A passion for trail running, ultras, mountaineering, snowshoeing, hiking, and other outdoor adventures

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Breakthrough at Bighorn (at Last!)

Sweet glorious Bighorn!  My muse.  My nemesis.  You've been at the center of this trail runner's imagination and aspirations for more than four years.  With your stunning canyons.  Raging rivers.  Brilliant wildflowers.  Velvety green mountain meadows.  Forever climbs.  Moonlit June nights.  Three times you've let me partake of your wonders, only to prove unworthy of a 100 mile finish.  But my respect and admiration for you only grew, as I knew you did not give of your fruits easily.  This time, finally, I made the grade, and you let me into your secret garden, sweet Bighorn.  And what a glorious feeling it is!

The Unique Bighorn Experience

The barebones of it are there in this year's results--a 34:20 finish.  Surprisingly little drama, especially compared to my 2007, 2008, and 2010 attempts.  I built a nice margin on the cutoffs, feeling strong and breathing well.  Held up surprisingly well on the dreaded overnight.  Gave back a good bit of that time in the second half and in the greater heat of day two.  But I knew I had time so I stayed methodical, and allowed myself longer aid station breaks and luxuries like shoe and sock changes.  Very focussed on the moment, without allowing myself to get too excited, or too down during the difficult stretches.

In the end, it seemed somehow more "normal" and satisfying than exhilirating or overwhelming.  "Oh yeah, this is how you're supposed to run a 100 miler like Bighorn--duh!"  Why had it proved so elusive in the past?  It felt different than I had imagined that magic moment of finishing Bighorn. No crying, or kissing the ground, or other theatrics.  Just an immense, quiet feeling of satisfaction.  Finally, I had finished this magical race, which had started my 100-mile quest when I was still an ultra newbie.  Finally, I had bagged a 100-mile finish in a big mountain Western race.  Finally, I had also overcome the sophomore 100 mile jinx, notching my second 100 finish since my first at Iroquois Trails back in September 2008.

So, the real backstory was the years of struggle to get to this past weekend's finish.  The three DNF's at Bighorn, timed out twice and once giving up with only ten minutes to spare on the cutoff with a third of the race left.  Always at the Footbridge aid station, around mile 65, my nemesis.  Always dispiriting.  As were DNFs at other 100s along the way, and three 100 campaigns cut short before I even reached the starting line with last-minute injuries or fractures a month or so out.  In the races I made it to, it was tomach problems here, getting lost and giving away time there, not fast enough to have any margin for error when something goes wrong--and it almost does in a 100 miler.  But this time I had that margin. And nothing really did go wrong.  And somehow along the way and over those years I never totally lost faith that I could, in fact, cover 100 miles, and even do so on a super-tough course like Bighorn.  Faith?  Or maybe just plain stubbornness!

Why keep going back there?  Why not go do an "easy," "runable" course that plays more to the limitations of where I train in greater New York City?  A sense of unfinished business doesn't really capture it.  With Bighorn there is something special about the place that keeps drawing me back.  It feels like an annual pilgrammage to a holy site, as silly as that sounds.  My own mecca of trail running.  My own chosen proving ground.  The whole feeling of the race--the organization, the great friends I've made there, the wonderful volunteers, the unsurpassed natural beauty--bespeaks the grassroots community and backwoods intimacy that I so love about mountain ultra trail running.  Everyone involved in the race shares a reverence for awesome course beauty and difficulty.  It's a backwoods fraternity. 

If you weren't worthy yet of Bighorn, if you only made it two-thirds of the way, you wanted to *become* worthy.  I've met a number of people who've come back a couple times before getting that first finish.  It's more than just a race to check off your list.  Or a round number of miles.  It's a special place, a special community, and an intense experience you soak up, remember vividly, and look forward to all year.  From the arrival in Billings on day one and awesome drive south, where you see the peaks of the Bighorns looming large as you cross from Montana into Wyoming. Through finishing the drop bag packing, checking in, and the pre-race pasta dinner at Ole's Pizza the next day.  Then the pre-race briefing and socialization on race day, and immediately following the race the picnic and mingling by the awesome tongue river in Scott Park.   Watching the races of all the various distances (30k/50k/50m also) come in, a big party for family, friends, crew, and racers.  I always went back to watch it, even when DNFing, being transported over the backroads by volunteers to the finish, and getting to go back to my hotel for a few hours to rest first.  I wanted to know and see up close what it meant to finish.  And honor the accomplishment of those who proved equal to the Bighorn challenge. And now I know what that means! 

