Thursday, July 17, 2014

Skyline Mountain 50 - Race Report

By Matt W


Some people generally consider signing up for a 100 mile race to be a little crazy. What they probably don't fully realize is all of the other crazy things that you have to do to prepare for it. The signing up is the easy part. 

For me, one such decision was made when I hit the 'submit' button to tackle a first year 50 mile race in the middle of July - it was sure to be complete with brutal climbs and scorching heat....which all sounded good in March as I sat behind my computer screen watching the snow fall outside my window. 

As the race date got closer and the temps started to be consistently in higher upper 90's, even I began to question my own sanity. Even still, I was excited to hit the trails - some familiar and others, brand new.

Race morning came early, I found myself stumbling into my car at 3:15am in order make the drive to the finish line in Eden, where we would then be shuttled to the start line for the 5am start. The temperature already read 74 degrees - yes, it was going to be hot. Treating today as a training run, I thought I would try going full liquids for the duration of the race, including breakfast - so as I made the 45 minute drive I nursed my bottle of tailwind, which would give me a couple hundred calories to start the day.

74 degrees at 3:15am

Once on the shuttle to the start, I noticed that Zac was nowhere to be found. My text messages went unanswered. I figured he must be driving and would show up any minute. No sign of Zac, however, when the countdown began. 

Runners checking in at the start line under a bright moon

We started - as any good ultra will - with a very casual 3-2-1 countdown, and we were off into the night, a herd of 50 or so runners plodding down the hundred yards of pavement until we funneled onto the single track trail. I settled in mid pack and just took it nice and easy for the first couple of miles. No need to jockey for position at this point in the race. 

After a couple of miles the trail momentarily flattened, so I ran ahead of the group I had been with and then began a steep climb up the mountain. I was happy to see that I was hiking well within my limits and was passing people. All the vert this year is paying off - I usually get passed on the steep uphills. From there the trail turned into overgrown cat tracks through some beautiful pine and aspen forest. A couple of guys passed here and I let them go - it's early.


As we finally gained the ridge we were welcomed by a beautiful sunrise looking over powder mountain resort. My phone beeped with a text from Zac "Shoulda called...I was passed out!!!" I replied with by snapping a picture of the sunrise and sending it back.

Beautiful sunrise over Powder Mountain

A quick downhill brought us to the first aid station, which I ran through - we were only 3.5 miles in and I certainly didn't need anything yet. It was fun to see friends there. More beautiful ridge climbing gave us a spectacular view of nearly the entire course, and took us up to the end of our first climb - James Peak. It was a short, steep climb to the top, with prayer flags and an amazing view to greet us.

Final push of the first climb - James Peak

Coming off the ridge there was no trail. I loved it, carefully picking my way down the ridge and just trying to stay upright. We then met up with a very steep service road, that every part of me wanted to bomb down. However, I could tell that this downhill was very long and we were only 5 or 6 miles in - too easy to wreck your quads on that! I settled in with a (new) friend Tyler and we spent the next several miles chatting away as we worked our way down the mountainside. I also got a call from Zac, who said he was on his way to Avon road, that he would just meet up with the course there and at least get a good run in for the day.

Heading down from James Peak - the course lies ahead. Willard and Ben Lomond dead ahead.

Still heading down - now on a trail

In no time we were on Avon road then at the Altra Aid station, about 10 miles in. It was already starting to feel warm, but a quick refill on water and ice and we were off. Zac decided to join in with me rather than chase the front runners - a decision he probably regrets. :)

Coming in to aid two on Avon road

The three of us hung together for the next several miles, which included another quick aid stop a mere 3 miles later. I was happy to see I had finished a whole bottle in that section - might as well get started early. The aid guys were great "lets us know what you need, if you don't see something you want...well, we probably don't have it!"

