Why was I nervous the week leading up to this? I had run the race three previous times and knew Peavine like the back of my hand. I knew where every rock, climb, technical descent, etc. was so it wasn’t like there was some unknown variable I would have to deal with on race day. I checked ultra signup a few days before the race to see who had signed, which would tell me who I was racing against. I didn’t notice anyone who would be guaranteed to crush me on race day but I was still nervous and I knew people could register the day of the race as well.
I began analyzing my run from previous years and assessing my fitness this year. I looked at the stout course record from 2010 by Yassine Diboun and thought maybe that would be obtainable if I had a perfect day. I started writing down splits and determined that shaving off 18 minutes my PR would be nearly impossible, but I decided that I would shoot for that pretty much impossible goal anyways. As soon as I mentally started to prepare for this feat all my nerves seemed to disappear. I somehow set an extremely lofty goal almost knowing I had zero chance of obtaining it and I started to feel better about the race. Go figure.
The day before the race it was snowing and raining, windy and cold. It hadn’t rained much so I knew the course wouldn’t be too muddy. If you’ve been on Peavine when it is extremely wet you know what I’m talking about. I actually welcomed the cool temps since I was planning on running at a pretty hard pace and knew I would be heating up quickly. I showed up at the race start about a half hour before, chatted with some friends and we wished each other good luck. Then I started noticing some seriously fast guys in the 50k. First was Peter Fain from Truckee who coaches at www.runondirtcoaching.com. He has a long history with Silver State, especially the 50k having won it multiple times, not to mention many other races. When I first got into running I would see his name all over, a local legend of sorts. Peter told me of another great runner who would be there Paul Giblin from Great Britain who recently won the Javelina 100 and some other big ultras in the UK. Then I spotted Tim Tollefson of Mammoth Lakes, who is pretty much one of the fastet 50k distance runners in the country and an Olympic trial qualifier as well as many many other amazing achievements.
So, I had already decided that getting 4th would be equivalent to winning. Race Director John Trent (one of the nicest guys I know) gave us some last minute words of encouragement and graciously thanked us for racing today. We toed the line and the gun went off. Peter lead the pack as we circled around Rancho San Rafael Park and under McCarren. A tight pack immediately formed. In it was Peter, Paul, Tim, Anna Mae Flynn (who crashed and still set the CR in this race), and me. The pace was moderately fast but comfortable. As the trail turned to single track and Tim was in the back I remember thinking how slow this must feel for him and that he was probably annoyed to be stuck behind all us old dudes.
At this point I completely forgot about course records, splits, times, etc. I was just enjoying running and trying to remind myself to keep drinking water even though it was cold and I wasn’t thirsty. I knew that if I didn’t focus on it now I would pay for it later in the race. It was an investment in the future in a sense.
We all blew through the first aid station without stopping. Anna Mae wisely dropped back a bit to run her own race and the four of us continued on. Nobody was talking, which felt kinda strange to me since we were such a tight pack. I tried to chat a bit and joke around to keep things positive. As we hit the second aid station at mile 7.5 I noticed I was the only one stopping to refill my water bottle. The always energetic and super nice Michael Connors quickly filled it, handed it back to me, looked me in the eyes and said with a smile “Have a great race Ben!” It is people like this who make the Silver State 5050 one of the greatest races period. Every aid station was stocked with not only every goodie and drink a racer would need but also super nice positive folks helping.
Tim took off after this. Either he got bored or this was his first chance to get around us as the trail widened. Either way he slowly distanced himself from us. As we approached the service road to the summit Peter said to me, “think it will be windy on the service road?” I replied “absolutely, once we round the corner heading west we are going to get blasted” then jokingly I told him to “just make sure to tuck in behind a tall guy (Peter is ver tall)”. To fight the wind we did trade off positions a little bit, very similar to a paceline in cycling. It actually made a huge difference! I felt so good in the back but made sure to pay my dues at the front.
We hit the first summit and I realized I was a bit ahead of Peter and Paul but didn’t feel like I had made any extra effort, just tried to keep the same pace. Maybe having run this section about a thousand times I knew what to expect. I skipped the summit aid station because it was cold and I had been drinking a lot. Also, it wasn’t far to the next aid station. For some reason running a steep technical descent with a full water bottle that I wasn’t going to drink didn’t seem like the wisest decision (probably wouldn’t have mattered).
I felt like I was bombing but realized Paul was right behind me just after the rocky technical section, then Peter joined us too. We hit a tiny bit of the infamous Peavine mud on the flat backside at about mile 15 and Paul seemed slightly perplexed. He made a comment about the sticky muddiness. I joked that we were all running in Hokas now that our feet were packed with mud. I unintentionally put some distance on Peter and Paul on this back section as we started the climb on the backside. I knew this would be the hardest effort of the day as I tried to keep my power hiking to a minimum, keep my head down and try my best to mimic a steam locomotive climbing a long grinding hill, slow and steady.
The most important decision I made before the race happened after watching Sage Canaday’s video about race day nutrition . In it he said he takes an energy gel every half hour. I thought that sounded like too much but I figured he knew what the hell he was doing as one of the top ultra runners in the country. I compared that to my 3 gels for an entire race and I decided to up that 7 gels for the entire race.
That seemed to do the trick for me. I hit the summit for the second time still ahead of Peter and Paul, but not by much. I slapped high fives to the awesome volunteers, filled my water bottle, and felt so excited for the last 10 miles to the finish. I cranked up some tunes in my headphones. Then I started bombing the descent just as I had done on long runs a million times before. This time I felt strong and energized.
The miles ticked by. I had slight twinging cramps in my calves, but nothing to really slow me down. The bombing continued. I was having a lot of fun on this whole descent. I kept looking at my watch and couldn’t believe where I was in the race in relation to the time. I hit mile 25 at about 3:24 and knew I only had six downhill miles left. My PR was 4:21:00. This was the first time I realized I was going to crush this. I occasionally looked back to see if anyone was behind me but I felt fairly confident in my pace compared to previous years where I would be running scared at this point and trying with all my might to not walk. This time was different. At the second to last aid station they asked what I needed and was immediately handed water and a GU roctane . I had actually never eaten a GU roctane. It was exactly what I needed to keep hammering as I neared the 30 mile mark. I ran my last couple miles near 6:40 pace. I saw my good friend Chad in the middle of the desert as I began dropping the last descent into Evans Canyon. It felt great to see a familiar face cheering for me and gave me one last surge of energy to finish the race strong.
My final time was 4:08:38 for 2nd place (felt like 1st for me). I beat my previous best time of 4:21:00 by 12 and half minutes and I was about 6 minutes off the previous course record! Tim smashed the old course record by a few minutes with a time of 3:58:51. As I crossed the finish I was greeted by all my Reno friends and I hung out to see Peter and Paul finish so I could congratulate them as well. My wife and kids showed up a few minutes later. The time I told them to be there was later because I really didn’t think I’d finish as early as I did. It was so great to see them. They are the ones who have supported me the most while training this spring.
Thanks to all the sponsors of the team as well!