Two words sum up the Bighorn 100 2017 edition.
Lots of it.
Heavy and sticky mud - that clay-like mud that quadruples the weight on the end of your already hard to lift legs. Slippery mud - like ice - that made me thankful I can ski, and thankful that I run on snow and ice for half the year. Mud that started about 5 hours in, and only abated with 5 or 6 miles to go.
Not just drizzle.
Not spring showers.
Heavy, torrential sideways rain.
Soaked to the core almost immediately.
I was dry and warm at the welcoming Footbridge Aid station 30 miles in. Spirits high, feeling strong in the top 10, but maybe I’ll grab another jacket, you know, just in case. Truth be told, Saira forced some extra clothing on me. The skies look grey, so maybe throw in a buff and some gloves too. Best decision ever. Best crew ever.
I ran well, but 18 hours of soaked skin and macerated toes wears thin. Grabbing trees, and grass for traction it became an exercise in willpower. How bad do I really want this? My crew were stalwarts though; never a doubt.
“Sit down…change your shirt.”
Warm dry jackets and fresh gloves. At Jaws, almost 10,000ft, the rain and wind were intense. Just above zero degrees C, it was freezing, icy rain. I changed, ate and drank then jumped back into the maelstrom outside, quick to get moving lest I change my mind.
Getting up there was a challenge, getting back down was, well, laughable. You could call it running, but it didn’t look much like anything resembling a run.
Slip, slide, curse, fall. Repeat.
Look for some grass, look for traction. Wish I had poles!
The moods of those I passed after the turnaround were at two ends of a spectrum. Joanna Ford looked happy and strong a few kilometres down the trail, but most were in a battle to keep moving. Many were unprepared, with next to no protection from the elements. One fellow grunted “You’ve gotta be kidding, this is a joke right” as I slithered down a steep pitch and grabbed a tree before I slid into him.
It got dark on the way down from Jaws. I don’t remember much more of the descent once daylight faded, encased in my own hooded little world, alone with my thoughts, a small circle of light my only point of reference. I remember I laughed though. Either that or cry, it was becoming an ordeal!
Soon, I’m back at the Footbridge. Saira is there; the experienced crew chief, she knows me too well.
“Get this broth down….here, an egg mcmuffin.”
Never a question I would finish this one. There was no doubt. Emily paced from mile 66. A bad spell for me, I felt sorry for her; this was supposed to be a jaunt through some beautiful country! Instead she had a miserable partner, huffing and deep breathing, fighting the urge to vomit, trying to keep the legs moving. Climbing the wall, nauseated and fatigued, it was hard to remain positive.
Emily: “How you doing back there?”
Me: “Good……ish” I lied; more like bloody awful, but who wants a pity party.
Emily: “See that light up ahead - next aid station - only a few hundred metres.” She lied too.
Moving slowly but steadily, we ran into pre-race favourite Bob Shebest. He looked bad. Shivering and shaking in a tiny tent at the side of the trail, he had half the clothes I had. The small electric heater in that tent made for a haven that was hard to leave. Bob dropped ultimately, the warmth of that tent proving too much it seemed.
The temptation to stay there was…… "Let’s get going again” said Emily, so we did. Back into the dark and rain, growing tired of this now. Without a pacer, I’d have struggled mightily to get back out. I owe you Compton.
At Dry Fork aid, Ruchel joined. After the monstrous climb with Emily, I was starting to feel good again. Strange how that happens. Roch Horton famously said "It doesn't always get worse" and he was right. Food was going down. Vitargo was tasting good again, and even a vanilla gel slid down easily. And it was getting light, lifting my spirits further. A quick coffee, maybe three, and some broth, then time to get ‘er done. It was still pissing down though.
Grabbing poles I knew I was in for one hell of a descent - Ruchel can descend with the best - but first, more climbing. And now I was running again. 85 miles in and I was running the ups. That doesn’t happen very often, I mused. Then soon we were dropping. The final descent - a brute - 4000 feet - steep and slippery, enough to finish off a few toenails. It felt fast, really fast - the third fastest split of the day (strava disagrees about the ‘fast’ part, I’ll add, but a good split nevertheless). Ruchel looked to be having a blast, no doubt glad to be moving after a long day and night of crewing in miserable conditions.
(CREW=Cranky Runner, Endless Waiting).
Ruchel's mood was contagious - it always is; and I think I may have managed a grin. Ankles and toes now blackened and bruised. Heels rubbed raw, but the finish was within reach. It was still raining, but easing a bit. One final steep drop on rocky single track, and onto the gravel of the Sheep River Canyon Road. Time to bring this one home.
The final 4 miles of road are a sting in the tail. Quads now trashed, and energy sapped. “I wish it would stop fucking raining..” More climbs, in reality small speed bumps. I’m overheating now, all these clothes on. It’s warm down here, and I suspect the weather is looking brighter.
The final turns through town. Half a mile to the finish….
The clouds part, the sky turns blue, and the sun comes out.
“You really have got to be kidding”