Oh yes, and then the culminating moment of the Bighorn experience, the day-after Sunday morning pancake breakfast in the central plaza of Sheridan, with each 100 mile finisher getting honored individually, and everyone swapping tales of the race before heading off.  Yes, it's always been more than just a race, it's been an enveloping five-day experience in a gorgeous old West town and wild backcountry area.  It simply doesn't get any better than this!

Highlights and Lowlights of My Race

* Redemption for Chip, too!:  I was worried about him as he was visually struggling on the early climbs and admitted he was having a hip flexor issue.  But he surged ahead, and every time I saw him on an out and back he was further ahead.  He finished in 32:11, washing away his effort last year that ended after he valiantly struggled through 70-some miles after injuring himself early on in the race.  Awesome job, Chip!  You've got a big engine, a big heart, and the agility of a mountain goat!  Ours is a friendship that actually began at last year's race, where we first met!

* My first major wildlife sightings at Bighorn (three of them!):  On day one, a mule deer who chose not to run away through the woods.  Instead s/he posed calmly for a photo, frozen by my presence!  Then at around 4, 4:30AM, on the way back to Footbridge, I thought I was hallucinating as I ran alone--is that a horse I see running past me through the river a few feet away?  No, shining my light, it's way too big, it's a moose, in full flight!  Must have spooked him as I ran by and he was bathing or drinking.  Then on day two, as I ran the dirt road back toward Upper Sheep Creek, what crosses 10-15 yards in front of me but a moose sow and her calf!  They run into the woods before I can get my camera unhooked from my pack.  Manage to get a couple photos of them amongst the trees.

*Weather:  Surprisingly warm night (with many stars and a moon just past full), maybe in 40s.  Too hot most of the time, I ran in just two layers, and tied the jacket around my waste, and uncovered my ears under the stocking cap.  But on the more wind-exposed out and back to Spring Marsh, I donned the jacket.  Quite warm on day two, maybe up to 80, but a very dry heat.  As it's pretty exposed, was feeling a little sunburned, and overheated, at times, and got a little dry in the throat toward the end.  But will take that over rain any time!  Day one was quite windy at times, including a headwind, but I kind of liked the cooler temps, and sort of mix of sun and clouds.  Was wearing a short sleeve, arm warmers, and lightweight Marmot windbreaker both days, but mostly just the short sleeve on day two.  Changed clothes for night and then again for day two.

* Falls:  Only three, despite all of the muddy sections and the dicey stream crossings on newly rigged "bridges" of logs with a rope handrail which were often quite slippery and muddy.  None of them serious, fortunately.  Thought of training partner Garth, who always rags me when there is a stream crossing, knowing my traumatic near fall and save from a white-water plunge my first year in 2007 ("Bighorn," he would shout at tricky crossings!).

* Missed turns:  Only one, briefly corrected.  Maybe added an extra third or so of a mile.  Along with a dozen other people, and in the same spot where I witnessed a runner miss the turn last year (some folks never learn!).  Between Upper Sheep and Cow Camp.

* Running solo:  As usually occurs, I ended up keeping my own pace and running solo most of the time.  Pretty much from Upper Sheep around mile 18 (?) onward.  Including through the night, which is the one time when I sometimes prefer company (and clearly could have used it, given the section paces recorded below for the overnight!().  But there were enough folks around my pace, and enough out and back sections, that I never felt too alone.  So it was just the right balance for me.   I had tried to find a pacer, but in the end wasn't able to.  So in the end this was my first "unpaced" 100 finish--yet another first!  This is important psychologically--I often looked back and wondered if it was simply "the pacers would get me through" that accounted for the "anomaly" of my Iroquois finish.  Yes, I learned this time, you can get through 100 miles by yourself!  Maybe this is more suited to how I run in any case?  Something to ponder...

*Alternate course helped:  They announced the new course only four days before.  In the end we probably did as much climbing as before.  Just didn't go as high, peaking at 8,000 instead of 9,500.  For me psychologically it was comforting to get in more miles before Footbridge going out, and another hour of running before darkness with the earlier start.  And to not face going all the way up to Porcupine ranger station turnaround, a climb that seems to take forever in the night.  On the other hand, we had the same long nighttime out and back from Footbridge to Spring Marsh, which is slow, often technical, and difficult, as we did on the 2008 alternate course.  That time I fell apart and this time I didn't.  Oh yeah--and the extra hour of cutoff obviously helped lower the stress of finishing.  But I honestly think I could have made 34 hours had that been the cutoff.  Why?  I took extra time in a number of places (for shoe and sock changes, port-a-san break, to eat) in the second half knowing I had the cushion. And didn't push the mega-downhill of The Wall, or the section from Upper Sheep down to Tongue River Trailhead, knowing finishing didn't depend on it and even though I felt reasonably fresh. Didn't feel like trashing the legs.  Still would have liked to break 34 hours, but I realized quickly once on the final dirt road section that I didn't have the turnover to run 12 minute miles.  So I settled into a comfortable powerwalk, and ended up chatting with a 50 miler from Michigan for quite a while.  It was nice to know I didn't have to rush to finish in plenty of time!

* Race organization and management:  Stellar, as usual.  Good choice with the alternate course (more doable than the course chosen in 2008 under similar conditions).  The earlier start and extra hour made sense, given the uncertainty on course conditions (which in the end were probably better than anyone could have expected just a few days prior, after some drier and warmer days).  Well marked as always.  Good aid station offerings.  Great volunteers (except, surprisingly, at Footbridge, where it seemed disorganized, no one offered you food or drink as you sat to go through dropbags, and the timekeeper had an "attitude"--I think they had a new group running it this year, as they've always been great in the past).  Nice finisher awards (a buckle and a technical long sleeve), notwithstanding whatever Daniel Boone or whatever that guy's name is who posted ragging about them on Ultra list!

Things I Learned on the Way to a Bighorn Finish

* Acclimatization is good!  Those twelve days spent in Ethiopia, up until one week before race day, really benefited me.  I could feel it after a week there when going up to Entoto Mountain for the second time since my arrival (about 10,000'), on my last taper runs back in NYC and in Sheridan, and on that long first climb during the race.  There was just more oxygen in those lungs, and more red blood cells to pump them!  Finally, I got to run a race at altitude with some acclimatization! 

* A radical taper and pre-race traveling aren't so bad:  I managed to squeeze in just 9 runs in 14days (16 counting travel, none of them longer than 14 miles and most just an hour.  And two quickie gym workouts and one swim.  But it was high quality, including two faster treadmill runs, and the two mountain runs at Entoto on dirt roads.  Quality over quality. Not really much time for stretching, either.  But we were constantly on the go, ate well, and so I didn't feel the usual taper lethargy.  And all the traveling and then all the adoption activities really distracted me in a good way from thinking much about the race for a couple weeks.  Had I been home, I would have been *obsessing* about it!  And I think I managed all the time-zone changes (nine time zones over the week before the race from Ethiopia to London to NYC to Wyoming) pretty smart--I immediately got on the local time, used Melatonin if I couldn't sleep or woke up in the night, and really focussed on getting quality sleep, including on the plane trips.  I really felt physically and mentally rested and refreshed before the race, despite all the travel.  A lesson to really take to heart!

* You don't have to go negative:  I usually tend to get into negative downward mental spirals when things started going wrong.  Somehow I avoided that and worked through the rough patches.  I never got too high when things were going well, either.  I tried to sort of break it down into sections, and focus on the moment.  I was amazingly calm, relaxed.  The stomach mostly held together well, and when it didn't I sucked a little ginger, and made timely pit stops.  The toes got sore, but never intolerable, and the two shoe and sock changes gave me relief, and made a lot of sense given how mudcaked the shoes and gaiters became.  I sort of did a tunnel vision thing to get through the heat, the sunburn, and the eye irritation.  So all the stuff that might usually bring me down and ruin my race I just sort of took in stride and worked through.  Got to react well, and be a sort of resourcesful problem-solver, as stuff always happens in a 100!

* A good balance in the winter/spring training buildup:  Compared to the last couple years, I maybe did a little less as far as 50 mile/100K races--only one this time around (Bear Mountain) compared to three Jan-May last year and I think two the previous years.  But I did the three tough 50Ks in Feb./Apr./May, the trail marathon in January, trained hard on the snow in the winter, did the two snowshoe races and the snowhoe training that built the legs, the New Hampshire mountaineering, the Catskill and Hike-A-Thong winter hikes, etc.  So I think I built my endurance and leg strength well, maybe more than ever in  the winter per se. And since I pretty much trained through the races I didn't go through the taper/race/recovery cycle that disrupts the training, and was able to get in a bunch of 24-28 mile training runs (maybe half a dozen) and maybe 3-4 back to backers where I got in around 40ish miles over two consecutive days.  I didn't have quite as much as I was hoping for as far as mid-week hill workouts on trails or intermediate distance faster running in the 2-4 hour range (like the Rockefeller workouts).  But for this type of course, the "strength" and endurance type of stuff was probably more important than the "speed" stuff.  And I was pretty consistent this winter/spring with the speedwork, and did the one 10K trail race in April and one 5K snowshoe race in Feb.  So, in the end, I guess I was lucky that I decided with the adoption news to bag The Old Goat 50m back in March.  And not to stick with the Massanutten waitlist (maybe mid-May would have been too soon for a good 100m?).  And it was dumb luck that the Ethiopia trip forced me to skip the more runable San Diego (with the tighter cutoff) for the more hikable Bighorn, which was best suited for how I've been training lately.

* Persistence pays off in pursuing really big goals.  Let the race come to you:  Deciding to start my 100 mile career with Bighorn, and especially with only maybe 4-5 ultras under my belt, was a little naive and headstrong!  But I came close enough, and loved the experience enough, to know it was worth coming back for more.  And more.  And more!  And I knew that I could make it 100 miles after Iroquois, and that if things came together a Bighorn finish was in the realm of possibility. 

I think probably the accumulated experience of running ultras over the years really made me in the end a more seasoned runner this time around, and that paid off.  I knew what to expect, what kind of adversity I'd encounter, what might prevent or overcome some of the problems.  But I also didn't overthink it, which was really key.  That's a major fault of mine with these types of races.  In the end, it's really the mental part that's the last intangible in getting to the finish line in a 100.  Ironically, it wasn't 2010 when I went to a sport psychologist to prepare for Bighorn when I made it.  But this year.  I'm sure I may have carried with me some of what I learned from those sessions.  But I think in the end being a little more instinctive and reactive and in the moment helped me more than being too premeditated or having too rigid a plan.  I kind of soaked up the experience, took my pictures, enjoyed the scenario, stayed in the moment, didn't get ahead of myself, and "let the race come to me."  Yeah, that phrase just occurred to me, and it really think it sums up my experience very well--I let the race come to me!   Stayed really low key. 

Breakdown by Sections

Scott Park (3,950') to Tongue River Trailhead (4,240'), mile 5.1--Dirt road.  Rolling and slightly uphill.   53:07.  10:24 pace.  Felt good.  Remembered to walk.

Tongue River TH to Fence Spring out (6,800') to Upper Sheep out (7,450'), mile 12.5--The Wall.  Massive continuous uphill, somewhat rocky single track.  Breathing felt good. Keeping pace.  2:16 (3:09 cumulative).  18:22 pace. 

Upper Sheep to Head of Dry Fork #1 out (7,500'), mile 17.5--Rolling. Mostly jeep road.  Pretty steady effort and reasonable pace.  1:22 (4:32:05 cumulative).  16:24 pace.

Dry Fork to Twin Buttes (8,000'), mile 21.0--Continuous uphill on mostly jeep road with some single track through creosote.  Steady pace but feeling the effort.  Windy and cooler.  1:07:09 (5:39:14 cumulative).  19:11 pace.

