Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Bighorn Trail 32M Run - June 20, 2015

The Sunglasses and Hats Amigos - Barry, Rebecca, Emaad and Ken awaiting the start
The running gods bear a striking resemblance to Greek gods, sometimes dishing out adversity; sometimes being indifferent; and sometimes providing providence, all without any discernible pattern to the mere mortals whose paths are made straight or crooked by the whims of the divine.

For this year's Bighorn Trail Run the gods were not merely merciful, they were benevolent.

Starting Out
To get to the start of the 32-mile race requires a 40-mile bus ride of well over an hour from the small town of Dayton, WY up into the Bighorn Mountains, first on Route 14 and then on unpaved Forest Service roads. The ride itself has spectacular views as the road ascends about 3500 feet.

We hesitate a bit before getting off the bus making last minute equipment and clothing choices as you can leave a bag on the bus to be returned to Dayton for your pick-up at the end. I decide that it is warm enough to go the entire day with shorts and a short sleeve shirt. Barry does likewise; Emaad decides to start with a pair of shirts and Rebecca, as is her usual, goes with several layers.

The view from the start. We go up Dry Fork Ridge to the left.

The start line
The National Anthem
A very nice rendition of the National Anthem marks the time to move to the starting line. The nearly 300 starters move the few steps from the parking area to stand behind the start line. Those of us toward the back don't hear to start signal but it really doesn't matter as the crowd starts forward at the 8 a.m. start.

Barry with 88-year old Bob Hayes
Dry Fork Ridge looking back around mile 4.
Within a couple of minutes the runners are spread along the road headed for the turn up Dry Fork Ridge.  The sky is a beautiful blue with scattered clouds.  The trees and meadows are spring green.

And then it is time to climb. Over the first two miles we climb about 1000 feet to the top of the ridge according to the elevation chart.  The ridge is about 8400 feet and I feel a little bit short of breath but not too badly.

Emaad feels the altitude a bit more and lags behind.  Barry, Rebecca and I leapfrog one another chatting with the other runners.  We walk and chat a bit with the legendary Bob Hayes of Evaro, Montana, 88 years old and still running ultras. 

Rebecca gets ahead and Barry falls behind and I run chatting with the folks around me.  I spot a Virginia Happy Trails Running Club shirt and introduce myself to 'Smitty.'  We trade tales of races we both ran. He tells me of a coast-to-coast road trip he took when younger, selling his car to buy a pick-up with a cover so he and a friend could cruise the West and attend rock concerts.

What Goes Up Must Go Down
View to the southeast from the Dry Fork Ridge
After stopping to take and pose for photos around mile 4 we reach the Riley Point Aid Station a.  I grab a few cookies and potato chips and head out.  The trail turns sharply downhill and we run through a mix of forest and meadows, with the occasional muddy rivulet to cross, losing about 1700 feet in altitude over 2.2 miles.  About five of us make the descent together, with me being the engine of the 'train' and Smitty being the caboose.  I repeatedly ask, maybe even urge, the others to go by but they insist the pace is fine.  I'm a bit uncomfortable having to set the pace, worried that I'll run faster than I prefer because of a subconscious need to please the rest of the group.  Passing through some wet areas in the forest we spy some large tracks in the mud. "Moose," someone from the rear declares. 

Headed down from Riley Point. It got steeper.
On the way down I spy a bag containing unlabeled white capsules.  Naturally I pick them up.  They look like the Succeed! salt capsules I'm carrying but none of the runners around me are willing to try one. Since I've taken found pills before, I figure they'll make a spare supply if I need one. 

At the bottom of the descent the trail joins the route that the 100 and 52 milers run on the way to the finish.  The 100-milers started their race the previous day on the out and back course and the 52 milers started near the turn-around at 6 a.m. this morning.

Within minutes we join 100-milers as we get to the next aid station at Kern's Cow Camp.

What Goes Down Must Go Up
Kern's Cow Camp aid station, around mile 8, is pretty remote, but provides runners not just with the usual ultra food of cookies, candy, chips, fruit, water, soda and Powerade but freshly fried bacon and potato slices fried in the bacon grease. Runners mill about enjoying the food before heading out.  

Over the next six miles the course generally goes gently up and down for about four miles and then climbs about 800 feet over the last two miles back to near the start at Head of Dry Fork while following the Dry Fork Creek drainage.

Rebecca is at the aid station.  I eat several slices of bacon, grab other food and headed out with 'Minnesota' and Rebecca joins us. 

Minnesota is not the runner's real name, it is Tonya.  I have a horrible time remembering names and have found it easier to remember something else about the person, often where they are from.  So for me today, Tonya is Minnesota. She owns a restaurant back home and tells us tales of the business and her brother, who is the elected local sheriff.  Rebecca and I get to tell her our oft-told tales of races we have run together. Rebecca tells her favorite story on me, how I told her at one race that I would run with her unless she got hurt  - in which case I would dial 911 and leave her. My rationale that I am not trained to deliver emergency medical assistance and hence useless in that situation was unpersuasive.

