I’ve been fortunate to have some pretty good races the last year or so, but I’ve always left thinking I could have done more.  Maybe I could have paced myself better, or hydrated better, or I could have been more patient, or not taken a wrong turn, or not had the flu the week before.  This has been especially frustrating because honestly just about every training run I go on feels pretty darn good.  Going into Scout Mountain Ultra I took the risk of putting some extra pressure on myself: no excuses this time.  Time to put it all together and have a great race.

Scout Mountain Ultra Trail takes places in the rugged mountains just outside of Pocatello, Idaho.  For as close as I’ve lived to Idaho for the past eight years, its kind of ridiculous that I’ve barely stepped a foot in the state.  Formerly known as the Pocatello 50, Scout Mountain Ultra Trail has a reputation of being a tough Idaho run with great scenery.  Luke Nelson and his army of cheerful volunteers did not disappoint as the race organization was as smooth as, well, some of the single track.

They even had a kids race!  Ella is back there in her “Run Run Run” shirt, as usual.

“I’ll be out on the course, and if I see you went out too fast I’ll be cussing you out.”  That was the pre-race message from my coach, Ty Draney.  Duly noted.  You don’t have to tell me twice!  The other advice was to take the “small” climbs after the Big Fir aid station seriously.  I kept that one in the back of my mind as well.

The race started at 5 A.M. sharp, just before the sun came up.  It was barely cool enough for arm warmers, and I figured they wouldn’t last on me more than a couple of miles.  I was right, because the weather heated up fast.  The forecasted high for the day was 90 degrees, and the I’d say the meteorologists were spot on (people only like to point out when those dudes are wrong).  I started the first climb with a nice guy from Washington and we were moving at a good clip.  As the grade of the climb steepened and I could feel my heart rate creeping up, I thought about the novelty of having Ty yelling profanity at me, and it made me smile for a moment, but I decided to back off the pace a little bit and let the Washington guy go.  There was plenty of climbing to do later and no need to get excited about racing in the first few miles.

Gibson Jack aid station

For most of the next 20 miles I just ran through wildflower heaven as the sun came up.  Yeah, tough morning, right?  The arrowleaf balsamroot carpeted the mountainside so thick that there was hardly room for anything else, including the trail.  Indian paintbrush, lupine, and countless other wildflowers that I did not know they name of were everywhere glowing in the morning light.  I cruised along at a very relaxed pace, just keeping an eye on the guy from Washington ahead of me.  Through the open and flowery meadows I could see that he had just a couple minutes on me.  Perfect.

As I descended into the Cusick Creek aid station at about mile 19, I was surprised to see the leader just in front of me. Apparently I made up some ground as I frolicked through the flowers.  We left the aid station together, and on the climb out he quickly moved over and told me to lead.  I took it easy and enjoyed the company as we meandered along the trail and eventually descended down the mountains to the edge of Pocatello.  I got the feeling he was working hard just to keep up, so I kept the pace really mellow, still no need to push it.  Besides, around mile 25 is when things started to get hot.

All systems go

I had great success last year at Wasatch 100 managing the heat by stuffing a neck gaiter with ice and putting so much ice in my hat that it barely stayed on my head.  I typically wear a pack when running far, but lately they have been feeling hot and constricting, so I went with two Ultraspire Iso Versa handheld bottles for this race.  I really think this kept me dramatically cooler, and more hydrated, as the only way to make the bottles feel less heavy in your hand is to drink up!  I drank like a frat boy to stay hydrated, taking down an absurd 40ish ounces of water an hour.  Normally I drink about 15 ounces an hour.

Rock star volunteer keeping me iced

I met Jenny and the girls at the City Creek aid station at about mile 25 and I felt great.  Jenny was like a Nascar pit crew at each aid station and had me back on the trail in no time.  Think about that for a second: she sent my butt back on the trail in just a minute or two while managing a four year and a 10 month old.  If you’ve never crewed for an ultramarathon before, what she did was incredible!

As I was getting re-fueled at the aid station Cora was just chilling in the grass

Heading back up hill after City Creek

Once I was loaded up with ice, some Roctane drink, a fresh flask of Gu, and a Honey Stinger waffle (I ate about 200 calories an hour all day), I zipped out of City Creek before the other front runner and never saw him again the rest of the day.  In fact, I never saw another 100K runner again the rest of the race.  I wish I could tell you a harrowing story of how we dueled back and forth all the way to the finish, but that just isn’t how it worked out.  Of course out there on the trail, I had no idea where my closest competitors were.  In my mind they were always just two minutes behind me.  So, I ran like hell.  I relished the smooth and forested trails down to the West Fork aid station, and I marched the 3,500 foot climb to the top of Scout Mountain in the searing afternoon sun.  I practically sprinted back down the other side of Scout Mountain. I didn’t let up once.  However, I did get to run with some other fine runners, as the 60K and 35K race started after the 100K, but ran on the same course.  So, I was able to chat with plenty of other hardy runners throughout the day.  Their gritty performances and cheerful words of encouragement kept me inspired to keep pushing hard all day long.

All the race volunteers were amazing at keeping runners iced and hydrated

As I made it to the Big Fir aid station at about mile 55, fatigue was just starting to creep in, but I was ready to charge the last seven miles to the finish.  I had not forgotten what Ty told me about the last climbs through the Nordic Center, so I was a bit wary of this last leg.  He was not kidding.  35K and 60K runners were leaving the Big Fir aid station just ahead of me and they were almost on all fours as they made their way up the first climb.  I grunted up it well enough and started the loose and rocky decent on the other side.  Almost instantly everything changed as the trees gave away to tall grassy meadows that the sun was blaring down on.  It was like an inferno.  The ice in my hat and neck gaiter instantly melted.  My stomach started doing flips, my head spun, and I just tried to keep my crap together.  For the first time that day I started to feel a little down about how slow I was moving.  I could hardly muster a fast hike!  I looked around and the scene was almost surreal; in almost every tiny patch of shade there was some poor 35K and 60K runner just sitting there with a dazed look on their face.  I asked most of them if they we’re OK, and from each one a I got a dreamy “yeah I’m just too hot” with a far off stare.  Damn.  Well maybe my slow hike wasn’t so bad, at least I was moving, right?

Almost to the finish

Eventually the fear of second place overcoming me in the final mile or two was enough for me to drag my butt over the last climb and down the road to the finish.  I felt completely cooked the last couple of miles but managed to scamper in just under 11 hours.  Turns out the next 100K finisher was almost exactly an hour behind me.  Better safe than sorry.

Ella had been wanting to dump ice water on my head all day long and finally got her chance at the finish line

It was always going to be a memorable day running through the mountains of Pocatello, chatting with other fantastic runners, and camping with my girls.  But, of course, winning is fun, and I was absolutely elated to finally get my first ultramarathon win.  It was about time I put it all together and had a great race.  Another highlight of the weekend was that the majority of the post-race meal was gluten free!  As someone with celiac disease, this is the first time I was really able to enjoy the post race meal, and the baked potatoes with white chicken chili and broccoli was delicious!

My Dream Team

Congratulations to all the other runners out there that toughed out the heat and steep climbs, and thanks to everyone else who made Scout Mountain Ultra Trail a unforgettable experience.