A mountain run…and taper time!

Since childhood, running around the trails and fire roads on the Little Pend Orielle Wildlife Refuge, I have been drawn to trail running. There are few things in life as meditative as buzzing through the woods, rhythmically (and sometimes sluggishly) putting one foot in front of the other in order to reach the top of a mountain, and then, once you are there, turning around and coming back down. It’s all about the journey, all about the steps taken along the way, and it doesn’t really matter how far you’ve gone or how far you have left to go. When you’re done, you’re done.

That’s why I have always loved races like the Pengelly Double Dip and the Blue Mountain 30k. For me, the challenge of running up and down mountains as fast as I can is endlessly appealing.

So, this fall, I decided to take it to the next level and sign up for The Rut 50k in Big Sky, MT. In retrospect, it might be more than just the next level. Let’s say three or so levels.

The race, co-directed by the Missoula Mikes (Foote and Wolfe, a couple of world-class ultra-runners in their own right), is run on one of the toughest 50k courses in the country. Last year, for the inaugural event, the course had 10,000 feet of elevation gain, and this year, just for the hell of it, they decided to add an extra climb and make it harder. Why not? By the way, the footing looks approximately like this for much of the race:

Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer Photography
Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer Photography

This year, I had to treat The Rut as a long training run, taking my time and making sure not to get hurt. With the Kona Ironman looming four weeks away, everything was focused on that.

Fortunately, this is a great race to take your time on. The views are unbelievable, it was fun to stop and chat with people at the aid stations, and it makes it that much easier to encourage other runners, all of whom are in the middle of achieving something that is unfathomable to about 98% of the population.

The start consists of three self-seeded waves, with the first being the fastest and the third being the slowest. I went with the first wave, but decided to start in the very back so I wouldn’t get swept into competition mode early on. It worked out well. I took it easy, and when others walked, I walked. This was pretty much how I did the whole race, basing my pace on those around me. As a result, I had a good amount of energy late in the race.

Still smiling upon reaching Lone Peak, elevation 11,166 feet.
Still smiling upon reaching Lone Peak, elevation 11,166 feet. Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer Photogrpahy

The descent from Lone Peak was pretty hairy, just being one huge talus field, so I took it slow, walking the most technical parts. I made it to the bottom and tackled the rolling hills that followed, running across some friendly faces along the way (big thanks to Rob Amrine for the gummy bears, those were clutch).

After getting off the mountain, the course was nearly all dirt singletrack without too much steep downhill terrain. That allowed me to finally open up the legs a little without worrying about twisting an ankle, falling, or doing anything else that might undermine my future goals. Of course, it’s still easy to get carried away and pound your quads to a pulp on that kind of terrain so I proceeded with a small amount of caution. It was great. I felt like I was floating up the last big climb to the final aid station at mile 26, and after that, it was basically five miles of gradual downhill. I allowed myself to have a little fun in the last five miles, and they went quickly. Before I knew it, I was at the finish line, and met up with some friends for a wonderful post-race feast. And what’s that, free massages from Sapphire Physical Therapy? Why sure, I’ll take one of those too!

Kailee crushed her goal time in the 12k by 10 minutes, and is now thinking about tackling the 50k next year. Everyone tell her she should do it!
Kailee crushed her goal time in the 12k by 10 minutes, and is now thinking about tackling the 50k next year. Everyone tell her she should do it!

I’m already looking forward to racing again next year, and hopefully having a chance to treat it more as a race. I’m excited to see what I can do, now that I have my course recon out of the way.

For now, though, the focus is on the upcoming Ironman. As I write this, I have exactly 20 days until race day. I did my last long ride yesterday, covering 146 beautiful miles, and it felt great. Now it’s just about taper time!

You may have heard a rumor that road riding in Montana sucks. It's definitely true. Don't ever come here.
You may have heard a rumor that road riding in Montana sucks. It’s definitely true. Don’t ever come here.

