Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Devil's Backbone 50 Mile

Trail running and ultramarathons have taken me to beautiful locales and introduced me to new friends, colorful stories, and welcome surprises. Spending the weekend in Bozeman, Montana to run the Devil's Backbone [Pictures], also known as the Gallatin Crest, certainly opened my eyes wide to how majestic the Big Sky country can be. The people were warm and friendly, and they are blessed to live among such a dramatic landscape.

I flew into Bozeman on Friday and immediately headed to the Community Co-op to buy some vittles for the weekend. Great store - nutty, crunchy at its best - serving a grateful community.

Then I headed over to the new public library to use the computers, internet and email. Sarah's company helped fundraising for the library. It's stunning and has lots of space inside making it serene both to read or just hang out in.

At dinner with the other runners at the RDs house, we heard that the normal course could not be accessed since the snow still hadn't cleared from Hyalite Peak and its approach. Instead we were going to start at the turn around, tackle much of the crest, and add some miles on an additional loop.

My ultra-brief race report: I postholed into the snow at mile 7 and hyperextended my right ankle. Not bad. But at mile 8 I postholed really deep with my left leg and harshly sat down on my right ankle hyperextending it again. Bad this time. I packed some snow around it for a few minutes and then just made my way forward walking as best I could. Eventually it loosened up, but I never felt comfortable running on it until the last mile into the aid station at mile 25, where I dropped. It's the only aid station, and the only place to drop. There is being unlucky and being extremely unlucky. In a run like the Devil's Backbone you don't take unnecessary chances. There is no easy way off the ridge. You either leave on foot or in a helicopter.

All in all, I had a most humbling (sea-level creatures at 10,000 feet feel this way) and thrilling time. I'll be back next year to do the traditional course.

A special thanks to Tom and Liz, the RDs for their hospitality (the run hosted a pre-race dinner and a post-race breakfast) and on-the-fly planning. Great job in a difficult situation.

I'd also like to thank Ali and Roman who hung out with me on the trail when I was going slow. Ali continued on when Roman and I stopped at the Windy Pass Cabin - mile 25. He finished with the sweep, the RD Tom, at 1 am in the morning. The course is simply that tough. 19 hours for 50 miles. Heck, the winner, a mountain goat himself, Matt Hart, took 9:49 to complete the course, with the second place finisher, John Hallsten, coming in about two hours later.

This course is hands-down the most beautiful course I have run in the last five years. It's also the hardest. It is right to call it a mini-Hardrock. Except Hardrock has course markings and aid stations. If you're going to Bozeman next July, sign up early, there are only 35 runners permitted for the 50 mile course. Then again, it was only $30.


Sarah said...

Wow - what an incredible area! Thanks for the pics and the report, and glad that you're planning to go back next year to do the traditional course.

Hope your ankle heals well - good luck and have fun up at White River!


Jean Pommier said...

Great pictures, Sam, thanks for sharing.

So, are you on your way to UTMB? Hope the elevation won't bother you too much and you can fix the cramping issues with the right electrolyte/sodium balance.

Farther Faster

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