Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bighorn 100M!

129 starters, 87 finishers
Time: 25:10
Place: 17th, 1st Girl
Zero blisters and zero lost toenails
My altimeter read 17,500 feet of climb

By Tuesday I was almost all packed and ready to go but we all got an email from the Bighorn race director letting us know there was a course change coming. The snow in the high country left Porcupine Pass under 3 feet of snow. This wasn’t a big deal to me because I didn’t know the old course. I had to make some last minute changes to my pace chart and crew bags but was looking forward to joining the massive Oregon contingent at the Bighorn 100M race.

Our journey to Billings MT. was uneventful and went smoothly. I was surprisingly relaxed about the race. I didn’t feel any pressure or nerves going into the event. Based on Olga’s email to me she thought I would be running for a 3rd place position and that was just fine with me. I built a pace chart for a 26 hour finish and thought that would be a good stretch goal for me. With a leisurely 11:00 a.m. start on Friday we had lots of time to go shopping for supplies, attend the pre-race weigh in and have a casual dinner before hitting the sack.

On Friday we were up early, having coffee and breakfast before we made our way to the pre-race briefing. The temperatures were warm but the occasional cloud help keep the real heat at bay. We chatted with other runners and energy in the air was thick especially from the Oregon gang. While they were giving us a brief description of the course, outlining the rules and going over course markings I ate another meal so I would have ample calories going into the race. I also drank 35 ounces of hydrate.

After the briefing we drove over to the start and mingled around some more. We prepped our bodies with sunscreen and bodyglide. I was getting anxious to get this show on the road! Finally it was time to make our way to the start line where Micheal and I tucked in the middle of the pack. Bill, Kris and Darin wished us all well and told us to work hard. The first section was a long uphill grind gaining about 3500 feet but before we hit the single track we got a good stretch on a the gravel road. This helped the runners span out and find their groove. This worked nicely for Micheal and I because when we hit the single track we may have only passed 2 people and only got passed twice for a solid 8.5 miles. The train of runners was an awesome sight as they made their way up the open meadow. The trail was narrow and uneven but that’s what I expected. The wildflowers were bright and beautiful. Steve caught up with Micheal and me and started giving me grief about how I must have underestimated this climb and it’s difficultly. He loves to poke fun at me and my pace charts. Unfortunately for him we arrived at the first aid station only 30 seconds late and he laughed and sighed. Since it was Steve’s birthday I refrained from giving him grief back. The next section was up and over Freeze Point and down into Dry Fork at mile 15.3. This would be the first time I see my crew. We climbed higher in altitude and hovered around 7500 feet up on Freeze Point as we traveled through the thick mud at the top. Then it was a nice downhill into Dry Fork. My crew was all smiles as they attended to Micheal and me. My weight was spot on. They were ready with more G2O and gels for our next journey to Cow Camp, Riley Ridge then back here. The section to Cow Camp was nice because for a brief moment the trail was clear and easy to navigate. I took full advantage of this terrain and cruised my way down to Cow Camp. The next climb up Riley Ridge was new this year as part the re-route. I thought this climb would remind me of the steep side of Dog Mountain in our Gorge. At Cow Camp Micheal and I ran in to Dave Stevenson (another Oregonian) and we all started our climb together. Within about 10 feet Dave was pulling away busting up the climb like a goat. We were soon passed by Katherine who was a fabulous climber. I could feel the tug on my lungs as we made our way up 8,500 feet. We meandered up the hill through the brushy grass and onto a narrow trail. With many false summits it was hard to determine the true top. I know how long it takes me to climb Dog Mountain and since this was very similar I used my watch as a gauge to help me stay focused. Finally at the summit we found a small aid station but since I wasn’t planning on one I needed nothing and continued on. At the top we began our traverse across the ridge on a dirt road littered with snow and mud. I remember what Jeff had told me about not fighting the mud on this course and just going with flow easy and steady. Using this imagery helped my mental state because the snow drifts and mud continued from about 3 miles. Finally the Dry Fork aid station came in view but it was still another 2 miles away. This road led us through the trees along the ridge line before dropping us steeply into the aid station at Dry Fork, mile 29.6. I was way ahead of my pace chart at this point but feeling like I was running very comfortably, not pushing but not resting on my heels. My body felt great and my fueling was spot on. When I arrived my crew was ready as usual and I was hungry. I scarfed down my solids like I hadn’t seen food in days then asked, “Do you guys know what place I am in”? Darin casually says, “3rd, and the front girls are right there”. I was shocked and replied, “Really, are you sure”. A firm yes came from the team and I was out of there.

