Saturday, June 23, 2012

Bighorn 100 Race Report

My arrival in Bighorn country was long anticipated. Though the drive west was exciting for me, since I have long wanted to drive through South Dakota and Wyoming, my mind often wandered to and wondered about what I had gotten myself into.
Medical Check-in

Drop bags awaiting delivery to aid stations
Luckily, the group of Idiots I stayed with in Dayton, WY was made up of people with a lot of mountain ultra experience, including the Bighorn 100. I learned much from them about the course, the contents needed for drop bags, and about long-term nutrition. I feel extremely lucky to have hooked up with them. I hold a mountain of gratitude for Chris for bringing me into the group and for Kari and Sheri for sharing so much of their knowledge with me.

I am also thankful to have met Alan and Mike. They recently started a new company, Vi Endurance, that makes an endurance gel. The formula for that gel, I believe, contains many ingredients that are helpful when the body is engaged in long-term active stress. Mike and Alan set me up with enough gel to get through the race. And get me through the race it did! Vi gel made up more than 85% of the calories I consumed during the Bighorn 100. Because my energy levels never waned, I am sold on this product. Period. Thanks, Mike and Alan!!

Before I get to the story of the race, I must say that the event was expertly organized and carried out. There were plenty of aid stations manned by kind and helpful volunteers. This enabled me to complete this event with minimal crewing and no pacing. I highly recommend this race to anyone hoping to complete a 100-mile mountain event.

The short story on the course is that it is TOUGH! The footing is almost relentlessly brutal, varying from narrow, hoof-imprinted, horizontal and vertical animal paths to rocky, rutted single track to rutted jeep trail to muddy, swampy slicks to snow fields. With 17,500 ft of ascending and 18,000 ft of descending, the course has its ups and downs. Some are shallow and runnable by the masses while others are nearly vertical and poorly footed.
Superstitious? Pre-race 100 Mile Stout
Minutes before the start.
Mike and Alan of Vi Endurance. Mike ran the BH50 Alan the BH100
Two nights before the race I was peppering the Idiots with questions when Kari bluntly stated that the BH100 is "much more difficult than the Leadville 100 because of the ruggedness and the footing. Leadville has flat sections and road sections! It is SUCH an easy course!!" Chris turned red and suggested that she was crushing my spirits - because he was in the LT100 in 2008 and, in fact, passed me when just before I was pulled for hypothermia.

No problem. My path, rugged and unforgiving, was set. I knew I would finish the BH100 unless I broke a leg (still 10-20% chance of finishing :) or actually died en route.

I ran a smart, patient race, even stopping frequently to take 83 photos. My HR was held in an acceptable zone for the first 5.5 hours while I climbed in the heat of the day after the 11am start. My Polar RCX5 screen displayed only average HR and calories burned per hour. After 5.5 hours I slowed a bit to drop the HR by 12-15 bpm to increase the percentage of fat calories burned. With that adjustment, seen clearly on the Polar RCX5, I knew that I would have the energy to make it through to the finish as long as I consumed 250-270 calories per hour. Again, the Vi made that possible.

It was while climbing the first face that one of the talkative runners in a pack I was part turned to ask my name and where I was from. When I told him, he lit up and proclaimed, "I read your blog. You've got F'ing balls, man!" To which I replied, "Maybe so, but I am worried about what I've got on my shoulders."
Ascending through the canyon early miles.
Ascending the wall
Still climbing . . .
Hot stretch of road on top of the mountain. 
Animal path on top of mountain.
At the mile 30 Footbridge aid station I was surprised to meet up with Ning, an Idiot who was waiting to start her pacing duties. She helped me make the big changes, including the addition of three layers of clothes (tied around my waist) and a bright PTEC Byte headlight for cold night travel at high (9000 ft) altitude. I left the aid station within the time frame I had envisioned.

The 18-mile climb to Porcupine went relatively smoothly. I was able to negotiate the trail with a lot of running due to the moderate incline. The trail varied from rocky escarpments to soft pine needles to those narrow, hoof printed paths to slippery mud bogs to soft snowbanks that occasionally swallowed me to my knees or waist. On the way up I literally saw thousands of places where I could turn my weak ankle on the return during the dark, moonless night. I reached the 48-mile aid station/turn-around just after sunset, in 11:35 minutes.

Again, the volunteers and crewing were superb at Porcupine. Some warm soup and those three layers of tops warmed me up as I prepared to run the descent. I was psyched because I had never felt so good after running that many miles. In fact, I was telling myself to contain my pace until after I had climbed out of Footbridge near sunrise.

