It is around December when I am usually considering what races I might do the next year. Looking ahead to 2021 was a little different as I had several races from 2020 that were rolled over to 2021 due to the pandemic. The biggest race on my rollover calendar was Lavaredo in Italy at the end of June.
But then many of my local friends started to talk about doing Bighorn in June offering a variety of distances from the 100 miler, 52 miler and 32 miler. While I really wanted to do Lavaredo, my family was not comfortable with me traveling to Italy and Bighorn was one of my bucket-list races, so the decision became easy. Then immediately my parents and my husband Ed all wanted to go to Wyoming to join me and the others at the Bighorn race.
My training leading up to the race was some of my strongest. I was feeling great but big mountain 100 milers which are some of my favorite races also scare me to death. DNFing a race does not scare me. It is the unknown and all the things that can go wrong that scares me but excites me at the same time.
Knowing Brad Goodridge was going to be my crew chief takes a huge load off my mind. He takes care of all the details that are out of my control, and I know he will not miss a thing. He usually has much more confidence in me than I have in myself and lets me know when I need it most that I can do it!
Sherri was going to pace me as well as Ed. Both strong climbers and could join me on sections of the course that had the biggest climbing sections. Those are the plans I had laid out but when I say big mountain races scare me to death, it is largely because in 100-mile races, my experience says plans do not always go as expected. Bighorn 100 would be no exception. If you have a run 100 miler, one thing that you learn is that they are a 100 miles of problem solving. Having a plan is great but being able to adjust your plan becomes the game changer that can save your race.
The Bighorn 100 has experienced rain the last several years of the race. That rain leads to lots and lots of shoe sucking mud. It also goes up to a fairly high altitude that is notoriously very cold and often snow covered during the over-night hours. All of this with around 22,000 feet of climbing and a 35-hour cutoff. I had an “A” goal of a 30-hour finish but really my main goal is always to finish and have fun. I love the mountains and enjoy the trails and scenery. God has created a beautiful masterpiece and it is an honor and privilege to be able to run in it and I never take that for granted! We do these races to go places few will see, experience limits few will push, and gain a perspective we would otherwise never have!
The race starts off with a very large climb of over 4,000 feet in just the first few miles once you hit the single tracts. Due to logistics, Brad did not go to the start of the race, but Ed and the rest of the Atlanta crew saw us off. I knew Brad would be waiting for me at mile 13.5. Early in the race but after the race’s first major climbs so he would have a good gauge on how I was doing. From there it would be rolling hills and a good downhill drop into the 30-mile mark and picking up Sherri for the big 18-mile climb to the high point of the race.
Those first 30 miles seemed to go by quickly. The scenery was spectacular, and I shared some of the miles chatting with a couple guys from Denver. It was the final aid station (AS) before dropping into Sally’s Footbridge, the 26.5-mile AS where I came across the first of our Atlanta runners. The heat of the day had started to get him and slowing down some and cooling off at AS is definitely a key in the heat.
I got to Brad at Sally’s Footbridge where I picked up Sherri. I was feeling great and ready to have company for the big climbs ahead. The course was so beautiful, and I was excited that Sherri was going to have lots of hours in the daylight to enjoy its beauty. She usually paces me during night hours and misses so much. I did not want her to miss this course. It is also here that you have to be sure to get your lights and warm clothes for the night. It is easy to see why people forget that because of how warm it is at this point in the race and nowhere near dark. This is always when my check list for Brad comes in handy. He makes sure I do not miss a thing especially later in the race when I can no longer think for myself. This next section as Sherri and I began the long climb toward the mile 48 turn around, was when I got my first punch in the face. So far, my race had been going perfectly as planned but those plans were beginning to be challenged. Living in Atlanta does not give us any altitude training although we had gotten heat in recent weeks, which would later prove to be helpful. As we quickly rose in altitude, I began struggling to breath. I knew it was the altitude, but it had caught me off guard as I have run at altitude in other races and never experienced any issues. Now it almost seemed the life was being sucked right out of me. All I knew to do was just keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. Sherri kept encouraging me saying that I was doing great.
We finally got to the AS 8 miles from the turn around. It had seemed slow going but it was still a while before dark and so far, not gotten cold on us. I sat down a minute to reset things and take in some warm broth. Let me say here, that these AS were over the top and some of the very best. The volunteers were experienced and knew exactly what to ask and do for you. Some AS were so remote that they used horses to get the supplies into them. That is some dedication to help out runners!
So here I sat needing to reset things and get my mind into a positive mode instead of being discouraged. One of the AS workers must have immediately seen I was not doing well or in a good place. He began waiting on me and seemed to have taken me on as his personal project. He gave me a few minutes to drink my broth and then he came over with a pulseox tool to check my heart rate and oxygen levels. He knew right away I needed to recover some more before leaving. He would come back to check my oxygen levels again several more times before allowing me to leave when my readings got back into good ranges. Even though we continued to climb in altitude I had gotten over the hump and didn’t really struggle as much after that.
The next AS was 4 miles from the top and turnaround. Sherri and I finally got out our lights and put on warm layers and jackets. It was dark and cold as we came into the Jaws AS at the turnaround. Brad was parked and waiting on the road just outside beyond the AS. As soon as Sherri and I walked in, one of the AS workers immediately came over and took hold of me. I wanted to use the porta-potty and get some more broth. Again, this worker took me on as her personal project not letting me out of her sight, even holding onto me to guide me. I must have looked worse than I felt. Soon I was out of there. Quick stop with Brad to drop Sherri off and adjust a few things before I was ready to take off getting down out of the cold and altitude. I ran on and off with other runners all the way down the mountain.
Brad and Sherri met me back at Sally’s Footbridge just before the sun came up. Sherri was originally planning to jump in here and pace me for the next brutal climb and about 17 miles. She hinted as we came into Jaws that she might not jump back in. She knew my goal of 30 hours was within my grasp and she did not want to slow me down. So, I had mentally prepared myself to finish solo.
I dumped a bunch of gear here to lighten my pack and knew I did not need all the extra things because it would soon be daylight and warm out. The next 3.5 miles was an unbelievably tough climb up at least 3,000 feet. Once I got there it felt like I was home free with a nice rolling section ahead. During this long 7-mile section, the day would start to heat up and by the end as I got to the next remote AS, the course was completely exposed and the sun was out in full force. The beauty of this course was also in full force.
I now had 6 miles and another rough climb leading into an AS and seeing Brad and Sherri one final time. Now the 32-mile runners were on the course and began giving encouragement to us 100-mile runners which was appreciated. The oven of the day began to really take its toll. Not just on my pace but my spirits as well. I knew I would see Brad very soon and knowing he had some cold drinks for me kept me moving forward when I did not think I could.
Brad came down the trail a bit and walked me into the AS. I know the look on my face might not have showed it but I am not sure I was ever so happy to see you Brad! Another fairly quick reset. I was anxious to get this race finished. Brad and Sherri updated me telling me that Ed wanted to pace me in the final 4 miles so now I had that to look forward to.
The next AS was another reset from the heat then on to the final big uphill push before a long decent and some flat miles to the finish. Rami Odeh was running the 32-mile race and as luck would have it, he was just behind me near the top of that final hard steep climb. I waited at the top for him. Rami had also been working with me as my coach on nutrition and weight training over the last few months. He had seen me through some extremely challenging times in my life and I was very happy to see him now. I was ready to have company and have him pace me to the finish.
Even that plan was short lived. As we headed down, I took off running (well I called it running) and ended up dropping Rami. Just like our more recent training runs together, sorry coach, call it a testament to your good coaching! This long downhill that we came up just the morning before seemed way longer than I had remembered, even though it was endless going up. And as one plan falls through to have Rami pace me in, I see my husband, Ed coming up the trail towards me ready to pace me in the last 10 miles of the race. My legs felt great, my feet were in good shape, my stomach was doing okay but the heat had now just about brought me to my knees. It was midafternoon and not an ounce of shade anywhere.
A couple of more AS and a lot more heat, I finally crossed the finish line. As you come into Dayton, Wyoming, the finish line was in a packed park, the crowds were overwhelming. The long shoot to the finish was lined with people cheering in the runners. It was that 100-mile bib I wore that almost had crowds on their feet to cheer for you. It was all I could do to smile as I crossed the finish line. I would have been in tears but honestly, I think I was too dehydrated to produce any or they dried on my face in the heat. I nearly collapsed into a chair and needed several cold cups of water as Brad and Sherri were immediately at my side helping me.
We found a shady spot in the grass for me to lay down and recover. Sherri collected my buckle and finishers jacket for me. A little while later Rami came in and joined us and we all got a cold beer to drink.
So while my “A” goal didn’t happen as I missed it by about 45 minutes, my goal to finish and have fun was more than met.
Such a well put on race! I cannot express enough how great a job they did with this race. The pre-race activities, the swag, the RD’s, shuttle drivers, to all the many, many great volunteers. We do not run these races without a lot of people helping us along the way. I have run lots of beautiful courses and you really cannot compare them. Bighorn though was spectacular with its beauty and if you have to suffer on some mountains somewhere, this scenery will definitely keep you in good spirits. I feel blessed by all the great people helping me and to have finished when nearly half of the runners who started the race did not. Embrace the journey because every step is a blessing! Great friends and family are an even bigger blessing!