All the pictures can be found here.
The french is for the French Ultrarunning team that I leap frogged with all race. And to be honest, I don't think they really liked being passed by a woman, but I busted out my best french and finally figured out how to not have them consider me a dirty american (not that way). But eventually they passed me for good along with a good number of other folks that day, especially on the last 5 miles of dirt road at the end.
I love the Bighorn, it's all Wyoming, all the time. It was my first ultra in 2006 and my favorite wild and scenic trail outside of the Tetons. The race director, Melanie Powers, is not a runner herself but shares the enthusiasm and did a phenomenal job of re-routing our snowy course and getting all of us up to date. Her and her crew, along with Sports Stop Store in Sheriday were amazing.
I took an extra day off and left Jackson Wednesday caravaning with my friends, Kris and Julie, who I had married a couple of weeks ago. Julie was doing her first 100 and Kris, his first 50 miler. We stopped in Cody at Sierra Trading Post, the Wyoming Saks. Coffee at the Beta and then went through beautiful Shell Canyon and up and over Burgess Junction to come down into Dayton.
Of course, we were staying with Lea and Marshall at the Foothills Campground right in Dayton and thankfully, right at the finish line. We set up camp, mine being a new tent someone has graciously given me and chilled. We were next to Dan and Pat Spurlock of Pocatello, who came with their son, Aaron to run. We caught up on things and enjoyed a nice quiet nite at the campground.
Thursday found us packing drop bags and wondering what we would need. The new course with it's extra loops and one out and back afforded us the chance to see Footbridge and Dry Fork Aid stations three times each so we only had to pack two bags. And the size of the bag was not brought up by race officials.
We checked in at the Sports Stop in Sheridan and met Kris's dad and stepmom for a meal. Being the health conscious runners we are, I opted for the chicken finger platter, Kris got about 2 lbs of nachos and Julie went with the hamburger. Got back to the campground and it had about tripled in size thanks to a troop of boy scouts from Colorado. Imagine the scene - 20 or so 13 year old kids and their dads (seemingly enjoying the trip more), no less than 7 vehicles all pulling trailers, canoes and other assorted crap. We stood there agape while Lea promised us that she threatened them with death if they were loud. And they were so quiet, helped by the delouge of rain and hail for the second nite. The worry was that the next night, if the skies decided to hail again, we would be in it, possibly on a ridgeline.
This being Julie's first 100, we had discussed reasons for a dnf. Last year, I read the running manual for the Cascade Crest and it made me want to run the race, just from the manual. But one thing struck me in my reading. It was a section for first time runners written by a woman named Melissa Berman, a 5 time CCC finisher and she writes
"Figure out ahead of time what would have to happen to make you quit and do not quit unless that thing happens. For some people it might be that they are not making some time/distance goal. For me it is I will keep going unless I injure something so badly that I am physically unable to proceed. And I finished with some very nasty blisters and I have spent 1.5 hours at an aid station (Kachess Lake) where my crew thought I was a goner, but I came back from the dead and finished. To finish CCC (and maybe any other 100 or any ultra for that matter) one must be determined to finish because inevitably something will happen out there and you will have to get past it or give up."
I don't know this woman but I think she pretty much hits it on the head. So with that quote, which I had taped to my drop bag on my first 100, we came up with a suitable list of things that be the reasons for Julie to drop. Please note that while Julie was allowed to negotiate some of these, the panel gave her no slack. Here they are:
1. Big Horn has rattlesnakes in the canyon, so Julie could drop if she was bitten by a rattlers BUT ONLY if she presented the rattler still attached to her jugular.
2. Lightning - In light of the recent weather, Julie could stop if she took a direct hit BUT ONLY if smoke was coming out of the bottom of her feet.
3. Hail - couldn't be ignore and Julie could stop BUT ONLY if she took a direct hit from a baseball size hail or larger and she had to present the hail. When the hail was Whopper candy size the nite before the race, we made her go out and see how it felt just have to gauge, she said it hurt.
3. Animal Attacks - Moose attack BUT ONLY if she presented a large hoof print on her cheek. Bear - no grizzlies at the Bighorn, so keep going.
4. Loss of Limb - BUT ONLY a leg and it had to be above the knee. From the elbow down, she had to continue even if it meant holding the severed appendage (with the handheld still attached) as she ran.
A lot of people were involved with that list (read it wasn't only me) and while some people might think it inappropriate, it cut the mood.
The race started at 11am Friday so we didn't have to get to bed too early and had plenty of time in the morning. The prerace meeting was standard, door prizes, excellent outfits and familiar faces. We didn't have to get dressed too early seeing we were right there and just had to make it to the starting line 2 miles up the canyon by 11, easy. The one good thing about a late start is I was able to get in about 1000 calories that morning, which is fairly easy for a piggy like me.
Kris drove us up to the start with another friend Katherine Dowson doing her first 100 (finished 2nd woman). I found a nice size leak in my Nathan bladder and Kris did some quick duct tape work on it before the start. Saw my friend Aaron from GT100 and caught up a little bit. We missed the prerace prayer that my friends wanted me to lead seeing as I was recently ordained but enjoyed the national anthem. Then we lined up in the back and started the race.
Julie and I were with some other ladies and we chatted and figured out where we knew each other from. Saw Olga from Oregon for the first and last time as she busted out a 3rd place finish. The first part of the race is a big climb up the canyon and it can be hot. I was lucky enough to run into Wendell, who I believe is the creator of the Bighron and he shared some great history on the area. It passed the time on the climb nicely. It's hard to imagine when you first start a 100 that you will be back in this very place in somewhere between 20-34 hours, definitely a different person. What person you are coming back as is the real mystery.
We climbed about 8.25 miles to the first aid station, Upper Sheep Creek. Julie felt slow but was doing well and the sun was in and out of the clouds. And we had just missed seeing a bear with her cubs by minutes I guess. Only a black bear, so no out for Julie. Our next section was beautiful from Freeze Out Point to Dryfork, one of our first main aid stations. Kris and his parents were there and crewed us beautifully. We hooked up some good energy named Debbie from Virginia. We hoped she would stay with us but she had a pacer coming in sometime. I don't do pacers; prefer to make my way with fellow runners. I will pace others, but have never had one myself.
We felt pretty well at Dryfork which is at mile 15.3 and headed out for a loop up Riley's Ridge via which was one of the course changes and something that usually only the 50k people do. But before we headed up Riley's we visited my favorite aid station, Cow Camp for some bacon. Anyone who knows me, knows my obsession with bacon. If you saw someone with a grey skirt and pink shirt with bacon shooting out of the front pockets of a Nathan pack, that was me. And it was high quality bacon, not that thin crap that falls apart, this was Wyoming bacon. I was a strict vegetarian for 14 years and when I drop off the vegetable truck back to meat, the first and only thing I wanted was bacon. It's still the thing I want everyday. I.love.bacon. and they had bacon for me.
The climb up Rileys is good climb - 2000 feet in about 3 miles and then goes along the ridgeline until it drops again into Dryfork. First time up was great, I love these climbs and was doing well with my eating and drinking. Julie caught up on the ridgeline and I was glad to see her. She's the descender and I am a climber so we usually meet in the middle. Down to Dryfork again and no crew this time, Kris was signing in for 50 miler the next day. We grabbed lights, dinner and weighed in for the first time. I had dropped 4 lbs and needed to drink more. Then we headed out for some nite running. With the later start than usual races, we had to put our headlamps at mile 29.6.
We headed back to Cow Camp (more bacon) and then headed to the remote Bear Camp where supplies come in on horseback. From Bear Camp, we headed into the Little Bighorn Canyon which is beautiful during the day but we would miss it in the nite. It was around 9:30 and at that difficult dusk time. I had avoided candy and cookies all day as well as caffeine until the nite, but two hard falls on slippery rocks and logs around that time that wrenched my back and hips reminded me that I should get something in me that would sharpen my focus. I took some just in time for the big descent down the Haul (or the Wall, I get them confused). I followed an agile runner down this section and made it quicker than I thought.
It was dark by the time we reached our second big aid station, Footbridge. The river was raging and sounded angry in the dark. When I think back to this section, I realized it was where things went a little south and probably the part of the race I would choose to forget. My feet were wet and had been most of the day. I could feel hot spots that aspired to be blisters and there were a lot of people going up and down the mountain because it was the turnaround. Before climbing, we had to do this out and back on a rugged jeep road and I felt like I was going to get mugged here, just creepy. After that 3 mile out and back we changed shoes and headed up to the turnaround.
I was a little confused at this point *surprise* and thought it was only 4 miles to the turnaround. I saw these really fast people coming down and I thought, wow, we are in good shape. But then realized it was 4 miles to the next aid station and then another 4 miles (which really turned out to be a demoralizing 5.3 miles) to the turnaround. I saw Katherine on the way up coming down and running with Bushwhacker, she looked good. Saw Aaron looking stellar and Tom H. from Bozeman. Good to see friends and share a few words of encouragement.
