Thursday, June 21, 2007

Details Details

At the start with Olga and DC Lundell. Bighorn Photoset.

I was anxious and excited days before the race. I arrive at the airport in Casper, Wyoming and Olga is already there. She was more nervous than I was despite having three times my experience with these 100-mile races. I knew because I had spoken with her on the phone in between flights. So the moment I see her I say something thoughtful and sensitive "you better not cry, they don't give those nice Montrail jackets out to crybabies", you know...something supportive:) We stay in Casper for the night and drive to Sheridan in the morning. I didn't sleep well primarily because I always have had a hard time in unfamiliar surroundings not to mention a sleeping Russian next to me who threatened to throw me out if I snored.

We were in Sheridan by 1PM and were checked in at the America's Best Inn, 5 minutes away from downtown. The place was full of runners, notably members of the VHTRC (Virginia Happy Trails Running Club) They make the trip every year and were a great bunch of people. We got to meet several of them throughout the weekend. Race check-in, drop bag drop-off, pre-race dinner all went as planned. Made lots of new friends and through Olga I got to meet a couple of runners who I've always looked up to, David Horton and Hans-Dieter Weisshaar. This woman knew so many people. I also got to meet Van (pigtails) Phan and her husband Ken. I had heard so much about her from Olga and Rob. Everyone was so nice and laid back. If people were as nervous as we were it didn't show. Maybe being with each other calmed our nerves, that's how it was for me anyway. Seeing my fellow runners psyched me up, made me feel sane. I was in a community of people with a shared interest, one that is weird outside this community:)

Again I didn't sleep well, I don't get much sleep the night before races. 2 straight nights of so-so sleep was of a concern but I woke up with nothing but excitement and confidence. All I wanted to do was start the race. The 11AM race start was nice in that I didn't feel rushed and was able to take my time, it was bad because all I wanted to do was to get going. Race briefing was especially informative and by 10:15 we were at the start which was 4 miles from the finish. At this point I avoided all the small talk and standing around, I found myself a log and laid down. No sense getting too excited. I was in such a good place I almost fell asleep. This thing was finally happening and all I had to do was wait just a little more.

Race goes off after the anthem was sung and a blessing by David Horton. I was in "race mode". I think Olga expected me to be right in step behind her but I needed to be in my own space and pace. Both of us are slow starters but we still warm up differently and I needed the alone time. The ultra runner psyche was starting to take over and thoughts of family, work, friends, and other non-running matters all started to fade into the background. I like the simplicity of a race event, it's like a breath of fresh air. Make it to the start and fight for the finish. No drama, no excuses and a lot of camaraderie and support to boot.

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The start on the Tongue River Canyon.

The first few miles go by fast. Before the first aid station I've caught up with Olga. However I found it hard to be running right behind her, I felt like I was pacing rather than running my own race. The most comfortable place was to be at least several yards back or several yards in front. This was pretty much how we played it for the entire race and at times we were even miles apart. It allowed us to race together but to have our own space. When the going got tough we took turns "pulling" each other. I'll surge ahead and vice versa. One thing I noticed though, when I was the one following I felt weaker and slower. Somehow I could not close the gap but only to hold on. When I was in front I was stronger knowing I was leading the two of us. Olga mentioned that she experienced the same thing. I'm not sure what to do about that. I thought the person leading would "pull" along the other mentally, giving the person a target to keep track of. Seems like it hurt us more than it helped.

By the time we get to the Upper Sheep aid station at mile 8.5 it was clear I started with the wrong shoes. The Salomon XA comps were just too light compared to my Vasque Velocity's. They didn't have enough grip on the mud and didn't provide enough protection against the rocks. The course was muddy with lots of water and we were all doing our best to keep our feet dry. There was a lot of jumping, skipping and other energy robbing activities. Thankfully it was dry going from Upper Sheep to Dry Fork Ridge aid station, not too hilly too. There Olga changes to a backpack, the waist pack wasn't making her stomach feel any better. She was having some stomach issues at the start and the waist pack only made it worse. Unfortunately from there the terrain gets wet and muddy again and we slogged through all of it. It was amazingly beautiful out there but the trail was rough on us. Between the mud, the rocks and the creeks there was also the dried cracked uneven mud that was a real ankle turner, this race was getting better and better! After leaving Dry Fork we passed a runner who had twisted his ankle twice, he made the decision to keep going using ski poles to alleviate the pressure on his ankles. Sadly he didn't finish, I never saw him again after that. The shoe situation itself was getting worse and worse and all I could think of was the second drop bag aid station at Footbridge at mile 30. I dreamt of my Vasques for many miles. The drop to Footbridge was some of the best views and worse footing on the trail. It started gently enough, a gradual downhill with spectacular views of the mountains. The trail cut through a field of Sunflowers which was just breathtaking. Soon however it became a steep downhill filled with mud and running water; down, down, down we went. A mile out from the aid station you can hear the river raging, louder and stronger from the snowstorm the week before. The aid station is just at the end of the bridge, a welcome sight for sore dirty legs.

