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The Rut 50K

By Marcie Hahn-Knoff Explore Big Sky Contributor

It began as a conversation between friends traveling far from home.

Their idea was to bring a world-class mountain running event to Montana, a challenging race that would attract an international field of competitors and act as an avenue to show off the beauty and wildness of their home state.

And so began Mike Foote and Mike Wolfe’s journey to the start line of the first ultra marathon mountain run in Montana – The Rut 50K.


Wolfe and Foote, or the ‘Mikes’ as they’re affectionately called, are accomplished ultra-runners both sponsored by The North Face and both residents of Missoula. The men have traveled the world for 50- and 100-mile ultramarathons, pushing and supporting each other along the way.

Now, they will serve as co-directors for The Rut, a 50-kilometer mountain race set for September 2013 in Big Sky.

“The idea had been getting tossed around for years – it became a matter of finding the right venue,” said Foote, 29, a former ski patroller at Moonlight Basin. “Holding a race of this distance and caliber… can be difficult when dealing with different government agencies and permitting.”

Foote, who works as race director for a specialty running shop in Missoula, Runner’s Edge, began researching venue options in late 2011. Though The Rut is the brainchild of Foote and Wolfe, when owner Anders Booker offered to add the event to the shop’s organized races for the year, the idea began to grow legs.

The Mikes had a feeling that Big Sky would be a perfect location, and when they scouted their potential racecourse on Lone Mountain for the first time in July 2012, they were sold. Soon after, they approached Lyndsey Owens, Director of Marketing at Big Sky Resort and an avid mountain runner herself.

“When they brought me the idea, I said, ‘Yes! Let’s figure out how to make this happen,’” Owens said. “This is the kind of event that enlivens the town. It is a win-win for everyone.”

After several days of scouting and mapping the course, the Mikes decided to hold the race in September, when the weather is cooler and generally stable.

“As it happens, this is also the time of year that the elk are in rut – thus the inspiration for the name,” said Foote, explaining that the rut is another word name for elk mating season, the time of year when bulls bugle to show dominance.

Wolfe, 35, who grew up hunting in the mountains around Bozeman and Big Sky, remembers old timers sharing stories about establishing fall elk camp near the foot of Lone Mountain. While running there last fall, he saw elk sign everywhere.

“There is magic to the elk rut,” Wolfe said. “It’s like having front row seats to something pre-historic, a view into the heart of the wild. We want the race to have that same raw, exciting and passionate feel.”

The race starts and ends at Big Sky Mountain Village (elevation 7,510 feet), gaining and losing 8,000 feet over its entirety, and working its way up and down 11,166-foot Lone Mountain and neighboring 8,850-foot Andesite. It follows single-track trails through whitebark pine forests and along exposed ridgelines, pounding up dirt double-track roads and scrambling through challenging off trail sections.

There will also be a 12-kilometer course. Both will be capped at 200 participants.

“We designed the Rut 50K to be as technical and challenging as [what] you would experience on a mountain course in Europe,” Wolfe says. “We have mountains in Montana that rival any others in the world.”

Watching the action
Spectators will can view the start and finish of the race from the Big Sky Mountain Village, and also access the summit of Lone Mountain to cheer on their favorite racers via Lone Peak Tram Expedition.

What is an ultramarathon?

Set mostly in the mountains, ultramarathons are 50 kilometers (31 miles) or more, compared to a road marathon at 26.2 miles.

Unlike many mountain sports, trail running is accessible to almost anyone, says Sarah (Evans) McCloskey, a Utah-based ultra runner with a clutch of impressive finishes.

“All shapes and sizes of people compete in trail running,” she says, noting that walking is OK, especially on uphills. “If you need to, take a break and just enjoy where you are.”

Training is key, McCloskey says, but you don’t need to run 30 miles a day.

“Mixing up your mileage and shooting for about 40 miles a week is a good goal… Running an ultramarathon is pretty much a mental game. You just have to keep going.”

Writer Marcie Hahn-Knoff, who has twice run the 19.7-mile Bridger Ridge Run, works as a broker with Winter and Company Real Estate. She wrote about Big Sky’s skiing pioneers for the 2012-2013 winter issue in “Under the spell of Lone Mountain: 40 years down the road.” Find more about The Rut at More at

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