How I Won the Blue Mountain 30k

A Race Report by Mark Schleicher


*The Blue Mountain 30k took place on October 6th 2013.   The race, which started in 2010, is put on by local Missoula running store Runners Edge for the benefit of the Hellgate Cross Country Program.  The local community has really taken to this race - which is currently the longest trail race in the Missoula area.  Make sure you sign up for the 2014 event and start training early!

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*Mark earlier this year at the Pocatello 50m race in Pocatello, Idaho 

The gun rang out through the chilly morning and we were off.  I shot straight for the front of the field and ran comfortably in the lead on the early pavement.  As we hit the trail at the Blue Mountain Trailhead I was in second and content to follow the leader for the first part of the race.  When the grade turned steeper I knew it was my turn to go.  I put my head down and ran hard passing the leader who I’d never see again…WAIT A MINUTE…that’s not what happened at all, sorry.  Ok, ok, so I didn’t cross the finish line first.  However, I still won the Blue Mountain 30K!  I’ll get to that later though.  Here is how my morning run at the Blue Mountain 30K really went.  

I woke up to a quiet house to get ready for the run – my wife, Holly, and my 2 boys, Cedar and Leo, were sleeping in on this Sunday.  I ate a couple of pieces of toast with peanut butter and honey and drank a cup of coffee and I was off – driving to a trail run in my own home town.  I love Missoula!  The sun was dawning and the morning looked perfect for a run in the mountains.  I was excited for some time out on the trails.

After picking up my race shirt and number, I sat inside the Peak trying to keep warm (thanks Peak for letting us crash your beautiful facility for the morning).  I was more nervous before this race than usual because I my training had been less than I would have liked.  I signed up for this race on the first day it opened as this race fills up extremely fast! About a month before I signed up I had finished my best (and most enjoyable) run ever – the Pocatello 50.  After that I felt pretty indestructible.  Also, when I signed up for the race I only had one son.  As I hit submit on my online registration I knew that I only needed to maintain a bit of fitness until October – no problem right?

photo 3I heard the starting gun and off we went.  It was a beautiful morning.  The sun was shining and fall was in the air.  I had a great feeling as we started the short jaunt up the pavement to the trail that would loop us through the Blue Mountain Recreation Area.  Before I continue I should mention that I’m a mid-pack runner.  I’m not the fastest trail runner but I absolutely love the feeling of climbing and descending on a rocky dirt trail.

Since I knew that I wasn’t trained well I started out nice and easy down the road.  My mantra for the first part of the race was to be controlled and relaxed.  When we picked up the trail I felt great but was definitely holding back.  We made our way across the beautiful meadows and then dropped down onto one of my favorite trails in Blue Mountain – 3.01.  The ~4 mile climb was great for me.  I run this route often and I find the gentle pitch perfect for turning my legs over and getting into a good rhythm.


My race plan was working great so far.  I was following a group of about 4 runners that seemed to be setting a nice relaxed pace for me but all of a sudden, after a short time on the climb, they all stopped running.  Bummer.  Should I relax as planned and just hike with them?  Or should I move on past and push my limits a little bit?  As I said earlier, I like this climb a lot.  So, ignoring my better judgment I jumped off the side of the trail and passed my pace group.  I was now on my own.  I ran comfortably and controlled…or so I thought.  With each switch back I looked back to see how my group was doing.  I wanted confirmation that I was pulling away from them.  Well, I was and this further fueled my desire to push ahead.

Well, my plan of relaxing had gone out the window and I now found myself gliding past other runners on the climb.  I felt good, in fact I felt great!  I couldn't help but remember Holly’s advise to me the day before which went something like, “don’t run too hard and hurt yourself – you know you weren't able to train for this race.”  So, as all husbands should, I listened to my wife's advice and backed off of my pace for a bit.  However, after just a 
hundred yards or so I found myself pushing the throttle again.  
Oops! again my brain was telling me to relax but my body was saying "Go! Go!"

By this point you might be wondering why I had not trained for this race.  Well, shortly after I registered for the race my second son, Leo, was born on July 22.  Let’s just say time was a bit short with two young boys, out of town visitors and heading back to work only 2 weeks after Leo’s birth.  On top of that, when I did have a sliver of time I wanted to spend it with my family not by myself in the woods!  Sometimes in life running just has to take a back seat.  I ran whenever I could find time but the longest run between Leo’s birth and the race was only about 8 miles.  But don’t stop reading now…I didn’t tell you how I won the Blue Mountain 30K yet!

photo 2

After the climb the course does a short little loop, passes an aid station and then begins a beautiful descent through a gulch.  The descent was fun, beautiful and fast.  I was smiling ear to ear and having the best time.  Unfortunately, the descent ended after a couple of amazing miles and the trail tilted upward again.  I kept telling myself "you could handle this, you can do this."  That was when I realized that I was barely hanging on.  My legs were spent and I was only half way into this race...  I passed the next aid station at about mile 8.5 and was directed onto a gradual climb up the road.  I was already physically tired and the road was starting to wear on me mentally.

Luckily the road didn’t last for too long and the route jumped back on single track.  I also remembered at that time that I had my iPod in my pack.  I hiked and fumbled around with my tunes for a bit before calling upon Arcade Fire to pull me along the second part of the course.  It was a great choice as it brought a smile to my face as I reminisced about being blown away by this band at a past Sasquatch music festival.  I hiked and ran when I could up the high point on the course.  My legs were beat but I was having fun again.

I made it to the highest point of the course and stumbled around for a bit before the aid station crew pointed me back down the mountain.  As I turned to start running again, I heard a familiar voice shout “Good Job Mark!”  Thanks for the encouragement Patrick!  It's amazing the impact of hearing a familiar voice or seeing a familiar face can have when you are hurting.  Patrick's encouragement really helped me push hard on that descent.

The rest of the race could be summed up with the following thoughts running through my head, “my legs hurt, it’s beautiful out here, I can’t wait to stop running, it’s beautiful out here, my legs hurt" and repeat!  I finally made it off the trail and back onto the pavement that would take me to the finish.  I pushed my tired legs down that final hill until I saw the most amazing thing (I know what you are thinking but it wasn't the finish line): Holly, Cedar and Leo in his Bob stroller.  There was my supportive family! A huge smile came to my face and the pain in my legs seemed to disappear.  I ran over to them and told Cedar, our 4 year old, to come with me.  Seeing my family is my absolute favorite part of any race.  Cedar started to skip alongside me with his hand in mine as we made our way to the finish.  While we were running together he kept saying, “We’re going to win daddy!  We’re going to win daddy!”  When we crossed the finish line he screamed, “We won daddy! We won daddy!”  After finishing with my little boy, I definitely believe that I won the Blue Mountain 30K!  It was a great run, on a beautiful morning, in a beautiful setting, in a great town with my great family!


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*Mark celebrating his Blue Mountain 30k 'win' with his son Cedar.

*Mark would like to extend a big thanks to the Runners Edge and race director Mike Foote for organizing and putting on a great race and to everyone who came out that morning (other runners, aid station volunteers, Hellgate Cross Country teams, fans cheering along the way.)  Mark is a local Missoulian who shares his time on the trails with his family and generating support for the University of Montana!




1 comments:

  1. Great story! Sounds like this guy really knows what its all about.

    ReplyDelete

 

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