Momentum: 100 miles in the Bighorn Mountains and Other Places

Mile 59: Dawn of a new day.

Mile 59: Dawn of a new day.

I signed up for this race because it has an 11 am start and I could get a good night’s sleep beforehand. So why am I wide awake now at 3? Oh, right. Eight months of twice-my-usual-volume training, eight days of stressing over logistics, and eight hours of driving across state lines, all comes down to the next 30-something hours. My first hundred-mile race and hopefully my first entry into the big belt buckle club. Or maybe not. Did I train well enough? I’m certainly well above the level needed for any of my previous 50-mile races. I’ve been having some intestinal issues lately. What about those weird knee twinges I had on Monday and Tuesday?

A lot of things to worry about, packed very efficiently.

A lot of things to worry about, packed very efficiently.

Oy, why can’t I sleep!? What if I can’t get a good night’s sleep the night before? There are so many decisions that could be wrong. Is changing shoes at mile 82 the right strategy or should I have planned on changing them at mile 67 instead? Did I remember to put the Body Glide in that drop bag? What about the time cut-offs at the different aid stations? Is my projected timeline realistic? What happens if I have to drop out at some point? Be honest, it’s a very real possibility. Will I have the fortitude and forgiveness to try this again or will I have to live with my DNF for the rest of my days? I’ve done all the pieces, but never put them all together. Will I have the heart to go through all this training again? Eight hours until go time. Plenty of time to think about it.

Brian and I at the start. Nope, no nerves here.

Brian and I at the start. Nope, no nerves here.

Fast-forward seven and a half of those hours and we’re sitting in rapidly-shrinking puddles of shade in the tall grass, marinading in sunscreen, nerves, and over-jovial starting line buzz. It’s hot and only getting hotter and the late-morning start is seeming a little excessive now. Maybe a 9 am would have been sufficient. Minutes to go and all I can think of is the volumes of advice I’ve gleaned from friends, gurus, and books: “If you think you’re going too slow, slow down.” “The best way to run 100 miles is to take it really easy for the first hundred miles.” “Relentless forward progress.” “You can’t bank time in an ultra.” “Win one for the Gipper.” “With your shield or on it!”

Opening moves

And they're off! Mile 0 and things are finally underway.

And they’re off! Mile 0 and things are finally underway.

The clock strikes eleven and we’re finally all pointed in the same direction and moving forward. There is palpable relief from everyone that, ready or not, here we come. Brian and I stride out past waving spectators and down the last mile of Tongue River Road. Brian is a central character in my training and I was glad to share this experience with him. We are of similar age and mentality, and both transitioned to long distance running from mountaineering and climbing pursuits at about the same time. We’re both 100-mile virgins and did a great deal of our training together this season. So it is comforting to start out in his quirky, competent, familiar company. How long will we stay together?

It’s going to be a very, very long day, but wow! what a place to spend it in! The Bighorns are very different from my familiar Colorado mountains; lower elevation, but higher latitude. Lots of flowers, different rocks, and a startling lack of beetle kill pine. We wind around by the Tongue River for a while before hitting the first barely-noticed aid station. NOW the fun begins in earnest with a steep, hot climb up an eternal, flower-strewn grade. Even with the thicker air down here, it’s a real puff. It’s also 82 degrees and getting hotter. A sunburn tomorrow is better than heat stroke today. I strip off my shirt, deploy the poles, and start passing people from lower elevations for whom 6000’ is anoxic.

The hill finally tops out and we get down to more rolling terrain. I’m feeling pretty good, but still have the nagging feeling that I’m going way too fast and just burned a match I shouldn’t have on that climb. The crowd is starting to spread out now, but I’m looking forward Dry Fork and the end of the “warmup” portion of the race.

Mile 13: catching our first glimpse of

Mile 13: catching our first glimpse of “Dry Fork City”.

Rounding the top of a hill, I see a city of cars and tents parked on a ridge below. That must be Dry Fork. They weren’t kidding when they said it was big! Okay, focus on getting in and getting out without getting too comfortable. Chip and Brian are there sitting in chairs along with a surprise appearance by Jason. I didn’t expected to see him for another twelve hours, but he provides a welcome bit of crew service. I’m in and out in 13 minutes. Not bad! Feeling a bit smarter about my race strategy.

Down to Business

Brian is still lubing up his feet when I get ready to leave Dry Fork. No matter, he’ll catch me soon enough. I saunter down a rather steep, open hillside on double-track headed into the second segment of the course. The mood has definitely changed amongst the runners now. We’ve finished the warm-up and spent a lot of our early enthusiasm. Now it’s all about getting the miles done and preserving as much energy as we can for the all-important second half of the race. It’s hot, but we’re mostly moving down-hill now, it’s higher elevation, and the sun is beginning to sink toward the west. I spend a lot of time running with people from the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club and quite a number of Canadians who have made the long trip in force for this race.

Cow Camp at mile 20 is a nice quirky bit of fun with bacon and potatoes and no cows (or pigs) in sight. An ATV passes with the first casualty of the race sitting chagrined and downhearted on the back. Heatstroke? Twisted ankle? He looked okay to me, just tired and dejected.

The runners are really spread out now. Even in the middle of the pack, I can’t see anyone anymore on the trail as I wind through small fields and nice forest. The trail here is really quite runnable, but I’m bonking pretty hard, which makes me worried for the next 75 miles. Then again, I seem to go through these bonk and recovery modes.

Mile 25: Lupines and Dry Fork Ridge. There were billions of these.

Mile 25: Lupines and Dry Fork Ridge. There were billions of these.

First quarter done and with it the first bonk period. 25 miles in 7 hours. I’m ahead of my arbitrary 32-hour-finish pace by quite a bit and confident I’ll make Footbridge, the second of the major aid stations, well before dark and the cut-off. The forest opens up a mile from Bear Camp (mile 27) and I begin a technical, steep descent with spectacular views of the Dry Fork Ridge to the right and canyon of the Little Bighorn River on the left. Montana lies through a gap in the ridges to the north. The weather is getting ominous and windy and hurries me along but is really beautiful anyway. Down in a stand of towering pines, I meet a guy hanging glow sticks from the trees. It’s not anywhere close to dark yet, but it’s a sign of things to come.

Mile 28: Descending into the Little Bighorn Canyon under ominous skies.

Mile 28: Descending into the Little Bighorn Canyon under ominous skies.

The remote Footbridge aid station is amazing. While Dry Fork was an easily accessible spectator point, Footbridge is isolated and essentially self-contained. I’m immediately ushered over to an empty chair and waited on, literally, hand and foot. Someone brings my drop bag over, someone else brings me a basin of water and some towels to clean off my feet. I’m an hour ahead of schedule at this point and decide to take a little time getting things set for my change from hot, sunny running to the cold and uphill night. Everyone says be prepared for sub-freezing temperatures up at Jaws, the course high point and turn-around, but it’s pretty hard to believe it after a day of hot and sweaty running. Nevertheless, fresh socks, change of shirt, and throw a couple layers into the pack in case they’re right.

Into the night

Just as I’m gearing up to leave Footbridge, Brian rolls in looking strong and ornery as ever. I consider waiting for his familiar company in the unfamiliar night, but decide to keep moving and take my chances. 30 miles down, but this is still only the warm-up. I still need to make it through the night with enough reserves to run a couple more marathons tomorrow.

Mile 32: Keith and I climb along the Littlehorn Trail headed upwards into the night.

Mile 32: Keith and I climb along the Littlehorn Trail headed upwards into the night.

It’s only 8 pm and I’ve got at least an hour of daylight until night sets in, so I hike out past the impressive Little Bighorn River and its canyon. It’s going to be a long night, but I might as well make the most of the daylight while I have it and set a casual pace. An hour later it’s finally getting really dark and I’m starting to feel pretty bad. Bad like I need to throw up, but not bad enough I can’t hike along in a group at a pretty good pace. I periodically stop to see if anything comes up but nothing does. Finally, out comes a series of enormous belches and everything good again. Weird.

