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May 24, 2018 Comments (2) In the News, Race Report, Trail Running

Silver State 50 Mile Race Report

I love the Silver State 50/50 race. First off, it is in my backyard so I know the mountain very well. Second, the Silver State Striders led by Race Director John Trent are really and truelly a great group of people who do it for the runners and for their love of the community and tradition of the sport. This was the 33rd year of the race and was being run in the honor of Roland Martin, one of the founders of the race who recently passed away as well as Chuck Martin, the owner of Eclipse Running in Reno.  Both gentlemen had obviously been wonderful people because of the tribe left behind who were touched by them and the community that was positively impacted.  It was an honor to race in their remembrance.

I had run the 50k distance five times previous to this year’s race and I was ready for a change. I decided that at the end of last season after having won two 50ks last year that it was time for me to try my luck at the 50 mile distance.  Not that the 50k distance was too easy, it most certainly was painful and challenging every time I ran one. I was at a point where I felt like I had my hydration, nutrition and pacing down to where I wondered if I could replicate it at a longer distance. I ran my first 100k in February as a test of sorts just to make sure I could go that distance and check that box. It wasn’t fast and I struggled more than I anticipated but I did make mistakes which I had learned from.  In my head this was going to be my real first attempt to ‘race’ it.

Leading up the start of the race I was feeling nervous about the training I had been putting in to run a race this far. My weekly milage was far lower than most people’s. I generally run more vert which often gives me a lot of time on my feet but my weekly milage always looks less. I tried to keep that in mind but still felt like I didn’t do enough. Also, the race field was becoming stacked with a lot of really fast runners entering in the weeks leading up to the start. I checked ultrasignup a few times and each time I saw someone with far more longer distance experience than me signed up. I then missed what was supposed to be my longest run two weeks out from the race. I tried to shrug it off but was feeling unconfident.

Then the weekend before the race I decided to cram in a 20mi, 5k ft gain run. Out of frustration I ran my fastest pace up the Chalk Canyon – Radio Tower Ridge – Peavine Summit climb, a route I’ve run a thousand time.  I then proceeded to tempo the rest of the run. It felt great and it felt fast. It was just what I needed. During this run I thought about what is to me the most amazing run in recent ultra history, Kyle Skagg’s 2008 CR win. If you are unfamiliar with it do a little research  here I loved how he ran this race and used it as inspiration of sorts to help stoke a fire within me.

For me, if I wanted to have a good run I was going to have to focus all my mental strength race day on simply running hard, cut out as many variables as I could. That meant to not think about others in the race, not have a drop bag, carry less gear, hydration and nutrition, and like how one focuses a magnifying glass in the sun to start a fire I would have to put 100% of my mental energy and drive into this on race day.

On race morning nothing out of the ordinary occurred, which is good I suppose.  The weather forecast looked like it could shower late in the day but was otherwise almost perfect. I chose to run in the Altra King MTs which don’t sound like the best shoe for a 50miler, but they were actually quite minimal with good rock protection and I’ve really grown to like them. They worked perfectly. In the ethos of simplicity I ran with one water bottle that I only used for water, a pair of Patagonia shorts with a bunch of pockets and a houdini windbreaker without a shirt under it. Going shirtless and wearing only a windbreaker sounds kind of crazy but was actually amazing and will probably do this all the time now. My only luxury was an iPod shuffle I clipped to my hat to keep the wires off me.

When John counted down and sent us off I found myself next to team mate Erik Schulte with all the fast guys behind us.  It was nice to run and joke with him a bit which eased the nerves. Erik if you read this don’t forget you told me “loser buys donuts!” I mentioned to Erik that if this were the 50k people would have been hammering already and that it was nice to start out at an easier pace. However, after a couple miles the start line excitement started to wear off and I stopped holding back.  It was time to race.

I knew last week that I wasn’t going to hold back and run with the pack. I do a lot of speed work and not a lot of big miles so I knew I could hold a fast pace, but for how long was the question. As I started to pull away a couple miles in I put my head down and refocused my mental state to just hammer, but hammer within my control.  I knew this was a risk and probably not the smartest one but to me it felt far more exciting to be off the front running hard. It’s a great feeling to be the first runner into the aid stations, and see other runners when returning from the first loop, etc. Everyone is so excited for you. I also do not like getting splits of guys ahead of me. It stresses me out knowing I need to make up that time. So, to be out front and not knowing where anyone behind me is keeps it pretty exciting and pushes me.

I hit the summit 2 minutes slower than my fastest 50k time and I felt great. This year there was a new upper mountain loop added due to construction called Jimmy’s loop. Jimmy’s loop was amazing. It stayed pretty high and was fairly technical, which I loved. It also went through some beautiful aspen groves in an area I had never been before.  I wrapped up the 7 mile loop and hit the summit for the second time at mile 19 with a 10 minute lead (which I didn’t know at the time).  I had to laugh a little as was I was passing other 50 mile runners heading out to Jimmy’s loop who asked me “Did you forget something?” They didn’t realize I had already ran the loop. I simply replied “Nope” with a smile. I then descended toward Long Valley and ran into my friend Joe who ran the 50k. It was great to see him out there. After that I was all alone through the Long Valley Loop section of the course. This section is a little lower in elevation, smoother terrain and the temperature was starting to rise. I was a bit surprised at the amount of mud around this loop, but it wasn’t enough to slow me really.  During this section I did start feeling slight cramp twinges in my calf muscles. I kept drinking and taking gels which seemed to make them disappear.

