Myself, Dennis Aherne and his lovely wife of Boise, ID, Angela Pierroti
Everyone loves a good road trip, especially me! There's something magical about cruising an open highway through Montana with nobody else on the road. Montana is like that: it's expansive, it's gorgeous and it's empty. I like places like that.
I hit the road with Angela Pierroti, a friend of mine from Calgary who only signed up for Bighorn less than a month ago. She's spontaneous like that. I met Angela at Western States Camp last year and since then we've had some mighty fine adventures together. She's good people.
As we rolled through Montana, it was a world of green with every creek, river and lake swollen to capacity - with lots of visable overflow. There was tons of standing waters in the fields and I've never seen Montana so green or so beautiful. Somewhere between White Sulphur Springs and Billings, we hit a crazy storm where the sky just opened up and hammered. It was followed by a rainbow over the interstate which we drove through - have you ever driven through a rainbow? It's a kaleidoscope of glowing energy and then, nothing.
We rolled into Sheridan, with plenty of time to spare, check out the town, pack up the drop bags and hit the pre-race dinner. It was a full house of ultra-runners, with plenty of nervous energy bouncing off the walls. As always, this crowd was raring to get started.
The race starts at 11:00 with the pre-race meeting at 9:00, followed by a mass exodus of car-pooling to the start line. The 11:00 start is a bit different - no matter which way you look at it, it means you're going to have a long day 2 on the trails. Finishing times for this race are super slow - indicative of a kick-ass race. We hitched a ride with Dennis Aherne and his family and did some pre-race socializing. By my standards, the day was heating up already. Before we started, I soaked my head, my hat and my shirt. I'm a heat intolerant, white Canadian girl at this time of the year. By the end of summer, I can handle the heat much better. As with everything, it just takes some time to adapt.
Finally, we got the show on the road. We started with a few kilometres on the road, before we hit some canyon singletrack and finally, hit the beginning of the first climb. It was a monster of epic proportions and just kept going up and up and up. Naturally, I loved it. It was a train of runners, power-walking, socializing and taking it all in: the scenery was stunning and there were expanses of green, dotted with an explosions of burgeoning flowers. Splashes of blue Lupines and mutant yellow heart-leaved Arnica - much different than the flora of my area, but just as gorgeous.
The first 15 miles of an ultra are such fun: you spend time with people of different paces, the fast ones and the slow ones and you might not see any of them again until the finish line. Gradually and slowly, the crowd spread out.
I met up with Brian Kamm of Salt Lake City, who I was hoping to meet. Brian and my hubby Keith work for the same company - even though we live in two different places. It's a small world. Especially in Ultra Land. Really, I'd be curious to know how many ultra runners there actually are in North America. 3000? 4000? 5000? I know the sport of trail running is growing and that there are plenty of 100 milers out there to choose from, but all in all, it seems like we're not that many: we're a pretty small, tight-knit community.
In those first 30 miles, I was having a lot of fun. Being a 100 Miler newbie, I'm still figuring out that pacing thing. How do you pace yourself for running a 100 Miles? My perceived effort sure felt easy and fun. I was just rolling along, socializing, taking in the scenery and enjoying it all. I didn't really think I was going too fast, and who knows what is too fast for me over 100 miles? I'm a newbie and I'm still figuring it out. I do know I shared some quality miles with Kelly Ridgeway and Beat Jegerlehner, both ultra veterans. I follow Kelly's blog and know her to be a really talented runner. She's also 52 years old and looks a decade younger. Ultra world is full of guys and gals like this, it really changes your perception of what is "normal" with regards to aging and activity. I get my ass kicked regularily by guys and gals in their 50's and 60's and meet lots of runners in their 70's. That's another great thing about ultras, they are a great Equalizer. We're all just trying to do the same thing: get to the finish line.
Flew down the descent into Footbridge, having fun, going fast, smiling a LOT. It was muddy and treacherous in spots, but that just added to the fun. I came across Phil in this section and he was doing the smart thing: running conservatively. That just added to my sense of: "Hmmmm. Maybe I AM going to fast."
It was a beautiful evening. The cowboys were gracious when I said, "Smile and Say Wyoming, boys!!" Dark was arriving quickly, and unfortunately, I had to ditch Mike when I got really cold, really quick. I had that need to get moving, quickly and immediately and NOW, before I got too cold.
As night descended, I caught up with Kelly and another runner. They had gone slightly off trail and were looking for a safe way to cross a raging creek. We had seen another runner plow throught the creek, so we all plunged in. It was mind-numbingly cold and our feet and lower legs were instantaneously frozen. Soon after our creek crossing, we hit the beginning of the muddy, treacherous, snowy, slippy, slidy section. It was hard tricky foot work, it took a lot of energy and of course, it was dark. It took a long while to get my feet to come back to life. The temperature dropped quickly - I was surprised to see people in shorts. By my standards, it was definitely tights weather. Happy legs are warm legs. And warm legs work better. I was also glad to have my poles with me - I used them for the duration of the race. In the dark, they kept me upright and in the day, they kept me moving forward. Occasionally, I'd use them to prod people in the butt.
About 30 minutes later, I arrived into Porcupine Aid Station and announced: "I'm damaged goods!" I had slowed down a lot after the puke and just needed some more food and some warm clothing. Thankfully, Danni was there and she helped me get my shit together. I'd been looking forward to the company, as she was going to join me as a Pacer for the next 50 Miles.I had to weigh in at this station and was surprised to find I was 8 pounds up! My feet and hands weren't swollen, and I didn't think I had been overdosing on electrolytes. Either way, I realized that I had only pee'd twice, all day. I had been steadily drinking lots of water, but my body was hanging on to all of the water.
I invested in some time to get myself together, drink, get down some calories, put on some warm layers before I hit the road. We left the aid station with me fully bundled up wearing my down coat and toque. I'd been sitting a long time and needed to generate some heat. It had to be below freezing, as the mud was starting to get ice on top of it.
We power-walked our way through the night and I mostly felt pretty good. At Porcupine, the aid-station volunteer hooked me up with a giant bag of hot, salty, mashed potatoes. I swear the bag weighed a half a pound and it was the only thing I ate all night. By the time the sun came up, I had worked my way through the entire bag. That's a lot of potatoes.
Shortly after the sun came up, I had a full-on melt down. I've heard stories of other runners feeling re-energized at sunrise, but that certainly wasn't me on this day. Instead, I just got slower and slower. I also turned into a complete emotional basket case.
For a girl who is emotionally stable and not prone to mood swings, irrationality or sadness, this was a brand new Leslie. Aliens had taken over my personality. I found myself pouting, angry and frustrated. Then I was close to tears. Then I was whining about my foot pain. Then I was full of rage. RAGE! All of this occurred sometime between the hours of sunrise and my arrival at Footbridge around 8:00 in the morning. During those hours that I was trudging, inconsolably miserable, with person after person after person passing me. This was hugely frustrating, but for the life of me - I couldn't run. My feet hurt, I was tired, distracted, moody and I wasn't going anywhere quickly. Poor Danni had the patience to endure, and at one point I even entertained the notion of dropping. In my irrational mind, it was all so stupid. I couldn't wrap my brain around being out there for another entire day, running. Who knew this strange combination of weird food, exercise, fatigue and sleep deprivation could produce such weirdness in me? At least I could still fake a smile. :)
All of this occured sometime between the hours of sunrise and my arrival at Footbridge Aid Station around 8:00 in the morning. At Footbridge, I was well aware that I needed to sit down, take some time and try and get back in the game. I don't even know how long I was at the aid station, but it felt like an eternity. But it didn't matter, I needed however long I needed to get back in the game. I ate. I drank. Danni helped me clean my feet, change my socks and put my shoes back on. I was moving soooo slow. Slowly, gradually, the cobwebs cleared from my brain and I got my Mojo back. I still had 30 miles to go and it would take me all day to do it.
From Footbridge, the trail climbs from 4,590 feet to 6,800 feet - the same rockin' single track that I had descended the evening before, had now turned into a big ass climb. I actually felt strong and it felt familiar. The flow of just powering up a mountain, with the help of my poles. The soreness in my feet had vanished and the change of shoes had worked wonders. All of a sudden, my day had turned.
