After Zion 100 I purposely didn't have anything on my schedule until The Rut 50k. I got antsy and decided to do Angel's Staircase, but the fires had other plans, so I rolled with it and went back to my original plan of training for the Vertical K and 50k that I somehow decided was a good idea.
The races fell on the weekend between Sam's summer and fall schedules, which allowed us to take several days to get to Big Sky for the big events. Sam was also doing two races, the VK and the 11k on Sunday.
We had a long, squaky, drive to Missoula with our little passenger who does not like being confined for eight hours. The days of her falling asleep for the duration of road time are gone (sigh; they were good while they lasted). We spent the night catching up with Sam's family and a couple of college friends, reminding me of how much I love Missoula. Drinking coffee at my favorite bakery, the vortex of the place gave me the familiar feeling that I could easily slide right back into life there (for the third time). Luckily, we got out of there before I got too nostalgic, and made our way to Bozeman. We (the royal we-thanks, Sam) picked up Beth late on Wednesday night and made our camp close to Big Sky on Thursday. It was close to the highway, but if we pretended that wasn't the case, we had a lovely spot by the river.
Meanwhile, I wasn't feeling well all week. While I had a lingering cold that gave me a good long taper, I also had nausea, which is not a common thing for me, and fatigue that would not quit. I pretty much decided I wasn't racing at all, which was too bad, but a decision that I felt was made for me and I felt so terrible I didn't care. I slept a lot and basically lounged around feeling sorry for myself. Friday morning rolled around, and to my surprise, I felt totally normal. Hmm, that made things more complicated: do I race? If so, do I do both races (probably not the best idea)? If I only do one, which?
You can probably tell where this is headed, but for the sake of my writing practice, I'll continue. The Vertical K was just too unique to pass up. How often do you get to run up a mountain from 7,800ft to 11,180ft in three miles? While climbing isn't my strength, I want it to be. Combine that with the knowledge that this would be the shortest race of the weekend and the excitement surrounding the race, I had no choice but to pick up my bib.
Since The Rut was the final race in the World Sky Running series, my buddies Emilie Forsberg and Anna Frost were there. I got to be fan girl by buying one of Frosty's books for Fiona and taking a photo op. Emilie did the VK, 25k, and 50k (besting her own CR): unbelievable. But back to the races...
There were four waves and I took wave two, despite the fact that Ms. Beth Steen took wave three. No one likes running uphill more than Beth, so in some ways I was glad she was in the different wave so I could look forward to the point at which she'd blow by me. The "run" itself wasn't too interesting. There was little air, and lots (and lots and lots) of climbing. The route was basically up the ski hill until we hit tree line, then up the south ridge to the top. I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn't dying at mile two (according to my watch), which was about when Beth caught up. I wanted to finish under 1:30 and both remarked at the hour mark that it wasn't as bad as we thought it would be, and then Beth had some wise words: "unless the last half mile takes forever." Ah, yes, the last half mile that is over 10,000. I decided to focus on my footing so I wouldn't fall off the mountain and got into my ultra mindset: "this is my life now and I'm just going to do this forever." It usually keeps me from thinking how long a race feels and lets me let go of any kind of expectations I have. I worked so well that when I heard Sam (who finished 22nd overall!!!!!), Beth and Martin cheer for me, I continued my slow slog. Finally I heard Martin say, "Alison. You've got 50 feet." I figured it was probably ok to run the finish, and crossed the line in 1:25 before starting my coughing fit. Thanks to Martin, who captured the amazing finish on film.
We took the gondola down, walked down and around (up, even!) to another lift to get back to the base. One really neat thing was getting passed by an 11 year old. He was with his parents (who I actually knew from Missoula) which made me warm and fuzzy thinking of Fiona doing something like this with us sometime. He did the 11k on Sunday, too: so cool!
Saturday we headed up to the mountain to catch the finish of the 25k. Again, it was just so neat to watch the best in the world. I can't say enough good things about the organization of this race. The Mikes put together a clearly world class event, but it still had the community atmosphere that I love so much about this sport. As the day went on, I couldn't decide what to do about the 50k the next day, or rather it was becoming hard not to think about giving it a try. I figured I could at least get some good altitude training in.
It was typical fall Montana weather at the start: dark, clear, and cold. I knew I'd warm up quickly, but still wore gloves and a hat, which I ended up wearing all day. We (the second wave) were off by an elk call at 6:05 and started up the service road. It seemed that people were going too fast, but my last race was a 100 miler, so I guess it's all in your perspective. I let people go by, knowing that I can make up a lot of time on descents, and there was a long day ahead. Jogging up the road pretty quickly turned to hiking up a steep mountain bike trail, which meant some bottlenecking, but it gave me occasional forced breaks to catch the best sunrise I've seen in a while.
We finally got to the top of the climb and were rewarded with some really fun downhill running. Of course that ended too quickly (though it's hard to get excited about a long descent when you know you have a lot of ascending to do), before it was back to a road to traverse the mountain. At this point, I knew my legs had nothing and that I felt depleted. Not being able to eat much in the week leading up to the race was surfacing. I didn't throw in the towel at the first aid station (but thought about it), knowing that I'd be back through there after some mostly runnable miles. After the aid, we got onto more single track and had more descending. As we meandered around a lake and began to climb back out, I was already getting cold so I stopped to put on my jacket and put on a podcast to keep me company. I knew I was going to call it a day at the next aid station, since that was before the climbing began in earnest and a spot where I could easily get back to the base. The rest went according to my plan: I dropped at the aid station and then walked back to the start, while learning about the new USATF team invitational (interesting!).
The timing was such that Sam had just finished his 11k and was fifth! His sister also ran the 11k, so it was great seeing her finish. Before we knew it the first 50k runners began finishing and again, it was so neat to see the world's best compete. The weather was perfect for spectating, so we hung out in the sun while people came through. Rock star Beth passed two guys right at the finish and looked like she was just getting warmed up.
While the 50k didn't go as originally planned, our Montana trip was great: family and friend time, mountain time, and race time. The weather was spot on, and the race weekend was really inspiring. I'll definitely be back next year, and plan on not being sick before hand. Until then, the time has come for me to take the summer as a wash and get strong and fast with shorter stuff for a while.