Climbing up Little Cottonwood Canyon Road out of Cottonwood Heights via Salt Lake City to Snowbird Resort, the Wasatch Mountains dominate the skyline. If you’ve spent any time exploring them on foot, you know just how unforgiving they can be. That’s just why Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer decided to organize the Speedgoat 50k 15 years ago.
“The course is set up to mentally demoralize you, which was my idea,” Meltzer said while taking a break from cleaning up after the race. “When I started the race, it was all about it being hard. It wasn’t just about being a smooth, groovy 50k. I just wanted to do something a little different.”
As the course progresses, it just gets harder and steeper. There are big hills in the beginning with a few short descents providing brief respite, but ultimately taking runners up nearly 9 miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain. This is where they reach approximately 11,000 feet, the first of three points during the race. Following up the massive climb at the beginning is a descent that drops to a lower elevation than where the race began, and a couple of miles that lose nearly 1,000 feet each. A quick out-and-back in the Mineral Basin and then the 4,000-plus-foot Baldy jeep road climb, a quick downhill and then the Cirque traverse that is short and steep: two-thirds of a mile at 23% grade. Runners end with a quad-banging 6-mile descent back to the resort.
While the winners were pushing for just over 5 hours this year, some can take up to 8 hours and no matter where an athlete finishes, Meltzer is standing there waiting. He likes to celebrate the finish line feelings with each runner.
“The coolest thing about it is that I like to make sure I’m there for every single person when I’m hanging out at the finish line. When those people want to shake my hand and give me a hug, it’s an honor to have that. It’s an honor to have people really just say ‘That course is amazing. Your volunteers are awesome.’ It makes you feel good that you’ve brought the race to a pinnacle.”
Meltzer’s been doing that since John Collins, the Director of Mountain Activities at Snowbird, proposed the idea of the race in 2007. “When John asked me about putting the race on, I said I could probably get 100 people here,” Meltzer recalled. “Watching it grow over the years and watching it become popular, it became a bucket list race for a lot of people.”
Even with the new ownership and expansion under UTMB, Meltzer likes how Speedgoat has kept the hometown feel. “To know that it’s part of the UTMB World Series makes it another honorable thing, because now it’s a global race. I like it both ways. The small hometown thing and a world-class event,” he said.
The racing up front was a case in masterclass performances, too. There were 11 men that ran under 6 hours—an event record. The women’s winner, Addie Bracy of Denver, Colorado, posted the fifth-fastest time ever, while on the men’s side, David Sinclair from Truckee, California, won in the fourth-fastest time ever, running a personal best by almost 10 minutes over his second-place finish from 2021. The other two men on the podium, runner-up Erik Sorenson of Ridgway, Colorado, and Michelino Sunseri of Driggs, Idaho, both posted top-10 times in the event’s 15-year history.
Cloudy and overcast weather made for perfect racing conditions even though temperatures were pushing 100 degrees in Salt Lake City. Meltzer would have liked to see it hotter to make it harder, of course, but with no medical calls, he was extremely happy with the success of the anniversary edition as a launching pad to the next 15 years. “People like that it’s hard. It’s a big accomplishment when you finish Speedgoat. It’s not fast and that’s really cool. Experience also helps to know what to expect in a long race, and it keeps people coming back for more. I like people that want the challenge.”
As the man who’s won more 100-mile races than anyone else in the world, Meltzer would love to see a Speedgoat 100. “There is talk about trying to do a 100k here,” he said of starting to dream bigger about where the event can go in the future. “It’s in the discussion, but you can’t do it just on Snwobird’s property, you’d have to expand outward bound from that. The first step to do that is to create a course. I can create you a great course. Don’t get me wrong. I can make one of the greatest courses in the world here at Snowbird, Alta, Brighton all along on the Wasatch front. The question is: are we able to do that? That question remains to be answered. We really don’t know. All we can do is try to. But we have a lot more help with the new owners. They have a lot more resources to make things happen.”
From the volunteers to the buses, the logistical framework is there, and he sees events getting added to the already extensive lineup that includes an 11k and 28k on the Friday before the 50k. “I want to look back at it 10 years from now, ‘Hey, I’m the guy that created that.’ I really do think the race is just going to get better.”