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

Monday, December 24, 2012

Eating & Running With The Jurker

For those of you who weren't aware, ultra marathon legend made a trip to Missoula recently.  Luckily, I was able to adjust my schedule to allow me to take in the events on December 11th and 12th.

Before going any further, I need to make sure to recognize the people who really made this event a possiblility.  First and foremost is The Runner's Edge.  Using Mike Foote's connections to the ultra community and Anders Brooker's ability to make things happen for the benefit of the runnign community, they were able to convince Jurek to make a stop in Missoula as part of his "tour" promoting his book "Eat & Run".  And, special thanks to Rick Wischcamper (an accomplished ultra man himself) who donated the use of the Wilma Theatre in downtown Missoula to host the Tuesday night talk.  Thanks to their efforts, all of the events were free and open to the public.

So, as noted above, Jurek has been on the road for some time promoting his book "Eat & Run".  Most of his venues were in bigger places like Dallas, Chicago and New York City.  He's at the end of his "tour" and, thankfully, h agreed to come to one of the small, trail-crazy ZooTown.

The day started with an easy group run from the Runner's Edge.  Scott and his partner Jenny were part of the small crew of 25 people or so who did a modified version of the River Root's 4-mile course.  Scott floated back and forth between groups and did his best to at least touch base with as many runners as he could.

Friday night involved a talk to about 450 or so folks at the Wilma.  He opened with a short video of his book trailer (which you can find on his website here: ).  Then he gave a low-key talk that mostly focused on some of his running, his trips to the Copper Canyon, overcoming adversity at Badwater and his general philosophy on what it took for him to reach the top in the ultrarunning world.  He took some Q&A from the audience and had some very insightful comments.

After the talk he proceeded to the lobby where he sold and authographed his book for any and all.  Jenny sold some t-shirts (that included quotes from the book).  From the t-shirt sales they donated part of the proceeds back to the Missoula Youth Track Club (I think they raised over $150 for the club) - very cool thing for them to do.

I then had the good fortune to be able to attend a late dinner with Scott and some of the Runner's Edge crew; and, was even more fortunate to end us sitting at the far end of the table with him and a few others.  The topics ranged from the psychology of endurance to running in cold weather to his next project in Ethiopia (some more info on that here from Scott's blog - ).  And, once again, it proves something about elite runners.................they are a lot more like us than we think.  We far too often put them on a pedestal and think that they are filled with magic answers and an impenetrable aura.  (I think that we get that perception from our infatuation with pro football, basketball and baseball players.)  But, over and over and over I have found that elite runners are much like use in that they have the same self doubts; the same issues with pre-race nerves; that they're typically a bit odd and geeky just like the rest of us; and, they like to hang out with other runners.

The next day there was a presentation on the 2nd Floor of the Runner's Edge with a small group of about 40 people.  Scott and Jenny whipped up seasoned popcorn, hummus and some vegan "cheese" spread - just to show how easy it is to make some of the vegan foods that he eats on a regular basis.  They shared the foods with the group; and, I have to say, it was Gooooooood Eats!!!!

But, the bulk of the time was Scott just answering questions from the crowd.  It was a much more relaxed and intimate setting and allowed for some great feedback and insights from Scott.  The topics were very wide and varied.  He talked about his training, his racing, winter running, his diet, his work with Brooks on the Cascadia and with Ultimate Directions on their new line of race vests.  It really gave some good insight about what makes him tick and the "secrets" to his success.

All in all it was a great two days of running related activities.  And, I came away very impressed with Scott - even more so than after I had originally read his book.  He's a pleasant, articulate, thoughtful person who happens to be a trail warrior.  His message was basically "Hey, this is what worked for me.  And, here's the things in life that led me to trail running and a vegan lifestyle.  Maybe it will work for you; but, everyone needs to find their own way.  Just be thoughtful and passionate in what you do and how you approach you life choices."  Certainly a message that I can respect.  If you ever get a chance to sit in on a future Jurek presentation, by all means take it.

See you on the roads, tracks and trails

The Muddy Buzzard

Sunday, December 16, 2012

One Month To Go

With the end of this week, it's just 4 weeks from today until I hit the streets of Austin.  This past week was generally pretty good.

Started off with a really good 14-Miler in Thompson Falls on Sunday.  Included a couple of mile out and back section up the Thompson River Road.  It's always a pleasant segment of the run with the Thompson River running right alongside the road.  Finished with a few miles between 7:15 and 7:20 without forcing it or pushing at all - so, was really quite happy with how the run went.

Wednesday saw a strength interval workout on the treadmill.  Went onto the treadmill so that I could make sure that I ran the desired times; and, to try out my new Brooks Pure Connects (which is what I intend to use to race in at the 3M Austin Half Marathon).  The interval session went just as planned - 3 X 1.5 miles with 800 rest at 9:49, 9:45 and 9:39 (6:27 to 6:35 pace - right at my goal).

The rest of the week was pretty much just getting in miles.  This will be my biggest mileage week of my build-up - topping out at 56 miles.  [Which is quite a bit less than I would traditionally do.  But, have found with my cardiac issues that I tend to get overly fatigued and flat if I do too much in the way of weeks over 50 miles.  So, have been trying to find a balance of enough miles to have the endurance to cover the half at sub-1:29.  And, at the same time, stay fresh enough to allow me to hit some good quality work that will make 6:45 pace seem comfortable.]

Did have the opportunity to get in a couple of runs in Missoula with some of the Run Wild Missoula crew.  Was in town Tuesday for the Scott Jurek talk and group run (more on that in another post) and Thursday for some business.  In those runs was able to run with Anders Brooker, Em Kendrick, Pat Cross and Tim Brooker.  Always a pleasure to get to town and run with some other folks.  (Sometimes it gets a bit lonely out here in little ol' Plains.)

Finished off the week with a nice, leisurely run up Weeksville Creek Road.  Nice to get out and away from the highway and enjoy the quite "sounds" of nature.  Always calming to stop for a minute at the creek crossing about 1.5 miles up the route and enjoy the sights and sounds of the little stream.

A bit fatigued by the end of the week.  A bit of travel, a heavy work load at the office, biggest mileage in probably at least a year, and a couple of high quality workouts.  Guess with that I should probably expect to be a bit worn down.  The ultimate test will be to see how well I come back this coming week (with a bit of a drop in mileage; but, a couple of hard workouts on tap).  Regardless, it's all a pleasant part of the training adventure.

See you on the roads, tracks and trails.

The Muddy Buzzard

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Still Ridin' The Roller Coaster

A bit of an odd week this week. 

Sunday started with a decent 12.  Did it on the treadmill due to cold (33 degrees), heavy rain in the morning.  Didn't want to wait until the afternoon to get in the run (had some chores that I had to get completed); but, really not up for a long run in miserable conditions.  So, hit the 'mill.  Ran pretty well through 10.  But, during the last 2 the lingering effects of the cold and flu symptoms that I've had caught up with me and made for a tough last couple.

Was on the road pretty much all week.  Left Monday morning and got back late Friday afternoon - hitting Helena, Butte and Bozeman.  Did get to go on a run with Jeff Thomas.  Spent one night with Jeff and Lyla.  Also spent a night in Bozeman with Kelly and Liz Fulton.  Plus got to see my parents in Butte and Zoe in Bozeman.  And, on the way back home on Friday, was able to stop and say hi to Nicole Hunt and the boys (Eon, Ember and Roam).  So - the travel had some pretty decent upside.

Had planned a 2 X 2-mile with 800 workout for Wednesday.  That day found me in Bozeman.  It was a warm day - probably on the order of 55 degrees when I headed out to run.  The trails were a bit muddy and wet; but, footing was okay.  Right from the get go, felt heavy and sluggish.  Don't know if it was the altitude; or, the slight upgrade on the way "out".  But, decided to give it a go anyway.  Got some work in.  Not quite the quality that I would have liked.  [Goal was 13:05 to 13:20 for each 2-mile segment.  Only able to hit 14:00 on the "out" section.  Better coming back in - 13:06.........but, some of that was aided by the net downhill over that segment.]  But, did get some quality work; and, some days there's value in fighting through a less than stellar workout rather than bailing out at the first sign of trouble.  Sure, there's some physiological value.  But, there's a bigger mental/psychological benefit.  Some times you just have to "suck it up" and work your way through the bad spells.  Those bad spells are bound to occur during, it doesn't hurt to get used to fighting through and coming out the other side.

On Friday, the schedule called for a 5-mile temp run.  Goal pace was 6:45 to 6:50.  Felt much better than Wednesday - even the warm-up felt okay.  A bit of a breeze going out.  But, still pretty close to goal pace.  Right onto goal pace coming back in over the last 3.5 miles.  Hit 34:06 for the 5-miles ............. 6:49 pace.  Mostly controlled effort.  Didn't feel that I was "going to the well" at any point.  So, really pretty pleased with how it went - especially considering Wednesday's effort.

Ended up with 49 miles for the week.  Right about where I had hoped to be for the week.

The effects of the cold are pretty much running their course.  Looks like I should be able to get some rest - especially as we hit the holiday season.  So, hopeful that things will come together over the next few weeks and I'll be able to sharpen up and ready to hit the sub-1:29 needed for guaranteed entry int NYC.  35 days and counting.

See you on the roads, tracks and trails

The Muddy Buzzard