Friday, August 28, 2015

2015 Racing Season: Bangtail Divide 38K, July, 4, Bozeman, MT

It's January and I'm filling out race registration forms for two races in Montana during the coming Summer months when I will be on sabbatical: Wulfmans CDT 14K and the Bangtail Divide 38K. There's a little bit of anxiety as I wonder can I finish the longer of the two races, especially when the first 6 miles or so include what appears to be 2,000 feet of ascent according to the following image:

The Bangtail Divide Elevation Chart, image taken from

Flash forward to April 11, 2015: I am racing the Zumbro 17 Miler outside of Theilman, MN.  Even though in the end I will PR over last year's time at this race, as I slowly ascend and top out on one of the final major bluffs, I keep thinking in my head, "If you are struggling this much going up these bluffs in Minnesota, what are you going to do in Montana at elevation and ascending a mountainside?"  Even though the total ascent in both races is about the same. my mind is spiraling into the "negative zone" and I have to pray and ask God to help me push these thoughts out of my head.  Running is 10% physical and 90% mental, right?

Flash forward to June 12, 2015: I am staying just outside of Custer, SD at an elevation similiar to Bozeman, MT.  I am getting close to finishing my third and final ascent/descent of the highest point in the state, Harney Peak, this time from the harder Northern side.  A couple of ladies have stopped me to ask how long it is to the top as I lean upon my poles and drip sweat onto the trails.  I am in the midst of pushing myself to finish what will be about a 3.5 hour round trip amounting to just a bit more than 11 miles with a gain and loss each of 2400+/- feet.  I note that one of the ladies has a shirt on from the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon, 1/2 Marathon, and 5K, an event the weekend before where I had volunteered and then run the Fast 5K.  We talk for a minute about the current hike I am finishing and how much further they have to go.  We part ways, and all I think is, they've got a ways to go and get back before dark!  Three and a half hours seems like a long time, but with the rocks and water and elevation gain, it might actually be a fairly good time especially since this trail is rated as difficult which includes this definition for steepness next to a red diamond on one map: "Steepness: Portions of trail, 20 percent grade or steeper."  My time seemed slow, but I kept telling myself this is good training, even though I had a 10K the next day in Custer State Park, the Bark Beetle 10K.

A marmot shares the trail with me!
Flash forward to June 25, 2015: The Bangtail Divide is less than ten days away and having talked to the race director, I have decided on going out and doing one last long run, though in this case, the run will only be just a bit over 14.1 miles.  (My other concern going into the Bangtail was that I hadn't done any long runs/races over 17 miles all year.  But I decided that training for elevation gain and descent was more important as the race day got closer.)  I did just over 7 miles of the main course and then turned around and came back down to my Jeep.  As the Bangtail Divide course is a major mountain biking trail, I saw several riders as well as a couple of runners who would be racing the Bangtail along with me on July 4.  Seemed like we all had the same idea, get out on the course and get to know it a little bit.  I did have one funny incident on the way back when I spotted a marmot on the trail in front of me.  I took a picture, which unfortunately didn't come out very clear, and then both he and I ran down the trail, he about 50 feet or so in front of me.  He turned off into the wood, and as I passed where he turned off, he fell off a tree he must've tried to scramble up!  This led to a squeal from both of us as we scared each other and I tore down the trail for a few seconds.  Then I just smiled and laughed.  The run went well and helped assure me that yes, I can do this!  I would have to hike quite a bit, but that's okay as long as I kept moving and held a solid pace.  Below is one of my favorite photos from that morning.  

Nice single track and beautiful flowers on the mountain along the Bangtail Divide Trail.

Finally July 4th came.  As the drive to the parking lot to catch the shuttle to the start of the race was about 45 minutes away, I got up sometime just after 4am to get ready and head out the door.  At the check-in, awaiting the bus, on the bus, and before the start, I found the racers, volunteers, and race director all very friendly.  In order to keep us all from jamming up the single track at the start of the race, the start was on the gravel road leading to the trail head and giving us about one mile to get ourselves sorted out before the climbing would really get started.  It was during this first mile that I realized I had a potential problem...a nosebleed.  Ugh...while not as big as I sometimes can get, I had to figure out how to stop this pretty quick before too much blood loss would affect me at all on a day when I would need all my faculties about me!

We hit the single track and immediately started climbing.  Even with the initial first mile to help get the faster runners separated from the slower runners, there were still quite a few of us close together that first mile or so of climbing.  While trying to get my nosebleed to stop and figure out the right pacing, I was in the midst of several people who were all part of a constant juggling act passing one another.  

Looking back down one of the sections we would climb early on in the Bangtail Divide.

Eventually I got up that major section of the climb and made it to the first aid station where I had one of the volunteers just give a quick look to my nose and face to ascertain how it looked.  She said it seemed good and since the nosebleed had stopped, that was about the last I thought of it.

