We ended up planning a short family trip to California, and decided to hop over to Reno for the Silver State 50K.
I have done a few trail 50Ks/50Ms, and all of them in Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine area.
The Silver State 50K would be my first 'marathon or longer' in the west.
I expected it to be tougher than my local 50Ks for 4 main reasons.
1. Elevation: In the Kettle Moraine, we have roller coaster hills. They aren't that tall, but they are fairly steep, and can be one after another in places. From highest point to lowest point might only be about 300 feet, but you'll climb up and down more than 60 times in 31 miles.
The course for the Silver State 50K basically has 1 hill with 2 climbs. It starts with a 12 mile climb rising over 3300 feet, then a 4 mile decent dropping 1500 feet, a 4 mile climb back up 1500 feet, then an 11 mile decent back down 3300 feet.
The long climbs didn't offer as much challenge as I expected. In terms of incline, I found the grade to be more runnable than expected.
2. Altitude. I am used to running at an altitude of 600 to 900 feet above sea level. Not considered to be 'at altitude'. The Silver State course starts at 4,700 feet above sea level, and reaches a top altitude of about 8,000 feet. The altitude didn't make me feel sick our out of breath, but I think it just made me feel like I was working harder. The hills seemed steeper, I guess. This offered more of a challenge than the grade, but still not the biggest challenge.
3. Tree cover. I am used to trail runs being in a forest, with lots of protection from sun and wind. This course has absolutely no shade. The few trees we saw were birch trees that didn't fully have their leaves yet. There was vegetation, but only tall enough to provide shelter for squirrels and bunnies.
I was also prepared for this, and loaded up with sunscreen before the start. This didn't challenge me as much as I expected, because we had some clouds early in the event, temperatures stayed cool for me almost until the finish.
4. Footing. This one surprised me the most, and was the most challenging. Footing in the Kettle Moraine is tough - so I thought. It's 'technical' - trail runner jargon, meaning rocks and roots and bumpy, and you really need to pay attention to where your foot is going to land.
The first 12 miles of the course had easy footing. Soft, flat, smooth and kind. The remaining 19 miles were brutal, and more tiring than I could have imagined.
Around here, we have nice smooth rocks. In Nevada, they have jagged angular rocks that are much harder to run on, and appear to be much much worse to land on, which fortunately, I did not have to experience. These rocks blanketed the course in abundance and were unavoidable, making the surface much bumpier than I am used to.
The cross section was also very bumpy - no flat sections to place a foot on. If you took a cross section of the footing, perpendicular to the direction of travel, it would look like the stripe on Charlie Brown's shirt. One foot was always landing higher than the other, and at a cross angle, forcing ankles to twist sideways, and feet to constantly be pronating one way or the other.
This rugged footing just pounded on my feet, ankles, knees hips. Though I didn't fall, there were places I stumbled and slid. Fighting to find a good rhythm and secure footing created an all over body tension that simply tired me out more than any other aspect of the run.
I enjoyed this event. It was well organized, the aid stations were well placed and well stocked. The post race picnic was nice, and the park offered a very relaxed atmosphere.
It's a small race - only 52 finishers in the 50K. I ran with some locals for a bit, as well as a woman from Boise, ID. I finished in 6:18:30, which earned me second in my division, out of 2. In the last quarter mile, I was passed by the lead 50 miler - the 50 milers started only an hour before us. He ran a very impressive 7:16 on a course longer and tougher than mine.
For those keeping score, Nevada makes state number 14 for 'marathons or longer'.
After the event, we went to Bertha Miranda's
Mexican restaurant in Reno, as recommended by locals. I had the 'Crying Pig' - very yummy pork with onions and serrano peppers.
The next few days were spent in Nevada and California, with visits to the Downtown Reno, Nevada State Capitol, Lake Tahoe, California State Capitol, Muir Woods, San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, Monterey's 17 mile drive, Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco's Twin Peaks.