Ode to Bighorn
Courtesy of Norm Cessna and Fotosport
[Note: I wrote most of this prior to having any inkling of a serious injury stemming from the race. So any thoughts on that I'll leave to the end as I don't want to spoil the overwhelmingly positive feelings I still take away from the race. The "Year of the Multiple 100s @ 50" as I christened my training blog this year now ends with two in the bag, though that's one more than I've ever done in the same calendar year. And stress fracture or no, the fire still burns bright to take on new challenges once I'm healthy again!]
You truly run out of superlatives when it comes to capturing the overwhelming natural beauty of this course, and that's what's drawn me back to Bighorn every June but one since 2007. Though the rivers were a bit lower and the valleys notably drier, the whitewater was still raging, the makeshift stream crossings still as tricky, and the windflowers in the mountain meadows more plentiful and colorful than ever. Yellows, blues, purples. The rock outcrops also still stood out as spectacularly at the top of otherwise green mountainsides, as the varying rays of the sun turned them different shades of orange and red. I somehow "discovered" this race on a web search for "destination Western 100s" very early in my ultra career, five years ago now. Right away, I fell in love with the race and the place and have been captivated by it ever since...even if success in actually tackling the monster of a course has been slow in coming!
Looking back down toward Tongue River Canyon on the epic early climb
Stunning views of Tongue River Canyon early in the race
Overview of My Race
My result was great (33:45:54), and my performance pretty controlled and steady and turned up just a notch in places where it needed to be. This was my first finish on the "traditional" Bighorn course, which I had DNF'd on twice at mile 66 on the return trip through Footbridge aid station--timed out in '07 (my first 100 attempt) and then dropping with only 10 minutes to spare on the cutoffs (foolishly) in 2010, with another DNF in between on an alternate "snow" course in 2008. So this year I made my goal of finally conquering the traditional course, where I had first taken on the 100 distance and tasted bittersweet failure. I also kept alive a string of finishes at Bighorn (having finished on a different alternate course last year...yes, it's complicated!) and in 100 mile races in general (at three in a row). On a roll! A year ago this dude was a sorry one for eight in 100 attempts, and now he's a much more respectable four for ten, and building some momentum (er, sort of...read on)!
This time I built a good margin by pushing the early climbs and then on through the ATV and single-track section leading up to Footbridge going out. Then I latched onto some folks for a good bit of the eternal, mostly nocturnal climb up to the turnaround at Porcupine Ranger Station at mile 48, which is the crucial "make or break" section for me. I kept a better pace than I ever have through the 4,500' or so of net, almost continuous climbing you face over that long section that occupies most of the cold, high-country night for mid- to back-of-the-packers. So I managed to leave Porcupine (mile 48, 8,900') earlier than ever and got back to Footbridge (mile 66) and out of there with my best margin ever.
Though my pace slowed considerably (and predictably) in the second half, I kept pushing through the long hot hours of a bright and warm day two, where it felt like it go up into the 80s. I had to really push the pace of the powerwalking and shuffling I was mostly left with to make it from Cow Camp (76.5, 6600') to the cutoff at Dry Fork (82.5, 7480'), leaving there with only 15 minutes to spare. From there I knew I'd have to "re-learn" how to pick up the knees and actually run the ATV and single-track trails heading into the next cutoff at Upper Sheep Creek (89.75, 7,450'). Somehow I managed to pull that off, and I left there knowing I'd finish and that I just needed to keep the foot on the throttle to try to finish strong. It was so awesome to make that steep climb back to the top of "The Wall" and look down at the 3,500' or so of beautiful descent ahead, on a sunny late afternoon, and know that I'd soon be crossing the finish line. "Sweet Bighorn," I remember saying to myself as I prepared for the long descent!
[More details on my race below for ultra and Bighorn afficionados]
Feeling pretty relaxed before the start
Friends Diane and Rob before the start
Race Conditions and Organization: The Bighorn Family
I actually learned something about the race organization I wasn't really aware of this year. The network of mostly women who skillfully direct and manage the race are actually all relatives (they use different last names), as one of them explained that fact and how they were related at the pre-race briefing. This was the race's 20th year, and the 11th year of the 100 mile event, and they've gotten pretty smooth and professional about the event. It's a warm and welcoming atmosphere. From the pre-race informal dinner (I didn't attend this year as I had a nice invite through Diane and Rob to attend a dinner at the house of one racer). To the pre-race briefing on to the start line in the Canyon, the finish line spread of food and the camaraderie in Scott Park in Dayton (many racers and family/crew camp out steps away in the campground next door), and the nice post-race breakfast awards dinner (pancakes cooked up by the local Kiwanis). At that open-air breakfast in the Western-themed town plaza they call each 100-miler's name and award nice schwag (this year for finishers it was a specially embroidered storm jacket and belt buckle--they ran out so I got mine in the mail like a week later).
A few small words of concern and constructive criticism, though. Some of us veterans had a little concern going in as they went from an overall cap of 600 (between 30K, 50K, and 50m) to 900-something, though the size of the 100 stayed pretty much the same. That concern was stoked a little bit, folks were noting at the dinner I went to and in other conversations, by less than favorable reviews for the t-shirt we got in our registration bags (reproducing a photograph covering the whole front of the shirt that depicts one of the cool rock formations along the course, but it can come across slightly cheesy when turned into a t-shirt). The hat color (like a royal blue) I wasn't wild about, eithe, though they were nice enough at the store to let me trade it in for a generic Bighorn model not specific to the 100 that was black and had what I thought was a nicer logo.
Anyway, I'd say for the most part the concerns that the increased overall size might "massify" the race were a little overblown (not sure how 50 milers and 50K'ers felt but I didn't hear a lot of complaining after). There was a little bit of a feeling like we dealt with more 50-milers than in past years, though on the other hand the fact that we used the original course meant that we back of packers didn't also have to deal with 50K-ers whizzing by as we did in 2011.
The issue I've found--though I've learned to adjust to this--is that it can be distracting to constantly have to look back and be aware of being overtaken on often narrow single track by runners who are much fresher and moving much faster. It can really throw off your rhythm, as it did my first couple years at Bighorn when I wasn't really prepared for it. By the same token, those runners are usually (not always) kind in letting you know and in shouting words of encouragement. Anyway, all in all, the increased size it wasn't that big a deal, and didn't really make for any more issues of crowds or lack of food at aid stations or anything. I just hope they will now keep the current size and not keep raising the size of the event, both 100 and for the race overall.
