The Drift Race Report with Winter Racing Tips
Brian Kutz has completed the Tuscobia 80 mile and 160 miles races. He is a two-time Arrowhead 135-mile finisher, including the year during the polar vortex when only 13 people finished the foot race. He is 1 of 14 people to ever finish The Order of the Hrimthurs, which includes completing the Tuscobia 160 milder, Arrowhead 135 miler, and ACTIF EPICA in one year.
Brian finished The Drift 100 mile race in Pinedale, Wyoming and here are his race report and winter racing tips!
I’ve been SO excited to do the Drift 100 since I first found out about it in early 2020. A winter race that is also a mountain race?? How do you beat that?! My initial plan of a Tuscobia 80 & an Arrowhead 135 for 2021 was shut down due to the pandemic, which allowed for the opportunity to get out to Wyoming for The Drift sooner than expected!
We were fortunate to have a nice group of Midwest runners make their way out for the event this year. The race kicked off Friday morning under sunny skies with a cold wind that would warm up quickly. Brian Corgard and I settled into a nice rhythm and would wind up spending the majority of the next 100 miles together. As we began to climb up out of the Green River Valley, the winds died and the temperature rose. It got straight up HOT. I never thought I’d be wishing for shorts and a t-shirt during a winter race. We kept things easy and made it to Strawberry checkpoint (mile 25) feeling good.
After a quick water and snack stop we were off. As the sun began to set on day one, we turned onto the “ungroomed” A-trail. Thus begins the meat of the course… The ungroomed trail was more or less a slow off-and-on post-holing descent into a drainage. As we dropped so did the temperature. Brian caught up to me as we began one of the bigger climbs of the race, and where we first accepted the reality that there just wasn’t enough air to breathe! The remaining 15 or so miles to Sheridan checkpoint (mile 50) were a mix of cold wind in the exposed areas, some good sled-riding hills, and hours of climbing that would include hiking for 30 seconds and stopping to catch your breath for 20 seconds. Dragging a 40lb sled uphill for miles at a time at 10,000 feet is as tough as it sounds. I can honestly say this section is the toughest 25 miles I’ve ever covered on foot. But enough “boo-hooing.” Eventually we rolled into Sheridan around 2am very excited to sit in a tiny little shack, warm up, and regroup for a little while.
Eventually we’d eaten enough strange aid-station goulash and heard enough of Pam Reed’s sleep-deprived rambling. Back down the trail we went for what we knew would be a nice gentle descent for the next few miles. As we descended, so would the temperature, dropping as low as -20F which came as quite the surprise. I was definitely not expecting anything below zero, but I’m VERY glad I packed for it. The early morning was a grind, requiring a few short 30 second ‘shivy bivy’ breaks on the ground to rest my eyes. It’s amazing what 30 seconds of shut eye can do for the morale! As the first signs of daylight started to show, Brian and I spotted an emergency shelter with smoke coming out of the chimney and figured we’d check it out. We had a nice chat with a biker from Pinedale who had made a fire and got some sleep in the shelter. It was nice to have a quick warm up and a place to sit down and eat a bag of Cheetos at 6am. How do you beat that?! We left the shelter to the sun rising over the mountains, and like the day prior, the temperature rose quickly. After a series of slow, grinding climbs and long, awesome sledding hills, we made it to Warm Springs checkpoint (mile 67). The checkpoint was just a tent with a couple of cots for sitting, but they had coke and hotdogs (no buns, really?) so it was just fine by me.
We loaded up and set out for the climb up Union Pass. The race director had warned us that the storm might be coming in so we should have our goggles and warm jackets handy once we hit the top of the pass. All I saw was sunny skies so thought nothing of it! The four mile climb up Union Pass took FOREVER. We were getting hot and finally feeling the sunburn we hadn’t yet noticed. Brian and I each checked for our sunscreen and found that he had lost his and I had left mine on my sled so was frozen solid. Oh well, we grabbed some pieces of buff to cover up a little and moved on. We eventually reached the top of our climb. While we had hoped for a backside similar to the way up that would be a long hill to ride the sleds down, instead we found a very gentle downhill and that storm the race director had warned us about. We battled blowing white-out snow, 50 mph gusts, and drifted-over trail the rest of the way to Strawberry checkpoint (mile 83). While this might sound like a miserable slog this deep into the race, it was a super epic stretch and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face! Glad we got to experience all the conditions they warn you about.
