At first glance, I thought this had to be a joke. A listing on the Montana Running calendars was titled the “Pony Trot”. Oh, that’s a cute name. But, It was only $20 and I had yet to explore much south of I-90 and Three Forks, so I thought, why not?!

I haven’t been able to do much running since my car wreck at the beginning of June. I took a few weeks off and have been running a bit on roads around the house; flat, with soft shoulders, and at a noticeably slower pace. I’m ready for another run, to get out of town for a day and see a bit more of the country. So I signed up for the Pony Trot in Pony, Montana this past Saturday and took off before sunrise. It was perfect timing too, as we’ve been collecting smoke/haze from the massive Carlton Complex fires, which are now ranked as the largest wildfires in Washington state’s history. We’ve been socked in with a low, smokey ceiling and I was glad to see blue skies as I drove south.

pony trail papers and map

The description for the race stated “the course is hilly, so don’t expect to break your 10K record, but you will have great views.” I thought a few hills wouldn’t be bad, right? So I opted for the 10k route instead of the 5k. What I failed to note is, just how close Pony, MT is to the base of the Tobacco Root Mountains

Yep, “great views” alright! Once you get to the top of the mountain…

Let’s just say, it’s amazing how much conditioning a person can lose with a few weeks laid up. At the start of June, I ran up Buffalo Jump on a 10k fairly easy. And I figured with the weekly miles I’ve been putting in, that I could make it through this 10k. Well, safe to say, this is the first race where I have honestly, dreadfully wished I had just turned around and walked back to the finish line.

The climb on this hill was something I wasn’t ready for. We started at 5,452 feet in elevation (note, I’ve been running at closer to 3,500 at the house), I ran a decent, well-paced, flat first 1.5 miles, and ended up at 6,233 feet 0.5 mile later. I wasn’t ready for it. Everything from my ass to my ankles was aching by the time I made the peak. All the way up I was thinking about all those folks who took the flat 5k route down at the bottom of the hill. They were just about finished by the time I was looking at the water station at the top of the hill. I was looking for any and every way to curse those rocks and slick gravel beneath my feet. At least I wasn’t the only one walking…

But once I got to the top, it really was some awesome views. Even though there was a little haze and smoke in the air, I could see straight across the Tobacco Roots, even to the peaks still covered in ice this late in the year. We were running on some old mining trails that were well-worn and spotted with grass, weeds, and regrowth after all these years of abandonment. There were plenty of wildlife tracks and marks of those passing through. Once we made the top of that initial hill, the next 4 miles were a steady decline to North Willow Creek (pronounced crick, which is the way I just typed it. Montanans are rubbing off on me), which we followed until we found the two-tracks back into town, ran back past the abandoned 19th century bank building, and finally back to the park where we started.

2014 pony trot 10k route

Although this race was by far the slowest pace I’ve ever run, I did finish the run with my fastest mile. And I realized this 10k climb was a bit much for me yet. But I had fun. Most of the people who showed up that Saturday morning were locals of the small town farming/ranching area. They were a great bunch to talk with and I had several inquiries on where they could get their own Team Beef Montana jersey like I was wearing.

It certainly was a Saturday morning well spent and I had the opportunity to meet some folks and see some views that I would have never had the opportunity otherwise, had I not joined the morning run. Next time, though, I’ll be more prepared for that dang hill!