I texted my crew, Ann, who was on her way with some friends who had stayed in Riverton, Wyoming (3 hours away) for the night. She had an extra jog bra. Don't freak out. Roll with it. Everything will be fine.
I drove past the Walmart and was half tempted to go in and buy a jog bra. But my aversion for big box stores kept me away. I stopped at the Albertson's and got a bag of ice for the cooler. I ate a few bites of breakfast (almond butter on whole wheat bread). I was on my way.
It's always nice to see so many friendly faces at an ultra. Especially one as big as Bighorn. The event itself is not big, but the terrain is huge. The thought of it can be somewhat daunting, so I try not to think about it too much. Seeing friends and knowing that they are there to take on the terrain themselves, or seeing friends who are crew and are going to be out on the course supporting the runners is a huge comfort.
I ran into Missy Gosney at the start and she gave me a jog bra. My mind was somewhat set at ease. My crew had not arrived yet, but would be here shortly.
Lining up at the start-line area (4 miles up the Tongue River dirt road), I tried not to think about nerves and tried just to eat a few more bites of food before things got going. Then Ann, my crew, showed up. Thank goodness. She would take my car to the aid station at mile 13 and meet me. Everything was fine. Just roll with it.
The first climb (nearly the entire 13 miles to the aid station and 5,000ft of gain) was relatively uneventful. I ran with Quintin who snapped some pics of me passing a line of guys who were a foot to a foot and a half taller than me. It was fun. The views were beautiful. So beautiful, that I stubbed my toe (hard) and threw my lower back, my SI joint, out of whack. Mile 10 and already "injured". Walk it off. Just roll with it.
I met up with Ann (so happy to see her) at mile 13 and prepared for the long downhill to Footbridge at mile 30. The weather was perfect: 70 degrees, sunshine and a few drifting clouds. Everyone continued to be all smiles. Quintin snapped a few more pictures of me in the trees on the descent. It was like we were out for a long training run, if you didn't think about the part where you continued through the night into the next day.
I met up with my old friend Billy at Footbridge, mile 30. He "owed me a crew" from Wasatch last year, and he really helped me out. Helped me sort through my gear and what I did or didn't need. We made some good decisions on gear and I didn't get over loaded with weight. I ate well, drank some soup, and was on my way. I was a little bit ahead of schedule from last year, and Billy told me to slow down a little. Don't burn out. I felt good, and was not pushing, so I resolved to just run comfortably up the Little Bighorn River canyon.
The run up the canyon was good and smooth. I ran nice and relaxed. My stomach had been just a little bit "off" all day, but I didn't think too much about it. I always have a sensitive stomach at these types of races. I had looked in my pack for an anti-nausea pill earlier in the day, and found an empty pill wrapper. So instead of having two doses of medication, I only had one. I had decided to save it, as my nausea was not "that bad". And then, I saw a flash of light ~
No, not an epiphany. Nor a hallucination. Lightening. Followed by a long, low rumble. Another flash. And then another. Rumble.... as I got to Elk Camp aid station (mile 44.5), it had started to rain. And ironically, as I joked with the aid station captain, I had left my rain jacket at mile 13 at Dry Fork Ridge because, "I didn't need it... " Oh, the irony. I asked him for a garbage bag, and he whipped out his pocket knife and made a few nifty slashes for arm holes and a head hole. I was now sporting a garbage bag dress.
I have never run in a garbage bag before. In fact, I have always felt a little sorry for the people who do run in garbage bags. Poor dears can't even afford a rain jacket. But can I tell you what? That garbage bag rocked the weather. I was warm, I was dry, and my psyche was still intact. Had I continued on in the rain without it, I'm sure the soul-sucking mud field of the next 4-5 miles would have beaten me. I maneuvered around a downed tree and ran into Missy G (who had loaned me the jog bra) and we both yelled out, "Missy!" and laughed. She was on her way down from the turn around, and I was almost there.
I got to Jaws at mile 48 and saw Ann. I resolved not to cry. I tried not to think about the fact that I would have to turn around and hit that mud field again. She sat me down and fed me. We changed out of my wet down vest and into my warmer, dry down jacket. I put the garbage bag on again (with a smile) and ate some good food (cheese quesadilla, soup which was way too salty, fruit, bacon) and got me out of the tent to continue on. Galen was there and took some great
pictures. I look miserable in one of them, but really I think he just caught me between smiles.
