I signed up for the Bighorn 100 for two reasons, one as a backup to Western States in case I didn’t get selected in the lottery again and two, as a similar race to the Bear I could get some redemption for my DNF there last year. Obviously I didn’t get selected in the Western lottery so…
There were a lot of uncertainties with the Bighorn, would I be able to handle the most difficult race of the 100’s I’ve done? How would my gimpy left knee fair? Could we pull the logistics together for crewing and pacing etc.? Amongst others.
Joan and I picked up Oliver and we left for Toronto very early on Wednesday the 17th (it felt like I got up half an hour before I went to bed!) to fly to Billings, MT via Denver. The flight to Denver was uneventful, but we were supposed to have a short turn around for the flight to Billings. Once we got to Denver we found that the flight was delayed by 2.5 hours so there was lots of time to relax and get some lunch. While we were there we started noticing other Bighorn runners, yeah ultrarunners stand out! Chatted with Kevin from Boston, whose accent was so strong, he was almost hard to understand. The next flight to Billings was again uneventful and arrived in the small airport, picked up our luggage and rental car and headed out. Stopped to pick up a few supplies and then off to Sheridan Wyoming, about 2.5 hours away.
Sheridan turned out to be a very nice little town, lots going on. Lots of restaurants, a little shopping. We turned in for the night to get some well needed rest. It had been a long day of travelling. We were up early the next day as we were still on eastern time, went for breakfast in the hotel and ran into Elise from Ontario. Sharon would also be there later. Lots of Canadians doing this race and I knew a lot of them.
Before the expo opened we went to the Sport Stop store to look for a few things that we may need and chatted with the Race Director who works there, she immediately recognized us as Canadians! And we didn’t even say eh! Eventually the race expo opened and I picked up my race kit and weighed in. The swag was great, cooler bag, socks, buff, arm sleeves and a nice water bottle. There would be more for finishing the race too. Also dropped off a drop bag for the Footbridge aid station, the first time I have used a drop bag. I have always relied on my crew for everything, but in this race there are few opportunities to see my crew.
One of my main concerns for this race was my weight. I have found that in hot races I lose a lot of weight and this race has warnings about losing a certain percentage of weight during the race and there would be medical checks on the course. You could be pulled if you lose too much.
That afternoon we found the Crossfit gym for Joan and she went for a workout while Oliver and I wondered around town. It was then that we bumped into Jocelyn and some of her girls. Once done we went to dinner at the Wyoming Rib and Chop House (for the second time). A great place to eat with good food and service. Then it was time to head back and start the wind down and sleep.
With an 11 am start time the challenge was when and what to eat. There was also the 9 am prerace briefing. We went for breakfast and numerous runners were in the hotel breakfast area, including Elise and Sharon, so we chatted for a while before getting our things together and the drive to Dayton. The prerace briefing was in the park where the race finishes and was your typical briefing. Once done, it was off to the start in Tongue River Canyon.
The Tongue River Canyon is warm on a good day and today it was rather hot and everyone was looking for some shade. This is where an 11 am start is not necessarily a good thing. Nervous energy was evident throughout the crowd of runners and supporters.
At 11 am, we were finally running down the canyon for the first mile of road and then into the trails by the Tongue River. I ran with Elise for a bit, but let her go as I don’t like getting sucked into someone else’s pace, at least at this point of the race.
The first aid station was just 2.5 miles in and it was the prelude to the first big climb and up we went. 5 miles straight up, in a conga line on the single track trail in the alpine meadows.
It was neat to be able to fill up my water bottle about half way up in a spring. It was amazing to turn around every so often and take in the views. The higher we went up, the more we could see. Eventually we could even see Sheridan in the distance. I got talking to a guy in front of me, Randy, who was from Victoria, BC. Low and behold he was originally from Ontario and had worked at Ontario Hydro, he also knew a fellow work mate I worked with at Barrie Hydro. Small world.
We crested the mountain top and went down the other side, a very steep descent. I could only think about how tough this climb would be coming back. We were in and out of the next aid station and on to some dirt forest roads all the way to Dry Fork aid station.
