2006 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

   
 
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COUNTDOWN TO THE BIGHORN 100-MILER
 
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 14
 
 
"What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail?"
-unknown
 
 

 

Jim and I both like to challenge ourselves both physically and mentally. That should be evident by some of the choices we've made during our lives.

Ultra running is probably the most obvious example of how we push ourselves to our limits. We set our goals high, train the best we can, and go out on race day to see what we can accomplish.

Sometimes we don't achieve our goals but we don't consider those attempts as "failures." We try to use them as "learning experiences." We know runners who are crushed if they don't run as fast as they had hoped or, god forbid, don't finish the race (DNF = did not finish, or as Suzi Cope said, "did nothing fatal"). Jim is bothered by these setbacks a bit more than me, but we both keep optimistically signing up for 100-milers that aren't on the "easier" end of the scale even though we both have more DNFs at the distance than finishes. 

Our favorite races are in the mountains of the West, which usually adds altitude as an added challenge to overcome, not just the intimidating distance. These races have some rough trail, unpredictable weather, temperature extremes, even the possibility of dangerous wildlife encounters.

Think Leadville, Wasatch, The Bear, Western States, Hardrock, Bighorn. There are others, but these intrigue us the most.

OUR TRAINING

As usual, we haven't trained as much as we'd planned back in the winter when anything seemed possible and we sent in our entries. Our intentions are always good, but then the reality of being 57 sets in.

Jim had painful pre-cancerous face treatments and foot surgery in November that limited his training, then serious enough spinal problems in the spring that he scheduled back surgery in early April. He changed his mind when it improved, but he wasn't able to ramp up his mileage until then. He did well at the Berryman 50-miler in late May, his longest run in preparation for this race. He was feeling reasonably confident about finishing Bighorn until the rattlesnake tackled him.

It's always somethin'.

I'm better trained than I was last year before I began the Appalachian Trail Adventure Run, but will it be enough? When I got off the Trail in late September, I was exhausted but felt empowered to do about any ultra out there. I've been able to do more long runs (7 to 8 hours) and higher cumulative training miles than Jim, but I wasn't able to complete any of the three races I entered to prepare for Bighorn. I ran Holiday Lake 50K in February before getting enough training for it; I was close enough to the cut-off at the half-way mark that I just bagged it. I had heat exhaustion symptoms at the low-key Catawba Run-Around 35-miler in March because I didn't manage my fluids and electrolytes properly for the unseasonably hot weather; I ran only 22 miles of that. And I also had heat exhaustion problems at Berryman recently, completing only the marathon distance. Those races were discouraging.

We're trying not to let these set-backs get us down, but instead stay optimistic and plan our race strategies intelligently to save as much time as possible at aid stations, manage our nutrition and hydration needs adequately, know the course as well as possible, and so on. In a 100-miler, physical preparation is only part of the puzzle. The mental aspect is very important, too. Staying positive during the race and adapting well to the variables presented by Mother Nature are critical to "success," i.e., finishing before the 34-hour cut-off.

FINAL COUNTDOWN

We've done a reasonable taper for this race so we don't arrive at the starting line tired. We've been heat- and altitude-acclimating for two weeks, getting eight to nine hours of decent sleep every night, eating our normal nutritious diet, practicing with our lights at night, and just chilling out. June 16 has seemed so far away, and now it's almost upon us.

We've got a big honkin' race in two days! Yikes!!

You'd think it would be easy to do the final preparations for 100-milers by now. Between the two of us, we've been in twenty-three 100s since 1998. But it still takes us time to think through our pace/split charts (based on the vagaries of each course and our current level of fitness) and prepare our drop bags accordingly.

Here's Jim determining our projected pace for a 32-hour and 34-hour finish. We hope to finish closer to 32 hours, but anything less than 33:59:59 is a "win" for us. Jim is 0 for 2 here (stopped at the turnaround both times) so he's very motivated to finish this time. It's my first time in the 100-miler. We've both completed the 52-miler and 50K at least once each.

