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(first of two pages)


"Hey, wait up!"
~ repeated banter from Rich Garrison to Jim at the 50K aid stations
I'll cut to the chase: after two frustrating 50K races recently at Jemez Mountain and Golden Gate Dirty Thirty, Jim had a breakthrough performance today at the Bighorn Mountain Wild & Scenic Trail Run. It wasn't anywhere near his 50K PR but it was over three hours faster than either of those two disappointing recent races AND faster than the first time he ran the Bighorn 50K thirteen years ago!

Pretty good, eh? After all, he's not 48 any more (let alone 35, our standard joke about aging).

Nothing boosts your confidence like a good strong finish!

Jim needed a faster time today to boost his level of self-confidence and motivation to train. Now he's seriously considering entering the Bear 100-miler in late September. He wants to get another couple of good races under his belt before deciding for sure, but this accomplishment has at least made the possibility more realistic.

Part of what kept Jim going faster was knowing that Rich Garrison was on his tail the whole race. They are both in the M60-69 age group and they both know it, so the competitive juices were flowing.

Occasionally they were close enough to see each other. Usually Jim was just leaving an aid station when Rich was entering it. That's when Rich would jokingly suggest that Jim wait up for him! Jim knew, of course, that it was a ploy to slow him down.

I was able to capture their proximity in the photo below at the Dry Fork aid station, not quite halfway through the race. Jim's in the blue shirt, on his way out (see arrow). Rich is in the yellow shirt, having just arrived:

Jim got several minutes' lead on him that time. Although I said hi to Rich and asked him if he needed me to get him anything, I didn't delay him. I might have if I'd known the little game he was playing with Jim! (Just kidding.)

Jim didn't know if there were any other 60+ men ahead of him; he just wanted to stay ahead of Rich. Nothing personal. They're good buddies. It was just something to motivate both of them to run more, walk less, and get out of the aid stations faster.

Getting older doesn't necessarily dampen the competitive drive, after all.

Jim unintentionally employed a tactic that may have helped him stay ahead of Rich. He started the race in last year's long-sleeved white Bighorn race shirt and wore his short-sleeved blue Dirty Thirty shirt over it for warmth. By the time he got to Dry Fork at 14 miles he was plenty hot. He intended to give the blue shirt to me at Dry Fork but in his haste to get out of the aid station, he forgot to take it off:

Part of that was my fault.

Cody and I got back from our own hike on the Riley loop only minutes before Jim arrived -- he was  well ahead of his projected time at the aid station and I didn't have his drop box open and ready for him when he came in. Fortunately, it was in the pile with the other drop bags at the aid station (We learned that a long time ago: something may happen that the crew person doesn't get there) and he was able to retrieve it before I got there. I suddenly saw him coming up the trail, told Cody to stay next to the truck, and ran about 200 feet down to the aid station to help him. A volunteer was already refilling his bottle. Jim got what he needed from his box, said he had to get going, and was out of there in about two minutes.

He didn't remember his shirt until he was far enough from the aid station that he couldn't yell to me to come get it. He took it off and carried it on his waist pack the rest of the race.

What does this have to do with Rich? Well, Rich didn't know Jim had taken off one of his shirts. By the time Rich got out of the aid station and onto Freeze Out Road, he couldn't see the familiar blue shirt in the distance. He figured Jim had gotten a substantial lead on him. He said later that he didn't realize it was Jim in the white shirt that he could sometimes see farther up the trails and roads in the last 18 miles of the race.

So how did this turn out? Jim's official finish time was 7:26:54. Rich's was 7:28:49, less than two minutes behind! If he'd known he was that close, Rich probably would have pushed harder in the final half and Jim may not have seen him coming or been able to respond to his surge.

There's another nice surprise or two about Jim's finish time that I'll reveal at the end of this story in Part 2 . . .


There are lots of advantages to doing the Bighorn 50K as opposed to the 100-miler or 52-miler. One of those is the humane start time of 8 AM for the 50K.

