Big Sky Montana hosts the Run the Rut weekend of racing, the next step in the 2016 Skyrunner® World Series; 3-days, 3 races and 3 incredible experiences. Located between the wonderful town of Bozeman and the iconic Yellowstone Park, if ever a race existed that should combine with a holiday experience, this is it.
Big Sky sits between Bozeman and Yellowstone and the isolated Lone Peak mountain provides a stunning backdrop for the Run the Rut races of VK, Sky and Ultra. The advantages of using a ski resort as a race hub are clear to see. Utilising what would be ski runs in winter, it’s easy to understand why the Rut has gained a reputation for providing a tough and technical test even for the most experienced runner.
In just a couple of years the Rut races have become a flagship race in the USA. This is primarily due to the technical nature of the trails. You see, access to open land and mountains is not the same as in Europe. Strict land management is in place and ‘off-trail’ races just don’t exist. The Rut have managed to work around this by using the Big Sky resort which does not have to comply with land permission issues.
On Friday the VK kicks off the action from the Big Sky Resort up to the summit of Lone Peak at an altitude just short of 3000m gaining 3,632 feet in just over three miles.
Ondrej Fejfar from the Czech Republic is potentially one of the favourites for a podium place but without doubt, Ferran Teixido is the odds-on winner as he currently heads up the SWS VK ranking. Chris Mocko (plans to run all 3 races over the weekend) placed 7th at the 2016 Western States 100 which obviously shows great ability, how that transfers to a VK is difficult to say. Experienced Skyrunner Luke Nelson who recently raced in Norway at the Tromso SkyRace will look to do the double here at the Rut also racing in the SkyRace too. Brendan Trimboli was the recent winner of Squamish 50k, again, like Mocko, it’s difficult to predict how these skills will transfer to an all out VK effort… We can expect Brendan to be in the mix. Seth Swanson is also on the start list as is Jan Margarit and both could potentially produce a surprise in this all out vertical race.
Laura Orgue is without doubt the heads and shoulders favourite for the VK, this is her speciality. Recently she has been a little jaded and she had a below par performance at the VK in Tromso, however, I predict a victory at Lone Peak. Strong competition will come from Laura’s teammate Yngvild Kaspersen and we can anticipate Corrine Malcolm and Sarah Bard to contest the podium. As a note, Laura and Yngvild will also run the SkyRace.
The ultra gains 10,500 feet of elevation and as with all the other races visits the summit of Lone Peak but in a less pleasing and aesthetic run. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great course but the SkyRace has the more logical and pure course.
The men’s race is an interesting one with Cristofer Clemente and Matt Skyrock both returning after success in the 2015 race. Cristofer has been injured of late so this race may well provide a return to form.
Mike Aish 2nd at the recent Leadville Silver Rush is potentially a contender for the podium and Matias Saari, Morgan Elliott and Paddy O’Leary are all expected to be in the mix with recent victories at Angels Creek 50m, Power of Four 50k and Canyons 100k respectively. Noah Brautigam placed just outside the top-10 in the same race last year and he may well contest a higher place this year. Chris Mocko would have been a contender for the podium but he will already have a VK and SkyRace in his legs. Nicholas Martin is the odds on favourite for victory and he will no doubt slip under the radar but watch out, victory is his for the taking! Finally, Roger Vinas is also one to watch.
The ladies’ race is an interesting one with Ida Nilsson heading up the field after her impressive Transvulcania victory, however, the Rut has many technical sections and Ida does like to run… Still my tip for victory (or 2nd*)! Alicia Shay may well push Ida for the first past the post and in all honesty, it could go anyway. Ashley recently won the Flagstaff SkyRace and Alicia was 4th behind Ida at Transvulcania.
Hillary Allen was 5th last year but has progressed considerably in the last 12-months, for me, she is a stronger runner and providing that she is fresh a higher placing is a possibility this year.
Martina Valmassoi and Kristina Pattison placed 3rd and 4th in the 2015 edition and both have been racing and strong and consistently recently – the top 5 is wide open! Anna Comet will also race and like all the ladies mentioned before her, she has podium and almost definitely top-5 potential. Strong competition will also come from Denali Strabel, Anne Wheatly, Sarah Woerner. But I save the big surprise for the last, expect Anne Lise Rousset* to be the wild card who takes the bull by the horns and wins the race outright or at worst as a head-to-head battle with Ida for victory and takes 2nd.
For me, the SkyRace is the most pleasing race of the Rut weekend as the proportion of vertical gain and descent, technical running all blend together in the most logical and pleasing race.
Marc Lauenstein after placing 2nd at Zegama-Aizkorri (behind Kilian) and recently winning Matterhorn Ultraks heads up the race along with an inform Dakota Jones. This duo certainly brings an interesting dynamic to the race and we can expect a proper head-to-head battle, especially with Dakota’s recent win at Squamish 50k and victory at Broken Arrow SkyRace. For me though, Marc gets the nod! Hassan Ait Chaou has been on fire this year and although he hasn’t taken a big victory he has always been close, recent highlights came at SkyRace Comapedrosa and Matterhorn Ultraks. Micha Steiner is a rising star of the Skyrunning ranks and we can expect him to do well, he was racing at an extremely high level at the recent Dolomites SkyRace until a couple of falls knocked his confidence. Eric Strabel may well be the one who really shakes things up as he has been a dominant force in Alaska. His results at Mount Marathon will bode well for the ascent and descent of Lone Peak. Luke Nelson, Justin Ricks, Timmy Parr are all runners who will be in the mix, the race is possibly a little short for Luke but Justin and Timmy have local knowledge – it will play a huge advantage. Kirin Nikolov, Greg Vollet (?), Ondrei Fejfar, Ted Farley, Michael Barlow and Eugeni Gil Ocana make up the other top contenders for the top-10.
It’s fair to say the ladies’ race will be all about Megan Kimmel and Laura Orgue. It’s going to be an exciting head-to-head and one that I think Megan will take. She has been on fire and her recent victory at Matterhorn Ultraks was impressive. Laura can no doubt push Megan but with a VK in her legs and recent fatigue I think she may well be racing for 2nd. But Yngvild Kaspersen is not to be ruled out, this lady goes up and down super quick and after a break through victory in Hong Kong last year and victory at Zegama-Aizkorri in 2016, the Rut podium is there for the taking! Ragna Debats is 2nd in the SWS and is performing consistently well in 2016 – that is what the series is all about! I see her in the mix but not on top of the podium. I have Ashley Erba listed in the SkyUltra too but I think her strength may well fall in the SkyRace and considering this race is before the ultra, this is where the performance will come. Marta Molist, Sarah Pizzo, Maria Zorroza and Aitziber Ibarbia are all ones to watch for top-10 placings.