Monday, February 16, 2015

Hagg Lake 50K



It’s been a few years since I’ve run Hagg Lake, but the lack of mud in my life in arid Colorado finally got to me. Unfortunately, the weather gods decided to give Oregon a week of sunshine without rain and, tragically, the course was relatively dry. No mud-slicked hills, no careening around corners, just a few muddy, wet spots here and there. Most sane people would say that’s great, but really, this course and race is the best when it’s a slog-fest the whole way. 

I also love Hagg Lake because it’s one of those early-season races that brings out good competition every year. This year I toed the line with the likes of Tom Brooks, Jeff Browning, Jason Lemon, and Neil Olsen, and for the first time got to experience the race way up front.

It all starts with a 3 mile out-and-back up a 1,000 foot hill on a muddy gravel road. As always, the pace was enthusiastic, but it was a good way to feel out who was in the running. I stuck with a lead pack of 6 guys on the hill and then tucked into formation as we started the first lap around the lake. The first section after the out-and-back is always a bit of whiplash as you’re thrust onto the steep rolling hills and hairpin corners of the trail as it hugs the rugged coastline of Hagg Lake. The mud was conspicuously absent, with wet leaves and wooden bridges proving more of a challenge for footing.

 First lap around the lake, photo by ORRC's official photographer.

At the 8 mile Dam aid station, Jeff and Jason made a fast break down the hill and I gave chase, with Tom Brooks close behind. This was the definitive move that split this lead pack from the rest of the racers. It got pretty conversational here as we navigated through mossy forests, green meadows, and the occasional drainage creek that had washed over the trail. Shortly after the 13 mile aid station at Tanner Creek, things got a little less conversational as everyone sized each other up and thought about making a push into the second lap. Instead of a tight formation, we were becoming more elastic, with Tom Brooks leading the charge and absolutely floating over each hill. It was already clear he was going to have a good day and we weren’t even halfway through.

Jeff and I were first through the start/finish to kick off the second lap, and he pushed hard to pull into the lead. Tom passed me not a few minutes later and disappeared into the twisty singletrack. I kept stealing glimpses of both of them ahead, but I knew I needed to hold my pace steady or else I’d crash. Jason and I kept within a close distance of each other until the Dam aid station, where he pulled ahead. From here on out, we’d stay separated by about a minute.

 Lead pack, yikes.

The last two sections, from the Dam at mile 21 to Tanner at mile 26, and from Tanner to the finish at mile 31, were lonely and really, really hurt. I got a little bit dizzy and realized I hadn’t been super diligent with water or gel. I was toying with a bonk and it felt awful, but I did what you have to do and just pushed through it. Of course, when you have to scramble up steep 100 foot hills and immediately run back down over wet leaves and mud, arms flailing wildly, the extra effort doesn’t get you much in the pace department.

As I neared Tanner I could see Jason just ahead and Neil closing the gap behind me. This was a panicked stretch of trail as we all realized that 3rd-5th were up in the air. I ate an extra gel at Tanner and got the heck out of there as fast as I could, and pushed really hard up until the last mile, trying my best to make up time on Jason and hold Neil off.

But not all goes to plan. If I had fueled better over the previous section I might’ve been able to push harder, but trying to make up a calorie deficit while simultaneously kicking it in doesn’t work forever. I hit the sloppy mud along the lake in that last mile and really started to get sluggish. The mud had started to dry out in the now warm morning sun and every step was like trying to pull my foot out of thick molasses. Soon I was running with an extra couple of pounds caked on each shoe. In my totally trashed state I had serious trouble producing any sort of forward momentum as I careened to and fro through the mud. Neil worked his way past me and we exchanged some words about that darn mud, and how ridiculous this last stretch always feels, but as hard as I tried, I just couldn’t hang on to him. 

 There was in fact some mud out there, photo by ORRC's official photographer.

I finally mustered a little kick through the dry, twist singletrack into the finish and gave myself a soft landing on the grass hill just feet past the finish line. My feet and ankles were so toasted that I could barely stand up. It’s not often that a race so short can leave you so destroyed, but such is Hagg Lake.

