Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mike Foote - Missoula's Trail Master

I've been trying to write this blog post for some time.  In fact, I've been trying to get to it since right after the 2012 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) race (September, 2012).  But, about that time the high school cross country season was getting into full swing; and, with coaching the team, taking care of work responsibilities, and seeing to my own training build up for the Austin 3M Half Marathon - I just didn't have much free time to be able to sit down and "pen" this profile of one of the nation's up and coming ultra-trail running studs.  But, found a bit of time over this holiday season and decided it was time to put my thoughts together and put "pen to paper". 

As suggested by the title of this post, Missoula's Mike Foote is clearly showing himself to be a trail master - here and abroad.  A baseball-playing Midwesterner who migrated west as a ski-bum and whitewater guide, Mike spent his first couple of Montana winters working and skiing at Whitefish Mountain and summers guiding whitewater rafters.  Mike also was finding time to get in a few trail runs, taking full advantage of all the opportunities of the Flathead/Glacier region.  Kind of the classic western outdoor/fitness bum lifestyle.  Pretty sweet gig for a adventurous 20-something.  Over the next couple of years; and, as he began to develop his running legs, he found himself migrating in the non-ski seasons to Missoula, where he eventually landed seasonal work at the Runner's Edge.

And, it was at about that time that Mike began his amazingly short and successful ascent within the ultra-trail running world.  He'd begun to realize some racing success between 2009 and 2011 -  including a 1st place at the 2009 HURL Elkhorn 50 M; winning the 2010 Bridger Ridge Run; winning the 2010 Bear 100; an 8th place finish at the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 M in San Francisco; and, an impressive 11th place at the 2011 UTMB.

By the end of 2011, Mike took stock of his high placing on a national scale at the North Face Endurance Challenge; his international performance at UTMB; and his selection to the North Face National Team Program.  He also had some conversations with friends within the ultra community (including good pal Mike Wolfe - another Montana boy) about what it would take to make that next step in his running at racing.  With all things considered, Mike made the choice to pass on the 2011/12 ski season and commit to year round training focused on ultra-trail running.

With his employment opportunities at the Runner's Edge; the great access to trails (think Blue Mountain, the Rattlesnake, Mounts Jumbo and Sentinel, Pattee Canyon, and on and on); easy access to at least moderate altitude; and, the active lifestyle vibe of the community - it was an easy choice for Mike to stick around Missoula and make that his home training base.  Shortly thereafter, Mike leased a small plot up the Rattlesnake Valley and proceeded to set up home-sweet-home in his very own backcountry Yurt.  (For a great piece on Mike and his yurt living ways, check out this video at - originally posted as a Running Time webcast.)  He also felt that this location and lifestyle would provide the ability to have a personal and mental refuge that would allow him to escape from te rigors of training and to mentally focus on the tasks at hand.

Clearly, Mike made a smart choice, as he had a breakout year in 2012.  He started the year with a bang, winning the Bighorn 100 Miler in Dayton, Wyoming.  His 18:36 performance broke Mike Wolfe's course record by around 8 minutes.  He then spent the summer with some focused training and a goal of improving on his 2011 UTMB performance (where, besides being 11th overall, he was the top placing American).  Part of that build-up included a 3rd place at the Bridger Ridge Run (at which Wolfe got a new CR and just missed going sub-3 hours).  The most impressive part of that day however, is that Mike's race day warm-up included 15 or 20 miles of pre-dawn trail running in the lower Bridgers and then hitch hiking to the start line in time to take in the 20-mile main event.

And, then came UTMB.  One of the premiere ultra-trail races in the world, UTMB is scheduled as a 168 Kilometer (104 miles or so) race through 3 countries (France, Switzerland, and Italy - and beginning and ending in Chamonix, France) around the massif of Mount Blanc.  With over 30,000 feet of vertical elevation gain and multiple mountain pass crossings, it is one nasty bugger of a run.  To add even a bit more of a challenge, the race has an evening start, which insures that all runners will have at least some amount of their race under technical, night-running conditions. 

Unfortunately, 2012 saw the third consecutive year where nasty, cold, wet weather rolled in just ahead of the race.  This year, conditions were so bad that the organizers were forced to shorten the race to 104 Kilometers (a bit over 65 miles).  They made the decision at 11:00 a.m. on race morning - giving runners just 8 hours to get refocused before the 7:00 p.m. start.  In spite of the course changes, virtually all of the elite men decided to line up and face the modified challenge - in spite of the conditions.  Sure, the race distance was shortened; but, the playing field was mostly leveled out when considering the cold, wet conditions.  And, most of all - for the front runners, it meant the entire race would be run in the dark.

In spite of everything, Mike stuck to his game plan.  Get out conservative and focus on calorie intake, fluids and energy level.  And, even though he didn't feel real good over the first 30 Kilometers, he stayed committed to the race.  And, then, right around 30K, he came "awake".  At that point things began to click; and, he didn't worry about being back in the pack (in fact, at that point he was outside of the top 20 overall).  Instead, he began what called "the best-race-tactics-of-the-year".  He just began to steam-roll people over the next 60+ miles - moving into the top-15 at about midway, the top 10 after about 7 hours in and top 5 about 10 hours in.  His biggest problem was probably running out of room before the finish.  But, in the end, he picked up a podium spot with his 3rd place finish, the only American in the top 10 and the prestige of being at the front of a top international field.  (For some great interviews with Mike about UTMB, check out posts at

Not long after UTMB, Mike traveled to the North Face Ulta Marathon De Los Andes - an 80 Kilometer race in Santiago, Chile.  There, Mike topped the field and took home a nice little payday.  Not a bad way to end the primary part of your racing season.  (Sure, Mike ran a jet-lagged, leg-weary 13th at Montana Cup XC the next weekend; but, that was all for fun.)  A great season all the way around; but, clearly, the UTMB performance was the highlight of the year for Mike and one that will pay dividends as he looks to participate in high-level events for 2013.  And, considering that he won't turn 30 until next September, Mike has plenty of time in front of him to reach the highest points of the trail-ultra world.

Sure, the running accomplishments of Mike have been impressive.  But, maybe just as important to us in the Big Sky State is the way in which he has fully committed to improving the western Montana running scene.  As previously noted, Mike has been employed by Runner's Edge over the last couple of years.  And, with Mike's full-time residence in Missoula, store owner Anders Brooker has tapped Mike for a number of special projects. 

Mike is the wizard behind the curtain for much of the content on  He's acted as the race director for Missoula area events such as the Blue Mountain 30K, 11 Miles To Paradise, and Resolution Run.  He was the technical course director for the 2012 Missoula Marathon.  And, he was a driving force behind bringing in a screening of the film Unbreakable:  The Western States 100 and the recent visit by ultra legend Scott Jurek. 

He's also served as an assistant coach for the Hellgate High School cross country teams.  And, right before Christmas, he assisted Hellgate HS senior (and cross country ace) Adam Peterman with his senior project - which involved a self-powered (bike and hike), 135-mile trek from Death Valley (280' below sea level) to 14,500' Mount Whitney.  That's right - 5 or 6 days of his own time and money to help one of his athletes meet a personal and scholastic goal.

To top it all off, Mike is just a great guy.  Always a smile on his face and a happy word.  Willing to lend a hand when needed.  Pretty much just a John Denver type, good old country boy.  In the end, it's all comes back to being the fastest yurt dwelling, trail runner in the upper Rattlesnake valley, living large and enjoying the Big Sky life.

See you on the roads, tracks and trails

The Muddy Buzzard

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