Where: Park City, Utah
When: October 4, 2014
Distance: 50 Miles
Elevation Gain: Unknown, my watch had 9-10k ft, I heard others had more. The course guide says over 13k.
Course: Mostly single track with some dirt roads and some scree/rocky areas. Beautiful scenery.
Garmin Data: http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/606508005
Play by Play.
The North Face Endurance Challenge Series was new to Park City, Utah, so I really had no idea what to expect for its premiere. I knew it would be tougher than my first 50 miler (Mt. Hood in Oregon) but other than that, I was ready to just roll with the punches.
We rolled into town in the early afternoon on Friday. Almost immediately we headed over to the Park City Resort for packet pickup. It was convenient that packet pickup was in both Park City and Salt Lake City so us out of towners didn’t have to go all the way into Salt Lake City and vice versa for those that live in Salt Lake City. Packet pickup was easy breezy, and I was pumped that we got a pair of Swiftwick socks. All of the start/finish area tents were ready to go, so it was both fun and anxiety-inducing to walk around and get my bearings for the next day.
Back at the hotel, I spent an obscene amount of time going through my approximately 164 outfit combinations for race day, packing my pack and my handheld, and getting my goodie bags ready to go. I really wanted to go to the pre-race panel with Tim Olson and Rory Bosio the night before the race, but I just wasn’t up to going into Salt Lake City. The panel started at 6:30pm and factoring in drive time and my 3:30am wake-up call for the 5:00am start time on Saturday morning, I just wasn’t feeling up to it. I wish they would have had it in Park City, but I get that logistics probably didn’t allow for that. You can’t please everyone!
I was pleasantly surprised that I woke up fairly easily when the alarm went off on Saturday morning. Most times when my alarm goes off on race morning, I spend the first 5 minutes wondering why I sign up for things that make me get up at ungodly hours. I’m not a morning person. Everything went smoothly getting ready, and we were out the door around 4:00am to get to the start line. The best part of ultras are that you can roll in around 10 minutes before the start and still have plenty of time to drop a bag and use the porta potty. I like to be early, though, so I went for about 30 minutes prior to the start. Overachiever.
It was chilly and quite dark (duh) so we all huddled around heatlamps. I gave my jacket to Sam (my crew!) right before the start and opted to wear shorts, compression calf sleeves, a tee-shirt, arm warmers, gloves, and my baseball hat/headlamp. I was wearing much less than most everyone else (it seemed like most people started with jackets). That’s the Minnesotan in me.
Almost every other person I saw also started with a pack. I decided to start with a handheld since the first 13 or so miles are uphill, and I didn’t want the extra weight. I planned to pick up my pack from Sam first time I saw him, around mile 21, and to carry it until I saw him again at mile 45. Then I planned to leave it with him for the last 5 miles and take the handheld again. I think this worked out well. The first few hours were really cool so I wasn’t going through more than a bottle between aid stations, and I’m comfortable eating the food at the aid stations so carrying food wasn’t an issue for me. In my handheld, I carried some emergency Honey Stinger waffles and Nuun tablets, in case nothing at the aid stations was working for me, as well as some salt tablets, band-aids, and toilet paper. It was nice not to have the weight on the uphill sections and for the last five miles when I was flying downhill (does flying exist from miles 45-50?).
As I mentioned, the course is uphill for the first 13 or so miles and gains approximately 3,000 ft, but really, it felt runnable. Maybe it was that it was dark and deceiving or that legs were fresh, but it really didn’t FEEL steep. I fell into a comfortable rhythm and just followed the runners in front of me. As an FYI, the course funnels into single track fairly quickly, so if you want to be at the head of the pack, I’d get up near the front of the start line. Otherwise, you are going to be passing lines of people on single track in the dark. I started maybe 1/3 of the way back from the start line and it worked out well for me. I only passed a few people and only a few people passed me in the first little bit. I average between 12 and 15 minute/miles through this section.
Once we reached the top, the sun had risen and the views were amazing! It was probably the most scenic part of the whole course. We ran along the ridge line for awhile. This was actually difficult for me. There were some steep descents and it was rather rocky footing. I’m a pretty risk averse downhill trail runner, it’s something I need to work on, so I definitely didn’t make up any time in this section. Golly, was it pretty though.
After the initial descent, the trail/road widened out a bit and was less rocky. I was able to pick up the pace for a few miles between miles 15-17.
Now, this is where things start to get a little murky in my head. I know you would assume that I have so much time to think in a race like this, all the details should be pretty clear in my mind, but that’s not how it works out. I don’t know if it’s me or all ultra runners, but portions of really long runs just sort of meld together. Even a day after the race, I can’t remember what sections of the race were like. Every long trail run I do, I feel that the time goes so slow and so fast at the same time. Either way, I know I made some friends between miles 17 and 21, and we rolled into the largest aid station together. I even made the below video around minute 2:30!
This aid station (5 Way) was AWESOME. I mean, all the aid stations were awesome, but I will get into that later. This one, however, was themed Oktoberfest, and they were SO helpful. They had high energy, one guy came up to Sam and I (even as Sam was helping me get my pack on) and asked what he could get me. Another guy practically escorted me to the outhouse. They were so great, and it was SO appreciated. I spent maybe 5 minutes at the aid station, longer than I had wanted to, but it happens. I had to change socks as I was nervous about a hot spot. Also, as an FYI, crew/pacers need to take a chairlift to this aid station. Pretty awesome, but something to consider if anyone is thinking about bringing dogs or small children!
