Race morning dawned sunny and warm, but runners in the
Bighorn Mountain Wild & Scenic Trail 100-miler enjoyed the most favorable
weather in its five-year history (the other races have been around for about
fifteen years). The trail was more dry than usual, there was no snow on the
trail, it didn't rain, sleet, or snow during the race, and daytime temperatures
weren't as torrid as some years.
However, temperatures in the canyons and along the river
road were high enough in the bright sunshine both Friday and Saturday to get
runners' attention, there were
creeks to ford and one bridge was out about six miles from the turnaround, it
was windy during the night and on Saturday, there was enough mud between
Footbridge and Porcupine for some folks to have their shoes sucked off, and it
was well below freezing up at Porcupine during the clear, starlit/moonlit night.
The result: the highest finish rate for the 100-miler in
five years. Out of 112 folks who began the race, 78 finished. Only seven were
women. The finish rate the last three years has been only about 50%, and only
25% the first
year when the time limit was three hours shorter.
Jim and I slept pretty well Thursday night, considering.
Runners often try to get a good night's sleep two nights before a race
because they often toss and turn the night before. We weren't worried about
missing an alarm at 3 AM and we were tired enough to sleep decently. I had my
usual mid-sleep bathroom run, and Jim woke up a couple times itching on
various parts of his body, but our sleep was better than normal for the night
before a race.
We got up at 7:30 and had plenty of time to shower, eat
breakfast, and do final preparations before the 9 AM briefing only 300 feet away from
our camper. How convenient! My biggest decision was whether to wear my contacts
or glasses (I started with the contacts and carried my glasses for after dark).
Jim showed me several raised welts on his body that looked
like huge bug bites. He itched all over. We wondered if there
was a spider in our bed or something, but couldn't find any critters. We thought
it was pretty odd, considering I'm the one who is most bothered by insects. Or
maybe he was suddenly allergic to some chemical or plant in the campground? The
city sprayed the park for insects a couple days before. Or was
it something he ate at the dinner? We had no clue.
had anti-itch creams but no antihistamines for him to take. The itching would
increase and change locations as he ran the race, almost constantly on his mind.
It was a complete mystery since he didn't know the cause.
We gathered with the other 100-milers and their crews and
pacers at the shelter in Dayton's beautiful Scott Bicentennial Park, adjacent to the
Foothills Campground. It was fun to see other runners we'd missed the day
There's Hans and Susie!! Hans is the 66-year-old bionic
German fella who runs fifteen or twenty 100s every year, most of them in the
U.S. He and Susie have homes in both Germany and Mexico, but Hans spends many
months of the year here, running 100-milers from one coast to the other. Both had big hugs for us before and
after the race. It was great to see them again - and the Watts from Colorado
(Matt and Ann), Rickie Redland and John McManus (also from Colorado), old
Montana friends (Charles Hansberry, Gary Thomas, John Hallsten, Les Migerny,
Kris Franqui), Leadville 100 co-race directors Ken Chlouber and Merilee O'Neal,
The whole weekend was like an ultra family reunion.
Race director Michelle Powers Maneval, facing the crowd in
the photo below, welcomed everyone,
introduced her race staff, which includes her mom, Karen Powers, and aunt,
Cheryl Sinclair, as well as Melanie Powers, Wendell Robison, and Rich Garrison
(sorry if I've forgotten anyone else). Cheryl played the national anthem on
her flute, a nice rendition. Michelle thanked the sponsors and volunteers, ran
through last-minute reminders and instructions (there was the rattlesnake
warning again!), answered questions, and gave out some door prizes from
Then we scurried around to gather the gear and supplies
we'd be carrying during the race, hopped into Jody and Dennis Aslett's SUV, and
rode four miles out River Road to the start.
The biggest mistake Jim and I made at that point was not
taking extra water to drink the next 45 minutes as we waited in the sun. We were
just busy and forgot. We didn't want to drink too much of the water we'd need
the first six miles, before we hit a spring. It didn't take long for me to pay
Jim and I found rocks to sit on as we waited for the
race to begin. Mariann Foster took this photo of us:
Did we check for rattlers first? You betcha!!
See the "snake stick" between us? I took one
trekking pole at the start because I forgot to put it in the Footbridge drop bag
for the night section. I really didn't plan to carry it the whole way. No, I
didn't want it for snakes; that was just a joke. A pole helps me keep my balance in the dark, through
creeks, and over rough terrain. I'm still as clumsy (maybe more so) as I was
last year on the Appalachian Trail, and I've got the scars to prove it!
It was fun to mingle with the runners some more as we
waited for the race to start. Chase Squires (below, left) with the Associated Press
interviewed Jim about the rattler and another guy with a camera took his picture
(not sure if he was with the AP or the Sheridan Press). Chase, from
Florida, ran and finished the 100-miler.
That's our Billings buddy, Kris Franqui,
relaxing with Jim before the race in the photo above. Kris has finished the
100-miler three times now, I believe.
In the photo below, Ken Chlouber is shown in the sleeveless
blue shirt, front left. Ken is the driving force behind the Leadville Trail
100-miler, which Jim is doing in August (I haven't committed to that one yet). Ken's the
race director who motivates runners
with his rousing "You're-better-than-you-think-you-are-and-you-can-do-more-than-you-think-you-can!" speech before his race every year. You'll hear more about
Ken and Merilee O'Neal, co-race director (in the yellow shirt) when we get to
AND THEY'RE OFF!
Precisely at 11 AM, Michelle said "GO!" and 112 runners
started moving up the Tongue River Road to the canyon and beyond. Waaaaay
Well, most of 'em.
I walked around a few minutes before the start to get my
heart rate up a bit before beginning to run but I still felt very sluggish the
first 1.25 miles on the rocky road. It often takes me an hour or more to
"warm up" and feel like I'm flowing. I was hot from the get-go and can honestly
say I never had any fun while I was running the race. My stride was never smooth
and easy on this day, and it came as a complete surprise to me because I was
really pumped to be out there on this beautiful course.
Jim wanted to run with me for a while, probably so he
wouldn't go out too fast, but I encouraged him to go on ahead. He did. I lost
sight of him after half a mile. I ran
when the road and trail was flat or down, and walked when it was uphill. I
started near the back and played cat and mouse with Ulrich Kamm, an ultra-distance
walker, on the road portion. I'd get ahead of him when I was running and fall behind him when I
was walking. He finished the race, walking the entire 100 miles (walking very
fast, that is).
There were only a few runners behind me after the trailhead
into the canyon. This photo shows a long string of runners ahead:
As you can see, I decided to carry my camera during the
race. I promised myself I wouldn't take very many photos because I couldn't
waste any time composing shots, and I stuck to that while I was out there.
You can barely see a couple runners in the photo above,
about four miles into the race as we're climbing, climbing, climbing almost
4,000 feet up to Horse Creek Ridge at 8,000 feet in elevation (you can't see the
ridge yet from here). The grass below ~6,000
feet was more dry and brown than it was when Jim and I trained on this section a
couple weeks earlier and the flowers were mostly dead. Above 6,000 feet, they
were still in full glory.
My race essentially ended at five miles, although I hung on
for 13.4 before I withdrew, injured, sore and frustrated. I
really believed I had a chance to finish this race. What the heck went so
Around five miles, my calves began to seize up. The last
runner, Ken Chlouber, passed me as the first debilitating cramp hit. He helped
massage my left leg so I could bend my foot and stand on it. Then I was in last
I took more electrolytes and kept climbing higher, stopping
to massage my calves, then my hamstrings, each time they cramped. I had plenty
of fluids and was drinking at least 20 ounces of water and Perpetuem each hour
(and eating Hammergel). I couldn't figure out why this was happening again. The
cramping began much sooner than the other three incidents during the spring. It
was hotter the last two weeks on our training runs on the Bighorn course, and
even on this big climb on June 5 (snake bite day) I didn't cramp up.
What was going on??? I wasn't going any faster than on that
I was determined to keep going forward. Returning to the
start wasn't a good option because no one would be there now to transport me
back to Dayton. I pressed onward
(and upward) to Dry Fork Aid Station.
Approximately six miles into the race I came to the fence I
showed you in the
June 5 entry. I was in too much pain to enjoy the beautiful
flowers this time. I was concentrating on keeping my stride as even as possible
so I wouldn't cramp, which was impossible on the rough cow path I was following.
Any very different foot strikes and some muscle would seize up again.
Then I came to a drainage area with little rivulets of
water streaming across the trail. Uh, oh. It's necessary for runners or hikers
to hop from tuft of grass to tuft of grass to get across this eight-foot wide
wet area. As I aimed for one tuft, both legs seized up and I lost my balance. My
trekking pole was useless as my body twisted sideways and I fell backwards into
about a foot of spongy water.
At least it wasn't filthy - and the cool water felt good!
(Always looking for the positive . . .)
I was in too much pain to feel any other emotion as I sat
there. No one
was around to help me up. My legs cramped even more when I tried to stand. It
was agony, and would have looked quite comical to a bystander. I had to sit there a couple of minutes before I could relax my calves
and hamstrings enough to stand up and get across the rest of the drainage area.
I'm glad no one was around to see that. It was so
embarrassing and frustrating. At least that fall wasn't caused by my clumsiness,
but cramps. I knew at that point my race was probably over.
I managed to get up to the top of Horse Creek Ridge, where
Jim and I turned around on our June 5 training run, in the time I had planned -
yet here I was in last place! If I didn't have the cramps, it probably would
have been OK because I still had a good cushion when I got to Upper Sheep Creek
Aid Station, the first manned aid station going outbound.
This is the view from the top of Horse Creek Ridge, looking
west beyond Sheep Creek:
The trail down to Sheep Creek is very steep but I was able
to run it without cramping up; at that point, the cramps bothered me more going uphill.
I crossed the log bridge over Sheep Creek
without cramping up, then ran and walked to the Upper Sheep Creek AS, shown
In retrospect, I should have dropped there to avoid damage
to my leg muscles. I signed in and
out without stopping and continued on another four miles to Dry Fork because I
thought maybe, just maybe, the cramps would go away and I'd be able to resume
running on the more rolling section between Dry Fork and Footbridge that we'd
run with Dave Westlake on
I had gained on Ken and could see him again. I tried to
keep him in sight along the jeep road and rocky trail I showed you on
and June 11
but fell farther and farther behind as I continued cramping. By the time
I got to FSR 201, I could no longer run without immediately cramping up. I had
to walk the last two miles, even downhill on Freeze Out Road to the aid station.
Half a mile above the aid station a volunteer
drove up to me on an ATV and asked how I was doing. Upper Sheep Creek had
radioed my time when I left their aid station, and the Dry Fork folks were
concerned about why it took me so long to get to their station. I thanked him,
told him I'd like to walk on down to the AS to drop out, but would need a ride
back to town. Were any
volunteers going down there? It would be many hours before any 100-milers would
be returning through the aid station.
No, he said, they were all going to stay there
that night and most of the next day until all 500 runners went
through their aid station. Wow! But he thought there were still a couple crews
there, and one of them could take me. He drove back down to ask one of them to
stay a few minutes until I arrived.
I cramped one more time just before the aid
station. By now my right adductor and hamstring were sending out emergency
signals to me. I know once the adductors start cramping, the pain is simply
intolerable and isn't likely to get better. I also know how long it takes a
strained or torn hamstring to heal at my age, so I bagged it. I couldn't afford
increasing the damage to my legs. Nor could I make the next cut-off without
being able to do some running.
I officially withdrew from the race and
gratefully accepted a ride back to the campground with Sandra Powell's husband
and daughter. We had to wait a bit because my legs kept cramping when I got into
their jeep. I was angry, frustrated, embarrassed, and much more tired than I
should have been after running/walking for only 4½ hours, and I swore I'd
never enter another hundred-mile race. I'm too old for this!! I was beating
myself up mentally.
Before leaving the aid station, one of the volunteers
checked with the command center, above, to see when Jim went through Dry Fork. I
was happy that he was on schedule there for a 32-hour time, just where he wanted
to be. It would be several more hours before I could track his progress through
Dick Powell and I had a lively discussion about trail races
and life in the hour it took us to get back to the campground. He and Anna were
going to crash for a few hours, then go to a road near Porcupine to crew for
Sandy. She was also aiming for 32-34 hours, as Jim, but I didn't see Dick any
more that evening.
SHIFTING MY FOCUS
At that point, I tried to take my mind off myself and focus
on Jim. We've both had lousy races, dropped out, and turned our attention to our
partner still out on the course. Now instead of being a runner, I would be the
best crew for Jim that I could be. I couldn't pace him because of my injured
legs, but I could be at the next crew point to help him get through it faster
and lend him my encouragement and support. I knew how important it was to him to
finish this time.
My mind was fuzzy when I got back to the camper at 4:45 PM. The dogs were in the
kennel and it was too late to pick them up in Sheridan. I had only myself to
organize, and it was almost beyond my ability. I finally took a shower, gathered
together lots of warm clothes and food to take up to Porcupine Aid Station, the
next place I could see Jim, and decided I was too wired to sleep in the camper.
It would be a lot more fun to get to the ranger station before dark, find a
parking spot, and sleep there until after midnight. Jim was hoping to get to the
turnaround by 1 or 2 AM.
I enjoyed the 55-mile drive to Porcupine between 7-8 PM. I
saw lots of large wildlife on the way (deer, antelope, moose) as the sun was
getting lower in the sky. I saw another moose right at the aid station before
dark. They love to hang out there, according to an intern at the station. That's
where we got the moose photos on
There were only a few crew and volunteer vehicles there at
8 PM and no runners had come through yet. The first thing I did was volunteer to
help at the aid station until Jim came through. The AS captain said he'd let me
know if they needed me. I also checked to see if Jim had made it past Footbridge
- yes. If he hadn't, then there wasn't any point in my staying at Porcupine.