Tyler heading up the dirt road...and there's my finger

Less than a mile out of the third aid we were running some soft, smooth double track, where of course I caught a toe and went down. I did my usual barrel roll, but felt a pop in my back. Oh no! I yelled out, I probably startled the guys...they asked if I was Ok. Yes, yes, I was fine, the 'pop' I felt was the lid shooting off my newly filled water (and tailwind) bottle, spilling the entirety of its contents onto his the trail! On a day like today water was something you didn't want to be out of! Luckily it was still early, and we were in some shade. Zac was also kind enough to share his bottle for that stretch.

Zac doin' work as we near the 20 mile aid stop

After some winding roads through the forest, we were at the 20 mile aid station, nestled in some trees along the road - what a great spot! As I walked to pick up my drop bag, where I had strategically left another handheld bottle, my heart sank. I had labeled my 2 drop bags wrong, so the one for mile 36 was here, and the one for here was waiting there! Fortunately I had stashed a soft bottle 'just in case' and it turned out be the best mistake I made all day. Rather than have to carry another handheld, I would have the soft bottle filled with ice and water, and then would suff that in my front pouch, where it would sit against my chest and help keep me cool. I would then use that to spray my arms, head and face. The bottle in my pack was my nutrition/hydration. I accidentally found my new hot weather setup!

There were a couple of shady spots at first...

The climbing really starts again from this aid - a long 7 miles up a well maintained, very exposed dirt road. It was really starting to get hot. Much of this was somewhat runnable, but in the heat I didn't want to over exert, so Zac was nice enough to humor me as we hiked our way up the mountain. Even though we were on a (dirt) road, the views never disappointed.



We could see across the valley to James peak, where we had come from, with Willard and Ben Lomond looming up ahead. There were a couple of downhill reprieves, which we were able to run, and we passed a few people along this stretch that certainly looked to be hanging in the pain cave (or pain-sauna, maybe).



We crested into the gorgeous Willard basin and enjoyed some faster downhill running. I knew an aid station was coming up, and someone had even mentioned there may be a spring in this area. I was dreaming of jumping in a lake and drinking a slurpee when I started to notice water wetting the road. I immediately began searching for a spring as I ran, thinking it was probably a small dribble from a rock. Once I saw Zac stopped ahead, I knew he was there. It was no dribble - it was a 2 in pipe with icy cold water just gushing out. We spent a good 3-4 minutes there, washing our dirty, salty faces, and cooling down our heated bodies. It was heaven...

Most spectacular place of the whole day

Reluctantly leaving, it was only about 100 yards around the corner to the next aid, that was run by a local scout troop. I had a fun time joking with them - I asked them if they were having fun and was met with a resounding 'No!'. Wouldn't expect anything less! I took a minute here to drink a bottle of Coke...errr Sams Choice Cola....and then we headed out.

Climbing up to Willard

We were now back on single track and this is where the course goes from awesome to truly spectacular. The climb was fairly short and not too steep, which gave my stomach enough time to settle all the liquids I had ingested. Then we were curling around the base of Willard peak and were running towards Ben Lomond. Wow. Some of the best ridge running there is, right there.

Running the ridge




We quickly made our way to Ben Lomond, crossing a small snow field (stopping briefly to cool down, of course), and then had a grand ol time running down the rocky switchbacks to the saddle, where another aid was waiting. As it had only been 3 miles, we didn't take too long here, though as we were about to leave I decided to take another minute to fill up on ice - they've got it- I might as well take some! They were real troopers, baking in the sun with none of the the cover that many of the other aid stops enjoyed.



I love the run down from Ben Lomond. Some great single track and we made decent time getting to the aid station at the North Ogden divide, about mile 38. The last couple of miles had been very hot and exposed, so it was great to see a lot of friendly, familiar faces AND they had POPSICLES! The HUMRs know what's up. I grabbed some more tailwind from my dropbag and again drank a bunch of coke and ginger ale...probably a little too much this time, but it tasted so good! Another Popsicle for the road and we were off to tackle the last big climb of the day.

Beginning the last climb

It was a doosy! Nice and shady for the first little bit, and then it throws you up on a super exposed ridge, right in the hottest part of the day. Zac was feeling good and pushed to the top. When I showed up a minute later I just kept moving as I could now see the next aid station. My stomach was still feeling very full from the last aid, but I figured I should at least try and drink some tailwind. I took a small sip. Nope! The second that hit my stomach it turned over. Luckily the coke was still cold, and really didn't taste too bad the second time around. Like any good friend would, Zac took pictures and video while I watered the trail.

Moving up the sunny ridge.


Instantly feeling better, we ran down to the next aid. I wanted to fix my shoes, it felt like I had a rock in the the back rubbing on my heel. I took my shoe off and didn't find a rock, but rather a pretty healthy blister, something I rarely have issues with. A little too much play in the heel of the Olympus, I guess, a shoe I don't wear too often. Said an 'oh well', cinched them back up started another long, 7 mile descent towards the last aid station.

Top of the last climb - Photo by Zac

I was having a hard time getting into a rhythm. My foot was certainly slowing me down, and the heat, I'm sure played it's role. Finally after a little shady running, and being able to down some more tailwind, we were back in the groove. With about three miles to go to the aid, it began to get really hot as we descended further. Zac was now out of water and ran ahead to get to the aid a few minutes earlier than me. I liked that this section had mile markers - it gave you something to look forward to.

Meeting up with Aaron - We're a couple of dorks :)

With a little more than a mile to the aid station, I was happily surprised to see my older brother running up to meet me. I caught up on his race earlier that day, and it was good to see a familiar face. As I ran quickly into the aid station, I was greeted by my wife, brother and sister in law with Zacs wife (and all the kids) in tow. My 6 year old was super psyched to show me a huge stick (ie branch) he had found. 

Dad! Check out this stick I found!

Dr Mark was running this aid, and I could have stayed there all day! They gave us the royal treatment, rubbing ice all over my face neck and legs, helping to get my core temp down. Canice Hart, who had been at the divide aid, had gone and bought Popsicles just for me, after seeing my reaction to them at the other aid. So awesome.

Zac getting treated right by Dr Mark at the Windsurfer Beach aid station

As much as I hate to see any Popsicles left uneaten, I knew it was time to go and finish this up. 3 miles to go would make course nearly 52 miles, but at this point in the race, you don't really worry about that - you just go until you get to the finish.




These last miles took us along the banks of the Pineview reservoir, on some decent single track that took us through some lush growth. I struggled through here to keep a good pace, but once we hit the paved path and the homestretch, it was all systems go.



And...done

I was tired, I was hot, I was sweaty, but I really felt great. My time was 13:15, a little longer than I had planned on, but given the circumstances and how good I felt, I got just what I wanted - an excellent training day and a fantastic time in the the mountains with some good friends. After running this I feel much more confident in my strategy for running in the heat at Wasatch (and elsewhere for that matter!). 

This will be a race I run again. While it is close to Speedgoat, I think it's a great alternative if you didn't get registered in time, want the extra distance, or really want to up the ante by doing both. It is an amazing course well worth doing, especially if you're gearing up for a fall 100.


Hanging out at the finish - thanks to this guy for kicking with me for most of the day


I'm not really one for medals - but this is one of the coolest I've seen - includes course map and elevation profile!
What's next? Well, Wasatch. Between now and then - a lot more running in the mountains, climbing high and running fast. 

5 comments:

Jen said...

You have a way of making 13 hours of running in the mountainous heat (pain sauna!) and occasionally vomiting sound as pleasant as a springtime stroll, and just as fun. This was smart to use it as Wasatch heat training...hope for the best (cool and overcast) but expect the worst (like last year). Great write-up, and the photos are lovely.

JEC said...

Great write-up and photos. I never have any photos running because I never have my phone. Glad you captured so much of the race.

Emir said...

Great post. Your number one problem was not going shirtless like Mr Zac. :)

marion family said...

It was my pleasure Matt... couldn't have run with better company if I looked around all day.

Williams Family said...

Proud of you, son! It was fun reading this from the middle of Siberia, which is an amazingly beautiful place. Can't wait for you and Aaron to come and pioneer the first Siberian 1,000 super-ultra ..., uhh, relay.... ;) Love, Dad