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Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"What am I doing out here? This seemed like a good idea in January."
- Jim's thoughts a couple times during the night
on the isolated Bighorn 100 trail


I can't believe Jim and I are the only ultra runners who experience a bout of optimism about the coming race year during the winter and think we can do more than we end up being able to do. Of course, it was easier when we really were only 35 (we kid each other about "not being 35 any more"), but there are still runners (male ones) in their 60s and 70s who can crank out decent hundred-milers year after year when most of their peers are happy to ride around a golf course on a motorized cart.

Why can't we crank out more 100-mile finishes?? It's certainly not for lack of trying. We're a stubborn pair!

Yesterday's entry ended as Jim and I returned to our camper early Saturday morning, defeated once again by the Bighorn Mountain Wild & Scenic Trail 100-miler. This entry will focus on Jim's experience in the race on Friday and Saturday, culminating with another trip to the emergency room Saturday afternoon.

Deja v all over again.

As I mentioned yesterday, Jim arrived at the first major aid station, Dry Fork at 13.4 miles, in the time he projected he'd need for a 32-hour finish. He had more than a one-hour time cushion at that point but was so hot and not having any fun that he considered dropping there.

Three things kept him going: pride, the knowledge that the next 17 miles to Footbridge would be an easier grade and he could run more than in the first section, and visualizing Don Lundell's photo of Cow Camp that we have as a screen saver on our laptop.

Fortunately, he felt better on this section. The heat wasn't a problem on the rolling terrain between 6,500 and 7,500 feet. He ran and walked on and off with Bob Johnson, Ulli Kamm, and some other runners. However, he wasn't motivated to push the pace. He relates now that he didn't drink enough water or Perpetuem, didn't eat enough gel or food at aid stations, and decided he'd drop at Porcupine. His pace slowed enough that he missed his projected time into Footbridge (30 miles) by about 1 hours. He was still an hour ahead of the cut-off, however.

The main reason he didn't drop right there was the knowledge that it would probably be "forever" before he could catch a ride out of this isolated aid station. I described the rough road to this aid station on June 12. He didn't feel too bad physically at that point. His worst problem at that point was the itching all over. That improved as the temperatures dropped after sunset.

Jim took off from Footbridge after about ten minutes (approximately 8:30 PM). He didn't think it would take him as long as it did in 2002 and 2003 to reach Porcupine, the turnaround, 18 miles later because he still felt relatively strong, it was still light, and he knew the weather and trail were in the best condition he's seen.

About four miles later near The Narrows aid station he hit a bad patch and almost turned around to return to Footbridge. It was getting dark enough at 9:45 PM to turn on his lights. Normally, he loves the night-time during 100-milers, but the thought that he'd only be able to walk the rest of the way in the dark as he ascended from 4,6000 feet at Footbridge to 9,100 feet near Porcupine - over rough, sometimes muddy terrain - got to him mentally. He suddenly felt very fatigued and discouraged.

Jim got out of The Narrows (33.5 miles) quickly but his mental and physical state continued to deteriorate. The next 6.5 miles to Spring Marsh "took forever" and were the low point of his race. Even though he put on more clothes before reaching that aid station, he was chilly until reaching their camp fire. He sat in its warm glow at least a half hour before he got up the gumption to move on. He knew he'd be stuck many more hours if he dropped there.


The last eight miles to Porcupine were miserable for Jim. Although there was less mud in this section, it was wet and marshy. Jim knew he had to ford the creek where the bridge recently washed out but it wasn't as bad as he anticipated. He pulled his pants legs up and just ploughed through as he usually does. His feet were cold and wet until he reached Porcupine. His hands were also cold in the frosty, windy night air. (His head and torso were OK.) Because he was walking only 30-minute miles and not eating or drinking adequately, he had trouble generating heat.

The coup de gras was when he started having dry heaves during the last mile. There weren't enough fluids or food in him to vomit anything. He was toast, hanging on until he reached Porcupine and a ride home.

Several people had told Jim as they passed him going the other direction that I was waiting at Porcupine for him. That was a relief to him. His first thought was, "Good. Now I don't have to wait until 6 AM for the bus to take me back!"  The 52-milers arrive on buses at Porcupine about 5:30 AM and drops from the 100-miler ride back to Dayton on one of them. It's not nearly as comfortable or fast as getting a ride in a crew-person's vehicle.

Jim immediately told race officials that he was dropping out at Porcupine and surrendered his race number (they didn't take mine at Dry Fork, but I made sure they recorded my DNF so I didn't get charged for an unnecessary search and rescue effort). He wanted to leave right away, ignoring the hot bacon and other warm edibles. I gathered his drop box and Elizabeth from the warm ranger station, scraped the frost off the windows while the truck warmed up, and drove back to Dayton in the the early morning light. (The sky lightened soon after 4 AM.)

