TNFECS Utah 50K (Sorta) 2016 Race Report

Well, that was one helluva way to end my season.  My goal was to run a fast 50K to finish my 2016 races on a strong note, but Mother Nature had something quite different in store for me at The North Face Endurance Challenge Utah this year.  Watching the weather forecast all week was depressing, with constant rain and snow predicted for 2 1/2 straight days leading into the race on Saturday.  As it came closer, I decided to accept that I would be dealing with the adverse conditions and make the best of it, even if it wasn’t what I was hoping for.

The race had a scheduled start of 7:00am on Saturday morning.  Living about 45 minutes away, I decided to sleep in my own bed the night before and drive up in the morning.  Since I don’t like to feel rushed, I got there at about 6:15 only to find out that the race start was delayed until 8:00.  To pile on to it, at about 7:15, the race crew made the announcement that the 50 Milers that started a couple hours earlier were being rerouted because the upper half of the mountain was experiencing white out conditions and the course markers were buried in snow.  We too would now be running a modified course; two loops of the half marathon course.  So, my 50K turns into a Marathon at the last minute…oh well, you can’t control the weather and I was already there so I might as well MAN UP!

We started out on the trail in three waves with instructions on the new route to help spread us out on the single track.  I took off in the first wave and we immediately went the wrong way.  By the time we figured it out, we tacked on an extra half mile and ended up behind most of wave 2 and 3.  This created quite the bottleneck as we all tried to swerve around people in the mud (not always so gracefully).  The first climb is supposed to go up over 3,000 feet to Jupiter Peak, but instead, we went up about 1,400 feet before we started cutting across the middle of the mountain to the other side to run down.  There were a few sections on the first loop that were actually pretty runnable and I moved as fast as I could.  I didn’t take a lot of pictures because I was too busy trying to not fall on my ass, but I did steal a few from other people so you can get a sense for what we were dealing with.  I am happy to report that although I had to move slower at times, I did manage to stay upright the whole time!

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PC: Ryan Delany

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PC: Alan Griffin

We ended up having three aid stations per loop and I was impressed with how well stocked they stayed for the entire race and how friendly the volunteers were.  They were all super helpful, despite probably dealing with a higher percentage of grumpy runners than normal.  Thanks to all of you volunteers!

I ended up doing the first loop in around 2:30, which I was pretty happy with given the conditions, however, the second loop was a slightly different story.  As I started back the second climb, I started to have some stomach issues.  It ended up being nothing major and settled down after about five miles, but it did make it painful to run for a few miles there.  In most cases, the uphill grade on this course would be runnable for me, but with the conditions and the stomach pain, I decided to hike most of it on this lap so that I didn’t dig myself into a bigger hole.  I think this ended up being smart as I was able to rally, although it did cost me a bit of time.  The other significant issue on the second lap were the trail conditions.  While manageable on the first lap for the most part, by the time I came through for the second lap, they were torn up after all of the foot traffic that had been passing through.  This too contributed to slowing me down a bit more than I was hoping.

As I crossed the finish line, I ended up doing the second lap about 30 minutes slower than the first with an overall time of 5:28:07.  Good for the top 30% of finishers.  The conditions weren’t ideal and definitely exposed some of my weaknesses (being a skittish downhill runner for example), but I can’t really complain all that much.  Given all of the injuries I had this year, it was good to get through the race without any setbacks.  I also managed to get across the finish line before Rob Krar finished the 50 Miler, so that is good in my book.  Even though he is a beast, he did start three hours before me and I never like getting passed up by people running longer distances ūüôā

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PC: Ryan Delany

For now, I am going to enjoy my off season and getting to run for fun without having to focus on a particular race.  I also plan on doing quite a bit more strength training ahead of the 2017 race season to help combat some of these injuries that popped up on me from happening more often.  Don’t worry though, just because race season is over doesn’t mean you won’t find me out on the trails all winter…afterall, I am a trail addict!

Pros:

  • Hard to talk about pros when a race does not go at all as you expected.  Still, I will say that the volunteers went above and beyond during this event.  They dealt wonderfully with the conditions and were quick to deal with the last minute modifications.
  • Despite being wet and muddy, the scenery for this race is amazing.  This year in particular, you got to see Fall and Winter battle it out…it was pretty nice.

Cons:

  • While not part of the normal course, because the 50 Mile, 50K, and Marathon runners all ended up doing laps on the same trail, it was pretty crowded and got pretty sloppy.  That being said, this was the exception that the weather brought this year.  I ran this race before and can say it is definitely not the norm.
  • My biggest complaint was how they handled the weather.  Given that the weather was expected all week, I felt they should have made the course changes at least the night before to give runners more advanced warning.

