Friday, July 1, 2016

Big Horn, A Big DNF, and Our visit to Billings and Yellowstone

Big Horn

There is a saying in the ultra running community that DNF stands for "Did Nothing Fatal."

On June 18th, the 900th day of my running streak I took on the Big Horn 52 mile trail run in Wyoming.  As you can probably guess by the title, I didn't complete the run and recorded my first ever DNF.  While at the time, it seemed like a big disappointment, I have already come to peace with the race and am happy with my effort.

Big Horn has 4 options for races: 104, 52, 34, 18.  The 104 is an out and back, you are bused to the midpoint for the 52 and other segments of the course for the 34 and 18.

JAWS Trail Head before the Race

Race day began at 2:45am (Earliest ever, edging out a 3:30am wake up for the RI 70.3 back in 2010) where I caught a 3:15 bus across the street from my hotel.  We arrived at the start of the race (JAWS trail head) around 5:15. I then spoke with a 100 miler who called it a day at the 50 mile mark.  He said the previous day's heat had put a hurt on him, but enjoyed hiking up to the turnaround under the light of a full moon.

The start of the race was just under 9000' above sea level.  I figured I would be ok as the first 16 miles were mostly descending.  As the we started, I went out with the leaders knocking out a conservative 8:30 first mile as we crested 9000'. As I spoke to the other runners, we wondered if we were in trouble as the first three of us were all rookies and had never run the race / course before.
Somewhere in the 1st 8 miles

As I began descending over the next 8 miles I simply enjoyed the beautiful scenery.  The trail was entirely single track, a little muddy at times, as it weaved in between some of the larger peaks and jagged rocks.

Around mile 12 is where my first mishap occurred.  The trail was a little over grown.  I was dubbing it half track and I couldn't see where I was putting my feet.  I hit a rock and went down on my hands hard.  The problem was the amount of strain I put on my hip flexors, shoulders, and neck to not go face first into the trail put a serious hurt on my body.

I recovered and held a pretty good groove over the next 4 miles.  Beginning at mile 16 was a technical, rocky descent, with a bunch of switch backs.  I tried taking it slow, but my core was already bothering me with all the controlled descending that I had done (about 3000').  Additionally, I had been warned multiple times to be on the look out for rattle snakes.  I swear every time I went around I corner I heard one.

As I reached the 18 mile aid station (Foot Bridge) and crossed the river, I knew all hell was about to break loose.  The carnage with 100 miler runners at the aid station was something I had never seen before.  People just laying on the ground with blankets with the look of utter despair in their eyes.

A volunteer came running up to me and said what do you need, how can I help you.  A medic quickly asked how I was doing.  I was like calm down, I have only run 18 miles so far.  I am ok.  At this point I was running 9th overall out of 200.  After a banana, some sugary treats, and reloading my camel pack with GU sports trick, I took off.

The next 2.6 miles may literally be the hardest 2.6 miles I have ever run / power hiked. It consisted of 1800' of climbing, I averaged 17:50 per miles with a HR of 155, and there is a Strava segment on it named "The Wall."  All I remember was looking down at the river a 1/3 mile into it and saying, "Look we climbed 300' already."

After this section the damage had been done and I was now in all out survival mode.  With just over 31 miles to go, my doubts began creeping in and I was not sure I was going to be able to finish.

Over the next 4 miles we gained another 500'.  I ran when I could and took walking breaks when I needed.  I was still steadily passing 100 mile runners, but it was beginning to get really hot out.

As I crossed mile 26, the halfway point I knew I was in trouble.  Only 8 more miles until I reached the Dry Fork Aid station where I would get to see Amy and in the kids.

Those 8 miles were literally the longest 8 miles (or at least seemed that way)  that I have ever run / hiked.  I pushed and pushed, but it was a complete death march.  As I crossed mile 30 and then 31 (50K) I just kept repeating to myself, get to the 34 aid station.

The final 4 miles into the aid station had moved from single track to fire road.  Ever step kicked up dust and their was no shade to hide in.  The temperature had reached 95 degrees.  At this point, I simply did not want to be running anymore.  I was no longer having fun and no longer enjoying the views.

As I crossed the final stream before the aid station there was a 100 miler laying in the stream, practically comatose.  Over the final mile, a 4 wheeler drove by me twice to pick up runners that could not make it to the aid station.

After a really difficult mile 34 (with 450' of climbing), Amy and Neil appeared to guide me the final 20 yards into the aid station.  As I coughed out dirt, I said I needed to sit down.  I knew at this point my day was done.

-- 34 miles, 6 hours 27 minutes, 5136' climbing, max elevation 8998', max temp 95 degrees.

- Could I have gone on and made it to the finish?  Probably, would have taken another 3-4 hours
- Did I want to ? No
- Knowing I was going camping with 2 little kids in Yellowstone was it the right decision to quit? I think so.

Other Stats
- 173 of 321 100 Milers completed the race (Cutoff was 34 hours) - 46% Attrition
- 107 of 215 50 Milers completed the race - 50% Attrition

In retrospect, I am happy that I quit when I did.  My legs heart like hell over the next three days, but I still enjoyed my vacation.

I have run 6 races so far this year: a shortened 15.4 miler in the cold / snow (better then expected), a 5K (PR and Race win), the Boston Marathon (bonked out due to heat, but finished), a 5K Stroller PR, a trail 10k (Race Win), and this race (DNF at 34 miles due to difficult terrain and heat).

In other words, mother nature has not been very kind to me this year.

What else did I learn?  I don't do enough technical running.  While I am capable of running technical terrain, I am not conditioned to handle the abuse that it puts on my body.  As I continue my training towards my 1st 100k this fall, I plan on exploring new trails, and putting in some solid time on technical trails: Skyline, Blue Hills, Monadnock, Pemi Loop, Watchusett, Wampack, Mid State, etc.

Just over 3 months until my first 100k. I am always looking for company.

Billings and Yellowstone

In August of 2011, Amy and I attended Tanya (one of Amy's friends from high school) and Matt's wedding in Seattle.  Tanya and Matt are both medical doctors and Tanya was participating in a program where she would be sent to an under represented area.  Following their wedding they moved out to Billings, Montana.  I remember Tanya saying "We have a four bedroom and are within 2 hours of Yellowstone.  All visitors are welcome."

2012, Neil was born, 2013 we went to Iceland (funny enough easier to get to then Billings), 2014 to Leadville, CO, and 2015 Nat was born.  So finally looking into 2016, I said to Amy, we really should go visit and see Yellowstone before they decide to move somewhere else.

After some exhaustive searching for trail races, I found the Big Horn Ultras in Dayton, WY, under 2 hours from there house.  The trifecta was now in place: friends / family to visit, National Park to visit, and ultra marathon to run.

Tanya and Matt were excited to have us and now have a 1 year old boy of their own (Felix).  We spent to the first two and final night at their house and borrowed a ton of camping gear for the rest of our trip (Thank you very much again by the way).

After a few nights in Billings, we staying in Sheridan, WY for 2 nights, then a cabin in Cody for a night, camped in Yellowstone for 3 nights at separate campgrounds, another cabin in Cooke City, and then finally back to Billings.

Below are some pictures from along the way.  We saw Buffalo, Antelope, Coyotes, Geysers, hiked, toasted marshmallows, and Neil became a Junior Ranger.

All and all awesome trip and can't wait for our next adventure.

- Scot

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