I went into the Pony Express 100 looking for a bit of redemption. In general, my racing this year has been less than stellar. Indeed it’s been a bit abysmal. I fell apart during Moab Red Hot, Timp Trail Marathon was ok, nothing to write home about, Squamish 50K, while a lot of fun, was pretty darn slow too. Couple that with my slowest Wasatch 100 finish ever plus abject failure at the Bear and this had me wondering if I would ever run semi decently or was age finally rearing its ugly head. Was I going to have to resign myself to just running ultras for fun and not worrying about time, not being able to compete at the level I was used to (certainly not elite, but at least in the front half of the pack). I am pretty competitive by nature and doing my best at a race is part of what makes it fun for me.
Ideally, I was hoping for a sub-24 hour run at Pony. I hadn’t run a sub-24 hour 100 since Vermont back in 2011 and certainly wasn’t sure I could do it. Realistically, I didn’t feel like I had the training needed for a run that fast, but I was going to give it a shot.
Since I know that 100’s are a very mental game, especially late in the race, I started mentally prepping for the hard end miles a couple of weeks before. Knew the first half wouldn’t be too bad, but that the last 30 miles or so would make or break my effort to go under 24 hours.
I also found out that Misty, one of my good friends would be running Pony as well and was looking for a bit of redemption herself. She also wanted to try and go under 24 hours as she had never accomplished that before. I created what I thought was a reasonable pace chart giving us a bit over 23 hours and sent it to her. She thought it was very doable. I knew the key for me would be to hit the 50 mile mark at or under 10 hours. After that I figured I could hang on by my fingernails and get the last 50 in under 14 hours.
Race Time –
Davy has Pony Express setup with staggered start times. Your start time is based on your expected finish time. The slowest runners will start at 5am, with other runners starting at 6am, 7am, and 8am. This has the advantage of spreading out the field ahead of time so that crew vehicles aren’t creating congestion for the runners. Davy also requires that each runner supply their own crew. There are no aid stations, just check points roughly every 10-16 miles.
Misty and I were in the 6am starting group. We took off and managed to settle into an easy pace, around 9-10 min/mile. This felt really good since the first several miles were a slight downhill.
Most of the race was pretty mundane. Long straight stretches of road. We clicked off the miles, occasionally meeting up with Steve, Misty’s significant other. The day was stunning, beautiful crystal clear skies without a cloud, temps warming up from the 30’s to the lower 70’s. The scenery was also beautiful, not nearly as desolate and devoid of vegetation as I thought it would be . We did manage to see three herds of wild horses, a couple of snakes, and a tarantula crossing the road.
As we ran along we did fall behind our pace chart goals and at one point we thought that a sub-24 was out of reach. We resolved to just keep plugging away and do the best we could. Since I was pretty unsure I could go sub-24, I told Misty that she was to take off and not wait for me at all. I did have my usual down spot between miles 30 and 40 and found it to be a struggle to keep up, but somehow I managed, then snapped out of it.
|Looking west from Dugway Pass|
We managed to hit the halfway point at 10:05, so behind our pace but still possible to go sub-24. We got to the turnaround at Fish Springs before sundown, something that Misty really wanted to do as it was dark when she got there the last time she ran this race. As we got near Fish spring we were able to kind of gauge where we were in the pack. We thought that only one runners from either the 7am or 8am groups had passed us and we did know that there were a couple of 6am runners and a few from 5am ahead of us as well.
|Almost to the turnaround|
We tried to keep up as steady of a pace as possible, running the vast majority of the time. Even though this race only has about 3000’ of gain, I was surprised at how much uphill running we actually did. Lots and lots of very gradual uphill miles.
As it got dark we just continued to click off the miles, occasionally passing another runner. At no time during the last half of the race did anyone pass us that we couldn’t answer back. By the time we got to the last check point at Dugway Well, we were both ready to be done but still had 17 miles to go.
The night didn’t get too cold. Crossing the old riverbed was the coldest at probably the low 30’s. The stars were brilliant with no moon out and no city lights around. We could see the lights of Dugway Proving Ground way off in the distance. We could also see the lights of the finish from I think around five miles away. So close yet so far. We kept plugging away. This last section from Dugway Well was all mental. We both withdrew into ourselves, just willing our legs to keep running. It was so hard to just keep running as opposed to just walking, but we knew by then that we really could go sub-24 if we just kept running. Now it became how much could we go under.
Eventually we came to the junction and turned down to the finish line ¼ mile away. That last quarter was the most satisfying of the entire race. Knowing that we were way under 24 hours. Knowing that we were the 2nd and 3rd people to cross the finish line (with the different start times, we didn’t know our placing yet). For me, this finish was one of the most satisfying finishes I can think of. It was a nice redemption run. Our final time was 23:18:24 for Misty and 23:18:25 for me.
Like I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t very sure I could actually go sub-24 anymore, especially since I’m 58 years old and have never been what you would call fast. I did manage to pull off a 7th place finish out of roughly 35 starters, so finishing in the top 20% was very satisfying. This was my fastest 100 mile run since 2003 and my second fastest ever. Yep, it was good.
Misty was super happy to have gone under 24 hours. Her fastest 100 by a large margin. Later in the day, she found out that she had also won the women’s race by a substantial margin. She did fantastic. I was very happy for her. Made me smile big.
As far as following our pace chart, we fell behind by more and more until we got back to the Blackrock checkpoint, then we started gaining that time back. In the end we were only behind our hoped for pace by 13 minutes. Not too bad at estimating.
Shoes – I wore my Altra Paradigm’s for the entire race. These are road shoes that are very similar to the Altra Olympus but much lighter. I figured that since we would be on gravel roads the entire time and not any trail, this was the shoe to use. Between my Darn Tough socks and the Altra’s, I ended up with two small blisters on the sides of a couple of toes. Nothing that slowed me down at all.
Food – I fueled for the most part using Tailwind. I love this stuff and kept a bottle with me at all times. I supplemented that with the occasional “Simply Fruit” from Powerbar, various kinds of Campbell’s soup, and bacon. I felt I fueled just fine with no stomach upset unless we really pushed hard going uphill.
As an Engineer by trade, I tend to look at my race performances analytically. I don’t get into the life changing spirituality or any of that stuff. I run for fun, and analyzing my performance and trying to see where I could have done better is part of that fun. I really enjoy the strategy when a race is going well. How do I catch other runners, how do I stay ahead, etc. All in all, I think I had a great run. Next year? Hmmm, well, I’m thinking about it. I really seem to do better at flat races instead of mountain races.
I highly recommend running this race. Davy does a great job, the staggered start format is interesting, the history you run through following the Pony Express trail. The monuments to those times. Misty and I were chatting about how much more desolate it was 150 years ago when those riders were riding on a trail instead of a nice gravel road. I would be willing to bet that the scenery hasn’t changed at all except for the presence of the gravel roads.
A lot of people think that running out in the west desert has got to be boring, long straight stretches of road, no real change. But I found it to be enjoyable. The scenery was starkly beautiful. Flat grasslands, salt flats, mountain ranges, clear blue skies, more water than I would have thought out at Fish Springs. When you get to Fish Spring and see a sign telling you the nearest town is 104 miles away, you realize just how far in the middle of nowhere you really are. I really like that feeling. Super quiet, only the crunch of gravel and your own breathing to be heard. Your foot steps and breathing acting like a metronome as the miles click away. Being able to manage the discomfort, paying attention what your body is telling you. All extraneous stuff stripped away. Long stretches where you don’t see another soul. Dust trails from vehicles visible from 15 miles away. Then occasionally seeing a friend at a checkpoint and getting a hug from them. I found joy in all of this.
Below is some of the info from our race.
|Check Point||Mileage||Actual Clock Time||Pace Chart Clock Time||Difference||Section Actual Pace||Section Pace Chart||Overall Actual Pace||Overall Pace Chart|
I did manage to capture every mile split through 95.5 miles using my cell phone in airplane mode and using Strava. Here's those splits. Yeah, I'm a data geek.