23 July 2011

The Best Day Running ... Ever

Finishing my first 50M race with my daughter Sandis

Here is my very late and way to long Big Horn race report.

18 June 2011
Big Horn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run
50 Mile Race
Dayton, Wyoming

    I had decided a year ago that Big Horn would be my first 50 miler after hearing recaps and seeing pictures of the 2010 race from my trail running friends.  I ran my first 50K race last summer, and trained through the winter with this race in mind.  As spring went on I put in the miles I had planned and was feeling good until one particularly hard run, a 25.5 mile day with 3 summits of Crosier Mountain from 3 different trailheads.  This was a big day with lots of vertical and it left me wiped out.  This was the most enigmatic run I've ever done as it left me feeling one moment very confident for having finished it another moment feeling entirely unworthy of a 50M race as that run was barely half the distance and it felt like the hardest thing I had ever done.  This lead me to running through the entire gamut of emotions in the month leading up to the race.  In the end, thanks to some good advice and support from friends and ultrarunning veterans Alex and Marie I felt relatively confident I could accomplish my goal which was to finish and have fun. As we drove to Dayton and spent the afternoon and evening before the race I was surprised that I never did get much of a case of the nerves.  

  My race goal was to finish.  I hoped to have fun and feel good while doing so.  I anticipated a 13.5-14 hour finish based on results from previous years and my typical position in the race field.  I had no set time goal though, I just planned on going with the flow, however the day evolved.  Some secondary goals I had were to eat and drink enough and to take pictures.  The latter isn't something I can control as much as an indicator of how I felt.  Feeling good equals more pictures.  Feeling bad means I stop taking pictures.  On the food I planned on eating more than I have for any of my long training runs.  I think in a couple of them I was close to bonking towards the end.  Being on the race course from 6 AM (and up a few hours before that) until 8 pm means I need to fuel my run but also am missing 3 meals.  I planned on eating a bar or pack of shot bloks or something else around 200-250 calories every hour from my pack and in addition eating something substantial at every aid station, 9 of them in all.  I also planned on 1 S-Cap every hour.  250x14 + 9X200 = 5300 Calories.  

  Saturday we awoke at 3:00 AM, had some coffee, chatted a bit and then at 4:00 AM headed over to the buses that would take us to the starting line, the Dry Fork Aid Station this year due to a snow re-route.  The bus ride went pretty quick, as did the standing around before the race start at 6:00 AM.  There were a good number of Fort Collins runners in the 50 so I had no trouble finding someone to talk to.  This was a good thing, it kept me from getting too nervous.  Early on the port-a-potty lines were long so I skipped them, but I noticed a short line close to race time and jumped in line.  It still took a bit longer to get in than I anticipated and I listened to the National Anthem in the can.  I couldn't help but laugh as Alex told me he had a similar thing happen last year.  I did make it out in time for the start though.

Dry Fort to Footbridge
  The course was roughly 3 equal sections.  The first was Dry Fork down to Footbridge, 16.5 miles and most of it down hill.  This was not the normal first leg, though it is downhill like the normal first part.  I was reminded right from the start that I am not a good downhill runner.  I was working on that this spring until I hurt my arch.  After that I backed off the downhill pounding.  I'll need to do more of that for next year.  I ran with Mary, whom I often train with, for much of the early part of the race.  We ran down the hill, keeping things conversational and enjoying the many spectactular views and cheering on the 26-30 hour 100 milers (several who we knew) who were passing us in the opposite direction about that time.  I ran into a girl I know, Lisa, running her first 100 at Cow Camp.  She was at about mile 70, smiling but obviously tired.  I found myself taking note of how the 100 mile runners looked, knowing someday I'll be there.
Running up a hill between Cow Camp and Bear Camp
  It was not long into the race before we were treated with our first water crossing.  With runoff going strong there were lots and lots of water crossings, and lots and lots of mud.  After the inital shock of wet feet they were fun.  The couple 50Ks I've run have not had much for water crossings and I equate water crossings with real ultras so I was happy.  On the mud, it seems it is almost always muddy somewhere on the Big Horn course. 
Mary going through the first of a few really muddy patches

Two thirds of the way to the Footbridge aid station we started down "The Wall".  The wall is 3.5 miles long and drops 2200 ft in elevation.  This is steeper than Towers Road and it's more technical.  With a mud river in middle of it.  Good stuff.  As we headed down the wall we started seeing the front runners in the 50M race coming back at us.  Man were they flying.  We arrived at Footbridge in just under 4 hours, which was a bit over 30 minutes ahead of the cut-off.  We were in good shape because this cut-off was more aggressive than the others.  After 15 minutes or so we had refueled, lathered on some sunblock, and were ready to head up the wall.  I was feeling so-so at this point, not feeling bad but not feeling super.  I anticipated a little faster pace, but between the mud and the downhills being a bit tougher than I hoped I was OK with where we were.  I drained my water about 1.5 miles from the bottom of this section, pretty good timing and I was glad I was drinking.  I was doing well eating even though I didn't feel I needed to eat so early in the run.  I've fallen prey to this before, so I stuck to my plan to eat early as once you know you're behind it's too late.
Glad there was a footbridge, the river was rocking!

Footbridge to Dryfork
  The normal course runs this section as we are to run it now, uphill.  The Wall was pretty much a big hike at that point, but a beautiful hike.  There were so many flowers it was incredible.  I commented that it was like running through someone's flower garden.  Striking "Big Horn Sunflowers" and purple lupines were littered everywhere.  

