Frölicking trails since 2010

Frölicking trails since 2010
Frölicking trails since 2010

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bighorn 100 Mile Endurance Run Race Report - Dayton, Wyoming - June 14-15

Love hurts...this must be Love.


Bighorn has been on my punch list for a while, especially since literally everyone who has done the race has great things to say about it. Beautiful, tough, wild, the best volunteers, a real classic. Last year, I was signed up for this race, but decided to drop out because of Plantar Fasciitis. Without going into too much detail, many lessons were learned last year due to my stupid eagerness to disregard the health of my body for the sake of doing something epic. But to tell the truth, there's a large piece of the Venn Diagram where the terms "badass" and "complete idiot" share a common space. Many runners have been there, and others may be headed there without even knowing it. I put myself there last year, but it became such a blessing and I'm fortunate for the learning experience.
Through the lessons I've learned in 2012, the year 2013 has allowed me to build up to the Bighorn 2013 with a clear mind, a strong heart, and a complete focus on being a smart runner. Humility over eagerness, confidence over anxiety, gratefulness over frustration, optimism over pessimism...but I guess the fact that I'm running 100 miles still makes me kind of an idiot.


Course profile, taken from the website.
The course is essentially an out-n-back that starts and ends in Dayton, WY. There's approximately 18,000' of total climbing, and the altitude gets as high as 9,000' in altitude at the halfway point. The terrain is fairly technical throughout the race. Note: all distances mentioned in my blog are approximate,  and I only mentioned about half of the aid stations.


With the race starting at 11am, Dana and I were able to sleep in to a decent hour. Who's Dana? She's this Portland friend of mine with whom I shared logistics. She's rad, and she was also running the race. We got up around 7am to get ready before heading to the 9am pre-race meeting, which was held at the Finish Line (at some park). As the race directors gave their shpeels, I sat and people-watched all the crazies that were scattered throughout the park. It's always interesting watching the different types of people that sign up to do these 100 mile runs. Some people you would never have guessed they were any kind of endurance nut, however, everyone had the same crazy look in their eyes.

John, Kara, Dana, Rick, and me. My mouth is full of Trailbutter.
Photo by Maria Sharoglazova
Driving from the Finish Line to the Starting line, we had to travel along 5 miles of flat gravel road. This road would be the final homestretch of the course, and it already looked miserably exposed, endless, and torturous. I couldn't imagine what it would feel like after running 95 miles.

3...2...1...SEE YOU TOMORROW! - 11:00 AM

The lead pack took off at a moderately easy pace, although it was easy to see how anxious we all felt. After weeks of tapering, everyone was maxed out on potential energy, but starting out too fast would be extremely detrimental later on in the race. I found myself running with Zach Violett (a friend from Bend), and we helped pace each other up the first major climb of the course. This terrain wasn't runnable, and we hiked our way up. Some racers decided to run the uphill, and Zach and I just looked at each other and silently judged them. The trail would climb steeply for the next 6 miles or so as it climbs out of the Tongue River Canyon. The scenery was stunning as we climbed amongst the wildflowers and wide expanses of green fields.

Tongue River Canyon (taken on Day 2). Photo by Noé Castañón.
Eventually the trail became runnable, and Zach and I continued to stick together. Great guy! We've met before this race, but we didn't know each other very well. This made for a great partnership, and it helped pass the time by having someone to run with. And just by talking, we were able to moderate a sustainable pace that wasn't leaving us breathless.


Coming into the Dry Fork aid station, Zach and I were tied for 16th place. Dana Katz's crew (Samantha, Jessica, Tina, and Brian) were there and cheered SO LOUD when I came through. It was amazing! It was only 13 miles into the race, but they really got my tail wagging. Since my plan was to run without a crew or pacer, Dana's crew became sort of my 'Part-Time Crew', and they cheered for me whenever they saw me. They were the most beautiful Part-Time Crew I've ever had.

