Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next



"If you start to feel good during an ultra, don't worry - you'll get over it.
- Gene Thibeault


I've been trying to get Jim to write a Bighorn report but he's not real motivated since he DNFd the race -- so you'll get it second-handed from me. Jim just wants to put it behind him.

I mentioned in my 50K report that I discovered he'd dropped or been pulled from the race (I didn't know which) from the timers at one of my aid stations. Turns out he'd dropped only twenty minutes before I asked. I had to wait several more hours to learn the whole story from Jim, however.

We were both more confident in his ability to finish the race this year because he'd had five good races leading up to the Bighorn 100: Holiday Lake 50K in February, Bull Run Run and Umstead 50-milers in April, Capon Valley 50K in mid-May, and Old Dominion 50-miler in late May.

His time of 10:48 at Umstead (above) put him 38th out of 107 fifty-mile finishers, the highest he's placed in an ultra recently.

5-16-07 Old Dominion Memorial 50-miler (watch that tractor!)

He supplemented these races with several months of long training runs and some speed work on roads and trails. This is a photo of a fun long run we did with our friend Eric Rathbun at 4,000-5000 feet on the AT in the Mt. Rogers-Grayson Highlands area on 5-6-07:

Jim was trained and ready to go.


There are several variations of the quote above. The percent that is mental will vary from runner to runner, course to course, and day to day, but I can guarantee you from attempting to run 100-milers the past nine years that a large part of finishing one IS mental. Sure, the physical training is critical. You've got to adequately train all your body systems to handle the distance. But what goes through your mind before and during the race is just as important. It's amazing how many reasons your brain can find to quit before you're finished!

Last year Jim's mental preparation was thrown out of whack by the rattlesnake bite he got ten days before the race (and it did affect him physically during the race). He also wasn't as well-trained physically as this year. So it's not as big a surprise that he didn't finish last year as this year's DNF was.

This year, knowing the course was the muddiest and snowiest it's ever been was cause for concern for both of us. We'd post-holed through the snow at Porcupine and trudged through the mud and muck at lower elevations.

Jim knew it would slow him down, a problem if he was fighting cut-offs. He knew he had to push harder to have a bigger cushion of time at the turn-around. He also worried that the icy snowmelt and creeks would numb his feet as has happened in other races and training runs. Despite these concerns, we both still felt he had the best chance ever of finishing this course.


Fortunately, his race began well. The sky was overcast at the start and the temperatures were noticeably cooler through the Tongue River Canyon than they've ever been in the 100-miler. That made his long climb to the summit of Horse Creek Ridge a little easier than last year. He still called it "tough" -- after all, it's a good 4,000-foot climb in about eight miles -- but it was more pleasant without the bright sunshine he's had three times before.

[A comical side note: Even when he got above the clouds on the way to Dry Fork, Jim thought it was "overcast, very comfortable all day." Now if you go back and look at the photos I took at Dry Fork before and after he came into that aid station last Friday (June 15 entry), you'll see the sky was BLUE. That's not photo-editing!! And I could see it was blue for miles down the drainage where he ran next. But it's probably just as well that he thought it was overcast. I'm glad he didn't overheat.]

Jim in the pack at the start, above, waving to me (gray shirt, left third of photo)

Jim has a big smile for Mariann Foster, who took the photo above of him near the Tongue River Canyon trail head a couple miles into the race

Jim ran very well for at least 56 miles. He was well ahead of all the cut-offs despite the very wet conditions -- more mud, snow, and water on the trails and jeep roads than he'd ever seen on the course. Here he is coming into the Dry Fork aid station:

At the Porcupine Ranger Station turn-around at 48 miles he was almost 2 hours ahead of cut-off, long enough to take twenty minutes to refuel and change into clean socks (not shoes) before heading back down eighteen miles through snow, mud, and water to the next major aid station at Footbridge. He planned to change into dry shoes at Footbridge (66 miles).

Susan Donnelly took this photo of Jim at Porcupine. Still looks like a happy guy to me!

One of Jim's problems previously in this race has been staying warm during the night. Even if temperatures soar into the 90s during the day along parts of the course, it can get down to the 20s during the night in the Little Horn Canyon and up to Porcupine. That wasn't a problem at all this year. It stayed warm enough (40s) that Jim didn't need his pants, gloves, or a warm hat at night. He wore shorts, a long-sleeved shirt, a short-sleeved shirt, and an REI Mistral jacket during the night and was comfortably warm. Even his feet stayed warm in thin Smart Wool socks and Montrail Vitesse shoes. He did not wear gaiters.

