Bighorn Trail 100 Report
Bighorn Trail 100
June 17-18, 2011
By Mike Campbell
I decided to run Bighorn after hearing so many good things from other VHTRC members. The elevation peaked near 8,000 feet, so I figured this was achievable and had to check it out myself. The race began at 10 a.m., something new to me, instead of the usual start at least five hours earlier. I figured there was nothing unfair about that – we’d all be running overnight.
About a week before the race, the course changed due to snowy conditions and blocked roads. In the 10-year history of Bighorn, this was the fourth time this happened. If you decide to go to Bighorn, it’s not a fast or easy place to get to. There aren’t many direct flights to Billings, MT, and even after that, it’s another 2-hour drive to the race. An alternative was to drive in from Denver – even less desirable and longer on the road after flying in from the east. So on Thursday I flew in with my son-in-law, James, and we met my son, Michael, who flew in from Texas – both to be my crew and support for the weekend.
My sister, Linda, and her husband, Dan, drove in from Wisconsin and were able to be there for the race. It was nice to visit with them and their company gave me more incentive to finish. We caught up with Linda and Dan at the hotel (an old flour mill called Mill Inn) in Sheridan, and then we went to the race check-in. Everyone was pleasant and helpful, and I weighed in (143). We were told they would have medical and weight checks at three points during the race.
Next was the pre-race buffet dinner at Ole’s Pizza Place. I was with Linda and James and we met a nice man from Germany named Peter. He told us he has completed more than 20 races in the U.S. – marathons and ultras – but this was his first attempt at a 100.
Got back to the hotel fairly early to get organized and set for the next morning. Lights out around 7:30 p.m. and I actually slept for a few hours. Michael got in around 9:30 p.m. He missed his flight but thankfully was able to get on a later one and still make it in Thursday night.
The whole area was beautiful. A lot of green grass and fat cows, and we saw some deer, turkey, elk, and even a moose at one point. Everything looked nice and healthy so you know it must rain a lot.
Friday morning we drove 20 miles to Dayton for the pre-race briefing. One of the things I remember hearing was “racers will have NO problem following the course, but the crew will have a terrible time…you will need a 4X4 and lots of patience.”
Luckily, I didn’t have to put up with any of that, (all I had to do was run right?) but I did hear about the terrain from Michael and James.
Race started by the Elk Statue with the National Anthem, and then we were off for what was almost 20 miles of climbing. We ran about five miles on Tongue River Canyon Road and temps were in the upper 40s (about an 8 min/mile pace). I went shirtless after a couple miles because I knew it would be especially hot on the road sections.
They served water and Heed at each aid station, and as you know I only drink Gatorade. So between the non-crew stops, I carried Gatorade packets to mix my own drink, and then set my Garmin 310XT to beep every mile as a reminder to drink.
I slowed up a bit climbing to the next two aid stations, Fence Spring and Upper Sheep Out. It was sunny but windy and extremely muddy along the side of the mountain. The winds felt up to 30 mph with cooling temperatures, so I probably got more windburn than anything else. Rivers were running extremely fast with all the snowmelt and rain from the previous days. At times it was so loud you wouldn’t have been able to hear someone right next to you – let alone your iPod or other device if you carried one. The river was raging, about 20 times greater than what you would see with white-water rafting on TV, so we had to be careful not to slip running close to the shoreline at times.
I was glad to see my crew for the first time at Dry Fork #1 (miles 17.5). I pulled my tank top back up and added a nylon jacket. I got my first bottle of Ensure and felt a little better and energized.
To this point, we had crossed small streams and muddy sections, but at the bottom of the next section we had to cross a river. It was about 30 yards across with water above your knees. It was very chilly and running quite fast, so I had to sidestep my way across to alleviate being dragged downstream by the current. Some of the muddy sections would literally coat the bottom of my already wet shoes, making my feet each feel about 10 pounds heavier. The sagebrush lining the trail was also a constant annoyance – I definitely could have used higher socks or leggings!
