High Point:   9644'          Elevation Gain:  7449' 

Run the Rut 26.31M - Big Sky, Montana

September 4, 2016 - No matter how much you prepare for a special event, the weather always has the last say on how the day is going to go. A cold weather front anticipated for race day forced race management to shorten the course of the 50K to te marathon distance to avoid the likely hazards of running to the top of 11,142-foot Lone Peak. The snow and wind forecast for the peak eld considerable risk for hypothermia and egregious falls on the slippery talus. Once the call was made everyone accepted the fact that while we would have a great challenge on the day, somehow we would not get to enjoy the whole infamous enchilada that we prepared for.

It was a good call as the day was rainy from the outset, soaking everyone to the bone before we even reached the higher elevations where temps dropped and wind increased. I for one was happy to accept the compromise with the satisfaction that I could still enjoy the day with a reasonable assurance of safety. After Rob Froelich drove me to the start venue at the Big Sky Resort an hour south of Bozeman, I started with the second wave at 0605 at a damp 45 degrees. With two layers and a windbreaker and gloves I felt comfortable that I could handle whatever the mountain threw at us for six to seven hours.

The trail points up immediately for more than a kilometer on one of the resort's catwalks before hitting singletrack that pointed straight up the slopes in the woods. After finding an easy climbing tempo I fell into a slow queue as people labored to climb the steep incline of dirt trail. The first 13 miles and the last 9 miles of the alternate course would be the same as the scheduled 50K, with the 1500-foot summiting of Lone Peak removed as a measure of safety. Except for climbing to the summit, we got the full challenge of the course, so little was sarificed.

I have run up and down probably twenty or more ski resorts. The routes are pretty much the same these days with a combination of catwalks, singletrack hiking trails, ski trails, and mountain bike trails. These courses are always challenging and the forests and views are always beautiful, but nonetheless there is not much that distinguishes one from the other. The Rut's unique challenge is running above treeline to climb steep talus slopes. What made this year's event especially challenging was doing it in inclement weather.

The pressure was off with the shorter distance. After running six trail races in the past four weeks my body was in full catch-up mode. Without doing a lick of training all month I was content to just shuffle along at an unstressed tempo with the only objectives being not to fall and get hurt and, of course, to finish. My climbing legs were still strong on the climbs where I generally gained on the field, but my descents were labored and extremely cautious as I patiently watched people blow by me. With weary legs I did not have much confidence going down steep trails, so cut my steps and babied my knees.

Once a light drizzle increased to a steady soaking rain everyone was soaked through, making any increase of wind gusts a factor of discomfort. I curled my hands in my soaked gloves to keep my fingers warmer, even asking volunteers to rip the tabs off the gel packets since my own hands were numb. The trail increasingly became slippery and the mud thickened to hinder progress. Using my hands on the ground increasingly to steady my climbs, my gloves were trashed. Nonetheless, I wasn't miserable, and continued running well within myself as we continued past the halfway point.

My legs remained strong throughout while climbing. The long ascent up to the ridge below Lone Peak was steep and slippery on the wet talus that became increasingly covered with snow as we climbed higher. The snow stuck to my wet clothing and legs, offering some degree of insulation against the increasing winds. Despite the energy output on the climb I could still feel some degree of hypothermia for over an hour until we passed over the ridge and descended into another basin which was more out of the wind. The wet talus here really slowed my effort. Any mis-step here could have ended badly as rescue was not going to be easy in these conditions. Most everyone was running in survival mode and not talking very much.

By the time we returned back down to below treeline I warmed up and eased along the trail so as not to cause a leg injury from slipping in the mud. It was all slippery from this point to the finish as the mud thickened to four to six inches deep making it more of a a slog than a run. Many people fell as evidenced by their muddy derriers and ripped spandex. I just took it easy and let runners zoom past in the final five miles with little concern for time. I would finish a bit before 7 hours, comfortably without injury or much soreness or physical duress. Rob was there to collect me and haul me home.

It was a fun, but weather-challenged day. It was hard, but not impossible. Of course I was not racing. The volunteers were very helpful; the aid stations were generally only four miles apart; the emergency personnel were appropriately spaced on the course; and the post-race victuals were out of this world - like something you might eat in an expensive designer restaurant - very tasty. I would not have run this course in this weather without it being a race, but was glad I experienced it with this weather and still finished covered in mud and with a smile on my face for having completed all seven races I entered in the past month. Now, onto some rest and then back to some much needed training before the next race in four weeks.

Alternative Course Elevation Profile