The Rut: The hardest and most rewarding races you might ever run

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All of our The Rut Mountain Run Coverage:

How 3 Runners are Preparing for The Rut Mountain Runs The Rut Mountain Races Are Not Your Average Trail Races

By Alex Kurt

The 28K race in which I’d reluctantly taken part – as well as Friday’s Vertical Kilometer (VK) – was part of the Skyrunner World Series. It's a point-scoring series of races each year that feature gratuitous climbing and mountain top views, at least compared to your average singletrack trail race. The Rut is unique among American trail races for matching the sort of arduous, technical, gorgeous European races over which we frequently drool on YouTube.

Runners can compete and score points in the ultra series (50K-plus), the Sky series (between 13 and 26 miles, roughly) and the VK (races 5K or shorter in length with 1K of ascent). Several countries have their own annual Skyrunning series, but a handful of each race distance are chosen from around the world to represent the marquis in the international contest.

The 28K was Saturday, leaving those of us who ran the shorter but positively alpine, sheer-faced, scree-laden “varsity” race plenty of time to summon the strength for the after party. Not that I slept in Sunday; news of freezing rain, snow and a subsequent course change buzzed my phone to life at 5:20 AM; and besides, there was a race to take in.

It turns out the most exposed sections of the race were simply too dangerous for the 50K to go off as planned – not only for the runners, explained co-Race Director Mike Foote, of Missoula, but for the ski patrol and other race personnel who would be responsible for hauling injured, panicked, and otherwise stranded runners down. So they took the teeth out of the course, along with a few miles.

Runners lined up on a dirt trail

There are moments in a race like The Rut where you can’t be distracted by such trivial matters as how fast you’re moving, what place you’re in, or even how stunning the setting is. Your foot, and where it lands, is all you are capable of processing, if only for a fraction of a second, to ensure you don’t break your leg, or impale yourself on a tree branch. It’s a sensation that becomes drawn out in an activity like rock climbing, where you not only have to stay entirely, singularly focused on a task as menial as keeping your fingertip engaged on the lip of a crack; you can’t help but do it. To be distracted at a moment like that would mean you’re one iota of survival instinct short of your proper genetic makeup.

But as we descended into a field of loose talus, or faced a loose dirt ribbon of singletrack leading down a thousand-foot drop at a 45-degree angle, I usually ceased caring about my time or place, and honed in on the primal task of not falling flat on my face.

What is The Rut? It’s a bunch of races. It’s three days of gratuitous trail running culture – all the plaid and trucker hats you could ever want. It’s a celebration of mountain running culture. And it's technical as all getout. It will challenge your understanding of running, and possibly leave you vowing to take up a new hobby - for a minute or so, until the endorphins roll in and you start swapping war stories with other finishers.

In other words, it’s the hardest and most rewarding race – or races – you might ever run.

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