Salt Flats Endurance Runs 50 mile Race Report – Dandelion Dilluvio-Scott

Photo: Damien Scott

Race: Salt Flats Endurance Runs, 50 Miler

Runner: Coach Dandelion Dilluvio-Scott

Race Date: 05/05/2023

Location: Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway, UT

Results: Overall:5 GP:1 // 10:20:00

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

  1. The challenge: As a runner who specializes in technical high alpine and traditional desert, I found running on outstandingly flat terrain to be an exciting (and intimidating) endeavor. There aren’t many courses that offer miles of flat and featureless topography.
  2. The spontaneous friendships: There were many enthusiastic and stoked runners on this course of all ability levels. Everyone was friendly and excited to be running the event. I ended up spending just over a marathon with another 50-mile racer who, as it turns out, took a mountaineering class with me 12 years ago!
  3. The location: Calling the Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway a unique landscape is an understatement. The terrain consists of a wide open, white expanse that seems to stretch on forever bordered on one side by a small mountain range known as the “islands” as they seem to rise up out of the sea of salt. The mirage is surreal and the endless visibility astounding. Often, I could see the next aid station from 45 minutes away on a course!

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

As much as I enjoyed running on the Salt Flats I can’t say I would repeat the effort (maybe I’ll change my mind). The repetitive motion and extended stride over the pancake flat landscape put a great deal of unfamiliar strain on my body. However, I might have at least somewhat avoided the extra stress if I’d specifically trained for this course. However, I registered for Salt Flats mere weeks before the start as a “tune -up race” in preparation for upcoming longer distance events in the mountains. Time was not on my side for meaningful specific training.

Additionally, I think I would have struggled to maintain focus in the flats if I didn’t have a running partner. I usually rely on rocks and other technical features to keep my mind sharp. Unchanging terrain underfoot is difficult for me mentally for long durations.

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

The location! Running in a giant basin of electrolytes (aka salt) is pretty weird! Another usual fact is dogs can register (bib and all) for this event and run with a racer; even the 100M distance!

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

I knew going into this race that the speedy course would be challenging for me as a technical trail runner. Without specific training I would need to rely on grit, experience, strategy and tactical risk taking to be successful. I would also need to “run my own race” and not get swept along with the pack on the salt flats without intention.

Looking back, I believe I took the right amount of risk (for me). I knew this race favored fast runners, so I went out fast. Risky move, but I did it as part of my plan. I figured I’d move with the front of the pack for a bit and see what happened. If it was unsustainable, I would back off. It should also be noted that it was impossible to know who I was competing against since the 50k, 50M and 100M divisions all start together. This ensured that I would run my own race and not hesitate to back off if needed. Had the field only been composed of racers of my distance I would not have used this tactic. Too much risk of becoming competitive to a fault.

As it turns out, I began chatting with another 50-mile runner. I was able to keep a brisk pace while having a causal conversation with him which made me confident that our speed would be sustainable for me. However, soon after we departed the flats and moved onto the dirt road my left leg began to bother me a bit. This was the result of the repetitive pounding on the flats with no technical terrain for reprieve for a long duration. The problem was localized to my left side because it is markedly more “lazy” than my right (working on resolving this!). I began to walk intermittently at this point hoping that it would alleviate some of the issue. It would dissipate for a bit, but kept returning. At around a marathon I decided that I needed to focus on my own pacing and technique instead of keeping up with my partner. It was hard for us to part ways as we really enjoyed each other’s company, but our pacing wasn’t syncing anymore. I was happy with my decision to run alone and listen to my body, but even more proud that I kept fighting.

I was ahead of cut-offs and likely could have walked it in making for an easier day. Instead, I went to work figuring out how I could move as fast and efficiently as possible without exasperating my leg problem. I began experimenting with my gait, foot strike and stride length. Through these trials I discovered that I could still run pretty well and without much discomfort if I shortened my stride, stayed on the most technical parts of the dirt roads and power-hiked the inclines. Instead of obsessing about my now slower speed I switched focus to efficiency and using the now more technical terrain to my advantage. I was lucky enough to also encounter another running partner and we enjoyed the windy hill climbs together. However, I continued on alone instead of stopping longer at the aid station to keep the company. “Run your own race and keep fighting” became my mantra.

