Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bighorn Trail 100-mile run Race Report

I failed in my attempts to enter this year’s Western States 100 and Hardrock 100 mile races—turned down flat because I had not yet completed a 100-mile race. Though three years ago I ran the 87-mile version of the Leadville 100, I was forced to drop out after my knees refused to carry me any further. Bottom line: I needed to run a hundred miles and the Bighorn 100 in the Bighorn National Forest near Sheridan Wyoming with no set criteria for entry met the bill. The race did eventually fill up, but that took a couple of months. I was in from the start.

Rebekka and I drove up from the Springs Thursday morning, the day before the race. After picking up my race packet in Sheridan we headed up Highway 14 to scout out the first crew access point (Dry Fork Headwaters Aide Station) and to find a camp site. We settled on a National Forest Campground a couple miles before Burgess Junction called Prune Creek. I had just about got the tent set up when a one-armed lady motored up in an ATV and unceremoniously told me we would have to move. “They were going to have to cut down trees due to the recent heavy rains and it would be unsafe for us to stay there.” I thought, well okay, assuming they would be working over a period of a couple of days. Just when I had dragged the tent over to a new site the workmen came up in a truck to start cleaning up the trees. One of them came over and said they would be finished in fifteen minutes and we could move back to our original site, which we did.

The race advertises itself as “Wild and Scenic” which is an understatement. The scenery is spectacular. The rock formations on the canyon walls date back to the Permian extinction with all subsequent geological eras represented. Know-nothing creationist bible thumpers eat your hearts out. The spectrum of our geological heritage is on display in the layers along these gorgeous canyons.

The race began along the Tongue River Canyon, then turned sharply uphill. My training partner Harry Harcrow and I ran together. Starting off conservatively we let a dozen or so runners take off ahead of us. On the uphill portion above Tongue River we steadily overtook 6 or 7 of them. Harry remarked, "This is a heckuva lot easier than the Incline", referring to our staple training ladder of the old Incline tracks that climb steeply for 1.06 miles above Manitou Springs. Once you have done the Incline everything else pales in comparison. I pulled in to Dry Fork, 13.4 miles, a few minutes ahead of Harry in 2 hours 28 minutes. Over the next stretch we mostly ran together all the way to Foot Bridge at 30 miles (5:30). I wasted too much time there changing shoes, losing and finding my watch, and general dilly dallying. The first woman pulled in to the aide station and left before I did. I finally left after 14 minutes, but Harry and Darcy Africa were long gone.

Along the three and a half miles to the next aide station, The Narrows, it was wet where the trail hugged the Little Bighorn River... I had little hope of catching Harry again, so I settled into a slower pace, but hopefully fast enough to reach the turn-around at 48 miles before it got too dark... After the Narrows the next aide station would be Spring Marsh. About halfway to Spring Marsh Jamie Gifford caught up and passed me. He later finished 5th overall. I kept him in sight and I think he was surprised when I caught up to him again at Spring Marsh. A lady at Spring Marsh told me I was in seventh place, but I had been keeping count and by my reckoning I would be in 11th at that point unless some people had dropped out. After the next aide station, Elk Camp, came the snow. There were about 8 or so patches of 25-50 yards of snow to plunge through over about a mile. The first and second place runners came by about this time separated by about 3 minutes. 30 minutes later and about five minutes before I reached Devil's Canyon Road (where Rebekka would meet me) Harry Harcrow was in solid third. At Devil's Canyon Road (47 miles) I dropped off everything with Rebekka, including my flashlight! It was getting dark... fortunately it was light enough that I was able to run the mile out and mile back to the turnaround at Porcupine Ranger Station. Back with Rebekka at Devil's Canyon Road again I put on jacket and gloves in anticipation of the long night ahead. It was a beautiful night--full starlit night, no moon--no wind, no rain. But it was a long night. I reached the Narrows just before 3 A.M. and Footbridge about 20 minutes to five. I forgot my flashlight at Footbridge and had to backtrack 100 yards to retrieve it. It was still too dark! The next three and a half miles to Bear Creek is the infamous "Wall", a steep uphill. Though it was hard, it was actually a resting time, because of the slower pace--I walked it.

