17,500 feet of climbing and 18,000 feet of decent sounds like a lot of fun… until you are 72 miles into it!
I cannot really put something so amazing into writing, but I hope to at least attempt to share with you a bit of what I experienced this past weekend in the Big Horn Mountains.
Most of the trails I train on have switchbacks to get you up and down the mountain. NOT the case in this part of gorgeous Wyoming. It was straight up or straight down. If they said 18 mile climb up to the midway point it was 18 miles of gradual climbing! There were also some rather steep climbs straight up, which kept it fun!
I found myself excited/ nervous while taking off with just under 200 other runners on a dirt road after a wonderful National Anthem and kisses with the wife and kiddos. 2.5 miles into the race the fun began… about 6 miles of climbing. I quickly fell in love with this part of the country. The temperature was cool (about 70F) with a calm breeze as we climbed up and on top caught a 100 mile view! Quickly the course dropped 400feet in the matter of ½ mile into the aide station.
Ultrarunners are amazing people. Whether you are in first or last they all care for each other and like to chat with each other. I found myself with a group of 3 other runners for the next 15 miles or so. One a scientist from CU, another a CPA from San Diego, and another a guy who I didn’t quite get what he did for work but was from Montana. I was by far the youngest in the group but enjoyed sharing race stories, parent struggles, and superstitions on the race course!
Suddenly (well actually about 5 hours later), I found myself on a 3 mile decent that dropped fast. Tons of huge rocks and bamb mile 28 I rolled my right ankle plenty hard. Thank goodness it didn’t happen any earlier or that would have been a mess, or so I told myself while trying to play it off that I would be running the remaining 72 miles on a wobbly foot. Each step created an annoying pop and eventually I just accepted it as a normal sound
Mile 30 was the start of an 18 mile ascent and time with my pacer, Todd. First 10 miles together was great then about mile 40 my thoughts started to spiral out of control. I was going much slower than I had anticipated and each step hurt. I thought for sure I was going to be done at the turn around point, mile 48. I literally battled with myself for 8 or so miles of “what does it mean to endure.” My great, great, great, great, great, great, grandparents walked across the United States for the sake of their families and religion and they suffered. It is in my blood to endure. My kiddos and wife need a husband and father who doesn’t quit. Sure, it is just a race, but that is a bunch of garbage. I run these things because I love the mountains, I learn, and because it does test me and forces me to grow. So, I made the decision. No dropping!!! I’ve never dropped why start now. Mile 48 aide station (Jaws) was awesome. I got to see Shayna, eat more hot food, and pick up Nate (my next pacer).
Mud, mud, mud, and some hard snow! Yeah, running down hill in mud and hard snow is much more enticing than uphill in it! About 4.5 miles was pretty wet, muddy, and sloshy. But, once I arrived at the next aide I realized how much I loved night running. There was a nice fire, dill pickles, hot broth, and some other stinky runners. All supported by amazing aide station volunteers!
This was my brother’s (Nate) first time to run this far in the mountains, nonetheless in the dark and through the night. He was a stud of a pacer, which I should mention both my pacers (Todd and Nate) were nothing short of a tender mercy in this race. No runner should underestimate the positive influence of a fresh pacer. It was fun to see Nate’s amazement of the bizarreness of the sport!
Nate really came in handy when it was time to cross a pretty fast flowing river… The Big Horn Mountains have a nice sound to them. If you have ever been in a place where the only thing you hear is your breath, the birds, random sounds from wildlife, and a flowing river then you have experienced that perfect sound of tranquility. It is like running through a moment of stillness….. ahhhh so amazing! Well, that background noise of the river quickly got louder a few times, as the trail ran right into the bank of the river. Crossing the river in daylight is a blast. Crossing the river in the middle of the night after having ran for 18+ hours is tricky. One river crossing was simply a log cut in half (with a little more to it but not much) So, Nate went in front of me and I held on to his hydration pack. Later he humbly informed me he was plenty scared and felt me almost pulling him into the water, which was a very live fast moving flow of water.
Todd and I had the discussion that the term “pacer” is not necessarily accurate. It is better to say that they are often “pushers” keeping me moving forward. Either way, my pacers kept me in line.
