Now that it’s been a couple of weeks since the race and I’ve fully recovered, I thought I would share in a long-winded post a recap of my first 50-Miler:
Going into it, the two goals I wanted to achieve were (1) Finish the race within the cut-off time of 12 hours and 30 minutes, (2) Finish under 10 hours. Since I have never run this far before, I thought finishing would be quite the accomplishment, so I set that as my primary goal. After my two training runs on the island, I was able to determine a reasonable pace time which would put me into the finish at around the 10 hours mark, so I made that my stretch goal. So, obviously, I wasn’t trying to break any course records and go as fast as I could — I was more focused on survival!
The night before the race I packed up everything I ever thought I might need. In typical fashion I over-packed both my hydration vest that I wore the whole trip as well as my two drop bags. I tried to cover every contingency I could imagine (what if the aid stations really didn’t have sunscreen; what if I eat way more than I have scheduled; what if I want to change socks more frequently), but after the race I quickly came to the realization that I should have only carried a couple of chew bars, a bladder of water half-full, and a change of shirts and socks, mostly because the aid stations were so exceptionally prepared!
The start time was at 6:00am on the island which was about an hour drive from my house. I woke up at about 3:30am so that I could eat a light breakfast, get my first coat of sunscreen on, and pack everything up. I made it to the start line about 45 minutes early right around the time the first 100 Miler participants crossed the finishing line (in about 17 hours and 30 minutes). Needless to say, that gave me a shot of inspiration seeing them!
At the start, the weather was cool, so I was wearing a lightweight long-sleeved shirt, shorts, high socks, hat, and headlamp. The weather forecast showed that it was going to be heating up well into the 70s, so I had a couple of t-shirts and ankle socks in my drops bags at the 19 mile mark and the 28/38 mile mark (it was an aid station on an out and back). All the runners lined up — I estimated about 100 of them — and the race director (who was quite the hoot, by the way), drew a line in the sand and counted down the seconds until the start. 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – and we’re off!
You can see from the elevation profile that the first 8 miles had most of the climbing for the whole race. I intentionally took it slow — which was hard to do when you have fresh legs and have all the excitement of the start of the race coursing through your body. In hindsight, I attribute the “success” I had with the race mostly on this strategy. Looking at my Strava, you can tell that some of my slowest running miles within the first 2/3rds of the race came during those first few miles (note: anything over a 15 min/mile was a stop at an aid station). The sunrise was slated for around 7:30am, so I had a goal of at least completing the out-and-back to Elephant Head (mile marker 9 // 1 hr 33 min) — an elevated look-out point to the west-side of the Great Salt Lake — by then. Sure enough, I hit that goal, but it was still too dark to get rid of my headlamp as we made our way for a brief downhill section into a second climb marked by switchbacks. Again, being conservative and saving my legs, I decided on a run-a-switchback-walk-a-switchback strategy for the quick 700 feet ascent. After that, it was smooth sailing for the rest of the Split Rock Bay loop (mile marker 14 // 2 hr 25 min) and I began heading back to the start/finish line (mile marker 19 // 3 hr 11 min).
I had a drop bag at the start/finish line where I changed out of my high socks, switched to a short sleeve shirt, ate half a cliff bar, and dropped off my headlamp before heading out to do the trails on the east-side of the island. I was surprised how well my legs were feeling (from my training runs, fatigue started to creep in at around this point) and I was motivated for the next short section (up to mile marker 21.5 // 3 hr 41 min) as I had my family waiting for me there! Much to my surprise, it was quite the welcoming crew from my wife, baby daughter, and parents-in-law who brought some really creative signs and cheered me on as I came into the aid station. I spent a good 10 minutes there chatting with them about the race thus far and how relieved I was to make it through the elevation feeling relatively good. The conditions of the trail was exceptional — a little sandy at points, but otherwise very compact dirt — and the cool weather was holding up well up until that point due to the cloud cover. I was pretty confident I was going to be able to achieve my primary goal of finishing and my pace thus far was spot on for a sub-10 hour finish, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up because I figured anything could happen with such a long race. I bid my farewells and gave them a prospective time of when I would arrive at the next major aid station (mile marker 33) where I could see them.
From my training runs, I knew that the next stretch would be a grind: a 20 mile out-and-back on flat terrain hugging the east coast of the island. What makes it hard is that you can see for miles and miles, so it’s difficult to be encouraged by your progress as it might take you hours to reach a point behind a nubby peninsula that you spotted a while back. Additionally, this is the part where my legs started to get a little tired and, because the terrain wasn’t too varying, I wasn’t as distracted by the scenery so I started focusing on how tired I was getting. I had a drop bag at the Lower Fray section of the out-and-back (mile marker 27.5 // 4 hr 54 min) where I spent a few minutes to rest and refocus myself. I ate a quesadilla triangle with some bacon and drank some Coke and was feeling better about myself. Knowing that I was 5 miles away from seeing my family helped out a lot too. The temperatures were starting to climb and a little bit of a headwind started to creep in, but I powered through and made it to the Ranch House (mile marker 33 // 5 hr 59 min), somehow below my best-case-scenario time of 6 hours. Again, I spent a fair amount of time at the aid station visiting with family and three of my friends (one of which was volunteering at the station) and resting my legs. Typically, I don’t like sitting down during these long runs, but I was feeling close to my “race nadir” at that point and decided that a little break off my legs certainly couldn’t hurt anything. At this point in time I was 100% certain I would finish below cut-off (I could just walk the rest of the way and make it) and, after doing some mental calculations, knew that the 10 hour mark was well within my ability. This was a strong motivating fact for the remainder of the race.
Again, bidding my family and friends adieu, I told them I’d see them at the finish line — hopefully sometime around 3:30pm to 4:00pm. I collected myself and headed off. Within a few hundred yards of leaving I past a runner who was running the 100 Mile race in full fireman regalia (long yellow pants/shirt, hard hat, and oxygen tank). I learned that he was raising funds to help pay for one of his friend’s cancer treatment — a truly remarkable act of friendship. This served as a secondary motivating thought, knowing that if this guy had the strength in him to run 100 miles dressed like that, at the very least I can do half the distance outfitted in the latest-and-greatest gear.
Between the Ranch House and the end of the long out-and-back (mile marker 44 // 8 hr 25 min), a lot of it was a blur. My running was strong as I would consistently pass people along the way, but I spent relatively long periods of time at the aid stations, allowing those same people to catch up. We yo-yoed like this for a while up until we started the homestretch for the finish line. Again, my legs were in surprisingly good shape (although they got a little killed on the final hill at the 45 mile mark!) and could pretty much consistently “run” the last 5 miles. I reached the final aid station (mile mark 46 // 8 hr 52 min) in good time and I knew I was going to break 10 hours — I just didn’t know by how much.
This last stretch was a bit rocky, so I had to be careful not to land wrong on my foot or stub my toes. I took it more slowly than what I was probably able to as I didn’t want to jeopardize my 10 hour finish. After rounding the northwest corner on the Lakeside Trail, I could see the finish line. It was only here when I began to let my mind wonder and to start thinking about how I was actually going to finish. Like a race of any distance, the last section is always the hardest as you begin to come to grips how exhausted you are and you get a little antsy to finish. This race was no exception. Arguably, the hardest mile was the last one for me as I had the finish in my sights but knew it was still sometime away — I just couldn’t move so I walked probably a third of it. As I rounded the final corner, I gathered myself and pushed it as hard as I could to end on a high note. I caught my family and friends a little bit off-guard (I don’t think they were expecting me so soon!) and I kind-of lost it once I saw my wife and baby there right before the finish line. Crossing the line and hearing how I finished at 9 hours 40 minutes — an exceptionally long amount of time to be exercising — really made me realize how crazy this day was and how proud I was of my performance!
As a whole, I felt pretty good afterwards. I knew I was going to lose a couple of toenails and got a few inconvenient blisters, but as a whole I felt about as good as when I ran my 55km race in Iceland. This race was a bellwether for me to see if I wanted to continue to run 50 Mile races and whether or not I could see myself doing a 100 Miler. As a whole, I am optimistic! I think I will do another 50 Miler in the Fall and, depending on how that goes, sign up for a 100 Miler next year.
I can’t say enough about how well this race was managed and the kindness of all the volunteers who took a large chunk of their time out of the weekend to help — in any way possible — a bunch of people like myself complete in a crazy race. For anyone on the fence about running ultras, I would definitely recommend this race as there are a few distance options (25km, 50km, 50 Mile, 100 Mile) and terrain is very conducive to a good finish.
Here’s to hoping to hit the trails soon!