Beaverhead 55k Endurance Run race report (Jeremy)

Beaverhead 55k Endurance Run race report (Jeremy)

On Saturday, Jeremy participated in the Beaverhead 55k Endurance Run near Salmon, Idaho. This is a report of his experience, written by him.

Elevation change (gain and loss): 4,600 meters (15,000 feet). 
Average elevation of the entire course: 2,600 meters (8,500 feet) 
Average temperature: 19 Celsius (66 Fahrenheit) 
My time: 8 hours and 8 minutes. First place was 6 hours 15 minutes. My time would have resulted in 3rd place (among men) last year, which was the race’s inaugural year. But not this year! At least 20 people finished ahead of me. I guess word got out about this race. Official results should be posted in the next day or two.

Salmon is a small city in central Idaho famous for river rafting and fishing. The city itself has the feel of a miniature Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or Sunriver, Oregon. It’s a nice place to visit.

I woke up at 3:45 am to eat brekkie and prepare for the day. I then made my way to the shuttle bus for a 4:40 am departure. After an hour drive we arrived at Lemhi pass, which is on the Continental Divide Trail. The particular section covered in this race was on the border between Idaho and Montana. The explorers Lewis and Clark planted a flag near the starting point. Throughout the day I crossed in and out of the two states.

I write this report based upon my experience between aid stations, of which there were five. We had to stop at each aid station briefly to allow the volunteers to record our number. Aid stations also provide food and water. I wrote the distance between each aid station on my arm. A trick I learned from an accomplished Dubai-based trail runner (Clare). I had to convert from miles to kilometers, since I am used to thinking in metric.

The first station was about 7 km into the race and I didn’t stop for longer than 20 seconds. Interestingly, this first leg was actually a bit difficult because it began with an ascent of several hundred meters – not the most welcoming warm up! I started out slowly though my body wanted to sprint. This was deliberate, as I have learned the hard way what happens when I sprint at the beginning of a long race. And so I was in the middle to back of the pack. Many people passed me. After the first aid station I could no longer hold back. I put the pedal to the metal and had at least four 5:00 minute (ish) kilometers before the next check in, which was nearly 10k away. I passed many people on this leg. I soon arrived at the second aid station.

I don’t remember much about what happened between the second and third aid station except that it was the longest leg at 13k. I drank all my water on that leg - I started with 1.5 liters plus a small emergency juice packet. At the aid station I dropped one of my 500 ml water bottles as I knew I was carrying more water than most of the other runners. I’m used to running in the UAE where I often have to carry 3 liters. I grabbed some Swedish fish candy – haven’t seen those for years! – and I set off.

After only a few minutes I saw a runner sitting on the ground looking beat. I asked how he was doing. He is from Minnesota and lives at a low altitude. He said the elevation was challenging him. He didn’t look too bad, but I think he soon dropped out and had to be put on some oxygen for a while. I think this is the guy I heard about dropping out. Living at lower altitudes is a distinct disadvantage. My 5 years at sea level in the UAE made this race particularly challenging. It was about this time that I hit my first of two proverbial walls. The elevation made breathing more difficult and the flow of red blood cells was impaired. I started to think about the reasons that I shouldn’t be doing this race since it was at such a high elevation. I started to doubt myself and my abilities. Fortunately I was able to talk myself out of this. I rebooted and continued on with renewed energy. I ran in and out of the fourth aid station. I think I drink two cups of pepsi and had half of a banana. I refilled my two remaining water bottles. I was looking forward to a quick 7.2k to the final aid station before the finish.

I had made it 37 tough kilometers in under 5 hours. Things were looking good for a 7-hour finish or possibly even sub-7.

Remarkably, the website Ultra Signup had my targeted time of completion at 10 hours. I thought I would shatter this. In their defense, their algorithm based this on past events in the USA – it was my first half-marathon in 2013.

After the fourth aid station I faced the most arduous task of the entire event – a never-ending scree field. This was just THE WORST. I knew it was coming, but I honestly didn’t know how long it would last. I was thinking, ah, the scree field is probably 1 or 2 kilometers. How wrong I was. It ended up being about 6 kilometers of pure hell at some of the highest elevation of the whole race. The trail wove up and down several exposed peaks. The scree was partially normal scree, however, lots of it was lightweight lava rock scree. This stuff looks sturdy, but it isn’t. It breaks, it moves, it crumbles, it slides… it does most anything except support feet. This is when I hit my all-time lowest of lows during any race. I experienced all sorts of irrational thoughts including the choice words I would say to the race directors later, wishing a helicopter would appear out of thin air and take me down the mountain, and vowing to never return….

It was in this leg that many of the people I had previously passed overtook me and left me to my misery. It is probable that they have more altitude experience than me. It is probable that they have completed more mountain runs than me. But at the end of the day, I have to take responsibility for my own failure to suck it up and push through the pain. Unfortunately, I was not really able to overcome this mental and physical challenge - and I am a bit disappointed in myself for this. Thus I hope to return soon to conquer the scree field in mind and body. By the way, it took me 2 hours to cover the 6 kilometers. At one point it took 20 minutes for me to make it just 1 kilometer!

I finally arrived at the last aid station as it started to rain. They had a generator and were making smoothies for us!

The last 10k were wet because of the rain as well as two creek crossings. These last kilometers were also about 90% downhill. Feeling better at a lower altitude, I picked up the pace again.

If you look at my splits, I was moving quickly before and after the 6 kilometer scree field. I have some unfinished business with those kilometers. Until next time.

It was great having family and friends cheering for me at the finish line. I felt loved. I also felt alive and proud of myself. And that is what is important. Not my overall time or position. Though, it would still be nice to go faster next time!

The course was beautiful and included alpine lakes and forests. We even had a bit of snow. We were warned about bears, mountain lions, and rattle snakes – but I didn’t see any of them. And I’m not disappointed! I highly recommend this event.

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