Running on snow throughout the year in Wyoming isn’t a novelty, it’s practically the norm—most years I literally run on at least some snow 12-months out of the year. Of course it’s not always snowy and cold here, but if you don’t embrace winter you won’t end up running much. To make the most of winter this year, I took on the challenge of two different snow races: Running Up For Air (RUFA) and The Drift.
Running Up For Air
A couple years ago I took park in the Grandeur Peak version of RUFA in Salt Lake City, but this year the Malan’s Peak version of RUFA in Ogden, Utah caught my eye. The Ogden trail running community is robust and talented, and when I heard that Tara Warren and Sherry Traher were putting on the Malan’s Peak RUFA, I knew I had to come and show some support. The race was put on flawlessly, which is amazing for a first year race, and the terrain and community did not disappoint. Malan’s Peak featured a nice mix of runnable and steep hiking climbs, as well as the expected gorgeous Wasatch Mountain scenery. I finished the 9-laps on Malan’s peak in a little over 11-hours for 46 miles of running and about 18,500′ of climbing. Add this one to your I-need-something-to-keep-me-motivated-in-the-winter bucket list for February 2020.
Another race that was new last year and caught my eye is The Drift, located just north of Pinedale, WY in the northern Wind River Mountains. This year they offered 28-mile and 13-mile race options, and they are hoping to go bigger with a 100-mile in 2020. The race takes place on groomed snowmobile trails—but that does not mean that they are smooth and runnable (more on that in a moment). Alright, to be fair, I am completely biased, but in my opinion the northern Wind River Range is the most beautiful chunk of mountains in the lower-48. The course is absolutely spectacular with the first 12-miles traveling through the wide and open Upper Green River Valley. The morning light on the mountain peaks and fresh snow was captivating, the steaming water from hot spring fed creeks flowing next to the trails makes you feel like you are Yellowstone, and the towering peaks of the Wind River high country are undeniably humbling. I simply cannot imagine a better winter mountain running environment.
The race itself was challenging, with a morning low of about zero degrees, and a windchill later in the race that was much lower than that. I felt extremely fortunate to start with a warm belly of Speedgoat Coffee and have top notch gear (more on that below). I started out cruising through the Upper Green River Valley chatting with Mike McMonagle, a speedy runner from SLC and winner of the inaugural race in 2018. After a few miles I started to drift ahead of Mike, and instead ran with my local Lander friend Scott Kane, last years winner of the ski race. Eventually I crept ahead of Scott too, and when the real climbing of the course began at mile 12 I only had one skier and one fat-biker ahead of me.
The climb up to Little Sheep Mountain isn’t really all that steep, but running in snow makes everything harder. The initial firmness of the trail quickly turned into soft, unconsolidated snow after snowmobiles chewed it all up. It was kind of like running up a squishy, white sand beach that gains more than 1,000′. I was able to run the entire climb, but it took it’s toll on me as I started to become soaked in sweat and it really work my calves, ankles, shins, and feet. I passed the leading biker part way up the climb, and at the very top I was about to pass the leading skier. The terrain around Little Sheep Mountain is open and relatively exposed to the elements, and an absolutely fierce and biting wind was whipping through the sub-alpine meadows. I stopped to put on my windbreaker, the skier started going downhill—and I never saw him again. One other fat-biker, my buddy Scott and another skier, all blew me on the downhills before the finish too. But, I never saw another runner again and even though I felt pretty worked by the finish, all-in-all I had a good race and finished in 4:55, which was more than 30-minutes faster than the previous running course record.
All the soft-tissue below my knees felt like they’d been through 100-miles, rather than 28, due to the soft and exhausting snow. I flared up an old anterior tibialis shin-injury towards the end of the race, and have taken the week off of running. I should be back running as soon as the amazing talented folks at Wind River Physical Therapy, in Lander, have been working hard to to get me firing at 100% again. I would definitely run The Drift again, heck, I’d even consider the 100-mile version of the race next year as well. The event was totally dialed in and winter mountain running in the Wind River Range is second to none.
Overall I’m filled with gratitude that the weather is starting to feel a bit like spring, I’ve already got two first-place finishes in 2019, and I’m relatively healthy. I just can’t wait to giddy up into the rest of 2019!
Nuts and Bolts
Apparel, equipment, and nutrition for winter running is extremely important. If your kit doesn’t work right it can be straight up dangerous. Here is a list of everything I used and carried, and I can’t emphasize enough just how well it all worked:
- La Sportiva Lycan GTX Shoes
- La Sportiva Blizzard Windbreaker
- La Sportiva Arcade Hoody
- La Sportiva Castor Longsleeve
- La Sportiva Skimo Mitts
- La Sportiva Circle Beanie
- La Sportiva Radial Pants
- Ultimate Direction Halo Vest
- Julbo Eyewear Aero Sunglasses
- Spring Energy Gels: 2x Speednut, 2x Long Haul, and 1x Canaberry
- Suunto 9 Baro Watch