Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Big Climbs at the Silver State 50-miler

Last Saturday I joined 120 ultrarunners for the 21st running of the Silver State 50k/50 mile just outside of Reno, NV. This race is known for its climbs (over 20,000 vertical feet of change for the 50 mile) and snow (9 miles of it last year), providing ideal training grounds for those tackling similar climates at the Western States 100 or the Tahoe Rim Trail 100. We lucked out with the weather and low snow levels this year, and thanks to a fantastic performance by the volunteers of the Silver State Striders, we all had an epic day!

The SS50 was a "serious" race for me in that I had some time goals I wanted to hit. I was targeting under 9 hours while still feeling comfortable at the end. This would require pushing waaaay harder than I have on any 50-miler to date, yet still having some juice at the finish line. Why the big goal? Well, lately I've been stressing out over the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 (my first 100-miler) in a big way. Both the TRT 50k and TRT 50m have brought me to me knees in the past (much in thanks to big climbs and altitude) and I wasn't feeling much comfort seeing the TRT 100 approaching on my race schedule. If I'm going to tackle the TRT 100 with confidence, it would be good to have a boost like doing well at SS50 (or in not doing well, learning where to focus). My legs were still a bit tired from Quicksilver last week, but I thought that would help even more to mimic the 100-mile madness. This is it, Scotty boy, time to step up and see if you got the chops.

I was coming off a busy week at home/work, so I packed my bags meticulously the day before, right down to every tablet, sunscreen sampler, and worst-case scenario. After hustling out of the house on Friday night to get to Reno, NV, I opened to car to realize I had forgotten one very important thing - to put the bag in the car! OMG, what a rookie move. Luckily I always have extra Inov-8's and Injinji tsoks in the back of the car, so I wasn't completely screwed. But I did need to find some water bottles, fanny pack, a camera (essential!), electrolyte pills, foot tape, sunscreen, gloves and a hat ASAP. REI was open for 10 more minutes, so I got most of it in a flurry of credit card swiping. I figured I would beg my fellow runners for anything I missed.

(RD Stan Ostrom walks us through the course)

At the pre-race meeting, Race Director Stan Ostrom walked us through the course and let us know of the many course changes from the previous year. I had a chance to catch up with many runners, and meet some of my favorite runner/bloggers in person! Olga and Gretchen are as charming in person as they are in text, and Tom is always a pleasure to see. All of them were using this race as a checkpoint for future goals (such as Tom going for the Kettle Moraine 100 in a few weeks), as were many runners targeting the 2007 Western States such as Marty Hoffman, Robert Johnson, Carson Teasley, Troy Limb, Kathy D'Onforio, Betsy Nye, Dawn Infurna-Bean, and others.

(The Internet ultra crew - me, Tom, Olga and Gretchen)

There were some speed-demons here too, especially in the Men's division. Hal Koerner was here fresh off his win at the ZOld Pueblo 50, as well as TRT100 course record holder Jasper Helekas, ultra legend Paul Sweeney, Montrail racer (and fellow Injinji teammate) Scott Eppelman, and Mike Cook who has clocked a number of top finishes this year already. All were signed up for the 50-mile and ready to rumble!

(And we're off!)

At 6am Saturday morning, we gathered in a shopping mall on the edge of town, gazing up the first big hill. Rob Evans was my hero, and let me access his trunk of ultra goodies to stock up on S! Caps. As we counted down to the start, I realized I was head to toe in new gear and supplements that I hadn't tested in training, and wondered if it would be wise to revise my goals and go a bit more conservative. Then again, blowing up on the course is probably perfect training for a 100! Best to just go hard and see what happens.

(Ascending the first climb to Peevey Tower)

The first mile cut through the last cul de sac of the local neighborhood, and soon enough we were on a fire road heading straight up the first mountain. This was a tough way to start - from 5,000 ft to 8,000 ft in the first 5 miles - and quickly sorted out the field. Hal, Jasper, and Mike Cook joined a few of the 50k front-runners at the lead, running the whole way. I paced along with Rob Evans, Kathy D'Onforio, Scott Eppleman, and Jenny Capel, and we alternated running and fast-walking. During the walks, I was able to chat a bit with Scott Eppelman, who had flown up from Texas to race here as part of a training schedule for the Hardrock 100. His 17-month-old twins were definitely the bulk of his training these days!

(Scott Eppelman near the top of Peavey)

We hit the aid station at the top of the hill (mile 6), and Scott took off after Paul Sweeney while I ran a bit with Jenny Capel. The temperature was in the low 60's, but the aid station volunteers said to be ready for 80's. Jenny let me know it was her father who started this race 21 years ago, so she certainly knew the course! This was the last big race of her season as she was going to cover at home while her husband trained for Ironman Canada. Jenny was definitely going fast, and she and Rob Evans went blazing down the hill in front of me. I turned over my legs as fast as possible to keep them in sight.

