Bighorn 100 is probably the most scenic trail run that I have ever participated in. The terrain and views were absolutely stunning. I’m talking fields of wildflowers, green valleys, and picturesque mountains all around you. And if that’s not enough, there were also baby deer – teeny-tiny, fuzzy little bambis bounding about – one nearly ran right into us while out on the course (and no, I was not hallucinating..). And yes, I realize there aren’t any deer in the photo below, just a couple of adorable dogs (Abbie & her new friend Penny).
Let me be clear, I didn’t race the Bighorn 100. I was merely out there to crew and pace my friend Evan from miles 48-82. The funny thing is I actually met Evan while racing the Antelope Canyon 100 – we kept coming in to aid stations at the same time – only he was a full lap ahead of me (and by a lap, I mean 10 miles). And then a month later, he was up in Portland racing The Gorge 100K which I was crewing for before running The Gorge 50K the next day. So naturally, we started talking about what race would come next….
And from what little I had gathered about Evan during Antelope Canyon and The Gorge (and from our various emails flying around about our future race prospects), I knew he was speedy and had a lot of heart. I can actually remember seeing him in the middle of the night at Antelope Canyon and thinking to myself, man, this guy looks totally calm, relaxed and zen at mile 70-something. It’s this very thing that made the decision to pace Evan out at BigHorn a no-brainer for me. I wanted to help him get through the night (and have an opportunity to use my new headlamp), keep him moving towards a strong finish and at the same time, I wanted to learn from him. I wanted to see how he remained so calm, cool, collected and…most of all, so positive…even in tough or unfavorable conditions.
And while I knew he was a strong runner, both mentally and physically, I had no idea just how determined, resilient and inspiring he truly is. And I had no idea that I would in turn feel so inspired from one race.
Come race day, Jenn (Evan’s amazing girlfriend) and Evan scooped me up from my hotel in downtown Sheridan around 8 am so that we’d have ample time to get to the pre-race briefing and then make our way to the start. BigHorn has an unusually late start time – 11 am – so we had time to kill once we were there. And while I would’ve spent that remaining few hours before a race feeling anxious (and probably anxiety peeing every 2 minutes), he was just calm. Normal. Like NBD, I’ll be running 100 miles today.
When runners were called to the start line, again he was cool, calm and collected and took his place among the masses. Jenn and I watched with the puppies from a hill above the start and wished him well.
We jumped in the car and made our way to the next aid station – which would be 13 miles in to the race for Evan – and waited for his arrival. The first few runners came in blazing fast and we kept our eyes peeled for him barreling down the hill. After about 10 runners had gone by, Evan appeared as expected…barreling down the hill..looking strong and happy.
Jenn took care of his aid station needs so I could snag a photo…and its a good one (pretty proud).
And just like that, he was off again. Jenn and I made our way back to the car and devised a plan for the rest of our day. We had hours to kill before the next aid station – which is where he’d pick me up for 33 some miles (mile 48). We decided to go into “town” and grab some real food. We took a scenic drive around the BigHorn mountains – first driving towards Shell and then turning back to Dayton after fearing we wouldn’t actually find any sort of town there.
Once in Dayton we settled on lunch at pretty much the only cafe in town, the Broken Horse Cafe. It was….interesting, to say the least…but did the trick. Probably better than the alternative….which was the town ice cream shop. And don’t get me wrong, I love ice cream, just not before a big run. 😉
After lunch, we headed out to the aid station to camp out for the next several hours while we waited for Evan to arrive. Once we got there, I decided to get myself organized and ready to run. I pulled out my headlamp with the intention of getting it all set up, charged and ready to go only to realize it wasn’t working. My prized, brand spanking new headlamp that I was so excited about wasn’t working….and I hadn’t (stupidly) brought a spare. And even more stupidly, I never put a battery in it (so really, there was nothing to charge). I dug around in my bag and came up with a couple of handheld flashlights, neither of which were great lights, but really, what choice did I have?
Along with my less than amazing handhelds, I packed some SOS packets into my hand bottle, hard candies in my pockets, and ate some fruit and Wild Friends peanut butter with pretzels (yes, this is such a thing) and then made my way over to where Jenn was sitting in the grass.
I let her in on the news about my light and we both had a good laugh. Nothing we could do but just laugh…
We played fetch with the pups in the grass, did a little sunset yoga, chatted up a new friend (Gretchen) and waited some more.
Gradually, as the sun continued to set, we began to pile on the layers. The wind had picked up and the air felt chilly so I decided to grab an extra layer for the run but also wondered if I was overdoing it (which I most definitely was).
At this point, I had on running tights, a tank top, a light, dry fit long sleeve, another long sleeve over that and a windbreaker. I also had a headband over my ears and under my hat…and of course gloves in my pocket for whenever I might need them. If I had learned anything from Antelope, it was to be a little over prepared…and ready for whatever weather might strike. And ready, I was.
Just before 10 pm, Evan arrived. He was still looking just as strong as when he started, just much muddier. He did a quick dip into the aid station before we set off for some miles. Right out the gate, we were moving really well. Almost 5o miles into the course and he was still plodding along. I told him about our day and tried to fill the miles and the darkness with stories.
