Grindstone 2012—the last time a hundred mile race that I attempted went well. I suffered to a finish at Cruel Jewel in 2013 aided only by the generous cut-off there, and at Western States last year I hobbled along for 70 miles to what—while still a decent time—was not what I had either hoped or was trained up for. So, while Bighorn this year was not without hiccups—it is a hundred miles after all—it is what I’d call a very well executed run and, individually, my best executed in a long time. After feeling stagnant and a bit without direction for the past year with my running I feel like I’m back finally.
Something felt right about this weekend—start to finish; an intangible feeling of just being at ease and comfortable. A leisurely drive up to Sheridan, Wyoming on Thursday led into a lazy evening with friends—over thirty of us were sharing two houses for the weekend—and I woke up Friday morning later than I would have on any other Friday after a solid nine hours of sleep.
The only real issue for the entire weekend reared its head early into running on Thursday. The hundred at Bighorn starts at 11 a.m., opening with a long climb up a canyon into the oppressive mid-June heat. This year was hot, the opposite of all weather beta I’d been warned of for Bighorn (mainly to be prepared for true cold at night)—someone told me Saturday that the temperature broke 100 in the canyons and, confusingly for the Rockies, there was humidity along with the heat. Trotting up the first climb that rose nearly 3400 feet at what, in the dense heat, was a frustratingly runnable climb that I was not running, I actually had trouble breathing, feeling similar to asthma though I have never suffered from asthma. I assumed, foolishly, that the heat would mellow as we made the ridgeline well above 7000 feet. It did not. The heat followed us through the day onto the north side of the broad Bighorn mountain range.
I ran for a couple hours through this section with my bro Ryan Lassen, and we joked about seeing someone sitting on the edge of the trail, cooked and nauseas, at only mile 15. In true karmic timing, for almost two hours starting at mile 18, I puked. I puked up basically anything and everything; even swigs of water came up within minutes. Thankfully, even though I was concerned, my only ‘DNF’ thoughts came in the form of “well if I pee blood I’m calling it.” The seething fears of inability never crept in. Thankfully after crawling barely six flat miles in that whole time I managed to force down a Zantac, and in about thirty more minutes I felt famished. I cruised down the steep, technical descent to the Footbridge aid station at mile 30 running on fumes but confused as to why all the people I saw on the descent were walking down it. At footbridge, well over my split projections, my good friend Rush, there hanging out until his runner made it back from the turnaround, quickly put me back together with a pile of potatoes and watermelon—I was likely much easier to handle than our friend Tim who, running his first hundred miler here, immediately upon entering the aid station passed out and puked on himself like a scene from Pulp Fiction.
Three RMR—Tim, John Knotts, and Neeraj—left that aid as I was wrapping up my dinner of sorts and still had a few minutes of prep before I would follow. This was actually a nice progression for me as I enjoy chasing people—it is great motivation—and I was coming around from my heat-induced nausea, ready to do some real running into the long eighteen mile climb up to the turnaround at Jaws. I worked up that climb methodically, not pushing but maintaining a solid cadence and effort, stuffing my face as I went. I managed to catch back up to several RMR at the aid station prior Jaws whom I had not expected to see until much later in the race—this provided a nice boost for the frustratingly slow last few flatter miles into the turnaround at mile 48.
At the turnaround, Keely and Elena got to work cementing themselves into possibly the best crew I’ve had. Elena made several trips to the food table, fulfilling my various whimsical requests while Keely got to work cleaning my feet and replacing my shoes and socks, refusing to actually let me do it myself so I could focus on eating and getting out the door. Planning for actually appropriate Bighorn weather, I donned a long-sleeve shirt and glove, packed my fantastic Nike Terra Kiger jacket into my pack, and headed out into the night with Keely in-tow. I lost the gloves in the first mile and slid my sleeves up not long after, wishing I was running sans-pack so I could go shirtless as the temperature felt warmer in the long, dark downhill than it did in the previous dusk-lit climb.
