Post image for Bighorn 100 June 15th – 16th 2012:  Rocky Mountain Slam Part 1 of 4

Bighorn 100 June 15th – 16th 2012: Rocky Mountain Slam Part 1 of 4

by Alan on June 17, 2012

(WARNING – the info in some of the following links is a bit graphic – don’t click if you are squeamish!)

If you read my last blog entry, then you know a little bit about the challenges I have been facing in my attempt to complete the Rocky Mountain Slam. I would be toeing the line at the Bighorn Trail 100 exactly 30 days after surgery to repair an anal fistula that resulted from an anorectal abscess, which was a complication of my lymphocytic colitis. I was definitely feeling a bit nervous on the drive up to Sheridan Wyoming the Wednesday before the race. I successfully ran this race last year, but my severe lack of training, my 15 lb weight loss caused by 3 months of illness, along with the very short amount of time I had to heal from the surgery left me feeling anything but confident.

I had an uneventful drive, and met Vi Team member Kari Fraser at the house she rented south of town. Once there, I caught up a bit with her and some of our friends, and set up a tasting station where everyone could try out some new flavors of Vi Fuel that I have been experimenting with. After a while, some of us decided to go for a little run. I stupidly decided to go barefoot, not realizing how much of a toll the last few months had taken on my body. While running, I noticed that my form seemed a bit off on the right side, and after about 3 miles (with another mile to go), I realized that I was forming a blood blister on the ball of my right foot and ended up walking back the rest of the way. Oh well, just one more thing to add to the suffering of 100 miles, right?

The next day, I woke up in my hotel room and noticed my right foot was sore. It felt like my heel had rolled under, and was stuck. By late afternoon, I was limping and my achilles tendon was swollen and colored purple and red. The incision from the surgery was not even closed up yet, and now my achilles is messed up? Just one more thing conspiring to make me fail out on the course.

That day I put my drop bags together, and then met up with Kristel and her husband Justin around suppertime. Kristel was running the 100 with me, and Justin was running his first 50 miler. We all headed out to Josh Fuller’s parent’s house, and had a great dinner along with some great company for a couple of hours, and then settled in for a fitful night of sleep.

The next morning I couldn’t sleep anymore, and was up by 6:00. I had breakfast, took a bath, and slathered cream all over the incision on my butt hoping it would make it 100 miles. Double checking my gear one last time, I finally made the drive up to Dayton for the start, arriving around 7:30 to a nearly empty Scott park, where the finish line and pre-race meeting are located.

After a while, people started showing up and were getting ready for the race before the pre-race meeting started at 9.

After the pre-race meeting was over, we still had some time to kill. The race starts a few miles down the gravel road following the Tongue River as it comes out of the mountains, but not until 11am. We gathered up all of the Vi Team members, friends, and crew together for a final pre-race picture:

I then piled into Justin’s car with Kristel and a few other friends and drove to the start line. After a nervous 30 minutes or so, it was finally 11am and the race was on!

I really wanted to start out just walking, but strangely there was a cutoff at the Tongue River aid station. I only had 25 minutes to go the first 1.25 miles, so I ran slowly wherever I could. After about a mile, I found myself walking next to Sheri Atkinson, and we started chatting. Sheri had some kidney function issues that forced her to drop from last year’s race, and she spent the last year working through the issues and trying to get strong enough to have another go at it. Since we were both taking it really easy, we decided to hang together for a while. We went through the TR aid right around 18 minutes and kept on hiking.

Before long, we were climbing and making slow but steady progress hiking through the next couple of aid stations. After Dry Fork (13.4 miles), my achilles tendon really started bothering me, and I was starting to limp. I even stopped once for 10-15 minutes and Sheri tried in vain to get my foot to release. At mile 18, I finally gave in and took an ibuprofen, as I was moving so slowly that I was afraid I would miss the cutoffs ahead. Once the ibuprofen kicked in, I was able to hike at normal speed, and even run slowly on the downhills as needed. I was beginning to have serious doubts about the race at this point, partly because I wondered if my achilles tendon could take the misalignment for 100 miles, but also because I was nervous about starting to take ibuprofen so early into the race. I just kept telling myself that I have covered lots of distance with a messed up foot before, and past experience has taught me that everything can change IF you just keep moving long enough to let it happen and don’t get too worked up over it. So that’s what I did for the next 25 miles, taking one ibuprofen every 3-4 hours to keep things moving.

At mile 40 (and a little after dark), we came into the Spring Marsh aid station. Much to my surprise, there was Kristel! She had been there for over 2 hours, suffering badly from cramps, and would have dropped but for the kind attention and encouragement from some of the people manning the aid station. She was waiting there for her pacer Mary to arrive, but decided to head out with us and meet Mary along the trail. Within a mile or two, we met up with Mary, and pretty soon Kristel was feeling much better and took off.

