Given that my Speedgoat 50k race ended in my second straight dnf and a subsequent iv being drained into me it would be easy to simply say this was a disappointing experience. In all honesty though I knew my personal finicky relationship with altitude and placed no expectations on my race. I was hoping to experience a beautiful race in a new location and to finish as high as my body would allow, while getting some complimentary training for UTMB.
Karl Meltzer had managed to round up some of the best trail runners in the world for this one and it was the most competitive race I'd attended since WS 2010.
Within two minutes of starting the event it was clear to see that the true world class mountain runners such as Ricky Gates, Killian Jornet, and Max King weren't the least bit affected by the altitude as they blazed up and over our first visit to 11,000ft like it was a flat road race.
I have no illusions of being in the same class as these guys and was almost in awe of their skill set. By the time I crawled over 11,000ft some 25+ mins back of the leaders I simply wanted to finish in a decently respectable time. Thankfully on the ensuing descent I was able to catch and pass a decent number of runners who passed me like I was standing still just minutes earlier.
At the half way turn around Roch Horton, as always, was captaining the aid stn and handing out delicious frozen popsicle treats, thanks to some dry ice freezing techniques.
The climb back outta here to our second visit to 11,000ft was harsh and although I consider myself to have a strong power hiking skill set it was continually rendered useless by my lack of oxygen uptake. I was truly out for a walk in the mountains.
Again once cresting I passed a half a dozen runners on the descent, which realistically only put me close to top thirty in the race. I didn't care what my placement was for I was truly out of my element and just trying to enjoy the challenge.
As I hit the aid stn at about km 35 everything changed instantly. I actually found myself staring at 'the chair' and then internally scolding myself for even completing such thoughts. I downed a bunch of watermelon and coke and headed out into a 2000ft climb that would bring us to 11,000ft for our third and final time.
From there it was but an eight km downhill into the finish.
A two hundred meter flat run brought us to the start of the climb and the second the grade changed I knew I was in trouble. It was like driving with the handbreak struck on, every single step took 100% of my energy to complete. I felt like I was moving backwards and the ease with which people were passing me only confirmed this. Through all the struggles with the altitude I hadn't processed until that moment how damn hot it had become. I continued in slow motion until the first shade presented itself under a tree which I sat under to attempt to compose myself. Five minutes became ten, ten became fifteen, and finally nearing twenty minutes I hauled my ass up and promptly lost my guts.
I've never puked in a race before, ever, even in seven day expedition races I've never had an issue with my stomach before. The only comparable experience I could draw from was when I went quickly up to 12,500ft in Guatemala in 03. I suffered from altitude sickness and continual puking until I regressed to 7,000ft the following day. I was hoping 11,000 wouldn't hit me so hard, but it was feeling all too familiar.
Puke and rally. It's a mantra in ultra running for many. A Canadian friend has puked in almost every ultra he's run and is closing in on his own version of an all 50 states achievement. I kept telling myself this as I struggled to the next shaded tree and lay down again. Ten minutes later I lost my guts again and proceeded up and to the next shaded spot.
Sean Blanton & Ashley Arnold came across me at this point and given Ashley was working the aid stn I'd left nearly an hour previous, just a mile away, she knew I wasn't doing so well. She was a champ trying to rally and motivate me and hung out with me for an addition thirty minutes as I struggled to the next shaded recluse. Eventually I set her free of her babysitting duties and stared at the runners, all hiking, on the ridgeline far above. Ten further minutes of this before I internally said to myself "It's over Gary. End this debacle and retreat to the aid station. The sooner you get down from here the better"
As I eventually made my way towards the aid stn from the wrong direction the course marshal asked me if I was alright. In a rather comedic moment as I opened my mouth to simply say I was dropping I instead, completely unexpectedly, projectile vomitted in his direction. As he attempted to ask a second time I cut him off again. For good measure as he made a third stab at asking me a question I lost my stomach one last time, to which he simply responded with "let's get you a cot."
They eventually transported me back to the race start at 8,000ft via a ski lift and gondola combo. After about 45mins of failed attempts at rehydrating, anything that went in only lasted a few minutes, they threw an iv into me. Another slightly comical moment as they asked if I'd like some anti-nausea medication. After confirming there were no side effects I obviously said yes. The iv drained and I felt 100% better,
"I think I'm okay without that nausea medication. I feel way better"
"That's because we put the medication in the iv bag five minutes ago"
As a further side note I was informed that a half tablet of Viagra can in fact help with elevation issues... please just ensure you aren't wearing spandex if you utilize that tip however... no pun intended.
Speedgoat. You killed me. Thanks for the humbling experience and especially for the chance to really witness the best in the sport show us all how it's done. Congrats to Montrail teammate Max King on snagging 3rd, and Sean Meissner on running solid for 24th.
A quick peruse of the results tells a story of altitude living to running at altitude success. I guess Max has been sleeping in an altitude tent at 12,000ft for two years. They look pretty simple to make so I'm just gonna sleep in a giant plastic bag from here on out and hope for the best.
Onward and upward, but hopefully just shy of 11g for the next little bit.