It was about two miles down from Porcupine when I turned the ankle severely for the first time. The tape I'd applied before the race had prevented about a dozen turns up to that point, but a rock rolled off of the side of the trail under my right foot and the ankle rolled at least 90 degrees. Unfortunately, the right achilles began to ache immediately. I slowed a bit, but continued to run. Only after 15 miles and another dozen twists of the ankle did I find a shuffle that seemed to limit the likelihood of turning the ankle. I found it somewhat bemusing that I had to stop 12 times to pee during the 18 mile descent.  Too many glasses of water at Porcupine? Too much salt? I left the mile 66 Footbridge aid station just before sunrise.
Ankle hazards everywhere!
One of several log bridges
The climb that followed was by far the most difficult of the race. It was several miles in length and, near the top, insanely steep. My achilles did not like the stretching, but the ankle didn't roll one time. On top of the mountain I found heavy frost on all of the sage brush. The aid station workers had endured a cold, windy night on the mountain. I took in water and another hot soup near the top of the climb. Honestly, I couldn't believe how strong I felt after running through the mountains all night. I was NOT trained to do this. Perhaps my failures at Leadville had steeled my mind to ignore all types of pain this time around.

Nearing the mile 82.5 mile Dry Fork Ridge aid station I began to get really hot. My water supply was running low. This was not aided by the fact that I joined a group which backtracked 0.78 miles because someone thought we were off course. Yes, this added 1.56 miles to my run. Sigh.

I had repeatedly filled a pint bottle at the aid stations and at the natural springs along the route. In the heat of the  second morning I gladly filled it with cold water from the "bathtub," which really seemed to be a cattle watering pool.
Kari and Chris at the Dry Fork 82.5 mile aid station.
My approach to Dry Fork.
After Dry Fork I began to struggle for the first time. It wasn't a loss of energy or a bad attitude. It was my left big toe. Hours of favoring the right ankle/achilles had caused the left foot to repeatedly pound into the front of my La Sportiva Skylite. My left foot is slightly larger than the right, so that toe was already a bit close to the front of the shoe. During the closing miles it only took a slight descent or a light kick of a stone to cause excruciating pain.

Unfortunately, there was a five mile stretch of trail down a ridiculously steep mountain face. It hadn't seemed tough going up that face the previous day, but it sure was agonizing to descend with that beat up toe. I stopped many times to collect myself after kicking rocks or running short stretches. It was with much relief that I looked back at the entrance to the canyon to see that I had left that steep face behind. Unfortunately, I had given up 45-60 minutes to my pace on that face. No longer could I break 27 hours, and I was wondering if I could break 28 hours. Without a doubt, the descent of the last face was the most painful and woeful physical challenge I have ever endured. And that includes the drilling of my jaw without anesthetic.

After the Africa hot canyon I stepped on the 5.5-mile stretch of gravel road to town with a big sigh of relief. Within minutes I was running along at a descent clip. In fact, I ran the last two miles in just over fourteen minutes. Hell, I just wanted to get done. Twenty eight hours is a loooong time to be going at it.

The finish!
The crash!!
The TOE!!!
I finished the Bighorn 100 in 27 hours, 50 minutes, and 43 seconds, crossing the line 42nd out of 118 finishers (Not sure, but heard there were over 170 starters). In doing so, I completed a life goal that had been on my list since I first saw a Leadville Trail 100 documentary in 1991. As I write this, I am wondering if I will ever line up for another 100 mile run.

Upcoming posts will exhibit some of the many photos I've taken since the BH100 at the following national parks: Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Arches, and Canyonlands. Its been a mind-numbing trip during which I have seen an incredible quantity of natural beauty. And I am not done. I write this from beautiful Lake City, CO, which is tucked inside of the picturesque San Juan Mountains of southwest CO. Still loving this incredible world! Later, ST


  1. Congratulations, Shane! Thanks for sharing even though reading sometimes made me wince.

    1. Thanks, Shannon! I winced a few hundred times myself. Wincing makes us stronger, right?

  2. Congratulations! You will do another 100M. You just don't know it yet.

    1. Thanks, Kent! That's what Chris Gerber is claiming. Time will tell.

  3. Congratulations! Another check off the list...but somehow I doubt that means your list is getting any shorter. Keep up the adventures!

  4. Thanks! And you are correct! That list usually contains around 100 items. New ones have been added regularly since I created the list in 1990. It is a work in progress!

  5. Shane -
    I was the "talkative" guy on the climb, nice f-ing work! I am impressed

  6. Thanks, Kevin! I have been hoping that you would respond. I looked for you during the awards because I wanted to talk to you. YOU had an impressive run! Well done! Wish I could have stayed with you, but I, wisely, let you and a few others slip away after five hours because I knew I was digging a caloric hole. Like most balding men - love the hair!! Best wishes. Hopefully our paths will cross again.