The other minor quibble is with the tendency to drag out the awards presentation with raffles and other stuff that beats around the bush a little. While they tried to accomodate this explicitly by moving up the ceremony by half and hour and saying they knew many of us had to catch planes or start long drives, in the end I had to leave for Billings Airport just a few minutes before they got to my name (being fourth from the end of the list of finishers and all!). So I had to go "backstage" to get my finisher's jacket and say quick good-byes to Rob and Diane and bolt for my rental car. That said, overall, I still like the whole concept of the awards, honoring multi-year finishers, letting the winners say a few words, all that is a very nice and personable Bighorn touch.
The course was as well-marked as ever, and I've never really had any issues of getting lost or going off course ever in my five years there. And they did a great job again with making sure we could use the normal course despite the lingering high country snow, and in building all the makeshift water crossings so we could get through safely (while still leaving plenty of adventures including copious mud and some snow in the high country!). Obviously a ton of trail work and maintenance goes into putting on a high country event so early in the season, so hats off.
So, all in all, I'd still say this race has the feel of a smaller-scale, grassroots yet still well-organized and professionally managed event. Pretty much the best of both worlds. It's definitely gotten more on the national radar screen, as you can tell from the wide geographic range of participants, and the top-notch caliber of the elites it attracts. But it's still as friendly as an event, and in terms of other racers, to mid and back-packers as it is to the mountain goats. I think it helps that it's far from major cities, so if you want to be there you have to go out of your way to get there, so for everybody it's sort of a "destination."
How tough is the course? Only 13 of the 115 finishers broke 24 hours, notwithstanding pretty optimal weather conditions. Based on the comparative statistical analysis of 100-milers here (http://www.realendurance.com/FinishTimeList.php), average finish times are 12% slower than at Western States (and 13% slower at Massanuttten compared to Western). A good amount of rocks, lots of single track, good amount of elevation gain (officially about 18,000' each of up/down), altitude range between about 4,000' and 9,000' above sea level...this one is no gimme!
So continued high praise for Bighorn if you're looking for that "perfect destination 100"! A lot of people, like friends I've met at Bighorn like Diane, Rob, and Chip, keep coming back not just because of the course but also because the whole feel of the race is that of community and family and connectedness (however cheesy that sounds, it's true!). A bunch of folks who like wiling away multiple hours of their lives in the mountains, and get a big thrill out of doing that and hanging out with others who share that oddball passion!
Little warning they stick in our race packets
every year--better safe than sorry!
Bighorn by the Numbers
My place: 115
Results at: http://bighorntrailrun.com/images/BHTR2012100MOverall620.pdf
Sub-24 hour finishers: 13
Winning men's time: 18:36 (Mike Foote)
Winning women's time (course record): 22:27 (Darcy Africa)
Notable NYC metro area finisher: Andrew Catalano, 5th, Elizabeth, NJ (trained on a half-mile circuit while serving in Afghanistan)
My Race LogisticsPairs of shoes worn: three Vasque Blur (one GTX, two regular, with changes at miles 30 and 66)
Smartwool socks and Injinji NuWool sock liners: three pairs of each
Gaiters: Joe Trailman Arizona ankle-length low gaiters (beginning/end) and REI mid-calf water-repellents (middle/high country)
Base layers: two technical tees, one singlet, one medium-weight longsleeve, one technical longsleeve, two pairs arm warmers
Top layers: two vests, one lightweight shell, one Patagonia winter running jacket
Shorts: Two pairs (change at 66)
Pants: Marmot Precip (nighttime)
Headwear: Three caps, one "safari" cap, one water-repellent cap, one Smartwool stocking cap
Hydration: Nathan vest pack
Dropbags: Three, two of them accessed twice
Food carried and in dropbags: gels, chews, energy waffles, small Evian bottles filled with Heed, Lara and Hammer bars
Aid station food consumed: fruit slices, nuts, pretzels, quesadillas, bacon (yum!), PBJ squares, turkey rollups, chips, potato slices dippsed in salt, popsicle
Supplements: Endurolyte electrolyes about every 30 minutes, Vivarin caffeine (100 or 200mg) and Advil (2 X 200mg) every 5-6 hours for first 2/3 or so of race
Station to Station[Warning: mind-numbing details for the hard-core enthusiast! You are entering my race dairy! For overall "lessons learned," scroll through the pictures and go right to the last section.]
Day One: 11AM start
By the Tongue River just prior to the start
Finally the first mile (courtesy of Rob Thurston)
Up, Up and Away: Start (4275') to Upper Sheep Creek (7450')-mile 8.5 (16:48 pace)
It was great to be back in the spectacular Tongue River Canyon at the traditional start, after last year's start was moved to Scott Park to add distance. Diane and Rob were nice enough to give three of us rides to the start. It was sunny, and I took some pictures by the river and at the start line. The guy singing the Star Spangled Banner had trouble hitting a high note, so the crowd carried him through. Then we were off for a mile on the dirt road that follows the raging whitewater river, with gorgeous views of various rock outcrops above. The trail then climbs gradually on single track for a few miles through the small Lower Sheep Creek station, where I just topped off my water. I think I ran this section and power walked the climb just a little faster than in previous years, as I felt good.
Nothing like about 3,200' of climb over seven and a quarter miles to get the heart going at the start of a race! I felt good hitting the long climb up "The Wall." The meadows were maybe a lighter shade of green than previous years, but the wildflowers were out in force. The views up through the meadows, and then looking back down (toward the trailing runners on the river and the canyon and the valley further away) were as breathtaking as always. I got passed by a few folks with poles in this section, but passed more than passed me. I remember thinking about how much I fretted about this climb in my first two years and had then focused intently on the heart rate monitor I was using to control my early pace. Just going by feel (this year and last) proved to be much more the ticket, and allowed me to make much better time in this section. Was I too conservative before, or a better climber now? Not sure, maybe a bit of both!
None of us mid- to back of packers runnin' this mountain!
An early sign of the many wildflowers to come
At the top of the climb, you start to feel the cool winds, and I rolled out the armwarmers I had been wearing rolled down around my wrists for some added warmth, and still felt a chill. I was tempted, but I kept the vest and shell in my pack, and it was a good thing, as once you clear the last rise, you're out of the wind and headed downward toward the aid sation.
Getting up this initial section at a good clip is really crucial for getting off to a good start at Bighorn, and that I was!
Early Cruising: Upper Sheep (7450') to Dry Fork Ridge (7480')-mile 13.4 (15:14 pace)
This is a rolling section, with a mix of single track and ATV trail before finishing on dirt road. It's where the real running starts. I felt good and made pretty good time. It's always a rush to crest the climb and see the long windy downhill--always fun to descend--leading toward the dirt road heading into Dry Fork. You can see the station and the gathering of humanity there from a couple miles away, especially on a partly sunny (turning cloudy) day like this.