Photo by the Lovely Samantha Pinney.
Leaving Dry Fork.
Photo by the Amazing Samantha Pinney.
After a quick transition, I left the aid station without Zach. Part of me wanted to wait for him, but I think we both understood that neither of us wanted to hold each other back. So off I went, down the road and into a rolling section of ATV trail. The weather never really got too hot, although it soon came time for my shirt to come off. It was about this time that I had to take crap #1. While in the bush, I got passed by Zach and a couple others. Such is life. After some gradual hussel, I caught back up with Zach and we continued to run together and pass a few folks.

Photo by Foto-Sport.
The trail eventually turned off the ATV road and onto some great rolling single-track trail. My body was generally feeling okay, but my hamstrings were feeling a little strained. This didn't concern me too much, but  I took note of it in my mental Captain's Log. My feet (and plantar) still felt great, and the rest of the body was solid. Zach and I were really having such a great time, and it saddened me to have to take crap #2. Bah! Already? I hope this doesn't become a constant throughout the race! Maybe my dinner wasn't as safe as I originally thought. Zach took off down the trail, naturally, as I took care of business.


After leaving Bear Camp Aid Station, the trail descended sharply and and technically. The trees soon disappeared, and the landscape became an unobstructed panoramic view of the canyon below surrounded by millions of yellow wildflowers. The beauty of the landscape inspired me to holler, but my voice was still recovering from having a mild case of bronchitis the previous my high notes disappeared, and I had to switch to low-toned whooping. Imagine William Wallace not being able to yell, and that's how I felt. "Alba gu bráth," he whispered.

Photo by Noé Castañón.

The 3.5 mile descent from Bear Camp was super pretty, fairly steep, technically rocky, and it ended at the Footbridge Aid Station. Zach was leaving the aid station as I arrived, and we waved at each other before he ran up the trail. A volunteer brought me my drop bag, and I chugged a coconut water and strapped on my Mountain Hardware Fluid 6 pack. The evening forecast for the Aid Station at mile 48 was 20 degrees Fahrenheit (at 9,000' altitude), so I also wrapped a fleece jacket around my waist in preparation for the eventual freeze. At the moment, the weather was warm and sunny at 4:30pm (at 4,000' altitude). The next 18 miles would climb steadily from 4,000' to 9,000'.

While running up the trail, my pack felt heavier than ideal. Being the "better safe than sorry" kind of guy I am, my pack had lots of gels, Trailbutter, 2 headlamps, arm sleeves, beanie, Patagonia Houdini windbreaker, and a small know, in case I ran into a hungry grizzly and had to defend myself. Ounces equal pounds, and my ounces were pounding my thoughts with regret. Oh well...only 20 more miles and I'll lighten my load with my next drop bag.

Despite the brief lull in optimism, my legs were able to run a decent pace on a very runnable section of the course. Despite the gradual climb, my legs felt fresh as I ran through rocky switchbacks and open fields of single track. The trail paralleled the Little Bighorn River, passing through random open expanses of green beneath the tall canyon walls. The serenity of the scenery gave me feelings of both respect and gratitude; and although there were hundreds of runners on the course, I felt contently alone in a quiet gap.

Not too far after the 40 mile mark, the trail abruptly ended at well-moving stream. Across the way, I could see the trail continuing on the other side. Since the weather was hours away from a below-freezing forecast, the thought of wet feet was not too appealing. But a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, and so I stepped in the water without a second thought. *splash* Brrr! Halfway across the stream, the water rose just above my knees and my feet were barely stable due to the swift current. Looking to my right, I noticed a footbridge about 20' away that safely crossed the stream...........Profanities later, I continued trudging through the water to the far side, found the trail, and jogged-on in my soggy boots with an idiotic smile on my face. *squish*squish*squish*...

Getting close to the turnaround, the hills became harder to run due some combination of steeper terrain and/or higher altitude. There were sparse patches of snow, and the ground turned rather swampy with about 4 miles before the turnaround. The melted snow created small lakes in the trail, and it was a tricky b**** to navigate around. It was almost impossible to escape this section of trail without wet socks and shoes, unless you wore Hokas and magically floated on top of the boggy swamp. Even though my feet were still somewhat wet from my stupid stream crossing, I twinkle toed around the swampiness to avoid losing my shoes in the mud.


