Did I ever doubt I would finish?
Did I ever want to quit?
Patience! One thing I learned over the years is that this is the real difference between a runner and an Ultrarunner. However, in a race such as this one, it will only get you so far. In this place, you have to want to finish. You have to believe you have no other choice.
I woke up calm and not worried about the day to come. There was no need to be worried at this point because, in my mind, there was no way I would fail. Quitting was a choice I long since eliminated, but anything else was possible. I took a warm shower and gathered my gear. I was using some gear that was very new to me but I was comfortable with my new pack and jacket. I took the bus to the start right after the pre-race meeting and arrived with over 30 minutes to spare. So, I took a 15-minute nap on a footbridge there and waited. I paced around talking to some other runners and waited for James to arrive. James and his crew are all good friends from California. Just having them here made this run even more special. On my first 100 miler at Pine 2 Palm, James paced me to an amazing finish. Today was his big day; if he finished it would be his first 100 miler finish. We sure picked a tough course but even knowing it would be hard and were prepared we still had little idea what we were in for.
Now many know, I can be relaxed and calm but as soon as the race starts, I light on fire. In less than two miles, I found myself in the top five. I know it is a mistake to go out too fast for too long so I did plan on slowing down. That first hill was the real deal. It was an amazing climb and I was moving steadily for the first couple of hours. The higher I got the more fogged in it became. As I approached the top of the climb, I could barely see 15 feet. I was not alone though as I was passed by Patrick, dropping into fourth. While running along a fence that barely had a trail next to it we both went off course still following the fence line but missing the turn. We went 1.25 miles off course and climbed an extra 300 ft. At least in my mind, I had lost so much time and I needed to get it back. For the next 10 miles, I was in hunting mode.
I was in 59th place when I saw my crew at Dry Fork. I changed my socks for a pair of thicker socks to deal with the pains that I was getting in my foot. Then, I changed my shirt and got fresh nutrition, and got back to the hunt. James was minutes ahead of me and I wanted to catch back up to him. There are always low moments in a race like this and right at mile 18-19, I was starting to have one. I kept my pace easy and doubled my efforts to keep up with my nutrition. About a mile, after I passed by the famous Bacon Station, I was feeling better. I was making really good time until we got a 10-minute rainstorm and the trail turned muddy. It was a slick mud that made the descent to Sally’s Footbridge slightly dangerous. I still moved along strong, passing people, but my footing was not good.
Sally’s Footbridge Aid station was at mile 30 and I came in 28th place. My crew, however, was nowhere to be found due to the difficulty of getting into the area. I got through easy enough. I just grabbed my headlamps, an extra layer, new nutrition and was off: I gained two places. Two miles down the trail, a thunderstorm hit us. In a few seconds, half-inch hail was pouring down on us. I got my rain jacket out of my pack and went on. Thankfully, the hail let up but the rain persisted for another 15 minutes. Now on the first part on the climb to the halfway point (Jaws Aid Station), there was this nice forest section where the ground was not affected by the rain. This is where I really started to move and pass some people. I knew my climbing legs weren’t as strong as they could have been to take this hill on but right now I was flying.
This was my most favorite climb of the race. The Aid Stations on this climb were simple but awesome. At the first one, they had good broth and noodles. It was here at mile 40 that I met Nick, a true veteran of this race at 29 years young. He has run Bighorn every year since he was 23. Seeing him, you would think he was close to 20 which is how we met (I had to ask how old he was). The rest of the climb consisted of running when I could but walking most of the time. That’s how you make progress out there, you never stop moving. Now at Elk Camp Aid station at mile 43.5, I had a fun experience. Nick and I were still moving together as we entered the Aid Station. I grabbed a couple of orange slices and also grabbed some soup and sat down on a log bench to eat. A couple of small dogs came up next to me and just sat down as if they were my companions. That made me happy. Then this little boy, around 5 years old asked me where was I from. After I told him Coeur d’Alene, his dad (who was right there) said that they had just been through there recently. I left that Aid Station feeling revived and remembering why I love this sport so much. The community!
Nick was a great pacing partner for the rest of the climb. He took a lot of the mental strain away of wondering what is up ahead. I was so close to my crew, I just took it easy. After all, it was close to 8800 ft. I am very grateful I got to the halfway point when I did because the sun was just beginning to set and I would not have to worry about getting cold until I left the aid station. When I got in, my crew and James’s crew set up just before the Jaws Aid Station. I passed them, checked in, got my drop bag, grabbed anything that looked edible and checked out in 17th place. I took a long time with my crew. They washed out my shoes and cleaned off all the mud on my legs. I had Sam tape up my calves and I ate some soup and watermelon. We took time to adjust my clothing and nutrition choices before I headed into the night.
