Salt Flats 50-Mile: Stunning Scenery, Happy Strong Running + (Very) Weird Sunburn

By May 19, 2019 No Comments

This race had been on my “list” for years – photos looked like moonscape! so I was delighted it worked for this year’s spring schedule. Extra bonus? very cool runner friend was also interested. Road trip!

The Race

Salt Flats 50-mile is part of Salt Flats Endurance Run series – 50K and 100-mile events are held concurrent with the 50-mile.  The original/planned course included a substantial portion on the Bonneville Salt Flats – but due to flooding, we were routed on an “alternate” course (still beautiful! & very salt-covered).

Flooded salt flats!

Part of (un-flooded) portion of salt flats – sparkly white! & hard as cement

Although this race didn’t seem to have a big organization behind it (family owned/operated, I think?) they did a great job with what they had.– e.g., no live tracking setup, but HAM operators at every aid station checked you in/out of each location — so there was a rough idea where you were on the course in case of emergency. Aid stations were kind of old school but volunteers were fun and super helpful (except one deadly quiet AS about 38 miles in, where they just sat in lawn chairs & talked amongst themselves.  No matter! – they had a cool dog so I had someone to chat with.)

How it Went

Met up with my friend at Salt Lake City airport for the drive to Wendover (about 1 ½ hours – speed limit = 80 mph!).  Flights had been delayed (storms!) so by the time we arrived 1) it was later than expected and 2) we were STARVING! Only thing open was a small Mexican diner — where I proceeded to basically eat my weight in enchiladas (all that cheese works great for pre-race, right? right?!)

SO hungry! @ Salt Flats Cafe
Photo credit: Reuben Parks

Next day we went to check out the course, put our feet in the water, see what 4,000 -5,000 ft of elevation felt like (vs. sea-level Houston).

Course Elevation Map
Credit: Salt Flats Endurance Racing

I freaked a bit about the climbing – having done zero! hill training – but decided 70* temps and 30% humidity was a more-than-fair tradeoff.  Heavenly, even.

Did I mention the “zero” hill training?!

Packet pickup/ pre-race meeting that evening was … weird. RD did a lot of yelling & I’m still not sure what that was about – but we got our shirts, numbers, essential info & cleared out.

Stunning sunrise! @ start line

Race day – we arrived at the start line early, in time to witness the most incredible sunrise! – and then we were off.

Very low-key start – “ready, set, go!”
Photo credit: Matt Jenson

Ran well through first 50K – little bit of pavement, mostly dirt Jeep roads. Bit of climbing, but it was gradual — no big deal. Chatted with a couple other runners & settled in. SO much salt! throughout – even at higher elevations (very cool!)

Photo credit: Matt Jenson

At 32-ish miles, the course turned inland for first big climb – 2.6 miles up & over! Used some of the hike time to get a few calories in (Bonk Breakers! strawberry with caffeine – worked great).  Felt hamstring tightening a bit, but it wasn’t awful.  Gradual descent, and a handful of level(ish) miles. Then one more hella’ hard! climb plus scary-ass descent (crazy steep, rock-trees-slide-y gravel) back toward the finish.

View from the top! Gorgeous!

Last 4 miles were along the strip of land between water-filled flats. I could see the finish! from miles away and in my (very tired) brain, it never seemed to get closer. About a mile out, I switched off my earbuds — & heard footsteps behind.  Yikes! Turned to see another female runner not far behind me & said out loud (though quietly), “you are NOT going to pass me @ the finish!”

Sunset finish!
Photo credit: Reuben Parks

Ran with what little speed I had left (& I never have much!) — enough to hold on to 3rd place overall female. (OK, so there were only 5 women in the 50-mile race –I’m counting it.)

Done! Dusty dirty, coated with salt & not smelling so good — but very happy
Photo credit: Reuben Parks


Happy finishers! (He finished WAY ahead of me.)
Photo credit: Reuben Parks

And that weird sunburn? Turns out all that uber-white salt is highly reflective – so the parts I generally don’t worry too much about suncream (underside of nose, chin, forearms & backs of knees) burned like crazy!

Weirdest. Sunburn. Ever.

What Worked Well

  • Altra Lone Peak 3.5 trail shoes – perfect for conditions
  • Nike shirt
  • Nike skirt
  • Altra gaiters – not super sandy course, but glad I had them
  • Roka sunglasses – polarized, worked well even in low light
  • Ultimate Direction vest + 2 soft water bottles
  • GU Roctane (powdered) – for hydration
  • Bonk Breakers – orange & strawberry
  • Nutrition overall – worked well! though could use more salty in addition to sweet.
  • Conditioning – felt strong & happy
  • Music – helped a ton
  • Talismans – well traveled, well loved – from Aidan Wachter & Jonathan Emmett
  • Garmin Fenix 5 – tons of battery life (only down to 44% after race)
  • Pace band – homemade, helped with “race day math”
  • Logistics – all went smoothly

Not So Well

  • Need to work on climbing – more hill training/ tire pull
  • Sunburn!!! – who knew to suncream ALL the places?!