The singletrack disappears into a mountain of scree, from here on up small coloured flagging attached to what looked like clothes hangers lead the way. My pace takes a marked dive as I run into the first 45% grade climb of the day. I’m only 22km (13mi) in – the last two hours have been a warm up on excellent singletrack. I pass a fellow runner that says he’s bonking, I hand him a couple emergency gels. Moments later, a baby faced member of the the Team Salomon rips by me charging up the climb with a set of poles. Where did he come from? It’s still cold, there’s frost and a light skiff of snow in the shadows. The sun has only been up for an hour now and I was able to leave my headlamp at the last aid station. I keep moving – often on all four. I crest the hill and I’m intrigued to see a fixed rope to assist on a downclimb. I make my way along the ridge, down the chute with the rope, back up along the ridge and onto another rustic trail obscured by the shadows of the morning. By now a small pack of us have formed, the footing has improved, and we’re charging down the hillside. I’m trying to keep one eye on the trail and the other eye on the sparse flagging tied to the tiny alpine trees. We round a corner just in time to watch three runners tumble down a slippery grass meadow covered in snow / ice / frost. They try to stop, but slide into the rocks below. The group I’m in dials it back, we get down the slope – some of us sliding on our butts – we check on the runners and keep moving. By now we’re 25km into our race with three more substantial climbs remaining and we’re only halfway through The Rut 50km.
The Rut packs a punch! The 50km event is just over 51km with 3,500m (11,000ft) of climbing / descending. It boasts some high elevation with a peak that tops out at 3,500m, sections that require all four limbs to ascend, lots and lots of singletrack, and some gnarly / sketchy / rustic sections that require choosing your own adventure – some sections have no trails. It’s an exciting race with a deep field that will certainly test your mountain running chops. It’s also part of the Skyrunning series that are tremendously popular in Europe. When I ran it in 2014 I was floored with how difficult the course was (some reconnaissance on this course is a good idea if you can). I expected the race to fall inline with what seems “standard” to North American trail races. I expected: a small amount of single track, runnable climbs, lots of double track / fire road, and cruisy descents. This course turned all my expectations upside down. It was a complete brute. Upon finishing it I was mildly disappointed with my performance, because… well… I knew I freaked out / was overly cautious on a couple sections – notably the dinner plate size scree (talus?) field with no trail and the snow / ice covered descent where runners were hurting themselves as they slipped and bounced down the rocks to the bottom. Interesting though, today this race lives on as an epic and I really want to do it again. Here’s my track.
“runners tend improve their performances on the same ultramarathon course once they become more familiar with the exact details of the route.” – Lore of Running (658)
It’s fair to note that in addition to an amazing course, this event is also phenomenally well organized – great food, great environment, great accommodations, and great after party.