Salt Flats 100 2017 Race Report

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The Salt Flats Endurance Run 100 looked like a great, small, grassroots ultra that fit perfectly into my season’s schedule. I was looking for a relatively flat and low impact 100 to run in the spring to tune my race logistics and test my endurance before really getting ready for Leadville in the fall. I didn’t do as much research as I should have before signing up, but the salt flats still ended up being a great race. I am excited to share my race report with you.

The Bonneville Salt Flats Partly Flooded

Crew and Drop Bags

 

 

I made a conscious choice not to ask anyone to come out to the race with me. I wanted to see how I could do at a 100 without a crew or pacers. I flew to Salt Lake City after work on Thursday night, rented a car, and drove straight to the start line. I slept in the car the night before for a slightly restless, but okay five hours. I had two drop bags for the race, the first I would visit at miles 30 and 50. I had the second drop bag at mile 75.

Gear

I used an Instict Evolution pack with two 350ml RaidLight EazyFlasks. This was a fantastic set up and allowed me to carry all the nutrition and gear I needed. It was comfortable the entire race and gave me very easy access to hydration and food. I ran in Altra Olympus with Injinis. These did well, but the socks ended up developing a hole in the big toe. I also got a few blisters on my toes, but that is pretty normal for me and I can just ignore them for the race. For clothing I wore a pair of Instinct trails shorts. They have compression short with a baggy short over them. I really like these as they have a total of five easy to access pockets that can hold a ton of stuff. I left my phone in them the whole time and had some other nutrition in them as well. I ended up wearing a jacket for all except about five minutes of the race. The WAA Ultralight Jacket was great since it was windproof, but didn’t overheat during the day. Some arm sleeve also have me some warmth. I hadn’t planned on it, but at the last minute I threw a fleece hoodie in my 50 mile drop bag. I am very glad I did, because as soon as the sun went down I got really cold and had to wear it for the rest of the race. I was really lucky it didn’t rain I would have been in trouble.

Nutrition

Before the race I made my own nutrition packets out of black beans, bacon, coconut oil, and spices. I think they had about 300-400 calories each. I ate seven of these throughout the race. They worked really well and didn’t bother my stomach. I wish I had made about twice as many. I also drank a fortify drink with 350 calories in it throughout the race. These two high calorie foods were my main nutrition source I also ate some food at the aid stations, but was disappointed only one aid station had warm food and at that point I didn’t have much of an appetite for solid food.

 Course

The Salt Flats 100 course is supposed to start out with about 20 miles of flat running across the Bonneville Salt Flats, except this year and a few previous years the salt flats have been flooded by rain and runoff. It made for great scenery with the mountains, but not so great for running. Instead of running across the flats the course was diverted in the opposite direction back down the five mile long asphalt road that leads to the Bonneville Speedway. From there it hugged the mountains on a slightly rolling dirt road until it met back up with the standard course. Overall the standard course has about 5,500ft of elevation gain from about four or five climbs. The first of which is at mile 25 and the last one tops out at mile 90. I would imagine the diverted course we did might have a few hundred more just from the 20 or so miles of rolling roads we were on.

The Race

The race started out casual with a group of 100milers, 50milers, and 50kers heading down the paved road. I focused on keeping a steady pace while keeping my heart rate below my aerobic threshold. I had spent the previous seven months doing low heart rate training. Prior to the race my plan was to keep my pace at a level that my heart rate wouldn’t go about 153, my aerobic threshold. I think I was chugging along at about a 10min/ mile pace. During this first stretch we had a nice light tailwind, but that wouldn’t last for long as we turned almost directly into it at mile 5 and would have a head wind until mile 40, which really got old!

Once we hit the dirt road I just kept cruising and trying to keep my heart rate down, by about mile 18 even though I felt like I was going at a very slow pace I let my heart rate slip above my goal. It would pretty much stay above it for the rest of the race. I got to chat with a few people who had been out to the race before and they talked some about how bad the weather could get during the race. It made me realize I was potently a little under prepared for the race as far as the amount of clothing and other stuff I brought.

I caught up with a couple of other people toward the top of the first climb at mile 25. I started to descend and was soon by myself. I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the last time I would run with someone for the entire race. From mile 25 to 40 it was mainly dirt roads and some rockier jeep roads with a few short climbs, which provided a good walking break. The wind felt like it was really picking up as I got toward mile 40 and the headwind was really getting annoying. Luckily after leaving the aid station at 40 and descending a short descent the course turned almost 180 degrees and the wind turned into a nice tail wind.

