The summer is coming to an end and with the nip of fall in the air I travelled to Big Sky Resort in Montana for the Rut 50K Trail Race. The Rut was the 5th and final race in the Sky Running World Series which consisted of races in France and Italy and here in MT.
In only its second year the Rut has exploded on to the trail running must-do race scene.
A total of 1200 runners took part. Friday saw 200 in the Vertical KM and on Saturday the 50K had 500 along with the 12k.
I chose the 50k because if I was driving 7 hours to MT I was going to get my moneys worth. Wow! did I ever.
In the darkness at 6 a.m. a bugling elk call sent us off on our way for 31 miles of trail, scree fields, high altitude exposed ridge lines and thin air.
I struggled the first couple of hours as I am not comfortable running at such an effort and so early, let alone running at 8000 feet. Knowing I would just have to be conservative, that gradually my legs would come around, I settled into a comfortable pace and watched runners half my age go by effortlessly. Enthusiasm gives way to experience. Its a nice thought and it was about 50% right today. Midway we began the first of 2 mega-climbs.. Step, breathe, step, breathe. Again and again and again…..
Slowly up a 40-45 degree slope of loose scree, climbing some 2000 feet to an exposed knife edge ridge line. Our you kidding me? That was painful in a mom-a-bee-stung me sort of way…or maybe child birth depending on your gender.
Down through loose rocks, down and down, stumble, ouch, stumble, scrape, stumble, run. At 16 miles I saw above me, “BoneCrusher” a daunting 3000 foot climb to the top of the Tram and at 11,200 the highest point on the course. By now my legs were feeling young again, at least thats what I told myself, and began my rhythmic system of breathing and stepping to the summit. I am comfortable at altitude and exposed but when I saw ropes and ski patrol scattered along the way I did not look down….either side of this sliver of a ridge. If there is one thing that will leads me through rigorous moments on the trail it is knowing that bacon awaits. At the summit I popped a couple of salty pieces into my mouth and barely stopping began to scamper down the ridge.
Being conservative and being patient was rewarding me now. The last 10 miles were an exhilarating array of single track switchbacks through the woods. Breathe, relax, body check, alive…Repeat. I have a competitive nature, not in a “at all costs have to win” way but more of a “have a plan, run hard, very hard and be satisfied” Even at my age there are still goals and I know anything can happen in a race. Your legs can bring tears to your eyes the last miles as you absorb each painful step, kicking yourself for going to fast to soon. Ignore your calories and hydration and your body shuts down ever so slowly. But…..take care of your body, listen and show patience and efforts are rewarded. Runners I had not scene in 5 hours suddenly appeared on the trail, alone in their personal struggle. Suddenly I did not have the legs of a 53 year old but those of the teenager I once was, running the country roads back in IL such a long time ago. There is tremendous joy when that moment of clarity comes. When your eyes are alert and your breathing controlled. When legs and arms all move in unison propelling you forward in a tumbling free fall of exuberance towards the finish… Yes these moments have become rare for me but still they come….With the sound of an elk bugling, with bacon still on my tongue, with trickles of blood on my legs I plunge down and down and finish with a smile and satisfaction…
(Mike would finish 136th overall and 3rd in the 50-59 Age Group) but as he says ” They are only numbers”…