Pengelly Double Dip - Race Recap

Mount Sentinel is a major training ground for trail and mountain runners in Missoula because it's easy to get in 2,000' of climbing on a lunch break, or spend hours bouncing around the various trails for a Sunday long run. So it makes sense that one of the biggest local-famous races each year takes place on this hallowed (and strangely feared) training ground.

The first climb of the day to the 'M' starts steep and stays steep.
Thank you Votography Images and Run Wild Missoula for the picture
The Pengelly Double Dip is roughly a half-marathon, but it has 3300' of climbing and descending, as well as just over three miles of fairly level terrain. While there are a few steep pitches, nothing is too technical so it requires serious running. To win this race you have to be a strong runner, as well as great climber, and capable descender. There is no faking any of it. It's brutal. 

It is also beautiful. Because of some recent rain this year the flowers were still prolific on the back side of the course and green undergrowth helped to disguise the increasingly hot day. From the ridgelines runners can look down on East Missoula, out to the Bitterroots, the Rattlesnake, the Ninemile Divide, and everywhere in between. The views are incredible.

After climbing up to the 'M' runners traverse across the face of Sentinel and around the back to Crazy Canyon. From there the course ascends to the saddle and then begins the first out and back. The climb up to the top of University Mountain (the Beacon) is steep, hot, and feels way longer than it is. Nearly everyone is reduced to hiking. But the return is a hilariously painful descent. The steep grade and loose trail, as well as obstacles in the form of uphill runners, make this the most technical part of the course, but it's hard to keep from laughing out of sheer joy of not going uphill. After a return to the saddle the course begins out-and-back number two, to the top of Sentinel and back. From there it is all downhill, 2,000 feet to the Kim Williams trail below. Then the most painful part is the last, flat mile to the finish.

Last year at the Double Dip I had an awful day. Not awful as far as place, or getting beat. I simply could not race. A couple miles in I was forced to switch from racing to just trying to finish. This year I just wanted to be able to race. I would have been okay with a much worse place, as long as felt like I was racing. 

Climbing up to the Fireroad
Thank you Votography Images and Run Wild Missoula for the picture
At the start line I knew my main competition would be Jimmy Grant (5th last year), Brendan Halpin (4th Last year), and Alan Adams (2nd in the Single Dip last year). And sure enough, the four of us quickly separated from the rest of the field on the climb up to the M. Jimmy and Brendan pulled a bit ahead of Alan and I on the climb, but I was able to catch back up to Brendan on the traverse across the fire road. Jimmy was pulling away from all of us already and is looking strong for his upcoming 50k and marathon. Once we started climbing up Crazy Canyon Brendan came flying by again trying to chase down the out of sight Jimmy. I tried to go with him, but quickly realized that was a good way to blow up, so tried to stay relaxed and focus on myself, not what my competition was doing. 

By the time I hit the saddle and started up the climb to the Beacon Brendan was a couple minutes ahead and Jimmy even farther. Alan was only a minute or two behind me so I had to stay engaged and keep moving. The initial climb out of the saddle I power hiked since it's very steep, but managed a slow and steady running pace for most of the rest of the climb. Jimmy came down a few minutes before I hit the top, and Brendan followed 45 seconds later. I hit the top, grabbed some more water, and bombed down after them. 

The entire first half of the race is difficult for me mentally because climbing is still a weaker point of trail racing for me. I see my competition pulling away and it's hard not to get down on myself. In a race like the Double Dip I have to keep some positive energy and not settle, since there is still plenty of time to catch people in the descending, but when I'm walking up to the Beacon it's hard to keep that in mind.

As I chased Brendan I kept trying to think, "there's still time, there's still time," but he was so far out of sight that mostly I was focused on not running directly into an uphill runner, and staying on my feet. A friend later described my descending from the Beacon as sounding like an elk. So it obviously wasn't graceful, but elk can descend quickly so I'll take that as a compliment. 

I hit the saddle and started back uphill toward the top of Sentinel. I actually caught sight of Brendan at the end of one switchback and started to think I may have a chance of getting him. Jimmy passed back down about five minutes before I hit the top and I knew there was no chance of catching him since he's also a strong descender. I reached the summit of Sentinel and rounded the elephant about 90 seconds after Brendan and started descending a little too quickly. I nearly missed the turn back onto the trail and ended up just catching my steps and smashed my heel on a rock. This was the only time I wish I had opted for the Saucony Peregrines instead of the Kinvara. Overall the Kinvaras were a great shoe for this trail for the weight and Everun cushioning, but that step hurt. I took the next few switchbacks a bit easier trying to let it work out and then got back into it a bit. 
At the top of Sentinel with University in the back.
Thank you Votography Images and Run Wild Missoula for the picture

At the saddle I heard last year's champion, Henry Reich (out with injury) saying that I would definitely catch Brendan on the way down. Right away I was thinking about how awful it would be to have to race the last mile into the finish, so I pushed the 2.4 mile descent down Smokejumper from the beginning. I wanted to pass Brendan with enough time to put some distance on him before we hit the flat. 

I caught him about 1/3 of the way down and kept the pressure on all the way to the bottom. From there I tried to get my legs to turn over like a normal runner, but I had to settle for a pace just slower than muscle-cramp pace. I hoped it was good enough to stay away from Brendan because I knew he would be able to run the flat part a little faster than I could. 

Fortunately I had descended fast enough that the gap held and I finished second overall. Despite gaining a minute on Jimmy on the descent he still finished four minutes in front of me. He's so strong right now! 

I was very happy that I was able to feel like I was racing this year. After taking time off racing in the late fall and winter, I am enjoying the competitive aspect of racing again, and need to feel like the races are faster than a normal training run. I got that feeling on Saturday and am looking forward to the next one, which will be the Bangtail Divide 38k in Bozeman on July 2nd.

Until then,

Happy Trails,