Speedgoat 50K Has Decadence and Decree
A stacked field, solid prize money, a brutal course and a bit of controversy make the Utah race the talk of the sport.
After the case of mescal was gone and the dancing was at full stoke, I remember two things—
After the case of mescal was gone and the dancing was at full stoke, I remember two things—I remember Jenn Shelton convincing me to put on a dress identical to hers and I remember making a bet with Tony Krupicka. Somebody—not Tony and not myself—planted the bet, nourished it and before I knew it we were shaking hands and grinning. At the Speedgoat 50K near Snowbird, Utah, in 10 days’ time: $20 for the first to the top of the initial climb. Another $20 to the first finisher.
Racers ready for the 2012 Speedgoat 50K, which boasted one of the strongest fields ever assembled in the United States.
Photos by Kevin Winzeler
Earlier that day, Tony and I had run up Green Mountain, above Boulder, Colorado. It was the first time I’d run with the two-time Leadville 100 champion since an injury in his calf and shins sidelined him from racing 18 months earlier. At the summit, Tony’s gaunt, shirtless torso reflected a hue that was almost Moroccan. He took off a shoe to reveal a dust-blackened foot—calloused and cracked. Both his skin and his foot strongly suggested that a lot of hard miles had been run, finally.
A week later, I was mulling over the details of Utah’s Speedgoat 50K course, designed by ultrarunning stalwart and its race director, Karl Melzter, in the back of my brother John’s newly acquired 22-foot, five-ton RV, dubbed Minnie Winnie by Winnebago’s marketing department, 27 years ago. While John chugged along at 58 miles per hour my mom tossed a ball for Leica, my brother’s slightly neurotic, smallish black-and-white dog.
We made the drive from Aspen, Colorado, over a couple days. As we approached the I-70 service town of Green River, Utah, I took advantage of a spotty phone connection in the living room of Minnie Winnie, and called the Speedgoat himself, Karl Meltzer.
“Hey, man,” Karl answered. He was part way up Mount Baldy, marking the course.
Nicknamed “Speedgoat” by friends on a return trip from the Pikes Peak Marathon in the mid-1990s, Karl has carved out a sizeable niche for himself in the ultrarunning world. After 30 hundred-mile wins, 47 ultra wins and two 2000-plus-mile trail-record attempts (Appalachian and the Pony Express trails), Karl knows how he would like to see a race take shape—from the terrain to how it is organized to how much money you should make if you run it really fast.
I asked him what the impetus was behind adding one more race to an already saturated race calendar. “I’ve always wanted a race of my own. Bring some of my fast friends into it. Give away some prizes. Drink some beer. Eat some pizza,” he told me. “I’m at a point in my career where it’s kinda cool to have my own baby. Give something back to the running community. I make it difficult, and I do some weird things. I want it to be unique. If people don’t like it, then it’s, like, whatever.”
Approaching from the east, the Wasatch Mountains rose gradually like a wheelchair ramp to 12,000- and 13,000-foot summits above Salt Lake City before dropping off precipitously to form the western most edge of the Rocky Mountains.
The course starts and finishes at the base of 11,000-foot Mount Baldy amid the funky concrete structures comprising Snowbird, a ski resort 20 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. With nearly 12,000 feet of climbing over 50 kilometers (31 miles) it makes an honest claim to the title of the “toughest 50K in the country.” The profile climbs and descends the mountain in its entirety, two-and-a-half times, thereby also making it a particularly spectator-friendly course. As a viewer, you can, in fact, high-five the same runner five times during the race, without ever having to get into a car.
The race came about in 2007 when, after working at Snowbird for 17 years—supplementing a meager running income with bartending and coaching—Karl decided to start his own race. “I bet the resort events director that I could get 100 people there on the first year.” That year, 112 runners braved the starting line, which has grown to the current capacity of just over 300. In May of 2012 it was announced that the Speedgoat 50K would be one of five international races to make up the inaugural International Skyrunning Federation’s (ISF) Ultra Cup. The European-based ISF’s first attempt to crown a worldwide ultrarunning King and Queen would be an addition to their already popular marathon-distance Skyrunner World Series.