Descending to Footbridge, mile 30, from Bear Camp.

At Footbridge I had a big drop bag containing two pairs of Vasque Velocity's, extra socks, extra clothing, extra energy drink powder and extra gels. I also had my Camelback packed and ready to go. When we got there I immediately went to work on my feet. They had buckets filled with water, fresh towels and Vaseline. After washing and drying my feet I put a thick coat of Vaseline, a fresh pair socks and one of my Vasque's. It felt so good! From there it was food and weigh-in. I spent a total 20 minutes but time well worth it. Olga left early but not before leaving me half a can of her Starbucks Double Espresso. My pack was heavier than my waist pack but it contained everything I needed to survive the evening; lights, ski cap, tights, gloves, extra long sleeve shirt, shell, fresh supply of energy drink powder and fresh supply of gels, two of which were caffeinated. I left that station feeling like a new man. Zombierunner's DC Lundell was right behind me and we would travel the next few miles together. He was armed with his newest camera, a Panasonic model that was a hybrid between a snapshot and a SLR and a ham sandwich, at least that was what it looked like. I wonder what his pictures look like. Don's been taking pictures on the trail for a very long time.

Debating the usefulness of the "watch out for falling rocks" sign.

Eventually I catch up with Olga at the next aid station, it was a quick climb. Along the way I met volunteers who told me she was going to be waiting for me, presumably at the next aid station. She didn't have to wait long, I got there just as she got there however she took off before I could finish, this is a pattern we would follow for the rest of the run. She taking off, me rushing to catch up. It was dark by the time we arrive at Spring Marsh Station at mile 40 and we were just a half mile out of the station before we encountered Karl Meltzer and only a couple minutes behind him, Mike Wolfe already on their way back in. On this section you could see people's headlights as runners made their way up the hill. It seemed like forever until we eventually arrived at Elk Camp mile 43.5. I was faltering at this point. I felt tired and fuzzy, it kind of snuck up on me. Olga takes off again and it wasn't until I was back on the course that I realized it might be the lack of caffeine. I popped one of my caffeinated gels and it was like someone switched on a light. I recovered quickly, thank God for caffeine. The way to Porcupine Ranger Station, the turnaround point and mile 48 was slow going. The footing here was particularly bad, mud and water everywhere. The markings on the course had been excellent all day and at night they used glow sticks which made it even easier to follow the trail. Once I turned off the trail accidentally and was able to tell right away because of the glow sticks going out in the opposite direction. Two miles from the station we encounter snow, whoa! We had to climb up and over these banks of snow, in the dark, getting cold as our legs would occasionally punch through. Between the snow sections was more mud. What can you say, nothing really, you just grit your teeth and persevere knowing warmth and food was not too far off. I catch up to Olga right before we make it to the ranger station. It was warm in there and full of activity. We got weighed again and we were quickly hustled in for food and supplies. I had no shoes stashed there but a fresh pair of socks which I put on newly vaselin'd feet. I also ate the best tasting ham and cheese sandwich. The cheese was still warm and gooey, all washed down with Starbucks canned double espresso courtesy of Olga. My drop bag there had a stash of caffeinated energy gels and extra energy drink powder. I also had more clothing there but I needed none of it.

WTF who ordered the snow?!

The trip down was a bear, going right back down the mud and snow. It seemed like forever, things seem to take forever in the dark. Olga was in a good mood, she was loud and talkative. Talking kept us cheerful and awake. It also seemed like all my swims in San Francisco Bay had helped with my cold tolerance. I didn't need much more than my shell and gloves. We chatted with other runners, chatted with the volunteers, we were in a good mood. It was a dark night but it didn't last long by 5AM the sky was already light. Olga was enjoying the sound of birds in the trees. I was looking forward to putting away my lights. The sun was up in the sky by the time we made it back to Footbridge at mile 66. Olga suggested that we don't change shoes there but to carry our change of shoes with us back up to Bear Camp. The reason being was that the climb up was full of mud and water. We only stopped briefly for another weigh-in and food and then we were on our way.

Volunteering, a family affair.

The climb up was a bear. It killed our mood, this darn thing was steep and long. On and on and on it went. It false peaked a couple of times. I would think it was over only to find more climbing. We passed one gentleman and he looked out of it, moving very slowly with very tired eyes. Halfway up we take a photo break and that really helped bring us out of our low point. By the time we make it back to Bear Camp we were bushed with very muddy shoes. We were greeted by a single Moose that ran away as Olga tried to take it's picture. Quickly we changed. Olga left her shoes there while I carried mine, are you kidding, they're new with only 70 miles on them. They weighed a ton though with all the mud in them. At this point we both had our music players on and worked on our own for several miles. We stayed this way all the way to Cow Camp Aid Station at mile 76.5. At Cow Camp we see our first 50k runners which I mistakenly thought were 100-milers but Olga didn't remember seeing any of them on the course and guessed correctly that they were from the 50k. Our mood was back up again at this point, we were getting close. Unfortunately it wouldn't last long, the 3-mile trip back to Dry Fork Ridge took FOREVER and brought us low again. Up down up down like the hills.

Still kicking and smiling. Mmm...mud and water, just screams "run me" don't it.

At Dry Fork Ridge our mood goes back up again. We are at a point that every aid station was essential to our sanity. I was glad to be rid of my muddy shoes here, putting them in Olga's drop bag. Here I meet up with Tom, a guy I ran with at Miwok a couple of years ago. I also meet Riley, a 50k runner. This stretch wasn't so hilly and I was enjoying the break. However this is where I start to detect blisters on bottom of my feet. I had no new socks left and make the decision to just bear it. It wasn't too bad but I knew it would get worse. I was just going to suffer through it. It wasn't too long before the first 52-mile runner passes us. We knew we were going to finish at this point barring anything catastrophic. We go, go, go, by the time we get to Upper Sheep Station at 87.5 the blisters are more than a nuisance. Olga goes crazy for the shrimp. It looked so good but I'm allergic.

On the last major climb of the race, between Upper Sheet and Fence Spring - mile 90, I catch up to an older gentleman in blue. I had seen him earlier, a 50-miler who had come from behind and surged on ahead as we took our time at the last aid station. I said hello, we chatted. Turns out he was Ed Demoney, father of one my good friends - Lisa Demoney. I met Lisa years ago when her relay team lost a runner and I answered the call. Since then we've kept in touch and when she became director of the American River 50, I offered my services as a graphic designer and helped with the creation of the new logo, t-shirts, finisher's certificates, etc. Just recently we reconnected again because her new job is a mere two blocks from my place. She even helped me land a freelance gig with her new company. I also picked her brain about the course having run the 52-mile race a couple of years ago with her dad. So to meet Ed out there on the course was an honor. Ed's an old timer and well known in the East Coast scene but I was really much more excited about the fact that she was Lisa's dad. Something I noticed, let me know if I'm crazy, when your friends like you and hold you in high esteem they are genuinely excited to meet your family. Maybe I'm off base here but that's how it seems like to me. I went on and moved forward eventually but on the ensuing downhill I hear him yell behind me, "here comes Downhill Demoney!" and that was the last I saw of him till he greeted me at the finish line.

At Lower Sheep, mile 92.5, Olga and I celebrate the single digit miles left on the race but at this point my feet are trashed. Besides the blisters under my feet I had blisters on my heels and on my toes., grrrr....The only thing I was thankful for was the fact that the situation wasn't as bad as it was at WS100 last year. The blisters on my toes made it hard to run downhill however. My feet would get smashed to the front of my shoe and the pain was almost unbearable. The pain on the bottom and the heels were more tolerable. Olga could have gone on at this point but she made the decision to stick by me. I wish I had known at the time because I would have sent her off but I doubt she would have gone. Never one to hold anyone back.

How did you get those blisters?

The last 5 miles was the worst part of the race for me. It's a long 5 mile gravel road. Because it was neither uphill or downhill I was able to run again but I noticed Olga was set on powerwalking so I kept pace with her. I'm not a powerwalker but it was good for us to stay together on this section, after all that we've been through together. It seemed to last forever and a day. This was our last low point heading to the finish and it threatened to dim our view of what had been an excellent race for the most part. There wasn't a whole lot of talking here, just gritting teeth and a fast walk. Once in awhile I'd look over and see only pain and determination - this was getting done even if we had to crawl from this point. Mercifully we reach the "one mile to go" sign and pavement. It's been a tough race if I'm happy to see pavement, hard yet predictable and smooth - gentler on blisters. No more tiny rocks to hurt the bottoms of our blistered feet. We walk all the way to the finish, managing a sarcastic comment or two and crossing the finish line together.

