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SR50 Part 2: Race to the Top & Halfway Out

From the last post:

"BAM!"


We were off! The race—and the race within the race—started. We tore up the hill, trying to balance quick steps with powerful strides as the terrain became increasingly unstable. They had recently added a bunch of dirt to the top 50 feet or so, which made that section especially difficult. I kept my head down, going as fast as I could. I knew I was in the top 5 or so. The guy in front of me lost his footing and went down. I gave my condolences as I side-stepped him and ran between two other runners in a final dash to the top to cross the line--in second place!

Technically I was third, according to the race website. But my time was the same as 2nd place and I maintain that I crossed the timing mat before him. Either way, it was fun and I felt really good… until I felt really awkward because I was at the absolute front of the pack!

From Top Of The Hill To The 1st Aid Station

Everyone else had slowed or stopped after hitting the hill. I took a few strides before turning around and realizing I didn’t know where to go (even though there were markers). I’m not usually at the front of a race, so I just stood there for a bit before some other runners came through. I wasn’t trying to race the first half anyway.


Runners on an evergreen-lined trail at dawn.
The sun was just barely shining on the tree tops as we made our way out from the sounds of the start line.

I had to keep reminding myself to take it easy for the first 6 miles. I wanted to go a little faster, with the flow of the runners around me, but I knew I needed to get to halfway feeling fairly fresh. This section of the course was rolling trail, but net uphill. I walked all of the noticeable uphills, only running the flats and downhills. I let myself flow a little on the downhills, picking up speed and passing people who had just passed me on the incline. I really enjoyed this section, the sun was bursting through the mist, there was an air of exciting uncertainty about the day, and the vistas were already stealing my breath more than the altitude.


Trail runners running toward a hazy sunrise, their shadows cast toward the camera.
One of my favorite parts of the race! The atmosphere was magical.

From the 1st Aid Station To the Second (Printer Boy)


After the first aid station, the trail became more constantly uphill. This section was 5 miles long, and it was more difficult to keep a steady pace. I passed a few runners during this section, managing to get in a pretty comfortable body position to hike quickly and avoid tripping on the uneven trail. the terrain in this segment was partly packed dirt, partly a trickling stream. There were plenty of opportunities to lose footing or splash around. I chose to splash around a bit, and that was fun but had the benefit of cooling me off and giving me a clear line to pass some people.


Trail runners in a valley on a sunny day
A brief level section after the first aid station: mountains, here we come!

To try and stay fueled during the 50 miles / 10-ish hours I was expecting to be out, I set a 45-minute timer on my watch to remind me to eat. I had a bunch of fancy running snacks (Maurten, Skratch, for example) and some less fancy pop-tarts. I remember it started getting difficult to feel like snacking as we got higher up. I was also taking a SaltStick pill every hour to help me stay hydrated. I was usually taking in about 200 calories per 45-minutes (plus the liquid fuel I was drinking, so maybe another 50 calories per hour?).

We were still below the treeline during this first extended climb, but the views were amazing! There was more and more snow, and higher and higher peaks were surrounding us. I felt very much in the mountains, and that’s a really good feeling.


Going higher up the side of the present mountainside, my alarm went off. I decided to switch it up and take a caffeinated gel this time, 100 calories + 100mg of caffeine (thank you, Maurten, for that lovely ratio). About 15 minutes later the top of the climb was in sight, and the caffeine must have been working its magic because as soon as we turned the corner I kicked into a run.


Right around the corner was a marvelously long downhill section. This was some of the most fun during that race. From mile 11 to 15ish I cruised along at a solid pace—save one hill, I was sticking to my plan of climbing the ups. I even took a chance to try for the elusive jump shot, where you see a photographer and try to be cool. Usually, it ends up not looking great, but in my few years of racing I’ve gathered some intel on how to get a good shot, and it was high time to put it to the test. I was already airplane-arming and smiling my face off, but when I saw the photographer get in a rather athletic position, I put my arms down and with one hand counted off to three before launching into a sick tail-grab. I don’t know if that’s the right terminology, but the photographer loved it and I felt 100x more cool afterward.


The first half of that downhill segment was along a wide, dirt fire road. After about 2 miles we hit a paved section (the only paved section) that connected us from the fire-road to more singletrack. This was so fun! The trail was full of downhill switchbacks strewn with rocks and roots. It was pretty fast running here and I let myself lean into the descent and have some fun. I knew I was getting to the next aid station soon, and I would see my friends then. I couldn’t help getting a little pacy!


Paved road filled with runners and their crew members.
Made it to Printer Boy and my friends :) 14 miles in!

The next time I'd see my friends would be at the halfway point, 10-ish miles away. Between here are there was another aid station, just after the high point of the course (12,000 ft!).

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