I came into the bighorn 50 well prepared but with no expectations. I’d been training consistently all season, and I felt my fitness was good, however, bighorn was my first 50-mile race. I was nervous.
I came down early to cheer on my friends who were running the 100-mile race. All the race meetings, preparation and nerves caused a contagion in the air. I was a bit antsy. I even got a new nickname – anxious Allen – since my normal, bubbly self had turned into a quiet, pensive ball of nerves.
After the hundred-mile race started on Friday, I was able to relax, make a race plan and rest. I went for a nice 3-mile shake out run the last few miles of the course. This was a great idea! It prepared me mentally for the flat finish and gave me a sense of familiarity the next day when I was ready to be done running. I created a simple race plan: start slow; see how my body feels, then start racingthe last 20 miles. I figured I couldn’t do anything at this point but be confident in my training.
The race start was 6am. It was apoint-to-point race so we were being bused outto the start of the race at 4am. My 3:30 wake up call was painful. I managed to make some coffee sludge to drink on the bus on the way to the start and packed my fuel belt and hand-held with as many Hammer gels and Hammer bars to sustain me for 3 hours (about 800 calories worth). As the first light began to creep over the mountains we began unloading the buses into the chilly air. As the race commenced slightly downhill, we soon hit patches of snow and ice-cold puddles of water and mud. I heard bighorn was known for it’s shoe-sucking mud; this was no lie since I almost lost my Salomon Fellcross on two occasions in the first 5 miles.
I was trying to stick to my race-plan, to start slow and take it easy on the downhill; 3 ladies had already whizzed past me (I didn’t like that). But, I didn’t want to blow up my quads just yet; after all there was a net downhill of about 13,000ft to cover. Already my stomachwasn’t feeling the best, jumping through all the mud puddles didn’t help either. I still made myself eat every 20-25 minutes, and just hoped my stomach would settle. I distracted myself with the high, rolling meadows views and the single-track trail. The footing was pretty uneven, lots of rocks, roots, and of course, more mud. My goal was to run around a 9-hour race, an average of 6 miles per hour, I came into the first aid station at mile 8 doubting my ability to run for at least 8 more hours!
We continued to descend into the canyon through the pine forest and run along the river. I really began to enjoy the scenery and feel more comfortable about my pace. I had passed two girls on the section between miles 8 and 15, so I was feeling more confident going out slow. I was anticipating the first big climb of the day at mile 18. Although I love climbing (my nickname is Hillygoat) I was determined to keep this one easy. I was so excited to start climbing that I whizzed through the Foot Bridge aid station at the bottom of the hill without refilling my water bottle . . . oops! The climb was fairly gradual at first and then pretty much a straight shot up – no switchbacks. I came running through the mud to the aid station at the top of the hill (3.5 miles later). One guy said, “You know most people walk through that mud.” I was feeling good, so I just smiled, drank a bunch of water and kept on running.
This next section was fun. Rolling meadows, forests, and a few more uphills. I also learned the first place female wasn’t far ahead of me. Everyone that I passed kept telling me “you’re not far off the first woman, she’s right ahead of you.” I was excited because I was ready to race now, and mile 28 (the next aid station) was where I was prepared to start. I passed Anya shortly after the mile 28-aid station; weexchanged a few words of encouragement and kept moving forward.
The next section was exposed and rolling, we had to gain the 10,oooft of vertical gain somewhere! I was running all the hills at a comfortable pace, but I saw no one else doing this. I began to pass a lot of 50-mile racers at this point. Mile-34 was the Dry Fork aid station, a major aid station where I had a spare pair of shoes and socks waiting. I was so glad to have a change of socks and shoes at this point. The later part of the course was not as muddy as the first and my feet were wet from all the water. Something really special about this race was that my parents came out to watch. They were expecting me at mile 34 and it was such a source of encouragement to hear my mom, dad and everyone cheering as I came running up the hill (I think they were shocked that I was runningsince everyone else was walking that big hill into Dry Fork). The aid station volunteers were so helpful and attentive. They got my drop bag right away and got me food and water, while I was changing into my pink Swiftwick socks and Pearlizumi N2’s. This race, and all the aid stations were so well organized.
As I ran out of Dry Fork I thought: “This was now the time to race!” I was feeling excited. My legs still had juice left and I was the only one running the climbs at this point (there were still a few steep ones left, in particular, the climb called ‘the haul’ around mile 40 was definitely steep). I felt strong, and there were a lot of people on the course encouraging me. I had been passing 100-mile finishers, but now I was running into the 30k and 50k finishers. It gave me energy on the trials. After the last ‘haul’ of a hill, I began to hammer the downhill.
The steep descent was painful and unrelenting. No switchbacks, just straight, off-camber, uneven, nasty downhill. I remember wishing the downhill would end, but it kept going and going and going. I let out a couple screams to help alleviate the pain. I remember hearing the river and knowing I was getting close tothe mouth of the canyon. The trail kept bringing me down, me legs began to feel the miles and I was wishing the decent would end! I ran through a couple aid stations (one at mile 39 and 42.5) until finally I came screaming around a corner off the single-track and onto the dirt road and another aid station. PHEW! I had 5 miles left.
My goal of a 3-hour finish seemed tangible. My watch read 2:15Pm, I had 45 minutes to cover 5 miles. By this point, eating was becoming hard, but I still forced myself to eat a get every20-25 minutes.
I tried to keep my mind on my breath because every time I thought about the finish I would get tears in my eyes . . . I think I was bonking, or low on salt. Probably just bonking because I startedcrying on a tiny little hill on the dirt road, a pretty good indication I was exhausted. The last aid station I was a mess too. I only had two miles to go, but I cried while asking to have my water topped off. I stuffed my face with a fistful of m&ms, felt instantly better and took off. My watch read 2:45pm. It was then I realized I could finish at 9 hours. My stride felt fluid and the last two miles I clicked off a 6:50 pace. I came into the park in Dayton so ready to be done, I know the look on my face was pain, but as I crossed the finish line I instantly started crying. My friends and family told me I had taken the course record in 8:56:39. It was such a challenging race, and a pretty tough 50 to choose for my first, but the organization, views and energy of the race make me want to race it again.
After the race, I was so happy to be done that I forgot to eat something. I will never make this mistake again because the next couple hours were very painful with stomach cramps. I couldn’t eat again until 9pm that night. Overall I was very happy with my race. My simple race plan worked well, mainly it was about not stressing out and finishing strong. Next time I would do a better job of eating more the second half of the race so I can avoid bonking, and probably take another s-cap (I had 7 during the race). I would highly recommend this race not only because it is so well organized and supported, but the trails are just spectacular. I can’t wait to do this race again, once my quads recover.