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Our Nate Bender: Half man, half mountain goat (Part 2)



“These areas, like the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, allow you to discover so much about yourself.”

Last week I sat down with Nate Bender, an assistant account executive at PartnersCreative, to discuss his background and his decision to tackle a monstrous Montana challenge. But what is the challenge really? And how is he preparing? I wanted to know (and yes, write about it).

A:

Let’s get down to the details. We know it entails climbing 27 12,000-foot peaks, but tell us more. Who has the current fastest known time climbing all of Montana’s 12s in one run?

N:

Well, that’s part of what’s driving me — there is no FKT for this. A few people have climbed all of them over a number of years, but no one has made a concerted attempt to link them in one big push. I don’t know why someone hasn’t done this before. There’s a similar challenge in Colorado called the Nolan’s 14, which is a section of Colorado’s 14ers that links 14 of them into one 100-mile section. This year alone there have been two or three high-profile attempts and the record’s been broken. That challenge has similar distance and elevation gain, but maybe we just have Montana’s remote wilderness and smaller population to thank.

Nate Bender up a mountain

A:

So this is uncharted territory, huh?

N:

To a large extent, yes. Climbing Montana’s 27 peaks that are above 12,000 feet means entering pretty wild country. Once I leave from the start — Mystic Lake Trailhead on the northern end of the range — I won’t cross a single road, and will only step on four trails. Of the roughly 85 miles total, I estimate there’s only four miles on trail. It’s incredibly rugged, wild country with lots of up and down — there’s roughly 42,000 feet of vertical gain.

A:

Good grief, you are smiling! Are friends joining you this time around like they did in Idaho?

N:

For some of the challenge. I’m basically doing what’s called a supported FKT where people support with food and pacing. I’m really lucky to have enough foolish and generous friends and family to help me with this. There will be sections of the journey where a pacer will join me, which will be especially critical in the second half of the challenge when I’m physically and mentally spent. Some of my crew will also hike in with food and extra gear to the spots where I cross trails. So I won’t be totally alone the whole time, which I expect to be about 90 hours.
And I feel pretty good now that I’ve scouted all of the more technical sections. Most of it is above tree line, basically rocky ridges and boulder fields, but there are sections where you drop into valleys or drainages because the ridge isn’t the fastest way to connect different points. The majority is class 2 – 3 rocky territory, and the toughest that I plan to do is class 4, maybe a little class 5. I feel very comfortable on class 4.

A:

To me, that’s essentially rock climbing. Is that another talent of yours? Here I thought my fellow assistant account executive was just a super-speedy runner who liked to run … far. Turns out you’re a mountain goat.

N:

I have been compared to one before. Climbing’s another sport I picked up in college. I’m by no means a great climber, but I have some experience and I’m pretty comfortable scrambling around on rock up to a certain amount of exposure.
But honestly, I’m more concerned about the weather. I wish I could have done this earlier in the summer, but with training and scouting it needed to be later in the year. Let’s hope it doesn’t snow because safety and speed are both put into question then. You never know in Montana — it could be warm with a fairly stable weather pattern at the end of September. I’ll be seriously watching the weather from 10 days out and then I’ll need to make the call on moving forward with the challenge two or three days before.

a Montana mountain view

A:

How do you train for this?

N:

Because there’s so much off trail, this is more of a mountain travel challenge than a running challenge so training is different. I bought a plan from a service that works with ultra runners — some of the ones I greatly respect — to really push myself to be ready as the challenge nears. This is the sharpening of the spear, so to speak, to hone my fitness in a specific way. It’s not so much about foot speed as it is my ability to move uphill for a long time — a very long time.

A:

What does that look like? Training, I mean.

N:

Last night it was weighted uphill laps. I did two weighted ascents of Mt. Sentinel with water in a pack equal to 15 percent of my body weight — 22 pounds. I’d hike up with the weight, dump the water, jog down, refill and do it again. It’s all about a specific training stimulus driving specific physiological changes. And right now, my body feels good — no injuries. The excitement is really setting in.

A:

Is that how your family feels about the challenge — excited?

N:

They’re all very supportive. My mom is worried like any mother would be. But overall they think it’s fantastic that I enjoy to push myself like this.

A:

Well PartnersCreative thinks it’s pretty fantastic, too. As your first official sponsor, how’s the agency contributing to the challenge?

N:

It was great to have Partners jump on as a sponsor early. The agency provided a digital platform for me to communicate with my support crew, funds for me to purchase all of my specialty food for the challenge, an extra pair of backup running shoes in case my main pair fails, and the celebratory meal with my support crew afterward. I hope they know how much we like beer.

Nate Bender on a rest break, at peak

A:

I like the thought of a celebration at the end. What does success look like to you for this challenge?

N:

Number one, not getting hurt. Selfishly, I would love to finish. But a huge part of this is the shared experience. Getting it organized with my crew and then enjoying sections of it with pacers and meeting up with crewmembers at trail intersections. There is something special about sharing a difficult or intense experience with real friends. That was the best part of Idaho and I know it will be the same this time.

A:

That makes sense. I … think I get it. Minus the whole moving-for-more-than-three-days-straight thing. I know you’ll stop and take a few breathers, but that is intense. And admirable. Any last thoughts you’d like to share?

Montana ridge line at sunset

N:

I’d just like to stress the value of public lands and wild spaces. These areas, like the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, allow you to discover so much about yourself. Maybe that’s a small portion of the greater value of these areas. I think an endeavor like this can be impactful for lots of people — inspiring. It doesn’t have to be any crazy endurance challenge, anybody can go out in wilderness areas or other public lands and learn something new and surprising about themselves.

For more as Nate prepares for his challenge, stick around PartnersCreative’s Facebook page. In the next few weeks he’ll be pulling together the final details and starting on Sunday, September 24, we’ll be live tracking his journey.

Due to early season snow

accumulation across Montana and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, this FKT challenge is delayed until summer 2018. The decision was not made easily. But with so much exposure at high elevations, the wet conditions make Nate’s planned route unsafe. We will post an update when the date of the rescheduled FKT attempt is set. Nate is Nate after all, and Montana’s 12,000 footers is not something he will set aside completely or even for long. (And because he was geared up to run up hill for a long time … he’s heading south to Zion National Park for a run we hope is in the sun.)