Sunday, June 23, 2013

Bighorn 100 ~ Got Buckle?

I awoke in the morning to waves of nausea and pains in my stomach.  It's a familiar feeling to me on race day and I've come to accept it.  I work myself up and have trouble channeling my nerves into positive energy.  While everyone else is smiling and excited to start the event, I'm in the bathroom puking up phlegm and wondering what I've gotten myself into.  I popped a Zofran.

Got dressed, said good morning to my roommates Sarah and Sallie, and started to get gear together.  The nice thing about Bighorn 100 is it's an 11am start.  Plenty of time to wake up, eat, and get to the race start in Dayton, Wyoming (most people stay in Sheridan, which is a larger town and about 30 minutes away).  The bad thing about Bighorn is that it's an 11 am start and there's plenty of time for me to think, "What have I gotten myself into?  Again."

Sarah was a bottomless pit and scarfed down several waffles with syrup at the free breakfast buffet.  I nibbled at a yogurt.  "You really gotta eat one of these," she said.  "They're delicious!"  I went over to the waffle irons and almost gagged as I poured the batter on the hot iron.  "I'll try," I said.  And I did.  I ate half a waffle, and kept it down.

We drove over to Dayton, and I handed off the keys to Sallie.  She would be my pacer for the night section, and have the difficult job of keeping me awake in my witching hours.  I said good luck to Sarah about a half dozen times and hugged her several times (I knew she would be in it for the win).  She told me to "remember, you're out here running, doing the thing you love to do!"  And I nodded, yes.

It's true, I love to run.  Especially in the mountains.  I'm not sure what it is about an event though, with about 200 people there all doing the same thing that makes me not enjoy it as much.  I should enjoy it more, being around all those people that like to do what I like to do.  My stomach was continually trying to convince me that I didn't want to be here and I continued to try and shrug it off.  I counted 8 hours forward from when I had taken my Zofran and looked forward to the next dose.

I ran 8 minute-mile pace on the first couple miles of dirt road from the start.  It was good.  I smiled.  We hit the Tongue River Trail along the river and I marveled at the rock formations above us and the rushing river below.  "I wouldn't want to fall into that, " I thought to myself.

Then the climbing began.  I'm not really sure how far it was to the top of the climb, but let's just say it was the better part of the day by the time we got to the first main aid station at mile 13.4.  The wildflowers along the way were gorgeous.  Despite my nausea, I had managed to eat 200-300 calories per hour and wolfed down some food at the aid station (mostly bananas and cantaloupe, which always help to settle my stomach).  Sallie met me and smiled and said I was doing great, and I felt good about my 4 mph average pace.

I spent little time at Dry Fork Ridge aid station and cruised down the dirt road.  There was a photographer hidden in the aspens in the shade, and I smiled and waved to him as he took my picture.  At Cow Camp, mile 19.5, I ate more fruit and the aid station volunteer asked how I was doing.  I told him my stomach had been upset for about 6 hours now.  He gave me some warm ginger ale, which may have helped, despite it being totally gross because it was warm.  I tried to think positive and remember that I was out here to enjoy a couple of days of running.

At about mile 24, suddenly, I felt a twinge in the outer aspect of my left knee.  "What the crap?!?"  (Actually, I said the f-word.)  My chronic patello-femoral pain in my left knee was flaring.  I had run 51 miles two weeks before and had no problems at all, and here I was, 6 hours into my event, and my knee hurt.  Bad.  Like "stab a knife in the outside of your knee" bad.  Was my race over?  I remembered what makes my knee feel bad (being cold and being bent).  It wasn't cold, but as I assessed my knee, walking down the trail, I realized that my hamstrings and calf were quite stiff on that leg and forcing me to run on a bent knee, thereby straining my patellar ligaments.  I stopped to stretch my calf and hamstring.  It worked, and my knee felt better.  As soon as my knee would even slightly ache again, I would stop and stretch.  I did this about 4 or 5 times, every 5-10 minutes, and wondered to my self if I was going to have to do this for the entire race.  I can't keep stopping to stretch for the next 75 miles!  Was my race over?

