The Bighorn 100 Endurance Run is in the books...In short, I ran 100 brutal miles, 17,000+ feet total elevation gain, 29 straight hours, burned 20,000 calories...all in the name of better bowhunting!!!
Bighorn Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run
Thanks goodness I am an ever-evolving hunter/athlete because I have a lot to learn!!!
This past Friday/Saturday it was finally "go time". On June 19th at 11:00 a.m. I lined up to take on my first 100 mile ultramarathon, The Bighorn Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run, and man, I was pumped. I won't lie I was also really nervous. 100 miles is a LONG way to run in any conditions let alone the high elevation Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. I mean 100 miles! I couldn't help to keep thinking of how far that was. From Eugene to Portland. I hate driving to Portland. Now I was going to run? And, unlike the drive I detested, this course is nasty tough. In fact at...
http://www.peak.com/peak100.php?ert_id=1, an adventure sports website, they list the Bighorn as the 4th toughest ultramarathon in the world. Perfect.
The Bighorn 100 is an out-and-back run consisting of 76 miles of single track trail, 16 miles of rugged double track jeep trail, and 8 miles of gravel road with approximately 17,500 feet of climb and 18,000 feet of descent. What this means is basically you are either running up, or running down. A fraction of the course is level. I will say, this race takes place in some beautiful country and is impeccably organized. This is my third year in a row competing in the Bighorn races and I can promise you I will be back.
In the race packet, the organizers mention to be prepared for about anything weather-wise and they were spot on. We ran in the baking sun, mid-80’s, through knee deep mud as well as at least a couple miles of post-holing through wet, shoe-soaking snow as the course climbed up and over 9,000-feet. It was biting cold up at the races 48 mile turnaround, in the 30's for certain. With the wind howling, approaching midnight and beyond for most of the runners, combine to make the Porcupine Aid Station a real convenient spot for DNFers. That is the official notation on the race results for runners who quit. DNF.
I saw guys at Porcupine, tough guys obviously (I mean heck to get there they just ran 48 miles, the last 18 all up hill to the tune of a 4,500-foot gain) looking like they were on their death bed. Wrapped in blankets being attended to by medics it was at Porcupine that many called it a race. But that wasn't the only place guys quit, at almost every aid station, even the most remote, there were runners sitting there having turned in their race bib. To get hauled out from the remote stations, it was going to have to be on horse, but it didn't matter. They simply weren't going to or couldn’t run another step. It might be hard to envision. It was for me. Before this race, I could never see myself quitting. But now, I have a new appreciation for just how far down you can go not only physically, but most importantly, mentally. I was thinking most of the guys quit because mentally it was too much. Granted, there were some that battled hypothermia and straight up exhaustion, but more than anything they lost the battle between their ears. On this note, I ran for a time with one old boy who was doing his 35th 100 mile ultra. I thought to myself as we ran through the mountains, someone that tough, there is no way he's ever quit a race. So, I asked him and yup, he had to bail out of three 100s over the years. This has got to be one of the most intense events ever.
The point to all of this, simply, 100 mile runs are tough. Much tougher than I gave them credit for. I had in my head that I should be able to get in around 24 hours given this and that…referring to my baseless logic. In my head I figured…last year my 3rd place overall finish in the Bighorn 50 mile brought me in just under 9 hours. I thought, cool, double 9, add a little for fatigue and bingo, 24. Or, I ran the SOB 31-mile 50k with 7,000 feet of gain in right at 4 hours. I figured, I could bust 100 miles out in 24 hours just by staying steady. Nope. Mine is flawed math. There is a huge difference between running for 4 hours or even 9 hours and 24 or more. First of all, 9 hours was the longest I had ever run in my life, and I did it one time. Secondly, I suck at race strategy…hydrating and fueling myself over the long haul. I can run and do fairly well, if I don't have to use any intelligence. I can run a regular 26.2 marathon like Boston, New York or Eugene, never think, barely drink and hammer it out. If I have to be smart, game over. Even in this race, I took off way too fast, after I had told myself a million times that was the one mistake I needed to avoid. I didn't eat or drink the way I should have and after about 40 miles, I blew up. I recovered a bit at the turnaround, had some soup, put on my cold weather UA gear (beanie, gloves and jacket) and told myself I was going to go make up some time heading back down the hill to Footbridge at mile 66. Not so fast. For a couple hours I had a hard time even walking. I was sick, I was dehydrated, or maybe over-hydrated after drinking a ton at the turnaround. My hands were all swollen up, I was by myself and the lowest of lows was about 3:00 a.m. when I was trying to make it to down to the bottom of the canyon. I was hurting as bad as I had ever hurt, up to that time in my life. After that, I hurt worse.
Another little snippet in the Bighorn Race packet is this gem...
To ensure a sufficiently experienced and trained field of participants, each runner should be aware of the extremely rugged terrain and difficulty this course presents. This will increase the likelihood that the participants will be prepared to deal with a rugged course and unpredictable mountain weather to safely participate in the event. It is important for the participant to recognize the potential physical and mental stresses which may evolve from participation in this race. The runners may be subject to extreme temperatures of heat and cold, hypothermia, heat stroke, kidney failure, seizures, low blood sugar, disorientation, injury, falling rock or trees, wild animal or reptile attack, or even death from their participation in this event.
I thought this was a little good old fashioned hyperbole before I ran. It is not.
At the last minute I decided to take my oldest, Tanner, with me to Wyoming, figuring it would be nice to have him there to share with me a basking in glory moment or witness me go down in flames. Either way I figured it would be memorable. And, he is getting to be a pretty good photog after all these years so I figured he could get some pretty good pics of the event. Also, back there calling the Bighorn Mountains home for a couple days would be Bowhunter Magazine editor, Dwight Schuh, watching his daughter Emily run the 32 mile race (she did great BTW), long time bro Guy Eastman ran the 18 mile trail run and his girlfriend, Rinda, took on the 50k challenge (impressive), hardcore bowhunter Brian Zastoupil who ran his first ultra and kicked butt, fellow Oregon runners Jai Ralls and Dennis Gamroth, 100 milers, and Ken Furrow a freelance cameraman hired by Under Armour to document the experience. Also, I met and talked to probably a dozen guys, passionate hunters there running just because they read about the event in my previous blogs and wanted to ramp up their commitment to the sport of hunting. That is a beautiful thing! Good job guys. It was like a bowhunter reunion there in the Dayton Park.
Here is my Bighorn 100 timeline, what I was thinking and what I learned...
Friday, June 19th
11:00 a.m. -- race begins, sunny skies, perfect running conditions. For the first hour or so I thought I was running smart but I was not. Too fast. Also, I was wearing a borrowed Camelback, which I had never run with. Dumb. It started rubbing immediately and didn't stop for 29 hours. Yup, that rubbed some hide off on my low back.
1:30 p.m. – just topped out after a big 4,000 foot climb and now we are headed down the big drainage on the other side. I remember thinking that I am only 20 miles into this race and I don’t know if I will be able to finish. I hurt already and had 80 miles to go!
I decided that I wasn’t nearly as tough as I thought I was.
5:00 p.m. – mile 30, took six hours. Not too bad. Lots of pounding coming down and in places it was too steep to even run, but I actually started to feel better. I took in some calories in the form of about a half of a peanut butter and bacon sandwich Trace packed me up from home. I am back on pace. But truthfully, I shouldn’t have been thinking about time at all. A 100 mile run is not one against the clock for most, it is a race against your body and mind.
7:00 p.m. – again feeling like crap. Started the big 18 mile climb to the turnaround at Porcupine, mile 48. I screwed up and thought I would get to the 9,000-plus aid station sooner so I didn’t have any of my cold weather UA and no headlamp. I was good until about 10:00 p.m. then it was too dark to see and I was stumbling around in the dark timber, in the snow, falling about every third step. This was not helping my declining attitude. Also, I was freezing as the wind up top was whipping over the ridge. Finally, I got behind someone with a headlamp and rode them into the aid station.
11:00 p.m. – mile 48. The best part, I ate some soup, got my cold weather stuff on, got my feet bandaged up and headed back out. The aid station was like an infirmary. There were some hurting runners in there, but the staff was awesome. I had a nurse put some second skin type stuff on a couple of hot spots I developed from running for miles and miles in wet, muddy shoes. That made a big difference. I weighed in and checked out o.k. Lost some weight but not too much. Ken was there with the UA camera capturing all the action and sound bytes. Can’t wait to see it. I bombed out of there intent on making up some time.
Saturday, June 20th
2:00 a.m. – 15 hours of running is a new experience and so far not real enjoyable. It was at this time I was envious of those who had a pacer or a crew there supporting them. Some runners had a friend or family member run critical segments of the race with them. I was crewless and it right about now it sucked. I had a nice Eminem mix Tanner put together for me on my iPod and while his “me against the world” shtick motivates me most of the time, right now I was just feeling sorry for myself. There were times when I had a hard time even walking. Everything hurt. I had no energy. I planned on knocking out this 18 miles back to bottom quickly but now it seemed like I was loosing time. Yes, I was loosing the battle, but the war was not yet over.
6:00 a.m. – finally made it to mile 66. I weighed in, still down but o.k. and ate a pancake and sausage. 34 more miles to go and another brutal 17 mile climb up Dry Fork. There were parts of this that were nasty steep, but I never stopped. There is no way you could run it…power hiking is the only option. I hammered away and actually caught and passed some runners up near the Dry Fork aid station. I can safely say, this 6 hour climb was one of the longest of my life. It was unrelenting.
12:00 p.m. – topped out at mile 82. I was pretty pumped. Every ounce of me hurt but I tried to keep a smile on my face. Sean M. from Sisters gave me this tip. No matter how bad things are going smiling always helps. Gonna try it on my next tough hunt. Tanner was up here at 82 as was Ken with the camera and Dwight. Familiar faces were nice. I was at 25 hours now. My 24 hour goal was long gone, but I didn’t care in the least. I had readjusted and now, I was going to get in the 20’s. Even if it was 29 hours 59 minutes and 59 seconds I would get it done. I had 5 hours to get the last 18 miles. Seemed doable enough, so long as my body held up. That was a problem. Now I was really dried out. I weighed in at 153, 10 pounds down from my official weigh in of 163 the day before. I needed to take in some fluids, which was a common theme for me during this race. I ate some watermelon, a PB&J, chatted with a few bowhunters, said hi to Dennis from Oregon who had been progressing right along with me for the past 12 hours or so then hit the road. Dwight did some coaching as I headed out…getting me pumped up for the last leg.
Here is what I do know, 18 miles, while compared to 82 is not much, is still a LONG way. But thankfully, I proved something else to myself….I am tougher than I thought I was.
3:10 p.m. – last aid station, mile 95. I came bombing off the hill and down 4,000-feet as best I could but that 13 miles hurt!!! My right Achilles was really acting up (something is seriously wrong with it as now that ankle is twice the size as my left…and I can’t walk). Speaking of my left, it felt like it had a bone sticking out the top of my foot, which I just pushed on and it felt "better". I could be a doctor. My right knee had a catch, so if I stopped running I couldn’t hardly get started again. I kept thinking of the quote, I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees. Gotta push through the pain. I got to 95 and Tanner was there waiting for me, going to run the last 5 with his old man. That a boy.
I told him I couldn’t stop because of my knee and said we had an hour and fifty minutes to make it five miles. That just sounds weird. Normally, at home I could click off five miles in less than 30 minutes. Different time, different place. Off we went, running slowly, walking fast, just moving forward. Always. That is one thing I did the entire race and I have to thank Under Armour’s Anne Bonney….in an email before the race she advised…RFP – Relentless Forward Progress. I never stopped one time on the course, only to change shoes at the aid stations. Tanner and I joked around...after about two miles of our run together he said he was tired. He also said he was surprised how good of mood I was in. Looks can be deceiving.
4:20 p.m. – 100 miles in the books. Official time, 29 hours, 20 minutes. I am a 100 mile ultramarathoner!!! I earned my first 100 miler belt buckle and I am pumped for the future. New challenges, new tests, achieve dreams. I never in a million years thought I could run 100 miles in the mountains. No matter what happens in my life, the highs and lows, no one can ever take this from me. I feel like I did when I arrowed my first 6x6 bull.
On the flip side, the inner demon wants to steal a bit of my thunder. 27th place wasn’t where I dreamt to finish. But I know all too well adversity and shattered dreams are great teachers. You can either get to work and get better, or wallow. I remember finishing 29th in my first ever ultra (50k) back in 2005…from there I slowly chipped away and got better at the shorter ultras. Reaching new heights, achieving more and gaining confidence allowed me to get to this point here, which again, years from now I will look back and say, I remember my first 100. I learned a lot from that race.
You know bowhunting is the same way. 20 years ago, I wanted to kill big bulls, bucks, travel to Alaska and other exotic places and countries. The problem is, you can’t go from a rookie bowhunter to the success I longed for, and still work towards, in one giant leap. You earn your breaks, hone your skills, develop a talent and eventually your dreams are reality. So, even though lessons like I learned in the mountains of Wyoming this weekend are fresh and painful, they are necessary….I am thankful for every second I spent in the Bighorn Mountains.
Note: A good testament to just how difficult this race can be, even to seasoned ultramarathoners, only about 60% of the confirmed entrants finished the race and just 34 runners came in under 30 hours. If it is a test you’re after, look no further. Even though the pain is still very real from yesterday’s race and the thought of running is about as appealing as hitting my thumb with a hammer, next year, I will get smarter, train harder, listen to guys like Sean Meissner and Kyle Meintzer, the original ultra running bowhunter, in regard to diet and strategy and I will get in under 24….bring it on Bighorn!!! Now, I am headed out back to shoot my bow….that always soothes and feels good. Sorta like comfort food for bowhunters.