This year marked the 16th running of the El Vaquero Loco 50K. The race encapsulates what trial running and its community are all about. The race itself starts at the Cottonwood campground just southeast of Afton, Wyoming. The course is an out and back with a total of about 9000 feet in vertical gain.
Due to Covid-19 and Wyoming state recommendations. The race director implemented a staggered start to allow ample space for social distancing at the start and along the course. Masks were also a requirement at the entry of every aid station. All aid station food and drinks were to be distributed by aid station volunteers only as well as no touching of runner’s water bottles or any other belongings. My start time was 5:00 am. The course starts in the day-use area of Cottonwood lake. It was dark and probably about 40-45 degrees. I was fortunate enough to get a campsite within walking distance to the starting line, so I walked down about 10 minutes before 5:00 am.
The first 3 ½ mile ascent takes you to the top of a valley with one of the most amazing views of the race. From that point, it’s about one mile all downhill to the first aid station. I had enough water and nutrition to run through this aid station and continue to the mountain lakes aid station.
The next section of the course takes you through a mountain valley filled with wildflowers and a waterfall then a climb in and out of two mountain lakes. The last climb was exceptionally brutal. The weather was heating up and the elevation was playing its part as I was suffering from shortness of breath and some lightheadedness. At the top of the lakes, I had to take a minute and regain my breath before pushing through to the turnaround.
The next section of the course was straight forward. Running on the mostly flat and downhill through Aspens and more mountain flowers all of which was single track. The turnaround aid station was very well planned at the trailhead parking lot and the volunteers were more than friendly and willing to strike up a conversation. After a quick reload of water and some nutrition I thanked the volunteers for taking time to help and headed back towards the finish line.
The first section on the way back was easy. Flat with a gradual incline and some canopy cover from the sun. I did take it quite a bit slower on the way back due to excessive heat (around 95 degrees). I think at this point its safe to say that 95 degrees felt much hotter at around 9000 feet above sea level. 7 miles later I reached the first aid station on the way back. By this time, I had exhausted almost all my water from the previous aid station. Once I had refueled, I proceeded towards the mountain lakes again, a slight incline, but just enough to feel it.
The last section of the course was by far the most difficult. I cannot begin to explain how much a factor the heat was. It was a slow downhill towards the lakes and past the waterfall to the final aid station. At this point, it was about one mile of climbing (about 1100 feet of gain) and 3 ½ miles of all downhill to Cottonwood lake and the finish line where I was awarded a magnet and some delicious huckleberry soda.
All in all this race was one for the books and definitely a bucket list race. The views are fantastic the people that put this race together do an incredible job packing in supplies for aid stations in some remote areas of Wyoming.