Twin Buttes back down to Dry Fork, mile 24.5--Back down the same way as up.  Change of upper layers and reload of food from dropbag.  1:06: 05(5:39:14)   18:53 pace

Dry Fork to Cow Camp (6,400'), mile 30.5--Jeep road.  Rolling.  Sun coming out more.  Mostly feeling good, keeping good pace.  1:31:05 (8:16:25 cumulative) 15:11 pace

Cow Camp to Bear Camp (6,800'), mile 37.5--Beautiful up and down single track, some forested, some from canyon to canyon through creosote and with great views of rocky outcrops.  Saw a mule deer cross the path ahead of me.  Instead of disappearing into the woods, it was still there when I get got there--and froze long enough to "pose" for two pics!  2:04:38 (10:21:03 cumulative) 17:48 pace

Bear Camp to Footbridge (4,500'), mile 41.0--Favorite section.  Forested twisting techical single track with sustained descent.  Passed 4-5 folks in this section.  Feeling great.  Getting to Footbridge before nightfall.  Turned on headlamp just before aid station.  1:28:36 (11:49:40 cumulative) 25:18 pace, includes long aid station break to change to night clothes, reload food, etc.

Footbridge to Cathedral Rock (5,300'), mile 44.5-- Technical, winding, rocky section by the roaring river. First overnight section.  Hard to hear yourself think at times.  Some trouble getting adjusted to the night after the long aid break.  Needed to peel off the outer layer, and uncover the ears under my stocking cap.  Also some eye irritation from campfire/aid station  smoke and maybe insect repellent.  But then settled into a decent climbing rhythm.  1:16:14 (13:05:55 cumulative) 21:47 pace (includes long aid stop with drop bag)

Cathedral Rock to Spring Marsh race turnaround (7,200'), mile 50.3--Stars and near-full moon increasingly visible as we move out of the narrow canyon and head upwards.  Continued windy, somewhat technical single track. Climbing with a pretty good rhythm, passing some folks.  Colder as we move into a section farther from river and with wider canyon walls.  So I put the outer Patagonia jacket back on, and pull the ski cap down over the ears.  Seems like it takes forever to reach the turnaround, and see Chip and many others on the rebound.  Big hug from Chip!  He seems to be moving great!  Into halfway mark at around 15:30, slower than goal of 14:30-15:00 but still faster than some of my 50 mile times at Zane Grey or Jemez Mtn.!.  Smoke from fire at aid station bothered me, so I ate my soup quickly and got out of there.  2:27:26 (15:33:20 cumulative, now 1:33AM) 25:25 pace

Spring Marsh back to Cathedral Rock in (5,300'), mile 56.3--Back downhill from the more open section and back into the forest and toward the river.  Keeping an eye out as I don't wait to be startled by anyone passing (one or two do).  Moving pretty well considering nighttime.  Somewhere around here took next Advil and caffeine dose (did that about every 5 hours throughout race).  2:16:38 (17:49:59 cumulative) 22:41 pace

Cathedral Rock back to Footbridge in (4,500'), mile 59.8--Section of the startles!  First I think it's a horse running by me through the river in the pre-dawn.  No, it's a huge moose!  Must have spooked it as it was drinking or bathing in the river.  Fortunately, it ran the opposite way, and didn't see it till it was behind me and at a good distance.  Then the Italian couple (I thought they were French maybe at the time but later learned otherwise) totally startled me in one rocky section.  I nearly jumped out of my skin, and he apologized profusely in his limited English.  A few other menacing forms prove to be optical illusion on closer inspections.  See a couple of mice (moles? pikas?) running in front of me on the path.  1:51:01 (19:41:01) 28:51 pace  Wow, did I really slow down that much here?  Part of that is my longest aid station break, as I changed to daytime clothes, changed shoes and socks/sock liners (to my Montrail Continental Divide GTXs), shed the lights, grabbed food from dropbag...and also did the required weigh-in (weight was actually right around the pre-race 165, which is 10 pounds over my actual weight) and chowed down quickly on same food there.  With no aid from volunteers to speed things along....Great to be out of Footbridge--my old nemesis where my first three Bighorns ended-- with about *three* hours on the cutoff!  I'm gonna finish this baby!