As I was contemplating my knee, I realized that the anxiety that the situation had induced had allowed me to forget about my nausea.  "Thank God for small favors."  After stretching my knee several times, I was able to run for more than 15 minutes, and decided to continue.  "I think I'm going to be ok, " I thought to myself.  I was running down a ridge, enjoying the afternoon rays of sunshine bouncing off the Balsam Root flowers when my bladder spasmed.  I stopped to pee and a little bit came out.  Five minutes later, it happened again.  I stopped to pee and not much came out.  I kept running, and it happened again.  "What the F?!?  I have a bladder infection now?"  I sat down in the wildflowers on the side of the trail and started to cry...  I would have to drop at 30 miles.  My race was looking like it was over.

Just then, two guys came along (Dave from South Carolina and Ferdinand, who had lived in Park City years ago).  We chatted, and Dave told me about how he had dropped at mile 70 at another race because of the same exact bladder thing a few weeks ago.  We assessed my condition:  no kidney or back pain, clear, yellow urine, and no burning with peeing.  Ferdinand told me that maybe I should just chill out at the next aid station, drink, eat, get ready for the night section and see how I felt.  You never know... it might turn out ok.

So I ran into the Footbridge aid station at mile 30 and decided to do just that.  Forgetting about my multiple reasons to be miserable, I busied myself with eating the most delicious Campbell's chicken noodle soup I have ever had (after spilling my noodles once, a nice aid station worker got me another cup), changing my clothes, changing my socks, throwing out my trash and replacing it with more yummy Honey Stinger chews, Kate's Tram Bars, string cheese, and Slim Jim jerky sticks.  I drank some water, too, and refilled my bottles.  I ate some bananas too.

As I was leaving Footbridge, the head EMT, Kyle, asked how I was doing.  "OK, " I said.  Then I explained to him that I had had one of the most challenging 30-milers I had ever run.  "You're not convincing me to let you keep going, " he said.  "Oh!  but I'm a nurse practitioner.  I would pull myself if I knew that my medical condition were dire, " I explained.  "You're the worst kind, " he replied, and we both laughed.  He told me to drink more water, made sure I had plenty of warm clothes, and after realizing that I had left my clear-lens glasses in my drop bag (I returned to retrieve them) he sent me on my way.

It was a beautiful amble up along the Little Bighorn River.  The canyon was in the shadows, and it was nice to be out of the blaring sunshine.  I knew the next aid station was about 5 miles away (because Kyle had said so), but I felt so good after being refueled at Footbridge that I ran almost this entire section.  My watch beeped at me that it was going to die, and I prepared my second watch on my other wrist to take over when it did.  After what seemed like only 2 miles, I was at the next aid station, Cathedral Rock.  I smiled and said hello to the volunteers.  Then I looked at the table, and nearly pounced on a bowl of jerky.  "Looks like we might have helped to satisfy a craving, " one volunteer said.  "Oh, so delicious, " I thought to myself.  I wished I had taken two pieces (It was my favorite kind, Jack Links Original, if I'm not mistaken.)  I asked for a cup of Sprite, and I was on my way.

My watch died and I started up the second watch.  Somewhere on my way up to the next aid station at Spring Marsh, the three lead runners passed me.  So amazing.  Here I was at about mile 40, and they were at mile 56.  I passed through Spring Marsh aid station and must have eaten something, although I don't remember it much.  I do remember coming upon a grouping of tents and hoping that it was not just a few backpackers, and indeed it was the aid station.

Up, up, up the canyon still (I had been climbing steadily since Footbridge) the day turned to darkness and I dug my headlamp out of my pack.  Coming up on Elk Camp aid station, mile 43.5, it was full-blackness of night, except for the crackling, warm fire.  I looked over at that fire after grazing the buffet table that the volunteers had set up, and saw my buddy Mike.  "Hi Mike.  How's it going, " I said.  "Well, not so good, but I'm sure things will turn around, " he replied.  Seems that 10pm is Mike's witching hour, and no matter what he does, he hits a bit of a low point.  Just then, our friend Dan came skipping (yes, literally skipping) through the aid station.  "Dan!  Hello!"  I said.  "Wait, which way are you headed?" I asked.  "Down!" he replied.  He had already been to the turn-around at mile 48.  "Good for you!  Have a great night!" I said.

I left Mike at Elk Camp and continued to climb up to the turn-around.  "Sheesh, we just can't catch a break with the elevation gain, can we?" I thought to myself.  But I realized a few things in those miles:  my nausea was not gone, but was manageable, my knee felt good with the strap and knee warmer I had put on it, I was warm and awake, and I didn't have to pee every 5 minutes.

