Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bighorn 100-Miler

It’s been a while since I’ve written here. Since Moab, I’ve done Orcas, Lake Sonoma, and Miwok. All went well in those races. And now the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming. This was my first 100-miler. And from beginning to end, it was an excellent adventure.

Six of us from Corvallis traveled together: John, Sander, Gaby and I would be running; Dave and Erik would be our crew and pacers. We had the van packed tight with camping and running gear, and food. The drive to and from Bighorn was a blast; lots of cool sites and adventures, worth a blog entry in themselves.

We arrived at Dayton on Thursday and hooked up with Ashley and Josh at the park. Spent the day prepping the drop bags. I fretted way too much over what things to put in which bags. The only thing I new for sure from all reports was that I would need warm clothing and lights waiting for me at Foot Bridge.

We went into town to register, drop off our drop bags, and weigh in. The weigh in was a bit of a concern to me. I knew race officials might hold you back if your weight went way wonky. I was sure I would loose some weight during the race, and so tried to weigh in as lightly as legitimately possible … I stripped down to the running gear I expected to start the race with. 161 pounds. That sounded about right.

Ever since Miwok, both my knees have given me problems, to the extent that almost all my training leading up to Bighorn was power walking. I took some comfort in stories of folks who finished other 100-milers by walking most of the way. So my main goal was just to finish under the 34 hour cut-off. If things were going well, I would try to come in under 30. I had looked at splits of last year and worked up average splits for some 30 hour finishers. I would use those times as guideposts. Essentially, it was looking like 13 hours to the turn-around at Porcupine (48 miles), 17 hours for the return trip (Bighorn is an out and back).

The race started at 11:00 on Friday morning. The weather was perfect (though it rained during most days of the trip, for the two days of the race, we had clear skies). Everyone was stoked. Someone sang the anthem. And we were off!

My right knee started it’s dull ache pretty much from the get-go. After some time, my left knee joined the chorus. The aches were tolerable, and my hope was that they wouldn’t get worse. I may have run a bit slower because of that, but not much. And things never did get worse. I was grateful for that. All my other body parts worked fine the whole way. Well, except my toe nails … I lost one during the race, and it looks like a couple of more are on their way out.

The course has a total elevation gain of about 17,000’. There are two substantial climbs, one at Dry Fork, the other at Foot Bridge. I walked both of these, and some lesser hills too. By and large, where slope isn’t an issue, the course is runnable most of the way. Some of the single-track in the meadows is mottled up with hoof prints and requires attention. Some areas have loose rock that likewise require care.

The first drop-bag aid station was Dry Fork. Dave, Erik and Josh were there to help me out with my stuff. This was a quick stop. I was the last of the Corvallis runners to come through.

At Footbridge I stopped for a few minutes. There were a couple of friendly dogs milling about ... that cheered me up. I replenished my gels and Perpetuem. I also grabbed my tights, lights, mittens and cap, stuffing them into my pack. It was still warm, but that wasn't going to last.

The Narrows out-bound also had a dog. A border collie named Sumit. Cute fella.

The run towards Porcupine was amazing. There were some vista views that brought to mind the scale of Moab. Mountains. Wide open meadows. It was great just being there, great to be part of this event. I ran the piece out to Porcupine pretty much by myself, occasionally passing someone or being passed.

It was about 8:50 pm when I saw the first runner coming back from the Porcupine turn-around. He looked fresh and strong. Amazing. I knew I was still at least 3 hours from Porcupine.

As the sun set, it started to cool off. I put on my running jacket, cap, and mittens. It would get close to freezing, and I didn't want to be getting too cold. My new running jacket worked as advertised … keeping me warm and dry while venting water vapor. I turned on my head lamp. I also had a flashlight. The flashlight (a Surfire G2) in particular cast a bright tight beam that made it relatively easy to navigate the unfamiliar terrain.

As I progressed toward Porcupine, I passed more and more runners coming back from Porcupine. It was too dark to see faces. I was saying “Hi” to everyone, and waiting to hear a voice that I recognized. Eventually, I ran into Ashley being paced by Josh. Ashley was making good progress (and would go on to be the first female!). Soon there was Sander, who was also looking strong. About a quarter mile from Porcupine, I met up with Gaby, Dave and John running together. It was great to see them … we shared brief updates. That really helped to energize me. We parted company.

The few miles before Porcupine were punctuated by water, slippery shoe-sucking muck, grassy field and deep packed snow. It would have been good to have Inov-8s I thought.. This was my least favourite part of the course. My feet were wet and cold. I was glad to have new shoes and socks waiting for me at Porcupine, but I knew that they wouldn't stay dry long once I was on the return leg.

I got to Porcupine at about 12:15am ... about 15 minutes behind my 30-hour schedule ... not bad. The ranger station was packed and bustling. Erik was waiting for me. He took good care of me, reloading my bottles, swapping fresh batteries into my light, as I swapped shoes and socks, and put on tights. It felt good to sit down for a bit. I had half a potato. And we were off.

The night sky was clear and full of a qazillion stars. Awesome. We kept a steady pace through the dark. I took one bad slip in the mud, and went over on my ankle a few times, but nothing that slowed me down.

We stopped once every hour so that I could pop a gel and Scaps. We would stop briefly at most of the aid stations to replenish water and maybe grab a bit to eat. I was never really hungry during the race.

It was real cool to watch the night sky gradually lighten up as the sun came up. The whole experience of running through a sunset, the night, and then the sunrise was new to me. But at 5:00am I reminded myself … still some 12 hours of running to go.

Erik did a great job keeping us on pace. He had a good feel for how fast we were moving. We were constantly updating the math for a 30-hour finish. We started getting into aid stations ahead of schedule. It seemed like 30 hours would be possible.

At Footbridge we dropped off our lights and cold-weather clothing. Those same dogs were there. I weighed in at 164 pounds, a slight increase. I figured it was just a scale thing. However, at Dry Fork, I weighed in at 169 pounds. This same scale had me weighing 162 out-bound. The attendant looked at me with some concern, saying that’s getting too high. I explained that I was feeling fine. She told me to increase my salt, and let me go. So I doubled my SCap intake from that point on.

On the way down from Dry Fork, we caught up to Gaby and Dave. Dave was having IT issues, so Gaby joined Erik and I, and we bid Dave good-bye. With a few miles to the finish, Erik’s foot, which had been causing him some pain, was slowing him down. Though I really wanted to finish the race with Erik, I decided to keep running. We parted company, and Gaby and I continued. The last few miles of the race were on dry, open, gravel road. This was my second-least favorite part of the course. It had some gentle hills, which by now seemed pretty formidable. I had to walk up some of them … I’m sure Gaby could have run the whole way in, but she stuck with me. We finally got back to the highway, then the park, then the final lap of the course, crossing the finish line in 28:07:58. It felt good to be done.

The rest of the crew … John, Sander, Ashley, Josh … were waiting for us. Dave and Erik were there too … they had gotten a ride back while Gaby and I were still running. All our runners had finished in fine form.

As for wildlife ... never did see any. I had heard the story about the crazy moose of last year. This didn’t feel at all like the moose habitat of home, and I never worried about running into one. On the other hand, I had no trouble imagining a grizzly bear roaming some of these vast meadows. A cougar up in the rocks …. ya, I could also imagine that. I didn't see any of that. Our crew actually did see a moose. And a fox too.

A couple of observations and lessons, in no particular order: • I never actually felt sleepy during the race ... I was sore and tired, but I never felt the need to go to sleep ... never took the caffeine pills ... that was a surprise; • I never reached a point in the race where I thought about pulling out; I’ve been there before in other races, but not this time … much of the credit for that goes to Erik and the great job he did pacing (thanks dude); • even after 28 hours, my contact lenses never dried out … I was sure I’d need to at least use eye drops along the way, but nope … didn’t ever have to think about them; • should have had an extra pair of gaiters at Footbridge in-bound … the muck at Porcupine totally messed them up; • should have had plastic bags waiting for my wet shoes and socks in the drop bags; • was glad I had sunglasses & sun screen … it was bright and hot in the meadows; • my new running jacket and flashlight worked great; • should have used more SCaps from the get-go … next time; • Perpetuem worked again; • though I’d never do it myself, I can understand now why some ultra runners get their toenails surgically removed; • next to long runs, those Wednesday night McCulloch Peak power walks were the most important piece of training for this; • next time, weigh in heavy; • when you’re a stranger in a strange land, there is something comforting about the familiar pattern of the stars at night.

There are a lot of people I want to thank for making this amazing experience possible: • the entire Bighorn crew … Gaby, Dave, Erik, John, Sander, Ashley, Josh … you all made it so much fun; • Dave and Erik, for all their planning and hard work as crew and pacers … you guys rock; • the Corvallis trail runners … I couldn’t have been prepared for this without the guidance and training shared by this gifted, giving, group of athletes; • Meghan, Brodie and Dr. Hughes, for helping to keep my body parts working all this while; • Gaby and Guy for all the running, enthusiasm, encouragement and counsel these past years; • Marilyn, who showed me the Perseids 12 year ago, and has been my pacer through this crazy trail race of life ever since … thanks for everything angel.

Some pics by Dave and Gaby are here:

Dave 1

Dave 2