The Mary’s Peak 50k was my first ultra ever last year and among my favorites. It’s fitting that I chose it to be my last ultra, at least for a year, as it will be memorable in more ways than one. I’ve run 6 ultras now, and Mary’s Peak was the only one I did twice. To want to spend hours and hours out there more than once is telling of a good race, in my opinion.
There’s a few things you should know about the Mary’s Peak Trail Runs (50 Miler, 50k, and 25k) if you’re considering it, so I’m going to give you the good, the bad, and the ugly.
- This race is well marked. This may not sound like a huge perk, but let me tell you, not all trail races are created equal in this department. I get lost very easily and when I’m tired, I am not paying attention like I should be. Any extra step when you’re running for hours is a step you don’t want to have to take unless absolutely necessary. The course at this race is marked very well with arrows, ribbons, and even big “X” marks telling you where not to go. Last year, there was one questionable turn and it was marked very well this year, so the race director is truly listening to his runners out there. He even gives everyone his personal cell phone number before the race and tells us to call him if we get lost. Who does that? Someone that cares pretty passionately about his run and his runners, that’s who. There were no spots on the course this year that gave me any doubt or pause.
- This race is well organized. This is probably pretty obvious due to what I said above already, but it’s always nice to know you’re in good hands with long trail races. I don’t want there to be any confusion at all when I already have so much on my mind both before and after an ultra. You’ll get detailed info about the course and race details in emails before the event, and the race director is always available to help. There are aid stations about every 6-7 miles, all with access to HQ, and there are people on bikes sweeping the course. You’re never too far or too close (as if there is such a thing) from help. There are three events at Mary’s Peak, the 50 Miler, the 50k, and the 25k, and it could get crazy with so many people going different distances on the same day, but it’s never confusing here. The races start roughly an hour apart and there is a limit on how many people can register so it doesn’t get congested. Drop bags are available a couple of times on the course if you want to bring anything extra for that.
- This race is small. For some, this is a bummer, but for me, it’s a perk. It’s a great community and everyone comes away from it feeling like family. The super fast amazing runners always seem very humble and approachable, which isn’t the case with some of the big races. The after party for this is low key and super chill. I personally love that. It means you’ll be out there alone on the trail a lot, but you’ll never feel overwhelmed either.
- This race is tough. Trail races by design are tough, but anything with the word “peak” in the title is guaranteed to be a challenge to your quads. The 50k has several “ups and downs” including two pretty knarly ascents. 30.3 miles of distance with 4,942 ft of gain and 5,970 ft of loss waits for you, which you can check out here.The 50 Miler includes some of the leg burning challenge that the 50k offers plus some more, as can be seen here. This run is 49.8 miles long with 9,337 ft of gain and 9,315 ft of loss. And just because the 25k is a shorter distance doesn’t mean it should be discounted either. At 17 miles (already more challenging than the standard 15 of a true 25k,) there’s 2,040 ft of gain and 3,218 ft of loss as shown here.
- This race has unforgiving terrain. One of the pre-race emails advises runners to wear trail shoes, and this is absolutely the BEST advice for this race. Not only is the race hilly, but it’s pretty technical, with a lot of tree roots, rocks, debris, and general road roughage along the way. And this is just the parts on the trail! There are also several logging roads and a lot of gravel at this race, and I’ll be honest and tell you that I’ll be grateful to not run on gravel for a long while after this. There are also some very rocky areas and areas where the trails have been so traveled by bikes that the dirt floor is grooved and bumpy. It’s truly hard on your feet out there, and as you get more and more tired, it’s much harder to navigate. Luckily I didn’t fall (possibly because I was super conservative with many of the more difficult areas and also slow) but I did trip several times pretty badly. Beware!!
- This race is beautiful. Despite all that’s mentioned above, this is a gorgeous race. You will feel on top of the world when you reach the summit. It’s peaceful and quiet and the mist in the trees at the top is quite simply breathtaking. It’s worth the climb for sure.
- This race will nourish you. Aid stations are cupless, which is good to know for while you’re out on the course. Aid stations are also well stocked with the things you’ll need (PB&J, Tailwind, granola bars, bananas, potato chips, trail mix, etc) and there’s food waiting at the end of the race too. I have done some ultra races where they don’t provide food or only offer it at a cost. This race will feed you and you will be HUNGRY. This year, there were ginormous burritos waiting at the end. It was absolutely scrumptious. There were also drinks and your finisher’s pint glass.
So if you’re considering this race next year, I’d recommend it. It is generally warm this time of year, but you’ll get a lot of shade out there. If I retire from retirement, I’ll probably do it again.