I had a highly successful mini-vacation this past weekend out in the Salt Lake City area. On what was one of the last busy weekends of the season in Aspen, I managed to sneak away to indulge in a long hard effort on some dry trail. The vacation started for me on Thursday afternoon with Apres beers to celebrate my 25th birthday. I practiced moderation all night and was in bed not long after midnight in anticipation of the weekend’s race.
Courtnee and I hit the road early Friday morning and managed to make it to SLC in one piece after 7 hours and some pretty sketchy driving conditions. After checking into the luxurious La Quinta Inn, Courtnee and I headed out to Antelope Island to check out the course a little bit. After a 20 minute jog we headed home, ordered pizza, and retired early.
The 4am wake up came quickly, and before I knew it, I was chatting with Duncan Callahan at the start line anxiously anticipating the gun. The pace felt very easy to me on the initial climb. I took the lead from the start and immediately opened up a slight gap. I felt super solid and continued motoring past several Buffalo who were roaming around in the pre-dawn darkness. About two miles in, right before the top of the climb, I came to a fork in the road with a cone marking the left turn. Thinking the cone marked the correct trail, I led 5 or 6 of the front guys left. A short time later we reached a view point to find that the trail dead ended. Damnit. I should have paid attention during the pre-race announcements.
I apologized as our lead group turned around to meet the correct trail. In all, we probably lost 7-8 minutes. I was pretty upset with my mistake and immediately turned up the pace to a near uncomfortable level. My goal going into the race was to really go for the victory. I had never run with this mentality before so I was okay with the very real possibility that I would experience a meltdown at some point. I finally caught back up to the new leader, Scott Dickey, on the short loop around mile 7. I jumped right behind him and we started chatting all the way up the mellow switch-backing climb. Right near the top I could feel that I was pushing him harder than he was comfortable with (I later learned Scott is recovering from pneumonia. Jeeze.). I scooted around him here (~mile 9) and never looked back.
I crushed the ensuing Elephant Head out and back before tackling the long gradual descent back to the start area around mile 19. When I got to the aid station I grabbed a full water bottle and EFS Liquid Shot flask from Courtnee and cruised over to the East side of the Island. When I got to the start of the long, mostly flat ~22 mile out and back, I had the chance to get a read on the competition. I was very pleased to see that I already had nearly an 8 minute lead. I still felt like I was running well within myself so I never felt tempted to take my foot off the gas.
The way out to the mile 33 turn around was pretty tough. We had a stiff head wind that also carried a bit of a chill. It was comforting to know that we would have this same wind at our backs for an equal amount of time on the way back though. Courtnee was again waiting for me at the turn and executed another flawless aid station transition. I left totally prepared to suffer the last 17 miles in order to sustain my lead.
I clocked my lead on Duncan at the turn around to be close to 12 minutes. Having first hand knowledge of Duncan’s late race strength, meant that I really never felt comfortable. I just continued to run at a pace that I felt was aggressive yet maintainable. When I got to the end of the monotonously flat out and back, I relished the steep graded single-track that indicated that only 6 miles remained.
From here in I essentially knew that I was going to win, barring a catastrophic failure, and began focusing on knocking a bit of time off the record. I had been very disciplined in my gel and water intake and had really solid energy levels all day long. With a half mile to go I took one last look over my shoulder and was pumped beyond description. I knew I had the win and the course record in the bag but still chose to dump out my bottle, stuff it in my shorts, and hammer the last several hundred meters to the finish. I crossed the line in 6:15 knocking 16 minutes off Ryan Burch’s record set last year. Major stokeage.
After the race I had the pleasure of meeting ultra-celeb’s Bryon Powell and Nick Clark (who had a very strong showing in the 50k) as well as many other awesome competitors. Duncan and I got massages from some volunteering therapists that were both soothing and very unpleasent for my aching legs. It was great sharing time with the Callahans who are expecting a baby right around Hardrock time. Ultra-fatherhood.
I continue to be inspired by the community of athletes I’ve come into contact with through my participation in Ultras. I feel privileged to be able to do this. Jim Skaggs puts on one heck of an event out on Antelope Island. I look forward to coming back to this one many times in the future.
After a long drive home, I managed to get a short and humiliating jog in yesterday afternoon. It’s safe to say my legs are toast and I couldn’t be happier. Next up is Fruita 25 miler in mid-april. Fire it up.
A photo for the ladies: