Speedgoat 50K Has Decadence and Decree - Page 2
“Tony was saying low five hours,” he said through the phone, talking about a potential drop in the course record from Kevin Shilling’s 2010 time of 5:43, “but I don’t think he’s really seen what I’ve thrown together. The technical shit just slows you down and there’s places out there where you’re just not going that fast. I don’t care who the f*** you are.”
Descending from Hidden Peak, the race’s first big climb, around mile 10.
Karl’s a gambling man. When he goes to Las Vegas, he makes money. His personal website is a pre-race go-to for horse-track odds on upcoming ultra showdowns. To make the race a little more interesting, the Gambling Man placed a thousand-dollar bonus for the first man and woman to the top of the first 4500-foot climb. “You gotta still run though. I don’t want to see someone just charge to the top and then slog it in with the wife.” The “King of the Mountain” must finish the race in under 6.5 hours, the Queen in less than seven.
The Speedgoat 50K is Karl’s chance to make all the right decisions. It’s his chance to put together a challenging course, call upon his cache of fast runners and give them the opportunity to make some money, have some fun and enjoy the flowers. “The flowers right now are amazing. Waist high. Super cool.” Coveted trophy? Karl’s got that too—a goat leg mounted on a rock, mounted on a stump. “I didn’t really do a prize for second and third. But you get paid. Go buy something.”
The cast for the 2012 starting line became one that created a pre-race buzz that has become common over the past couple of years. The race’s inclusion into the ISF’s Ultra Series helped bring other Europeans to Snowbird, too, including French ultra-champion Thomas Lorblanchet, the young standout Philipp Reiter, 21, of Germany, and Kilian Jornet from the Catalonian Pyrenees. The hype felt similar to the 2010 Western States 100 (WS100) in California and the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) in the Alps, the 2011 The North Face Endurance Challenge in San Francisco (TNF50) and the Transvulcania in the Canary Islands in May of this year.
Following five years of undisputed dominance in both mountain-running and ski-mountaineering races, Kilian recently announced his intention to establish or break records up, down and across some of the world’s most prestigious mountains, starting with Mont Blanc and Mount McKinley before moving on to Argentina’s Aconcagua and finally Mount Everest in 2015. The project would call on his skills as a runner, climber and skier and could otherwise establish him as the world’s greatest mountaineer. The ambitious project, titled “Summits of My Life,” left the gates tragically.
On June 17th, en route to break the record for the Mont Blanc crossing, Kilian watched as his climbing partner, Stéphane Brosse, fell 2000 feet to his death.
“We were talking about deaths in the mountains only an hour before the accident,” Kilian told me. “The mountains are dangerous—you take a ticket every time you go into the mountains and you keep taking tickets and one day you will not arrive. You start to realize the risks but you can’t stop the passion because of it.”
The day before the race I was sitting with two-time TNF50 champion Anna Frost, 30, of New Zealand, and Tony in a pseudo-hipster café on the outskirts of Salt Lake City. Coffee drinks were uninformatively titled the Marilyn Monroe or the James Dean.
In May, Anna focused on the Transvulcania. She rented a flat near the starting line and, for four weeks straight, trained once to twice a day on the hot, jagged Canary Island course off the coast of northern Africa. She broke the course record by nearly two hours, and was closing in on the top 10 men with great rapidity. I was the 10th man. Though her hard training paid off, it wasn’t without consequence. In the eight weeks prior to the Speedgoat 50K, Anna had hardly run, much less trained specifically for the race. Though Karl would never wish ill upon anybody, and much less so a competitor in his own race, he admitted that “if Anna were to drop out, the competition for first place would get better.”
I could see she was thinking about the race.
“Take it easy tomorrow,” I said to her. “Run with the next woman.”
“You think?” She thought about it for a second. “You know I can’t do that.”
Perhaps to help get Anna’s mind off the race, Tony piped in.
“It was brought to my attention that we made a bet,” he said.
“Yeah, I remember that,” I said. “20 to the top, 20 to the finish.”
“We shoulda just bet beer.”
“That would have been more gentlemanly.”
I asked Tony about his race plans, which I immediately realized is like asking to see a guy’s cards across the poker table. He didn’t let on to any plans but having been out of competition for the better part of two years. Also, claiming to be in the best shape of his life, it was clear Tony wanted nothing shy of the win.
“I’m going for the grand at the top of the hill,” I told Tony, showing him my cards. I did this because he is a friend and I didn’t want him to chase somebody with intentions entirely different from his own. “A grand is what you make at Mount Washington these days. So … I’ll run Mount Washington, then hang on for 23 miles.”
He finished his drink and said nothing. His plans for the race would be unaffected by my decision to go for the prime.
From there we went on to the house where the Salomon International Team was staying. The opening ceremony for the London Olympics was going on for a third straight hour, seemingly highlighting everything great that England had ever done. Kilian was standoffish, quiet and content lying on his stomach on the floor. He read Harukami’s IQ84 on his computer, looking up occasionally to see the Queen make her presence in the stadium or Mr. Bean jog along with the opening sequence of Chariots of Fire.
I sat and talked with Kilian briefly about the course. He seemed rather unhappy about it—about the meandering loops through the ski area. “The problem in the U.S. is that there are so many beautiful mountains with so many beautiful trails but the races don’t take these trails—they just go in the ski areas to make kilometers rather than just running for just running.”
This was the first glimmer of a debate that would nearly eclipse the race by the weekend’s end. The debate was once summed up by an American ex-pat friend in Chamonix some years ago: “If the Grand Canyon was carved down the center of France rather than in Northern Arizona,” he said, “a sanctioned race, from rim to rim, would exist … as would a tram down to the river.”