An IMTUF 100-mile Race Report
I had to finish IMTUF. Why?
- It’s a Hardrock 100 qualifier. I needed to start stacking tickets – while I don’t want to get in just yet, I would like to make my way around the San Juans one day.
- I needed to break my 100 mile on-again, off-again streak.
- But the most important reason had nothing to do with running—it was about self-belief.
- I started a company this April and have spent the entire year trying to make it work.
- Even though these are entirely unrelated things, I felt like finishing IMTUF meant that I could make it work. Or, more pessimistically – if I couldn’t finish, I wouldn’t be able to make it work.
IMTUF is one of the tougher 100’s in the country. It’s mostly above tree line, following technical, engaging trails, with long sections of alpine without crew access. It packs a punch, with ~22,000 ft of gain and loss, and, true to the tradition of its mountain race peers, has 4-8 ‘bonus miles.’
The lead-up to the race was all over the place. I had several great months of training, culminating with a 3-week block of big mountain days. But the prior three weeks were a struggle. I didn’t sleep much during some travel to Lebanon, nor did I sleep well at a conference in Sun Valley race week. Oh well. You play the cards you’re dealt.
The day before the race, I realized that IMTUF would be my third 100-mile finish. Presumably, I’ve started to accumulate some wisdom from past experiences – particularly from past failures. I learned at Mountain Lakes that I love sleeping, but it wasn’t until I puked for 13 miles at Leadville that I figured out how it resets my stomach. I learned at Oregon Cascades not to go out too hard, and at Antelope that I needed to find the course to be challenging to find it engaging. I learned at Leadville to pick up a headlamp way before the night starts. While I didn’t have the energy levels I wanted heading into the race, at least I had some wisdom in my quiver.
I had a world class crew at IMTUF. Pollee, my erstwhile training partner and 2021 IMTUF finisher flew into Boise on Thursday night, and we had a great evening laughing and relaxing. Eleonora and Matthew flew in that Friday morning. “Shit, it is actually happening.” I started getting quieter as the day continued. We got dinner out at Salmon River Brewing. I sullenly drank my beer. All I wanted to do was stop waiting and start running.
I slept well, all things considered. I’ve found that writing a morning checklist helps. (“Lube nuts” is probably the most important thing on the list). My crew graciously decided to join me on the drive out to the start – I set my running playlist on shuffle, and listened to whatever the karmic gods dictated. They chose “I’m Alright” by Kenny Loggins. I guess that was the plan for the day.
I appreciated how cool the temperature was at the start. I knew that my friend, Gabe Joyes, was out there somewhere, but it was too chaotic to find him. I checked-in, got in line for the bathroom, got in the starting chute far further back than I’d normally line up, and got going.
It was time.
Start to Lake Fork (Mile 0-20)
We didn’t start till 6:01am, or something like that. I thought that was pretty cool – I appreciated that this felt like an actual community race, and not part of the Lifetime-UTMB-industrial complex.
I had run this section in preparation and was happy to know what was ahead. We ran in the dark, in a conga line of headlamps. One person told self-described ‘dad jokes’ – I only remember one, and you’ll have to ask me what it was, because I refuse to put it in writing.
With my foot off the gas, I hiked and jogged up the mountain at the pace of my peers. One person I passed appeared to be Facetiming while trying to explain how to change a tire. Grateful for a crew that kept their tires intact.
I ducked into the trees around mile to ‘run a quick errand’. Feeling lighter, I rejoined the herd, and began the gorgeous climb up Jug Mountain. It was finally time. In my prep run, this climb was easy, but route finding was catastrophic – I waded through manzanita and stressfully, chaotically descended a boulder/scree field to Louie Lake. This time, the course was marked – probably the best marked alpine course I’ve ever seen – and the descent was friendlier. I couldn’t believe that the RD, Jer, had already made it up to the summit to make sure that runners descended safely. I took in the views, managed the descent somewhat quickly (18 minutes, a marked improvement over the 40 minutes it took me in prep, but still nowhere close to the race leaders), and continued on my merry way. After a quick water refill at the Louie Lake aid station, I got back on the trail.
This section is dangerously runnable. I settled in behind a Wyoming-based runner (Sean? Sam? Something?) and turned my brain off. A couple hours of conversations later – including time spent with a fellow Minnesotan, who I hope crushed it – I made it to my crew. They changed my socks, restocked my pack, and sent me off. A textbook pit stop, made all the better because they were actually there on time – even though I was nearly 30 minutes ahead of schedule. History doesn’t always repeat itself!
