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Friday, June 26, 2015

Bighorn 100M

The Bridger Ridge
Heading down from the Bostwick Pass
For a few years I had heard some of my fellow runners talking about the Bighorn 100 and urging me to run it.  I have always wanted to explore new and beautiful places and I figured that this was the year to give the Bighorn a go.  Bighorn starts just outside of Dayton Wyoming around 4000 feet.  It climbs up through canyons and meadows to the turnaround at Jaws Trailhead, 9000 feet, before coming back down and continuing a few extra miles past the start into Dayton for the finish.  Living at 300 feet in Corvallis Oregon I knew that the altitude up in the Bighorn mountains could be tough so I talked with my uncle and aunt who graciously let me stay for a week out in Bozeman to acclimatize before the Bighorn.  I flew out to Bozeman and the stay was a perfect week.  I was able to see enough of the Bridger Ridge and surrounding country to get me really excited to run, while still resting up for race day.  My aunt and uncle deserve a huge thank you for putting up with me for a week and taking me around the Bozeman area to some incredible areas.

Wednesday my dad drove out to Bozeman from Corvallis which took almost as long as the race itself so I owe him a huge thank you for being such a great guy.  Then Thursday arrived and we headed down to Wyoming.  After checking in, we headed to our motel, ate some dinner, and went to bed.  Then next morning I got up around 7:30 which is normally bad news if your running an ultra since you've probably missed the start but for the Bighorn it was plenty of time.  Dad and I ate breakfast then drove to the pre race meeting at the start line...only we took off on the wrong road.  After 5 or 6 miles we realized that we should be at the trailhead and the road we were on was heading up he mountain.  So we grabbed the map and driving instructions for the race and headed back through town and up the Tongue River road.  We followed the instructions closely and were a little surprised not to see any cars before we reached the toilet on the right of the road shortly before the start.  Fortunately there was a couple people there so we decided to ask them if they were with the race explaining we were late for the pre race meeting.  Their reply, "The pre race meeting is at the finish."  Whoops.  So we rolled in about 25 minutes late and caught the last few words before everyone dispersed.  Now, there was about 1 1/2 hours till the start so I lathered up with sunscreen, stopped by the bathroom and then jumped in the car and headed up to the start.  Fortunately Dad was able to find a spot quickly and we walked up to the start line.

We milled around for a few minutes then the race director told everyone to line up so I made my way to the start line with hundreds of other runner.  I got in a few hellos to some guys who I knew were running before the National Anthem was sang, the pre race prayer was said and we took off up the canyon.

The road quickly gave way to trail and we started to spread out as soon as we hit the single track.  I was in second or third until as we made our way through the canyon but was mostly focused on taking in the view and enjoying the run while it still felt really easy.  Soon we turned up an open hillside leaving the canyon behind and starting a long hot climb through the sun.  I moved into first leaving the canyon and was able to look back down on the other runners when the trail allowed which was really cool to see them all making their way up the mountain.  I mostly ran the first climb hiking a little when the trail got steep but I was surprised how hot it was already.  There was no shade and the altitude made the sun feel really intense.  Finally I crested the first climb and rolled down the first descent of the day.  The next section was some trail and some gravel road which rolled along under the Wyoming sun.  Shortly I crested a little hill and could see Dry Fork aid station, the first major aid station of the day.  I rolled in feeling a bit crappy but quickly filled my bottles with the help of Denise Bourassa who was out there crewing for her husband Ken.  Denise urged me to eat something so I grabbed a few grapes and then headed out.

Nothing was tasting all that good but I ate a little on the next descent and focused on making good time.  I reached the next aid station quickly and kept moving along.  Somewhere in the next few miles I started to run low on water and was thankful when I reached the spring around mile 22.  As I filled up my bottles a couple other runners caught up.  I realized I lost focus over the last 3-4 miles and that I was moving pretty slow so I focused on running well for the rest of the descent into Footbridge.  The trail rolled along past one more aid station before beginning a fairly steep rocky descent down to Footbridge.  Along the way there was a few mud bogs in the trail which were either wet and liable to suck your shoes off or dry with old horse track causing some rough trail.  Anyhow, I cruised downhill slowing for a few rough sections but mostly making good time down to Footbridge where I would see my dad for the first time.

When I rolled into Footbridge, I didn't feel particularly great but I could tell my body was on the upswing and things would be getting better as I continued up the next canyon.  I grabbed some stuff from my dad and got some ice in my Buff which turned out to be a big help.  I left Footbridge focused only on reaching the turnaround and really started to feel better.  The day was a bit cooler and I had drank a lot of water over the last 2 1/2 hours so I started up the canyon making good time.  I focused on running well but really payed attention to how much I was drinking and eating to make sure I wouldn't have any low points later.  As the climb slowly left the canyon for the open slopes of the Bighorn Mountains the climb got steeper in sections and I threw in some hiking but tried mostly to run as much as I could.  As I closed in on the top, the trial started to level out a bit and I was making really good time but more importantly was feeling really good.  My legs felt pretty fresh and although I still didn't want to eat I could tell I had a lot of energy left.  A mile or two before the turnaround I saw Denise again and she ran into Jaws aid station with me.  Dad was there to meet me and I got a little food but really hadn't eaten much since Footbridge so I didn't need much.  Denise talked me into getting some food at the aid station and I had a little.  I got some more ice in my Buff then headed out, ready for the next big downhill.

I was 9 minutes out of Footbridge before I saw Nate Jaqua followed by another runner.  Soon there was quite a few runners coming by and it was fun to see everyone and cheer on the guys I knew.  Shortly after seeing Nate, the trail headed down again and I started to take off through some patches of trees that soon gave way to open meadows.  My legs were feeling really good so I was flying down the meadows soaking up the cool of the late afternoon and trying to get as far as I could without my light.  Eventually darkness demanded I turn on my light so I used a headlight in combination with a handheld light which worked great.  The handheld light allowed me to look ahead and read the terrain while the headlight was focused close to my feet so I could see what I was stepping on.  The descent down to Footbridge was the best I had felt all day and it seemed to go by quickly as I really got into a rhythm.  Mostly all I remember outside of running was splashing some water on myself at creek crossing to cool off and drinking some Mountain Dew at aid station which quickly became about the only thing I was taking in.  After the meadows up high and a couple short technical sections down by the river I came back to Footbridge feeling far better than I did on the was out.  I grabbed a little to eat by mostly just drank some Mountain Dew and headed out.

I felt good leaving Footbridge and ran quite a bit of the climb before it got steep and turned into a hike.  After a short stop at an aid station, I kept moving on the progressively more level trail.  Running through the dark its hard to tell exactly where you are but I was mentally checking off places I had passed on the way out.  I reached the next aid station and asked how far to Dry Fork and heard it was 6 miles.  I headed out toward Dry Fork focused on making good time all the way there.  I was starting to smell the finish but focused on running well to Dry Fork.  Shortly after I left the aid station I could see the light of someones camper out in the woods and I figured that was the ridge I had to climb over before I headed up to Dry Fork aid station.  I kept moving along running quite a bit and only hiking some short steep ups but the camper never got much closer.  After half an hour or so, I realized that was Dry Fork aid station I would see and that the darkness had misled me on how far away the light was.  I found myself running most of the climb coming into Dry Fork which I thought sure would be all hiking.

Dad was there but I didn't take anything from him, just grabbed some Mountain Dew and headed out.  I had 17.5 miles to go and it was mostly downhill.  I started out of the aid station moving well realizing I was close to course record pace and if I ran hard it could easily be my record.  But somewhere in the gentle rollers of the next few miles I fell into a lull and just couldn't get moving all that well over the fairly level terrain.  I reached the last aid station before we plunge downhill on the last descent and asked how far to the finish.  They said about 12.5 miles which sounded good and I thought that I would have time to break Mike Foote's record.  Then came the short but steep climb to the top of the ridge and I hiked hard but was moving slow.  I reached the top of the ridge looked at my watch and I wasn't sure if things were adding up any more.  I figured that I would have to run fast regardless so I took off down the other side flying down the long steady climb I had come up yesterday.

On the descent I just started hammering downhill.  My legs didn't feel shot and I felt very confident on the descent, in such a groove that I didn't even think about falling on the semi-technical trail.  I ran hard through the meadow and don't remember much other than the thrill of the descent in the cool darkness.  The two things I do remember was looking up and seeing the sky starting to lighten ever so slightly, and the rabbit, which froze in the trail under the beam of my light, that I jumped over.  I reached the bottom of the hill and turned down the canyon following a rock strewn trail along the river.  The day was just starting to lighten but not enough to illuminate sections of trail I remembered from the journey out.  Eventually the trail gives was a road which came a little sooner than I expected.  From the trailhead to the finish was about 5 miles with the last mile being on a paved road.  I thought that I had enough time to sneak under Mike Foote's course record when I hit the road but I would have to keep moving quickly.

Road running is not my strength so I knew that I would have to stay focused to maintain a solid pace for the last 5 miles of flat road.  I was running strong down the road but it took a lot of effort to maintain my pace.  Mostly I just thought about moving as fast as I could.  I had seen the road the day before and there was a few places that I knew I had to go by but once I checked those off in my mind, all I was waiting for was the paved road.  This was a mistake because around every bend in the road, I thought I would see pavement on the other side.  As I was nearing the road, a guy on a motorcycle came by and told me that my dad was just around the next corner waiting for me at the bridge.  He also said if I ran fast I would be able to set the course record.

I hit the pavement and about a hundred yard later could see dad standing at the bridge.  From there I got to the bridge ran across the road into Dayton and made a left into Scott Park.  A short run along the edge of the park and I was at the finish.  18:29:39.


All in all, it was a very special day in the mountain and I'm grateful for everyone who helped me along my way.  Obviously my dad deserves a big thank you for crewing for me on race day but also my mom and brother for putting up with me and my running every day.  I also want to thank my uncle and aunt for letting me stay in Bozeman the week before the race and for Denise Bourassa for helping me at a couple aid stations.  Also a big thanks to the race directors for putting on such a great race and all the other runners for making the day so enjoyable.  Finally a thanks to Salomon for providing me with great gear for all of my running adventures.