“Keep fighting” became extra challenging to adhere to during the last five miles of the course. These miles are back on the Salt Flats. I did not want to run flat anymore! I wanted to walk! However, I gave myself a pep talk and ran until my gait felt off. Then I reset with a short walk before picking up running again. I repeated this cycle to the finish.

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

As previously mentioned, I didn’t specifically train for the race as I signed up weeks before the start as a “tune-up” race for longer events later in the season. This led to the repetitive motion over flat and featureless terrain being incredibility brutal on my body during the event. Luckily, I recovered quickly, but I would have likely felt better during the race if I had the time to put in miles on a very flat surface. Salt Flats aren’t exactly easy to come by unless you happen to live near Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway or Badwater. I think doing long runs on a track would be a comparable and more accessible venue. Time would also be well spent on gently rolling dirt roads to address the second portion of the race. Additionally, I recommend a heat training intervention for this event as it is extremely exposed and can potentially get very hot.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

Specific train for flat and featureless!

Photo: Sean Wetterberg

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

Wear gaiters to keep out the salt and also don’t let salt get into any open wounds! Also, thoroughly wash your shoes and any other gear that comes into contact with the salt as soon as possible after the race. Salt can damage textiles and rubber.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

Absolutely! I’ve always been one to believe that there us beauty is simplicity. The first portion of the race involved running across a massive, white, flat stretch of white. Aid stations could be seen from 2+ miles away! The next portion of the race in the “islands” is the total opposite. Nothing but brown tones of rock, dirt and the first hints of green sage.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

It wasn’t tough in the traditional sense. The course doesn’t have a ton of vert or technical, rocky terrain. However, flat is an underdeveloped area for me (and likely many other mountain runners) so I found this course difficult! I also believe the barren, featureless landscape could pose a mental challenge without a running partner/pacer.

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

Wow this race was dialed! The RDs and volunteers executed the event flawlessly. They even have a secondary course all laid out and ready to go in case the salt flats are not in running condition (flooded).

Competition – Is there a strong field?

This is a small race with multiple distances: 5k, 50k, 50M and 100M. I’m surprised the Salt Flats Endurance Runs aren’t more popular considering their vicinity of Salt Lake City and the unique venue of the Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway. Looking back on race results, I think it’s fair to say that although elites don’t run the course often, runners consistently post impressive times. I was certainly looking over my shoulder!

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.

I registered for this race weeks before the start as a last-minute tune-up. In 2023 the race did not fill, but other years may vary as this was a light year per the RDs. Folks can car camp on the Salt Flats for free. There are also standard accommodations in nearby Wendover.

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

All the aid stations were stocked with water, drip drop electrolytes and the standard aid station fare.

Weather and typical race conditions

This year was delightfully cool with a high of about 60F, wind from 10-30mph and partly cloudy! There were very brief periods of rain as well. The course usually has varying degrees of wind as it is a big, open expanse. The flats and “islands” are also extremely exposed and temperatures can and do soar this time of year. We just got lucky! I completed a sauna intervention in preparation for this race in anticipation of the heat.

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

I would wear gaiters for sure. Salt gets kicked up on the flats and will end up coating the back of your calves. Salt can then work its way into your shoes and become abrasive. This can cause blisters which hurt on their own… but salty blisters are extra heinous!

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

The Start/Finish is extremely accessible and located at a landmark location: the Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway. Crewed Aid stations require some dirt road driving.

How’s the Swag?

A tech shirt and optional sun hoodie are provided to racers. Both are good quality and will see use! Finishers are also awarded a metal.

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

5/5 stars for this well-organized race! The event is unique not only in its location on Salt Flats of the Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway, but in the challenges runners face in this barren, salty landscape. Highly recommend the experience!

Dandelion Dilluvio-Scott is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about her or to work with her, check out her coach profile.