. Headed straight to the pizza and water, then sat in the shade. 45 minutes or so later, my dad came through. He had removed his number because he felt bad for not running the whole thing. If you had seen the terrain he covered, 26 miles worth, you would know it was no small feat. Just avoiding an injury was a miracle itself. Great job dad!

Results haven’t been posted yet. I was 75th, and only about 10 more runners made it in after me. I’m guessing almost half the racers either dropped out at some point or didn’t make the 6:00 pm cutoff at Hidden Peak. I’ll post the final results later when they are released. 

Hung around long enough to win a prize, a new hydration fuel belt with two 22 oz. bottles and 3 zippered pouches, as opposed to the two 10 oz. bottles I was running with today. No more going thirsty on my longer runs. It’s a $50 product that I really needed, so I was excited. I’ll keep my other one for shorter runs. 

The half mile uphill walk to the car only added insult to injury. Both of us could barely move after getting home. Then it was time to face the music. Shoes came off, and filthy socks were removed. I have serious problems with the same 4 toe nails I always do, in addition to the many blisters underneath. My dad, on the other hand, appears to have big problems with 9 out of 10 toe nails. His big toes look particularly bad. He had more blisters than me too. I opted not to take any photos this time, but this guy did. Seems bloody toes are unavoidable.

I came across some really good blog posts from other racers:
Greg with the featured toes.
Lindsay, who had to drop out after getting Pulmonary Edema
Rich, who came in 5th
Greg hitting the wall

Surviving bad Subway (Isn't that an oxymoron?)

Don't look at this guy's blister. you'll regret it.
Also, this short article in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Check out or purchase lots more photos from the race here.

Thanks to Karl Meltzer for putting on this fabulous race.

I'll post more links as I come across them.


Lindsay said...

Great Job finishing! That race was so mean, I'm never going to look at those mountains the same way.

Amy P. said...

Great to see the pictures as well as the story. I won't be linking to the toes or blisters though : )
Great Job!

Greg Goodson said...

great report! loved the pics too... it was a cool course, eh?

- Greg (with the toes)

Anonymous said...

I loved your account and pictures. Thanks for the chance to do this. It wouldn't have been fun without you. You are a great son and I was touched by your worry. I only beat you at one thing - I never fell down. Love Dad.

Captain Emus said...

Unbelievable. You guys are awesome. Congratulations on running such a tough race. You should be very proud of yourselves.

Manners said...

Great post. Thanks for helping me re-live some of that (I think). I still can't even watch a Subway commercial. Good Luck with the rest of your races and GREAT JOB @ Speed Goat!.