Speedgoat Mountain Races (Vertical Mile-50K-Quadbanger)

There isn’t one image that sums up the Speedgoat Mountain Races held at Snowbird in Alta, Utah this past weekend. I’ve got nearly 2,000 images to sort, and not enough time. The event is the creation of Race Director, Karl Meltzer, Jr.  He is one of the top ultrarunners of all time and a very good Race Director too. He is well-known for his 100 mile race victories, his Appalachian Trail FKT attempts, and his commentary on the sports of trail running and ultrarunning. He has carved out a career as an athlete, coach, journalist, gear designer, and race director. Only a handful of trail running/ultrarunning personalities have developed a brand, and he is one of them. He is the Speedgoat and this race weekend had his stamp al over it, starting with the brutal difficulty and unique nature of the courses. The Speedgoat 50K, in its 8th year, was the main event, but he added two new events to create a trail running festival.

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Vertical Mile, 3:00 P.M. Friday 25 July

The Speedgoat Mountain Races kicked off on Friday with the Vertical Mile. Along with the Speedgoat 50K on Saturday, and the Quadbanger on Sunday, it made up a trio of trail running races.  The uphill only race attracted a handful of runners doing all three Speedgoat races and other runners choosing only to do this appetizer (namely family members of 50K runners, like me, and other local runners). I don’t know how many runners finished all three events, but I think it was less than 10.

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With 5,500 feet of climbing, the race is named for what it is, a vertical mile. To get in that much elevation, two trips up Hidden Peak were required. The first 3.6 mile ascent was timed from the Creekside venue up to the top of the Peruvian Chairlift and climbed 2,600 feet. The timing was paused when you stepped on the lift deck. Runners rode the lift down, and then the timing started again when they stepped off the lift. The second ascent was 2.4 miles and 2,900 feet of gain, finishing just below the 11,000 foot summit of Hidden Peak, and near the Snowbird Tram station.

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Despite the uphill pain Debbie and I both enjoyed the race. For my efforts, I earned a new Black Diamond headlamp. All the runners got a Patagonia Capilene t-shirt and a stainless steel pint glass. Debbie finished in 1:57:48, good for 5th place amongst the women, but first of the women doing the 50K. Timmy Parr won the race in 1:20:24. He was followed by Nathan Peters and Michael Wardian. The first three women were Bethany Lewis in 1:46:35, followed by Rachel Cieslewicz, and Holly Hagerman.

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I had a lot of fun running with Paul Terranova, who I met for the first time. We are connected through many other friends, but had never formally met in person. He wasn’t far behind me after the first ascent, and along with Holly, and Matthew Van Horn, we rode the quad lift down together. The second trip up the mountain was even harder. Karl had us go straight up a 45% grade. It was hand over fist for nearly a mile and was more of a bushwhack than a trail run. The best part was the glorious smell that came from the abundant wildflowers.

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Paul and I stuck together for most of the second ascent, even stopping at one point on the ridge, to take pictures of one another with my iPhone. I was wishing I brought a little food because I ran out of gas in the last 400 meters. One gel would have helped, but I had to make do with the little water left in my bottle.

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I waited for Debbie to finish and we hung around the top of the mountain for a little while and then rode the tram back to the Snowbird Center. We walked back to the Creekside venue where we stashed a bag with recovery drink and other gear. We eventually returned to the hotel where we washed up and had an early dinner. We loved the two climb format and riding the chairlift was a lot of fun.

Vertical Mile Race Results

50K, 6:30 A.M., Saturday 25 July

When Debbie planned her 2015 season, Speedgoat was on the short list of candidate races to compete in. She lost out in the Western States Endurance Run lottery, and decided to wait until fall for a 100 mile race. That left the summer open for a travel race. Since we spent 10 days in Marin County and San Francisco for the Miwok 100K in early May, we decided to choose a shorter race that would allow for a shorter trip with just the two of us. Speedgoat was the perfect candidate because it has been a goal for many years. The addition of the Vertical Mile the day before the 50K; and the Quadbanger, the day after, gave her even more opportunity to run in the mountains.

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The race is billed as the toughest 50K in the country, and I don’t doubt that. With 11,000 feet of elevation gain and 11,000 feet of elevation loss over 32+/- miles in the Wasatch Range of northern Utah, it has the credentials to be one of the toughest races in the world. Mile-for-mile, there isn’t much that compares.

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The work that Karl did with the Snowbird resort, staff, and his army of volunteers was remarkable. As a Hoka sponsored athlete, he was able to bring in strong production support and sponsorship from his title sponsor, Ultraspire, Drymax, Black Diamond, and several other notable brands, to complement the support that he got from Snowbird. As trail races go, Speedgoat was quite a production. Countering that high level of sponsorship, Karl got a lot of help from his family, which gave this large event a grassroots feel. That is quite an accomplishment considering it is very hard to balance a high production event with sponsors and the feel of a small community oriented trail race. Karl has been an advocate for prize money and he was very generous with his support for the top men and women runners.

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This was the first time he added two events to create a full weekend of adventure called the Speedgoat Mountain Races. These “trail running festivals” have grown in popularity as runners travel to destination races and desire to pack in as much running fun as they can. Adding events is good for race directors. It brings in more revenue, more runners, and more attention. A resort like Snowbird can benefit from all the summer activity as runners travel with crews and families.

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Speedgoat has garnered a reputation as a top-notch event and always attracts a strong field of runners. The prize money has always been a draw, considering that many races offer nothing. This year was no exception, though competition with the U.S. Mountain Running Championships in Bend, Oregon, did draw away some top talent. I also think that the difficulty of Speedgoat is a deterrent for some runners. That is interesting, because it is the rugged nature of the course that appealed to Debbie.

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She is a strong hiker, but not a super-hiker, and that showed with her 20th place finish. She was aiming for top 10, but prior to the race, she had no way to gauge herself against the mostly mountain region and west coast women that she was up against. Very few east coast and flatland runners came to Utah for this high altitude run. The entire race was above 8,000 feet. It’s really hard to compete if you don’t live and train in that kind of Alpine environment.2015_Speedgoat Mountain Races-9

We are fortunate to have a Hypoxico Altitude tent, but it is not a replacement for living at elevation. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been fur us if we hadn’t prepared by using the tent over the past three months. Debbie was more diligent (as she needed to be) about getting the necessary time. I’ve had a fair amount of travel and often slept in the bunk bed above our son, rather than join her in the hot and oxygen thin confines of the Hypoxico. Still, I’m sure I benefitted a little from the nights I was able to sleep in the tent.

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A little more than 400 people were registered for the 50K, but 100 didn’t show up, which was startling to Karl and his team. 25% attrition is high for a race like this. 304 people did finish the race. There were many DNF’s, but not as many as you would think. I don’t know how that compares to past years. The temperature was warm, but not uncomfortable, with mid-day highs in the low 80’s. The sun was very strong, though a little mid-afternoon cloud cover and a light breeze helped make things more bearable.

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The start/finish is at the Creekside venue near Snowbird’s entrance #1. Runners amassed for the 6:30 A.M. start and then promptly headed uphill. Sage Canaday, winner of the past two editions, took the hole-shot and literally launched himself up the trail. He surged into the lead and never looked back.

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I hustled over to the famous Snowbird Tram, and rode the second car to the summit of 11,000 foot Hidden Peak where there was a large aid station. It was cool and breezy on the top. I wished I had a bit more insulation. I packed my Clik-Elite backpack full for a day of hiking, running, spectating, crewing, and photographing, but neglected to carry enough clothing. Thankfully, by mid-morning, the rising sun had warmed us. By noon, I was complaining about the sun and looking for any shade available. I also wished I had a bucket hat to keep the sun off my face, neck, and ears. Alas, I made it through the day with only a little sunburn.

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Sage was way out front when he hammered up the final pitch to the Hidden Peak aid station. He was running even the steepest sections of trail. Debbie reported that many of the service roads and fire roads had gradients of more than 25% and some of the singletrack trails were 45% requiring use of your hands. Some runners chose to use poles.

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I knew that Sage would be the favorite and had a chance to chat with him this past Thursday afternoon. Debbie and I stopped at Sage’s café (no relation!) in Salt Lake City for a late lunch. While we were there, Sage and his girlfriend, Sandi Nypaver, pulled in the parking lot after driving from their home in Colorado. We last saw them at the 2013 Cayuga Trails 50 Miler. We were last at Sage’s Café (different location), in 2008. The food was good and we had a chance to get insight on the race from the course record holder. Speedgoat has gotten harder in recent years as Karl has added more climbing.

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I saw Debbie come through Hidden Peak the first time and she was easing her way into the race. I counted 25 or 30 women in front of her when she came by. Given her slower start and struggles on that first big climb, I knew that she would have to work really hard to move up to the top-10, but was pleased that she didn’t fade, held her pace for most of the day, and then steadily moved up by the finish. Her main goal for the weekend was to finish and win the “general classification” category by completing the Vertical Mile, 50K, and Quadbanger with the lowest cumulative time. Just finishing was going to be a huge challenge, so she need to conserve a bit. Having done the Vertical Mile the day before, she wasn’t running the 50K on fresh legs.

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During the course of the weekend, I got a lot of guidance from Bryce and Melanie Thatcher, their family, and colleagues from Ultraspire. Debbie has been an Ultraspire “Elite Immortal” for several years and has valued the support from this small company. They specialize in hydration products, particularly for trail runners and ultrarunners. I enjoyed learning more about the business and Bryce’s role in developing hydration pack technology. He had five family members running the 50K and knows the course well. He helped me pick out some good spots to take photographs.

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The images speak for themselves, but the scenery is as stunning as any I’ve ever photographed in. The granite walls, wildflower, and vast wilderness, especially on the back side of Snowbird, were awesome. We staked out a spot towards the base of Mt. Baldy and waited for Sage to arrive. One of the amazing things about Speedgoat is that you can see much of the race course from vantage points high on Hidden Peak. You can see the runners nearly an hour before they reach you, as trails switchback all over the mountain. We were able to spot Sage miles down the mountain. When he did arrive after scorching the Baldy descent, he was on pace with his time from last year on a similar course.

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I snapped some pictures of him, and then did a little run of my own, about 2.5 miles down the trail to the Mineral Basin Aid Station. They didn’t want crews and spectators tramping down here, but I was able to go there and take photographs. The aid station volunteers were fantastic. The runners pass through Mineral Basin twice, and I was catching them on their return trip from the lowest and farthest point on the course, Pacific Mines.

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The sun was blazing down in that spot. When I got there, 20 or so runners, had passed through, so I got a chance to see the next 100 or so until Debbie arrived. She was in good spirits and didn’t stay long. I walked a little ways up the trail with her. The fields were full of flower and more amazing smells. I left her at the base of the big climb up to Mt. Baldy. She said there was a lot of scree and that they trail was very technical on the subsequent descent.

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I was fortunate to ride a chairlift back up to the summit of Hidden Peak. Once again, I walked down to the spot where I previously photographed Sage, and caught Debbie coming down Baldy. After that, she descended to the tunnel and crossed back to the Little Cottonwood Canyon side of the mountain. From there, she descended further before turning back up the ridge. I waited a long time at the top of the knife-like edge and cheered for the runners as they walked one by one back up to the Hidden Peak aid station for the final time.

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Debbie was low on energy when she crested Hidden Peak for the last time, but she knew that only a mostly downhill six miles remained. Throughout the day, she was self-sufficient. I only handed off a handful of gels and a flask of concentrated energy drink. She carried what she needed in her Ultraspire Surge pack.

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When I left her again, I headed for the tram and caught a ride back to the Snowbird Center. I stopped at our hotel room at the Lodge and grabbed some food for myself and all of her post-race recovery stuff. She took care to recover from Friday’s Vertical Mile, using her compression socks, tights, and a smart refueling strategy. She planned the same after the 50K in advance of Sunday’s Quadbanger.2015_Speedgoat Mountain Races-32

 

Sage won the race in 5:13:02, just missing his time from last year. He was followed by Alex Nichols, Daniel Kraft, Alex Docta, and Vertical Mile winner, Timmy Parr. The first woman was Hillary Allen in a blazing fast 6:37:35. She was followed by Emily Richards, Abby Rideout, Amanda Basham, and Becky Wheeler.

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I made it back to Creekside, which was a little under a mile from the Lodge, in time to see Debbie finish. I waited 30 minutes at the line, cheering the runners who preceded her. I knew she was very happy to finish. She immediately told me how hard it was. I could tell. Unfortunately, as soon as she finished, her stomach went sour. Thankfully, she didn’t get ill during the race, but afterwards, she wasn’t able to eat or drink for several hours. It wasn’t until 7:30 P.M. when she ate a few crackers. She suspects that a combination of gels and caffeinated salt tablets contributed to her gastrointestinal distress. We walked back to the hotel and she rested until she could eat a little. Late in the evening, she recovered a bit and we went to dinner, which helped her fuel back up. Speedgoat was fantastically entertaining. What a race!

50K Race Results

Quadbanger, 11:00 A.M., Sunday 26 July

The third and final Speedgoat Mountain Races event was the Quadbanger. Aptly named, the unique format was not for the faint of heart or weak of leg. The race was four timed descents of Hidden Peak. Like in the Vertical Mile, timing was paused while runners were on the chair lift. 37 people signed up for the race, but only 20 showed up. Many of the no shows were probably trashed from Saturday’s 50K.

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We were able to figure out that Debbie was the only female who finished the Vertical Mile and the 50K that showed up for the Quadbanger, so she only had to finish to lock up “first place” for the general classification. Even still, her secondary goal was to have a strong showing in this downhill race. Since descending is her specialty, she was excited despite having really sore legs at the start after running for almost nine hours at the 50K.

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As a group, the runners, volunteers, and family members rode the Snowbird Tram to the 11,000 foot summit. After Karl gave instructions, we hung out for 15 minutes until the start with the other brave souls who were readying themselves for the first plunge. That was some of the most fun we had all weekend. It was a beautiful morning. Once again, we were flooded with bright sunlight and a deep blue sky.

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The first descent went from the top of the peak, past the top of the Peruvian Chairlift, and then down a service road for two miles, switching back across the Peruvian Cirque multiple times. The course then left the road for singletrack. In the singletrack, it switched back multiple times across crazy steep and rocky ground. The dry soil created a dust storm as the runners went by. The trail entered the woods and then emerged just above the Snowbird Center before finishing at the base of the Peruvian Chairlift. Runners rode the lift back up and then descended three more times. On the final descent, rather than heading for the lift, they ran .6 mile on a service road  back to Creekside. The total distance was about 10.5 miles and the total descent was 10,000+ feet.2015_Speedgoat Mountain Races-33

After watching the start, I ran down to the top of the lift. From there, I photographed the runners as they wound their way down the cirque. I waited for them to come back up the first time, and then ran the course all the way to Creekside, shooting from various spots on the way. Despite the pounding on the legs, the runners were having a blast. No one was letting up. Timmy Parr, who also won the Vertical Mile, was hammering. He won the Quadbanger in 1:10:28, completing an amazing weekend of results with a first, fifth, and first. He handily won the general classification for doing all three. He was followed by Dan Campbell and Anatoliy Zharkikh. Kudos to fellow flatlanders Michael Wardian and Paul Terranova, who both completed the trilogy of races. Michael was 4th in the Quadbanger and Paul was 7th.

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Debbie had a lot of fun. She ran the whole race with Meredith Terranova, Paul’s wife. Meredith is someone who Debbie knew of, but hadn’t spoken with. They met during the tram ride, and bonded on four descents of the mountain, and three rides on the chairlift. Again, Karl got great support from volunteers, staff, and family. I had a chance to stop at the dirt road/singletrack junction and chat with Cheryl, Karl’s wife. I hadn’t seen her in many years. We got to know each other when we crewed at the 2007 Ultra Trail Mont Blanc. We were together at many of the aid stations in the middle of the night during that crazy race. She remembered that Debbie, our son, and I went to cheer and support Karl during his 2008 Appalachian Trail FKT attempt. Just last month, Debbie and both of our kids cheered for Scott Jurek during his record run, and Karl was there too. At the junction near the lift, Karl Meltzer, Sr. was directing traffic.

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After chatting with each of them, I made my way to the finish in time to catch all the finishers. Debbie’s legs were really giving out at the end. She had a couple of hard falls on the first and second descents. Both times she bloodied her knees and hands on the slippery singletrack switchback section. She and Meredith stuck together. Meredith told me afterwards that she was chiding Debbie, stressing that she needed to finish, and shouldn’t take too many chances. That made me laugh.

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I think her legs were just pummeled after all the running and her muscles weren’t firing correctly. I’m truly amazed at Debbie’s strength. She and her coach, Al Lyman from Pursuit Athletic Performance, put a lot of time and effort preparing for Speedgoat. They knew that running three races in three days was going to take its toll. In addition to the emphasis on recovery, the preparation was built around overall strength. It was the first time that she did a stage race like this, and these were intense races with serious elevation.

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She came screaming through the finish. Meredith was not far behind. Third woman was Jennifer Collins. Debbie was thrilled to be done. I’ve only seen her this happy at a handful of races. Nothing will top the 2012 Laurel Highlands Ultra, but she was pumped. I asked her if this race was up there with some of her other past super-tough ultras (with lots of climbing) including the Zane Grey, Jay Mountain Marathon, Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run, Wapack and Back, Six Foot Track, etc. Speedgoat was one of the hardest mile for mile ever. She had no idea that she was going to earn prize money, so she was even happier when

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Karl presented her with a nice reward. Even more special is the unique trophy she earned for winning the Quadbanger. It was handmade by Karl Meltzer, Sr. We hung out for a while, soaking up the last bit of trail running friendship from the assembled crowd. Then, we once again, returned to the Lodge for rest and recovery.

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I wasn’t as tired as Debbie, but I had enough running around to fill a weekend. We cleaned up and then explored the Snowbird Center before joining the Terranova’s for a wonderful “victory” dinner at the Aerie, a restaurant with amazing views of the mountain.

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Debbie said of Speedgoat, “Once is enough.” We likely won’t return in 2016, but never say never. The allure of Utah’s mountains is strong. I could never run a race like Speedgoat and be able to walk again, but somehow, I think that when Debbie finally recovers, she will look back and realize that this race was truly special.

Race Results

Winding Trails–Triathlon in a Tempest

I had to document the events of this week’s Winding Trails Summer Tri Series race. I don’t often write about individual weekly training races, but last Tuesday’s race was amazing. Over the years, I have used the various weekly series races including Winding Trails, the Lake Terramuggus Triathlon Series, the Bolton Summer XC Series, Wickham Park Summer XC Series, Rentschler Field Criterium, and Wompatuck State Park Circuit Race to build fitness and hone skills while “shaking out the legs” after a long day of work.

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The big races are usually on the weekends, but I’ve found the weeknight series races to be just as competitive and even more enjoyable. The entry fees are lower and the camaraderie level is high. The Winding Trails series has become one of my favorites. Since 2009, I’ve done it 27 times. I have that course dialed in.

Each year, there are 10 races in the series. In 2014, I did the first race and then had to stop because of my foot injury. If I were still a hockey player, I would only say, “a lower body injury.” I missed the remaining nine events, but Debbie got the off-road triathlon bug and did five of them. So, coming in to 2015, I made the series one of my main objectives. I finished tied for second in 2013 and wanted to have a strong 2015 comeback with the overall title in mind. The scoring is based on eight races, so to finish in the top three, you can only afford to miss two. I skipped the race two weeks ago when I did the Pat Griskus Triathlon on Wednesday night instead. I needed to save my legs for that A race.

In the end, it is just a Tuesday night “scrimmage,” but I take them seriously. The competition is solid for a local event and I like seeing the same folks every week. The staff and volunteers are excellent. This week was race number six. Debbie had done all five, but skipped this week because she is at the Speedgoat Trail Running Festival this weekend, and like Griskus was for me, Speedgoat is an important race for her. Our son was at camp and our daughter stayed with Debbie, so I went alone.

I drove straight from Sterling Machine in Lynn, Massachusetts, arriving in Farmington at 5:50 P.M., only 25 minutes before the start. I was stuck in the usual nasty Route 4 traffic. With all the stop and go, I was able change in the car. After registration, I placed my gear in transition, and did a short warm-up.

The weather looked to be the best of the year. Every Tuesday has been marked by heat, humidity, and thunderstorms. It was warm and a bit muggy, but I thought it would be a dry race. Wow, I was wrong. We started at 6:15 in Lake Dunning. I didn’t see it, but after the race, several people told me that as we were diving into the water, a bolt of lightning appeared in the distance. I didn’t have the best swim. I wandered to the right towards the buoy line and wasted some valuable strokes. Then, when I was working my way back to the left, I kept bumping into another guy. Thankfully, I was disguised in my wetsuit and goggles. I was frustrated but also embarrassed. I eventually got past him.

I had trouble removing my wetsuit. I always remove it in the water because I put my mountain bike shoes on at the beach and then run the ¼ mile to transition. It got hung up on my timing chip, which was comical. Photographer Chris Moore caught the moment perfectly. Even he admitted that he was scared off by what was to come!

I picked up some spots on the way to transition and started the mountain bike leg with about eight guys in front of me. I quickly passed three of them, and then picked up a couple more. I was locked in after a week without racing and hammered the first few miles. We were in thick woods, but I did notice that the sky had darkened. I was wearing dark lenses and wished I had worn clear instead.

I worked my way up to fourth by the third mile, with a strong rider tailing me the whole time. I couldn’t tell who he was. The top three of Jon Arellano, Roberto Diniro, and Ken Schulz were in a group riding close together. Jon and Roberto, the two “Yaleies” were slightly ahead of Ken. I know that because they have “Yale” on the back of their shorts. As I passed, Ken confirmed that there was no one ahead of them, but I still had this other guy hot on my tail.

I caught up to Jon and Roberto and surged past on the sandy hill before the four mile mark. I still didn’t hear thunder, but it was dark and breezy. I never looked back. Recently, I’ve purposely avoided looking back. I wasn’t worried if they were hanging on. I just went as hard as I could, taking every corner with as much speed as possible. I nearly crashed in the sandy right hand corner before the left over the bridge. I’m pretty sure that the guy who tailed me the entire time was the one who stuck with me all the way to transition. He was pressing me hard when I took that corner hot. After I recovered, he said, “Whoa, I’m good” or something like that to signify that he wasn’t trying to pass me. I got a look at him in the last 100 meters of the course as I reached down to undo the Velcro straps and get out of my shoes. He opted to keep his while I chose to dismount barefoot. I would have to drop him on the run.

I was a little confused coming out of transition. We were rubbing elbows and I quickly pushed ahead. I thought I had a good gap, but never bothered to look back. I was startled when 1,200 meters into the run, I had company. It was Jon. He closed the distance that I built up in the last mile of the bike leg.  He and I went stride for stride for a while. He sat on me until the steep downhill. At that point, he blew by me. I never let him get more than two seconds ahead.

The wind picked up, leaves and branches were falling on the ground, and I swear I saw hail. Then, it started to pour. It was so dark that I put my sunglasses on my head. Then the rain got heavier and the thunder and lightning went crazy. It was right over our head. I didn’t have a second to worry about all the other racers. I was in a dogfight on this run. As the rain got heavier and heavier, it was as if buckets were being poured on our heads. My sunglasses were going to blow off, so I held them in my hand.

Jon doggedly pushed the pace and all I could do was hang on. My contacts were starting to wash out of my eyes, so I pulled my ball cap down tightly to keep the rain out. When we got to the last big hill with less than a mile to go, I figured I would jump him and see if he could hang on. I knew that if I couldn’t break him, that I would be forced to wait for a sprint. The trail was flooded with inches of water eroding the soil. It was ankle-deep in spots.

I pulled up along side and he wouldn’t let me pass. He wanted it as badly as I did. I love this kind of racing, and even better, it was Tuesday night! I backed off and tucked in behind him again. He led me all the way over the footbridge and around the final bend. Normally there are folks watching, but it was deserted. I passed him on the left, kicked it hard, and thought I had it. I couldn’t see a thing. It was raining so hard. I saw the line and someone (maybe Sharon McHale like usual) was holding the ropes to separate those transitioning from bike to run from the finish. I went for the wrong timing mat before making a jerky last second adjustment to get across the right finish line. I got him just before the line.

Usually, there is a big crowd, but all the people were huddled under the pavilion. Everyone was soaked to the bone. It was unbelievable how hard the rain was coming down. Jon  paced me to my fastest run of the year and second fastest total time, but the results were wasted. The organizers made the right call. Less than 1/3rd of the competitors were able to finish, so they are not counting the results. I heard that only your best seven races will count towards the overall results. I learned after the race that the second wave was delayed by 15 minutes and combined with the third wave. That bolt of lightning as we entered the water was real. The delay and the timing of the storm hitting during the wave two/three bike leg made for a mess. Most of them were stopped after the bike and never started the run. As far as I know, everyone was safe. We were just wet. Those conditions can be dangerous, especially when they catch you by surprise, but when it works out OK, it makes for a great story.

I was happy to finish. I grabbed my bike and also huddled under one of the pavilions. I was wild-eyed as if I had seen a ghost. Those were some of the most intense weather conditions I’ve ever competed in and to top it off, with a fierce battle raging while the storm was raging. I loved every moment of it. The results are a little messed up, or I’m confused. Kudos to Dave Arnold and his team for hanging in there. Their timing gear got drenched. I don’t think Joel Emmendorfer was between us. He and I had a battle the week before, but I’m pretty certain that it was Jon and me fighting it out on the run. Who knows? With the weather the way it was, the whole thing could have been a dream.

Race Results

Scott Is Done

This past Sunday afternoon, Scott Jurek broke Jennifer Pharr Davis’ Appalachian Trail speed record. Both were supported, but she went North to South. He went the harder, but more romantic way, South to North. I wrote about the attempt two weeks ago when Debbie and our kids found him on the trail in Massachusetts. A lot has been written about the attempt and success. Just Google it.

This video interview is candid and entertaining. It also touches on the important reasons why endurance athletes take on challenges like the AT speed record. I get it. I’m inspired by it. Jurek mentions his connection to the land and the importance of trails. Enough said.

The social media craze around this attempt was amazing. Jurek is a well-known name. Jennifer Pharr Davis’ attempt was much lower key. As was Karl Meltzer’s first attempt in 2007. Karl is planning an attempt on the record (though North to South) in 2016. I wrote about Karl’s 2007 attempt back then, and followed up with a post when he finished the trail, but missed the record several weeks later.

I’m thrilled that the AT got this much attention but concerned about overuse. I’m also thrilled that east coast trails were tested by a west coast trail runner/ultrarunner/super-hiker who admitted that he didn’t do any reconnaissance in advance of the attempt. He suffered dearly for that decision and nearly missed the record as a result. The White Mountains are not to be taken lightly! And Maine, it just gets harder when you get there. I’ve railed against a west coast bias for years. The running media just doesn’t give east coast trails and east coast runners nearly the respect that they deserve. Scott Jurek, a man with Seattle and Boulder roots, who came out of the mid-west, but made a name for himself by winning a major race in California a record seven times in a row, suffered for 46 days, 8 hours and 7 minutes. That proves that our trails, east coast trails, and especially New England trails, are incredibly challenging.

KTAADN

2015 Falmouth Triathlon

This morning, I raced the Falmouth Triathlon for the first time, and had an absolute blast. This event has been on my wish list for years.

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My uncle and aunt have been part-time Falmouth residents for 37 years, and we enjoy visiting them at their place. They have hosted us many times, and for various Cape Cod events including the Martha’s Vineyard Half Marathon, the Martha’s Vineyard 20 Miler, and the Cape Cod Marathon. Their house in Falmouth Heights is 1.5 miles from the start/finish of the triathlon, which is located on Surf Drive. We built a family gathering around the event, so it was fun to have some spectators.

Debbie stopped by during her morning run and captured some fun images during all three stages of the race. The swim was 1/3rd of a mile, the bike was 9.6 miles, and the run was 3.1 miles. My partner for part of the weekend was my Hartford Extended Area Triathletes teammate, Ken Schulz. We met up last night at packet pickup, and then again this morning at 5:15 A.M. We rode over to the race and warmed up together.

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Yesterday, I scouted the venue and did a couple of laps of the bike course, which is very scenic. The bike leg is now one of my all time favorites. I wish it was longer! The loop starts on Surf Drive, heads west towards Woods Hole, and goes past the iconic Nobska Point Lighthouse. Then, it takes a right and heads east on Woods Hole Road past the golf course. It takes a right on Elm Street and heads south towards the beach. It takes a left back on to Surf Drive and finishes at Surf Drive Beach. The roads are narrow, windy, and undulating. The pavement was in good shape. It’s a fast course, and a real joy to ride with all of the twists, turns, and corners.

Falmouth is promoted by Streamline Events, a professional race management organization. This was a big race, with more than 800 registrants and nearly 700 finishers. In addition to their staff, they had good volunteer support. I would describe the race as no frills, and high quality. Triathlon has gotten quite expensive, and this race was no exception, but the value I place on the racing is highlighted by the quality and unique characteristics of the courses.

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In the case of this long running race (nearly 20 years), an ocean swim with Martha’s Vineyard in the background, the previously described bike course, and a run along the coast and on the Shining Sea Sea Bikeway, they have the course to draw strong participation. The race is friendly to first timers, so there were a lot of beginners, which is great to see.

Ken and I weren’t the first to set-up our spots in the transition area. Some early risers beat us there, but it was still super-easy to roll out of bed and ride over in less than 10 minutes. There was a little chop during the swim with a strong wind coming from the west. The wind and current pushed us back towards shore on the counter-clockwise rectangular swim course.

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That wind proved to be an added challenge on the bike leg when we rode straight into it. We got some shelter after the lighthouse and then the wind was with us after we turned and headed east again on the back side of the course. I was scheduled to start in wave nine with the 40-44 me  and Ken was scheduled for wave seven with the 35-39 men. Wave starts were three minutes apart. When we got to packet pickup last night, we talked about the situation, figured their would be hundreds of people to navigate around on the tight course, and petitioned to join the Elite Wave.

That was a wise decision because we got to start at 7:30 A.M. and had much less traffic to deal with. Ken was fourth out of the water. He is a very strong swimmer. I ceded two minutes to the leaders for a 79th place swim, which is ugly, especially for a short race. I always leave myself a big hole to dig out of and a lot of folks to pass.

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I had a strong bike and was 6th fastest on that leg averaging 26.1 mph. I let it all hang out and that probably cost me on the run, which was slower than I wanted. I didn’t catch Ken until the last mile of the bike, so he had an excellent ride. He was third on the road, so when I went by, there were only two guys in front. He is very fast in transition, so we were battling as we exited for the run. Ken was actually gunning for the Jet Blue Transition award, which would have scored him a flight anywhere in the USA, but his combined T1 and T2 times were a mere five seconds behind the winner, who happened to also get 2nd overall.

When I started the run, there were a lot of bikes to navigate on Surf Drive, but I was able to get in a rhythm. It was a warm morning with a blazing sun. I didn’t see first and second until the bike path when they were headed back at me after the 1.6 mile turnaround. They had a big gap, so I had to bear down and push in an effort to hold off those chasing me and anyone who started in a later wave that might be faster. I ended up with the 4th fastest run. Clearly, biking and running are my strengths, and swimming is not.

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The finish was on the beach after a short 100 meter sprint over a dune and on to the sand. My Mom was there at the finish, which was pretty cool. I know she was happy that the race, and associated suffering, were over in less than an hour, rather than in 10 hours like at an Ironman. At the long races, she worries a lot more.

This finish was exciting and I crossed the line in third. Ken wasn’t far behind. I ended up fourth overall because a 26 year-old “young gun” who started in a later wave, bumped me back a spot Ken was 16th. We were both very happy with our results. The win went to Raymond Botelho, and he was followed by Abraham Rogers. Both are 42, so I finished third in the Elite Masters age group. The result wouldn’t have changed if we were in the regular age groups. Triathlon is a sport dominated by top-tier masters racers. The fist woman was Claire Twark. She was followed by Kathryn Sweeney and Deborah Stevens.

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Ken and I packed up and rode back to the house, and then went for another short cool down ride along the coast. We washed up and returned to the start/finish for the awards ceremony. Both of us met our objectives for this race and we look forward to competing again in the future. I finished in 51:02, and breaking 50 minutes is future goal. I’ve now tested the legs twice this week. I did the Pat Griskus Triathlon on Wednesday. Next up is a return to the Winding Trails Summer Off-Road Tri Series on Tuesday. After that I’m taking a week of “rest.”

Race Results

2015 Pat Griskus Triathlon

Last night, I returned to the Pat Griskus Sprint Triathlon for the sixth time. I missed last year’s race because of my injured foot, but had raced the previous five years since I made my return to triathlon in 2009. Griskus is probably my favorite triathlon. I just love the format and the vibe. The sprint distance is perfect for me, especially during a year when I’m not going “long.” I love the course around Lake Quassapaug in Middlebury, Connecticut, and the idea of a mid-week race in July is great.

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The only significant change since the last time I raced Griskus was the swim. They used to start the men and women simultaneously on two parallel courses. Now they do a wave start and instead of an out and back, it is a rectangle. I insist the swim was longer than the 1/2 mile that they said it was. It was certainly longer than past races. The longer swim relative to the bike (10.5 miles) and run (3.1 miles), was not good for me, but that’s life.

I conceded 3-4 minutes to the other top competitors and that is hard to make up. I passed a lot of folks after my 14 minutes in the water, but there were still eight in front of me when I reached the finish. One minute less on the swim could have helped me pick up for more spots in the standings. Regardless, the placing, whether it be overall, or in my age group, is not why I do these races.

I saw so many friends. This was my first USAT race since August 2013. Last year was a mess with the plantar fasciitis and stress fracture that plagued me all year, and then got worse when I fractured my scapula Labor Day Weekend. I’ve done several weekly “scrimmages” at Lake Terramuggus and Winding Trails, but Griskus was my first race against some of the best triathletes in Connecticut. This race is great for beginners and there were more than 30 first timers. Rookies are celebrated at this race, so it is a great way to experience triathlon. The post-race festivities are always a lot of fun.

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I ended up 9th overall and 2nd in my age group, though I was technically the third 40-44 athlete. Chris Thomas was 2nd overall and the top 3 don’t get to “double dip” in the age group awards. I gave it my all last night. My bike and run were solid. I rode my new Zipp wheels on my Seven Kameha SLX for the first time. Unfortunately, I had to give up my Zedtech 8 (front) and 10 (rear) when Zipp had a major hub recall earlier this year. They replaced my wheels with a new 808 (front) and Sub-9 Disc (rear). It’s a fast setup and felt good. I had one mishap on the bike course. I had a late arrival at Quassy Amusement Park and had to rush my preparation in transition. I did a sloppy job at putting my frame number on my bike. I used electrical tape and it came loose during the ride. With three miles to go, the number and a wad of tape got jammed in between  my rear wheel and the chain stays. I rode it that way for a mile or so, but it was loud, annoying, and was causing drag. I stopped, hopped off and pulled it out before getting going again. That cost me 30 seconds or so and was a rookie mistake. I picked off a few guys on the run course, but ran out of time to make up more ground. I was still very pleased with my effort.

Next year will be the 30th anniversary race, and I’ll likely return.

Race Results

The Long Trail

10 years ago this week, Debbie and I finished our Long Trail (LT) End-to-End hike. It was a wonderful experience that has left lasting memories. Our life for the outdoors, hiking, and trails is epitomized by those 13 days. I wrote about the LT five years ago when our anniversary coincided with the 100th anniversary of the trail. Debbie and I still help the Green Mountain Club in our role as LT End-to-End Mentors.

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For the past 10 years, we have helped 30-40 candidates a year. The story I wrote for the 2006 Summer/Fall issue of Appalachia, is still relevant. However, we have learned so much more about lightweight backpacking and fast-packing. We would definitely change our packing list and approach to the hike if we had to do it again today. Many of those lessons are shared in the standard email that I share with people who wish to hike the trail.

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The Long Trail and Appalachian Trail (AT) have been on my mind lately. Many people have been inspired by Scott Jurek’s quest to break the Appalachian Trail speed record (supported). He is less than 190 miles from Katahdin as I type and it is still up in the air if he is going to break Jennifer Pharr Davis’ fantastic record. I wrote about his attempt and our connections to Jurek last week when he passed through Massachusetts, and Debbie and our kids met up with him to offer their support. Yesterday, Outside Magazine published an update on his progress and how hard the attempt has been.

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Jurek has a crew with him. When we did our hike, we were self-supported. We mailed two food drops to destinations near the trail and we retrieved them during the trip. I would love to try the LT again some day, but totally self-supported with no drops. That would be cool. Hiking the AT is another “to do” list item. I frequently think about that opportunity. That would be a fun family adventure.

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To celebrate the anniversary of our LT hike, we returned to Vermont last weekend with our kids for a shorter trip. They have heard so much about our 2005 adventure and we wanted to share more of the experience with them. We frequently hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but hadn’t been on the LT with them in recent years. Though they had done multi-day hiking, they hadn’t done it backpacking style where you have to carry your own gear and food. We recently got our 8-year old son a backpack. He tested it out at a recent camporee with his Cub Scouts pack. Our 5-year old daughter split time with about 60% of the time on her own feet, and 40% in our Deuter kids backpack, which Debbie carried. When loaded with a kid, food, and other gear, it weighed nearly 50 pounds. We are fortunate that our little girl is small for her age.

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We chose to hike in southern Vermont and did the 21 +/- mile Glastenbury Mountain/West Ridge loop. We parked at the Green Mountain National Forest trailhead on Rt. 9 just east of Bennington. Last Friday evening, we hiked the 1.6 miles to the Melville Nauheim shelter. We took the chance and didn’t carry a tent. We figured that even though it was July 4th weekend, that we would find space in the shelters. We carried a tarp just in case.

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The kids got to meet some LT hikers who were just starting their journey. They also met some AT thru-hikers who were well on their way northbound to Katahdin. On Saturday morning, we departed the shelter at 7:15 A.M. We showed the kids how to treat water on the trail. We hiked 8.5 miles north on the LT to the Goddard shelter. We arrived at 3:45 P.M., so it was a long day. Not only was it long, but it was wet, really wet. It started raining at 9:00 A.M., and didn’t stop until after 5:00 P.M. when we were at the shelter. Southern Vermont had already seen a record amount of rainfall in June, so the trail was waterlogged. It poured all day and turned the trail into a muddy quagmire.

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It was a character building kind of day on the trail. We all had our low moments, but taught the kids how to cope with those feelings. When our son emerged from the trees in to a clearing and spotted the shelter, he was elated. We stayed at Goddard on our second night in June 2005. It was rebuilt in September 2005, but it was in the same spot. After dinner, the skies cleared and we walked to the summit and enjoyed a 360 degree panoramic view from the top of the Glastonbury Mountain fire tower. It was spectacular and we explained to the kids that those types of experiences are what make the long walks worth it.

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Unlike our first night when we had a fitful sleep because of a shelter-mate with a snoring problem, the night at Goddard was awesome. Everyone slept well. The fact that we were knackered probably helped our slumber. On Sunday morning, we departed at 7:15 A.M. again after a quick snack. We took the West Ridge Trail south and looped back around to a dirt road just off of Rt. 9. We got to the end of the trail at 3:30 P.M., and covered another 9.5 miles. We had a beautiful day not the trail. West Ridge sees less traffic and cuts through the Glastenbury Wilderness, so the trail wasn’t as muddy, though it was overgrown. We saw lots of moose droppings, but no moose.

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We had some great moments on the trail. The sunshine on Sunday was glorious. Our son was pretty tired by mid-day, and we helped him by carrying his pack part of the time. We had some nice views from the summit of Bald Mountain and the kids got a taste of what it is like to experience multiple false summits on a long uphill climb. We were all happy to reach the road at the end of the day. Debbie ran ahead to fetch the car so we didn’t have to walk on Rt. 9 with the busy traffic. She picked us up, we returned to the trailhead, and washed off in City Stream. We took the backroads into the Berkshires of western Massachusetts and stopped in Shelburne Falls for dinner. We met up with Debbie’s brother, Tom, and enjoyed a meal at Hearty Eats, a wonderful vegan/plant-based cafe. We spent a little time on the Bridge of Flowers, and then headed home to clean up and put the wraps on another weekend of family fun.

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That story I wrote 10 years ago had the sub-title: Miserably wet feet, too little food, and no ride home at the end—a couple’s most cherished adventure to date

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I don’t think Debbie would argue. Despite climbing all of the New England 4,000 footers, hiking, running, and biking all over the world, the Long Trail trip still is our most cherished adventure to date.

2015 Nipmuck South Trail Race

Today was the Nipmuck South Trail Race, the second of the Shenipsit Striders 2015 races, race five in this year’s Connecticut Blue-Blazed Trail Running Series, and race eight in the New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series. Thankfully, Mansfield Hollow State Park is only 25 minutes from our house.

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I really didn’t want to go far today. Debbie went early to help with the pre-race stuff and I followed with our kids. We got there just before the start, grabbed some shots, and then drove to the seven mile turnaround on Old Turnpike Road, just off Rt. 44. Nipmuck South is a generally flat course with some tricky footing (rocks and roots) in spots.

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The heavy rain that started last night and continued into this morning made for a bit of a mess. Thankfully, the Nipmuck Trail drains well and the mud was only in select spots. I happened to find one of those spots near the turnaround aid station that was manned by David Merkt and Nicole Gibeau. The total length of the course is 14.1 +/- miles.

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There were a lot of Shenipsit Striders, as you would expect, in attendance. Some volunteered, some ran, and some did both. There was a tight battle for first place, with Brett Stoeffler prevailing over Todd Bennet. Jim Harron was third. First female was a dominant Kehr Davis. She finished fifth overall. Eric Wyzga had to work very hard to keep her five seconds behind his fourth place spot. Kehr was followed by Darby Dustman, who was only 15 seconds in front of Debbie, who grabbed the third spot.

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I saw a lot of smiles on the trail today. The rain and cool temperature made for great running conditions. No one was deterred by the mud. Race Director Scott Edington organized a good event on behalf of the club. It was another fun trail running event.

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The two overall winners earned a jar of honey and a bottle of maple syrup. They also earned apple pies from NipMuck Dave for winning the “trilogy” series that included the Soapstone Mountain Trail Race, Goodwin Forest Trail Run, and Nipmuck South.

Race Results


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@mikewardian at the #Speedgoat50K #Quadbanger @snowbird Softening the legs up before his next race. Definitely not a vegan trophy...but a nice hard earned handmade memento. @trailrunningmom was 5th in the Vertical Mile, 20th in the #Speedgoat50K and 1st in the Quadbanger. Better than @letourdefrance (which also ended today) she was first female in the final general classification (only woman to do all three). She saved her two hard falls until the last "stage." This woman is all blood and guts and the toughest chick I know! Our kids will get a kick out of the #Speedgoat trophy. #pursuitstrong @pursuitathlete @ultraspire #ultraspire @julbousa #ultraspire #teamhorstsports #teamlivingston Just before the start of #speedgoat50k #Quadbanger @snowbird @mikewardian doing the only thing he does nearly as much as running! Posting on #instagram #twitter and #facebook #speedgoat50k It's been fun hanging with all these crazy runners. One more crazy race. Start of the inaugural #Speedgoat #Quadbanger. 20 or so brave souls started from top of 11,000 foot Hidden Peak. Four timed 2.5 +/- mile descents with total of 10 miles and 10,000 feet of elevation loss. They ride the Peruvian Chairlift up each time. Karl Meltzer and his team of volunteers and #Snowbird staff have been amazing hosts. @snowbird @ultraspire #ultraspire @julbousa #julbousa #teamhorstsports #speedgoat50k @trailrunningmom finished #Speedgoat 50K in 8:51:54. She said the course "ran" more like a 50 miler. Tough landscape for a Connecticut resident. I'm proud of her. #teamhorstsports #teamlivingston @trailrunningmom on the last big climb (again up to Hidden Peak) @snowbird #snowbird for the #Speedgoat 50K. She crested the 11,000 foot summit at 27 miles in 7h40m. What a crazy race. Mostly downhill from here. I hope she rips it. #teamhorstsports @ultraspire #ultraspire @julbousa #julbousa #trailrunning #ultrarunning @trailrunningmom bombing down Mt. Baldy at #Speedgoat 50K. @ultraspire #ultraspire @julbousa #julbousa #teamhorstsports #trailrunning #ultrarunning @trailrunningmom came through 21+/- miles at #Speedgoat 50K in 5:40 or so. 11,000 feet of up and 11,000 feet of down on this beast of a course. @snowbird #snowbird #teamhorstsports #trailrunning #ultrarunning @ultraspire #ultraspire @julbousa #julbousa

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