So, then I left mile 21 and some nice, fast downhill miles followed (10-12 min/mile pace) until about mile 25. This is approximately when the uphills started to not be runnable. A lot of hiking ensued from here on for anything that resembled an uphill, but on the flip side, anything that was downhill or flat or even just a little uphill had to be run. It’s a fun mental game. It also kind of feels like you are stuttering. Run a few steps.. walk.. run a few steps.. repeat.
Mile 26-27 had a nasty uphill, and there was an aid station volunteer who was shouting down at us from at least a mile away as we were trudging up this rocky exposed section. It actually did help. He said he’d been there since 5am.. I told him that his job was harder than ours!
Miles 30 to 40 all blur together. All I remember is running with an awesome guy named Jeff, eating lots of skittles, potatoes, CLIF drink, and Coke (I had weird cravings at this point), and counting down the miles to the next aid stations. Oh, we also saw 3 HUGE MOOSE sometime between mile 25-40, so they aren’t lying about wildlife hanging around. It was pretty awesome, but I’m glad they were about 20 yards away from the trail. Those dudes are enormous!
Mile 40, I remember you. This is the start of the last HUGE ascent before the 5 mile downhill finish. There is an aid station at mile 42 and right after that, I took a wrong turn for about 0.2 miles straight up hill. UGHHHHH! Don’t get me wrong, the course is VERY well marked. Like absurdly well, but I was tired and just missed one of the flags. Thankfully, because it was so ridiculously well marked up to the point, I realized I hadn’t seen a flag in like a minute, and that I should turn around. Unfortunately for me, I ran about an extra half a mile and wasted 5 or so minutes. BUTTT… that’s ultra life!
It didn’t really get any better after that, because we just hiked up hill for another 3 miles. Right towards the end, I remember Jeff and I looking up the last hill (MOUNTAIN) of the five mile climb and just laughed out of delirium at the UPNESS in front of us. But, relentless forward progress, one foot in front of the other.
And then, I saw SAM!!! He was probably about ½ mile from the last aid station (which was at mile 45.3). He was supposed to pace me for the last 5 miles (the pacing legs were very odd), but he wasn’t dressed to run with me. He forgot his shoes in the car at the base of the mountain, but it was so nice just to walk with him for awhile. He said he was surprised at how positive I still seemed. We power hiked the last of that hill and made it back into the 5 Way aid station.
The volunteers were just as awesome the second time, trying to force things into my hand, but I basically just threw my pack at Sam, grabbed my handheld and one cup of Coke, and took off to finish off the beast.
The last five miles were AWESOME. They were PERFECTLY runnable downhill. My splits on the last four miles were 10:07, 9:34, 9:33, and 9:09. Now that may not sound fast, but for this girl, in the last 4 miles of a 50 mile race, that is FLYING. I passed more people in this section than I probably did all race.
You could hear the finish line music from at least a mile away. Finally when you start zigzagging down the final gentle slope, you can see the arch in the distance. I kicked it up and finished as strong as I could.
My official time was 11:24:52 (an overall pace of 13:42). This was good enough for 46th out of 125 and 10th female out of 27.
What could I have done better? I probably spent 2-3 minutes at the aid stations (and about 5 at 5 Way the first time). This time adds up, and I’d like to spend less time at aid stations going forward. Also, I think I need to be a bit more aggressive in training, incorporating some tempo trail runs as well as some targeted downhill work. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to throw in a few 50ks or longer back to backs into training.
That being said, I really do feel like I did the best that I could in that moment. I was proud that I went out at an easy pace, that I really didn’t have any low points (which is rare in an ultra!), and for one very short year I will have the 10th fastest female time on the course.
In terms of the race itself, the aid stations rocked. The first few left a little to be desired.. the food and what not was fine, they just did not have very much energy and weren’t as overly helpful as the later aid stations. I don’t blame them, it was early and cold out! Besides, the later aid stations more than made up for it.
The course was also pretty awesome. I’d say it was a difficult course, though. My GPS had between 9,000 and 10,000 ft of gain, although the course guide had over 13,500 ft. I don’t believe that for a second, but I heard some people throwing around 12,000 ft. Regardless of the exact amount.. it was tough. The most I had done leading up to the race was between 6,000 and 7,000 ft so I definitely felt that it was more than that. The views on the course were BEAUTIFUL with all of the aspen trees turning colors. I’d also say that 90% was on nice single track, HUGE plus in my book. A very small portion was on dirt roads or very loose and rocky trail, but most of it was very nice.
The finish festival was a lot of fun. I collapsed on a hill for a good amount of time and took it all in. My biggest gripe of the whole race was that there wasn’t a vegetarian meal option at the end. But, I did get a nice cheesy picture with Dean Karnazes and a little swag bag for finishing second in my age group, so I can’t complain too much.
Overall, I recommend this race if you want a very well organized, challenging, beautiful 50 mile race. Cheers to The North Face on a successful first year in Park City!