Sometimes things do not go to plan, sometimes they do. The only thing that you can plan on when running 100 miles is that things will not go to plan. It had been a couple of years since I had toed the line to run a hundred miler and to be totally honest, I was not sure I was prepared. After getting home from Transvulcania I had a hard time getting back in the groove. It seemed as though I needed a lot of time to recover fully from the race. Just when I thought I was getting my form back, it was derailed by race directing the Scout Mountain Ultra. During that month I often chose to recover more and train less, which left me wondering how the Bighorn would actually go.
We took two days to make the drive to Sheridan. We stopped and slept in Yellowstone and took our time working our way through the national parks. Thursday afternoon we set up our tent in the Foothills Campground in Dayton which is conveniently located next to the finish line. Tanae cooked up some delicious burgers and sweet potato fries and we turned in right at dark. The race doesn’t start until 11:00 a.m. I did my best to sleep in, although I wasn’t too successful. We had a great breakfast of sweet potato burritos and spent a lot of time waiting for the time to come.
My plan from the start was to follow the advice of the course record holder; ” just run fast and take chances, save a little for the climb from Footbridge, and bury yourself on the road to the finish”. Now you may be thinking that this sounds like a horrible idea for a 100 miler, but I decided that I would try to go out hard and see where it took me. As the race started I was able to give Brynlee a high five and then proceeded to warm up on the mile of road. I was in 3rd or 4th when we hit the single track and when the trail started to climb consistently, I pulled into the lead. There was a group of 4 or 5 runners that formed kind of a loose lead pack that stayed together through the Streamside aid station. After the aid station I tried to pour it on a little harder and was able to get a little lead. 2 hours and 20 minutes had passed when I pulled into the Dry Fork aid station. Tanae and Ty did an amazing Nascar-like swap of gel flasks and my hand held, and in less than a minute I was back on my way.
I had put a couple minutes on the runner behind me and did my best to take advantage of the gap. I pushed pretty hard down the descent from the aid and into the first of many rolling ups and downs. The temperature was creeping up and I tried to splash in every creek crossing. Around mile 20 or so my legs went flat. I am not sure what caused it; I had been eating enough and drinking pretty good, but I crashed and burned. Zach Miller, previous winner and a super fast guy, caught me. I tried to run with him for a bit, but it seemed very hard to keep up. Not long after Zach disappeared ahead of me another runner, Ben, caught and passed me. I continued to struggle, slogging forward until I finally arrived at Footbridge aid station.
At Footbridge I pulled off my shoes and socks, rinsed thoroughly in the shower they had set up, drank several glasses of coke and mountain dew, and ate some tasty chips. I spent 10-15 minutes feeding, getting my temperature down, and recalibrating my attitude. A couple more runners went by before I got my shoes back on and started the 18 mile climb up towards the Jaws aid station. I walked for about a mile out of the aid station allowing my stomach to settle, then I started to run again. It took about 30- 40 minutes before my legs really started to come around, but by the time I hit The Narrows aid station I was in a much better head space and my legs felt much better. At each aid station I hit a bit more coke and started sipping broth.
As I neared the top I kept expecting to see Zach and the other runners charging back at me from the turnaround. My bad patch had lasted for long enough that I expected them to have up to an hour lead on me. The closer I got to the turnaround the weirder it seemed. When I finally arrived Tanae and Ty both explained that three runners had arrived, but none had left.
Inside the tent I found out Zach was suffering from a migraine and the others were both in the midst of a rough patch. I spent about 10 minutes getting sorted with clothes, lights, and food. I snagged a hug from Brynlee and Chloe, kissed Tanae and set off with Ty. One runner had left the aid station ahead of us, and just before the Elk Camp aid station we caught him and moved into the lead. Ty set a blistering pace down towards Footbridge. We managed to arrive at Spring Marsh before having to flip headlamps on. I focused on moving as efficiently as possible while we moved through the field of 100 milers coming up the hill. Just outside of the Narrows aid station it started to lightly rain which was really nice. A little lightning added some drama and before long we rolled into Footbridge. We both knew that we were being chased down, so we made quick work of the aid station and set to the task of climbing up to Bear Camp.