This race is easier than some regarding drop bags because there are only three aid stations where we can put them. Two we access twice, for a total of five times at our drops. This is only half the number of drops many races have. That's probably good, because we get pretty obsessed with packing our drop bags. The fewer, the easier.

Actually, we use mostly drop boxes, plastic boxes with lids we keep intact with bungee cords. They are distinctive (easy to find in aid stations) and protect our supplies and gear better than the nylon zippered duffel bags runners typically use (they get thrown around a lot on the way to and from aid stations).

Here are my drop boxes; I'm using two at Footbridge because of the extra night clothes I'll pick up on the way out and the shoes I might change into on the return trip:

Jim has four drop boxes and one bag to hold his hydration vest (Camelbak Blowfish), which is too big for a box. He's using a double-bottle waist pack (lower left in photo) the first 30 and last 34 miles, and the backpack during the night between Footbridge-Porcupine-Footbridge aid stations.

 

I'm wearing my Camelbak HAWG pack the entire way so I'll have adequate water to wash down my concentrated Perpetuem energy drink.

GEARING UP FOR THE RACE

I'm using much the same gear I used on the Appalachian Trail, which I described in Prep 10 and reviewed in Post 1 of that journal. I was very pleased with my HAWG pack, Hammergel flasks and holder, UD bottles and hand-straps, neoprene Kuzie to keep the bottle cooler, Montrail Highline shoes, Injinji toe sox, ASO ankle braces, Marmot Precip jacket, Photon micro-light, Photon Fusion headlamp that I wear around my waist, and Streamlight 7-LED flashlight.

Additional items this time are a 4-LED flashlight (back-up light) and Montrail Endurosole over-the-counter shoe inserts. My custom orthotics died last summer on the AT and I haven't wanted to spend $400 to replace them. The Montrail inserts are heat-molded to fit, and serve me well with thin, flat, green Spenco liners under them. Items I used last year that I won't take during the race are my cell phone, camera, and trekking pole.

Jim is carrying a UD (Ultimate Directions) double waist pack as noted above, and adding his Camelbak Blowfish hydration pack during the night. He isn't using a water bladder in it, though. It fits above his fanny pack and he uses it to store his flashlights and night clothes.

We have to be prepared with clothing for a wide range of temperatures in this mountain race, from sunny 90s or 100s during the day to below freezing at night. We could get rain, snow, sleet, and/or hail. The wind could be blowing wildly. Both nights Jim ran the race (2002 and 2003) had snow and rain. Yesterday in Dayton a cold front blew in, literally. It was very windy all afternoon, and we wondered what it was like at 8,000 or 9,000 feet. So we're both putting our Marmot jackets, long pants, fleece caps and gloves, and extra wicking shirts in the Footbridge drop bags to pick up before it gets dark. We'll have additional warm clothes at Porcupine in case the others get wet. One of the hazards of this race is hypothermia; we have to stay warm.

Jim's probably starting out in Montrail Vitesse and will have a pair of Highlines in his Footbridge drop box. He's carrying two UD water bottles in his waist pack. His lighting system included two Streamlight 7-LED flashlights and a Photon micro-light. He sees better than I do at night.

[An aside: The timing of this race is good regarding the length of daylight and dark. Since it's very close to the summer solstice (longest hours of daylight in our hemisphere), we'll have fewer hours of darkness than 100s in the spring, late summer, fall, and winter. That's a good thing, even though I love the mystique of running and walking at night out in the wilderness. (What was that? a mountain lion?? Fortunately, I don't scare too easily!) It's been getting light in Dayton before 5 AM and it isn't completely dark until about 9:45 PM. There is also about a 3/4 moon, which will also help to make it easier to see during the night if there aren't too many clouds.]

We'll be carrying other items the whole way, like gels, ID, toilet paper, pace chart, electrolyte pills/antacids, little blister kit, small lubricant (Hydropel for me, Vaseline for Jim), sunscreen, lightweight jacket, whistle, and micro light. Since we don't have a crew (or pacers), we put extra supplies and gear that we'll need - or possibly need - in our drop boxes. These include gel flasks, extra pill bags, Perpetuem powder to mix at aid stations, night clothes, caffeine for the night hours (chocolate-covered coffee beans), extra sox, extra shoes at Footbridge on the return, more blister/foot care supplies, extra sunscreen, tiny spray bottles of bug spray and Kool 'n Fit, toilet paper, wet washcloths in plastic bags, paper towels, and empty plastic bags for wet clothes or empty (gooey) gel flasks.

We're good little Scouts, trying to be prepared.

HYDRATION AND NUTRITION PLANS

I was very happy with the plan I used last year on the AT and will pretty much follow it during the race this weekend and on the Colorado Trail in July and August. I laid out the plan in the AT journal in Prep 9, reviewed it mid-way on Day 66, and did a final review of modifications I made in Post 2.

For this race, we're using Hammer Nutrition products: Perpetuem energy drink, perhaps some Heed energy drink for variety (it's being served at the aid stations), Hammergel in several flavors, Endurolyte electrolyte capsules, and Recoverite recovery drink post-run. We'd be using these products even if Hammer Nutrition wasn't still giving us a nice discount this year because they work well for us.

[Note: There is a link to Hammer Nutrition (and Montrail, our other sponsor) on each page of this journal. If you are placing your first order with Hammer you can use that link to get a 15% discount.]

Perpetuem is designed for endurance efforts of many hours. It contains easily-digested proteins and fats, as well as carbohydrates, for the long haul. I never got tired of it last summer every day on the AT. We've been using it for several years in ultras and long training runs.

I prefer to carry Perp in a concentrated form, while Jim uses the standard 1-2 scoops per 20-oz. bottle (sometimes 3 scoops) and mixes new ones as he runs out. I can carry enough of the concentrated mix in a 20-oz. bottle for 3-4 hours (6-8 scoops) or in a 28-oz. bottle for 5-6 hours or more (10-14 scoops). I talked about the mixing procedure in the AT journal (the Day 66 link, I believe). I carry the Perp bottle either with a hand strap or in the netting in the back of my Camelbak HAWG and wash it down with water from the bladder.

To save time at aid stations, I've already put the dry Perpetuem powder in empty bottles in my drop boxes. All I need to do with them when I roll into an aid station is add the water and shake it like crazy to mix it up. The bottles can't be mixed up ahead because the ingredients will become rancid.

Jim will carry his Perp bottles in his double pack. Since it isn't so concentrated, he doesn't have to chase it down with water. He'll probably carry water on some sections, though, because our craving for plain water increases as we get progressively more dehydrated. He's carrying little plastic bags with pre-measured Perpetuem powder to mix more between aid stations in the bottles he's already carrying, and he has more bags in his drop boxes for the upcoming sections.

To each his (or her) own! (I couldn't talk him into wearing Injinji toe sox either.)

We'll each carry two five-ounce Hammergel flasks between all the aid stations except the first leg of the race (= eleven flasks each). Here are some of the flasks as I was filling them in a production line yesterday:

Hammergel comes in about a dozen flavors now, including two with caffeine (espresso and tropical) that we'll use during the night hours. I especially like to use Hammergel for a little extra energy going up hills, but I'll use it regularly during the race for additional calories.

Some ultra runners prefer to ingest only liquids and gels during 100-milers. I can do that in a 50-miler, but not for 100 miles. Both of us will eat some solid food, especially soups, during the race. After a while, I can't eat dry foods but wet stuff goes down nicely. Standing still to eat food costs us time, so sometimes we take food out with us and eat it as we walk away from the aid station.

I've been hoping for cooler weather for the race, and it looks like I might get my wish. June has been hotter and drier in this area than normal. All the plants are blooming and growing as if it's July, according to locals. The highs in Dayton and Sheridan have been mostly in the 80s and 90s since we arrived fifteen days ago. Night-time temps have ranged from the high 30s to the 60s. The current predicted highs for Sheridan on Friday and Saturday are 78 and 80, which is better for the runners. That means a hot start at 11 AM on Friday for us, but cooler temperatures as we gain elevation to 8,000 feet by eight miles. It could be quite chilly during the night.

