In the physical world, everything eventually has an end. And so it is with my motivation and my ability to enjoy participating in an ultra-marathon. It has ended. The 2014 Speedgoat 50K was my final Ultra.
Looking forward, I expect to keep participating in shorter trail and mountain races like the Bridger Ridge Run. But no more ultra-endurance fests that take nearly a full day to finish. They take more and more out of me. After Speedgoat, my legs were still heavy a few weeks later for the Ridge Run.
Ever since I started trail running decades ago, I’ve wanted to do a mountain trail race in the Wasatch Range in Utah. The Wasatch Range is where I spent a huge amount of my life in my formative teen and young adult years. That area will always have a place of love and admiration in my heart. Most of my time spend in the Wasatch was on skis. But a fair amount of summer outings way back then were spent etching the trails and peaks into my memory as I developed my mountaineering skills. A trail race in the Wasatch has been on my bucket list for a long time.
There are other ultra-trail races in the Wasatch, so why Speedgoat? The choice was obvious. 33 Years earlier I had similarly retired from competing in another sport in the exact same location – Snowbird Ski Area. In 1981, the sport was Freestyle skiing. The event was the World championships of the Pro Mogul tour. It seems fitting and more than coincidental to choose to do my last Ultra at the same place as my final ski competition.
The ski bib number pictured is from the 1970s but similar to 1981. In 1981, the number was cloth and with a bigger Budweiser label like that pictured below. In 1981, there were no Red Bull, Monster, Clif, or other various sport drinks and nutrition. There was Budweiser.
Here is some old video from 1983 (I could not find any from 1981) but it captures the essence of that era.
Different Reasons to Compete and to Retire
My relationship to running and skiing especially on the competitive side is very different. Skiing is the only sport I have ever had any smidgen of talent at. Running on the other hand is a sport that I enjoy participating in and challenging myself at, but have never shown any real talent for – especially at the national or world class level.
In skiing, I competed against others. In Running, I competed against my own limitations.
With skiing, I had gone as far as I could. Freestyle skiing is a skill and power sport. Like most freestyle skiers, I had started competing in my early teens working my way up to pro status. At 24 years of age in 1981, I had already peaked in my ability. It became apparent that I was just not going to make it.
By 1981, I had just finished a year of skiing year round have spent the previous summer down in New Zealand. Skiing and competing in New Zealand had gone very well for me and was encouraging. Most likely my success there was because the competition was not as deep as in the States. Once back in the US, my results leading up to the world championships at Snowbird were just not very good. I could not advance very far beyond the opening rounds and get into the prize money. I came to grip with the reality that I was not going to make a living at freestyle skiing. Other life interests beckoned and the need to make a responsible living convinced me it was time to give up the dream of being a pro mogul skier. Not all dreams come true. With some, the healthy thing is to just let them go. It can be a relief.
Thoughts about the Speedgoat 50K
Going in, I knew that the Speedgoat 50K would not be your typical 50K trail race. The race director, Karl Meltzer, takes a sadistic pride in making the course as difficult as possible. So I was expecting some nasty sections, but there were some things that caught me off guard and made for a particularly difficult day for me.
Running around in circles at a ski area is not my first choice of an aesthetic course. But I had steeled myself for the course craziness that usually accompanies trail races staged at ski areas. The courses at ski areas usually wrap around going this way and that just to cover the allotted distance within the confines of the ski area. Like the cross country ski trials at Bohart ranch, they go back and forth and wrap around so much you lose perspective on which way you are going.
Speedgoat suffers from the affliction of being a very contrived course. There are some elegant ridge line sections, but there is also a lot of winding around on the maze of trails and roads that crisscross Snowbird ski area. My preference is for a race course that has an obvious line with little choices. Knowing where to go is better served by common sense then flagging. Speedgoat requires a tremendous amount of effort by the race organizers to mark and flag the course. And they did a darn good job. But I witnessed more than a few tired and unfocused runners going off course by taking a turn where they should of gone straight or continuing straight where a course takes a sudden turn.
Ellie Greenwood reminds me of Judy Garland playing Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz
At Speedgoat, the only person I recognized was Ellie Greenwood. Earlier in the year, I had watched the coverage of the 2014 Comrades Race where she mounted a late surge and won. I recognized her from that and her interviews. At Speedgoat, as I watched Ellie, her mannerisms and looks reminded of Judy Garland playing Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Like Dorothy, Ellie exudes a certain blend of perkiness, friendliness, determination and wonder. As the race started, I found myself following Ellie up the ski area roads and trails. It was not a yellow brick road, more like a road with signature blue Hoka flags and tape. Either way, I was kind of feeling like the tin man stiffly hobbling up the trail after Dorothy.
