IMTUF 100 Race Report
Over three years had passed since I ran my last 100-mile race in Leadville, Colorado. I chose to make my first race back the IMTUF 100 in McCall, Idaho. The race was touted as one of the most difficult in the country; which further piqued my interest. I completely changed up my training and attitude toward hundred-mile racing and unfortunately experienced little change as a result. However, this race defined my summer training and encompassed unmatched mental and physical preparation. As one of the most challenging feats of my life thus far, I would be remiss to not at least describe the journey…
I signed up for IMTUF after my friend Anthony Jacobs recommended it back in May. I knew that I would be in Peru in June and then moving to eastern Washington in July, so I would have plenty of mountain training time. I put in more vertical feet and had accumulated more time on my feet than ever before. When the day approached for the race, I felt ready. My wife picked up Anthony in Spokane, who had flown in from Austin and then the next day we were off for McCall. It was great to catch up and we had a relaxed road-trip highlighted by a stop at Washington State University. We put together drop bags, attended the pre race briefing and mentally prepared to race.
We awoke at 3:30am in order to allow plenty of time to get to the 6:00am race start at Burgdorf Hot Springs. The elk bugle sounded, and we started off into the darkness toward our first aid station at Willow Basket Junction. Anthony and I wanted to start the race conservatively and run no faster than 8:30 pace. We knew that even this would be quick, but we wanted to bank away some time on the easier sections of the course. We settled into a large group as we floated along on a wide gravel trail which eventually narrowed into a rolling single track as we experienced first light. We encountered our first aid station around mile 10; this was our Segway from the Ruby Meadow trails to the Loon Lake Loop. Anthony and I stopped and refilled while most of our competitors continued on. We were able to catch them back before reaching Chinook Aid Station at mile 16.7.
This aid station was quite busy; we regrouped while Apryle and the RD Jeremy helped us refill for the next 16.2 mile stretch. The single track continued on very rolling and manageable and Anthony and I settled into a good rhythm. Shortly after Chinook, the stream crossings began… and little did I know this would be the last time my feet were dry for the duration of the race. The climb to Diamond Ridge was much easier than I anticipated, and I made the ascent pacing with Sam, the eventual 2nd place finisher. The top was quite cold and windy and the dead trees produced an eerie whistle as the strong breeze moved over them. We caught a runner up ahead and another runner joined us from behind and we formed a group of four on the descent.
We popped out on Warren Wagon Road and then followed a gently down sloping stone road to Upper Payette Lake Aid Station. Looking at my watch I knew I was going to be too fast into this aid station, and as I expected, Apryle was a little upset with my deviation from the plan. I refilled water, tailwind, and gels and waited a few minutes for Anthony; and started the slow trot back out to the trail that would take me over Duck Lake Pass.
I knew I had banked away some time so I took this section quite easy; retrospectively, this may have been my lowest point of the race from a mental/physical standpoint. The trail was more runnable than I thought and though I was looking forward to some power hiking, I could not justify it; I began jogging. This was a beautiful section of trail that broke free of the understory as it neared the pass; but the sky was showing signs of rain. Duck Lake came and went to my left and before I knew it I was winding down to the aid station at mile 43.2. Here I grabbed some ‘real food’ as an alternative to the gels that were starting to wear on me.
Luckily the next few miles were on Lick Creek Road, which were quite runnable to the Lick Creek Summit. After cresting I started clicking off 8:30 miles down to the Snowslide Aid Station where Apryle waited with a raincoat, food, and most importantly herself and encouragement. The rain was really pouring while I regrouped at mile 47.8; but I donned the raincoat and broke out the black diamond z poles for the first big climb to the Snowslide Summit (7875’). This was a great ascent, offering some narrow single track trail through some steep rocky sections. As a bonus, the rain-soaked vegetation overhanging the trail thoroughly soaked my clothing by the time I reached the top.
I took one last moment to soak in the views at the top before gingerly picking my way down some tight switchbacks. The more technical section quickly gave way to a runnable descent all the way to the East Fork of Lake Fork crossing. Past this point I was joined by Jesse, eventual 8th place finisher and we paced together to mile 59.3; Lake Fork Aid Station. Apryle and I made a miscalculation on calories to this point, due mainly to my 50 minute delay in reaching this checkpoint. However, I was still only 11:45:00 into the race at mile 59.3; I was confident I could break 24 hours.
We were at a crossroads at this point; Apryle was forced to leave drop a bag for Anthony at Snowslide because she had to make it to Lake Fork and we were unsure of his position on course. Also at this point Apryle did not want me to run… (walk) the crux of IMTUF alone so we wrestled with options. Ultimately Apryle decided to create another drop bag for Anthony at Lake Fork and we started out on the two mile road section to the start of the Fall Creek Trailhead. Most of the trail to the Fall Creek Summit would have been runnable, but I hiked due to exhaustion. The final push was quite steep but I actually enjoyed the change of pace (Apryle would definitely report differently based on my outward attitude).
Reaching the top of the Fall Creek Summit took a healthy amount of resolve. I walked for a while, then tried running down the sandy gradually down sloping saddle. My knees were beginning to ache and I decided to change into my tights in the middle of the trail. This instantly warmed my legs and seemed to add some stability to my knees and I quickened the pace down to the South Crestline Aid Station at mile 67.0. Here Jesse had caught back up and passed me and Apryle and I soaked up the heat in the tent while eating some warm soup.