This was my first time to see Joan and Oliver. I came in and asked if they had dry socks, mine were soaked with sweat. They did, but it would mean going to the car half a mile away. I declined and decided to soldier on, first mistake made. Actually the main mistake, because I had already started feeling the effects of trench foot on my left foot. I thought just relubing may be enough. It would be another seventeen miles to my drop bag and dry socks and 35 miles until I would see my crew again. The next 17 miles were mostly downhill to rolling, which you would think would feel good. By about 17 miles I was feeling like crap and this dragged on until the 26 mile aid station. I was definitely starting to doubt myself, but after this aid station I felt rejuvenated and took advantage of some serious downhills.
I came into Footbridge feeling very good, knowing I had a change of socks etc., I took my time changed socks, put some moleskin on the trench foot, relubed my feet and changed my shirt. Just before I left I noticed Oliver F. sitting beside me, we chatted briefly and then I left.
The trail from Footbridge to Jaws (the turnaround) is up hill for 18 miles and is almost entirely single track, through rough rocky technical terrain, forest tracks and meadows. I soon fell in behind another runner named Charles who I ended up “running” with for most of the next 18 miles.
Our conversations would take our mind off things for the next few miles and helped each other along, even stopping to sit down on the side of the trail to take in the incredible view of the night sky at one point. As we went on we often turned around to see a string of lights following us up the mountain, and eventually the leaders would be oncoming with lights coming from the other direction too. The closer we got to Jaws the more we came across some of the famous Bighorn mud, apparently not as bad as previous years, it was still shoe sucking in a few spots and there was lots of it. As the night wore on the temperature dropped significantly, although I didn’t really notice it except for my hands, so I had to at least don some gloves.
As the run progresses I had started this annoying habit of kicking rocks with my right big toe, which was becoming increasingly more sore. Also the trench foot had become somewhat of a pain. At this point I already knew a few toe nails would not last the next few weeks. Finally I arrived at the Jaws aid station (48 miles) to see Joan and Oliver waiting. I went into the aid station to look for the medical check and was told there wasn’t one! Ok, that’s suites me fine, but… So I went back out and had my crew look after my every need! Oliver got me coffee and a quesadea and some soup while Joan prepared a shake for me. I changed socks, shoes, shirt and got some new mole skin. As I was getting ready I saw Charles heading out with his pacer and wished him the best. Oliver was ready to go as my pacer. After a few minutes I was out again, not to see Joan until Dry fork again, probably midday. As we left we ran into a couple of familiar faces. Jocelyn was struggling and would drop at Jaws as would Oliver F, who was having foot troubles.
At least at this point most of the next 18 miles would be downhill, but through much mud. Oliver and myself had many laughs as we headed down the mountain, especially when Oliver was attacked by a tree while trying to maneuver around the mud. He still has the scar to prove it! Eventually daylight returned as we were crossing many miles of alpine meadows. Oliver finally got to see the spectacular sites and views that I had seen on the trek up.
By about 60 miles the trench foot was affecting both feet and they were very tender. It felt like one big blister across the balls of both feet, but worse on the left. In the miles approaching Footbridge again, it felt like the mole skin had ripped the skin off the bottom of my left foot and slowed me down to a hobble. My big toe on my right foot was also in pain and I had started kicking rocks with the two middle toes on my left foot too. At this point I was writing myself off and expecting to drop at Footbridge. It was a long hobble! We finally came in to the aid station and I asked how long till the cut off, 2.5 hours was the response. Oh! That’s better than I thought. I went and got someone to look at my feet, soaked them for a bit and as it turns out the pain was from a blister rupturing and not as bad as I had thought. I saw Elise there and she encouraged me to keep at it. Everything seemed to come together. Another change of socks, fresh mole skin and a new shirt and I was back at it. Oliver modified a long sleeve shirt into a short sleeve and we were off. But not long after leaving we ran into a bit of a roadblock. The next 3.5 miles were all up and steep, it was also getting hot again. Not long in Oliver told me that he didn’t think he could go on. The fact that he got this far with me with little training, I was very grateful for. So we decided it would be best for him to just walk it back to Dry Fork and me go solo. If he went back to Footbridge he may not be able to go anywhere for a long time or at the very least to end up in Dayton. That would mean our car would be stranded at Dry Fork! As it was I would worry about him for the next few hours and what would happen next.
The climb out of Footbridge was brutal. It was hot and very steep. I was sweating buckets. I would pass a few runners before the next aid station and once I got there I was able to maintain a positive run/walk with more running than walking. I was already starting to do the math in my head as to how I could finish. I initially gave myself an extra 1.5 half leeway, but then realized that I was wrong and only had about a half hour. Doing math and running an ultra is not a good thing at the best of times. It wasn’t working well here.
