In 2012 I went on a diet and lost 40 pounds and signed up for my first race, a 5K. I couldn't even run around the block so started training, and joined a running group for the fall 2012 training season and signed up for a bunch of "long distance" races (half and full marathons) to help me train for ultras. My first attempt didn't go as planned so I tried again six months later and completed my first 50 mile trail race (TNF50). Within a month I was looking for a coach to help me prepare for my first 100 miler.
After a lot of research I found what looked like the perfect race for me. A small, local, Idaho 100 miler near where I previously lived and was very familiar with the area. A true mountain race it ranks among the most difficult in the USA and finishers are qualified for the grand-daddy Hardrock race.
Very little info could be found online but with fewer than 35 people who’d finished it in the last two years, around a 50% finish rate, that wasn't a surprise.
That should give someone like me a chance to place well in the pack even as a new runner (unlike Southern California) but there must be something to it as only three people had come in under 24 hours.
I did not want an easy race for my first, no I wanted it to be the hardest I could sign-up for, even if it was not well known so I signed up for the http://imtuf100.com/.
I also signed up for two 50 milers to assess my fitness along the way and practice some race strategy. Over the summer I made two trips to the course and learned more valuable and humbling lessons. Running in the snow, drinking filtered stream water, and navigating by GPS/topo maps for hours and then training on some of the most remote and mentally challenging sections according to prior runners that had blogged about prepared me for the course.
I’d seen around 80% of the course and had a great sense of the difficulty of each section. After studying the splits from the two prior years I also had a great idea of what people had done right and wrong which combined with great insight into the course after chatting with Jeremy and Brandi Humphrey the RDs, I built my first race plan, with my wife Alaina as crew chief/pacer and my new friend and fellow paramedic (and Western States/etc finisher) Steve Boyenger as pacer. My training tally for 2014 leading up to the race was 1,287 miles for 308 hours across 114 runs.
A few weeks before race day I got some kind of piriformis, sciatica, or SI joint pain. The only real treatment would be rest, so that I did. No running for a couple weeks to give it a chance to heal.
On race day, right from the start I felt a slight twinge of pain and thought to myself “oh no, its going to be a long day” but within 30 minutes that twinge was replaced by a full on lower back spasm.
I knew it wouldn’t last forever (all cramps eventually stop) and pushed through it while the back spasm lasted for a couple hours. When it finally relaxed the glutes and hip flexors started spasming. Then this moved around to my hamstrings, quads, and calves. No matter what I tried to do the extreme pain of muscle cramping would not completely go away. I kept moving, hoping that the muscles would eventually stop - but the pain just moved from one muscle group to another.
The cramps and pain continued for 14 hours… until I made it to the Duck Lake at mile 43.7. I was DFL (dead f*cking last) and was 2 hours past the splits needed to be able to make a 36 hour finish, the final race cutoff. I was getting slower and slower rather than faster. There was no way that I could make the cutoffs, even if I left the aid station under my own power.
My race was over and there wasn't anything I could do about it. I'd pushed hard, given it all I had, and suffered all day. My muscles were spent far beyond what they should've been at that point.
I made some new and wonderful friends in Idaho who welcomed us like long time friends. The IMTUF course might be a Hardrock qualifier (making it one of the 10 hardest courses in the USA) but it is not for everyone.
It is a very, very rugged and extremely remote course. There are long stretches with no aid stations, or there is water only aid… or aid packed in the back of real goats (three white ones and a mean old brown goat). There's a reason most finishers are over 32 hours!
The start/finish is held at the rustic Burgdorf Hot Springs and hosted by Jim & Caroline the managers while the race is expertly designed and run by Jeremy and Brandi Humphrey.
When I say it is “run by", I mean it. The week before they run the course marking it and the week after they finish the cleanup work. They epitomize the very essence of trail running and are amazing in their dedication and care for the course and its runners.
An amazing group of volunteers spend countless hours in the cold and remote places that make up the aid stations, sometimes very far from any creature comforts in the middle of the night, they take care of the runners throughout the 36 hour event.
One couple hiked in and camped two nights for a remote aid station at mile 10 & 20, then packed it out before sweeping eight hours through the third night!
The course record holders are local folks and most runners are too. Everyone cares about each runner, down to the last 36 hour finisher. When a runner comes in to the finish line they are sure to get a warm welcome with hot chili and cold beer but there’s not an entourage or a press corp waiting to greet them. Frankly, that kind of finish is not what IMTUF is about and would be out of place at Burgdorf.
First time finishers receive a custom IMTUF leather belt (brown or black) while only second time finishers receive a buckle to attach to the belt. If you are looking for a true mountain race with a marked and well selected course, along with minimal (in quantity not quality) race support, then IMTUF may be for you. If you require a lot of attention and fanfare, this race is definitely not for you.
I'll be back!
Note: some pictures are my own but others were taken by Chihping Fu and Vicki Trees.