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.
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:
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.
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!
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!