It’s been rather quiet over here at Mountain Lessons, dear reader, because something happened. We had a kid! Our little girl was born on June 4th and since then we’ve had less sleep, lots of fun ‘firsts’, plenty to write about, but no time to write about it. My apologies.
The post that will fall by the wayside is a season recap for the 2018-19 winter season. I skied 78 days in the backcountry, three in the resort, and two on the flats, with vert for the season at around 280k feet. It was a great season, with some good moments recorded here.
This summer has been more about running than usual for me— likely because running affords a certain convenience that makes it amenable to unplanned missions to take advantage of available windows of time, eg. naps. Because I’ve been shy about it in the past, I decided to sign myself up for a few races as a sort of Ulysses pact to get out, compete, and challenge my assumptions about my fitness.
First race of the summer, with little training and just the winter base under my legs. A local classic that begins with a three-thousand foot climb to a ridge above our house before a rocky ridge traverse and a pounding descent back into the valley.
Aiming for even pacing I went out towards the front but not with the lead pack. On the way up the climb my winter legs did me favors and I passed many people on the steeper, loose path to the ridge.
Feeling the potential or an OK finish, I ran the descent with reckless abandon and got punished with a rocking calf cramp that almost ended my running for the day. I chugged it in for a reasonable 10th place finish and several days of calf soreness the likes of which I’ve not experienced before.
The Speedgoat 50k is one of the more challenging races at the distance offered in the US. The 28k hits most of the vertical and technical trail in the 50k over a faster short course. Thinking that my strength on vert and technical trail would be an advantage, I lined up at the front and after watching the field sort itself out up a few loose gravel road switchbacks, I settled into third position with a mind to stay there.
The course climbed loose and steep road for several miles before moving out on single track into a large bowl and then punching straight up a snowfield with kicked steps along a handline.
On the road I passed into second and made a gap up the climb to Snowbird’s peak. The course then drops off the backside of Snowbird before doubling back through the Peruvian tunnel and dropping a lot of vert quickly down another dirt road. Nearing the bottom of the road section I was startled to see third and fourth positions closing on me fast. Thankfully, here the course again turns upwards to gain the ridge of Snowbird’s cirque to make a second trip to the peak.
I rebuilt my gap and skipped the aid at the peak. The snowfield made for an amusingly dangerous-feeling downhill run-ski that probably worked to my favor, and then the trail left the climb route to travel off-trail across hummocky terrain and some streams/bogs/painful small climbs. Steep road and single track led down to the finish and I hammered as hard as I could maintain to hold second, only briefly seeing third behind me a few minutes before the finish and too far away to close the gap.
Amusingly, the lead pack got pulled aside by Karl Meltzer at the finish to tell us that we’d all accidentally cut course near the start, where apparently flagging had led off f the road and into the woods, but which we’d all missed. He served us all with a 30 minute time penalty, but we had such a gap on 5th place that we all kept our positions and I finished an official second place, a proud finish for me.
This was an impulsive registration for me. One of the docs that I work with at the VA told me about this race. His friend had done it and thought it gorgeous, remote, and challenging. What the hell, I thought one night after a couple of beers, only one way to find out. The Standhope races through the remote Pioneer mountains outside of Ketchum, ID. With more than ten-thousand feet of climbing over 38 miles, it’s difficulty is similar to Hardrock, and much of the race is above seven thousand feet in elevation. Perfect.
My goal was to finish the race running rather than hate-hiking and to feel like I had good energy and pacing throughout. The 6 am start following the national anthem as performed by the race director on trombone was anticlimactic in the way that the pacing at the start of an ultra is amusingly slow. A short jog on a road led to the repeating theme for the day; a climb to a pass leading to a punishing descent. A big lead pack of 8-9 runners pulled away on the first climb and I sat back on my plan, hiking the steeper climbs and avoiding the sensation that I was working too hard.
Climb-pass-descend, climb-pass-descend, the course revealed itself in beautiful section, largely on technical, skinning single track or completely off-trail, traveling flag-to-flag across open fields and through loamy woods. The first aid station wasn’t quite ready to serve us when we arrived, so just was it was for me, and I kept on with an even pace towards the second aid at around halfway through the course. There I fell into a small pack with two others— a fisheries conservationist from Bozeman and a local climbing guide. Into the aid station we were told that we were in 8-9-10 position, which started to give me ideas.
Out of the second aid begins the biggest climb of the course at around 5000’. Steven, the fisheries conservationist, and I moved together up the climb. I set the pace, pushing slightly more than I had before, and we started to eat up the disintegrating lead pack. By the pass that marked the course’s high point we were 5th-6th and after passing a runner on the way down from the pass moved into 4th-5th.
My IT band, my constant companion, decided to declare its displeasure and threaten disaster as we descended towards the finish with 7 miles to go. Steven summarily dropped me as my descending pace flagged, and I worked hard to keep him barely in sight until on the final climb with 3 miles to go I lost sight of him. Hell hill, a 1000’ climb in 1 mile just a few miles from the finish, was actually a welcome change as my knee felt good going up hills rather than down them. The backside of the hill was another story and it took some doing to get running again. The last few miles were hot and unremarkable, and I was glad to see the finish appear with its welcome burgers, beer, wife, and baby.
Having finished 5th after more or less running the race off the sofa, with only one training run at the 20 mile distance before heading out on the 38 mile course, I wonder what is possible with training. But that’s for another time, perhaps once our daughter can sleep through the night.