I marked Russ Evans' course profile below with arrows to show where we each gave it up:


We got back to the camper about 6 AM, about the time the 50K runners were boarding busses nearby in the park to go out to their race start at Dry Fork. The 30K runners in our campground were probably just waking up; they didn't leave until 8 AM.

Jim was pretty chilled despite the heater running full blast in the truck for the last hour. Fortunately, his itching hadn't bothered him since about sunset. A hot shower and scrambled eggs revived him some. We were both exhausted and soon slept soundly for about five hours. We wore earplugs to block out noises, but we couldn't block out the sunshine very effectively. Jim was awake before I was. I was one pooped puppy after being up all night.

After we got up we could hear random cheering over in the park where the finish line was erected near the shelter. We missed many of the early finishers in each race. The first person to cross the line was the 100-mile winner, Jeff Browning, at 7:24 AM. Ty Draney and John Hemsky came in one second apart at 9:13 AM, then more and more runners appeared as the 52-milers, 50K, and 30K runners finished. Over 400 runners in the four races streamed into the park throughout the day, creating an interesting spectator sport for locals, passers-through, and families in the park.

They were probably amused by the runners who jumped into the Tongue River to cool off, too! You can see the shallow river in the photo below:

Jim and I wandered over to the park when it was time for the awesome post-race picnic to begin at 1 PM. We were happy to find Kyle Forman, one of our good friends from Billings, who had finished her race. Elizabeth was there, too, talking with another fella who dropped at Porcupine (we had room to transport only one runner down).

We set up our chairs in the ever-moving shade and enjoyed conversations with friends while we chowed down on thick, juicy hamburgers, baked beans, potato salad, macaroni salad, chips, soft drinks, and lemonade. These aren't foods I normally eat, but they always taste like gourmet dishes to me after a race!

After about 30 minutes of socializing, I returned to the camper to do laundry. The campground has only two washers and two dryers that work, and I knew the Hoods would be more than busy the next few days doing laundry from the cabins when the runners left town. I walked back and forth from the laundry room to our camper about a dozen times as I tended to five loads of laundry and watched the runners pass by on Highway 14 (Main Street) before entering the park. I wanted to get done before 4 PM so I could drive down to Sheridan to get the dogs between 4:30 and 5. (The vet office has just two half-hour times on weekends to release boarding dogs.)

I was surprised Jim came back in a couple hours because he was looking forward to kicking back all afternoon at the park with our friends. The itching and welts had returned with a vengeance, probably exacerbated by the heat and/or sunshine. He noticed his feet were swelling, which is common after we run 50 or 100 miles, but soon his throat hurt and his tongue and face were also swelling up. He tried to nap, but the itching and swelling were becoming increasingly uncomfortable.

We were both alarmed and still had no clue what was going on with him. Jim wondered if he should go to a walk-in clinic somewhere to find out what was going wrong. It was about 3:30 PM. I hustled over to the finish area to ask Karen or Michelle if there was a walk-in clinic in Sheridan, and they told me where it was. They (and Kyle) were concerned about Jim and suggested I go talk to the two EMTs who were on duty next to the ambulance. They were on stand-by in case any runners needed medical assistance after the race or to be transported to the hospital.

I recognized one EMT who had been at Porcupine. The other man, Tom, is married to the nurse (Connie) who was assigned to Jim the morning he was released from the hospital after his rattlesnake bite. I told them what was going on and they said to have Jim come over. He did.

When we returned, the EMTs called over the race doctor (I don't remember his name). The doctor didn't think Jim's swelling and itching were related to the snake bite, but to some allergy. He recommended I go up the street to buy some Benadryl and let him or the EMTs know how it was working after two hours.

Jim went back to the camper and I walked - as fast as my sore hamstrings and calves would allow - the three blocks to the only little grocery in Dayton for some over-priced anti-histamine. On the way back, I got Jim two scoops of ice cream to help his sore throat (and bruised psyche).

At that point, I needed to drive 25 miles to the south end of Sheridan to get the dogs or we couldn't get them until the next morning. Jim was OK with me leaving, saying he'd try to take a nap while I was gone for about an hour. Cody and Tater were very happy to get sprung from "doggie jail' and we got back to Dayton around 5:30 PM.


I was dismayed to find that Jim was worse. Actually, I was pretty alarmed. His tongue was so swollen I had trouble understanding what he was saying. His cheeks and lips were so swollen, he looked like a chipmunk storing nuts for winter. (No, I did NOT take any pictures of him!!) I rushed back over to the finish area to talk to the EMTs again. Despite the Benadryl, he was getting worse.