The 50K is basically a point-to-point race (with a loop) where the majority of the runners take one of three buses to the start, which is almost a 40-mile drive from Dayton and more from Sheridan. The 50K buses leave Scott Park in Dayton precisely at 6 AM. Those 40 miles up into the mountains and over dirt roads take well over an hour to drive, especially in a school bus.

Our MO was to leave the adjacent campground in our truck right before the buses so we didn't get stuck behind them on the road -- or behind all those runners at the porta potties at the start!

We got up about 5 AM to eat breakfast, walk Cody around the campground, and get our stuff in the truck. More people had come into the campground since my evening walk. It's always amazing to me to see how the near-empty Foothills Campground morphs into a mini city on race weekend:

We had enough of a head start before the buses to stop twice on the way up to Dry Fork to take pictures of two sets of moose. The first ones were along US 14 in a large open area a couple miles before Burgess Junction:


The early morning lighting was kind of funny for those, but perfect when Jim took this shot out his window when we were on FSR 15 heading for Dry Fork:

We were too far away to get good close-ups of those two moose but we knew that's what they were.

Cool! We love seeing moose. I hope all four were still there when the 50K buses came by a few minutes later. That's a fun way to get pumped up before the race and it's one of the things that makes the Bighorn races special.

The Dry Fork aid station was fairly deserted when we arrived a little after 7 AM. The only runners coming through -- and they were few and far between at that point -- were the 100-milers who were still in the race after 72 miles. None of the 52-milers, who started at Porcupine at 6 AM, had gotten here yet (~ 34 miles into their race).

We were able to park along the side of the road fairly close to the aid station again. I walked around taking pictures and mingling with friends while Jim used the rest room, drank his usual generic nutritional drink (similar to Boost or Ensure), and relaxed with Cody in the truck before the start.

Crew members assist a 100-miler at Dry Fork, while a volunteer watches, ready to help.

The first of three buses carrying 50K runners has arrived.

The view from Dry Fork down into the valley; Jim will come up that way
to the aid station from Cow Camp at the end of his 14-mile loop.

50K runners check in with Cheryl before the race begins.

The second bus has arrived. Where's the third one??

A few minutes before the race was to begin at 8, I kissed Jim good-bye and walked up the trail about a hundred yards where Mike Powers (Karen's husband) and a couple other folks were standing so I could take pictures of the runners as they came up the hill. I'm not sure if the cyclist was involved with the race; I didn't see him again:

I head up the trail with some other crew members to take pictures.

Looking back down at the aid station. OK, where's that third orange bus??

As Mike and I stood watching the scene below us, we wondered aloud about that third bus. We both knew one was missing but didn't know what was wrong. Did the driver miss a turn? Was there a mechanical failure?

Eight o'clock came and went. The runners were grouped near the aid station, ready to start the race but about a quarter of the entrants hadn't arrived yet. Oh, my.

Finally, about 8:10 we could see Bus #3 (see red arrow below) speeding along the dirt road toward the aid station. I'm so glad neither Jim nor I were on that bus, worrying that the race had begun without us! At least one of our friends was on that bus and later told us about her angst.

Actually, that's happened before in this race. Bus drivers have been known to overshoot FSR 15 at Burgess Junction and end up farther west on US 14 or 14A before realizing their mistake. It's the reason that when I ran the 50K in both 2007 and 2009 I sat in the front passenger seat so I could make sure the drivers made the correct turns at the Junction and two other times on the dirt Forest Service roads to Dry Fork.

Call me paranoid, but I got there correctly both times!

I don't know all the details but apparently this bus was in the lead, got out of sight of the other two buses, and missed the turn onto FSR 15. This is the only fault I can find with the Bighorn races this year. Race management really has it together, especially for such a remote wilderness course and such a large number of registrants, but this is a problem that must be addressed and solved before future races. I think the drivers got all the 30K runners to Dry Fork OK for their 10 AM start; there were even more runners in that race.

