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I ran up a mountain at The Rut 12K in Montana

Pam LeBlanc

Editor’s note: This article was originally published September 15, 2014

Until last weekend, I’d never run a race up a mountain.

I’d also never run a race that started with the sound of a bugling elk. Or one that required ropes to help you down the steepest hills. In fact, the only other trail race I’ve ever done is the Big Bend Ultra 25K, a much less technical jaunt over Jeep roads through the West Texas desert (which I love, by the way.)

That all changed Saturday when I ran The Rut 12K in Big Sky, Montana. The race is the little brother to The Rut 50K, a brutal race that includes 10,000 feet of elevation and stretches over skittery above-the-treeline talus fields.

The 12K was a breeze by comparison - just 2,100 feet of elevation gain, mostly on single track and a little bit on dirt road. The trail was glorious - switchbacking through meadows covered in golden grasses and into pine forests, with several lung-busting uphill stretches where I had to walk.

In all, the course climbed 5 miles up Andesite Mountain, where an enthusiastic guy was blowing an elk bugle and someone had propped up a cardboard cut-out of an elk. Then it headed down for the final 2 or so miles. And by down I mean some sections were so steep that race organizers looped ropes around trees that we clung to as we stair-stepped gingerly down the trail.

The race, in its second year, is named for elk mating season that occurs each fall. Have you heard an elk bugle? It’s the most ridiculous sound, a drawn-out, high-pitched squeal that’s at once eerie and hilarious. You can’t believe it comes out of such a dignified looking animal.

I felt terrific through the entire run. Trail running is gentler on the joints than pounding over pavement. (Or maybe it was the BeetElite shot I gulped down 30 minutes before I hit the trail. Concentrated beet juice supposedly helps your body make more nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels to help deliver more oxygen to your body.)

Trail running is as mental as it is physical. You have to pay attention or you’ll trip on a root or rock or log, and I saw plenty of folks hit the dirt. I ran at a comfortable pace, and took the time now and then to gaze out across the mountains and forest. That in itself gave me a rush of happiness. So did the guy playing guitar and singing at the top of the first rope-assisted stretch.

I can’t wait for my next trail race. I’m thinking about doing one at Government Canyon State Natural Area in San Antonio in November.

Watch the start of one of three waves of the race at