Friday, October 3, 2014

Toeing the line with Killian, Sage, Ricky, Ellie, Emilie, Cassie and Anna...

...Or why Michael S hates me. ;-)

Run the Rut 50k, Big Sky, MT; September 13
Lone Peak
I signed up for this race back in February for two reasons - 1) it was in the US Sky Runner series and 2) it was close to ND so a good reason to visit family.  Fast forward the week before the race when I realized it was the series finale for the World Sky Runner series and many of the royalty of the ultrarunning community would be there, including two of my favorites, Killian and Ellie.  The coolness of this opportunity cannot be overstated.
Mike Foote, RD, giving the pre-race talk.  Loved the camo drop bag!

Friday was packet pickup - no Killian or Ellie sightings.  Pre-race meeting was relaxed - Mike Foote filled us in on the details for the next morning.  I set everything out, stayed fairly calm and enjoyed having my parents there for such a big event.

Before the race, I realized I was seriously under-trained for this caliber of an event.  I lacked the necessary fitness or specific training (i.e. mountain repeats) to be competitive with anyone but myself so would need to depend on intelligent race execution in order to survive to the finish.  Intelligent race execution for me would mean staying aerobic (keeping my HR low), taking in lots of calories, staying hydrated, and not falling off the side of a mountain. 

The elk horn went off at 6am and 150 headlamps started snaking up the first, gradual climb.  Within 30 seconds, my HR was too high so I started walking, but also tripping on rocks.  I blamed the altitude - Big Sky was at ~7500 feet.  Within 2 minutes, I was solidly the last person in the first wave.  I didn't mind too much - the solitude allowed me to concentrate on running (hiking) my own race.  Five minutes later, the second wave started and while still on the first 2 mile climb, I started getting passed by the fast second wave runners.  The climb, subsequent rocky descent and single track around the lake to the first AS at mile 7.5 were all very runnable.  I came into the first AS 5min under my predicted time so felt good about that.  The next section to AS2 at mile 12 went smoothly too - was still being passed continually by wave 2 and 3 runners.  I met Blaire, a runner from Missoula, one of the few people I would flip-flop with for the rest of the race.  I just never fell into a groove of running a similar pace with other runners - definitely missed my GUTS friends!  Over 75% of the runners were from MT - it almost sounded like they felt sorry for me when I said I was from GA. :-)  Hope we get some more East Coast representation next year!  Yetis?!?

I hadn't paid too much attention to the route details - sometimes ignorance is bliss.  I knew from the elevation profile, the big climbs would come between miles 10 and 20, we'd have some scree sections and rocky ridge sections, and there would be some ropes and plenty of medical personnel on hand at the more technical sections.  How hard could it be?  hahahahahahahahaha....

I am still struggling with how to describe the middle part of the race.  "Insane" comes to mind.  Killian Jornet, in his iRunFar interview, didn't think it was too technical, not like you could fall off to your death or serious injury.  I would beg to differ, but I did not grow up in the Alps or Pyrenees, gliding up and down rocky climbs, running on nothing buy 8 oz of water and a handful of berries.  :) The East Coast has plenty of routes with significant elevation gain and technical trails, but nothing compares to what we ran.  No amount of double-Coosa loops could have prepared me the Rut.

Oh the scree fields...  I've climbed up and down rocks but rocks that remain still.  These rocks moved and were on slopes at a really, really, really steep angle.  I used my hands often and focused on my footing, placing one foot at a time, not thinking about speed.  I only stopped to look around a couple of times - sadly, I missed many of the amazing views.  I'm not afraid of heights, but it didn't take more than a glance to get dizzy looking how far up we had climbed and how much was left to climb.  A few times I started to freeze, but told myself I could get scared after I was done with the race.  There was no place to go except to keep climbing up.  More than once, I heard someone yell "rock!" to warn of a dislodged rock on its way down.  Of course I looked up (hmmm...I'm not that bright!).  And once we were up, we went down a different ridge, but with the same loose rocks at a very, very, very steep angle.  How I didn't sprain both my ankles or break a leg, I have no idea.  Sally thankfully lent me hiking poles - having one helped provide balance and some security.  On the steepest dirt section we were warned it would be slippery - I slid down on my butt, almost taking another runner out.  It was difficult for me to figure out the fastest, safest way down!  One of the blessings of the day was the absolute perfect weather.  The skies were sunny, no rain or snow, and only an occasional light breeze.  There was a Plan B course, if necessary - I can't imagine doing the course we did in anything other than perfect weather.

After the first rocky descent, we had a few miles to collect my nerves and run some gravel roads up to the Tram Dock AS.  My parents had taken a chair lift so they could see me as I ran past to AS3.  Willy would have loved this section - it was an out and back ~1.5mi section on a really steep hill.  At this point, I was way off my predicted time - and figured that Killian had just finished and I was barely halfway done.  The volunteers here and at all AS were top-notch!  They knew what runners needed, said encouraging words and took excellent care of us before sending us on our way.  I ran back down, saw my parents again, before the next long climb up to Lone Peak.

Lone Peak had been looming in the distance since we arrived at Big Sky the day before.  I could see it and the sharp ridges, but could not comprehend that we were about to climb to the very top at 11,000 ft.  Maybe there was a more sheltered route I couldn't see and it wasn't that bad?  Nope.  It was another nerve-wracking climb up large, unsteady rocks.  Early in the climb, 2 guys were playing guitar and singing - that helped to lighten the mood!

A few spots had ropes, but often I had to climb with my hands.  Towards the top, I could take 2 or 3 steps, stop and breathe a few times, take a few more steps, breathe, and continue slowly and steadily up.  There was no passing, just a long conga line. 

See that peak at the very top?  Yeah, that's where we were going...
The few times I looked up, the top seemed so far away and the climbing wasn't going to get any easier.  The cowbells and cheers along the way were hugely motivational and much appreciated!  Finally, I was at the top and greeted with one of the best stocked AS I've ever seen - including bacon!

Yes, bacon at 11,000 ft - and it was delicious.  I took a few seconds to recollect and calm my nerves.

Little did I know, the descent would be just as nerve-wracking and not any faster than the climb.  The rocks were loose, sharp and the really, really, really steep slope went on for 2 miles.  There was almost no respite.  Even when there was a break in the rocks, the dirt was slippery - I went down sideways and that was sort of effective.  It was controlled, or not-so-controlled, falling.

Finally, the last 8 or 10 miles was runnable, although many people were running much more than I was. :-)  My legs were a bit shaky at first, but it felt so good to finally be on solid ground.  I think the mental fatigue was as much, if not more, than the muscle fatigue - I have never had to concentrate for so long during any event.  Even the ACT and GRE didn't last that long or require as much focus!  The sounds from the finish line could be heard a few miles from the finish - motivating, but also tough knowing the finish was further than it sounded.  Finally, the black arches were in sight and I could stop - my time was 10:16.  For reference, that is slower than every 40 and 50 miler that I've done and 2.5 hours slower than DRT50k (which has 10,000+ ft of climbing) and 5 hours slower than Killian's time.

My parents had been there for over 4 hours - they took their job cheering for each and every finisher very seriously!  They both had blisters from ringing cowbells. :-)  My mom came up to gave me a hug and I warned her that wouldn't be a good idea as I probably smelled pretty bad.  She didn't care and gave me a hug anyways - and then said "yes honey, you do."  Thanks for the honesty, mom. :-)

Obligatory antler photo.

I was pretty out of it for a few hours - more so than nearly every other race I've run.  But I did rally to return for the awards.  So cool to see Killian, Ellie and the other elites just hanging around.
Sage, Killian (!!!!!) and Manuel.

Cassie, Emilie and Anna.
My parents asked if I would run this race again - at the time I said once was enough.  I was initially disappointed with my time, but 200+ people (of about 450 starters) didn't finish, so I am fortunate I survived.  But the more I think about this...I realize it was a unique event and opportunity to run a true mountain ultra.  I was completely out of my comfort zone most of the race - it was a humbling and rewarding experience.  More than once along the course, it seemed like a lawyer would have said "no, this is too dangerous."  The Montana Mikes put on one of the best organized races I've ever run - kudos!  It was worth every cent.

It's taken longer than I thought, but 3 weeks out and race amnesia has set in.  This one may be on my calendar for next year...

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