“Please tell me you have at least have a few butterflies in your stomach” said my 67-year old Uncle Don, as I stood next to my truck putting sun screen on beneath the hot Tongue River Canyon sun.  Don is the leanest, strongest, and toughest looking “old” dude I’ve ever known.  I shook my head and smiled, “I’m going to try and not even think about racing until Jaws”.  The Jaw’s Trailhead is about 5,000 feet above us and 50ish miles away.  It’s the turnaround spot for the out-and-back 100-mile race and it is the starting spot of the 50-mile race, which Don was doing for his very first 50-mile race.  You bet he was nervous.
11 AM, Mile 1: Stretching the legs out a bit at the start of the race

I was fairly relaxed at the start of this race, partly because of experience, but also because I was just happy to be at the starting line.  I’d spent the last three weeks fighting off patellar tendonitis (more on that later) and a re-aggravated sprained ankle.  It felt good to going out on a proper long day running in the mountains.  My personal expectations for the race had maybe relaxed a little bit as well, so I started off the first 4,000ish foot climb to the Dry Fork Ridge Aid station at a nice moderate pace.

11 AM, Mile 1: Just happy to be running

Dry Fork Ridge is way up there somewhere

The climb up to the Dry Fork Aid Station was hot, but uneventful.  The lead “pack” organized itself quickly, and there was very little passing.  I came into Dry Fork feeling hot, but very good in maybe 5th or 6th place.  I grabbed some more gel and a bag of Cheetos, high-fived my crew, and started off towards the Footbridge Aid Station, another 16ish miles away.

1:30 PM, Mile 13.5: Leaving Dry Fork Ridge

I knew the next section through the heat of the day to Footbridge would be tough, so I backed off on the pace even a little more, and I tried to eat and drink as much as I could.  The heat was tough and I could tell that I was starting to struggle.  I dumped cold water on my head, but soon I realized all of my clothes were soaked from sweat, not ice water.  I was relieved when I got to a section of the course called “The Wall”.  Its down 2,400′ in about 3 miles.  The upper section was so muddy I saw one guy step into the mud only to have his shoe disappear.  I ran ahead as he dug through the mud trying to find his shoe.  Further down the wall it was fairly technical and steep but I enjoyed making my way down to the Tongue River.

4:30 PM, Mile 30: Suffering from the heat and arriving at the Footbridge Aid Station

I told Jenny right away that I needed to sit in the shade for a minute to try and cool off.  She is about seven and half months pregnant but you’d never know it, besides that lump on her belly.  She had everything already to go for me and scurried around for anything else I needed.  My feet were getting shredded from my wet shoes and socks, so I made a change at this point too.  My feet and hands get pruney ridiculously fast, so I take extra precautions to keep them from getting too wet and taring off.  How fast? Like I can take a 10-minute shower and be totally pruned up—no joke.  Anyways, I saddled back up and felt somewhat refreshed as headed out for 4K of climbing and 18 miles to Jaws.

My stupid pruney feet

The shirt says it all.  I don’t think she actually drank any of that Mountain Dew.

4:35 PM, Mile 30: Leaving Footbridge and chatting with my medical friend

Not too far into the climb, I can pinpoint my mistake in this race.  Only 3 miles after Footbridge there is already a small aid station.  I had only drank a little bit of my water, so I decided not to top my bottles off and just drink a cup at the aid station.  As I was about 50 yards out of the aid station I looked at the cool elevation tat on my arm and saw that it was almost 7 miles to the next chance to get water.  I almost turned around to go back and get more water, but who wants to back track even 50 yards in a 100-mile race?  I actually said out loud “I might regret this” and kept on moving forward.

Well, no big shocker, I ran out of water.  I did run out much earlier than I thought I would.  I hiked uphill for about an hour with nothing to drink, so in turn I didn’t eat anything either.  It felt like a training run where I purposefully “bonk”, and I actually kept on moving pretty well, but I could tell I was digging myself a hole.

As I got higher into the mountains the weather cooled and I felt better.  The scenery at the upper elevation of the Bighorns is stunning.  I was running blissfully through the meadows and and trees having a great time.  I even heard some elk bugling.  When I reached my pacers Nathan and Barb at the Jaws Aid Station I was psyched to keep running and head off into the night.  The medical staff asked if I’d been peeing before I left the aid station.  I lied and said “yes”.  I knew I was dehydrated, and had been drinking hard to get back out of that hole I felt totally ready to rock at the moment so I was not worried about it.

Bighorn is an out and back course, so Nathan and I headed back down 4,000 feet to Footbridge.  I think I was in 7th or 8th place, and I was eager to hunt down the tired looking guys in front of me.  We started out great, chatting and having a great time.  I had run the first 50 miles basically alone all day so I was really glad to have company.  Finally, I had to pee.  I’m going to talk about peeing a lot now so if you aren’t down with that you’d better skip ahead.  My pee looked like straight up Coca-Cola. Brown.  “Oh shit” I said.  “Yeah that’s not good” said my doctor friend Nathan.  We kept moving and discussed if that was rhabdo, dehydration, or something else.  I drank as much water as I could and kept moving.  I started to have sharp pain in my bladder on every downhill (which was like, everything).  We would move along well until I couldn’t take the bladder pain anymore, I would stop and try to pee, it would hurt like blazes, I’d get a little bit out and then we’d keep running.  We did this repeatedly until we got back to Footbridge, just before 1 am.

1 AM, Mile 66: Jenny masterfully navigating the Footbridge Aid Station

I had lost a lot of time with all the peeing.  It sucked.  When I got to the aid station I was pretty worked.  I talked briefly with the medical guy about my bladder, and he thought I had probably just irritated it when I was really dehydrated.  I seemed alright otherwise so it wasn’t too big of a deal.  Jenny gave me some mac n’ cheese, and I was about to get going.  I started to get light headed and really tired when the medical guy came and talked to me.  “You look a whole lot worse than you did three minutes ago” he said.  I couldn’t lie about this one: I felt like crap.  I just wanted to go to sleep.  Jenny was awesome and tried to rally me with a motivational speech “I’ve been waiting here for you all night so you’d better get going”.  The medical guy got ice cold and said, “I’m the chief medic, and you aren’t going anywhere until you check out with me.”  I’ve never seen my wife shut down like that!  We all had a good laugh about it after the race.  I took another 15-20 minutes until the medic approved me to go, which was probably a good thing, since I did feel a lot better after taking a break.  Still, the time lost was frustrating, especially since a couple guys passed me while I was sitting on my butt.

Dry Fork Ridge sunrise

Nathan and I trudged back up “The Wall” at a decent clip, and actually moved quite well in the darkness.  Med-School grads make great pacers; they can teach you all kinds of human body stuff!  Our headlamps dimmed and started to die just as the sun was coming up.  The birds started to chirp and there was light and life in the mountains again.  We passed one poor dude and another guy dropped at Dry Fork, so that left me in 8th place after my half hour hiatus at Footbridge.  We arrived at Dry Fork Ridge again, about mile 82, feeling much better and maybe even a little bit accomplished.

5:45AM, Mile 82: Nathan and I were maybe a little bit worked

 5:45 AM, Mile 82: Jenny probably being very patient with me at Dry Fork Ridge

The next section of the course was very important to me.  When I ran the Bighorn 50 a few years ago as my first ultra, I walked almost the entire last 15 miles.  Even all the downhills.  It was depressing and horrible, and I did not want that again.  So, Barb and I took off from Footbridge and moved along at a moderate pace.  Everything hurt, but I didn’t care too much.  We tackled the steep Tongue River Canyon through the early morning heat and made it down to the infamous 5 mile dirt road to the finish.  I have to admit, I let my motivation slip away; a sub-22 hour finish was not realistic; 7th place was about 20 minutes ahead of me; 9th place was no where in sight.  I kind of stopped caring in my sleepiness and exhaustion.  It felt like formality just to finish.

Barb and I making our way back to Dayton

I went slow.  Very slow.  The sun was hot and bright.  I had forgotten to get my sunglasses back after the night section.  I wasn’t very happy about it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to move forward very quickly.  As Barb and I neared Dayton, I looked back and 9th place was right behind me.  “Oh shit!” I said, again, “This is what we call going to the well.”  I took off running like a pronghorn being chased by a coyote.  I was convinced he was on my tail chasing me down.  I was tempted to look and find out, but decided just to use this crazy adrenaline surge and sprint to the finish.  I came into Scott Park in Dayton thrilled to see Jenny, Ella, my parents, and the rest of my crew.  I was so ready to be done and to lay down.  As it turns out, I ran a 6:40/mi (according to my Suunto Watch) to escape the guy in 9th place, but he never even gave me chase.  Oh well.  We had a good laugh about that one at the finish.

9:34 AM, Mile 100: So good to be done

Maybe even better just to lay down
My Uncle Don finished his first 50-miler in style as well later that day.  His daughter Tina came all the way out from Washington D.C. just to make sure he didn’t hurt himself.  They did awesome and it was fun and inspiring to see him finish!
Don and Tina cruising the road
In the end, I finished in 22 hours and 34 minutes, which was good enough for 8th place overall and first in my age group.  I’m content with my time, but I know it could have been faster without the peeing issues.  Its tough to acclimate for heat in Wyoming during the spring, and I just wasn’t ready for that much warmth.  Most of my long runs were in snow, not sunshine.  Oh well, I can’t complain about a good day in the mountains.
Bighorn 100 Team

I would have been toast in this race without Jenny, Nathan, Barb, my parents Bob and Ginny, or Don and Tina’s support.  I might not have made it to the start of the race without the guidance of my coach Ty Draney, or without the help of Courtney and Tom at Fremont Therapy, Sylvia and Gina and Ananda Yoga, and Jagoe Warren.  All of these people rock my world.

Rusty Spur Club (Sub-24 hour) induction ceremony: YEEEHAAAW!
Next up?  Summer Wind River Range mountain running, a second addition to the family, the start of the 2015-16 school year, and the Wasatch 100 in September.
Photo Credits: Bob Joyes