Broken Arrow Skyrace

I can barely call this a race report because it sure didn’t feel like my idea of “racing”. Do you ever have dreams where you’re running, or at least trying to run but getting nowhere? That’s pretty much how I felt at Broken Arrow Skyrace last weekend. When you know what your body is capable of and you know what your mind is capable of making your body do but it’s just not working, it’s frustrating. I’m pretty sure altitude was the culprit. Maybe mixed in with a long day of travel the day before, little sleep that night, and overall life stress. Blah blah – enough excuses – I just didn’t have it in me either day. Not doing what I had set out to is disappointing for sure, but mainly it was the hit to my confidence that lingered. Which led to me questioning – have I lost my mojo? It’s also making me re-think my upcoming race schedule. I need to make sure I’m setting myself up properly for my A race of the year – the Apple Cider Donut Challenge. Oh wait, I mean CCC 🙂

The Lowdown
Broken Arrow Skyrace is part of the Altra US Skyrunner Series. Skyrunning events represent a “unique style of European-inspired mountain running characterized by off-trail scrambling, steep terrain, and massive amounts of vertical gain and loss. The majority of this takes place above 6,000 feet and above treeline.”

Broken Arrow takes place at Squaw Valley in Olympic Valley, CA which is located at the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. The race features 3 distances over 2 days. First is a Vertical Kilometer, boasting 3100 feet of gain over 3.1 miles to the top of Squaw Peak which sits at 8,885 feet. There is also a 26k and 52k race (1 or 2 loops) with each loop incorporating the VK course and covering 5279 feet of gain & loss. The courses feature some runnable singletrack, rock scrambles across a ridgeline, some access road, but mostly…snow!

Friday – VK
After arriving in Truckee around 11 Wednesday night I planned to go for a shakeout run in the morning since the VK didn’t start until 11 am. However being on east coast time and with my damn internal clock I was up at 3 am with little hope of falling back to sleep. I was definitely dragging and opted to skip the run to try and relax before heading to Squaw Valley for packet pickup.

I went for a warm-up run before the start and didn’t even last a mile. My heart rate was super-high from a simple jog and I didn’t think continuing a warm-up would help the situation. So I lined up at the base of ski hill and hoped for the best. The first 1+ mile of climbing I thought my heart might explode. Perhaps it was the knife lodged into my lungs that was preventing it. All I know is that I felt like crap. Slow-moving crap. Right before the halfway point we have a little break with some downhill. This helped ease the dizziness a bit and I took it easy here in hopes that my heart rate would back off a little. I was nowhere near the front and my time was horrible so I chalked it up to a learning experience and made the most out of enjoying this crazy course and the views.

Lots of climbing through snow!

Ropes had been installed on the course to assist with climbing the steep snowy slopes and I took advantage of them since I opted for no spikes and no poles. I don’t think the spikes would’ve made much of a difference since the snow was so deep and soft, but poles were definitely the way to go for this race. It would’ve been a perfect time for me to practice with them. The final stretch to Squaw Peak along the ridgeline – including the Stairway to Heaven ladder – was so much fun! I will do this race again for that part alone! I ended up 10th overall with a very disappointing 1:07:07 (my goal was under an hour). Knowing that the 52k was the next day I wasn’t too bothered by my result – I was just hoping to feel better.

Almost to Squaw Peak!

Heading to the tram to return to the base with Anna Mae, Lenka and Morgan was another fun adventure that seemed to be even longer than the course we just ran. I had watched some of the guys ride down the steep mountain slope on their asses and thought “that looks like fun!” Did I remember that one time in Killington when I thought it would be fun to do naked snow angels only to wake up the next day finding it painful to sit due to the scrapes all over my ass? Well, I was reminded of that story after this ass-slide.

Great news was that the VK didn’t do anything to my legs and I was sure that Saturday would go well. However after seeing some of the course I reminded myself that I needed to approach this race with caution. I needed to treat pacing at Western States like a race itself, and it’s even more important when it’s not a race for you.

Saturday – 52k Skyrace
I woke up the next morning after a solid night’s sleep feeling recharged and ready to go! I had some fluid in my lungs the night before that was still present and I was really hoping I didn’t catch anything on the plane. But I was feeling great otherwise and told myself that after yesterday I should now be acclimated and ready to race!

I opted out of the warm-up this time after yesterday’s episode. The first 3 miles of the course are the most runnable so I planned to take it out easy and settle in. Within the first mile I could tell I was still struggling. My lungs were burning, my heart again felt like it was beating out of my chest while I was running a very conservative pace. It was early though – things would turn around. About mile 6 we’re back on the VK course and the dizziness was back. I backed off so much that I was barely moving and there was no relief. This is where I started to question if it was a good idea to do a 2nd loop. I met a guy named Ryan from Boulder on this climb and we chatted for quite a bit. He was also here to pace at Western States and was running the 52k. It was nice to have a distraction as mentally I wasn’t too excited about how I was feeling and I really wanted to enjoy this experience.

I was hoping for a repeat of the prior day upon reaching the break point but it was quite the opposite. Running the flat stretch I had this overwhelming feeling of collapsing into the snow. It wasn’t dizziness – it was pure exhaustion. So once again I backed it off and Ryan was gone. Arriving at the ridgeline and Stairway to Heaven to Squaw peak was again a very enjoyable experience – this time made even better by seeing Corrine and Sarah cheering us on. On both days this section wiped away any negative feelings because it was so amazing!

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Climbing the ridgeline

From there we had a fun descent before heading to the “popsicle” – down to Shirley Basin and then climb back up. This is where the snow was the deepest and it seemed to be never-ending. It was also an interesting clash of worlds as you’re running alongside skiers and snowboarders. This section was my deciding factor for the day. It was a lot of work running through that snow and with my heartrate still not wanting to chill out I felt like I was putting out way too much effort with way too little return. I arrived at High Camp Aid Station with just over 3 miles to go feeling okay about my decision to stop after 1 loop. I found Ryan sitting in a chair eating chips & looking pretty beat so I decided to sit next to him and check in as my attempt at “racing” was over. When I told him I was only going to do one lap he said “yeah me too – let’s finish this thing and get a beer!”

When 2 sports collide

Now we were at the best part of the course – a 3 mile descent with very little snow! It was such a great feeling to be able to run. When we left the aid station Ryan asked if I was at peace with my decision to finish only 1 loop. I said yes – more so to convince the both of us that I actually was okay with it. But now that I was running I started to second-guess my decision. Sure I wasn’t feeling great but if I simply do a 2nd loop at the same pace as the first it couldn’t do any harm right?

Final descent to the base

I ran past the finish line to the aid station at the start of the 2nd loop and declared I was “thinking about” dropping but was going to take a few minutes to decide. As any good aid station captain should, I was being convinced to continue on. “Did you have any coke yet? Maybe you just need some coke. Have a seat and eat something. Is it an injury bothering you? How about you go inside and eat a burger and come back out when you’re ready.” I felt a huge amount of guilt for not continuing. I felt okay – my legs were fine, fueling was fine. I just had an out-of-control heart and lungs that burned with every breath. I was flat out tired. It was all manageable. I stood there for a few minutes staring up at that mountain – replaying the course in my mind. I could continue on. I would’ve continued on if it weren’t for the pacing duties the following weekend. How much damage could one more loop do when I have a full week to recover? But what if I injure my already-tweaked hamstring? What if I take a bad spill? What if this stuff in my lungs is some kind of sickness coming on and by pushing myself for another loop I get a full-blown illness? These were not chances I was willing to take because Jason’s race at Western States was way more important. This was not the time to be selfish.

I decided to head directly to my car so that I couldn’t hang around and let regret sink in. Seeing the Splash Dogs competition taking place right near the finish line was an adorable distraction. Also hanging with fellow upstate New Yorker Nick Kirk who had an incredible 10th place finish in the 26k.

I will say this is a must-do race. The course and the sites are spectacular. Brendan and Ethan make this an incredible experience for everyone and I am honored to have had the opportunity to race in their event. I definitely want to come back and do it right. Next time I’ll be sure to get out here a little earlier so that I can properly acclimate. Sooo…if anyone needs a pacer for WS next year you know who to call 😉

Brendan Madigan (co-race director) ready to send us out into the mountains. Photo: Scott Rokis Photography

This was my first time racing in my Altra King MT’s and it was so much fun to tackle the downhills with their grip. I definitely see myself using these during fast, technical races.

Now that a week has passed the disappointment has almost completely faded. I’ve had an amazing week of exploring the trails in and around Lake Tahoe. No workouts, no hard runs, just smooth and easy trail time. It’s exactly what I need! And now that Jason is in town and Western States is fast approaching my mind is fully-occupied on his race. Statesmas is here! My notebook is full of crewing notes and our plan is in place. He is fit, he is prepared, and I’m sure that he’s going to have an amazing race! He even bought appropriate post-race celebration beverages!

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You can track Jason Saturday at ultralive.net – bib #274. I will try to post updates when I can but I know coverage will be sketchy. The race starts at 5:00 am (PST). Everyone send lots of energy and good vibes his way! He’s worked super-hard for this and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this opportunity.

Best of luck to everyone racing! Especially the #beastcoast crew – represent!

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3 thoughts on “Broken Arrow Skyrace

  1. I always love reading your reports, and this is no different. I’m toying with signing up for a Vertical Challenge at Killington before I race the Jay Peak 11-miler. Never done one before. Any training advice/tips? Again, thanks for sharing and good luck crewing at WS! Go Jason!

    • I would say practice efficiency in hiking up steep inclines! I focus so much on running – I don’t think my hiking skills are strong. And be acclimated to your altitude 😉 You should totally do it though – it’s a fun experience!

  2. Pingback: TNF ECS Ontario – What racing 50 miles feels like | Laura Kline – Multisport Athlete

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