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Le Grizz: Charting a New Course

An enduring (and endearing) ultra takes the next step

By Pat Caffrey

Le Grizz was Montana's first ultramarathon. Today it's one of the world's oldest 50-mile runs - somewhat to my surprise.

I had no grand plan for the future of the event in 1982, the first year we ran Le Grizz. I just took it one year at a time. But I did have a feel for what runners would need to complete the distance - and have a positive experience doing it - because I had run ultras myself. Over Le Grizz's 33-year history, the average completion rate is 95%. That was my original intent.

As race director, I had plenty of headaches and hassles (having a stubborn streak helped me manage them). But every time a runner finished his or her first 50-miler, I experienced a shared sense of pride and accomplishment. I photographed the runners as they hit the finish line, and I have a photo or video of nearly every finisher, dating back to the very first running.

Unexpectedly, a cadre of repeat entrants steadily grew, and I presided over their annual reunion. Forty-seven runners have completed the event at least 10 times, and of those, nine have finished 20 times. For a third of a century, Le Grizz was my day to hang out with class people at their best, sharing in their accomplishments. What remains is an intact legacy, an event that has established its own traditions.

I will miss the strange scene of lots of runners gathering on a remote road along Hungry Horse Reservoir in early October. After more than three decades it now seems part of the seasonal cycle for me. But now that road will be abandoned and the starting line camp will become a ghost town, of sorts, as the course moves to a new location. I will also miss the many volunteers who returned each year until, like me, they grew too old to continue.

It doesn't bother me that the course will move. I hope running the North Fork will continue for many years and provide a Montana wildland experience for a new generation of ultrarunners. Polebridge offers many advantages, and I believe it will be well received by future entrants. Who knows, maybe in another 33 years the run will return to Hungry Horse!

I will be involved in the transition for the next two runs. After that, I expect to enjoy the event as a spectator and hang with old friends. You never know what's going to happen at Le Grizz. With winners from Australia and Italy the last two years, the event has started to pick up an international flavor. Whatever the future holds, do not expect the usual! HN

Hammer Nutrition has been a proud sponsor of Le Grizz for 20 years. Until a new website is ready, check out the old version for more information (and a laugh or two): www.cheetahherders.com/LeGrizz.html

The legacy continues

New race directors Heather Cauffman and Will Hammerquist say the 2015 Le Grizz will be held in the North Fork area of Montana's Flathead River, an area known for its spectacular wilderness beauty. Runners got a taste of the North Fork for the 2013 event, when a government shutdown forced an unexpected change of venue.

"Were working out the route details," says Hammerquist. "What I can guarantee is that runners will love it." Wherever the new path leads, two things won't change: "You will have incredible views ... and you could be eaten by a grizzly."

Polebridge, MT, will no doubt factor in the new route. Hammerquist runs the Polebridge Mercantile, a resupply point for cyclists and backpackers (where Hammer Nutrition products are among the top sellers). "We look forward to Hammer's continued sponsorship of Le Grizz."

Co-director Heather Cauffman, who brings a wealth of race organizational experience, is gearing up for online registration this year. Expect Le Grizz to happen on the same date as in the past. "Pat told us two things must not change: it must be called Le Grizz and it must run the second Saturday of October." Mark your calendar.