I’ve been leap-frogging with an amiable Canadian named Keith for the past twenty miles and he finally catches up to me. We’ve already exchanged life stories and all the usual trail talk, but now he’s having trouble with the altitude and suffering a crisis of faith. It’s now darker than dark and calm and cool, so we stop and sit by the side of the trail for a few minutes. The stars are gorgeous out here many miles from the nearest lights in the second least populous state of the union. This moment of utter peace and beauty amidst unending exertion seems to do both of our spirits good, so we team up and continue the climb.

Mile 40-something: my one and only attempt to capture the surreality of running unfamiliar trails at night.

Mile 40-something: my one and only attempt to capture the surreality of running unfamiliar trails at night.

Somewhere in there it transitions from beautiful to surreal. Keith and I trudge up the hill through huge meadows. It’s never very steep, but isn’t runnable, especially in our current state. Plus the trail is pretty rough and sometimes braided as the narrow hunter trails wind amongst the sage brush. Glow stick marked the course ahead with a weak green glow, but better marking comes from the approaching flashlights and headlamps of faster runners on the way back from the turnaround. Every one of them is an anonymous interaction between a pair of lights: “Great job!” “Nice work!” “Looking good!”

At Spring Marsh, they make me a nice mochachino that perks me up quite a bit. “Only 3.5 miles to Elk Camp!” but that 3.5 miles takes a full hour and there’s no coffee available when we finally arrive there. Back into the woods and the mud finally gets inevitable. Where’s the damned top of this climb?

Finally the slope eases off and I take off solo, eager to get to Jaws, my supplies, and a good bite to eat. I’m perfectly used to running at night, but it’s always been in places I’ve been before. This is just surreal, doubly so now that I’m by myself. Car tail lights are visible on the horizon. I bet this is beautiful in the daylight, but now I’m in this tunnel vision of damp sagebrush and occasional glow sticks and other runners headed back. More forest, more mud, and finally a road with cars and people. Welcome to Jaws! I see silhouettes of people that turn out to be Jason and Cindy. “Where’s the damned aid station!?” Jason opens the flaps on a giant tent I totally hadn’t seen at all and inside are dozens of people, bright lights, and sweltering heat. Whoa! This the part where the UFO abducts me, isn’t it?

Mile 48: Jaws looks like a circus and it is. Lots of people and lots of energy.

Mile 48: Jaws looks like a circus and it is. Lots of people and lots of energy.

Jason is a vision of industry even though he can’t have had much more sleep than I’ve had. He ushers me to a chair, brings over my bag, and fetches food. I’m dying for a nice cup of corn chowder or a burrito or something, but all they have is quesadillas (and we’re out of cheese) and more ramen. No matter; I’m not in this for the culinary experience. I stuff down as many calories as I can handle and get ready to go. Jason transforms from crew person to pacer in an amazing Chippendales-like strip that takes only seconds. “Okay!  Let’s go!”

Only half-way done?

I see a few more familiar faces arriving just as we’re packing up to leave. Brian stumbles out of the woods looking just as disoriented as I must have half an hour before. Again I’m tempted to wait, but the clock is ticking and it would be so easy to lose momentum in this comfortable, middle-of-the-night, alien environment. Plus I have Super Pacer now! Jason doesn’t drink caffeine, but you’d never know it from his perpetual perkiness and energy at 2:30 in the morning.

Mile 50-something: first light on the long descent from Jaws.

Mile 50-something: first light on the long descent from Jaws.

The terrain turns out to be surprisingly runnable on the way down and we make pretty quick work over the first few miles of the descent, passing the tail end of the pack looking worse than me. Now it’s my turn to be positive and encouraging. “Good job!” “Almost there!” “Looking good!”. The fire at Elk Camp is very inviting, but I know what kind of trap lies there. 3.5 miles later at Spring Marsh it’s become vaguely light and their campfire is even more seductive. It’s a long ten miles until Footbridge where I plan on a serious breakfast and things are getting pretty low. On the plus side, I’m well past 51 miles now and every step I take makes this the longest distance I’ve ever traveled on foot. So that’s neat!

