2010 Bighorn 100: I flu the course

Leaving Dry Fork (mile 13.5).

Getting night gear at Porcupine Ranger Station (mile 48).

Heading back into the snow and the night.

Hard finish in Dayton, Wyoming. 20 hours, 34 minutes.

Not to be confused with “I flew”, but yes, “I flu.” Nothing like running 100 miles with flu symptoms—builds character. At least that’s what my wife tells me.

Having children is a blessing. I love their energy, how much laughter there is in our house, and their undying creativity. It makes me feel younger and I adore them. But, as every parent knows, with kids comes sacrifice. Especially if you’re an ultrarunner training for a 100 miler. Runs at 10pm with a headlamp or getting up at 4:30am to get to a long training run in so I can get back to hang out with the family—losing sleep to train. I’m okay with it, it’s part of the gig. I’ve made friends with this fact.

The one thing every parent understands is the sympathy and heartfelt pain you endure to watch your child heaving their guts out over the toilet, or worse yet, all over your bed at 2am. The dreaded flu bug.

So, 5 days before Bighorn 100 and 36 hours before we were to leave for our Bighorn-100-Montana-camping-family-week-of-fun vacation, you can understand my horror and disbelief on Sunday night when my daughter started throwing up. I kept telling myself “it’s food poisoning, she’ll pull through, we’re okay.” After cleaning up pukey sheets for the 3rd time at dawn on Monday morning, upon my wife’s urging and loving tired whisper “go in the other room and sleep, you have a race,” I went to the other room to catch some much needed ZZZs.

By Monday afternoon, my fears were confirmed when my son started throwing up too. The flu! Definitely the flu. No. No. No. This can’t be happening. I washed my hands like a doctor going to surgery, I took every supplement we had in the cabinet to boost my immune system. I waited.

We postponed leaving until Wednesday morning, our drop-dead leave time to make it to check-in in Sheridan, Wyoming by Thursday evening (1,100 miles away). All the stuff went through my head: “My parents are coming to crew from Missouri, they want to see their grandkids, I’m so fit, we’re supposed to camp and have fun in Montana, I can’t get sick, oh man, I’m so fit…”

My son quit throwing up on Tuesday and we decided to take the kids and let them recover on the road. After all, their grandparents were coming. My daughter was feeling way better by Wednesday afternoon and came out of the funk to be quite the little joker in the car and start eating like a horse. Back to normal. Thank you, Lord. My son was another story. He was still not eating, sipping on drinks, slept a ton on the drive. It was coming out “the other end” too much still. He was weak. We were worried. He was being a tough little dude. No complaining. I was proud of him, but we were questioning whether we made the right decision in having them, especially him, make the trip.

We made it to Sheridan with 15 minutes to spare for check-in on Thursday evening. I had to carry my son (who’s almost 8 years old). He couldn’t walk he was so weak. He hadn’t eaten anything in 96 hours. My parents came to see their grandkids and Benjamin barely talked to them. He was out of it. I was tired, but felt okay still. I was worried about him.

Then, to add to it all, I was up the night before the race from 4:30am-6:00am with him in the toilet at the campground. He seemed a little better, but still was having emergency trips to the bathroom. I hadn’t even had a chance to think about the race at all. I was worried about my little guy. He wasn’t bouncing back like his sister on this one. His legs were giving out while I was racing. He was refusing food and drink. Jennifer finally gave him an ultimatum on Friday afternoon, chug a glass of Emergen-C or go to the Emergency Room. He chugged, realized it wasn’t too bad, then chugged another, and he started bouncing back within 20 minutes. His electrolytes were way out of whack.

When you’re a parent, there’s no prima donna athlete thing going on…you suck it up and you wipe butts and clean up puke…it’s what you do. You do what you have to to get them back. You don’t complain and you just roll with it and show up to the start line.

I woke up on race morning, ate, and did my usual pre-race ritual. About 2 hours before the 11am start, I looked at my wife with a worried look and said, “I don’t feel right.” She looked into my eyes with that deep worry and understanding only a mate of 17 years can deliver and knew I was not just having pre-race butterflies. She gave me a potent Oregano Oil pill and gave me a little hug. I took it and laid down to wait for start time.

With my son still feeling down and out, Jennifer didn’t even go to the start, she stayed at the camper and hung with the kids.

I know some of you reading may criticize me for downplaying a 3rd place finish and a 20:34 time at Bighorn, but please understand this post is not meant to be cocky, but more of a emotional purge. During the race, I wasn’t sure what was going on, I had an idea it was the flu, but it was like a little mental note that kept surfacing when I just never felt “on.” My little “mental note” was confirmed on Sunday evening (after the race) when I got the full blown flu in Livingston, MT. We had to get a motel room and I laid in the fetal position doubled over from cramps in bed for 16 hours with fever and chills. By Monday afternoon (18 hours later), I was coming out of it and felt a lot better by Monday evening. About the same window as the kids flu spell earlier in the week.

To understand my brain a little, I’ll give you my mental outlook going into this race. I know this course, I was, until this year, undefeated in every showing with 3 wins there. It was MY course. And that’s how I looked at it. It’s hard to swallow all that training and preparation to get knocked down the week of the race. But it happened and I couldn’t do anything about it. Please understand that I’m not trying to be a sore loser or take away from any other runner’s performance out there. Mike Wolfe threw down a very, very fast time…and Joe too. I may not have pulled out win #4 even running on all cylinders, but, what Mike ran is what I wanted to run that day too. My goal splits were to be right there where he was. I was ready. I had a killer spring of training that involved 70 days straight in March and April with no days off from running. A great run at Silver State 50 miler as a fitness tester in May just missing Jasper’s CR by 83 seconds, and a last block of 83 miles and 14,000 feet of climbing in a 96 hour window 3 weeks out from the race. I was ready and more fit than I’ve ever been going into my 4th Bighorn. I was fit for a sub-19 run and I could feel it. But, what can I say? It’s a 100 miler. Life is unpredictable. Curve balls come and you just have to roll with it. What will be will be. I wanted to fly, I just flu.

The Race itself…well, what can I say…it’s kind of a blur. I normally can remember every aid station split to the minute and recall it back with razor sharp accuracy. Not this time. I’ll spare you the boring details. Needless to say, I never felt right. So none of the drawn out race reports that I’m known for. I’m sure some of you out there are breathing a sigh of relief. Where am I now? Things are looking up. Everyone in the Browning household is healthy. The kids are eating strawberries and cucumbers like there is no tomorrow. My garden is growing quite well and summer is finally here. The Cascade high country is opening up for training. Things are looking up indeed. Giddyup!

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