"His father was a mudder. His mother was a mudder. He's a Mudder!"
That's what kept repeating in my head over and over during this race to keep my spirits up. Needless to say, it was a complete mud fest.
Running 100 miles is hard. I don't think anyone will argue with that. Add on rain, mud, and cold weather, tough becomes a whole lot tougher. However, the rough conditions gave rise to a renewed sense of love for the sport and the people who race participate. The Big Horn 100 helped me fall in love with ultra running all over again.
Starting out along the Tounge river with perfect conditions, 60's or low 70's with overcast skies, a group of us on the front went off at a more than leisurely pace down the dirt road towards the single track. As we hit the single track about 10-15 of us ran close together, enjoying the views, joking around, and keeping it loose. Climbing into the open fields the group opened up some and I end up running with a few people, mainly a young bearded fella named Eric Lipuma from Boulder. It's his first 100 miler and by the looks of him he's a strong runner.
Distracted by the beautiful views and chatting with Eric we quickly roll in and out of a few aid stations making sure to fill up on liquids and staying on track with my nutrition plan of a Gu every 30 minutes. Within no time we arrive at the Dry Fork Aid (13.4) where our crews can meet us for the first time. Having already planned out that I would meet half my crew here and the other half at mile 30, I came in happy to see my Mom and Mike hanging out cheering everyone on. Being early in the race I only needed to refill my Gu supply and water flasks so I was in and out pretty quick
The next 13-14 miles consisted of some nice rolling hills, single track trails, and lots of conversation about running and life with the fellas. Overall pretty uneventful compared to how the day would eventually unfold. After passing through the Bear Camp Aid station (26.5) the next 3.5 miles were made up of a steep technical downhill dropping us 2,200' into Sally's Footbridge Aid (30), where Erin, my Dad, and Joani were waiting. Seeing my crew as I come into an Aid Station always puts a smile on my face and an extra pep in my step. Refueled and ready to roll I start to head out with Eric until I thankfully remember what the race director said about the climb up to Jaws, "it's going to get cold so bring your jacket!". Erin sprinted back to the bags and grabbed my lightweight windbreaker jacket as Eric took off on the trail ahead. I packed the jacket onto my belt, gave my thanks to the amazing volunteers and charged ahead to the 15+ mile climb to the turnaround.
Steadily climbing up the hill and staying at a comfortable pace I was able to keep relaxed and enjoying the views. After about 4 miles the rain starts to fall. For a person like me, who runs hot, this feels great. I'm able to stay in my singlet without getting too cold but happy that I have my jacket as backup. Up to about the Spring Marsh Aid (40) the trail conditions stayed manageable. We were warned ahead of time that this section would be muddy and boy were they not lying! By the time I arrive at Spring Marsh the rain had thoroughly soaked me and the temperature was dropping so I figured it was a smart idea to throw on my jacket. The gracious volunteers at the Spring Marsh offered to give me a poncho which I pondered for a moment and eventually declined knowing how quick I overheat. Onward and upward I left Spring Marsh towards Elk Camp running with another runner, Brian Oesark.
As Brian and I sloshed our way up to Jaws we were laughing at how slick and muddy it was, at this point it was still fun. As expected, the higher we got the colder it got too. Reaching the dirt road leading up towards Jaws was pleasant change of terrain and seeing the lead runners heading back from the turnaround meant that we weren't too far behind.
At the turn around my whole crew was there cheering me in and trying to stay dry themselves. Working as a team they helped me change my shirt, throw on some arm sleeves and a buff, and drink some delicious warm soup. A few minutes of under the dry tent and I was ready to get back out into the rain and mud for the 2nd half of the race.
Leaving the aid station just behind Brian and his pacer I felt warm and ready to run. Brian took off ahead and was crushing the downhill so I let him go and concentrated on staying upright as we headed down the hill. One of the most fun things about an out and back course is being able to see all of the other runners. It's a great way to stay engaged in the race and motivated to keep going. In this case it provided me a way to commiserate with others as we fell up and down the trails.
What once was fun now was not. The mud soon became increasingly annoying as I fell on my ass about 8-10 times and became covered in it. The miles slowly ticked off as the rain continued to pour and my frustrations rose. The distance between the aid stations seemed to be longer going down than up due to the slow pace. By the time I reached the Cathedral Rock aid (62.5) I was thoroughly frustrated and was griping to the volunteers about the mud saying I was DONE with it! One of the volunteers laughed and told me, "well sorry to break the bad news but you have a lot more of it ahead." He not lying.
About a mile before Sally's Footbridge (66) I passed a runner and his pacer who seemed to be struggling pretty bad and the thought of being in 5th place entered in my mind. Reaching the aid station where my crew was waiting patiently to cheer me in I decided to sit down, change my socks, and readjust my attitude. Again, my crew did their job of making me laugh and getting me all refueled and ready to go. With some more hot broth and potato chips in me, I garnered the energy to chase down Brian knowing I had a 3.5 mile and 2,100 ft. climb ahead where my power hiking skills would come in handy.