As you run along the first several miles of Bangtail Divide Trail you can see the Bridger Range off to the West which seems to loom up over you with it's higher peaks, some appearing to still have a layer of snow upon them like icing on the top of a wedding cake.

A little blurry again, but a pic of the Bridger Range from the Bangtail Divide Trail.

The Bangtail Divide Trail is not too technical, there are some rocks on the ascents/descents, but most of the time it's fairly smooth and buttery.  There are a few sections where the mountain bikes have carved ruts into the trail, but you can typically get thru those by carefully running along the top next to the rut.  Once up top if it's a sunny day, as it was on race day, sunscreen is important as several portions of the trail are fairly exposed at over 7,000 feet.

As I got closer to the second aid station, I kept thinking I had missed it somehow since my GPS watch was indicating that I should have been there by now.  I thought maybe the distances didn't include the first mile of gravel road, or worse, perhaps I had missed a turn.  But, eventually, just before another major section of climb, I crossed a cattle guard and there was the aid station perhaps just a little before half way through the race.  The volunteers seemed glad to see us and thought it was pretty cool a guy from Iowa was in the race.  As with the Wulfman's CDT 14K, I was a flatlander!

Another view of the Bridger Range from the Bangtail Divide Trail.

While at one point leading up to the event I was thinking I'd just be happy to be able to finish within the 8 hour time limit, my recon run on June 25 encouraged me that if I could hold to a steady pace, I might be able to make it just under 6 hours.  Though that's not incredibly fast by any means, it was a target that seemed possible.

As the day wore on, I started feeling the warmth of the sun a bit more in the second half of the run. Even though a lot of the major ascending was done and the course was more of rolling at this point, I still found myself hiking a lot.  Eventually I made it into the final aid station with around 7-8 miles to go.  Kudos to those at that aid station not only for being there, but for enduring what seemed like biting horse-flys!  Those things hurt!

The race description led me to believe that the last several miles would be mostly downhill after that aid station, however, I and others had been warned that there was one last climb:  Grassy Mountain. After dropping down into a nice wide, flat open grassy area, the climb started and ascended like a sting in the tail!  Over 16-18 miles in, (I can't remember exactly), and with the sun out brightly, I went back and forth with a few mountain bikers also riding/hiking up this steep section of hill. I had to stop and get my breath once or twice on the way up as everything was starting to catch up to me a bit even though I was keeping to a pace that could deliver me at the end below 6 hours.

However, there was one thing that kept going on in my mind, the trail seemed to be a bit longer than I thought and if it continued to hold true, (based upon certain markers including aid station locations), then I might just miss 6 hours.  Trail races as most of us know aren't necessarily measured exact like road races.  Plus, GPS can be thrown off running through various parts of terrain, or so I'm told.

Looking back after having crossed the finish line at the Bangtail Divide 38K.
Finally the descent started and I wanted to run as much as I could but in addition to being tired, I was wary from having fallen a month before in Hell Canyon on the descent.  So, even though the trail isn't littered with rocks, there were enough in several places to keep my slow.  I could tell I was getting closer as I started hearing the music and then the voices of the people. I passed a two ladies mountain biking, one of whom had lost her brakes and was taking the switchbacks carefully.   She told me to keep going, that this was all for me. I got even closer and started hearing the yelling and clapping, AWESOME!  Then I saw the finish line just over the bridge with the race director and volunteers as well as others all ready to welcome home each and every runner.

My legs were pretty tired and the race director helped direct me to the creek to cool them off while he went and got me a cold can of Coke.  I sat in the creek for a few minutes before getting my drop bag and putting on a dry shirt.  After a little time spent eating and resting, I hitched a ride with another runner back to the starting area and headed home, very tired, but very happy for having completed another great mountain race, even as a Flatlander!  (And, I wasn't last!  105th out of 115 finishers, 5:57:10 for what my watch had as 24.09 miles w/3556 ft of ascent and 3171 ft of descent.)

As a P.S. The race director was very helpful over e-mail, in person, and had great volunteers.  The race as far as I could tell went off without a hitch.

The race director in blue consulting with one of the volunteers at the finish line.

The schwag was pretty nice.  It included a Salomon Tech shirt and Buff UV 1/2 Buff as well as this red Silipint soft pint cup.  Sweet! :)

Salomon Tech Tee, Buff UV 1/2 Buff, and a Silipint!

In the end, all praise to God for the ability and opportunity to run and race a great event! Isaiah 40:31, "But those who hope in the Lord 
     will renew their strength.  
They will soar on wings like eagles; 
     they will run and not grow weary, 
     they will walk and not be faint."

(All pictures are from the June 25, 2015 training run except for the finish line photos.  Here's a few more to enjoy!)

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