Somewhere around mile 20 I tried to remember why I had signed up to run the Scout Mountain Ultra Trail 100K, a 62 mile mountain race with almost 13,000 feet of elevation gain.
It wasn’t that I was particularly hurting. Yes, my IT band ached and unusually warm heat was starting to bake the area, forecasting ever warmer temperatures as the clock ticked toward noon. But that’s par for the course with an ultra.
I just couldn’t remember why exactly I wanted to run this race, or any ultra race. All I knew is that I would spend the rest of the day hop scotching from one aid station to the next – working my way through the 62 miles in 6 to 9 mile increments – and something good would come from it, more than just Facebook likes.
It felt simple. And terrifying.
Not too long after that mile 20 conundrum I caught up to someone named Jeremy. From several yards back, I thought to myself, I wonder if he wants company. I was ready for a distraction. To pass the hours chatting about nothing – or everything – with a friendly stranger.
Jeremy turned out to be just the person I was looking for. We talked about family, jobs and secrets to running ultras. (Who knew that mustard helps relieves cramps?). We stopped at every single stream crossing to pour cool water over our heads, and soak our hats and bandannas. Occasionally, I even iced my knees in the snow melt, hoping my IT band would see me through the second half of the race.
The 2015 winner of the 100K, Ben Lewis, wrote this about the SMUT in his race report: The entire first leg and the descent off of Scout Mountain in the latter third of the race showcase the kind of terrain best referred to as running porn: buttery single-track turns in pine forest, lush meandering ridges, spring wildflowers, soft and tacky trail. It is an ecstatic sensory experience.
It sums up the course well. The views and wildflowers and tacky dirt helped me stay present and feel alive.
Jeremy and I jogged into the mile 40 aid station together. My parents and daughter were waiting patiently – and enthusiastically – for me. Check out these awesome vids of my flower child playing the air guitar and drums to pass the time.
My family offered me a chair. For the first time since the start of the race, I took it. I needed food, fluids and a change of socks and shoes. The aid station was staffed by the physician’s assistant program at the local university, and before I knew it some brave volunteer was tending to my water-logged feet, which I’ll admit I didn’t even know needed tending to.
Half a quesadilla and lots of kisses from my daughter later, I was back on to the trail, headed for the crux – the hottest part of the course with the steepest climb. Before me lay Scout Mountain, a roughly 3,500 foot slog to the summit.
I plugged into my old-school iPod Nano. It was filled with tunes like Forever Young by Alphaville, Time Go by Caught a Ghost and Time to Run by Lord Huron. I suddenly felt so happy and energized.
Ah, what irony. My favorite part of the day was turning out to be the toughest part of the course. All those winter backcountry skiing climbs were paying off. I felt like I was flying up Scout Mountain.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, they did. The aid station half way up Scout Mountain was serving chilled broth. And, this seriously was the highlight of my day. The volunteer told me it’s her tradition to make broth for this race. I told her I’d be back next year just for the broth. It was so good. It’s amazing what totally makes you over the moon happy when you’re at mile 46-ish of a race.
Soon I was cresting the summit of Scout Mountain, burying my knees in snow fields, and stuffing that same snow in my bra. And, then began the descent. I hobbled and I hurt. The steep rocky trail crushed that high I’d felt only an hour earlier. I wondered how I’d get down.
And, then I stopped wondering, and just started down. Slowly but surely. Surely and then a little faster. A little faster and then a lot of faster. Suddenly, I was able to run again.
In that moment, I remembered at least one of the reasons I had signed up for the SMUT. The feeling of getting a second (or third, or fourth) wind is the best. To go from hobbling to cruising is almost a lesson for life. After a low comes a high.
I rolled into the final aid station, greeted by my family. I refueled and headed out for the final 6 miles to the finish. I was halfway up the hill leaving that aid station when I realized I forgot my hat and sunglasses. So be it. I was halfway down the hill on the other side when I got passed by a gal – the first female I’d seen in hours. So be it.
We dipped through a gully and started a climb on the other side. The gal who passed me was only about 30 feet ahead of me. And I still had umph in my uphill legs. My competitive side kicked in. I was going to give it all I had. If this gal had more in her than I had in me, more power to her. And, if not, I just might squeak out a podium finish. I didn't know the standings exactly, but early on in the race I had noticed only one or two gals ahead of me.
I passed the gal and didn’t look back until I got to the top of a rolling mountain. Honestly, I was surprised when I didn’t see my competitor right on my heels. I ran down the backside, thinking about the training run I had done on that trail a couple of months earlier.
My friend had commented during that training run that I’d be so excited when I got to this point on the trail during the race. And I was excited. Adrenaline took over and I ran hard the last two miles into the finish.
I crossed the finish line at 15 hours and 37 mins, taking third place overall among women. My parents and daughter showered me with hugs. And a crowd of people cheered for me and smiled at me.
It had been five years since my last ultra run, when I did the Bighorn 50 miler unknowingly 4 weeks pregnant.
As I staggered around wearing a goofy grin, my why came flooding back. I run long distances in the mountains because of how it clears my mind and because of the companionship I find there – because it's my happy place.
A huge thanks to my parents and daughter for being such an amazing support crew. You helped make the aid stations a wonderful oasis. And thanks to race director Luke Nelson for putting on such a well-organized, fun, challenging and down-to-earth race – and to the warm-spirited volunteers for making it happen, especially the man who tended to my feet and the woman who served up broth.
If you missed my March post about deciding to run this 100K, you can check it out here.