The only thing hot about yesterdays Wulfman's CDT 14K in Butte was the racing. The day started out cool and misty............................and things deteriorated from there. When I got to the bus pick up point at Homestake Pass off I-90, the car thermometer read 49 degrees. Then, the steady, drizzling rain got started in earnest and the temp began to drop. On the up side, once it hit 45 degrees or so it pretty much held steady and we didn't see any snow. (Hey, don't laugh - snow on the first day of summer isn't such a rare thing in Butte or the surrounding mountains!!!) The race's namesake (I think that John "The Wulfman" Wulf would have loved the conditions - cause all of us that grew up running in Butte know that weather like this makes you "Strong Like Bull") (BTW - the ghost of Wulfman was present on the course as evidenced by the empty Miller Lite can sitting trail side at about 3K - he must have been out keeping an eye on his people :-)
The organizers (The Butte Piss and Moan Runners) did a great job of pulling off the race. And, when you consider the conditions, their efforts were monumental. Some of the people that I saw working hard on race day included Ray and Nicole Hunt (man, they looked tired at the end of the day), Ray Matteson, Don Sundberg, Jim Ryan, Bruce Robinson and Eddie Walker. And, my old friend Jeff Thomas did a great job getting running out of the gate and doing the announcing at the awards. I know that there had to be others; but, wanted to give you an idea of how much the local running community came together to put on a great event for the rest of us.
And, I would be remiss if I didn't thank the Homestake Lodge for opening up their facilities to a bunch of cold, wet running freaks. They have a great facility located in a wonderful setting. Make sure you think of them the next time you're looking for a place to XC ski or snowshoe in southwest Montana (find out more about them at www.homestakelodge.com). And, as several of us discussed, it would be an outstanding location for a summer XC or running camp.
And now, on to the racing. The course was run (as it will be in all odd number years) from Pipestone Pass to Homestake pass along 14 Kilometers (8.70 miles) of the Continental Divide Trail. The first several kilometers are primarily uphill; but, then you get into some serious downhill sections in the middle part of the course. With the race being along the top of the Continental Divide, elevation is an issue (6,300' +-) and the thin air made it's presence felt on the more serious inclines.
The wet weather made the course conditions a bit treacherous in spots. Even the decomposed granite of the Boulder Batholith (the geology geeks among us will know what I'm talking about) couldn't quite keep up with the persistent rain. And, in some of the low spots, the mud was a bit slimy. And, the cool (but not quite cold temps) made it a challenge to choose the right clothing. (The Buzzard himself was wishing that he had gone to heavier gloves and a long sleeve jersey.) And, it was interesting to see the footwear choices. There were trail specific racing shoes, trail trainers, XC spikes, road flats and road trainers. You name it, somebody was probably wearing it. All thing being equal - if I had a good pair of trail racing shoes, that's what I would have worn on this course.
Due to the narrow trail conditions, it's necessary that this race be held in a staged, time trial type of format. With runners going out every 10 seconds starting at 9:00, it's not quite as clear cut as to who is actually running the fastest. The only thing for certain is that you're always trying to stay ahead of the folks who started behind you and trying to catch the runners who started ahead of you. (And, an interesting note on the tight switchbacks. Several times I found myself thinking that "that runner's not too far ahead, there they are right below/above me. But, by the time that you hit the corner and turn the opposite direction, it turns out that they have more distance on you than you thought.)
There were very few places on the course where you could really keep and maintain a good rhythm. All the terrain changes were one thing; but, the tight corners and switchbacks were crazy. At times, it felt like kamikaze running as you tried to maintain some semblance of speed and momentum as you cranked the turns. But, it was a quintessential trail race. And, when you have people who know the sport putting on a top quality race on a fantastic venue, the runners will show.
On the overall side, they almost met their 240 runner quota - I believe that they had 235 register and there were 217 actual finishers. To only have 18 runners not show up on a day like this is a testament to the depths of our obsession of outdoing the postal service. 92% of the runners duly made their rounds today.
On the front end racing side, it was sort of like a mini Montana Cup. The open men's and women's races had some of the top competitors in the sport as did the master's men.
Let's start with the open men. Matt Winter, Lynn Reynolds, Thomas Jodoin, Alan King, Keifer Hahn, Quint Gidley, Austin Chapin, Brian Weick, Mike Asay and Jeremy Franks. Those were the top 10 guys line up in the starting chute. If we could have added a few more guys like Jimmy Grant, Dewey Peacock and the Neil and Wirth brothers, we would have pretty much filled out the who's who of 2009 Montana racing. The studs took it out hard. They were in search of the $100 prize for a sub 56:00 time (4:00 per K). Matt Winter had the pole position; but, he indicated that after the first 8 or 9K his legs were empty and he just didn't have it in him to close out the race. Alan King has had a solid year; but, he's a roadie and hasn't done much trail racing. And, in spite of his prowess over the steeple barriers, Lynn Reynold's youth had to give way to the experience of the post-collegians.
In the end, it came down to a battle between Jodoin (who has been on fire this year) and Hahn. And, Thomas was pretty much able to keep the gap consistent between he and Keifer (TJ was out 20 seconds ahead of KH) and got the win - 56:29 t0 56:24. Next up were King (57:37), Reynolds (58:22) and Winter (58:38). [Quint Gidley joined them in the sub-60:00 club wit his 59:47 6th place finish.]
For the women, Nicole Hunt was on a Mission. Run fast and get the sub-66:00 bonus of $100. She went out hard and fast and wasn't to be denied. She had recently time trialed the course and new exactly how long it was going to take to get up and over the high point of the course. And, when she hit her time goal, she knew that she could crank it on the 2nd half and get the $$'s. Here 64:10 got her the bonus, an 11th place overall finish and a 3:00 + win over Kristina Trygstad-Saari (67:25). They were followed in by Michelle Bazanella (69:27), Marta Fisher (75:05) and Debbie Gibson (and first master woman) in 75:27.
The master's men's field was also loaded. New master Mike Telling, ageless Kirk Keller, John Herring, Ray Hunt, Marvin Speece, Mark Slater, Mike Roberts, Tim Dumas and Tony Banovich. In the end, there were really 2 races. Mike running against the open guys and then there was the rest of us. (Now, we do have to give some leeway to Ray who was really busy with the race coordination and Marv who had to take his wife to the ED for kidney stones.) Telling was well clear of the next master ( + 3:22) as he finished 7th overall in 60:36.
Then, things tightened up a bit. Kirk Keller (at 50) was 9th overall and 2nd Master at 63:58 and was followed by Herring (64:43), Speece (65:51), Hunt (67:17), Banovich (67:45), Slater (69:26) and Roberts (70:04). Not a bad showing for the old guys.
My only regrets for the day are that it's such a fantastic course and you can't really appreciate the setting or some of Ray's course quirks when you're in racing mode. But, I did notice the aforementioned Miller Lite can/ghost of Wulman past marker at 3K, Diamond Jim said howdy from the warming hut just around 12K and Suzie Kaluza in a Tech cheer leading outfit with a mile to go was Classic. And, although I missed it, Alan King said he received a scare from the trail monster.
All in all, it was a great day to be a runner. You won't get any pissing and moaning from this old buzzard.
See you on the roads, tracks and trails.
The Muddy Buzzard