Race: Mt. Shasta 50k

Runner: Coach Keith Laverty

Race Date: 06/20/2020

Location: Mt. Shasta, California

Results: 1st overall

Strava Activity Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/3645324021

mt shasta 50k race report
Photo: Robert Rhodes

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  • That the event existed and went on in the first place! I believe this was the first trail event in California to get the greenlight since CV-19 began and UltraRunning Magazine will soon be publishing an article recapping this event.
  • The positive and encouraging community – I think everyone was grateful to be able to race again and to share the experience with others.
  • The general location in Northern California and the small, mountain town feel to it.

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

  • The course vandalism (see story below)!
  • They didn’t have any cold drinks/soda at the finish line which would’ve felt amazing after a tough ultra in the heat but really not a big deal – plenty of restaurants within a short driving distance to seek out a beer or a root beer float!

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

  • With many people referring to 2020 as an unusual or weird year, this event was (unintentionally) no different. A race director’s worst nightmare… course vandalism and tampering with the course markings.
  • Unfortunately, this occurred at about 4-5 different intersections between miles 25-27, so late into the 50k and late into the other distances offered (30k, 50-mile). I stumbled upon a group of lost 30k runners but I quickly changed my screen to the navigation mode and found the right path. I ended up helping a few more runners and put down a few stick arrows in the meantime, until eventually the RD drove back out to re-mark the course.
  • One intersection was even purposely marked the incorrect direction, while the rest of the intersections were missing course markings altogether.

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

  • This event was most importantly dedicated to my late father, in the same state that he grew up in and during Father’s Day weekend. Thinking about my dad and the pain and suffering he had to go through in his last few days made my low points of this run seem trivial but it also helped carry me through the pain.
  • Not getting lost and having the pre-race intuitions to preload the course .GPX file to my Suunto watch ended up being my smartest move. I had even mentioned to a friend beforehand “on the off chance I get lost or someone tampers with markings haha”. I believe I ended up being the only person toward the front of the race to actually run the exact 50k course as intended.

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

*KEY* lesson for anyone running a trail event and especially a trail network that you’ve never run before: Know the course. Study the course. Don’t always rely on the course markings or on others to help find your way. If you have any newish GPS watch from the past 3-4years, then you should be able to load the GPX file to your watch. The screen will then give you confidence arrows to know when you’re on the right path or even notify you/beep at you if you have veered off the course too far.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

Fortunately, I learned my lesson the hard way the last couple of times I stumbled upon course vandalism at the front of the race during two previous 50k events, so I cracked the code on this one! Otherwise, just continually grateful for any future opportunity to race and push myself.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

Indeed – A mix of high country forest road/trail running with a few chances to see the summit of Mt. Shasta, as well as some forested, rolling, singletrack in the lower sections of the course.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

Moderate-to-hard! Certainly not an easy course but not extremely hard. There is 5,000′ of gain but 4,000 of that comes in the first 16 miles, which was mentally easier to get the tough sections out of the way first. There’s also about 5 miles of highway shoulder running and a few fast-flying cars that didn’t budge or even slow down – so that felt a little jarring.
With the course being at decent altitude with a high point of 6500′, that adds another degree of difficulty. Overall, pretty runnable too.

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

  • I believe the RD/race staff got the greenlight to run this event somewhat late – some elements worked out great like the bib pick-up the night prior, while other times it felt disorganized. The pre-race email and website said that a pre-race video describing the course would be sent out (to help maintain social distancing at the start line) but that never came my way.
  • On top of the course vandalism, there were two other points along the course that caused confusion to runners. The major one being the final 3-miles descent when you come across a Y-intersection with two red arrows in both directions but no course marshal and no signage to indicate which course distances go their respective ways. So many 50k runners went straight, which was meant for the 50-mile course and they unintentionally cut time and distance off of the course.
  • The RD reconciled the issues after the race to ensure the race results were accurate as possible and offered all runners a 50% discount code for any future event.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

Not crazy competitive or anything but I had a couple of experienced, strong runners keeping me on my toes and pushing me to keep my effort honest up front.

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

Registration sold out about a week in advance, so plenty of time to decide. However, if booking an AirBNB in the Shasta area, I’d recommend booking at least one month in advance.

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

It seemed standard fare but given the new policies given CV-19, there were no communal bowls of snacks to grab and everything was handled by volunteers who had the aid station space outlined with caution tape to help maintain proper distancing. This could be the new norm for many events going forward or for the next year or so.

Weather and typical race conditions

Lucky or unlucky depending on how you look at it or where you’re from (as a PNW’er, I tend to prefer cooler conditions! but it was plenty sunny and blue sky – but also the first hot weekend of the year apparently. It was in the high 50s around race start and then quickly heated up to the low 80s by the middle of the afternoon. With the heat and the altitude, come prepared to keep cool!

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?

All runners were recommended to bring along a buff or mask, especially when approaching volunteers at aid stations and at the start/finish line area.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

Not particularly, and due to the virus, they wanted to keep the aid stations free of crowds. Plenty of awesome mountain/gravel biking and running trails nearby though as they wait for you to finish!

How’s the Swag?

Great! Each runner received a buff with the race logo on it to bring with them during the race and to easily cover your mouth/nose or to use to keep cool like I did.
All finishers received a beautifully, custom created award cut from wood to wear around your neck and the podium finishers received a large, impressive-looking artwork made from wood as well.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

4 stars – Unique location, challenging course, low-key ultra event.

Keith Laverty is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about him or to work with Coach Keith, check out his coaching page.

mt shasta 50k
Photo: Elisa Laverty