I feel weird writing a blog post like this. Usually they are upbeat and stoked. But the Broken Arrow Skyrace left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, and I can’t paint it to be something that it isn’t. I will say before I say anything else that the RD and all the volunteers were awesome, and I know everyone worked really hard to put on an awesome event. The course was beautiful and I appreciated the opportunity to come out and participate. Similarly, I strongly feel that this race will only get better in the years to come with hopefully a new and less confusing course.
Skyracing. It’s a European thing. Essentially they try to jam pack as much vertical into as little distance as possible. I was intrigued by the challenging aspect of the race and the idea of traversing mountains. When they decided to start a skyrace in Tahoe I signed up without thinking twice. The Broken Arrow Skyrace in Squaw valley promised a 50k that wouldn’t disappoint. Unfortunately when the race course was released a month before the race I became less than excited. I never liked running track and field in high school because I despised the idea of being able to count the laps… being able to count the distance… doing the same thing over and over! This course was just that. A bunch of tiny little loops crossing and repeating all over the Squaw Resort ski hill. And no longer a 50k but now a 54k. The word around town was that the epic stellar loop they had planned fell through when the permits didn’t come in. Needless to say I didn’t care what there excuses where. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. Still battling an injured hip from Alaska I had excuses to not do it. To take the DNS. Instead in silent protest I stopped training. I spent the next 20 days raging the cliffs of Yosemite and the 3 days leading up to the race being drug around by a paraglider. And still at 5am on June 19th I was in Squaw preparing to race.
I woke up that morning in the van and made a solid breakfast. I had been struggling with what would be appropriate to wear all morning but finally settled on an outfit that wouldn’t make me hot. Last minute I through a fleece and some gloves in my backpack. I do really hate being cold. I was using trekking poles which previously I hadn’t anticipated, but with my lack of training and hip injury it was a no brainer. At the start line I synced up with a few fellow Donner Party Mountain Runners. It was the first time I’ve ever raced and not felt nervous. I was planning on a DFL finish so what was to be nervous about? When they asked everyone to file into the start I took the position which I thought I’d finish way at the back back. It was the first time I’d ever done this. My past racing strategy has always been to go out strong and hard and then you know exactly who is in front of you because they have to pass you. But this time I was giving a big zero fucks about strategy and finish position.
The horn sounded and we all filed out like a herd of cows. The fire road turns into single track really quick and I felt trapped behind some slow trotters. Initially I regretted my decision to start at the back. I felt like I was losing precious time behind these slow people but then I remembered that the the first 3 miles of a 32 mile race don’t mean that much. Crazy what a change in perspective will do to your attitude. I started moving faster once the road opened up again and then the first wrong turn happened. Everyone made it. This is how we ended up so high trying to make a decision to go down or up. Most of the pack went down so I went down. But then a man started shouting wrong way. So a lot of people turned around and went back up. I on the other hand stuck to my decision and kept going. Which turned out to be the right way. Everyone was pretty spread out now because of the wrong turn. This was only mile 2 and unfortunately was about to become a common theme. The first aid station came and went and I stashed my jacket in my pack.
In the next section we got our first tastes of snow. It was still very early in the day so the snow was frozen solid. Your feet wouldn’t punch through which made things very out of control going down and even more sketchy going up. The snow lasted on and off for the next 3 or so miles. Butt sliding was an awful and unwanted option because the ice would just cut the back of your legs and butt. The downhill went fast and I chatted here and there with a few people. I was feeling strong by mile 10 when we crossed back through downtown Squaw but the next uphill was just looming around the corner. I left downtown optimistic about the race but that quickly diminished. The trail becomes incredibly steep and loose and the uphill was relentless for hours. We went up for a long time and I was feeling low. Capitalize on your high points but keep moving during your low I kept thinking. I wanted an aid station by the time we reached Squaw Peaks summit and the helper just pointed off in the distance at a speck and said that’s your next one. The trail starts going down again and it felt good to open up my stride. This is where the next wrong turn happened we followed the flags across a snowfield which looked very well traveled only to realize we had seriously cut the trail. This resulted in the people who cut having to back track and go back up. As we came down I watched three more people cut the trail in the same spot. I told them they had cut but they didn’t seem to care. It was a substantial hill and mileage they missed.
So here is when I started to loose all hope in this race. The course was easy to cut and nobody was tracking. What are times? What are distances? What are places in a race? They mean nothing if people are cutting the course intentionally or unintentionally. We continued to run and the men who had cut passed me. At this point I didn’t care. I told myself they probably would have passed me anyways. We started to go down again and then back up. It was the final long uphill. Charting along I see my friend Julia coming down the trail. Confused I ask if she changed to the 27k. Even more confused she said no. She had taken a wrong turn which ended her up going down the wrong trail and actually adding more mileage and elevation gain. Things just weren’t adding up. How is this course so confusing? Even from looking at my map I couldn’t decipher. I got to the high point and started to go down again. A lady passed me and was asking a lot of strange questions about the course. I gladly answered but was very confused because she seemed to not remember coming up this entire section only a few hours earlier. But again I just brushed it off. Maybe she just didn’t remember. I was so happy to reach the final aid station. Then the final uphill happened it was all down hill from here. There was no-one behind for a long while. So I settled in the idea of finishing right where I was. We crested up the final climb and I watched the woman and man in front of me cut a big part of the course. I couldn’t believe it, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt it was a hard turn to see but we just went up this a few hours ago!!!??? How do people forget??? I took the correct trail and started to become paranoid. I knew the guys behind me were going to cut this and then probably catch me. I started to question my decision not to cut. It would be easy. No one but I would know… But I had morals and I also cared little about this race. What would cutting do? Solidify my current position? I was like dead last any ways why did I care? If I cheated I’d be a cheater. I’d always be a cheater. I couldn’t live with that.
As the final stretch came into view I opened up my stride and finished right where I should have finished. Though my superstitions about the legitamentness of this race continued when a man I had passed and I very clearly remember did not pass me was already at the finish line chatting me up. I finished in about 8 and half hours which is what I expected to do based on all of the runs of half the distance and half the elevation I had done in Yosemite in about 4 hours. It’s a strange feeling to be given a rank on a piece of paper based off of something nobody can confirm all these people actually did. All that matters to me though is that I know I did it and I did all of it. So fuck yeah! But honestly a little piece of me wishes I would have just run 32 miles with 12,000 feet of vertical on my own and then none of this would even matter.
At the end of the day it’s a good reminder of why I hate racing. Racing is why people dope. Racing is why people cut course. Racing turns good people into people who will do anything to win or anything to place a few spots higher. Now it’s time to return to the purity of the mountains. Colorado is my next stop.