Approaching Bear Camp aid (69.5) I caught up to Brian and his pacer who were still looking strong and in good spirits. Feeling tired from the climb I clung onto them and had myself some good company for the next stretch. Brian, his pacer, and I chatted it up for the next 7 miles through Cow Camp aid (76.5). Making a quick stop we took off towards the next big aid where our crew would be waiting for us. Within a mile or so a headlamp appears coming our way and as the person gets closer I notice it's Bob covered in a space blanket walking back towards the aid station. He is looking pretty dejected and cold but says he's alright. As I watched Bob walk back it crosses my mind that I am now in third place with Brian right behind me in 4th. This revelation lights a fire under my ass so I pick up the speed.
The road to Dry Fork was a lonely and muddy one. Seeing the lights from the tent in the distance got my hopes up but it took no time at all for the muddy trail to rip those down. It's as if I am on a treadmill with my feet sliding back each time I step forward and those lights from the aid station seem to only be getting further away. Finally I get close enough to see my dad standing out in the rain and cheering me in. Once in the aid station my crew and volunteers have a worried look on their faces and are very concerned that I'm doing ok in the cold rain. I assure them that the weather isn't phasing me but the mud is draining my soul. As I'm refueling a guy came up and mentioned that "they" are only 5-10 minutes ahead. Not fully comprehending what he was talking about I nod and finish gathering supplies for the home stretch. Less than 20 miles to go and sill feeling relatively energized (thanks caffeine!!)
Leaving Dry Fork along the dirt road I'm able to finally find a decent stride and pick up the speed. Moving well over the next 5 miles I felt good but was still having trouble and getting frustrated in the single track muddy sections. At this point I'm run/skating down the trail and trying to make it as fun as possible considering it's about 4am.
Looking ahead I see a few headlamps slowly working their way up the trail which meant I was approaching 2nd place. Cresting a hill and on the way down I see a few runners hanging out at the Upper Sheep Creek aid station (87.5). Coming up on them I see it's Eric and give him a big high five. We exchange pleasantries and both discuss how shitty the mud is. He then tells me that they are going to just take it easy the rest of the way and cruise in together. I ask him, "what about Andrew? Is he already done with the race?" To which the other runner responds (who I thought was Eric's pacer), "I'm Andrew!"
At this point I have a holy shit moment of, "I am tied for first right now!" This is followed by oh man, if they are running easy together and no one is ahead of them that means that I could just join and not have to try and race in this crap. Standing at the aid we come to an agreement that with the conditions as miserable as they were it would be more fun (and not to mention safer) to run in the rest of the way together instead of racing each other in.
The next 7 miles are spent laughing, complaining, and sharing stories as we slide down towards the Tongue River in the rain and wind. Moving at a very easy pace Eric, Andrew, and I finally make it down to the final stretch of fire road. Just as we sat down to empty our shoes of rocks Brian comes charging down the trail, stops quickly with a confused look to say hi then takes off down the road. All three of us give each other this look of disappointment knowing that we are now going to have to race the last 5 miles of dirt road in order to hold onto the first place finish.
For about a 1/2 mile we all run hard and catch up to Brian. The four of us and Brian's pacer continue to run at a decent pace considering it's mile 95 until I finally yell out, "hey Brian, we were going to cruise in and finish together. Would you be up for joining or do you want to race this last stretch?" Brian gives me a look of contemplation and thankfully says that he is in for finishing together. We all take a big sigh of relief, relax a bit, and slow down the pace to an easy trot. The next 5 miles down the fire road to the finish were long and slow but running together made it much more enjoyable. A few cars drive by and cheer us on including the RD who had a big confused smile on her face as she saw the 4 of us running side by side. Turning the corner and crossing the road to the park we joke around about being "that guy" and sprinting towards the finish line. But instead we agree to grab hands and cross as a team to complete our rain soaked, mud filled journey.
This race was an incredible experience. From the 15+ hours of rain to the 60+ miles of shoe sucking, oil slick, and stick to your foot mud we experienced it all. The journey to 100 miles is never done alone. We have friends, family, and training partners, crew members and pacers, volunteers and race directors, and of course the other competitors who all support us. I don't know of many other sports where after 21+ hours of competing, racers with let go of their egos and work together to finish as one. Although we didn't know each other at the start of Friday morning by Saturday we had a special connection, and story, that will last a life time.
A big thanks goes out to all of the volunteers and race organizers who stayed out at the aid stations in the pouring rain and freezing temps. Thank you to my mom, dad, Mike, and Joani for driving up from Denver to crew and cheer me on. To Erin for flying out to Wyoming with me to support me before, during and after the race. Also for putting up with my all of my early morning alarms for training runs and exhausted afternoons afterwards. To my friends in San Francisco for all the training runs, group runs, and fun adventures. To my personal training and class clients who inspire my by their dedication to their own fitness and health. And of course to the other runners who toed the line of Big Horn this year. Major congrats to all those who finished and attempted to finish the race.