June 15, 2013
After spending a week in Spain for a work conference, I spent 24 hrs in airplanes and airports and finally arrived home at 10:30 PM on Wednesday. Thursday morning I spent with Hannah and then finished up packing and hit the road with Ryan by 10:30 AM. We arrived in Sheridan to lush green scenery, near perfect 80 degree weather, and relatively small crowds at racer check-in and packet pickup. I weighed in, had my pulse ox and blood pressure measured and picked up my packet and race bib. I was awarded the luckiest of numbers:
Along route, I stopped for gas and got some adrenaline flowing when a forest service official almost backed into my car while I was pulling up to the gas pump (might have been partially my fault as I sort of snuck up to the pump, in between pumps). It could have been a rough morning, but luckily he saw me at the last minute and slammed on his brakes and then verbally scolded me because his "rig" was "tax payer's dollars".
Once finally briefed to excruciating detail on which streams have drinkable water, where crew should park, and what temps to expect, we then found logistical help for Ryan, my pacer, who wanted to leave the car at Dry Fork (mile 13 & 82) and catch a ride to Jaws trailhead (mile 48). We then had an hour to kill before race time where I began to get hungry for lunch and had a slight headache from not enough caffeine.
Finally 11 AM rolled around and the race began. I let almost all the runners go by and just started jogging way behind the pack. I settled in with another runner and enjoyed the first big climb. Here is a picture of the elevation profile collected by my watch during the race.
Bighorn Wild and Scenic Trail Run elevation profile as recorded by my watch. The blue line is my speed, so when it spikes, I was momentarily stopped. That shows where the aid stations are.
The first climb starts from the Tongue River and steeply climbs to 7500 ft. This is a good intro to the race because I could settle in to a relaxed hike. Soon we climbed out of the steep canyon into high wild and scenic meadows. It was really really beautiful and lived up to it's name.
I cruised into Dry Fork at a leisurely pace a good 20 mins ahead of my predicted split based on previous 33.5 hour finishers. I caught Ryan off guard as he was sitting next to a port-a-potty reading star wars. I switched from handheld bottles to my pack as planned and headed down the hill. Apparently from Dry Fork you can see the turn around point some 35 miles away. Maybe it's the snowy ridge over my right shoulder in the photo above. Maybe not.
The climb out of Footbridge was nice and gentle and I was hiking along as I knew I was well ahead (40 mins) of my planned splits. Just at dusk, Zach Miller came running downhill about 18 miles ahead of me. 20 minutes or so later I passed the would be winner. My focus was still on just taking it easy and getting to Jaws (mile 48) feeling good. Around 1 AM I arrived at Jaws and was 1hr38min ahead of my planned split. I sat down, changed shoes into my waterproof hokas, ate a donut that I put in my dropbag, downed a bottle of coconut water and headed back out with Ryan as a pacer. I was excited about having a pacer as I'd been running pretty solo for a good while.
Unfortunately most of this next section from 48 to 60 was too risky to really run much in the dark as it was rocky and sloppy. Around 4AM, the sky started glowing orange but wasn't light enough to run with out headlamp until 5 or so. I was finally able to pick up into a jog at times and then cruised back into Footbridge at mile 66 where I dumped my night clothes and gear and changed back into shorts/short sleeves.
I was well aware that the climb out of footbridge was very steep (and often thought to be the most difficult part of this race) but I continued to make pretty good time hiking up the hill with my hands on my quads.
At this point I felt that I had the finish in the bag because everything was still feeling really good, I was running well on the flatter sections and well in front of my planned times. However I noticed that if I could crank out a 6 hour final marathon, I would just break 30 hrs. That seemed like a nice round number and a good goal so I changed my pace from mellow and relaxed to pushing harder. I also started to get pretty tired here and kept looking forward to aid stations to grab a gulp of mountain dew.
After some more hidden turns and ups and downs, we arrived back at Dry Fork at 25h19m. After the medical check and swapping some gear, that left me 4h30m to run 17.5 miles to the finish. There is one more steep climb and a serious downhill and then 4 miles on a dirt road left. The Aid Station volunteer hassled me quite a bit here about hydration and when I'd last peed. I was less than worried about that and was more interested in getting outta there quickly. She made me drink a bottle of water before leaving and then I headed out, running solo again with a goal.
The final descent was outrageously steep and narrow and slowed me down quite a bit. My knee started to complain a little with this downhill so all I could do was run with modified stride and then stop and rest a bit. I saw so many snakes on this section that slithered away right before I planted my foot.
Eventually the steep slope mellowed and I was able to run normally again and my knee pain went away. I had 7.3 miles to go and 1h45m to break 30 hrs. I pushed hard but had to stop for a couple things along the way, was running low on food/energy, and really had to go to the bathroom. At 5 miles from the finish there was the last big aid station with public restrooms.
I continued to do pace math and eventually switched my watch over from low resolution GPS Ultratrac mode into normal mode and figured out that if I could run 13 min/miles for 5 more miles, I'd make it. I ran for a while at 11 min pace but quickly maxed my HR. I had to walk for a while then ran on and off but soon realized I didn't want it bad enough to make it in under 30. At this race the cutoff was 34 hrs so 30 was just a round nice number to shoot for. I felt extremely happy with the whole race and realized that there's no real additional benefit to breaking 30, plus I didn't know how accurately my timing and distance estimate were to the actual finish line so I just jogged it in and quit looking at my watch. I spent 1h09m in the main drop bag aid stations and lots of unaccounted time in the smaller aid stations, which may be something I should work on in the future. I'm pretty happy with fairly even splits of 14 hours out and 16 hours back considering the course is 4 miles longer on the way back. All in all, I think everything went perfectly for me in this race. No blisters, no injuries, no stomach issues, just a great run in some gorgeous mountains.
Thanks to Ryan for pacing and crewing me and for all the support from my family.