Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"Last is just the slowest winner. - C. Hunter Boyd


Well, I didn't come in last in the 50K, but I wasn't far from it (100th of 121 finishers). And I'm perfectly OK with that. How's that for a "Type B" attitude??

There's another similar saying in the ultra-endurance world: To finish is to win. In fact, ultra marathons are difficult enough for the majority of humankind that you could even argue that just getting to the starting line of some of these events is an achievement, let alone the finish line.

Some athletes will argue these concepts. Most of them are still fast enough to be competitive and consider anyone who is not in the top of the pack to be "losers." Fortunately, you run into fewer of these folks in ultra running than in some other arenas. Ultra runners tend to have more respect for slower participants than elite athletes in shorter footraces. It is a real tribute to the character of front runners when they encourage the mid- and back-of-the-pack runners/walkers on an out-and-back course or hang around the finish line to cheer the last ones in.

Those are the folks who "get" it. We all have different goals, not just different abilities.

I'm long past being competitive, even in my age group. My priorities have morphed. I'm not willing to put in the miles or speed work necessary to post "fast" times like I used to, nor is my body able to stand the training it would require. I truly feel like a "winner" these days if I can just finish an ultra within the time limits of each race I choose to run. Perhaps when I approach sixty in two years I'll get more motivated to train harder and try to "win" some age group awards, but until then I'm content to just get in long miles and enjoy the journey.

I had three goals for this race:

  1. have fun, taking as many photos as I want;
  2. don't get injured;
  3. finish before the cut-off for all the races at 9 PM (that's a very generous 13 hours for the 50K and 11 hours for the 30K, but tight for me for the 52- and 100-mile races)

My time of 9:10:48 included at least three hours of walking because of leg cramps, and taking a whopping 211 photos during the race (plus some more before and after)!!

I can't put more than about thirty pictures in this journal or readers with older computers and/or slower internet connections wouldn't be able to see them in this lifetime. So I'm putting many (not all) of them at the "More Photos" link at left. That's our Picasa photo-sharing site. I hope you enjoy the tour of the 50K. The photos are in the order in which I ran (and walked) the race.


I woke up at 4 AM, which was about 45 minutes too early. It was already getting light. I was too revved up to stay in bed so I just got up. It gave me more time to feed and walk the dogs, eat breakfast, and get ready for the race.

I could see the buses for the 50K runners had not arrived as I walked next door to Scott Park so I walked around the path to "visualize" the finish again. This time the finish banner was there.

As the buses were pulling in I saw Wendell Robison, who was supposed to still be out there in the 100-miler. What's wrong with this picture? He told me he dropped at Footbridge on the way out (about thirty miles) because he went out too fast. I'm guessing all that trail work -- clearing trees, building bridges, postholing through snow, etc.-- the last couple weeks also played a role in his decision to drop.

I found two of our Billings friends, Kathy Wilkinson and Diane Legate, waiting to board the buses. It was fun to catch up on their lives during the 90-minute bus ride to the Head of the Dry Fork. We rode up through the clouds again and emerged above them to sunny skies. The upper Tongue River valley where we'd be running later was clouded over partially, as it was yesterday.

We arrived at the aid station about 7:30 AM; the race start was at 8, leaving plenty of time to use the porta potties and talk with friends.

I was itching to know how Jim was doing, but knew I wasn't supposed to bother the timers. So . . . when Rich Garrison from Sheridan came over to talk to me, I asked him how I could find out if Jim was still in the race. He graciously checked with his timing buddies and was able to tell me that Jim was still in the race, but he didn't know where. That was good news!

It was quite warm in the sunshine at Dry Fork. My drop bag wasn't up there yet, so I left my pants and jacket in a marked bag on the bus and retrieved them after the race. I wore shorts and a light-weight long-sleeve technical shirt over my sports bra and singlet. I could use the shirt as a jacket if a storm came through, but I ended up carrying it most of the race. The weather was excellent for runners in all the races this year. Friday night was warmer for the 100-milers than in past years. Jim usually gets cold easily but he wore shorts and didn't need his pants, gloves, or fleece hat this time.

