A dirty wake-up || Dirty 30 Race Report

A classic Colorado start for the Dirty 30: beautiful morning light, brisk temperatures, and thin mountain air. Photo: Glen Delman Photography.

A classic Colorado start for the Dirty 30: beautiful morning light, brisk temperatures, and thin mountain air. Photo: Glen Delman Photography.

Last Saturday I kicked off my ultra racing season with the Dirty 30 in nearby Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Unofficially, the 31.8-mile course has 7,800 vertical feet of gain, with elevations ranging from 7,750 to 9,500 feet.

For me, this race was a perfect season-opener. It was conveniently local. The late-May date guaranteed at least a few nice days beforehand for long training efforts. Recovery will be quick, thus not compromising any summer plans. And, now in its seventh year, it’s a well directed event.

I finished in 5:26:33, an average pace of 10:11 minutes/mile. Last year, this time would have put me on the finishers podium in 3rd place; this year, it netted 19th, which is a testament to the significantly deeper field. (Full results)

My performance was about what I expected — very mediocre. In contrast to The North Face 50-Mile Championship in December, I never got serious about this race: I showed up under-trained and overweight, and mentally I was less ready to suffer.

Rather than get too frustrated by a sub-potential performance, I’ll instead take it as a fitness benchmark and as a wake-up call. Before my biggest race of the year, Run Rabbit Run 100 in mid-September, I’ll need to invest much more time and energy than I did this winter and spring. Thankfully, I should be able to — I intentionally front-loaded my guided backpacking trips, which constitute at least half of this year’s workload, so in just a few more weeks I’ll be able to focus almost entirely on my training.


Compare my training volume — in terms of distance and vertical — last October/November before TNF against January-May before Dirty 30. It’s not even close. Moreover, relatively speaking, my TNF training was merely okay: I put in six strong weeks, but many other elite runners had put in six strong months.


Weekly mileage, June 2014 through May 2015. Unimpressive stats thus far for 2015. I was much better trained for my last race in December: I had a solid 10-week cycle, plus three hard weeks of backpacking in the High Sierra immediately in September (shown as zero’s).


Weekly vertical, June 2014 through May 2015. Save for one week, I have not put in much vertical volume in 2015.


As a general rule of thumb, 1 percent extra body fat results in a 1 percent decrease in running performance. But in a mountainous trail race, I suspect the effect is more significant — versus running on flat surfaces, it costs additional energy to carry extra weight uphill and to slow it down on descents.

Conservatively, I can afford to lose 4.6 lbs pounds of body fat off my 160-lb frame, or 3 percent. In a 5.5-hour race, this translates into a 10-minute savings, which at Dirty 30 could have been the difference between Top 10 and Top 20. And this improvement did not require one extra long run, workout, or shake-out session!

Lean and mean, September 2014, after three hard weeks of backpacking in the High Sierra. I've thickened up some since then, which is preferred by my wife but which is disasterous for race times.

Lean and mean, September 2014, after three hard weeks of backpacking in the High Sierra. I’ve thickened up some since then, which is preferred by my wife but which is harmful for race times.

On the brighter side

While I have raced hundreds of times, my ultra racing experience is still thin and any additional experience is a plus. With each event, I learn more about pacing, race-day nutrition and hydration, and preparation (course scouting, competitive research, and tapering). I also learn what not to do — like making a last-minute pack swap and accidentally leaving behind salt tablets and caffeine!

I can also take comfort in my finish. Once I sorted out my calories and fluids around Mi 20, I started to gain back time. Only two runners finishing between 6th and 18th place bested my 1:12 split for the final 7 miles between Aid 4 and the Finish. Official data for the top 5 is unavailable, but Strava suggests that I at least stopped hemorrhaging time to them during this segment.

Finally, a quick thanks to a few spectators and other runners for recognizing me, including Scott Spillman at the start line (nice race, BTW), Cory near Aid 3, and a 12k runner shortly after Aid 4. On a day when I wasn’t feeling especially great about myself, it was a nice boost.

Posted in on June 2, 2015


  1. Scott Spillman on June 2, 2015 at 9:27 am


    FYI, Strava shows me hitting AS4 at 3:46:30ish, which means I did those last 7 in 1:11–12. If I’m looking at the map and times correctly, Strava shows Justin Ricks doing the last 7 in 1:11ish and Jason Schlarb in 1:10–11.

    Tim Olson really blasted through those final miles and very nearly caught me at the end. He ran a really smart race—hope it bodes well for the rest of his season.


  2. Mike Hugus on June 2, 2015 at 11:17 am

    I was the 12 miler who spotted you from behind as you cruised by me on the uphill fireroad. Glad I could throw some pep your way. I still had it at that point. I agree, it’s a well organized event with very encouriging volunteers and spectators. Crazy to see a guy my height, Paul Hamilton, blow past me on a downhill. Fast dude.

    • Andrew Skurka on June 2, 2015 at 11:37 am

      Hey Mike. Great to know who that was — I figured that if you were able to spot me as I ran by, that you probably would read this post.

      Indeed, Hamilton is fast.

  3. Aaron Sorensen on June 2, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    I have done some extensive backing in the sierra’s as well.
    I consider myself more of a crazy lightweight backpacker.
    Because of this fact, I seek more races for the location and mountains than the other people who are running that race.
    My favorite race has been the Plane 100, (by a long shot).
    Have also completed 2 laps at Barkley.
    This year will be the Kodiak 100 (with my dog).

    I just thought you would also be more into a race for what is gives you instead of for what it represents?

    • Andrew Skurka on June 2, 2015 at 12:51 pm

      I can see why you might think that I would enter only races that offer an experience similar to a hard backpacking trip (e.g. Barkley), but that’s not necessarily the case. While I am probably more deliberate in my race selection than other runners, consider that I’m a lifelong runner (since 14) and that I love to compete, so I will justify race efforts that it sounds like you might not.

      • Aaron Sorensen on June 2, 2015 at 4:40 pm

        I can honestly say that I don’t get enough good hiking in.
        As much as I love it, I only get out in the deep sierra’s or what not a few times a year.
        I guess it is this reason I try to include it in my races so I have a few more experiences a year.

  4. C. Portis on July 15, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    Good luck at RRR. Is it your first 100 since Leadville?

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