Nate and I made it to Foot Bridge (mile 67 or something like that) in time for some hot pancakes and preparation to run again in the daylight. We had just experienced a full sunrise that was astonishing. Daylight in a 100 mile run is rejuvenating and energizing. We needed all the energy as we were set to climb a couple thousand feet in a 3.5 mile stretch. That climb was tough but gorgeous. The yellow and purple flowers were refreshing. At the top Nate was feeling low on oxygen and a bit sick. I told him to turn around and go get some rest. I was convinced I could run the next 13 or so miles to get my next pacer (Todd, again). I took off at about 5mph traversing some beautiful ups and downs. Suddenly, I grabbed for my food and realized that I had not asked for it before Nate turned around. It was hot and I quickly began cramping in my legs and felt awful. Couldn’t really move. I had plenty of fluid but no significant source of calories. I found a very comfortable rock and sat there for about 45 minutes until another runner passed and graciously gave me sufficient food to get me the next 6 or so miles to the next Aide Station.
I had enough energy to make it to the next aide but I felt like crap. I was for sure that when I got to mile 76.5 (Cow Camp Aide Station) the race was over for me. They were going to have to put me on the back of the ATV and take me off the mountain. My vision was blurry. My feet blistered. Ankle popped with every step. I was spent. Then I saw the Cow Camp Station in the distance and something happened. I began to cry. Alone on the trail I offered my gratitude to just see other people for a few minutes. I arrived at Cow Camp and said to the volunteers, “ I will finish this race but I need my next pacer. I need a morale boost.” They informed me that they would radio ahead to the next aide station (6.5 miles up the trail) and send my pacer down the trail to meet me along the way. I ate tons of food and got some hydration. Walked out of the aide station then realized I had not given up. The race had just begun in my mind.
So refreshing to see a good friend. Todd came up the trail happy to see me. His energy pulled me up and got me to Dry Fork Aide Station (Mile 82). The last mile up the that aide station is a gradual climb. My crew was cheering loudly and my wife dancing at the top. Put my wife dancing on top of a hill and I don’t care what I feel like I’ll get there
That Dry Fork Aide Station was incredible. I switched out shoes, shorts, and ate tons more food. Feeding off of the energy of my crew and volunteers was crucial. Shayna (my wife) was taking care of me. My son was peeing on the rocks and smiling. Life couldn’t get better Everyone was seeming to have a good time so why not join in. The next 18 miles was simple. It had only two climbs before mile 90. Then from mile 90 was pretty much downhill ( or so I thought).
It was all fun and games until I got to the aide station at mile 95. They sprayed me with water from the cold river. I sat down for just a couple of minutes to get some more food in me. When I sat down in that chair I got super tired. In fact, I got a quick minute of sleep in! What a teaser. Alright, I was ready. I told Todd, “it is just 5 miles on this country road in to town and it is just a nice gradual down hill.” Ooooooops! 3 miles later I realized it was actually a very slight uphill. Hmmmmm, would usually seem like nothing but after 98 miles of running and you tell yourself it is a nice downhill but that only seems to cause confusion and slowness when you realize it uphill. Well, finally mile 99 approached and it flattened out. Hit the main street of Dayton, Wyoming overcome with emotion and gratitude that I was upright and moving. I turned the corner to the city park and the location of the finish line. My brother Ben yelling for me and my hot wife, friends, and family cheering. Some guy was trying to push the last 200 yards behind me. Oh no, I don’t care to get passed in a race but you ain’t showing me up at this point
Ahhhhhhhhh…. Felt nice to lay down and get some kisses from the family! Every 100 miler is an adventure. This one had presented with some mental battles. This last 6 months has been super crazy busy with defending a dissertation, growing a private practice, being dad, and just breathing. Oh yeah, and overcoming a crazy month of upside down health in May (which included Shayna’s appendectomy, pneumonia for me and the boys, ear infections, flu). Finishing was just a way to say the human potential is incredible. One can sit around and wait or one can move forward and create!
Big Horn 100 is a very well directed race. Never have I received so much stuff from a race that was pretty awesome stuff too Tons of thanks to Shayna, the kiddos, Todd, Nate, Ben, the Dimig Family and everyone else who told me I was crazy but still supported me!!