Ok, where did I leave off…oh yes… A little about the Bighorn Mountains first though. Located in north-central Wyoming, the Bighorn Mountains are a sister range of the Rocky Mountains. Conveniently located halfway between Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone National Parks. No region in Wyoming is provided with a more diverse landscape – from lush grasslands to alpine meadows, from crystal-clear lakes to glacially-carved valleys, from rolling hills to sheer mountain walls. It was a beautiful area to visit, I would strongly urge anyone thinking about running it to stay on longer and explore the area. More information about Bighorn National Park can be found here.
Ok, back to my story. It was 3 am Saturday morning as Drew and I packed up the car to head to Dayton, WY. We arrived and decided to follow the buses up to the start so he could see me off. I always get nervous right before I run any race, no matter what distance, so I spent most of the ride trying to relax and stretch a bit.
As the sun rose, we could see the snow covered peaks off in the distance. We didn’t drive all the way to the start earlier in the week, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect for snow and cold. Growing up in New England, people don’t really mention snow unless there is more than a few inches. Fortunately as we crested the mountain what I saw was very spring-like..not much snow, mostly just mud. Compared to what I ran on Mt. Mitchell earlier in the year, this was nothing. I was quite relieved!
Up at the top several of the 100 milers were getting onto the buses to be driven back down. Overnight it had gotten quite cold, and had thunder-stormed, and the cold, the rain, and the mud had been just too much for several folks. We wandered around at the starting line with the other runners, we even watched a moose graze lazily in the early morning sun. Soon enough we were lining up and heading off into the sunrise.
The first section of this course was wide open bumpy and muddy grasslands, punctuated by random groupings of trees. Here the mud puddles were deep and cold, I didn’t waste any time jumping right in, I knew it was going to be muddy for at least the first 18 miles…so why tip toe around getting my feet good and wet?! The first 18 miles rolled up and down, but mostly down so it was a lot of fun. I usually run races with a waist pack carrying a single bottle, for my birthday this year my husband gave me an Orange Mud pack. I like bottles for races because its so much easier to refill them when my hands are cold, and I can also tell how much water I have consumed, making sure I don’t get behind my hydration. I warmed up in the first 5 miles shedding my long sleeve shirt. The pocket in the pack wasn’t really large enough to fit the shirt and trying to tie it around the pack took up more time than I had hoped.
The alpine meadows I passed were beautiful, it was hard to keep going at times. I just wanted to open my eyes, breath in the fresh air and watch the view..though I was running with purpose and didn’t stop.
Soon I came upon my friend, Remus. I happily called out his name and gave him a hug. A bit further down and I ran into Ringo and his wife Carrie. He was all business, ‘first place is 5 minutes ahead of you.” I thanked him, while mentally telling myself it had only been 15 miles and that really the race hadn’t even started yet.
We left the alpine meadows and moved into to some beautiful, yet rocky, single track. I could hear the river rushing below and the cooler air coming up from it, felt nice….until I fell. Just took a mis-step and landed hard on the pointy rocks. My palm immediately swelled, as did my knee. I cursed myself for letting my mind and eyes wander off the trail, and look around at the scenery. I could still wiggle all my fingers, so nothing was broken, just some nice cuts and bruises. What hurt more was that I was passed by the next woman while I was shaking off my fall still. Ah well..
I entered the first big aid station soon after, foot bridge.(approximately mile 20 for me) I was so happy to see many of the 100 milers; Gilly, Grub, Bobcat, Gumbi, and Sidetrack…Gilly brought me my drop bag asking what I needed. (what great crew…but wait, wasn’t he running the 100?!) I started inquiring about how their races were going, and wondering why they seemed so relaxed. It turned out that many of them dropped overnight and were just hanging out at the aid stations helping. It was just Snuffy, Grub, Bobcat, Ringo, and Remus left at this point. I was a bit bummed for them, but headed off for “the wall.”
The wall was the section I had been dreading the most, but Sidetrack hiked a bit with me and helped lift my spirits as I started up. The climb started nice and shaded, but soon became exposed. It was here that altitude really caught up with me, every step seemed to leave me breathless. As I climbed I passed runner after runner doubled over gasping for air, and even one woman who was just laying off to the side of the trail. I asked if she was ok. She nodded and said she just didn’t want to continue up, nor would her quads allow her to go back down, so she was just enjoying the sun.
It took me several miles after the wall to really recover my heart rate and my legs, so this is where I finally began hiking. Back into the trees, and mud, the trail rolled up and down once again. We popped back out into the sun, and I saw Snuffy! He was hiking pretty well, and seemed to be quite focused. I left him feeling better, I love running races where I know others, its always a mental boost!
Soon I could see the Dry Fork aid station in the distance, thankfully Squonk had warned me that it can be seen miles and miles before you get anywhere near it. Another runner near me announced that it was close, but I kept my head down and tried not to get too excited to see Drew for the first time since he left me at 6am. As the heat of the day started to cook us all, I could no longer run anything uphill, and was starting to hit a low point. I was now in 6th place, and was thinking about dropping. I told myself that just because I wasn’t running how I wanted to, that it was no reason to drop. I was only a bit bruised, I was perfectly fine, no stomach issues, no hydration problems…no excuse to drop, I was going to finish!
The hike up to Dry fork seemed to go on for a long time, but the cheering of the crowd, and the prospect of seeing Drew kept me moving up and up. This was mile 38, more than half way! Drew, Gumbi, and Bobcat’s daughter were there, and it was great to see them all! Drew remembered I had been concerned about sunburning at this section and with out any prompting started rubbing lotion on my arms, while Gumbi filled my water bottle. Drew hiked out of the aid station with me a bit, but I was soon off on my own.
Out of Dry Fork there is another climb, this time on a dirt road rather than single track, like the climb out of Foot Bridge. I felt truly alone on this section of the course, and my mind wandered to Hal Korner’s race report and how he was chased by a moose. I started to think that I didn’t want to see a moose, or bear, or mountain lion for that matter…I was just too tired to get myself out of some weird situation like that.
The course leveled out a tad so I was able to run again, and was looking forward to the downhill section! I was just dying for those last fast 5 miles in the canyon to the finish! Unfortunately, before I could get to the canyon a very large, very close storm cloud came up over us. I had caught up to some 100 milers and their pacers at this point, and we all quickened our pace to get away from the electric fence that was following along the right side of the course! ZAP, was all that I could think.
The wind picked up as the storm moved closer. I had my trusty trash bag in my pack, and not knowing how cold or how long the storm would last, I put it on. Did I look and feel silly, yes, did I care…nope! We were past the electric fence now, but still up on a high open meadow. ZAP/BOOM! The storm was right overhead and was pelting us with hail. This was about when I heard a woman scream, my head spun around to where the scream had come from, only to see a woman with her runner yelling at me to take cover with them under the trees. I thought it best not to, and told them I was just going to continue down the mountain. Finally I was reaching that steep decline…only to have it now covered in fresh mud-slick as snot! The three of us were now running, er sliding downhill together trying desperately to stay upright.
Once the storm passed, we were left with the steamy sun, and the slippery mud. The storm was a good 40 minute time suck, and I was really happy to hit the canyon. It was now late afternoon, and I knew the heat of the canyon would be rough so I doused myself at the next aid station, and hoped that all the running in the hot NC afternoons would pay off.
I have never been happier to run the last 6 miles of any race. It was like something switched in my head and legs, and I took off. Slowing down for the mud in the previous few miles had let me eat and drink and allowed my legs to recover enough to maintain an 8min/mile pace the final 6 miles. This is my joy, this is my favorite part of races, that last push to the finish, and its even better when you can reel people in. The miles ticked by and soon I saw Drew walking up the road towards me. He had hurt his hip flexor the week before playing soccer, so we had abandoned our plan of him running the last 5 miles in with me..but he jogged in with me as far as he could.
Friday, Spinz and I decided to walk the last few miles of the race together so we knew what to expect and where to go for the finish. I was playing it over in my head, down the road, past the bend in the river where it comes right up to the road, over the bridge, across the street, around the park….Soon my memory and surroundings were synching up. I was so close, keep going legs, keep going legs, there is no walking allowed now! Spinz and Lynx where there, cheering me on as I reached the bridge to head over to the park and the finish line.
I was all smiles as I rounded the corner and crossed the finish line. I headed straight for the river, and tried my best to wash off my mud covered, well…everything. It felt SO good! My Lone Peak’s were just covered in mud, but they had done their job, minimal slipping, no hot spots, no twisted ankles, or lost shoe (several people had their shoe’s sucked off in the mud.) I finished in a time of 10:59, 7th female overall, and 3rd in my age group.
I was joined by Drew and Juice, grabbed a watermelon, and flopped down on the grass with the other TrailHeads! Phew, that was great! What a race, what scenery, what a day!! It was well worth every mile of hard, wet, muddy, beautiful, electrifying, rocky, trail. Happily I finished my first ever real mountain (with altitude) race. Ahh running bliss! I didn’t even care that just about every muscle in my body was cramping, I was surrounded by friends, by other runners, and by beautiful mountains!