The Ultra Adventures Capitol Reef 50 Mile…Speechless!

Alright, so I might not be speechless now that I have had some time to reflect back on the race this past Saturday, but that is the right word to describe the constant awe I was in during this race.  Capitol Reef was a newly added race this year and number six out of seven in the Ultra Adventures Grand Circle Trail Series.  I have always promoted the races that Matt Gunn, the Race Director for Ultra Adventures, puts on.  Mainly because of the beautifully diverse venues that he chooses, the amount of care he puts into each race, the emphasis he puts on appreciating the surrounding environment, and his overall emphasis on the total experience.  Each one of his events is truly unique and Capitol Reef is no exception.  As if taking place on the doorstep of one of the most diverse National Parks in the United States wasn’t quite enough, the race takes runners up and across the Aquarius Plateau, the highest plateau in North America.  With over 20 miles (in the 50 mile course) taking place above 11,000 ft, this course was a lung burner.  Add to that constant technical trails covered with boulders, water crossings, and uneven terrain and it provided quite the adventure.  So how did I do?

My family and I got there on Friday afternoon and setup camp about 2.5 miles away from the Start/Finish area.  I must say, having our new popup camper has made a world of difference.  Look at this view!

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The 50 mile race was slated for a 6:00am start on Saturday.  It began at the 100 mile turnaround point at Chriss Lake and ran back to the Start/Finish area, which meant we had to catch an early bus shuttle to the start line.  Thanks to a rather timid bus driver that was obviously not comfortable driving a rickety bus up a mountain, we didn’t get started until 6:30.

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Photo Credit: Davy Crockett

The trail started on some nice single track at about 8,500 ft. and immediately began a steady climb up toward the plateau.  Nearly half of the gain of this course was in the first 10 miles as we worked our way up to the plateau.  I settled in with a group of fellow Wasatch Mountain Wranglers on the way up (thanks for the company Kendall, Steve, and Jerrod!) and we were rewarded with some pretty great views right from the beginning (even though some early morning storms clouded the sky):

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I felt pretty good heading up to the first aid station at 8.5 miles, although it was a bit chilly (I was thankful that I chose to bring arm sleeves at the last minute).  Shortly after leaving the aid station, we were greeted with a climb up this cattle trail.  Now I don’t know how, cattle do it, but apparently this route is used to get the free range cattle up and down the plateau.

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PC: Sam Jewkes

This was the most technical section of the entire course, but I can honestly say (which most of us did not expect) that the rest of the course was nearly as technical, particularly on top of the plateau where rocks and roots were a common theme.  After making our way up this for about a mile and a half, we reached the plateau.  Still felt good physically, but the altitude was definitely getting to me early (curse me for not getting enough high elevation training in) and I would end up fighting it for all but the last five miles.  I hung with Kendall, Steve, and Jerrod for a while longer until Kendall took off ahead after about 15 or so miles.  Before he took off though, he managed to capture this epic shot!

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PC: Kendall Wimmer

The plateau was simply amazing.  When not greeted with great ridge overlook views of Capitol Reef, we were running by numerous lakes and through mountain meadows.  I honestly wish I could put this in to words.  It was sensory overload in the truest sense of the word that almost made me forget about the fact that my body was over 11,000 ft in the sky and starving for oxygen.  Perhaps a few more pictures can help describe it although they still don’t do it justice.

