The Rut 50km in Big Sky, Montana, on September 4th was shortened to the Plan B course due to weather. This is my story of the battle for podium, where I finished fourth female at my third race in the 2016 Skyrunning World Series, standing 5th place for the series.
This year the Rut 50k race plan was thwarted by weather in the early hours of the night. Race directors Mike Wolfe and Mike Foote made the tough call to change the course to an alternate route that would keep runners off the high sections of Lone Peak where wet and snowy conditions were inevitable in the afternoon.
Runners started on the typical course, but instead of the steep climb up Lone Peak, runners traversed across the base of the mountain before descending past the bottom of a ski lift that is usually sitting at the base of the descent off the mountain. From there, the course took the typical route on dirt roads and trail over to Andesite peak. The 50k course was shortened to a mostly-runnable 27 miles with 7000 feet of gain.
Friday before the race, temps were warm and it was windy, indicating a low pressure system was rolling in. The weather forecast was getting worse and worse.
Winds were tempting to blow down the check-in tent, but volunteers were still dutifully taking care of business. Runners filed in and in the typical Rut atmosphere, everyone was friendly and cheerful even though it was seriously pumpkin-spice latte weather outside. That afternoon, the VK course had to be altered and the lifts were having power outages because of the weather.
Saturday morning was chilly, but the 28km course was not altered. Megan Kimmel won again, followed by Yngvild Kaspersen of Norway and Laura Orgue of Spain. Laura just recovered from mono after a broken leg earlier in the year. So she deserves an extra award for spirit or whatever inner-strength it took to manage that incredible result. But the weather was getting worse and Foote warned 50km racers the course may have to be changed.
The morning of the long course I contemplated not racing. Race directors announced the plan B route around 5am, and let’s just say a runnable marathon is not my forte. But I was there, I paid for a hotel, and I had nothing else to do so I put on some clothes and went outside.
When we started running, some girls pulled away from me quickly, but after a short road section, a huge bottleneck ensued and everyone was walking. There was nowhere to pass and as usual all the elite women got stuck at various places behind men who ran their butts off on the road and start walking the steep uphill. We were walking slowly, so I took off my jacket and gloves. On the downhill, we were running at a leisurely pace and I had a nice conversation with Corinne Malcolm of Bozeman.
She told me Martina Valmassoi of Italy and Hillary Allen had gotten slightly off course in the morning fog at the turn onto the first single track. Martina soon passed us on the descent. She is a world-class ski-mountaineer and finished 3rd female in 2015 at the Rut 50km—her first ultra.
Hillary Allen–who took 2nd in the 2015 Rut–passed after Moonlight Basin aid station. We were all running within sight of each for many miles. Like me, Martina is much more comfortable on steep and technical terrain, so we laughed about some of the winding single track. But I tried to keep my mind on running well and being present anyway. For awhile I was able to run and enjoy the sensations of being in the mountains.
By the time we made it up to Swiftcurrent aid station though, the weather was deteriorating. Rain was turning to snow. Hillary was just ahead of me and Anne-Lise Rousset of France was only about 90 seconds ahead of us. Hillary and I made it through some new, rocky, off-trail sections together, and were gaining gradually on Anne-Lise.
It was snowing steadily by that time, and I felt my hands going numb. I could have done a better job of taking care of myself. I wasn’t eating enough or drinking enough water, and I could have changed my gloves or put on a jacket. But I just wanted to keep moving, irresponsibly thinking I would stay warmer if I didn’t stop.
We reached a steady downhill, and before long I was running alone. I lost sight of Anne-Lise ahead and couldn’t hear Hillary behind. My legs started feeling funny, and soon I was cramping. It started in my calves and hamstrings and before long was in my abs and biceps and glutes. They were coming randomly but would worsen if I ran faster. I tried to get out Endurolytes but struggled to get into my pack.
I’ve never cramped in cold weather, so I must have lacked the fitness to run roads for that long. By the time we made it to the bottom of Andesite, Hillary was right behind me and Anne-Lise was about a minute ahead. Hillary passed in the Andesite aid station and immediately opened up and flew downhill.
My legs were still failing me and I was struggling to stay focused and run my best. I tried to avoid worrying about who was behind. I figured Martina and Anna Comet were close and they both also run very fast on downhill.
The final descent is all very runnable single-track and road. The cramps in my legs and arms were continuous but less severe as I slowed down. I tried to run strong into the finish line, but my disappointment was overwhelming. I was ashamed I didn’t keep my mind strong to take care of myself. I still have much to learn.
Hillary caught up to Anne-Lise and finished just 30 seconds behind her for 3rd. Ida Nilsson from Sweden won by a fair amount, and I finished the Rut again in fourth position.
I had to go immediately inside and have a hotel employee help me to my room. I showered for a long time in my clothes before I could get my shoes and kit off. It took several hours to warm up and then I stayed in bed for most of the day before I could eat again. It was such strange lack of energy after a relatively short day.
Later, I talked to Martina who felt very sick during the race and also became very cold. She had to stop running and come back to Big Sky instead of going up Andesite. Anna Comet of Spain also was not feeling like herself. She was able to finish but did not feel well. Both ladies were still very positive and friendly and making no excuses but instead accepting that some days are good and others not so much. I am so inspired by all of these women who are so incredibly strong. I learn so much from them.
Enormous thanks to the Rut race directors Mike Foote and Mike Wolfe and the entire Runner’s Edge team and all the volunteers and sponsors who made the Rut possible. Thanks to La Sportiva NA, Missoula Bone & Joint Sports Medicine and Surgery Center, Ultimate Direction, Hammer Nutrition, Feetures Socks, Tennyson Red, Julbo USA, and the International Skyrunning Federation for the support and making it possible for me to race the Skyrunning World Series this year.
Big thanks to my various doctors who miraculously brought me back to life this year including Rob Amrine of Missoula Bone and Joint, and Jeffrey Friess and Teresita Martinez of the Golgi Clinic. I couldn’t have been out there without your compassion and expertise.
Props to my coach Mike Wolfe of the Mountain Project.
And hugs to my little unicorn pack: my man Drew who was cheering for us from a fire in the Mission Mountains and all the smokejumpers, Dakota Umbel you rock for doing this as your first real long distance mountain race & Adrian for keeping her happy :), Erin Williams and Bobby Jahrig no words for your sweet kindness, Katie Gibson for being there from the beginning and always being there period, and Dan Weiss thanks for always being Dan.