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  • Steve Szakal

My Time in Big Sky




The Rut 50k in Montana is considered the hardest 50k in the country. I have no idea what the fuck I was thinking when I signed up for it. It was one of those momentary lapses of reason, I think the universe throws shit at you just to see what will stick.


6am and the gun sounded, headlamps of 300 runners bobbled in the darkness, up a steep jeep road into god knows where. I kept my head down and followed the footsteps of the runners in front of me. I gazed quickly at my watch and saw the elevation gain start to tick off at a quick pace. The conga line of runners entered the first climb, the running turned into a fast hike and the climb got steeper. For some reason the darkness makes the climbing easier, I guess because you can see ahead of you....who knows...


The first mile gained a 1000ft of climbing but I actually felt pretty good. The next few miles were all pretty smooth mountain bike trails. I was rolling along at a decent clip, almost thinking to myself that this race really wasn't that hard.....I was really fucking wrong.

About mile 12 I along with pack of runners cruised out of the mountain bike trails came upon what seemed like a movie set. A movie set that looked like god damn mars. I was surrounded by walls of red rock as far as the eye can see. The guy next to me said "the race starts now pal"



As I looked up I saw runners inching along the side of the mountain, trying to secure their footing on their way up to a narrow ridge line. I started my way up, confused and almost laughing to myself wondering why there wasn't a "trail". You just had to crawl, jump, scramble up the fucking thing. And this wasn't even Lone Peak, the highest climb, this was just a warm up. It took a bit of time to get up that fucker, but I did it. We danced along headwaters ridge, a 3 foot wide ridge line with a few hundred foot drop off. At this point adrenaline took over and I picked up the pace. I could feel the effects of the elevation, so I tried to calm my breathing and control my heart rate.


Over the last year I've done some pretty hard races, the mountains of Pennsylvania are no joke. The rocks, roots, humidity and stream crossings, make for some really tough conditions. But this shit? Mile 18 we came to Lone Peak. 11,500ft of pure insanity. It almost looked biblical. As I looked up, I saw other runners basically crawling towards the summit. Ropes were hammered into the side of the mountain to give you a little help getting up. This was by far the hardest thing I have ever done. My quads were screaming and could feel my calves burning. They tell you not to look up, but fuck that, I'm lookin. Wind was blowing, my balance was shaky, I've got people right on my heels behind me. If I stop, that means they will have to stop. Rocks were slipping, I needed to get up this fucker. I scrambled as hard as I could, inching closer to the top. Knowing that if I just keep moving forward, eventually I'll make it. I remember getting to the top, feeling monumental relief and the first thing I said to a volunteer "is that shit legal?" He said "thats what a wavier is for buddy"



The mile that included Lone Peak took me 44 minutes. Thats a slow fucking mile, and I had about 12 more miles to go! And I had to run down the fucker!


I was so glad Lone Peak was over I ran down that dangerous, steep, loose rock circus with a big ass smile on my face. Almost everyone in the race was from Montana, Colorado, or Utah so they are used to this shit. I live in friggin South Jersey. I am completely out of my element. I let the shit rip for the next few miles, making up some time lost on the climbs. I was cruising down a steep, rooty decline and out of the blue I took a wicked fall, I fell so hard I literally almost shit my pants. I didn't see it coming. I fell right on my hip, my calves seized up, I most likely let out some high pitched squeal. My immediate thought was that the race was over. I fell fucking hard. My pity party lasted about 14 seconds. It was a definite "fuck it" moment. I hoped up, calves screaming, and bolted down the hill.

The rest of the course winded through beautiful forests, rock piles, jeep roads and finally the long downhill to the finish. I could hear the finish line but couldn't see it through the trees. Switchbacks led my closer and now I could finally see the end. Spectators lined the way and cheered as you ran across the line. I was confused, happy, proud, my fucking hip hurt, I needed a beer, all the crazy training shit I did leading up to this race. It was over, It took 8 god damn hours to finish.


Those 31 miles though the mountains of Montana are something that I will never forget. The runners, the volunteers, yellowstone national park, learning the history, seeing a part of American that I never thought in a million years I would see. It was really special. Pushing yourself beyond what you think is possible is part of what makes us humans. We push, endure, climb, fall, persist. We do all this shit, and for those 31 miles I got all of that.



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