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Photo Credit: Steve Frogley
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Photo Credit: Steve Frogley
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Photo Credit: Kendall Wimmer

Now I will say, if I had one complaint about the race, of which they were hard to come by, it would be that the course flaggings up on the plateau were not frequent enough.  This section of the Great Western trail up on the plateau is not very frequently traveled.  As a result, the trail was difficult to pick up at times, even with cairns, blazes, and flagging leading the way.  With the many twists and turns worked in, I think the runners would have benefited from double the flags on the plateau.  I know many people got lost up there…feedback that Matt will definitely consider for next year.  Even so, it was generally easy to tell if you got off course (at least during the daylight hours) and pretty easy to get back on track.  Moving on, as I continued to run with Steve and Jerrod, I started to have feelings of dropping at about mile 18.  The lack of oxygen must have been impairing my judgement.  🙂  Luckily, I cruised in to the Chokecherry aid station at mile 21, which Kelly and Jo Agnew were running.  I admit that seeing them lifted me up a bit.  Considering Kelly, being the badass that he is, it is hard to justify any non-injury reasons for dropping.  They fed me bacon and I decided pretty quickly to keep moving on.  It probably also helped that the remote nature of the course made it a pain to drop…not to mention I was dying to see the rest of the plateau.  Just in case I had any further spells of the doldrums, I decided to stick with Steve and Jerrod and did so until the next aid station at Fish Creek, which was the 50K point.  The company was nice and helped to take my mind off of my constant heavy breathing.  They actually stopped at Fish Creek to do some fly rod fishing (in my opinion, this is the most bad ass approach to running a mountain ultra there is) while I continued on.  The 50K point is always a major milestone for me…I knew that if I could move on from there that I would be over the hump and would be able to push through.  This held true as I didn’t have a feeling of dropping once after leaving there.  After departing Fish Creek, I moved past more lakes along some rolling ups and downs before beginning a steady downhill for the last six miles to the finish.  The transition of the surrounding was stunning as we moved from the forests and meadows of the plateau back down to the red cliffs that surround the finish area.  I got my legs back under me as the technical terrain started to disappear and was able to pick up the pace considerably for the last 2-3 miles.  It helps when you have this to run toward:

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I crossed the finish line in 12:33, which was good for 18th overall.  That should tell you how difficult this race was.  With a more positive spin, the difficulty of the terrain did give me extra time to enjoy this gorgeous corner of Utah for which I am grateful for.

So to summarize…this race physically destroyed me.  I came in a bit more run down than typical on race day, which was definitely a factor, but my primary issue was most certainly the altitude.  I have never been great with it and it is something I continue to try and solve.  Simply put, it was the toughest 50 mile race I have ever done.  All of that aside though, it was also the most gorgeous, visually diverse and stunning race I have ever run.  There is not one part of the course that I did not swoon over.  I cannot emphasis enough to those of you reading this that you should either run this race in the future or find some time to travel to the area on your own and visit…it is amazing!  I have been on most of the Ultra Adventures courses and this one was my favorite by a considerable amount.  The Capitol Reef area seems to be overshadowed by its neighboring parks, but I hope more people find the time to experience it…or wait, maybe I don’t!  😉

Thanks to Matt, the UA crew, the volunteers, and my fellow racers for such a wonderful, memorable experience.  Thanks to my family for once again coming down and supporting me…my #1 fans!  Thanks to all of my sponsors for embracing my journey and supporting me along the way.

What I Used:

  • Shoes: Salomon Sense Mantra / Scarpa Tru (switched at mile 31)
  • Injinji Trail 2.0 Socks
  • Orange Mud Vest Pack 2
  • Gargoyles Breakaway sunglasses
  • Headsweats Go Hat
  • Garmin Fenix 3
  • Honey Stinger Energy Chews

Ultra Adventures Capitol Reef Trifecta Update:

One of Ultra Adventures’ main objectives is to take every event and turn it into an experience.  One of the ways they promote that is with their Trifecta Challenge.  Each race has 3 additional routes that you can do, in addition to the race itself, that highlights key aspects of the surrounding area.  For those that do it and take a picture with their bib at a certain spot, Matt will even reward you with a discount on future races.  As a UA Race Ambassador, I make it a point to hit as many as I can in the time that my trip affords.  This time, I attempted to head out to Cassidy Arch inside Capitol Reef National Park, but the access road was closed due to the rain throughout the week so my family and I hit both Hickman Bridge and Chimney Rock as an alternative!

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If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

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