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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

(Happy) Recap: The Rut 11k

The Rut 11k took place on Sunday, September 2 at 8:00am in Big Sky, MT. There are four races in the entire Rut series: VK, 11k, 28k, and 50k.

The Rut takes over Big Sky Resort on Labor Day weekend. Last year we handed out medals for the 28k and knew we wanted to run in 2018. A few of The Rut races sell out almost immediately, so we went to a sign up party back in winter to register for the 11k. The longer distances are pretty extreme, running over scree at 11,000+ft, so the 11k sounded fine to me!

Pre Race
Alex volunteered on Saturday. I would have liked to but we had a friend visiting, so I showed her around Big Sky. Later, we checked into our hotel (as close to the start/finish as we could get!), our friend headed to Yellowstone, and Alex and I settled in for the night.

We woke up a little after 6, got ready, and had a ton of time to kill before the race. About 10 minutes before line up we ambled down to the start and I immediately saw some Bozeman friends.

Bozeman runner friends!

Goals, etc.
I didn't have big goals for this race because my knee had been bothering me since the Missoula Half and Cross Cut. I had to wait almost a month for a PT appointment, but she taped me up and gave me some instructions (smaller steps, quicker cadence). My "big goals" were:

A. Don't finish last
B. Don't hurt your knee
C. Scout the course for next time
D. Finish sub 1:47*
(*because that's how long it took my friends to finish a few years ago and it seemed like a good goal.)

Crappy photo of the start

The Race
I thought I'd run with the Bozeman ladies, but they had their own goals, so I was on my own. We lined up in Wave 2 and we were off. Three tenths into the race–just as I was starting to feel tired on an uphill–we switched from double- to single-track and there was a traffic jam. Alex said this kind of happened in Wave 1, but he didn't have to walk much. Honestly, I was kind of thankful. The walking was easy–we weren't climbing a big hill–and it allowed me to warm up. It was pretty annoying to be stuck behind so many people, but I wasn't going for speed, so I just tucked in. Looking back, I'd probably start at the front of Wave 2 and not the back. 

After about three minutes of walking we started trotting and wound our way through some woods, then emerged on a ski hill. It was a little rocky and the two times I looked around to enjoy the scenery I tripped, but if I kept my eyes on my feet I was ok. It was technically technical, but nothing like the trails the 28k and 50k racers would see. 

Going into this race, I knew there was one BIG climb and then a steep downhill. The big climb started just after mile 1 and lasted until mile 5. It was *only* 1,500ft, so just a teeny bit more than the second climb in Cross Cut, but knowing this race was 3 miles shorter with a single tough climb made all the difference. Easy! I can do that.

This is my kind of course. ONE giant climb. That's it. 

We began the climb in a grassy field and I remember turning a corner and seeing the switchbacks ahead. It was a bit daunting to see how far we had to climb, but I stuck with the folks around me.

At mile 3 I ate my gel very slowly. I was still cautious after my terrible gel-induced cramps at Missoula, but this one seemed to go down ok. I took advantage of every flat section and downhill and passed a few people. I was tired and it was hard, but it wasn't the end of the world.

Just before mile 4 we took a sharp switchback and the real climb began. Hoo boy. Not only was this section of trail way rockier and filled with loose dirt, but it was super steep. For less than a half mile we climbed grades betweens 15 and 30%. Woof. 

I was thankful for Cross Cut. I was thankful I tried to climb the steep M trail a week before (and kind of failed, but at least I knew I'd make it). And I was thankful for the guy directly in front of me. He looked super fit (always a boost to be around someone like that–I think he ran the 28k the day before) and had a tattoo on his ankle that I could focus on. There was a guy behind me who'd run this before and kept making funny comments. It was nice to know the people around me were struggling, but that we were all in a good mood.

I totally would have stopped if I was hiking the trail alone or if I'd found myself alone on the course. I think that's important for me to remember: I need to be around people when the going gets tough. If I'm on a trail run with friends I always feel stronger. And in the races I've hated it's usually because I've gone in with a bad attitude, I'm getting passed left and right, and not staying with a group. Sometimes I need to tuck in and follow until I get my strength back.

I know proofs are lame, but people hate this photo company... (there's a whole story)
That super steep bit ended and we were back to 3-15% inclines, which felt "easy." This part of the course included a banked mountain bike trail where it was hard to cut corners because of the slope on the edge. We hit a few false summits, but the people around me kept it light.

I eventually caught up to a Oiselle teammate, which I was not expecting. Honestly, that put a little pep in my step. She wasn't having a stellar day and didn't seem as excited to see me (you know, her injured slowpoke teammate lol), but we chatted until we came to the aid station at the top of the hill.

The aid station sat on a wide access road and marked the beginning of the downhill. For a lovely three tenths of a mile we ran on a wide gravel road. I felt so fast! The course abruptly turned back into the woods and I was faced with an insane downhill. Strava says -38% grade. It looked like a slide. I was thankful to be near my Oiselle teammate because she'd run the race before and slid down on her butt. I followed, happy that I hadn't tried to run it and mess up my leg.

Speaking of my leg: NO PAIN! I'd taped it, but I'd also concentrated on upping my cadence. The biggest test of my knee was the downhill. My PT said to take short, quick, steps to the sides. It worked! I ran the downhills faster than normal. My footing was more confident than Cross Cut's steep descent. I have been stronger on casual trail runs this year vs. last (less trips and falls) and it felt so good to finally feel some progress!

I knew the course was short, so I flew down to the finish (and passed 20+ people according to the split data). I stayed with a pod of other runners, passing some on the short uphills. My Oiselle teammate took off, but I didn't finish far behind. When we came to the final wide gravel trail I sped up, but didn't want to bite it in front of the spectators so I kept myself in check.


Post Race
I crossed the line and wandered around for a while trying to find Alex. I saw one of my Bozeman friends finish and met up with Oiselle teammates. Two of them won the 60+ age group, so we stuck around to watch the awards while drinking free coffee and chocolate milk.

Some Oiselle MT teammates

Leanne and me

Stats and Thoughts
I was so happy when I crossed the finish line and had tons of energy to spare, so I know I could go faster. It was night and day from my bad attitude at Cross Cut. I loved this race! The climb was hard, but the downhill was rewarding.

Time: 1:34:46
Overall: 242 / 498
Gender: 143 / 342
Age Group: 62 / 123

I can't wait to try this again with more training and less knee pain in the lead up. I'd like to say I'd run the 28k, but it's a very exposed course at high altitude, which is not my scenic jam. Additionally (and maybe most importantly) it took a similarly paced Oiselle teammate 7:30 to finish and I don't want to spend that much time on a race that isn't a 50k.

Sunday Fun
Directly after the race Alex and I returned to the hotel and took advantage of the outdoor heated pool and hot tub. It was amazing. Post shower and check out, we headed back to the finish line to watch our friend finish the 50k, then drove home. It was such a lovely Sunday.

I'm jealous of myself and I was there.

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