On our way again to Cow Camp on this nice section of runnable terrain free of rocks and mud I made good time. All the while asking myself if I am pushing too hard and if I should take the lead? This was an interesting place for me to be since I am never leading a race. I didn’t even know what that would be like and wasn’t sure I wanted the pressure so I held back behind Katherine who was about 200 yards behind the lead girl. She was running well but starting taking walk breaks so I followed her lead. All three of us came into Cow Camp together but the leader was gone in a flash. I just needed water and a banana and was on my way while Katherine messed around with her bladder pack adjusting the weight. Within about 1 minute I was on the heels of the leader and she was walking, maybe still eating, I am not sure. I passed with full thoughts she would pass me back soon. This section was really nice, sort of rolling with a narrow trail but a nice break from the steep stuff we had been doing. The clouds were covering the sky and spitting rain which felt nice. I cranked up my headphones and immersed myself in my music waiting for the two girls to catch me. During this section I passed a few men and they would either passed back or tucked in behind and follow. I found them to be very competitive and it was fun to draw from their energy. We chatted and ran and since we were all having so much fun our pace was picking up. Before I knew it Bear Camp aid station appeared and I needed nothing for the fast 3.5 miles into Footbridge. I was looking forward to the downhill flying. This trail was technical and steep, just my kind of fun. I passed a few folks busting down this section and with no other girl in sight it became clear that I was leading and it was my race to give away. I didn’t like this and was uncomfortable in this mindset. I tried to give myself an out but I couldn’t seem to let the temptation of possibility winning go. People were super supportive and I felt the energy from the runners around me as they all let me know I was in first place. All of this was really inspiring and very unnerving at the same time. I wasn’t sure what to do with it all.

Into Footbridge at mile 46.1 we see our crew and we have to travel 1.4 miles out and then back. Here I would see just how much I gapped the others. Darin joined me for this section and he gave me the run down of their day, their moose sightings, river forging with the car and Kris’s ability to fall asleep instantly. It was fun to hear the stories. On our way back to Footbridge we saw all 3 girls and how much of a lead I had which was NOT MUCH! They all looked strong and focused which meant I either had to get my head in this game or lose it. With not much more than a 7 minute lead on Katherine I felt extreme pressure but excited too. I couldn’t decide which emotion was ruling my race. At Footbridge I picked up Bill for the out and back section to Leaky Mountain. It was super dark and I was getting tired. I was stressed but didn’t really know it. Today I can easily identify my emotional state……..STRESSED! Bill and I left and made good time to the first aid station which I decided was short because our time was fast. On our way there we see Jeff who is leading and he looks focused and fast but takes the time to cheer me on. Next we see Justin being paced by Scott who was really stoked to see me leading. The next 4+ miles were not fun! The trail was super rocky and narrow. It was the kind of grade I could run but only if I worked hard. I ran/walked all the way but walked more. I was a bit frustrated because I felt like I should be running but when I did the grade and the trail halted me. I wondered deep in my thoughts and tried to discern if the trail was ruling me or if my mental state was taking over making it harder than it really was. I wondered if the pressure and excitement was creating fatigue or pushing it away. All these emotions and feelings were new experiences for me during a 100M race. I never came to a conclusion on what was driving my pace. Finally at the turn I ask for some broth and 3 cups of water to be dumped in my bladder for the trip back to Footbridge. I knew the trip back was all downhill but I also knew it was super rocky and hard to see the trail with the overgrown bushes. Bill got out in front and drove the pace. I would let him know if I needed him to go faster. This was another opportunity for me to determine my gap and I was praying I grabbed some minutes. We came across Katherine and figured I grabbed about another 2 minutes in the last 7 miles which wasn’t much but it was something. We kept our pace and again the pressure to move felt heavy. I cranked up my headphones and pushed forcing Bill to move faster. At this point we are seeing everyone from Oregon and they are all so excited and supportive it almost brought me to tears. There were tons of words of encouragement and now I felt honored to represent at Bighorn which gave me a boost. We scampered past the Cathedral Rock aid station because I didn’t need anything and really just wanted out this section. I was moving pretty well through here until I slipped and fell causing Bill to jump and come rushing to my rescue as I landed upside down with my legs in the air. I have no idea how that happened but it was quick. There was no damage and I barely stalled before we were off again. FINALLY into Footbridge again and I was thankful to have that piece of trail behind me, whew! I was trying to be quick here and got a little wimpy with my crew who all held there calm collectiveness. My friends and husband are amazing! They are so patient, funny and motivating, never giving up on me. In fact, they have high expectations and I love that. They are super special people so I felt bad when I got snappy at them but fortunately they just laughed.

