Published on: 05/05/2023
Steeped in mountain running history, the Speedgoat 50k created by the “Speedgoat” himself, Karl Meltzer, is a no nonsense trail ultra with a very “unorthodox” intro. It’s a beautiful, challenging and attractive course in the Wasatch Mountains. Also, it’s now part of the UTMB World Series and a family of Speedgoat Mountain Races.
Is this 50k for you and what are the other races like? Read on to find out all you need to know about the breathtaking views and tough trails of the Speedgoat 50k and associated trail races in Utah.
The Speedgoat 50k was created by Karl Meltzer (1), legendary figure known as the “winningest” 100-mile runner in history. Perhaps inspired after winning the Wasatch 100 6 times to create a tougher challenge in the same mountains, Meltzer inaugurated the 50k in 2008. His goal was to showcase the beauty of the area around Snowbird Ski Resort in Sandy, Utah. From running up rocky trails, to sometimes getting a break on a service road, tackling the Snowbird tunnel and enjoying shooting down steep downhills, the 50k has it all.
During the 2012-2014 editions, the Speedgoat 50k was part of the Skyrunner World Series, which shows how steep and technical it’s meant to be. That period also saw the most international interest for the race. Since then, it has become a very much USA athlete’s focus (although this could be changing soon).
The event has been growing year on year and is now supported by Meltzer’s main sponsor, Hoka One One. It’s now also part of the UTMB World Series. This means means that it offers the opportunity to collect running stones (2) and gain access to the lottery draw for registration to the Finals in August, in Chamonix, France.
The best known and flagship race of the event is the 50. It’s the signature route created by Meltzer and touted to be the toughest race of this distance in the US. In addition to the 50k, runners can now enter races at the 28k, 21k and 10k distances, too.
Speedgoat 50k – The Queen Race
With a total of 11,400 feet (3,474 m) elevation gain, you need to have strong mountain legs to finish the Speedgoat 50k. In addition to lots of climbing, the race features very technical terrain and a constant high altitude challenge, too. The lowest points on the route are still around 7,500 ft (2,286m). The summit of Snowbird is close to 11,000 ft (3,352m).
Basically, the route consists of 5 consecutive climbs with runners gaining a total of 4,500 feet in the first 9.2 miles. As Meltzer puts it on the event website:
“If you feel like this should be your first 50k, you are probably wrong in your assumptions.”
However, this is not to say it’s an impossible feat. While rocky terrain and altitude make up for some difficult running, the scenery of the Speedgoat mountain races is also incredibly beautiful. As such, it attracts interest from around the world for its scenery as much as for its difficulty. Depending on weather, you’ll very likely still find snow capped mountains all around despite the race being held in July. You may actually encounter snow on the route, too. At the same time, it can get pretty hot – a unique combination to really add to the difficulty levels!
The 50k also features fun descending from the highest point, on rocky single track and smooth bike trails to the finish. For some runners, this means sliding down snow some years, too.
A Gritty Challenge
Interestingly, there is very little assistance on the 50k course, which is unusual, especially for USA trail running events. While many ultras have aid stations almost every other couple of miles, this race only features a water point at 4.3 mi (6.9 km). The next one is a full aid station at the 6-mile mark (9.7 km).
Overall, you can tell you have to run fast: there are tight time limits for reaching intermediate points. Also, you can only carry 1/2 liter of water with you at the start!
Speedgoat Mountain Races – Other Distances
The Speedgoat event weekend offers three more distances: 28, 21, and 10k.
The 28k course is run on the exact same trails as the signature 50k route. Gaining 6,400 feet of elevation, runners ascend to the summit of Snowbird through the same 5 climbs as on the 50k. They then descend through the Snowbird Tunnel and halfway down Peruvian Gulch before another two climbs followed by the final downhill to the finish. The race ends in Creekside and is extremely technical and fast.
A little less difficult is the new 21k course, which features the same 5 climbs to the summit of Snowbird, allowing runners to enjoy the breathtaking views all around the Wasatch Mountains. It’s the descent that’s a lot easier, with a “buttery singletrack” to the finish line at Snowbird Center.
Finally, the 10k is also known as the Speedgoat Vertical Mile. It starts at Creekside and climbs 1,650 feet in total, ending at Snowbird Plaza.
Notable Winners and Editions
The international highlight year for Speedgoat 50k was certainly 2012. Trail running legends Kilian Jornet and Anna Frost won the male and female respective races. In the men’s race, 2012 saw a fantastically competitive field assemble, including other big names like Rickey Gates, Max King, Anton Krupicka, Jason Schlarb and Dylan Bowman.
Other notable winners of the 50k include Sage Canaday, Hayden Hawks and Jim Walmsley for men. And Anna Mae Flynn, Stephanie Howe and Ruth Croft for women. Notably, Sage Canaday won the race three years in a row from 2013 to 2015.
The Speedgoat 50k gained even more notoriety around the world in 2012, not only thanks to international star Kilian Jornet winning the race, but also for some controversy associated with the way he did it. After the race, reports emerged about the Catalan runner cutting off some switchbacks to join the trail further up quicker (something he often does in European races, where no rigid directions exist around sticking to a specific trail). He was apparently warned against continuing to run in this way at mile 20, but carried on.
According to Karl Meltzer (3), he took advice from Pikes Peak Marathon about how to proceed in this situation, where an American race director would normally disqualify a competitor.
The outcome was to still recognize Jornet as the winner without paying him the prize money or accepting his finish time of 5:14 as the course record. Instead, these went to Rickey Gates.
The speed record would then be broken the following year by Sage Canaday, in 5:08. And then broken again by Jim Walmsley who ran 5:04:55 in 2017, then by Adam Peterman who went just a bit quicker in 5:04:31 in 2021.
How to Participate
If you’d like to take on the Speedgoat challenge, especially for a chance to get extra stones in the UTMB World Series starting from 2023, here are the key facts you need to know:
- The races usually take place in July – race dates are July 21-22, 2023;
- Based in Sandy, Utah;
- Registration fees range from $79 for the 10k to $175 for the 50k;
- There is a good prize purse of $7,000 for the 50k in 2023, with equal prizes for men and women ($2000 for the winner);
- There are no particular pre-requisites to enter and, as of now, it’s not a lottery system yet.
To sign up, you just need to head to the event website and pay your registration fee. However, interest for the Speedgoat Mountain Races is likely to skyrocket now that they are part of the UTMB World Series, so expect this to change in the next couple of years.
Tips for Your First Speedgoat 50k
Although Karl Meltzer is known not to mince his words, his view that the 50k is a tough challenge taking in the hardest the Wasatch Mountains have to offer is not unwarranted. This is a tough mountain course, with lots of technical terrain, rocky trails, and steep climbing and descending. It’s not beyond the limits of someone tackling the 50k distance for the first time, but it’s definitely a course for more experienced mountain athletes.
Here are a few tips to help you if you’re running the Speedgoat 50k:
- Train for high altitude running. If possible, run at high elevation (6,500 feet or 2,000 m and above). If this isn’t possible, perform some heat training and sauna protocols to help your body acclimatize;
- Plan to arrive a little early and acclimatize to high Utah mountain conditions if you can;
- Don’t underestimate the weather. Although the race is in July and conditions are often hot, you can also still come across snow and wet sections. Additionally, as you’re at high altitude, weather can also change swiftly so consider this when you decide on your gear;
- Practice steep climbing and descending in training;
- Run on singletrack trails and rocky terrain to get used to underfoot conditions.
The Speedgoat Mountain Races are held around Snowbird Ski Resort in Sandy, Utah.
The 50k is a tough mountain challenge. It’s one of the hardest trail running races in the US and has been part of the Skyrunning race calendar, which includes the most technical and demanding courses in mountains around the world. It features a lot of steep climbing at high altitude. Furthermore, the technical descents that can also be very challenging.
According to race director Karl Meltzer, to get to the start line, you just need to “Google it.” It’s in the Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah, in the USA.
The latest race course for 2023 features 11,397 feet of elevation gain (3,474m).
The 2023 edition will be on July 21-22. Will you join?
Karl Meltzer (retrieved on 05/04/2023)
UTMB World Series Events (retrieved on 05/04/2023)
The ‘Kilian Jornet Speedgoat 50K Controversy’ (in Karl Meltzer’s Words) (retrieved on 05/04/2023)