The farthest distance between aid stations in the 50K is about seven miles. I figured two bottles would suffice. I wore a single waist pack and hand-carried the other bottle. One 20-oz. bottle contained concentrated Perpetuem, which I re-supplied when I returned to the Dry Fork aid station about fourteen miles into the race. The other bottle held plain water to wash down the Perp and Hammergel. In retrospect, I should have carried a 28-oz. bottle of water instead of only 20 oz. because I needed more in the hot section between Cow Camp and Dry Fork. Some of the 50K runners wore small Camelbak packs. My Camelbak HAWG was overkill, so I didn't use it.


Everyone had been warned that the Bighorn Mountain Wild & Scenic Trail Runs would be more wild than usual this year because of recent rains and late-season snow. And it was, even in the 50K, which gets up to about 8,500 feet on the ridge to Riley Point, the location of our first aid station about six miles into the course. 

We had a long trudge up the jeep road from Dry Fork. It didn't take long to encounter mud:

Most "runners" had to walk the ascent until it leveled out and we had a beautiful ridge run with more gentle grades. I stopped several times to take photos both ahead and behind me. In a race with all this scenery, it's a shame not to occasionally soak in the views.

I really enjoyed all the beautiful Pasque Flowers before we summitted the ridge:

There were lots of other varieties of wildflowers in their full glory on the entire course. It's one of the reasons the Bighorn races are so popular.

We ran into some snow above 8,000 feet in shaded areas but we could avoid all of it by simply going around it (unlike the snow conditions closer to Porcupine in the longer races). A couple of places I chose to go through clean snow rather than the deep mud adjacent to it.

I was closer to the back of the pack in the first six miles of the race up to Riley Point than I was after that aid station because of all the pictures I was taking. Here is a photo of several runners at Riley Point:

This is one of several remote Bighorn aid stations where supplies and volunteers have to be packed in by either ATVs or horses.

We had challenges in the 50K beyond the mud and snow this year, however. The "wildest" section came in the next two or three miles as we descended, sometimes steeply, to the Cow Camp aid station. I was mostly following Ed Demoney, a VHTRC friend, through this section (we were close the first half of the race). Despite being a total klutz on rocks and roots, I had a blast using gravity to my advantage all the way down to Cow Camp -- even through the quarter-mile maze of fallen trees we had to climb over, under, around, or through:

Trail crews were so busy with other areas of the course that they were unable to cut out a couple dozen trees that blew down in this section the week before the race. To me, it was an interesting obstacle course. Instead of being frustrated through here, as I'm guessing some runners were, it was one of my favorite parts of the race. If my legs had already started cramping up, it would have been torture, but I was in my element at this point.

There were some nice views going down to Cow Camp through the woods and open meadows full of wildflowers and marshy ground.


I followed a couple of young women through here that were trying to avoid getting their feet wet -- to no avail. I love splashing through water, so I just went straight through the creeks and marshy areas all day. Mud I tried to avoid (also in vain), but not water.


It was good to reach the Cow Camp aid station because it marked some progress. That, and the bacon! Jim always looks forward to having bacon at this aid station. Bacon is one of many "unhealthy" foods I'll eat during or after a race, but seldom in "real life." It went down real nicely.

The bad news concerned Jim. I gave the times Jim's number and asked if they knew whether Jim had dropped or was still in the race. If I knew he was having a great race and would be coming along soon, I'd have waited for him and run in with him to the finish. Unfortunately, the timers had just learned that Jim had dropped. They couldn't tell me where, though.

Damn! I wanted so badly for him to finish this year. The bad news had a negative effect on me for the next few miles. The hot, sunny, exposed jeep road wore me down, too, and I had to ration my water. This is where I could have used a larger water bottle. Ah, but the beautiful scenery continued:

About three miles from the Dry Fork aid station my calves started to cramp. Before that, I'd been running well between photo ops. I ended up having to walk for the next couple hours, until just before the Upper Sheep Creek aid station. If I tried to run, my legs would cramp up. I kept having to stop to stretch and massage them. Fortunately it was just my calves and hamstrings, not my adductors (those are excruciating!).

Several 50K runners, including Ed Demoney, passed me in this six or seven mile section. Once I got sufficient fluids back in my system and I was able to resume running, I passed some of them (and more) before the finish. But not Ed -- he kept on truckin'.

