Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mountain Repeats the Key to being a Speedgoat?

Speedgoat 50K 2014

Second in the ultra-series of the U.S. Skyrunning 2014 series is the famed Speedgoat 50K. With 11,000 vertical feet packed into 32ish miles it packs a punch. The best part of Speedgoat are the spectator-lined, mountain top ascents. The free, early morning tram ride for crew and race spectators helps pack those mountain tops.
Calming my pre-race jitters.

Speedgoat plays well into the theme of the Run Steep Get High Mountain Running Team I am on. The race kicked off with a mad dash up 9 miles to the first peak incentivized by a bonus $1000 prize. Sage Canaday led the way and the overall win (see iRunFar's results summary). I instead chose to be the slow and steady goat keeping a comfortable pace up the first climb of the day. I ran most of it using a quickstep shuffle run on the steeper grades. The few short and really steep occasions I slowed to a fast hike.
1st climb of the day to Hidden Peak, mile 9

My quickstep run serves me better than a fast hike for a couple of reasons: 1) its faster than most runners’ in their fast hike mode, and 2) the short shuffling steps keep my breathing rate elevated helping to keep my legs oxygenated. My fast hiking mode on the other hand is typically slower than most fellow runners (I have always been a slow hiker). I can’t seem to keep my breathing elevated which causes a greater burn in my legs as they struggle for oxygen.

So up and over the first ascent we go, Hidden Peak at ~11,000ft, then we bomb down the back side of the ski area into Mineral Basin. I’m running with Mike Wolfe and Lars Kjerengtroen. The trick I found with Speedgoat is keeping an eye out for sudden diversions from the main trail – several of which we almost missed. These diversions were essentially off-trail routes on steep slopes that we bombed down or scrambled goat-like up. This course was designed – it seemed – to specifically try to completely blow out your legs.

Around the course mid-point a short out-n-back allowed me to assess that I was somewhere in the low teens – in good position to move up and into top 10. I felt strong climbing back out from the lowest point in the course (7600 ft) and into a morning that was quickly warming.

I reached the mid-mountain aid station, refueled, and set off for the final 2 mile climb to the second peak, Mt Baldy also just over 11,000 feet in elevation. The grade quickly steepened and I found myself fast hiking. I couldn't catch enough oxygen and my legs burned. We top out on a ridge just before the final off-trail diversion up. And up it went at about a 40% grade for over a 1/3 of a mile all the way to Baldy Peak.

My legs screamed! I paused every couple hundred feet up. I did not train for this I quickly realized. Would I make it to the top? If I did could I get myself back up the final ascent? Looking down I saw three runners I had passed earlier in the climb quickly gaining. My motivation to keep climbing simply was to stay in the top 10.

Mountain Repeats. Chatting with Sage Canaday, winner and course record holder, after the race, I inquired how to best train for a race like this. I half-joked that hill repeats should be replaced by mountain repeats. Of course that’s what Sage does. In Boulder, Colorado where he lives he explains he does mountain repeats uses a steep ‘V’ shaped valley to go up one-side, bomb back down, and then go up the next side, repeatedly.

So, I reach Mt. Baldy, dizzy, stumbling, and exhausted. I take a short glance around and thread the trail ridge down to the road and into the Tunnel Aid Station. I estimate that I lost 25min off my pace struggling up Mt. Baldy. My Dad hands me a CarboPro filled bottle, I stuff down some watermelon, and a ½ banana, and then shoot through the tunnel and quickly drop over a 1000 feet. Then the third and final ascent back to Hidden Peak begins. I feel a little better but still struggle.
The 3rd climb, back to Hidden Peak, feeling the thin air and heat.

I come into the final aid station hot and tired. The aid station volunteers throughout the race and especially at Hidden Peak were amazing. I felt like a race car driver pulling in for a full service pit stop. Every need and desire anticipated and efficiently provided.

The Final Descent. I love bombing down mountain descents. Thankful that my training left me with strong legs I was able to remain agile and absorbent along the steep and technical descent. The descent threaded up and down slopes off-trail, on-trail, across streams, and a few ski slope service roads. I raced down to try to finish under 6 hours without realizing until too late that the race had an extra 1.5 miles beyond 31 miles.
Karl Meltzer, the race director, at the finish.

7th Place Overall. I finished to a high-5 from race director and Hoka ultra-runner Karl Meltzer. Moments after finishing I began feeling nauseous and my leg muscles started to spasm and cramp. Brushing my face I felt the deep gritty layers of salt and realized I was not only severely dehydrated but lacking salt. Karl kindly and quickly found me 4 salt tablets which I washed down with cold water and began to recover.

Spectating Buddies. Reconnecting with my Dad at the finish I discovered a tight-knit community formed up on the mountain top during the long hours of spectating among the cheering friends and family. My Dad made buddies with Sage’s parents and a number of others. This is what makes ultra-running great – the comradery of not just the athletes but the support and cheering received from fellow competitor’s friends and family.

Lessons Learned. Overall, I felt I ran a smart race especially with such a deep and talented field. My nutrition plan worked well and kept me evenly energized throughout thanks to support from CarboPro, Honey Stinger chews, and the abundance of watermelon and bananas at the aid stations.

However, I underestimated the warmth and intensity of the high altitude sun mixed with the dry air to stay better hydrated and take in sufficient salt.

And my training preparation will next time incorporate mountain repeats instead of hill repeats! Anyone in Tucson want to join me for a Mt. Wrightson Multiple Ascent Massacre?


  1. #1. Awesome job!
    #2. Great report!
    #3. I'm down for some Wrightson repeats

  2. Great race report man! Mountain repeats are definitely the way to go for any race that gains over 300ft/ mile :)