At any rate, this was a good way to start the year. For a while I tried to just race the longer stuff but I’ve realized that 50K’s are one of the most valuable distances to throw in the race schedule. I feel like I’ve relearned pacing and nutrition (hey, no stomach problems or bathroom issues this time) and I got to run with some really cool folks.

The finish times tell a story: 3:47:21, 3:51:29, 3:56:22, 3:56:43, 3:57:04, 3:58:21, 4:09:43…Tom and Jeff took first and second with decent margins, and 3-6th were within 2 minutes of each other and a full 11 minutes ahead of 7th, which was another 7 minutes ahead of 8th. Seriously unreal in a trail 50K to have that intense of a lead pack.

Pace for the first 17 miles: 7:11
Pace for the last 13 miles: 7:35
Elevation gain: 4000ft
Time: 3:57:04
Place: 5th

North Face 50 Mile Championship



Capping off a disappointing year with a mediocre race isn’t exactly the sort of thing you look forward to, but I’d rather try and fail than never try at all. Of course, losers whine about trying to do their best (or so Sean Connery said), so I’ll just say that this year is one big series of lessons.

Number 1: gastrointestinal issues have become the main obstacle for me when racing. Ultras are in part a test of your ability to refuel over long distances, so it should present some difficulty. This race was really a kicker, as you’ll read, so I’ve decided to finally give in and go the route numerous others have and just take Imodium before the start. It’s not an issue with my stomach – I had no sloshing or anything like that, so my hydration and amount of calories ingested is fine – it’s just one really messed up GI tract.

Number 2: an Achilles injury takes a long time to heal. I’ve been dealing with it for nearly 2 years now, and it has been healing. Slowly. I still felt it at North Face, albeit for a short 4 mile stretch, but it’s amazing to me that it can be so insidious and crop up when you least expect it. If you ever feel a stiff or sore Achilles, back off immediately or prepare for years of physical therapy and sub-par racing.

So, the race. I hit the porta-potty at every aid station; it’s not possible to just run faster between aid stations to make up for the hour you waste crapping water away. It’s also quite hard to stay hydrated when you are losing copious amounts of water to the blue-brown depths. This probably comes off as gross, but I think it’s better to be honest and just illustrate how much of an issue your butt can be during a long race.
Besides this, I had a good time when I was able to actually run. I love the Marin Headlands. The trails are just technical enough in spots to keep you on your toes, but they are infinitely runnable.

Not a great race, barely scraping in under 9 hours, but whatever.

 Fighting a rebellious stomach around mile 12, photo by Nate Dunn.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Blue Sky



After taking second place for two years in a row, I finally landed a win at the Blue Sky Marathon this year.
This year, more than ever, I went in with some iffy training. I had run all summer, focusing on long outings with lots of vert and doing very little in the way of speedwork. This was all in preparation for the Bighorn 100 and Leadville 100, the former of which went well and the latter of which…well, didn’t go very far before I pulled out with early symptoms of a hernia.

I had taken a month off of running, from mid-August to mid-September, but I had done at least one Tower’s time trial. Add in a century ride up to Estes Park the weekend before and I was skating a fine line between being modestly prepared and totally out of racing shape.

It’s amazing what a long period of rest does for you, though. You reanalyze your training, your attitude toward racing, and your strategy. I realized I’d been playing things far too conservatively during the last year of racing, in the process screwing up my race-day nutrition and finishing races without the satisfaction of having really pushed myself to the limit. I think it’s far too easy to overthink racing, because in the end it’s still just running. You should just go.

So I showed up Sunday and threw it down from the starting line. It was cool but not cold at the start, which predictably involved a sprint down the Soderberg trail that I willfully indulged in. There was someone way out front but I happily settled into second on the way up Towers. I kept the pace relaxed up the first few steep pitches while others pushed around me and I drifted back a bit. However, by the Herrington turnoff I’d moved back into second behind Kory. From there until the Stout turnoff onto Towers I kept close behind him. I took the lead for about 20 seconds until Tony stormed past. I gave chase and kept him within sight on the way back to the start/finish area.

