Race: The Drift – 28 Miler Run
Runner: Coach Dandelion Dilluvio-Scott
Race Date: 03/12/2023
Location: Cora, WY
Results: 1st place female, 7th overall, 8:00:52
3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?
–The weather/snow conditions: It’s probably surprising to find a -25F windchill and sloppy snow mentioned as aspects of the race that I liked the most! However, I registered for this event because it is known for unforgiving and brutal conditions. I wanted to run in harsh, winter weather and I was not disappointed!
–The athletes: The Drift has three divisions: bike, ski and run. We all competed at the same time on the course. It was awesome to see athletes of different disciplines all with the same goal: surviving to the finish! No one method of locomotion was superior over the other. It depended on the section of the course we were in and there was a lot of leap frogging throughout the day. The tenacity of every athlete was inspiring to witness as we all contended with the elements.
— Location: This was a local race for me. I am simply in love the rugged beauty of the Wind River Range, the relentless terrain and crazy weather.
Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you
I didn’t much care for my water freezing despite my insulated containers… but that was also part of the charm of the race and added to the overall excitement!
Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?
I wouldn’t consider the race weird in any way. I think it is unique in that it takes place on the Continental Divide during the Wyoming winter when conditions are always guaranteed to be challenging if not completely heinous!
Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?
I love running in extreme environments and this race 100% fit that description! I not only enjoyed the conditions on the course, but also the creativity involved in coming up with specific training for the race. I exposed myself to a variety of winter challenges during training including waiting to run in the evening when the temperature dropped and timing some runs to coincide with winter storms. My preparation was brutal and, therefore, when race day presented less than ideal circumstances I had the confidence to plow through without much of an afterthought.
I was also very happy with my sweat monitoring. I practiced a lot of layer transitions during training to make sure I had everything dialed. I did two clothing swaps during the race right when I felt like I was heating up and sweat would soon follow. I got the combination correct both times. I don’t think I had any appreciable sweat during the race which is crucial to preventing exposure (more on that later).
Finally, I was pleased with my walk/run decisions and pacing. In snow, even if you can run, sometimes it makes a lot more sense to walk for efficiency and energy savings. What’s the point of exhausting yourself by running 17 minute miles if you can hike at 18 minute miles and feel fresh(er)? I ran about 90% of the first half of the race and switched to about 90% walking during the second half which included most of the climbing and slushier snow conditions. My intensity remained at RPE 7-10 throughout the race regardless of my pace. This was the most intense pacing I’d ever utilized during a race and I am pleased that I pushed myself until the end; in fact my fastest split was the last one!
Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner
Monitor your sweat very closely and adjust layers accordingly on this frigid course. If you allow sweat to build up, when you finally do make an adjustment you will freeze if so much as a gentle breeze sweeps across the damp fabric. Remember that running and walking creates airflow so this can happen even on a calm day. Test what clothes will work for you in different conditions during training so your layering system is dialed.
Lessons you learned that will help you next time around
I would put hot water in my insulated containers and keep the hydration hose on the inside of my jacket (and, yes, the hose was also insulated!). I am still not sure why this happened on race day, but not during training. Maybe it was the duration of -25F windchill!
Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race
Plan your race specific training runs to be in a variety of snow surface conditions and during different times of day. Also, make an effort to train in winter extremes including high winds, negative temperatures, snowstorms and intense sun exposure. Of course, make sure you know how to train safely in these harsh conditions as well before venturing out! The risk of exposure is very real both during the race and while training for it.
Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?
We were lucky to run this course on a bluebird day! Awesome views of Green River and the Wind River Range throughout the event. The race is also in a winter wildlife protected area, so you could potentially encounter elk, moose, wolves and bears, though I saw none. This adds to the wild beauty of the miles.
Difficulty – Is it a tough course?
The course difficulty varies from year to year. The temperature can be in the 20s, snow consolidated and wind mild. Having the luxury of perfect weather is unlikely in the Winds this time of year though and some difficulty due to the extreme environment is likely to be encountered. For example, race day for me featured the following:
- Start temperature was -4F, 20mph headwinds and a -25F degree windchill
- By the time I was climbing it had warmed up to 8 degrees and I was fighting the power of the intense winter sun
- Snow surface conditions, though somewhat recently groomed, were mostly soft and mushy due to the recent storm that deposited about a foot of snow on the course two days prior
Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?
The race directors put on a very well-organized event and made sure all the runners were safe in these risky winter conditions.
Competition – Is there a strong field?
This is a small race with multiple distances and three divisions: run, bike and ski. Not many folks are interested in registering for a race in the harsh Wyoming winter so the fields are small. However, almost every year there seems to be a few elite athletes who register in one or more distances/disciplines and impossible looking times are often posted.
Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.
Due to the extreme nature of a winter race not many folks sign up for any of the distances or divisions, so there is no need to rush. Lodging can easily be found in nearby Pinedale, WY. The 100-mile version of this race does require previous winter travel experience.
Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?
You are expected to be 100% self-sufficient on this course with the exception of water. There are no drop bags and aid stations do not make any promises in regards to fare. There were two aid stations which both had sweet & salty snacks and water when I arrived. Aid station 2 also offered hot cocoa with electrolytes mixed in!
Weather and typical race conditions
The nature of this course varies not only year to year, but also week to week. Snow conditions are constantly evolving during the winter. There is no real way of knowing what you might find on race day until a week prior. Then you can look ahead in the forecast and somewhat predict what the precipitation and freeze/thaw cycle that week might do to the track. Regardless that is still only a guess! Grooming is another wild card. The course is on a snowmobile track, but there is no real way of knowing when it will be groomed and how many times snowmobiles will have used the track before the race. Also groomers can break down! Temperatures, precipitation and wind are also mysteries that can vary greatly and won’t be known until a few days before the race… but the forecasting can be way off at times! Therefore, the runner must be prepared for multiple scenarios on race day.
Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?
A versatile layering system that has been tested in different winter conditions is an absolute must. This will vary from person to person. I also recommend very dark sunglasses, hand-warmers, a face covering, gaiters and mittens. For the 28 mile distance, the race directors require insulated water containers, puffy coat, hat, gloves, blinkie light and nutrition that will last throughout the race.
Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?
Spectators are allowed at the start/finish, but not along the course. Reminder that any friends and family at the start/finish will get cold without lots of insulating layers!
How’s the Swag?
Functional which I love! They gave us socks and hot sauce! First place finishers also got a mug.
The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?
If you are strategic, like the cold and relish suffering in extreme environments this is an excellent race and I rate it 10/10! This is not the race for the fair-weather runner or someone inexperienced with remote winter travel.
Dandelion Dilluvio-Scott is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about her or to work with her, check out her coach profile.