Ultra Running / Bighorn 52 Miler / Wyoming
Embrace the suck.
I’m pretty sure this is one of those overused worldwide ultra-running proverbs, but on Saturday July 17, it became my very own overused mantra. I also had a brief moment where I found it humorous because at some point during the race, my shoes were actually being sucked off.
A week or so before, the forecast for race day was perfect. After horror stories from last year’s 100+ temps at Bighorn, I was feeling like the luckiest human ever to have 50-70 degree forecast with partial clouds. Dreams do come true, I thought to myself.
Foreshadowing: WRONG. Dreams don’t come true. At least weather dreams for your first ever 50+ mile race.
Rain started early afternoon on Friday. I felt terrible for the 100 miler runners who were already on course, making their way up to the turnaround at mile 48, where the 52 mile runners would start Saturday morning at 5 am. But I still had this lingering hope for the next day because the forecast showed rain stopping around 3 am.
Start time for me was 5 am, so we headed to the Elk View Inn at Burgess Junction, WY early afternoon – leaving all cell service behind. I couldn’t check the weather every 5 minutes any more. Looking back, this was a really good thing because then I was just oblivious to everything going on in the world. I turned the lights out at 7:30 pm and had a fairly restful night of sleep, all things considered, until my alarm at 3:00 am.
It is very hard for me to eat when I first wake up, but I choked down ¾ of a dry cold bagel with peanut butter, ½ of a KIND bar, and 2 hardboiled eggs with a few sips of cold coffee and one water bottle. I felt full and I had enough time to hang out in the bathroom…sorry TMI. My friend Lindsay (best crew support ever) picked me up at 4 am with Kevin and Corissa, two other FRXC 50 mile runners in tow (Chris was out pacing Mark the last 52 miles of his run).
During the sketchy, foggy, pitch black 45 minute drive, (since I was without service all night) I learned that one friend, a very strong runner, had dropped from the 100 miler at the turnaround and the other was hypothermic coming in, but after sitting for 30 minutes he kept moving with Chris as his pacer. The conditions were awful. Lindsay said it was like an emergency triage unit at the aid station and people were in bad shape, mentally and physically – runners were dropping from the race left and right. Everyone came in with mud up to their knees. It had in fact rained all day and all night, dropped to the 30s, and was still that way when Lindsay dropped us off at the trailhead at 4:56 am. I had enough time to pee in a bush and took off about 2 minutes after the official start.
Obviously, we were immediately greeted by mud – mud that had been trudged through twice already by the 100 milers. I was in the back of the pack too so it was getting all churned up again right in front of me. There were places you could sort of go around it or tread lightly and not get totally saturated, but then there were places you couldn’t. So by mile 3, I had given up the tip toeing effort and just embraced the suck. Corissa and Kevin were in the vicinity so it was nice to have people to murmur curse words to. I fell once so got a nice muddy butt – almost fell about 300 more times after that. Saw at least 20 others fall. It was fun.
It snowed some, it hailed some, and it rained a little more. I think it finally cleared up around mile 12? I’m not positive – the rest of the race is a bit blurry. Needless to say, it took me a lot longer than I was planning to get from start to Sally’s Footbridge AS at mile 18 with a 5 hour cutoff. I came in around 4 hours and 45 minutes to shouts that we had to be OUT of the station and ONTO the bridge by 10 am SHARP. An amazing volunteer immediately showed up at my side as I was running in, helped find my dropped bag, filled up my tailwind bottle while I changed my socks and shoes, and checked me out in about 6 minutes. I left my rain jacket in the drop bag and didn’t pick up any aid station food and just grabbed my baggie of fritos and honey stinger chews.
The next 6 miles were straight up “The Wall” followed by 10ish miles of rolling hills (yes there was still mud). I had 5 hours to climb out of the canyon, gain about 3,000 feet, and make it 16 miles to Dry Fork AS at mile 34.5 – I had a bad feeling I wasn’t going to make it, but fortunately I ran back into Kevin around mile 22? Maybe? I’m not sure, but we stayed with each other all the way up to Dry Fork and made it with 12 minutes to spare. Chris was there. It was so wonderful to see him. He helped change my shoes (I couldn’t put a sock on my left foot because my left hip was cramping every time I bent over). I took a salt pill, 3 orange quarters, filled the bladder for the 2nd time that day, and grabbed trekking poles and left shortly before the cutoff at 3 pm.
I knew I had 5 hours to go the remaining 17ish miles, but what I didn’t know was that there were 2 other cutoffs between Dry Fork and Finish. I had to make it to mile 40 by 4:30 pm and mile 47 by 6:30 pm. I made mile 40 at 4:15 pm. I had some boiled potatoes and ginger ale and kept moving. From there, I had a short but very steep climb and then almost 6 miles to descend 3,100 feet. I had a little over 2 hours to go those 7 miles and it would have been PIECE OF CAKE on a normal day…but obviously it was not a normal day at this point and my knees kept buckling on the steep downhill. I had the trekking poles fortunately and I walked 98% of those 6 miles. I came into mile 47 with tears in my eyes, admittedly, about 30 minutes past cutoff.
They were beginning to pack up at the aid station, but had left snacks out which was nice. I had one Ritz cracker and had a hard time talking to them because I was so choked up about the stupid situation. They were very nice and obviously had a hard job, telling me that I was receiving a DNF. They offered me a ride back to the finish and I hesitated, saying I couldn’t decide – I wanted to sit down so badly but I guess I wanted to finish even more so I declined and headed toward finish.
The photographer was of course posted up ½ mile from that aid station and saw me just walking and crying. Poor thing probably was very confused as to what to do, but I told him I was ok and tried to laugh at the whole thing. I got service for a brief moment, called my parents, my sister answered and she probably thought I was on the verge of dying because I was still so choked up and emotional – but 30 seconds after she answered I saw friends running towards me so I hung up and had a nice feeling of relief. Ryan (with baby Addie in stroller) and Peggy came running up hollering with excitement and it was so nice knowing that I would have someone to “run” (aka hobble) with those last 4 miles. I stopped worrying so much about the fact that I wouldn’t have an official finish time. Right before mile 50, Chris came into view – riding a white steed. Ok it was a bicycle that a nice human let him borrow.
Once we came up on Homestretch aid station, there was a little less than 2 miles to go. They still had ice pops which made my day because it was the one thing Chris told me over and over again – at least you can look forward to ice pops at mile 50! Chris returned the bike, Ryan and Peggy ran it in, and Chris finished the slow trudge with me all the way back to the finish. Jogging into the park next to Chris (in flip flops) was the most bittersweet feeling – there were still volunteers and runners hanging around, the finish banner was still up, and they were all cheering with the FRXC group when they saw me come through. It felt pretty special – so maybe coming in DFL (dead f’ing last) is equally as rewarding as coming in 1st…maybe.
All in all, knowing that I don’t have an official finish is weighing pretty hard on me. BUT! I am actually pretty proud of myself for finishing it, regardless of time cutoffs. I set out to run 52 and I finished with 52, so I think that is all that matters for me at the end of the day. A bunch of people either dropped or didn’t make earlier time cut offs, so I feel pretty fortunate to have reached the ultimate goal.
- The entire race production is amazing. This was the 25th running of Bighorn and they have mastered what it means to put on a race. From the RD to the volunteers out on the course, people know what they are doing and the best part is that they are clearly happy doing it. Because of the volunteers that were there, ready to help however they could, aid stations are officially my favorite part of a race (I think I’ll like them more when I have time to enjoy them).
- The Bighorn Mountains and the National Forest are beautiful. I did not even know about this part of Wyoming before this race, but glad I got to see 52 miles of it. Would love to return and explore more.
- Packet pick up was at Black Tooth Brewing in Sheridan, WY with a $2 pint ticket. Win.
- FRXC Run Fam showing was strong, as always. Second year the group has made it to Bighorn and I don’t think it’ll end this year. Thanks to everyone that came and those that cheered from afar. Made all the difference.
- Chris paced Mark for 52 miles through the night, finished, and drove an hour and half to Dry Fork Aid Station at mile 34.5. I might not have kept going if I didn’t see him there. Heart eyes.
- Dry shoes and socks awaited me at both mile 18 and mile 34.5. Trekking poles at mile 34.5. Best decisions I’ve ever made.
- I felt like I was climbing pretty well. I knew I was moving way too slow on the downhill. My knees couldn’t take 11,000 feet of decent like I thought they could. So I was trying to make up time on the uphill and it was working out ok for the 7,000 feet of gain throughout the race.
- I HATED barely making cut offs. It is the only thing I thought about all day. On one hand, it distracted me from the pain of my legs and kept pushing me to move faster, but on the other hand – it didn’t feel like any sort of relief when I made it to one because I had to leave immediately. I didn’t get to eat the food they provided or take a minute to gather myself – it was just a hello goodbye situation and I had to spend time thinking about what I needed before I arrived. I get this is what people do who are actually racing other runners, which is great when it’s by choice, but this was not by choice and I was just racing the clock of failure! Note to future self: just go faster.
- I am terrible at eating enough calories. That is all. But happy note: I never felt shaky or depleted like I have on long runs, so I was at least ingesting something so that is worth mentioning.
- I mentioned the poles were the best decision. I have a very minor feeling though that maybe the poles were too much of a crutch. It’s like I picked them up and was all WALK MODE ENGAGE. I definitely carried them for some running miles, but they almost made it too easy for me to just start walking again. I’m not sure – still thinking about this one…
- Downhill is the devil’s work.
Final reminders to self:
Clothes: Patagonia strider shorts, Lululemon Energy sports bra, Territory Run Co. ROTW tank, REI Quarter Zip Tech long sleeve, Territory Run Co. trucker hat, and La Sportiva Ultra Raptors (3 different pair), and Ultimate Direction Jenny UltraVesta. I also wore 2 pairs of Darn Tough Cushion Socks for miles 1-34.5 and Territory Run Co. Fitsock for miles 34.5 through 52. I never once felt any sort of blistering, chafing, hot spots – in the past, my feet are what have given me issue. I’m happy to report all toe nails are intact and I have 0 blisters and very minimal tender spots on the bottom of my foot. I have finally found my foot’s best friend in the Ultra Raptors and socks!
Nutrition: breakfast was hard to eat but seemed to work. Kept me full for a while! I packed WAY more than I could have ever eaten. In total I think this is what I did: almost 2 tailwind sticks (lemon flavor and no flavor), half a pack of honey stinger chews, half a honey stinger vanilla waffle, some fritos, orange slices whenever I saw them, a couple of banana chips, a quarter of a PB&J, a few pieces of boiled potato with salt, 2 small cups of ginger ale, one ritz cracker, one salt pill. Almost 4.5 liters of water. I think in summary, this confirms I am not eating enough.