RoadTrailRun’s top ultra runners met for the first time and raced the Canyons 100K which is in part on the Western States 100 course. Below their complete race and gear reports.
Dom: I ran (not raced!) Canyons 100k last weekend, alongside fellow RTR contributor, Michael Postaski, and a dazzling number of elite ultrarunners. This is a beautiful course on any day – overlapping a good amount of the Western States course – and last Saturday was particularly fine, with cool temperatures following a healthy amount of rainfall in the days prior to the race. Dawn was exquisite, with runners ascending out of the darkness, climbing above fog settled in the valleys to emerge into brilliant sunshine and picture-postcard views of the forested ridges above the American River.
Mostly due to lack of training, I was resigned to run a slow race, and paced myself very cautiously, taking it easy all through the day. As a consequence, I was able to really relish the experience and enjoy myself. Every once in a while, I rediscover how much more pleasurable a race can be if you back off the gas!
Apart from being slow, I had a perfect day, and enjoyed almost every second of the race, even the long climbs that can sap one’s spirit. All-in-all, it was a wonderful experience that reminded me how much I love the peculiar sport of ultrarunning
For footwear, I took a chance and wore Adidas Speed Ultras. I only received these shoes a few days prior to the race, and had just 6-10 miles of testing. I switched out the stock Adidas insole for a bouncy Inov-8 ‘Boomerang’ TPU footbed which made the forefoot feel a little less firm and provided a pleasing amount of squish that I felt the shoe lacked. During the race, the Speed Ultras performed excellently. I had no foot problems, no blisters, no discomfort at all. This despite the numerous water crossings, and a final four or five miles of running through slushy snow with enormous, unavoidable puddles.
The only downsides I noticed with the shoes was that the hard plastic midfoot stiffening shank is exposed, and a few times in the race I would put my foot down on a rock and experience a violent sideways twist as the rock bounced off the plastic. Another minor issue was that the laces came undone several times, even though double-knotted, after water crossings. However, nobody else who I’ve mentioned this to has experienced the same problem, so I’m assuming it may just be that the shoes were brand new and the laces still very smooth and slick.
I also wore a new, previously untested, Nathan Pinnacle 12 hydration pack. I wouldn’t normally risk using completely new gear in a race, but since I knew I wasn’t really competing, I felt comfortable trying out new stuff. The Pinnacle 12 was excellent, super soft and comfortable, but with enough support to stop the included Hydrapak reservoir sloshing around. My one complaint here was that Nathan’s sizing guide is completely out-to-lunch. I first purchased the pack in size ‘S’, which was the size their guide (improbably) suggested based on my torso measurements, and had to return for a ‘M’.
For nutrition, I used some old favorites: Ginger Mapleaid drink mix, and Spring Energy ‘Wolf Pack’ supersized fuel sachets. I also tried – for the first time – some NeverSecond C30 gels, which were excellent. I like to use my ‘B’ races to debug gear that I plan to use in future ‘A’ races. With race nutrition it is hard to figure out what will stay down when your GI tract is really touchy. That said, at the Canyons I never pushed enough to experience any GI discomfort at all, so in retrospect, it is not clear that this test was very informative.
Finally, big props to Mike Postaski, who had a solid race and comfortably outran me by more than 50 minutes. Well done, Mike!
Actually one last humorous item to mention. On the shuttle bus to the start, the runner in front of me was wearing Nike Vaporfly shoes. It’s hard to overstate how insane this is. Personally, I find Vaporflys so unstable that it’s scary just going around a corner on pavement. The idea of running a 100 km trail race (in this case with ~14,300 ft / 4300 m of elevation gain) in such shoes is just ridiculous. I thought of this runner many times during the race, particularly during the final few miles of snow and slush and deep puddles concealing buried rocks. If he finished the race wearing those shoes, I’ll eat my hat! I just hope he didn’t hurt himself. BTW, I did try to dissuade him during the bus ride.
Last weekend I cashed in a Christmas present from my wife and ran the Canyons 100K. I don’t typically go for “big name” events like this and it was quite a change of pace for me with all the commotion, hubbub, and not to mention branding (Hoka). Similar to Dom, I was also looking forward to this event as an opportunity to focus on running my own race, and really honing in on all the crucial elements of long ultra races, namely pacing, hydration, and nutrition. With such a deep professional field, I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about “racing”.
[Downtown Auburn start to China Wall finish – 3,716 ft of net gain]
First off, some notes on the course. It’s basically run along the Western States course, but in reverse. The race started this year in Downtown Auburn and the finish was 3,716 feet higher at the China Wall OHV Staging Area. Those last two long climbs which made up most of the net gain were no joke! I found the terrain very runnable and fast (aside from the hills). There was not much in the way of technical or rocky terrain – I can see why Western States times are so fast, especially running in the other direction. As Dom mentioned, there was quite a bit of weather in the days before the race. Route 80 was actually closed on my drive over, and I had to take a slightly longer route through the Sierra Nevadas south of Lake Tahoe.
[Thursday before the race – driving through the Sierra Nevadas]
This race was 4 weeks after my last race – Behind the Rocks 50M in Moab. I found that’s just enough time to recover a bit (about 7-10 days), then stabilize and tune up a little (another 7-10 days), then finally have a little taper for about a week. I don’t typically plan A/B/C races, I prefer to just race a lot more and take them as they come. Sometimes it can be tough feeling you could probably do a little better in any single event, but at the end of the day, I just like running more races.
[Canyons is one of 3 US events which are part of the newly constructed UTMB World Series. It was also the final Golden Ticket event this year before Western States]
The race started out well, it was a huge crowd (for a trail race), all running fast at the gun. I just let everyone go and tried to settle in. My rough plan was to get to Cal 2 around 24M and then Foresthill at 33M feeling comfortable, and have something saved up for the last climbs. I ran my estimated timetable by Dom before the race and we agreed it seemed about right for an 11 hour target finish. There were a few bottlenecks in the beginning at some trail entrances, but overall everything was going smoothly. I was a good bit under my target pace through the first 33M, but the terrain was easier than I expected and I wasn’t pushing so I just let it go. I figured I probably underestimated the final climbs anyway so it would even out.
Throughout the race I mainly focused on hydration and nutrition. For me, hydration has been a big problem, and it has definitely affected my ability to take in calories. I’ve been using Precision Hydration products this year and it’s been a game changer for me. Their drink mixes are more salty than sweet and I found in test runs that I’m able to drink way more than I typically can with sugary drinks. I used their PH 1000 drink mix packets (handy waterproof 500 ml mix packs) and their PF 90 gels (90g/carb – also handy since they’re a larger size with a resealable top). It was probably the best I’ve ever executed on hydration and nutrition during a long ultra. I never had any GI issues at all, which gives me confidence that I can continue to push to take in even more fluids and calories during future races.
The rest of the race went pretty much according to plan. I was 8 minutes under my estimated time at the last aid station (49M), but gave it all back and then some over the final 10M climb up to the finish, with, as Dom mentioned – the final 4M being huge unavoidable icy mud/slush puddles. I finished in 11:08, just shy of my target time. But actually, based on my GPS recorded distance – I ran 1 second faster per mile than my target pace, so pretty spot on. All in all, I was extremely pleased with the result, ending up 38th overall in what was likely the most competitive ultramarathon on US soil this year (treelinejournal.com). The previous men’s course record was shattered by all of the top 3 finishers. The women’s CR also went down by 1 second, and 6 of the top 10 fastest women’s times were run in this year’s race.
[My Cali cousins – thanks for the support!]
Gear-wise, I wore Hoka Mafate Speed 3 – it’s such an underrated and underreported shoe (RTR Review). It’s both fast and very protective, easily a 100K – 100M shoe. I thought it would be a better pick than the Terrex Speed Ultra (RTR Review) since I had an eye on the extended downhills. Dom had a good idea swapping in the Boomerang insoles – I hadn’t thought of that, but I will surely test it out. I suspect it would allow the Speed Ultra to handle a bit rougher terrain with the added cushion. Other than the shoes, I went with my standard ultra kit – GORE Ultimate 2-in-1 shorts, UltrAspire Basham vest, Salomon soft flask hand-carry bottle (1), Injinji liners + Darn Tough Ultralight socks + Altra gaiters. All good. If I ever did this race again – I would definitely leave poles in the last drop bag before the final long climb.
Next up for me, I may jump into a local road marathon next weekend, then Scout Mountain 50M in Pocatello in early June, followed by the big one – Standhope 100M in Sun Valley at the end of July.
Dom Layfield 49, trains and competes mainly on trails in Southern California. In 2017 he was 14th at Western States 100 and in 2018 finished 50th at UTMB and 32nd at the 2018 Los Angeles marathon in a time of 2:46. In 2019, his only notable finish was at the multi-day Dragon’s Back race in the UK. All 2020 plans were wrecked by Covid and California forest fires. In 2022 he inching his way back to racing.
Mike Postaski currently focuses on long mountainous ultras – anywhere from 50K up to his favorite – 100M. 5’10”, 138 lbs, midfoot/forefoot striker – he typically averages 70 mpw (mostly on trails), ramping up to nearly 100 mpw during race buildups. A 2:40 road marathoner, his easy running pace ranges from 7:30 – 9:00/mi. Mike shoe preferences lean towards firmer, dense cushioning, with plenty of forefoot space, and he strongly dislikes pointy toe boxes.
Some featured products were provided at no charge for review purposes. Others were personal purchases. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors’
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