Another problem for Jim has been nausea and the inability to ingest enough calories and fluids during the night. This year he did fine all day and most of the night with the majority of his calories coming from Hammer Nutrition's Hammergel and two energy drinks with carbs, fats, and proteins (full-strength Perpetuem and Sustained Energy the first 20 miles, then half-strength the rest of the way). He especially liked the espresso flavor of Hammergel, which is caffeinated. It kept him alert from Footbridge outbound (30 miles) until he dropped 36 miles later. He took gel, an electrolyte capsule (Endurolytes), and a Tums every 30 minutes until the turn-around at Porcupine.

He supplemented these products with soup at several aid stations, including Porcupine. A grilled cheese sandwich looked good to him also, but he had to throw it away after not being able to swallow it (dry mouth). He also started having trouble getting the Endurolyte capsules down but took them regularly throughout the race. He continued to use half-strength Perp and SE from 48 to 66 miles and never became nauseous. That was a definite improvement from previous 100-mile races.

Jim left Porcupine at 2:55 AM, a bit over two hours ahead of cut-off. That was also a big improvement over last year, when he had only about thirty minutes to spare going INTO the aid station and decided to drop out. Good job!


Jim continued to run well until he hit Spring Marsh at 56 miles. Then he says the "wheels fell off."

Nothing tasted good any more, including his energy drinks (he can't remember if he drank them the entire way or just water the last ten miles). He was able to get some soup and gel down, but apparently wasn't getting enough calories because his pace deteriorated to 30-minute miles. He was no longer able to run, even downhill. By the time he got down to Footbridge (66 miles) he was only 40 minutes ahead of the cut-off and totally discouraged by his slow time.

At that point, he'd already decided to drop out. He knew there was a huge climb out of the canyon to Bear Camp on rough, wet terrain (they don't call it "The Wall" for nothing!) and no convenient place to quit until Dry Fork at 82.5 miles. He knew he couldn't make the cut-off at Dry Fork at his current pace, and saw no way he'd be getting faster.

At 9:50 AM on Saturday, he told the aid station captain he was done. This is the second-most frequent place in the 100-miler for runners to drop or get pulled for missing a cut-off (Porcupine is first). He found a ride with another runner's crewperson, who graciously transported four runners in the 52- and 100-mile races back to the finish area.


Although Jim was better trained physically this year and very motivated to get 'er done after three DNFs on the course, it was still probably more his mind than his body that did him in at sixty-six miles. He says the mud, water, and snow really wore him down, but he doesn't remember his legs being particularly sore.

In retrospect, he believes the DNF was more mental than physical. That's not an easy statement to make, considering how motivated he was before the race to finish it. He's not sure what he could have done differently, except maybe keep ingesting more calories. Perhaps more speed work would have helped, but he feels like he had enough training miles, races, and altitude training. 

Relaxed before the start (Tom Hayes on right)

He had significant improvements in this race, however, and I certainly don't consider it a "failure" that he did only two-thirds of the race. He got eighteen miles farther than he has in three previous attempts on this difficult course. He was ahead of his own projected schedule at the half-way mark, and still feeing strong until 56 miles. He didn't get cold at night. He didn't get nauseous. He didn't get injured. He didn't even notice soreness in his legs or hips until the next day (we both felt like we'd been run over by a truck when we got up Sunday morning!).

Jim's main concern now is "How am I going to finish Leadvile??" in two months. Bighorn is done, and he doesn't really know what he could have done differently to finish it. He stopped analyzing the race before I did. His thoughts now are how to continue training to finish Leadville, another 100-miler that's given him fits since his first finish there in 1999. His plan includes more speed work, long training runs in the mountains around Silverton and Leadville, and lots of time at altitude since LT100 gets up to 12,600 feet (we'll even be camping at 9,000-10,000 feet the next two months).

"Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue. Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions independently of logic." - Tim Noakes


Yesterday and today were days to reflect, rest, and get organized before we leave the Bighorn area. Foothills Campground is almost empty again except for us and the perma-campers. The laundry is done and all race paraphernalia organized and put away. I worked some on this journal, but I'm 'way behind due to computer problems (including a very slow laptop overwhelmed with photos!) and difficulties getting on-line. If you're reading this in "real time," please be patient until I get caught up. I'll try to keep the topics page updated so you'll at least know where we are on a more timely basis.

I've been planning ahead to the Colorado Trail segments that can be done on our way to Silverton. We need to get there well before the July 4 hoards arrive so we can get a good boon-docking spot at our favorite National Forest (read: free) camping spot at South Mineral Creek (photo from last summer):

I have time to do the remaining five-plus segments (15-19, and six miles of 14 that I didn't do last year), but snow levels have me concerned after the problems with snowdrifts and route-finding that I had a couple weeks ago in Segment 4. We'll see how much is feasible to do now and how much will have to wait until after Hardrock in mid-July.

Today (Monday) we also visited a friend's alpaca ranch. That and some photos of sculptures in downtown Sheridan will be the focus of my next journal entry. Alpacas sure are interesting critters!

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

Previous       Next

2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil