What you should first know about me:
- I'm a flatlander who grew up in south Louisiana, at or below sea level, and now lives in Minnesota, elevation 794 feet.
- When running ultras I try to focus on positivity and to spread that around. If I sound like I'm complaining when discussing this run, I'm not. I'm just trying to express the magnitude of it from a flatlander's perspective. I loved this run (now that it's over).
100k is 62 miles. This first-year run is based out of Salmon, Idaho and runs in the Beaverhead Mountains. It follows the Continental Divide trail along the Montana/Idaho border most of the way. Most of it is run between 8000 and 10,000 feet elevation. Elevation change is 27,800 feet. Running Surface: 59% single track, 35% ATV double track, 6% boulder/skree.
The race directors are two brothers named David and Eric who seem to be great guys as well as great race directors. I was really impressed. I decided to jump into this race after the registration closed--on a whim and a hope to explore the west and use some personal leave time before losing it--and they were very accommodating.
Before the start
The night before, in the hotel parking lot, I met a couple from Calgary and offered the lady, who was running too, a ride to the race shuttle in the morning. The shuttle was to leave at 4 am, so we agreed to meet at 3:45. I set two alarms for 3 am, but at 3:46 I was awakened by her knocking at the door. "Please give me 5 minutes," I said through the door. I was so happy she had knocked! I was also so happy I had set everything out the night before per my prerace ritual.
I forgot my watch in the room, and it felt strange, but somewhat liberating, to run without it.
There were only 12-14 of us in the 100k (a later starting 50k had something like 50-60 runners) so we only needed a short bus. I sat next to a lady from Missoula and while we were talking about running packs she mentioned carrying hair spray. I wondered why anyone would carry such a thing, but I was afraid to ask. Later, I realized she was talking about bear spray, not hair spray, and she mentioned the possibility of running into bears here. I realized we're not all that far from the Yellowstone ecosystem. Grizzlies? Oh snap! The flatlander's mind races. Then, at the start, the race directors mentioned keeping an ear open for rattlesnakes. Double snap! One of the brothers said he was sending his kids ahead of us to scare the snakes off the trail.
|Start line with US, Idaho, and Montana flags.|
|Final instructions on the bus|
With an anthem played on a trumpet and a nonchalant countdown we were off. The first five miles were more or less a steady climb, mostly through lovely pine forest, and my legs felt tight, but they loosened up eventually. Around mile 6 we hit a meadow with lovely views, then more climbing.
Most of the trail was very runnable. One thing I noticed, and I assume it has to do with the elevation, is that my nose was very runny all day. And it wasn't just me. It seems l heard the bugle of snot rockets all day and into the night.
I wanted to run a smart race. For me, that means an appropriate pace from the start. More importantly, it means not going out too fast and suffering late. I did a good job of this, staying conservative but steady. Still, I would find suffering later. But perhaps that is what I had come here to find. After all, it had only been a couple weeks since I ran the Black Hills 100. I had also come to find lovely scenery and it was here in spades and just kept getting better the more I ran.
Much of these middle miles went by quickly. I settled into a pace that would flip flop with a lady from Vancouver named Suzanne. I like running downhills, but she seemed to like running downhills with loose rocks, and I eventually learned to wave her by on these sections. We shared some good trail conversations.
|Climbing away from the Lemhi Pass aid station|
I moved through the aid stations quickly and efficiently. I was impressed with the enthusiasm and course knowledge all the aid station volunteers shared with us. I would hear things like, "It's 4.7 miles to the next station with 1000 feet of climb," as someone put ice in my water bladder. Or, "If you thought that last climb was something, the next one will take you over 10,000. It's right behind us here."
|Continental divide marker|
The (roughly) halfway mark at Lemhi Pass came sooner than I expected. The climb out of there started to catch up with me. I tried to take deep breaths, with my hands on my hips to open my lungs. I got light headed and red-lined my heart rate on this climb (and plenty of others), but kept moving. Somewhere around here, the aid stations seemed to move a bit further away from each other. I went through waves of near-bonking. I tried to eat lots of fruit and I drank plenty of water and Heed at the aid stations, as well as the Tailwind mix that was in my water bladder. I yelled Woo! often to pep myself up.
I was sweating a lot but the weather was near perfect. Occasionally we heard thunder, or perhaps felt a sprinkling of rain drops, just enough for a cooling effect.
|Course markings were everywhere, very thorough|
The up-and-downness of the course seemed to be intensifying in this middle third, after the halfway point. Maybe some of that was my fatigue. The legs were hurting some. Deerflies followed me from one aid station to the next. Sometimes I would slap myself silly to get rid of them, although all I was doing was slapping myself silly, never harming or even getting rid of the buzzing deerflies. Somewhere around mile 40-43, Suzanne and I caught up to a local guy named Joel. Real nice guy. Of course we were climbing at the time. As we were ran over some snow, I grabbed a handful and rubbed it over my head and face to cool off. I even ate some, and wondered if that was a mistake. I had been having a tough time swallowing the Tailwind. Before we got to the Goldstone Pass aid station, I decided to let Suzanne and Joel go ahead while I sat on a log and threw up. I've done this in other races and sometimes it makes me feel better, especially if I've been drinking too much. And it did help some, but I was wiped out. And this is when the course decided to open up its unique and relentless brand of ass whoopings on me, one after another.
There were two big climbs around Goldstone, one right before and one right after it. The first was up a rocky ridge and it caused me to sit on a cooler for a minute at the next aid station. The second went higher, but didn't seem as steep. These climbs were real ass kickers. I sounded like a steam engine chugging up them, and I was grateful I don't smoke anymore, although it's been less than three years. I wonder if that should be on any of those effects of quitting smoking charts, maybe after "Regains sense of smell," it could say "Can climb mountains in ultramarathons."
|The views were really opening up.|
I kept thinking I would rally soon, as I usually do in these things, to run through the low points and rough patches, and I did, but the terrain seemed to be against me rallying. Or running. Between Goldstone and Janke Lake aid stations, which was the last time cutoff, things got rockier, but the ridges we ran across were so lovely. At times I was running through a Lord of the Rings landscape.
Before I left Janke Lake aid station, one of the volunteers said with the tone of a funeral director, "This is the scree section." I ha no idea what to expect. Before the race, the directors had given us instructions on what to do if a lightning storm hits us on the scree field. Scree is a term for loose rock. The course description says that 6% of this race is over scree(m) field. The views are incredible, but I had to keep my eyes down. I was so grateful I was doing this section before sundown. I was grateful it wasn't raining too. I can't imagine doing it in the dark, or over wet rocks. With every new peak coming into view, I wondered if we would go down the mountain or continue bouncing over these loose rocks up the peak. I hoped we would go down. Then I'd see a runner/hopper top that peak. Somewhere in this seemingly endless mess, someone released the mosquitoes. They swarmed my head and arms. I pulled my buff around my face and head. A couple people passed me here. I wanted this to be over and the only thing I could do to make that happen was to keep moving. So I kept moving, jumping from loose rock to loose rock with cramping feet and legs. But this is why we do these things. To keep moving when we shouldn't, or when we don't want to. To move through these things. And to interact with whatever the trail gives us that specific day. To breathe it all in while moving. For me, it's the best way to find the spirit of the now, as well, to dive into the moment, to surrender to it.
And then, the trail markers turned into arrows, leading us steeply down off the mountain. I was grabbing trees and rocks to slow myself down. I buttslid some. It felt great to be moving quicker. Soon I was at the last aid station and it was time to pull out my headlamp.
|Descend down this valley|
|Last aid station. 5 to go!|
A couple injured people were waiting here. I assume the scree(m) fields had injured them. One of the directors showed up to carry them down and he asked about me, wondering if I was injured. "I'm running down," I said, and gave a big Woot! It was about ten o'clock. One of the volunteers showered me with bug spray and then I was moving down the rocky four-wheeler road that followed a creek. The sound of that rushing water sounded lovely in the dark. The road and I crossed streams a couple times and the cool water felt good.
The path left the road back to lovely, very runnable single track. The movement felt good. The moon, a "super moon," rose over the mountains behind me. It was like another brighter headlamp over my shoulder.
I love night running. I passed some kind of large animal that seemed to be aggressively wheezing and stomping its foot. I kept moving. I ran through a field of what I at first thought to be black rocks, but then noticed all the eyes reflected in my headlamp. The cows stood and moved around, all of them watching me run by with my strange light. Earlier in the day, in the scree field, I had wanted this thing to be over. Now, I didn't want the running to end with such a lovely night. But eventually I heard the sound of cowbells and music and saw lights (the finish line is at the director's cabin--how cool is that?). 17 hours and 16 minutes and I was finished, stuffing a sandwich into my face. That finish line area was a lovely place but I didn't stick around long because the shuttle was ready to give me a ride into town and almost full. The overriding sentiment in the van seemed to be, Wow! We really just did that! Wow! Although we got in and out of the van slowly, there seemed to be a shared sense of bliss on that ride.
The race directors did an amazing job with this. They collected some amazing volunteers. They set up a stunning course with great and clear markings. They had all the details covered yet were flexible and low key. And they wanted us runners to have fun. We did.
After the race, walking gingerly across the parking lot at the shuttle dropoff, I considered a new rule: No long runs until the chafing from the previous one is completely gone. Not even a trace. But that's just silly. I'll take a little tenderness for the memories this day created.
I hope this race continues far into the future. I'm grateful I was able to get there and experience it.