I got to Dry Fork (about fourteen miles) just before noon, about the time I'd predicted. I mixed a new bottle of Perpetuem (I had dry power in a bottle in my drop box) and got a new flask of Hammergel. I wanted soup, but none was heated up, so I continued on after grabbing a few pieces of cantaloupe and potato chips.


I had to walk the next mile up Freeze Out Road and the cross-country section anyway, so the cramps didn't bother slow me down here. It's a beautiful walk or run up this valley:

The next few miles between Camp Creek Ridge and Upper Sheep Creek are mostly runnable but I had to walk them. I tried to enjoy the gorgeous scenery but my eyes were sometimes glued to the ground. I wasn't a real happy person through here. I assumed I'd have to walk the rest of the way to the finish because of my leg cramps. In previous races, they haven't gotten better, only worse.

Suddenly the guy in front of me stopped and silently motioned to the left -- there was a moose grazing in the meadow, and I almost missed it!

That was one of the highlights of the race for me. I've never seen a moose during the race, only on training runs.

Occasional 52-mile runners passed me after Cow Camp, but none I knew. A couple fast runners went by through the scenic boulder area before the Upper Sheep Creek aid station at eighteen miles:

After the steep but relatively short uphill section before the aid station, I tried to run again -- and it didn't hurt!! Boy, was I happy. Even though I didn't have any real time goals, I was hoping I'd be able to run most of the long downhill and flat miles after Horse Creek Ridge.

At Upper Sheep Creek I remembered Jim telling me about shrimp on ice from last year. Yep, they had it! But I saw only three pieces. I asked if there was more. Yes, said one volunteer. No, said another. I'd eaten two pieces when they discovered that was all that was left. So I left the last lone shrimp for the next runner.

I was feeling great as I ran along the trail above the creek to the base of the steep hill going up Horse Creek Ridge. The views were pretty and the meadows were full of flowers.


As I began climbing up the last difficult ascent in the race I was surprised to find I had plenty of energy left. However, I stopped several times to take photos of where I'd been and where I was going because it was just so doggone beautiful:


I was totally fascinated with the low clouds over Horse Creek Ridge and the valley on the other side where I'd soon be descending into the Tongue River drainage. Even though I could start running downhill off the ridge, I stopped numerous times to take photos and just marvel at the beauty surrounding me. I took more photos in the next half mile than any other section of the course. You can see others at the "More Photos" link to the left.



I always enjoy this long, 4,000-foot descent through lush green meadows full of flowers and down to the Tongue River Canyon:

There are gorgeous views of rock formations (including Steamboat Point, which the bus passed on Hwy. 14 this morning) and scenic fence lines that make interesting photo perspectives:

The narrow trail, often just a trench, goes RIGHT NEXT TO the fences for about a mile. You would NOT want to trip here or you might get torn up on the barbed wire.

Next comes a short, steep descent to a muddy quagmire called "Fence Spring" with its fresh spring water coming out of a pipe that is marked with orange flagging so runners wll see it. Soon after, we run through a little aspen grove full of blue Lupines and out into open meadows with boulders again:

About a mile above the Lower Sheep Creek aid station I took my only fall of the race. I'd passed a 50K runner I'd seen off and on for the past five or six miles and wanted to stay far enough ahead that I could take photos without her having to go around me. I cramped again, but got up and could continue running OK. I'm assuming that's the reason for the large bruise on one of my legs several days after the race.

Right after this, Milada Copeland went flying past me -- she'd even left he pacer in the dust! Milada is the gal who's camped next to us. She realized she had a good chance to break thirty hours in the 100-miler, and she was on a roll. She finished in 29:47. Congratulations, Milada!

Half a mile from the aid station I passed two other hundred-milers who were walking it in, Olga Varlamova (in photo with David Horton in June 14 entry) and Rick Gaston, who finished in 30:22. The only other runners who passed me from that point (about six miles out) were 52-milers.


Right before the Lower Sheep Creek aid station the course gets very close to the Tongue River. At that point, it is a tumbling, noisy stream as it splashes over the large boulders within its banks. It is still high from recent rains and snowmelt. And it's another milepost in the course. You know there are only about seven miles left to the finish.

I passed through the aid station quickly. I knew I had enough fluids until the Tongue River aid station two miles further on.

The trail winds through shady pine and deciduous forest for about a mile. Around one curve in the trail is a surprise to first-time runners in this race -- an authentic Scottish bag-piper standing above the river, playing music as soon as he sees someone coming:

I hope even the fastest runners stop a moment to listen and thank him. This is just another one of those special touches that makes the Bighorn race so memorable. I don't know if it's the same man every year, but a bag-piper has been there every year Jim and I have run the race. What a treat! (Reminds me of the piano player above the ocean at the Big Sur Marathon.)

The next stretch of trail through the canyon is simply awesome as the rock walls close in on either side, amplifying the sound of the crashing water below. There are many different kinds of flowers blooming this time of year through here.

It was sprinkling rain as I ran down through the canyon so I don't have many photos from race day in this section. I have lots in earlier entries, however, and in the 2006 journal. The next view shows one perspective of the "Eye of the Needle" rock formation in the distance. Hundred-milers see it from the other direction near the start of their  race.

After topping off my water bottle at the Tongue River Trail Head aid station, I headed out for my least favorite five miles of this race on the TR Canyon Road. Although the clouds sometimes looked menacing ahead of me, the sun was out and it was a long, hot run-walk to the finish:

At that point, I was wishing for rain but didn't get into any.

An interesting diversion was the kayaker in the river who was practicing paddling upstream (or something). There's a picture of him in the Picasa photo gallery ("More Photos").

Two miles from the finish Mary and Pat Schilling provide runners with an aid station in front of the beautiful home they are restoring. It's like an oasis in the desert:

That's Carola Kundrik from Alberta, Canada ahead of me in the last two photos. We were near each other much of the race. She'd get ahead of me when I stopped to take pictures, I'd catch up and we'd talk a bit, I'd stop again . . . you get the picture (so to speak). I tried to stay far enough ahead on single-track trails so I didn't annoy her, though.

Carol and I were running together when we finally came to the footbridge across the Tongue River on the east side of Dayton. Only half a mile to go!! As we turned into Scott Park I asked Carol if she could run and she said no, encouraging me to go ahead since I'd been ahead of her for most of the race. I didn't exactly sprint, but I did jog in to the finish and Jim got this photo of me before I stopped the second I was under the finish banner, happy to be done after 9:10:48 on the course:

That's a fast-closing 52-miler behind me. Carol was a little farther back.

Runners in the 52-miler, 50K, and 30K received their Asics finish bags as soon as they got done. Each race had a different color and size (the longer the race, the bigger the bag). Hundred-miler finishers receive their bags (and watches) at the brunch in Sheridan on Sunday morning. My nice silver-colored bag is shown below:


Then it was time to SIT DOWN and party! All afternoon and evening on Saturday the park pavilion is packed with runners from all four races and their families and friends. The post-race picnic is free to runners; others pay a small fee to chow down on grilled burgers and hot dogs, baked beans, various kinds of pasta salads, fresh fruit, and other goodies catered by Ol's.

Jim had already showered but graciously waited until I finished to eat dinner with me. We both enjoyed sitting down and chatting with the runners around us, some who finished their races and some who didn't:

By this time I was more interested in eating and talking than taking pictures, so there are only two other finish-area photos at "More Photos," left.

We occasionally got up to check the finishers' board with times, congratulated friends who finished their races and commiserated with those who DNFd, retrieved our drop bags, listened to canned and live music, and cheered on finishers in the 50K, 52-miler, and 100-miler as they came across the line. (I think Hans-Dieter Weisshaar got the loudest cheers, finishing his 99th 100-miler!)

A nice post-race tradition is to sit in the chilly Tongue River a few feet from the finish line. I doubt anyone did that this year, however -- the current was too fast, the water too deep and dirty from recent rains and snowmelt.

I lasted about two hours before I just had to go take a shower in the camper. I was tired enough that I didn't go back to watch the finishers until the deadline at 9 PM but Jim stayed out a while. After talking more about our particular race experiences, we got to bed by 9 PM and slept VERY soundly. (Jim had been up all night with no nap today.)

More about Jim's race soon, and photos from the Sunday morning brunch/awards ceremony in the next entry.

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

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil