I ran the Yellowstone City 30K on September 23rd. This recap is really long without any intro blather, so I’m going to jump right in.
The race was mainly an out-and-back, but the start and finish diverged slightly to begin and end at two different lodges in Paradise Valley (the area north of the north entrance to Yellowstone). I parked at the finish at Chico Hot Springs and took the shuttle to the start at Sage Lodge. Sage is a brand new, fancy lodge and they let runners hang out in their lobby pre-race and use their restrooms. So, a bit more upscale than your average race starting area.
The start line was just a chalk line one the ground – I believe the finish had timing mats, but the start was low-tech. I tried to line up around the middle-back of the pack of about 100 runners. After a few announcements, we took off just after 9am.
Start – mile 3.8ish
The first 2+ miles wound through a pasture behind Sage Lodge. The “trail” was a 4-wheeler track through long grass, and while there were some dirt areas, the majority of the track was flattened grass, which made for a rather slippy surface. Although I was maintaining a 12ish-minute mile – right on pace considering the terrain and race distance – the combination of slick surface and other runners continuously passing me (apparently I didn’t start as far back as I thought) made me feel like I was barely moving. I fought off a lot of “might as well walk” thoughts through this section.
About a mile from the first aid station, we turned onto a smooth gravel road. Thanks to the kinder running surface and lack of runners passing me (because….literally all but a handful of people had already passed), I started to actually feel like I was maintaining a good pace. (It was the same pace.) I stopped at the aid station just long enough to refill my water bottle.
Mile 3.8ish to 5.8ish
The well-maintained gravel road eventually turned into an old mining road. We started encountering ruts and potholes, and the incline increased, but overall it was still a runnable trail/road. I think I took a few short walk breaks during this section, but my pace didn’t slow much – around 13:15 min/mile.
Sometime before the 2nd aid station, I finished off the other half of the Honey Stinger waffle I started pre-race. I drank some electrolytes at the aid station and refilled my water bottle again.
Mile 5.8ish to 8ish
Right after the aid station, the first steep climb of the race started. The mellow road surface also changed to big chunks of rock. I kept up a steady power hike for most of this section, running whenever the trail flattened out for a bit.
I don’t think I ate anything during this section, despite it being the longest period of time between aid stations. My water bottle was completely empty before I got to the third aid station, so I refilled it and drank some more electrolytes.
Mile 8ish to 10ish
The third aid station was set up right before a creek crossing. Really less of a crossing and more, the trail and the creek bed decided they were going to join up for a few hundred feet. It was only a few inches deep, but there was no avoiding getting your feet soaked.
Right after the creek bed was the steepest climb of the day, as well as possibly the rockiest part of the trail. Fortunately it was only about 1/3 of a mile, but it seemed to take forever. I started eating a pack of Honey Stinger gummies to distract me from the climb. And also because calories.
After this the trail flattened out for a while, then transitioned to a more mellow incline with the occasional short downhill section. Somewhere along the way, I managed to lose my gummy package with a couple gummies left in it. I looked for it on the way back with no luck – apparently someone picked up my litter. And yes, I totally would have eaten the gummies if I had found them.
There was another small stream crossing shortly before the turnaround aid station, but compared to the first this one barely counted as a crossing – just a couple steps across. At the turnaround aid station I did the usual electrolytes + water refill, as well as cleaning the trash out of my pockets and picking out the least sickly-sweet sounding gel flavor at the aid station.
Mile 10ish to 14ish
I got to the turnaround aid station in 2 1/2 hours, just barely on track to finish in 4 hours. I finished my aid station business in 2 or 3 minutes and then headed downhill. Only maybe 5 to 7 people were still headed uphill as I was going down – seriously, everyone passed me in the first two miles. But running downhill is the part I’m good at, and I soon started catching up and passing people.
There were some short uphill sections during the first few downhill miles, so I worked on eating the gel I had brought with me (Hammer huckleberry) when I slowed down for those. The steep section by the creek crossing was rough going downhill too – the large loose rocks made for hazardous footing, so I slowed down and kept my eyes on the ground right in front of my feet. My water bottle was still mostly full, so I didn’t stop at the creek crossing aid station.
I kept a steady 10ish minute mile through the next aid station. I can’t remember if I stopped, but I think I ran on through because there was a group of runners just ahead who I was trying to pass. Maybe I just grabbed some electrolytes but didn’t refill the water bottle? This is what happens when you write race recaps a month afterwards.
Mile 14ish to finish
Somewhere between the final two aid stations was were things started to hurt. My left knee, then my left hip, then my right knee. I was dragging, so I took the strawberry Clif gel I had picked up at the turnaround aid station. It turned out to have caffeine in it, which I think helped.
At the final aid station the course diverged from the uphill course and took a different gravel road towards Chico Hot Springs. Ugh, this road had rolling hills. You can barely even pick the uphills out on the course elevation profile, but they were torturous after 6+ miles of downhill. My left knee was feeling extremely stiff and sore by this point (strained, actually, but I couldn’t tell at the time), and I had to take short walk breaks to ease up on the knee even though I wanted to just keep going so I could be done.
Around mile 17, I rounded a corner and saw a large green-roofed building ahead. I thought I must be almost to the finish, as the buildings at Chico have green roofs. But false alarm – it was somebody’s house and there was still half a mile to go. I finally got to the finish line in 3:52. My Garmin started flipping out during the downhill (it shows that there were several steep uphills on the way down, which there were not), but I stalked Strava for other racer’s data and it looks like my distance of 17.7 miles was pretty accurate. I finished 73rd out of 100 runners.
My “stretch” goal for 30K (18.6 miles) was 4 hours, so I was on pace for just a hair over that goal. Apart from the knee injury, I felt good the whole race. Much different from the accidental 30K I ran during training.
The main thing I’d do differently if I ran this race again is staying at Chico the night before. And/or possibly the night after. Runners got free entry to the hot springs, but I was drenched in sweat by the end of the race – it was uncharacteristically humid – and really just wanted a shower before I considered doing anything else.