But runners packed the check-in booth. Every hallway was clogged. More than 160 men and women were already running along the 50K course (nearly 31 miles) somewhere between the top of Lone Peak and the inflatable finishing arch perched on the grass under the Explorer chairlift. Both the 50K and 12K fields had been sold out for weeks. Turns out there are many insane people unwilling to bow to the elements. Race founders Mike Wolfe and Mike Foote banked on this type of dedication from Montana’s tight-knit trailrunning community. Wolfe and Foote, who both live in Missoula, have spent years running ultra marathons around the world, and they wanted to bring that challenge and camaraderie home to a Montana venue. (An ultra marathon is defined as any race beyond the standard 26.2-mile marathon distance; the short ones start at 30 miles and long ones go well past the 100-mile mark.) Foote, an ultra-runner sponsored by The North Face, spent the last few seasons brainstorming how to organize a world-class running event at Big Sky. With the help of Wolfe and support from Big Sky and title sponsor The Runner’s Edge, he launched the inaugural Rut. The organizers drew up a 50K race that circled the crown jewel of the Madison Range and gained a total of 10,000 feet in elevation. Some of the best trail runners in the nation would run straight for Lone Peak, dogleg back for an extensive tour of Moonlight Basin, tackle the Headwaters gullies, reach the 11,166-foot summit somewhere around mile 20, and then barrel downhill, nabbing a quick summit of Andesite Mountain on the way to the finish line. For mere mortals, they constructed a 12K version that tackles just Andesite, utilizing the north-facing singletrack to gain the summit in a 7.5-mile roundtrip. My participation in the 12K was intended to be a mild introduction to Montana’s brother- and sisterhood of long-distance suffering. But there’s nothing mild about running up muddy slopes in 40-degree weather. It’s a grind—and the longer I run, the more I realize the grind is what makes it glorious. The weather doesn’t detract, it adds to the experience. Here, between the sweat and the wheezing and the hail of snot rockets, you can look at anyone and share a smile because we’re all in this together.
On the final stretch to the top of Andesite, the pulsing switchbacks that made uphill travel reasonable disappear. The trail aims straight up like a skateboarder’s half pipe, like a big cresting wave of dirt ready to smash down on us. “Goddamn it,” someone yells between heaving breaths. Continued on page 58
living in Montana there are two goups: those who came here for mountains, and those who stay here because of them.”