|The first sublime miles of the Bighorn 52|
"Yeah, you kind of suck at technical downhill."
Those were the words flowing through my mind many times during the net-downhill Bighorn Wild and Scenic 52 Mile Trail Run. My training for Bighorn had focused on my lack of downhill skill and confidence, and I had spent a lot of time running downhills hard to trash my quads and to work on my turnover. About 10 days before the race, I was running the Ohilly Trail 5K on my home turf --the Observatory Hill trails near the University of Virginia-- and I was passed running down the gnarliest section by my friend Andy Jones-Wilkins. After the race, over pizza and beers, we shared our race stories and Andy just pointed out the obvious.
"Yeah, you kind of suck at technical downhill." Which was then followed by Andy's famous guffaw and belly laugh. Ha Ha. He was right.
The Bighorn 52 tested me on my three greatest weaknesses: technical downhill, heat, and altitude. The entire race is on beautiful, runnable, rocky single track in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming (called the "Shining Mountains" by the Sioux-- I love that!). Once in awhile we had some dirt roads and double track to rest from our focus and be brain dead for just a moment...but for the 12 hours that I was running, I was forced to focus my energy on navigating the twisty, grass-covered, muddy, narrow single track trail that wound itself from 8800 feet at the 100-miler turnaround to the finish line at 4000 feet along the Tongue River. My finishing time of 11:59 was my slowest 50 mile time ever, but I feel incredibly proud of how I prepared for, trained, and executed on race day.
|The Dryfork Aid Station, mile 13/83 for the 100 and mile 34 for the 52|
I was also very happy with my nutrition. I made a concerted effort to take in about 240 calories an hour, and this came in the form of Perpetuem Cafe Latte, EFS shots, Hammergel, Clif Shot Bloks, and Justins Almond Butter. I carried my Ultraspire hydration pack and used a handheld bottle drinking to thirst, and felt good all day long, with the only time I had close to a bad patch was when I was baking in the heat of the Tongue River canyon around 5:00pm at about mile 47. Here the final 5-mile gravel road section (finally!) meets the end of the technical trail, and for me, this road could not come soon enough. I was able to pass two women who had run by me earlier to inch closer to the top-10 (which I missed by one spot!). Many folks complain about this road, but I loved stretching my legs out and seeing how hard I could work in the final miles.
|The Bighorn Wild and Scenic Trail Races finish line|
As good as I felt, Bighorn was definitely harder for me than the Hellgate 100K. Once out of the comfy surroundings of my local ultra communities and familiar trails, I had to adjust to bigger mountains, less oxygen, tougher terrain, and more competition. There were women in front of me and behind me all day long, so we were constantly jockeying for position and very much aware of one another, which was mentally draining --- but I very much enjoyed running with so many more women than I see in our races back East! The downhill trail forced me to run and there very few opportunities to climb and re-group, which I always enjoy and look forward to. The terrain was ever-changing and always challenging to navigate, and the heat and altitude made it harder for someone like me who runs well in sub-freezing weather and conditions. As I came into the finish area, I immediately saw Annie (who had dropped from the 100 earlier in the day). I started to weep ---tears of sadness for her disappointing race and tears of relief that my race was over. But as soon as I finished and was off my feet, I was talking to Annie and my hubby about next summer, when we might come back out to Bighorn. Annie has unfinished business to attend to, and at first I was swearing that I would only run the 50K, but after a few weeks I am thinking I could run a little faster in the 52...
The VHTRC had a huge group representing in the 100, 52, 50K and 18 mile Bighorn races, and it was a blast sharing the trail together, crewing for one another, and spending time together throughout the weekend. These various race distances, along with the very low key, "old school" vibe and community enthusiasm for the event, make Bighorn a perfect destination ultra for groups of friends, non-runner spouses, and families with children. My hubby rented a mountain bike at the Billings Spoke Shop and was able to ride on parts of the course with Annie's husband, Jimmy. Annie's three children were able to play non-stop for hours at the finish line park, and our VHTRC crew celebrated our races and the Summer Solstice until dusk on Saturday evening, sharing cold beverages and enjoying the post-race cook-out. On Sunday morning, we gathered again in Sheridan for a pancake breakfast awards ceremony before saying farewell and heading to points north and west: Cody, Yellowstone, Glacier, Tetons, and beyond. Bighorn is a perfect summer vacation race!
|We were proud to represent Crozet Running out in the wilds of Wyoming!|
And then I remembered what was happening in just a few days...
Coming up: The Big Dance