Pocatello 50 Mile Trail Race Profile

iRunFar talks about the Pocatello 50 mile, a tough ultramarathon in Idaho.

By on December 25, 2009 | Comments

There’s a tough new ultra in town. It’s name? The Pocatello 50 mile. Anyone who showed up at this race back in May thinking Pocatello was the flat home of potato growers and the Simplot Games was in for a rude and painful awakening! In post-race discussions, weathered ultra veterans placed the Pocatello 50 among the Top 5 or even the Top 3 hardest 50 mile races in the United States. I agree! So why am I telling you about the Pocatell0 50 now and not 6 months ago? Well, I got a bit caught up in iRunFar road trips 1 and 2, and once the race report was no longer timely I decided that I’d wait until registration for the 2010 Pocatello 50 was about to open to post it. I’m happy to share that registration will open on January 1 for the Pocatello 50, which be run on May 29, 2010.

Pocatello 50 mileFolks enjoy early sections of the Pocatello 50 mile course

The Course
This course warrants me repeating the message that this course is quite tough. It’s not just tough in the “Let’s throw as much elevation gain and bushwacking together as we can sense.” No, with a few exceptions the course follows a logical loop through the mountains on reasonable trail. Heck, for the most part, the trail isn’t even technical. So why does everyone think the Pocatello 50 mile so darned hard?

First, the race is 51.8 miles, rather than 50. However, in trail ultras that’s barely a rounding error and the RDs clearly discloses this fact on the course info page. So while competitors still need to cover a longer than standard distance, the extra miles aren’t the race’s crux.

Jared Campbell Pocatello 50 mileco-RD Jared Campbell was out there greeting runners on the course

The next suspect – elevation gain – DOES significantly contribute to the Pocatello 50 being such a tough race. The numbers don’t lie – 13’680 feet of climb and 13’680 feet of descent. That’s an average of 264′ of climb per mile… but that’s when you average the climb over all 51.8 miles of the course. If, for simplicity’s sake, you assume that there are an equal number of miles spent climbing and descending on the course, then during an average mile that a runner is climbing during the race, they climb 528′! The biggest climb of the day – the 4,300’+ climb up Scout Mountain – doesn’t start until after mile 32 and lasts for nearly 10 miles.

Of course, what goes up must come down…. which means a lot of quad-thrashing descent. Late in the race I overheard one elite runner lamenting about the condition of their quads as they approached the race’s final 4,000′ descent.

Pocatello 50 mile elevation profileElevation profile (click to enlarge)

In glancing at the elevation profile above, the astute reader may have noticed that the race drops below 5,000′ only once and then only very briefly. Much of the race is run at between 5,500-6,000′ with three climbs above 7,000′ and Scout Mountain bringing runners up to just under 8,700′. This may seem all find and dandy to those living at elevation, but it’s more than enough to leave a lowlander hunched over, hands-on-knees gasping for breath… repeatedly… on the first climb. Trust me, I know this firsthand.

Pocatello 50 mile Scout MountainThe last, simple outpost before the final push over Scout Mountain

…And then there’s the footing. The problem isn’t that the course is a technical rock garden like I’ve seen out East. No, this one’s got a whole host of challenges for the runner to overcome. First, there’s the gnarly bushwhack straight up the side of Wild Horse Mountain. While your path is never completely blocked, you need to find your own line up, over, and through rocks, tall herbs, and sage brush all the while overcoming the lung busting climb up a mountain at a (un)reasonably high altitude. Soon thereafter, I found it difficult to run the cup trailed found late in the first 17-mile section, as I’ve not spent much time on mountain biking trails. I skipped the middle section of the race, but apparently the trail runs up a stream bed for some ways. Then you come to the final section, which throws in the highest portions of the course that were covered with shoe-sucking mud and slushy snow banks. In a word, the footing is awesome!

Wild Horse Mountain Pocatello 50 mileThe view once you finally crest Wild Horse Mountain

Aside from the spectacular and literally breathtaking course, the race is already off to a promising start. Hmm… a first year race th
at features Krissy Moehl, Dave James, Kevin Shilling, Sean Meissner, and Luke Nelson in the 50 mile – sounds like a good start to me! (Full 50 mile results – pdf) I suppose I should mention that the relays had a wee bit o’ talent, as well, with Karl Meltzer and Tom Borschel taking on portions of the course.

Krissy Moehl Luke Nelson Pocatello 50 mileKrissy Moehl (white) and Luke Nelson (yellow)
with their eyes on the trail shortly after cresting Scout Mountain

Other Reports and Resources
My words and handful of photographs cannot do the beauty of the Pocatello 50 course justice. With that in mind, I will direct you to Gregg Norander’s awesome photos of the race.

Interested in the race? Want to read some race reports? Here ya go!

If you ran the race, please share your thoughts! Click on the video below to hear what Montrail’s Sean Meissner (third place) had to say about the Pocatello 50 mile course.

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.