When you approach a challenge or something difficult, you either succeed or fail. What if you succeed, call it one of the hardest things you ever done, and then go back again for more punishment? Does that make you crazy, a bad ass, or masochistic? Maybe a little of everything. Maybe you just want to see change, so you try again. Introducing Beaverhead Endurance Run 55k-round two.
2016 was my first full year of running ultra marathons. I had a lot to learn, but I also had a lot of drive to take on the challenge of running long distances over terrain that could be difficult at times. I still stand by my opinion that Beaverhead is one of the toughest races I have ever done. Even though I approached it knowing what I was getting myself into, it does not change the fact that it is a huge challenge.
The race runs mostly along the Continental Divide Trail between Idaho and Montana. It starts at an elevation around 7,500 feet, has consistent climbing for an overall gain of around 6,500 feet, reaches a high point above 10,000 feet, and has a sharp descent at the very end-all of this packed into roughly 34 miles. There are some runnable sections of the course, but the high elevation makes it difficult to breathe efficiently at times. However, a good majority of the trail is technical and rocky, including the daunting 3 miles of scree starting at mile 24.
This year was fun because so many people from my Dirty Soles running group were registered. In preparation, many of them had questions about how to be prepared, so I shared what I remembered and the experiences I had. It was so wonderful to know so many people out there, watch and hear about accomplishments, and also make new friends on the trail.
The race begins at Lemhi Pass and immediately goes uphill for about 3 miles. Last year, this section seemed long, but this year it wasn’t that bad. I’m not sure if that was experience talking or the fact that I was with Josie and Sheri for the beginning. Once you get through the first aid station, you get some beautiful single track that is easily runnable. Josie and I ran together for a while, but ended up separating somewhere after the second aid station. I knew some big climbs were coming, so I got out my trekking poles, remembering how much they helped me last year.
The biggest difference from last year ended up being the weather. While high mountain weather is generally unpredictable, this years forecast was set to be a hot one which was a concern for many people. What a difference it made! Luckily, there were plenty of leftover snow patches along the course that were a lifesaver in cooling off. I think Jessica and I stopped at nearly all of them to sit down, load up our hats, and put the snow down our shirts. A few times the snow was such a relief of the sore muscles. And yes, we even got to make snow angels in July.
Over the course of the last couple months, Jessica has been fighting with some IT band issues. She already had to drop from the River of No Return 50k back in June, but she was determined to do Beaverhead, as it was one of the races she really had her heart set on. I tried my best to encourage her, and tell her it was mostly uphill until the end. Around the mile 17 there is a short, but steep, downhill. As I started down, knowing she was behind me, I felt bad about forgetting this section.
We had already began some of the really rocky and technical sections. There was a small group of us badass chicks who happened to be sticking pretty close together for a good section of the course. So much of the course last year I was alone, so it was nice to have other people to chat with. I’m pretty sure most of them were first timers, so they kept asking me if this was the scree field yet. Nope! It may have been rocky, but it was just a teaser.
As the race continue on, I was feeling pretty confident that I was doing better than last year. I felt like I was on track to meet the goal of finishing in 12 hours. But, I also knew that the scree field and the intense downhill right after could throw all of that out the window. Jessica and I separated shortly before beginning the scree field. The scree field is the longest, and most mentally challenging 3 miles of your life! It consists of sheer edges, varying sizes of unstable rocks, and not really a defined trail. There is always the question of if a sudden summer storm will hit while you are trying to traverse at (hopefully) a 35 minute/mile pace. This year, I saw the rain coming in. I heard thunder and saw lighting, but luckily I was able to move fast enough to get across before any storm amounted. There were some good gusts of wind, but it was a relief from the heat and exposure. Even though this section is something of nightmares, you can’t beat the views!
Then after you feet hurt and your ankles are sore from rock scrambling, the route turns to an extremely steep downhill. We’re talking a narrow game trail that drops you roughly 1,500 feet in less than a mile! Loose dirt, rocks, and roots are not easy to navigate quickly when your legs are already fatigued. When I reached the last aid station, they had fresh smoothies. With the intense and exposed heat for the last couple hours, that smoothie was one of the best things I’ve ever had!
Only 5.5 miles to the finish. I was at the point where I was exhausted, my legs were heavy, everything hurt, and I just wanted to be done. 12 hours came and went, but I was still better off than last year and I tried to find the energy to push it. The trail had some water run off right away and we got to cross through some streams. One of them I dipped down past my knees because the cool water felt so good. Jessica was able to catch up to me with about a mile or so left. I was so glad to see her and I was also glad her knee was holding up and we would finish together. I found my finish line adrenaline, and ran across the line with a time of 12:51- just over a one hour PR from last year!
Okay, so it wasn’t the first goal, but I can still be happy with that big of an improvement on a really tough course, under difficult weather conditions. I was so proud of all my friends who finished the race despite all of that. I learned there was an overall 47% DNF rate for this year. I stuck around the watch quite a few other people I knew finish, eat food, and relax. I left the race with a mix of pride and exhaustion, as well as some gnarly blisters on my feet.
Throughout the race, myself and a few other runners, were filming with our GoPros. We did pre and post race interviews, and took video along the course. We were part of a group for the Beaverhead Film Project. It is my understanding the race directors intend to compile the video and pictures into a documentary. I’m not sure what the timeline is for completion, but be on the look out at some point, hopefully in the near future.
In talking to some of my other runner friends, they often talk about increasing their goals or doing new races, rather than just repeating the same ones again. Part of me understands that, but this year, most of my races have been a repeat of what I did last year. It is nice to have course knowledge, but it is even better to see how I have improved within the last year. So far I am on the trend of some pretty significant PR’s from each race. Let’s hope I can either keep it up or continue to be successful in improving my ability. Up next, Elkhorn Crest 50 in August- my first official 50 miler (53 to be exact).