Note: Dan Chesnet, sports editor of the Belgrade News, competed in the Jim Bridger Trail Run on Saturday. Here is his description of the 10-mile race.
As a light rain fell on a cloudy and cool summer morning, I stood in wet grass at the starting line along with nearly 250 others Saturday. We were just moments away from the firing of the starting pistol and, yeah, you could say I was a little antsy.
While I’ve done six Spartan races over the past two years, this was my first trail race. There were no visions of crossing the finish line first or even placing in the top 50 for that matter. I set two simple goals — finish the grueling 10-mile run and do so in under 2.5 hours.
Check, and check.
After signing up online for the Jim Bridger Trail Run earlier in the week, I was preparing myself for a cool race with a wet forecast predicted. What I wasn’t expecting was snow.
Forty-eight hours before the event the Bridger Mountain Range was covered with a fresh coat of snow. That’s right, more snow in what had already seemed like a never-ending winter, and just one day before the official first day of summer. Like everyone else, I wondered just how much snow had covered the course.
This particular race, which features a more than 2,000-foot vertical climb, is touted as a “scenic loop” that begins in a neighborhood near the Sypes Canyon trailhead, ascends Middle Cottonwood, crosses the Bridger Mountain Range, and then descends through Sypes Canyon. Viewing previous race photos online, I was excited about picturesque course.
It was clear from the start, however, that those views weren’t going to be accessible on this day. Cloud cover had settled in above the foothills, and I expected the light rain to intensify during the vertical climb.
The starting pistol was fired and off we went. The first mile of the race took us north on a dirt road and across private property (only accessible on race day) to Middle Cottonwood. This was both the easiest and most difficult part of the race for me.
Do I take off and keep pace with the lead group or hang back and conserve energy knowing that the following four miles where the 2,000-foot climb? I opted to hang back and not push it.
In hindsight, I should have gone a little harder to stay near the pace setters. Because once we got onto the single track trail it became a log jam.
I managed to get around a few runners here and there, but between miles 3 and 4 I was stuck behind a good 15 to 20 people who were walking with little opportunity to pass.
Sure, you’d get that nice person now and again who would let you go by, but the other dozen or so weren’t budging. It was a frustratingly slow hike up the switch backs, the trail was deteriorating into a muddy slide, and my calves and thighs were starting to burn.
Still, when I completed mile 5 my time was just under an hour. Knowing that four of the final five miles were mostly downhill, I realized I had a chance to finish in under two hours.
So, as the rain continued to fall (as well as brief stint of snow), I began to push it.
Finally, the peak, six miles into the race. Not much to see due to the cloud cover, so I took got a quick drink at second and final aid station and began the descent.
This was where I knew things would get tricky. I wanted to go fast, and at times I did. But my shoes were muddy, the trail was messy, and rocks were slick.
So, it was inevitable — I fell.
I caught a slick rock scurrying downhill on mile 7, landed on my right side, and nearly slid off the trail and down a fairly significant slope. Fortunately, my other foot managed to catch a rock to stop my slide and I managed to pop up and continue running as if nothing as happened.
It was a spooky fall, however. So while I maintained a sprinter’s mentality over those final few miles, the approach was much more cautious.
I managed to pick off about five runners over the final mile and then sprinted to the red inflatable arch and across the finish line. I finished with a time of 1:52.39. I done it — 10 miles through the mountains and in the rain in just under two hours.
As it turned out, that fresh snow wasn’t a factor. Yes, it contributed to the trail being slick, but at no point did it ever cover the trail.
Afterwards, there were plenty of smiles as competitors were treated to a barbecue lunch, and the race raised money to support the programs at Bridger Ski Foundation, a non-profit ski club based in Bozeman.
For me, it was a huge sense of accomplishment. Yes, I’ve competed in Spartan and in plenty of 5K’s, but this was my first true trail race.
I challenged myself, set a goal(s), and went out and achieved it. Nothing is more satisfying than that.