Nine miles into the race, for a hopeful minute, I thought I had gotten off course. Surely, I would come across someone soon who would tell me I’m running the wrong way. Surely, I would act upset but be secretly thankful that I now had reason to drop out. But sure enough, that damn yellow flag showed up and let me know I was still on course. I kept thinking to myself that it wouldn’t be too bad to get lost, or to get hurt, or to have terrible stomach issues, because then I would have a good reason not to keep running this ridiculous course. But, unfortunately, I had a good day.
The Rut 50k doesn’t feel like a 50k. It feels closer to 50 miles. In terms of time, it is. This year’s winning time of 5:13 was just 21 minutes faster than the record for the 50 mile Le Grizz, outside of Kalispell. I’ve done the Ridge Run, done Devil’s Backbone, done the Bighorn 100—while some of these may take longer to finish, only The Rut has sections that took some serious internal motivation to get through. It may be the only race where I’ve actually thought to myself “What the hell are you doing? You’re being a bad ass, that’s what”. If none of those other races seem challenging enough (because you’re nuts), then The Rut is a fitting race. It’s tough, it’s nuts, it’s a damn Tough Nutter (like a Tough Mudder, except the only obstacle is trying to stay sane, and it's more like you're running through the mountains away from a hungry pack of wolves--except the wolves are a fast group of Missoulians).
The toughest section of the course comes between miles 17.5 and 22, where you might want a free hand to clamber with. The ascent, at 2,000 feet of climb in less than a mile and half, averages out at a 27% grade. That’s nearly twice as steep as most treadmills will go. Add in loose and slick rocks, add in the altitude, add in circumspect weather and the fatigue of 17.5 already steep miles (in the Ridge Run, you’d be nearly finished), and you begin to get an idea of this section. After that section, you finally get to the difficult stuff.
Lone Mountain is essentially a giant pile of loose rock. Under those rocks are more loose rocks, and more loose rocks lurking beneath those. It’s like a giant pile of sand, where each grain is dinner plate sized and weighs 20 pounds. For three miles after the summit, this chossy pile of death is your reality. Nothing can convince you that the world is a solid place and not falling apart beneath your feet. There is no trail to follow, only flags (unless the mountain goats eat them). I was able to tell my distance from other runners not by sight, but by occasional sounds of rocks sliding and tumbling. There was not running in this section so much as hurriedly trying-not-to-eat-it-and-sliding-shuffling-tumbling my way down the mountain. I came away with a bent toenail and consider myself lucky.
After this, you’re out of the alpine for the rest of the race, and the trails and roads have more secure footing. The steepest part, however, is just ahead. It’s funny how all the most difficult parts are in the second half of the race. One would think it’s a bit sadistic. I imagine it’s only to make the playing field more interesting, but I think only the spectators would find slopes steep and muddy enough to slide down like some kind of not fun waterslide interesting. Going up Andesite, runners are directed to a trail that’s designed only for experienced downhill mountain bikers—who take a lift up, who wear pounds of pads, and who somehow don’t die going off ramps in the middle of a thick forest. Running up this isn’t dangerous at all; it’s just steeper than the rising cost of tuition. Never mind that you can hear the crowds at the finish line right before going up the hill with portal warped gravity from Jupiter. It’s there, staring you in the face three feet away, because it’s that steep.
From the final aid station on Andesite, it’s downhill, mostly. There’s a series of very gradual switchbacks, heading to and then away from Big Sky. At each turn away, I felt in danger of becoming slightly more discouraged and slowing down until speeding up again on the turn back to town. This psychological interval workout went on for about 15 minutes, and somehow no one passed me in this section. After all these mental games, I finished. And there was no free soda. So instead, after having to make a detour to my car for my ID, I had free beer. She said my age listing on the finisher list wouldn’t count, but I bet if I could grow a beard that would count.Afterwards, some people said ‘never again,’ that doing The Rut once was good enough. It would be interesting to see the retention rates of different races, and I imagine down the years The Rut will have a very select crowd of loyal followers. I do not hope to be one of them, but I do hope to come back. I missed my goal time of under six hours by 127 seconds, so there’s a bit of an incentive. Besides this, there’s definitely some allure in the challenge. For the first time, I actually felt challenged on a course—I genuinely felt proud for each person who crossed the finish line because I know everyone there had to really try to finish. No other race has done that to me, because no other has been so tough, or so nuts. This was my first Tough Nutter.
Going up Lone Peak on race day