Ran to the Twin Buttes turnaround through some more mud and snow. We also hit the 8,000’ mark, so coming back was a bit faster. I was surprised at the river crossing that was marked in red and wondered how long this section would take. There were a lot of changes and no one around, so I continued down the stream a bit hoping to wash some mud off my shoes. There were two logs strapped together with a taught line for balance that went about 10-15 yards, so didn’t get too much washed off my shoes, darn.
Back up to Dry Fork #2 I met my crew. I chugged another bottle of Ensure and took two bottles – one with Gatorade and the other with Ensure – since it would be 20 miles before another crew access aid station. My crew had to drive about 2.5 hours to the next checkpoint.
We had a good drop of about 700’ in three miles, so I was back in the 9 min/mile pace. Got to Creek Spring and then after three more miles to Cow Camp and we were now at 30.5 miles. My usual 15-20 second aid station stops were delayed since I was pulling out my packets to mix my own Gatorade. I got it down after awhile and since I already had my Ensure, I never worried about stopping to graze at the aid station buffet tables. Besides Ensure, I did eat pieces of PowerBar as usual, since I can digest those without any problem.
Ran about four more miles to Stock Tank station and then three more miles to Bear Camp. It wasn’t too bad since then I knew we would drop from 6,800’ to 4,500’ in about four miles to give my legs a break.
Upon arriving at Footbridge I saw my Crew and was directed to our first weigh-in. At this point I wasn’t too wobbly, so I was able to get my belt off and on the scale. I was down a pound at 142 - not bad. This was mile 41, so I needed to change my shoes (Brooks Cascadia). I noticed some of the leaders spending more time at the aid stations, so my strategy was to get in and out as fast as I could. A few had passed me on the last section, and I was able to catch them there. Before I left I took my headlamp because it would be dark before I saw my Crew back again at Footbridge.
Next was Cathedral Rock, and I topped my bottles off. This was enough so I didn’t have to stop at the next station, which was only three miles later. The next six miles was about a 2,000’ climb and slowed me down quite a bit. Three more miles to the turnaround at mile 50.3, and then I finally made it to Spring Marsh aid station. It was around 10 p.m. at this point – 12 hours into the race.
After the turnaround we reversed the last section, now dropping 900’ and then another 800’ to Footbridge. Even though it was dark, the reverse felt much better and I was able to make good time.
Back into Footbridge I loaded up with Gatorade and Ensure, since it would be another 21 miles until I saw my crew again. I also put on a heavier jacket, a stocking cap and my gloves. My 20-hour Garmin was down to 17 percent, so I plugged in my portable recharger (one of the coolest things all day). I connected the USB to the normal recharging clamp, which was small enough to put in my pocket with the cord that alongside the bottom of my arm. (Note: when I saw my crew again it was 100 percent charged so I wouldn’t have any problems in recording status for the entire run—yes!)
Since Friday was almost the longest day of the year, it was still quite light out. We had a clear sky and full moon, so I didn’t turn my headlamp on until after 9 p.m.
There was a lot of mud, and at one point I almost got my foot stuck. I was ankle deep in mud and could feel my foot coming out of the shoe. I repositioned and was able to pull it all out altogether. Thank goodness, because I didn’t want to have to dig out my shoe, clean it and attempt to get it back on. Rechecked my mental notes at this point – be careful where you step!
Had another weigh-in at mile 59.8 and I was up to 145 lbs – mud must be heavy? Next was a climb back up to Bear Camp. Had a little luxury coming down, but now had to climb 2,300’ in a little over three miles. My pace here was well over 20 min/mile.
I tell you coming into Bear Camp never looked so welcoming. I took a shot of Ginger Ale to settle my stomach and it was getting light at this point, around 4:40 a.m. Back down to Stock Tank and Cow Camp (mile 70.3), and then we climbed up 1,100’ to Dry Fork #3.