( Rory Bosio and Jenny Capel lead out the 50k women)

It's a good thing I did - if Jenny hadn't pointed out the 50-mile turnoff for Rob and me just after the next aid station (mile 11.5), we would have missed it for sure. I remembered that there would be a turn about this point (it was one of the course changes from last year), but the chalk markings had arrows in all directions and there wasn't any volunteers to clarify which was for whom. Rob and I said thanks to the group of 50k ladies, and headed up the 12-mile "lollipop loop" just for the 50-milers.

(The 50k women leaders head down as Rob and I turn up)

The loop went right into a gradual 500 ft climb that gave us a view of the course a mile or so ahead. There wasn't a soul in sight! I was moving at a pretty good clip while Rob's lingering chest cold did battle with the altitude. He decided to take it easy on the uphills, and I continued on solo. I saw four sets of footprints in the silt-like sand, so I figured I was somewhere around 5th place. As I reached the next aid station (mile 15.5), they informed me I was 7th. So much for my tracking skills!

(The sun comes up on the lollipop loop)

As I loaded up on water, I realized I was drinking A LOT. Part of my plan was to really "push" the liquids this time, taking in about 35-40 ounces per hour (with one S! Cap). This felt like a lot, but 2 and 1/2 hours into the race, I hadn't felt the urge to pee and was still chugging. I noticed is was easier to keep track of hydration without my iPod, and I was attentive to sounds and sights I wouldn't normally catch. At mile 17, I ran through a troop of Boy Scouts out camping, and they cheered me on Tour de France style, hovering just one step away from me in a deafening roar. Ten seconds later, back to absolute silence in the expansive high desert. Truly a race of extremes!

At mile 22, I was still feeling good and trucking along. I entered an oasis near a creek, which was full of hungry rabbits, butterflies drafting behind me, and bear prints in the mud. This was definitely a popular spot with the locals! The mountains were drowning me in beauty, so I stopped and took a short video (please disregard the audio - I panned so fast it got a little 'Blair Witch' on me, so I slowed it down to half speed). The climb ahead was steep, but I knew the aid station was right on the other side with Coke and ice.

The family at the the Dog Valley aid station (mile 23.5) had me in and out in 10 seconds and let me know some steep climbs were ahead. How can this course be uphill both ways? (ha, ha) They said that I was in 5th place, which was a bit confusing since I hadn't passed anyone. Not that it mattered - I wasn't even half way yet! I did my best to fast-walk the climbs and run anything runnable, all while pushing fluids.

Before too long, I was exiting the loop and saw my first runner in hours. Jason had been running with the front pack before having some back issues and slowing to a walk until the ibuprofen kicked in. He solved the mystery for me on my race place with a tough tale of wrong turns. Hal Koerner had missed the loop cutoff and was presumably doing the 50k now. Paul Sweeney and Scott Eppelman had followed the old course route (which Paul had followed instinctually from his previous races here), and had improvised some backtracking to make up the skipped mileage (and then some, most likely). So I was either in 3rd place behind Jasper and Mike Cook, or in 5th place depending on if Paul and Scott would be DQ'd. For a fleeting moment I felt like a SUPER ELITE being mentioned in the same sentence with those guys! But honestly, they were probably a good 40 minutes ahead already, and my race was against the clock. I wished Jason well, and took a right down the valley to Boomtown (mile 29.3).

(Single track to Boomtown)

The single track to Boomtown was great fun, as it weaved back and forth in a steep downhill grade. My mile pace was around 6:50/mile on these downhills and I felt like I was making good time. The only struggle was the increasing heat (now at 70 degrees) and the water bottles that I drank empty. The Truckee River tempted me for a swim at the bottom of the valley, but I kept pushing the pace to the Boomtown aid station and loaded up on Coke, water, PB&J, and m&m's. Sarah asked how it was going and I had to answer honestly - so far, I was having the race of my life! She said good...take a look at that hill.

(The oh-so-swimmable Truckee River)

Oh yes, THAT hill. 4,800 vertical feet straight up over 7 miles, peaking out at 9,800 feet. This was the big test. I gave the mountain a moment of silence out of respect and crossed the I-80 highway to begin the climb. I started with a wrong turn - damn! - but got back on course after a few minutes. A couple of miles later I realized I had also missed the first "short cut" and had inadvertently added a 1/2 mile to the run. Shoot! This is not the way to get under 9 hours! Alas, what can you do. I put my frustrations aside, knowing I would make it to the top one way or another.

(A fire-enhanced meadow at 8,500 ft)

About half way up the climb I began to run into some of the 50k runners/hikers. A few of them gave great advice, letting me know how to read the mile markers to gauge my distance from the top (mile marker 20.7), and where to expect the short cuts. When I finally hit a short cut, I wasn't so sure if it was making the race any shorter. It went straight up! My hamstrings groaned with each step, but I was thankful the whole mountain wasn't covered in snow like last year.

(50k runners tackling the big hill)

The gang at the the Fuller Flat aid station (mile 33.5) had the tunes cranked and gave me the blow-by-blow of previous runners as they filled my water bottles. Hal Koerner had just caught the 50k leader and was flying up the hill, leaving everyone else to fight for second. Jasper was leading the 50-mile with Mike Cook on his tail, and Paul Sweeney in third but pacing faster than the leaders. A guy named Drake was in fourth a few minutes ahead of Scott Eppelman, leaving me in 6th. I thanked them for the info, and went heads down to get up this darn hill.

Coming out of the last "short cut", I caught up to Scott Eppelman, who had gone the long way on this one (he thought I was going to the bathroom). When I told him, he just shook his head and let me know of his make-up miles that easily added more than his share. Scott was still looking strong, and I found pacing behind him to be very educational - he has a gift for picking a fast line with minimal body motion, especially on the loose rocks. We hit the top of the mountain together, refueled at the aid station (mile 36.8), and meandered through about two miles of trails before heading downhill. We took a wrong turn at one point, but caught ourselves before heading too far - talk about off-track conversation!

(One of the few snow patches this year; photo by Tom Riley)

The downhill was a welcome blessing, although the temperature had climbed into the 80's. The loose gravel was perfect for the motorcycles and jeeps we were passing, but tough footing for us runners. Scott led the way, crossing Hunter Lake and taking us into the aid station (mile 43). I downed a ton of Coke and picked up the pace on the last section of downhill. My watch read 8:35, but I wasn't sure what was ahead. I was surprised to find out how much energy I had, so I kept going as hard as I could.

(Scott Eppelman leads me across Hobart Lake)

Turns out, the loose footing made it difficult to pick up the pace too much. My quads were burning, and I was slipping all over. I could see Scott and a couple other runners not too far behind, so there wasn't much room for error. I heard the voice of Norm Klein calling out finishers, so it had to be close! My legs were shaky, and when I caught a toe on a large rock, I wasn't able to catch myself and went down in the dirt. My head bounced off the ground, and I could taste the pain (which I'm convinced tastes like a warm milkshake made with bloody mary mix and tin foil). It took me a few seconds to gather my senses.

Scott E. was a total gentleman, and stopped to make sure I was okay even while competitors were coming down the hill. If it was hydration issues he would walk with me, but I said I was okay so he took off. As I gathered my senses, Karalee Morris went flying by, stopping for no one on her way to winning the Women's division. I paced safely behind them both to the finish in 7th place in 9:05:31.

Despite loosing a few places in the last half mile and just missing a sub-9 hour finish, I was extremely pleased with my performance. It was like that line out of The Producers - where did I go right?!? Jasper Helekas (who won in 7:49:07) knew it when I crossed the line, offering congrats, and immediately wondering how I would have done if I hadn't taken so many damn pictures. The real catch was this though - I felt strong, and could have easily gone another 20 miles at this pace.

Jasper played back his race, which was largely him running as fast as possible waiting for super-Hal to overtake him. When Hal never showed, Jasper locked in like a missle and finished 40 minutes ahead of Paul Sweeney (8:32:18, Master's winner), Michael Cook (8:34:49), and Oregon's Drake Tollenaar (9:03:35). Karalee Morris did win the Women's division (9:05:18), with Tina Ure (9:17:54, Master's winner) and Kathy D'Onforio (9:40:30) rounding out the top 3. Hal Koerner turned his misfortune into a solid 50k win (4:53:11), with Nick Bingham (5:16:26) and Peter Fain (5:38:11) filling out the podium. 22-year-old Rory Bosio (5:41:36) beat out Jenny Capel (5:42:38) and Julie Young (5:49:06, Master's winner) for a close race among the Women.

We ate picnic goodies and got massages, cheering on fellow runners as they crossed the finish line and laid out in the park. The hills had certainly demanded everyone's best, and the smiles at the end showed that everyone delivered.

(Winner Jasper Helekas with friend)

My thanks to the Silver Striders for putting on a great race. I hope the new course for next year can still hit all the glorious spots that made this so memorable. I certainly learned a lot here - if you run from your heart and have some faith in your training, your gear doesn't matter so much. I'm still a bit timid out about TRT 100, but now feel like it is a challenge that can be conquered rather than a mysterious abyss.

