Saturday was a day of many firsts. I saw moose in the wild. I packed a drop bag. I got on a bus at 4 a.m. I had a popsicle while running. I crossed paths with some pack mules. I met the Big Horn Mountains.
It was all in a day at the Bighorn Trail Run.
I was looking forward to Saturday all week. Since we returned from vacation the Friday before, life had been hectic. Knowing that the race would take me all of twelve hours, I had longingly dubbed it my Mental Health Day. I was really looking forward to spending all day on the trail.
Bighorn gave me that mental health adjustment, but it also put me in my place. It took me 13 hours and 40 minutes to cover the 52 miles. It was tough. It’s three days out now and I’m more sore than I have been after any of my other 50 mile races.
The race is remote. It’s a true point-to-point course. You start in one place and finish in another. There are no loops, dog-legs, or clover-leafs. You start running and the scenery is constantly new. I didn’t see civilization the whole day. The closest thing to a town that we ran through was an aid station called Cow Camp at mile 28, which was simply a few rugged old buildings, that I’m sure had no electricity or potable water.
Speaking of water, we had to have it. It was a fairly warm day and I filled my pack all the way up at nearly every opportunity. Most of the aid stations had to pack in supplies and bring them via horseback. I was thankful they made the trek and told them so over and over. The aid-station volunteers were troopers.
The names of the aid-stations were fun reminders of the varied terrain and wilderness which we were navigating: Spring Marsh, The Narrows, Foot Bridge, Bear Hunting Camp, Cow Camp, Dry Fork, Upper Sheep Creek, Lower Sheep Creek, Tongue River, and Homestretch.
I had seen three moose on the early morning bus ride to the start. I was reminded of Karl Meltzer’s moose encounter at the race the year before and was a little fearful of wild animals on the course. But the only encounter I had was with some domesticated pack mules overloaded with heavy gear that forced a few of us off the trail and into a patch of thorny bushes.
The race website encouraged drop bags for not only the 100 miler, but the 50 miler as well. I had never packed a drop bag before. I never felt like I needed one for a 50. But I went ahead and packed two — one for mile 18 (where they said we’d want to change shoes) and the other for mile 34. I ended up changing my socks, but I put back on the same pair of shoes. I wanted to wear my Hokas for the entire race.
If I do the race again I won’t pack a drop bag. I’ll just throw some socks in my pack. And, yes, I definitely needed the socks. (There was a ton of mud and water crossings the first 18 miles and I got a couple of blisters during that time.) I had lubed up pretty well that morning, so I didn’t use the Bodyglide or sunscreen. And I didn’t need the extra food I’d packed. Yeah, the drop bags were really wasted time for me.
I ran most of the race with other people. My friend Jane and I ran for about an hour together during the early part of the race. Then I made friends along the way. I was especially lucky to meet up with another 50-mile runner, Jay. He and I stuck together on a long descent that we were both having trouble with — he because of his hip and me because of bad ankles. One of my favorite memories of that time was hearing the river and knowing that soon we’d be getting to some flatter terrain with some shade. We literally turned a corner on the trail and there was an aid-station. At that point, we had about eight miles to go. I couldn’t believe he did it, but Jay actually sat down at that aid-station. I knew if I sat, it would be too hard to get up, so I pressed on and told him to catch me.
I covered the next two miles on my own. I eventually caught up to another runner and we introduced ourselves. His name was Scott. He was from Atlanta. He was running the 100. I will never cease to be amazed by the strength it takes to complete that distance. To witness that strength of character and body is an awesome thing. My favorite parts of this race were meeting and encouraging the 100-milers like Scott. (The 100 mile race had started at 11 a.m. the day before. It was an out-and-back on the 50-mile course.)
I ran with Scott for a little over a mile. I was feeling better because we were finally on a dirt road and my ankles weren’t shouting at me. I could actually run, so I told Scott I’d see him at the finish.
As I worked my way back to civilization (for the first time in over 13 hours), I came to a few more 100-mile runners. There were two young men running together up the middle of the road. The older one joked, “We’re getting our money’s worth.” Then he told me it was his brother’s first 100. At that point we were about two miles from the finish. I know what that feels like. I’ve been there. You’re so close, you almost believe you’re going to make it.
I wanted this kid to know he was going to make it, so I said, “That’s awesome. You only have two more miles and honestly, you look great. Congratulations on your first 100!”
He smiled so big, it made my heart melt. It was the smile that said, “Yeah, I did just do something pretty dang amazing.”
I left those two and about a half a mile later was the final aid-station. They had ice. They had freezer-pops. I wanted to stick around and chat with the really cute aid-station volunteer, but I knew I had to wrap things up. It had already taken me so much longer than I thought it would. I ran with my cherry-flavored freezer pop and when I sucked that thing dry, I tucked the wrapper in my pack, put my head down, and picked up the pace. With less than a half a mile to go, the road turned to pavement and then I actually crossed a fairly busy street, before turning into the park for the final jaunt around a grassy field to the finish line.
It was a different sort of finish for me. I heard cheers. I heard my name. I saw my friends.
But I saw too many of my friends.
There were twelve of us that had made this trip together. Seven of us had started the 50-mile race. Gayle and I were the only two to finish. When I saw the others, I knew they didn’t make it and it made me really sad. I knew they could have made it, but they didn’t have enough time. They had gotten pulled off the course.
I was sad for my friends, but they were happy for me and Gayle, so it was hard to be disappointed for long. After all, even the suckiest day on the trail is better than the best day any place else. We all agreed that Big Horn was an amazing race and we’re glad we went.
Next up is the Lone Ranger.