 Running or...crashing...down Stout trail less than an hour into the race. Photo by Erin Bibeau.

The Blue Sky trail on the way out always seems so easy, but it’s easy to overwork yourself there. I let Tony build a lead on me until he was basically out of sight behind the many switchbacks and rocky outcroppings, wanting to bank some energy for the return trip.

By Indian Summer North Tony was about 2 minutes ahead of me, and I was 2 minutes ahead of Kory. On the way up Indian Summer Tony pulled ahead even further, but I managed to reel him back in a bit on the descent after a quick pee break.

The Devil’s Backbone section was unnaturally hot. When I crested the short scramble up the ridge I could feel the slickrock and jagged boulders heating up fast. I’ve never been great at running on this section, with its tricky footing and abrupt drops off rock ledges, but I settled into what could be called a groove and, soon enough, started catching glimpses of Tony once again. By the time we started climbing back up to the ridgeline he was only 45 seconds ahead.

He’d grow that lead for the moment, though. I had to stop at Indian Summer South and chug ice water. I left the aid station with one gel’s worth left in my flask and popped that just before the climb. I also sprayed my head with ice water and it was like I lit a fire inside. 

I went to work on that hill and passed Tony about halfway up the switchback-y section near the aid station. When I hit the meandering contour trail on top of the hillside I really started to open it up. My stop at Indian Summer North was just to refill with Tailwind and head on out. I could still see Kory and Tony in the distance, but I had momentum.

And very little energy. With about half an hour left to go and only a bottle of Tailwind, I was redlining the whole way back. As always, the Blue Sky trail back to the finish is psychologically torturing and physically demanding, despite the shallow grade. Because of the jarring, jackknife curves and abrupt, rolling terrain, there’s no way to tell how much of a lead you may or may not have. Horsetooth Rock, looming in the distance, never seems to get much closer, either.

I knew I had it in the bag when I looked back at the tunnel under the highway and saw no one behind me. It wasn’t going to be a battle over the last hundred yards, but I was still going to finish strong. Crossing the line in first after two years of near-misses was exciting, but it did feel like it had an asterisk next to it. I had a real slow winning time and my slowest finish at this race. 

Blue Sky: the only race where you can win a corgi. Photo from the Coloradoan.

I think I need to look back on this past year and try to learn from it, because not a lot went right. But at least I can say I ran Blue Sky with the intensity that I’d been lacking all year, and I’m just happy to be in the mix again.
 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Leadville DNF

Briefly noted because this year's Leadville was also unsuccessful.

I will note that arriving 5+ days before the race, I had no issues breathing and keeping a pace at altitude. So I did at least one thing right. I also slammed back 40 gels by Twin Lakes inbound, which has got to be a PR for gel consumption per mile.

But not all of that gel stayed down. Oh no. I was taking the early miles to May Queen very conservatively to ensure I didn't go out too hard, but by the time I reached the aid station I was slowing down for a very different reason - about 3 bathroom breaks only 2 hours into the race. Seriously, I had to make 2 pit stops on the trail around Turquoise Lake and 1 at the aid station porta-potty. It's not a negligible loss of time - each time involved hiking through the thick underbrush about 100 feet from the trail, digging a hole, taking care of business, and packing up. Each stop was 5 or 7 minutes. This would continue all the way to Winfield. Something was just not sitting right.

Even worse was the puking. After May Queen I had started to work my way up through the field; I was somewhere around 100th at May Queen and was in 71st by the bottom of Powerline, and between there and Outward Bound I had dropped another 10 or so runners. But on the descent on Powerline I had to stop for a minute and go through a few waves of dry heaves that left the taste of stomach acid in my mouth.

I was feeling nauseated at Treeline, and not even a mile out of the crew area I stopped dead in my tracks and spewed forth a mix of gel and orange water. I had to undo the straps on my bottle pack because the muscle contractions were so intense. This happened about 5 times on the way to Twin Lakes, but through it all I continued to pass people. In fact, it took me 1:50 to go from Treeline (27) to Twin Lakes (39.5), which was a fantastic pace. Basically, puking and shitting be damned, I'm still going to race.

I got to Twin Lakes feeling good; I ate a sandwich and got the hell out of there.

Leaving Twin Lakes at 40.5 miles. Photo by VFuel Endurance.

I really love the climb up Hope Pass on the way out. There's the river rushing on your right, a lush forest all around that shields you from the sun, and wildflowers above treeline that color the valley purple and blue. But something felt really off in my bladder on this climb, and it became very apparent on the descent into Winfield.

Weighing in at 6 pounds under starting weight, I parked myself down and drank a couple of pounds of water and some broth. At this point I figured that the bladder pain was from dehydration. My pacer Brad got me going on a good pace down the contour trail to the start of the climb, and we actually passed a number of folks on the climb up the backside of Hope Pass. I was trying to rehydrate on the climb as best as I could, but the pain wasn't going away. Not getting worse, just staying the same.

And then we started the descent to Twin Lakes. About halfway down Hope Pass, every time I needed to juke around a rock or tried to pick up the pace, I could feel a sharp stabbing pain on the left side of my bladder. At this point, all I could say was that I was still eating.

I sat down at Twin Lakes exhausted and defeated. I tried to put back some food but was feeling really nauseated. I laced up fresh shoes for the trip up Mount Elbert and stopped in at the medical area to get the bladder issue checked out. I was hoping that they'd have some remedy for whatever was going on.

And after getting the separate opinion of two medical doctors, I had to pull out. Both diagnosed a developing or very early hernia. I'm 25, there's no freaking way I'm going to risk requiring surgery for a full-blown hernia for a race, no matter how much preparation went into it.

Their inclination was that the sheer amount of vomiting I experienced may have been the culprit.

I'm still trying to process all of this, because it was such a wild end to what could have been a wicked come-from-behind race. Honestly, who gets a hernia at a 100? Who even thinks about that as a possibility? I think I've been hit by one of those things that basically cannot be prepared for; all you can be prepared to do is accept what's happening and make the right decision. Even if there was a 10% chance of that hernia getting worse, I don't think it would have been worth it. This wasn't an overuse injury that I could limp home with; this was, literally, my intestines pushing through my abdominal wall. Hell no, man, hell no.

I'll be back next year, as always. And rather than walking away with my tail between my legs, I'm going to take a hard look at my training and racing schedule. I need solid time off right now for a number of reason - not the least of which to make sure my colon doesn't fly out of my chest.

Thanks to my pacers and crew for coming out, and I hope I can see you all again next year. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Bighorn 100



I’ve been in a slump for a while with the 100 mile distance. After an incredible 18:10 Badger Mountain 100 in March last year, I DNF’ed Bighorn and Leadville last summer and dropped down to the 50 miler at Badger Mountain this year. I think a combination of overtraining, poor recovery and eating, and some hubris got the better of me.

Bighorn this year was redemption for me. I came into it with a renewed sense of respect for the distance and, over the course of 27 hours, found my will to run again. 

The race is, to put it mildly, a bit of a monster. An out-and-back starting at the mouth of the Tongue River Canyon in Dayton, WY, runners ascend the Sheep Creek drainage from 3,000 to about 8,000 feet, descend the Dry Fork canyon to 4,000 feet, and then ascend the Bighorn River canyon to 9,000 feet, where they turn around, retracing their steps to finish at Scott Park in Dayton. The surface is a mix of dirt jeep track, rough singletrack, elk/game trail, and some bushwhacking across the tundra near the turn-around. The climbs and descents are big, sustained efforts.

The start of the race was hot this year, hotter than I remember. I opted to go shirtless with the UD SJ pack and use a bandana soaked in water to keep cool. I kept it real easy through the canyon and up the first climb to Horse Creek Ridge, making sure I was drinking and fueling enough to offset the stress of the heat. I was in good spirits at Dry Fork as I ripped down the steep descent into the valley, but I was soon feeling the heat radiating off the dry, dusty jeep track. 

Rolling down from Dry Fork with the Fort Golden Boulder pack. Courtesy of Foto-Sport.

The descent to Footbridge at mile 30 was relatively uneventful, as the early miles should be. I was getting calories in and staying somewhat cool despite the searing sun overhead. When I got into the shade of the trees near the bottom of the canyon I saw a lot of folks dragging on the downhill, and upon entering the aid station saw a pack of runners who had dropped due to the heat and were waiting for a ride out. 

I chugged along up the climb to the turn-around, beginning to notice that something wasn’t quite right. I was having trouble deciphering what other runners were saying to me, but I figured it might just be ear-fatigue from wearing headphones for the past 6 hours. The climb to Spring Marsh seemed to last forever, and I was getting worried as the sun kept disappearing behind the canyon wall; I had banked on getting into Jaws before nightfall, so I started to push the pace. At Spring Marsh I barely stopped for broth before pushing on around the corner into the numerous creek crossings and waterlogged trails ahead.

 Modern cowboy. Courtesy of Foto-Sport.

I made it to Elk Camp just as the sun dipped below the horizon. I was still shirtless, but the cold wind blowing down the mountainside convinced me to lace up my rain jacket and get some warm ramen at the aid station. The aid station captain pointed out some elk on the far hillside, and it took me more than a moment to focus on them – again, an obvious sign that something was up, but for someone who was dead-focused on making it to the turn-around as fast as possible, I didn’t spare a second to think things through.

The trail up to the turn-around was soggy as usual, with plenty of shoe-sucking mud and snow drifts to get my feet soaked. The creek crossings near the top of the climb were so obnoxious that I just plowed through them, abandoning any attempt to keep my feet remotely dry. It was getting dark in the stands of pine trees but I could still make out the trail just fine. It was only when I hit the gently-sloping tundra at the top of the climb that it got too dark to make out much detail, and I started running glow-stick to glow-stick.

I made it to the aid station just as the horizon transitioned from blue to black. Triumphantly entering the tent, I promptly threw back two quesadillas and a red bull, loaded up my pack, grabbed my head lamp, and got the hell out of there. I was anxious about getting too comfortable in the warm tent, and didn’t want to give myself time to think about the night ahead – just get out and do it! Unfortunately, that meant that I was still ignoring the warning signs of dulled senses.

After a few miles of running I was beginning to stumble around a bit, especially through the mud. A nearby flash lit up the clouds and the trees, with thunder following only a second or two later – a thunderstorm had parked itself over the turn-around and started dumping rain. The once-dry patches of dirt trail turned to slick mud. I was starting to have trouble convincing myself to eat gels, which usually go down just fine this late in a race. 

Elk Camp was like the medical tent at an army outpost – full of sullen faces, people sitting dejected by the fire, being tended to by some college students who had volunteered for a night full of fun. I cruised through there pretty fast, hoping to just get the hell out of this weather and off the mountain. 

Stumbling over rocks and tufts of grass, I landed into a seat at Spring Marsh and felt my vision spinning – not good. I put back a couple of cups of soup and a gel and still felt terrible. My right foot was starting to feel weird, too. It wasn’t in pain, but it felt like the skin in my arch was coming loose from the rest of the foot. Whatever, screw it, just keep plowing through the darkness down the mountain so you can change out of these muddy, water-logged shoes and socks. 

You can only ignore problems in a 100 for so long. I thought I was handling things but I was really just pushing them to the back of my mind. It’s a hard lesson that I’m not going to forget soon: it doesn’t matter if you keep running, because sooner or later, if you don’t fix those little problems, they will eat you alive.

Which is what happened. Not long after Spring Marsh, I started to lose it. I heard voices around me and kept swinging the spotlight of my headlamp wildly. After a while I realized something was wrong with my hydration – I had been drinking, right? Right. I had been eating salty stuff. I tried the ultimate, fool-proof test: I imagined myself eating broth, eating a gel, and drinking some pure, cold water. The first got my taste buds working, the second sounded mediocre, and the thought of water absolutely made me want to heave. I had hydrated plenty during the heat of the day and the climb, sure, but I was 99% sure that I had somehow skimped on salt and gotten hyponatremic. That would explain the fuzzy brain, the stumbling, the voices…only later would I learn that the Hammer electrolyte caps at the aid stations had about 1/3 of the salt as S-caps, which is what I typically use. Instead of putting back 1-2 pills per hour, I needed 4-6 to get what I was used to. Totally in my control, but when you don’t pay attention, even for a minute, things can go south.

So there I am, stumbling downhill to Footbridge like an idiot, in the dark, barely able to think straight. I can feel my foot starting to hurt, which is of course a bad sign – it’s a sharp, deep pain, but not muscular. When I hit the aid station I grab a seat at a chair with a tub of water and a towel. I gingerly remove my shoe, then my sock, and find a nasty, shriveled foot with a big crack running right down the center of my arch. And it’s oozing some pinkish, brownish goop.

Don’t panic. I slam back some pancakes with syrup and a couple of cups of broth and get my head straight. I need to get a hold of this foot before it takes me out of the race. I clean the crack and slather everything in Vaseline. With dry shoes and socks and a pack full of food I head out into the darkness again, across the bridge and up the impossibly steep climb up to Bear Camp aid station – “The Wall”.

The Wall was where I realized I was in for it. I had barely enough energy to stagger upward. The hyponatremia had killed my apetite so much that I was running on empty. I tried in vain to eat gels on the climb but they did nothing. Just as I was losing the will to keep moving, I looked back down the canyon to the Montana border and saw the sky turn crimson from the approaching sun. The tan and ochre striations of the Dry Fork canyon wall began to emerge from the darkness and the stars overhead faded. And I thought to myself, how often do you get to experience the absolute peace and serenity of being alone on the trail in the wilderness before the dawn? At that moment I stopped caring about the burning in my legs, the pain in my foot, anything – and I picked up the pace.

I hit Bear Camp and had broth, and coffee, and hot chocolate, and some salty-as-hell chips, and I started the long haul up the rolling hills to Cow Camp. My foot was really killing me and I started to notice that my…two members between my thighs were really, really chafed, burning with every step. I had another marathon’s worth of distance to cover with these two maladies, and I heard that voice in my head tell me to stop. But I knew that the pain would be gone soon after the race, so I decided then and there to slog it out, no matter how long it would take. At this point, my 24-hour time goal was going to be impossible after the hyponatremia and the hobbled foot, but finishing was totally in the cards if I kept myself moving.

At Cow Camp I had the medical volunteer take a look at my foot while I gorged on bacon and fried potatoes. He thought there was some nerve damage around the somewhat-closed gash, given the pattern of swelling and raw skin, and told me I could always hitch a ride back to Dry Fork in their ATV. No thanks, the only way I’m finishing this race is by crossing the line.

The sun was up, so I shed my jacket and ran in the cool morning air through fields of wildflowers covered in dew. I was feeling a little queasy but I was happy to just be in the sun again. Until I hit the dirt road back up to Dry Fork. It was 8:30 in the morning and the dirt was starting to cook. As was my skin. Without sunglasses or my bandana (which I had shed in a drop bag earlier) I was pretty exposed to the relentless sun.

As I crested a hill I saw something running ahead of me out of the corner of my eye – a moose! She was galloping ahead to the road where…her calf was parked under an overgrown bush. Oh no. Not now. I was so tired I knew that if she charged I was going to be totally screwed. I unlatched my emergency whistle, stood still, and ate a gel, waiting until she decided to herd her kid off the road. Seriously lady, I’m tired and sick and weigh about 1/5 of your weight – do I look like I’m a threat?

After that thrilling episode, I made it to Dry Fork totally exhausted despite eating my fill at Bear Camp. And I soon found out why. I ate a breakfast burrito while Celeste tended to my feet. She washed them off, dressed them with Vaseline, and put on my dry socks while I chomped down to try to get my energy levels back. But instead of feeling better I felt worse. And worse. And then it came up – the burrito, broth, gels, chunks of potatoes, bits of bacon. I hadn’t digested anything I ate for the past couple of hours. No wonder I felt like crap since sunrise.

 Entering the pain cave at mile 87, near Upper Sheep Creek inbound. Courtesy of Foto-Sport.

But then I felt amazing! I tied my laces, grabbed some soda, and got the hell out of Dry Fork. I had gotten so stiff that I started walking, and when I finally could, I started running again. And I looked around at the trees and the creeks and the fields of wildflowers filling the contours of the mountains around me. I found an ounce of happiness on that searing, white gravel road up to Sheep Creek and never let it go.

Passing 30K and 50K runners left and right, I rolled right into the thick of the Upper Sheep Creek aid station and starting eating everything in sight – potatoes, gel shots in cups, fruit. The volunteer running the station was hurrying me along as he filled my bottles with ice water and soda. And then I was off, headed to the final climb up to Horse Creek Ridge. As the trail turned impossibly steep I grunted and heaved myself forward until I finally crested the hill and saw the entire Sheep Creek drainage sprawl out below me, rocks and trees and wildflowers funneling down the steep hillside to the Tongue River canyon far below. In the distance, I could see the town of Dayton, still miles away, but in sight. 

It was hot and the downhill running ripped at my sore arch and pounded my blisters. I could feel my big toes going numb and my head burning but I threw it all to the wind and just ran. I hit the Lower Sheep Creek aid station with 8 miles to go and said not a word to anyone. I was so ready to be done, trying hard to hold onto that determination and drive it home, that I didn’t want to lose focus for a second. I filled my bottles and, on the way out, drenched my head in the creek. 

Everything was mechanical instinct. Take a gel. Take a sip of water. Squirt water on head. Sip soda. Feel the pain. Feel the heat. Ignore. 

Trees, other runners, rocks, the raging river – everything was just a blur. It felt like I was warping through time. My form was fluid but every step took tremendous strength. I lofted myself over the rocky outcroppings toward the end of the trail and plowed into the aid station at the start of the gravel road that would take me home. With 5 miles to go and the temperature soaring, I let a volunteer mist me down while I put back watermelon slices. 

And that’s where the hurt began to pile up. The miles of non-stop running since Dry Fork snowballed and, for a moment, started to defeat me. I walked for a minute or two along the gravel road as it wound through the trees lining the shoreline of the Tongue River.

Galloping down Tongue River Road into Dayton, with about 4 miles to go. Courtesy of Foto-Sport.

The voice in my head had been quiet until then, overwhelmed by my determination to push forward. But instead of tempting me to slow, to stop, to rest, all I could think of was: dig deep. Dig your feet deep into that gravel, or don’t even bother getting to the finish at all.

And I ran the rest of the way in. As I rounded the corner on the dirt road and entered Dayton the last 27 hours started to come back to me all at once. There were so many times that I almost didn’t make it, almost lost control, that I actually couldn’t believe I was back in Dayton. I could no longer feel the deep crack in my foot, the blisters, the chafing, the sunburn, nothing (that would of course change minutes after crossing the finish).
 
When I crossed the finish line I felt relieved and sat down in disbelief. I laughed to myself, because almost any one of the things that went wrong during the race would have caused me to DNF in previous races.
This time around, I was just resolved to never let anything get the best of me. When something went wrong, I handled it – eventually -, fixed it, and pushed on without thinking twice. It’s the key to surviving 100 milers, but somehow, I had forgotten it.

 And the face says it all. Courtesy of Foto-Sport.

Bighorn is the most beautiful, most remote, most wild race I’ve ever run, and I will absolutely come back next year. The people that manage it, the volunteers, and the community of Dayton are unrivaled, and the people that I met running it are some of the most badass, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps types I’ve encountered. 

100 miles through the mountains is a long way to go, that’s bound to hurt, with so many chances to fail; I think that’s why I love it.