All year I have trepidatiously dubbed this race my “Do-Over.” It’s not uncommon for me to have a poor race performance. (If every race were great, they’d all be average.) But Big Horn last year was different for me. I felt limited by my body – specifically my ankles. Despite being in great shape, I couldn’t run the downhill sections and I lost a lot of time.I knew I would have a better day this year because my ankles felt better going into the race. I had a friend ask me what I did to improve my ankles. Honestly, I didn’t do anything. I don’t stretch or do any PT exercises. It might have been dumb luck.
This race has been around forever. It runs like clockwork. There’s a very early morning bus ride to the start (4 a.m.), but it’s necessary for the 50-milers to start at 6 a.m. Aside from the beautiful views, my favorite part of this race is catching up to the 100-milers who started on Friday at 11 a.m. I have always believed that offering an encouraging word to others can go along way for making my own race worthwhile. And nobody needs more encouragement than a struggling 100-mile runner at mile 85. I met one gal, Jeanie, with about 13 miles to go. I didn’t know she was a 100-mile runner until I passed her and turned back to see her bib. “Oh my gosh, “ I said, “I thought you were a 50-miler because you were running so strong.” Her face lit up and we introduced ourselves and became fast friends. When we parted ways, we promised to see each other at the finish.
It seemed like just yesterday I had been on these trails. Every turn, every aid station, every hill, was familiar to me. (The only exception was the start. It had changed slightly from the previous year. The first two miles were different, but not noticeably. This starting line was better. There was more space, a big tent, plenty of porta potties, even a couple of outhouses.)
Just like last year, the course was wet. I changed my socks at mile-18 and put my Hokas back on. I wore the same shoes the entire day. My feet were fine. No blisters or black toenails.
My biggest area for improvement continues to be my climbing. There are certain sections of this race that are just not runable. Everyone walks. Well, I walk. Everyone else power hikes. I need more work in this area. I had a friend who took it out slowly and was 20 minutes behind me at mile 18. He caught me on the longest climb of the course about 7 miles later.
One thing I continue to get right is my fueling. I eat often. I eat a variety. I arrived at the Cow Camp aid station at mile 28.5 right around lunchtime. I was thrilled when, as if by design, the aid station worker plopped a freshly-grilled cheese quesadilla onto a plate. “That’s mine,” I announced. For some reason, having that quesadilla right at lunchtime made what I was doing (running 52 miles through the rugged wilderness) seem perfectly normal.
Most runners wear a Garmin. I don’t in ultras. I wear a watch, which I leave on the time of day. I don’t need to see how many hours or miles have passed since I started. I’d rather know it’s lunchtime without having to do the math. I guess if you know the race course, and you’ve got a race plan, a Garmin can be helpful. That’s just not the way I run.
Anyway, there is a downhill section about 11 miles from the finish. This section is several miles long. I was not able to run it last year, which was very frustrating. This year I took an Advil (thanks, Matt) just before the downhill. I ran the entire thing.
The last several miles were fairly lonely. Most people I passed weren’t in a talkative mood. Thankfully, there were plenty of aid-stations at the end. (There were three in the last seven miles.) The last two had ice. Ice in a hot ultra is like crack cocaine. Once you get some, you must have more. After I downed my ice-cold beverages, I poured the ice into my jog bra. Not sure how I thought to do that, but it worked great. I stayed nice and cool and was able to run the rest of the way to the finish, where a few Runners Roost teammates were waiting .
And there was more ice.
Not everyone had a great day. I was one of the lucky ones. Big Horn is a tough race, but I think it’s growing on me.
Speaking of tough races, up next is the Leadville Marathon on the 29th.