Keely and I—though looking back I am disappointed in the actual splits for the initial lengthy downhill—made nice work of our time together all the way to Dry Fork (Mile 83). Most of the time I left headphones off and just enjoyed the conversation with one of my best friends, cruising along and picking off people and ticking off miles as we went. I ate well at the Footbridge aid station in preparation for the initial steep, then gradual uphill trend of the next 16 miles. This aid station seemed littered with dejected athletes seeking out whatever magic might keep them moving forward. Bad Juju. We ate and bolted up the steep climb toward the next aid station—2000 feet in 3.5 miles; which, while standard on a usual daily run, is truly a cold bitch at mile 66. This is where the headphones came back. My ipod was on point for the majority of its choices through Bighorn and gave me a solid mix of Dead Kennedys, Blink-182, and Kap Slap to power up the climb without any thought to how hard I was likely working. I knew the entire race leading up to this point that, no matter how I felt at this point, this climb would be hard. So, since I felt good, I decided to overwork and get it done with as quickly as possible.
Out of the aid station following that climb, We trotted along again, elated at how smoothly that had gone and reveling in the early morning dawn rising up from the long canyon as we traced our way toward Dry Fork. Only two hiccups arose through the entire section with Keely—one after another. At the next to last true aid station before Dry Fork, I accepted some soup that ended up being entirely too saturated and came right back up not even five minutes after leaving the aid station. Then, we somehow blew right past the (fantastic) spring that counted as the next aid station. No big matter, just a little added incentive to move faster (or, as is the case in a 100 miler, less slow).
Dry Fork was the last true stop of the race for me. Changing into some fresh Nike Lunaracers I was truly smelling the barn. [Editors note: ‘barn’ initially read ‘bar’ as a typo. Take your pick.] I left everything behind here aside from a single Simple Hydration bottle filled with rocket fuel (slightly diluted Mountain Dew—my fuel for the remainder of the race). Elena and I charged out at a steady clip, keenly aware of the meager 3:03 remaining for 18 miles to slip under 24 hours. I have to say: road flats feel fan-fucking-tastic during the tail end of a 100, particularly on forgiving dirt roads. The final descent of this went slower than I had hoped, feeling much, much, much steeper on the return descent than as the opening climb a day prior. I had no quad issues, but I just felt very uncomfortable at my fatigue level attempting to lean into the descent…at all.
Elena and I hit the road with 35 minutes left to run the five final road miles and finish under 24 hours and I decided I wanted it—a laughable thought in hindsight; we surged down the road as hard as I could muster (which, looking back, was only about 7:30/mile). Fairly quickly, Elena decided she didn’t feel like running that pace (I’m not counting this as having dropped her) and I was running alone. I passed Silke and her entourage en-route to a killer first female finish with about 3.5 miles to go, and met Keely coming to meet me from the finish with about 2.5 miles to go. Meeting her forced me to accept that sub-24 hours was unreasonable and I settled into a lazy walk toward the finish line, only jogging from time to time as the last person I had passed on the road came close to catching back up to me. We trotted across the finish line with 24:11 on the clock—only 18 minutes from my 100-mile PR and performed on a much harder course.
Looking back, I am so pleased with finally being able to execute a race well, regardless of where the times fell in comparison to my initial time goals. I am publishing this report so late as I wanted time to muse on the race and let my true feelings regarding my run simmer over the subsequent weeks. This race gave my some excitement to finally get back to work and find my racing legs again. There are a couple races in the fall that have piqued my interest.
Simple Hydration Bottles
Ultimate Direction Jurek Pack
RMR Pearl Izumi Singlet (hey Patagucci, make some green singlets please)
Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts (tried and true, never going back)
2 different pairs of La Sportiva Bushidos (due to mud) and Nike Lunaracers
Gas Station American Flag Cap