I had done the 25K inaugural version of this race
two years ago as part of the Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series. Last year they added a 50 miler. This is one of the most beautiful courses I've ever done: views of the lake from every turn and running amidst herds of buffaloes and antelope. Plus the Race Director Jim Skaggs promised to make the 50 miler more challenging this year with multiple ascents of Elephant Head Mountain.
So I really wanted to come out and do this race despite the fact that it filled late last year. Luckily some room came free on the waiting list at the last minute. So I cancelled my trip to do a Virginia race and came out to Utah instead.
My goals for the race were to:
- run consistently and efficiently throughout finishing strong and ready for more
- win the masters division. I thought that I would need to run 8:45 or so to do this (last year masters was won in around 8:30 but its a more challenging course this year)
- as a stretch goal run 8:30 or less
The race started at the ungodly hour of 6:00am under a bright full moon. The runners lined up in full headlamp and reflective regalia.
We ran out from the campground at the edge of the island on fireroad and were supposed to turn left from there onto a trailhead. But the various different chalk markers made me think that we should stay straight. I was leading out, but I had someone on my elbow when I chose not to turn so I assumed I had gone correctly. Once I could see the campground again I realized that I had made a mistake. I got back onto the trail 16 minutes into the race in dead last. In other races, wrong turns have demoralized me and I've had trouble finishing strong. This time however, I resolved to get back to the front.
As we ran up to Elephant Head I had the pleasure of greeting almost every runner as we approached the aid station for the turn to Turtle Rock. This was a little out and back where a sticker needed to be collected. For some reason people were turning to do that out and back spur at mile 4 instead of mile 9 as the map called for. Anyway, either way it works I guess.
I was running fourth as we made a climb out up a ridge at mile 15. Coming down from there I stopped to take some pictures of the buffalo herds and got passed by the eventual fourth and fifth place finishers as well as some other runners who I would repass.
After passing the buffalo herds, we descended from the ridge onto a large fireroad by mile 18. This passed close to the start/finish area, and continued up and over a hill and then down to the lake. Turning left at the base, we ran out a mile or so to the aid station at mile 20.
Then south on single track on the East Coast of the island, bordering the road, reaching the southern tip of the course around mile 31. Back north on this road to the northernmost aid station at mile 43.
Then west around the westernmost peninsula of the island on some very rocky treacherous single track. Its completely unmarked for over three miles and most runners I talked to thought they might be lost. Rounding the bend the tents of the finish campground were finally visible. Feeling strong and knowing I wasn't lost, I sprinted the last half mile or so back to the finish area.
There the 25K and 50Kers were waiting with homemade buffalo chili (is this why the buffaloes were eyeing us runners so angrily on the course?) and Jim's delicious homebrewed red ale. We hung around for hours cheering runners in and enjoying the food, fine weather and the breezes off of the lake in this unique venue.
As I had hoped for, I felt great in this race throughout and I was happy to finish in 8:38 given my 16 minute detour. I did manage to win masters after all, and was seventh overall
. No wrong turns would probably have netted me fifth overall. But I was pleased with a day of running strong under adversity regardless of the result.
This race is a well kept secret and there weren't too many other Californians in it. I'll be letting my local ultramarathoners about it though. I expect it to grow and be quite difficult to get into soon.