Shortly after Western States, Coach Ian sent me a message which included this question – “in the meantime…any interest in getting a taste of Europe at the Speedgoat??? If so, I will talk to Karl.” Well, of course I’m going to say “yes!” I had heard about Speedgoat 50k over the years but had never found an excuse to go. Or the desire, really. It sounded ridiculously hard, requiring great climbing ability – not features I normally seek in my races. Ian astutely pointed out “We already know that you can run 100 miles…so getting in those tough climbs and really working that aspect will be important. It’s all about working on the weaknesses.” Sigh. And so, one month later I found myself at the start line of what we be the hardest 50k of my life.
Speaking with Nick Clark the day before the race, he assured me that the race “isn’t that hard. Basically you’re either walking uphill or running down.” That didn’t sound so bad, and at the start of the race, the first climb out, I was feeling strong in my legs, conservative in my effort. I could see Denise “Little D” Bourassa in front of me a ways, and I used her as a gauge to stay connected. The climb went up and up and up and I thought – “hmmmm, when is the first climb over?” Each time a break in the climb came it didn’t last long. We ran on single track and gravel road, and then on switch backs on a scree field of huge rock – some of it quite stable, other, not so much. I remained cautious and patient and finally hit the last stretch of gravel road to the top of the first climb, 10 miles in. Holy crap, that was hard! JB Benna was there (that guy is everywhere!) and as he filmed I asked him what place I was in. He thought about 10th or so, which seemed about right.
Downhill now, I kept the brakes off. Wheeeee! Very fun, but each time there was the slightest flattening or up-slump, the air was out of my tires. I fancied myself somewhat acclimated to altitude, but anything about 8000 ft proved to be, uh, challenging. None-the-less, I enjoyed the descent, the views were spectacular, the wildflowers astounding, and the volunteers fantastic. At mile 12 the course entered onto a dry, rocky, narrow riverbed. I kept the brakes off and had a blast, enjoying that I could manage the technicality with pleasure rather than anxiety. I passed several runners, including 3 women. Oh yeah, I was the sh**!
At the end of the wonderful free fall, was a slight uphill one of the only “runnable” sections of the course – an out and back flat section. I counted the women in front of me, but I was so far back from the first couple of women (including Anna Frost) that I could only guess that I was in about 8th or so. Little D met me on my way out, and was surprised that she was ahead of me, shouting “Where have you been? Did you do an extra loop somewhere?” I chuckled as I approached the aid station, and welcomed the cooling wet towels the volunteers put on my neck.
I was still feeling pretty good on this flat section, holding my own, and then we began to ascend again. One by one, every man, woman, and child I had passed on my fun filled downhill, was easing by like I was standing still. But at least the aspen forest we were running through offered great beauty, and I knew that eventually…..eventually….when??? would this uphill end? The climb was indeed long, and I saw some carnage along the way. It was heating up, and my bottles were going dry, when I saw a pipe with water running out. It was cold and wonderful, and I yelled as poured some down my back, but it gave me a needed boost. On and on I hiked, and f i n a l l y I reached another summit.
Keeping track of my time and miles, and looking at previous women’s times, I naively imagined that 6:30 would be a reasonable expectation. By the time I reached 15 miles, I was at 3:20, and well, that seemed close enough, but now at mile 20 in 4:40, it seemed quite a stretch that I could run 12 miles in less than 2 hours. The next downhill was short and sweet, and then it was time to hike up hill one more time. At the aid station before the climb, a volunteer insisted that I top off my bladder, as the climb was indeed long and hot. I took the time, and ran a short section before the climb started. I thought it was pretty steep, but then it got even steeper, rockier, and s l o w e r. I kept my eyes on a woman that had just passed me, and imagined she was actually not pulling ahead, but then another woman caught and passed me quite easily, commenting on my downhill running ability. Yeah, that was sure helping me out now. Steeper and steeper, slower and slower. Three steps, rest, three steps, don’t fall back down the hill, rest. At the top of this wall, real single track on a ridge line took me higher yet. I was barely moving. I could see the top of the final peak off in the distance, trying not to stare at how far away it looked. A nice group of running fans, presumably waiting for friends or family, cheered rather enthusiastically for me. When I said I had been waiting for them all day, they cheered even louder. One of them gave me a Popsicle and gave me the bad news that I was to run down hill now. What? The peak I could see was a destination, but I had to go down hill to get to it? That seemed wrong. But I could only follow the arrows, down to the infamous tunnel, where the aid station folks fed me watermelon, popsicles, and let me hang around for a bit before I took off. “Through the tunnel, then some downhill before the last climb.”
Sadly and gladly – yin and yang – or better yet, Jekyll and Hyde. Yay for the downhill! Oh no, the further down, the further up to the top! Stop going down! NOOOOOO!!!!! None the less, I flew down and down, and finally, back down to 9000 ft, I got to climb again. Twenty-five miles in 6:23. Could I cover 6 miles in one hour? 7:30 seemed okay now. I began the slow hike up, and went slower and slower. If I could run any sections, I found myself hyperventilating, and walking again. I threw down some 30 minute miles. Yeah baby, I was still the sh**.
Now the final summit was in view – for a very long time, in fact. Maybe an 8:00 hour finish wouldn’t be so bad. In fact, a finish at all would be pretty spectacular. Cheering crowds at the top pulled me up, and the aid station volunteer helping me described the last five miles ahead – “After a heinous downhill, the rest is relatively smooth!” I began to pick up speed down the rocky road, and followed the flags onto the same big-rock-scree from early in the race. I could see about 5 runners ahead in the distance, gladly, as I was uncertain that I was on the course. It seemed we should be on a dirt road, but the single track continued on. Eventually, no runners in sight either before of after, I paused. I looked back up to where I had come from and knew there was no way I was going back up if I was off course. I was exhausted and felt it would be pointless. I gulped back the impulse to cry, and continued in the direction I had been going, thinking I might have my first ultra DNF. Suddenly I arrived at a well marked intersection, affirming I was indeed on course, and hitting the smooth dirt road to take me down to the finish. Hugely relieved, I let gravity have it’s way with me and I hammered downhill, passing runner after runner, hoping to see at least one set of pigtails to race.
I could hear the finish line festivities and picked it up even more, but as usual, I could hear it well before I could see it. My idea of an 8:00 finish was still on my brain, but as I dashed across the finish in a near collapse onto Bryon Powell, an 8:03 was the best I could do. He asked me “What are you doing here?” referring to my sea-level existence and trying to run at plus 7000 ft. “Ian thought it was good training for UTMB.” That made sense to him, and when I thanked RD Karl Meltzer for letting me play in his back yard I told him “I think Speedgoat is really good training for Speedgoat!” He replied “Exactly!” I placed 11th female, “only” 1:37 after Anna Frost’s winning time of 6:26.
Afterward I learned that we actually reached a summit of 11,000 feet three times, so I felt less defeated by that. I enjoyed the views immensely and was satisfied that I had covered the 50k. It was a course I wouldn’t likely do on my own. Thanks to Karl and all his fabulous volunteers, Coach Ian Torrence, Garmin, Sunsweet and Scott Shoes!