10 July 2021

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The race had been on my radar for a couple of years. When a combination of work and the pandemic made it less and less likely to run the Ultra-Trail Val d'Aran in Spain, I changed gears and signed up for the Beaverhead 100K in Salon, Idaho. Five weeks out from the first race of the Triple Crown of 200s, the Bigfoot 200, it made more sense anyway not to tax my body to the max, but to challenge myself with a more reasonable distance event as a training race.
I realized very quickly that race logistics would be the biggest challenge. I was unable to locate a rental car anywhere in Idaho or even surrounding states/airports. I eventually decided to drive my camper van across country to the race and to continue to the west coast afterwards to leave my sprinter at a friend's house for another summer adventure later on. I found an awesome campground near the center of town in Salmon in short walking distance from the race shuttle pickup location. With a 2:15AM start line shuttle departure, I really wanted to be as close as possible to the pickup. As it turned out, I didn't sleep but an hour, so it wasn't quite the payoff I had hoped for, but it was convenient nonetheless. It would also mean a short walk back to my campground after the finish line shuttle would drop runners off again.
I arrived in Salmon the day before the race in time for the afternoon packet pickup, pre-race briefing and drop bag drop-off. I drive in from the south, but very quickly noticed a severe haze as I got closer to the Beaverhead mountain range. The mystery was solved as soon as I asked about it in town. A large wildfire 50 miles north of Salmon was the cause for the smoke. It would be a considerable factor on race day as well as fire fighters continued to try to get the blaze under control. 
While there are various airports within 2-3 hours driving distance, there are really only two ways to get to Salmon, from the north or from the south. The town feels pretty isolated and hours from any larger population areas. The mountains were also much bigger than I had expected. To be honest, until I registered for the race, I had no idea Idaho even had real mountains. They do and they were majestic.
There weren't any familiar faces at the pre-race briefing, so I didn't stick around much longer than necessary and dropped of a small finish line bag as well as a small drop bag with additional nutrition and a couple of emergency items. I opted to head back to my campground, instead, to cook a pre-race pasta dinner and prep my gear for the next day to hopefully get to sleep earlier than usual. Everything but that sleep part worked out as planned.
My 1AM alarm came just after I had finally fallen asleep. I got about an hour of sleep after tossing and turning for about 3 hours. Oh well, perfect training for my upcoming 200 milers as I don't expect to be sleeping much there either. I fixed myself a cup of coffee to try to keep my usual race morning routine as close to normal as possible. To be honest, that was about the only thing from my usual routine for shorter distance races, since a 1AM wakeup is early for any race distance. An hour later, I made the short walk to the shuttle pickup for the 2:15AM departure. I vaguely remember the ride, but I do remember plenty of room in the school busses as each runner had his or her own bench for the 1+ hour drive to the start line. Once we arrived and poured out of the busses in the middle of nowhere at Bannock Pass, runners were quickly aiming up for the portapotties lining the area. Massive spotlights illuminated the start area and music blasted from large speakers to get runners amped for the adventure ahead. Temperatures were a bit cooler than expected, so I finally pulled my Houdini windbreaker from my pack to stay warm. I would actually keep wearing this layer for the first couple of hours of the race.
At 4AM, the race director sent us off on our 100k adventure up and over the Beaverhead mountain range. There was a short "sprint" on a dirt road before runners went single file onto single track, starting the first long climb of the race. I settled somewhere in the middle of the conga line and was surprised how many runenrs were eager to push up this first long climb considering how much distance we had to cover for the day. Oh well, I thought, they must all be used to the altitude, because I was certainly feeling it pretty much right away and wanted to make sure to keep both my heartrate and breathing in check.
I felt great making this first climb and as we continued to ascend, the sun slowly appeared behind the mountains, making for a spectacular albeit smoky sunrise. I was carrying both my GoPro and my iPhone to be able to capture as many memories of this amazing landscape as possible. I started to do just that almost as immediately as the sky started to light up ever so slightly. I continued to move fairly steady but slowly over the first 10-12 miles, paying close attention to my breathing. At around mile 15 I started to really wake up, slightly increasing my pace and feeling good doing so. Mosquitos and flies were extremely aggressive all day, so increasing my pace was also a defense mechanism:-) I cruised all the way until mile 27, the unofficial halfway point of the race at the Lemhi Pass aid station, taking advantage of every downhill and moving pretty well uphill as well. That changed as soon as I replenished my nutrition from my drop bag and walked out of the aid station.
Immediately after leaving Lemhi Pass AS runners start a 4-5 mile ascent. Unfortunately for me, the sun had come out all the way at this point with zero cloud cover to give respite from the heat. Within the first half mile, I was cooking and struggling to make good uphill progress. I had a runner just in front of me and tried to keep him in sight to keep my cadence going. Things did not get better and I started to feel worse. The heat started to get to me rather quickly. I went from feeling amazing to feeling awful and slow. I had to back off, so I did.
I had hoped that I would eventually come out of this low point as it often the case in ultras. Maybe this was just a wall and I would get over it quickly. That was not the case. I was now walking way more than I wanted, including the slightest inclines that I would normally have run, instead. The race became test of pure perseverance. I made sure to "smell the roses". After all, that was still the main reason I loved running challenging mountain races...the amazing places you get to explore as an ultra runner that others are likely never to experience.
Things would not get much better, but I kept moving forward. The heat felt relentless. I quickly looked at the positives. I expected to spend much of my 200 mile races hiking, so this would be great training. Time on feet is as important a miles run, so I embraced every extra hour I spent out there. I took lots of pictures and a ton of videos, especially on one of the highlights of this race, the scree scramble across a massive ridgeline and across the highest point of the race above 10,000 feet. When we started the final 8 mile descent, I was still in great spirits. This would not change for another 5 miles, when I had started the final section down a OHV accessible "road". I decided to start a slow run down to the finish line rather than continue my speed hike. Not 10 seconds later I severely rolled by right ankle, which I had been nursing for months and which continued to give me problems. I had made it through 59 miles that included 2+ miles across a large scree field without rolling it once and here and now, on a tame downhill jeep road, it had rolled and popped as worse as ever. I was able to continue to walk without pain using my trekking poles for some support, but my pace slowed even more. Thankfully, I had enough of a time cushion to still make it across the finish line with plenty of time to spare, but it wasn't at all the plan I had had.

While my race didn't play out at all as planned, one thing that exceeded my expectations was the scenery. Hopefully, the beauty of this area comes through in my pictures. I encourage anyone reading this post to put this race on their list of must do events. You won't regret it. Just be prepared for a little bit of ridge line scree running towards the end of the race. Embrace it as you are rewarded with some of the most spectacular views rivaled only by the San Juans in Colorado.


























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