Friday, 3 July 2015

Big Horn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run

Back in January when it was cold and dark and I was barely running 25 km/week, I  started to dream about what new adventures I want this year.  I finished my first 100 miler last year but I knew this year I didn't want to do another 100 right away.  I had finished a 50 miler in 2013 at Sulphur Springs and another in 2014 at Indiana Trail.  I thought before I tackle another 100 I should tackle a more challenging 50 mile course.  I knew I wanted a scenic run, and mountains.  My friend Oliver mentioned he was going to Wyoming to run the Big Horn 100 and that there was a 50 mile option and also he had already found a cabin that slept 7 to cut down on accommodation costs.  I started googling flights to Billings, Montana (closest airport) and then bit the bullet and signed up for the race.  I ramped up my training in February and was pretty consistent right to June. As usual I didn't do any extensive research about the race or course.  It was only much closer to the start date that I looked at the elevation profile and the cut off times and started to get worried and at that point I couldn't do much about it, my fitness and training were what they were.  I knew I had not done near enough hill training, but really living in Ontario it does make it challenging to prepare for the mountains.

Pre Race

June 17th I was up at 130 am (well before the alarm) I was full of energy, packed, cleaned the house, even finished the last half an hour of the Game of Thrones finale that I managed to fall asleep thru the night before.  I met my travelling companions Chantal and Oliver (both running the 100 miler) and my super Dad who got up early so we could save on parking and leave our cars at his work and he shuttled us to Pearson.  We took two easy flights and we were in Billings, Montana by lunch, rented a car and made the two hour drive south to Sheridan Wyoming.  Sheridan is cute little town with the mountains in the background, we found a place for lunch and tried some local beer.  I have recently stopped eating meat and didn't think about the challenges of this while travelling in cowboy country every salad had meat on it lol.  I opted for fajitas with no meat and didn't try the Rocky Mountain Oysters that were highly recommended from a colleague that used to work in Wyoming.

We found the cabin and settled in that afternoon.  I loved the cabin, it was peaceful and set right by a river.  The first night was just Chantal, Oliver and myself.  The next day we got our drop bags together and headed back to Sheridan to get our race kits and drop our bags off.  I got even more nervous as race official went over the course and cut offs with me.  That evening our other cabin guests arrived.  This was a great addition to the trip to meet so many great people and make new friends.  The next morning I dropped the four runners off for their 100 mile start 35 miles away in Dayton (also where the race finishes). They started at 11:00.  It was hot!  I then headed back to the cabin with a quick detour thru Sheridan to grab some beer lol.  I did a quick shake out run (pre beer), where I was sweating and fatigued (just adding to my nerves) then relaxed by the river with a beer and the neighbors bull dog.  I was joined later by Leslie and Angela who were much more ambitious than me and hiked 3 miles to cheer the 100 milers on their first climb.  We had an early dinner and bedtime and were up at 2 am the next morning to get to the start on time. My stomach was full of butterflies on race morning, on the 35 mile drive to Dayton, I cranked the radio and embraced the country music as a distraction.  We met the bus at the Dayton high school and got our preferred front seats to minimise the nausea with the early morning school bus ride up the mountain.  At 530 we reached Jaws trail head, the start of our race and the turn around point for the 100 milers.  It was a beautiful morning, but a little chilly.  I made good use of the pit toilets before the start, always such a relief, (its never fun to try take care business first thing in a race lol)  In the aid station tent we saw our cabinmate Kevin, he had finished the 50 miles but couldn't continue and was being looked after by the medical volunteers, I felt bad that he couldn't finish his race and it also made me nervous for the course ahead.

Jaws  8 800 feet to Elk Camp 7430 4.5 miles

After the Star Spangled Banner was sung by a gentleman in a cowboy hat we were off.  I set off at a conservative pace, but still felt like my legs were lead and that I was breathing harder than I should be.  It was beautiful out the sun had come up over the mountains and the views were incredible.  The trail was open at first and muddy in sections, we had our first creek crossing.  I don't remember a lot from this section, I was still a bundle of nerves and trying to find my legs.  I made it to the aid station just before an hour.  I had a little cheat sheet on me to remember the distances between aid stations and cut off times.  At this aid station there were a lot of horses, I think they pack in most of the supplies.  I grabbed a quick drink and kept moving.