I got to the road crossing at mile 47 and knew I was close to the turn-around at Jaws.  But I would have to go through a swamp-land of melting snow in the aspen groves first.  I said hello to a bunch of my friends going the opposite direction, who were ahead of me on the route as they started their second 50 miles.  We all were slipping and sliding around, and I missed my friend Sarah, but thought maybe I had seen her as we were both pirouetting through the mud and rocks.

I got to Jaws, mile 48, and Sallie was there.  She had been helping other runners, and even loaned her puffy-coat to Jeremy while he was made to sit out for a few minutes by the medical crew until he felt better (I had passed him on the trail a few moments earlier, and he had told me that Sallie had saved his bacon).  And speaking of bacon...  BACON!  I dug into a pile of bacon on the buffet table at the aid station, and asked for some cheese to go with it.  Then one of the volunteers offered me a cheese quesadilla.  Sallie asked me what I needed, and I said I just wanted to stand in front of all this food and eat!  It was all so delicious.

I spent a few minutes in a chair getting my gear re-organized and pulling some food items out of my drop bag.  I didn't bother to change my socks, because I knew they would just get wet again going through the mud-bog on the return trip.  I was a little behind schedule (about an hour and a half) but I didn't worry about it.  I put on my puffy coat and prepared to shiver until I got warmed up again (it was about 25 degrees outside at 1:30am at this point).

Sallie left with me, ready to go her 18-miles as my pacer.  Somewhere along the way, in one of those mud bog areas, she slipped and fell really hard.  I asked if she was ok, and she said she was and we continued on our way.  We stopped at Elk Camp, which was quickly becoming my favorite aid station despite the gross beef-flavored ramen that they had.  But the volunteers were nice, and I couldn't believe how friendly and awake everyone was.

Through Spring Marsh, mile 56, and as the light was coming up in the East in front of us at about 5am, I hit my witching hour.  I asked Sallie for a 5 minute nap.  I must have tricked my brain into thinking that it had slept an entire 8 hours in just 5 minutes, because I woke up refreshed and ready to go.  I drank some 5 Hour Energy and continued to eat.  I knew if I kept caffeine and calories in me, I would stay awake.  Mike passed us going down that section, revitalized by the morning sun and feeling good.  I was happy for him.  My new-found energy lasted until Cathedral Rock at mile 62.5, when I again needed to take a quick nap.

I tried to snuggle with a dog that was there at the aid station, but he didn't really want to spoon me.  Dang it.  He wiggled away as soon as we both laid down in the dirt.  It would have been a great nap if two of the volunteer guys hadn't been shouting "Ricolaaaaa!" as loudly as they possibly could.  I dozed for 3 or 4 minutes, and told Sallie I was ready to go.

The next short section along the river seemed to take much longer than it had the evening before, but I made it to Footbridge, mile 66, and said good morning to Kyle, the EMT.  "Hey there!"  he greeted me.  I was impressed that he seemed to remember each and every runner who came through that station.  "I told you I'd be ok, " I said, and he nodded his confirmation to me.

Sallie got me some fruit, and as I was changing out of my warm night clothes into some light-weight clothes for the hot day to come, I noticed her knee.  "Your knee is really swollen!" I said.  Yes, she replied, but told me not to worry about it.  She would find a ride out and rest.  She told me I had this one in the bag.

I fueled well out of Footbridge, and having been passed on the river trail by some of the lead 50-mile runners, I prepared myself to get passed by the rest of the 50-mile field (the 50-mile race starts the morning after the 100-mile event, and from the 100-mile turn around).  I wasn't sure what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised by each and every 50-mile runner who passed me, telling me what an amazing job I was doing.  I really get quite teary-eyed just thinking about the amount of support and human compassion that was going on out there in those mountains.

The climb out of Footbridge seemed to go on forever, as promised by several of my friends who had run the race before.  I though about the time of day that it was, 9 or 10 am, and thought that the 100-mile male winner had certainly finished, and that Sarah would be finishing soon.  I wondered if she had won her race.  Amy was running the 50-mile race and when she passed me she cheered me on.  I told her I was pretty sure she was in third or fourth place at that point.  I daydreamed a bit going up that climb, and it was good because it made it go by a little quicker.  I wondered how far away the folks at Cow Camp were, and when I would reach them.  Just then, in my dreamy, sleep-deprived state, I heard my name called out from below, "Why if it isn't Missy Berkel!"  Huh?  Was it Sue?  Yes!  She stopped to hug me on the trail and I told her how amazing she was doing.