- SD


  1. JC, I can't believe, with SO MUCH marking on the course we all got lost so many times! Runners really are weird, blind and often deaf too:)
    You ran great! And yes, the most important part is that you felt you can go another 20! You'll be ready for TRT100, this double was an awesome trainer.
    It was SO NICE to meet you, and yes, you are taller than I imagined. Scott Eppelman is a truly great guy, we took a ride to the start together (ok, I didn't shut up the whole way and he listened). It was a nice touch to see Helen and Norm there, people were fantastic (although I can live without that much fire roads on the course, may be next year?) and it was a blast of a day.
    On another note - Hal didn't have a CR at Zane. Kyle won it, and no, no CR either:)

  2. Thanks, Olga! I meant Hal's win at Old Pueblo, but somehow wrote Zane Grey. You would know - you were there!


  3. What a feat, Scott, congrats! Quite a good weekend for us, very impressed with Jasper's performance too.
    You are surely ready for much more, it's going to be an interesting season with the coming 100-milers.
    Take care and watch your...step!

  4. The course looks tough! I doubt I could walk it let alone run it. You ran well!

  5. Way to go, Scott. Congratulations. I think you're more than ready for TRT now!
    It looks like Drake is also running TRT100.
    Take care,

  6. Congrats Scott! I love the pics and the little scenery video. I'm sure you are going to do well at Tahoe!

  7. Congrats on your strong performance on such a tough run even with all new gears! Thanks for another great report and video. I think I'll try video as well next time :-)

    The course is pretty and challenging. Hope I have chance and strength to try it in future!

    Is this your longest race report? I enjoyed reading it till finish. I guess the beauty of the course always inspires us a lot.

    Btw, I did some math for you -
    (9:05 / 7:49) x 20:18 = 23:35 < 24:00!! And I believe you'll definitely beat this number.



  8. Scott, great report and congrats on a well run race. That course sounds very tough and I'll have to put it on a future calendar. I have to say that forgetting your entire bag at home tops my forgetting my waist-pack at Miwok this year. Way to overcome the mental letdown that must have been!

  9. WOW! That's quite an amazing race that you were apart of. Great job and great race report on what sounds like a very hard race.

    Oh yeah, I was checking out the PCTR message board and it looks like Mt. Diablo will sell out if you still are interested in running it.

  10. Scott,
    Way to get after it. And that is after some solid racing at Quicksilver! And you took a ton of pictures! You are going to have a blast at TRT! Great report!

  11. Wow Scott, you ran awesome! I too am motivated by some fears about TRT. I wish my race had gone as well as yours, but at least I'm only going 50M at TRT. I have run TRT 50K too, and I thought this course was much harder. Maybe I was better trained for that one though, who knows.
    It was great to meet you. I'm sorry you missed the popsicles! ;) I look forward to seeing you at Tahoe, good luck with the rest of your training until then.

  12. hey scott,

    congrats on your race! i am so bummed that i had to miss that run. your pictures and video really gave me a sense of what to expect when i do do the race next year. thanks for an awesome recap. hope that fall wasn't too bad.



  13. Good work Scott! Glad you were able to have such a great experience and such a good run. You rock! If you are going up to Tahoe to do any other training for TRT let me know... I definitely don't want to be "brought to my knees" in the 50!

  14. Hey, Scott, GREAT run-- in spite of your gear-nakedness, wrong turns and fall (remember, with the pics you get to substract 5-10 minutes from all your results). I think you're going to be in excellent shape for Tahoe, so stop stressing!

    Now, I'm curious to see how BtoB went then next morning, but don't rush to replace this post...

  15. Thanks for the encouragement, everyone! Bay to Breakers posting coming soon (with some classic video). Chihping, I think our video samples may add 30 minutes to our times now!

    Chihping, interesting math calculation! Jasper had intuitively shared the same thoughts - if I could stay that close to him at SS50, I should be able to get under 24 hours at TRT if all goes right. Seems like a good stretch goal.

    BTW, for those who didn't catch it, that's Jean Pommier, recent WINNER of the Ohlone 50k!


  16. Congrats on another great race. Perhaps you should hang up the photography business, seems like you are always right there close with the big boys! :)

    I know what you mean about the pain description. The bloody mary analogy with tin foil is spot on!

  17. Congratulations! That sounds like a great run. I did the Bishop High Sierra 50 last weekend - first 50 and had a great time. You are an inspiration - Thank you and thank you for taking the time to blog - I learn a ton.

  18. what a great recap! good job on the 9:05.

  19. Well done Scott - Enjoyed the race report. Silver State and TRT used to be a local races for me - moved to AZ a few weeks after TRT last year. I ran Silver State last year as my last big race before the TRT 100 mile - about a 9:30 at SS translated to just under 23 hours at TRT. I am making the trip this summer for another TRT 100 mile - see you there.

  20. Scott,
    I enjoyed running & talking with you at Silver State. I'm sure I will see you again on the trail before too long...if you come to Texas for a race let me know.

    Great job with the blog - keep up the good work!


  21. Scott,

    Superb report and an even better race performance. You are more than ready to rock in the TRT 100.



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