Staring Down a Mountain

– Headwaters Relay Day 1 –

This is part three in a six part series about the Headwaters Relay. See part two here.

It’s sometime around 11 in the morning and I am sitting in a van south of Three Forks, MT thinking what the hell have I gotten myself into. Outside the van, in three directions, lies the rolling farm land and dirt roads of Southwest Montana. The sun is still rising over this part of the state as the Tobacco Root Mountains have kept it quite cool and shady for most of the morning.

Sun Rising on Day 1

Sun Rising on Day 1

I was up this morning before the shadows had begun to form standing with a group of mostly unknown people at the headwaters of the Missouri River, cheering as our lead runner left the shallows she was standing in and worked her way into the quaint plains town of Three Forks. Being a Friday morning the town, mostly populated by farmers and ranchers was already coming to life and there was a fairly decent crowd at the first exchange point in the middle of downtown, giving a spectacle, and the only non-participant crowd, to this race.

As the teams headed South out of Three Forks and on to the patchwork of dirt roads and rolling hills that make up Montana South and North of I-90, they started to spread out. Pretty soon, each runner was lucky to be even seeing another runner or another team van while running. No, we definitely  were not out to win this race, but then again most teams were not either. So as we rolled by another team and they rolled by us, a comradery of support formed. Each team and each runner out for survival, a mild cheer or a ‘good job, keep it up’ from a passing van could make all the difference in the mental battle that is Headwaters.

Some six hours after the start, I am sitting in the van looking at the land around me, but to my front lies a mountain. As I stare it down, I can’t even remember the last time I conquered a mountain, let alone while running. To make matters even worse, I had spent the last month training when the mood moved me down in Louisiana. Try finding a mountain down there. Thoughts had been going through my mind for the month since I found out I was running this leg. Mostly ‘F***, it’s a mountain, how am I going to survive it?’. The only answer I can give to that thought is ‘I’ll let you know how I did it in 10 miles after I have finished’.

Looking at the mountain I will have to climb.

Looking at the mountain I will have to climb.

Leg 9: Distance 9.8 miles (my first leg of the relay)

Leg Description: Rating 9; Beautiful mountain single-track; creeks; etc. First half up; second half down. Enjoy!!

Elevation Gain: 1940 feet Elevation Loss: 2800 feet. Highest Point: 7740 feet.

THE RUNNER ON THIS LEG MUST CARRY WATER WITH THEM. YOU MAY NEED EXTRA CLOTHING IF WEATHER THREATENS. NO MOUNTAIN BIKES. Please be careful. This is a rocky, steep trail, tricky footing. Take trail from trailhead; this is trail 89; there is a closed gate at mile 1 go through it and close it again; stay on trail the whole way; at crest of hill (mountain?), at about 3.5 miles, another trail will go left, with a sign “Curly lake trail”; do not go left here; continue straight down the other side of the mountain. The trail will turn into a very rough vehicle path, before joining up with the forest service road at the trail head; continue down the forest service road about 3.1 miles to the exchange pullout on left near a creek

At the base of the Mountain, where the single track trail starts, is a gate. The instructions for this leg of the relay are as follows: ‘Please close all gates behind you’. As I step out of the van, all I want to do is to not open that gate and start. As I wait for my teammate to come up to the exchange, I shake my legs a bit, trying to loosen up for the inevitable pounding that my legs are going to take. I ponder a warm up jog, but decide against it as I not in it for speed today, I’m in it to survive. I see my teammate coming up and I do one last check to make sure I am ready to do. Water is good to go, watch is on and ready. A fist bump with my teammate and I am off, gate open, gate closed, and I am up the trail and out of sight.

The leg was absolutely brutal and there were many stretches were the trail was not runnable.  It took almost 6.5 miles to find some good runnable roads. I took my time getting to the top, enjoying the sights and smells as I work my way back and forth across a mountain stream on the trail as I climb. I was surprised to find a herd of cows around three miles up, but there they were. After some mooing back and forth, I continued on my way. Upon reaching the summit, the trail opened up for about a half mile, but then became really rocky and rutted for the next three. Once connecting into the forest service road at the trail head, I was able to open up the throttle a bit and finish out the last three miles at a good clip.

I survived barley, but I survived!

On the other side at the finish

On the other side at the finish

It wasn’t necessarily pretty or fast, but I made it up and over and back down with just some very sore muscles as the end result. After the exchange, I pause with hands on hips, get some water, change my shirt and grab a towel to sit on as I climb back into the van. As much as I have too, I not sure about running my remaining 3 miles today, but I do my due diligence and rehydrate and eat a bit, as well as get out and stretch each time the van stops.

My second leg of the day is absolutely nothing when compared to the first one. First off, it’s flat. Next, its only 3 miles, and then it’s not even a full leg of the relay. I am splitting this leg with a teammate in hopes of keeping the miles down and I know I will have to pick up more miles over the last two days than expected as I am one of the stronger runners on the team.

Leg 14: Distance 6 miles (I’m only running 3)

Leg Description: Rating 3; Flat, fast if you are…

SPLIT LEG! You can use two runners on this leg, any way you want. South on Airport Road; when you hit Hwy 287 (at 1.7), go left; then immediate right (about 20 meters) onto East Bench Road, which is paved; continue on this road to exchange, stay on pavement and straight at 4 miles to exchange at 6 miles

In what has felt like not enough time since I finished running, I receive another fist bump and I am off on this flat, hot leg. I’m not fast, but not slow either. Finishing comfortably around 23 minutes and feeling much better as this run has loosened me up from the last one. The pavement was a nice stable change from the rocks and dirt that made up the mountain. But, damn it was hot.

As I cross through the final exchange for the day, I grab a Scape Goat by Big Sky Brewing as a personal sign of ‘Your done for the day, let’s start drinking’. It’s cold, and gets me sufficiently buzzed as I down it. A good end to a good day of running.

The End of Day 1 - Beaverhead Rock

The End of Day 1 – Beaverhead Rock

We are crashing at the Comfort Inn in Dillion, MT tonight, not far from the start of day two. In previous years we had camped each night in Ennis, MT along the Maddison River, but this year we decided it would be best to camp in motel rooms near the start of each days start point. It’s going to make a world of difference this year. No more waking up sore and tired just from sleeping on the ground, let alone the running from the day before. There are showers each day, you don’t have to worry about cooking, and I can catch my beloved Royal’s on TV each night.  I’ll also be able to head out after dinner each night to find ice cream and a beer or two. Everything is better for a runner with ice cream and beer. I just have to be in bed early as we have a 0530 start tomorrow morning.

Just survive for two more days.


One response to “Staring Down a Mountain

  1. Pingback: The Old West | Recovery Miles·

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