Adam Harmon at the Salt Flats 100

Once the course turned it popped you onto the mud flats section of the course. From the horror stories I heard at the start of the race of people getting stuck or 6-inch deep mud for five miles I was dreading this section. I wore gaiters especially for this so I wouldn’t get too much stuff in my shoes. I was presently surprised that the mud flats were actually pretty much sold with a slight crust on them so you could follow a few sets of footprints. Even though there were footprints there were absolutely no markers on this section that I could find. It was a little disconcerting as I lost the tracks for a good 5 minutes one time, but I was told to hug the coast of the flats and keep going until you saw a blue water jug. I did that and ended up finding the tracks and eventually some course markers again. It was quite the environment to be running. It was a good representation of the course as a whole, windy, exposed, and harsh. Overall I think I remember seeing one tree on the entire course. There was no hiding from the sun, wind, or any other elements that decide to come down. Luckily this year the temperatures were cool and there was no real precipitation during the race. I had a few snow pellets hit him and I was cold at night, but I would take that over the heat and run.

After coming off the mud flats the course was rolling hills for quite I while. I was still feeling good and able to run at a good clip. I came into mile 50 at 9:30, well under my goal. I was optimistic, but knew I could hit a wall the second half. From 50 I left and ran along some more pretty flat dirt roads for the next two aid stations. I was still feeling good going into the aid station at mile 68. I was surprised to learn I was in 5th place at that time. I had heard I was in 6th, but apparently someone further up had dropped. During the climb out of the aid station I started to slow down and even the walking pace up the climb was tiring. The next road section was good, but I think I started to go a little to hard trying to keep a faster pace up. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the road was a good false flat climb and it ended up taking a lot out of me. My legs were getting tired. At mile 78 you hit a pavement descent. The two miles into the next aid station were a leg destroyer. I started to alternate between running and walking as my legs were stiffening and my energy level was dropping. I felt dead when I hit the mile 80 aid station. This was the wall I knew could come. I stayed there a little too long trying to get energy back and motivate myself to go back into the night by myself. At this point I was starting to get tired of running by myself for the last 55 miles. I eventually left and continued the road descent. I tried to run, but couldn’t get myself to stick with it. I started the long slog to the finish at a walk. At this time my watch also died, so I didn’t know how far it was to the next aid station or what my pace was. At 82 I took a hard left and started the long final climb. The shallow grade made the walking even more monotonous as I knew if it was even two hours earlier I would have been jogging it.

I finally reached the mile 89 aid station. It was a welcome sight with a warm tent and friendly people. I spent a little too much time here, but got a few hundred calories down and warmed up. They also gave me some hand warmers, which I was very thankful for. As I was motivating myself to get back up ahead to the finish another runner came into the tent. The first runner I had been near since mile 25! I left the tent thinking he would spend some time there, but the sight of him gave me some more energy. I power hiked the very short section of the climb that remained and then started jogging down the descent. From here you could see the lights of the gas station along the highway. I couldn’t tell if it was the start and finish or the gas station at the time or how far away it was.

I glanced behind myself and saw two headlamps not 200 feet behind me. “Oh Shit” I thought, “I am not going to let anyone pass me after 65 miles by myself.” I don’t know where the energy came from, but I started to fly down the hill. It was very hard to tell how far they were behind me in the pitch dark and I couldn’t tell if they were gaining or loosing time on me. It felt like I was running eight minute miles or faster. Whenever there was a dip or slight turn and they lost sight of me I would push even harder. “Out of site, out of mind” I thought. At times it felt like I was at a near sprint. The descent was a rocky and twisty four miles on jeep roads and then onto wider dirt roads. As soon as I hit pavement I thought we only had a little to go, but then I realized the gas station was still a mile away and then another five miles on the finishing stretch. I was able to run to the gas station, but after that I couldn’t muster any more energy. The final straight and flat five miles were very difficult. I couldn’t tell how far the finish was or how far the small light was behind me. I ended up walking 90% of the last five miles constantly looking over my shoulder thinking I was going to be caught. The last five miles felt like the longest stretch of the race.

I ended up reaching the finish in 21:09 for 5th place out of 42 starters, my fastest 100 miler by over 6 hours. I immediately got in a car to warm up and collect myself. It had been a long day. It turned out the next runner didn’t come in for 10 minutes and he had no idea I was in front of him at that point.

Overall I am very happy with how the race went for a prep race for the season. Although I probably pushed it a little too hard toward the end I was able to recover fairly quickly and start running again after a week and a half. After working on only by base training for the previous seven months I am excited to work on my leg strength and speed before Leadville.

Flooded Salt Flats 100
After waking up the next morning in the car the salt flats had a lot more water on them and were almost completely flooded!