We enjoyed some more food and coke, thanked the volunteers, and headed out for the final 20 miles of the race. Ready to get this thing done. This section really felt like we were finally getting the “Arrowhead hills on steroid” we’d been promised in terms of sled riding. We started with some rolling hills before eventually hitting a 2-3 mile stretch of trail that was almost all rideable as we dropped back down into the Green River Valley. There was one hill that I rode for just over a full mile splitting a 3:27 mile! Cheers to one-mile PRs at mile 89 of a hundred!! We reached the bottom just as night fell and it was headlamp time again. The final ten miles of the course followed the river back down to the finish at Kendall Valley Lodge. My legs still felt strong, but the drifted-over trail just didn’t allow us to keep any kind of strong pace, so we resigned to a slow march in as we tried to guess which of the lights off in the distance might be our finish line.
The finish line was just as no-frills as the rest of the event, with two volunteers meeting us in the parking lot ringing a cowbell. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Brian and I stumbled our way into the lodge and enjoyed a beer, each of us with a well-earned “100-mile stare.”
The Drift totally delivered and was everything I could have hoped for.
Here are a few tips on things that worked well for me and things I could have done differently:
Always look at/read course information provided. I was able to somewhat plan out what I would need (food, fluids, clothing) for certain sections of the course.
Pack for all conditions when in the mountains. I greatly underestimated how hot (vicious sunburn) and how cold (never expected to dig out hand warmers and a puffy coat) it could get in certain spots.
Training: Honestly, my training was not at all what I had hoped for leading up to the event. A group of us had done a “half-Arrowhead” six weeks prior that wound up taking more out of me than I had anticipated, which kind of limited things. BUT, while my miles were low, I did make them count. A lot of incline treadmill hiking, plus the strength training plan Jamie has me on, got me to the start line feeling fresh and strong. While my fitness wasn’t where it could have been, I felt strong throughout the entire race.
Fueling: Consistently getting in your calories and hydration is so important in the winter to keep things moving forward, but even more so at the altitudes this event had us at. Enjoying my food on the trail always becomes a challenge for me, but overall I did a pretty good job of this and definitely drank more than normal.
Speaking of altitude, there really isn’t a whole lot us Midwestern folks can do about it unless you’ve got a free couple weeks to hang out before the event. Even more incline hiking may have helped on those long climbs to 10k feet, but really just staying hydrated and fueled, and taking my time kept me moving forward slowly but surely.
I completed the 28-mile race at The Drift and here is my race report and winter racing tips!
The Drift 28 mile race had a lot of firsts for me!
1. The first time starting a race at 7,000 feet and getting up to 9770 feet where I truly felt the impact that altitude has on my abilities to run as hard as I can.
2. Racing with a backpack on where I was required to carry a insulated jacket and fluids.
3. Running a race where there were only 2 aid stations.
4. Being in a race with only 15 total runners.
5. Needing walking breaks after running short downhills
6. Running 100% of the race by myself!
Needless to say, I did not know what to expect for this race! The first 13 miles of this race were UNREAL! There were insane winds the whole time with multiple points where I found it pointless to run, so I ended up speed walk instead! The first aid stop was not until mile 13, so I had no idea how much fluids to bring with me. I ended up carrying WAY too much and had enough fluids to get me through the first 21 miles of the races. My pack was so heavy! Lesson learned for next time. Once we hit the first aid station, it was time for a 4 mile climb. That was my favorite part of the race since I love climbing so much! The views were AMZING!!! After that, it was rolling hills to the finish!
Although we got to Pinedale 6 days early, I could still feel the insane impact that the altitude had on my running. I have never in my life needed walk breaks to catch my breath after running a short downhill I had to laugh about it. It was so funny when my brain would say, “Ok, I am ready to run now.” So, I would start running and then after a minute my body would slow down to the point of walking again all on its own My legs felt so great the whole race, but I could not get enough oxygen in!
The mountains were SO amazing and it was by far one of my most favorite races. I noticed with this race that I felt very at peace while running in the snow in the mountains. Normally, I experience a lot of chatter during the first 2/3 of a race constantly being concerned about how I am doing and if I will be able to maintain my pace to the end. This race was very different. My mind was very quiet and I just let my body work as hard as it would let me work and allow myself to enjoy finally racing again after 1.5 years off from racing!
I felt so lucky that there were so many other Minnesotans at the race! What a great trip and now I can’t wait for that next race!!!
General Tips for Winter Ultras:
Make your training specific! If you plan to hike more than run, then your training should incorporate a lot of hiking. Spend a lot of time training on terrain that matches the race conditions as much as possible. I did this by doing some long runs on snowy trails.
Do training runs with the EXACT gear you plan on using during the race. I did a couple of runs carrying my backpack so that I fix issues before the race and know what it is like running with extra weight on my back.
If the course is going to be hilly, then make sure to get some good climbing incorporated into your weekly workouts. I would do this by doing speed walking sessions on my treadmill at a 12-15 incline.