My crew was there all cheery and smiley face, ;>)) I guess it’s been a long night for them as well. Escorted back to the scale, the word was everyone had gained weight. Of course with soaked shoes and socks, plus an inch of mud, I estimated at least an extra 10 pounds. Fortunately I was peeing regularly and wasn’t bloated or white in the face, so I got to pass through.
Got to Twin Buttes in an hour, and then back to Dry Fork #4 in the next hour. Michael said it took me the same amount of time to do this loop as it did earlier in the race, so there was still something left in my tank. I also changed to my third pair of shoes, new Asics Trail, which I actually just got in the mail the day before we left Virginia. I was surprised I didn’t have any blisters after 80+ miles and a full day with wet feet. I felt good now and was ready to finish.
I was ready and all loaded up and my crew was off to journey back down the hill to the finish. The best news was we would be dropping from 7,500’ to 3,950’ at the finish. Since we were still pretty high and the wind was kicking, I kept my jacket on until it warmed up down in the canyon.
A few ups and downs – passed Upper Sheep, Fence Spring and Lower Sheep – we were dropping fast and the 50k runners were flying past us. There were no switchbacks and it was just about straight down hill. I tried to hold back but it was near impossible. I had no desire to run downhill this fast after 85 miles and my butt was just killing me. Finally reached the last aid station at Tongue River Canyon Road, with just 5 miles to go.
I figured if I could maintain 12 min/miles, I’d actually get this done under 28 hours. A few hours ago I thought this was impossible. So I did the run/walk, increasing my stride as much as I could. Someone handed me a popsicle, a welcome relief with the temperatures back in the 70s now. Then with about a mile to go, I saw James and he ran alongside for the remainder of the course – support I desperately needed.
James and I crossed the last bridge and passed the elk where we started and into Dayton’s Scott Park. I even managed to do a hotdog finish and passed a few fellow 100-milers, to meet Linda and Michael at the end.
I crossed the finish line, 100.7 miles at 1:44 p.m.
Finishing time: 27:44:18 for 33rd place.
- 29 bottles of Gatorade = 580 oz
- 10 bottles of Ensure
- 4 cups of ginger ale
- 2 cups of Pepsi (no Coke) :>((
- ½ a banana (twice)
- 2 Peanut butter PowerBars
- 4 Shots of Hammer Energy Gel
- 4 honey packets
- 17 - S-Caps
Calories burned: 8,915 (according to my Garmin 310XT)
Elevation gain: 17,619’
Average moving pace: 15:57 min/mi
Best pace: 05:09 min/mi (must have been straight down hill)
Max elevation: 8,078’
Synopsis: I was able to break the course/event record by two hours, and today bested the next 60 + to come in by four hours.
At first I thought 32 aid stations was overkill, but I sure didn’t think that when I was out there. The course was marked well, something every 50 or so yards, and I only got off track once. Learned my lesson not paying attention and following another runner down a hill and off course – luckily we caught ourselves before too long.
The awards were large rocks with the race and age group on them, and I wondered how I was going to get that thing home. I learned at the airport just how heavy it was when the thing set me over the weight limit. I figured it was 5 pounds – turned out to be 23 – so I dragged it along in my carry-on.
My crew - Michael and James - was the best. They were able to access about seven of the 32 stations and knew exactly what I needed physically, and to hear mentally each time. They have their own set of stories with adventures getting in and out of these stations, and our entire trip recorded 631 miles on the rental 4x4. We weathered between upper 30s to near 80 degrees, lots of stream crossings, mud and snow, but it all worked out. To have Linda and Dan there was especially gratifying driving all the way from Wisconsin.
I want to thank the race director Michelle and all the volunteers.
And love to my wonderful wife with support from home and mom who keeps the candles burning (x-20) in the church to keep me going.
Until next time - see you on the trails.
Photos: All pictures were taken by James Williams with the exception of the finishing picture which was taken by Michael Campbell, Jr.