Pocatello 50 Mile Called Mid-Race Due to Weather

I was up at the Pocatello 50 mile in 2009 and loved it. (iRF race profile) I did drop out, but the course was spectacular and the weather that climbed to 80F was enjoyable. I’m not sure that I’d have enjoyed this year’s race unless I was looking for a huge mental challenge. Perhaps I would have readily welcomed the race directors’ decision to pull racers off the course mid-race due to dangerous course and weather conditions. The top solo runners and relay teams made it to Mink Creek, the mile 32 aid station, while most runners left the course at the mile 17 aid station.

Course Conditions
Some runners ended up leaving the course even earlier. Last year, snow was only to be found on the highest reaches of the course. This year, there was bountiful snow in the week before the race, it snowed overnight before the race, and there were white out conditions on the higher ridges during the race itself. Apparently, some of the runners were unable to stick to the flagged route. That’s unfortunate as iRunFar reader Emily Schuh Berriochoa notes that “the course was VERY well flagged, even the off-trail section.”

Pocatello 50 mile 2010 snow

Where's the trail at the 2010 Pocatello 50 mile. Photo courtesy of Emily Schuh Berriochoa.

Reports are that event when the participants stayed on course and weren’t trudging over snow, “extreme mud made even the normally fast sections slow going and treacherous.”

The Weather
Despite the poor course conditions, the weather stole the show. Can you imagine running 50 miles in the mountains with rain, sleet, and snow? Oh, and the snow equaled white out conditions on the higher ridges according to numerous racers. There have been reports of “40 mile per hour winds,” “gale force winds” and even “50-60 mile per hour winds with a -10F windchill.” All in all, not a fun day out there, especially if you weren’t expecting such conditions.

Pocatello 50 Mile 2010 blizzard

Sideways snow was featured at the Pocatello 50 Mile in 2010. Photo courtesy of Emily Schuh Berriochoa.

Matt Hart’s Take
Montrail athlete Matt Hart is a tough runner who also has a great deal of backcountry skiing experience. Here’s what he had to say about the race.

The weather at the start was in the 30s and raining, so we all go soaked on the climb up above tree line, where it was hailing sideways. I, of course, underestimated this and wore a t-shirt with arm warmers. It was like blizzard above treeline. The hail was whipping and would sting your face and eyes if you tried to look where you were going. Pretty brutal.

These conditions made it really hard to follow the course. There aren’t a lot of trees or shrubs to put flags on up that high to begin with. Then the clouds and hail and wind made it really hard to see the flags that were out there. In the first 2.5 hours, I got lost a total of about 20 minutes.

On top of both ridges I could not feel my hands or my arms, which was new to me. Even today after hot bath, etc., my thumbs and forearms don’t feel right. They are numb from being frozen. Fellow Montrail runner Sean [Meissner] and I were both running on the very thin line near hypothermia, as were most. We both made it to Mink Creek [at mile 32]. I think I was about 30 minutes ahead of him. He actually had a jacket on, my jacket by the way, but I think I might be built for tougher conditions a bit better… because I think he looked a bit more frozen and banged up.

Hart’s crew captured some video from the start and mile 17 aid station. You can see the precipitaion and hear the wind in the latter portions of the video.

Sean Meissner’s Take

WOW!! Right when we got on the off-trail section I saw Hart about a minute up and was warmed up and ready to go get ‘im. Joelle caught up to me right then and I noticed she was not in a good way. The higher we got the worse the weather, and Joelle, got. Knowing how shitty the weather was at mile 11 and about 7,000′, I told her there was no way the RD’s were going to let runners go over Scout Mtn and the RD’s were going to stop the race at 50k at Mink Creek (as an RD, I just KNEW this decision would be made – no doubt in my mind). Fortunately, I remembered the left turn onto the jeep track from the off-trail section, and then, shortly after, the right turn to head downhill. This right is the turn most people missed due to white out.

We had both made the decision to drop at 17. The lower we got [the better we felt]. I mentioned that most of the guys ahead of us had bodies that were just better made for these conditions. She and I both just don’t have much body mass, muscle or fat, so really no reserves to help keep us warm. Fat jokes aside, Hart’s just a bigger dude and although I knew he wasn’t loving life, his body is just better suited to those nasty conditions. I’m glad I didn’t find him curled up on the side of the trail. We got to the aid station, got some dry clothes (including Hart’s jacket, although I had no idea why it was there; Matt, why didn’t you have it??), had some soup, saw Amy come in (who was also going to drop), and hung out for about 15 minutes. The three of us eventually headed back out together.

Less than a mile and Amy dropped back, then Joelle dropped me when we got to the steeper parts. She kept prancing on up while I was having some altitude breathing issues and had to walk. Once up on the ridge it was a f’in’ blizzard with more stinging sideways sleet and snow. I could hardly see, but was lucky to be near 2 dudes so I could follow their steps. The trail and markers were buried in snow, so it was hard to see where anything was, especially with my hand over my face to protect my eyes. Bad mistake to leave my sunglasses at mile 17. Once I got my breathing under control on the ridge I noticed I was shaking and definitely couldn’t feel my hands or feet. So I did the only smart thing I could think of – I ran my ass off. The next 3 miles down to the aid station. I just ran as hard as I could through the storm, feeling bad as I flew by half a dozen people, but it was all I could do to get less cold. I slowed each time I passed someone to make sure they were okay. At the aid station(!), the first thing they told me was the race was canceled. I said thanks, got some water in my pack, and although they tried to get me to stay and warm up by the heater, I knew the only way to stay warm was to move again. So I hiked up the next climb, gnawing at a gel to open it, eventually got the calories and topped out on the hill, then ran as fast as I could again. I passes probably 10 more people on the way to the finish, again feeling bad as I wasn’t racing just trying to get done. I caught Joelle about 2 1/2 miles before the finish and she was fine, so I went by her, too.

Absolutely EPIC day at Pocatello. I’m still kinda in disbelief that some people actually wanted to keep going for the Scout Mountain loop. Seriously, people!? Snow was going to be deep (fresh on top of old), markers would be buried, complete white out and blizzard conditions…people would have been f’ed!

The Cancellation
The reaction among the racers is that the RDs made the right decision to call the race early. Berriochoa’s take was that “so many people were having problems with staying warm and staying on course on the first 17-mile leg of the race, it was a very good call to stop the race, considering the climb in the last third of the race was about 2,000 feet higher than the first or second legs.” Jim Skaggs, a veteran ultramarathoner and race director of Utah’s Buffalo Run, simply noted, “Good call on Jared and Ryan’s [the RDs’] part. It was dangerous.”

A Great Race, Despite the Conditions
All that said, the race day conditions and cancellation didn’t damper enthusiasm for this race. For instance, Berriochoa noted that she ” finished comfortably, pretty much oblivious to the drama going on around [her]. . . . I will be back to this race next year – race directors Ryan and Jared are organized and responsible. I cannot imagine a more beautiful landscape to run. The mountains surrounding Pocatello are spectacular.”

Other Reports
I can’t help but share as much info as I can about a given topic as I can, so here are some additional race reports from this year’s race in case you are itching for more! We’re adding more reports as the come in.

Call for Comments
If you attended the race, do you echo Berriochoa’s sentiments “I have nothing bad to say about this race, the organization, or the directors. As usual at ultras, the people were simply amazing. The aid station workers where most of the runners were being pulled were just like angels, working triage on all of us, getting us warm, putting us in warm cars, getting us warm drinks, and giving us rides back to the start/finish. Love this race. I will be back next year!”

Have any of you faced similar conditions in a race? Any RDs who read iRunFar, have you been in a position where you had to seriously consider canceling your race due to bad conditions.

[Edits: Added Sean Meissner’s take 5/31/10 10:30 a.m. PDT. Added links to other reports 5/31/10 11:30 a.m. PDT. New links to race reports will not be noted in the edits.]

There are 6 comments

  1. Jon Allen

    Bryon- I ran the race and only wore a singlet and arm warmers, like Matt, and also was borderline hypothermic. Definitely the right call to cancel the race. Running on Scout Mtn with 6 miles of snowpack in whiteout/blizzard conditions could have been tragic- miss one course marker and there would be no recovering. Sad we couldn't finish, of course, but definitely the right decision.

  2. Bryon Powell

    Reader Paul L from Boise was running the race and here's what he had to say:

    Quite the adventure out there!!! I became lost with a group of 12 runners at the top of Wild Horse ridge – and I DID run the race last year, too, and thought it was well marked but…to echo the aforementioned comments, I have never run in those 'hailstorm from hell' conditions. Twelve of us got lost, stayed calm, kept moving, and were basically traipsing over uncharted territory (ridgelines, creekbeds, bushes, trees) for a couple of hours until we were able to make it back down into the town of Pocatello. We still had to cross a 'private farm with a chained fence' and a prancing bull that, fortunately, did not charge us. We managed to run a little road before making it to the 17 mile aid station. We were just happy to be alive and relatively well and agree that the race directors and volunteers did a great job under such adverse conditions. And, yes, can't wait to go back and do it again next year – maybe with just a little less snow and wind…."

  3. Jim Skaggs

    Bryon,

    yep, I hope to be back next year. Jared and Ryan were very well organized, the volutneers were nothing short of enthusiastic and whaqt scenery I could see was spectacular.

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