The hills are groaning with excess, like a table being ceaselessly set. C'mon will you dance my darling? (Joanna Newsom, "Monkey and bear")
I email Rick on Tuesday "I am scared" - "Yeah haha, I think we will be scared until the gun goes off, then we become something amazing. The ultra runner psyche takes charge and we become almost unstoppable."
I don't know where to start, so I'll go back a big chank.
After last year's WS100 I vowed to takle a break from this race for a year and apply for a different 100 miler in a summer. The choice wasn't difficult to make: I needed west coast, mountains, tough, altitude, held in June and been a qualifier for Hardrock100. I had so much about Bighorn 100 in WY from friends, especially from Bushwhacker, who DNF'd last year due to knee problem and asked me to go and become a Big Hornie. I kind of liked the title:) so after my friend Rick didn't get picked in WS lottery, we both sent in our fee for the race.
While I didn't have a good training year as in "quality training", I logged my miles, did hill repeats and felt pretty confident in finishing a 100, in finishing this particular 100, and even very likely hitting it under 27 hrs, whatever else happens would be just icing on the cake.
Wild. This sure sounded like fun. Scenic. Who can argue with that? To begin with, getting there was an adventure on its own. From any place in the country the connection has to be made to fly this little turbo jet over to either Casper, WY, or Billings, MT. As Rick and I drove from Casper on Thursday morning, the views were rapidly changing from dry high desert to amazing green mountains. And right at the site of our hotel we had entered an ultra-crazy paradise - welcoming front desk with knowledge of why we are here and many of fit and rough looking folks mulling around. We went to a Sport Shop, a center for a check in and drop bag collection met Joan, crazy Hans Dieter (a 66 yo German going for his 100's 100M finish), amazing Van "Pigtails", super-duper father-son Gary and Keith Knippling (a duet finished Grand Slam last year, and Keith just crashed VA Slam with 3 100M in 3 weeks - Massanutten, OD and OD memorial, winning 2 and placing 3rd in MMR)...many many happy folks from VHTRC made the trip across the country, and that said something about the quality of the run we were about to embark on. Lunch was yummy, and later was even better dinner at Ole's Pizza with getting to see family - some from a long time ago, some seen more often...
Pictures: Charlie Crissman, RD for CCC100, Van "Pigtails" Phan with her awesomely supporting husband Ken, local crazy darling Tom Chapman.
The story will not be complete without a memory line...as Rick was getting star-struck when I introduced him to David Horton, the Legend. I was lucky to have met him before I even knew who he was, so this allowed me to avoid the fear (who's accent is funnier? who's job is more insane?), but the greatest moment in my ultra life must have been when I paced David on his PCT treck 2 years ago. Those whee night hours into the morning taking him along with Scott Jurek from below the Whatum lake to Cascade Locks, seeing him downing 2 pinyts of icecream after I lead guys to be lost for half a mile, crossing Bridge of the Gods holding hands with Leah behind on OR side and Scott jumping ahead under "Welcome to WA" sign...and then David suddenly cryng in the middle of the bridge traffic and as I hug him...and then a long slog up to table Mtn...before I forget, please, please, if you live near PCT, do find time to go out and meet Catra, neither one of you will ever forget this.
But I digress, and I haven't even come close to the run. The race starts at 11 am, and it has its draw-backs and pluses. The good thing was we didn't have to get up at 2:30 am and made a pretty good night sleep. Leisurely we drove to Daytona park to the finish line, where we had pre-race meeting and took a bus to the start.
I carried a camera that Scott sent me so nicely, for the first time in a race, so since I am pretty tired, I might overwhelm you more with pictures than text:) Oh, what beauty!!!
We started climbing right away, settling towards the back of the pack, as usual, Rick and I.
In about couple of miles we encountered mud - but for the next few miles it was still possible to avoid it. The RD warned us this year was their worst conditions, with mud, wet-land and snow at the top. Rick an I, having finished with blisters some 100's before, decided to take very good care of our feet and postpone developing nasty destroying stuff for as long as we could. First AS came at about 8 miles, and we were on track of the pace chart.
Next on plan was Dry Fork Ridge at half-marathon distance, and a big party it was! Runners for 50M and 50k, starting next day, were all there cheering us on, and it was awesome!
I have to say before I fade in memory that partnering up with Rick worked great. We average same pace for long races, and the good thing is that we went through low points and high points at different times, and that hepled the other one of us move better knowing that there is a friend waiting ahead. We took turn leading on the run, walked hard, ran downhills and chatted a lot with everybody we came across. We often ran up to a mile apart - partnering didn't mean following steps precisely - but never really were out of view or a good surge of running.
While there were some dirt roads on our way, most of the race is a pure single track, and a technical one at that, not to mention lots of wash-on, mud, wet grass and hourse hoves along.
