Bighorn 100: Coasting In On Fumes

Bighorn win #3 and a snow course record—18:56:28!

Pre Race
Well, I was worried going into this race, as the week before I left, I averaged 3-5 hours of sleep per night finishing up 3 website designs, lost 14 chicks we were raising in 3 nights (from a predator entering our chicken coop), and rescued a newborn fawn from the jaws of our neighbor’s huge dog. Craziness.

The day I was leaving for Bighorn (Monday), I was driving my truck up to town to grab a couple of last-minute things and was about 1/2 mile from my driveway, when I slammed on my brakes to the neighbor dog bounding out into the road with a mule deer fawn in its jaws (still alive and yelping). He dropped it at the sight of me and I jumped out, rescued the little guy, who couldn’t even walk yet, and took him out to a field and placed him under a juniper near his VERY upset mother, ran the dog off with some well placed rocks and went home to finish packing the tent trailer! Thus, my 3rd trip to Bighorn 100 began…

This year the whole family was making the 1,100 mile trek to the Bighorns: Jennifer, our two kids (5 and 2), and Mabel the dog. We hit a campground in Idaho on Monday night, then two nights south of Livingston, MT on Tuesday and Wednesday night (where we got in a nice family hike up to a waterfall, and I enjoyed my final training run up to snow line as well).

Our arrival in Wyoming on Thursday around 1pm started with another slight hitch. We were coming through southern Montana on I-90 and I was running low on fuel. I kept thinking the next exit would have a gas station, but unbeknownst to me, there is a 50-60 mile gap with no services from southern Montana to northern Wyoming. Ranchester, WY (our exit to Dayton) had the first services. About 15 miles from Ranchester my “low fuel” warning light came on and I asked Jennifer to grab the owners manual and look up how much actual fuel we had left—2.7 gallons, perfect, we’ll be fine. But, to be safe, we said a little family prayer to get us to the gas station.

Well, the guage wasn’t working right, ’cause we hit the Ranchester exit to turn onto Hwy 14 and my car sputtered and died…out of gas. DANG! I quickly jammed the car in neutral, turned off the radio and the air conditioner and hit the flashers, rolled through the stop sign and started coasting. The exit is about a 1/2 mile from town and I was hoping there was a gas station on this end….I couldn’t remember though.

We coasted down the hill, hit a flat bridge and we slowed down to 15, 14, 13, 12 mph…luckily I was towing the tent trailer and the weight behind us got us over the flat bridge and the final little hill into the edge of town and sure enough…a gas station…but on the other side of the street….shoot…quick look, no cars coming, no cars at the gas station on my tank side. Bam, we coasted right into the slot with the car out of gas and filled ‘er up. I raised my hands to heaven and gave thanks. I later told Jenn that’s what my race plan was. Come into Dayton on fumes, nothing left.

We dropped the tent trailer in Dayton, and drove to Sheridan to check-in, drop off drop bags and meet up with my folks (who were crewing for me). I got to the pre-race weigh in, weighed 148, got the final alternative snow course mileage info, grabbed my laptop, finished up my splits and the RDs (Karen and Michelle) let me use their office at the the Sport’s Stop to print out my splits so I could tape them on my bottles. I have to say, I was a little bummed when I heard the course would be different due to 3 feet of snow and 7 foot drifts at Porcupine Ranger station. I really wanted to go after the course record this year. I felt really fit and ready. But, mother nature said no and that’s the way it is, just got to roll with it…much like the previous week’s craziness.

Thursday night, after hunkering down with a rain/hail storm at the campsite, I did some jammin’ with Roch (we shared a campsite) on my guitar and Roch on his banjo and dobro. I hit the sack about 10:30pm.

I woke up, had my standard pre-race meal of a banana and 3 raw eggs Rocky-style in raw milk, cup of black tea and preceded to try to keep distracted by helping Jenn get ready for her next day while I would be running (but she wouldn’t let me help…she told me to get ready for the race). At 9, I walked over for the pre-race meeting at the park and at 10:30, we jumped in the car to drive the 3 1/2 miles up Tongue River Canyon Road to the start.

The weather was mostly cloudy and in the 70s, with an afternoon chance of thunderstorms. On my walk up to the start line with both kids in tow, I ran into Mike Adams and Scott Jurek from Seattle, had a little chat with them, told Scott I’d see him later (as he was pacing my Patagonia teammate Justin Angle).

The Race
After the traditional prayer and national anthem, a good luck kiss from my wife and kids, we were off up the Tongue River Canyon. Ty, Justin and I settled in together with a couple of guys ahead of us as we hit the singletrack before the first major climb. We soon reeled in one guy and let the other guy go, as he was hammering right out of the blocks. We all settled into a nice train of about 6-7 guys with the one out in front about 100-150 yards or more.

Right before the first climb starts, there is a water stop. Justin and I stopped and topped off one of our bottles, while Ty took the lead of the small group. Justin and I rejoined the group, bringing up the rear. We all settled into hiking the first big hill with a few short jogs on flatter sections.

About halfway up, I found myself feeling like I was waiting on the line, and decided to get in front of the group at the next flatter, runnable section, which I did and Justin followed. I picked up the pace a bit and soon, just below the fence row, it was me, Justin and Ty with a small gap on the other guys, with the one guy (Jesse from Bozeman, MT) out in front still. We topped out the first 8,000 ft ridge and ran down The Haul, across Sheep Creek and into Upper Sheep Creek Aid Station at 12:45pm, right on my splits.

Justin, Ty, and I left together and we proceeded to make the climb up to Freezeout Point (new section this year). We caught Jesse on the upper section of Freezeout and soon another guy from Bozeman, Erich, caught up to us. The group of 5 (me, Ty, Justin, Erich, and Jesse) ran together down into our first crew/drop bag station at Dry Fork at 1:45pm.

I told the guys we were going pretty fast, as we were coming into Dry Fork at the same split that Ty and I ran in ’06 when I got the record. However, due to the course change we were 1.5 miles further (old course is 13.8, this year was mile 15.3, with the addition of a 1,000 foot climb). Everybody just nodded, said nothing, and continued to run the same speed. Again, gotta roll with it.

As planned, my dad was waiting with a Nathan waist pack and filled bottles to swap. I grabbed the goods, and started to leave, when I noticed he’d given me the wrong pack! (Since we were coming through Dry Fork 3 times during the race, I had a specific pack for each time.) I ran back up hill frantically yelling “WRONG PACK!” and my mom and dad met me, swapped packs and I was off down the hill to Cow Camp to catch back up to the other 4 guys. I caught back up and we all proceeded to jam along together at a good pace.

We came into Cow Camp at 2:45pm and started to new, steep climb up to Riley Point (part of the 50k course, only the opposite direction). This section has some trail and some cross-country sections and we were all taking turns propping flags back up to mark the course as we hiked up, as most of them were flattened. The long, hard climb up to Riley Point was steep and tough, with lots of slimy, slick mud sections, or snow piles to post hole through. We all were grumbling that this section would SUCK on the return route at mile 70-something. We were soon across the ridge line and on our way down to Dry Fork the second time.

We came into Dry Fork 2 at 4:20pm. We came in to weigh, Justin first, and the digital scale kept reading “error”…he would have to step off, they’d tap it to reset, wait, and step back on, wait…error…repeat. After about the 5th time, Justin was loosing his patience, as was I. All 4 of us were waiting in line (Ty had dropped back on the ridge for a pit stop). I finally said, we can’t wait here all day, we’re on course record pace (even if is was “snow course record”)…as I wanted to stress that they either needed to let us go, or figure it out.

Luckily, they readjusted the scale placement on the ground and it worked. I was on and off 2nd, grabbed some orange wedges and took off, as Justin had taken off down the hill and gapped me by a good 60 yards. I thought he might be making a move, so I chased…but we got down to the bottom of the first steep pitch coming out of Dry Fork and he lost his footing on the super muddy, rutted ATV trail we were on and took a side-digger in the mud. It was quite graceful and we were soon, all 4 (Justin, me, Erich and Jesse) back together in a tight group.

We were in and out of Cow Camp 2 and on our way to Bear Camp when we got hit with the edge of a rain storm. It was fairly mellow and I soon took the lead on the rolling sections after Cow Camp Aid. I noticed that the Jesse and Justin were no longer right on me (before this, we’d all been swapping and yo-yo-ing leads). They seemed to be okay with me leading most of the time.

So, we arrived at the water spring (a pipe shooting out water) somewhere near the middle of Cow and Bear Camp Aid. I refilled quickly and got hiking up the short climb. As I looked back, I noticed the two Bozeman boys were in line filling, and Justin was behind them “watering the bushes” and would have to wait to fill his bottle. So, I decided to gamble and make a small move.

Up to this point, I was trying to figure out where I would go for it, as I wanted to make a move earlier than normal BEFORE Justin picked up Scott as his pacer. I knew Scott would be a great motivator and didn’t want to try to drop Justin AFTER he picked up a pacer, but before. Tricky, considering pacers were available at mile 48 (just after Footbridge 1). I started toying with the idea of making a move and pushing the pace down the steep section from Bear Camp to the Footbridge before dark when the situation presented itself at the spring. So, I took it.

I picked up the pace a bit, ran a little more aggressively on the downhills, and a little more on the ups. I soon noticed that Jesse was the only one I could still see back behind me 60+ yards back. I got into Bear Camp at 6:33pm and was just leaving when Jesse was hiking up into it…but no Justin and no Erich.

I kept pushing down to the Footbridge at 7:05pm and was in and out and running the 1.4 miles down to Pacer Bridge. I got there and saw Jurek ready to go, waiting on Justin. I glanced at my watch and started heading back up to Footbridge. I quickly met Jesse, 2 minutes back. Justin 4 minutes back. Ty 10 minutes. Crap. Not much.

I had a blister on my right heel and was going to do a sock/shoe swap at Footbridge, plus I had to weigh. I got in, quickly swapped my shoes, packs, filled bottles, ate some orange wedges, weighed in at 149 and was out of there, hiking up the Little Bighorn Canyon. I had picked up my ipod shuffle, as this would pose as my company and digital pacer, since I was soloing it.

Once I got some fast bluegrass kickin’, I got a second wind. I started running a lot on the steep climb up to Cathedral Rock Aid Station. I got in and out and was about half way to Leaky Mountain, when I had to take a pit stop. I burned about 2-3 minutes. Not ideal, but a must. I got to Leaky Mountain turnaround at 9:14pm. Still had 30 minutes of daylight left. I looked at my watch, downed some broth and noodles, filled my bottles and got jammin’.

I ran into Justin and Scott within a couple of minutes…only 4 minutes back. Dang. I had to push and utilize my downhill-extra daylight advantage. So, I let it loose on the downhill and kept pushing for the footbridge. I soon ran into Erich and Jesse in 3rd and 4th and then Ty in 5th (looking strong) right before dark. Ty and I gave a high five and I kept pushing. At this point I was running a little scared, of course, and didn’t want to blow my lead and kept hoping I hadn’t made a move to soon.

Once dark hit, I kept going fast, as this section is somewhat familiar and I’ve run it two other times in past races, always at night. I got to Footbridge super pumped, weighed in at 149, got my drop bag, swapped packs and asked the weather forecast. They said upper 40s, low 50s, no rain. Sweet. No shell, only need my arm warmers. I saw Darin Swanson (waiting to pace the eventual women’s winner Ronda Sundermeier, another one of the Oregon peeps). Krissy and I had run with Darin when he came up with Ronda and Michael to train at Smith Rock during Memorial Day weekend. He helped me untie my arm warmers from my old pack and get them on my new one. Thanks buddy.

I started the hard grind (The Wall) up to Bear Camp and started running into other 100-mile runners coming down into Footbridge. That’s what I love about the out-and-back course—You get to see the other runners. It was cool. Got to see Bob (from Texas)…I camped next to in ’06, and Frank from Bozeman, who I also had met in previous years and briefly chatted with him at our night-time trail passing. He later said he felt bad that he had slowed me down. No worries, Frank…when I get so high-fallutin’ that I can’t slow down long enough to say hi to someone I know, ya ought to shoot me.

I got up to Bear Camp and pushed on for Cow Camp. The section from Bear to Cow Camp is rolling with a few grunt, steep climbs. I ran 90% of this section trying to add a margin to my lead over Justin. I figured the more I ran, the more he’d have to run to catch me. When I got into Cow Camp, I downed some orange wedges and melon and started up Rileys. I was looking forward to this section, because it’s a huge open meadow/basin you traverse and climb a ridge line above and I knew I’d be able to see how far back Justin was if he was within 30 minutes.

So, I kept climbing up, listening to a pack of coyotes carrying on in the timber across a drainage, directly west of my position. It was cool, very social and a lot of “talking.”

I topped out the first major section and was hiking along the fence row above, when I flipped off my lights to check. Yep, two lights down there. Justin, about 20 minutes back. Good news. I had put some time on him…bad news…not enough time to relax.

This got a fire under me again and I kept on it. Soon I was up and over Rileys and down into Dry Fork around 2:50am. My dad was waiting up and knew by my lights it was me. He was hootin’ and hollerin’ and I yeehawed back as I came in, weighed 152, downed some soup and got running up the road out of Dry Fork to bust out the final 18 miles.

I knew at this point, that if I just kept running everything runnable, I’d pull it out. So, I just kept plugging away, in and out of Upper Sheep Creek Aid. At Sheep Creek crossing before The Haul, I was taking the last few steps before the log bridge and stepped in the saturated, muddy grass and it was like ice…I slid down on my rear and dug both water bottles into the oozing mud. Nice. I had to clean them in the creek and proceed.

Soon, I was over the last ridge and running down the final descent into Tongue River Canyon in the dark. I flipped my lights off once I got down to the rolling river trail section, woke up the guy manning the water only stop, filled, and finally got to the Trailhead with 5.2 miles to go. I really had to make a pit stop and hit the pit toilet near the starting line area on the road.

I came out, walked a minute and started looking at my watch and doing some quick math. I was REALLY close to breaking 19 hours. So, I decided, I would be mad at myself and regret it if I didn’t at least try to go sub-19. So, I backtracked my iPod to Freedom by Rage Against The Machine and just listened to it over and over (5-6 times) while I concentrated on leg turnover, posture, forward lean and cadence. I hit the paved street in town and was soon at the Bridge, I yeehawed, entered the park hootin’ and hollerin’ to see Jennifer standing there. As I rounded the path around the park, she cut across the lawn to the finish line and my kids and folks were there to celebrate with me as I crossed the finish line in 18:56:28! I’m super pumped to go 3 for 3 on this course!

Thanks to Patagonia, Black Diamond, Rudy Project, FootZone of Bend, Clif and Nuun. Thanks Justin and Ty for pushing me so hard all day and Scott and Justin for pushing me hard all night. Good race, good competition. And thanks to my dad for crewing all night, my wife and kids for being there, and especially to God for helping me coast in on fumes.

Also, thanks to Justin for the compression socks recommendation, post-race. Those things work wonders on swelling! My ankles are back to normal.

Giddyup.

Just after the finish—walkin’ off the adrenaline.

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