Photo by Noé Castañón.
The climbing soon leveled off, and it was a relatively flat 2 miles before reaching the mile 48 aid station at Jaws trail head. This aid station was a CLASS ACT! As soon as I entered, a volunteer named Art catered to me and helped me with my every need. He even helped me switch into dry socks, which had me sitting on a cot for a minute or two. Beware the chair! I then dumped most of my food and any extra gear that I surely didn't need into my drop bag to help lighten my load. With a headlamp on my head, a headlamp around my waist (backup), gloves on my hands, beanie on my head, and a fleece jacket on my burly body, I thanked Art and headed back towards the canyon. After a mile, I soon crossed Devil's Canyon Road and barely recognized Dana's beautiful bundled crew! The temperature was now below freezing. Seeing them was awesome, and Tina tried to run ahead of me to get a photo. Too bad the picture couldn't nearly capture how pretty that sunset actually was!

Mile ~49. Photo by the Wonderful Tina Harrison. Great effort, Tina!

Although, changing into dry socks at Jaws was probably futile since I was now running back through the marshy bog, I was able to avoid getting my foot entirely soaked. My feet did get kinda wet, but not too bad. The temperature started to get warmer as I ran, since the elevation was dropping and the trees blocked any wind. My bandanna felt warm on my neck, so I decided to take it off (this required removing one glove). With my glove shoved under my armpit, I untied my bandanna and shoved it in my pack while walking. When I was done, I realized that I dropped my damn glove. I backtracked to find it, but a black glove at night is not an easy thing to find. Eventually, I said screw it and continued running with 1 glove on my right hand and nothing on my left hand. At least the temperature wasn't freezing anymore! ....*slow clap*...bravo, Jason.

The gradual downhill was easy on the knees and fun to run. But rather than being full of determination and purpose, my mind resolved to lollygag at certain periods throughout this 18 mile downhill stretch. Part of the distraction could have been the interactions with the runners who were still headed the opposite direction towards the mile 48 turnaround. But a big part of it was just a simple lack of focus. And after 50+ miles of running, can you blame me? A pacer would have definitely helped at this point, but I was content to travel the 100 mile journey solo (minus my 25 miles with Zach), mainly to see how well I knew myself. Apparently, I like to lollygag.

Running past numerous headlamps on the trail, I eventually pass a headlamp that was off in the bushes.

Jason: You gotta do what you gotta do!
Jessica: Jason?!
Jason: Oh, Hey Jessica!...Hey Dana!
Dana (from the bush): Hey!
Jason: How's it going Dana?!
Dana (from the bush): Great!

It was an awkwardly amusing moment, considering that the only time I would ever see Dana and her pacer (Jessica) during the race happened to be when Dana was going to the bathroom. But Dana sounded very enthusiastic, and she seemed to be making great progress. We hastily, yet heartily, said our goodbyes and carried on. Good luck, Dana!

Eventually, I passed by the runner in DFL (dead f-ing last), and things got real quiet on the trail. Knowing how wild these trails can be, I occasionally scanned my surroundings with my headlamp to look for wild eyes. Moose, bears, mountain lions...who's watching me? Glancing to my left, I actually saw a pair of wild eyes. Mother Fluffer! That split second when you realize that you're being watched by something wild (at night), it's a freaky feeling. Stopping to figure out whether I should shit my pants or not, the eyes turned and bounded up the hill, then stopped to look at me some more....It was a deer! *relief*...Trying to be friendly, I said hello, but the doe just leaped away...Typical.