There were a handful of people from Montana at Speedgoat that I should have recognized. Turns out, I never saw any of them. Mike Wolfe finished in the top five. I did not see him at the start and by the time I got to the finish line, Mike was long gone. Even Ellie disappeared from view after a couple hours as she got to the first aid at the top of Hidden peak and took off down into Mineral Basin. I chose to linger at the aid station and rehydrate.
For the Want of a Second Water Bottle
Carrying a single 24 ounce water bottle has served me well in every race I have ever run up until Speedgoat. Maybe it was the hot, sunny and dry conditions, or maybe it was because this year Karl the race director eliminated the first water stop, but my single bottle was just not enough for Speedgoat. On a warm day, I like to drink at least 24 ounces of water every hour. From previous year’s course descriptions and race reviews, I was expecting a water stop about half way up to the top of the first climb which for me would be about an hour into the race. Perfect. After I polished off my water bottle, I expected to come across a water stop at any moment. It wasn’t until I reached the top of Hidden Peak at around two hours before I could refill and rehydrate.
This put me in a bit of a dehydration deficit and overheating right from the start. I consciously dialed it back and became extra cautious monitoring myself for dehydration and overheating. Speedgoat was also the first race I ever used ice to cool off. At aid stations, I would put ice under my hat and let it melt deliciously cooling my head and back.
From a quick visual survey of the participants at Speedgoat, you would come to the conclusion that Ultra Running is a young person’s sport. All the young super fit runners made me feel a bit old and out of place. One of the aid station volunteers even took notice of my grey beard and wrinkled face and gave me an extra cheer and encouragement as he recognized my rarity as an old grey beard in the roster of Speedgoaters. This sense of not quite belonging anymore in this crowd reinforced my sense that I was doing the right thing by retiring from doing these events!
My Second Lifetime Bonk
Way back about 20 years ago in the mid 1990’s, I experienced my first and last serious Bonk at the Fila Sky Marathon in Aspen Colorado. At the time, it was a very foreign feeling. I lost all my energy, became weak and light headed. I could not sustain a run pace, even when going downhill on a road. Fortunately, it happened near the finish line. I did not have to go very far on empty before I could stop and gorge myself on the finish line goodies. Miraculously, just as fast as my energy level had left me, they bounced back after eating.
A lot of time and miles have passed since that first Bonk in Aspen a couple decades ago. There is no excuse for me to Bonk, as I know how to fuel and stay out of trouble. But Speedgoat humbled me on the final climb back up to Hidden Peak before the long downhill to the finish.
The final big climb at Speedgoat goes up from Peruvian Gulch up along the ridge above the Cirque (for those that ski there). This section found me feeling pretty good and passing a couple people. There was a young guy that I recognized from earlier in the day. At one point he was probably 45 minutes ahead of me. He was now sitting on a rock on the ridge looking spent. As I passed him, I asked him if he was alright and he nodded he was just tired and OK. Feeling pretty smug, I picked up my pace and hurried up towards the top of Hidden Peak and the final aid station. Within minutes, it was like someone flipped a switch and I had no energy. All I could think was the question of what had happened. Did I catch this tiredness from the guy I just passed? Is it punishment for my sense of smugness?
Popping another Clif Blok did not satisfy. The aid station at the top was close and the thought of some easy to stomach Vitargo drink waiting in my drop bag gave me solace. But I had to negotiate the last little climb on a spectator lined road up to the top. As I shuffled up the road, I could hear one of the spectators talking to his girlfriend. He was pointing out a particular rock in the road and telling his girlfriend that nearly everyone trips on that rock. And dammit, even with the forewarning, so did I. There was nothing I could do about it. I knew I needed to, but could just not lift my foot high enough to clear it. Embarrassing.
Upon getting to the aid station, blaring rock music assaulted my fatigued senses and interfered with communicating to the aid station volunteers. I just wanted to grab my drop bag and sit down and so I did. Retrieving my bottle of premixed Vitargo shocked me with disappointment as it had gotten so hot from sitting in the sun for 7 or so hours that it was undrinkable. There were plenty of shade tents setup, I thought to myself, why did they leave all the drop bags out in the sun. Puzzling. Backup plan was to mix some more as I had packed a flask with Vitargo powder. So I did and spent nearly a half hour drinking, resting and refueling before setting off on the final leg.
Vitargo does effectively vanquish a Bonk. The last section to the finish line felt pretty good. Waves of nostalgia came over me as the course wound around the Gad II chair lift and all the old ski runs like Gadzooks I spent so many days skiing down more than three decades ago. Earlier in the day, the Speedgoat course traversed right above the Silver Fox run that was my final Pro Mogul ski run 33 years earlier. As I glanced down the run now overgrown in bushes and greenery, it did not seem so long ago. Time collapsed.