The hills never gave up, rolling relentlessly up and down, and it always seemed they went up much more than the other way around:) Getting to Bear Camp at marathon mark was long, we missed the spigot with water and both were out of drinks and fading, but pushed on. All together we were about 20 min behind that 25:30 pace but feeling strong and not even considering giving up pushing. From Bear camp we took a plunge downhill for a bit through horrific ankle-breaking mud, then ran through a medow with wild flowers and went staright down loosing 2500 feet in 3.5 miles total on a stream bank into the Footbridge AS.
At Footbridge we made 10 min, but took an extra 10 to change shoes and socks. They had water buckets and towels!!! I mean, it was just incredible! I left earlier (I often did, and Rick always was able to catch up, but I am known for a fear of aid stations), and the next climb was super-duper technical and gorgeous. We made our way along the river with lots of white water, and I kept looking back - no Rick in site. I asked anybody I'd meet on the way to relay a message that I am waiting for him:) At the same time my stomach had become heavy and I was having dry heaves a lot, although still feeling great. At the Narrows AS (mile 33.5) Rick showed up as I was leaving, and quickly took a turn to lead. I suddenly said I can't push on that hard, tried to shove a gel in, and started vomiting. It was almost fun! Although I am not a master as Tom and needed to stop and bend over, the fountains of crap was exploding rather forceful. I scared a couple of guys behind, told them I am totally fine with that, felt much lighter and picked up my pace. My stomach needed it for sure.
As the sun was going down and the altitude was climbing, the land was getting wetter. The were many washed-out bridges that volunteers had to rebuild in the last 2 days (!) by putting a couple of logs across, and it made it even more adventerous!
We were getting slower on our splits as the time at aid stations grew for socks changing and the slog through gotten worse with every step. We turned on the lamps at 9:45 pm as we left Spring Marsh (mile 40), and a mile later saw Karl running back at us. We exchange "hi" and I noticed Karl was tired - as he absent-mindedly asked me: is it over yet? No wonder, a man has been running and winning a tough 100 every month! As we parted I made a prediction of second runner been a couple of miles back - and only 2 min after that we saw Mike Wolfe!!! Karl was running scared indeed. There were a few guys about another hour back, and, of course, Darcy Africa. The way she runs - oh, boy, it's a grace!!! She was all smiles you could see even in the middle of the night.
We continued on to Elk camp (mile 43.5), where I stopped to pee and discovered it is bright dark red. I got scared, waited for rick to complain, but explained that I shouldn't have period (warned you) and don't feel like rhabdo as I felt great. Thanks to Rick who made a suggestion it was probably the side effect of some Papaya enzyme for stomach a woman offered me at mile 10 (my stomach is never happy at these things, I pretty much run 6 months pregnant - red urine lasted 3 more times in the next 3 hrs or so and suddenly cleared). We saw and left ahead of a big group of people and pushed on to the turn-around. The course was getting wetter by the minute, every step. I slid at one point and landed on my side with my right leg turned under the body, and my calf cramped horribly. I screamed, but got up quickly and worked it off. The wet slog wasn't enough - we got into snow crossing too...huge piles of wet heavy snow, postholling above your knees in places, in big chunks, and between this and wet stuff the feet went numb.
It was cold too, the winds blowing on the ridge at 9,000 feet, but I didn't want to stop and put a wind-breaker on yet.
Porcupine (mile 48) came in exactly 30 min after we were supposed to leave it by pace chart. Honestly, we were extatic how things were going, and didn't even think of any other goal but the very best. We are not quitters, we are going to rock it! The AS in the middle of the night was located in a ranger station with fire place going, grilled cheese sandwiches, mashed potatoes and drop bags with more clothes.
See how happy we are??!! Van Phan entered right behind us and kept us in view for the next 10 miles or so. We left on our way back to the finish line - home strecth, baby, the whole 52 miles of it!
The night continued, there were people we were passing on, and nobody passed us yet. We just chugged along, even though the minutes were clicking away, and the 25:30 tunred into 26, then to 27. However, we had felt strong and our only worries were how long our wet feet would hold on before breaking into a complete mess. Another change at Spring Marsh mile 56, last time we see Van who developed a hip flexor trouble, moving on as the birds begin chirping. I, as a real early riser, explain to Rick how I love this part of the day the best: before the light come up, the birds go crazy, and slowly there is grey somewhere on the sky, gets wider, and as soon as it's relatively light, the birds sing/yell less and less, like they had done what they intended, wake up the Earth, and then suddenly it becomes quiet...morning is here. We turn off the light at 4:45am - and onto the wet-n-rocky stretch to Footbridge.
At Footbridge we got at almost 7 am, 2 hrs behind, still unfaded with time, still optimistic, still with goals - now of breaking 28 hrs and Sean Meissner's time from a couple of years ago. We needed some fun too:) But that monster thing with 2500 feet straight up, even broken by half a mile of medow, was a pure torture. We both wore i-Pods at this point and I stopped to tell Rick if he feels like he can push more he should go on - just in case. He looked at me and asked a simple question: are you giving up? Am I? Are you kidding me? So on we went together, back to Bear camp and viewing at wild life:) We made the climb of 3.5M in 1:15 - surprisingly exactly in the time I predicted.