During the race I had three types of gels. Vfuel, Gu and Clif.  I really wished I had brought all Vfuel. I had a bunch of Gu and a few Vfuelat home but would also need to get some more gels at aid stations. The Vfuel gels are so smooth and go down easily. Gu gels are okay but crazy sticky and messy.  The Clif gels may have actually been worse than eating nothing for me. They were so tough I basically had to chew them.  I knew I had to ingest something so I was left taking tiny bits at a time from the little wrapper. When the hard lump hit my stomach it made me feel queasy.  Next time I’ll be fully stocked with Vfuel!

At mile 29 I was starting to feel the fatigue in my legs.  I could tell the spring in my step was gone and the hard part of the race was about to begin. At the last aid station in Long Valley I filled my water bottle grabbed another gel and also pulled out my reserve soft flask water bottle. I fill that as well because I knew I had some exposed climbs coming and the sun was now well overhead with no wind in the air. I still wasn’t letting up as I made sure not to walk any of the climb out of this aid station.  I then hit the exposed rocky climb. I could tell I was much slower than I should have been up this climb. I ran it with Erik a few weeks early and knew what to expect but it was still quite challenging.

As I continued onto the flat jeep road before Sandy Hill I was able to maintain a pretty decent pace but I was feeling tired. I was adamant about not letting up and pushing until I hit the summit for the final time. I rolled into the Sandy Hill aid station and needed yet more gels. It was great to see the smiling faces of Annie Trent and Chaz Sheya here and I remember asking Annie what type of gels they had with hopes she would say something other than Clif.  She mentioned a variety of flavors but I had to look for myself.  Just Clif gels. Shoot, I grabbed a couple anyways along with my water and started hiking up the hill.  I promised myself I would stick to my hydration/nutrition plan. The whole time I tried to not lose my forward momentum focus.  I knew keeping 100% focus and not letting pain, negative thoughts or questioning of anything get into my mind that I could keep progressing.  I was now at about mile 35 and still in the front with no one around.

My last goal was to reach the summit for the 3rd time and then the final stretch was all downhill.  This is a mental trick I’ve played with myself in the 50k that kept me running hard. If I broke the race up into sections with pushing hard all the way to the final summit I could then go into downhill in recovery mode and just try to run smooth and efficient.  It almost worked but having 40 miles in my legs this time made the descent far from elegant. My legs were heavy and I felt clunky. I knew I wasn’t moving at a blistering pace but simply an okay pace. I never really bonked at all but was just gradually slowing.  I hoped it would be enough to keep me out front but my pace had slowed too much up the final climb.  Chris Wehan passed me as we went through the Mahogany forest which I think is still about seven miles from the finish.  I was a bit bummed to get passed at the time but to be honest with myself I knew I was pretty lucky to make it this far in the lead.  Most importantly I knew I would be able to keep my composure to the finish without completely blowing up.

At mile about 47 the legend Jeff Browning passed me. I was not surprised. He appeared to be on a mission as he was running what looked equivalent to my 10k pace. He blew by at full stride. I told him “nice work man!” and tried to bump knuckles but we missed, which made us both laugh a little. After that I simply tried to hobble in. Everything in me wanted to walk but I tried to keep my pace. I kept looking back over my shoulder to see where Erik or any other runner was coming up behind me, but thankfully I didn’t see anyone. One of my fears is having to sprint to the finish of a long race. That’s not my idea of a fun way to end a race and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t even try.

As I rounded the last corner there was John waiting to greet me at the finish. It is always comforting to know the race director is there to hear my input and thoughts about how my day was out on his course. If anyone is curious to know what a race director is supposed to do look to John as one of the best examples. He is always smiling, comforting and genuinely interested in every runner. I stumbled across totally wasted.  John congratulated me, handed me a glass and finisher award. I wished I could have stayed and chatted with him but I HAD to sit down in the shade. I felt bad as I kind of pushed right passed him. I staggered around like I was drunk and spotted a shady spot under a popup tent with some of my fellow Reno Mountain (donut eating) Runners.  I went to sit next to them but my body felt so heavy I laid flat out in wet muddy grass. It felt so good to not be moving.  Rick asked me if “I felt as bad as I looked?” I simply replied “worse”. I remember the mud on my back and the feeling of closing my eyes for the first time in 7hours 37 minutes. I knew I had completely drained my energy from my body and it was a soothing feeling. My friend Kyle gave me a donut and my other friend Luis handed me a beer. I watched Erik run through the finish a few minutes later. We all sat and chatted about our races. I had some of the great bbq food and relaxed before heading home.

Looking back at the race I can’t be disappointed. I executed my plan exactly. Yes, it would have been ideal to hold the lead to the finish, but I knew I gave everything I had and wasn’t able to make the win happen. This was a good confidence booster for me and a reminder to go into every race with a hydration/nutrition plan and to stick to it but more importantly is to go into a race with a mental state that is 100% focused and a competitive fire to fight. If things go wrong I would deal with them, but to follow my plan and not let off the gas until the tank is empty is something to feel good about. I can’t wait to give this race a shot again next year.

I feel silly thanking people like I did something extraordinary. I don’t really feel that way but they really need to be thanked because they help me be able to run and race.  First my wife for supporting my silly running hobby, then Matt and Aimee at Reno Running Company and Sierra Endurance Sports for the support over the years.  Also, companies like Altra Running and Vfuel for keeping my feet healthy and stomach feeling good and fueled. Finally all the other Sierra Endurance Sports sponsor and the Reno Mountain running donut eating guys.






2 Responses to Silver State 50 Mile Race Report

  1. Matt Balzer says:

    You are an inspiration, Ben! Husband, father of 2, full time job, minimal training time and still crushing 50mi races.

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