Now, I've got to say - I've basically got amnesia with regards to Day 2 of Bighorn. I do know, I put away the camera and I simply concentrated on the act of moving. After the big climb, it was time to get back in gear and run. I had no good excuse, I'd been walking all night, and I just wanted to finish. So, I ran. I wasn't chatty Leslie, as I was putting all of my energy towards just staying in motion. Run. Trudge. Run. Giggle. Thank-you Danni. Pee. That's was my pattern for hours. My body finally dumped all that fluid I had retained and it was almost frustrating. There's were a whole lot of pit-stops. Inevitably, anyone who I had passed would catch me with my pants down around my ankles. Apologize. We leap frogged a lot with Johnny, a Texan living in Minnesota. I do believe he saw my ass more than once.
Danni marveled at the scenery of this new day, but it was already ancient history to me. I was focusing on the trail in front of me. I couldn't think about the distance that lay ahead, my coping strategy was to put it in the back of mind and concentrate on the present. Trudge. Run. Run. Giggle.
I had been anticipating the Dry Fork aid station at 82.5 miles for a long time. In my mind, I had decided that rest would be a cruise home. At Dry Fork, they had a honest to goodness buffet with an incredible spread. I had some special brownies with coffee beans in them, Turkey and cheese roll-ups and bacon. Awesome. I took some of that, To Go! Danni worked her way through the whole buffet, guilt-free while I looked on in amazement. We left Dry Fork, happy, satiated, rejuvenated.
We had a few long rolling miles and when I finally had the opportunity to test out my down hill legs, I was pleased to find that I actually had some. That gave me a lot of time to look forward to the final, massive descent from Horse Creek Ridge to the Tongue River. When we finally reached the top of Horse Creek Ridge, I was stoked. The descent is epic: roughly 7.5 miles of downhill running where you drop from 7225 feet to 4090 feet.
Danni and I each took a few photos of each other at the top of the descent and then, I took off like a crazed woman. I ran down that mountain at a fairly ridiculous and borderline dangerous speed, passed a few folks and caught up with a few 50 Mile runners. I chased them down the mountain and they were super surprised when they realized I was a 100 Mile runner. About half way down with my quads-a-trembling I began to wonder if I had misjudged this "hammering the descent" thing. I was worried when I hit the flats my legs would be done and may even be damaged. But, I was having too much fun - so I flew.
When I finally hit the bottom, I did something smart for a change. I got in the creek immediately and soaked my legs. Sweetness. I was pretty happy to see this guy and I even danced a jig for him. He laughed pretty hard when I fell over. The cruise out of the canyon, was longer than I remember, it was hot and I still had the long section on the flats to contend with.
I had another soak in the river, before I had to endure the last flat 5 miles on the gravel road in to the finish line in Dayton. They were the only miles we had to run on anything resembling a road. But flat road for the last 5 miles?!? Gaaaaad. That's like torture to a mountain girl like me. It was long. I laughed hard when a truck came by and the windows rolled down to reveal Danni, with a beer in hand. She'd caught a lift back to town with some locals and evidently, they were thirsty.
I finished it up feeling pretty darn strong. I ended up gapping all of the people that I had spent the day running with, and made some huge gains in time with my speedy descent. That was a nice way to end the day, feeling strong.
After I hit the finish line, I immediately hit the river for a full leg and lower back soak. There was also a great big feast and BBQ to wind up an eventful 31 hours and 30 minutes of trail running fun. There was socializing to be done, but I was one exhausted girl. All I could do was muster up an occasional stupid grin, while we waited around for the rest of the runners to finish. Angela got it done as well, finishing up a tough Bighorn 100. Out of 35 ladies who started, only 18 finished. I've got to say - it's a tough and beautiful race.
The awards breakfast was fun. We got to hang in the town square in downtown Sheridan, early on Sunday morning. Thankfully, the weather cooperated and we soaked up the sunshine and enjoyed this relaxing start to our day. It was awesome. It's always fun to socialize, hang and swap war stories with everyone post-race. It's an incredibly well organized event, I couldn't believe the thought and planning that went in to every little detail. Clearly, they have gone out of their to pay attention to the little things and in doing so, have created something special. In a nutshell, the Bighorn Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run is awesome. And so is Wyoming. And so are my friends. Special thanks to Danni for being a great pacer and to Angela and Iris for sharing in a great adventure!