I remembered thinking when I was coming down into Footbridge the first time, loving the downhill and basking in the relentless technical trail that coming up this would suck. AND….it did! When Darin and I left Footbridge at mile 63.9 I knew the next 15 miles were going to be very challenging but I had no idea just how slow I could go. I was ready for the final third of this run but I was feeling low. I took another gel and we began our climb. I struggled. My legs were tired, my mind was tired, I knew I was being chased, I felt desire to push but my body wouldn’t respond. My legs were heavy and my breathing felt labored. It was slow going. I felt bad for Darin and mad at myself. I wanted to be tougher, stronger and have spring in my step. I drew on all I had mentally and physically. Since my physical state was at a low all I really had was my mind and that can be a scary place! I began to feel sorry for myself and pissed at the same time. I had to go there; the positive nuggets of life were not going to make a dent in my mental low. I am a good climber but this was kicking my a__ big time. I began to just laugh at myself and the pathetic state I was in even bending over and using my hands, on all fours trying to climb the steep grade. If Darin had a camera it wouldn’t be a pretty sight. It would look like a desperate broken runner using everything including their hands…..very sad but that was real…..I wasn’t faking. Reaching Bear Camp was so sweet. I was in no better shape but that section was checked off the box and I didn’t have think about it anymore. The sun was going to be coming up soon on this next section of rolling narrow trail but at least the steep climb was over for now and I would be able to see the trail better!