Diane and Rob greeted me as I came in, and she took my pack as I headed to the Port-a-san (a little early gastric distress but nothing serious). I grabbed some food from my drop bag, applied some sunscreen, and ate some real food before Diane packed up my bag and I headed out. It was very nice to see their familiar faces, and to enjoy some early crewing! I felt fresh leaving Dry Fork, and remember the ATV trail being smoother and less chewed up than in previous years. In fact so far the course had been drier than I had ever seen it, with all the small stream crossings to that point lower than normal and none (yet!) of the mud you come to expect in spots along the way at Bighorn.
Headed into Dry Fork (courtesy of Rob Thurston)
Steady as She Goes: Dry Fork (7480') to Cow Camp (6600')-mile 19.5 (16:50 pace)
This section is pretty much all wide ATV trail. Rolling but trending mostly downward. It tends to be maybe my last favorite section of the course terrain-wise, but you are running in a nice valley surrounded by forest and ridgelines on either side. Things had kind of thinned out, and I was mostly running by myself without others in sight in either direction, obscured as they were by the hills. It was starting to get cloudier and a bit cooler.
This is the famous bacon aid station, and I had a single crispy strip along with I think a bite of fruit and some kind of salty snack. Nicely hit the spot! I recall one of the volunteers saying to another as I left that there were "only" something like 28 more runners left. This left me a bit concerned as I knew there were 160 or 170 starters--and even though I felt my pace to be good
Through the Drizzle: Cow Camp (6600') to Bear Camp (6800')-mile 26.5 (16:50 pace)
It was nice to get back to single track, and this section also has portions that lead you back into the forest at times. We started to get some sprinkles, and judging by the ominous clouds we'd been seeing for a while I thought maybe a downpour was imminent. So I put on the shell, which of course kept it from ever raining hard! This was the first section where there were significant muddy spots, especially around streams, though nothing like previous years. In a clumsy moment I did get one foot wet in a relatively small puddle though. I had been debating in my mind if I wanted to take the time ahead at Footbridge to change into Goretex shoes for the night--that one false step sealed the decision!
Somewhere in this section I started getting a little down. I guess now it was the combination of the weather, fatigue setting in, getting passed in quick succession by two runners and having been passed by another prior to Cow Camp, and the news I'd overheard at Cow Camp of how far back in the pack I was. I had some flashbacks of past years and already being behind the eight-ball by this section. But then I did a sort of little "checkup" and concluded all the objective evidence pointed in another direction--"you're moving ok, running the downs and rolling stuff, hitting decent mile splits by the Garmin, and by the pace charts are doing just fine. Stop worrying!" That was the gist of my little pep talk. Sometimes you get into a negative funk for no real reason at all, but this time my rational side won the argument with my emotional side based on overwhelming evidence I was doing just fine!
Somewhere around here I took my first half a Vivarin (100mg) and a double dose of Advil, which I usually do no later than the 6 hour mark. That along with the little self-assessment and the clearing weather past Bear Camp led to a marked improvement in my mood!
The sun returns late afternoon as we
approach the sharp descent into Footbridge
Tricky Descent: Bear Camp (6800') to Footbridge (4590')-mile 30 (14:40 pace + ~20 minutes at aid station)
This is probably my favorite section of the course, at least in this (the "out") direction! All single track. You start off with some open meadow single track that leads onto a clearing where this awesome canyon opens up before you, with views of orange and red rock outcrops nestled into the ridgelines amidst trees, to either side and then miles ahead in front. The weather had also cleared nicely by this section. From there the trail drops down steeply and after a while enters a twisted, turny wooded section which is like a trail runner's amusement park! I always think of this as the "Eastern" section of Bighorn, because it's the most like the tight corners, short sightlines, and rocky surfaces we're used to back East.
I passed a woman who had passed me earlier, as I sped down the descents with what I thought was controlled abandon. Every year I usually pass folks in this section, and it gives me a boost heading into the psychological milepost that is the Footbridge aid station. Unfortunately, not long after I passed her, I caught my toe on a rock on a slightly more level section (checking my watch? just not lifting my knees? a little too full of adrenaline?) and did what could have been a very nasty face plant. The momentum was strong enough that my butt rolled vertically past my face and I almost somersaulted, which was scary. Fortunately I was able to brace my fall with both hands, and they and my forearms were protected by my cycling gloves and the rolled-down armwarmers I was wearing (having removed the shell a bit earlier). I landed in a dirt section without any big rocks, which was lucky, too. She asked if I was ok as she ran by, I said yes, and sat there for a few seconds just gathering myself. Then I got up and resumed the descent and did manage to pass one guy toward the bottom, though I backed off the pace a little bit to avoid any more mishaps. Fortunately, it would prove to be my only fall of the two days!
As I ran into Footbridge, I think I saw that I had about 2:30 or so on the cutoffs (meaning it was about 7:00 PM). That was very encouraging, and the earliest I'd ever gotten into that station. I also noticed on the little "cheat sheet" from my 2010 race--giving ranges of times I wanted to hit each station based on previous years' finisher splits--that I was comfortably within my target range. (I had just happened across that hand-scrawled little notecard on the last day of my pre-trip packing, and it did come in handy to get feedback on my progress, particularly in the first half of the race.)
Since this is the first dropbag location, and the location where you change into night gear, I took somewhere around 20 minutes (maybe 25?) as I pretty much had figured I'd need (nothing like the hour I took to tend to aweful blisters in my '07 race though!). I sat down as a volunteer handed me some Ramen noodles, so I could do a complete change of socks/liners/gaiters/shoes for the middle 36 miles as well as change into warmer night clothes for what promised to be a cold night in the high mountains (long sleeve medium weight top over long sleeve tee, fresh running hat, and--all stowed in my pack and put on a few hours later--a winter Patagonia running jacket, heavy Marmot gloves, and Smartwool stocking cap). I put on my headlamp, downed a few more snacks at the aid table, and checked out. A woman named Marianne from Richmond, whom I'd met at various Virginia races and passed on the long climb up to Upper Sheep, left the aid station just before me, and I thought it would be nice to catch up to her and have some company.
A good decision I'd made in my gear planning was to have Goretex shoes (and higher, mid-calf REI winter gaiters) planted in my dropbag for the "out" section up into the sloppy, muddy, snowy high country, and then a fresh pair of regular Vasques identical to my opening pair waiting for me for the last 34 miles on the way back. Worked like a charm, as it did prove to be sloppy and wet, as I remembered from both years I'd been up to Porcupine,. While still sliding around a lot in the mud, my feet stayed WARM AND DRY...as others around me complained about wet, cold feet, and for some it contributed to hypothermia. Wet is ok if it's in the 60s or so, but it's definitely not ok (for me) when it's down to the 20s or 30s!
The other good gear decision was serendipitous: the night before leaving on the trip I realized lying in bed that I might need a heavier jacket and gloves, and made sure I packed them before heading to the airport. I think it was sort of a flashback to how cold it can get at 8-9,000 feet with the wind howling at 3-4 AM!
Into a Climbing Rhythm: Footbridge (4590') to Cathedral Rock (5080')-mile 33.5 (19:44 pace)
The long upward march commences! This was the first time I ever remember completing this whole section in the daylight. I caught up to Marianna a few hundred yards up the trail, reintroduced myself (though I still don't think she remembers running with me some at GEER 100K in 2006), and latched onto her as someone I knew was faster and would be good to keep pace with and good company. We talked about the various Virginia races and Horton and such, the guy from the Running the Sahara video who's now in jail, Lance and doping, and any number of interesting topics. There were a couple guys who kind of settled in just behind us for a while.
In the initial section you're right along the river and the rush of the whitewater is deafening and makes you feel small. One sandy "beach" right by the river that is always muddy and partly underwater was dry this year, given the lower water levels. After a while, you turn steeply uphill and away from the river (I believe that's the Little Bighorn River there). The climb is steady, and a good warmup for what lies ahead. I felt good, and it was a nice change of pace and also helped mentally to join with a group that was at the same pace. I think I checked my pace chart and saw I was on the faster end of the target pace range for Cathedral Rock,which was very encouraging!
Into the Wyoming Night: Cathedral Rock (5080') to Spring Marsh (6920')-mile 40 (21:12 pace)
This is a long section where the climb gets steeper at times and is pretty relentlesss. In the first mile or two I donned my stocking cap and gloves as it was getting cooler, but I think I waited a little longer on the jacket. Within a mile from there the headlamp went on and shortly thereafter the flashlight. It was a starry night but without much of noticeable moonlight(finally, not long before dawn and many miles ahead, I noticed there was a one-eighth or one-sixteenth moon visible low in the sky). It was pretty remarkable how quickly it got cold once night fell. We started encountering the leaders and then other racers headed back the opposite direction, which meant... (well, it was better not to do the math on how far ahead of us they were)!
I was still keeping pace with Marianna and some other folks, but working hard to do it. At one point a guy stopped by the trail in an open meadow spoke to me when he saw my headlamp approach. He said to let them know at the aid station to "send someone for me because I can't go on." He didn't elaborate why and what was wrong. But he seemed distressed and glassy-eyed and I told him I would. A young-looking guy. Too cold? Injured? It was another 1.5 miles to the station in the end, but they sent someone out for him so I hope he was alright. I was worried about him just standing there in the cold.
It was a little chaotic when we got to this aid station, with runners coming in from both directions in the nighttime. It also felt like winter, and everyone wanted something hot. Marianna was getting outfitted with a garbage bag as she was underdressed and had forgotten one of her layers back at Footbridge. She and some of the others managed to get out of the aid station before I could get some food and give the volunteers a description of the runner in distress back along the trail. So from here on up to Porcupine I was on my own, though there was a stream of lights of runners coming by in the opposite direction and the occasional runner who passed me.
This section is tough. The climb just keeps giving and becomes steep at times, the terrain is more open and thus with some wind, and the footing gets trickier as you encounter more mud patches and puddles from recent snow melt. At the same time, it's getting to be around midnight, and sleep deprivation is setting in. You feel a little small and insignificant under a vast starry sky as you see headlamps moving ahead of you and others approaching you, with the shouts of "good job" and "keeping it up" periodically interrupting the cold silence.
Somewhere around 11PM or midnight I took my second dose of Vivarin (200 mg this time) and Advil (two). I didn't fight too badly with the sleep monsters all in all, though (I'd say less than at MMT in May), and managed to keep a pretty steady uphill effort. And it was hard to stay upright somehow despite slipping and sliding through the mud. But the feet were staying comfortable dry and warm under the gaiters and Goretex, I'm happy to report!
This section and the next had a couple of somewhat hairy stream crossings, with muddy rocks you could try to hop across or makeshift "bridges" made of one or several beams tied together along with a rope for a handrail, dangling above cold, fast-moving snowmelt water you really didn't want to fall into!
This was my slowest section of the race pace-wise, I now see (but none of my miles got as slow as some of my overnight MMT mile splits).
High Country: Elk Camp (7430') to Porcupine Ranger Station turnaround (8800')-mile 48 (23:30 pace)
There was a warm fire blazing at Elk Camp, but the price for that was lots of smoke especially under the tent canopy, which really bothered my tired eyes, so I tried to get through quickly. Not long after leaving this station, I started encountering the first serious snowdrifts. As promised they were packed down or postholed, so you mostly just had to step carefully across them. More treacherous were the copious mud and mudpuddle sections, which occasioned a lot of slip slidin'. Somehow I managed to stay on two feet, which was a minor miracle. Half a mile or so prior to getting to the ranger station, I saw the Japanese Bighorn veteran Hiromi, who had pulled away with a few others somewhere after maybe Dry Fork and whom I knew had a habit of finishing every year within the last half hour or so of the cutoffs. Either she's really cruising this year or has gone out too fast, I thought to myself.
This section peaks out around 9,100' after crossing Devil's Canyon Road, then descends a couple hundred feet to the ranger station. It's the only indoor aid station the whole way, and looms as a cross between an oasis in the cold night and MASH unit--everybody who's spending much time in that warm comfort is hurting bad and probably won't make it back out on the course.
The scene at Porcupine wasn't quite as grim as past years, but people were tending to blisters and taking in calories. Marianna was having her feet warmed by volunteers and told me she had straggled in hypothermic. I tried to encourage her to go back out and that there was plenty of time to finish, but she seemed discouraged and indicated she likely was through (she didn't end up finishing but I don't know for sure if she dropped there or later). I felt bad because I might have been able to help her in to that point had I been able to stay with her, and also because I had thought to myself hours before that she was badly underdressed and was likely to encounter problems. I didn't say anything in part because when she realized she had left her third outer layer back at Footbridge she was already a few miles away, and there wasn't much to be done. I thought when she improvised with the garbage bag and given how well she was moving and knowing her race history, that she should would be able to make it through. At the same time, I noticed (as I had in previous races) that she didn't seem to be carrying much if any food, eating only at aid stations from what I could discern, so I thought to myself that maybe not keeping up the calories was a contributing factor to her condition. From what I saw of her dropbag at Footbridge, it was maybe an eighth of the size and weight of mine! For a change (it's horrible to say and I don't take comfort in others' misfortunes for a minute) I felt a bit vindicated in terms of my usual "overpreparedness" with gear and voluminous drop bags and erring on the side of too much stuff to choose from! Part of that, of course, was just knowing what to expect at Bighorn.
At Porcupine, I hit the port-a-san outside, and then inside enjoyed a quesadilla and then some broth. I elected to carry rather than change into my second pair of shorts, and kept the jacket and just changed the two base layers. So mostly it was a quick apparel change and grab of lighter layers to change into after daybreak (like a vest) and restocking food and water in my vestpack. I imagine this stop was around 20 minutes give or take. Official splits haven't been published and my Garmin doesn't show clock time, but I think I left at about 2:20 (definitely no later and perhaps sooner), compared to the 4AM cutoff. This was my earliest ever departure from Porcupine, and in my two previous trips there I pretty much knew my goose was cooked when I left there with less than an hour on the cutoff and I think in 2010 like half an hour. This time I left feeling like I was in good shape time-wise--and alert and moving well and proceeding well with my mission!
Heading Home: Porcupine (8800') to Elk Camp (7430')-mile 52.5 (approx. 22:14 pace)
Thus begins the long descent that would take us from the cold high mountains in the wee hours all the way down to one of the lowest points of the course at Footbridge, in the heat of the mid-morning June sun! Leaving the station a nice guy who introduced himself as Rush from Raleigh, NC asked if I'd like some company and I said sure. We ended up running together for the next 6-7 miles or so, and chatting quite a bit. (Then I ended up running into him getting on the plane to Denver in Billings, and we barely recognized each other without all the cold weather gear on!) Rush told me he'd experienced some hypothermia on the way up to Porcupine, had been laying in a sleeping bag there to warm himself, and had changed into tights for warmth (I had put on my Marmot precip pants I think back at Elk Camp going up, and was very happy I had them and was still wearing them. I first bought them for Bighorn back in '07 after reading someone's race report about wearing them there, in fact!).
It was good to have company, and also good to be heading downhill once we'd finished the first half-mile's climb out of Porcupine. But we had someone different cadences, as I would go along steadily with my "downhill shuffle" while he would switch from slower powerwalk to faster running with small, quick steps.
Along the way here, I got the "low battery" message on my first Garmin, so got out the second I had picked up in my dropbag and got the satelllite signal. But I forgot to switch off the first one when I put in my pack, so I got some simultaneous mile splits, and have guesstimated my average splits from the two watches.
I remember thinking in the meadow not far below Porcupine how my pacer and I had seen the first signs of dawn there two years earlier, and then later on how it had been light when we reached Elk Camp. This time it was still quite dark when Rush and I got to Elk Camp, which was a gratifying feeling for me of "being ahead of the curve" at Bighorn--for a change!
Glowing Eyes and Elk Calls: Elk Camp (7430') to Spring Marsh (6920')-mile 56 (20:14 pace)
I would have liked to leave Elk Camp earlier, mainly because it was so smoky with the fire they had going and the tarp they had set up and with some breeze. But I think I had some nice hot noodles and broth. A mile or so out of the aid station I had to stop to fumble with my gloves or something, and Rush moved ahead and I lost sight. He was moving faster, especially over the muddy sections, aided by some spikes he said he was wearing (as in other years, I had decided to leave my Microspikes in the Footbridge dropbag, not wanting to cart yet another item with all the layers already stuffed into my food and hydration pack. I was kind of skating on the muddy sections, which were even trickier with the downhill momentum.
For quite a while I periodically heard grunts that sounded like foghorns off in the meadows below us in the direction of what seemed to be a stream. I thought at the time they might be moose, but volunteers at the next aid station said it was likely elk, who were calving this time of year.
This was the section where I could start to see the faint orange glow of dawn just over the peaks down below us and off in the distance. Followed by the glorious early morning rays.
The glorious Bighorns under the early morning rays
of Day Two (it's gonna be a hot one!)
The Long Day Begins: Spring Marsh (6920') to Cathedral Rock (5080')-mile 62.5 (18:10 pace)
Even though it's downhill, this is a long section where you start to realize it's going to be a long hot day to get to the finish! That's the downside of the 11AM start--most of the running comes on day two if you're toward the back of the pack.
The first 50-milers (who had started at like 5 or 6AM from Porcupine) zoomed by me, and after a while it became a steady stream. So there was a constant looking back over the shoulder and effort to listen for footsteps on the single track, so as not to be startled and to make way for them passing in timely fashion. Once from such a look backward I skidded a bit on the gravelly edge of the narrow path and just missed by a hair tumbling down into a tree-lined ravine that led a few hundred yards down to the whitewater. I thought briefly about how far I might have rolled before a tree broke my fall, and what that might have felt like....but then decided it was better not to dwell on that, or for that matter on the many makeshift bridges across fast-flowing streams that I had crossed carefully in this and earlier sections of the race.
It seems like it takes forever to get to this aid station, as you wind your way through the forest for a while after you've been miles in the meadows. It felt as if a party was taking place among the volunteers, who seemed giddy after a night in the woods, and they didn't pay much attention to me nor I to them as I rushed through in my desire to get to Footbridge and make it in good time through that tought cutoff. This is one of those aid stations where they have to bring all the supplies in by horseback, so god love the volunteers for being there and lord knows they have the right to make it festive!
I was moving ok but not nearly as fast as I would have liked. I thought I should be making better time, but at least with every sub-20 minute mile I figured I was putting more time between me and the cutoffs. I started feeling like my arms and face were getting sunburned, as I hadn't remembered to grab sunblock in the middle of the cold night at Footbridge. It's such a long time to that next drop bag!
Familar Ground, Better Result: Cathedral Rock (5080') to Footbridge (4590')-mile 66 (approx. 18:56 pace + ~22 minutes at aid station)
This is a cool section, particularly in this direction. You run by the raging river, then move into the woods, climb up above the river, then steeply switchback down....it's got it all, and it's one of the rockier sections of the course. Thought 50-milers continue to stream by, I was moving pretty well, and buoyed by the thought of hitting the next milestone. Back to Footbridge, my old nemesis, where my race had ended in '07, '08, and '10...but not this time! I came in with around 1:30 to 1:35 on the 11:00AM cutoff, as I recall.
It felt great to change into dry liners/socks/gaiters/and "lightweight" non-Goretex Vasques for the home stretch. They were lighter to start with and with all the mud caked on my gaiters and shoes I really felt the difference right away. I also changed my shorts during a port-a-san visit (the stomach was a bit distressed for a good part of the race, somewhere between "loose" and "backed up" if you know what I mean, which I attribute in hindsight to maybe being too liberal in eating aid station fare like nuts). Plus a shirt and hat change. I ate some kind of soup as I sat there doing all that, and took a few mouthfuls of food and had the volunteer fill my bladder before heading out. I left Footbridge with I think about 1:10 on the cutoffs, feeling great about getting that albatross from my first Bighorn years off my back (again!).
