I made the decision last fall to race a little more this season and see how I could do in both the US and World Skyrunning Ultra series' with the US series being my top priority. Currently after 4 of 7 races I am leading the US series by 10 points and am 10th in the World series with 2 races remaining. Angels Staircase 60k was my opportunity to extend my US points lead. Making it even more important was the fact that I recently signed up for the Run Rabbit Run 100 again. The two remaining US Sky Ultra's are The Rut 50k and the Flagstaff 55k final, 11 days prior and 14 days post RRR100. The kicker being I have 2 races completed and need a 3rd in order to maximize my points and try to maintain my lead and win the series. With Angels Staircase getting canceled, things just got a little more interesting...
As we got on the bus and let it all sink in for a minute before we emailed our Altra athlete manager and started looking for another race. I felt it was worth finding something else and sticking to the training/racing plan. Luckily we weren't headed directly to Washington but instead on our way to SLC, UT for the Outdoor Retailer show first. This gave us some time to get our plans figured out, both for the coming weekend and for the rest of the season. With very few races being held in the US that weekend, we decided on the El Vaquero Loco 50k near Afton, WY. It was only about 3.5 hrs north of SLC where we already were and the race director Ty Draney was also another Altra athlete. To top it off we were told that it's a beautiful course and the wildflowers were going to be amazing!
After spending 3 days (instead of 1) walking the floor at OR, sleeping on couch cushions & pillows (which were actually pretty comfortable) at our friend Mark's house, and falling on a treadmill on stage and slightly bruising my left hip, we drove up to Afton, WY on Friday night. Adding to the excitement, as we started the drive we literally did not know where we were going to sleep that night. Ty mentioned having an extra tend that we could borrow but until half way there we were not 100% sure he still had it for us. Luckily he did. As we got to Afton, we watched a huge thunderstorm roll in, and the forecast nearly guaranteed rain throughout the night and for race day also had 50% chance of thunderstorms. Wwe packed for a sunny & 90 degree race with lows in the 60's... not rainy & highs in the 50's). We met up with Ty, Luke Nelson, & crew in town around 9:00 PM for a little pre-race Mexican dinner, another potential hitch in the plan come race day, where we then finally got some beta on the course.
At 10:30 PM we were in the tent, and just in time too. The skies opened up and as we fell asleep to the rain all I could think about was how perfectly it played into the week we were having. Maybe tomorrow will go smoothly...? I slept surprisingly well but race morning still came quickly with my alarm ringing at 5:00 AM. We had 1 hour until the race started, were camped next to the start line, what could go wrong.
5:55 AM - Attention! 5 minutes until the start! "Oh shit"... that port-a-potty line is long. Trees it is. Then 2 minutes to go! I quickly tie my shoes tighter, while doing so I realized I didn't put my new VFuel drink mix in my UD bottle. As I get those issues resolved, with 30 seconds to go and standing at the car about 100 ft from the start line I see Ashley's watch still charging in the trunk. "Where's Ashley"...? No time to worry about that now, I grabbed her watch and sprinted into the crowd making my way to the front. As I got about 10 ft from the front I found her and gave her the watch just in time. The race started and we both spent the next few minutes doing a quick gear check (not that we could have added / removed anything at that point anyway). We had shoes, our Altra race gear, and our water bottles were full and VFuel in our pockets. For the first time in 4 days, I was finally able to relax.
Now the actual events of the race are very boring in comparison to the 4 days leading up to it. So I won't put you to sleep with all of them. I ran conservative for the first 4 hrs paying attention to my heart rate and keeping relaxed in the low to mid 140's. Even with doing so I was able to open up and maintain a comfortable lead. With about 1 hour and 8 miles remaining I did the math and realized I had a chance to break Luke's course record if I could just make it to the top of the final climb by the time my watch read 4:30. So I pushed the pace on the ups and opened up my stride on the descents. I hit the top at 4:35 which meant that I now had to average low 5 minute miles on the rocky, muddy, winding descent back to the finish. I tried for a while but realized I was going to come up just shy.
I finished in 5:00:41 just over 5 minutes behind Luke's CR. As I changed into warmer, dry cloths I could hear cheering. The winner of the 25k who I saw on the long climb up from the turn around had just finished. I went back and was changing my shoes and soon heard cheering again. As I walked around the corner I saw Ashley there talking to the RD... she finished 2nd overall!! And just 22 minutes behind me (5:22:53). Holy shit, I thought... I ran pretty hard those last 8 miles. The guys who were 2nd and 3rd were no slouches either. Needless to say the race went well for both of us which was a huge relief after the whirlwind 4 days prior. The travels home also went smoothly and we nearly snagged a couple $800 flight vouchers, unfortunately a couple people didn't show for the flight and they ended up having room for us after all. So much for that Hawaiian vacation...
If you're looking for a beautiful mountain race in early August you should head out to Wyoming and run the El Vaquero Loco 50k. The wildflowers out there were insane, the lakes a deep turquoise, and the views from the high passes were well worth the long climbs. After talking with Luke about his race last year (when he set the CR), I learned that he made up most of his time pushing the first climb and then again on the long grinder after the turnaround. That was the complete opposite approach that I took. If only I had just planned it a little better. (Irony.. see what I did there) Oh well, it leaves something for next time!
Huge thanks to Ty Draney for the VIP treatment and for putting on a stellar mountain race. My quads were sore for a couple days and I can still feel the 9k of vert in them as I write this now. When I go back, and I will go back, I hope to have my plans a little more figured out and much less chaotic. But heck, thats all part of the adventure. Take it as it comes and #DontForget2Play.
- Shoes: Altra Superior 2.0
- Socks: Injinji Trail Micro
- Hydration: Ultimate Direction Access 20 Belt
- Nutrition: VFuel Gels & Drink Mix
- Eye Wear: None... but if it was sunny, Zeal Optics Shades