Ranching and ‘Crazy’ Route Creation in Montana

This article originally appeared on Trail Runner

Three seasons exist in Southwest Montana: calving, haying, and feeding. Between the all-nighters to bail alfalfa glittering with dew, tagging a sea of 1,200-pound Black Angus cattle, aiding birthing cows, and bottle-feeding dozens of calves, Crazy Mountain 100 Race Director Megan DeHaan "throws in" runs whenever she can--often around 4:30 A.M. when she's not grinding dusk to dawn. It helps that the ultrarunner-rancher's two boys, Cody and Cayson, are now old enough to cook, do laundry, and drive the tractor.

DeHaan, 37, is a rancher, ultrarunner, and race organizer of one of the gnarliest 100-milers in the country. The race, which launched last summer, also happens to be Montana's only official 100-mile foot race. DeHaan didn't grow up running, or ranching for that matter. She grew up in California but felt a call to be a cowgirl. "I took the first ticket out of the [San Francisco] Bay Area I could find," she says. When she saw an ad for a horseshoeing course at Montana State University in Western Horseman, the 17-year-old left.

That, saddle-making school, and an animal husbandry job with Trans Ova Genetics, planted her in the world of agriculture. Within seven months, she fell for her now husband, Lance, a fourth-generation Montanan cattle rancher. Now the couple leases and owns a large-scale 30,000-acre ranch just northwest of Bozeman in the southwest corner of the state, side-by-side--and he thinks DeHaan's running hobby is bizarre but offers to join her training on horseback. It's about compromise.

Community and Mental Health in Movement

Soccer, volleyball, softball. DeHaan played team sports growing up and, after having her first son, struggled with postpartum depression. She needed a consistent mental outlet beyond ranch labor to combat the symptoms, so on a whim, she signed up for the 2011 Bridger Ridge Run.

After clawing her way through 20 miles and 6,800 of vertical gain, DeHaan crossed the finish line and went straight into half-conscious breastfeeding. Throughout the 20-mile race, Lance had been caring for their son and Cody was ready to see his mom after the long break. "I had no trail running experience, and the race scared the daylights out of me. I both hated and loved how hard it was, but it was empowering that I did something I didn't think I could do," she says.

Trail running became a healthy addiction. For the past 11 years, Bridger Ridge has been her annual pilgrimage--with the exception of the year she was pregnant--and she became the event's co-race director with friends Boz Boswell and Darryl Baker in 2021. She's also a bow hunter and coaches her youngest's baseball team.

Meeting other runners blossomed into friendships like with Nikki Kimball, a three-time Western States 100 champion and FKT holder for Vermont's 273-mile Long Trail, who lives in Bozeman. The two initially shared winter miles on the plowed county roads around DeHaan's ranch before eventally sharing time on trails together. "I was blown away at how much fun women running in the mountains can have. While I suffered a little bit, it was really fun," DeHaan says, and so started the journey of seeking longer distances.

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In September 2020, she pursued her inaugural 100-miler, Idaho’s IMTUF 100. Despite hard-earned training, at the start she experienced a sudden onset of premature labored breathing, muscle fatigue, and an elevated heart rate--and couldn't get her system under control. "I was walking and hyperventilating. I couldn't figure out what was going on. The race illuminated untreated anxiety I'd been battling, which I assume was also related to my postpartum depression," says DeHaan, whoses doctor diagnosed her with anxiety and PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) and prescribed mild medication for a couple months after the panic attack, to "help her gain control"--which worked. "I continued to be physically active as part of my own idea of therapy and treatment, until I eventually weaned off the medication when I felt ready to give it a go. I have not gone on medication since. Moving forward, I have been more mentally aware of how and why I become overwhelmed, and I prioritize my mental well being. I don't say yes to everything anymore, and I don't put too much on my plate (as often)," says DeHaan.

Simultaneously, bowing out of the race "lit a fire" for her to go back and complete the 100-mile distance.

Determined, DeHaan signed up for--and finished--the Teanaway Country 100 in Washington a year later. "I loved it. I'll continue to run hundreds as long as I can," she says. Registered for the 2023 Bighorn Mountain Trail 100 in Wyoming and the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile in Colorado, she's also putting her name in the hat for the 2024 HURT Trail 100 in Hawaii and considering next year's The Divide 200 in Western Canada.

But Montana is void of a 100-miler race option. Despite being the home of passionate trail runners and a handful of the country's most competitive athletes--Adam Peterman, Erin Clark, Mike Foote, Jennifer Lichter, to name a few--Montana hadn't yet broken ground on a century race, at least not one that stuck. In 2010, the Swan Crest 100 saw 20 finishers. Three years later, the event “Rampage The Roots: Montana’s Ultra Challenge” offered the Ghosts of Yellowstone 100 Miler, which lasted several years with 5 to 12 annual finishers before fizzling out. Why not create one, she thought? Easier said than done.


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