At this point, I was with Linda from California who achieved mini-fame in our mind when we found out she could pee standing up and another couple of folks that came in and out of the pack. We got to the Narrows aid station and they were fun, fueled by a good story from me that I had promised I would tell Julie at 3:00am (good motivator). Then we did the climb up to Leaky Mountain and the turnaround. And believe you me, that f-ing mountain leaked, all over my shoes and the blisters started to form. It was a slog up, during the nite probably when you want to do slogs but so tough. Made up to the turnaround, had some soup, espresso gel and headed down with my sore feet. Ran partways down and again found the difference between me and people who finish 10 hours before me, a lot of walking.
Made it back to Footbridge and past the halfway point mile 63.9 and another medical check. Due to my bacon afflication, I was now up 3 lbs over my official weight, nothing like gaining weight during an ultra. It's always nice to be past the halfway point and on the slide down but really, you feel like shit and can't imagine how you are going to get home. Thoughts aside, it was time to climb back out of Dry Fork Drainage back to Bear Camp. Up to this point, Julie had encouraged me to go and I had refused but suddenly thought of a good goal that she would appreciate so I took off. The sun was up and I passed a good many people on the climb.
The 50 milers started to bomb down as I was finishing the climb and I took a bit of energy from each of them. Matt Hart came down first, then two guys I didn't know, then Damian Stoy, then friends Eric Taft, Kris Quandt and some others. They all smelled shower fresh and looked really clean. They gave me energy to keep going to Bear Camp where I was still leapfrogging with the Frenchies. I passed them and continued back to Cow Camp and my last brush with bacon. I also took a look at my feet which I tried to fix at Footbridge but they were not looking good. Big blisters on both forefoots and spreading. A nice ER doctor or nurse try to deal with them with derma something and some mole skin but the skin is so saturated, it didn't stick. So I loaded up and headed for the big climb up Rileys for the last time. It was heating up but other than my feet, I felt pretty good.
I saw Laurie Andrews on the ridgeline as I was headed up. I threw on the ipod for the climb for motivation. I only use an ipod when there is no one around to talk to and this was a good situation for it. I got to Laurie and her pacer and found her really sick. Intense cramping, nausea and lack of food and water since the nite had taken it's toll on her. I unloaded my pack and gave them ginger, gel and my rain poncho for a sunshade and took their handheld to call back to their crew from the top. I pushed on and hiked with a relaxing man named Gort who helped me with the instructions I was given for what to tell the people on the other end of the handheld. I don't really get sleepy during ultras, just really ditsy. Finally got someone on the two way and figured that all out and made it to the top.
From there, my recollection of the trail and the actual trail were vastly different. I felt like I walked forever on that ridgeline waiting for the downhill to take me back to Dry Fork. It was approximately mile 79 at the top and my feet were in bad shape. At this point, I thought I would be off the ridge by 25 hours, but 26 hours creeped up and past and I didn't get down until 26:30. I had some 30 minute miles on that ridgeline and I knew if my feet got worse, I could miss the cutoff or worse yet, get pulled at the finish. One of the big blisters popped on the descent and I was kicking the other one trying to get it to go but I wasn't sure what the best thing to do.
Finally got back down to Dry Fork and Kris's parents were a soothing presence. At the aid station, I had an old lady shake (generic ensure, no fiber) and then saw the beer. I had half a cup of beer along with the old lady shake and the combo made me throw up a little bit in my mouth. I was hurrying worried about the 34 hours cutoff. My feet were hamburger and I decided we weren't looking at them anymore. 18 miles to the finish, that was what was ahead of me on feet that really didn't want to work anymore. My heels had been in acute pain for at least 50 miles but it was the blisters that almost brought me to my knees. I thought of Julie behind with her blisters and kept going. Also, the frenchies were ahead of me as they had passed me on the ridgeline during my crybaby period.
This is where you realize that a 100 is at least three times as hard as a 50. I used every distraction trick I could think of, I thought of my family and friends and their love, I thought of the good energy of Sweatpants and Steve and my friend Cole, I sang and there was some more crying. And then I ran into a guy from Bozeman I remembered named Herbert. I met him at Targhee couple of years ago when he was running the 100 and me the 50. He said three things to me and I repeated those three things for at least 10 miles like a mantra:
I know you are hurting
The hard part is over
Now enjoy it.
I think acknowledging my pain was the greatest thing he could have done for me. It freed the brain lock that was only focusing on the pain and discomfort in every step. And while it didn't take it away, it helped. The frenchies passed me for the last time on a climb and this is where we made our euro/us connection and all I had to do was defer to them which is fine when your feeling kinda crappy and defeated. We discussed Mount Blanc (dream race), "very difficult" they kept saying and I asked them if they liked this course and they just shrugged (euro for not really). Then they went on. About 8 miles from the end, I ran into a guy that had some ankle issues so we limped and bitched to the Tongue River Trailhead. We didn't bother with names, we didn't really care. We shared few words but the company was better than our own minds. I got to the road and knew it was 5 miles to the finish. They sprayed us down, put ice in our bottles and pushed us out. This section sucked, I knew it did, it always does and I was living for the last aid station, which has popsicles, lots of love and sometimes wine. The nice lady there gave me a grape popsicle, some coke and then she filled my handheld with ice and coke.
At this point, I was moving at about 25 minute miles and people were passing me a lot. I couldn't even acknowledge them and that's a rarity for me on the trail. The road went on and on, I kept looking for the bridge signaling the end of the road section. I couldn't walk because that rubbed the blisters more, I couldn't run because that just wasn't an option so I had that bad old lady ultrashuffle that really feels like you are going backwards. I tried to practice a smile but they weren't coming. I wanted the end real bad. Finally, finally I see the nice traffic girls who held traffic for me as I sorely crossed, then short sidewalk to the park and a gravel track. I heard the bagpipes, heard my friend Jenn who did the 50k cheering for me and ran to the finish banner. I will attach pictures that Kris took at the finish because I think it speaks volumes.
I tried to soak in the river but couldn't stand up. Kris and Julie were there and laid me down, took off my shoes and immediately took pictures of my gross feet like any good friend would do. I laid on the riverbank and convulsed for a bit under a blanket. I couldn't really talk or form real sentences for a while. This behaviour worried Julie, who stopped at mile 75 with her blisters but Kris had scene worst carnage than me. I wondered how I was going to get back to my tent because the 200 yard walk seemed impossible. I ate two bites of hamburger and managed to get down some recoverite and shook for a while.
Became human again and talked to Ty Draney who pulled out a phenomenal sub 20 performance for third overall. All my 50 mile friends did so well. Scott Griffith from Afton was 7th in 9:18, Eric Taft was 8th in 9:24 and Kris, in his first 50 was 13th in 9:49, Kim Taft in 10:50 as the 7th woman. And my friend Jenn Staph, who trained so hard for this and cried probably as much as I did on the trail finished proudly in 14:46 and is probably still wearing her finishers shirt. Results are here
I did make it back to the campground aided by my friends. I drank a beer and ate little. Remembered to call my worried parents and sister to let them know I was okay. I didn't sleep well or at all that nite, mostly just twitched. My feet were bad but not as bad as I thought but walking was defintely an issue, the blisters about the size of half a credit card. I peed outside the tent that nite and maybe a little inside too.
We woke and broke down camp and headed into Sheridan for the pancake breakfast, yum. I asked for extra pork products and we sat with the Oregon folks. I went to check the times and heard my name called. I was third in my age group and got this kickass rock with the race info burned in it. My time was no third place time but lucky me, I am still in the 30-39 age group and have one more year before I am throw in with the lions of 40-49. These women are truly mortifying to me. They have absolutely no limit on their threshold for pain. They have had multiple children and probably tied off the umbilical cords with their teeth. terrifying. But I was pysched to have an award, the buckles were sick - skateboarder style with wood and of course, the finishing jers. I have to say the Bighorn is up there for swag, top 5 at least.
So I filled my belly and we headed for some coffee. Ran into Marie and Kevin some folks we had run with during the nite and they had both finished. Kris and Julie were headed for some more camping but I had to get home. I wasn't going to make the kennel hours to pick up Scoobie but I had to work Monday. I got to the top of Burgess Junction and was hit with exhaustion so extreme I almost drove off the road. So I pulled off on a beautiful camping road and took an hour nap with the bird quietly chirping. Felt much better after and drove on. I only got tired again in Yellowstone but was only an hour and a half from home so I toughed it out. I saw a beautiful grizzly male on the side of the road digging for grub, so gorgeous and also got within three feet of a buffalo who wanted to go down the yellow line and more power to him. I love buffalo with their leg warmer fur around their ankles and their enormous heads.
Finally back through the Tetons and I went the inner park road to enjoy the view. It was that perfect time of the evening when the light is right and it feels like both the animals and the humans are settling down for the nite. Got home around 8:30 and dragged everything inside where it still sits. Made some mac and cheese with tuna for dinner and went to bed.
My feet are healing, I walked with my friend today with the dogs and my legs feel great. I iced the stovepipes in the creek twice and that felt good but the swelling up again and I need to put them up. I think recovery will be easier than my last 100 which was almost 4 hours faster because my legs feel relatively fresh. And that's good because I have Devils Backbone in 3 weeks in Bozeman. This race is so amazing, run by Tom and Liz McGoff-Hayes and there are still spots open in the relay of 25 miles each. Here's the website.
Good luck to my friends running Western States this week, not jealous of you at all. Keep cool in the canyons and run the last part (that's just what I hear). Steve, I will be thinking of you hammering it out with Olga, do what she tells you.