Anyway, most of the runners on the third 50K bus had time to go to the bathroom before the race began about 8:18 (by my watch). Some didn't, however, and had to play catch-up. As far as I know, the 50K times reflect the late start. I'm sure that added some complications during the race for the folks working communications and final results.


I'm also sure the 200+ runners who began the 50K were more than ready to begin their two-mile trek up to Dry Fork Ridge (I think that's what it's called) on the way to Riley Point. Many were probably champing at the bit, anxious to get started.

I took a lot of close-up pictures of runners as they passed me but I can't put most of them here. If you were in the 50K and want to see if I have a picture of you coming up the hill, please e-mail me with your race number and I'll see if I caught you on camera. I don't have room on our current Picasa photo site to add any more pictures. I either need to delete some albums from that one or get a new account so I can post more race photos on the internet. (Don't hold your breath; my first priority is getting caught up with this website.)



Jim started about two-thirds of the way back but ended up finishing in the top half (good pacing!). Here he hands me the fleece jacket that kept him warm while he waited for the race to start. He carried a lightweight rain jacket with him during the race but never needed it:

Here are two shots of the backs of the runners as they streamed up the mountain:


There were quite a few clouds in the sky this morning but Dry Fork was less cold and windy than it was yesterday afternoon as we watched the 100-milers coming into the aid station. The weather for the races was quite good this year, with a little rain in some areas late Saturday afternoon and evening. Most runners stayed dry this year.


Here's a map of the 50K course:

See the start at Dry Fork? Runners go CCW around that loop for 14+ miles before returning to Dry Fork. There are two aid stations in that section: one at or near Riley Point, about six miles into the loop (it's not marked on that map) and one at Cow Camp, about eight miles into the loop.

After leaving Dry Fork, the runners have another ~ 18 miles to go to the finish at Scott Park in Dayton. I've shown photos of most of that part of the course in previous entries. Runners pass through four more aid stations before the finish.

Jim knew where each aid station was supposed to be but ran out of fluids twice on the loop in the first part of the race. There was still enough snow on the Riley loop (Dry Fork Ridge) near the usual aid station location that volunteers stopped well short of there. Jim didn't fill up his bottle when he saw them, expecting the "real" aid station at Riley Point. It wasn't there and he ran out of fluids. He had to wait until Cow Camp at eight miles to get more.

He made another tactical error in the six miles between Cow Camp and Dry Forkhe missed the spring where he usually tops off his bottle before the long, hot climb to Dry Fork. He ran out of water again there. Fortunately, this didn't happen again for the remainder of the race.

You can read a more detailed 50K course description here and follow one of the links on that page to a larger version of the map above.


About 20 minutes after all the 50K runners started the race, Cody and I headed up the ridge the same way the runners went. By going out and back, we were out of the way of all the runners in all four races. I was more than curious to see how much snow had melted on the course on Dry Fork Ridge since Monday and I wanted to take pictures of the changes (Jim wasn't carrying a camera during the race).

I'll show those photos in another entry so you can see what conditions were like up there for the  50K runners.

I took these two photos of the Dry Fork aid station when I came back down, thinking I'd have at least half an hour before Jim's arrival:

The next photo is to the right of the one above, showing crew members waiting for 50K, 52-mile, and 100-mile runners coming up the hill, and the piles of drop bags:

As noted at the beginning of this entry, I got back with only five minutes to spare and nearly missed Jim's arrival! A volunteer got him some water, I helped him change his shoes and socks, and he was off in a hurry, trying to stay ahead of Rich. We didn't get a chance to talk much about course conditions, how Jim was doing, or anything else until after the race.

After Jim left Dry Fork I took his drop box with me. Cody and I headed back to Burgess Junction. I knew I had some spare time before Jim would get to the finish (even at his accelerated speed), so I took a side trip west on US 14A to the area near Medicine Wheel and the Porcupine Ranger Station. I'll show photos of that area in another entry, too.

Then I hustled down 50+ miles to the campground to feed Cody, change into clean clothes, and walk over to the finish at Scott Park before Jim came in.

Continued in Part 2 . . .

Happy trails,

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

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil