The Rut 50k Recap

by Jeremy Wolf

The Rut 50k at Big Sky was my third ultra race of the year, and of my life.  It had been a month and a half since a missed turn at Speedgoat lead to a DNF, so I was ready for some redemption on a tough mountain 50k.  The main goals for the race were A) to finish and B) get a spot on the podium C) enjoy the experience.
The morning of The Rut, I awoke at 6 am to a steady stream of rain coming down.  As it gradually started to get light, the crowd of 200 runners shuffled outside to the starting line a few minutes before 7am.  With a sounding of the elk bugle from an invisible Mike Wolfe decked out in camo, the race was on.  After a quick push up the short starting hill to the service road I settled in around 11th place next to Patrick Murphy.
Lone Peak from Big Sky Resort the night before The Rut.
My strategy for this race was to run comfortably for the first half until the top of Lone Peak at 29k.  After this point it was a predominately downhill run to the finish which I felt suited my strengths. 
The first climb was nice single track through the forest up to the 4k point.  I ran and hiked at a comfortable pace through the climb and gradually lost ground to Patrick and the leaders.  At the top of the climb, there is a sharp right turn off the service road which I missed.  Fortunately a few guys behind me shouted to let me know I missed the turn.  After the race, I learned that winner Paul Hamilton had missed this turn as well and had added a few extra minutes to his day.
Now back onto some great single track, it was a long gradual downhill through Moonlight Basin for the next 10k.  This was a really enjoyable section of the course to run.  Hopping over puddles while taking in smells of a damp forest brought a smile to my face.  I was able to take my mind off of racing and just enjoy the beauty of my environment while gliding down the mountain. 
I passed a couple people while running alone for the majority of the down hill.  At 12.5k I could hear cheers for runners ahead of me as I approached the Madison Village aid station.  Carrying my pack with gels and water, I had everything I needed on board so I kept running through the aid station.  At the next switchback I looked down and caught a glimpse of a pack of runners including Patrick and three others.  I didn't know what place I was in at this point and it didn't matter since there was still plenty of racing left.
The next 10k was uphill to the Tram Dock at 26.5k.  For the first half of this section, I ran comfortable always staying 30sec - 1min behind the pack of runners.  As the climb got steeper, I started hiking and  lost a lot of time to the runners ahead.  Near 20k into the race a runner quickly closed on me from behind and passed.  Turns out this was eventual race winner Paul Hamilton who had gone off course earlier on. 
Climb up to Tram Dock aid station.  Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer
The beauty of the last 1.5k climb up to the Tram Dock is that it is the only out and back section on the course. The out and back section allows you to see all the runners ahead of you as they come back down the road from the Tram Dock.

Here's the order of runners as they came by me after the turn around.   Ranging from about 5minutes to 2 mintues ahead;  Matt Shryock, Mark Handelman, Luke Nelson, Patrick Murphy,  Paul Hamilton, Alan Adams, putting me in 7th.  While not feeling great on this climb and knowing I'd been loosing time to the pack I was actually feeling good about being in 7th and knew there was plenty of racing left. 
At the Tram Dock aid station, I grabbed my hiking poles from the drop bag and attached them to my pack.  I was glad to have the poles on board as I new I'd be leaning on them for the push up to Lone Peak.  Running downhill, from the Tram Dock I was immediately rejuvenated and ready to get back into contention. 
Heading up Bone Crusher Ridge.  Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer
When I arrived at the ridge trail I was told that it was 2,000ft of climbing to the top. I was glad to have the poles in hand, as I was able to use my upper body to assist with the climb. About a quarter of the way up the ridge, a cold wiping wind had chilled me to the point where I decided to put on my windbreaker and gloves. 

Once I was warm, I really started to enjoy the ridge section of the course. I remember looking a thousand feet down towards the Tram Dock and marveling at how this section of the course was entirely different than the previous 29k. The ridge climb provided a totally new environment to travel through, and I was again refreshed to experience a new type of adventure on this course. As I climbed, I was intently focused on placement of the poles. The entire ridge is made of small, loose talus, requiring accurate placement to ensure the poles do not slip as I push up. While the poles may have slowed me down slightly, the assistance they provided my legs was well worth it. 
In the clouds. Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer
The final 300ft of the climb was engulfed in a cloud bank hovering over Lone Peak. I got to the aid station where an awesome female volunteer filled my water bladder while I put down some orange slices and stowed the poles. Visibility was not good on top, so the volunteer steered me towards the direction of the course and even ran with me to make sure I headed off the right way. Thanks!

This is the point where my race really began. I’ve always tended to be a good downhill runner and there was now a bunch of it coming up. About a quarter mile from the top, I passed Mark Handelman who was gingerly making his way down the loose, sharp, and wet talus. I’m sure Mark was freezing as he was in a t-shirt and I apologized that I had no clothing to offer him on my way by as I moved into 6th place.
Now out of the clouds and in the wind shadow of the mountain, things warmed up and I stashed the jacket and gloves. About ¾ of the way down I caught up with Alan Adams and kept barreling onward, now in 5th place. I had no visual site on anyone ahead of me. After a stretch of off trail running just looking for the green flags, I arrived at the base of the Dakota Lift, where it was time to go up again. 
This next stretch was largely up and down service roads, allowing me to really stride out on the downhills and keep a good pace on steep and consistent climbs. At the 40k mark after not seeing anyone for a while, I came upon Tim Brooker who was monitoring the course. He told me Patrick was only a couple minutes ahead. My response to Tim was “Poor guy." I said this not to sound cocky, yes I was feeling good, but more because I have a history of passing Patrick during the latter stages of races (2012 Pengelly Double Dip & Bridger Ridge Run). As soon as I reached the next service road I saw Patrick ahead at the top of the climb. From here it was all uphill climbing to Andesite and the last aid station at 40k.
This section of the course provided some of the steepest single track trail of the race. And to make it worse, it was muddy, and I saw numerous slide marks from the runners ahead of me. I broke out the hiking poles for this muddy climb and was again glad I had them for the race. As we hit the service road for the last 1k climb to the top of Andesite, the aid station was cheering on Patrick. I came in about a minute behind him and had enough water in the bladder to get me to the end, so I quickly grabbed a couple of orange slices and was now about 30 seconds behind Patrick. I’m sure he was not happy to look back and see me, here we go again.
About 1k from the aid station I caught up to Patrick and asked how he was doing. He said he was in a bit of a "rough patch", but otherwise ok. I told him to keep on charging and moved into 4th place with about 10k to go. From here on I pretty much ran scared, not seeing anyone ahead of me, I just didn’t want to be caught from behind. I cruised down some lovely single track and remembered the course profile showing a small climb near the finish. The climb wasn’t too bad and mostly runnable, although I'd rather it wasn’t there. Running on the hill side above Big Sky village, I could now see that the end was near. 
Says "Start" means "Finish"
With a final push on the service road and down to the finish, I crossed where I had started 5:44:27 earlier. A kiss from my wife and head-butt from my daughter greeted me at the finish line. I debriefed Luke Nelson and the Missoula crew of Mike Wolfe, Justin Yates, and Justin Angle on my race and thoughts of the course. 

While I was shooting for a spot on the podium, I was okay with knowing that Luke had finished 17 minutes ahead of me.  No matter what I could have done differently, I would not have made up that time difference.  Knowing this put me at ease. I ran my race and executed the game plan, and for that I am 100% satisfied. Fourth place is pretty good amongst this crew.

Luke and other stud Missoula ultra runners.
Here are Wolf's take aways from The Rut:
1. The Mikes know how to put on an amazing race.  It was well designed, marked, and executed.  The volunteers and crew from Runners Edge helped to pull this thing off without a hitch, at least that's how it appeared from a racer's perspective.  My only suggestion for improvement is to bump the 50k awards up a few hours from 6pm so folks who want to hit the road can do so sooner.
2. Big Sky Resort has great facilities to support the runners and guests.  This event is poised for more prestige and growth. 
3. Missoula continues to amaze me with its trail running talent!  I've lived here for 3 years and never heard of or seen Matt Shryock, who crushed this course for 2nd place.  At the massage table he later told me this is his only trail race of the year and he's looking forward to getting more into ultra running.  Yeah great idea, this kid is good.

Other stuff
-Link to 50k course map and elevation profile: http://runtherut.com/course/
-Link to 50k Results
-Thanks to Myke Hermsmeyer for the amazing race photos.  You can see his work  at http://www.mykejh.com/ and blog at http://mykehphoto.blogspot.com/

On the red carpet with Team Wolf
Hope to see you at The Rut next year!

Time: 5:44:27
Place: 4th
Date: Sept 14th, 2013

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