How to Train and Run the Bridger Ridge Run in 4 Hours

The most popular post on this Blog is a minimalist approach to training for a 3 hour Marathon. In my experience, a 3 hour Marathon is equivalent in effort and training commitment as a 4 hour Ridge Run. The target audience for a post about doing a 4 hour Ridge Run is very small and localized compared to a global audience of those interested in doing a 3 hour Marathon. Nevertheless, there has to be at least a handful of people interested in a running a Four Hour Ridge Run.

Now if your goal for the Ridge Run is different than finishing in 4 hours, don’t worry, you can also scale the following training plan for other goals besides 4 hours. Start by adjusting the typical splits in the table below by the ratio of your goal time divided by 4. For example, if your goal is 8 hours, double all the splits. If your goal is 6 hours, multiply all the splits by 1.5 (6/4). If your goal is 3 hours, multiply all the splits by 0.75.

Prerequisites

Same as for a 3 hour marathon (19 minute 5K capability and history of at least 1 year of 3 hours or more per week of running). Any changes to this would be the addition of a history of at least a year of some of those 3 hours a week of running being done on rocky trails.

Typical Splits Required for a 4 Hour Ridge Run

Below are some suggested splits and elapsed times for different sections of the Ridge Run course. Times are in Hours and Minutes. With the exception of Sacajawea Pass, all the locations correspond to prominent points and aid stations. I’ve included the split to Sacajawea Pass as a check; mainly to make sure you do not start out too fast. It is easy to start fast, but you can pay for it later in the race with premature fatigue. Save yourself for the runnable sections later in the race.

  • Location                    Split      Elapsed     Theme
  • Sacajawea Pass         0:25      0:25           Uphill
  • Sacajawea Summit  0:15       0:40           Uphill
  • Ross Pass                   0:45      1:25            Downhill
  • Bridger Bowl             0:45      2:10            Uphill
  • Baldy                           1:10      3:20            Rolling
  • Finish                         0:40      4:00           Downhill

These are guideline times. If you are a better climber than descender, adjust those sections that are mostly uphill a bit faster and the downhill sections slower. Likewise, if you are better at bombing down the descents, adjust those sections that are mostly downhill a bit faster. Everyone is different with regards to skills and what sections they will find challenging slow or easy and fast.

Durability, Intensity, Specificity

The unique characteristics of the Bridger Ridge Run of rocky steep terrain put extra demands on your abilities as a runner and your body. This shapes the way you must prepare and train if you are to have a successful experience come race day. Building durability and toughness to handle the steep ascents and descents is imperative. So is the specificity of training at race pace on the course itself. High intensity training helps build fitness, speed and strength.

This is a minimal or just enough training plan. It is specifically focused on the goal of a 4 hour Ridge Run. It emphasizes training in the Bridger Mountain Range on the Bridger Ridge Run course. If you live near the course, that works. If you don’t live nearby, then you need to find some suitable terrain that closely matches the rocky steep terrain of the Bridger Range.

This plan consists of just 3 different training sessions that are repeated each week. Always give yourself at least one day off between these challenging workouts. They progress in duration over the course of the 14 week preparation period to race day. Given that the race is the Saturday after the second Friday in the month of August, 14 weeks before that is around the beginning of May. If you are serious in preparing for and training for the Ridge Run plan on starting your tailored Ridge Run training the first week of May.
Besides the 3 targeted sessions presented here, you should stay active every day, but at a low intensity. Doing more hard training each week than what is presented here, may lead to injury by overdoing it and compromising your training and goal.

Durability Training – Long Duration and Downhill Trail Running

Once a week do a steep trail run. Start with 20 minutes up and 10 minutes down. Build up to 1:20 up and 40 down by week 7. Hold that duration till week 12 and cut it in half the next two weeks.

  • Week    Up         Down
  • 1            0:20      0:10
  • 2            0:30      0:15
  • 3            0:40      0:20
  • 4            0:50      0:25
  • 5            1:00      0:30
  • 6            1:10       0:35
  • 7            1:20      0:40
  • 8            1:20      0:40
  • 9            1:20      0:40
  • 10          1:20      0:40
  • 11          1:20      0:40
  • 12          1:20      0:40
  • 13          0:40     0:20
  • 14          0:20     0:10

For those that live in Bozeman, the M to Baldy trail is very convenient and ideal for this training session. A good estimate of your Ridge Run potential is to double your round trip M to Baldy time. So if you can get all the way up to the top and back down Baldy in 2 hours (1:20 up 0:40 down, approx. 4 miles 4000 feet elevation gain), you are on track for a 4 hour Ridge Run. Your average pace going up is 20 minutes per mile. That is 3 miles an hour and may seem slow, but it is a steady power walk considering the average grade is 20%. You end up climbing 1000 feet every 20 minutes. Likewise, descending 4 miles in 40 minutes is 10 minutes per mile. This also may appear rather slow for running downhill, but the technical nature of this trail makes running 10 minutes per mile seem fast and challenging.
Going up and down Baldy once every week, is redundant and boring, but it is a great workout and a terrific gauge of your fitness. I’ve known several people that employed going up and down Baldy multiple days each week as successful Ridge Run training.

Intensity Training – Hill Repeats

Set aside one day a week to do hill repeats. Consistency is helpful so pick a day of the week and a time and stick with it. Choose a steep but runnable hill that takes about 3 minutes to get up. Take 3 minutes recovery by jogging back down to the bottom. Repeat.

Start with 2 the first week and build up to 10 by the 10th week then decrease back to 2 the week of the race. These workouts build strength, power and aerobic capacity. Run them hard at nearly max effort. When you get to the top, you should be gasping for breath, glad you made and looking forward to recovering on the way down.

  • Week    # of Repeats
  • 1           2
  • 2           3
  • 3           4
  • 4           5
  • 5           6
  • 6           7
  • 7           8
  • 8           9
  • 9          10
  • 10        10
  • 11          8
  • 12         6
  • 13         4
  • 14         2

You should be able to find a suitable hill on the trails near Bozeman such as Sypes Canyon, the M or Bridger Bowl. You can also use an incline treadmill. 10% grade at 7.5 mph or 15% grade at 6 mph are some possibilities. Set the incline and pace combination so 3 minutes represents about as long a time as you can last. Recover in between the uphill portions with 3 minutes jogging at 0% grade (4 to 5 mph).

Specificity Intensity – Race Pace on a Section of the Course

This workout consists of running a section of the course at race pace. The goal of this workout is to not just get accustom to running at race pace on the course, but to integrate it into your comfort zone and skill set so it becomes habit and second nature. Given the technical nature of the rocky Ridge Run course, this will also build coordination and skill with your footing. Spending so much time on the course gives you the opportunity to really get to know it so you will have no excuses for going off course.

In most cases, you must combine this workout with some easy running or walking to get to or get back from the section of the course run at race pace. Keep the race pace portion of these workouts under 2 hours and the total time out including the approach and return under 4 hours.

The progression builds to mid-July where you will do the first half of the course (Fairy Lake to Bridger Bowl) and the second half of the course (Bridger Bowl to the M) at race pace. Space these maximal sessions out by at least a week. The progression then backs off so that you do shorter sections of the course as race day nears.

Following are some training session suggestions. Your choices in May and June may be limited by snow. Many of the sessions will require either accessing the course by hiking up to the top of Bridger Bowl or descending from the top of Bridger Bowl to get down off the course. Some require doing an out and back on a section of the course. It is also possible to access the course at Ross Pass.

  • Week    Description
  • 1            Hike up to Snow Level on Baldy from M Trailhead, Run Race Pace Back Down
  • 2            Hike up to Snow Level on Baldy from M Trailhead, Run Race Pace Back Down
  • 3            Hike up to Saddle Peak from M Trailhead, Run Race Pace Back Down
  • 4            Run Race Pace from Ross Pass to top of Bridger Bowl
  • 5            Run Race Pace from top of Bridger Bowl to Baldy
  • 6            Run Race Pace from Fairy Lake to Sacajawea Summit
  • 7            Run Race Pace from Foot Hill Trail below Sacajawea to Ross Pass
  • 8            Run Race Pace from Sacajawea Summit to Ross Pass
  • 9            Run Race Pace from Fairy Lake to top of Bridger Bowl
  • 10         Run Race Pace from top of Bridger Bowl to M Trail Head
  • 11          Run Race Pace from Ross Pass to top of Bridger Bowl
  • 12         Run Race Pace from Fairy Lake to the Top of Sacajawea
  • 13         Run Race Pace from base of Baldy to the Finish
  • 14         Run Race Pace down from the top of the M to the Finish

Snow and Course Accessibility in May and June

Depending on the year, there still could be lots of snow in the Bridgers in May. This limits the ability to train on most sections of the course until June or even July. The road to the start at Fairy Lake usually does not open until beginning of July regardless of the snow pack or lack of. Until then, you may be limited to doing the long course specific runs in other places or on the M to Baldy section that tends to melt off the earliest. Until July, you may have to hike, run or bike up a portion of the road to Fairy Lake to access the trail up to Sacajawea.

Fairy Lake Trail Head in June

Fairy Lake Trail Head in June

There is a section of the course between Bridger Bowl and Saddle Peak that tends to hold snow. It is on the west side of the Bridgers above the Bostwick canyons and is a steep side hill. Traversing this section when covered in snow requires caution and will slow you down well below race pace. Most of the rest of the course, even if covered in snow does not pose the same exposure threat requiring as much caution.

Since the race takes place in August, snow is rarely an issue on race day. Occasionally (last time was 2005?) the course will be graced with fresh snow but no old snow pack. So for specificity’s sake, it makes sense to stick to training on portions of the course that are free of snow.

Training Logistics

Since the Ridge Run course is point to point, training on the course will inevitably require organizing a drop off and pick up at specific locations along the course. You can drive right up to the Start at Fairy Lake and also the Finish at the College M. You can drive within an hour or so walk of the top of Bridger Bowl and also Ross Pass. So having a training partner to stage shuttle vehicles with or a willing spouse to drop you off or pick you up is essential to training on all the portions of the course. Otherwise, you will have to retrace your steps which can force you to be out for a longer time than ideal.

There are some informal training groups that organize running at least the first half and second half of the course during the summer. A good resource and networking connection for this is the Bozeman area running club, Wind Drinkers.

If all else fails, leave a comment here and I will give you some individuals to contact. Plan ahead, as I only respond to comments on this blog a couple times a month.

Fueling

If you are highly endurance trained and can run for many hours before your energy fades, then you do not need to worry much about fueling. There are many individuals that have done the Ridge Run under 4 hours without any fuel whatsoever. On the very first Ridge Run (1985), Alex Lowe told me he had no water or fuel at all. He finished 2nd in well under 4 hours. There were aid stations that first year, but none were setup before the fastest runners went by. The winner the first year did have candy pinned to his shirt, but did not share any with Alex.

My first few Ridge Runs were done with little to no thought to fueling. I mainly just drank a bit of water. The first part went fast (I was a much faster runner 25 years ago) but typically around Saddle Peak (between Bridger Bowl and Baldy), I would fade significantly as I ran out of energy. My fastest elapsed times to Ross Pass (1:05) and Bridger Bowl (1:50) date from the early nineties, but I would lose a lot of time after that and typically finish in 4:15. The first time I broke 4 hours was the first time I forced myself to refuel as I drank nearly a half-gallon of Gatorade at the Bridger Bowl aid station. It prevented me from fading in the later portions of the course.

I’m now much slower, but wiser as I have learned to strategically fuel. My most recent time as an old man in his late 50s is about nearly the same that I ran it in as a young man in his mid 30’s. Now, my fueling goal is to consume about 800 calories total during the race. That is about 200 calories per hour. This works for me. It is enough to avoid running out of energy but not enough to cause stomach distress.

Over the years, I have learned to drink between 64 and 96 ounces of water during the race depending upon the weather (heat). This is 16 to 24 ounces an hour. Again, this is typical. Some people can get by on a lot less. Some need a lot more. My preference is to carry a 24 ounce water bottle and refill as needed at aid stations.

Other Resources

There are many older posts on this blog discussing gear such as shoes, clothing and packs. Start by looking here. Unfortunately, many of my favorite pieces of gear are no longer sold. There are items currently sold that are similar.

 

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About Bridger Ridge Run

The Bridger Ridge Run blog is an information portal for all those seeking to learn more about the Bridger Ridge Run event held every second Saturday of August in Bozeman Montana. This blog contains notifications about important registration dates and deadlines, history of the event, training advice and other stories and entertaining tidbits of information about the Bridger Ridge Run.
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11 Responses to How to Train and Run the Bridger Ridge Run in 4 Hours

  1. Angie says:

    When it comes to the Durability Training you outlined for the M to Baldy trail, is the point to “run” steep or is power hiking acceptable? (And I’m assuming you mean the steep way up, not the easy way up toward the M.) Thanks

    • Walking is fine. Just remember to walk fast avoiding the natural tendency to saunter along. Yes the steep way.

      Most people take twice as long to go up as to come down. A handy rule of thumb is that twice your round trip Baldy time is a good estimate of your Ridge Run potential. Or triple your Baldy ascent time. Durability builds from time spent on your feet and the eccentric loading of your quads on the descent.

  2. Angie says:

    I’m hoping to find a hill in town that is steep and long enough for this workout. Do you think Peets’ Hill starting from the trail near the warming hut on Church, past the first bench to the right, up to the intersection with the main trail where there is another bench near cemetery fence) is steep/long enough? It took me almost exactly 3 mins on this, my first day of this work out, not quite at max effort – yet. Thanks!

    • Angie says:

      You probably figured it out but wanted to clarify my previous question pertains to hill repeats. Thanks!

    • For close to or in town, that sounds good. As you get in better shape and it becomes too short and flat, you may have to go to Story Hills, Drinking Horse or Triple Tree. Those are your closest big hills.

  3. Anonymous says:

    For a goal to finish in five hours besides scaling the splits by 5/4 what other changes should I make

    • 5 hours is an ambitious goal. There are probably many people in the same camp as you wanting to break 5 hours. So here is a table of splits for those interested.

      Location Split Elapsed
      Sac Pass 0:30 0:30
      Sac Summit 0:20 0:50
      Ross Pass 0:55 1:45
      Bridger Bowl 0:57 2:42
      Baldy 1:28 4:10
      Finish 0:50 5:00

      The other training remains the same. Each week do the 3 minute hill repeats at near max effort, one day chug up and down Baldy, a third day do a section of the course at race pace. By mid July, you should be able to get up Baldy from the College M trail head in 1:40 and back down in 0:50 for a round trip time of 2:30. Double that gives you a 5 hour Ridge Run potential.

  4. Angie says:

    This blog entry rocks! I adjusted it to my goal time and feel much more confident and driven as I work on my base training now. 🙂 Thanks for putting in so much thought and sharing your passion!

    • Mel says:

      Hoping for entry to run again since moving to AK. This is a great resource for getting back into race mode. Thank you Angie for sharing this, may we train together in spirit.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Excited to see this! Current PR of 4:06 & haven’t abandoned the dream yet. This is the year! Thanks for your work.

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