There was no celebration on my part, just relief. The conditions of the trail, the blisters, the long hours had zapped most of my cheer. Sean Meissner met Olga and I got to meet him for the second time. We get back to the car for fresh clothes and sandals. Olga changed quickly and was back out socializing and eating. I on the other hand was just in a daze. I really wanted to just crawl into a nice dark hole and I said as much to Olga. The car would have been a suitable substitute had I not been so hungry. I took off my shoes and was shocked to see the condition of my feet. I washed my legs out in the river and went to see the EMTs. To my surprise they wouldn't pop my blisters for me, apparently that's no longer the method of dealing with them since popping them only invites infection. However I do come away with a needle and an anti-biotic, at least they were nice enough to give me the tools that I need. Despite my agreement with the head EMT guy about the dangers of infection I had no plans to suffer the pressure of all these blisters longer than I needed to. I'm not a masochist for God's sake. Got myself some food and plopped down on a bench opposite the finish line. Oooff some of those guys looked just as bad as I did, some worse. There were those who were just fine, just exhausted. Before I left I got to see Hans finish and he sat across me at the table, the look in his eyes...haunting. This was his 5th finish at Bighorn but he said it was the hardest. Olga gave him a big hug and we took off. Before going home I stopped off at Safeway for some first aid supplies and I attended to my feet after a bath and a shower. I coated each blister with anti-biotic before draining them and covered each with a bandage. I walked a bit better the next day but not much faster. The challenge was trying to fit my puffy traumatized feet into my sandals. I need to get comfy oversized sandals to wear after these races.

What an honor, with David Horton. I didn't say much, I get tongue tied when I'm star struck. Stupid I know.

The awards ceremony was a blast. The Kiwanis club served us pancakes, ham, fruit and juice. It hit the spot. We got our awards and got a chance to talk with the other runners and their families. I got to sit next to Hans again and while eyeing his extra pieces of ham I asked him how he felt, "Damaged" he replied. Chatted with DC Lundell and possible blister remedies for the future. Poor DC, the first time he ran this was a couple of years ago when the conditions were similar, he comes back only to have the same but worse. I also got to meet Capn' Kirk, another friend of Lisa's. So many new people, so little time. As bad as I felt during and after the race I still loved it, everything about it was great and I was sad it was all coming to a close. Race organization was fantastic, the volunteers amazing and the town was warm and friendly. On the road back to the airport at Casper Olga and I started making tentative plans for the future. I'd like to comeback with more friends next time.

Viva la Bighorn100 what a great experience!


  1. You talk to your SF dudes, I talk here:)
    Neat recount, baby!

  2. Rick, That was probably the best race report I've ever read! You have a knack for remembering the smallest details.

    What an incredible experience it must have such a beautiful place no less. You guys are awesome!

    You always have a smile on your face. In the pictures, you guys look like you could run another 100 miles.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with those of us who can only dream of doing such things.

    Hope your recovery is going well.

  3. What a wonderful report, Rick. Beautiful pictures, cool videos. Wow, that was quite an adventure, and I can't imagine what it was like to run on that terrain! I am glad it was such a positive experience.

    Again, my congratulations to you! This was incredibly inspriring to read.

  4. RICK Said: I see her I say something thoughtful and sensitive "you better not cry, they don't give those nice Montrail jackets out to crybabies", you know something supportive:)
    Very touching Rick, Indeed a great friend:-)

    Sleeping Russian said NOOOOO Snoring Rick or ur out-LOL another touching moment:-)

    Great words Rick: Rick Said- "Make it to the start and fight for the finish. No drama, no excuses and a lot of camaraderie and support to boot." Going take that one:-)

    Loved the YouTube clip, I got a little winded and strained my hammy though :-(

    Good move on popping those blisters...mud & stuff is over give me friggin relief...umm please:-) is what I might have said to the EMT with my Jersey accent--LOL

    Congrats again Bro & great Race Report!!

  5. Great recount Rick.Kinda hard for a mom to imagine those nasty blisters.Wish I can say quit...but how can I when I traveled half way around the world twice to scuba dive with my group.
    Photos are amazing.

  6. Belated congratulations on a great run! Love the pics and videos. The scenery looks awesome! How cool that you and Olga were able to stick together the whole time. You look really cute together. : )

  7. I'm cuter though right? Haha no need to say anything, I know. Hope the vacation isn't sucking the life out of your running. Talked about you by the way, out there on the Bighorn Trails.