Mountains. I really love mountains. I also enjoy 100-mile races. Putting them together? I assumed would not be an insurmountable challenge. Simply stay with the ultra method of walking the uphills and running the downhills. This time the hills would just be longer and higher. Oh, and wetter and muddier!
Previously I've completed the Vermont 100 (2003) in 22:41. My brother Kip and I ran much of it together and we were trying only to finish. Our sub-24 time was a fantastic surprise. In 2005 my husband John (who ran 19:58 in Vermont) and I went to Germany to run in Hans-Dieter Weisshaar's 100-mile race. My initial goal was to set a PR, but part of the course was wet and muddy, and I learned that I have no idea how to actually race (i.e. push hard) in a 100-miler. Mid-race I crashed but recovered to finish in 27:38 on a fairly flat course. I thought I learned my lesson. But no...
Looking for a 100-mile race on singletrack trails this year, I came upon the idea of going to Wyoming for the Bighorn Trail 100. It sounded like the right mix of wilderness, fun running trails, and beautiful scenery. A nice step up to some of the harder 100's. Many other runners from Austin were also going, so Kip and John and I plus our friend Randall signed up. Another friend, Jason, came along to experience the 50-mile version.
The core of our training was back-to-back runs on weekends in March and April, going for time on Saturday (up to 6 hours) and flat miles on Sunday (up to 15 miles). I supplemented with some weight training, yoga, and walking 3+ mph on the treadmill at inclines up to 12%. We also threw in some adventure races, our other hobby.
Everything about the race organization was great - good pre-race information, easy check-in and drop-bag drop-off, easy travel arrangements, friendly people. We flew into Billings and drove 2 hours to Sheridan, compiled our 3 drop bags apiece, checked in, went to the pasta dinner, and got a good night's sleep. Race start = 11 a.m. = nice! If only I wasn't so worried that I couldn't sleep as much as I normally do. For some reason, early in the week I started fretting and couldn't stop.
Maybe it had something to do with the snowstorm in the mountains a week ago. Someone posted photos of huge snowdrifts and a story of needing snowshoes on the upper reaches of the course. Then I got to reading race reports from past years and my anxiety got worse.
So let's try to forget all that. Race morning was calm and easy. Get some breakfast, get dressed, prep the feet, put on Vaseline, grab the pack, head to Dayton for the pre-race meeting. The organizer described the trails as wet and muddy. OK, let's see what we can do!
The race started up a dirt road at the mouth of the Tongue River canyon. We started as a group but it didn't take long for everyone to spread out, some running up hills and others walking. I used trekking poles and alternated speed walking and running. There was a cutoff time at 1.25 miles but I was well in advance of it, one less thing to worry about.
The trails climbing the canyon were really nice. Every bit of dry trail deserved a big thank you, and I was well aware of this right from the start. I focused on setting a comfortable pace and getting into a rhythm with my poles. Several guys passed me at various points along the trail, until we started the first big climb up a field. By then most of the runners were ahead of me. I turned around to take in the view of the valley under some low clouds, and saw just a couple folks still below.
I'm used to running a race from the back and being the slowest going uphill. My main concern was the upcoming cutoffs, but I tried to keep my attention on climbing efficiently. At 1.5 hours I put together a half serving of SPIZ. I carry half-servings in Ziploc freezer bags so I can add 10 oz of water (to a premarked fill line). Then I seal the bag, shake it up (while moving forward), and finally stop and drink it directly from the baggie. It takes practice, but it seems pretty efficient. And it solves my problem of not being able to eat solid food in long races.
On the way up the long hill I passed a couple people including Robert Haynen from Austin. We noticed the water pipe at Fence Spring but didn't stop. I was breathing harder than I wanted but I wasn't sure if the altitude was affecting me or whether I was pushing too hard.
Finally I reached the top and tried to start running while putting away my foldable trekking poles. It might have worked except one of the links was stuck tight, so I ended up juggling a water bottle and two poles that threatened to pop open all over the place. That wasn't helping my downhill speed, so I stopped to sort it out. Then I could run. It was a steep downhill that I was pretty sure would be a pain in the butt on the way back. Oh, by the way, Bighorn is an out-and-back course - 48 miles to the Porcupine aid station, then 48 miles back and another 4 miles on a dirt road back to Dayton and the finish line.
