I celebrated my 36th birthday yesterday by running the Big Horn 50 mile trail race. It was a tough run and a long day. I had hoped to cut half an hour off last year's time to finish in 11 hours, but I was not quite in the shape that I needed to be and I finished in 11:31:45. All in all it was a good day and I toughed out a few rough patches. The weather was nice and the course was beautiful even though the trail was a bit muddy.
The day began with a 3:15 am bus ride from Sheridan to the finish in Dayton and then up to the start at the Porcupine ranger station. I woke up feeling pretty good. Maddie sang me happy birthday, Micah wished me a good run and Ean drove to the bus. I got a little sleep on the way up to Porcupine and we got there with enough time for me to wait in the porta potty line right up until the 6:00 am start.
I ran with fellow Fort Collins trail runners, Terry, Tim and Adam for a while. This was Adam and Tim's first 50 and Terry a veteran of many ultras including Hard Rock was along to encourage Tim through. The first 5 miles were very marshy and muddy, but not nearly as snowy as I expected. We all laughed and had a good time mucking through the marshy parts of the course and enjoyed the beauty of the early morning sun.
I felt good through the early miles and kept right on my goal pace. I arrived at the Foot Bridge Aid Station at mile 18, the first drop bag location, in under 3 and half hours. It felt great to rinse off my feet and put on dry socks and shoes. I filled my water, ate a PB&J and headed across the bridge and up the first and biggest climb of the course fondly referred to as "the wall". I caught up with Adam after a few minutes and we walked and talked our way up the climb, admiring the fields of wild flowers. I pushed on ahead and made it to the top in just over an hour, but I was feeling pretty spent. From the top of the wall, the trail rolls along for a while though a wooded area and I took this whole section pretty slow.
I went through the next couple of aid stations pretty quickly and started feeling a bit better. I passed Marie who was running the 100 and her pacer Paul just before Kerns Cow Camp at mile 28. Marie seemed to be doing well and I had a chance to talk to Paul about his summer racing schedule which includes the Western States 100 next weekend, the Badwater 135 two weeks after that and the Furnace Creek 508 bike race in the beginning of October.
I had a short stop at Cow Camp and continued on to the second drop bag location at Dry Fork (mile 34.5) You can see the aid station from over 2 miles away across the valley and it is a long slow gradual climb to get there. I passed Kiwi Rob running the 100 with his wife Cecili pacing. He said he was having some ankle trouble and just hoping to make the cut offs. He still seemed in good spirits and encouraged me to "keep going mate". I found out later that he had made it to the turnaround in 12 hours and in 20th place then twisted his ankle in the mud just after 50 miles. Rather than drop, he walked all the way to the finish and made it just under the cut off in 33:36- very impressive.
I kept up my steady pace and walked the final hill into the aid station in just under 8 hours. The aid station volunteers were very helpful with getting my drop bag, filling my water and offering me a chair. It felt good to sit down and I checked my blood sugar with a test kit I had in my drop bag. It was a perfect 111 and I was feeling good. I stuffed my hydration pack into my drop bag, decided not to change socks and shoes, walked into the food tent for some pretzels and a tortilla roll up with turkey and avocado- it was great- and walked out on to the road glad to have less than 18 miles to go.
I continued on to Upper Sheep Creek feeling tired but still able to maintain a reasonable mix of walking and slow running. After the Upper Sheep aid station at mile 39, there is the last real climb of the day which is very steep but not nearly as long as the wall. I walked the whole climb and was very glad to get to the top of the ridge knowing that there was only about 11 miles to go and it was all down hill.
This is the part of the course that I felt great on last year and made really good time. The course travels down a green hillside and along a stretch that looks down the valley all the way back in to Dayton. I didn't have the legs left to run as hard as I would have liked here, but I kept on going glad to be getting closer to the finish.
Terry flew past me just before the Lower Sheep Creek aid station with about 8 miles to go. The trail smooths out here a bit and I hoped to stay with him, but my legs didn't quite have it. The lst section of trail runs along the Tongue River and is really nice and runnable. I enjoyed this section and smiled and waved and a kilted man playing bagpipes on the side of the trail. Before I knew it, I was at the cheery Tongue River Road aid station. I filled my bottle ate a little and checked the sign on the way out that said there was only 5 miles to the finish.
The last 5 miles run along a dirt camp ground access road that rolls through some farms and horse properties in to the small town (population 658) of Dayton, WY. I went through the first mile on the road in about 9 minutes, but couldn't keep up the pace all the way in.
I was glad again to see the home stretch aid station where a volunteer met me in the road with a grape otter pop and the news that it was only 1.7 miles to the finish. I walked just long enough to eat my otter pop which tasted really good and then ran the rest of the the road in to Dayton, crossed the bridge over the Tongue river and crossed the road in to Scott Park. I saw Ean and Maddie as I rounded the corner and Maddie ran out to meet me. Micah jumped out of the car and the three of us ran the last 100 yards in to the park while Ean snapped some pictures.
It felt good to finish and it was very nice to have my family there to greet me. I took off my shoes and stood in the river to wash off 52 miles and 11 and a half hours of mud from my legs. The cold water felt great and Shadow came in to join me.
We stayed at the park for a while and enjoyed the picnic and watched our friends finish their 50 and 100 mile adventures. It was a great day, I enjoyed the run and a the trail and the whole experience. I couldn't think of a better way to spend my birthday.