I got the idea to do this race after seeing a few Edge friends/teammates tackle this last year, and I was mesmerized by the pictures, the views of the mountains were stunning.
I only half knew what I was getting myself into…I remember them coming back and saying, “it was brutal, but beautiful.” Sometimes ignorance is bliss?!
Speedgoat 50k is the crazy brainchild of ultra legend Karl Metzler. The race consists of 11,800’ of total climbing, all above 7600’, with the majority above 9200’. No wonder it’s nicknamed “the hardest 50k in the country.” This race is unique for a plethora of reasons. It’s technical, rocky, rooty, snowy, steep ascents AND descents. They even warn you on the website: “this should not be your first 50k.” [I had tackled Silver Rush 50 Mile in Leadville last year, but this course had even more total climbing over a shorter distance, this was going to be a whole different animal.]
I was racing with Dr. Ryan (my sports chiro and fellow Edge teammate) and his friend Ricky (all Chicago – flatlander - natives).
We got a pre-race email that Wednesday – and if I wasn’t nervous enough yet…the email pushed me over the limits ha ha.
“Please read thru all of this information, it can help your day be fun, or perhaps miserable. Oh, and it will be a hot day, but you can always go lay in the snow patches. This year we have A LOT of snow on the course. All of the snow we will be traversing, climbing up, or buttsliding down is all soft so there is no worry of a “slide for life”. Be aware though, that under the snow surface are sharp, nasty rocks. Anytime a snow section ends, the snow is softer because of the melt cycle. There are creek crossings, your feet WILL get wet.”
Ok…noted (ahhh don’t panic)
We landed in Salt Lake City and people asked what we were in town for, and we said Speedgoat, and then they asked where we were from, we said Chicago, and they laughed…and not like a I’m laughing WITH you laugh, a laughing AT you laugh. We made our way up to Snowbird and picked up our race packets. We walked down to the start line, and looked up…wow that was gonna be us tomorrow! (don’t panic, don’t panic). You know you are in for something epic, when they make you sign a waiver before you can pick up your bib (pretty much signing away your life).
I have to be honest – before even seeing the start, this was the first race I was genuinely concerned about making the cutoffs. I have faith in my climbing ability, but am super conservative on the descents.
We prepped our gear. We had to pack EVERYTHING we would use for nutrition in our packs, there were no drop bags, we had no crews. So you had what you had on you, and what was at the aid stations.
So I packed:
-1.5L bladder filled w/ Skratch, plus 6 extra packets for refills
-12 Becca Bites
-3 Honey Stinger Waffles
-18 caps of Salt Stick
-Emergency Pack (extra Squirrels Nut Butter, Trail Toes, contacts, drops, meds (Advil, Immodium, Gas Ex, Tums, Ginger Chews), blister pack, bathroom pack)
-Extra phone charger
-Good Luck charms (pic of my people, chimney sweeper, 2 lucky cats (thx Andrea, Kerri, Steph)
That night I barely slept. I was nervous. This was going to test me to my limits.
Ryan | Me | Ricky
We took our obligatory pre-race pic and listened to Karl give us all a “pep talk” of sorts. He warned us to follow the blue flags NOT the pink ones, and that if we got lost we were pretty much stupid and SOL (ha!). And we were off! If the start was a sign of how the course was going to be, it was going to be a tough day.
So fitting - the routes are called "Gadzooks" & "Bananas"
The way up to the first aid station Hidden Peak #1 was tough. It was pretty much straight up. We got a little of everything…wider gravel roads, technical single track, rocky downhills, and SNOW! We hit our first big patch of snow on a descent and I remembered the pre-race email… “If you are fearful of descending on snow, sit down, then go.” So as we approached, I thought well, I guess I’m going down on my butt…and I went, that was a first!!! It was so fun, and you really picked speed, I had to use my poles as “breaks”.
I'm that 4th "ant" marching up the snow! 📸: Ricky
Shortly thereafter, we got to climb up a huge ledge of snow – more firsts!!! I remembered the advice from Karl…“For the climb up Little Cloud Bowl, we will have a fixed rope. Use it if you are uncomfortable.” But it was actually fun!!! I found that along with my poles, the makeshift steps the runners before me had made were perfect to handle the ascent.
I finally made it up to the first aid station at 9:30am…whew 3 hrs to go 8.9 miles. Hitting the first aid station AND first cut off was a rush of energy. And it was our first time at 11,000’ for the day. The views were beautiful.
Hidden Peak #1 Aid Station
I was going through water like crazy. It was getting hot, and the air was so thin and dry, I was drinking WAY more than I usually do. I was hitting my nutrition as best I could…sometimes you just had to pull off to drink/eat, because it was too hard to move and take anything in.
The next stretch was a lot of descending on difficult, unstable, rocky terrain. I was going down as “fast” as I could but also didn’t want to lose it and blow out an ankle. I hit the next aid station Mineral Basin #1 and had to completely refill my bladder (already!).
Pacific Mine Aid Station
Ricky and I got the halfway point at the Pacific Mine Aid Station and felt good, spirits were still high, and we dunked our hats in some cold stream water (per the suggestion of this cute little girl who was volunteering at the aid station). By this point we had been going down for quite some time…and I felt like the opposite of the saying…in our case it was “what goes down, must go up”. So we knew we had some climbing ahead of us.
The next climb was 5 miles straight up, literally no breaks. We kept plodding along, and I felt like that scene from Ghostbusters where they are climbing up the flight of stairs and Bill Murray’s character says, “Well, when we get to twenty, tell me. I'm gonna throw up.”
We had been climbing along with another 3 runners all from Utah…I had to ask them, “so is this hard even for you? And you are from here?” They were like “ya, this is hard for EVERYone.”
We finally hit a stretch that had some downhills and I said for probably the 50thtime of the day, “That has to be the worst part, I’m sure it gets better from here”. We hit a few more snow butt slides (which were both fun and comedic relief). And a couple creek crossings that we just plowed through (hello like air conditioning for your feet!).
Mineral Basin #2 Aid Station
Then we got to a field and you could see the next aid station Mineral Basin #2. Ricky and I looked at our watches (and had to do some quick runner math – which you all know is only half accurate) and we knew we had to move if we wanted to make the next cutoff. We started “sprinting” to the station, and whew made it. It was now 1:45pm. The volunteers let us know we had an hour and a half to cover 3 miles to get to the next aid station and cutoff. It was 1700’ of climbing with 250’ of decent. Ok 30 minute miles, I can do that. Deep breath and back to the mantra…one foot in front of the other.
I'm that tiny dot you see holding on for dear life! 📸: Ricky
The next stretch, around mile 20, had the steepest climb of the day, and the steepest trail I’ve ever run/hiked/anything. It felt like we were going straight up. I was no longer running, or power hiking, I was mountain climbing. As I started to climb, I realized my poles weren’t helping…they were pushing me further away from the mountain side. So with my poles dangling from my wrists I climbed, leaning into the mountain as best I could. I would glance up every so often to make sure I was still on the blue flag marked course. I looked down and quickly realized 1) how high up I was, and 2) shit…don’t fall from here, you won’t make it. I kept moving upward, finding a place where I could get good footing AND had a rock to grab onto to make forward progress. I’d get in a rhythm and then would just have to stop for a second to catch my breath. I got to a spot that was safe to pull off and took in more nutrition. Finally I had hit the top, our next time at 11,000’, ok THAT has got to be the worst of it…but the payoff was an absolutely gorgeous view!!!
I meandered my way through the trail and thought I could hear the next aid station Tunnel Aid, but much like the rest of the course, just when you think you’ve got it figured out, it throws you a curve ball. I weaved my way around and the “sweeper” who was waiting for people yelled out…”you have to move faster, you are very close, you could try and plead your case when you get to the aid station…” I promised her I was moving as fast as I could, it was a very rocky section and at this point my ankles/feet weren’t cooperating with me.
I hit the tunnel and ran my heart out. It was super cool to run through the tunnel…I felt like a professional running onto a field for the big game. I made it through the tunnel and hit Tunnel Aid at 3:03pm, they called out my bib number and announced I missed the cutoff by 3 minutes. I stopped, completely out of breath, hands on my knees, exhausted.
24 miles, 10,000’ of climbing, and 9 hours on the course, I was pulled.
I couldn’t catch my breath, it sounded like I was having an asthma attack (but I don’t have asthma). They sat me down, took off my vest, started putting cold sponges on me, and asked if I needed the medic, I couldn’t talk so I shook my head “no”.
As I sat there realizing I wouldn’t get the chance to cross the finish I started to cry. One of the volunteers came over to me and kept telling me to be proud of how far I had gone. That people who live here, and train here, don’t finish.
All of the aid station volunteers were incredible. But a huge shout out to everyone at the Tunnel Aid Station. You consoled me, cheered me up, and forced me to eat some candy and cookies ha ha.
Me & Ricky at the Tunnel
My DNF doesn’t define me or my effort throughout the race. I am not my DNF. I am proud of the effort I had out there, and it was THE HARDEST thing I have ever done.
Sadly my first DNF is a hard lesson but a good lesson. You can train hard. Do all the work. Physically & mentally feel “ready”. But you aren’t “owed” or “entitled” a finish.
Like Coach Robyn says, “The only thing you’re entitled to in racing is suffering. It’s what you do with the suffering that defines you.”
Speedgoat. You were beautiful and tough. Breathtaking (literally) and unrelenting. And while the story didn’t end the way I had planned...I did get to…
slide down a snow bank on my butt
hike a climb that scared me to death
bound through ice cold creeks
run thru a badass tunnel through a mountain as my “finish”
ride down the mountain in a gondola
…and got to the finish line in time to cheer Ryan in!
Moral of the story – things aren’t always going to go as planned, but you have to be proud of the journey.
That day I got to experience all the crazy beauty the mountains hold, and for that I have to be grateful.
View of Mt. Baldy - climbed up that beauty!!!