Adventures in race directing

I’ve taken on a lot of new things this year. Ironman, ultramarathon (more on that in my next post), learning to bunny-hop a bicycle with platform pedals. I’ve been mildly insecure about my inability to do the last one for a long time, because I never learned as a child. But as of this morning, I can say with confidence that I have it down. Yes!

Anyway, with all these new things, probably my most difficult new endeavor this summer was race directing. Specifically, triathlon race directing. While training for an Ironman. And an ultramarathon. I never said it was a good idea, but I took it on nonetheless.

It all came about when Dean McGovern, the race director extraordinaire of the Garden City Triathlon, decided to skip town for a job in Utah. After some consideration, I decided to step in in his place in order to ensure that the race would still happen.

The Garden City Triathlon, since Dean took it over (six?) years ago, has been run by Montana Campus Compact, which is essentially an organization that promotes and coordinates student volunteerism and community involvement throughout the state. They are a great group of folks, and continued their involvement in the race this year by helping with the organizational aspect of things. While the Compact staff is very organized, they admittedly know very little about triathlon, which was where I, and Team Stampede came in.

A huge thanks to these folks for all the volunteer hours and for being an awesome team to race with.
A huge thanks to these folks for all the volunteer hours and for being an awesome team to race with.

I could go through a whole description of how it all went, but I think a list of the things I learned from the experience will be description enough:

  1. Volunteers are awesome.
    I always knew this, but they are more awesome than I ever thought. There is no such thing as too many volunteers. You simply can’t put on a race without them. With this in mind, I encourage everyone to go volunteer at a race, or a bunch of races. It’s super duper rewarding. I even had a few people who raced AND volunteered. You know who you are, and you rock.
  2. Delegation is key
    No question, this area contains my most room for improvement. I can be a bit of a control freak, and putting things in someone else’s hands can be tough. But one person simply cannot do everything when it comes to putting on a race. When you try to do so, it results in very little sleep, a whole lot of stress, and reduced quality of the event in general. Next time, my first priority will be to start recruiting the right people for the right jobs early on, to make sure everything goes smoothly.
  3. Swim bouys take a long time to inflate
    The small portable compressor was not a good solution, and the backup plan compressor ended up being broken. The backup backup plan resulted in setting up the swim course half an hour before the race. Luckily, we did manage to get it set up on time, but due to lack of time for measurement, everyone swam an extra 150 meters or so. I suppose it could have been worse.
  4. Racing your own race is hard
    There is a huge mental and physical toll to putting on a race, and I can say for sure that, while I did race, and I did have fun, my head certainly wasn’t in it. I managed to pull through with a 5th place finish, but next time, I think I’ll leave the racing to everyone else, unless my delegation plan goes much better than expected.
  5. Take some time to sort out finishing times and age group places
    The awards ceremony was a borderline disaster, due to the printout of the results being sorted in a much more confusing manner than I had anticipated. A little more time and care would have made everything much easier. Shoulda, coulda, woulda, will do next time.
  6. Did I mention you should go volunteer at a race?
    Seriously, do it! Find a local 5k, triathlon, bike race, swim meet, whatever your thing is, and help out. Everyone will love you for it, even if they look like they are about to vomit.

I am very happy with some of the changes that we made to the race for 2014. Namely:

-Adding a cash prize purse. With some money raised from race sponsors Subway and Caffe Dolce, as well as part of Team Stampede‘s proceeds from the race, we were able to offer a $1500 prize purse, which upped the level of competition at the higher end. This always increases the general quality of the race.

-Increased quality of medals. We put a little more time and energy into the medals this year, and I think they turned out great.

-Post-race food. A huge thank you is due to Subway and The Good Food Store for making the post race spread what it was. I had at least three folks tell me it was the best post-race spread they had seen.

I am excited to take some of these improvements to the next level in the years to come, but that takes participation. I would like to see the numbers grow, so mark your calendar for September 5th, for the 2015 Garden City Triathlon. It’s going to be a great event!

Stay tuned for my next post, when I have more time (ha!). It will be about what should have been the most difficult race I have ever done. In the meantime, Kona training continues! 25 days and counting!