I reached Bear Camp, mile 69.5, and put my head down on the aid station table.  Hans-Dieter came up next to me and gave me a kiss on the cheek.  He told me we had 10 hours to do 30 miles.  Three miles per hour.  We could do this!  We were now 24 hours into the race, and I hoped to God it would not take another 10 hours, because the cutoff was 34 hours, and also because that is just entirely too long.  I was moving well, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could pull of a 31 hour finish.

Somewhere along the way, I encountered a couple of girls from the 100-mile race that were running together, Jennifer and Genia, and they told me that I was one of the most consistent runners they had encountered on the trail.  Consistent forward movement, and very little time spent in aid stations.  We had been passing each other all throughout the race (leap-frogging) and I enjoyed seeing them running together and sharing the race as friends.

We all reached Cow Camp (mile 74) sometime together (me, Hans-Dieter, Jennifer, and Genia) and after resting for about 5 minutes in the shade and getting some ice for my Nathan hydration pack, I ate a couple of pieces of bacon and some fruit and decided to get this thing done.

I knew the next section would be rolling and generally uphill, that it would be a battle, and I was really looking forward to mile 82 and that last push uphill before the long descent to the finish line began.  I tried not to do too much math in my head about when I would finish, but I knew that I would make the 34 hour cutoff and get my belt buckle.  It was just about then, with 25 miles to go, that the top of my right foot started hurting.  Then the top of my left.  I curled my toes under to try and relieve some of the strain, but it felt as if my feet would go into spasm.  I was getting tendonitis in the tops of my feet, and I resigned myself to the fact that last miles of the race were likely going to hurt.  A lot.

I took time to enjoy the views around me and say "good job" to the people around me, whether I was passing them or getting passed.  At one point, a 100-mile racer and his pacer wouldn't move over for me and I got a bit grumpy with them.  A couple of miles later, they passed me again, and as I moved over, I apologized for my grumpiness.  They smiled and said they understood.  We were all ready for this day to come to a close.  But first, we had about 20 miles left.

I stopped for a splash in the creek on my way up to Dry Creek Ridge aid station, mile 82.  The cool water felt so good on my burning skin.  I couldn't wait to eat some more bacon and put my visor on.  As I approached the last few dozen yards on the way to the aid station, I ran up the road.  I ran up the steep dirt road on feet that didn't want to bend!  It hurt, but the cheering volunteers and spectators made me feel so powerful.

I took a quick break to refill water, eat bacon and fruit, and grab my visor out of my bag.  I ran out of the aid station and ran up the road to where we would start our descent.

Honestly, I knew that descent would be long and steep, because we had come up it the day before.  But my mind must have blocked out just how hard it was going to be.  I passed through Upper Sheep Aid Station with some familiar runner-faces (Jennifer, Genia, and Anita, Joyce and Elaine) and felt comforted by being around such wonderful people.  We talked about how beautiful the flowers were, and how we only had one more climb on the course (one that I had forgotten about).  But it was only about a half-mile long and we all just put our heads down and got it done.

Going down that descent, about 6 or 7 miles to the river, were some of the most painful I had experienced to that point.  The tops of my feet were killing me, and I tried to keep a steady shuffle going because I knew that the faster I went, the faster I would be done.  I looked at the flowers and the mountains and the beautiful people around me, and tried to remember how strong we were and that I would overcome this challenge of completing the race in pain.  My 31 hour finish became less of a reality as I realized my pace was dropping off, the more pain that I was in.  I saw the other ladies strung out on the trail in front of me, making their way to the river.  I looked at my watch and realized it had died somewhere along that stretch.  I wondered what time it was.

I got to Lower Sheep aid station, and I took just a cupful of water.  I had plenty to eat and drink with me, and thanked the volunteers for being there.  The river trail was next, and let me tell you, it was hot. It never ceases to amaze me how cool and refreshing a rushing river can be and how hot and miserable the trail alongside that river typically is.  Why is that?  Why did my feet have to hurt so bad?  Where was the Tongue River Road?  How much farther?  What time was it?

I got to the Tongue River aid station, and the volunteer told me it was only about three and a half miles to go.  Really?  Really?!?  Was I doing this?  Yes, I was.  "In a couple miles, you'll get to an aid station, and they have popsicles there, " he said.  REALLY?  How cool is that?