Hot Upward Slog: Footbridge (4590') to Bear Camp (6800')-mile 69.5 (26:00 pace)
This is a real bear of a section (pun intended). Over 2,200 feet of what seems like endless vertical, some of it among the steepest grades on the course, and in the heat of the mid-day sun. I was moving pretty swiftly and passing some 100 milers (as 50 milers passed me), when I got to a more sun-exposed section and realized I was expending a lot of energy and still early into the climb (remembering last year). So I wisely backed off and settled into a pace I could manage. A bathroom stop in the woods also gave me some respite and also some welcome stomach relief (for a while).
There was a tired group of 50 and 100-milers hanging for a few minutes at Bear Camp (different color numbers were the only giveaway about who was running which distance, though sometimes people would ask "which distance?"). I tried to get through quickly as I knew I was giving back time.
By the way, since the day before the race was the last day of the hunting season and the full name of Bear Camp is "Bear Hunting Camp," they moved the location of this year's aid station a bit so as not to disrupt the hunters who were packing stuff up for the season! Fortunately, no shots were fired, and I guess it's not surprising no bears were to be seen on the course this year! (Though apparently the leader and eventuall winner encountered about a dozen moose along the way!).
Effort Exceeds Progress: Bear Camp (6800') to Cow Camp (6600')-mile 76.5 (21:13 pace counting "bathroom" trip just past Cow Camp)
A rolling single-track section with good downhill toward the end. Quite sun-exposed, and I was paying for changing into a singlet earlier on what was proving a hotter day, getting burned on my shoulders. Fifty-milers continued to drift by occasionally. My splits were hovering just above or below the cutoff pace of 20ish minute miles, which was making me a bit anxious as I felt like I was putting out a lot of effort. But mostly a shuffle routine.
The stomach queasiness hadn't entirely left me, and I vowed going in I'd avoid the bacon I knew would be there. But I did jump at the quesadilla they offered. That helped seal the deal that, just beyond the aid station in the first clump of trees I found, I'd make a pit stop....which brought substantial relief even if it was in tall grass that I was afraid had some poison ivy I might regret! (Fortunately, there must not have been any!)
She's Daddy's inspiration! [courtesy of Virginia Bryan]
Chasing the Cutoffs: Cow Camp (6600') to Dry Fork (7480')-mile 79.5 (19:51 pace)
Once I came out of the pit stop, I looked at my stopwatch (I carry it for time of day and the Garmin for splits and mileage) and saw I had something like 2:15 or 2:20 to make the six miles to the cutoff of 4:00PM at Dry Fork. I felt like that was a makeable push, but knew I'd then need some margin to make the subsequent hard cutoffs. This section is all ATV road and has good footing, but very out in the open and tending pretty strongly uphill. Also 50-milers were cruising by, and then race vehicle ATVs were zooming back and forth toward the last mile or so to ferry in runners who had dropped or DNFd at Cow Camp or along the way.
I started muttering to myself in this section something about "finish this for Mihiret" and "do it for Mihiret," thinking about my then 21-month-old at home. That was really helping me ward off the negative thoughts that were trying to creep in about "here we go again."
I moved about as fast as I could but without really raising my feet both off the ground at once (or maybe just barely), somewhere between powerwalking and shuffling. I had much better energy than in this same section a year ago. But I got a little worried as I ticked off the miles that I wasn't leaving myself enough margin for after Dry Fork (an aid station which you can see from a copule miles away without it ever seeming to come closer). I also worried briefly, till I could at least see Dry Fork ahead from the crests of some of the hills, that the official mileage was off and that my seemingly decent pace might not even put me into Dry Fork in time.
In the end, I came in with about 20 minutes to spare, and was out of there in five minutes (quickly lubing and applying sunscreen from dropbag and nabbing the solid aid station fare I was mostly relying on or carrying by that point)--very much a man on a mission. Just 18 miles to go! I was one part determined to finish and another part peeved at how the ATV traffic (by race officials no less) forced us in the last mile or so to veer on the somewhat uneven jeep road and at times even go off road and up the embankment to let them pass. I muttered something about "lots of ATVs out there" and "it sucks" as the volunteers greeted me, which I somewhat regretted and hopefully it was in my usual mumble so they didn't hear!
I was also saddened about a quarter of a mile before Dry Fork to encounter and overtake Hiromi (the woman who was about a mile ahead of me as I approached the turnaround at Porcupine, who had slowed down with what looked like might be a knee issue based on her gait. I gathered from previous years she didn't speak English much at all so I gestured toward her knee and asked if she was ok, but she didn't understand or couldn't really resond.. I told her there was still time to continue and that we were coming into the aid station under the cutoff, but I got the clear sense that she was planning to drop at Dry Fork (which she apparently did as she didn't finish).
There but for the grace...but thankfully I was in a very solid frame of mind so it didn't discourage me to see a persistent finisher coming up short.
There but for the grace...but thankfully I was in a very solid frame of mind so it didn't discourage me to see a persistent finisher coming up short.
Keep on truckin'--leaving Dry Fork on a mission!
[courtesy of Norm Cessna and Fotosport]
The Turning Point: Dry Fork (7480') to Upper Sheep (7450')-mile 87.5 (18:48 pace)
I ate and drank as I tried to attack the first long climb with the swiftest powerhike I could manage, knowing this was a "make-or-break" section for me. There were maybe 5 or 6 other runners visible in front of me, mostly 50-milers. Once onto the rolling ATV road and after that on the mostly downhill single track, I was pleased to discover that I could manage more than just a shuffle and even pass or pull away from a few folks. For the first time in I don't know how many hours, I felt like I was actually RUNNING! Again with the mantra, "gotta finish this one for Mihiret!"
Once we got off the single track that comes about two thirds through the section and headed up the steep ATV road toward the aid station, I had a great feeling as I realized I would have plenty of time to spare. I'm gonna finish this sucker!
A couple runners ahead, barely visible against the vast Wyoming sky
A glimpse of the big descent that awaits!
A Steep Haul and a Long, Winding Descent: Upper Sheep (7450') to Lower Sheep (5025')-mile 92.5 (*19:49 for first 4.21 miles, then GPS ran out)
I cruised quickly through Upper Sheep Creek aid station (arriving with about 20 minutes on the 5:30PM cutoff). A couple runners had passed me on the way in and were heading out toward what I thought I remembered was a somewhat tricky section in terms of an easily missed turn on the short, steep climb ahead. So I hustled to keep them in sight. In the end, I could see them as they veered right on the sharp uphill single track that followed the river crossing. One woman was stopped cold on the steep ascent (a 50-miler I believe), looking forlorn and unsure about continuing. This is probably the steepest grade of the whole race--one of those hands on knees type deals--and it comes at around mile 89. I had pretty good energy and great spirits moving up it, as it was a beautiful late afternoon and you can really appreciate the enormity of what you've done and of the whole course at this "top of the world" spot. I quickly stopped to take a couple photos and admired the views in both directions before I started the great descent. I said something about Bighorn's magnificence under my breath, but can't remember quite what. I was elated!
After last year, I realized there was a dilemma in this section. I ran the initial part "hell on wheels" last year, but it beat up my sore muscles and feet real good, and I ended up hiking a lot of the lower part of the descent as a result and being really slow on the final dirt road section. You also can get up enough momentum, and there are just enough loose rocks, that you could really hurt yourself if you caught the tip of the shoe on a rock and went tumbling. So I was mindful I didn't want to blow my race on any downhill bravado. So this year I opted to not open up the throttle quite as much but instead to keep a continuous, modest running pace on this forever downhill. In the end, I passed several people, though there were a couple who ran by me, too. It felt like I struck the right balance. It requires a lot of concentration to prevent the speed build up, raise the knees, and step over or dodge the rocks.
We hit Lower Sheep, and I only stopped to take a quick drink of some Mountain Dew or something like that. The volunteers reminded us we still faced one last cutoff at Tongue River trailhead, allegedly 2.25 miles away and about 700 feet below. One of two apparent sisters doing the 50m motioned for me to go ahead, as she wasn't moving as fast on the downhill as her older sister who had already left the station.
Unexpected Drama: Lower Sheep (5025') to Tongue River trailhead (94.75)-mile 94.75
In this section you drop back down into the canyon and it seems like you run forever, as you wind your way on primo single track to the canyon floor and the road. About a mile down a breathless volunteer or crew member ran by shouting, "you've still got two more miles and a cutoff to beat!" Pretty much with "the British are coming" Paul Revere-type urgency! She was yelling that at each runner as she went by. A couple of the runners then whizzed by, breathlessly, scared that we had been lulled into complacency or something, which can happen to some on the long, scenic descent where you think you already "have it in the bag." (Apparently, this is why they instituted this cutoff fairly recently, which I think they didn't always have.)
I have to say, to me it seems a little screwy that you (I) could have moved continuously and well from Upper Sheep and starting with 20 minutes on the cutoff, not having dilly-dallied at all at Lower Sheep, and continuously run (not hike) at a decent clip all the way down (employing technical descending skills that came into play in this section)...and still be close to a cutoff when you hit the canyon floor and last hard cutoff. Doesn't add up! I think it's somewhat poor planning in terms of the timing of the cutoff at the trailhead, as well as a pretty significant understatement of the distance from Upper Sheep down, which seems more like a good 3 miles-plus (unfortunately my second Garmin had frozen up on the early part of this section so I can't document this!). Anyway, part of me felt at the time like "this is silly" and another part felt like "could you imagine losing your finish because of something like this?"
Anyway, the woman who had been warning us then came running back past me and said "it's a few hundred yards down." I think in the end I got there just about 10 minutes before the 7:30PM cutof. The whole thing had gotten my adrenaline up and had me turning over pretty fast for that point of the race, so I refused any food or even water at the aid station and charged ahead.
Long Road Home: Tongue River trailhead (4040') to Finish at Scott Park in Dayton (3970')
Bighorn is a modified out and back course (first 48 miles and second 48 are identical), as this section retraces in its first mile or so and goes past the starting line in the canyon, but then continues for another four miles or so along a country dirt road and back into the town of Dayton, on a section that you only drive over to get to the start on Day One. These are the only section of true road--albeit almost all of it dirt till the last quarter to half mile--with car traffic and negotiable by all types of vehicles. That first mile or so when you are still within the canyon and have forest on both sides and the river on one side is pretty cool. Once you get outside that area you are into ranch country, with the occasional house. The views are pretty, but it's a wide road, still has some modest rollers, and it feels like it will take you forever to get to the finish. As one of the co-directors said at the pre-race briefing, it's a bit anticlimactic to have a trail race finish with a section like that, but logistically it's pretty unavoidable with the canyon being so narrow and with so little parking.
I started out this section running at a decent clip. But when it turned uphill a mile or so in, I lost motivation and my energy flagged a bit. I had been eating and hydrating a bit more sparingly over the previous couple hours. Also, once I knew breaking 33 hours was well beyond reach, there didn't seem to be a whole lot of impetus to haul ass to try to make it in under 33:30. By definition, by finishing under the 34 hour cutoff, I would beat last year's time (which was 34:15, as they loosened the cutoff in advance with the uncertainties of the untested alternate course). It would also by definition better my MMT time of 35 hours and change from the previous month. Plus, the surface was hard, and the pebbles didn't feel so great on tired feet. So I started walking for longer stretches (the ups), and got passed by a couple folks.
Wendell the course director came by on his bicycle at one point, shouting encouragement and asking us about our races. A little earlier his daughter of some 10, 11 years of age had done the same. Some of the crew vehicles also drove by and waved and honked their horns. Around mile 98 or so a little girl was handing out popsicles and sodas in front of her house, as she does every year. A woman wearing an Ironman visor passed me somewhere close to the final turn off that road into the little town of Dayton, and I pretty much wanted her to go ahead as I wanted to come into the finish area alone. I think it was she among the runners I encountered in the last section who commented just how hard the road felt. Just before that a guy with what sounded like a Quebecois or French accent ran by, asking me if I had blisters, and complaining about his, though with a big grin! Comparatively speaking, mine weren't bad, actually, but it was more the dull ache of the bottom of the feet, which hurt more when I tried to toe off more and lift my legs to run (or something vaguely approximately that!).
As I approached Scott Park where the finish is, out ran an animated Diane to greet me, and she started running alongside me. It was great to see her, and she made sure I didn't miss the turns into the field and then the last right turn into the finish line, right beside the swift-moving Tongue River. They had moved it back to its original spot with this year's lower water level, but I had never experienced first-hand the finish in this spot, and was glad Diane made sure I didn't veer off too much to the left and miss it! It felt really sweet to cross that finish line, at 8:45PM, having been out there 33 hours and 45 minutes. Hugs and handshakes with Diane and Rob after I crossed the line. A very happy camper indeed!
"Hey, that wasn't so bad, where's the next one?" (Not so fast, young man!)
