Big Horn 50 - Race Report
Wyoming was mad sweet! The Big Horn course is rugged, technical, has some altitude to deal with, some steep climbing, and was beautiful. I don't know that I can pick one over the other, but the Big Horn course and location is right up there with the Tahoe 100 which is listed over and over as one of the best destination races. I ended up 11th overall in the 50 (actually 52) out of 145 finishers with a time of just under 9:11. The GPS output from the race is listed below.
The course starts around 8800 feet above sea level then drops down to roughly 4600 in the first 18 miles. I went out with the lead group but eased it back fairly soon as I knew running 7:30's out of the gate was way out of bounds for me. I fell into a "chase group" of about 20 runners strung out along the trail and decided to keep a conservative yet upper pace through this section knowing that I needed to play the course and that I'd be a bit labored with the altitude and I did not want to blow myself up too early. I also was a little unsure how well I could handle all the down hill running. I hit the first major aid station at mile 18 in 2:45. With the great help of the aid station workers at Foot Bridge I shed my arm warmers and the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Anorak jacket I had keeping me warm during the early cold miles up top, stuffed my pockets with gels and headed out with the quickness.
Miles 18-21.5 are made up of a climb gaining 2,300 feet that takes us back up around 7k. If you look at the embedded GPS route from my Suunto Ambit above, you can get a feel for it. It was steep and slow. I had to back off a few times in here to get my heart rate down as it felt like my heart was going to come out of my neck. I worked in with Jim from Park City, UT who was returning from a 10 year hiatus of ultrarunning, and we passed a few miles together before he took off. I'd end up playing leap frog with Jim the remainder of the race. After finally getting through the climb I realized I may have messed up a little. I only brought one water bottle and I was using it up about every 5 miles or so. The next aid station from the one at mile 21.5 was 7 away. I drank a little extra at the AS thinking that I was still going to run out and as if reading my mind one of the volunteers told me there was a spring 3 miles away and it was drinkable. Score!! I took a check of my mileage on my watch then headed back out. I found the spring filled up again and splashed some of this cool mountain water in my face. What a great find! Mentally I was feeling a lot better. I made a good consistent push though this section and had made up a few spots. I assumed I was running in the top 15 at this point.
Unfortunately this next section was a bit of a downer. It was very exposed and hovering around that 7k mark. My legs felt like straight garbage. Luckily I hooked up with a runner from Laramie, MT, Nik Deininger. He had ran the 50 last year and said he had a rough section here and asked if he could run with me. I was all over it. A little team work to get through this section was needed. We worked our way through this hot and exposed 6 mile section by using the "lets run to that next tree" mentality. Each adding a little bit of support for each other when the other was down. Eventually we climbed up to Dry Fork AS with about 16.5 miles to go. I took a little longer than I wanted at this aid station but I needed to get my head on straight. I "caught" my buddy Greg here who was running the 100 and in high spirits which helped my attitude get better. I grabbed my drop back, stuffed more gels in my pocket, chugged a small cup of coke, ate some M&M's, then stared walking up the gravel road out of the aid station.
My stomach felt pretty rough. For the most part I'd kept my guts in good shape up until now. I may have gone a little overboard with the AS food but I let out a burp that was probably heard at the finish line and was back in business. I continued to walk the gravel road climb then decided it was time to start pushing. Nik and I ran together again and just worked together to push. Flats and downhills meant running. We hit the aid station with 12.5 to go and caught two other 50 milers. We all ran together for a bit but I knew that I wanted to hit this last section hard. We hit a steep 1/4 mile climb named "The Wall" which I climbed steadily getting ready to bomb down once I hit the top. From here on out, it was mostly downhill or flat to finish line. Which sounds great but that much downhill for someone who does not have long downhills can crush your quads. I decided that I had leg left so I was just going keep pushing and see what happened.
Nik and I were still together but had said that if either of us started falling back for the other guy to go ahead. I decided it was time to make a move. I saw Jim up in front of us and he was not matching our speed so he stepped aside and let us go by. I kept the pedal to the metal as much as I could. I was enjoying the vast scenery to take my mind off my burning quads. I finally started pulling ahead of Nik and hit the aid station with around 8 miles to go. I dumped off some gels that I would not use, filled my water bottle up quickly, and then dunked my bandanna in the river to cool off as the heat picked up. I charged out of the aid station and did not let off the gas until this thing was over. I ended up averaging about 9 minute miles over the last 10 miles or so. It felt great to race to the finish of this one. I had enough in the tank, had taken care of my nutrition, and was focused enough to continue to drive hard through until the end. Don't get me wrong, it was not easy. I was hot, tired, my legs were on fire, and I would have loved to back off and walk some of this flat 5 miles to the finish, but this is where all that time and effort put into training comes into focus. I owed it to myself and those that put up with my silly little hobby to finish this thing right.
The winner and new course record holder, Seth Swanson, came in almost 2 hours ahead of me and not quite an hour in front of 2nd place,which was b-a-n-a-n-a-s!! While there are some naturally abilities and access to mountains, he's from Missoula, I want to close that gap a little more. I need to work on my sustained climbing and continue to push my overall volume up to compete better in races like this. However positive growth is important and if you'd have told me a few years ago I could run under 10 hours in a mountain race, I'm not sure I'd of believed you. Having Matt Hart (3rd in the 100) as a coach has helped me a ton. Adding some variety, speed, strength, and focus to my training has taken my running up a level. I plan to continue that trend.
The Big Horn races as a whole are a well oiled machine. Staggering the races so that everyone finishes together might be a little rough on the 100 milers but makes for a great finishing experience with runners of all distances coming in together. Were there a few spots where aid or a volunteer was not over the top good, sure it happens. In general though the pre-race meal, course, aid stations, volunteers, swag, post race breakfast, and awards ceremony were all excellent. I'll be going back to this one.
Here some additional photos from the weekend including my friends, Tommy, Greg, and Kyle who all ran and completed the 100.