2016 was mentally tough for me.  It has been one with random nagging injuries that never allowed me to get the momentum that I was hoping for.  They were frustrating, which definitely took a toll on me mentally too.  Despite that, I still had my fair share of people cheering me on.  Thanks to my friends and family for their continued support.  Thank you to the crew and volunteers for dealing with the elements to make sure us runners were taken care of.  Lastly, thanks to all of my sponsors for enabling me with the best gear ever.  Please show your love and check out my “What I Use” page for discounts on everything that I use and trust!  Here is what I used.

  • Topo Athletic Hydroventure: This is the best waterproof shoe on the market.  26+ miles of wet, muddy trails and my feet stayed completely dry.  Unreal!
  • Injinji Trail 2.0 Crew Sierra: Love the designs on the new Injinji trail socks and as always, no blisters.
  • Orange Mud Vest Pack 1: Light, with enough room for the water and food I need to get me from one aid station to the next on race day.
  • Headsweats Go Hat: If you wear hats on race day, there isn’t a better one out there.
  • RAD Roller and Rod: I always need to take care of the muscles after a great run.

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!

Race Report: Skyline 50K 2016

The Skyline 50K (as well as marathon and half marathon) is a local race that takes place in the mountains East of Ogden, Utah. ¬†Despite being just over an hour from my house, this was my first time running in this area. ¬†I signed up for this one primarily as a tune up before my last race of the season in September, but with the weird season I have had, it also happened to be the first race since February that I have been completely healthy so it would also serve as true test¬†of my health. ¬†This race is tricky because, being in mid-August, it has the risk of getting quite hot. ¬†As luck would have it though, we got a small break in the temperature as it was only expected to get into the upper 80’s. ¬†This made for a great opportunity¬†to have fun and enjoy the trails while also maybe pushing myself a little bit. ¬†For the most part, I stuck¬†with my strategy of running a consistently paced race without overtaxing my heart rate and ended up being only a couple of beats over my target average heart rate for the entire race (some of which may have been impacted by the bees – more on that later).

The race started from the Ben Lomand trailhead in Liberty, Utah immediately with a 3,000 foot climb over the first six miles. ¬†I actually prefer this as it gives me a chance to warm up a bit without the pressure to start out in a sprint. ¬†The grade of this first climb was pretty consistent all the way up, which meant it fairly runnable. ¬†I ended up running 75% of this first climb to the aid station at the top without really extending outside of my heart rate threshold. ¬†This race was full of unique challenges for me; the first was right around mile four. ¬†While running through a particularly narrow, overgrown section of trail, I didn’t see a forward facing root sticking out of the ground which ended up skewering the upper on my shoe. ¬†While it held together, I got to spend the next 27 miles with my toes sticking out of my shoe. ¬†While this did force me to have to empty rocks out of my shoe more often, it didn’t seem to impact my running too much.


After topping off my water bottle, I began the first descent, which was six miles back downhill to the Ogden Divide. ¬†This was a pretty runnable section of the course the whole way down, but was also the busiest section of the course in terms of hikers. ¬†Still, it was pretty manageable. ¬†At this point in the race, there were about four or five of us grouped together for the entire six miles. ¬†Once down to this aid station, I filled my bottles back up again, got some fruit, and began the steepest (but last) climb of the course. ¬†This is when my next personal challenge came in the form of multiple bee stings. ¬†I haven’t been stung by a bee since elementary school when I got stung in the ear and it swelled completely shut making me look like an MMA fighter. ¬†With this memory, I became somewhat concerned considering I now had three fresh bee stings. ¬†I decided to hike slowly for the next 10-15 minutes to keep a close eye on my heart rate. ¬†This probably ended up costing me a sub-6 hour finish time and one or two spots, but better safe than sorry I suppose. ¬†After I was sure I was good to go, I got back to running all the way into the mile 16 aid station. ¬†From here, the 50K runners have to do a 5 mile out and back to Lewis Peak. ¬†This offered the best view on the course and is well worth the extra 5 miles over the marathon. ¬†See for yourself:


After coming back through the same aid station once again, you jump back on the marathon course, which is a 6 mile downhill to the last aid station.  This downhill was fun, but it was finally starting to get hot as I dropped a bit in altitude.  While all of the aid stations were great, this last one I will never forget.  As I came in, they greeted me with two towels soaked in ice water for my head and neck, dipped my hat in ice water, and gave me two otter pops.  What a great feeling it was.  Special thanks to this aid station crew!

