Sunday, August 1, 2010

Swancrest 100 Family Reunion

So my friend Aric tells me several months ago about this new 100 mile race in Montana called the Swancrest 100. I checked out their website and saw all the warnings about grizzly bears and decided that I had to be a part of this race, especially the first year. What's not to like about running through the woods wondering if you're going to meet up with a large carnivore.

The other thing about this race is the controversy surrounding whether it should go on or not. A little background. Several months ago the race director approached a conservation group called the Swan View Coalition about helping out at the race, maybe running an aid station in exchange for a donation to their cause. No response except that a few months later Keith Hammer, the head of this nefarious group gives a 60 day notice of intent to sue the forest service over issuance of a permit. Something about a commercial endeavor of this type needing an environmental impact assessment. This guy is a complete tool. Now I definitely want to run this race just because of idiots like him. His thing is that we should walk quietly and contemplatively rather than run with wild abandon scaring all sorts of furry mammals and small children. Ass thinks it’s his forest and others can only enjoy it as he sees fit.
So the training commences, blah, blah, blah, and before I know it Aric and I are driving up to northwest Montana. It's a lot further away than I thought.
The original thought was to just get a room Thursday night and Saturday night but the race director offered us the use of his floor, so we took him up on it. As usual I got about 2-3 hours of sleep before it was time to get up and get ready. Thank goodness this race didn't start until 7am instead of the usual 5am start for most 100's. We drove over to the finish area and caught the shuttle to the start, about 45 minutes away.
As we were waiting around for the race to start, a local couple came up to Aric and I and started talking to us, telling us how exciting this event was, could they bring us anything as they were going to be hiking up to one of the aid stations, could they take our picture. Just super nice people.
So, the race starts and I’m in the lead. Definitely a weird feeling but no one else wanted to jump out in front. I lead for about ¾ mile before the eventual winner took over the front runner duties. After a mile on paved road, we turned on to a forest service road and not too much longer I was in about 8th place, where I really belonged. After about 10 miles we came to the first aid station. Not too bad, don’t remember my time but I felt really good. Then we hit the trail. Talk about overgrown. Shoulder high brush blocked our view of the trail itself, so there was lots of tripping over rocks and roots and not a whole lot of running. A couple hundred yards in we saw our first pile of bear scat. Yep, there really are bears in these here woods. Good thing I had bear spray for seasoning handy. So pushing thru all this brush slowed me down to a walk for the most part. After a couple miles of this, we came to an avalanche debris field. We were warned about this in the prerace briefing but holy cow! The course was marked with ribbons since you couldn’t see the trail at all. Buried under several feet of broken trees, limbs, brush etc. This section ended up being a climb over all this debris from ribbon to ribbon. Really slowed me down. Finally got past all that and began going up the hillside on a decent trail. Switch backed up a couple thousand feet until I crossed a ridge and began actually running along the mountainside. This began the story of the rest of the run, lots of ups and downs where you really couldn’t get a good running rhythm going. Just as you’d get running you’d hit a steep enough uphill to force you into a walk. Then there were all the rocks, just like around here. As we got closer to the Napa Point aid station (19 miles) we encountered a couple groups of people. First was a group out on what looked like an educational outing. They cheered us on. Next was a forest service ranger and a couple others with him. I imagine he was keeping an eye on things given the noise that Keith and his group were making. Then there was the ass Keith Hammer with some of his cronies. Just watching. They did step off the trail so we could pass and I did say hi to him. As I was fueling up at the aid station he came walking out of the woods. I later found out he had been writing down license numbers of cars and videoing the aid station. What an ass.
