A Tale of Two Experiences at the Sun Mountain 50K

This past weekend, Kaleb, Josh & Steve ran the Sun Mountain 50K under bluebird blue skies and amidst fields of sunflowers & lupines. It was blazing hot, reaching 90 degrees during the race, included big, big climbs and descents with 5400 feet of elevation gain, and ended up being over 32 miles as they experienced a surprise extra mile+ when all they really wanted to see was the finish line. I felt so darn honored to be able to greet each of them individually after they crossed the finish line, each completely spent, but with great spirits and soon enough, with smiles (albeit weary) on their faces. (And in case you are wondering about their race results, Kaleb finished 4th overall in his inaugural ultra while Josh & Steve persevered for top 50 & 100 overall finishes, respectively.)

I thought it would be interesting to compare the experiences of 25 year old Kaleb (who had just run his last collegiate track race the week before and had never run an ultra run or any distance near that far) with 64 year old Steve who is in a completely different chapter of his running journey. – Genevie

Why did you do the race?

Kaleb: With the end of my track career at WWU, I was leaving behind the training, structure, community and comradery that I really liked, but was looking forward to leaving behind my silly expectations of what it means to have a “good” race or being a “good” runner.

It is very easy to get in a cycle of thinking you’re not good enough. I ran a 9:06 steeplechase as a freshman, then felt like a disappointment over time when I struggled to improve my time. That aspect of racing sucks.

I wanted a new challenge, something so completely out there and unknown that I couldn’t even remotely develop any sort of expectations and just race a hard, honest effort.

Steve: I’ve found it takes a bit more energy and focus every year, as I age, to stay fit and healthy. The 50k helped to provide the incentive, structure and necessary focus to get out and get after it through the winter and spring. I had my challenges, but I feel really lucky to even get to the starting line of an event like this after enduring many injuries in my younger years and another one just weeks before the race. Yes, I’m older now, but it feels good to do what I can, with what I have, and where I am.

When did you sign up for the race?

Kaleb: I didn’t sign up for the race until the week before, the day after my last collegiate track race. I didn’t want to think too much about my next chapter in running until I felt like I’d given my all to track.

Steve: Months ago! I needed time to train and focus on an undertaking like this.

Where did you sleep the night before the race?

Kaleb: In a tent that I set up in the bed of my truck.

Steve: A comfy bed in a pretty nice hotel. 😉

What was the low point of the race for you?

Kaleb: Feeling so puke-y during the hottest, most exposed-to-the-sun, steepest part of the race. I drank too much Sprite at the previous aid station, which ultimately I think, led to my unraveling. 

I was feeling so terrible that at the aid station when they asked me “What do you need?”, I said, “A hug.” ;( They were agreeable, but I declined because I was a sweaty mess. 

Steve: The last mile when my watch said I had already run 50k, but the finish was no where in sight!

My second lowest morale point was cramping up a bit and getting passed by a multitude on a downhill, just after having passed them all on the previous uphill!

What were some of the highlights for you?

Kaleb: The views. Also, the trails were awesome and so well marked that at every turn they made sense to me even in my delirium.

Steve: Along with spectacular views, there were such great and helpful people at the aid stations. At one aid station, I found to my great surprise that I couldn’t seem to open my bottles to refill! That was a little stressful until a very busy volunteer stopped quickly and had no trouble undoing them for me. At another station, a kindly volunteer poured ice into my hat and a back pocket of my vest pack. Super cool strategy, I’d say.

Soon after finishing, there was a sense of immense satisfaction and feeling of gratefulness. It is so exciting to take part, give it your all and to experience that with so many happy people. The lakeside finish area is beautiful and celebratory. Something I’ll fondly remember.

Did you ever feel like dropping out? And if so what kept you motivated? 

Kaleb: I definitely had times of feeling like I wanted to drop out, but I had talked about trying to run pretty seriously on the trails and I had told a lot of people that. I did not want my first experience to be a DNF even I I had to walk.

I want to do more trail races and I thought if I drop out at mile 20 then I will have no data on what happens between 20 and 30+ miles. 

Steve: I was more focused on if my injury would stop me, but it didn’t crop up. In addition, and despite my intentions and training plan, I went from trying to perform well to just trying to get to the finish line. I didn’t doubt I could do it, but despite my best effort that day, it was going to take a while. 🙂

Some random fun moments of motivation included seeing a sign that said, “Pain is fleeting, but internet race results last forever.” Also, I thought, “I can’t let someone wearing a tutu pass me.” …Or, maybe I can. 😉

What is something you used that you were really glad you brought? 

Kaleb: Vaseline! I slathered it all over my shoulders so I wouldn’t chafe wearing a hydration pack on a hot day while wearing a tank top. 

Steve: My foldable hiking poles. I have a history of twisting my ankle during ultras and hiking poles really help me reduce the chances of it. They also helped me power up hills and reduced trauma going downhill. 

Are you glad you did it?

Kaleb: Yes, it combined a lot of things I’ve liked in my life. I like long trail runs in beautiful settings, but this added another layer of fun. I’d never been to this new beautiful place. It was fun to see how I could stack up in a new field of competitors. Trail races seem to be a bit more open or unknown about how you will do because there are so many circumstances that you will encounter or may feel at that distance, compared to a track race. 

Steve: Yes, I’m glad I did it. It’s definitely a test of resolve and persistence during the months of training, but yet a different quality of resolve and persistence during the course of the race. I feel a lot of satisfaction finishing the race and giving my best effort as hard as it was. 

What did you experience in the race that you never had before? 

Kaleb: It was weird to have someone be minutes ahead of you and you knew you still had time to catch them. 

Having people talking to you and making conversation. 


Stopping at aid stations

I was nearing the top of this climb and feeling so miserable and wobbly, feeling like I was almost sleep walking through fields of flowers and wondering “Why is no one coming up behind me?” 

The volunteers were so nice to you. Cheering no matter how you looked. I know they were kindly lying to me as they  said “Looking strong!” 

Sitting at a lake at the finish line eating just-made pizza and being handed a beer by someone dressed as the grim reaper.

Steve – 

I went in with more uncertainty than I ever had in a race before. I incurred injury a few weeks prior and didn’t know how my body would respond, when or if the injury would crop up, how bad would it be, would it stop me or would it slow me down.

I had also never run that long in that kind of heat. I figured I could improve my chances by trying to take it slower, wetting my hat and bandana when possible, hydrating more and and eating judiciously. 

There were only a handful of people older than me in the race and an average age that was about half my age! So, it’s quite humbling to be have so many folks sprinting by me these days!

Running with ice cubes in my hat and guzzling pickle juice to ward off cramping!

How did you train for the race?

Kaleb:  The months prior to the race were focused on training for a 3,000 meter steeplechase (not a 50K+ race), including hard track workouts and a 14 mile long run on the weekend. 


I worked to get consistent high mileage in the mountains for several months, and that was a lot of fun, but I had to make sure it wasn’t just about the running. At my age, I’m not made out of rubber and boundless energy like the youngsters seem to be. I had to make sure I ate a smart diet, slept well (naps too!), got body work, worked on my fitness and strength in the gym, cross-trained and got  massage. I know Kaleb does much the same, but still…

I always think that the more we want to get out of our body, the more we have to put into it, or nurture it. I feel lucky that I enjoy the process and the challenge and that, largely through lifelong running, I’ve been able to enjoy more years of youthful-like vigor than I would otherwise.

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