Saturday, June 27, 2009

Old Gabe 50k Race report

(My return to the ultra scene)

Endurance fades, but experience lasts. I pulled into the parking lot got my bag and started walking to packet pickup. I passed a woman sitting on the tailgate of her truck, shoes and socks off, applying body-glide, I had never been here before but it instantly felt like home. I hadn't run a race since the Tecumseh Trail marathon in December, so was excited to get back into the racing scene. But I also hadn't been training since December, with a long run of 5 miles (once a couple months ago) a hike/run of 8 miles (last week) and a couple hikes of 9 miles (a few weeks ago) I didn't have many expectations. It may not be the smartest move to have made my first race in 6 months a 50K with around 12,000 feet of elevations gain, mile for mile it has a similar elevation gain to hardrock, but how can you resist a race that calls it's self "one of the most difficult 50k's in the country" when it's 15 minutes from your front door?

I started out in the back of the pack. I thought I was last but I was actually second to last. The first 4 miles is a climb from the middle cottonwood trail head (start/finish) to the south Bostwick at Saddle Pass. It starts out as a slight incline for 1.5 miles (this portion of the course is the out and back that leads to the different trails we would be running, so we covered that 1.5 miles 4 times throughout the day. At Saddle you descend down the pass and onto the next aid station another four miles away (the distance between aid stations is approximated, the first "half" of the race is actually a mile or two longer than the second "half") in late summer the first mile down from Truman Gulch would be a steep descent, but still definitely runnable. But in late June in Montana at 8,000 feet snowfields still remain. It had been really cold the night before and the snow was extremely hard making it very treacherous to run down. I fell a couple times before deciding to go out of the way and find more solid ground on the side of the snowfield. Once you get past the snowfield the trail turned into a creek and made the rest of the decent very muddy. Once you get past that, the next 3 miles to Truman Gulch is a nice downhill stretch. Then it's back the same trails from Truman Gulch, over Saddle Pass, back to Middle cottonwood. As I was making the climb back up the snowfield at Saddle Pass I had decided that I would bag it at the Start finish and drop to the 25K. But I was breaking one of the golden rules of Ultrarunning: making a decision on an up hill. I started running downhill my energy came back and I was feeling pretty good. Early on I was running up all kinds of debts: Energy, hydration and electrolytes. so around mile 12 I rededicated myself to keeping on the nutrition maintenance side of things.

at the half way point at Middle Cotton would I was feeling pretty good. I knew the second half of the race, Middle Cottonwood to Sypes Canyon and back would be a little bit shorter, and 2,000 feet less elevation gain than the first half. I reached the halfway point right around 6 hours (the cutoff was 12 hours) so I knew I had to keep my pacing going if I wanted to finish. Middle Cottonwood to Sypes canyon is 4 miles up then 4 miles down (roughly). I like that about mountain ultras, there may be quite a bit more elevation, but there are stretch of consistency, and your not going up then down small hills over and over which can break up your rhythm. The second half of the race was pretty routine. I felt good from mile 12 to the finish. I made good time on the second half and stayed well within the cuttoffs. At this point I was still in the back of the pack but there were two people very close to me. As we reached the final two miles we were all right together. about two miles from the finish there was some snow and downed trees from a avalanche that happened in the winter, it went right over the trail so we had to climb over it. the guy that was right with me knew the course so when I started to take one route around the trees, and he took another, he neglected to mention that I was going the wrong way, by the time I got back on the trail he was gone. At that time I decided I was going run as fast as I had to to catch up and pass him before we finished, which I did. It was cool to be at the very back of the pack but still be with two other runners that were pushing me to the finish, we were fighting to first, second and last. But i'd rather be the last finisher than the first to DNF. I won the battle and crossed the line in 11:00:16, despite my best effort to come in under 11 hours in the last 1.5 miles.

That's quite a long time for a 50K, but to put things in perspective the winner finished just under 6 hours, which was only the 4th time in the history of the race that anyone has finished under 6 hours. The second placed guy finished in over 7 hours. Old Gabe consists of rugged tough trails, lung busting elevation gain, panoramic views, and beautiful wild flowers, just some of the constant reminders I get of why I picked up and moved 1700 miles away to serve with Americorps and live at the poverty level. Old Gabe was a wonderful reminder of why I love ultrarunning, and I look forward to stepping up my training and getting back in the game.


Anonymous said...

sweet. you can go to West Virginia now, since you didn't quit.

Kim said...

Yay Josh! Another state down too. Do you still have your homemade handheld?

Josh said...


Yeah, that was a main motivation in my decision to push on.


I didn't even think about the new state, sweet! I still have the bottle, but not the handle. I have some duct tape so I'm going to make another one. I couldn't even find my normal handheld, so I just carried two normal water bottles.

Nick said...

You are Hilarious. Everything you write is so entertaining.

"But I was breaking one of the golden rules of Ultrarunning: making a decision on an up hill".

I take back all the promises I made going up the hills at DWD and Mohican. I didn't know about that rule.

Luc said...

Welcome back!! Great race report, sounds like you live near some crazy "ultra" terrain. I will use your golden rule next time I consider dropping too (only on the downhills). :)

I truly can't believe you even attempted this with your pre race training.You are a force to be reckoned with and an inspiration to all us chubby people! :)

Rob "Buckeye" Powell said...

I am really happy to see you had a race!

Josh said...


yeah, if I had stuck with all the "decisions" I've made while trudging up hill during ultras I would probably only have a couple finishes :)

Thanks! It's good to be back in the saddle. I look forward to some more good races this summer and fall.

Thanks! It's about time I get back on the race course!