The end of the lollygagging! Footbridge was a huge checkpoint in my mind, knowing that I was only 34 miles from the finish (ha! only...). Both my legs and mind were weary of running downhill for 18 miles, and I was ready for a steady climb! And holy crap, the next 3.5 miles were one hell of a grind. The steepness of the incline was horrendously misjudged when I ran down it earlier in the day, and my legs had one hell of a time keeping a consistent pace. Runner Jeff Rome and I hiked together, and we chatted about the typical things that runners do. How you holding up? Yeah, we're on sub 24-hour pace for sure. Where you from? Where the hell is Livingston? How many hundreds have you done? I've heard awesome things about the Bear. Where'd you grow up? What inspired you to do 100's? Man, I've taken 4 craps already. The chatting helped pass the time, and it kept both of us generally awake. After forever and a day, the trail crested and it became runnable again. Knowing that the next aid station was close by, I started running a faster pace and lost my running buddy. Coming into the Bear Camp Aid Station, I commented to the volunteers "Man, that climb was a female horse!" The cowboys chuckled.

A not-so-steep section of the climb out of Footbridge (I climbed this section at night).
Photo by Noé Castañón.
The next section was composed of some great single-track surrounded by a dark dense forest. I could smell the barn, sort to speak, and my mind focused on keeping a sub-24 hour pace. Using my Garmin, I was playing games with my average pace. By running long sections of the trail, my average pace got faster. By hiking steeper terrain, my average pace grew slower. It was fun until it got obsessive, so then I started singing Flight of the Conchords songs in my head. Then I somehow decided to re-write the lyrics to the "Most Beautiful Girl in the Room" for Dana's beautiful crew. That kept me amused for a while, and here's what it turned into. Oh, the loneliness of the long distance runner...

ATV Road leading to Dry Fork. Photo by Noé Castañón.
Sunrise is probably the most influential stimulant for anyone during a 100 mile race. Even if someone is practically sleepwalking, the sun will bring them back to life. For me, I never felt tired during the night. I saved all my caffeine for the night time, and that seemed to work perfectly. Also, getting a full night's rest before the race helped. The sunrise was significant for me in that it allowed me to see all the pretty views and to enjoy the nature that surrounded me. At this time, I was about 2 miles from Dryfork (mile 82.5), and I could see the bloody aid station already. It looked so close, but it was OH so far, since the ATV road was all uphill to the aid station. Hiking the gradual uphill made the most sense at the time, and I gave as much purpose as I could. The temperature had dropped significantly, and it felt like 20 degrees fahrenheit again. My left hand began to get cold (my gloveless hand), but tucking it into the sleeve of my fleece jacket helped. My body was cold, but I wasn't shivering. The sun hadn't yet crested the hill, and so the only source of potential warmth would be inside the Dryfork aid station tent. When I finally arrived at the aid station, I went inside to warm up and grab food/water. Also in the tent was Gary Gellin, and the poor guy was bundled in layers of jackets, tights, and shivering in front of the heater. Stomach issues had gotten the best of him during the night, and he didn't look good at all. I took it as a sign to get the hell out of that aid station before I started freezing my guts out. So with a good luck and farewell to Gary, I headed towards the rising sun in 6th place.

Within a couple miles of leaving Dryfork, the trail crested the hill and the sun greeted my body like a warm hug. With only 15 miles to go, I tried my best to run at a consistent pace. It seemed like every little incline, I took a short walk break to recharge my legs before running another section of trail. My strategy was to get to the top Tongue River canyon (mile 89) and bomb down that last downhill section without mercy. But until then, I would try to sustain a steady pace and keep rolling with the terrain. After stopping at the Upper Sheep aid station (mile 87.5), Jeff Rome caught up to me. I knew I was only one hill away from the canyon, and so I pushed the pace a little bit until I reached the foot of the last big hill. This hill is called 'the Haul', and it's short, but also the steepest part of the course (in my opinion). Each step up the hill was slow and laborious, and it seemed that time was in slow motion. Hands on knees, my body ascended one heavy step at a time. Gah! Give me downhill or give me death!