The Wall Flower Garden - photo courtesy of Pete Stevenson
View from just above The Wall
Almost lost to the flowers were the views across grand valleys of lush green.  The views here alone are worth running this race.  A little after the wall I hit my low spot for the race, which really wasn't that low.  Around Bear Camp I started slipping off Mary's pace.  For the next 13 miles or so I kept her in my sights or close to it, but never could quite catch up.  I didn't feel terrible but seemed to have trouble making the legs go faster.  I ate my first gel here and pushed on, keeping the mind out of the negative spaces.  By Cow Camp I was feeling better.  The gel may have been what I needed, quick energy, or maybe it was just coincidence.  At Cow Camp I snagged another piece of bacon, had my hydration pack filled, and moved on for the push up to Dry Fork.  I pulled into Dry Fork just as Mary was leaving.  I was tired though and sat down to change shoes and socks and let Chris and Mindy take care of me.  I ran most of the mile long hill up into Dry Fork when maybe I should have walked it.  I was feeling it though so I went with the running.  I entered the aid station at 9:00 even, 4:45 for the climb back up.  Time flies when your sitting at an aid station being taken care of.  By the time I got going I had spent nearly 30 minutes there, 15-20 minutes longer than I planned on.  I drank about 3L of water in this 16.5 mile stretch and was looking forward to eating now rather than forcing myself to do it.  As I left the aid station I took some lasagna casserole and a helping of potatoes with me to eat on the road as I started into No Man's Land.  I was still taking pictures and thus feeling good overall.  I was tired, of course, but nothing hurt.  

Dry Fork to Tongue River Trailhead
  From Dry Fork on marked the start of the last third of the course, 12.5 miles to the Tongue River Trailhead and 17.5 miles to the finish.  It also marked the start of No Man's Land, as it was further than I had ever run.  Lastly, it was the best segment of the race for me.  I felt absolutely awesome in this stretch, I was close to giddy through much of it.  My pace wasn't terribly faster, but my spirits were high.  
Summer soltice in the Big Horn mountains.  
This segment is about 5 miles rolling, 2 miles of climb, and 5.5 miles of down.  The down is steep.  Like 3000+ ft steep.  Some of it too steep for me to run well.  Yeah I need to work on that.  I continued to eat and drink well.  I had developed a strategy of eating one shot blok every 10 minutes, that comes to one pack in an hour.  I don't know if the "slow drip" of food helped or keeping my mind occupied with snack time every 10 minutes or what but I liked it.  
Beautiful single track dropping down to the Upper Sheep Creek aid station
At the Upper Sheep Creek aid station I asked how far until the finish and was told 12 miles.  I heard myself reply "only 12 miles, excellent".  That tells you how I was feeling.  I hit the Tongue River Trailhead at 13:02, an hour ahead of the cutoff and leaving myself 2 hours to move 5 miles on dirt roads to the finish.  

The last climb of the race, "The Haul".  

Tongue River Trailhead to Finish Line
  This 5 mile stretch was the toughest of the race to keep going on.  I knew I was going to finish, thought there was a good chance it would be about 14 hours, but found the running tough to do.  I pushed on though, stopping to walk for just a couple brief seconds. My GPS wasn't working well in this section so I had a difficult time determining my pace, but it felt slow as molasses.  I blamed it on the consistent motion of running on smooth level ground rather than the dynamic stride used on the trails, coupled with 45.5 miles and 13+ hours of fatigue. I got to the Homestretch aid station and grabbed an Otter pop and some Pepsi and asked how far to the finish.  1.75 miles.   Watch check, 13:40.  OK I have 20 minutes to break 14 hours.  I ran as hard as I could from that point on.  That's of course a relative thing, probably looking funny as heck, but I pushed on.  Slowly the pace increased, and for the last half mile or so I was running around 9.5 minute miles.  For me at that time of the race that was blazing.  And it was fun.  As I came around the corner with a quarter mile to go my many Fort Collins companions, including my wife and kids, all cheered me in.  I had little left in the tank when I finished, but I finished strong and it felt great.  Looking back I think part of the reason the last five miles were so tough was that it was my fastest running of the day.  The surface played a large part, but I ran the 5 miles in 54 minutes.  I ran my fastest miles of the day for the last 5 of my race.

Just outside of Lower Sheep Creek aid station.  I was feeling just plain giddy.

Post Race
  After the race I was flying high.  Well once I sat for 10 minutes and recovered at least.  I had a beer, a burger and other picnic fare from the post-race picnic, and congrats from lots of friends.  We all sat around and swapped stories for awhile and it was just such a cool feeling, a cool group of people to be a part of.  There were 100 mile finishers, pacers who ran  the longest runs in their lives, 50 mile finishers, 50K finishers, and 30K finishers.  Everyone accomplished something great that day and everyone there was more interested in hearing about someone else's day than talking about their own.  I am truly lucky to have found such a great group of runners.  

 A month later I'm still flying pretty high.  I am not prone to post-race blues anyway, but have not had a hint of them from this race.  I'm looking at the rest of the year, not sure if I'll do another big race or just enjoy running in the high country, doing a segment of the Colorado Trail, or doing some of the "classic" trail running loops up and over local peaks.  I just want to have fun, just want to have as much fun as I did running Big Horn.  It truly was the best day running ever.


  1. Awesome Brian. What a great race. It was so much fun to be there with you and the many others running their first 50 and running so well. I can't wait until next year for the ... 100?

  2. What an amazing race! I wish we had more trails here to run!

  3. There must be some down there, Skip. I'm sure not as close to town as we have (or with much vert) but there must be some. Dances with Dirt runs a race up in Dade City that is part of the series I ran in Devil's Lake. Not local to you, but a close place to go race. Regardless, seems like you're doing pretty well on the triathlon scene.

    Wonder who would have predicted this from us back when we were playing in the jazz band?

  4. Alex, I'm not sure I'm allowed to think about that distance. Wink>