After leaving the last aid station, we had to run four miles along a pretty flat hiking/biking trail, including about a half mile along pavement into Eden, Utah to cross the finish line.  I crossed the line in 6:09:33 for 31 miles, 6K feet of elevation gain, and an 11th overall finish.  All said and done, I was happy with my day.  I felt relaxed most of the run and it helped me get a better feeling for where I was at in my preparation for next months race.  Mission accomplished!


I have to say, I was really happy with this race. ¬†Everything from packet pickup to finish line activities was extremely well organized. ¬†I don’t often run races more than once (with a few exceptions), but I could see running this one again. ¬†If you are looking for a nice, runnable 50K with a local feel, I would definitely recommend this race. ¬†Here are some of the key points!

Pro’s:

  • So many aid stations! ¬†With one every 3-6 miles, I could travel light and not worry about water, even in the heat.
  • Gain is front loaded, which means you knock out all of the hills while the legs are fresher. ¬†This actually helped me get my first ever negative split.
  • The course is clean, well-groomed, and super runnable.
  • Tons of raffle prizes from sponsors for the finishers, almost everyone got something this year.

Con’s

  • The last four miles of the course run along a pretty terrible trail along the shore of the Pineview Reservoir. ¬†Unless you want to run road, this is really the only way to the finish line, so I guess it could be worse. ¬†At the same time, the first 27 miles more than make up for it.

Thanks to my friends and family for their continued support. ¬†Thank you to the crew and volunteers of the Skyline 50K for a superbly run event. ¬†Lastly, thanks to all of my sponsors for enabling me with the best gear ever. ¬†Please show your love and check out my “What I Use” page for discounts on everything that I¬†use and trust! ¬†Here is what I used.

  • Topo Athletic MT-2:¬†My favorite shoe in training and on race day.
  • Injinji Trail 2.0 Mini-Crew:¬†No blisters here.
  • Orange Mud Vest Pack 1:¬†Light, with enough room for the water and food I need to get me from one aid station to the next on race day.
  • Headsweats Go Hat:¬†If you wear hats on race day, there isn’t a better one out there.
  • RAD Roller and Rod:¬†I always need to take care of the muscles after a great run.

Gorge Waterfalls 100K…Still Learning…

I remember it clearly…it was October 22nd of last year, the day before my birthday.  Still hunting for a Western States qualifying race for the upcoming year to keep my lottery streak going when someone from the Wasatch Mountain Wranglers posted about the Gorge 100K.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to run a 100 miler in 2016 after still feeling the effects of the Bear in the previous month, so a 100K sounded ideal.  I glanced at the race; an out and back course in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge in Cascade Locks, Oregon.  Having never been to Oregon, and joining on the heels of 14 other members of the Wranglers, I decided to sign up (which was a good thing because it sold out in a day).

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As race day crept up, instead of flying up, my buddy Ryan and I decided to pull the pop-up camper out of storage for the first trip of 2016 and make an adventure out of it.  We stayed at Ainsworth State Park, which was about 5 miles away from the Start/Finish area for the race.  If you have never been to the area before, let me say that there is not a lot of real estate between the mountains and the Columbia River, which means that the campground and the train tracks were right next to each other.  I think I may suffer from PTSD for some time to come at the sound of a train whistle, but hey, we did say we wanted an adventure!  Train whistles aside, the views were absolutely worth it.  We arrived Thursday night and did the tourist thing on Friday.  Here are some pics:

 Columbia River Gorge from Vista House Overlook

 In front of Horsetail Falls

 Trail leading to Ponytail Falls

I must’ve been tired from the loaded day on Friday because I managed a solid 6+ hours of sleep despite the best efforts of the passing trains.  I felt ready to go in the morning.  My only concern was an out-of-whack right knee that was bothering me for the 8 weeks leading up to the race and was about 80% healthy (which thankfully did’t give me any problems).  We started in the dark at 6am from Benson State Park with the first big climb of the course up to the top of Multnomah Falls (the second highest waterfall in the U.S.).

