Well, what can I say about the Bighorn 100? I guess I will start at the beginning as I have a lot to say.
Matt and I and Leslie left from Oakland to fly to Billings, Montana on Wednesday morning. We stayed at a funky little motel with a flat uncomfortable bed, and a chain smoking lady working at the NO SMOKING motel, greeted us at the door. On Thursday morning we left Billings and drove the couple of hours to Sheridan, Wyoming where the race begins. We checked in and got through the medical check and dropped off our drop bags. We were ready for the 11:00 am start time on Friday. I was nervous and excited all at the same time. My last two hundreds left me very sick with Rhabdo in the hospital for a week each time. It was so important for me to run conservatively and keep hydrated and healthy. I went into the race undertrained. The highest mileage week was topped off at 68 miles. Low for most people training for 100's. I felt strong and my 50 mile races had gone well, but I wondered if I had done enough for the intensity of the Bighorns.
The 11:00 am start gave us plenty of time to have a nice breakfast and get to the race briefing by 9 am. I saw a few friends there and it was relaxing and beautiful. The weather was perfect!
At 11:00, we were off! The climb out of the Bighorn canyon was beautiful and I went slow and deliberate through there. It was incredibly remote and breathtaking. I loved every minute of it. I enjoyed talking with a lot of friends through here and it seemed like before we knew it, we had reached Dry Fork Aid Station at mile 13. Leaving Dry Fork you begin a long rolling descent all the way to Footbridge (mile 30). They throw in enough climbs to keep you from completely freaking about the return trip. There were beautiful wildflowers, meadows, stream crossings, and great aid stations! I was feeling really good as I ran the runnable portions of this section. The last three miles into Footbridge, you descend what is called "The Wall". It is a 3.5 mile descent that drops over 2,000 feet. In addition to the steep, technical decline, there were sections of thick, sticky mud, and running creek water that made for a slippery downhill experience. I am a slow downhill runner and this section was particularly tricky for me as I didn't want to twist an ankle or trip this early into the race. The mud was shoe sucking and I lost a shoe at one really deep spot. Getting my shoe back on was a comical experience! At Footbridge, I sat there completely confused as to what to bring with me up the long 18 mile climb to Porcupine (mile 48 turnaround). We needed to bring all our warm clothes and lights and we were told it would take around 6 hours for this 18 mile trek through the snow and mud. I changed my socks and stuffed my pack with warm clothes and headed out. I turned my ipod on and I started off. I hiked a lot and ran a little too. I kept reminding myself, Relentless Forward Motion. After following the river for a while, I came into an alpine meadow which was just beautiful. I crossed numerous log footbridges and the roar of the raging rivers were amazing. At about 8:30pm, I put on my warm clothes as the temperature was beginning to change, and turned my lights on at 9:30pm. There was a crazy muddy section through an aspen grove that was solid mud and puddles for several hundred feet. There was really no good route- just plunge right in. The last few miles from Elk Camp to Porcupine were pretty nasty with long sections of muddy boggy marsh, several small streams and then about a mile or more of alternating snow piles and mud pits. A few of us came to a large river crossing with deep rushing water and couldn't find the trail markers. If we had looked to the left we would have seen a small footbridge to go over. Well, we didn't waste the time to look and we plunged in, waste high into cold freezing water. I think it took me about an hour to get some sort of blood circulation back into my numb, frozen feet. That was a terrible mistake not crossing the footbridge to avoid being wet from a freezing river. The course got more challenging toward the turn around with lots of mud, snow and creek crossings. I was so looking forward to getting to the turnaround, because I knew Matt would be there with a smile on his face, and encouraging words. Porcupine aid station was great. I came into the warm building to lots of energetic volunteers and to Matt who helped me get it together again. I think I stayed about 15 minutes, trying to get warm and then Matt got me out the door. Leaving Porcupine, I tried to stay mentally strong. I knew it was going to be a LONG night. The snow and mud were just relentless. My hands and feet were numb with cold. I was getting anxious knowing that I had several narrow bridges to cross over raging rivers. The bridges were covered in ice and my feet were wet, muddy and very slippery. I kept praying that I would slip off and fall into the raging water. The sky was clear and the stars were out and it was just beautiful. I kept my mind off of all the animals that lived among us. Watching the footing kept me focused and unafraid.
The turnaround to the finish is just one big blur. I do know that I felt great most of the time. I moved along and did not let negative thoughts cloud my forward motion. I don't know how many times I fell the last 50 miles. I was covered in mud and my teeth and mouth were filled with dirt from my dirty water bottle. The climb up to Footbridge seemed to take forever. My feet were trashed. I was covered in mud. I was excited to be moving and my stomach felt great. My fueling was working like a charm and everything seemed to be going just as I hoped it would. Running without a pacer was great. There was no need for aimless chatter and I did not need any pushing. I was motivated enough and just enjoyed the alone time. I was also excited that my Mom would be at Dry Fork to see me come in. She and her friend Lloyd were stopping by on their way from a road trip to Wyoming.
I finally made it to Dry Fork after a long uphill trudge. I saw my Mom and Matt there and enjoyed an avocado and a V8 juice there. From there I left and I alternated between fast hiking and running up to Sheep Creek. With 17 + miles to go, I tried not to think about it. I had wanted to finish in under 30 hours, but I was having my doubts. The miles seemed to drift by and before I knew it we were at the final climb deemed "The Haul".
It was steep, but it seemed easier than "The Wall". The long downhill was never ending and the temperatures were pleasant. When I finally hit the dreaded 5 mile gravel road, I knew it was going to be long and relentless. I looked at my watch and knew I could make it under 30 hours. That had me smiling. My legs felt great and I ran the whole 5 miles encouraging the 50k and 50 mile runners to join me. No one took my encouragement, so I ran alone. At about 3 miles to go, I came across Steve Restad, a Billings Montana runner who I had met earlier in the day. I told him to get running and we took off together to run together the rest of the way to the finish. We ran hard and fast to the bridge at the park. We charged across the finish line like we were running a 10k and it was a perfect way to end a perfect race! I immediately put my poor aching paws into the cold river. That lasted only for about 30 seconds as the water was just too cold.
I finished the race with not a bit of soreness in my legs and feeling great. I am so happy that I had no issues to speak of except very sore feet. I wore Drymax socks and they worked like a charm as always. Thank you to the race director and to all the volunteers for making this race so great. I will be back. My time of 29:30 made me happy! I am happy to report that I had no stomach issues, bloating or swelling of my hands for arms. My legs never got stiff or sore. I was able to eat and drink to the finish line. Mentally, I stayed focused and strong. I think I had the perfect race for me. I didn't run the fastest, but I bet I felt better than 99% of the finishers. I finished strong and happy. I couldn't have asked for anything more!
P.S. When we arrived back to Billings, Montana to spend the night before leaving the next day, a tornado hit 2 miles from our motel five minutes after we arrived and checked into our room. It was scary and exciting all at the same time. I have included some tornado pictures as well.