Lake Fork to South Crestline (Mile 20-30)
I left feeling happy – fist bumping my friend Grace, who was there crewing another prospective IMTUFer. This next section was simple: run 3-4 flatish dirt road miles to the trailhead, climb over an obnoxiously steep mountain to the saddle, and then wander down to crew. Pollee had suggested that I bring my poles on this section, but I decided to ‘tough out’ one more climb. Why not?
I ran the dirt road with a nice guy (god… Carlton? Crimp? Krampus?) from Silverton, CO, who was there for a Hardrock ticket. He pointed out that IMTUF was going to be my hardest 100 miler so far… which I knew, but also got a little nervous hearing. I was stoked that running with him was so easy – then we got to the trailhead, and he flew uphill while I trudged. I was moving well, but holy moly, what a crusher!
The climb felt fine, not great, not bad, but not good either. Mentally, I could feel my mood worsening. The weight of the journey ahead had shifted uncomfortably on my shoulders. There’s a certain cruelty to ultramarathon math – a horror zone ratio of “many miles run already” to “many, many, many miles yet to run”. You’re in it enough to be tired, but not close enough to done. The only way out is through.
After longer than I thought (pro tip: [expected false summits] < [actual false summits]), I crested the climb and began descending. Puzzlingly, worryingly, annoyingly, I had a recurring sharp pain near what I thought was my heart. (Since my mom is likely reading this, I’ll give a spoiler: I needed to burp and couldn’t. I will not explain how I later resolved this). I made my way down a beautiful-yet-annoyingly-bouncy dirt bike trail to the aid station, a grumpy, dehydrated mess.
Colton had joined the crew, immediately lifting my spirits. I saw our friend Danielle Snyder, who flew past me with her lovely dog Yuki in the last couple miles of the Peterson Ridge Rumble this past April. Always good to see a friend.
I was grumpy while sitting and refueling. I didn’t want to head back out – I knew that it would be a long 26 miles until I saw them again. I didn’t feel good, and I knew that the hardest section was yet to come. But it’s not called IM-E-Z. After a good half hour of slowly chewing food, I kissed my dog Lily on the head and wandered out.
South Crestline to Upper Payette (Mile 30-56)
I didn’t want to mess this up. I had many solo hours ahead, each one an opportunity to make bad decisions, so I wanted to get through them as fast as possible. Armed with poles and zero knowledge of the terrain ahead, I set out on a low-energy warpath. “Get to crew.”
Only about a mile in, I caught a couple runners joking about how they didn’t have headlamps. Last year, I almost got stuck at Leadville going over Hope Pass in the dark, but a Good Samaritan dropping out at Winfield lent me his Petzl – critical to me finishing. As such, I was carrying two headlamps at that point – one of which was the Donated Petzl. I foisted it on one of the runners (Hilary? Hallie?), telling her its backstory and asking her to pay it forward – trailrunning’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. That little Petzl will change the world.
Buoyed by good karma, I moved well uphill. Running was easy and the heat wasn’t too oppressive (thank you, summer miles in the Boise Foothills). I wasn’t that interested in eating, but tried my best. I had a mealy peanut butter bar (yuck). All I wanted was fruity, watery chia seed gels, and those weren’t substantial enough for that long of an effort. Plus, they had the unfortunate effect of improving the functionality of my GI system…
7 miles of mildly upset jogging later, at the 45th parallel aid station – which volunteers use goats to bring supplies to – I sat down, drank a couple ginger ales, watched someone get bonked by a goat while trying to get a selfie (no blood, all laughs), and wandered out. My energy levels were decreasing.
Somehow, I kept climbing. The air thinned in lockstep with my enthusiasm. I grimaced my way past the photographer and wandering up through beautiful alpine wilderness. Any runner will tell you that miles are not a consistent unit of distance. I stopped to demolish a bag of sour gummy worms while looking at the view. There are worse venues for a pity party.
Eventually, fueled by the advanced chemistry of high fructose corn syrup, my energy levels reversed their downward trend. I jogged down to a river crossing, where a stranger lent me their water filter. Why is it that filters only break during races? Climbing out felt great. I was so back.
At the top, I witnessed the retiring sun throwing a red-gold blanket over the mountains. Reader, I teared up. Stupid sunset. Thus began my Emotional Era. A few miles later, another runner told me that their only competitive goal was to finish, and that they were just grateful to be out there. This reduced me to tears, yet again. Thank god nobody had puppies up for adoption. Nothing is permanent, and my heightened emotional state came to an end when a bearded man ran past me yelling “I need to find a bathroom.” Buddy, I hope you found what you were looking for.
I arrived at the North Crestline Trailhead aid (mile 47.5) like a UN peacekeeper entering a war zone. A young runner shivered under a pile of blankets. Others had something further than a thousand-yard stare (52.5-mile stare?). For whatever reason – not schadenfreude, but not not schadenfreude – I felt great. It helped to find out only a mostly downhill dirt road stood between me and the crew.
My new friend Andrew (I knew his name!) and I set off downhill, and I proceeded to learn everything about him. This was his first hundred-miler, his girlfriend Katie, parents, and old college friend were crewing him. They had come out from Durango. His social security number was [REDACTED]. Great guy.
Almost two hours later, wearing a headlamp and a smile, I made it to my crew. Our friend Lotti surprised us by driving up from Boise – what a gem! Now it was time to execute ‘The Plan’. I had a quesadilla, a beer, and a 30-minute nap in the back of Colton’s car.
Upper Payette to Snowslide (Mile 56-71)
I woke up, slammed a Red Bull, and ran out with my first pacer, Pollee. But before I tell you about that, dear reader, a quick note. At this point, you might be worried that we’re only halfway through the race, and you have other things to get done today. Don’t worry. My pacers made the miles fly by, so you’ll only be getting snapshots from here on out.
Pollee and I moved uphill easily, propelled by the good energy of old friendship. We had a lot to catch up on, and the stars were out in force. After cresting the climb, we zigzagged our way to the Duck Lake aid station (man, 10 miles flew by), where they were holding a vote on gummy worms (sour vs sweet). I had placed my vote many hours earlier, sour obviously.
I then made a pretty big mistake – I had a fairly flat Coke and a cup of ramen, but quickly found out that I didn’t want that. The forensic evidence of that mistake will live outside of the aid station. After atoning for that sin, I felt great (again!).
When we got to our crew, I was under-fueled, and wanted to run the same play as at Upper Payette. So I drank a Coke, had a sandwich, and slept in the car. If it ain’t broke.
Snowslide to Lake Fork (Mile 71-83)
I woke up not feeling nearly as good as last time. I was kind of scared of the Snowslide climb – I’d heard that it was technical and steep, and I didn’t feel as alert as I’d like. But, Colton and I had done plenty of dumb things together before, so this would be on brand.
We diligently climbed. I fought gravity, Colton battled with the realization that his running partner was non-verbal. I was struggling – even the descent was slow. Once you get through the steep up/down, there’s a long meandering almost-flat descent to the aid, and I tackled it with the inefficiency of a sleep-walker. Eventually, I succumbed to a two-minute dirt nap. Heaven.
I woke up chatty – “I had two dreams!” – and we joked our way to Lake Fork aid station. The last time that I passed through that aid station 60 miles earlier, I had fresh legs and fear in my heart. Now, my legs were toast, but I was so happy.
There’s a mile-ish of out-and-back to get to the aid station, and the exiting runners ranted and raved about the pizza. It was about 8:00am. Pizza sounded perfect.
We got into aid, and I changed back into a t-shirt and my Freetrail sleeves. That pizza was great.
Lake Fork to Finish (Mile 83-100)
These last miles were a blur. Intellectually, I knew the longest climb and highest point of the race was right out of this aid station – but it didn’t feel like Eleonora and I climbed 3,500 ft up. I remember two quick dirt naps and a persistently, annoyingly elevated heart rate, but it felt easy. At the top, we ran into Brent, who Sydney and I had run into while running the Grandjean loop. He was seeking redemption after the Beaverhead 100-kilometer (and he got it!). Brent took a photo of us, and then we made our way down.
Running was challenging. I had seemingly torn something in my right calf during that first climb with Pollee – my knee was stiff and my leg was uncomfortable, so we’d run down the steeper sections and push forward the rest. The conversation was easy even if the miles weren’t. One last crew encounter at Boulder Lakes (~94miles deep), 6 windy dirt bike miles, and then the finish line.
Finish Onwards (Mile 100+)
I thanked Jer the RD, had another delicious beer, and then my crew drove down to Boise. I was elated with being done, and my crew was… tired. Sydney, who had been herding kittens for two days, was the real MVP.
IMTUF is stupid-gorgeous. I’m proud to wear this belt buckle.