Trail Rail Run 50 Mile Relay


Participants of the start of the Trail Rail Run 50 mile relay near Mullan, Idaho.
Participants of the start of the Trail Rail Run 50 mile relay near Mullan, Idaho.

I’ve made it no secret that I’d really like to complete 50k and 50 mile runs next year. There’s just something about the challenge that intrigues me. So when I was traveling on Memorial Day weekend and stopped in Saint Regis, Montana for the night, I stumbled upon a new prospect when searching for local trails to fit in the day’s training run.

No, I didn’t sign up for the 50-mile run (this year), but I did check to see if any friends wanted to join me for the relay edition of the race. Being that the race was on Father’s Day weekend, it was a little harder than I imagined, but we ended up with a team of four runners, which was perfect for this relay with eight legs to run.

Perfect, I get in another weekend run with friends, have an opportunity to scope out a new course and observe some long-distance runners as I prepare for the venture next year!

Exchange 1 atop Lookout Pass at the Idaho-Montana state line.
Exchange 1 atop Lookout Pass at the Idaho-Montana state line.

The Trail Rail Run follows the old Milwaukee and Northern Pacific Railroad grade from Mullan, Idaho, over Lookout Pass and back to Saint Regis, Montana. Most of the course follows I-90 closely, with natural exchange points at each exit. The relay set up perfect for four runners to each have a longer and shorter leg to complete.

We stayed the night in Wallace, Idaho at the Stardust Motel. Don’t the age of this hotel scare you away. Despite it’s age, the motel is clean, with friendly staff and a great deal if you’re passing through the Idaho Panhandle. We ate at a bar in town, which was having an annual festival. So we were entertained by the local Elks Lodge playing the drums and horns in their band traveling from bar to bar for the night.

The race began at 6 a.m. Pacific on Saturday, which was confusing because Mountain time starts at the Montana state line. 28 runners headed off from the 50 miles start line. It was a great, cool morning with temps in the mid-40s with only a few peeks of sun throughout the morning.

We scoped out the nine other relay teams and figured out we’d have one team from Missoula to give us real competition throughout the day – definitely a few very strong runners on their team. We met at the first exchange after a long 8-mile climb up the Pass, and were only 4 minutes behind first place. The next leg was roughly nine miles back down the east slope.

Heading out to get lost on my first leg of the relay.
Heading out to get lost on my first leg of the relay.

Then it was my turn to mess everything up. Despite having run my first marathon the weekend prior, I felt great and my legs weren’t sore. In fact I was able to keep a great pace for the entire run. However, none of that matters if you can’t stay on the designated route. For the life of me, I cannot figure out where I missed the sign to veer off the main trail. I figured it out once I made it to roughly the same distance where the next exchange should be, but there were no signs for where to go. Luckily, a car from another relay team (also confused on directions) pointed me up the hill to where the exchange actually was. So, I climbed a slick rock dirt path and stared in confusion at my team mates as they wondered how the heck I popped in the opposite direction I was supposed to show up in. Seriously, I’m laughing about it as I picture it again in my mind. The other relay team was even more surprised because they thought I had passed their runner who had started 14 minutes ahead of me. She showed up 2 minutes later.

Turns out, I missed a turn somewhere and had taken a lower road, but at least it was to the same destination. But still, I had run a seriously good pace for that leg of the relay. Guess what Ryan, you’ll never make it as a trail runner if you can’t read the trail markings to stay on the correct route. Good thing this was a recreational relay.

The rest of our relay went fairly smooth. We found a grumpy lady at one exchange that wanted nothing to do with us parking near her busy place of business. Seriously. If you’re on I-90 in Western Montana and see this shack, I advise you not to stop. You’ll be yelled at.

Beware of the lady who lives in the M&Ms house along I-90 in western Montana
Beware of the lady who lives in the M&Ms house along I-90 in western Montana

We kept right on pace with our closest competing team. The trail was a great place to run as it followed the river and made easy access to exchange points just jumping off the main road. My second leg was another 7.5(ish) miles that turned into 8.3 miles. Guess that’s why the leg distances were just an estimate.

We made it to the finish line and cheered our final runner, coming in just 3 minutes behind first place at 6:34! We congratulated the other team on an awesome day of running.

I seriously look forward to this race next year. The Trail Rail Run offers distances of 50 miles, 50 km, 30 km and 12 km, along with this first year for the 50 mile relay. It’s an easy course on the old railroad grade, mostly covered in shade with awesome scenery of trestle bridges and tunnels. Much of the course runs along the river and I-90, but to call it a noisy interstate would be a great overestimation of actual traffic.

Team Beef for another great race! I look forward to the next run down the road!

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Montana Beef Runners representing Team Beef at the Trail Rail Run 50 mile relay! L to R - Billie Jo Holzer, Ryan Goodman, Haley Bradley and Doreen Caquelin
Montana Beef Runners representing Team Beef at the Trail Rail Run 50 mile relay! L to R – Billie Jo Holzer, Ryan Goodman, Haley Bradley and Doreen Caquelin
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