Elk Camp 7430 feet to Spring Marsh 6929 feet 8 miles

I started trying to relax in this section and chatted to some other runners.  The scenery was amazing, we ran single track thru fields with wild flowers and had mountains surrounding us.   I guess I was finally starting to relax when I caught my foot on a rock while running downhill and took a pretty bad tumble.  Luckily no injury and it woke me up a little.  I made into Spring Marsh right on "my schedule" and again didn't waste too much time there and carried on.

Spring Marsh 6929 feet to Narrows 5080 feet 14.5 miles

I was still feeling really good, but my feet had gotten pretty wet with the mud and I could feel my feet getting sore from the wet socks and the constant sliding in my shoe from so much downhill running, I was starting to get worried about a blister but figured I'd wait to check until I got into the narrows aid station.  I think in this section we did get a little bit of canopy which was nice because the sun was starting to get hot and we lost almost 2000 feet in just 6.5 miles.   I came to the aid station it was along the river and they had nice cold spring water to drink.  I checked my feet and they actually looked pretty good and I knew they'd make it the 3.5 miles to the next aid station and my drop bag.

Narrows 5080 feet to Foot Bridge 4590 feet 18 miles

I really enjoyed this section, partly because now I was almost an hour ahead of the cut off and I was happy my feet were looking good.  Also it was pretty rolling single track and then we ran on the side of canyon I guess, it was rocky and technical and we overlooked the whitewater river below.  I met a runner from Wyoming doing his first 50 miles so we chatted thru most of this section.  I got into footbridge an hour and 15 minutes ahead of the cut off.  This was a major aid station lots of runners and volunteers, but it was super organised.  A chair and my drop bag were waiting I took off my wet socks and soaked my feet in the ice water provided, it was great to soak them and clean them and got them nice and dry and applied some more lubricant and fresh socks.  I grabbed my food out of the aid station and left.  My feet felt like I just started the race.

Foot Bridge 4590 to Bear Camp 6800 feet 21.5 miles

Out of foot bridge you start heading up.  At first I was happy with the change of pace, I had pretty much run the entire 18 miles and was happy to change up to a hiking pace for a little bit and take some calories in.  But then the climb just got steeper and hotter and seemed to never end.  I followed a fellow Canadian from Lethbridge AB, for a little bit but then I started feeling a bit dizzy and nauseated and my heart rate and respiratory rate seemed to be too fast for a hiking effort.  I paused for a moment to catch my breath and continued the climb on my own.  The 3.5 miles took me an hour and 15 minutes to complete.  When I arrived at bear camp I was craving cold pop but this was a limited aid station so settled for some cold fresh spring water.

Bear Camp 6800 feet to Cow Camp 6600 feet 28.5 miles

The elevation barely changed but this was the longest stretch without an aid station and it was getting to the heat of the day.  The track was single track with rolling hills, but it was rolling hills at almost 7000 feet after a long climb.  I felt like I should be able to run everything, but my legs told a different story, this stretch seemed super long and slow and I had lost my rhythm, also I barely saw any other racers.  I didn't lament too much and took the opportunity to slow down and since it was almost lunch time I took in some more calories.  This approached worked and started getting my energy back.  By the time I reached a big climb before Cow Camp I was feeling good.  This aid station was great fully stocked with food, including potatoes fried in bacon grease and beer.  I took a little more time here and made sure I ate some potatoes and stopped for a picture (the beer would have to wait)  

Cow Camp 6600 feet to Dry Forks 7480 feet 34.5 miles 

These six miles went by really well I think it took me an hour and 15 minutes, it was rolling hills and again I tried to run most of it and hiked the bigger up hills.  There was a long climb up to dry forks, but I had a huge smile on my face the whole time because I was over an hour ahead of the hard cut off of 4pm.  This was another huge aid station, here I had like four volunteers helping just me. Again I soaked my feet and as I was doing this I was brought a slice of pizza.  I was chatting to volunteers and one of the volunteers was from Toronto too and ended up she is the guide runner for one of the runners I help guide on the Avon Trail thru run in April.  I love the ultra running community and how small it can be.  I changed my socks one last time and grabbed my remaining calories from my last drop bag and headed out.

Dry Forks 7480 feet to Upper Sheep 7450 39.5  miles

From here the trail opened up and was more jeep road and rolling hills.  It was very runnable, I was tired but feeling good relatively speaking.  After Cow Camp I started using my i pod and it really helped me.  On training runs I usually stick with audio books and podcasts, but I was too focused on the trail and looking after myself that I wouldn't been able to concentrate on listening to podcasts.  At home I had started a "big horn" playlists and then forgot to finish it.  So I had only 13 songs.  I thought oh well I will listen to the playlist and then switch to shuffle after.  But for some reason I liked the predictability of the songs and the songs themselves so I listened to the same 13 songs for the remainder of the race.  It was almost like I was having a running mediation lol.  Heading to the aid station I passed two 50 mile woman, but they ran thru the aid station, I didn't really care, I made sure to stop and get a few more calories and cold drinks, here I chose salted watermelon, but put a little too much salt on and almost threw up lol.

Upper Sheep 7450 to Lower Sheep  5025  feet 44.5 miles

After this aid station, there was a creek crossing and one last major climb called "the wall".  I caught up to the runners that I had run thru the last aid station and we started climbing, again my heart was beating super fast and I stopped for a brief moment half way up to catch my breath.  After this hard effort it was so worth it. Over the top was the best view of the day, we came into a big bowl, surrounded by mountains, wild flowers and amazing views again.  Here we started our descent to the finish.  The trail was narrow and steep.  The descent seem to go on forever, thank God my quads were still working. We passed many 100 milers moving quite slow and I even passed one runner doing the descent backwards probably because their quads wouldn't engage anymore.  About 2/3 down the descent my cabinmate Leslie caught me.  Her energy was infectious, she is an experienced mountain runner and she passed by me and I saw how you should run descents, but  I continued at my conservative pace.  I met up with her again at the next aid station as she took the time to cool off in the creek.  It was definitely hot out!


Lower Sheep 5025 feet to Tongue River 4240 46.5 miles

From here we had finished the major descent and headed out along the canyon, I was getting super hot and tired.  I was starting to wish the race would finish and looking longingly at the cool whitewater river to my right and wishing I could just take a raft to the finish.  I was starting to daydream about the river at the finish line.  I checked myself and reminded myself to look around and take in the views because shortly I would be on dirt road again heading back to town.  Close to the aid station I met up with Leslie again and we agreed to run in the last miles together.   At the aid station we got sprayed with water and grabbed cans of ice cold pop and I put ice in my bandanna and we started walking out drinking are cold pop and laughing trying to make the best of the last few hot miles.  Soon we started our slow trot down the road.


Tongue River 4240 feet to Homestretch 4040 feet 49 miles .....Finish line  3970 feet 52 miles 

Along the road we kept up our steady shuffle and I insisted on walking anything that look like an up lol, Homestretch aid station came soon enough and as promised had freezies (amazing) and hoses, the young girl sprayed me pretty hard and I got water up my nose.  Fueled by freezies I carried on and could taste the finish line, unfortunately I think my stomach could too and after 12 hours and the heat and lots of gels it couldn't make it to the finish, I made a quick pit stop in ditch with barely any cover except Leslie guarding and telling the three male runners we just overtook "nothing to see here", with that business taken care of we made a steady run "shuffle" to the finish.  We crossed the line 12:34 I think, well below my A goal of 13 hours and way below my 'B' goal of "I hope I don't get pulled for missing a cutoff".  The river I had been dreaming of I couldn't get in fast enough and felt amazing!!!

The finish line had lots of food and it was great to go back to the cabin after and chill out with everyone and have a few beers.  The race put on a great pancake breakfast the next day in Sheridan and we got to meet more runners and see Chantal get her first 100 mile buckle.  We headed home Monday.  I am feeling pretty good and should be ready for Fat Dog 50 mile in August.

I think I used 3 GU packets about 12 gels, 3 granola bars, handful of potatoes, tiny slice of pizza, handful of watermelon, and a few packs of honey stinger jujubes and pop when available.

(Please don't judge too harshly lol)
Rock me gently -Andy |Kim
El Condor Pasa- Simon and Garfunkel
America-Simon and Garfunkel
Against the Wind-Bob Seger & the Silver bullet band
After the Gold Rush- KD Lang
The Boxer-Simon and Garfunkel
Carefree Highway-Gordon Lightfoot
Chariots of Fire-Vangelis
Closer to Fine-Indigo Girls
Criminal-Fiona Apple
Fast Car-Tracy Chapman
Helpless- KD Lang
Here comes the sun-The Beatles

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