The climb was uneventful; lots of head down power hiking and staring at the backs of Ty’s shoes. A couple of times before Footbridge and several times up that climb nature called (urgently), something that had never plagued me during a 100 miler. But even with the delays, we arrived still in the lead at Bear Camp. The volunteers there were great; they got us some good broth and gave word that we had about a 45 minute lead. Not wanting to give too much, we set out determined to hold on a bit longer. Just before our arrival back at Dry Fork we caught a glimpse of headlamps. It caught both Ty and I off guard as we had been moving pretty well and it seemed far fetched that we had given back that much time. It turns out that Patrick was charging and had gotten within about 15 minutes of us. At the Dry Fork aid, Tanae once again did the rock star job of crewing and in less than 5 minutes we were on our way. We ran up the climb from Dry Fork in the dark hoping to get into Patrick’s head just a little. As we crested the top the very first hints of dawn started to show on the horizon.
Now more than 80 miles into the run, it was truly time to race. Patrick was charging, and we needed to do everything we could to stay ahead. Not much was said between Ty and I during this section, just lots of focused running. We rolled into the Streamside aid station hoping to get word on how much lead we had, but the contact hadn’t yet been made and we didn’t have time to wait. Shot of coke and off we went. On the grunt of a climb just after the aid station Ty mentioned his Achilles was bugging him and that I needed to go.
Ultrarunners often talk about “the hay being in the barn” in regards to training for long races. The idea being that the hay is used up during the race. Well at this point there wasn’t any hay left in the barn, so I looked at Ty and said, “Okay, time to burn down the barn!.” I hit play on the iPod and to the aggressive beats of the Offspring I charged down the long, steep, and final descent towards the finish. Amazingly my quads had held up very well to this point in the race and I was able to move pretty quickly down. I woke up the volunteers at Sheep Camp, took a hit of Mountain Dew, and then continued rolling down towards Dayton.
The volunteers were barely setting up at the last aid station that is situated on the Tongue River Road, 5 miles from the finish. They hadn’t heard how close the second place runner was, so I had to assume he was right behind me. I ran as hard as my legs would allow for all five miles of the Tongue River Road. I forced myself to not look over my shoulder, assuming that any second I would be overtaken. I hit the concrete and I allowed myself a quick glance as I turned over the bridge. No one in sight.
Running into the finish was awesome, and nicely uneventful. Standing at the finish were Tanae, Catherine, and Mike James. The race director was over getting buses for the 50k sorted and like that it was done. It took 19:10:15 to run a little over 100 miles in the beautiful Bighorn mountains. Not one to savor an amazing moment, I immediately felt weak and nauseous and had to lay in the grass for quite some time before I started to feel better. I had used up the hay and burnt the barn all the way down to the ashes.
28 minutes later Patrick McGlade crossed the finish line. I stood briefly to congratulate him before once again laying down and trying to keep from vomiting. Ben Bucklin came in 3rd. Ben and I had gone back and forth all day. He commented “man, you sure came back from the ashes”. I had to agree that when he passed me at Footbridge that I must have looked awful. He concurred, but said he was amazed that I was able to turn it around.
We spent the rest of the day hanging around the finish, swapping war stories with all sorts of runners and enjoying an awesome gathering of the tribe. I had the privilege of seeing almost every 100 mile finisher come across the line and drew a ton of inspiration from the final runners charging down the homestretch, racing the clock to beat the cutoff times. Jim Milar was the final finisher and he blew my mind with his tenacity, fighting all the way to the end.
IMG_4583.MOV– (Movie of Jim coming into finish)
The next day we had a great breakfast with the 100 mile finishers in Sheridan and I again got to congratulate every 100 mile finisher as I helped hand out finisher buckles. It is so inspiring to me to see how tough ultra runners are, and how loving of a community we are a part of.
Special shout out to Patagonia teammates Roch Horton and Rod Bein for fighting throughout the whole race, to my good friend and super pacer Ty Draney for helping whip me in, and to my super crew Tanae, Chloe, and Brynlee for always being a high point of my race. After the breakfast, we loaded the family back in the truck and drove the slow way home through Yellowstone. We stopped to see Old Faithful and some of the other sites. I was further inspired by Chloe and Brynlee’s awe and stoke for the wild things and places we saw in the park. It sure made for a great finish to an awesome weekend.
I plan on putting together a separate post in a week or so about gear and nutrition from this race, but briefly:
Patagonia Everrace Prototype shoe, Patagonia Merino no show sock, Patagonia Strider Pro short, Patagonia airmesh sleeveless and cap 1 long sleeve, Patagonia Duckbill hat, Smith Approach Max Sunglasses, Ultraspire Isomeric race handheld and alpha pack, Black Diamond Icon headlamp. Fuel: First Endurance EFS XP Prototype, EFS LS, Ultragen. Plus lots of coke and broth.