FINALLY, the Tongue River Canyon came into view, surrounded by the yellow wildflowers and green wild grass that first greeted me approximately 20 hours earlier. The trail was skinny single track with somewhat rocky terrain. My quads had plenty of life left, and so I pushed the downhill HARD! My feet danced around the rocks like they did at Zane Grey, and my quads absorbed the descent like they did in Yosemite Valley just 3 weeks earlier. There was mind numbing pain in both my legs, and every step hurt in ways that only 90 miles of running could make you feel. But in some masochistic way, my mind found pleasure in the pain that my body was going through. With every painful step came some sick feeling of pleasure, and it's hard to explain, but that mindset allowed me to push with the pain rather than trying to avoid it. After a certain point, there's no avoiding the pain that a 100 miler will put you through, it's just a matter of how you run with it. And right now, I embraced it.

Arriving at the bottom of the canyon, I passed by a small aid station. They said the next aid station was only 2 miles away, so I kept running without stopping. 2 miles? That's nothing. The trail rolled sometimes up, but mostly down. I started out running strong, but I had to slow down a little bit. Then suddenly, a runner by the name of Boots passed me as if I were standing still. Boots was moving so well, I almost assumed that he was a part of the 50 mile race that started earlier that morning. There wasn't a single thing I could do about it, as his pace was beyond my abilities. It was incredible. Shortly thereafter, the final aid station appeared. From this point, there was only 5 miles left in the race, and all of it was on that flat exposed gravel road. 5 miles...just 5 miles...gaaaaaaaaah come on legs!


I wanted to walk the rest of the way. My legs were trashed, everything hurt, and I was ready to be done. But with one last jump start, I started to run again. Ow..ow...ow..ow..ow...Each step physically hurt, but like on the downhill, my mind felt pleasure. The gravel rocks poked my feet, but not one of my discomforts were going to slow me down at this point. With 3.5 miles left, I saw a guy (named Seth) running behind me. He was gaining on me fast, and I turned on the turbo to try to pull away from him. After 30 seconds, my body ran out of gas, and I settled back into a sustainable pace. Seth pulled up beside me, and we cheered each other on before he continued ahead of me. I ingested one final GU and kept running. Searching for the finish around every bend, I kept finding disappointment. For-ev-er! This road is so long, the Road Warrior would say DAMN!

At last, the gravel turned to pavement, and the finish line was less than a mile away. Crossing the highway and entering the park, I ran past a small group of kids playing baseball. They all stopped playing and cheered me on as I ran by. Running stronger and stronger, I gave an epic push to the finish line (it felt fast, but really wasn't).

RESULTS: 22:17:33, 8th out of 125 Finishers (~169 started)
PACE: 13:22 min/mile

Photo by Foto-Sport.
For 5 minutes, I laid on the grass catching my breath. Even after finishing, it seemed hard to imagine all the ground I had covered in the past 22 hours. I wished Dana and her beautiful part time crew could be there to share the moment with me, but that time would come soon enough. Dana ran a strong race, and I'm happy to have been able to watch her finish. A journey that ends in tears of joy is one of the purest moments in life, and I'm glad got have shared that moment with such a great person and friend.

Love you Dana!
Photo by the Fabulous Samantha Pinney.
The award ceremony was held the next day in downtown Sheridan. Pancakes were served, buckles were distributed, and age group awards (rocks) were handed out. It was fun meeting Dana's friends from California, they really were a great group of people. Congrats everyone! And I would like to thank the Race directors and volunteers for doing an amazing job, I would highly recommend this race to anybody.

This is the 2nd race this year where I received a rock for finishing a race (Zane Grey awarded pet rocks to all finishers). And fun fact, apparently you need to take large rocks out of your bag when you go through airport security.

Gary Gellin, Dana Katz, Jason Leman, Rick Gaston, Jon Lacanlale, Kara Teklinski, and Noé Castańón. 
Zach Violett and me.
Zach finished 4th in 20:16:41 in his first 100! Stud!
Waiting for our flight in Billings, MT.
Brian August, Jbob, and Chris Rennaker.


100 miles is no walk in the park, but it's nothing compared to the journey of life.

Some say running 100 miles is 'crazy', but nothing is crazy if you're prepared for it. You'd be surprised, you're capable of the incredible even if you don't know it yet. How does one physically prepare for 100 miles? Running, cross training, commitment, lifestyle, self-centeredness, passion, sleep, lots of eating, etc. How does one mentally prepare for 100 miles?...Self confidence. Once you are convinced that you can run 100 miles, all you have to do is endure the physical and emotional challenges of the race. Emotions...

How does one emotionally prepare for 100 miles?

At the beginning of the race, my goals are very material. I'd like to break 20 hours. I want to add to my belt buckle collection. I want to see the beauty of Wyoming. I want to see how many GUs I can consume before throwing up. But as the race goes on, my body aches, my mind loses focus, and my emotions become raw. All of a sudden, the race becomes a metaphor for my current struggles in life. Numerous times throughout the race, I found myself reflecting hard on my memories of the past. Over the past year, I had my fair share of dark moments: severe plantar fasciitis, 2 months of walking pneumonia, the death of 2 roommates from substance abuse, the near death of 1 roommate from a bike/car collision, eviction notice (later resolved), 2 roommates with totaled cars, heart surgery, and a crashed hard drive...these events are hardships that I shared with others, and we've become closer because of it.

Every single person has and/or will experience such things, and that's life. What matters, is how you grow and find light in even the darkest of places. For me, my light comes from the strength of Love with my family, roommates, friends, and running community. So compared to the challenges that surfaced over the past year, running 100 miles really doesn't sound so bad. It's just a race. But throughout the race, whenever I hit a rough patch, I relied on the same things that give me strength in life. So thank you friends and family for all your support in my 100 mile journey, you mean more than you know.



Tom, it was great catching up with you! We enjoyed great post-race food and beer at all the places that you recommended in Billings. Über Brew was particularly fantastic. Cheers bud, I hope to see you soon! (Battle in Seattle?)

Tommy Boy!!! And his restored Ford Galaxie. College buds reunited in Billings.
Thanks for dinner!

Thanks to Dana and her Beautiful Crew for allowing me to join them for all the race logistics and celebrations. You're a volume button. <3

Team FOMO! Brian, Tina, Dana, Jessica, and Samantha.


As always, thank you NSPiRE for your support throughout the whole racing season. My life would suck without you.

Live race results, streaming via iPhone App, Twitter, Facebook, online, and at the finish line on these huge-ass TVs. 


I Love this stuff! This nutritious calorie-dense spread has been fueling my adventures all year. Please support this small Portland business, they've got a good thing going on!

Ridge Running in Sequoia National Park with Trail butter

By floating in epsom salt infused tanks of water, I've noticed a huge benefit to both my pre-race preparations and post-race recovery. With all the training required for Bighorn, it was important to me focus on getting my body recovered between crazy long training runs in order to help prevent injury and help calm my race anxiety. Injuries often happen through the accumulation of overuse, stress, and strain on the body; and floating has been key in keeping both my body and mind healthy and focused throughout my training.

My first float after Bighorn was the first time my body passed out and slept the entire 90-minute session, and that's a real testament to the effects that floating can have for a stressed body.


Thank you Brad for helping me maintain this well-oiled machine throughout the past year. You've been a great mentor in helping me stay injury free, as well as helping me become a smarter athlete. And yes, I need to do my core exercises more religiously...thanks for always reminding me!


VEGA nutritional and protein powders started out as an experiment with my training/nutrition, and it's amazing how much better I felt after I started using it. I've been drinking a VEGA shake almost everyday since March, and it's definitely helped my body recover faster and train harder. I imagine other recovery products would also give the same benefit, but the fact that VEGA is completely plant based, vegan, and gluten-free makes it sound superiorly healthy. The taste was interesting at first, but after a while I began to crave it. I totally recommend this stuff!


Life's a Happy Song