This weekend I traveled to the mountains just south of Pocatello for the third annual Pocatello 50 Mile Trail Run. Actually, this year’s event included 50 mile (actually 54+ miles), 50k, and 19.5 mile options. While the forecast wasn’t anywhere near as bad as last year’s race that was snowed out mid-event, it was bad enough that (1) the race website warned that we needed to bring cold/foul weather gear and (2) I skipped out on the free pre-race camping in favor of a 2 a.m. wakeup and drive. In the end, we were treated to prefect weather with cool temps, mostly overcast skies, negligible winds, minimal precip (I was treated to light graupel on the final peak).
The course itself was a re-route due to the massive snowpack remaining on Scout Mountain, the final climb on the course. Still, 50 mile runners traversed numerous miles of snow (any guesses out there?) and a similar amount of slick, sloppy mud. That said, the courses also offered tremendous beauty, a vast majority of sweet, runnable singletrack, and a mighty challenge. The 50(+) mile course included a butt-busting 11,000’+ of climbing.
As for the details, I’ll share the results of the top runners before some thoughts about my own effort. If you ran any of the Pocatello races, please share how your race went and what you think of the event.
[I apologize for a lack of photos… my own camera never made if out of my pack before I left it at the mile 17 aid station. If anyone has photos they’d like to contribute to this post, please let me know.]
RDs Jared Campbell and Ryan McDermott managed to attract solid fields in the event’s first two year, but things were even better this year. Race sponsor La Sportiva certainly helped by throwing in $500 prizes to the men’s and women’s winners of the 50 mile race.
50 Mile – Men
- Dakota Jones – 8:17:00
- Zach Miller – 8:24:39
- Mike Foote – 8:40:30
- Ryan Burch – 9:01:32
- Evan Honeyfeild – 9:04:13
- Luke Nelson – 9:09:45
- Matt Hart – 9:17:04
- Christian Johnson – 9:45:30
- Jeremy Humphrey – 9:46:57
- Ben Lewis – 9:51:16
- Ty Draney – 9:57:48
(Why 11 men? Because breaking 10 hours on this course is sick.)
50 Mile – Women
- Joelle Vaught – 9:31:43
- Diana Finkel – 11:05:58
- Anny Merrill – 11:18:47
50k – Men
- Damian Stoy – 5:54:55
- Dominick Layfield – 6:00:39
- Jay Aldous – 6:03:27
50k – Women
- Bethany Lewis – 6:12:24
- Jamie Williams – 7:07:06
- Emily Judd – 7:15:02
19.5 Mile – Men
- Pat Bragassa – 2:53:49
- Brad Mitchell – 3:02:30
- Ben Woodbeck – 3:21:31
19.5 Mile – Women
- Sarah Evans – 4:00:36
- Kirsten Nickisch – 4:21:19
- Breck Hillary – 4:23:50
(BTW, all these results are unofficial.)
I’m quite thankful that a few weeks ago during a training run Jared Campbell suggested that I come up and run his race. I’d long planned on running the Rocky Mountain Double Marathon as a running-centric tune up for Western States, but with a 41 mile mostly road run the week before at Park City’s Running with Ed event and my focus diverted from States, Poky fit perfectly into my see-what-my-body-can-handle schedule.
It turns out that my body can handle a lot more than I expected. For the vast majority of the past year and a half I’ve averaged 25-40 miles per week. With the two ultras and an unexpectedly long midweek run, I logged 129 miles in the 8 days ending with the Pocatello 50 and I feel great. In fact, I’ve never felt better the day after a 50 mile or longer race.
Part of the reason I feel so good today is admittedly because I treated yesterday as a training run and refused to push through the final miles at 100%… but it was still nearly 55 miles with 11,000′ of climbing and descent. While I expect to feel a bit more delayed onsets muscle soreness (DOMS) tomorrow (I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon), I was shocked at how well my legs absorbed that much descent. I do log plenty of hilly training runs, but I’ve done only a handful of runs with significant continuous descents. I guess a lot of generally hilly running is more beneficial than I would have imagined.
For me, the race played out in four parts. If you want to see my data from the run, it’s up on Garmin Connect.
The first 17 miles were an easy warmup. I was doing a good job of ignoring my Garmin early as was shocked as I approached the second aid station. I arrived in 2:55… well ahead of the 3:46 it took me last time. In fact, in 2009 it took me 2:35 just to get to the 11 mile aid station. Granted, last time I was not altitude acclimated and had driven a moving truck 2,000 miles in the two days prior to the race. Still, it was sweet to be able to run 17 miles without thought or effort. That’s a huge change from just a month ago.
One fun fact from this section is that it took me 27 minutes to cover a single mile during this section. My Garmin data shows 1,264′ of climb during this mile of bushwacking straight up a ridge.
I handled the early, gradual climb out of the City Creek aid station well… and then I caught a toe during a flat bit of trail. It was a three point hit. My hands were merely dirty while my left knee was left a bit sore. What was worse is that the fall knocked me out of rhythm before another huge climb. This one was the toughest on the course as there as a good deal of side-slope snow climbing. I’ll admit that the sliding around further frustrated me.
I’m not certain if it was related to my mental collapse, but once I hit the top of the climb my heart rate collapsed, as well. Whereas I’d been averaging a heart rate in the mid-140s to low 150s (my goal and my 100 mile effort), it dropped to an average of from 126 to 135 beats per minute (bpm) for each of the next 8 miles. To give some perspective, during a 100 miler I consider my inability to go above 135 bmp a sure sign that I’m completely bonked and running on fat stores only. That shouldn’t be the case 20 or 21 miles into a run completed at a relaxed pace.
Regardless, I slowly jogged these slightly downhill miles fighting myself the whole way. I never stopped eating, drinking, or moving, but I was certain that I’d drop out at the mile 32 aid station. I had nothing and there was no point in forcing the final 22 miles on an empty tank.
… and then 29 or 30 miles in the light switch went on again. Such phoenix-like moments are one of my absolute favorite aspects of ultras. Maybe they happen in marathon or shorter races, but they couldn’t be so profound or long lasting. There’s nothing like being at rock bottom like I was for two full hours and then feeling like a new man.
My first clue to this rebirth was that I was feeling more fluid… more at ease and my mood was lifting. That change was confirmed by a look at my Garmin. My heart rate was now in the low 140s, which is back to acceptable for me while descending in a long ultra. I’d been around 10 minute pace on the gentle declines. Now, my mile splits were 8:42, 7:40, and 7:15. True, the grade had become steeper, but the change in pace was as much a reflection of my personal ascent as the topographic descent.
I remember feeling good for a half mile or mile coming into a left hand turn that clearly led down a steeper drainage to the Mink Creek aid station. I made a quick stop. I was again motivated and wanted to be ready to push this section. I did.
That same positive phase carried over through the aid station into a long, gentle climb on the other side of the valley. I ran a good portion of it. I hit a mile out-and-back where I could see some of the fasties in the race. I didn’t know how long that section was – I hadn’t studied the course one bit – and thought they might be an hour or two up on me. Nope. Half an hour tops for those that I saw (probably 6th or 7th and on). That motivated me even further, as did seeing Karl Meltzer, Roch Horton, Katherine, and others at the Scout Mountain aid station, where I enjoyed the pirogi (eaten) and the cowbells (not eaten).
Up and out of the aid station, some more snowy flat (I forgot to mention the 3 miles of snow in and out of that aid station), and then another long descent. I had no idea where it led, so I ran strong, but within myself. That resulted in mile splits of 7:51, 7:29, and 7:21 back into the Mink Creek aid station at mile 47. All in all, it was a strong 17 mile stretch.
During the Scout Mountain loop (miles 32-47) I thought of my buddy Sean Meissner who squeaked in just under 10 hours in 2009. It was and remains an awesome time on the course. If I had a shot, I’d try to equal my friend’s mark. It was not to be.
When I arrived at Mink Creek, Jared Campbell informed me that there were indeed another 7.4 miles left. Three miles up, three miles down, and a mile on the road. I was at 8:24 and having already come down the drainage up which we’d be running, I knew I couldn’t go sub-10 hours without leaving everything out on the course. I’m proud of myself for sticking with my guns and simply rolling through this final stretch as easily as I’d run all my previous miles on the day. This was, after all, a training run.
I was, however, in for one final treat. During the final descent (more like 1.5 miles than 3), I caught fellow 50 mile runner Chris Cawley. As I went by I encouraged him to hang on and stay with me. He did. It turns out it was his first 50 mile and it was a pleasure to cruise the final two miles in with him.
[Added] My time was 10:15. That works out to 11:15/mile or 10:54/mile of actual time moving per Garmin.
All in all, I’m quite pleased with how my run at Pocatello went. I had only one rough stretch, it was early in the race, and I recovered. I fueled very well with a GU on average of one every half hour with no stomach problems. My quads are in far better downhill shape than I could have imagined.
Downsides to the race include mental weakness … and an inability to consciously correct a bad mindset. I really need to learn more about sports psychology and apply it to my running.
Where Does The Race Leave Me
I’m even more polar in my thinking about running Western States or not than I was a week ago.
On one hand, I’ve got the endurance to run for 10 hours and am better prepared for descents and better trail conditioned (i.e., ready to withstand poor footing) than I thought. I was also spot on in terms of fueling and taking care of myself. With little practice in the past year and a half, this remained a concern if an invalid one.
On the other hand, my mental toughness isn’t there… and I’m not sure the mental desire is there, either. I can’t imagine running another 10 or 15 hours (or more) in four weeks. If you asked me yesterday and I were honest in replying, I would have said I wasn’t running Western States. Then again, who hasn’t said something similar right after a long race?
What To Do Now
I’m quite pleased at how well my training and fitness are improving. That said, Pocatello was a good lens through which I could examine aspects of my fitness. I’m left wanting to work on three distinct aspects of my running. I’ll be focusing on them the next three weeks whether or not I run States.
First, I need to keep with the long runs. I want to keep building my fat burning capacity and ability to run strong and smooth on tired legs.
Second, I need focused quad-busting downhill sessions. I feel amazing considering the 11,000′ of descent yesterday, but I’d be doubling that at Western States and will be tripling it at Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc.
Finally and most surprising, I want to work on my speed. All my training runs are easy. I won’t be jumping on the track or anything like that, but I could use a couple of faster miles maybe two days a week. I want some additional strength to power flats and accelerate on downhills late in a race.