Last Friday and Saturday I ran the Bighorn 100 in the beautiful Bighorn Mountains of Northern Wyoming. Over the past few years I have heard what an incredible race this was and decided that it was one I needed to experience. The few hundreds I have run have all been late summer (Wasatch and Bear) so I was curious and a little apprehensive as to how my body would react without having put in the usual hard summer miles.
After lounging around all morning waiting for the 11:00 am start, it was finally time to go!
These starts are always a little anticlimactic for me, as everyone mills around waiting for someone to yell "go". This time was a little more memorable as there was a wonderful singing of the National Anthem right before go time. Race Director Michelle then gave the final countdown and here is how it played out for me.
I settled into an easy pace as Mike Wolfe, Joe Grant, Yassine Diboun, Jeff Browning, Cory Hanson and a couple others pushed the pace quicker than I was ready for. I found myself running with Duncan Callahan and decided to settle in behind him and enjoy the company. I first met Duncan a few years ago at the Fruita Spring Desert 50 mile, and it was great to catch up with him again. We shifted off the dirt road onto some beautiful singletrack and started the 8 mile, 4000 ft climb to Horse Creek Ridge. I kept looking up in amazement at the country we were passing through. This was absolutely breathtaking. When people talk about "big country", the Bighorns are what they are talking about!
About 3 miles into the climb, I noticed a pebble working around in my left heel. It finally became annoying enough that I stopped to get it out. To my dismay, I didn't find a pebble, but the start of a blister. What the.....? I never get blisters during races. I ran through a scenario of what to do and all I could come up with at that time was to loosen my laces a little, keep going and cross my fingers that it wouldn't get worse until I could address it better.
During this section Bryan Goding caught up to us and was good company for the next 5-6 miles. He was suffering from some sort of neuroma on his left foot and was going to run as far as he could, without high expectations of finishing. Duncan, Bryan and I ran through Upper Sheep aid station without stopping and somewhere after that caught up to Jeff Browning and Rob Rosser.
Rob was interesting to talk to. A former Olympian in the Biathalon and Veteran of OIF, he now coaches Para-olympians in the biathalon, and was attempting his first hundred.
We rolled into the Dry Fork Aid station right on schedule in 2:28. Duncan, Jeff and everyone else were in and out while I sat down to address my blister. Marge, Eve and Stuart were incredibly helpful and got me everything that I needed. I peeled off my sock and there it was, the source of the last 10 miles of irritation. It had now progressed from a tiny bubble to a blister a little bigger than a quarter. Being inexperienced with blisters, I wasn't sure what to do and took everyone's advice and rolled it into one. I dried it off, slathered it with Body Glide, and then duct taped it. I have used duct tape to fix everything from a broken light saber to a dragging bumper, but this was the first time using it to patch up myself. I hope it worked!!
This next section was absolutely beautiful and I had a great time. It is rolling country, and in between Cow Camp and Bear Camp aid stations, you roll in and out of 5 major drainages. After a couple miles, I caught back up to Rob and passed him, then caught Duncan and again settled in with him for some good company. As we weaved in and out of the alternating pine forest drainages and sagebrush/wildflower covered hillsides, Jeff Browning could be seen about a minute in front of us. I was a bit concerned that I was running too fast if I was this close to Jeff, but I didn't feel I was pushing overly hard and decided to just keep running. He slowly pulled away and I didn't see him again until the just before the Porcupine turn around. Just before Bear Camp, we started a gentle downhill and feeling pretty good, I opened the legs just a little and slowly started to pull away from Duncan. I was about 30 seconds ahead as we went through Bear Camp and then we started the brutal 3 mile, 2500 foot drop to Footbridge. I love this kind of running. Technical, steep, overgrown and nasty. The only thing I didn't love about it was thinking about having to climb back up it in about 10 hours! I managed to stay out of most of the mud bogs (which up to now had not been as bad as I thought they would be) and pulled into Footbridge feeling pretty good in 5:12. I kind of spaced it right through here. I had a little lead on Duncan, he had a pacer waiting for him and I wanted to get in and out quickly. So I promptly forgot to get anything to eat, only drank one cup of HEED, and left my lights, and long sleeve shirt in my drop bag.
