Monday, September 29, 2014

IMTUF 100 mile race

I had the privilege to run the Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival (IMTUF) 100 miler last weekend. The event is billed as a true mountain run and I would have to say that it lives up to that advertising. The fantastic loop course starts and ends at the Burgdorf Hot Springs and covers rough mountain territory with scenery comparable to what I would expect if I were planning an adventure run. Although the scenery is very different between the two, IMTUF and Big Horn would rank at the top of the 100 milers that I have done in terms of mountain scenery.

My Ambit stopped after capturing the route for the first 98.5 miles (despite re-charging)
The route is fairly remote with greater distances between aid stations than typical 100 milers and many of the aid stations have minimal food support given the difficulty in packing in supplies. This was exemplified by the Box Creek aid station at ~mile 74 which packed in supplies with goats and the hot grilled peanut butter sandwich they provided in the middle of the night was a lifesaver! If you plan to do this race, be sure to have ample quantities of food in your drop bags and carry plenty of food with you.

One of the goats which packed in aid for the Box Creek station (photo Irene Saphra)
In considering whether to sign up for this race, I was disconcerted by how long the previous finishing times were. I think the race is probably significantly longer than 100 miles which would explain some of the long finishing times. My watched stopped at at mile 98.5 with about 6 miles of the course left. Another runner's watch recorded 106.8 miles. My experience has been that GPS watches usually record distances shorter than the true distance since the watches tend to shortcut switchbacks in the trail. Whatever the real distance is, just be mentally prepared for the course to be a little long. In addition to the length, the course is more technical than any other 100 miler that I have done. There are some highly runnable sections of buttery single track (particularly in the first 20 miles of the clockwise direction) and some runnable dirt road sections, but much of the course is highly technical with rocky, difficult footing. This is particularly true on the tough climbs. The climbs do not last as long as some of the other big mountain 100s, but they make up for that with their steepness and technicality. For me, the hardest climb was the two miles out of the Snowslide Aid station. I hit this section in the late afternoon and the tough climb was compounded by heat of the sun. I made better time in the early evening darkness on the next tough climb up Fall Creek which is similarly steep. I do recommend poles for the course if you like poles. I picked up my poles at the Snowslide Aid station and kept them until the end.

Snowslide Lake (the climb continues over the ridge to the left)
A few more things to consider if you are preparing for this race. Although there are numerous sections with trees, several of the sections with trees have been burned and overall there is not a lot of cover from sunshine. There is a LOT of dust on the course. In some sections of jeep track at the top of Fall Creek, my foot would sink down several inches in the dust almost causing me to trip. Jeremy (the race director) warned that the combination of "moon dust" and water could be lethal to your feet. Fortunately, water levels were low and I was able to make the numerous stream crossings without getting my feet wet. Whether it was keeping my feet dry, or choice of shoe (Hoka Rapa Nui), or luck, my feet felt better than ever during a 100 miler and I never changed shoes or socks and had no blisters or feet issues. A couple of my Seattle friends did not have such good luck and you can read about and see the damaged feet in Linda's report. This is a course where you might want to wear gaiters.

I was fortunate to have a great day on the course and was able to maintain good energy and the ability to run all the way through the course to finish in 28:12. I had signed up for this event without realizing that they don't give out a belt buckle. Initially, I was disappointed, but the belt that they do give out is pretty cool. Even cooler, starting this year they decided to give out a belt buckle to runners who have finished the event twice. So I think I will be going back next year to run the loop in the counter clockwise direction, see the parts of the course that were in darkness this year and get a belt buckle!

Jeremy handing me my belt at the finish

Thanks to Jeremy and Brandi for organizing such an amazing event and to all the participants and volunteers for making the journey so much fun. Another feature of this event that stands out is the extraordinary course marking. At the briefing we were told that markers had been placed every 0.2 miles (or closer). I never had any doubts about whether I was on course or which way to turn which is much more pleasant than blundering around in the dark wondering which way to go which can happen to me much too easily.

I also highly recommend staying in one of the cabins at the Burgdorf Springs. My cabin was a short walk to the starting line which made Saturday morning super easy. The cabins do not have running water relaxing in the hot springs after the race made up for that and I was able to take a solid 3 hour nap after the race before driving back to civilization for food and a shower.

Beautiful trail along the Secesh River (~mile 15)

Looking back down into the Victor Creek Basin near the top of the 1st climb

Diamond Rock near top of Victor Creek Basin

Meadow along the twenty mile creek trail

Looking northeast near Duck Lake into the canyon containing the North Fork of the Salmon River

View from the ridge along Bear Pete Mountain before the final downhill to the finish


  1. Congratulations! What an amazing effort Mike! Great write-up, and nice pics!

  2. Hey! Just looking at this now.....Been out of the blog world for a while. Great photos and what a smokin' time you had, grat job. This run has been on my to do list for some time. Hopefully next year.

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