Thursday, July 5, 2012

Old Gabe 50k

I'm going to take a break in telling my tales of my European adventure to tell you about a lesser-known 50 kilometer race that I ran in Bozeman, Montana a couple of weeks ago ~ the Old Gabe 50k.

I've been wanting to get back up to Bozeman for a while (I hadn't visited in a couple of years) to visit a good friend of mine, Emily or "M" as we all like to call her.  I knew that it would be a good opportunity for me and the dogs to do a great long-weekend road trip, because while I would be running my event, M would be entertaining the dogs (Thank You!).

It didn't really register in my thoughts how steep or difficult this race would be when I signed up.  Over 31 miles in the Bridger mountain range, we would ascend (and descend) nearly 11,000 vertical feet.  The course is a double out-and-back course, meaning you go out over one pass for about 7.5 miles, hit an aid station, then double back over the same trail to the main start-finish point.  This is where the 25k racers finish, and where most of the 50k racers have to talk themselves into going out for the second half of the race.  The second out-and-back is a little less vertical, but not much easier, and again you go up and over a pass, down to an aid station, and double back over that pass to the finish.

The views were fabulous and the people were fantastic.  To give you an idea of how friendly this race was, about 18 miles into it, when I still had about 3 hours left to go, I started thinking to myself, "Hmm.  I've been out here for about 6 and a half hours now.  I should be seeing the runners coming back to the finish pretty soon."  And just then, I saw a guy coming down the trail through the woods.  The trail was very narrow with a steep drop off to the side, and even though trail etiquette says that the uphill hiker has the right of way, race etiquette says the faster runner has the right of way.
Ants marching through one of the first
meadows in Middle Cottonwood (mile 2).

Looking up at the first headwall ~ Saddle Pass (mile 3.5).
Looking back towards Middle Cottonwood
from where we started (mile 3).
The second headwall, the first time over the pass
(across the Bostwicks) (mile 4).
So I shimmied over to the side of the trail, hugging the embankment and said some words of encouragement to the runner who would soon win the race.  He replied, "Hey, you too!  Great job out here!"  Huh?  I thought to myself, here I am with nearly 3 hours left to go and this guy who is going to win is telling little old me that I'm doing a great job?  Sweet.  In fact, most of the rest of the racers said similar words of encouragement.  Because the race is a double out-and-back, we saw each other on the course many times and it was really cool to be running alone yet know that there was someone out there who seemed to be pulling for you to have a strong finish.

The first pass had a north-facing snowfield on the far side, and was so slick and iced-over that my shoes would not hold.  I slid down it on my butt.  At the edge of the snowfield, the melting water had turned the ground to slicker-than-snot mud and as I slipped and slid (and fell) down the hill, I wondered to myself how I would get back up it on the return to the pass.  (As it turned out, I ended up walking a rivulet of water as it came down from the snowfield which had washed most of the slick mud away and was down to the mineral rock bed.  When I got to the snowfield, I skirted along its edge and only had about a 6 foot wide section to traverse up at the top.  Thankfully my shoes held, because if I had slipped I would have slid 500 feet down the snowfield and would have had to climb up it a second time.)
Looking up to Saddle Pass snowfield from a meadow
down in Truman Fork (mile 9).

Looking back on Truman Fork, headed for
the climb up the snowfield at Saddle Pass (mile 11).
The aid station crews were fabulous, and there was even a water stop on the last pass that the volunteers had hauled up gallon jugs so that we would have something to whet our whistles until the next stop (or finish).  It got pretty hot down in the valleys (90 degrees is pretty hot for Bozeman, but I reminded the volunteers that I was from Utah, so it actually was quite pleasant compared to our upper 90 degree temps of late).

At the halfway point, I had a hankering for a handful of meat, and that's exactly what I asked the aid station volunteer for.  "Why yes, we actually have a bunch of lunchmeat right here in the cooler.  Do you want some ham?"  Oh, sweet Jesus did I ever want a handful of ham.  I was complimented on my style by another one of the racers, saying that he thought my parents had done a fine job raising me.  I even attracted the attention of a yellow lab who caught the whiff of ham still on my fingertips, and was inclined to follow me up the mountain for a ways until I called down the trail and asked his owners to round him up (they did, and he left me alone).
Views of the Gallatin Valley and Bozeman below (mile 20).
Second to last climb up an incredible ridge with a
beautiful breeze blowing and a water stop at the top (mile 25).
This is what I looked like at mile 27.
In my opinion ~ not good (Haha!).  I think my face
looks very puffy but in my defense, I had
just summited the last climb of the race.
After the race, which lasted 9 and a half hours for me (the winners did it in around 7 hours for the men, 7 and a half for the women) we had pizza and local beer on tap in the park.  Ahh, Montana.  One of the many reasons I love it there.  I continued my good luck with event raffles by winning a subscription to Trail Runner magazine, the last drawing of the evening.

On the day ~ 30.9 miles, 9hr 32min, 10,655 ft

To emphasize the difficulty of this race, my 50k race in February in Scottsdale, Arizona which was considered a flat course with only 1,530 ft of vertical, took me 5hr 44min (nearly 4 hours faster).  Despite the difficulty of the Old Gabe 50k, which is named after Jim Bridger and takes place in the Bridger mountains, I think I would do it again.  It was such a low-key, friendly, small-town event and everyone participating should have been there (there was not one racer who looked like they were out of their element, despite the difficulty).  The race director and his volunteers were top notch and styled all finishers out with a tech t-shirt and a pint glass, not to mention the beers and pizza in the park afterwards.  Winners got hand-thrown pottery bowls.  I highly recommend this event to anyone who is brave enough to try it.

Happy to be out of the car on Forest Road 056! 
Dogs take a break on the pass above Henry's Lake.
Bing, Bang, Boom ~ Birdie, Artie, and Frank (l to r).
Happy dogs on the trail.
Me in my sweet new VFW trucker hat that M gifted me.
The dogs had a fantastic time in Montana as well ~ M took them on a super hike which topped out at a high alpine lake and they got to go swimming for a good amount of time.  They were pooped when they got home.  We also found a sweet forest road (FS 056) in Idaho just south of the Montana state line and just north of Henry's Lake, which we ran on (and walked on the day after the race), giving us a chance to stretch our legs.

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