2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Web Journal
 
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
 

  BIGHORN ULTRAS:  PRE-RACE ACTIVITIES
& THE START OF THE 100-MILER

FRIDAY, JUNE 18

 
"The inaugural Bighorn Trail 100-Mile Endurance Run was held in 2002 to commemorate the
tenth anniversary of the annual Bighorn Wild & Scenic Trail Runs [50-mile (actually
52 miles), 50K (actually 32.5 miles), and 30K (actually 17.5 miles)] 
 
These runs were initially started by local trail runners interested in preserving
and protecting the Dry Fork and Little Bighorn canyons
from a planned pump storage hydroelectric project and other development.
 
. . . The runs largely continue at this time as a public service by
trail running enthusiasts and volunteers in the Sheridan community
to promote recreation and tourism in Sheridan County . . ."
 
~ from the Bighorn Trail Run history page
 
 
Not only did the Bighorn races help to kill the planned hydroelectric project, the event has introduced thousands of runners, crews, and volunteers to this gorgeous scenic and geologically unique mountain range. The web page above warns readers, however, that "other possible development" remains a threat. We fervently hope that it remains wild and scenic.


Are big bear paw prints wild enough for you? rattlesnakes bites? moose sightings?
lightning strikes? rivers rushing through steep-walled canyons?

Jim and I have a vested interest in this area because we love to visit the beautiful Bighorns and we like to be involved with this race. One or both of us has run one of the ultra distances almost every year since 1997. We have also crewed each other and volunteered many times.

It's not just the locals who volunteer here, although they are by far the majority. After all, Sheridan is not in a heavily-populated area of the country. And that's a large part of its charm.

VALUING VOLUNTEERS

We have grown both wary and weary of a few races where we haven't felt like our volunteer efforts were really needed and/or adequately appreciated or rewarded. We obviously aren't in it for any monetary compensation -- and it's A Good Thing to Do to "give back" to the sport we love -- but we do like to feel appreciated by both the runners and race management.

At minimum we'd like some verbal or written thanks from the race director as well as the volunteer coordinator, communications director, or aid station captain, depending on our job. A shirt to identify our volunteer status and/or some food during our shifts are nice, too.

We've always gotten those things and more at Bighorn.

The neon yellow synthetic short-sleeved shirts we received for our work this year will be great any time we need visibility when we are walking, running, or cycling:

The Bighorn race staff, including Michelle Maneval, her mom Karen Powers, her aunt Cheryl Sinclair, and her sister Melanie Powers, know how to organize and execute an event that is, um, well run. They are ably assisted by key volunteers like Mike Powers, Wendell Robison, Rich Garrison, and Dave Westlake.

Even though they have expanded to a whopping 867 entrants -- or more -- in the four races this year, they've been doing this for enough years (eighteen?) and growing gradually enough to have most everything down pat. And if something doesn't go right, they fix it.

I can't tell you how much easier it is for volunteers to do their jobs well when RDs have their acts together. That includes the care and feeding (literal and figurative) of volunteers, as well as runners. It is a pleasure to work with these folks on a volunteer basis. They are sincere with their thanks and generous with "perks."

That's one of many reasons we keep coming back to work and run this race. The runners who come here are also some of the nicest we've ever "run into," too.

Long live the Bighorn races!

PACKET MANIA: WEDNESDAY

Two of my favorite race jobs are stuffing the race packets or bags and handing them out to race entrants when they check in. Both Jim and I spent parts of two days doing that for the Bighorn event this year. 

Bag stuffing began in earnest early this week for the four races. There were various advertisements, coupons, race entry forms, magazines, and other paperwork to be collated, boxes and boxes of items provided by sponsors, and entrants' shirts to be divided by type and size. All these items, plus the bibs with the runners' numbers, went into useful brown nylon tote/shoe bags.

The 100-milers got bright red short-sleeved technical shirts with black inserts under the arms; the other entrants received the long-sleeved version shown below:

By the time Jim and I got involved with stuffing the bags on Wednesday, the system was humming along quite well and many of the items were already in the bags. Some additional items came in late and needed to be added to partially-filled bags.

We did that for a while but most of our time was helping turn generic bags into runner-specific bags. That involved sticking a label with each runner's name and bib number on the outside of a bag, putting the bib number itself inside the bag, and adding the size shirt the runner requested. Then we organized those bags by race distance in numerical order in large boxes and labeled the boxes with the number range so it would be easy to locate the bags when runners came in on Thursday and Friday to collect them.

We did all the assembly work in the back room of the Foot of the Bighorns store, this year's location for packet pick-up:

Co-RD Karen Powers, in the red shirt above, owns and operates three related businesses on the main street in Sheridan: her original store, the Sport Stop, which has expanded quite nicely since it was first opened; the Foot of the Bighorns, which sells footwear; and an outlet store across the street which contains merchandise at discounted prices that hasn't moved as quickly from the other two stores.

Bighorn race management has located packet pick-up in various locations over the years, from the high school auditorium to each of the three stores. This year runners came to the Foot of the Bighorns store to get their bags and do the 100-mile medical checks. For efficiency's sake, the bags are always assembled and stored near the room where they will be picked up, not dragged from one location to another.

In some races the bags are all generic and runners move down the line to receive their specific numbers and shirts and other items when they check in. Western States and Leadville are examples of that method, which makes bag stuffing faster but requires a lot more space and volunteer help at packet pick-up. At Bighorn, the retail stores where runners have picked up their bags in recent years just don't have sufficient space to do that. Hence, there is more work before pick-up to assemble runner-specific bags.

I've worked packet-stuffing and pick-up both ways. I don't have a particular preference. Both systems work well as long as they are organized efficiently. It just depends on the space available at the time of pick-up and when volunteers are most available.

I wish I'd taken a picture of the three storage rooms full of bags, but I didn't. What a sight: 860+ bulging brown bags, all waiting to be claimed by their runners!

BAG PICK-UP: THURSDAY

Runners in the 100-mile race were scheduled to pick up their bags/numbers/shirts and have their medical checks done at the Foot of the Bighorns store on Thursday afternoon; their race began Friday morning. Packet pick-up (but no medical check) was scheduled in the same location for runners in the 52-mile, 50K, and 30K races on Friday; their races begin on Saturday morning.


Melanie (L) and Michelle (R) check runners in on Thursday.

Runners had plenty of room to check in in the front room of the retail store (at least on Thursday, when we were helping). All the normal merchandise appeared to have been moved out so previous years' leftover race apparel -- at very attractive prices -- and other items runners might need for this year's races could be moved in temporarily for optional purchase.


Matt Watts (R) gets his pulse and blood pressure readings taken by a medical volunteer.

Jim's and my job Thursday afternoon was to retrieve bags for a couple hundred 100-mile runners as they came in to get their numbers and have their medical checks done. We chose this job for several reasons, one of which was to see our friends in the 100-mile race! As usual, we know a higher percentage of them than the runners in the shorter races.


Jim talks with Bob Johnson (R) as Franklin Coles does his medical check.

Although runners in the other three races (52-mile, 50K, and 30K) were supposed to get their bags on Friday, they could get them on Thursday if they asked. Jim and I may have been instrumental in starting this a few years ago.

Note that the 100-miler begins at 11 AM on Friday. The other three races begin at 6-8-10 AM on Saturday. Everyone has until 9 PM on Saturday to finish (that's very generous for the 50K and 30K runners).

When Jim was in the 100-miler in 2007 and I ran the 50K, I wanted to be able to crew for him at Dry Fork on Friday -- around the time I was supposed to be picking up my packet in Sheridan, at least 50 miles and a lot more minutes away. So I asked if I could get my number and bag on Thursday when Jim did. It appeared that I was one of the first to request that privilege, but since race management had known us for a long time, they allowed it.

Of course, we told friends like the Watts and Asletts about this, and they asked, too. Now it's no big deal for partners and friends of the 100-milers who are running in the shorter races to get their bags on Thursday. It makes things a lot easier for them. As runners, Jim and I appreciate whatever adjustments the race staff had to make to accommodate this change.


Previous 100-mile winner Jeff Browning weighs in.

It can also be argued that it makes packet pick-up a little easier on staff and volunteers on Friday, when over 600 runners are now picking up their bags. We didn't help with bag pick-up then, but we can guess how busy it was. Assisting "only" 200 runners was a piece of cake in comparison.

Yes, Jim got his 50K race bag while we were working Thursday. That enabled us to go out and watch/crew for friends in the 100-miler at Dry Fork this morning.

Melanie, Michelle, and Cheryl handled the computer duties as the 100-milers checked in. Jim, Gene Bruckert (standing in photo below), another volunteer, and I retrieved their bags, as well as some bags for runners in the shorter races. Three medical volunteers handled the 100-milers' medical stats, which were also recorded in the computers.

During lag times between incoming runners we were able to talk with many of our friends and wish them well in the race. We also got to re-meet a friend, John Cassidy, who introduced himself as a "lurker" on this website. We first met him in Leadville, I think, and he wrote to us about climbing Pike's Peak while we were in Colorado Springs a few weeks ago. This is his first time running the Bighorn 100. We always enjoy meeting friends through the website!

After getting their bags and medical checks, the runners were free to mingle, shop, and head for the pre-race dinner at Ole's.

That was one of the perks we enjoyed as volunteers -- free dinner tickets for the Italian buffet. Although the restaurant was packed when we got there, we were able to enjoy some stimulating dinner conversation with several friends.

The more they talked about the race, the more ambivalent feelings Jim had about running the 50K this time instead of attempting the 100-miler one more time. Although he can see definite advantages in doing the shorter race, the lure of 100s is still strong. It took me several years to get over the temptation (which I did before my knees gave out). I'm an eternal optimist but finally faced reality. Jim's still capable of doing 100-milers, however, if he trains adequately for them. I'm glad he isn't in the Bighorn 100 this year but I'll always support him in the future if wants to do a hundred.

We got into some heavy rain and lightning near the campground as we headed home Thursday evening:


Heavy downpour between Ranchester and the Bighorn Mountains

Aren't those clouds cool, though?? We crossed our fingers for better weather for the race on Friday and Saturday.

100-MILE RACE BRIEFING:  9 AM FRIDAY

Attending the course briefing for the 100-miler this morning gave us another opportunity to mingle with friends. How could we pass it up when it was only a couple hundred yards from our campsite??

This is why the Foothills Campground in Dayton, WY is packed on race weekend -- its proximity to the 100-mile briefing, bus transportation to the start of the 50K and 52-miler, and the finish line of all four races. The campground is adjacent to Scott Centennial Park.


A great motivating place for the race briefing:  next to the finish line!

The 100-mile race briefing was the same as usual as Michelle welcomed the runners and crews, talked about some of the rules, thanked the sponsors and volunteers, and gave out some random running merchandise prizes.

Wendell Robison (below, left) went into some detail about the course, the markings, and a two-mile re-route near the high point due to snow conditions; this is near the turn-around at the Porcupine Ranger Station. Race management made the re-route decision last Sunday when the snow on the regular course was up to Wendell's chest. Mid-week, another six inches of snow fell in that area.

That also affects the 52-mile race, which starts at Porcupine and goes point-to-point to Dayton. Fortunately, no other re-routes are necessary for the event, although there is still plenty of snow and mud for the runners to enjoy!

This is the Bighorn Mountain WILD & Scenic Run, after all.

DRY FORK AID STATION:  FRIDAY AFTERNOON

After the briefing, 100-mile runners had about an hour to make final preparations and catch a ride four miles to the start line on the Tongue River Canyon Road. The race began at 11 AM.

We've been there, done that so many times we passed on it this year and headed up a little later on US 14 and various Forest Service roads to the first crewing station at the Head of the Dry Fork. At 13.4 miles into the race, this is the 100-milers' first major aid station and the first of four locations (five in other years when the course isn't re-routed) where crews can meet their runners.

The first runners were expected by 1 PM; the aid station cut-off is at 4 PM.  In about three hours, we could watch everyone come through.

We arrived around noon, before most of the crews, looked over the aid station, and staked out a nice viewing spot (marked with a red X in the photo below). To kill time and get some exercise, Cody and I hiked about a mile up the 50K road (marked "50K" below) above the aid station and back down. I was happy to report to Jim that the trail was much drier than it was on Monday. Of course, that part wasn't where most of the snow had been . . . it was up higher than I went today.

Follow the arrows in the photo above: the 100-milers will be coming down Freeze Out Road from the right, check in and out of the aid station tents (and meet their crews, get more fluids and calories, get their drop bags, etc.), then run down the road you can't see to the left into the valley (Dry Fork drainage) toward the next aid station, Cow Camp.

Jim chilled while I was gone, since he's running 32+ miles tomorrow.  Before long he was joined by Anne Watts, who crewed not only her husband Matt but also several other runners as they came though the aid station; Carol Neslund, crewing for hubby Richard; Diane Gorski, crewing for Rob Thurston; and a young lady who was crewing for her husband. There was a nice little spectator group by the time Cody and I returned.

Diane is on the left, below; she and Jim are both in the 50K tomorrow.

What a beautiful afternoon it was! Look at that clear blue sky. We did get a little chilly in the 50-degree temps and wind because we were mostly just sitting there, but it looked like good conditions for the runners.

The first runners, Mike Wolfe (on the left, below) and Joseph Grant, hit the aid station a few minutes after 1 PM, soon followed by other front-runners. Mike ended up winning the race in 18:43 hours and Joseph was second in 19:48.

 

Jeff Browning's family (shown below) sat near us, ready to spring into action when he arrived a few minutes later. Jeff has won the race previously. He came in third this year in 20:34.

We were happy to see Jody Aslett come through in a fast time, looking great:

Jody's on the right, heading for the porta-potties (a popular place for the runners to visit at this aid station!). Anne is to the left, running to the aid station to get Jody's drop bag and assist her there. Jody finished fourth overall female in a 100-mile PR for her (27:30). Good job, Jody! Wait till you see how great she looked at the finish!

Pretty soon Jody's husband Dennis came through. Here Anne is asking him how she can help him at the aid station. Unfortunately, Dennis didn't finish the race this time (he has several times previously).

When Matt Watts came through, he looked strong. He and Anne are striding quickly toward the aid station in the next photo as they discuss the things Matt needs to do while he's there:

Experienced runners like these know not to waste time in aid stations. It can mean the difference between finishing the race and getting timed out. Matt finished in a fine time of 30:43.

One of our Sheridan friends, Dave Westlake, went on to win the men's 60-69 age group this year. He puts in a lot of volunteer hours with the event and has finished the 100-mile race several times:

This is John Hobbs, one of our ATY (Across the Years) friends:

Ray Gruenewald finished in 32:39:

I missed photos of our other friends but will try to get some of them at the awards ceremony on Sunday. Check that upcoming entry dated June 20 for more pictures and results.

Next entries: Jim's 50K race, finish line activities, and my hike on the Riley Loop (all on Saturday) -- what a difference five days make in the snow level!

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

Previous       Next

2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

-