Consider the facts. The course ascends a total of 11,500 feet, which averages out to 740 ascending/descending feet per mile; there is a total of perhaps two miles of what one might describe as 'flat' running; the running occurs between the elevations of 8,000 feet and 11,000 feet; and finally the underfoot is a mix of skinny game trail, buff trail, off trail, talus trail, dirt service road, snowfield, and jeep trail that ranges from rocky, to washed out, to creek bed. Some have described the course as a little contrived given the obvious emphasis on vertical gain, but seriously, if you want a Hardrock'esque experience in a smaller package then there really is no better option.
This was my second go at Speedgoat after a less-than-stellar performance last year. As last year, Karl was offering $500 for the win, but this year he'd upped the odds by offering an additional $500 for a new course record. Given that I'd run within five minutes of the course record last year on a sub-par day, I figured that if I won I'd likely go under Kevin's 2010 time. So the stage was set for an awesome long weekend away with the family in beautiful Cottonwood Canyon, with the added bonus of possibly paying the August mortgage if I could run well.
From the off, it was Scott Jaime, myself, Joe Grant, Ben Lewis (husband of speedy Beth Lewis), and A.N. Other forming the lead pack on the 500 foot ascent/descent warm up. Almost immediately I felt like I was in for a long day. My breathing was labored, my legs felt heavy and the pace felt slower than last year when Luke Nelson was charging the early ups and Nico Mermoud the early downs.
And then we ground up to Hidden Peak. I was content to drop in behind Scott as I searched for rhythm, and while I never felt particularly good on the Hidden Peak climb, I was at least happy that my breathing had settled in. Joe and Ben were still in close proximity behind as we hit our first snow patches before the major snowfield in Little Cloud Bowl. Humping up a snowfield with Joe in close proximity brought back very familiar memories from just three weeks prior.
Little Cloud snowfield. Ants marching up to the right. All pics: Steve Pero.
At the summit aid, we were still grouped together as a foursome, but it was Joe who took the initiative on the descent to the saddle between Hidden Peak and Baldy. After running some pretty gnarly terrain with Joe last weekend, I was well aware of his levitation powers on technical descents. Indeed, the nastier it gets the higher he levitates, and there was some pretty nasty - although short-lived - stuff off the two summits. I was content to let Joe go, confident that I'd get him back on the climbs where his levitation skills are not quite as powerful.
A line of sight down Little Cottonwood Canyon to the Salt Lake Valley from Hidden Peak.
Down the washed-out jeep road to the ski-lift at 'Larry's Hole,' Joe continued to build his lead which was in the vicinity of two minutes by the time we hit the aid station. And then the mountain wanderer led us up the garden path and we all followed blindly.
A few hundred meters out of the aid station there was a two way split with markings in both directions. Unfortunately there was nobody in attendance to direct us on the right path. Even more unfortunately, none of us saw the flagging for the correct left-hand turn. So up we went in the direction of the Peruvian Tunnel. Twenty minutes and 500 feet of ascent/descent later, after having been shouted back down, we made the correct turn and went about the business of chasing down the runners that had passed by us as we were off previewing future running. All thoughts of a course record were now gone.
We caught a couple of runners on the way up to the ridge above Mineral Basin and then on the creek-bed descent down to Pacific Mine we caught a few more. All the while Joe was in sight a few meters ahead - both of us seemingly content to cruise the descent rather than push to make up time. On the little uphill blip before the gently rolling mile out and back to the Pacific Mine aid I caught and went by Joe and a couple of other runners. The question now was how many were still ahead and by how much? I figured Nick Pedatella would have the lead, so waited patiently for the man in the green shirt to appear on his way back from the aid station.
Nick ran by a good while into the out and back, followed a minute or two later by a couple of other guys, so I figured the win was still possible with half the course and a ton of climbing left to cover. At the aid Roch Horton filled us in on the news from Karl: a grand to the winner regardless of time. Karl's stand-up decision to assume responsibility for the lack of a course marshal or signage at the earlier junction put some serious pep back in my legs.
And we were off to the races.
Joe and Ben were no more than a minute behind me, with Scott maybe a further two minutes back on them. I figured Nick had a five to six minute lead, but also imagined that the news of the doubled purse had mainlined a similar shot of adrenaline into his stride.
The hot, slow grind back up to the Mineral Basin ridge was as torturous as I remembered it from last year. I knew I was putting some time on Joe and Ben, but the longer view points and shoulder checks revealed that it wasn't a lot of time. I really didn't want this one to come down to a downhill race over the last five miles from Hidden Peak so I continued to push on the slow-motion climb up the rocky jeep road.
Back up to the ridge and it seemed like I had put a bit more time on the guys, but to my surprise Nick had apparently grown his lead to eight or nine minutes, according to a couple of estimates from people on course and the aid station volunteers at Larry's Hole.
And then the climb up to Peruvian Tunnel. This was one of the major re-routes, and the one that we had erroneously previewed earlier. Nick was in sight a few hundred feet above on the exceptionally steep hillside. There was no way to tell what it equaled in minutes. As I gained the trail leading up to the tunnel, he was again out of sight. Joe was still in pursuit behind - maybe four minutes back. Up to the tunnel and Nick was still a reported eight minutes ahead. Really? Wow. Clearly he had a thousand-dollar spark in those legs. I had the Peruvian Ridge left to make it back or it was time to throw in the towel.
The Peruvian Ridge, for me, is easily the most scenic part of the Speedgoat course. The knife-edge ridge offers an amazing and unobscured view of the Hidden Peak summit almost 1,000 feet above. However, with 10k of vert already in the legs, the beauty of the surroundings was somewhat lost and quite honestly the sight of the peak so far off in the distance was more than a little demoralizing. But there was the silhouette of Nick on the ridge. That looked more like a four-minute lead than an eight-minute one. Shoulder check. And there's Joe. Fuel.
I could see Nick on the traverse to Little Cloud and from the way he was moving I could tell that he was a hurting unit. I knew then that I was going to win the race. I finally passed him at the top of the glissade, where I jumped on my ass and slid and then ran and then shoe skied and then slid again. I took a peek back up Little Cloud when I was firmly on dirt and could see that I'd already put a good chunk of time on Nick. The rest of the trip down was a steady cruise with frequent shoulder checks to make sure the lead was still secure. Karl thrust ten C-Notes into my palm as I crossed the line and just two minutes later Nick crossed with Joe ten seconds behind him.
Despite the slow-motion nature of the race, it was actually quite exciting with someone to chase in front and a constant push from behind. Sitting here now, it seems like it was a lot of fun, but really it was a big old grind fest. The harder the work though, the sweeter the reward.
Thanks to the Speedgoat crew for an awesome day at the races, and congrats to all finishers. This one is no gimme.