Ok, now we had a 24 mile section to the next aid station. This was something new for me. I’m used to generally less than 10 miles between aid stations so this required a different strategy. I took four gel flasks, a couple of bars and a full hydration pack (70 oz). We knew that there was water along the trail but I didn’t know where. This section of the race was absolutely stunning. For the most part we were on the ridges above the treeline, so lots of incredible views. I could see several thousand feet into the valleys below, I could see all the way into Glacier National Park, over to the Flathead valley. This was way cool. We were crossing small snow fields and I filled my pack with snow from one of them. About 5-6 miles into this section was an area of cascading water down the rocks. I took a minute to drink, wash my face off and just enjoy the moment. That was some good tasting water. My mistake here was not refilling my pack. I still had lots of snow in it but eventually I drank all the water and was left with just the snow. The next 10 miles or so were kind of dry for me. With no water in my pack, I couldn’t eat gels or anything else since I had no water to wash it down with. Needless to say the energy level went down and I slowed down. Eventually I came across a very small creek and was able to fill up, then eat some gels and get my energy back up. About 3 miles alter I came into the Six Mile aid station. At this aid station you had to make an out and back trek to the top of Six Mile peak. I wasn’t looking forward to this as I was really tired, but out I went. 1 ½ miles later and 1000’ higher I was on top of the peak picking up a playing card to verify that I made it. The view was definitely worth the trek. This kind of rejuvenated me and I was able to hoof it down in pretty good time. I got back into Six Mile, sat for a few, fueled up and bolted out for Quintonkin, six miles away. By now it was starting to get dark and abouf half way I had to turn on the headlamp. Parts of this were very runnable and I took advantage of this to try and make up a little time. I came out on a forest service road that just went up and up for what seemed like forever, ugh! At the end of this road was the Quintonkin aid station (52 miles). By now it’s about 11:30pm, dark and getting a little cool, but not bad. I stood next to the fire and tried to warm up, eat, and drink. Just as I was getting set to leave, in comes Aric, so I waited for him and we took off together. We had debated dropping here as we knew that finishing under the time limit would be next to impossible, but we decided to go forward and see what happened. This was another long section without aid (16+ miles) and the first three miles were all uphill. So up we went. Eventually we were above tree line again, but now at night. It was clear out so the stars were nice and bright and we had about a half moon to see by. Going along the ridges here was fun. Very rocky with some steep drop-offs. I pushed a large rock off one drop-off just hear it go crashing down below. It seemed like it crashed forever, must have been a really long ways down. Along this section there were a couple of places where we stopped for a couple minutes to rest. We were both getting tired and sleepy. At one point I just laid down in the middle of the trail and took a five minute catnap. This section also had eight miles of constant downhill and this started to wear on us. Lots of trees across the trail that we had to duck under or climb over as well. Eventually we arrived at the Broken Leg aid station (68 miles) and called it good. With only 11 ½ hours left to go 32 miles, we knew that we’d time out. Still, I felt pretty good just really tired.
This was definitely a different kind of race. With all the ups and downs, brush, and long distances between aid, I think this race is more difficult than Wasatch.
Post race festivities were great, grilled flank steak, potato salad, Caesar salad, local made huckleberry ice cream and a keg of beer.
Only 20 runners of the 44 who started managed to finish. I will definitely be back next year with a better plan for finishing.
Here's the technical details (at least what I can remember)
Shoes - La Sportiva Raptors I like them. Comfy, no blisters at all, good grip on most everything.
Pack - Nathan HPL #020 70 oz. bladder for those long distances between aid. Plenty of room to carry all the fuel I needed as well. Snug, no bounce at all.
Gel - 1st Endurance EFS Liquidshot. I like this stuff. I think I downed about a quart of the stuff during the race and I should have been downing more. No stomoach upset, nice even fueling as long as I take a shot every half hour or so. Downside, like any gel, you get a little sick of it after awhile, but with other gels I couldn't choke them down. This stuff I still can late in a race.
My best guess is that I downed somewhere in the neighborhood of 3000+ calories during the time I was out there. I needed more.
Thanks to Hammer Nutrition for their great support. Every aid station had a plethora of Hammer products.
Next up is my 5th year at Where's Walso 100K in Oregon. I love this race. After that I don't have anything on the schedule but I'm looking at a couple of races in California in October, a 24 hour and a 100 mile. Hmmm, which one should I do.


  1. great report-I am in awe of you guys..

  2. Wow, Jim. That sounds like a killer course. Great write- up.

  3. Well that brought back some memories. Thanks for a great time why we were there. Next year we will see the last 32 miles!
    Nice job and good luck at Waldo!!