Within the first few miles, I was feeling the altitude. I sucked on a hard candy and tried to focus on my breathing. A few times Evan mentioned that he felt it too and we’d stop briefly to catch our breath or to make our way over muddy terrain. We were on a steep downhill for awhile – the rocks, deep mud and uneven ground – making each step more difficult. We crossed a few deep streams, some marshy, muddy land and then made it to the bottom of what seemed like the most endless hill…EVER. And then Evan said, get ready for hell. I knew we had a climb coming our way but I didn’t fully grasp how big a climb it was until we were on it….
And then I saw the monstrous hill in front of us and he said, welcome to hell. Yup. Hell, indeed.
Around mile 65, we started a climb that was truly unlike any other I’ve ever done. Not only was the altitude playing a major role in our breathing but the hill itself was a vertical, unforgiving, muddy bitch of a climb. I did my best to stay positive, chatty and keep him moving despite the pain and difficulty breathing.
After what seemed like an endless climb (seriously, it was hell), we were able to catch our breath on some fun rollers for the next few miles. He was still running really strong and seemed in good spirits given we were somewhere near 70 miles in. But soon enough, as if the course knew we were having too easy of a time on those “easy” rollers, we were nearly knee deep in grass and mud. With each step down, our feet would sink into gushy, bubbling mud and then come out feeling like a 20 lb weight. The “easy,” rolling flats weren’t so easy anymore.
At one point, out in the middle of a grass and mud field – seriously everywhere you looked – we got off course. The trail in front of us looked like a deep swamp so we decided to try and avoid it. We went off to the side, trudging along in more grass, mud and who knows what else. Eventually, we found ourselves in yet another sloppy, swampy mess and had no idea where the trail was. So we backtracked. And backtracked. Until eventually, we were right back where we started….and in the mud.
Our feet were soaked, raw and covered in mud – Evan perfectly described his own as feeling like hamburger meat – despite the discomfort, we kept plugging along, both of us still smiling and laughing about our muddy misadventure.
We made it to our next climb a little before sunrise and as we climbed and climbed and climbed, I couldn’t help but notice just how hard my body was working, just how much my quads, glutes and core were burning. How my lungs were practically shouting and gasping for more air. And in my head, I wondered how he could possibly still be moving so well…and with such a positive attitude. Despite my own struggle, I knew it was my job to keep things light, cheerful and fun and chatted our way up the hill.
We got to the ridge just in time for the sun to start peeking out (around 4:30 am). We took a load off and just sat on the ridge to catch our breath, watch the sunrise and recollect ourselves for the next many miles together. We took off, leaving the beautiful view of the valley behind us and cruised into another aid station. Evan had seemed a little more quiet than usual and I was worrying about his calorie intake. I pestered him a little bit about eating and was happy to see him accepting and eating soup broth at the next aid station.
We warmed ourselves by the fire and got some food in our bellies (he ate soup while I devoured a PB&J) and then we set back off into the early morning hours. More climbing, more mud, more stream crossings. But also more amazing mountain scenery.
We rolled into what would be my last aid station before exiting the course and they told us we had 6 miles until the next one (the last couple of miles of which were straight up hill). We decided to walk most of the last stretch together so that Evan would have gas in the tank for the last 18 miles (a lot of which would be downhill). We walked, talked, bent over to catch our breath, and hiked. And hiked. And hiked. And little by little, we started peeling off the layers.
We got to mile 82 just shy of 10 am. The sun was out in full force and in my over prepared running attire, I was overheating like whoa. Of course, I kept my discomfort to myself and noticed that Evan was in incredible spirits despite the fact that the bottoms of his feet had basically become two giant blisters. And not to mention, a rolled ankle. And not to mention, 82 miles worth of running and climbing and altitude.
He spent some quality time at the aid station with Jenn getting his feet duct taped up and ready to roll for the next 18 miles. After taking care of his feet and getting some more fuel, we said our goodbyes and he was off…
I attempted to clean the caked mud from my feet before joining Jenn and the pups in the car. I was nauseous, sleepy and out of it (which made it difficult to fathom how he was going to keep going for 18 more miles…). We made it to the finish area and I practically dozed off the minute the car started and then plopped into the grass waiting for him to cross the finish line.
The runners coming through before him looked equally muddy and humbled by the tough course. And when Evan came sprinting through the finish line, with a smile on his face, at just over 25 hours, I could not have felt more proud.
It was an amazingly tough course – of which I only experienced 33 miles – and he had just finished all 100 miles, still smiling, with duct taped feet, a swollen ankle and a strong stride, to boot.
Going into the race, I didn’t know much about Evan, other than the fact that he is fast and determined. After pacing him, I’ve learned so much and aspire to be half the runner he is. The mental toughness, strength and resilience he demonstrated out there will be with me for races to come.
And I can’t wait to conquer more races together (or run into him at another one!).
Once again, congrats my friend, you are amazing. AND a huge, enormous THANK YOU again to Jenn who kept all of the pieces together.
On the heels, of this amazingly epic adventure, we celebrated our 4th birthday, kicked off #1millionminutes of #sweatpink, and are headed to Denver for FitBloggin’ tomorrow and then to crew my good friend Andrew at Western States this weekend. Whew…tired just thinking about it.
A big couple of weeks, to say the least!
Stay sweaty friends!