I headed out right as the sun went down. I had a brief warm-up period before I was able to run smoothly again. My feet felt so good having clean socks. I was determined if I could help it I would keep my feet as dry as I could to the bottom. I saw James just over a mile out of Jaws and he looked good. I felt good for the first half of the decent but after I got past Elk Camp Aid station, I started to slow. I just had to make sure I was not draining myself so I could make it up the next hill to come. I started to feel fairly slow around mile 54. I resorted to walking quite a bit and that continued to be the pattern all the way to Sally’s Footbridge. At each Aid Station on the way down I was incredibly grateful that there was soup. I took advantage of it as much as I could.
I came into Sally’s Footbridge in 35th place. I saw Sam who would pace me to Dry Fork. I also saw Mike, who would pace James though the same section. I washed my feet and changed my socks. I went through my nutrition again and switched out to a long sleeve. I ended up spending just over 20 minutes there before finally heading across the river with Sam and into the worst mud ever. The first three miles were a struggle to move forward. We had to be careful not to slip on this part of the climb; I saw Nick heading back to Sally’s to drop. I felt really bad for him, it looked like he slipped and hit his hip. We were both in danger of the same thing; not to mention that at this point it was almost 1 am and no matter who you are, you are fighting to stay awake. Every so often, I would find a rock to sit on for a second and eat a gel and/or catch my breath. We moved on and in the final mile to Bear Camp Aid Station, we hit a small patch of mud that went just below our knees. Finally, after the mud staircase, we made it into Bear camp. We spent minimal time there and kept up our speed walking into the morning.
The sun rose around 4:30 in the morning. It was here I kept wanting to fall asleep. I wanted to stop but I kept moving. I did take a moment here and there to eat. My sleepy spell lasted only about 2-3 miles which was about the same time I came into Cow Camp Aid Station. I got lentil soup and warmed up by the fire. The Aid captain gave me some KT tape for my hip, which was bugging me. After we got that fixed, we continued to the finish line. Just outside of Cow Camp, I instantly spotted a wolf in the trees, Sam only caught the tail of it when I said something and it headed further into the woods. This was thanks to me getting past my sleepy stage and things became incredibly clear, almost as if my mind had switched into survival mode. In the final 6 miles to Dry Fork Aid Station, we had a new kind of mud to deal with. Oh, Joy! This new kind was cakey and built up on your shoes. Sam had a playlist which we listened to as we trudged up and over the rolling hills. You could see the Station at least two miles before you got to it which was good because you know if you can see it you can get there. But at the same time, it never seemed to get any closer.
Having arrived at Dry Fork meant that I was able to get my feet fixed. They had been hurting for some time. This was also the part of where having an amazing crew is just a huge blessing. They washed my legs, feet, and shoes and kept me warm while giving my feet a chance to dry out. A couple of cups of soup and other random nutritional items later, I was once again on my way with Jacob pacing me. I would have to give my legs time to warm up after such a long stop but the worst was over for me. This race was, for the most part, a solo effort but it was not the only event. We found ourselves having to let whole groups of runners pass from three other distances. Even if it was mostly downhill to the finish, my legs were still in survival mode. I pushed the pace; fast walking and even breaking into a jog as much as I could as we made our way forward. Downhill was good but the hill I climbed yesterday was not much easier on the way down. That’s the other thing; I was in a state where past and future seemed like foreign concepts. It all ran together in my mind. I had moments where everything and everyone that lead up to this moment came to me in an instant and it was the fuel that made me never believe that quitting was an option.
It took hours of walking and surviving the morning heat but I got down to the fire road which I walked for the few miles I had left to get in. I estimated that at this pace my legs were going to be done by the time I made it in. In the final miles, I realized my hands were puffy and soft. As I reached the final two turns to the finish, I pushed my legs into a fast run. I felt good enough to do a small jump over the line. A few hours later, James made it in. He had a rough last section but it was a day we would not soon forget.
In the aftermath, I was satisfied with the race. I may not come back to this one soon but I will soon return to the distance. Maybe, I will get lucky and I will run in the Western States 100 next year.