Pictures sometimes really do tell the story best, here is one of my favorites.
The weather in Big Sky had been deteriorating slowly over the course of the weekend. Saturday night it rained and the temperature was dropping. I kept adding items to my gear bag one by one as the evening wore on thinking it would be prudent to exercise caution instead of risking freezing my ass off. Plus I was planning on running with my vest so could always stow clothes if it warmed up.
Start time was 6:00 AM and this time of year that meant the sun was not yet up so headlamps were recommended. The organizers were going to let you ditch them at the first aid station if you had your name all over your lamp. I did not. Turns out stuffing it in my pack was not a big deal.
Upon showing up everyone was huddled into the packet pickup tent as they had propane heaters roaring.
I discovered that the lodge was open and it had a clean restroom so I spent the last few minutes before the gun in there.
By the start conditions had improved! Although it was freezing (literally!), the sky was almost totally clear and the starry night was an incredible sight. In the end I opted for a light weight long sleeve shirt under my short sleeve running shirt, a super light wind shirt over that and a hat and gloves. I also wore some boxer brief type shorts liners under my running shorts that help insulate my junk. I run kind of cold and so this worked very well. It also eliminates chafing - just FYI. I saw some other people that wore less but it wouldn't have worked for me and when the day did warm up my two shirts were sufficiently thin and wicked moisture sufficiently well that I didn't mind them at all. And I was able to stow the wind shirt, hat and gloves while moving.
At the the start the person on the microphone said, "We got a couple of inches of snow at the top last night but that's what you all came here for!" Amen brother.
We started in waves again so I got to see two groups of headlamps disappear up the hill before we were let go. Man was it dark.
And man are these dirt roads steep! Or perhaps it was the elevation? Probably both, anyway I was moving s l o w. Thank goodness everyone in my wave was moving at the same speed. Except for one guy, he squirted up the road at first only to be reeled in about one mile later.
Just after we caught the rabbit we exited the dirt road and headed straight up a grassy slope and then onto some singletrack. There was indeed a light dusting of snow on the ground even down here.
The first climb was tough! And from my very cursory inspection of the course profile I knew there were four (big ones anyway). Ouch! Let's just say that at this elevation my transition from hiking to running was a little more delayed than it would be down at sea level.
After the first climb there was quite a bit of running to the first aid station, for some reason I was not expecting that. And it was FUN running! Mostly you are heading down MTB trails so the corners are banked and except for a couple of spots you can stay off the brakes. Nice.
The first aid station was at one end of a frozen bridge.
I grabbed a gel and stashed my light as I walked away, I was out of there pronto.
Between the first and second aid station there was even MORE running. I really was not expecting that. And for some reason it felt like it was mostly downhill, at least at first.
ASIDE - in spite of me knowing that I had to climb all the way to the top of Lone Peak again and knowing that the Lone Peak climb was just one of four BIG climbs, it still unnerved me a bit to run down for this long. Funny how the mind can play tricks on you. I mean, it's not like running downhill will increase the total gain of the course but sometimes it sure feels like it will.
As I pulled into the 2nd aid station there was the one and only Scott McCoubrey! He filled my bottle while someone else helped me rip open my packet of Perpetuem. turns out my hands were colder than I thought. Another Hammer Gel and two Endurolytes and I was walking away as Scott yelled after me, "This climb is a good one!" I bet it is Scott, I bet it is.
Boy was it ever.
It started out with some singletrack switchback climbing. I was able to jog most of the sections between the turns but then it pitched up something fierce and we were no longer on any designated trail. All that guided us was these teeny, tiny yellow flags and the footprints of the first two waves. Pretty cool! And because one climb between aid stations is not enough, we descended our first scree slope too.
And then this course got real. Real steep. Real hard. Really everything I was hoping for. Pictures most likely won't do this justice but I'll give it a shot.
First we hiked up this grassy/rocky spine that was so steep your heels could not touch the ground.
Then we went across and up a HUGE scree bowl.
The scree climb lead into a dirt climb that was so steep everyone was using both hands. It didn't flatten out any until about 50' from the top where I used the opportunity to grab another picture.
And then the course immediately plummeted down the other side.
Once over the next ridge this is me trying to run...
I try not to use the word epic a lot but damn... take a second and scroll back up to the picture at the very top of this post. I know, right? I was loving it.
Finally, aid station three. And here was another friend - Anthony Krolczyk - ready to take care of me. Lucky for me all I needed here was 15 seconds in the porta potty and I was off. What was next you ask? Why another really steep climb of course. This was mile 18 and the start of our trip up to the Lone Peak summit.
Note the distance to the top. There was another aid station at the top. These aid stations were spaced according to how much time it would take runners to reach them, not according to how far apart they were. Nor sure but I'm guessing it took me close to one hour. For 1.4 miles. Is this sinking in yet?
My pictures of the climb are just mediocre but I do have one good story. All the way up there were people cheering us on. About half way up there was a guy with a pack full of Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboys cheering between sips of beer. As I trudged past I jokingly said, "I hope you brought enough to share..." and he promptly held out a fresh can. I took a good, long drink, handed it back and judging by his facial expression it made his freaking day. Mine too. That was very nice and it didn't taste half bad. And it made me think of Kelly Agnew, running superstar and even bigger beer mile superstar. And that made me smile.
Just before the top a woman that I had been leapfrogging all day (she was climbing better and I was descending better) passed me yet again. As I pulled into the aid station I watched her grab something from a friend, barely break stride and disappear down the back side.
Me, I stopped for peanut M&Ms. And then I started the descent.
It's hard to describe what running on this scree is like. It requires equal amounts of skill and faith. Most of the time when you put your foot down the rock underneath moves, sometimes quite a lot. You could never be too invested in any foothold that's for sure. I tried to capture this experience and suddenly thought, "Martin, what the hell are you doing!?" and put my camera away for a while.
What a rush. Totally unforgettable. And after I stashed my camera, I actually ran down this. Did I mention that I caught that woman again in spite of her having a several minute head start? That's right. :)
This descent just went on and one and on... Eventually the scree turned into a steep, loose dirt trail so I was surfing the dust and gravel. It felt like tons of shit was getting in my shoes but for now I couldn't be bothered.
Down, down, more down and then a couple of ups. Man did those climbs mess with my rhythm. On the upside I had the chance to talk to the woman I caught and then I caught up to another. Seems each one needed me to stuff something in their packs so I obliged them. I did think it was kind of humorous as I had just finished stowing my own wind shirt, hat and gloves but in their defense, they looked a bit more serious than me. And they weren't carrying a camera. Competitive racer alert! :)
After a couple of ups we did have a long descent on dirt trail. It was obvious to me that these two women were better climbers than I was and that they were racing each other so I figured I would try to put enough space between me and them before the start of the last climb so that I could beat them. Everyone has to have a goal, right?
I managed to bank a decent gap and as I started the last climb I kept listening intently. There was a support person at the transition from down to up with a cowbell so I knew that when I heard the next bell I would have a sense of the gap. And when I heard the bell the gap seemed like it would be sufficient. But then the trail got steep. As in straight up.
We were hiking up a black diamond MTB trail and being an advanced trail it had freaking ramps on it!
Ramps are fun. When you're going down. And you're on a bike. Going up we had to climb up and over them. Hahaha... very funny race organizers. But it gets even better. Sections of the trail were so steep that there were fixed ropes!
Now that's hilarious. Especially since this was not the only one.
Just as I was about to blow the trail topped out onto a dirt road and the grade eased quite a bit. But I was still walking. And sure enough, just 100' from the aid station both of the women that I had dropped passed me. And they did it with a vengeance! Once again they both flew through the last aid station and I stopped for food and to fill a bottle. I never saw them again.
Normally (read: when I'm not exhausted) I would do fine on this last stretch. It was several miles of a shallow descent and if you had any juice left you could haul. I was pretty out of juice at this point and 'hauling' for me had been reduced to a jog by now.
It was here that I saw the funniest (cruelest?) thing on the course.
Gotta love that dark sense of humor.
It was killing me that I couldn't run fast anymore. This terrain just begged for it.
Somewhere down here I also got passed by one guy. Rats.
From my all too brief course inspection I knew that there was a short hill right at the very end of this beast. What I found out was that after 29 miles of this it feels anything but short. Did I mention it was steep? Oh yes. My balls were already so sore from getting kicked so thankfully I didn't even feel this last foot to the groin. But boy did I slow down.
And then, finally, it was time for the last descent behind the village hotels and into the finish.
Remember all that sand that got in my shoes descending from the summit of Lone Peak? Well I got super lucky and it didn't wear a hole in my feet. But I did feel it during those last five miles and I really should have emptied my shoes.
It was in fact a great day! Not only did my feet hold up fine, so did the rest of my body! Sure I was tired and sore but I was not injured and it was a good kind of tired. Not the kind you are worried it might take physical therapy and weeks to recover from. Hooray for me!
What does Martin do after a massive run? For starters I had a beer.
And I took my shirt off.
And I got a (free!) massage.
There were so many things that made this race special.
- The weather totally cooperated. Had it been wet or cold we would have had a miserable experience or been forced to run the "Plan B" course and it would not have been nearly as spectacular.
- The volunteers! There were so many! They were all super nice!
- Skyrunning, hello! It was very cool to hear all these French and Spanish conversations at the start and finish. And to see all these pros in one place? Fun!
- The race directors are great. Mike Foote and Mike Wolfe get the job done, they do it well, and they are still willing to give you the time of day. In fact, Foote took the time to chat with me during what must have been a very hectic day for him. Thanks Mike.
- Having Hammer Nutrition sponsor this event. I can't describe how awesome it is to have all the stuff I love and use on a regular basis ready and waiting for me at each aid station.
- I finished!
- I finished relatively pain free!
Here are all my pictures and videos.
|Nutrition||3 large Water Bottles each w/2 scoops Perpetuem and 2 Endurolytes, 6 more Endurolytes, 4 Hammer Gels, banana, 1/4 of a PB&J, small handful of peanut M&Ms, a couple of potato chips, 2 bottles of Hammer HEED|
|Recovery||water, massage, stretching|
|Time of Day||6:00 AM|
|Weather||30 at the start, upper 60s at the finish, dry, sunny, very windy up top|
|Course||10,000' of elevation gain, 'nuff said.|
|Results||2nd - men 50-59|
|Equipment||Brooks Cascadia 10, Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0|
|Clothing||Injinji Trail 2.0 Midweight Mini-Crew, Brooks Equilibrium CoRe Short, Brooks Infinity 3" Split Short, Patagonia silkweight Capilene long sleeve top, Hammer Nutrition Short Sleeve Running Shirt, Patagonia Nine Trails Jacket, Hammer Nutrition SweatVac Winter Beanie, Brooks Pulse Lite Glove II|