as usual, it is 3:30 am post race and after several hours of trying to sleep I have given up. Small fits of sleep interrupted by dreams of rocks, roots, amazing views, the sudden catch of a toe and the sense of falling, then jerking wide awake. These post race dreams used to frighten and frustrate me, now they simply cause a sigh and sometimes a giggle reminding me of the crazy adventure I just laid out. I saw views from places that most never dare venture, and even fewer do on foot over the course of a single day. So here’s how it went for me….
Race starts in Big Sky Montana. Race directors Mike Foote and Mike Wolfe sought out to create the most difficult 50k in the U.S. Karl Meltzer’s Speedgoat has been touted as the toughest. Having done both this year, when asked which is tougher, I will say, “The one you are doing that day”. I completed this course faster than Speedgoat, but easier? Uhhhh. I did not fear for my life at Speedgoat. I did here. I am afraid of heights and spiders. Fortunately, no spiders on this course.
Race started at 6:05 am. It was below freezing and dark. I had slept well and felt well prepared for this day. We took off on the first climb. 2 miles up single track trail. Runners chatting and joking and settling in to our respective climbing grooves. A trail of headlamps lighting the way. I felt very comfortable on this climb, I knew it would be the easiest of the day. At the top we could see all of Big Sky resort area. We hit some double track dirt roads and descended down onto more single track, through tall grass, trees, and condos. People on their balconies, cheering us on as we came back down into the Madison Village area. My stomach/gut was the only problem starting to arise. Something I ate the night before or breakfast wasn’t settling well and I was starting to have mild to moderate intermittent sharp stomach and intestine pain and cramps. The jarring of running downhill wasn’t helping. I don’t think I slowed much if any, I’ve experienced this before and usually with time (or a trip to the trees) everything settles down. It was making it difficult to get calories in though. I stuck with sport drink called Tailwind, giving me about 200 calories per hour and 20 ounces of water per hour. Any sort of solid, even gels were not going to stay down.
Todd and the kids had planned to meet me at most aid stations, all except the first would require a tram or ski lift ride. Tried as we might, we could not coax our 7 year old Avery to ride the lifts, so the only aid station I would have a shot at seeing them would be the first one at mi 8. I rolled in there and filled my water bottle. The next aid station would be 4 miles away and be a water only aid station. The next full aid station would be at mi 18. No Todd or kids to be seen. I was a bit bummed, but continued on. Within a half mile there they were! I was surprised and thrilled to see them. Big hugs and kisses and on I went.
The next climb to mi 12 again would be a more gradual ascent on mostly single track through tall grass, and forest pines. I chatted some with other runners, as we passed each other going up. We hit the water only aid and I topped off and continued on up onto a dirt road leading to our first steep ascent, the Headlands section. I met a runner from Vancouver, she was having a hard time. She said, “I’m tired, I drove 20 hours and arrived yesterday”. I could tell she was worried as she was not feeling as well as she’d hoped. I told her, You have already completed the first ⅓ of the course. She looked up in shock, “Really?’. Yes really. Break it into sections. Only 2 sections left. This next ⅓ is the hardest section, it’s ok, we’re gonna be tired and it’s gonna be hard, but then the last ⅓ is all downhill except for 1 shorter steep climb that won’t be as difficult as anything we will have done. Just hunker down, and know this next section is gonna be tough. It's ok. Once you get through it, it gets much easier. I could tell she was relieved at least a bit, and we chatted a bit more. It is a crazy thing, how your perspective changes during these long races. 1 mile can literally seem like 50. I have been on courses for 7-8 hours having run 28 miles. Knowing the finish line is only 3 miles away should bolster confidence and relief, but there have been times that the thought of running 3 more miles was overwhelmingly far and even inconceivable.
The stomach pains were increasing in frequency and severity. Fortunately, with climbing there was less jarring. I was starting to ask other runners, “do you happen to have any tums?” Nope. Climb on. “Any tums?”, “uhh no”. Then we hit it. The headwaters section of the trail. Photo credit to Christian Griffith. See the tiny people...er...colored dots? Loose scree on top of gravel/dirt made most steps a slide and the rest a real grunt.
Painfully slow and steep. Trying not to set loose slides that would at the very least aggravate other runners behind, at worst harm them. It was cold and windy. The views were stunning and unearthly. Because of the height and the technicality, I had a hard time looking away from the scree wall in front of me. A lot of hands and feet climbing... and sliding. We finally peaked at around 10,000 ft, my sense of relief was cut short by what lie ahead. A line of runners working their way via a rope line down a crag in the mountain. The only way down. My gloves were not the grippy kind. They were ski gloves with smooth texture. I made my way down hanging on to rope and rock, knowing if I lost my footing I was going a long way down the even harder way. About halfway down, I heard “Rock!” I looked up just in time to dodge a watermelon size boulder coming at a rapid rate careening off the rocks above. I instinctively yelled “Rock!” as well, and fortunately we all avoided it somehow or other. A huge sense of relief coming off that and seein
g the single track ahead, thank goodness that is over! I thought. That sense of relief was far too short lived, as the single track was slick and steep. Very loose fine sand/gravel, mud. I slipped and slid and fell sliding on my ass many times...along with everyone else. Finally, we made it to a dirt road and we started a gradual climb up. At this point I was starting to think my stomach issues were not going to go away. Sharp pains and cramping at mile 16 had me off trail looking for trees. I know this is TMI for most, but all who have run, short or far have or have or will likely experience GI issues on a race course at some point. It’s just part of it. Fortunately, after the call to nature, I was feeling better and thinking that maybe I did not actually have appendicitis or some other exotic and surely life threatening ailment I had concocted in my brain over the previous 16 miles. Bad food was the least creative of ailments I had contemplated. Much more exciting to be life flighted off the mountain, rushed to surgery, and returned to the mountain in time to complete the race. That was the scenario that required the most miles to concoct...Instead, GI distress relieved by a trip to the trees, and runner returned to the course. Cross the chocolate pop-tart off the list of foods to eat pre-race. Hey... judge ye not...choices for breakfast in a hotel at 3am are quite limited and at 9pm in the convenience store, with desert on my mind, pop-tarts sounded like a good choice.
