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Last weekend saw a showdown on the slopes of Utah’s Snowbird ski resort, with two new course records at the Speedgoat 50K. In what has become a typical performance, Jim Walmsley built an early lead and ran most of the race alone, finishing roughly 18 minutes ahead of second-place finisher Tim Tollefson, breaking the course record by just over three minutes.
Meanwhile, Anna Mae Flynn, 30, of Marble, Colorado, came in with no expectations and ran a gutsy race to finish a mere nine minutes ahead of Kelly Wolf—enough to break the course record by roughly 20 minutes (Wolf also finished under the previous course-record time).
The Speedgoat course has been tweaked several times over the years, due efforts on race director Karl Meltzer’s part to find harder routes, and ensuing Forest-Service permitting issues. The current course, which has only been run once before, “adds about seven minutes to time and 300 feet of vertical climb,” says Meltzer. “And it is a lot steeper.”
Walmsley’s time was faster than all previous course records, irrespective of course changes. Flynn’s time was the fastest for this particular course. “It’s the toughest route we’ve had so far,” says Meltzer. “So realistically, the record that Anna Mae set is hands down the best women’s time at Speedgoat.”
Walmsley Does it Again
When Jim Walmsley, running under the race alias “the Maricopa Marauder” (through no intention of his own), crossed the finish line first in a course-record time of 5:04:55, it may have been met with a few giggles, but no mistakes—Jim Walmsley rebounded in fine form from his DNF at Western States to definitively win one of the country’s toughest 50K races.
“Once the race went off, there wasn’t ever a moment where I thought I was in any sort of trouble from anyone behind me,” he says. “Things just clicked how I had hoped they would.”
Walmsley attributes his decisive win to the fitness he built in training for Western States. Unlike Western, however, Walmsley’s goal was simply to run comfortable and test his training for UTMB—not to set a course record.
“Around mile 26, Hayden Hawks mentioned I was on course-record pace, but I shrugged it off, since that wasn’t the goal,” he says. “This was a training run for me. I just wanted to stay comfortable, so that is what I focused on.”
His nearest competitors, Tim Tollefson and Sage Canaday (three-time winner of Speedgoat) were also using the race as a tune-up for UTMB. “I really wanted to get a solid effort in without digging a hole that might take too long to recover from,” Tollefson says. “To execute that objective, I knew it’d be important to start slow, build momentum throughout, avoid a blowup and hopefully rip the final descent, much the way I’d love to attack UTMB.”
Canaday admits that he struggled in the last 15 miles, but says that the race, which has almost 12,000 feet of climbing at high altitude, remains one of his favorites. “I think it is the best mountain ultra 50K event in the U.S.,” he says. “There is a mix of everything, from fast and runnable fire roads to power hiking off trail up and down 40-percent slopes.”
Canaday ran ahead of Tollefson for most of the race until the last climb, up to 11,000 feet when Tollefson, surged ahead and built a gap, which he maintained for the rest of the race.
Flynn Goes Big
The women’s race was dominated by Anna Mae Flynn, who came to Speedgoat fresh off a recent Fastest Known Time on the iconic 28-mile Four Pass Loop through the Maroon Bells Wilderness in western Colorado. Flynn, who works during the year as a school teacher, is a relative newcomer to competitive trail running, with podium finishes at the Canyons 50K, Power of Four 50K, Way Too Cool 50K and Lake Sonoma 50 to her name. She entered Speedgoat with the goal of running as hard as she could, taking no note of previous winning times, and simply ran with the mantra, “Go big or go home.”
For Flynn, who considers climbing to be her strong suit, Speedgoat was a natural choice. She surged on the ups, and tried “to keep my distance from the competition” on the downhills. She wound up running most of the race solo.
“I had seen my competition on the out-and-back at the bottom of the first descent off Hidden Peak, and that got me a little nervous,” she says. “From mile 15 or so, I was running scared.” By the midpoint of the race, the urge to hike was starting to kick in. Afraid of being caught, Flynn forced herself to mix running and power hiking, in intervals.
“I figured it was one strategy to keep a gap on the field until the finish line,” she says.
The toughest part of Flynn’s race came in the final few miles, which are mostly downhill and included talus fields, creek crossings, late-season snow and off-trail steeps. “Bombing downhill as hard as you can for six miles on an almost-empty tank is hard for anyone, I assume—even Walmsley,” Flynn says. By this point, she was just trying to hang on, expecting the rest of the field to catch her at any moment. She had no idea she was on course-record pace.
Meanwhile, a few minutes back, Wolf and Peterson were duking it out for second and third. Wolf, 22, of Arizona, who won California’s Broken Arrow Skyrace 52K just a few weeks ago, was using this race to prepare for UTMB’s sister race CCC. For her, the toughest part of the day was “the second major climb to the top of Baldy. The course gets so steep, and you have already been climbing straight without relief for over eight miles.”
Wolf and Peterson started up the climb together. Quickly realizing her legs were not up to the grade, Wolf decided to abandon shame, drop down on all fours and “bear crawl” up the climb.
“This apparently worked,” she says. “I was able to gain a lead on Brittany, who had previously been ahead for most of the race.” Wolf maintained that lead for the rest of the race, ultimately crossing the finish line nine minutes after Flynn, taking 45 minutes off her time from last year. Both Flynn and Wolf were under the previous course-record time. Peterson followed in 6:48:45.
Says Flynn of her win, “I was overjoyed to see the finish line and kick it in. I truly left it all out there that day, and that was a good feeling.”