The section from the “bacon” aid Station to Dry Fork seems like a long haul, there were lots of 50 milers on the course now and when the sun was out it was hot, as we were in the open for the most part. I was being consistent though, running the downhills and flats as much as possible and power hiking the hills. I was using my trekking poles and they were a god send in this race. I really noticed how much on the last climb into Dry Fork. I was passing lots of runners. As I approached Dry Fork I looked up and saw what looked like Oliver. I had to give my head a shake! It was. WTF are you doing here? How? Apparently he had walked back to Footbridge and found someone who was willing to give him a ride to Dry Fork. At this point I was very relieved to see that he was ok and had made it here.
I was surprised how cool the air temperature was when I stopped. I fuelled up, Joan was ready to pace and off we went. Not long after we started I had to find somewhere to sit so Joan could relube my feet again. They were a mess. We kept moving forward though. The dirt road sections from Dry Fork were difficult to run or walk on due to my tender feet. Once we were on trails again, I was able to run again. I know Joan was happy to get out and run! I had only 17.5 miles to run when I started with Joan and about 6 hours to do it. We passed through one aid station quickly and then headed to the last major climb. We basically climb up the back side of the mountain that we have to go down back towards Dayton. It was the descent I commented on earlier. It was a long tough climb, Joan let another runner user her poles to try them out. He liked them a lot. They do make a big difference. Cresting the top of the mountain top/pass we could again see for miles and only had to go down to the bottom and the road into Dayton. Easier said than done. My knee hadn’t bothered me at all during the race, until we started down this hill side. I was moving very gingerly down, trying to move as fast as I could without doing any damage. Still runners passed me though as I was moving slowly. It was a long way down and seemed to take forever. But we made it to the aid station with about 7 miles to go and I had 4 hours left, easy! Someone at the aid station asked me how I felt? It was then that I realized that other than my feet I felt amazing. Not tired, nothing sore, just trashed feet that hurt! We ran/walked through the canyon to the trailhead and knew we only had 5 miles to go. This was the hard part, on the road, in the open. It was a dirt road, which again hurt the bottoms of my feet and it seemed to go on forever. I kept thinking the next corner is the last one… nope!!!
Finally we got into Dayton crossed the old bridge and turned the corner to the park and ran into the finish. Joan had to yell at a few people standing in front of me not realizing they were blocking my way to the finish line.
I came in to the finish at 32 hours 19 minutes and 4 seconds. My longest run ever. It all came crashing down at once, I had to lay down. I went to the river next to the finish line and soaked my poor feet and that was painful. Joan got my sandals, a chocolate milk and a beer! We then went and sat down in our chairs and relaxed for a bit, eventually I struggled to stay awake and suggested we think about heading back. I looked around for Charles, or anyone else I knew, but it looked like most were gone. I did see my new friend from Victoria, Randy. He had finished in 27 hours and change, awesome.
We headed back to Sheridan and on the way I started feeling a lot “off”, I was struggling to focus. Oliver pulled over and I blacked out completely. I awoke to Joan and Oliver putting cold water bottles on the back of my neck and just as quick I felt great again, tired, but great.
At the hotel I had a quick painful shower and then collapsed in bed, only to wake up at 3 am!!
In the morning we went to the awards and post-race breakfast in downtown Sheridan, met up with a number of people, Charles, Elise, Sharon, Chantel from Minesing, Oliver F amongst others. Collected my buckle and jacket and off we went to continue our journey in Yellowstone National Park.
In conclusion, the toughest race I have done. Although I think the foot issues added a lot to that. I think I could have taken a lot of time off if my feet were better. A great event, well put on, very remote aid stations, not a lot of opportunities for crews to meet runners, spectacular scenery and amazing volunteers.
Other than the blisters on the bottom of my feet, around my ankle and heels bones and multiple sore toes and black toe nails, I’ve come out of this rather unscathed. Oh yes my knee is very swollen, but that seems to be normal lately and I have an MRI scheduled for July 4th.
I highly recommend this race. With this I have now qualified to enter Hardrock, and Western again.
Ok what’s next?
My Instinct - I’ve been writing in this blog for nearly 8 years now. I started with the idea that I would transcribe some details about running ultras that I thought m...
1 week ago