Sunday, May 1, 2011

Salt Flats 100 Race Report

“No!” was the emphatic response from Christian when I asked, “Should I run the inaugural Salt Flats 100?” Peter just shook his head in a way that said he agreed with Christian. Greg remained neutral with the statement, “It would be an interesting place to take pictures.”

Christian caught that I was taken aback by the certainty of his answer and followed-up with a “Why?” I explained that my rational brain agreed with him and knew running the Salt Flats 100 was a bad idea. It recognized that it is too early in the year for me to run a 100 miler since I don’t have the base miles in yet. It reminded me that I’m feeling healthy and asked why would I want to take a chance on getting hurt. And, with a number of races coming up at 2-week intervals, it asserted that I would not have time to recover and would be racing with heavy legs – something it advised me I did not want!

However, my emotional brain which “wears the pants” in my head so to speak, had me convinced me that, a) a long run would be good for me, b) a 100 mile PR could a possibility, and c) it would be just f’n cool to run out on the Salt Flats (my rational brain did argue that the Salt Flats would still be there next year and that there was no urgency to run this year, but what does that brain know??).

Given the title of this post you know that my emotional brain prevailed.

“I’m not worthy” was all I could think as I stood at the starting line with Davy Crockett, Ben Benjamin and Heidi Bennett, who between them have more one-hundred milers under their collective belts than I have years. This was a run of the veterans and I felt honored to be in their presence.

The first 11 miles of the course follows a dike through the salt flats. Completely flat. Completely straight. And, completely void of vegetation. Surreal would be an understatement! Perfect terrain to get started on my “day dream list,” topics that I knew would allow me to withdraw into my head for many hours (and hopefully many miles)

The course then circumnavigates Floating Island, which truly appears to be floating in the Salt Flats when viewed from a distance. From Floating Island the course traverses over to Silver Island. The first 30 miles of the course are mostly flat on graded gravel roads.

My goal for the day was to try and set a 100 PR and hopefully go sub 16. At aid station #2 (21 miles) I was ahead of my splits and feeling optimistic I could have a strong run. Then, as the road curved around the north side of Silver Island I hit a strong wind blowing over Donner/Reed pass. For the next 8 miles I pushed into a relentless 20 mph + wind. By the time I reached Aid #3 (30 miles) I was back on my splits. I was discouraged as it was too early in the day to be loosing time. I felt worked from pushing into the wind. Leaning into the wind with each stride taking just a bit more effort had caused my hamstrings to become super tight. And, with the wind and intermittent sideward blowing snow I was unable to stay warm. I had lost motor control in my arms and was having a hard time pulling my bottles in and out of my hip pack. Maybe Christian was right. This was a bad idea!

From Aid #3 the course turned north onto Crater Island for a 16 mile out and back. I was stoked in that there were two good climbs and descents that allowed me to stretch my hamstrings and work my legs differently. The mountains blocked the wind and I was feeling good again.

I came into Aid #5 (46 miles) 15 minutes ahead of my splits. Could I really have picked it up that much? Was I feeling that much better? Perhaps my splits were off. None-the-less, my head was back in the race. To add extra spirit to my soul, my parents were waiting for me at Aid #5 to wish me well. How thoughtful of them to drive out from Salt Lake for a brief 1 minute encounter. They have always been highly supportive of my running from that very first day when I was 17, after reading in Outside Magazine about the Western States 100 when I announced to them that there was this 100-mile trail run in California across the Sierras that I wanted to do. I can remember the incredulous looks on their faces when I explained that if I finished in less than 24 hours I would get a belt buckle. I’m sure at the time, that odd proclamation made no sense to them, but from that moment on they have always been there to support me in my running and cycling endeavors.

After Aid #5, RD Vince Romney drove by to let me know that the turn-around on the out and back had been misplaced by about a mile. Damn! No wonder my split had been so good. Vince said that he would come up with multiplier to add to the times that would account for the shortage.

From Aid #5 the course climbs several thousand feet through a canyon that cuts across Silver Island. The climb felt good, though I could feel the wind at my back and knew that once I connected to the main road and began the second loop around the north end of Silver Island that I would again be pushing into the wind. Such a shame to waste a tailwind on a climb I thought to myself as I stressed about not knowing what time I would need to break 16 hours. After doing some mental math, I convinced myself that I should be safe if I could finish in less than 15:40.

The second time around the north side of Silver Island I felt better. I suspect it was nothing more than I knew what to expect and I appropriately managed my expectations. After Aid #7 (69 miles) I knew that I would soon be seeing Erik and Christian. I had been running alone since the start and was looking forward to the company. Plus, I knew that through a combination of them encouraging me, and me not wanting to disappoint them – I would be able to finish the last 25 miles with strength and dignity.

At Aid #8 (80 miles) the course crosses over Silver Island from the west to the east and then back to the west. On the last climb over the island I could tell I was running out of gas. Erik could sense me fading and set the perfect pace to pull me up the hill and back down to Aid #9 (91 miles) where Christian was waiting. In typical Christian style, Christian had calculated EXACTLY what we needed to do the last 9 miles in to finish in less than 15:40. “Beam me to the finish, Christian” I thought as we clipped along.

I crossed the finish line in 15:36 hoping that it was good enough to claim a sub 16 100-mile time. Regardless, I felt good and knew I had run a good race for me. I was content.

Top finishers were (times are adjusted to factor in the 2 mile shortage)

Jay Aldous 15:57
Davy Crockett 22:01
Heidi Bennett 25:50

A big thanks to race director Vince Romney and family who went to tremendous lengths to pull of an amazing first year event that included some surprises including nasty weather, sabotaged flagging, and flat tires. Thank you Vince. My crystal ball says this is going to be a great annual race.

And Christian, Peter and Greg, something tells me I’ll be pacing you at some point as you shoot for a 100-mile PR out on the Salt Flats!


jun said...

Great report and congrats on the win. I was going to do a 50ish mile version but an ailing hip made me pull out the day before. It just seems like such a cool event. Nice job.

peter said...

You are probably right, the Salt Flats 100 will be on the list in the future. I'd love to know the variety of day dreaming topics as you ran straight ahead on the flat part of the course. It is f'n cool that you just went and did it. Once again you inspire.

Cory Reese said...

Very awesome - way to go!

Christian said...

Outstanding Jay! Thanks for letting me share the trails with you, I had a great time running through the desert. Sub 16 is definitely something to be proud of.

Anonymous said...

Question: did you carry any electrolytes, or did you just stop and lick the ground whenever you started to cramp?

Jon A. said...

Hey, congrats on the win and an awesome time, Jay.

Scott said...

Awesome race Jay. Great time as well. Looks like a sweet course. It's good to see more 100's popping up in Utah.

Erik said...


Thanks for letting me see a new part of Utah with you. Absolutely spectacular. I felt like you were out for a light jog and were the one doing the pulling me along. Congrats on a great race!