I took in more caffeinated gels trying to bring myself back to life. I knew from this point on my race was going to be mental and if I was lucky enough to have a moment of glory I better milk it for all it’s worth because my body was fatigued. Making our way to back to Cow Camp was slow still but better than the last section. I was feeling great pressure to keep moving as best I could. I know how these long runs are and if any one of those girls caught a wave I would be passed like I was standing still. That is how it goes in a 100M race and I know this because I am usually one of those folks and it’s awesome! Darin kept a watchful eye as he pressed me in his sweet but determined way. Steady and positive but with expectations is the way he drove me. It seemed like forever but we had finally found Cow Camp. It was fully light out by now. The last two sections were slow and way off my pace chart and that made me mad and disgusted. I was determined to do better and with that in mind we began our climb back up Riley Ridge. Fully aware of the false summits I didn’t even look up, heads down and focused is how I went after this climb. I knew we were heading back up to 8,500 feet and I refrained from taking in to many calories. I wanted to be easy my stomach as we climbed high quickly because my body was already weak. This was a smart move for me because my stomach had been good all day and I wanted to keep it that way. I felt minor bloating near the top of the climb but that could have just been my stomach muscles protesting from the heavy breathing. We booked up this beating my prediction by 15 minutes….thank goodness! I needed a good section. At the top I needed nothing so I continued fully aware of the mud/snow adventure that awaited. Fortunately it was early in the morning and the ground was still frozen making this easier to travel through. Don’t get me wrong, the snow/mud was still not fun but at least my feet weren’t sinking 3 inches. Speaking of feet, mine were sore and my shoes felt super heavy with all the mud. I told Darin I was thinking of changing my shoes at Dry Fork to lighten the load. I could feel dirt clots inside my shoes and they were creating pressure points. My feet hurt. I worked on getting a rhythm going and was at least moving faster on the ridge. I couldn’t wait for the 2 miles of downhill into Dry Fork. It seemed like forever on the ridge line but again I saw the aid station far below and knew we were close. As we began our descent the 50K runners were just beginning their race coming up towards us. They were awesome, motivating, clapping and yelling which forced me to buck it up and look strong. In turn of course I began moving faster and actually running really fast down into Dry Fork. Here Bill and Kris had been waiting very stressed. They thought I was going to be faster and according to Kris, Bill was willing me down the hill saying, “Please come down the hill, please come down the hill”, very sweet. He looked tired and worried. Of course the first thing I ask, “How close is the next girl”? He stressfully replies, “Within 12 minutes, you have no time to waist, run hard”. I got chocked up and used the moment of weakness to drive me. I was beat! That was the last thing I wanted to hear and I am sure Darin felt the same. We left quickly and I had forgotten all about my plan to change my heavy shoes, oh well. I ran/walked all the inclines and tried to run every downhill as fast as I could. We got to Sheep Creek fairly quickly it seemed but I am sure it was slow. The day was heating up but I wanted to sweat. My hands and forearms were swollen up and I thought sweating would help. They were probably swollen due to the swinging of my arms and the altitude. At Sheep Creek I announce to Darin I am sitting in the creek. Mind you this is snow run off and it’s very cold but I couldn’t wait to get in. Down I go fully submerged from the waist down. Immediately my shoes empty tons of muddy liquid and I dig off the mud on my legs. The cold water felt awesome and gave my legs new life. Darin gave me 1 minute of this blissful treatment then it was back to business. When I got up I could feel the lightness in my shoes. That was good move, get all the mud out! I had more life in my legs and really started moving until we hit a climb. Then it was like the energizer bunny completely out of batteries. I had nothing on the climbs! At one point on a steep little 200 foot climb I turned around, faced Darin and put my hands on his shoulders for rest. He looked shocked but quickly said, “You can have 30 seconds”. I was weak but felt like 30 seconds would help and it did. For the last 10 miles we had been leapfrogging with another runner who was superb on the climbs, a power hiking freak. He passed me during my rest with words of encouragement but quickly disappeared in the meadow. At the top of this I clicked my watch over to see our altitude and it read 7,500 feet. I knew we needed to drop to 4,500 and with only 7.5 miles to go and 5 of it flat I knew we were going to drop like flies. I remembered climbing up this and the trial was super narrow at times and a bit steep in sections. Darin kept on me forcing me to run even on the rollers and I did. Another 30 second creek dive helped keep me springy…..or so it seemed at the time. Down, down, down the meadow on the narrow trail that just kept going on forever. The sun was hot but I didn’t seem to feel the heat. At this point I think I was just so low on energy, mind power and body power that I was numb to the elements. I was just focused and running scared hoping to bring the end closer faster! As we wound through the beautiful canyon with the raging river crushing beside us I was still wondering if I could pull this off. Even with less than 6 miles to the finish I didn’t feel comfortable or confident. I wondered if I had it in me to put up a fight if I needed. I seriously wasn’t sure I did. I also thought about how I would feel if I couldn’t pull this off and got passed in the final stretch. I guess this was interesting stuff for my mind to ponder as we approached the road. The canyon trail dumped us onto the gravel road and for some reason I thought we only had 3 miles to go but when we arrived to see a very happy crew they enthusiastically said, “yeah, your awesome…only 5 miles to the finish”. WHAT???? Are you sure???? Yes, it was five long hot miles on a gravel country road, it was hard, and my legs were swollen and dead. Darin forced me to shuffle from shade tree to shade tree and even encouraged me to pass more runners. When we finally reached the end of the road and could see the paved stretch to the finish I was overwhelmed with excitement. I was so glad to have found the finish line and be the woman’s winner. I ran as strong as my body would which at the time seemed pretty fast and in good form but the pictures tell another story. I was definitely beat up, swollen and looked very tired. Folks were super excited to see me come in or at least they seemed so and I went with it soaking in every last cheer and roar. What a wild ride of emotions that was. I was proud of myself for never letting up even in some really dark times when my body was screaming, NO MORE!

Once I finished I walked around a bit then found some shade and immediately took my shoes off my poor feet. They felt squished and swollen but when I got my socks off they didn’t look too bad. I was happy to see all my toe nails and all them were still wearing the blue polish I had put on before the race. I turned them over for a blister inspection and found none but that wasn’t surprising because I never felt hot spots. My legs were definitely thrashed and super swollen. I suspect the altitude messed up some of my fluids along with just simply having 100M of torturous trails under them caused the bloating. The RD was really happy with my run and told me it was the second fastest woman’s time for the Bighorn 100M. Of course it’s not the original route and he encouraged me to come back next year to see what I could do. All the time he was talking I was thinking I am never running again but we all know how that goes……just give it a few hours. At this point Bill confesses he lied to me at the last Dry Fork telling me the hunt was close and I was being closed in on. The truth is I had plenty of time but he knew I would turn into a slacker if I felt any sort of comfort. He is a genious because he is absolutely right! After about 1 hour of laying around in the shade trying to drink my recovery drink I began to feel nauseas and dizzy. I had to go to the bathroom but needed a bit of assistance. Kris escorted me to the toilet; I came out and needed to lie down. I was immediately surrounded by medical folks and was too out of it to care. I felt the gaze of others and wanted to hide but had nothing in me to get up drag myself out of sight. I laid by the river with my feet on the high side as they pumped oxygen in me. They said it would make me feel better but it didn’t. They finally took the mask off and I told them I was feeling better but I wasn’t. Within about a minute I was throwing up and with nothing in my stomach it was more like dry heaving. Thankfully that made me feel better and I wanted to get in the car and go. We proceeded towards the car and began our journey to the hotel. Bill had to pull over one time so I could continue my dry heaving while everyone in the car seemed completely fine with it. It was funny how this brief but disgusting behavior didn’t even raise a hair as if it was normal and okay….I love ultra runners. Once back at the room sipping on electrolytes I started to feel better. I got all cleaned up and we headed out to eat. My stomach was not taking much food but I was over my nausea.

I didn’t sleep much that afternoon or night because my legs were so hot and they just wanted to move around. I awoke early and was still in shock over my race and I felt pretty good walking around. At the awards ceremony the RD called Jeff and I up and talked about the race and announced we were the winners. Next he handed Jeff the microphone and I felt suddenly sick….please don’t make me talk in that thing. I listened to Jeff’s words on the race and when he was done I didn’t reach for the microphone hoping the RD would just move on but NO! He took it from Jeff then handed it to me, yikes. I don’t even remember what I said but I think I may have pulled it off and not made a complete fool of myself. I received $150 gift card to the sport store in town, a rock for my first place 40-49 age group, a buckle and a cool pull over. We hung around and chatted with everyone then headed to the sport shop where I spent my gift card on new running shoes and stuff. It was super fun and exciting. Winning is cool!

Our trip home was hard starting with a cancelled flight. We had to stay another night in Billings, MT. That was okay and we all just went with the flow but in the morning when we were in the shuttle van back to the airport we were struck by a flying piece of sheet metal. It was big and I could see it coming, hoping the driver didn’t swerve into on coming traffic I ducked behind the seat knowing it was going to damage. Fortunately only the van was hurt, we were all fine but all of us looked at each other as if to say, “Wow, what’s up? Are we supposed to stay here”? All went well from there home thank goodness.
Now it’s time to recover and get back at it next week. I feel pretty good and spent some time in the weight room today. I will go for a run tomorrow and see if things are working yet. It’s so much fun, going to these events with friends and family, sharing the journey then reliving it over and over again. It’s truly an addiction!


  1. Ronda, you messed up, I said you can run 25 hrs, not 26! :) Way to go, girlie, what a ride! You did look stressed on that out-back section, and yes, leading by 10 min is no fun and too much pressure, but you handled it, and at the end that's what matters. Awesome job! Can't believe your description of after-race completely falls into mine, yuk, what's up with that! Congrats again, and now - on to the Teton win, right? :)

  2. Congrats Ronda!What a great race. Your posts are so motivational to a mini-ultra runner like me. Enjoy your "Rock". Go Oregon!

  3. You are just so incredibly awesome. I'm very inspired by you. Just so you know.

    I'm sorry you had to spend extra time in Billings -- I swear western MT is a lot nicer :-)

  4. Textbook performance rooster. Was thrilling to watch you take the lead so early on and keep it to the end. I still can't believe you ate that last sweet potato mess...disgusting. Mark would have been proud. ;] Thanks for the crash course in crewing!

  5. Congratulations, Ronda! I have enjoyed following your blog ever since your Slam summer from 07. Thanks for sharing your training, race prep, and awesome race reports---they are excellent motivators as I prepare for the Grindstone 100 in VA (a new 100 this year with 23,000 feet of climb/descent). You were clearly mentally and physically prepared for Bighorn, and your husband did a great job of "motivating" you not to slack off. Loved that! Great job! Best of luck in your races later in the summer.

  6. Mmmmmh...turkey slider :-)

    What a great adventure...thanks!

  7. Well, I called it over on Meltzer blog. Great race and report, Ronda. Enjoy your victory while you rest -- then go use the new running gear you got with your gift certificate!

  8. WOW what an awesome Re-Cap Ronda... very good insight on ur emotions, leading & what it felt like to maintain it and then to WIN :-) well worth a little dry heaves amongts friends after that effort...

    You Rocked it!!!

    and SO cool I will meet you at GTR this is going to be a huge test for this FL flat sea level runner :-) ...last year that was my first 50 miler so since Kettle ended at 100k this WILL be my 100 miler ... will be fun watching you tackle that looped course it is amazing & u see a lot of peeps along the way...

    Recover well Ronda & very excited for you on ur first place victory, CONGRATS!!!!

  9. I have had nightmares about you passing me on a 100 and now it is over. I knew it would happen and congrats to the best prepared runner. I love your focus and inner power.


  10. Congratulations on a fine race, Ronda! Way to hang in there and push to the finish line in first place. What a great victory!! Rest up and recover well.

  11. Congratulations Ronda! That is so cool - though I'm not surprised! ;) Nice recap - rest well!

  12. WOO HOO, 1st girl! I am so utterly not surprise and yet so utterly psyched for you. All that diligent hard work and discipline and, and, and everything else PAID OFF. Not that winning is everything, right? ;) Enjoy the afterglow, Rooster, and not by going out for Black Friday or Red Saturday or whatever and doing 50 million repeats! >:) (PS Billings is to Montana as, say, Yakima is to Washington?)

  13. What a great report! Again, huge congrats on a fantastic race! I've been excited for you all week! Rest well!

  14. Great race and wonderful report!

    I was really focused on the pancakes at the award ceremony and don't remember exactly what you said, but I do remember thinking it was very sincere and eloquent. Well done!