FKT: Mark Saroni - Outer Mountain Loop (TX) - 2021-01-23

Route variation
Standard route
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
5h 28m 55s

This ended up being quite a bit harder than I expected. Not that I thought it would be easy. But I did think the first 2-3 hours would be “relaxed.” similar to the early stages of the bike in an Ironman where you feel like you can go faster but you’re consciously holding back to save energy for later on when it gets hard. 


This wasn’t like that. 

This was hard from the get-go. 


The ~7300 feet of elevation gain in 31.5 miles make this hillier per mile than the Western States 100.


I carried a garmin in-reach with me and sent out periodic text updates so that people back home could track my progress and for time verification purposes.



I’ve never run a 50K before I attempted this and the whole point of this endeavor was actually to NOT train for it.


You see, I firmly believe that often it’s the training for big endurance events that creates more mental and physical fatigue than the actual event itself. We need to recover from training for the Ironman more than the actual Ironman!


The idea is that a one-off crazy endurance adventure will be hard and require some appropriate recovery, but not to the extent that I’d need to restart the whole season or a whole new build.


The 2nd part of this theory is that a ton of specific training isn’t really necessary to do big endurance adventures, provided you focus on getting as “globally fit” and strong as possible.


I tested this out last year on the 200-mile bike ride I did. I hadn’t ridden 100 miles in over 8-months but I HAD pr’d my 20-minute power quite recently, was training consistently, and had a very high CTL and overall fitness.


So the amount of specific training I did for this 50K was pretty minimal. I did 2 long run days of ~3 hours to test gear and fueling. One of those I ran pretty hard and involved a lot of hill climbing and descending on our local “powerlines” route. If anything, I probably went a bit too hard that day as it took a lot out of me and was only 2 weeks out from the 50K.


I still did speed work.

I did tempo runs.

I trained about 10-12 hours a week on average, most of it running but with some cycling and swimming mixed in.

I strength trained regularly.

And that’s it.


The “taper” for this run consistent of:

-An 1:40 run the weekend before w/ 10 miles at “best aerobic” effort.

-A team bike ride the Sunday before.

-A normal week of training except for a slightly lower volume interval session on Wednesday (2 mile tempo and 6x400 at faster than 5k pace).

-An easy Thursday and Friday of running.



My plan was to consume ~400 kcal/hour from a mixture of Honey Stinger waffles and Honey Stinger gels. I had a timer on my watch set to beep every 20 minutes and my routine was 2 waffles and 1 gel per hour.


I carried 2.5 Liters of fluid with me which consisted of a 2.0 Liter hydration pack w/ 2250 mg of sodium from Precision Hydration. I also had a water flask with 500 mL of water and 2 packages of Precision Hydration salt tablets.


Mile 11-22 along Dodson trail was hard (as I expected) but also hotter than I’d expected. The high for that day in the Chisos Basin was 70 degrees but I forgot that Dodson is at a lower elevation and much more exposed. It felt legitimately warm and my Garmin shows a peak temperature of 84 degrees that day. 


My wife, Alli, was at the end of Dodson trail at mile 22 with emergency water and food in case I needed it. I really wanted to stay unsupported however so I didn’t take anything from here. Soon after I started up the final climb, I finished off my hydration pack and realized I was probably going to run out of water over the next 90 minutes. I conserved what I had left in my flask by going 20-25 minutes at a time and only drinking when I took a Honey Stinger gel since there is no way I could take any more calories once I ran out of water and my mouth started to dry out.


I finished the water with my last gel about 10-15 minutes before I finished the last climb. I figured that I could go the entire 3.5-mile descent without food and water and be ok since it was in the shade and muscular fatigue would be a greater factor over caloric energy needs. I was correct but it did mean I went the last hour without eating or drinking anything. Fortunately, Alli was at the finish line, this time with an ice-cold coke :-).



I broke the route down into 5 segments with a time and pace goal for each. They were:


Chisos Basin to Juniper Canyon -  4.51 miles

Juniper to Dodson - 6.5 miles

Dodson Trail - 11.39 miles

Homer Wilson to Laguna Meadows - 5.6 miles

Laguna Meadows to Chisos Basin - 3.7 miles


My pacing goals were based on breaking 5 hours but I quickly realized in the 2 hours of the run that that was probably out of the question.


The run started with a 2000 feet ascent and I stopped briefly at mile 1 in a panic when my Garmin beeped at me and I thought I had made a wrong turn. I undid my pack and pulled the map out and realized that I was on the right trail, the watch was just off. That cost me 1-2 minutes which wasn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things.


I topped the first climb at the turn-off to Emory Peak about 4 minutes behind my “goal’ pace. Though the next section is mostly downhill, I forgot that there is another little climb before you start going down. I walked most of that climb.


The sun was just rising in the valley as I started down Juniper trail and that was definitely the highlight of the trip from a scenic point of view. The descent down Juniper is pretty long and I was scared to pound my quads up too bad so early in the run. Juniper flattens out a little the last few miles and I was able to run a more comfortable ~8:00 pace while trying to dodge prickly pear and plowing through the sotol. 


Turning onto Dodson, I thought maybe I could roll 8:00 minute miles but quickly realized that wouldn’t be happening either. Dodson is just so rolling and the trail is often hard to find. It took a lot of focus to make sure I was staying on the right trail while running through river beds and up and down gulleys.


At the end of Dodson, I was tired and running well behind my 5-hour schedule. Alli was waiting for me and only slightly worried that I was behind schedule. I told her I was ok but it was just hard.


I started up the Blue Creek trail knowing I had less than 10 miles left but also knowing it was the hardest section of trail. The Blue Creek trail climbs ~2500 feet in about 5 miles and starts with 3 miles of running up a river bed full of loose rock. I was actually making pretty good time here, thanks to a few caffeinated Honey Stinger gels, and was holding low 11:00 minute miles while climbing 300-400 feet per mile running in gravel.


Then it got REALLY hard and I mostly walked the final 2 miles and 1200 feet of vertical. My rule was that I could walk as long as the trail was steeply going up, but as soon as the grade lessened, flattened, or turned downhill at all, I had to jog.


I ran into one confused runner at the top that I helped direct towards the Chisos Basin. As I made the turn onto Laguna Meadows to begin the final descent, I squeezed one last drop of water from my hand flask, let out a gentle moan that shocked a backpacker standing nearby, and committed to pounding my already tired legs into oblivion. 


I ran the entire descent. Not super fast but I ran it. I knew I was flirting with the sub 5:30 mark and figured I could at least fight for that goal.


Alli was coming up the trail towards me and I surprised her about 3 minutes from the finish. She was hoping to get a video of me coming down the mountain but for the first time today, I was too fast ;-).


I crossed the trailhead marker and ran a little bit past it just to make sure the gps registered.


Tired. Happy. Officially now a trail ultra-runner. I celebrated with a cold coke and ice cream before heading back to our Airbnb to enjoy a beautiful West Texas sunset.