Race Report: Speedgoat 50K 2014 – A Lesson from Failure

I have a love/hate relationship with Speedgoat. As a naive entrant into the world of ultrarunning, Speedgoat 2011 was my first. Despite a great deal of suffering at the hands of Karl Meltzer’s soul-crushing course, I continue to run it, and look forward to it, every year. Part of it is sentimental; being my first, it will always hold a special place in my heart. Even more than that though is the fact that it is so brutal. Speedgoat emphasizes my weaknesses so much (as it does with most people) and somewhere in my crazy head, I know that if I can run the course better and faster every year then I can safely assume that I am growing as an ultra and trail runner. So here we go, a recap of my 2014 Speedgoat 50K sufferfest.

SG50K Elevation Profile Elevation Profile

Leading up to the race, I knew my fitness was high; in fact, it was probably the best it has ever been coming into a Speedgoat.  I have been running strong and hard all season and felt great.  The only glitch I have had all season was a sprained ankle suffered a few weeks ago (more on that later).  Going into the race, I was sure I could continue the trend of setting a new PR if the race was based solely on my fitness.  On the morning of race day, I got a decent amount of sleep and was feeling ‘ok’, but not superb.  That ankle that I mentioned before was still sore, but I had been on a few test runs since with no issues, so I wasn’t expecting that to be much of an issue.  6:30 am rolled around and we were off.

The course starts with a short climb of a few hundred feet before it drops on to some single track that cuts across to the other side of the mountain.  Last year, I hung back a bit and got caught in a log jam on the single track, so I wanted to get up front this year so I took off.  After the single track, we wound upward again on a dirt road before we cut back across the mountain again.  It was about four miles in and I still hadn’t really loosened up yet.  This worried me a little as I usually get into a rhythm by then.  Regardless, I kept going and soon we started the remainder of the climb up to Hidden Peak for the first time.  At about 8.5 miles, I hit the aid station at top, about 10 minutes faster than my previous PR time.  I topped off my water bottles and started the descent down into Mineral Basin toward the Larry’s Hole aid station.

About 3/4 of a mile before Larry’s Hole, my best laid plans went to hell as I landed on a rock that I didn’t see under some brush on the trail and rolled the bad ankle again.  Ugh!  I know that when you roll/sprain an ankle, the tendons take a while to tighten back up again and are typically susceptible to rolling again until that happens, but I was really hoping that I was past that stage.  I walked/jogged into the aid station, hung out for a minute, and assessed the situation.  The pain was not terrible, so I decided to keep going to see how things played out.

About a mile after this aid station begins the descent down Mary Ellen Gulch, an old creek bed and the most technical downhill section of the course.  Knowing this, I slowed down quite considerably because of the ankle.  I am already an average downhill runner at best, so this made the next few miles extremely taxing mentally.  I had a minor tweak of the ankle coming down this section, but also made an important discovery at the same time; I had lost just about all stability in that ankle.  Every uneven step I took, the ankle wanted to fold over…not good.  This section, because of the extreme focus to protect my ankle, was mentally draining, but I made it through to the Pacific Mine aid station, which is roughly the half way point.

The tricky thing about Pacific Mine is that it is a very remote out and back section and is virtually impossible to drop from here logistically.  I cooled off with a wet towel and began the climb back toward Larry’s Hole.  For those of you that have run Speedgoat before, this 5 mile stretch SUCKS!  While it is not the steepest climb, it is a continuous uphill slog in which you cannot see the end for a loooooong time…it is truly depressing.  After the mentally taxing trip down Mary Ellen Gulch and the heat at this point of the day (about 95 degrees I was told), I definitely wasn’t mentally prepared for this section.  My original plan was a run/hike combination through this section (well within my fitness capabilities), but with the combination of a messed up ankle, heat, and mental exhaustion, I had to settle for hiking.  Still, I managed a brisk hike up through this section.  At the end of the climb is a quick descent down into Larry’s Hole for the second time.  It was here where I discovered that my ankle would no longer let me run downhill.

SG2014 Sufferfest Miserable on the climb back from Pacific Mine

As I arrived at Larry’s Hole, about 22 miles in, I ran into several folks from my running group, the Wasatch Mountain Wranglers, manning the aid station.  I chatted with them for a bit about my predicament.  With their encouragement, I decided to hang out there for a bit and sat down, trying to do some ankle rolls and just simply get off of my feet for a bit.  After about 15-20 minutes there, I decided to throw in the towel…a very frustrating decision after all of the work I put in.

Yes, this is going to rip and grind at me for a while.  I don’t take dropping a race very lightly; I have suffered through races before and know how to grind it out.  At the same time, I had already finished Speedgoat multiple times and had already fallen behind my PR pace during this race.  To put it another way, I didn’t feel that I had anything to prove to myself at this point.  I have run through an injury before and it made things worse, shelving me for three months.  This time I decided to play it safe.  This is my takeaway lesson: recognizing the bigger picture and knowing how and when to listen to my body.  While I know I could have gone on and finished, I decided to take care of myself.  10 more miles and another finisher’s medal is a small price to pay in exchange for a healthy remainder of a still lengthy running season.  So for me, it is a week or two of rest to get things right and on to the next one.  Speedgoat, don’t worry, I WILL see you yet again!

Now time for thanks.  Thanks to my family for being so supportive during my training and racing, especially on days like today.  Thanks to Orange Mud for supporting me and giving me one less thing to worry about with the best, most innovative hydration packs on the market.  Visit their site at OrangeMud.com, to view and buy their products! (Use discount code THEMANJOE for 10% off) Thanks to all of my Wasatch Mountain Wrangler friends.  Your support on and off the course helped me immensely!

What I used:

  • Orange Mud HydraQuiver VP2 hydration pack
  • La Sportiva Bushido
  • Garmin Fenix 2 GPS watch
  • Tailwind Endurance Nutrition mixed with water
  • Honey Stinger waffles
  • Headsweats race hat
  • CEP compression calf sleeves
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