Once it’s fully light (and I’ve stopped for certain trail-side sanitary procedures), I perk up quite a bit and we make good time down to Footbridge. They’ve swapped out the quesadillas and ramen for breakfast burritos and pancakes. I remind myself that they’re also working on no sleep but they don’t have the advantage of constant forward momentum to keep them awake. Again Jason goes into full-service pit crew mode getting me food, drop bags, and swapping stuff around, all while feeding himself and more. It’s inspiring to watch, and a little daunting as I realize that I and my goal are the focus of all his activity.

In a positive mood, we swing out of Footbridge, pole up, and start the brutal, three-mile ascent of the Wall. What was a fun, scenic, technical downhill at mile 29 has become a crampy and painful trudge at mile 68. The 50 mile race started from Jaws at 6 am and the elite runners finally catch us here, running up what I’m crawling. It would make anyone feel slow. Even on fresh legs I wouldn’t be able to run this stuff!

“I wouldn’t want to run the 50 miler,” I say to Jason. “Those guys have to get up at 2 am to catch the bus out to Jaws for the start.”

“Um, you’ve been up since long before 2 am. At least they get to see Jaws in the daylight.” Good point.

Mile 69: clawing our way up the Wall. First of the 50-mile runners pass us.

Mile 69: clawing our way up the Wall. First of the 50-mile runners pass us.

Free fall

Cow Camp again… and everything falls apart. I’ve managed a pretty good pace across the rolling seven miles past Bear Camp and have run/walked a great deal. 50-mile runners keep passing us, but their speed has dropped to the merely-mortal, the kind I think I could keep up with if I had fresh legs. But I’ve been going for 24 hours at this point and have been awake for a good deal longer than that. To keep my brain occupied, I’ve been doing the fractions in my head “2 miles-1/50th done!”  “5 miles-1/20th done.” On the descent to Cow Camp I ticked off the 75-mile mark. “75 miles! Awesome! Three quarters done! I’ve only got… oh my god!

Jason prods me into motion again and we hike in the hot sun over each of the four dozen rolling double-track hills. Dry Fork up on the ridge has been visible for hours now, but doesn’t seem to be getting any closer. A couple of ATVs pass us carrying defeated, chagrinned-looking runners in various states of physical and mental disrepair and it’s sorely tempting to hop on the back of them.

Mile 82: powering up the hill to Dry Fork.

Mile 82: powering up the hill to Dry Fork.

Finally we’re lined up for the big climb up to Dry Fork. Jason’s 12 hours and 35 miles with me is coming to an end. “So, we need to talk about Dry Fork. What do we need to do up there?”

At this point in the race, I’m starting to transcend physical needs.  My family is up there and that’s the only thing I can’t live without right now. Rallying my tactical brain, I conjure up the list: “change shoes, water, real food, something cold, sunscreen, fresh socks.”

“Okay. I’ll take care of all that. You’re going to be a mess. You’re going to want to quit, but I won’t let you quit because you’re still strong and there’s no reason for you to quit.”

Jason turns out to be completely right. I plant the poles and power up the last mile of hill desperately trying to resolve each humanoid dot up there into my family. Finally it is them. Amy and the kids come running out. Kate is there, all ready to go. Jason leads me into the aid corral while I stumble into emotional free-fall. The only time I’ve had anything similar is the birth of my children and my narrow escape from the Grand Canyon.

Get in, get out, keep the momentum. “What do you need?” asks everyone. Tears streaming down my face behind my sunglasses.  “Just… talk to Jason!”

Momentum

There comes a point in any endeavor, whatever it may be, when you realize “Wow, it’s actually going to happen!” There’s a great freedom as your biggest uncertainty resolves itself. Half a mile past Dry Fork, I’m with Kate, hiking up the road emotionally and digestively whipped. I’m still in a daze after my experience at Dry Fork, but I realize that I’m past the point of no return and am actually going to finish this thing. Sure, there are still seventeen miles to go including a crazy-steep descent on dead legs and five miles of gravel road, but I’ve got seven hours to do it, a fresh, enthusiastic pacer, and forward momentum. Whatever happened back there, I’m back on my feet and moving relentlessly forward.

Mile 86: WHEEEEEEE!!!!! This is why we keep Kate around.

Mile 86: WHEEEEEEE!!!!! This is why we keep Kate around.

Kate is a former collegiate all-star and regular club runner who we are slowly but surely converting to the dark and dirty side of the sport. She doesn’t have ultra-distance experience (yet! mua ha ha!) but she’s ridiculously tough and deeply smart and her enthusiasm is contagious.  A large part of my motivation now is that I want to show Kate all the cool, pretty stuff on this part of the course and not render her six hour drive out here to pace me all for naught. The terrain is undeniably gorgeous, possibly the prettiest of the entire course. We manage a run/walk back to Upper Sheep, then tackle the short, very steep hill to the top of the Ridiculous Climb we puffed up 26-some hours before.

Ah, the downhill… except that it’s steep and just technical enough to be tricky running and my legs just don’t have any more agility in them.  My feet hurt and it’s hot and I’m just too whipped to try to run it. Down we go in a plod as the canyon floor gets closer inch by painful inch. Many people pass us running gaily down the 14% grade, some of them wearing hundred-miler bibs. Where did they come from that I’m ahead of them but they have the energy to run down this? They must have really suffered back there in the night.

The last thousand feet of descent are physical and mental torture. My toes, already blistered swollen from 90 miles of running, are now riding up into the front of my shoes. Clearly something bad is happening in there, but I’m afraid to stop and look. By the time we finally reach the Lower Sheep aid station things have gotten really painful. Crap! I can’t have a race-ending injury now; I’ve already passed the point of no return! How much damage am I willing to sustain to cross the finish?

Mile 94: Back in the canyon. There's Needle's Eye, so we must be getting close.

Mile 94: Back in the canyon. There’s Needle’s Eye, so we must be getting close.

Anything even slightly downhill and it feels like my soles are delaminating.   Anything even slightly uphill and it’s my soul that’s coming apart. “This is gorgeous!” says Kate. “Yeah, don’t care.” I grunt. If I stop, I’m not getting started again. We jump in with a sizable pack and pound out the last two miles of rough singletrack through, in retrospect, probably the most gorgeous part of the entire course.

Transcendence

With much relief, we finally reach Tongue Canyon Road and the aid station there. Volunteers hose us down with water and offer the usual array of aid station treats.  I’m starting to transcend the physical realm of hydration, nutrition, and temperature. Momentum is everything. “Do you need anything?” asks Kate. “Yes, to be done!” I growl. “Let’s go.” From here on, the course is boring, hot gravel road, but we can at least hammer as fast as we want. All that training I did (by necessity) on pavement is coming in handy now as we crank out ten minute mile after painful ten minute mile.

It grinds on, but I’ve lost all sense of time and pace and effort. I’m so far gone that the idea of stopping seems exotic, anathema. Kate is right there at my elbow, matching me stride for stride, just as she’s always been, just as she’ll always be. I’ve lost track of when I last drank, or ate, or peed. It doesn’t matter. I don’t need anything. I run. That’s what I’ve always done, that’s what I’ll always do. Two miles to go and a kid races out with popsicles. We take them without breaking stride and part of my brain registers that it tastes like the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my life.  I have momentum. There is no longer any force on Earth that could stop me. It seems easy now.

We reach pavement at the edge of town. It must be less than a mile to go. I slow down to prolong the finish. Savor it, soak it up, make it last. This isn’t going to happen again. There’s the footbridge and there’s Joe waiting, wearing a pacer bib, ready to bring me in the last quarter mile. He slides smoothly into Kate’s spot and we run side-by-side, left at the elk statue, left at the lighthouse, and into the park. People are cheering and waving as son leads father charging past. We round the final corner and there’s the finish line a hundred yards away.

“Daddy. Now we sprint!”

I have momentum. We sprint.

Mile 100: THIS moment makes everything worthwhile. Everything.

Mile 100: THIS moment makes everything worthwhile. Everything.

Aftermath

bh10058I don’t remember much afterwards. Amy, Ella, and Jason were there and lots of other people as well. Long, teary hugs for everyone. Sobbing with relief and pain and joy and twelve other emotions that were new to me.

The momentum that had gotten me through a day and a half of constant movement suddenly crumbles.  “I need to sit down now.”  I’m lead to a chair and someone hands me a beer. The park is lovely and cool and green and full of bluegrass and gritty sweat, most of it my own. Congratulations all around from other finishers and spectators. A few other people finish. Amy returns with a huge plate of food and I make it part way through one hotdog before collapsing on the ground and twitching for a while. Finished. Finished. Finished.

“I need to sit down.”

For those keeping track of such things, I finished in 31:21, 121/193 overall, 101/157 male, and 38/56 in the men-in-their-forties division.

Processing this whole experience has taken… is taking… a long time. The first bone-fide revelation came on Sunday afternoon during the long, painful drive back south on the interstate. Joe saw a sign that said “Cheyenne 100 miles” and said, “Dad, you could get out of the car and just run to Cheyenne.” It was only then that the full realization of what happened hit me. I just ran one hundred miles! Holy catfish, but that’s a LONG WAY! One hundred miles is an unfathomably huge distance. My lowest mental point in the race was when I contemplated the full distance I’d traveled and the full distance yet to complete.  Taken all at once, the distances and times of ultra-running are not healthy to contemplate. It only becomes manageable when broken into smaller chunks: it’s four miles to the next aid station. It’s another hour until this landmark.

Then there is the realization which started somewhere around mile 90 and is evolving still of I can’t believe it actually worked! All the training, all the expense, the sacrifice, planning, worry, and pain had paid off in some definite, tangible way. Perhaps it’s different for more philosophical people and/or for people running their tenth hundred miler but, for me, not finishing would definitely constitute some sort of failure. I never talked about it for various superstitious reasons, but failure was always an option. Not finishing was never far from my mind all through 1000+ miles of training and even a large portion of the race itself. I don’t know what kind of mental space a DNF (did not finish) would put me in, but I’m sure it would be festering. My pacers were sworn to not let me quit for some reason I’d regret in the morning (but also to not let me NOT quit if I was being damagingly stupid).

It easily could have happened. Brian ended his race at mile 80. He was equally well trained, motivated, and mentally tough as me, but things just didn’t work out. Exactly why doesn’t really matter: mechanical problems, stomach problems, falling asleep, or simple, spiraling self-doubt. Any of those could just as easily have happened to me.  Does this count as failure? 80 miles is still one hell of an accomplishment and an unfathomable amount of suffering, joy, and new experience.  However I’m sure that extra 20 miles would bother the hell out of me and I’m sure it’s bothering the hell out of him.  I can only guess what he must be going through mentally.

For whatever lucky reasons, I managed to make it to the finish. My legs felt good the entire time. I was tired, but sleepiness never really became a problem (and I’m sure half a dozen cups of coffee or their equivalent along the course had nothing to do with that). Sour tummy and intestinal woes were more of an issue. The worst episode was at mile 35 at nightfall, but there were others as well. Fortunately I was able to keep taking on calories and never entered any sort of downward spiral. Religiously downing a shot of energy gel every 30 minutes despite everything probably had something to do with that. My hydration never failed despite very hot temperatures in the first 20 miles – periodic pee-checks had me in the pale ale category, never anything heavier.

The main casualty of the race was my feet. The prolonged periods of being wet and muddy didn’t help. By Footbridge inbound, I had a decent blister on the side of one toe. I taped it down and hoped for the best. By Dry Fork inbound, my left big toe nail was purple and floating over the nail bed in an alarming way. It got the tape too.  By mile 94, the other big toenail had joined in along with an impressive blister on the bottom of my left foot which made downhill grades excruciating.  I hadn’t realized how much my feet swell when I run. Leaving a larger pair of shoes for the return leg would have been smart and prevented a lot of hobbling in the days following the race. A larger supply of toilet paper would have also helped, if you know what I mean.

The one aspect I desperately underestimated going into the race is the importance of a good pacer. This may have been the main difference between Brian and myself: I had two friends lined up to pace me while he was running solo. Perhaps other people have different styles, but I’m quite certain I would not have finished if it weren’t for the amazing, selfless work of my pacers. Jason ran with me from 2 am to 2 pm and focused his entire existence on getting me to the finish line. We would roll into an aid station not in our usual manner, two friends and comrades out for a run in the wilderness, but as pit crew and race car; I was put up on blocks, fueled, oiled, wiped, re-treaded, and sent back out with attention and care. Plus he saw me off at the start, crewed me at Dry Fork outbound, and helped out with Amy and the kids on Saturday afternoon. In two weeks, Jason toes the line at Hardrock, probably the toughest 100-miler in the country and I know he’s going to absolutely dominate it.

Capturing 31 hours of racing on one GPS watch is challenging. Fortunately, you can merge multiple GPX files and see the whole thing all at once! Click for Strava goodness.

Capturing 31 hours of racing on one GPS watch is challenging. Fortunately, you can merge multiple GPX files and see the whole thing all at once! Click for Strava goodness.

Kate was a wonderful companion for my last 18 miles and five hours and her enthusiasm and simple joie-de-vivre kept me from spiraling into despair when things got mentally hard in the last segment. The urge to not disappoint Kate is way stronger than I had expected. The other runners on the course served the same function in some ways providing companionship, distraction, interesting conversation, and a sense of shared experience vital to getting it done. Keith and I, especially, got each other through the first half of the night in good spirits and good speed. Running 100 miles is impossible, but running in the company of friends is more realistic.

Finally, the question everyone asks, “When are you going to run your next hundred?” It’s a fair question and easy to answer: I’m not. I’m done. I always joked that this was my mid-life crisis, but that’s entirely the truth. I’ve proven my point, gotten that blast of youthful vigor and indiscretion out of my system, and am now content to rest on my laurels. “Oh, you’ll change your mind!” Yeah, maybe.  Who knows what the distant future may bring?  But I have no intention of putting myself through that level of suffering and pain (not to mention all the good things) ever again.  The first one is always special and I don’t want to dilute this experience by trying to recapture it.  It was fun to tackle something so huge and devote myself to the relatively-insane training load required. But it took a real toll on my family and my job as well as my own mental health. It will be a long time before I want to go through that again. Honestly, the shorter distances are just as much fun for a lot less suffering. I’ll stick to shorter races and other adventures for the foreseeable future.

However, this race reminded me how much I love the ultra atmosphere and camaraderie. I want to remain part of the “scene” even if it means not actually racing. I owe some serious pacing karma and am eager to pay it forward to someone else in my position. The next friend of mine who wants to attempt something like this has a full-service, enthusiastic pacer for the asking! After all, what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t help you suffer as thoroughly and effectively as possible?

Acknowlegements

Yes, I’m the guy who put one foot in front of the other for 100 miles (and hundreds more in the months leading up to it) but it would totally not have been possible without quite a lot of help from other friends, family, and random enablers. I’m not sure Amy understood the full implications when I said, “Honey, I need to do this for myself” last October. Nevertheless, she tolerated multiple single-parent days while I either left early or stayed out late doing big stupid things in the mountains. I tried hard to squeeze the training in around family schedules, but there were still a lot of days I wasn’t around. She wasn’t always thrilled about it, but she supported me at every turn. It is now officially her turn to chase her own goals for a while and she’ll have my unwavering love and  support.

Of course, Jason and Kate deserve direct credit for getting me to the finish line.  Keith and the other racers as well as the incredible volunteers and race staff at Bighorn were also crucial.  But there are a whole long list of other folks I’ve trained with to varying degrees. Eric, Andras, Steven, and the rest of the BTR Night Run have provided always-fun companionship and advice. Brian, Ben, Nate, and Brad were stalwart training partners on some of my longer, more-ambitious runs this sprint. Eric, Chris, Misti, Greg, Shad, Fred, Pete, and many others provided the wise council and sage advice for the scared hundred-mile-virgin. Gurus including Stephanie and Peter provided the initial motivation and a couple pithy mantras which they probably totally forgot about many years ago. Mike and Dave provided real support though I never actually ran with them this season at all. Rob gave me cautionary advice regarding horses.

And finally, thank you! Yes, you, the person who is reading all the way to the end of this gargantuan race report. Chances are, you’re one of the hundreds of people who sent me good wishes before, during, or after the race, followed my progress on-line on Strava, this blog, Facebook, or in-person, before or during the race or gave me all kinds of “you’re crazy, but good luck” wishes over the past year.  It may not seem like much, but it meant a lot to me.  Thank you!

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22 Responses to Momentum: 100 miles in the Bighorn Mountains and Other Places

  1. Shad says:

    You should put a warning on the top of this report. “Do not read at work, may cause raw emotions to surface”, damn great report and good work out there. I was so pumped as I stalked you online that day.

  2. clintonlane says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. I am from Wyoming, though I live in Japan now, and it is a dream of mine to one day do this race. By the way, you are awesome! You ran 100 miles! In the Big Horns!

    • cdan4th says:

      Thanks! We really enjoyed Wyoming and loved the differences, even though it was only six hours to the north. Sheridan feels a lot like Boulder must have about 40 years ago. The mountains are gorgeous and rugged and empty. The skies are so incredibly dark and the people were great. I loved that everyone turned out for the race whether they were running or not.

  3. fliebynight says:

    Fantastic race report! So much fun to read about the race from your perspective. I’ve done the 50K twice and last year I paced a virgin 100 miler from Jaws at 3 am to Dryfork at 3:55 pm (just making the cutoff). This year I decided to do the 50M and I’m sure you and I leap frogged along the last while as I finished at 6:19 pm. I too have decided that 50M was my max distance and it’s time to stick with shorter races. Great experience, a huge accomplishment. Thanks for sharing it with all.

    • cdan4th says:

      Cool! I finished about two minutes behind you. You probably passed me on the steep descent down to Lower Sheep.

      Glad I tried the 100, but it will be a while before I do that again.

  4. Kevin Castle says:

    Inspiring Charles, thanks! Great accomplishment!

  5. Misti says:

    Oh, that made me cry!! Fantastic report. Thank you. So glad you had that experience. There really is something magical in it.

  6. David Phillips says:

    What a beautiful run! I did my first 50 last year at Ghost Train and am hooked. If I can get my Achilles calmed down enough, I’m going for the 100 at Ghost Train in 2016.

  7. Sarah B says:

    Congratulations! I’d been watching your big runs on Strava but hadn’t realized this was your first 100.

    • cdan4th says:

      First and only. It’s an effort to find my favorite distance. So far, I think 50-milers are the most fun; require serious training, but don’t come with quite the same logistical hassles and degree of suffering.

  8. Chip says:

    Chuckiepoo,

    I finally read it to the end. You’re welcome. 🙂
    I’m really super, duper proud of your accomplishment. it certainly is not small feat finishing a race like this and you have it until you’re dead now. 🙂

    And, yah, that stuff at the end made my heart well. I’m sure for many it’s others that make the difference in success. Jason rocked! If he wasn’t married and had kids and didn’t live way out there, I’d stalk him to marriage! I can’t imagine him ON caffeine. What gem!

    I’m very, very, VERY happy for you! Welcome to the 100 Miler club!

  9. Bang Nhan says:

    Love Ella’s expression looking at you when you were sitting on the chair at the end of the race… Great race and report, Charles! Inspiring!

  10. David Haile says:

    I loved reading your article and seeing the photos. It is very inspirational.

    I’ll be running my 3rd ever organized race in two weeks – the BHTR 30k!

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