The day before the race, Nick Pedatella and I drove the seven hours to Snowbird where I enjoyed a good night's sleep at the resort's Cliff Lodge after a long soak in the jacuzzi. What a treat. On the way out to the race early Saturday morning we bumped into Becky Wheeler who was back racing after her strong sixth-place run at Western States. The three of us made the short drive from the lodge to the race staging area where we got to hang out a bit with our running peers. Nicolas Mermoud introduced himself, and I learned a bit about the 'outside-the-box' Hoka shoes that he's been a partner in developing, in addition to UTMB for which he sits on the race committee.
Clearly, getting Karl on board in promoting the Hokas has proven a masterstroke. I was amazed at the number of people walking around before and after the race shod in the odd-looking shoes. Meltzer is a one-man marketing machine in the Salt Lake area, it would appear.
After a few words and last-minute race directions from the Speedgoat himself, we were off to a chorus of goaty bleats.
Luke Nelson led the charge up the first climb of the day - one that would eventually take us to the top of Little Baldy by way of Hidden Peak and 4,000'+ of climb. Luke appeared to be a man on a mission and I had to debate whether or not I wanted to be sitting on him at such a strong early pace. Inevitably I decided to hang, regretting all the way my decision to run Longs Peak and a 5k race the Tuesday and Wednesday before. Dumb.
After a short downslope, where Nicolas came charging through to briefly take the lead, I jumped out in front and led the lead runners in a strung-out train through sections of service road, dirt singletrack, and cross country, before we were up above the trees on a section that would probably best be described as talus singletrack. This section had Hardrock written all over it: steep, loose and rocky. Ultimately, we popped back out on a rocky jeep track for the final push up Hidden Peak, by which point I had just Luke and Kevin Shilling for company.
On the last grunter to the summit aid station (11,000'), Luke came charging by me as if the finish line were at the summit. Not quite sure what to make of Luke's sprint, I let him go and continued my plod to the top where I got a refill on water before making my way out to Little Baldy.
Vid: Matt Hart
I was soon back on Luke who explained that he'd thought there was a $100 prem for the first one to the summit - no such luck. He let me through and I resumed my position at the front of the race before we tagged the top of Baldy and screamed down the back side. There was a section here that was deemed steep and loose enough to need ropes, which I briefly made use of. Fun stuff.
I was soon up on the ridge and heading back down the other side through more cross country to another service road, which would lead us on a screaming 2,500' descent to the turnaround aid station. About half way down, there was a confusing three-way with flagging suggesting a right, but with yellow caution tape stating otherwise. I waited at the three-way a minute or two for Kevin who was confident that we needed to keep heading down, although he seemed a bit perplexed himself. Nonetheless, the flagging soon resumed and we were back at it, running hard all the way down to the turnaroud where we were greeted by Roch Horton and his band of merry volunteers.
As it turned out we had apparently come the wrong way down to the turnaround, although neither Kevin nor I had the remotest idea where we'd gone wrong. After climbing the full 2,500 feet back up to the ridge, we were finally back at the fork where I'd decided to take the high road - as had everyone else who'd gotten there before the marshal - and of course this was the missed turn. As it played out, the two routes to the turnaround - which would have constituted a loop if done correctly - were pretty much a wash in terms of distance, with the out and back we took being just under a half mile longer.
Anyway, by the time we were back to the fork it was just Kevin and I with what seemed like a sizeable gap on the rest of the field. The climb back from the turnaround had definitely been a slog for me and I was beginning to feel like this might not be my day. If there hadn't been $500 up for grabs I might have thrown in the towel but, as it was, Kevin seemed content just to follow my pace so I kept at it, grunting away but expecting the inevitable pass at any minute.
On the second-to-last climb, which took us up to a tunnel connecting the back side and front side of the Snowbird ski area, I was just barely hanging on. It was patently obvious that Kevin had more power than me on the hike grades, and he put 30 seconds to a minute on me by the tunnel. I earned that back on the next 1,000' drop and in fact led us into the brutal final climb up Peruvian Ridge to the top of Hidden Peak.
On any other day, this would have been a glorious run or hike, as the ridge with its steep drop-offs and un-obscured views of the peak is quite stunning. However, with 25 miles and 10,000' of climbing already in the legs, this grinder was a monumental kick in the balls. I knew Kevin would soon tire of my sloth-like pace and once he was past me, I was pretty much powerless as I watched him out-hike me up the unrelenting grade of the ridge.
It's all slow motion when you're race hiking, but Kevin's lead nonetheless grew quickly and by the time I finally circled the peak on a brief section of moderate service road heading to the final summit grunt, he was a good two minutes up on me. Hitting the summit aid station, I knew I still had a chance of getting back into the race, especially with the last three or four miles being downhill, but I also knew it was going to be a tall order chasing down a dude with the smell of five bills wafting under his nose.
Half way down the drop there was a long switchbacked section of service road and I caught sight of Kevin, who appeared to be at least three minutes up on me. I knew then that the game was up. I ended up running two hours slower than the last time I ran a 50k in the Salt Lake area, which is testimony to how ridiculous this race is.
The post-race was fun, with pizza and PBRs all around. I won a pair of Hokas for coming second, so I'll get a chance to see what it feels like to run on stilts. I'm curious.
While - I think - I had a great time romping around the Snowbird trails, I was certainly a little too casual in getting ready for the race. Next time, I'll take this one a little less for granted and hopefully give myself a fighting chance. Hats off to Kevin for hanging tough and basically running me into the ground. My legs may have been tired, but I definitely gave it all I had on that particular day. It just wasn't enough.
Two more races left this year: Pikes and Wasatch. To be honest, I'm pretty burned out on all the racing, but I'll still see it through. My competitive drive will get me to Pikes ready to race, but maybe not as prepared as I would like, and then Wasatch will just be about having fun and hopefully not suffering too much.
There's a breaking point with racing too much, and I'm pretty sure I'm close to mine, so I'm looking forward to resting up through October and November and getting the batteries recharged for 2011, which will involve way fewer races and hopefully a stab at a long-standing ultra record.