After a whirlwind trip to Montana I’m back in the PNW. Seemingly the rain clouds and marine fog layer are right where I left them, hovering right around 3,000 feet cutting off the tops of the North Shore mountains.
Getting to “go home” to Montana was a breath of fresh air. An opportunity to refill the spirit sponge, hug all my people, run with old friends, and to get up high into the wide open wild spaces that are ingrained in my running memory.
Despite waking up to some smokey mornings the trip was an all around success!
After spending much of the week nestled in Bozeman I headed over to Big Sky for the Vertical Kilometer and The Rut 50km for my final weekend in town.
On our way into the canyon we got word that they were changing to the Plan B course for the VK due the high winds and the potential for electrical storms. That’s weather in the West. It changed quickly, and would become the story for the weekend as we dealt with just about every potential change in the elements.
Coming off of antibiotics for Lyme’s Disease and having spent the last 9months at sea-level my race plan for the weekend was simply to pin bib numbers on for the first time in months, and more importantly to keep my streak of having “the most fun, ever!” alive.
The VK went smooth. I was nervous, that or I was car sick, but either way I showed up the start line with jitters and an upset stomach. I joked as I slotted myself behind the front couple of lines of men and then we erupted from the start line barreling into 2,000 + feet of climbing in two miles at 6:30 pace. I joked that “sea-level is a b$*#h” and cat-called spectators. As I watched more diminutive competitors float up the scree in front of me I focused on chasing “man in blue shorts” and “man with long beard”. For being a plan b course, the Mike’s did an excellent job on finding the very best alternative suffering terrain. At the top I snuck in under the 40 min mark, gasped for water, and jogged back down to the base area where I was lucky enough to get a blueberry pie hand-up mid cool down!
I spent much of Saturday cheering my face off for fellow racers as they tackled The Rut 28km. The weather held, runners were treated to the full course while I froze my fingers and toes off as I tried to identify runners from a distance as they approached the SwiftCurrent aid station. Lucky for me, I had a partner in crime Sarah Bard who was committed to doing jumping jacks and odd dance moves periodically before finding coffee the size of our faces. We were bribed back into helping iRunFar at the finish line with cookies, smooth work Byron, and we proceeded the screaming of our faces off as the runners trickled back into the base area.
After a shuffle, a well deserved nap, and being fed a hearty dinner by the Meng Family it was time for bed. The weather at this point looked pretty horrible for the 50km. They were calling for rain, snow, sleet, and the occasional thunderstorm with a cold front moving through mid-day. We went to bed not knowing which course we’d be running come 6:00am, but we were definitely promised an epic day on the mountain.
After shoveling fork fuels of leftovers into my face while still half asleep I got word that the course would be changed to Plan B due to the incoming weather. And as much as I wanted to prance up and down the headwaters ridge and over lone peak I also knew I was capable of a good run that would be pretty similar to what I had run all winter in the PNW. Lots of climbing in the rain, something I’m now very familiar with.
At 6:00am to the bugle of an elk we took off from the start line and headed up the mountain in the dark. I knew there was a lot of climbing in the first two miles and not wanting to trash myself I slotted in with a group of guys and we chatted our way through the darkness. I followed Twin 1 & Twin 2 as they paved our way up the hill. The first mile takes you up what we like to call a “douche grade”, decidedly runable, and a great place to show everyone else how good you are at running uphill. Suddenly we veered off the road and onto a steep single track section that slowed our forward progress to a steady crawl as it bottle-necked. There was plenty of scampering and awkward passing, but I held steady knowing that there was ground to be made up later on. During this time I managed to take off my wind jacket while hiking uphill with my pack on and congratulated myself on what might be my life’s greatest accomplishment in multitasking!
We cruised across the mountain and started to traverse over to the lone mountain section of the course. I was dreading this section. Last year my legs felt like lead and I was relegated to hiking large sections of the winding climbing prologue…. but this time around the miles just kind of clipped by. I wasn’t pushing but I was running easily through the rolling upward terrain. I was able to cruise with Hilary and KPat for a while, tucked in behind, but nature called and I quickly detoured into some trees and that would be the last I would see of them for the rest of the race. We cruised back through the 2nd aid station around the 12 mile mark, I exchanged a bottle and refused to take a jacket from Stephen (I would later regret this decision).
I climbed upward by myself, slowly catching back up with the group of guys I had run with up the starting climb. We wooohoooo’d and cat-called through the trees. This was clearly the group I belonged in these were my people. We headed further into the cloud and the temp kept dropping. Suddenly the SwiftCurrent aid station appeared through the sleet and I must have looked a bit confused as I searched for Stephen for my jacket hand-up. Unfortunately there had been issues with the chairlift and my cheer squad had not made it up the mountain in time. I power-hiked out of the aid station with my boys and hoped that our descent down to the Dakota lift would warm me up. We ran further and further into snow flakes and the atmosphere of our group was energetic as we yelled, “Sending!” in marco-polo fashion.
At the bottom of the scree field Buzz and TJ waited for me, soon I realized they waited because the patroller had offered us beer! We eagerly took the beer feed and continued our traverse to the Dakota lift. After high-fiving the BRC crew and the makeshift aid station (fireball was involved) we barreled down the descent that brought us to the bottom of Andesite, our last “big” climb of the race. As it turned out the 11km race was still on course (going in the opposite direction of the 50km) and the single track had turned into the mud version of a slip and slide. It was so ridiculous I was distracted from any and all effort… I’m pretty sure I laughed my way up the entire climb congratulating the 11km runners as I encouraged them to butt slide their way down the course!
Buzz and I shuffled our way up to the Andesite lift and was thrilled to see the cheer squad freezing their tushes off in the nearly freezing rain. At this point my hands were pretty much useless that as I ran to my crew I had to have them open gels for me, and then get me into my rain jacket and zip me up. With a flurry of kisses and high fives I left Andesite cheering for myself and exclaiming to everyone within earshot that I’d see them at the finish. Sitting in 7th I was content with my day and just tried to enjoy the fun single track that traversed back and forth across a bowl back in no-mans land. I was able to catch back up to Buzz and we settled into our cat-calling ways as we descended the final 5 miles to the finish. With about a mile to go three things happened all at once; the 6th place girl came back to us, we hit the surprise last mean little climb of the course, and the Missoula crew started yelling at us from their hot tub. Buzz more or less told me to get my butt in gear, and I did my best to glom onto him. Denali and I made that last push to the finish hard as we both fought our way up the final climb with respective cheer crews trying to feed us their energy.
Somehow I managed to squeeze out a little it of 5:50 pace and crossed the finish line, patted Buzz on the back, got hugged my Stephen, and then promptly decided I wanted to take a little ground nap.
Due to the change in courses our abbreviated day on the mountain was epic none the less. Although we didn’t get our high alpine scree scramble, and had a lot more sky and a lot less mountain, I’m happy to have spent a crazy day on trail with my Montana crew and my great big trail family!