Tackling the Pengelly Double Dip Race: Part One


Those of us in the running world have our “dream races”— a mental list of the races we want to run. One of the races on my list has been the Pengelly Double Dip, a 13.5 mile trail run with 2,700 feet elevation gain.

The race starts at Riverbowl East Field at the University of Montana and goes up the M trail, down the Fire Road, through the Cox family property, up Crazy Canyon Trail, to the saddle—half a mile below Mount Sentinel—up to University Mountain, back to the saddle, summits Mount Sentinel, back to the saddle, down the Hellgate Canyon Trail, to the Kim Williams, and back to the Riverbowl East Field at UM.

Talk about a calf-burning, throat-burning, blister-forming race. The most common injuries are knee scrapes on the runners who sail down the Hellgate Canyon Trail and trip by catching a toe on a rock.

I stumbled across the Pengelly Double Dip in its debut in 2004. Some friends and I had heard about the race and decided to sign up that morning. In its first year—organized by Youth Homes—relay teams were allowed. My friends and I weren’t in shape so we decided to form a team of three. The relay teams were so loosely organized that they allowed us to pick the hand-off points.

Since we were ignorant about the race course, we picked the top of the M Trail as the first hand off. We assumed this was the hardest part of the race (not so it turns out) so the only male on our team heroically offered to run that portion. I ran the second part of the race, which was probably the easiest, and handed off to our third runner at the saddle.

The poor girl had to hike up Mount Sentinel first since no transportation was provided. After my hand-off I headed down the face of Sentinel to watch my exhausted friend finish. I was in awe of the dozens of runners who finished the race that year. I secretly decided I would run the entire race some day, but I still didn’t know what a challenge it was until recently.

I made the decision to run the Pengelly Double Dip in January when the Pengelly co-race director asked me about my running goals for the year. I told her all I really wanted to run was the Pengelly Double Dip.

I felt a mixture of fear and excitement when she gave me her blessing. (It’s been a Run Wild Missoula event since 2008 and I wanted to make sure the race directors didn’t need my help on race day first.)

I tried to run hills this spring, but a calf injury held me back a little. I was able to do a few trail runs with the Run Wild Missoula Trail Running Class in the Rattlesnake, on Waterworks Hills, Mount Sentinel, and Jumbo.

Then, two weeks before the Pengelly, I decided to test myself and ran the course. I had run most of it in sections over the years, but I had never been to the top of University Mountain. The terrain was so steep that I walked most of it, but the view was incredible and the wildflowers were just beginning to bloom.

I was short of time that day, so I ran down the face of Mt. Sentinel instead of down the Hellgate Canyon Trail. About mid-way down exhaustion hit me: I was thinking about what I was going to eat when I got home and whether or not I should take a shower first. I thought to myself, I’ll stuff a handful of sesame sticks in my mouth, then get in the shower and have a banana waiting for me when I get out. I was so hungry and tired that I was afraid I would get in a car accident on the way home. I felt defeated.

The worst part is that I had cut the course short by going down the face of Mount Sentinel instead of the Hellgate Canyon Trail and I finished in 2 hours and 45 minutes. I was hoping I would finish the race in sub-2 and a half hours. Now I wasn’t sure that was possible. The night after running the course I had crazy dreams about the race. I wasn’t just a running race: I had to take tests and go through obstacles to get to the finish. It seems the Pengelly Double Dip Race is haunting me.

This weekend, though, thousands of runners will compete in the Missoula Marathon, Half Marathon, and Relay. Only a few of those athletes will win their race category. I can only imagine the magnitude of camaraderie most of the runners will experience on the course this Sunday. Good luck this weekend, runners, and have fun out there!

Photo Above by Neil Chaput de Saintonge

Come back later in the week to read about Eva’s epic adventure in her dream race.

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Eva Dunn-Froebig is the executive director of Run Wild Missoula and has been running since the seventh grade. She moved to Missoula 12 years ago from upstate New York to attend the University of Montana’s Journalism School graduate program. Eva never dreamed that she would have a running-related job and feels lucky to be a participant in Missoula’s vibrant running community.