2006 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

   
 
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              SHOW TIME!!             
 
  FRIDAY, JUNE 16
 
 
" . . . Injuries from falling both on even or rough trail, hazards of running in
possible snow conditions, falling rocks or trees, and injuries related to adverse encounters with wildlife exist for the participant taking part in this race . . . "
 
- more Bighorn 100 medical information
 
 

 

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.

RACE MORNING

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.

We 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 before.

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, and others.

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 sponsors.

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 the price.

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 Leadville.

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 beyond.

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 race 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.

SHORT RACE

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 wrong??

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 place.

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 training day.

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 below:

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 June 3.

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 June 2 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 4 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 Footbridge.

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 June 8.

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 inside.

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!

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

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil