Last week was finals week, so after I finished up my last test on Thursday morning, we all jumped into the car, and headed east to Bozeman, Montana. We were heading off to run the Old Gabe 50K and would get to visit my Aunt and Uncle who live in Bozeman. Although we had a lot of rain along the way, the drive was easy, and for me it was nice not to have to worry about homework. We stayed Thursday in Kellogg, Idaho, then finished up the drive on Friday morning.
The Old Gabe started at 6, which isn’t terrible early, but since Montana is on Mountain Time, it felt a bit early on Saturday morning. I got up at 4, ate breakfast, then we got in the car and made the 25 minute drive to the Middle Cottonwood Trailhead. The Old Gabe is a double out and back making and M shape, with the start and finish and the middle of the M. This is kind of fun because it allows you to see all the other runners. The race is pretty small, so the trail never feels crowded even with the two way traffic.
When 6 a.m. arrived, I started my watch and we took off up the mountain. The first part of the course climbs slowly along a creek, and I felt strong on this section slowly pulling maybe 30 seconds to a minute ahead of any one else. After the first mile, the trail slowly pulls away from the creek and climbs more steeply up toward Bostwick Pass. As the pitch increased, I started breathing a bit harder and could tell that I wasn’t at sea level any more. Over the next mile or two, the three runners behind slowly made up ground until I found myself sharing the last mile of the climb with Mike Foote, Mike Wolfe, and Mike Lavery. The three of them were chatting a bit, but the elevation made it a bit hard for me to contribute more than a sentence or two.
We crested the first Bostwick and were met with a snowy descent. The first couple steps onto the snow were a bit deep, but soon the snow firmed up a little and we were only sinking in a few inches. Time to open it up and enjoy the glissade! At least, that’s what I though. Unfortunately the snow had different plans. Just as I started to pick up some speed, my next two steps punched in 2 or 3 feet and I took a nice face plant. A little cold, but no big deal since the snow was pretty soft. We were quickly to the bottom of the snow field and beginning the short but steep climb up and over the next Bostwick.
From here, we had a bit more snow and some clumpy, slick mud that made descending slow. We climbed over one last pitch, then began the long descent down to the turnaround at Truman. We quickly left the snow and started down some muddy trail. I was feeling good, so I asked to take the lead and quickly pulled away on the downhill. Somewhere on the descent I was lucky enough to see a pair of elk who quickly left the trail when they saw me. The descent was fun and fast and soon I reached Truman where I saw my Dad and Aunt who were hanging out at the aid station.
As I began the climb back up, I figured I had about 2-3 minutes on the three Mikes who were still running together. No one else passed me for a while as I continued the climb up to the Bostwicks. A couple miles up from Truman, the trail switchbacks a little and I tried to look down through the trees to see how everyone else was doing. Occasionally I caught glimpses of Mike Foote’s yellow North Face singlet, but I could never really tell how far back he was. As best as I could tell, we were still 2 or 3 minutes apart, but as we neared the Bostwicks, the trail grew steeper and Mike started gaining time. After chugging up through the clumpy, slick mud over the North Bostwick, Mike was only 30 seconds behind. After the steep climb back up the snowfield to the South Bostwick, he was on my heels.
As we crested the pass, I tried to take off on the downhill back to Middle Cottonwood and was able to pick up a bit of time on Mike in the first mile. Then I started to get a stitch in my side which made it hard for me to get a full breath. I had to back off the pace a bit, but I realized that Mike was now picking up time on me. I wasn’t thrilled about this since Mike was definitely climbing stronger than I was but I hoped if I could stay in the lead to Middle Cottonwood then I may be able to hammer the final two descents and stay in front.
I reached the turnaround and started up the trail hoping to not to see anyone for a while, but Mike was right there, maybe 15 seconds back. My legs were getting tired by this point, so when Mike caught up to me only a few minutes later, I knew I’d have to work hard to hang with him. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Mike to pull away and soon I was struggling to keep sight of his yellow shirt.
As we began to climb more steeply on our way over to Sypes Canyon, I found myself doing an awful lot of hiking on the ups. Still, I hoped that if I could maintain a solid pace, maybe I could reel Mike in on the descents. After the main climb, there are a few rollers where I hoped to open up my stride and try to make up some ground. Unfortunately as I started to get rolling, I felt the stitch in my side and again was unable to get a full breath. I tried to push through the rollers, but as I started to hit the downhills it became even tougher to breath. At times, it was so bad I had to take walk breaks to suck down a few deep breaths before continuing. While I’d hoped to be reeling Mike in on the section, I quickly realized he must be pulling even farther away.
The descent down to Sypes Canyon was struggle and there were a few times when I wanted to stop. I pushed on to Sypes wondering when I’d see Mike climbing back up. I passed him a while before the turnaround and checked my watch to see how far back I was. I’m not sure why I bothered because Mike was gaining on the ups and downs, plus he looked great. I made the turnaround and was happy to see that no one was on my heels.
The rest of the race was tough, but I knew I didn’t have too far to go which helped boost my spirits a little bit. The climb up from Sypes brought a bit of running initially, but soon found me doing a bit more hiking than I’d like to admit. I struggled on and hoped that I wouldn’t have problems on the final downhill. There was no way I was going to catch Mike, but it would be nice to finish strong, or just finish sooner than later. But when the downhill came, I was reduced to a slow shuffle as the stitch in my side returned. I realized if I went really slow, I could breath enough that I didn’t need to stop to walk, so that how I finished it out. By the end I was counting down the miles, and when the finish line finally came I was happy to be done.
I finished in 6:04, a bit disappointing, but was totally blown away when Mike Foote said he got it done in 5 1/2. Wow! When I ran in 2014, and Jim Walmsley set the course record in 5:26, the course was at mile or two shorter (a bunch of new switchbacks have been added), and had far less snow and mud. I’d equate Mike’s run to about 5 hours on the 2014 course. While my run wasn’t great, I was happy Mike ran so well! He’s running Hardrock in 4 weeks, so I’d expect a strong performance from him!
My Mom and Uncle had run the 30K so they were done by the time I finished. My Dad and Aunt were at the finish too, so all we had to do was hang out, eat, and wait for Jacob to finish up the 50K. It was an enjoyable sunny afternoon, which was a great was to relax after a tough, but beautiful morning run.
After a couple days to reflect, I’m fairly happy with how the race panned out. It didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped, but I realized I need to keep everything in perspective. I’ve been healthy for 8 weeks and this was my longest run since Western States, so given that, I’d have to say I had a pretty solid day. There were a lot of aspects of my race that went really well, but a couple small issues held me back from having a great day. Still, with 8 weeks to get things straightened out, I’m excited for my next trip to Bozeman for the Bridger Ridge Run.