I was too wound up to sleep so I stayed up until Jim came
in. I missed a photo of Ty Draney, the first runner in, but got this one of Jeff
Browning, the eventual winner, who came in about 8:50 PM:
Jeff, from Bend, OR, ended up with a new course record time
of 20:24, nearly two hours ahead of Ty, who placed second.
It was a while before more runners began trickling in. I
took several photos of the inside of the (rather cramped) aid station, which was
bustling with activity all night.
The core volunteers who man this station have been working
together for several years and run a smooth operation. One fella checked each
runner in and out. Several nurses/medical volunteers weighed the runners and
determined their mental and physical state by asking pertinent questions. Others
helped with blisters and refilling water bottles. Some fed the runners and
replenished the soups, cheese and ham quesadillas, bacon, sausage, mashed
potatoes, and other more standard aid station fare.
Crews and pacers hovered about, impatiently waiting for
their runners to come in. Someone usually called in approaching runners' numbers
so everyone was ready as they entered the building. Runners seemed
appreciative of the fast drop bag retrieval and special care they received
This aid station is like Bill's Barn at Vermont or Brighton
Ski Lodge at Wasatch. All are warm, inviting black holes that suck runners in
during the night. They are hard to leave, like a vortex. One smart runner
refused to sit down during the 15 minutes he was in the ranger station. He
changed shoes, cleaned off his feet, and ate standing up! He took the mantra,
"Beware the chair" quite literally. I don't believe he finished, however.
I found a warm perch on the stairway leading upstairs in
the first room the runners entered. It was out of the way, but I had a great
vantage point where I could see the runners enter and leave and hear just about
everything that was going on. It was stimulating and I stayed busy either
helping runners without crews or talking with crews and pacers. I already knew
about half the runners, and got acquainted with a few more folks here like Billy
Simpson and John McManus, Rickie Redland's husband.
No way could I
have just slept out in the truck! There was 'way too much going on.
When it got closer to 1 AM, I started asking runners if
they'd seen Jim out on the course. No one had seen him since Footbridge until
Elizabeth Bouquet and Rock Cogar came in about 2 AM. They'd seen him sitting at
an aid station about fifteen miles earlier and thought he was probably pretty close behind. I waited and
waited, knowing he wanted to get to Porcupine no later than 3 AM, preferably
sooner so he'd have adequate time to do the remaining 52 miles to the finish.
(Rock went on the finish, but Elizabeth chose to stop at Porcupine. It just
wasn't her day.)
As the night deepened, it got colder and colder. I never
heard what the official temperature was, but there was thick frost on the truck
windows when I left at 4:30 AM. I had on five layers on top and got cold every
time I went outside to the bathroom adjacent to the building we were using. One
runner came in with no shirt or jacket on top (and went back out that way, to
everyone's amazement), but most runners were fairly well bundled up in the cold.
It was clear, with more than a half moon and lots of stars, so the temps
plummeted throughout the early morning Saturday.
The volunteers commented that the runners were coming in
earlier and looked better than most years. They were correct in their prediction
that more runners would finish this year than previously.
Of course, some of the runners looked quite fresh and still
had a great sense of humor. Others looked like death warmed over. Some got in
and out quickly. Others spent a considerable amount of time in there. One early
male runner and the first female into the aid station were trashed and
eventually withdrew when they realized an hour's rest wasn't enough to
revitalize them. Wendell Robison, a race committee member, apparently followed
the same drill he always does at Porcupine: he crashed by the fire a
couple hours, vomited, ate and drank some more, and headed on out, finishing the
race one more time! Some others that hung out too long did NOT make it to the
finish in time.
Jim came into the aid station about 4:30 AM, only 30
minutes before the cut-off. I wasn't surprised that he was withdrawing. It was "deja
vu all over again" for him, the third time he's either missed the cut-off at
Porcupine or come too close to want to continue. It's a long 34 miles back to an
accessible aid station (Dry Fork) where it's possible to drop and find a ride
back to Dayton without waiting hours and hours. If runners get pulled or drop
at a remote station before Dry Fork on the way back, as Brent Craven and some
other runners ended up doing, they have
to wait for the station to close and hike out with the volunteers.
Elizabeth, Jim, and I piled into the truck about 4:30 AM,
all of us tired and discouraged, and headed back down to Dayton and some
much-needed sleep. As we commiserated with each other, we watched a beautiful
sunrise over the mountains. I was too bummed to even stop and take a photo.
I'll tell you about the highs and lows of Jim's Bighorn
experience in the next entry. He had an interesting weekend!