After last year’s epic Big Horn 100 race (2010 race report), I registered for the 2011 race wanting a good race and to get redemption on my poor 2010 race. Due to the long winter (or great ski season depending on how you look at it), the standard course was impassable and had to be modified. The modifications started the course at the park in Dayton (the normal finish line) instead of 3 miles up the Tongue River road, added a 7 mile out-and-back at Dry Fork (that you did once on the way out and again on the way in), then turned the course around at Spring Marsh instead of going all the way to Porcupine. The short story first – I had a great race finishing in 6th place in a time of 22:47.
And as they say, here’s ‘the rest of the story’. My total training miles for the year were less than 2010 so I was worried about being fully ready for a 100. I had a strong non-running base due to a great ski year having had close to 80 days in including lots of days over 8000’ of climbing, an 11,000’ day and a 13,000’ day. I was also going into this year with a coach (Matt Hart) so even though I didn’t have as solid of a running base, the quality of what I had seemed to be better.
My race plan was simple, run my own race (not get caught up in too fast of a pace during the first 5 miles of gravel road or foolishly chasing early on), feel good for as much of the race as possible, and finish in under 24 hours. Christopher and Emily were along as my crew and pacers. During the drive to Sheridan and the evening before the race, the 3 of us reviewed my race, aid station, and pacer plans. Everything had come together except the weather which was a little bit questionable (cool, cloudy, and rainy for the entire race). The 2 nights prior to the race, I got better sleep than usual so when race morning came, I felt ready. Big Horn had a 10AM start this year (it is usually 11AM) so we were able to have a relaxing morning and not have to get up in the middle of the night and rush to a starting line.
The race started fast with a couple of groups taking off running sub 7 minute miles. I stayed back with the third group and we ran a fast, but comfortable pace covering the first 5 miles in 38 minutes. At mile 5 you start climbing and mostly climb for the next 12 miles to Dry Fork Aid Station. I was happy with my time into Dry Fork covering this section in around 2:40. Coming through Dry Fork was a huge confidence booster as we had a perfect crew stop (see it in the video below). I slowed down to a 10 min/mile pace, handed Emily my waste pack while she handed me a hand bottle, 100’ later Christopher handed me an Ensure and I never had to slow down or break stride. At this point, I was running in 9th or 10th place with Emily Judd. It was good to have company and Emily Judd and I continued to push each other for the next 40 miles. Emily would go on to win the women’s race and become on the second woman to finish Big Horn 100 in under 24 hours.
The 7.5 mile out-and-back section went quickly (84 minutes) and we had another very fast pit stop where I picked up my waste pack and food for the next 17.5 miles. They always say never try new things on race day, but having not had a lot of long training runs this year, that wasn’t an option so I left Dry Fork with 2 turkey/avocado sliders (1/4 of an avocado wrapped in a slice of turkey) hoping these would be a good source of ‘real’ food for the race. They turned out to work out well for me. Emily Judd and I settled into this section at a comfortable pace pushing hard and catching a few people at the same time. We rolled into Footbridge at mile 41 at 5:15PM a full 45 minutes ahead of my 23:30 split time. I was not expecting my crew to be here, but thankfully they were. They had everything organized and got me out of the aid station in just a couple of minutes.
Leaving Footbridge, Emily J and I were running with Mike Farris. We made the 3,300’, 9.5 mile climb in 2:30. At the turn around (mile 50.3), I was now running in 7th. I was now updating my race goal to finish in the top 8 and if possible under 23 hours. This was maybe a little premature at only mile 50, but it kept me motivated. I was hoping to make good time back to Footbridge, but due to the rocky and technical trail and my extremely poor headlamp, my return took me 2:10 so I had lost some valuable time. My second time at Footbridge (mile 60) was another quick stop, I sat down for 2 minutes (the first and only time I had sat the entire race) to eat, then headed out with my top pacer (my wife Emily) and BD Z-poles. The 3.5 mile, 2,000’ climb out of Footbridge is steep and muddy, but we made really good time getting to the Bear Camp aid station in just over 1 hour.
So far the weather had been very good. There was a strong headwind for quite a while during the day, but the rain held off and the temperatures remained comfortable. As morning came, it started to get cold. I was able to get by with just shorts, shirt, arm warmers, long sleeved shirt, hat and gloves. Definitely better than lots of years when you have pants plus a jacket on.
Emily B continued to push me hard (making me even run the hills) the rest of the way to Dry Fork and we made the entire 16.5 mile section in around 4.5 hours. We spent just a couple minutes at the aid station quickly drinking a cup of warm soup, then headed to the 7 mile out and back section. We were now past mile 76 and I was starting to feel poorly for the first time. I was hungry, but really couldn’t eat, and starting to get a pretty upset stomach. We pushed through and made this loop in 1:45. Back at the aid station, I took the longest break of the race (about 5 minutes) and quickly had some oatmeal and coffee that Christopher had ready. This was another case where my crew came through for me. I needed real food, but didn’t have anything planned and Christopher just knew that these 2 things would taste good and get me the calories and energy I needed – he was right.
Christopher took over for Emily and he had his work cut out for him. It was just after 5AM and we had a little over 17 miles and under 4 hours to do it in. This would be easy if it wasn’t mile 83, I wasn’t tired, and the terrain was flat, but none of this was the case. Christopher and I were making good time until after Sheep Creek when we hit the steep descents. My knees were shot. It was all I could do to hobble down the steep hills and we continued to lose valuable time. As the descents eased up, I was able to pick up the pace and due to not being able to move quickly on the steep descents, we had to move all the faster on the gradual descents and climbs. In the last 9 miles, we were regularly pushing sub 8 minute miles and averaged just over 10 minute miles for the final 12 miles. We reached the Tongue River Road with 5 miles to go and 50 minutes to do it in (this would give us an 8 minute buffer for any amount that our watches or mileage estimate were off). Christopher pushed me to the edge and kept me there for this entire 5 miles and we came through the finish line at 8:48AM covering the 5 miles in 46 minutes. My finish time was 22:47 total time.
All I can really say is that I had a great race and I could not have done it if it weren’t for my extremely organized crew that kept my total aid station time to less than 15 minutes for the entire race, my pacers for pushing me harder than I could have pushed myself, and Matt for forcing me to do speed work (this was definitely noticeable on several occasions in the last 40 miles). From a personal perspective, I was mentally and physically ready for the race and when I realized what I could do, I was willing to go deeper into the pain cave than I had been before (this confirmed that the demons only get worse the further in you go). There were some new things that worked well for me in the race including the turkey/avocado sliders (thanks Matt), tapioca pudding (thanks Roch), Black Diamond Z-poles, CEP compression calf sleeves, and a Nathan Krissy pack (kept the weight off my waist late in the race).
In the end, I had a very successful race. I had my fastest 100 mile finish by 1.5 hours, my first sub 24 hour finish, my best 100 mile finish (6th place), I placed third I my age group, and I made the Big Horn 100 Rusty Spur Club (for finishing under 24 hours).