Footbridge in to Bear Camp (5,300'), mile 66.3: Not my favorite section as an uphill in early morning hours.  Dawns on me that it's going to be a long second day and no piece of cake!  Lots of eye irritation for a couple miles after the smoke at aid station.  Feeling ok at first, but working harder as climbs get steeper.  Mother nature beckons, as do the woods!  Start seeing the first 50 milers zoom by, looking such fresh!  In the first third or so of the pack, Jeremy, my pacer from last year, zooms by, looking fresh and saying Hi.  The dude has clearly been training a lot since last year, when trail running was seemingly new to him as an avid outdoor guy.  Can he keep that pace, I wondered?  (In the end, he could, as a he posted a great finish and time--way to go, Jeremy!  Missed the company this year!)  1:46:39 (21:27:40 cumulative) 30:28 pace  (my slowest section, on the dreaded "climb out of Footbridge" everyone had warned me about and I got my first taste of!)

Bear Camp to Cow Camp (6,400'), mile 70.3--Mostly single track, with good amount of climbing and then descending.  Getting warmer now.  Working pretty hard in this section.  Nice to finally get some downhills.  Pass the 50K'ers zooming by and turning around at the stock tank just past Cow Camp.  As with 50 milers earlier, their shouts were encouraging as they realized you were a 100 miler.  And it was easier to pass them in opposite directions, than to deal with the constant overtaking of 50m runners the second morning that takes place on the usual course, which is quite distracting as you have to look back and to step out of the way.  It was an emotional boost, as it was to see Diane toward the end of the 50K pack, who stopped to give me a big hug!  She seemed to be taking her time and enjoying the race.  2:27:27 (23:55:08)  21 minute pace

Cow Camp to Head of Dry Fork #3 in (7,500'), mile 76.3--A double-track/jeep road section.  Pretty warm now, but as I didn't apply sunscreen to my arms, I didn't want to roll up the arm warmers.  I was conscious here (and rest of way) that I couldn't generate turnover and knee lift to actually run, but really was left with shuffling and powerwalking.  So even older and back of packer 50Kers were moving by me.  I was aiming to get this section in 18-19 minute miles, but barely managed just under 20 if you discount the aid station time.  Really starting to feel the heat in this long, exposed section with lots of gradual uphill.  2:10:30 (26:05:39, now 12:05PM), 21:45 pace

Dry Fork up to Twin Buttes (8,000'), mile 79.8--Chip was coming in to Dry Fork as I was heading out, and we exchanged a hug and photo opp.  Wow, he's really moved ahead (like seven miles!), or have I just fallen back that much?  On the dirt road and then brief single track uphill, I was conscious of needing to pick up the pace a little.  Passed a few folks.  But this section seems to take forever. Could it really be the same one we had run yesterday afternoon?  It seemed SO much longer! This section is a little cooler, as you go higher and get a bit more wind.  That part I appreciated, as Dry Fork was not quite hot and dusty.  Eyes are really bothering me as I approach aid station.  Combo of sunblock running plus aid station smoke?  1:24:04 (27:29:43 cumulative) 24:00 pace

Twin Buttes back down to Dry Fork (7,500'), mile 83.3--Why can I only shuffle, even when moving downhill?  Still, I'm keeping a decent pace, compared to those around me.  I'm feeling good, but it seems my legs are too heavy to move as fast as I feel like I should.  I see on the way down there are still a number of runners behind me, which I take some encouragement from.  Back at aid station, take my time to hit the portasan (the juices are flowing again), change shoes/socks/liners/gaiters to my lightest pair, my Vasque Blur non-GTX, and reload food, all for the finally section as this was the last dropbag access.  A little slow moving, but I think I enjoyed the chair time, and especially the brief shade.  Lots of commotion as runners ask about if they need to check in when they get back from Twin Buttes, which of the remaining aid stations have hard cutoffs, and ask about remaining runners who haven't made it to Dry Fork #3 yet.  1:34:35 (29:04:19, now 3:04PM) 27 minute pace, including long aid stop

Dry Fork to Upper Sheep (7,450'), 88.3 miles--The feet felt light on the climb leaving Dry Fork--these non-GTX Vasques are a full three oz. per shoe lighter than the Montrails!  Feeling like I've got to hustle as I'm not entirely sure what the cutoff is at Upper Sheep or if there is a hard cutoff there (someone was saying 5:00 or 5:30 PM, but nothing was marked on the preliminary contingency pace chart I was carrying).  After I pass by a couple folks on the forest service road, a woman, a guy, and then a couple with poles each speed by me.  Apparently everyone is infected by a certain urgency, or just can smell the finish!  Along this road is where I see a moose sow and her calf run across and into the woods.  I can't get my camera off my pack quick enough to catch them crossing, but they are still lingering in the woods and I get two pics from a distance.  Pretty cool, but not time to linger!  I move pretty well, but still pretty much shuffling to power walking, and we get into that station at 4:37.  The section tends downward most of the way but goes back up sharply then only to drop again just before the aid station.   It's quite warm in this section.  1:33:02 (30:37:23 cumulative) 18:36 pace

Upper Sheep via Lower Sheep (5,025') down to Tongue River Trailhead (4,240'), mile 95.7--What goes up (on the way out) must go down (on the way back)!  But it's confusing because what awaits you right out of Upper Sheep is a long and steep climb up to what must be the peak elevation of the course at or just past 8,000.  Only then do you start the long haul down The Wall.  I was feeling good at the top of it, and decided to let loose a little on the steep, windy, somewhat technical descent down the meadow, passing by one pair of runners.  I was trailed by a woman.  At a certain point, when I thought I was further down than I was, I decided to back off.  I was a little worried about trashing my legs, and also there was enough loose scree and it was steep enough that I was a little nervous of doing a faceplant that might mess up my finish.  It seemed to take foreever and you had to really focus in order to descend slowly and safely.  Wow, did we really climb this this thing yesterday.  This is definitely the longest continuous descent I've ever encountered in a race.  A good 2,800' over maybe 6 miles.  Once we were down to Lower Sleep aid (where I forgot to hit the watch), I mistakenly thought we only had like 10 minutes down to the trailhead, and the dirt road that would take us out of Tongue River Canyon.  I remarked to a couple runners (who zoomed by with urgency on the somewhat less steep but very windy and pretty rocky single track toward the bottom) that I had no recollection of covering all this territory on the way out.  I gained renewed appreciation for how far we really had parallel the river and moved back into the canyon before we headed seriously up on day one.  Anyway, once I realized this section had a ways to go, I tried to pick it up a little, and glide it down a little, but I was a little beat and my downhill form not so great.  I really just wanted to be down on the road and the home stretch!  Very happy to finally see the path bottom out and the volunteers down by the river!  2:16:21 (32:53:44, now 6:32PM) 16:50 pace

Tongue River Trailhead via Homestretch (4050') to Finish in Scott Park (3,950'), mile 100.8--I calculated as I started that if I ran maybe 12 minute miles I could break 34 hours.  But as several runners who could still run zoomed by on the road, I realized my shuffle wasn't really a run and wouldn't get it done.  And it didn't really matter to me that much, except that I really just wanted to be done at that point.  So I started working in more walking, and pretty soon settled down to just powerwalking.  The sun was very hot and low in the sky, and the dirt road (with some scattered residences once you get outside the canyon and I guess the national forest boundaries) seems to roll on forever.  I had a nice chat with a guy from Michigan who was finishing the 50 miler, along with a couple relatives who were pacing/crewing.  The nice folks who put on a little aid station at the end of their driveway gave us popsicles and some other cold drink.  I kept thinking about what my finish would look and feel like.  By that point it felt a little more matter of fact rather than something that would be dramatic or emotional.  I guess since I had known pretty much all day that I would finish.  I was able to break back into a trot from the time we crossed the bridge into Dayton and passed the elk statue where we had started.  There were cheers as I guess they announced my name as a 100 miler coming in to finish.  It was a relief to cross that finish line under a bright late afternoon sky, at 8:20PM!  At long last, my first Bighorn finish! 

The first person to congratulate me was Rob, who had run the 50K and was still waiting for Diane to finish the 50m (she would come in some 20 minutes later).  It was really good to see a familiar face, and to get back to that familiar place at (the finally apted named!) Scott Park, where I had stood and watched so many others finish after my own DNFs in '07, '08, and '10, wondering what it would feel like.  It felt...well...good...satisfying...like the successful end of a long journey!  (last section:  1:26 (34:20)  16:52 pace)

Out:  15:33:20
In:  18:46:40

P.S. I love you, Bighorn!  Always did--and do even more now! You're one of a kind!

1 comment:

Clau said...

Congratulations Scott!!!! all the hard work paid off!! great feeling, right!