That's fine with me. Hopefully it'll be dry, too. I have more problems with heat than cold during races. Heat did me in at Berryman and Catawba and one of our long training runs when my calves, hamstrings, and adductors cramped so badly it was difficult to walk or run. I've had problems for years getting the electrolyte-water thing down right. There are so many variables, and both too little and too much sodium, calcium, or potassium can cause cramping, swelling, and going for hours without peeing. I usually don't have these symptoms when it's cool or cold.

I'll have plenty of Endurolyte caps with me during the race but I'll use fewer than I did at Berryman. Jim uses very few during training runs and races and does just fine. Perpetuem has electrolytes in it, which may be sufficient for us this time if it's cool.

WINDING DOWN

We've taken it really easy this week and haven't gone up into the mountains the last two days. We got our drop bags done today and will take them with us to packet-pickup tomorrow afternoon. We have everything laid out that we're wearing and taking with us at the start of the race. We're taking walks with the dogs around the campground and park so we don't go crazy with inactivity. At this point, we wish more of our friends would show up.

The campground is still quite empty, to our amazement. Foothills is a beautiful campground but we've had it almost to ourselves. Lea and Marshall say race weekend is their busiest of the year, and they will be full. Where is everybody?? This has been our view from the computer desk for two weeks:

Just two runners are here so far, Bob from Texas and a guy and his pacer from Tennessee. Both men are running the 100-miler. Our good buddy from Utah, Brent Craven, came by this afternoon for a while to say hi. He's boon-docking near the start on Tongue River Road. We warned him about the rattle snakes out there.

Jim's the talk of both Dayton and Sheridan. Folks at the Post Office and campground know about it, as well as many people associated with the race. We walked into the Sports Stop this morning and saw Michelle Powers, race director, for the first time since we got here. She immediately dropped what she was doing and asked Jim to see his snake bite! I ran into Rich Garrison at Wal-Mart. Two other folks came up to talk about the bite as we were talking. One works the race, another lives next to the Schillings out on the river road.

Word does travel in small towns. I should know. I grew up in one.

Jim's pretty cool about it. He doesn't want to be in the spotlight or be made an example, though. You can't even see the puncture wounds now, but there is still tenderness on the side of his ankle that is a result of the bite. We both have our fingers crossed that it doesn't prevent him from finishing the race.

COTTON "SNOW"

The snow is rapidly melting in the high country. There shouldn't be any on the course this weekend unless it snows in the next two days. But Dayton, at 3,926 feet in elevation, almost looks like it's in a blizzard sometimes.

Last evening the cotton from the cottonwoods was coming down thick and fast at the campground and in the park next to us where the race finishes. We've never seen it here previously because it's earlier than usual this year (like the flower blossoms). And there is still a bunch of it clinging to branches high up in the trees:

The stuff looks almost like snow or slush along the curbs . . .

. . . and on the grass:

And I thought the yellow pine pollen was bad in Atlanta!!

While I was taking photos last evening, I got these interesting shadow shots over in the park. I was trying to capture the falling cotton "snow" against the setting sun with my camera, but the bits of fluff didn't show up. I like the photos anyway.

 

Tomorrow (Thursday) we'll take Cody and Tater to a kennel in Sheridan, then head over to medical check-in and packet pick-up at the Sports Stop. Most 100-miler races have medical checks at various aid stations to make sure the runners aren't losing or gaining too much weight, aren't having problems with dehydration, hyponatremia, or hypothermia, and still have their wits about them. Runners with major medical problems can be pulled from a race for their own health and safety.

There is also a pasta buffet tomorrow evening for the 100-milers and their families, crews, and pacers Ols restaurant in Sheridan. It'll be great to see lots of our "old" friends from around the country and get better acquainted with "new" ones. That's a large part of the fun we have at ultras!

Goodnight and goodbye for a few days. The next entry will describe the highs and lows of our Bighorn Mountain Wild & Scenic Trail Run!

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil