I have a love hate relationship with the Pocatello 50 Trail Race. The feelings of hate emanate from the toughness of the course, the weather (which inevitably seems to add some extra challenges), and that I always seem to show up a bit broken and tired – making completing the difficult 53 mile course feel a bit like a chore.
As for the love… Well, that comes from the beauty of course, the impeccable organization and logistics, and that the race draws a super cool crowd – many of whom I consider good friends. Despite my mixed feelings – the Pocatello 50 is not a race to miss.
I usually have quite specific goals for a race. Yet, when posed with the question, “What are you hoping to do at Pokey?” I really couldn’t answer the question. As I thought more about it, it seemed my motivations were to just be there and have fun. Though, I did think I had the ability to run under 9 hours.
The race started at a conservative clip with nobody wanting to take the lead. My inexperience showed when I got suckered into leading the front group up the initial climb. So much for my plans to ride Karl Meltzer’s wheel for the first part of the race.
At Gibson Jack AS (mile 8.3) I was slow in filling my bottles and was now at the back of the 7-person pack. This was where I wanted to be. Our group of seven started to spread out as we power-hiked up the first big ascent of the race – with Justin Yates and Andy Dorias breaking away. I checked the compulsion to try and stay with them.
Justin and Andy topped the ridge first and would continue their lead through City Creek AS (mile 16.9).
I caught Andy shortly after the City Creek AS. Not too far after at Ruth Hara AS (thanks Evan Honeyfield for the GOOD advice to top off my bottles), Karl caught me and passed me. I hopped onto his wheel for the second big ascent of the race to the top of Kinport Peak Ridge. As we reached the ridge we could see Justin about 2 minutes ahead. Once we began to descend, Karl started to pull away. I knew that if I didn’t keep him in sight – he would be gone for the day. I pushed hard to keep my eyes on his back.
Karl and I caught Justin at Midnight AS (mile 25.9). Karl was first out with Justin and me close behind. Just as we crested the small saddle after the AS, Karl stopped to clean out his shoe. I think both Justin and I realized that while it was still early in the race, this was our opportunity. We picked up the pace.
The 6-mile descent from Midnight AS to Mink Creek AS (mile 32.5) gets me every year. I run it TOO fast and then end up paying for it. This year was not an exception. Marge Yee was waiting at Mink Creek and quickly had me on my way (thanks Marge). I had originally planned on swapping a single bottle waist belt and handheld for a Nathan hydration pack at Mink Creek. I debated whether this was a good decision – the ability to transition through aid stations more quickly vs. having more fluids. I opted for the bottles. Would I regret this decision?
Justin and I left the aid station together. Immediately, the heat hit me like a hammer. My heart rate was elevated. My legs were weak. I felt a bit lightheaded. Once again, I had run the descent too hard and would now pay for it. Despite feeling wrecked, I could tell Justin felt no better. The next miles were weird. It was like I was in an alternative reality. Justin was clearly struggling, and intellectually I new this was my chance. Yet, I couldn’t muster any more speed. Justin kept glancing back at me and I was sure he was thinking, “this is my chance to drop this guy,” but he couldn’t muster any more speed either. It was like we were both stuck in a slow motion vortex in the midst of a sea of energetic, chatty and cheerful 20-mile runners who had just started their race minutes before we left the Mink Creek AS.
I just couldn’t rally. I knew I should be able to run most of the ascent to Scout Mountain – even if I was tired. Yet, I kept letting myself walk – justifying it because I could see Justin walking ahead – but hating myself for it. I drank both my bottles and had a couple of gels thinking that perhaps nutrition would allow my to escape the vortex. I still dragged. I waited for Karl to blow by me…
Justin and I left South Scout AS (mile 38) together. He seemed to have finally found his legs and started to pull away. I was feeling better too, but was unable to climb as fast as I wanted, or was necessary to stay with him. While still low on gas, once I reached the top of Scout Mountain I was able to pick-up the turnover. I was perplexed as to why I couldn’t see Karl or any of the other lead runners behind me. Perhaps they had struggled on the climb to Scout Mountain as well??
At the top of Scout Mountain I realized that I could possibly place second if I just kept moving. I pushed hard to Big Fur AS (47.1) where I learned that Justin was 14 minutes ahead. He had rallied! I was super dry having depleted both of my bottles by the top of Scout Mountain and knew I needed to drink heavily even though only six miles remained. I took the time to down about 12 oz of Coke (thanks Evan for letting me use your personal cup – very kind!) and immediately felt much better.
It was at this point that I looked at my watch for the first time in the race and realized that I was going to be able to break 9 hours. It was a real surprise given how slow the last 15 miles had been for me. I was stoked and began to run down the road with newfound energy (and some high fructose corn syrup entering my bloodstream). I glanced back several times to check if Karl was behind me. No Karl in sight!
I worked my way over the Nordic Center hump cursing Jared and Ryan for adding one last climb to the race. I was excited to be on the home stretch and was looking forward to getting out of the sun and heat. Then suddenly out of nowhere I heard a runner. I glanced back and there was Karl. He blew by me just as fast as he appeared, inviting me to stay with him. I picked up my pace and kept on his shoulder for about 100 yards, but I just didn’t have the leg speed or spunk to race him. I let him go and watched his back for the final mile and quarter!
I finished in 8:42:43, 36 seconds behind Karl and 7 minutes behind Justin (8:35:50). While I was not happy about getting passed in the last mile of the race, I was pleased with my time. But most importantly, as I had wanted – I had fun!
Congratulations to Justin for running a great first 50 miler. Karl – next time dude! And, a big shout-out to Jared, Ryan and Luke and all the volunteers for such a well organized and run race. Thanks for letting us runners have so much fun!