The Rut 25k

Last week I "ran" the Rut 25k in Big Sky, Montana. This race is, perhaps, the most fun course I have ever run. It is part of the US Skyrunning series, as well as the final stop on World Skyrunning circuit, so race directors Mike Foote and Mike Wolfe designed a course to challenge the best mountain runners in the world.

The Rut playground
Lone Peak is the centerpiece of the race, but before the course ascends to the 11,166' summit, racers are required to scramble up to Headwaters Ridge for a rocky, exposed traverse, and steep descent all on what would be considered "off-trail" anywhere else. It's basically a talus slope with flagging up to a ridge with flagging and then a talus descent following more flagging.

Just after Headwaters the course follows "Bonecrusher" trail up to the top of Lone Peak, which gains over 2,000' in just over a mile. This climb is also very technical but has a bit more of a "trail" aspect in that you can at least see that someone has traveled that way before.

Following the climb is a long off-trail descent down to the next aid station (with a few surprise rollers thrown in before the station just for the fun of it). From there the rest of the course is on beautiful and brutal single track. To get the last bit of the 7,600+ feet of climbing the course goes up a downhill mountain bike trail. To be courteous ropes are strung around stumps so that people can pull themselves up the incline. From there it's a mile descent down to the finish.

A field of elite starters
After not being able to run for a couple weeks in Missoula due to hazardous smoke, I wanted to start out very conservative since I was unsure of my fitness level. Within a couple steps of the race starting I watched local Missoulian Henry Reich take the first fall of the day. At that point I thought, "great, the course hasn't even gotten hard yet and it's already taking people out, how many are going to finish?" Henry was okay, got up quickly, and ran right by me.

I settled into 19th or 20th as we covered the first couple miles. We were constantly climbing or descending, but these first few minutes were on access roads and ski catwalks to they weren't too steep yet: definitely runnable.

We then hit a short steep climb that slowed everyone to a walk before spitting us out on a winding single track climb. At this point the group of four or five started to pull away from me a little and I could see the top two women closing on me one switchback at a time.

We popped out on a short ridge, but just to give us a preview of what lay ahead, the course didn't follow the trail on the ridge. Rather, it dropped off to the right, made a sharp turn to the left over a few rocks then climbed back up to the ridge. It was just a surprising 20' detour, but was a wake-up call that things were about to get real.

As I rolled through the first aid station just before four miles I could hear runners on the scree field below me and I started to get excited. This first descent was only a couple hundred yards long, but gave us a taste of what was to come. I passed two people on this rocky slope and started to feel pretty good, but then it went uphill again.

For the next while the course only went uphill. The first half mile of the climb was on steep access roads, and the top two women passed me here, but then we jumped onto a huge scree filled bowl and I was able to stay with the two ladies. At this point we were all reduced to a near walk because of the grade and technicality of the loose rocks. I managed to pull in front of them and continue on towards the impending steep part, because, you know, it wasn't hard enough already.

Along Headwaters Ridge
Up ahead I could see runners "traversing" the climb up to Headwaters Ridge. I put traversing in quotes because a traverse is normally what you do to make a climb less steep, this traverse was a gradual moving of right to left, but included more straight up scrambling than side to side running. I tried to keep moving on this climb without going to hard. I felt like I did a good job of pacing and still managed to catch and pass a few guys, including Henry.

We hit Headwaters in the clouds and started running along a loose talus shelf. From later pictures I gather that that section is incredibly exposed, but with the clouds we couldn't see much. This was my favorite section of the course. I finally had the feeling that his was true, pure mountain race. I may have let that excitement get to me because I think I went a little too hard on the descent off the ridge. Although I felt controlled, I caught a few more guys and seemed to run out of gas later due to that descent.

After Headwaters we made our way over to the top of the Swiftcurrent lift and began the climb up to the top of Lone Peak. I attempted to eat some m&m's while running through the aid station, but only managed to spit them back up over the first few feet of the trail. The top women passed me for good and throughout the climb I watched them pull farther and farther ahead.

I started my death spiral at the top of the climb. Multiple times I stopped and gazed down the course at the dots chasing me, not understanding how nobody was passing me (turns out it was hard for everyone). I tried to pull on gloves at the top, but my hands were numb so it took a while, then I decided just to keep walking because that felt better than running. By this point my feet were starting to hurt and I was feeling a touch dizzy. I started gingerly running again, but with nobody in sight in either direction I didn't feel the need to go crazy.

The descent felt long, although if my feet had been feeling better I would have loved to rip it. It was the right grade and technicality of the stuff I love. Next year!

Looking up at Bonecrusher and the ridge to the top of Lone Peak
Towards the bottom a couple people passed me, one man and one woman, both European, and hammering! I stayed with them for a while, but when it became less technical they pulled away. At this point my entire goal for the race turned into not being caught by more men. I wanted to limit damage to Sky Series points and a large part of me wanted to stay in front of Henry and Jimmy Grant (it's hard to get a rivalry going if I keep getting beat by them). I knew Henry was wearing a red and white shirt and Jimmy's got a pretty distinct running form so I could pick them out from far away if they started gaining.

A couple times I caught glimpses of red and white behind me and was forced to pick it up. As the three red and white dots continued to draw nearer I realized they were three Salomon women runners and not Henry. Although I didn't want to get beat by them either, I was much more ok with this!

At this point the course started going up that last climb to Andesite. I was in a pretty bad spot energy wise here and just managing to keep moving. I did repass the male runner who had flown by me at the bottom of the descent from Lone Peak, but that was about the only positive. Ropes were in place to help us get up the trail, but I couldn't pull on them because that mean my hands had to come off my quads and my quads could not take all my weight. So I slogged.

Towards the top Stevie Kremer, who I had traded places with at Kendall Mountain, came by me and we hit the top of the steep part just about together. Sara and Anya were here cheering and mostly taking pity on me (apparently I looked pretty rough), but when Stevie took off running I continued to walk for a bit. Finally I got back in it enough to finish the climb and descend to the finish. That last section sapped whatever I had left and I was quite glad to see the end.

Looking back on it I had a great time and overall think I had a decent race. Fitness-wise I need more time on my feet for that length of race, but a better nutrition plan and not going to hard on Headwaters would probably help as well (in the top 10 all time on the Strava segments for Headwaters climb and descent, oops). Technically I think I can hang with just about any of the runners in front of me, but it's the non technical sections that I need to work on.

Sara rocking the 50k w/ Lone Peak in the Back
Sara did the 50k on Sunday for her first 50k and her first run longer than five miles in a few months. She crushed it and had a great time. She'll put up her race report on our blog soon. Seriously, we actually will post on there again.

I'm back at it this weekend at the Crystal Mountain Sky Marathon in Washington. It's a quick turnaround, but I'm hoping for another fun day in the mountains and possibly some better Sky series points than 14th at the Rut. Either way it's going to be fun!

Happy trails.