Tuesday, June 21, 2011

2011 Big Horn 100 miler

I entered the Big Horn 100 miler to make up for the empty feeling I was left with at Coyote Two Moon when the race was canceled as I reached mile 84 in March. At the time it seemed important to finish a 100 miler and I wanted to leverage all the training I had already invested so I entered Big Horn. It turned out to be exactly what I needed. A big part of my motivation to run ultras comes from the scenery I am running through. Over the last year and a half without any real plan to do so, I ended up entering many more events than I ever had before. I think training had begun to supersede having fun this year and mentally I didn't feel motivated going into Big Horn. It didn't take long running in scenery like the pictures below to remind me why I love ultrarunning. How many chances will one have to spend a day running in mountains like Big Horn?

The Big Horn race is early in the season for a high altitude mountain course and this year the deep snowpack and late spring in the west left the race directors in a scramble to find a workable course. They did an amazing job to find a route that maintained most of the normal course while allowing the volunteers to pack in supplies to the many aid stations needed to supply not just the 100 mile race, but also 50 mile, 50 km and 30 km races. The new course route replaced the final 7.5 miles of the normal course (thus reducing the maximum elevation from 10,000 down to 8,000 ft) with a 7.5 mile out and back section (the lower spur in the picture below) which we did both on the way out and on the way back in. According to the map corrected elevation from my Garmin recording, the course had about 17,000 feet of climbing (see elevation profile below). Prior to running this race, I had considered an out and back course design much less appealing than a loop course, but it actually worked out really well. I reached the 50 mile turnaround point just as it got dark enough to turn on my headlamp so I got to see all of the course in daylight and it was nice during the night to have some familiarity with the course already.
Course route, starting and ending in Dayton, WY

I'm not going to try to give a blow by blow of running the course. As usual my goal was to go out easy, especially for the first big climb which took us from 4000 ft to 7500 ft within the first 10 miles of the start and then try to maintain as steady a pace as possible while taking as much advantage as I could of the downhills. The weather was pretty much perfect except for an intense wind. It seemed that the wind would suck the last bit of oxygen left at altitude away before we could get any on the first climb. The course was perfectly marked so route finding was never a distraction. I tried to maintain a fueling schedule of alternating a gel with either honey stinger chews, lara bars, or honey stinger waffles every 30 minutes but it was only a few hours before everything started tasting too sweet leading me to rely more on gels (still sweet, but easier to get down), perpetuem and turkey/cheese sandwiches whenever the aid stations had them. I got a  big mental boost during the first half of the race when Dan Paquette offered me some unanticipated crew support at Dryfork and Footbridge aid stations. Dan was at the race to pace Seattle speedster Jon Robinson who finished in 4th but before pacing he gave me some great positive mental energy.

My favorite section of the course was from about mile 40 where we had our first major descent down to the Little Big Horn River (pictured below). The views down into the canyon were amazing and it was a blast to fly down the hill even knowing we would have to climb back up it later. After crossing the river at the Footbridge aid station we got to run back up the canyon along the other side. The leaders of the race passed me on their way back to the finish line as I headed up the canyon as darkness approached. For some reason I always look forward to night falling during these events--maybe to use the darkness as an excuse to slow down? The cooler night air felt great and I had renewed energy as I started downhill and towards the finish line for the first time. Later during the night the full moon made for a beautiful view. One of the odd things about the race for me was that from mile 40 to the end I hardly saw anyone except for people going the opposite direction. I was surprised when I finished in 25 hr and 10 min or so (the time has changed on the race website results) to find that I was in 14th place.


Little Big Horn River
Overall, I cannot recommend this race highly enough. The beauty of the scenery was just stunning and the race was extremely well run. If you don't feel like doing the whole 100 miles, you can always sign up for the 50 mile, 50 km or 30 km events. After finishing, I spent most of the day in Scott Park cheering on finishers and hanging out with the large contingent of Seattle runners who had made the trip out to Wyoming.