First of all, I want to thank the Race Director, John Storkamp, for the excellent planning and execution of this event. For the last 18 years this event has been held in Afton State Park. However, because of the political shenanigans happening in Minnesota, he didn't know if the park would be shut down until the day before the race. So John had to plan not one, but two 50K events simultaneously. Unfortunately, the state parks were shut down, and the race was moved to an alternate location, the Afton Alps ski area located right next to the state park. And no, the Afton Alps ski area is not a cross country ski venue. It is a bona fide downhill ski area with chair lifts and everything. Unfortunately for us runners, the lifts weren't operating and we had to walk or crawl up those hills.
The course John came up with was four loops for the 50K runners. There was very little flat running, most of it was up or down hill, a lot on mountain bike trails, some traversing across the ski slopes, and some climbing up and down the ski slopes. Without factoring in the weather, this was one of the most challenging courses I've run. With the warm temperatures and high humidity, the conditions were brutal. For comparison; last year's winning time was 3:48, this year, the winner took 4:30 to complete the course. The woman's winner last year was the same as this year's winner and her times were 4:24 and 5:13.
John gave us plenty of warning before the start and sent us on our way at 6:30 AM. I started in my usual spot of dead last. The first half of the first loop wasn't too bad, and at about the 2 mile point there was a water and ice aid station. Boy that ice felt good on the second and third loops. A little past the 4 mile point was a full service aid station with plenty of food selections, salt tabs, ice, water, HEED, Coke, and cheerful, encouraging (and lying) volunteers. As the day progressed, I found myself spending longer periods at this aid station. There were less than three miles from there to the start/finish aid station, but this section was the most brutal. About a mile from the end was a long steep climb, and after the downhill you could see the aid station. But no! The sadistic race director made us turn right and climb the steepest climb of the entire course. During my second loop I actually saw two guys on their third time up that hill physically sit down on the trail and take a breather.
I rank the difficulty of a course by how many times I call the race director a bastard. Many courses don't even merit a one bastard rating. This course merits a full five bastard ranking. John, that is meant as a compliment!
The cutoff time on the normal course is nine hours. I was well behind that pace, but I had heard at the aid stations that because of the difficulty of this alternate course the cutoff would be extended. When I was about two miles from the end of my third loop, I heard from one of the course officials that John would be sending the sweeps out at 2 PM, 7.5 hours after the start. I looked at my Garmin and saw that I probably wouldn't make it. I passed the start/finish area about 5 minutes after cutoff. Out loud I said, "darn, I can't continue", but inside I was shouting "thank God I don't have to do another loop!"
Overall I had a great time on a challenging course on a difficult day. Mr Garmin measured over 5000' of elevation gain during my 22+ miles. I'll be back again to try the "easy" course.
Finally, a couple of pictures.
The start/finish aid station area with a view towards the top of one of the ski slopes
Some, but not enough of the trail was easy peasy single-track.
Runners walking up the start of the last climb, you can't see the really steep part because it's to the right of those trees.
The view from the top of the last climb. What's that, you can't see the trail? That's because there is a steep drop off that I couldn't get a picture of because there was no way I was going to back track to get it in the picture.