And so we climbed, up to the tram dock aid station at mi 18ish. With my GI distress relieved, I finally ate some solid food. Pringles, cola and a little water. Back dowwwwn the dirt road, mentally preparing for what I anticipated would be the most difficult climb I have ever done. The plan was for me to run this course in a way that I could really race the last 10 miles. The last 10 miles would be mostly down hill and here lies my strength. I am one hell of a slow climber (someday I will be a s
trong/fast climber), but I CAN fly downhill..the more technical the better. It’s like everything is in slow motion when I go downhill. I can see every rock and root in detail, I can gauge how it is going to move when my foot hits it and where to place my next 3 foot steps. It’s a crazy wonderful feeling.
So onward and upward. I moved slow, trying to maintain an even, steady effort without having to stop and gasp for air. Initially it wasn’t so bad. Very steep, but good footing. Then we hit the ridge, I believe it is called “bone crusher ridge”. Here lie a truly terrifying experience for me. It was mostly loose talus (think of a deep pile of broken clay pots with sharp edges in all directions, the pieces do not break when you step on them, they just slide and move). There is no “best place” to put your foot. We were getting close to 11,000 ft. The wind blowing in all directions. thousands of feet down on either side of you as you walk precariously across the spine of a mountain. This spine would narrow in to simply jagged boulders jutting up, like monsters teeth, requiring some bouldering skills I know nothing about. It’s one thing to walk across broken clay pots at 11,000 feet.
It’s a whole ‘nuther level of crazy to cross jagged boulders with thousands of feet drops on either side. It was at this moment I stopped. Perched on a jagged boulder, looking at numerous more jagged boulders ahead. no ropes. I froze. I couldn’t fathom moving forward. Then I suddenly remembered a good friend, James Reeves. I was suddenly back at Hobbs State Park, on the War Eagle 25k trail run. I had blown myself up running as hard and fast as I could, and I was coming up the last little bitty hill. I started to hike, my legs were jello and just had no run at that point. Out of nowhere I heard James yelling, “Enlow! get your ass up here!” I saw him and heard him on that mountain, “Enlow, get your ass up here!” and I started moving again. I knew James wouldn’t be there to greet me, but the aid station at the tippy top was a welcome substitute. Here's Killian Jornet making it look like child's play!
GI distress gone, more pringles and cola in, and off down the other side I went.
2-3 more miles of loose talus fields and sand down I went. I passed every single person that passed me on the way up and a few more. I started to thaw out and warm up a little as we descended. My shoes were getting loads of sand in them. At the bottom, I saw several runners emptying their shoes. I sat down and joined them and we emptied our pillage. Shoes back on and off running again. One little popper hill, then down again to mile 25.
The final steep climb lie ahead. Andesite Mt. Fortunately, It would only be a 1 mile climb, however, it is close to a thousand foot climb over that single innocent mile. On the way up, we would have the distinct pleasure of enduring what signage says is a “downhill only” mountain bike trail. “downhill only” and normally “no hikers allowed” because it is really
#$@! ing steep and there is no way a mountain biker can go up it….on his/her bike, and heaven help the poor hiker that misses the sign and ignorantly tries to climb while a biker is coming down. It was muddy and slick and there were several sections that required a rope to climb. I encountered the first of these sections. “Really?” 25 miles and God only knows how many thousands of feet of vertical climbing and descending my legs have done and now I have to climb a mud hill using a rope to hoist myself? This is where I broke down and cursed the race directors. I grabbed the rope and reminded myself as I laughed, “Lori, now use your LEGS to climb, not your arms”, bwahahahaha. I believe there were 3 rope climbing sections on that course. I cursed race director Mike Wolfe on the first one, Mike Foote on the second and Karl Meltzer on the 3rd for inspiring the previous 2 to try to come up with a course more difficult than Speedgoat. . I got a little dehydrated on this climb, ran out of water, and was feeling pretty wiped out. I had 5 miles left, but of course that seemed like 500. I drank plenty of water at the aid station up top, took some ibuprofen, ate chips, drank cola. I looked back down the mountain I had just climbed and saw several girls I had played hopscotch with all day. NO WAY was I going to let them get me again! I took off down Andesite. I ran as fast as I could catching a few more runners. No sight of the girls as I looked back, but just paranoid enough to keep moving as fast as I could to the finish. Ethan and Avery caught me about ¼ mile from the finish and they ran with me, Ethan telling me to “run faster”. The crowd was amazing! They were yelling, horns blowing, cow bells ringing as we ran past, straight through the finish! 9:16 minutes and done!!!! I snagged 5th female in my age division at an international race in a climate I had only tasted at Speedgoat. What an amazing day! The most amazing race I have ever completed.
Here the kids are running mommy to the finish...