I made quick work of the short trail to the Upper Sheep aid station where a wonderful volunteer got my misbehaving trekking pole folded up and stashed. I filled a SPIZ baggie with water and drank it on the way out. I followed a runner down a dirt road and onto a rather knarly trail. I wasn't about to run this uphill, but I was pretty sure it would be annoying on the way back. It's all about managing expectations.
Soon we were on a road and I started making up time on a couple men. I chatted with them briefly before moving on. It was a beautiful morning, the creek rushing by had a calming influence, and the easy surface was a welcome change. Still, I figured that anyone in the back of the pack with me had better know what he or she was doing. Like I had any idea myself!
I had a pretty good little run down the road to the Dry Fork aid station and I had about an hour leeway on the cutoff time when I arrived. The themes of my aid station stops were a) be fast/efficient and b) don't forget anything. I used the porta-potty, drank an Ensure and grabbed refill SPIZ baggies, and filled a bottle with Gatorade from my drop bag. In about 5 minutes I was outta there, passing a few people at the stop. It would be nice to be able to eat some of the appetizing food at aid stations, but since I can't eat solid food on the run, the time saving can be an advantage.
The first bombing downhill out of Dry Fork was pretty fun. I was finally running near a number of other runners and we splashed our way across the various creek crossings. The road wasn't perfect, with ridges and deep ruts, but we could usually find a runnable surface even if we had to shift lanes to find it. Eventually I caught up to Randall who seemed to be making decent time. As I came up to him I said "looking good!" and he thought I was talking about the scenery. Well, yes, that's looking good too!
The road went up and down and up and down, curving around, even making several Pointless Ups and Downs (PUDS) for no particular reason that I could see. Finally it lead to the Cow Camp aid station. I filled a SPIZ baggie with water and walked out with it.
The next 10 miles were on singletrack, and I had been under the impression that it is normally a nice, runnable trail. It didn't start out like that, and it didn't get any better. Apart from the muddy creek crossings, the dry sections had so many animal (horse? elk? moose?) tracks embedded in them that the footing was difficult across the board. Then there were the tough little shrubs along the trail that were pruned back just enough to let us pass but not enough to keep from scratching our legs. I guess I was a tiny bit annoyed.
I continued to move OK, but it was quite a bit of work. I had hoped to run comfortably through this traverse but ended up expending more energy than I would have liked. All the time I was thinking about needing to get to Porcupine by 3 a.m., which is what everyone said we needed to do in order to have a chance of finishing.
One guy stayed in front of or behind me for a few miles. We stopped together at the Stock Tank waterspout, which was gushing so fast you had to be careful when filling your bottle. I decided to fill a bottle first and then pour that into the SPIZ baggie, as I could envision a powder explosion from the force of the water. I'm all for "things that are funny later", but it's better if they happen to someone else.
More mud, more little hills. I tried to picture the elevation chart again - I had counted 3 little climbs of about 100 meters each in this section, but there were way more climbs here than I expected. Every uphill took more effort than I would have liked. Looking across the wide drainage to the west, I could see interesting rock formations and side drainages, but I never got out my map to try to figure out where I was. All I could do was hope that I was making progress fast enough.
Finally I found a nice little downhill run on a nice trail, so I bombed down. Happy time! A short rise brought me to the next aid station where a young girl welcomed every runner with "Welcome to Bear Camp!" I got some water and left with a couple guys. Only 3+ miles to the next drop bag, and much of it would be downhill.
One of the guys told me that last year it was much drier (I can only hope that is the norm). We climbed down a short steep section (mental note to be ready for going up that later) and came upon a section of deep mud and lots of water. Goodness. It was a lot harder to go around the nasty spots here because much of the trail was on the side of a big drop. Time to get the feet wet (again).
After a nice little traverse across a field we started downhill in earnest. I passed a couple people here, just running as easily as I could and trying not to brake too hard. Then we'd hit a section where we'd pick our way over wet rocks and I'd slow down. At one point a small creek flowed down the middle of the trail, along a trench of mud and between impenetrable brush. Hanging right in the middle of this mess - an orange ribbon. Yep, you have to go this way!
