12 Reasons The Rut 50K Is The Most Bad-Ass Trail Race In The U.S.

The Rut is a 50K that features 20,000 feet of vertical gain. Photo: Courtesy of The Rut

Think you have what it takes to complete these grueling races?

On Sept. 12-13, Big Sky, Mont., will be bustling with runners from around the world testing their legs and lungs at The Rut trail running races. The 50K, 12K and vertical 1K courses are brutal, weather could be miserable (although recent reports suggest that it could be 60 degrees and sunny) and competition fierce. But that can make crossing the finish line all the sweeter—especially when a Euro-techno-cowboy dance party awaits. We spoke with race director Mike Foote to get the low-down on why you should run or watch or just be in awe of The Rut.

‘The Mikes’

Rugged Montana ultrarunning fiends Mike Foote and Mike Wolf are the fun-loving, mildly masochistic race directors for The Rut. The Missoula, Mont., residents see the races as an opportunity to showcase the rugged beauty and hardcore character of Montana while merging their favorite aspects from races around the world (including a prize purse!) into competitive U.S. events.

2014 Skyrunner World Series Ultra Final

The fact that the Rut’s 50K race is also the 2014 Skyrunner World Series Ultra Final (it’s the fifth and final race of the season for those trying to win a piece of the $25,000 Skyrunner World Series Ultra prize purse) brings international attention and competitors, which isn’t something that usually happens at races in Montana. And, if you aren’t competing, this is a prime opportunity to watch world-class racing in the U.S.

1,150 racers!

Because The Rut races are being held on private property, and are self-imposed with regards to race size, the event isn’t limited to a smaller field like most other trail races in the U.S. The Mikes want the races to grow, but they want them to grow intelligently based upon what the course can handle. In 2013, they had 312 finishers between the 12K and 50K. A vertical 1K has been added for 2014, and 1,150 total racers are registered for the three events this year.

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Hardest 50K In The U.S.?

The course is steep, with 20,000 feet of vertical gain and loss between 7,500 and 11,166 feet above sea level. It’s also very technical, with plenty of exposure above the tree line, off-trail sections, loose rocks and rockfall danger. “From mile 12.5-22.5 of the 50K, it is so, so, so steep, technical and hard,” Foote says. “Good or bad, people are going to remember it.” One goal of The Mikes is to have the Rut be the most challenging 50K in the U.S. They see Karl Meltzer’s Speedgoat 50K in Snowbird, Utah, as their biggest competition. “You’re going down, Karl!” Foote says, only half-jokingly with a tone that suggests the gauntlet has been thrown.

Get Beat By Killian Jornet

The legendary Spaniard has landed in Montana and is getting ready to race both the vertical K and the 50K. Foote reported that the 26-year-old Catalan record-setter is adjusting just fine. In fact, he even saw him playfully testing his skills on a slack line earlier this week. Jornet has won several major races in the U.S., including the Western States 100 in 2011, Pikes Peak Marathon in 2013 and the Hardrock 100 earlier this year. However, he has been beaten in the U.S. (at UROC in 2013 and Western States in 2010) and this might be his toughest test yet.

RELATED: Kilian Jornet Shatters Hardrock 100 Course Record

Toe The Line With A Celebrity

Missoula, Mont. resident John Wicks, the drummer for the rock band Fitz and the Tantrums, ran the inaugural Rut 50K in 8:03 and is registered again for 2014. “A couple of months after moving to Missoula, a neighbor suggested I try trail running,” Wicks says. “That was it; I was addicted, obsessed. It became a great excuse to get outside. The miles started to build and my runs got longer and longer. I’ve realized I can handle the pain.”

RELATED: I’m a Competitor: Drummer John Wicks

Who Needs a Starting Gun When You Have An Elk Call?

That’s right, The Rut races begin with an elk call—the very thing hunters use to draw elk in closer. It’s good incentive to clear the starting line before any curious elk wander onto the scene.

You Can Wear Camo And Blaze Orange

Why? Because you can never wear enough camo and blaze orange in Montana in the fall. Given the regional passion for hunting and outdoor pursuits, it’s inherently chic, campy and functional. Drop bags are made out of camo fabric (be careful where you drop them!) and race merchandise includes everything from camo baby onesies to camo flasks.

A Leg-Burning Climb

The Lone Peak Vertical Kilometer on Friday is billed as “the hardest 3-mile run you will ever complete.” (Technically, the length of the run is 2.4 miles, but it hardly matters given the elevation gain.) The entirely uphill course starts at the base of Big Sky Resort at an elevation of 7,700 feet and sends runners up 3,466 feet (or a rise just over 1K) to the 11,166-foot summit of Lone Peak.

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Bacon!

Yes, bacon! At the top of Lone Peak aid station, about 20 miles into the 50K course, runners will have crispy strips of thick-cut bacon as one of their refueling options.

One-Of-A-Kind Finisher’s Medal

The finisher’s “medal” is actually a piece of branded elk hide. “The elk hide is a shout-out to the regional wildlife,” Foote says. “The hides are locally sourced and then branded by a Montana artist.” And if you plan to win The Rut, you better clear some wall space—winners get a mounted elk rack (a.k.a the antlers).

Post-Race Dance Party

In the words of Mike Foote, “The dance party is going to be sick—Euro meets Montana! We have a live DJ, and we might even have a mechanical bull.” In case you need encouragement to boogie, dancing the night away is two-time UTMB winner Rory Bosio’s method of choice to flush lactic acid after a race.

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