We join up with a 100-miler and his pacer for the climb to Dry Fork.  Not surprisingly, the pacer is more talkative than the runner, who has been going for nearly 24 hours and still has nearly 20 miles to go.  All things considered, the runner is in pretty good spirits.

One of the food tables at Dry Fork AS
The Gods Toy with Us
We reach the Head of Dry Fork aid station in 3:53.  It is another fabulously stocked aid station, with not only the items in the picture at left, but anther table with hot pizza.  While I'm munching pizza, a volunteer asks if I'd like my drop bag.  I start to decline, then remember that I've put gels in it to replenish my supply.  Once I've filled up with them I'm ready to go.  Minnesota is telling me that she is heading out.  Rebecca comes over and tells me of a runner who lost his bag of salt capsules, and I hand over the bag. Rebecca is going to change socks.  I tell her she'll catch up with us as I leave.
Rebecca at Dry Fork AS.
The uphill resumes upon leaving the aid station.The course climbs about 500 feet over the next two miles before descending about an equal amount over the next three. 

On the way up we pass the father-son pair of Stricklands.  The young Strickland is 10 years old. For him this is no big deal, He ran a 12-hour race at age 9 and a 100K in April.

But it isn't the climb that is troubling. It is the cool wind dropping over the ridge and the dark clouds to our left.  It is the sign of an approaching storm.  We hurry on, going on the the premise that the clouds are moving southward and we are moving east, and if we get far enough east we will escape the storm.  And we do, even if I do so at the cost of leaving Minnesota behind. (It turns out that the running gods were taunting us.  No rain fell, even behind us.)

Looking back toward Dry Fork. Connecticut is on left.
The Stricklands are next on the trail, center.
Cresting the ridge that separates the Dry Fork Creek drainage from the Sheep Creek drainage I turn around and take a picture.  As I do a runner catches up with me.

We exchange pleasantries and names and where we are from. Lyndsay promptly becomes Connecticut.  We run a bit together and then she pulls away.

I walk a bit with a 100-miler who is not having a good day.  He had hoped for a good time but spent 20 minutes heaving due, he said, to a B-vitamin capsule being lodged in his stomach.  In response to his request I give him three of my Succeeds, which he immediately downs.  Having done my duty, I resume running.
On the way down to Lower Sheep Creek AS.
"The Haul" is up the ridge in the center rear. 
I'm running the gentle downhill on a four-wheel drive track following the runners in the near distance.  Then the runners ahead stop and turn back toward me.  I stop, too, and look down the slope to the right where I can see a couple of other runners. The runners in front of me had missed the flagged turn off the four-wheel drive road onto a single track trail.  We backtrack - only about 100 yards for me - and head in the right direction.  Connecticut was one of the runners who went the wrong way and when she catches up with me we stay together as we head toward the Upper Sheep Creek aid station at mile 19.

Hauling the Sound of Music
A 100-mile runner is at the aid station when we arrive. His shirt has a handwritten message, "Happy Birthday to me. I am 40."  He is in good spirits and even points out that yesterday was his birthday.

Connecticut and I hustle thru the aid station. I tell her that lingering at aid stations, a natural tendency in ultras because the food is good and volunteers friendly, can add up to significant loss of time over the course of a day. (For example, she took almost 15 minutes at Dry Fork; I was there for less than 7.)

It's been four years since I last ran here but I remember the course in detail. From the aid station we descend about 100 feet to the small wooden bridge that crosses Sheep Creek. We have arrived at the foot of "The Haul."

The Haul is the name for the half mile long stretch of trail that climbs about 500 feet to the crest of Horse Creek Ridge.  I may remember the Haul but I don't remember just how steep it is. 

Flowers in the meadow at the top of the Haul
On the other hand, the weather has been nearly perfect in the Bighorns this spring and the meadow to our left is full of wildflowers. Connecticut takes out her camera and takes closeup pictures of many of the flowers.  Her mother is an avid gardener and she also has the interest, identifying some of the wildflowers for me. Her gardening opportunities are limited as she lives in an apartment, so she is taking advantage of the run to combine a pair of interests.

More meadow flowers at the Haul.
At the top of the ridge we exchange cameras to take pictures of each other with the meadow, canyon and plains in the background.  I've been carrying and nibbling on cookies from the aid station and finally finish the last one before we head down toward the canyon.
The cookie made it to the top of the Haul but no further.

It is a long descent, perhaps 2500 feet over four miles or so through varied terrain: meadow, fields, dense woods with brush, rock. Sometimes gentle, sometimes steep, occasionally almost flat.  We spot two runners sitting on a low rock outcropping to enjoy the view of the canyon and we also stop but to adjust shoes and socks.  Connecticut is done quickly and resumes running.  I first go to sit on a pile of rocks but then think it is a perfect place for rattlesnakes and choose a spot in the center of a large low boulder.  I feel like there is a small stone under the ball of my foot but removing my sock reveals a blister.  It isn't particularly painful, so I simply replace the sock and get going.