Here’s where my race started to get interesting. About 43 miles in, just a little bit before the Elk Camp aid station, I stepped on a rock at a bit of a funny angle with my right foot and I felt the bones shift around a bit. Pretty soon, the pain that had been plaguing me the whole race was virtually gone! At Elk Camp, I started worrying about the cutoffs, so I told Sheri I was going to go on ahead and took off. As I hiked up the hill, I felt better and better and soon found myself at the turnaround point, the Porcupine Aid Station, at mile 48. A quick rest and refuel there and I took off again. Once I regained the top of the hill, it was all downhill from there to Footbridge at mile 66, and I was able to run a large portion of this section, arriving after sunrise.

After Footbridge, there is a very significant climb that lasts for 3 or 4 miles. I actually felt pretty good and was able to make good time going up, getting passed by the 50 mile frontrunners on the last big climb in this section around 8:40. I breezed through Bear Camp aid (69.5 miles) and found myself at Cow Camp (76.5 miles) not quite 2 hrs later. I had to stop at Cow Camp for sure, because – they had BACON! After several pieces of bacon, and a few pieces of potato fried in bacon grease, I was feeling revived and headed out again.

A little bit later, I started having some pain in the ball of my right foot and stopped to take a look. My waterlogged foot had some dirt and grit in the creases caused by being water soaked. I cleaned it up, and put some of the cream I was carrying for my rear end onto the sore spots and everything was as good as new. I ended up doing the same thing to the left foot when I got into the Dry Fork aid station (82.5 miles).

By the time I got to Dry Fork, my feet were getting swollen and were just downright sore. I was definitely paying the price for the <50 miles per month I had trained this year. Running was pretty much out of the equation, so I just concentrated on hiking as quickly and efficiently as I could. Things went pretty well to Upper Sheep aid (87.5 miles), and I made short but painful work of climbing the ridge past the aid station. It was all downhill from here! Unfortunately, that was a lot of downhill, about 2500 feet in 4 miles or so. I tightened my shoelaces and tried to move as fast as possible down the long downslope. I was tired, hot, and my feet were absolutely killing me. After an hour or so, I was down to the Lower Sheep aid (92.5 miles) and somewhat easier terrain. The next 3 miles were fairly enjoyable, hiking quickly on nice trails in the trees along the Tongue River without too much gnarly terrain. After the Tongue River aid (94.75 miles), the course quickly becomes nothing but a gravel road all the way back into town. This was definitely the hardest point of the race for me. My feet felt like they could explode any minute, and I wanted little more out of life at that point than to quit walking. I ended up walking at a glacial pace down the road, until I finally arrived at the Homestretch aid (98 miles). I felt so lousy at that point I just sat down in the chair and watched other runners go by for about 15 minutes or so, mostly just dreading the fact that I was going to have to stand back up on my feet and walk in. I finally stood back up and started walking (staggering) toward town down the road. After what seemed like an eternity, I came around the corner and saw pavement! That meant that I was hitting the edge of town. I started moving a little quicker, and soon started to slowly run down the road as the prospect of being done entered my mind. Before long, I was running along at 8 or 8:30 min/mile pace and feeling great! I crossed the highway, where the volunteers had stopped the traffic for me, and ran up the entrance to the park. The closer I got, the better I felt, and the faster I ran. Once in the park, I was probably moving around 7 min/mile pace when I heard everyone cheering me in. I ran faster and faster, finally flying through the finish line at sub 7 pace and feeling awesome, finishing in 32:26:28, over 1 1/2 hours before the cutoff! I went over and sat with a group of friends watching the runners come in for a while, and surveyed the damage to my feet. Nothing too bad, just swollen, and both big toenails were detached like usual for a race like this.

After a quick soak in the bathtub, and a trip to WalMart for some food (I hadn’t planned my meals very well before the race and ran out of food), I crashed into bed around 10:30. Around 1:30 or so, I kept waking up thinking how hot it was, even though the AC was cranked and was running fine. I finally woke up enough to realize that I was nauseous, and got up and purged my stomach. I slept well after that, and woke up hungry and feeling a whole lot better. After a quick breakfast, I packed up my stuff and made my way to the awards ceremony, and then drove the 6 hours home back to my family.

All in all, I really like the Bighorn 100. It’s a tough course, with lots of poor footing, mud, and more than enough elevation gain and loss to make it interesting. Though I was suffering too much for most of the race to seriously enjoy it, (except for the run from Porcupine back to Footbridge in the dark), the course is stunningly beautiful in a way that is different from the mountains that I normally frequent, and I expect that I’ll be back for this one for years to come. Of course, the best part about my finish this year is the fact that I was ABLE to finish, despite some pretty serious obstacles in my way. Of course, Bighorn is just the first of 4 hard mountain 100’s in my quest for the Rocky Mountain Slam. Next up – the Hard Rock 100!

Here are the pictures I have from the race:

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