[courtesy of Norma Cessna and Fotosport]
Lessons and Takeaways: Two 100s...and a
Quite Unexpected Stress Fracture
Race of many milestones: Overall, despite the big setback I was belatedly dealt (more below), I have to take away enormous positives from both this effort and the the MMT/Bighorn "double" I accomplished. For me, was a race of "firsts" (finish on the traditional Bighorn course), "seconds" (the double), "thirds" (my third 100 finish in last three 100 starts) and "fourths" (my fourth 100 finish, now in 10 starts). Who would have thought that possible just a year ago, or even six months ago, knowing my shaky early track record at this distance?!
Altitude a non-factor: The other big "asterisk" about my finish last year (other than the slightly lower elevation, arguably somewhat less difficult alternate course, and the looser cutoff they had for that race) was the fact that in 2011 I'd had the benefits of 12 days of serendipitious acclimatization at 8,000-10,000 feet during the weeks prior to the race when we went to Ethiopia to meet Mihiret. I had none of that this year, and instead got in 36 hours before the event, at the lower elevation of Sheridan (around 3,000 I think). So basically I was following the "race before your body starts adjusting" philosophy for flatlanders racing at altitude. I can't really say I ever felt the altitude per se or had any particular moments of any unusual breathing or lightheadedness or anything, just felt "normally" the effort of the distance and of the longer and higher climbs.
I guess I could say I've learned, at least at this moderately high elevation, to no longer fear altitude, and that I've really improved my climbing skills. "Pushing it on the climbs without killing yourself" now seems like common sense to me. Despite my best efforts, this time I wasn't even able to use the AltoLab breathing device with any continuity or effectiveness in the prior months, so I didn't have that leg up either. I just went during the race on perceived effort in terms of my climbing pace, and those attempts I made back in '07 and '08 (and maybe at first at Mountain RATS, I don't recall) to be guided by heart rate seem like a distant memory as I haven't used a HRM in quite a while now. I think I tended with that method to be way too conservative and not factor in the recovery you get in subsequent sections when things go downhill or level out.
Strategy-wise, I think I made a good move to push the pace, though in a controlled way, up through mile 30, and then try to make a strong uphill push through the night to the turnaround. It really helps to know the course, what you've done in past years, and what you need to do to improve on that! But I don't think, with my recent string of finishes, I'll run with as much "fear of DNFing" as I have in the past. And hopefully now I can start thinking of actually improving my time and focussing more on some time goals and maybe even (very modest!) overall place goals rather than just "squeaking in under the cutoffs."
The bad stuff afterwords: Who could have dreamed, in a race where I didn't experience any particular debilitating pain during or in the days after (other than the usual heavy legs and blisters), that two weeks later I'd be diagnosed with a stress fracture of the sacrum and osteitis pubis based on hip pain I started experiencing only three days after? (All this after not running at all post-race, it showed up with just everyday walking and it never felt like I should risk running.) That came like a bolt out of the blue, though I know that's usually the case with stress fractures. Still, my first ever SF in 15 years of running marathons and beyond, and 6 and 1/2 years of ultras. So, the question arise: was trying to do multiple 100s in a summer, up to even an ambitious four maybe, a cockamamie plan from the get-go for this 50-year-old?
It's so easy to second-guess, and I'll have plenty of time to do that as I convalesce and rehab and get back out there, hopefully wiser and stronger! But I guess I'll defend myself at least some by saying I did plenty of training volume-wise but actually was more conservative tune-up race-wise and focused more intently than ever on core and leg-strength (though again not excessively if you read my training posts from last few months). Also, I didn't concoct the whole multiple 100s out of nothing, having read how folks do grand slams (many of them quite older than I), and I'm no rookie to ultras having averaged maybe half a dozen or more per year the last 4-5 years, while also taking prudent breaks and having some injury breaks (mostly unrelated to repetitive-motion injuries like this). At the same time, not all bodies are built the same, and maybe there are things about my core strength or just skeletal makeup that make me susceptible. Also two 100s in that short a space and under those big mountain conditions is a LOT of stress on the body. Whatever the case, believe me I'll be exploring all the medical angles I can (bone density, any calcium deficiency, yadda yadda) in coming months!
More questions than answers: Probably the two issues I'll puzzle through most (and would appreciate any insights from readers on!) have to do with: (1) did I approach the interim period in the right way? and (2) would I ever attempt something like this again, and if so with what changes? On the interim period, I didn't blog on this, but basically the fist few days I took a few days off and just did walking and some easy biking. I got back into weekly speedwork (for three consecutive weeks) 9 days out from MMT (too soon?, didn't' feel so at the time). As far as long runs, I could have maybe overdone it, with a 3:45 run of about 15 miles on the Dispea trail on my trip to San Francisco 12 days after MMT and then a 20-mile, 5-hour Palisades run 15 days out. Everything else outside of one 1.5 hour run with Garth was an hour or less, and I did 15 days of taper steadily cutting back. Overall I was 4-5 times per week, and by the last week was down to running 45 minutes and on down to 20 minutes day before, with the usual extra days off. Strength-wise, I think I only did two lower-body sessions, and 2-3 upper body sessions, and nothing on either side within 10 days of the races. Also I do over the five weeks two yoga classes, a decent amount of stretching, and got four deep tissue massages.
Bottom line, I felt like I struck a balance between not losing fitness and coming in recovered and well-rested. But maybe my body begs to differ, so doing it again I might limit it to only one run of longer than 2-3 hours at most. And maybe a few more days of non-running and cross-training after event one would be wise, too. On the other hand--getting to my second issue--I think for the forseeable future I might be best served waiting at least 2 months or more between races and recovering more fully. Something where you wouldn't need a whole 4- to 5-month buildup to 100 #2 of any given season but wouldn't be as susceptible to injury? Maybe something mixing in some multisport racing in the middle? Like a May/June 100 and then another in September or so next year?
Still, some year, maybe *after* I've finished two 100s in the same year a couple times (to do this was a goal I set back in 2009 and only made this year), I'd like to have a go at one of the many "slams" (see run100s.com) or a self-styled slam like I was trying to put together this year. I'll pencil it in on my "to do for age 55" calendar I guess!
So, my parting words for my beloved Bighorn are, you may have allowed me to grace your finish line twice in a row. Many thanks for that! But now you've occasioned (not caused) yet another challenge in my ultra career! And like the previous challenges, it'll take a lot of hard work, smart training, good strategy, and good old-fashioned luck to meet that challenge! But meet it I will! And come out of it stronger, smarter, and even happier! And I'm sure that gracing your glorious course will be a big part of that effort of running past this latest injury setback, ultimately a pebble on the path. Onward and upward, Bighorn, you continue to be a great inspiration! But it's little Mihiret who keeps me grounded, and who I turn to when I really need to draw inspiration and get through any tough times, and most of all keep them in perspective. Life is too good now to let this injury dampen the good spirits I drew on in this race!