About a hundred yards out of the aid station, my stomach turned. "Oh no, " I thought. Here it comes. I tried to keep it down, I really did. But I had eaten just a bit too much. I hurled into the sagebrush. I managed to keep about half of what I had eaten down. I faced the mud field with determination.
The sun would soon be up and I knew that my stomach always got better once it turned to daylight again. I ran into Billy pacing and Emily going down the canyon and we crossed paths several times. Running in the wee hours of the morning is always tough for me. My body really wants me to lay down after the long night and just have a rest. When I felt my eyes flutter and want to close, I knew I was close to Footbridge again and I really wanted to make it there before the 50 mile racers overtook me. I took a 5-hour energy out of my pack instead of lying down and started to sip on it. Billy looked at me and said, "Ultra runner's cocktail of choice!" and we laughed.
I made it to Footbridge (mile 66) and an aid station volunteer immediately asked me if I had crew, to which I replied that I did not. She said she would help me (I just love the volunteers at this race). She got me a bucket of water and a washcloth for my feet. I got all of the mud off of them, and assessed the damage: not too bad. Just a few small blisters. I washed and let them air dry before putting on clean socks. The volunteer got me food, and I ate. I switched back to my lighter pack, got rid of my warm clothes, put my mud-caked shoes back on, and was on my way.
As I hiked up the steep incline out of Footbridge, I couldn't help but remark that the 50 mile runners had not caught me yet. I was about 2 miles up the hill before they had. I was moving well, but my nausea was still ever-present, so somewhere in there I took my one nausea pill. It helped a little bit. I made it to Bear Camp and got a few bites of food and a refill on water. The volunteers here greeted me by name as one of the volunteers is the cousin-in-law of a friend from Salt Lake. I felt comforted and welcome.
I continued up the trail through the woods through fields of arnica flowers. It was beautiful. And then another surprise: Ann had run down from Dry Fork Ridge (about 10 miles) to meet me and bring me back up the hill. I was elated. I thought I would meet her at the next aid station at Cow Camp (mile 76), and here she was several miles early. We chatted for quite a while until all of a sudden I felt really yucky and asked her if we could just have some quiet-time. I started going to a dark place again, as I had near the mud-fields the night before. Why was I doing this? This was dumb! Who would do this to themselves? Was it all really worth it?
And then we heard voices behind us. Who the f*ck talks going up this hill? A-hole. Just move it along and go past me. I don't really care. And then I heard the voice, "Hi Ann. How's it going?" It was my former running partner from the year before. The guy who ditched me because I "wasn't fast enough". The guy who said he needed to train by himself because he needed to prepare for his own 100. The guy who had then down-graded to the 50 and not even started the 100! I could not believe my ears. Was he really so bitter that he could not even say hello? Could not even acknowledge that I was out here doing the 100 that he could not start? Ann said hello to him, and as he passed, I said, "Hello, [name withheld]". "Oh, hey," he replied. "What's going on... " "Oh, just running 100," I said. Wow, the nerve of that guy. Can't even be civil. Rise above... rise above...
But in truth, I was infuriated. What a small creature he was that he couldn't even say hello, yet said hello to my friend. And do you know what that infuriation did? It brought me right back out of my dark place and into the light. I knew at that moment that I would finish.
The rest of the climb up to Dry Fork Ridge at mile 82 was very hard. At one point I sat down in the creek to soothe my chaffed butt (haha, literally and figuratively!). I got up to the aid station and they had pizza! Delicious. I changed into non-muddy super high-cushion shoes and busted out. I would rock the next section of the course, and that is exactly what I did.
After two more aid stations that I pretty much just blew through, I saw my best-buddy Ann's face once again. She had caught a ride on the river road and hiked up the river trail to meet me once more and bring me the 7 miles back to the finish line at the park in Dayton.
I ran that road like nobody's business. I threw down 13 min-miles and passed people. After what happened last year (tendonitis in my feet and I could barely muster walking the road to the finish) I was determined to have a strong finish.
And I did. I sprinted into the park at 7 min-mi pace to the cheers of my friends and onlookers. "Go Missy!" I heard through the rushing of blood through my ears. I did it... I did it... I did it. Fist raised across the finish line. Nearly an hour faster than last year. A smile on my face.
Bighorn 100. I
Until next year.
(photo credits: Ann Hilton, Galen Garrison, Quintin Barney, Jeff Stowell)