After Bear Creek with the sun in the sky and 8 long miles to Cow Camp...lapsing into small hallucinations and in and out of consciousness I talked myself into allowing just stopping on the side of the trail for one second and closing my eyes for one second. I stopped, sat down, closed my eyes for one second--I am pretty sure it was only one second, got up and continued... I was not going fast... Where was everyone? Someone should surely have caught me by now. Only two runners had passed me from the turnaround until here... Then I saw three runners a couple hundred yards back...one would turn out to be a pacer, one was a woman, and the other was Paul Schoenlaub, who Harry had introduced me to very early in the race... They caught up and passed me before Cow Camp. When I reached Cow Camp they were all still there--I grabbed some food and left fast--they wouldn't catch back up to me for a couple of miles... then the long slog in the hot sun to Dry Fork and the next meeting point with Rebekka. Turns out she had not gone back to our camp site, but had driven straight to Dry Fork and slept in the car waiting for me. I think she expected me earlier, because she had run down to meet what she thought would be me 2 or 3 times already... My feet were a mess of blisters and hot spots... My ankle had started hurting the instant I had put on my second pair of shoes at Footbridge (mile 65) -- it was now red and swollen... 17.5 miles to go... I knew I would finish, but it would be hell... The sun was hot... I forgot to put on sunscreen... Rebekka ran back to get some... I was going slow enough that it was no problem... Now the 30K runners came from behind--they would run the same course to the finish... On the trail they would come behind me and say "excuse me", to which I would reply "which side", , I politely taught quite a few of them proper runner's etiquette -- simply say "on your left", and the runner can adjust and let you by. If you say "behind you" or "excuse me" that is not enough information... I was not moving very fast. Next up was "The Haul", a steep climb prior to the four-mile downhill to the Tongue River. Paul had told me about it and that it would only be about 20 minutes--I timed myself in 15 minutes--uphill was a lot easier than downhill at this stage...Oh the downhill... was excruciating...The Lower Sheep Creek Aide station would be at the bottom-- I hallucinated turning a big rock into an aide station tent--later a 30K woman came behind me and told me the aide station was just ahead--I didn't believe her even though she pointed out the tent--I thought it was another hallucination...

Rebekka met me again at the trailhead to pace me the final 5.3 miles to the finish line. 5.3 miles of flat gravel road. I had to walk. My left knee was shooting pain every time I tried to run. Where was the 1 mile to go sign? Was it around that bend? No. How much farther than that bend? Long ways. Rebekka kept me going at 15 minute walking miles. I wanted to get the deed done! She kept look out for any 100 milers coming up behind, though it didn't do any good when one did pass me. Nothing I could do about it. Finally with about half a mile to go the gravel road turned paved and when I tried running the pain was gone and I was able to run in to the finish... in 27 hours 34 minutes. My first 100-mile race.

Upper Sheep Creek 1:42:35 1:42:35

Dry Fork Headwaters 46:00 2:28:35

Out 2:32 2:31:08

Cow Camp 58:14 3:29:22

Bear Creek 1:25:57 4:55

Footbridge 25:00 5:30

Out 13:52 5:43:52

The Narrows 47:09 6:31:01

Spring Marsh 1:41:33 8:12

Elk Camp 59:35 9:12:10

Devil’s Canyon Road 1:29:04

Spring Marsh 2:48:47 13:30:02

The Narrows 2:11:41 15:41:43

Footbridge 1:09:35 16:51:19

Cow Camp 3:46:18 20:37:37

Dry Fork Headwaters 1:59:40 22:37:18

Upper Sheep Creek 1:35:08 24:12:27

Lower Sheep Creek 1:18:26 25:30:53

Out 2:54 25:33:47

Trailhead 39:22 26:13:09

Finish 1:21:21 27:34:31

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