Weekend Wrap at Inside Trail: Mackey 3-Peats and Slickrock Circus

There was a good assortment of ultra races over the weekend.  From the soft, rolling hills in the Bay Area of California, to undulating and abruptly jagged desert trails in Moab, Utah, to ankle crushing rock-lined, steep descents of Virginia, there was variety in both the race terrain and the weather accompanying the events.  The weather played the biggest role at the Slickrock 100 (50 mile and 50k), where the recent heavy rains washed out dirt roads and created quicksand circumstances that actually swallowed the race director’s 4×4 vehicle up to the windows.  Both the 100 mile and 50 mile courses were changed substantially at the last minute to avoid the dangerous areas.  More on that in a bit.

Dave Mackey's well deserved bib number

First, let’s start with the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Mile.  Dave Mackey made it three years in a row with his win in 6:34 (Hi, Ultra Runner Of the Year, meet Mr. Mackey).  He now owns 3 of the fastest 5 times ever run in this 29 year old event.  In a repeat of their last race, Chris Calzetta and Jean Pommier had a sprint to the finish with Calzetta (7:02:54) reaching the line one second in front of the speedy 47 year old Pommier (they tied for 1st at the Skyline 50k in August!).   For the women, Roxanne Woodhouse lead all day and crossed the line first in 8:00.  Jennifer Benna methodically picked off people all day, moving up to 2nd where she finished in 8:09.  Bree Lambert held on for 3rd in 8:26.

The transfer of race management to NorCal Ultras was seamless.  Lots of good feedback from participants commenting on the well-marked course, post race food, and terrific weather, albeit a bit chilly at the start.

6pm start of the 2011 Grindstone 100. Photo: Scott Livingston

The Grindstone 100 saw Neal Gorman take the lead early and run alone at the front for 93 miles, finishing in 19:41 (second fastest time on this course).  David Ruttum and Frank Gonzalez battled all day with David edging away in the final hours to take 2nd in 20:28 and Frank coming in just 9 minutes later in 20:36.  Debbie Livingston took the ladies’ win in 24:58, nearly two hours slower than last year’s winning time and course record but she got it done with style and a win is a win.  Kerry Owens came in second with a 28:43 finishing time and Zsuzsanna Carlson (Interesting use of the “Z”s?) nabbed 3rd in 29:31.

Though the finish times suggest the women’s race was without excitement, Debbie had a race on her hands and didn’t take the lead until the second half.  Her husband, Scott Livingston, said, “Debbie overcame a 25 minute deficit to Katherine Dowson at the 51 mile mark (turnaround), by coming on strong in the second half. Unfortunately Dowson succumbed to the course and dropped at the Dowells Draft Aid Station at mile 66.”  Scott also points out that many of the participants complained of quad pain.  With the climbs and descents of this monster mixed in with warmer temps, I’m can imagine the pain!

Both of the previous races are managed and run like a fine engine, everything in sync and predictable.  Unfortunately, for the participants, the Slickrock 100 had some backfires and sputtering and then just sort of died.  Weather was uncooperative, causing the race director (in consultation with Search And Rescue) to reroute the 100 mile and 50 mile course, which lead to all sorts of problems from leader (and eventual winner) Ben Hian running off course for 6 miles early in the race to other front runners getting lost after running 90 miles and dropping in the middle of the night due to long periods without food and lack of warm clothing.  I made the choice to switch to the “50k” (which ended up being 65k; the real course was long at 35.5 miles and I was directed by an aid station person to continue on for “4-5 miles” past the correct turn around) and officially came in second just 4 minutes behind the winner, but technically I ran 5 miles further than he did, so…  I’m just happy I switched races and wasn’t out on a wild goose chase “fun run” course that could have been anywhere from 90 to 105 miles, nobody knows for sure and nobody ran the same course.  It can be fun having some uncertainty in a race but not with 100 milers in the cold rainy weather.

The best info I’ve received has the top four in the 100 mile as:

  1. Ben Hian
  2. Rhonda Claridge
  3. Chris Boyack
  4. Leila DeGrave

There will likely be some fallout from this event.  Brendan T. was there to crew and support a runner and wrote, “Yeah it’s an inaugural event and he was dealt a bad hand with the weather — but zero communication to racers and volunteers about what the hell was going on?? Negligent and dangerous.  I don’t think the SR100 was received too well and wil be surprised if Grand County issues him another event permit in the near future.”

In a comment on my personal running blog (footfeathers.com) Jeremy Humphrey wrote,

Glen Redpath and I led by 30 mins to 1 hour for 80+ miles (after a 6 mile detour by Ben Hian). They made the course up as we went, thus rerouting us back toward the start/finish for another quick loop to add distance. Glen and I hit the last aid before the s/f and was instructed by aid staff on how to proceed. We proceeded as such and got incredibly lost coming to a stop 9+ miles off route and staring into a 1000′ canyon. Several hours without food and inadequate clothing forced the drop. Managed 91+ miles. My first DNF.

I can sympathize with the RD, Aaron.  It’s a very difficult job to begin with but all of the problems could have been avoided with better planning.  I have many thoughts and opinions on this specific event and poorly managed events in general but I would be grateful to hear from readers about their past experiences with mismanaged events and thoughts on this race.

Grindstone 100 Race Preview

Anyone who says East Coast ultras are easier than western ones hasn’t run races like Massanutten 100 or the Grindstone 100. I cut my teeth on ultrarunning in the East, running in NC, SC, VA, WV, DC, and FL and I can attest to the fact that the East offers some of the gnarliest trail and stiff climbs in the country. I wrote an article about East vs West for Ultrarunning magizing a couple years ago that compared and contrasted the two. With a perfect weather forecast of 45-70 degrees and dry, this Friday sees the start of the 4th annual Grindstone in Swoope, VA (139 registrants at this point). The race features a unique 6PM start time that ensures all entrants, including the winner, will run one full night. Karl Meltzer set the standard in 2009 with an 18:46 run that still stands as the course record. Sandi Nypaver set the current women’s record in 2010 with her 23:05 effort.

With 23,200 ft of climb crammed into the out and back 100 mile course, Grindstone stands up with races like Wasatch and Bear 100s as among the US’s most difficult at that distance. Indeed, the event website states it best in its opening description, “Grit, endurance, temporary loss of sanity. You might need all these if you want to finish, well, just keep in mind this is, without a doubt, the hardest 100 miler east of the 100th meridian.”

I asked Karl Meltzer his thoughts and whether there’s anything that stands out in his mind about the Grindstone event, since he’s run most of the big 100s in the country and certainly has run all of the most difficult ones. Karl responded, “The only thing odd is the start time, but the venue is great for that. 12 hours of darkness is alot longer than most races, especially for the front runner. It’s well run and marked extremely well. Clark Zealand the RD does a great job. Also great shirts for finishers from Patagoochi. Rare in this sport.”

Grindstone 100 elevation profile

If running 12 hours straight through the night over technical singletrack doesn’t give pause to potential applicants, then the elevation profile will do the trick:

Forget about the massive climbs and descents in the middle of the race, that 4,500 ft descent over the last seven miles of the race makes my palms sweaty.  If you don’t pamper your quads during the race, you’ll certainly pay the price in the form of agony over the final miles.

There are 15 aid stations and a live webcast updating runners’ progress through those stations.  Live updates at www.eco-xsports.com.

As always, we welcome comments and would love to hear readers’ predictions for men’s and women’s contenders, personal experience with this race, opinions on how this stacks up against the tough 100s in the US and/or Canada, and any other thoughts on this event.