The Rut. This time last year, on Salomon’s Instagram, I was stunned by photos of Kilian Jornet, Emilie Forsberg, Anna Frost, and many other of my mountain running heroes climbing through the clouds and skating down scree-covered ledges on their way to dominating the course of this Montana skyrunning race. As soon as I saw the photos I knew I wanted to be a part of this epic adventure, although I didn’t actually expect to be giving my post-race recap quite this soon.
Yet there I was last Sunday, standing in the tent by the starting line, dreading taking off my jacket and pants and facing the 30°F chill outside, and listening to Anna Frost and Emilie Forsberg talk to their other teammates before we all headed out to the start line. I don’t want to give you a description of the course, because that would be me repeating the words “sheer climb,” “sheer descent,” “straight up/down,” “off-trail,” “elevation,” and “insanely technical” over and over again. So instead I will share with you a few lessons that running The Rut taught me.
#5 Train at elevation to race at elevation
I knew this lesson going into The Rut, but I also knew I wasn’t going to be able to train at elevation. Living at sea level has its perks (like…you’re right by the sea), but rolling up to Big Sky, Montana, elevation 7,500ft and preparing to run up to the summit of Lone Peak at 11,000ft, I knew this was going to hurt. I was fortunate in that my strategy of keeping my heart rate down in the beginning of the race paid off with a headache-free day, with only dizziness and my hands swelling in the last hour of my race.
#4 Good gear gets the job done
I know, I wouldn’t work at Running Warehouse if I didn’t mention it. But man, having that sturdy rock plate in my Salomon Sense Pro’s was a lifesaver. I was thankful I brought that lightweight jacket for the climb up to the summit of Lone Peak given how cold and windy it was, and couldn’t have gripped the rocks with my chilled hands without that pair of gloves. If only, though, if only I had brought a pair of gaiters, then maybe I wouldn’t have these battle wounds on my ankles from the downhill dance over the talus. Although…who am I kidding?! I’m proud of these wounds.
#3 Regular ultra marathons are forever ruined for me
I know how that sounds, but it’s true. Just like the appeal of road marathons faded when I started trail running, I have a feeling that the typical fast, runnable trail ultramarathon course will no longer capture my fancy like it did before The Rut. I’ve never been one to be satisfied with simply pushing myself farther. I want to challenge my mental and my physical limits, but I want to have fun and play at the same time. I love the mountains because they challenge me, humble me, revive me, and teach me. You don’t know what to expect from the mountains, and you have to approach them with humility: you’re not in charge here. Training for and running The Rut taught me that the skill involved in Skyrunning is something I want to always be learning so that I can always love it more.
#2 You don’t know until you try, and it’s worth it
I think we are usually able to do far more than we think we can do; our mental limits usually stop us before we reach our physical limits. If you think you can’t, then you can’t. During The Rut, there was never a question in my mind of if I would finish (although when certainly crossed it several times). Although this course was drastically different than anything else I had ever ran, something about the technicality and the difficulty, and even the danger, drew me to this race. It’s not every trail runner who loves a race like this, I’ll admit, but I had some clues that this would be right up my alley. And, like anything in life, you don’t know until you try. Don’t limit yourself by what you think you can do; if you want to do it, you’ll find a way to make it happen. Sure, it’s painful for a short time…but it’s also very worth it.
#1 We have an incredible sport
I was reminded of how much I love this sport, and these people. Runners in general, trail runners in particular, these runners as a niche. We surrounded each other with support and encouragement as we climbed up those ridges, we smiled at each other when we couldn’t talk, and we congratulated each other at the top. Somehow in the hours we ran together, we became fast friends. I loved meeting some of the runners I admire most, and was content to see that they are also some of the most humble and genuine people out there. I’m so thankful to be surrounded by runners, noticing once again that these are some of the strongest and best people I’ve ever known.