I left Footbridge just as Duncan was getting there and took off trying to make a little time. The thing is, I know better than to start racing only 30 miles into it. There is way too much time still, especially for me. Some guys can race and redline right from the start. Not me. So I took off trying to make some time. My blister was really starting to hurt, the protective duct tape had come unstuck a bit and was acting more like a saw blade to my ankle, and it was getting hot. About this time I saw Cory Hanson out in front of me and decided I'd try and catch him, which I did. In the process I failed to drink enough, and then I took a shot from a new flask of EFS that didn't turn out to be so new at all. Turns out this was an unopened flask from Wasatch of last year. I'm not sure what the shelf life of these things is, but it seemed like this one had run out. I took one nip and about lost it. From that point until 2 miles before Porcupine, the wheels kind of came off. Cory passed me within minutes, followed immediately by Duncan and his pacer, and as much as I tried to keep up, they kept getting farther and farther away. I decided it was time to settle down and re-group, and I started walking. I don't think I ran a step from a couple miles past the Narrows (mile 35) until just before Porcupine and the turn around. I made good time hiking, and tried to catch up on everything. I also put on my headphones which helped to distract me, and also got rid of that D national anthem that had been running through my head ever since the starting line. I sat down at Spring Marsh and had a cup of broth and coke, then sat down again at Elk Camp and had the same concoction with the addition of a couple of peach slices with some canned peach syrup. WHOA!!! I had never had that before on a race and it was like nectar from the gods. I left Elk Camp rejuvinated and even with having a crappy 3 hours and walking so much, I kept reminding myself that I was only 15 minutes behind my splits and I was still making good time. About this time, Mike Wolfe passed me on his way back down. He looked fresh, he was leaning into the turn and he was flying!! I crested the final hill before Porcupine and my favorite Emergency Playlist song(I won't say what it is so as not to give away my playlist) blasted through my headphones. Perfect timing!! If anything was going to get me to start running, this was it. Unfortunately, there was a huge swampy meadow to pass through at this point but who cares! I turned up the music and splashed my way through the muck. At Porcupine I weighed in and was 5 pounds down. Crap! I think the scale was off. The aid station volunteers asked how long it had been since I had peed and I realized it had been about 5 hours. Not good. The volunteers exchanged glances and started handing me cups of Heed as I changed into some warmer clothes. I also downed another cup of broth, some hot chocolate and a Coke. This would become my aid station Trifecta for the rest of the race. Marge and Stuart were there to help me out again and Greg was there to run the last 52 miles with me. I spent too much time at Porcupine-about 15 minutes- but it was needed.
Man, it was nice to have Greg with me. My foot was feeling more and more raw, but I decided not to do anything about it at Porcupine because I didn't want to look and see how bad it was, I knew I had many more miles of mud and snow to go through, and mentally I just needed to keep moving. Greg was a perfect pacer. He didn't push too hard, but reminded me to run when I should have been running. Every 25 minutes, my timer would beep reminding me to eat. I would try to shut it off before Greg could hear it, but he was insistent and I always managed to get something down. I got a new flask of EFS at Porcupine and this was perfect to take a nip of. Much better than the rancid one I picked up at Footbridge. We made (what I thought) good time to Elk Camp, turning on my headlamp 10 minutes before we got there. Luckily I had already navigated all the nasty swampy sections on the way up , otherwise, it would have been easy to get lost through this section. My feet were already soaked, but I still found myself trying to tiptoe around the bad sections. It must be some primal instinct to try and keep the feet dry. I got to Elk Camp, downed a Trifecta, and had more of those awesome peaches with the juice. Just after leaving, we heard what sounded like barking from the hillside above us. All the sudden I realized it was a herd of elk and they were barking, chirping and mewing as they moved across the hillside. If you've never heard how vocal a herd of elk on the move is, then you have truly missed a wonder of nature.
The next 14 miles went on forever. We would occasionally pass runners on their way up, feel their energy, and try and guess who the familiar faces were in the dark. Outside of this distraction, it was a long 3 1/2 hours and seemed to take longer than it should have. My hips and knees were really starting to ache, my foot was not being my friend, and mentally I kind of checked out for a while. Greg told me a few really bad Wyoming jokes, I told him a few of my own and we stopped for a few seconds to turn off our lights and gaze up at the pristine, unpolluted night sky. Another one of Nature's wonders.
About 2 miles before Footbridge Greg noticed a light bobbing along in front of us. We got closer and closer and pulled up on Cory Hanson who was struggling through the night. It was a cold night, and all he still had the clothes he had been running in during the day. He assured me he was OK, that he slowed down at night, and we pulled into Footbridge about 2 minutes ahead of him, putting me into 6th place. At this point I still had hopes of a 100 mile PR and a sub 21 hour finish.
Footbridge-Dry Fork Ridge (66-82.5)
I downed another Trifecta, grabbed another EFS flask and mentally prepared myself for the 3 mile, 2500 foot climb known as The Wall. At first it felt awesome to be climbing and not running. I actually felt pretty good through here, and tried to keep a steady pace. There were a few mud bogs to navigate (one of which reportedly sucked some poor woman's shoe off her foot last year and never gave it back. She had to one shoe it back to Footbridge and DNF) , a few flatter sections that were runnable and lots of steep climbing. I'm not sure how long it took to get up this climb to Bear Camp, maybe an hour. At Footbridge I was about 30 minutes behind Duncan, now it was about 35. I had some Hot Chocolate and broth(no coke available) and Greg pried me out of the chair. I lost track of the 5 drainages as we went from Bear to Cow Camp. I put my head down and tried to run, and that's all I could think about. We saw a light on a ridge a looong way off but it was way to soon to be coming to Cow camp. I kept seeing the light as we wound in and out of drainages, and it never seemed any closer. Eventually though, the light got bigger, and it was, in fact, Cow Camp. At this point, I started thinking that I might actually finish this forsaken journey. Cow Camp provided another Trifecta, Greg again pulled me out my chair and I don't remember anything about the next section until it started to get light. What a beautiful sunrise it was!!! Greg posted a stunning picture of us climbing up to Dry Fork Ridge on his Pacer report and that doesn't come close to a true representation. Even more amazing was sitting down at Dry Fork and taking my shoes off. My left foot was a mess. the blister was about an inch around, and the duct tape had done a wonderful job of creating numerous tiny blisters and cutting a circle around my ankle and across the top of my foot. At this point all I could do was laugh about it. The aid station volunteers were great and Marge was even greater as they got me fresh socks, a new set of shoes, a revamped and reinforced duct tape job, and a Trifecta.
I had been drinking and eating regularly since Porcupine in an effort to rehydrate and keep my energy up. As a result, I was again peeing every hour and feeling good. Then I weighed in. The scale read 185, and that was with my muddy shoes off. I was about 9 pounds up. Of course the volunteers started freaking out, which kind of freaked me out, until I told myself to calm down, the scale was probably not calibrated right. Still, for the next 18 mile the thoughts of hyponatremia, Acute Renal Failure and myriad other health complications kept me occupied. In fact, I found myself spelling out r-h-a-b-d-o-m-y-o-l-y-s-i-s in rhythm to my footsteps multiple times during the next few hours. Comical now, but not so much then.
Dry Fork Ridge-Finish (82.5-100)
After a very long 17 minutes at Dry Fork, I came out of the warm tent and started hobbling. I was COLD and my legs had stiffened up. I told Greg I would start trotting up the road and he could catch me. Off I stumbled, and a few minutes later, as I was "running" up the road, Greg caught up to me at a leisurely walking pace. I made some smart-ass comment to him and he started "running" by my side to try and make me feel better. At this point I no longer had any thoughts about sub 21, I was starting to think that 24 might be pushing it. My foot felt 100% better, but my knees and hips were those of a 97 year old. I was walking the ups, stumping the downs and lurching the flats. The one redeeming thing through this section was the sun. Beautiful, wondrous sun. It really does provide a mental and physical boost. For me it was mental, the physical was still to be found. We climbed the last ascent of the run at mile 87 and then I looked at the long 8.5 mile, 4000 foot drop in front of us. Roch Horton told me that he had run that section in 57 minutes last year. Feeling like I did, and seeing that long descent, I was ready to call him a liar to his face. I started picking my way gingerly down and then, a mile or so into it, my legs started to loosen up, my stride lengthened and two hours late, the sun finally gave me the physical boost I needed. IT WAS AWESOME!! I felt like I was 5 miles into a run instead of 90. I kept picking up speed until I couldn't hear Greg behind me. I was bounding over rocks, splashing through streams, laughing out loud. I felt so good I even ate a gel without my watch having to remind me to do it. As with all good things, this soon came to an end. I got to the bottom of the canyon with Greg a few seconds behind me. He had a look of bafflement on his face and started to laugh. I wish I had timed our descent because I think I may have made it in 57 minutes. I was a little depleted but still feeling better than in a long time, and was entertaining thoughts of a sub 22 finish instead of squeaking in a 24.
The final 6 miles were uneventful. We ran, then ran some more. We got to the start line with 4 miles to the finish and I saw I'd need a 7 minute pace to finish sub 22. Competitiveness can only take me so far, and I was NOT running 7 minute miles on a hot dirt road to finish this out. Luckily, Bryan Goding came riding by on his mtn bike (he had dropped at Dry Fork the day before) and kept us entertained and motivated to run. We came off the dirt road, crossed the bridge, into the park and around the bend to FINISH. 20:20:16.
This was in many ways the toughest 100 mile run I've done. Physically, mentally, emotionally.
I was not quite where I wanted to be fitness wise, and was definitely not ready for the long descents in the 2nd half of the race. Mentally, I checked out for the middle half of the race. I never quite got into the rhythm I was used to, which was due in no small part to the constant annoyance of my blistered left foot. In fact, from the time the sun went down until I started that last long descent, I was done with 100's. I was going to finish this one, and then resign. I had planned out my drop from Wasatch, checking out of the racing scene for a while and eating a lot of ice cream on the couch. Luckily (maybe not) it only took a couple hours post-race for those thoughts to fade. Now, I look at the Bighorn as a very long training run, in preparation for Wasatch. As I write this one week post Bighorn, my legs feel great, my mind is in a better state and I'm ready to get out and run again.
Thank you Brooke, Sam, Andrew and Kate for putting up with this obsessive, addictive behavior, and supporting me during this and other runs. Thanks Greg for enduring a long, quiet, 52 miles. I would still be sitting in an aid station somewhere if you hadn't been there to pull me out. Thanks Marge for taking such good care of me at the aid stations. Thanks David Hayes and Stuart Gleason for carpooling up and being such good company! Thanks Wasatch Running Center for supporting me. And thanks to all the volunteers and aid station people for making this race a success. I had a great time and plan on coming back again!!