Well it was more than three and a half miles to the end (it was just over 5) and it was more than a couple of miles to the popsicles (it was three and a half).  I really wished that guy hadn't lied to me.  The tops of my feet hurt so bad, I seriously contemplated doing an army crawl the rest of the way.  Either that or walking on my hands in a hand-stand.  But I'm not very good at either, so I decided to continue to walk.

Jennifer and Genia came up from behind (they must have stopped at that last aid station, because I swore they were ahead of me) and Jennifer saw how much pain I was in and gave me her Black Diamond hiking poles to use.  They really helped.  A ton.  They helped to steady me and keep some of the weight off of my feet.  Where was that aid station with the popsicles, anyway?!?

I came around a corner on the dirt road and there was a lady walking, talking on a cell phone.  "Excuse me, what time is it?" I asked.  "7:20, " she replied.  "No shit, " I thought to myself.  I have an hour and 40 minutes to make it what, like 3 miles?  Dude, I got this! (Feet, screaming in pain... )

A guy came along from behind, and he looked like Zac Galifianakis from the Hangover.  I'm not sure if he was in the 50-mile or if he was pacing a 100-mile friend of his, but in any case he told me that I was really, really almost there and that I was going to make it.

I saw a little kid in the middle of the road with an outstretched arm.  "What's that?" I asked.  "Popsicle!" he replied.  "For me?"  "Yup!"  "Thank you!" and it was the most delicious pina-colada popsicle I have ever had.  I looked over at his sister, who was standing there on the edge of the road holding a hose.  "Do you want a spray-off?" she asked.  "No thank you." (Despite the heat, I was afraid I might get chilled, because I was quite sunburned.)

I hit the pavement at the edge of the neighborhood before the main highway through the town of Dayton.  I saw a girl standing by the bridge.  She looked kind of familiar.  "You're the toughest woman I know!!!" she yelled.  I got tears in my eyes.  Ann.  She was my pacer at the Bear 100 last year and had come out to greet me.  She had also already run the 50k event earlier in the day.  I had been thinking all of my friends had forgotten about me, just partying in the park.  Silly me, and silly tired-brain.  They hadn't forgotten about me at all.  They were waiting for me to finish!

I started to cry as I told Ann how my feet hurt and that as much as I wanted to run to get the race finished quicker, I was physically in too much pain.  "You're even tougher than I though you were!" she replied.  She explained the rest of the route to me:  literally a half a mile more.  Over the bridge, a hundred yards on the highway, down the tree-lined street to the park, over the grass through the park...  finished.  I burst into tears.  All my friends were there.  Sallie took pictures of me crying as I crossed the line.  Sarah was there, having finished 8 or so hours earlier in the day.  Jamie, Ann's fiancé was there and guided me over to a chair.

About a dozen people passed me on that dirt road the final miles into town.  I couldn't help but think about how I had almost dropped at 30 miles and how, as my friend Karl says, the race really doesn't start until about mile 70 or 75 (the moment when my feet started hurting).  I ran through the pain for nearly 9 hours.  I conquered my demons and survived my witching hour and stayed awake through the night and the wee hours of the morning.  Despite not accomplishing "Plan A" of finishing in 31 hours, I finished with a personal record (PR) of my fastest 100-mile finish to date:  33 hours 27 minutes.  Not fast, but faster.

Most importantly, despite the fact that I told myself this was stupid and I was "never going to do a 100-miler again", I already have my sights set on another one.

This was a personal victory to me, to finish while injured.  I'm so glad I could share it with a bunch of my friends.  Hearing their words of encouragement and seeing their smiling faces during and after the race meant the world to me.  Here's to Bighorn!

Ants marching ~
View from the first climb, looking down
towards the Tongue River Canyon and the
town of Dayton.
Views near Upper Sheep Creek.
Little Bighorn River Trail.
I think I actually look pretty good, at mile 68 ~
This may or may not be Cathedral Rock
along the Little Bighorn River trail.
Sunrise near Cathedral Rock aid station.

I almost stole this guy's walker
on the morning after the race.
Got buckle?  #3 for me.


  1. Studette! Well done on the 100. Nice race report too.

  2. Wow, what an epic! Way to grit it out and get it done! We're so proud of you! Love ya, S.