Here we had our last shoe change - that we carried from Footbridge in a backpack, and learned that Karl ran an awesome 20:12 and won by over an hour from second place Mike. I tossed my shoes there, while Rick kept them for another 10 miles in a pack (mine were old anyway).
We began taking turns again for leading again, and tried to keep up the fun, or at least what we considered to be fun at this time. Hours rolled by, the sun was up, and the fear of rattle snakes was somewhat noticeable here, on the sunny ridges with single-track. When we finally saw Cow camp AS (76.5M) and a marathon stretch, I forgot all about tasting the bacon Sean warned me about and we tried to walk as fast as our bodies let us on the dirt roads hills. They were open, sharp and nasty...but now we were also in a company of runners of 50k and 50M that went on its way on Saturday.
Next stop - Dry Fork, mile 82.5, last weigh-in, lost a few pounds, nothing special, real food, and a bit of a gazed look...not a bit, really, but going on, feeling that this is it, the feet had finally had enough and blisters are breaking rather fast, with each step making it more painful. I went into a over-drive power-walk mode first. We stopped at Upper Sheep (87.5M) and I went on a binge of srimp eating! Can you believe they had huge tasty shrimps on ice there! I didn't want to leave:)
Where did next climb came from I don't know, although the race profile did mention "The Haul". Another pure vertical, where we teamed up with Ed Demoney from 50k for a push. Rick's feet gave up at this point too, as we entered the downhill, that was it. No more running whatsoever. We tried to make a shuffle once in a while, but mainly we just hobbled on the steep decline, trying not to swear much. With about 7 miles to go 2 women passed us and I joked that I just lost my top 5 - what I did, but really, I didn't care one small bit. I kind of tried to encourage Rick to walk 3.5 mph to make 30 hrs, but it did little to our speed, and we just smiled. The views were still drop-dead gorgeous, nothing was about to happen to this, and we could still appreciate it. Sean Meissner went by to his 50M finish, and he stopped and talked, and it was great and brought our spirits up.
We only wished the finish strecth would not have been the way it was. 5M dirt gravel road, flat and open with nothing around at all, hot, dusty, empty, boring, painful and relentless...although now looking back I understand there was no other way to bring us to the finish line at the park.
And then that was it. With a huge crowd of runners, volunteers and support, we crossed the finish line, in 30 hrs 22 min, first people over 30hr, good for 31-32 out of 80 finishers and 149 starters, me getting my favorite for this year number 7 (may be I should play a lottery?). And we couldn't talk. And we couldn't walk. And we were not sure at the moment if we liked it and whether or not we were happy. We were done.
But you know how it is:) A clothes change, a piece of burger, a chat with friends...it all turns around! The quote of the day was "trashed feet" as we shared who's blisters were bigger and who struggled from where.
It's the People...the ultra-runners, crazy we are, dear friends...the race organizers...the absolutely unbelievably awesome angels-volunteers...the whole town...nothing but love was in the air. And while I tried to say in a moment of weaknes I may quit 100's for a bit, it's not true, and everybody knew it. And that was part of an experience too.
That night I fell asleep in a bathtub, hardly made it out, fell asleep in bed again, and by morning was the happiest person on this Earth along with a bunch of others celebrating a weekend in WY.
On a side note, but hopefully useful, I asked both Karl and Darcy what do they do with their feet. They both had same response - nothing. The main tip was - hydration, hydration and one more time of it. Just because you don't loose weight doesn't mean you are well hydrated (wow!). Next on the list was - proper shoe fit. Not half-a-size or a size bigger as we used to hear, but snag fit. One pair of socks - SmartWool was the choice. No lubing at all. And the small blisters they do get - just suck it up and tough it out. Easy for them to say, they have a third less time on their feet:) but it is interesting and something I am willing to try.
Final note. This was by far the toughest run I had ever done (yes, worse than Wasatch despite more elevation change and higher profile, and worse than my DNF'd Leadville). And yet that was by far the most beautiful, gorgeous, pride-ringing run I had ever done too. The experience we've lived through was worth every penny of pain, and I would do it in a split second again. I have no regrets at all, I loved it with all my heart. I would also team up with Rick any minute for anything he ever asks me too, and couldn't wish for a better friend. Rock on, dude! Thanks to everybody who made this weekend possible, to all my wonderful insane partners in crime, for cheering, for encouraging, for spreading the word, for enduring together, for sharing the pain and the laughter, for smiles, for tears, for hugs and for reaching out, for everything - I am eternally thankful.
Rick's pictures (a few of which I took here, we both got 50 photos each) can be found here, his report will eventually how up here, and official race results can be found here
C'mon darling with you dance with me?!
PPS SEND SHOES FOR AFRICAN RUNNERS