After sliding and running and hopping and working my way down, my thighs eventually started complaining, but then we were close to the roaring Little Bighorn River. A runner in front of me found a canister of Heed on the side of the trail and we stared at it to try to understand its purpose. The runner determined that we must be getting close to the aid station?
Actually, no. The river was dropping in elevation almost as fast as we were, so we followed it for a while. The trail led through some nice woods and I ran with other folks for a while. One guy had his knee wrapped up good but told me he was having problems with a twisted ankle (?); well, anyway, he wasn't pleased.
At several points the flagging led around some downed trees and a couple times I didn't pay enough attention. I'd end up at the tree looking at the flagging off to the side, having to backtrack ever-so-slightly to go around. You know it's a well-marked course when this was the extent of people's getting lost.
Finally we were down to the Footbridge aid station. I walked in and a lady handed me my drop bag - magic! Maybe the Heed canister had a remote camera in it so they could see who was coming and get their bags ready. There were lots of people at the aid station, eating and getting things ready for the upcoming nighttime jaunt. I was there at about 7:30 pm, plenty of time before the 9:30 pm cutoff.
I sat on a tarp and declined food or assistance. John and I were sharing drop bags, and we had them pretty well organized. I grabbed my nighttime pile (2 poly pro tops, tights, and 2 headlamps) and decided to ditch one of the tops in hopes that it wouldn't be too cold overnight. I had debated putting on the tights at the aid station but decided before arriving that I could manage it on the trail later. I saw that John had left his shades, and this seemed like a good idea, so I left my shades and hat for tomorrow.
The other tasks involved liquids - drinking Ensure, getting replenshment SPIZ baggies, and filling the Camelbak partway with Gatorade. I dislike the race-provided drink (Heed) so I hoped to get by with what Gatorade I could carry and water from the aid stations. I had also stashed some Gatorade powder in film canisters but planned to use them more in the second half of the race.
After 9 minutes I was up and on the scale. I think all their scales are calibrated the same (i.e. too high), because I weighed the same as at pre-race check-in. I slung my backpack on and started out. Immediately I knew I was carrying too much in my pack. After doing the last section with typically 20-30 ounces of water at a time, I now had 60 ounces of liquid plus the nighttime stuff.
First order of business was to empty water out of a bottle (I need water for the SPIZ but there was an aid station in 3.5 miles). Then I started sucking Gatorade out of the Camelbak hose to try to drink down the bladder as much as I could. The pack felt lighter and the uphills felt fine, but the pack still bothered me when I tried to run some of the flat/downhill trail. I mainly succeeded in overloading my stomach with liquid, so I had to take it easy for a while to let it digest. Geez, I had just been congratulating myself on not making any dumb mistakes so far.
I had my poles out again, time to get back to work. I had passed quite a few people at the aid station, and we were now going mostly uphill, so it didn't surprise me that various people passed me in the next few miles. What was interesting was that there weren't more of them. This hill is long - 18 miles, but the net elevation gain was only 1300 meters, so hopefully it wouldn't be steep in too many places. Still, I'm slow on the uphills, so I worried some more about getting up and through the promised mud to the top in an acceptable time.
Pieces from previous race reports floated through my mind. Joe's tale of survival in crazy heat. Last year's winner passing the second-place guy on the way back in this section. Other people describing various parts of the course and their troubles and triumphs. Celtic music from recent podcasts kept me company in my brain. I was carrying my iPod but was too engrossed with the course and too focused in the task to pull it out and use it.
Mud was always lurking, even though parts of the trail were nice and dry. After sloshing across one 20 foot-long puddle, I met a volunteer coming toward me who explained that I could bypass the next puddle around to the left. He said "Ah, but I see you aren't trying to keep your feet dry" - well... I'm not sure how I would have avoided that last puddle, but thanks anyway!
A bit of rocky trail, some walking in the river where it was overflowing the bank slightly, some woods, some up, some down, lots of changing scenery and a loud roaring river close below. A couple times the trail got rather narrow and off-camber, which was fine for strong legs, but I hoped no one would make a misstep on weary legs later.
At one point I noticed some waist packs hanging on trees, which had me wondering if I was already at the hallucination stage until I came around the corner and found the Narrows aid station. Some friendly volunteers helped me get some SPIZ water and then I moved on. It would be a long way (6.5 miles) to the next aid station and I was ready to take over 2 hours to get there.
Not long out of the aid station, Gabe from Austin came running by me, looking strong. A group of runners including chatty knee-wrap guy went back and forth with me as we started up through some fields and woods. It was just about time to get out the headlamps. I moved by twilight as long as I could until I entered a stand of trees where it was really too dark to see. The sounds of the river started to die away as we climbed higher above it.
I enjoyed using my poles up this climb, not only to ease the work on my legs, but also to probe ahead for rocks. In this manner I avoided most of them and didn't really mind walking uphill on this rather rock-strewn trail. It wasn't "rocky" per-se, just a trail with random kickable rocks on it here and there. I remember wondering idly how much "fun" it would be to run down tomorrow.
Then it was dark. I approached some roaring water, a side creek in a huge rush to get down to the main river. Glowsticks led me down toward it and then down lower to a log bridge. I was pretty thankful for the rope to hang onto while carefully stepping across. Apparently John had come to this spot while it was still light, and he just went directly to a single log laid across the creek (higher up) and walked right across without seeing the log bridge. The guy who was with him followed along without questionning, and John remarked, "my wife sure isn't going to like that!" He sure would have been right!
As I was working my way from glow stick to glow stick, I saw a headlamp coming toward me. Must be Karl Meltzer, 100-miler extraordinaire! He seemed to be moving well. I stepped to the side and cheered him on, and I'm sure he had heard that at least once already because he gave a soft grunt in reply. I realized afterwards that I may have blinded him with my headlamp, so I would be more careful to tilt it down for rest of the runners that I'd pass that night. Karl went on to win in a course record 20:12.
Not long afterwards there was another guy running toward me - that's pretty amazing, I didn't know many people could keep up with Karl. Actually, I assumed it was Karl's pacer who was trying to catch back up. Especially when he answered my "way to go!" with a chipper, happy response. It turned out to be Mike Wolfe who would finish the race in second place. I'm impressed.
A while later I met the third place guy who was about as responsive as Karl. I wondered how much mud and crap they had gone through at the top of the hill and again it made me nervous to think about it. Not only that, but 6.5 miles in the dark up a hill can take a long time. I started to fret until I saw a glow in the distance, then there is was, Spring Marsh aid station. I believe I made it there from Narrows in 2.5 hours, which was good enough to settle my nerves for a while.
I was still drinking SPIZ every 1.5 hours, sometimes a bit sooner depending on the aid station placement. At night this was plenty of liquid, as I wasn't thirsty at all and I was peeing often enough. I sipped on the Gatorade but really didn't need a lot of it. I must remember this for future overnight races (unless it's hot at night), because I ended up carrying about 20 oz of Gatorade from Footbridge all the way to Porpupine at the top and partway back down - what a waste of energy!
At Spring Marsh I got some water for SPIZ and walked on out, bypassing the nice-looking fire. It was a beautiful night, not too hot, with tons of stars overhead. In the distance we'd see glowsticks marking the way, along with occasional lights from runners going in both directions. It was wide-open terrain and I could just make out the horizon of the hills around us. It was just an amazing feeling to be there.
A flash of light from the left caught my attention - lightning! I caught my breath but then realized that stars were visible all the way to the horizon. The next day I learned that lightning is sometimes visible up to 200 miles away in those mountains. Incredible.
A couple more runners came toward me, and one of them was a really friendly woman. She had so much energy I assumed she was pacing the guy near her. Silly me again - it was Darcy Africa, an incredible ultra runner who would go on to break the women's course record by almost 4 hours. Wow.
Up to Spring Marsh the trail had been relatively dry and my shoes actually had a chance to recover. Starting from Spring Marsh the trail turned significantly wetter and muddier. We were crossing small creeks in the open field, and it was sometimes hard to see the best way across. Usually uphill of the crossing was slightly better, and sometimes it was actually worth going out of the way, although many times just going straight across without hestitation would be the best choice. On the other hand, avoiding shoe-sucking mud was a priority. I wondered if one of my shoes would get hopelessly stuck at some point, but actually managed to keep them on my feet the whole time. So that's something.
There were two other log bridge crossings, one that was big and solid, and another that was rather bouncy and unstable. I took my time and inched my way across (the poles didn't help here), and was glad that there were no runners coming toward me or passing from behind while I was on the bridges. Of course, the bridges were highly preferable to crossing the creeks in the water. Trail running can have its advantages over adventure racing.
More runners passed me on their way down and I enjoyed greeting them and wishing them well. Eventually I thought I might see John, depending on how well his day was going, so my motivation turned toward identifying him whenever he would come by. Certain headlamp patterns that I knew would be similar to his would get special attention as I listened for his voice in return. Not yet, though.
I set a goal of getting to Elk Camp (another 3.5 miles) in an hour and a half. This next section had some steeper climbs plus some slippery mud. The worst mud was actually in a grove of white trees (aspens?) but that didn't last too long. But the climbs were getting more and more difficult. As I grew closer to the aid station I continued my trend of wondering if I would make it in my self-allotted time, but then right on time, there it was. In fact, a runner approaching me told me I was less than a minute away, and by gosh, he was right! I like that.
Again I got some SPIZ water and headed out. I tried to tell a couple runners they were almost at the aid station, but they didn't respond and thinking back I'm guessing they had already seen it. Oh well, it was a good try. More runners came down towards me and there was a lot of well-wishing on both sides.
I found Gabe again somewhere on the trail up here, and he seemed to be having some kind of problem but I couldn't tell what. He'd pass me going strong and then I'd pass him as he stopped to rest. I was still feeling OK but I was getting more internally focused and not able to process other people's problems at the same time as keeping my own at bay. The wind was blowing up here so I stopped to put on my poly pro top, and that kept me warm all the way to Porcupine.
Finally my "good job!" greeting was answered by a familiar voice - John! We were so happy to see each other that we turned off our headlamps and had a big hug. He asked if I was OK and I mentioned that going uphill was hard. He said that the uphills were kicking his butt. And aside from that, he was having other problems, but he didn't elaborate. For my part, he was really glad to see me because he thought it was getting tight for me to get to Porcupine by 3 a.m. I had been thinking that I was doing OK along those lines, but now I wasn't sure. We wished each other well with a kiss and left in our respective directions.
The next couple miles are typically the hardest of the course, so I was really focused on getting through them as efficiently as I could. Each water crossing was a puzzle to be solved (what is the easiest way across without losing my shoes?). Any alternate surfaces were tested to see if they were better than the main rut of a trail, and the grass typically turned out to be the best place to travel. Off to the side, I was also out of the way of approaching runners. Progress was slow but steady. The further I got, the less I worried.
Finally came the snow section. There were big piles of it under trees, and the people ahead of me had done the main work of postholing into it until it got firm enough to stand on. So I'd follow the main path to a big step onto the snow patch. Walk across (solid ground!) and then jump or slide down the big drop on the other side. That wasn't so bad. Oh, there's another one. And another one. This continued for some time, and the feet were now wet AND cold.
A guy coming toward me mentioned that the snow was almost done - he was so right, only one more drift and I was free. What a joy. Someone else had told me earlier that going down was easier, so I was looking forward to that on the way back. We ran across a meadow, across a road, and down a trail to the dirt road leading another kilometer to Porcupine. A road, yay! Oh wait, it's also muddy and slippery, I spoke too soon. Oh well, I've seen worse.
Heading down toward the aid station I was greeted by Joe and Diana from Austin, then Kip came by looking at the split sheet. It was great to see all of them. I jogged into the aid station area and someone in a chair called my name but I didn't see who it was. It was 2:30 a.m. and I was tired but in a pretty good mood.
Once inside, they weighed me (2 pounds down) and tried to find my drop bag. I mentioned that John had used the same bag, and they retrieved it from the "bags for runners who have come through already" area. They let me sit on the stairs next to the drop bag room so I could quickly get what I needed (SPIZ and Ensure) without having to deal with the warmth and crowds in the other room.
On the way up I had been debating about the trekking poles. I liked having them for the uphills while I was hiking. But I prefer to run downhill without them. So I knew I'd appreciate them on the climb out of Footbridge, but I could get by without them otherwise. Adding up the distances, I realized I'd have to carry the poles for 35 miles just to use them for 3.5 miles. Not enough ROI, so I left them in the Porcupine drop bag. I still believe this was the right idea.
After perhaps 7 minutes, I checked out with the volunteers and was on my way. It was a little chilly heading out, so I put on my Buff and thin gloves. I never used the tights or Go-Lite jacket, but I think in some years they might have been needed (especially if it rained during the night).
On the way up the road Kip passed me again - what? He told me that he was going for help for Gabe, who had sprained his ankle. I couldn't imagine that Kip going back for help was the best course of action, but Kip told me he had waited with Gabe for someone going in the other direction and no one showed up for 5 minutes. Later I found out that Gabe had actually broken his leg by slipping in the mud. Kip was doing a good thing trying to help, even though it jeopardized his race. I worried about that and I worried for Gabe.
I found Gabe sitting on a log shivering and offered condolences but didn't think to leave my trash bag so he could be a little warmer - sometimes I'm an idiot, sorry Gabe. With Kip already going for help, I had to move on. It was a rather slow (but short) climb back to the road and I knew there was a lot of mud ahead of me.
First the wet field, check. Then a bunch of snow drifts to climb over. That got old fast, then it was done, check. Now for some water and mud. That took quite a while, but it definitely was easier going downhill. Check. Finally I reached a rather dry, rather runnable downhill trail. OK, let's go!
Or not. My legs said no, no running. They didn't care that it was downhill, that it would be downhill for much of the next 18 miles, that I needed them to run to make up some time and get some leeway before the big uphill after Footbridge. They didn't care that I had to go faster than 3 mph on this section in order to average 3 mph for the whole course. They didn't care that I believed I was a downhill runner, that we'd climbed all over the Alps last year, that I had energy and was wide awake and raring to go. My legs were dead, lifeless, done. Crap. After 16 hours of pushing hard to get where I was, I just couldn't push anymore.
So I walked as fast as I could, checking off landmarks and following glowsticks, glad to at least be losing elevation. I passed Randall who explained tiredly he couldn't keep anything down, and I expected that he wouldn't make it past Porcupine, but I couldn't focus much on him. I suddenly had a big problem of my own to deal with. What could I do for my legs?
Each mud slog took more and more out of them. Every tiny little itty-bitty uphill became a chore. My speed-walking pace was gone. OK, just relax and focus on getting through the muck. On the section down to Elk Camp, there was plenty to keep me busy.
I went in and out of Elk Camp with just a water refill again. I *still* had Gatorade in my Camelbak from Footbridge, which certainly had not helped this whole mess. On the way down out of Elk Camp the sky in the distance started getting light. Almost morning - that was a fast night!
Once I could see better, I started moving a bit better. It wasn't quite a run, but at least a fast shuffle on the downhills. The section from Porpupine to Elk Camp had been slightly faster going down than going up, but not much. So I decided to see what I could do on the way to Spring Marsh. Let's give it a shot and see if a pace of >3 mph was possible.
Except for the various muddy and wet sections, I started pushing the pace. I was able to run again for part of the time, so I started passing people and making like a downhill runner. I could see the trail now, so that was easier. The one thing I couldn't do was run lightly on my feet. Every step felt like I was slapping the ground with the front of my feet. That wasn't exactly pleasant but I couldn't do much about it.
So I pushed on down, through the mud, across the creeks, over the log bridge, through the fields, and finally on down to Spring Marsh. And I came down only 10 minutes faster than I had climbed up. Oh my goodness, that's crazy. That's not even a 3 mph pace on a downhill section with some running. Right then I knew I didn't have enough time to finish the rest of the course. Major bummer.
I got some water at Spring Marsh and took one of my shoes and socks off to clean out some of the major grit piling up under my forefoot. Later I realized I could have carried clean socks down from Porcupine and changed them at Spring Marsh, because this was the dividing point between major mud and much drier trail. Oh well, a sock cleaning was the next best thing.
About 10 minues away from the aid station, I took a pull on my Camelbak mouthpiece and came up empty. Oh crap! I'd carried Gatorade all the way from Footbridge, and now I had ran out of it at the start of the longest stretch between water. I still had 20 oz of water for SPIZ plus a little extra water in my second bottle. That would have to be enough.
Not only that, but I had not expected to go down the hill this slowly, so my SPIZ estimates were low. I'd have the stretch out the SPIZ servings and the liquid I was carrying. Not ideal.
Then the sun came over the horizon and I realized that I would have deal with sun in my eyes until I got down into the trees. My hat and shades were in my drop bag at Footbridge. D'oh!
So my mood for the next couple hours wasn't all that great. I managed OK with walking downhill, although rock-kicking (partly because the sun was in my eyes and partly because of tired legs) was annoying and too frequent. I didn't get dehydrated, just not as hydrated as I had been, and I was hungry toward the end of the 6.5 miles. The whole situation took a lot of wind out of my sails and I struggled with the question of pushing on past Footbridge vs. submitting to the inevitable. On the bright side, it was a beautiful morning and the scenery was great!
Eventually I realized that one of my problems (sore feet) could be reduced if I stopped and worked on my feet. So I sat and cleaned out the other sock, plus attempted to put a blister block on one hot spot (although it didn't stick for very long because my feet were wet and wrinkled). When I got up and started walking again, my feet felt so much better that I briefly toyed with the idea of being able to finish. But the next uphill was such a struggle (my legs were so tired and my heartrate skyrocketed) that it was clearly a pipe dream.
So I continued on, enjoying the morning but not enjoying the fact that I couldn't move very fast. Other runners came by and gave encouragement. Later I realized that my iPod could have been pretty helpful at this point to get my mind off of the present moment, and not using it is surprisingly one of my biggest regrets.
Eventually I got to the Narrows aid station where I got some broth and noodles to help me make it the rest of the way to Footbridge. There the 50-milers started flying by, looking great. They were all extremely friendly, always smiling and talking. It was a lot of fun watching them. The funniest was one person who told me enthusiastically that I was "looking great!" as I was walking really slowly up a hill and he was running by. In a different situation I might have not been so happy to have a bunch of fast runners blow by me, but in this case it was a neat diversion.
The section back toward Footbridge was harder than I remembered and I was slowing down even more. Then Kip caught up to me - I had been wondering where he was, but he had spent a lot of time with Gabe and then also not moving very fast downhill. But now he looked pretty good. We chatted and I followed him the best I could. Finally we made it to Footbridge where I turned in my number. I couldn't imagine trying to climb the huge hill out of there, and I was pretty sure I'd be keeping a lot of volunteers waiting on the way to Dry Fork if I were to try.
Kip checked his pace chart and realized that getting to Dry Fork in 6.5 hours was going to be almost impossible at the speed he was going. So he decided to drop there too. Jason came running into the aid station on his way to an awesome 50-mile finish, so we helped him with his drop bag stuff and then he was on his way. Go Jason!
We caught a ride back with the aid station folks a couple hours later and had plenty of time at the park in Dayton hanging out with Randall and his wife Pat before John came running in. John succeeded in finishing the course in just under 30 hours (29:52, the last of 30 people to break 30 hours), awesome! Jason finished the 50 (actually 52) mile course in 12:34. Hans-Dieter finished his 99th 100-miler in 32:22, and Austinites Joe Prusaitis and Diana Heynen finished not long after that. I am so impressed by all 81 finishers, y'all are amazing.
In retrospect, it sucks not finishing a race. For that course and those conditions, 34 hours is not a lot of time for a slower runner. So in order to finish it, I would have to train harder and really focus on long uphill (and downhill) workouts. The altitude may have been a factor, although it's hard to say - I've done other events at higher altitude without problems, but it doesn't make things any easier. I think I've accepted that I wasn't in good enough shape, nor at light enough weight, to have a chance at finishing.
My biggest regret of all is not pushing on past Footbridge. I was an hour ahead of the cutoff time there and who knows what would have happened? I can guess (problems climbing and ending up a slobbering mess on the side of the trail), but it's never certain until you try. I learned a lot but could have learned more. I wasn't mentally ready to have to make that decision or to pull out all the tricks in my arsenal to get past the mental roadblock. And sometimes, knowing exactly what's ahead of you isn't necessarily a good thing.
You can bet that next time I'll be better prepared.
Back to Team Vignette's main page