The race doc was gone by then, but Tom and the other EMT were still there. They became more alarmed, too, at the sudden progression of the swelling and said Jim needed to get to the emergency room ASAP, not a walk-in clinic. They said his windpipe could close suddenly and he'd be unable to breathe. I ran as fast as I could back to the camper and breathlessly told Jim to get ready to go to the ER in our truck.

He stubbornly refused, fearing another night in the hospital. I walked back over to the finish area to get our Footbridge and Dry Fork drop boxes, and Tom came over to me, asking why I wasn't on the way to the hospital with Jim. I told him that Jim was balking. Tom said we had to go, bluntly stating that it could be a matter of life or death.

This time I made it clear to Jim that WE WERE GOING TO THE HOSPITAL. I drove him over closer to the EMTs, and Tom reiterated to him how life-threatening the facial and throat swelling was becoming.

Jim got the message.


So back we drove to Sheridan Memorial Hospital's emergency room, still not knowing what was wrong with Jim. How could he have developed an allergy so suddenly? We thought it might have something to do with the snake bite, but the race doc thought not. (The EMTs didn't say.) What else could it possibly be???

At the ER, Jim was asked to sit in the waiting room with several other people. They were busier than the first time he'd arrived after the snake bite. I went to sign him in and told the nurse he was the rattlesnake bite victim from June 5, since that seemed to be a major event at the hospital. She immediately ushered him back to an examining room and within about a minute one of the ER docs was asking Jim questions.

In very short order he got the picture. He said with authority, "This is serum sickness from the equine anti-venom serum you received twelve days ago."

Thank goodness we finally had a diagnosis for Jim's symptoms! We weren't sure what it all meant, but hearing that it was a common response to the serum calmed us down. It wasn't just some mystery illness requiring a multitude of tests, poking, and prodding. If the doctor knew the reason for the itching and swelling, surely he knew how to treat it!


It was about 6:45 PM and time for the next twelve-hour shift of doctors and nurses to come in. Dr. Robinson, the personable young ER doc who saw Jim after the snake bite, conferred with the first doctor and quickly agreed with his assessment.

Dr. Robinson explained on June 5 that the Sheridan hospital didn't have enough serum on hand to treat Jim's bite so they'd have to use bovine and equine serums. This time he said it was actually OVINE serum from sheep, not bovine from cows, that was in the first two vials Jim received. There are very few allergic reactions to ovine serum (remember that!). The only other serum within many miles was the equine variety from Buffalo, about an hour's drive away. That's what the Sheriff's Deputy brought up for Jim, also wiping out their supply.

While it was in transit that afternoon (June 5), Jim was given a skin test to see if he was allergic to the equine serum. There was no reaction, so they gave him three or four vials of it. What we weren't told is that there is a 56-70% chance of an allergic reaction to this drug, nor that it takes from three to twenty-one days for symptoms to show up (remember all that, too). No one at the hospital told us this, nor did Dr. Synder, who saw Jim at follow-up. She warned Jim about "swelling," but didn't specify WHERE, and we both just assumed any swelling would be near the bite on his ankle.

It's so hard to think of all the right questions when you're under stress and don't fully understand the ramifications of an injury or illness!

Back to Saturday evening: the docs ordered an IV treatment of two full liters of saline solution with electrolytes (partly because Jim was still dehydrated from the race), Prednisone (a steroid) to combat the swelling, anti-histamine for the itching, and an acid controller like Pepcid to counteract stomach problems that might be caused by the Prednisone.

After a little over two hours, Jim's swelling had gone down appreciably, we could clearly understand what he was saying, and he was champing at the bit to go home. Dr. Robinson gave him a day's supply of drugs to take until we could go to a pharmacy. He advised us to make a follow-up appointment with Dr. Snyder in four or five days to see if he needed to continue taking the Prednisone, then sent us on our merry way.

What a relief that the treatment was so simple. What a relief to know what was WRONG. We both slept very well that night because we were exhausted from the physical stress of the race (and lack of sleep), the mental stress of not knowing the cause of Jim's symptoms, and the emotional disappointment of not finishing the race.


Of course, now we're wondering what all this will cost in dollar terms . . . Jim's health insurance usually covers his doctor, surgery, and drug bills quite well, but he's never had to get extremely expensive meds before. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.

Jim summed it up well afterwards when he wrote in some e-letters to friends and relatives, "After learning my first emergency room bill is almost $20,000 ($17,000 of which was for the serum), I have a profound respect for rattlesnakes. Yikes!!"

Be careful out there. We learned that several runners did see rattlers on Saturday near a large boulder above the Tongue River Canyon where there is a den. Fortunately, no one was bitten.

Next entry: comments and photos from the most excellent post-race breakfast and awards ceremony, and some "Sunday morning quarterbacking" about our DNFs.

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

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil