Bighorn was always meant to be a training race for me, another step in the upward trajectory lately. I didn't quite envision it as training for adapting to a crazy hectic couple weeks of travel (with almost no running), uncertainty about even getting there, and under the question of whether I'd be healthy and ready to go.
There is a lot of explain about the lead-up to the race, and I'm going to leave a lot of it for another time. For now... John captured the covid finally, somewhere in TX or NM in the middle of our multi-state journey to bring home our new Rivian (!) His symptoms were mild, thankfully, and he didn't pass it along to me initially. Two positive tests for him, two negative tests for me, and another two negative ones for good measure leading up to the start of the race.
So -- start the race, I guess? We made it Dayton WY, on time, and aside from a forecast of "ridiculous heat" (because, why not), there didn't seem to be a reason not to. How's that for motivation going into a 100-miler?
Actually, I had plenty of motivation, revolving around not finishing this exact race 15 years ago. I felt like I was in much better shape this time, ready for the altitude and the climbing, as much as I could be ready except for the prior 2 weeks of travel stress, occasional lack of sleep, and possible covid as mentioned above.
Also grateful to be there. Beyond everything else, it's a gorgeous place, and what better way to spend a weekend than up in the mountains?
Starting up the road at an easy pace, getting into a groove for the first couple miles:
And off we go... Thanks for the pictures, John!
John found a nice spot for a picture of Tug-E, our new Rivian electric truck - hello, lady!
The first climb was toasty, wide open, straight up, and full of sun. Occasionally we crossed little streams, and it didn't take me long to dig out my neck bandana to start dipping it in cool water whenever possible. It's a good thing my body will sweat on command because that was immediately necessary. Long climb, legs feeling fine with it, body feeling slower than normal.
Eventually I topped out, then had a solid trek along the next trail/road section. Anything less steep was no problem. Sharply steep uphills gave me pause. Breathing/lungs seemed fine, and by the Dry Fork aid station I was back on my pace chart. Good to go for heading off across into the hinterlands.
Happily, cloud cover rolled in and the rest of the afternoon was not nearly as sweltering.
Most of the course was in great shape. If I remember right from last time, the doubletrack road after Dry Fork was a rutty mess. This time it was still rutted but dry, and there was almost always a good path along it. Down and up through little drainages. Then a lovely singletrack rolling through the woods, very nice.
The drop down to Footbridge was also in much better shape compared to last time I was here. I remember sliding through mud down much of it, and this time it wasn't a lot of that. A bit of picking your way through wet sections here and there, and although I wasn't moving downhill very fast, it was a pleasant change of pace.
I heard a bit of thunder on the way down and there was a brief sprinkle while sitting in the aid station, but happily the evening/overnight weather was excellent. Several other runners were discussing clothing options, and I mentioned there was no way I would need tights. I carried a rain jacket, buff and light gloves, and that was it. If we're going to have a hot couple of days, at least take advantage of the warm overnight.
The first couple miles along the river roll up and down, then eventually the trail settles into a decent uphill grade. I was excited to notice the sign for "Leaky Mountain" and glance over to see 3-4 waterfalls pouring over a cliff further up the way. We aren't in the desert at the moment, Toto!
My climbing seemed to go well, steady and consistent. Just keep moving. And enjoying the scenery.
An example photo from our friend Ryan, who was doing the 52-miler the next day - so many great wildflowers!
It got dark, and it got interesting watching all the headlamps of runners up ahead, including the front of the pack coming back down. The upper part of the climb is mostly wide open and I could see approximately where the course was going, winding this way and that around the upper drainage system.
Still plenty warm, even with nighttime wind, pleasant walking weather.
Above the second-to-last aid station (Elk Camp) the trail was wet in spots. Then it was wet and muddy. Here we go, just how bad will it be this time?
And... plenty bad. With all the people passing in both directions, trying to figure out a way through without losing a shoe, this section is truly not fun.
A picture Ryan took the next morning:
Part of the trail was actually dry and runnable, yay! I had hope. That hope was dashed a short while later. We went through snow drifts, which were some of the better sections because the footing was decent there. More mud, more water.
Finally the trail crossed a road, getting close to the turnaround! A runner coming the other way said "there's mud up ahead" - wait, what's that we've been going through, then?
Oh. It just got worse and worse. No way to avoid walking straight through deep puddles of freezing muddy water. And hmm, isn't that a road just over there that we COULD be on? I was displeased.
My angst was multiplied because both of my heels were developing big blisters. What the heck? I've been wearing the same style shoes for many years, although I think the design of my drop-in insoles have changed and not for the better. Argh.
Finally there was the Jaws aid station. Thankfully an on-the-ball medical guy asked what I needed, and when I mentioned the heel blisters he jumped to help. We cleaned the back of my feet, let them dry a little, and then he covered and wrapped them up. I wished I had 2 dry pairs of socks there, one to use immediately and one to change out after going back through the mud.
No matter, the one pair would do fine. I knew I didn't really have the extra time to spend at Jaws but without fixing my heels it wouldn't have mattered anyway.
Back out the door, back through the crap, at least in that direction things improved with every obstacle forded.
I tried to get moving down the hill. I could speed-walk just fine, but my body wasn't really into the running thing. My throat was scratchy, that wasn't the sign I was looking for. Still good for deep breathing, but starting to get resigned about the direction this was heading. Again.
I was pretty sure I was going to make the Footbridge cutoff, and this time I was going to walk out of Footbridge and start up The Wall (dammit). 15 years ago I'd also done the math and determined there was no way to get back to Dry Fork in time, so I'd given up on the way down. Not this time!
My heart was in it, but my body was "meh", just keep moving.
As it got light, the 52-mile racers started passing me from beyond (they started at Jaws and followed our course back to Dayton). I didn't want to be in their way so I kept stepping aside for them. Maybe I should have focused on my own race, which needed all the time I could squeeze out. Not sure the best way to approach that.
The best part was having Ryan come up beside me and chat for a couple minutes. Hi Ryan! He was running well, while I was tired and slow. But happy enough to smile for the camera!
We agreed that the cool, cloudy morning was so lovely! Happy to have it while it lasted.
As I suspected, I made it to Footbridge with time enough to dump most stuff out of my pack, wipe my feet and change socks, and put on sunscreen. Then I walked out of there, dammit.
And... the steep uphill was just not happening. Less steep, no problem. Steep = slowly putting one foot in front of the other. I crawled partway up the hill, up through the wet section, leaning on my poles. There wasn't anything particularly slowing me down. My legs weren't on fire, my breathing wasn't ridiculous. The word "exhausted" came to mind. Finally my whole body said "please stop" so I listened and turned around.
It was a slow descent back to the aid station - races are always the hardest after you quit.
I got a ride back (mask on), found John, cleaned off a bunch of mud and showered, then took a covid test - it was a faint "T" line but it was there. Time for a nap or 2!
John got to see Kelly and Ryan at the finish line; at least one of us was awake that afternoon. Go Ryan!
It sucks to not finish the same race twice in a row. It sucks a little less when this time I might actually have a valid excuse?
And now I'm doing race recovery and covid recovery at the same time, so I've got that efficiency going for me :)
Happy - and healthy - trails!