The course was absolutely magnificent, while brutal at the same time.  The 50K out to the turnaround point took us past 13 different waterfalls.  Being from the Wasatch, I am not used to this much green!  The first 10+ miles were quite a bit rockier than I expected as we passed by, up and down,  a number of waterfalls.  This made the course a bit trickier to navigate, especially with the rocks being slippery from the wet, mossy terrain.  After the first 10 miles, you come out onto the only significant portion of pavement on the course, a 2.3 mile stretch leading to Yeon Aid Station.  While I don’t normally enjoy pavement in ultras, it really wasn’t all that bad and afforded me some time to ease into a relaxed, but speedy cadence.  Despite the unexpected difficulty of the terrain early on, I was feeling good and on track.  Shortly after leaving Yeon, you arrive at Elowah Falls, which was my favorite waterfall on the course.  Here are a couple pictures:

 Elowah Falls

 Me in front of Elowah Falls

After Yeon and Elowah Falls, the terrain smoothed out a bit.  It seemed that once you got past the larger waterfalls, it wasn’t as rocky, but a bit more “rolling”.  Rolling, or course, is a relative term as I would have described it as more “up and down” than “rolling”.  Still, it was a pretty uneventful ride to the turnaround at Wyeth campground.  Little did I know that I was about to get a rude awakening…

I pulled into Wyeth in 6:50, which was somewhat respectable compared to everyone else on the course and only about 20 minutes off of what I was shooting for.  After a change of shirt and shoes, I got out of the aid station at exactly 7:00 and began my journey back to the finish line.  Unfortunately, that would be the last time I ate anything as my stomach decided to revolt about 2 miles into the return trip.  In 5 years of ultra running, I have never had nausea problems.  I suppose there is a first time for everything, but I honestly had no idea what to do.  Eating and drinking was a fruitless effort.  What was worse is that each of the next two aid stations were 9 miles apart, which translated to a long, miserable grind.  I got to mile 40 and relied on the volunteers to help revive me.  After sitting for 20 minutes and eating some food, I started to feel better so I decided to continue on.  Unfortunately, shortly after getting on the move again, it flared right back up.  It seemed that movement alone was more than enough to make my stomach unhappy.  As I reached mile 46, I started to get dizzy after 14 miles of no calories and was having a problem walking straight.  I had no choice but to slow it down to a walk.  That 4 miles to the next aid station at mile 50 was the worst I have ever felt in any race…EVER!  The only redeeming factor was this picture that I took as the sun was setting:

  Moss covered rocks in the setting sun

When I got to Yeon again at the 50 mile mark, I knew I was done.  Without a pacer and without being able to solve the nausea problems between the last two aid stations, I didn’t feel it was safe to continue through the most technical part of the course in the dark.  Still, I sat for a bit to make sure.  My stomach was literally in painful knots and I ultimately decided to call it a day and save it for another battle.

It is still early in the season and there is no reason to jeopardize that.  While I always hate disappointing people and DNFing is never easy, I feel great about my 50 miles on that day and still believe I made the right decision.  As I said, nausea is new for me (would love to hear in the comments how you all combat it).  I clearly still have a lot to learn and I need to figure out how to react to it better in the future.  I will not likely search out another Western States qualifier this year.  In fact, I once again find myself thinking that I really want to focus on the 50 Mile distance (it is still my favorite by far).  Only time will tell for sure, but I still have a lot coming up this year, so stay tuned!

As far as the race itself, this was my first Rainshadow event.  Overall, I felt the organization was fantastic!  The course was well marked and the aid stations were well stocked and staffed with some great volunteers.  The post race pizza and beer was great, although I could barely choke down a slice of pizza and had to skip the beer because of my stomach.  My biggest complaint were some things that I thought were missing.  For $150, the only race token that you got was a small sticker; there was no swag and no finishers medals for those that crossed the line.  This may not be a big deal for some, but I like to have something more tangible to remember these events by, especially since I am from out of town.  Second, you had to pay $5 to park at the start/finish area.  This should have been worked into the registration fee.  That being said, I loved the event overall and would definitely recommend it.

As for the thank you’s, I would like to extend my gratitude to Rainshadow and the volunteers for the support, especially with the day I had.  Second, thanks to my friends and family that continue to show their unwavering support as I continue along this ultra running journey.  Lastly, thanks to all of my sponsors for enabling me with the best gear ever.  Please show your love and check out my “What I Use” page for discounts on everything that I use and trust!  Here is what I used.

  • Topo Athletic HydroVenture: WOW!  This shoe performed as advertised and the waterproofing was perfect for such a wet course.
  • Injinji Trail 2.0 Mini-Crew: The no-blister streak continues.  I don’t know why anyone would use anything else.
  • Orange Mud Vest Pack 2: This is about as dependable as hydration gets, allowing me to have a separate bottle for water and electrolytes.
  • Headsweats Go Hat: Kept my head cool and the the sweat out of my eyes.
  • RAD Roller and Rod: For helping me take care of my body before and after race day with their complete muscle care kit.

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!