Jared Campbell - Poco 50 Race Report

Friday, June 10, 2011

Poco 50 Race Report

By Jared Campbell

"You know we're flirting with death given the time of year we hold the race, right?" stated my good buddy Ryan McDermott, on the Thursday before the 2010 Pocatello 50. This race is quickly becoming known as one of the toughest 50 mile mountain running event in the country. Held over Memorial Day weekend in the mountains just outside of Pocatello (Idaho) this translates to "come prepared for anything" type running. The weather in Idaho this time of year is volatile to say the least.

Running high on the P50 course - photo by Bill Geist

In 2008 Ryan lived in Pocatello primarily for employment reasons after engineering school. I was home in Salt Lake City and over the phone Ryan and I kicked around the idea of putting together a small group run around Pocatello, something we might even call a "race". After many iterations we arrived at what we thought was the perfect course, 100km of beautiful terrain, mostly single-track, but we threw in some gnarly off-trail sections to keep it interesting. We settled on a weekend in May to fore-run it. I drove up from Salt Lake City and the next morning Ryan took off with a role of bio-degradable yarn and some scissors that he would use to "mark" critical intersections. I was to start several hours later and try to follow/catch him. The course was a beautiful loop, starting and finishing in Pocatello. I knew the trails only from mapping software and Google Earth so every step was new to me. Wow, it was spectacular! And wow, this course would be surprisingly difficult! I was hooked. About half way into our route I finally caught Ryan and we got to run/explore the final half together. We'd debate certain sections as we ran regarding how feasible it would be to put this in a "real" race. Large sections of the final 15 miles were off-trail, involved some scrambling on rocks, bushwhacking, etc., pretty non-standard in the trail running community. We knew that with some alteration what we had something pretty damn good. A few months later we arrived at a 50 mile course that would start and finish in the mountains, a perfect spot called the Mink Creek Pavilion.

2009 would be the first year of the "race". It was a race in the sense that it had a start, a finish, a t-shirt, a registration fee, and an awards ceremony. Everything else we ad-libbed and pieced together based on our collective experience from running races. It turned out to be a hit and far more challenging that anyone expected. Ryan and I are strangely obsessed with really good glissading. While most runners don't even know what the word means, we consider ourselves connoisseurs and are constantly in search of perfect buttery "turns". Our 2009 course had excellent glissading off the summit of Scout Mountain and it worked out exactly as planned. Most runners were pleasantly shocked by this section some 42 miles into the course. Fortunately there were no injuries. We had strung up over 700' of rope in the event that folks wanted it as a hand-line on the descent.

The positive reaction was motivating for us and despite how much work it had been we were fired up for another good year. We learned a huge amount from 2009 and went into 2010 far better prepared, which proved to be a very good thing. We were lucky in 2009; such was not the case in 2010. Early in the race the weather turned for the worse and above a certain elevation turned to a complete blizzard with high winds, significant snow accumulation, and extremely cold temps. Even our most bold runners armed in their latest five-fingers and race singlets were no match for what hit them. Hypothermia was the reality for most runners. Others were hypothermic AND lost. At one point mid-race and in a state of panic I drove up a jeep road as far as I could get, grabbed all the clothes I had in my truck and ran backwards on the course find lost runners. What I saw was one step away from a morgue, runners travelled together in groups wondering the ridge-tops and when they saw me some broke down in tears. I explained the route to safety and told them to go! I pressed on and eventually found a handful of other runners, some in worse shape. Motor skills had become molasses and mental cognition almost flat-lined. Carrying one woman on my back (her legs had seized up) and guiding one gentleman who could barely walk we made it back to my truck. I called Ryan on the phone. He informed me that there were still 27 runners unaccounted for. After what I had just seen I said very confidently, "IT'S OVER, PULL THE PLUG". So was the end of the 2010 Pocatello 50. We were mentally and physically fried. It would take months before we would even discuss trying to do it again.

Next, two things happened that have confirmed my thoughts that long distance runners are truly demented. First, Ryan and I for some strange reason decided to try it again. And second, for most folks what happened in 2010 only INCREASED their interest in our race. The 2011 race filled in a matter of days. But, the rules would be different. This was a mountain race damnit, which mean mountain conditions. If runners weren't prepared they wouldn't be allowed to proceed, no exceptions. Our pre-race meeting was more "scare tactic" that it was "motivational speech". But, people got the message.

Sadly the weather did not look for race day 2011, which put an unbelievably high level of stress and tension in Ryan and I leading up to the race. It dumped rain and snow the night before the race and we looked at each other shaking our heads, no words were required.

BUT, the stars aligned the weather gods decided to be kind and 2011 turned out to be one hell of a good race.

2011 Trail Conditions

The Pocatello 50 is actually an event comprised of three different races. Due to last minute alterations given high snow-pack conditions, the events turned out to be 54 miles, 36 miles, and 21 miles. The fields were deep in all categories. Calling it the Pocatello “50” means that the most interest is the 50 mile race. Rare for such a trail race was prize money! Luckily La Sportiva stepped up early on and offered a $1000 prize purse for the male and female winners in the 50 mile race.

La Sportiva Supported the Poco 50 with $1k in cash for 1st Male/1st Female

I knew it would be a battle in the men’s field with names like Dakota Jones, Zach Miller, Mike Foote, Ryan Burch, Evan Honeyfield, Luke Nelson (Sportiva), and Matt Hart toeing the start line. On the women’s side we had Joelle Vaught and Diana Finkel as standouts. Joelle has an extremely impressive resume at everything from 50km to 100miles and is usually found on the top of the podium. Diana is likely the toughest woman alive and excels in steep, tough courses.

The 50km race was harder to pick on the men’s side with many strong runner. Bethany Lewis stood out in the women's field with some extremely impressive performances this year. I knew the top guys would have to be on the lookout for her!

Luke Nelson and Glen Merrill

The 20 mile event had two guys who never cease to amaze. Pat Bragassa and Brad Mitchell (Sportiva), both from Idaho.

At 19 years young Dakota immediately turned heads. Most notable (in my opinion) is his performance at San Juan Solstice last year. He was only shy of Matt Carpenter's record time by 13 minutes! At the ripe old age of 20 on P50 race day, Dakota quickly jumped into the lead from the beginning of the race and never let go. The thing I was most impressed by was how fast Dakota could still move when he appeared to be in an "epic sufferfest" (his words). Dakota gave it everything he had and earned his win (and $500). His time of 8:17 on this 54 mile course with mud, snow, travel, river, etc. is truly amazing. To put it into perspective, the amazing Dave James won our 2009 race, which was shorter by 2 miles and much better trail conditions, in 9:16! Dakota proved to me just how tough and talented he is.

The 50km event was won by Damian Stoy and Bethany Lewis. The 20 mile event title was taken home by Pat Bragassa with Brad Mitchell in second place. Sarah Evans from Alta Utah won the 20 mile women’s category. For a full listing of results, see the links below.

Why direct a race? I was asked this on the Thursday before the race this year. The answer was made clear to me 213 times when I got to see the look into the eyes of every runner crossing the finish line. Placing a medallion on every finisher was special, and knowing that Ryan and I had played part in created something memorable for so many people.... that is why we do it.

A huge thanks to the unbelievable volunteers and sponsors that help make events like this happen.

A huge thanks to the unbelievable volunteers and sponsors that help make events like this happen.

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