My race was all downhill from mile 67; not literally of course, there were still two more Crestline climbs and one more mammoth climb; Bear Peat Ridge. I was relegated to a slow walk on runnable trail that meandered through vast upland valleys. The course description claims this is a beautiful section, and I am sure that it is, but for me this was a endless muddy, swampy, arduous task that was simply a means to an end. I took one wrong turn and added about a quarter mile (an advantage to going so slow) before regaining the trail. In this section I was passed up by about four more people. With each headlight gleaming in the distance, I grew more and more frustrated, but there was no response my competitiveness was gone.
We finally reached another aid station that was packed in with goats at 74.4. I sat by the fire and had some soup while Apryle took pictures with the baby goats. I was happy to see such dedicated volunteers, but we were secretly hoping that this aid station did not exist and that we were further along than 74.4 miles at this point. At any rate it was great to warm up and see some friendly faces, both of the human and goat variety.
I felt bad for Apryle, having to crawl along in the muddy waterlogged trail for over nine hours when it should have taken only seven. I was disappointed that the plan that Anthony and I set out was completely unachievable and that again it was back to the drawing board. I thought back to riding the bus on the way to a cross country meet 2006, reading an article about Anton Krupicka and the Leadville 100 and my dream of succeeding at the 100 mile distance. I remembered my failures at Leadville in 2012 and 2013; and all the training and planning since that time. I thought about making this race my last 100 miler, that maybe I was not cut out for it and that I just was not good enough. My spirit was broken, but there was no way I was going to hang it up; even if I had to crawl to the finish in 36 hours.
While I was busy feeling sorry for myself, a bigger problem began flaring up. With each step on my right leg I felt a sharp pain radiate from the talocrural joint to my mid tibia. I knew I had developed reactivity tendonopathy of my anterior tibialis muscle. This coupled with the ever-growing blister on the plantar surface of my left foot added another complexity to my already waning motivation. We pushed on an reached the aid station at the North Crestline Aid Station at mile 80.1. The next eight miles were an easy gradual descent down a stone road, followed by a tough semi-bushwhack through the Terrible Terrance section, then a stream crossing and finally a long flat stone road to the Upper Payette Aid Station 88.8.
I actually enjoyed the Terrible Terrance section, it was an interesting wooded stretch with countless numbers of salamanders scurrying along the trail. It was also here were I stopped and broke the blister, providing much needed relief to my left foot for the remainder of the course. I rested at the Upper Payette Aid Station for a few minutes, then said good-bye to Apryle and headed out on my own once again. I tried to stay with a pack of two guys that were keeping a good pace but fell back on the start of the Bear Pete climb. Then another pack of six rolled on past; which dropped my overall place to 20th.
The climb to Bear Peat was steep and forested all the way to the Cloochman Saddle. When I reached the Cloochman Saddle Aid Station at mile 94.2; I could not believe that I still had another nine miles to go. I ate a little and then started up the trail moving at a slow crawl. I felt like I was in a trance at this point; like my mind was programmed for Burgdorf Hot Springs and that was the only thing keeping my legs moving forward. I followed the outline of headlamps above me as they snaked up the switchbacks up Bear Pete. The rain continued its persistent drizzle and the clouds engulfed the sky obscuring any hopes of the rising sun or actually seeing trail markers (even reflective ones).
After about 25 hours and 30 minutes on course, I began to see the full majesty of the landscape once again. I turned off my headlamp and enjoyed the foggy Bear Peat Ridge. After about a half hour of meandering around the ridge, I thought that I may have taken a wrong turn because it appeared that I was simply going around in circles. I could have sworn that I had seen the same rocks, trees, and even footprints before. I was convinced that I had ran myself into the Twilight Zone. I was convinced I had entered another dimension of both sight and sound; but I saw a sign post up ahead and my next stop was… Bear Pete Aid Station .5 miles. I was elated, I had somehow covered about 98.1 miles across the wild Idaho mountains and escaped the Twilight Zone.
The Bear Pete Aid Station workers were friendly and one insisted that I stay for awhile after I described my feeling of going in circles, she believed me to be hypothermic and confused. I said that I couldn’t because Burgdorf was only 4.8 miles away and I had to keep moving. The last 4.8 dragged out forever, in my head I was going fast but on Earth I was only trucking along at 15 minute miles so it took a while to reach the final road stretch to Burgdorf. I ran as best I could, Apryle was out cheering me on and I saw Anthony clapping me in on the final turn.
It took me 27 hours 15 minutes and 1 second to complete the 103 mile course that featured about 21,000 vertical feet of climbing. Jeremy congratulated me and handed me the IMTUF 100 buckle and that was the end of the journey. In the hours following the race I relaxed in the hot springs and reflected on all the training and time on course. The finish was anticlimactic for me, I was happy to finish but ultimately was a little disappointed; Anthony and I were supposed to finish together in course record pace. However, things, especially in ultrarunning, do not always go according to plan.
The course lived up to its name; it was wild and remote, demoralizingly challenging, and both ruggedly and at times hauntingly beautiful. The path was very well marked, the course descriptions were detailed and accurate and the aid stations were well staffed. I extend my gratitude to all of the volunteers who made the experience possible. To Jeremy and Brandi for putting together a truly remarkable event in a truly remarkable place. To Anthony for the miles on course, all the prerace Strava battles, and pre race strategizing. And most importantly Apryle for her steadfast and unwavering support. Not only did you do all of the driving to the event and to each aid station, you also paced me through the races most difficult section. You kept me fed, upbeat, motivated on and on my feet.
|3 to 9
|10 to 16
|17 to 23
|23 to 30
|31 to 6
|7 to 13
|14 to 20
|21 to 27
|28 to 3
|4 to 10
|11 to 17
Final Result: 27:15:01 20th Place