2019 Pass Mountain 50k
20 February 2020
The 2017 Pass Mountain 50k was the first ultra I finished and something I consider, to date, to be the most painful thing I have ever done. Two years have dulled the pain, so maybe I have to describe it as the "most uncomfortable" thing I've ever done now. I don't think that does it justice. Either way, these thoughts were in my head coming into this race.
After running the Marquette Trail 50k in August, pacing 55k in September at Mogollon, and the Cave Creek Thriller 50k in October, I realized i had a monthly 50k streak going. I love streaks. Streaks put good practices on autopilot and form good habbits for free. Streaks focus you on what you're doing now. They allow (and force) you to plan for the future. All they ask is that you keep going. In a lovingly threatening way. "Nice streak you've got there. Sure would be a shame if it all fell apart..."
And so when Pass Mountain rolled around I jumped in the 50k with no more thought than a streak requires.
The first part of the trail is very slightly downhill, with very little technicality. While there are a few 90° turns, it's about as close to a dirt track as you can get. Smooth, flat, and fast. A large portion of the field treats it this way. In 2017 I remember looking down at my watch and seeing a 3:50/km pace. No wonder it ended up hurting.
This year I was determined to let people go. I've come to beleive that— if you put in the work head of time— this is a superior long-race strategy. It can be very difficult to watch people disappear in the moment. You don't know if they're all way faster (in fact, in 2018 they were) or if they're northerners about to learn about heat exhaustion in the winter. Something about racing makes me always suspect the former.
So I did. I even hiked the first little climb over Cat Peaks. After this there's an immediate right turn and the climb up the back of Pass Mountain begins. The terrain becomes extremely rocky for a short while. With all the additional lateral movement it is very easy to go over threshold without realizing it. It was here that I spotted my first victim.
The guy I caught was visibly struggling. The contrast to how good I was feeling was very reassuring. I passed him and kept rolling. It was only a few minutes later that I saw my next victim a little above me. The strategy was beginning to work.
I rolled through the start finish to close out lap 1 still feeling good. I caught up to a swift woman from San Diego running around a 4:50/km pace through the fast part. I felt like I could drop her too, but it became apparent that she was intending on finishing out the race at this pace. I decided to save it for the fast downhill off from Pass Mountain at the end and let her go.
This was the first deploy of a battery-powered remote timing station out at Meridian. I stopped to see if the lights were flashing and got yelled at by the volunteers. The second climb wasn't terrible. I was clearly not as fast as the first loop, and a negative split wasn't going to (quite) happen, but it wasn't a death march by any means. Once at the top it was time to hammer, and hammer I did.
In 2017 I couldn't hardly run down the hills. This year I was just above my 5k pace on the way in. In 2017 I spent some time in the med tent afterward getting rehydrated. This year I talked to my friends. In 2017 I was dead and on the verge of injury. This year I came back that night and won the 5k night race, setting the CR in the process.
To be sure a lot of this was due to increased fitness and training this year, but this race was a success. My focus will be on working toward negative-splitting ultras going foreward.