Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Mike Postaski's IMTUF 100 (Idaho) Race Report: 1st Place and sub 24 hours!

 Article by Mike Postaski

I had an amazing run out at IMTUF in Idaho this year, probably my best performance to date in any long ultra. It felt like the first time I was able to put all the pieces together since I started trail running. It was my second time running the event. I previously ran in 2020 (the smoke year) - my plan that year was just to run it so I could get some experience under my belt. Palisades 100M that year had taken a lot out of me, and I still really had no idea what it took to run in the mountains.

Fast forward to this year, my 3rd year living in Idaho - I’m much more adapted to both the climate and terrain. I’ve also really worked on so many aspects of my ultra running such as climbing, dialing in my gear situation, as well as fueling and hydration. 

[Happy and eager for my 2nd crack at IMTUF. Photo - Lyn VanSchoiack]

I started out this year’s race conservatively, not knowing what to expect. I remember in 2020 it was shocking to me to see so many runners go out so fast right from the gun. The DNF rate that year ended up being very high (52%). It seemed somewhat similar this year, with seemingly a lot of runners going out too hard too early. 

[Around 8,300 feet up on Jug Mountain. Photo - Lyn VanSchoiack]

I believe I was somewhere around 15th at the top of Jug Mountain, and might have dropped a few more spots on the first steep descent down to Louie Lake (M12).

[Trailing eventual women’s winner Alexis Crellin - somewhere around M15-20]

I just focused on running my own race, not pushing it too early, and getting in and out of aid stations quickly. I started to move up a bit, but didn’t have any idea where I was for a long time as it’s hard to tell, especially with the commotion of the aid station stops. I was also running solo, and didn’t have any crew to pass along any information. By the time I left South Crestline aid station (M31), someone told me I was the first person to leave. 

[Carried this sheet with me - very useful to know what gear, fuel, and essentials (lighting, batteries) you have packed in the upcoming drop bags]

From then on it was just settling down and trying to cruise on up to Upper Payette Lake (M57), which was more or less the switchover from the day to the night portion of the race. I carried a small timetable sheet with me, so I knew I was way ahead of my checkpoints from 2020, but I had no idea where any other runner was. At Upper Payette Lake, I took some time to get all my night gear ready. I chatted with Jeremy a bit, and at the end I thought I heard him say he saw another runner may be coming in. I didn’t think to ask any questions, and just took off right away. 

[Mid-race, on the Crestline. Photo - Lyn VanSchoiack]

I was able to get to Duck Lake (M67) without switching on my headlamp. The night was beautiful - clear, with a bright, full moon illuminating the forest and the walls of the surrounding valleys and mountains. A truly special experience to be out there alone, focused on the race, yet still trying to take everything in. 

I got to Lake Fork aid station (M84), and that’s where the race got serious. I had been pushing a bit since Upper Payette Lake, but still unsure if anyone was coming up behind me. I felt like I was running well, so I allowed myself to believe I was safe. As I sat at Lake Fork eating my second slice of pizza - the 2nd place runner arrived. I immediately threw down whatever I was eating and drinking, grabbed all of my stuff, and took off.

[The Crestline has some deceptive ups and downs. Photo - Lyn VanSchoiack]

It’s hard to describe the experience of the next 18 miles in the middle of the night. On one hand, I knew how these things tend to go - being in front, chased down and caught. It’s a helpless feeling, as a certain momentum tends to build that can’t be stopped. On the other hand - this was “IMTUF”! It held a certain mystique in my mind. 

When we decided to move over from New Jersey, as any good trail runner would do, I started looking up what kind of races were going on out in Idaho. IMTUF seemed like such a mystical and mysterious race, even the website with the black background seemed foreboding and menacing to me. I never imagined I would be running this race, in this way - me, in the lead, with 18 miles to go. I had allowed the thought of putting my name down on the list of winners of this crazy, insane, mysterious, menacing, mystical race to enter my head.

“Do you want it?” - Race director Jeremy Humphrey asked me as he led me into the final aid station - Boulder Lakes at 95 miles. I had seen and talked to him at several of the aid stations along the way - he was keeping tabs on the race, and this one last time making sure no one would get lost in the final stretch. 

“Yes” was my answer. I had ground my way over the Snowslide summit - and was rewarded with a huge full moon rising up just as I crested the summit. I nearly went delirious on the long, punishing ascent up Boulder Mountain - stuffing myself with whatever calories I had to bring myself back to my senses. I seemingly crawled over that summit, then left no regard for my poor legs on the rugged, never ending descent down from the clear and open summit into the black night. 

[The summit of Boulder Mountain - which I reached just before 3AM]

All that was left was 6+ miles to the finish, to the end, to adding my name, improbably, to that list. I had been constantly checking over my shoulder for a while - even thinking I might have seen a flash of a headlamp once. But at this point, with all the big climbs behind me, there was no time for that. I gave a cursory glance now and then, but mostly focused on just moving forward and going as fast as I could force myself to go. Along the long straight dirt road next to Jug Creek Reservoir, I was able to get a long look behind me. Nothing but me, the cool night, moonlit water and the trees and mountains beyond. I knew I had it.

I crossed the line in the predawn darkness at 5:18 AM, finishing in 23:18. 

I never paid much attention to the time during the race. I knew I had some shot to be under 24 hours, but I was so in the moment that I never got to calculating as I usually do. It was the first time I had run one of these mountain 100s in that way. 

It’s taken me some time to reflect and sit down and write all of this down. I don’t really have anything else to say except thank you to my wife Nina for supporting me and letting me live out these wild and crazy experiences. Thank you to Jeremy and Brandi and all of the volunteers who put on this event - this year, in years past, and in the future. You gave me one special day and night in the mountains of Idaho that will stay with me forever. Long live IMTUF!

Post race stats, course analysis, and conditions

[New Injinji merino wool socks for the recovery win! I wore my regular Injini liner/Wrightsock ultralight combo for the race]

The totals for the race via my Garmin watch were 102 miles with 20,262 feet of vertical gain. The terrain was mixed rugged mountain terrain with a precious few runnable sections mixed in, but I’d say far less smooth stuff than the other 100s I’ve run so far with the exception of Palisades. Some of the non-trail sections were the worst, tire-eating forest roads you’ll ever see in your life. Just for fun, some details on the final two climbs: Snowslide - 2.1M, 1,888 ft (17% grade), and Boulder Mountain - 3.4M, 2,425 ft (13.4% grade). 

Comparing the two 100 milers I’ve run this year - Standhope and IMTUF - IMTUF features more rugged and technical terrain in aggregate. This is purely guessing, but I’d say you’re on singletrack roughly 85% of the time, 10% horribly rocky and uneven forest roads, and maybe 5% smooth dirt roads, if that. Standhope has a lot more dirt road sections, and two long paved sections getting in and out of town. But it’s a slower course due to the fact that the 7 climbs are extremely steep. Very steep climbs can really drag down the total time as it’s hard to regain that time over the equally steep descents. Standhope being held right in the middle of the summer, leads to heat being a bigger factor, and for a longer amount of time since the days themselves are longer. With a Euro-style 6pm start, you’re very exposed in the heat of the day after that first night, and likely getting into a 2nd night of running.

[Up on the Jug Mountain boulder field. Photo - Lyn VanSchoiack]

The DNF rate for this year’s IMTUF was again very high at 50% (60 finishers, 60 DNF). For comparison, last year (2021) with more favorable conditions, the DNF rate was 35%. I asked Jeremy about this, and he mentioned two factors - the overgrowth on the course as well as the heat. We had an extended rainy spring here in Idaho, with many areas becoming quite overgrown. Many trails here in Boise, even now, are over waist high with tall (now dried out) grass and brush. Jeremy told me that such overgrowth led to the trails being less used this season, and it took him much longer to even mark the course. I didn’t think too much about it during the race, but more overgrowth definitely slows you down, as it becomes difficult to pick your line and even to spot your footfalls. It can be a subtle difference, but over the course of 100 miles, the lost time does accumulate.

[The hottest part of the race - exposed section up on the Crestline. The goats helped pack in water and supplies to a backcountry aid station there!]

The temperature on race day got up into the 80s, which while not sweltering, became a factor. Jeremy mentioned that in his experience, when the temps hit 80+, DNF rates start going up drastically. I didn’t notice the heat too much, but it’s likely due to the fact that I was well adapted from the summer we’ve had in Boise. We had a record number of 100F+ days this year - 27! Seemingly the last month and a half before the race, daytime highs never dipped below 95F. So I actually felt quite comfortable in the 80 degree temps on race day.

Shoes and Gear

[Ultraventure 3’s were in a reserve drop bag, but I didn’t touch my shoes at all]

I sized up to a US 10.5 Tecton X  and wore them for the entire race, never having to touch them at all throughout the race, not even to adjust lacing. They actually felt a bit loose at the start, but as the race wore on, and my feet swelled a bit, they actually felt better and more secure. I was much more comfortable than I was in my size 10’s that I wore at Standhope. Check out the updated review of the Tecton X (RTR Review)  to see my more detailed review and thoughts on sizing. 

[I transferred those light blue tabs from an attachment point on my Salomon Sense Pro 10L vest that I wasn’t using]

Other than the shoe size change, I used essentially the same kit as I did at Standhope - and everything worked great. I made a slight upgrade to my UltrAspire Zygos pack - sewing on attachments for Salomon’s custom quiver to hold my Leki poles. At Standhope I had safety-pinned the quiver into the back stretch mesh pocket. With my custom hand-sewn quiver attachments, it was a bit easier to get the poles in and out throughout the race. You can check out my Standhope 100M race report here to see more details about some of the other gear, fuel, and nutrition that I used in both races.

My Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar lasted on a single charge through the entire race - with about 15% to spare. It had died on me around 20 hours into Standhope, but this time I was more careful to turn off all extraneous sensors and turn off the backlight. While running, I kept a single data field screen open with only the time of day (no seconds), probably 98% of the time. This was partly to save battery and it also helped me focus on running instead of thinking and worrying about data. 

I had the full course/navigation loaded and running which I checked only occasionally. The course was very well marked so I did not have to rely on it. I also used full GPS + GLONASS, and wore my Polar chest strap HRM throughout the race.

Photos by Lyn VanSchoiack can be found here

Products discussed were personal purchases. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased via shopping links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'

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Jeff Valliere said...

This is awesome! Great job!

Ante said...

Great performance and interesting story, Congrats!