Heading down one section I hear a runner coming up on me.  I move over to let him by and it is the 100-miler that I gave the Succeeds.  He apparently has recovered and is flying.  Smitty also goes by in this stretch. Earlier, Connecticut and I move over for a woman running the 52 miler. Connecticut identifies her as Darcy Africa Piceu, one of the world's best ultrarunners. She on her way to a first place finish (5th overall). (She was in and out of the Dry Fork aid station in 95 seconds, BTW.) And we pass a older couple, wearing matching Superman shirts wearing 18-mile bibs, the first, but not the last, 18-milers we pass today.

In the Tongue River Canyon.
Tongue River Canyon
The Tongue River Canyon is entirely different than the first 24 miles of the course.  The steep canyon walls trap heat and for the first time in the day it feels warm rather than pleasant.  The trail is rocky in some places rather than simply dirt.  Sites of rock slides are evident. Most the trail is in forest. The views are just as good but of a different sort.

At mile 24 I arrive at the Lower Sheep Creek aid station. I glance at my watch and pace card and see that I'm about two minutes behind a nine-hour pace. I'm in no hurry, but a seed has been planted.
The 'bridge' over
Lower Sheep Creek

Tongue River Canyon with the
Needle's Eye ahead.
After crossing the creek, I spend some time taking photos and exchanging cameras with other runners so we can get pictures of ourselves. (No selfies for ultrarunners; the scenery is too big.) I catch up to Smitty and express surprise; he says he is busy taking photos.

Kick It
My goal in coming to Bighorn was simply to enjoy the day and make up for having to drop down to the 18 miler in 2011 due to "the chicken-fried steak" incident.  But at the Tongue River Trail Head aid station (mile 26.6) a glance at my watch and then at my pace card shows that I'm still only two minutes off the pace for a nine-hour finish.  

By now we are about out of the canyon and the remaining course is on a mostly level gravel road, I figure I might as well try to up the pace.  I feel good, the remainder of the course is not photogenic and the temperature is climbing, and there is only about 5.4 miles to go officially.

I'm quick through the aid station.  I estimate that I have enough water in my pack to last. soak my buff to cool off my head, drink a cup of soda and grab some snacks and head out.  Touring is over; there is work to be done and a clock to be beat.

Substitute Spouses
I make good time headed to the final aid station, appropriately named Home Stretch at mile 29.6. On the stretch of road approaching it volunteers ride bicycles handing out ice pops to the runners.  At the aid station a volunteer sprays me with a mist of cool water.  I get a drink and push on.  A glance at the watch and pace card shows that I am now eight minutes ahead of a nine-hour finish. With only 2.4 miles officially to go, I'm confident that I'll make it.

I walk a bit with a 18-mile runner with a British accent.  She's relocated to nearby Sheridan, WY. And I chat a bit with a 100-miler.

But soon I'm running again and take a sip from my pack.  Nothing. I've miscalculated and have another mile or so to go and nothing to drink.

A woman riding a bicycle and towing a child in a bike trailer pedals alongside and asks if I'd like some water. I thank her as I take it.  She tells me that she had come out to escort her husband to the finish but had missed him.  I joke that I can be her substitute husband and she can be my substitute wife as my wife didn't come out to escort me.  She tells how running has become nearly an addiction for him since he gave up smoking several years earlier, and she is glad it has, as addiction runs in his family, with a brother with alcohol and drug problems.  She says she'd like to run and I encourage her, telling her she could even walk the 18-miler.

In Dayton for the last few blocks she peels off and I turn into Scott Park to cross the finish line well under nine hours.

The Gods Strike Down Hubris
When I cross the finish line I strike a Usain Bolt winner's pose. This angers the running gods, and my feet slide out from under me and I fall flat on my back, much to the consternation of the finish line volunteers.  I assure them that I am OK as I get up and grab a chocolate milk to await the others.

The Round Up
I finish in 8:33:47, 4/11 in AG, 100/132 males, 163/233 overall.  Given my split for the last section, I I suspect that the official distance is a bit overstated - at least for that stretch.

Smitty finally stopped taking pictures and finished in 8:43. Lyndsey, aka 'Connecticut' was two minutes behind him. Tonya, aka 'Minnesota' finished in 9:02. The father and son Stricklands finish in 9:11.

Barry and Emaad caught up with Rebecca at the Dry Fork aid station and ran together for awhile before Barry took off to cross the line in 9:14.  Emaad and Rebecca ran and finished together in 9:37.  Emaad's ten-year old daughter runs with him the last 100 yards.

Swag I: Bag, shirt, insulated bag, sticker, buff.

Swag II: Two pint glasses, finishers' shirt, water bottle, bib