June 20, 2015
Marathon 52, State #45
I had run one 50k race in 2005 to count as my Oregon Marathon. While I had never run more than 26.2 miles prior to this event, I do remember swearing I would never do it again for I really have no desire to run any more than 26.2 in a single race. Even 10 years ago, while it was a longer run than I'd ever done before, it was a relatively easy course from what I recall with not a lot of elevation change and other than a little rain it was really pretty simple, that is if running nearly 31 miles is your thing. Now 10 years more experienced you would have thought I would learned my lesson and the pure thought of running 32 miles, a mile longer than my 50k, through a merely impossible landscape of high mountains would be absurd. Well, now begins the story.
|Start Line - Big Horn Trail Run 50k|
Honestly, when I registered, I didn't look at the course that closely. I knew the distance but I didn't have a full understanding of the difficultly of the course. Not only was the course pure trail, it was very hilly, and it was at elevation. I've run a couple trail marathons so I think I can handle the "trail" part. The "hilly" part I had a scare looking online it may have more than 6k ft elevation gain, that's gonna be painful! The "elevation" is the equalizer. At 10k feet air gets pretty thin, this course starts at 7,650 feet and goes up to 8,535 feet and the first 22 miles are all above 6,000 ft. before a downhill to the finish. Ends up after the race looking at the elevation gain there was only 3,465 ft gain which is a lot better than the longer courses (50m & 100m) which are much higher.
|View from the Start Line, doesn't get much prettier than this!|
|Another Start Area Shot|
I remember running Pikes Peak Marathon in 2001 and having a constant battle to keep pebbles out of my shoes. I learned there are things called "gators" that strap to your shoe and go around your ankles to shield the debris from entering your shoe. Summer 2014 in Santa Barabara I saw some gators that were perfect, except for the fact they were all woman sizes. I ended up grabbing a business card and reached out to the lady that designed them and had her manufacture me 2 mens "prototypes". They arrived in the mail and will be perfect for the task at had.
As far as hydration, it took me a little longer to figure this out. I was thinking about using a smaller backpack with water hydration pack inside, but a week out of my race I realized I hadn't practiced with this, so filled mine up, strapped it on and went for a 7 mile training run. I quickly realized that it was too large and not something I wanted to drudge around for over 5 hours on a mountain while trying to run! I did some research and found out there are much smaller hydration packs for ultra running as well as hip belts. I did have a hip belt that held 1 bottle, but with water stops 4 and up to 6 miles apart I felt I would need 2 bottles to stay properly hydrated. I ended up going with an Osprey Talon 6. It was comfortable, small enough not to notice, yet had a couple pouches to throw in some extra food, jels, salt, and even an extra layer of clothes and wind breaker.
|George Carving up the single track|
It seemed as if meeting in Vegas and driving to Wyoming would make the most sense, which meant I would have to cancel the airline flight I had just made. This was an ordeal all of it's own. I had purchased flight insurance but learned it's not intended for "cancelling" a flight without either a death or doctors excuse and lots of paperwork and hoops to jump through to get out of and reimbursed. The revised plan was to incorporate a trip that would cover 10 days, 7 western states, and 4 National Parks. My sister's oldest boy Luke just graduated from high school, so what better way to spend a summer before school with a trip out west?
I also kept in constant contact with my friends George and Ralph and we constantly emailed one another with updates of our training and trip plans. At one point George emailed me and said he twisted his ankle on a tree stump pretty bad. It ends up I recently had picked up a six pack of "Trout Slayer" a Missoula, MT brewery we had fallen in love with a couple years ago when hiking in Glacier National Park for a week. I decided to mail George the six pack as a "get well soon" gesture. I provided the tracking info and his reply was that he would be "tracking this package like NORAD tracks Santa Clause on Christmas Eve." Later I get a picture when our friend Greg came to visit for the weekend and George shared his last two.
|Trout Slayer Arrives in Ohio, George & Greg very happy!|
Friday morning already we were on our way towards Sheridan, WY to pick up my race packet. While I was disappointed not to show my sister, Luke, and Parisa Bear Tooth Pass, a route into Red Lodge, MT, the drive into and through the Big Horn Wilderness on Rt 14 was nearly every bit as spectacular which I have now added to my list of must drive routes again at some future date. At the top of the pass is a waterfall lookout and ranger station so we stopped by for a break from the road to check out the views and have a light lunch.
|Carbo Loading, night before the run|
We drove into Sheridan and seeked out the Elk Club, the location of the expo where I met my Ohio friends Ralph and George on the front porch. We were excited to see each other and for what the weekend adventure would offer us. The expo was very small, this may be one of the smallest races I've ever run, there would only be 238 finishers in the 32 mile event. (194 finishers in 100m, 128 finishers in 52m, and 336 finishers in the 18m) Since the 100m race had already started only about 650 athletes needed to file through the Elks Club to pick up their race packet and instructions. Us marathoners love our swag, for this race we would get a tee shirt and a really nice Avex water bottle with the Big Horn race logo, of course Parisa claimed this for herself and promptly exchanged for the color of her choice. There would also be a long sleeve finishing shirt, each race finishing shirt a different color, but you need to cross the finish line before you receive this!
|A View from one of the highest elevations on the course|
|More single track, steep, muddy, trail easy to follow here|
|Selfie on single track, trail less defined, just following orange markers|
|Stop for pic, beautiful skies!|
The bus ride took us back up the canyon on Rt. 14 back up the way we had come from a day earlier. Eventually we turned onto a dirt road and drove another 5-6 miles back into the middle of no where. Of course such beautiful countryside so none of us were bothered by the bumps or the dust from the buses in front of us. I heard rumors there was a 88 year old man running the 32M race and he was in the front of our bus. Boy do I love running and hope I could do this at 88, but not sure if this is what I'll have in mind as fun when I'm his age! We unloaded to already a beautiful day, no wind, no extra clothes needed and of course a lot of Wyoming sunshine which pointed to the fact it was probably going to be another blistering hot day. Oh no. The start was fantastic, one old chap from the Elks club (I assume) sang the National Anthem standing in the back of a pick up truck and a few minutes later the gun would sound.
I don't think I've ever ran with a camera, but stowed away a small gadget to snap a few pictures of the course for my scrap book. Ends up I would stop for nearly 80 photos which probably added about 30 minutes to my finishing time! George had showed me a graph of the elevation profile at dinner and highlighted all the uphills as "walking" and the rest would be running. I vowed to follow his lead all day and would stick to running the flats, but later learned even the downhills, especially when steep, plus the terrain would make even the descents hard (to nearly impossible) to run.
|Another Kodak moment!|
George and I met a girl/lady that said this is her first run since she had a baby and the last time she ran this race she had finished the 100M race. Her new nickname would be "trail girl". I figure if she's in site then the day is probably going well since she must know what she is doing. A new strategy in addition to following George's map of walking ascents was to do what trail girl does, so if she speeds up or slows down so should I (we). We finally made the ascent and got to a road we could actually jog which again offered spectacular panoramic views of the valley below. Ralph was on his own game plan so he took off never to be seen again till the finish, but George and I tried to stick together. He would make pit stops and I would go ahead, then I would take another picture and he would catch up. Then I would take another picture and he would go ahead.
Finally we reached our first water stop, refilled bottles and kept moving forward. There was a guy warning us of the next section which if what I could see wasn't too tough, then all of a sudden the trail went from an old logging kind of road to single track. Mostly from here on out it was following orange flags (markers) that were put in the ground (in some random fashion) which offered us a next check point. Now off the road, this was "real" trail running. The course constantly changed from here on out. Also as we went single track and had 4-5 miles under our belts the narrow field of only a couple hundred runners quickly spread and for the most of the day here on out there was no one hardly that you could see in front or behind you. A bit scary, but perfect time to slide on the headphones and just enjoy the rest of the day.
There would be at least 3 times I lost site of the next flag and realized I had completely gone off course. One time I could bushwack back to the actual trail an yet other times I would have to reverse my steps until I could find line of site of the flags again. One time I even lead a whole series of runners off track, other times I was lead of track by those in front of me that lost the trail themselves. So far I was doing good keeping my feet dry, but my luck would soon change. There were areas when running through the prairie fields that the ground would all of a sudden become very marshy and a little stream would wind it's way down to the next tributary. Many of these you could see the tracks of other runners that stepped in the mud/water and you could avoid but eventually luck would run out, and one foot would take the plunge, generally followed by a curse word!
First there was getting lost, then there were the wet feet, then next unexpected consequence of trail running I learned was falling. I took at least 3 really good spills, all with other runners around to witness. I suppose I had never thought of this as a contact sport, but by the end of the day I was grass stained, dusty, dirty, and even bloodied from impact as a result of a couple of my falls. A couple of the falls were when I was trying to multi-task, like take a picture while running or make a music change or even an adjustment to my sunglasses or to wipe a little sweat from my forehead. After hitting the ground I quickly learned that stopping for these adjustments would be preferred going forward. I suppose at this point a little trail running in practice might have paid off. I look back now as a blessing in disguise, that is, because of the early falls I realized I wasn't invincible and had to keep my running (especially downhill) in check to prevent from being hurt worse.
One of the guys I talked to early in the race I learned he ran 19 miles on Friday pacing one of his 100M friends, went home and slept for 1.5 hours and got up Saturday to run another 32M miles in my event. He said he was training for his first 100M in August and this was just a training run for him. All day I thought about distances. I used my GPS to display my total distance and then did a quick math calculation to figure out exactly how long I had to go. I'm used the the 26.2 being the end point, so the math was a little more tricky adding the extra 6 miles. Miles 8-15 were basically uphill which again meant more chances to walk. I think walking was my favorite discipline in ultra running. When only running 26.2 miles, especially on pavement, it seems like there is less time for walking, however, on the trail run, especially when steep, not to mention at nearly 8,500 feet, walking was quite normal. I don't recall too many races where I had to walk or that every runner was walking.
By the time I had reached the apex of this long climb again there were very few runners either in front or behind that could be seen. I saw a few scattered orange trail markers so I thought I was still on course and actually could see a few runners well on down the decline. It was pretty steep and there was not a single flat spot underfoot so I opted a conservative pace down the hill and managed to stay upright! I wondered what would be easier, actually running full stride or continuing to hold myself back to control my speed and balance which was actually taxing my quads quite severe. About half way down the ravine in the middle of what seemed like nowhere there appeared a barbed wire fence that lined the course for about a mile. I wondered if this was some kind of sick joke, downhill, uneasy footing, and now barbed wire. Ugh. Again pace was further slowed down and thoughts were if I fall make sure to fall away from the fence!
|More single track starting steep decent back to the river at bottom of valley below|
Finally to the rest area! I think this was the first stop where it looked as if a medic was examining the runners to make sure they were hydrated and good to go on. I handled off both bottles to be filled up and headed to the snack table and was greeted by my friend George. He had heard that a runner had fallen and twisted their ankle and assumed the worst that is was me. I think he waited for 4-5 minutes for me which I thought was great and finally someone to run with again! Now refueling and catching up with George I was all of a sudden re-energized. I had a couple swigs of Mountain Dew from the rest stop, some chips, some pretzels, and ready to take off. I told George to go ahead and he did, I stopped for a few more pictures so again he was on ahead. I had new zip in my step, the Foo Fighters came on the iPod and I think I even started singing out loud as I tried to chase down George right out in front of me.
|Looking back on trail along the river, finally flat ground!|
I continued to look at my watch to examine distance traversed, however, unlike a typical marathon I never once looked at the elapsed time of the day. Now running with George said we are going to breeze in under 8 hours and I thought to myself after everything that I'd experienced thus far this day that wasn't half bad! It's now on that we were completely exposed to the sun and the thrill of the flat ground had worn off completly.
|George and Brian Stride for Stride in last few miles of run|
We made our way into town and at a small park next to the river was the finish line. Remotivated, no more walk/run strategy, the last half mile or so we slow jogged all the way to the end. Here we were reunited with Ralph who finished just under an hour before the two of us. Crossing the finish line we were handed our finishing jersey but of all 52 marathon or longer finishes the was my first race where there was no finishing medal.
Very happy to be done and line up for a race finish bbq serving hot dogs and hamburgers, we pulled up some grass next to the river and reminisced about the difficulty of the course and how pleased we all were with our finishes. There was a shuttle service that took us back to our car and then took the car a few short miles back to the hotel where we each headed our separate ways to wind down from the long morning.
While I had 3 family members that could have been there for non-dramatic race finish, they all decided to get up early as well and drive from Wyoming to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore. I had a few ours of peace before they returned and we started planning for dinner.
While checking the website for official times and results we all got a little laugh because for some reason they captured Georges finish time and posted it and while we started and finished the same time my finish time showed for the first two days as DNF (did not finish). While Ralph has a video of George and I finishing together and George finished together with me, the next day while we were each heading our own directions home, I received and email that the two of them "didn't recall seeing me at the finish, and if I were to send two 12 packs of Trout Slayer, it may help them remember"! Classic! Eventually the results would show the corrected finish times.
|Splits||Time||Cumulative Time||Moving Time||Distance||Elev Gain||Elev Loss||Avg Pace||Avg Moving Pace||Best Pace||Avg HR||Max HR||Avg Run Cadence|
45 States done, only 5 to go! (WI, ME, NH, VT, & AK)