Thursday, June 26, 2014

2014 Bighorn 100

The sun is high in the sky; barely any white dots the blue landscape above. It’s 10:15am on Friday June 20th, 2014 and a whole bunch of nervous energy is sitting on a bridge, twenty yards away from the start line, jockeying for shade and a seat. Us runners can’t do anything but wait for forty-five more minutes. It still doesn’t feel like I’m about to run 100 miles. I just feel the sun and don’t know what’s about to happen in the next day. I’ve been ready for this moment for a while now. The aura is tense—“why can’t we just start running now?” everybody seems to ask. I sit near the bridge, oddly relaxed, like I should be more nervous, or excited, or something. Patrick McGlade and I exchange terse comments about the time and heat.

Waiting with good company! 

My miles. 0-30
I stop at the first stream crossing, dip my hat in, and splash water on my chest and neck. Stop, squat, dip, splash. Stop, squat, dip, splash. This routine defines the first chunk of the course; it’s so hot. How is it so hot? I’ve been camping in the Bighorn National Forest for the past nine days and basically haven’t taken a jacket off since I arrived. I’m overheated nonetheless. It’s no surprise that I see other runners lying down in the streams, looking like zombies. I’m a tad reassured to know that I’m not the only one feeling like we’re in Mexico.

Fifteen minutes in. That's a forced nervous smile. 

            The first few miles were easy but by no means slow. Three miles in and I was around 30th place. Is this a 50k? I thought these 100 milers were slow and jovial. Everyone is breathing laboriously. People pass me hiking up out of the canyon, which, by turning around, looks like we’re on another planet. I tuck behind Ford Smith, an 18-year old from Texas, and I attempt to find a groove hiking. My heart rate eventually slows. The field begins to thin. I share a couple of miles with Eli who also grew up in Ohio, but he takes off ahead of me too. I don’t feel great, but it’s mile five. I’m not worried, and I’ve recovered from the shell-shock of 30 people speeding from the start of the race.
            I run the next 25 miles alone. I bop into Dry Fork Aid Station and smoothly get new gels from my drop bag. They don’t taste good like they normally do. It has to be the heat. My stomach feels full of water but I can’t pee. Jog to the next aid station. The course is just gorgeous. Double track as far as the eye can see, we parallel a small creek. I arrive into Cow Camp Aid Station thoroughly hot. I respond to inquiries with “uhhh, I feel moderately okay.” It’s a lie, but I know that I may be able to trick myself by saying it out loud. I’ve been taking S-Caps and Tums to figure out my stomach. Nothing seems to work.

View from Dry Fork AS on a training run

            I move slowly. I’m alone. I’m annoyed with the slow pace. I should be 30 minutes ahead of where I am, not at the front but near. It feels like I’m in the middle. The time passes and I just try to keep moving. Today is not magical. No fireworks or genuine smiles. I curse the muddy, divot-y, trail. I get passed again. Do it anyway. I tell myself, stealing a line from Eric Grossman's blog. My dad and friends are here for me. I can’t stop now, but I definitely don’t want to keep going. It’s 18 miles to the turnaround once I hit Footbridge, and walking 18 miles sounds abhorrent. I need to sit and cool off. I haven’t eaten anything in three hours. What can I tell them? Obviously I’m not dropping, but there’s maybe a 5% chance that I finish this thing.
            This train of thought occurs as I’m walking down the ~2mi, 2000’ decent into Footbridge AS. I get passed. The first and second women come up by me, and that kind of gets me to jog. Historically, not many women break 24 hours. If I’m behind 24 hour pace already I’m done for. I did not come here to walk 100 miles in over 24 hours. I came here to run well and run competitively and run around 20 hours.
            I walk across the footbridge and up the little hill where my Dad shouts with excitement. They know I’m behind schedule…by 45 minutes only 30 miles into the race. I pour the rest of my water on me and hang my head. I can’t look at him. I’m a letdown. I should be up there. I’m not as tough as I thought I am. Fuck this. I want to go home.


            Immediately I sit and look like hell. My head is slightly spinning, and I can’t verbalize what’s wrong. A medical dude comes to me and asks if I’m ok. “Overtrained,” I respond. Maybe seven 100+ mile weeks was too much. I get doused with water and it feels heavenly. I complain to my crew, but they remain calm. Training partner and best friend Guy Love remains level headed. Obviously I planned to use my crew as a pit stop, in and out in a minute, but we need to adjust. Guy says my lethargic legs are from the taper and I’ll turn around soon. It’s still early. Roomie Wyatt Earp begins to dress to pace me to the turnaround, although that was not planned. (Due to Bighorn’s 11am start time, pacers are allowed from mile 30. While this rule is totally cheating in my opinion, it is legal, and there was no way I was going to run to mile 48 alone. I planned to pick up pacers are 50, but having Wyatt with me on the climb made continuing sound not-awful.) Once he’s ready, we leave, walking. A bad, bad, start to my first 100 miler and the race that I trained for since February.

Wyatt’s Miles 30-48
Now on the east side of the mountain, the terrain changes dramatically. We’re under trees and running next to a river. My mood changes with the change of scenery. I talk to Wyatt, haven’t really spoken to anyone in the last five hours. Having him makes me run steps here and there, and although I don’t feel good, I can run. We hit the first aid station in 45 mins and it felt like 10. Good sign. We pass a couple people.
            The terrain opens into massive grassy fields. We jaunt as I sip Coke and eventually listen to music. The sun switches sides of the mountain and the temperature begins to cool. The combination of company, coke, music, and cooler temperatures lifts my spirits. If only I had believed that the heat would pass I probably would have taken it easier in the first 30 and not been so mad and distraught. The first 30 miles in 100 don’t even matter.

Fields. Photo: Wyatt Lowdermilk

            The rest of the climb passed quickly. A couple laughs were exchanged, and things weren’t so bad after all. Topping out of the climb we started to see the dudes in front. I wasn’t really too far back. We must’ve climbed well. Seeing folks, especially Patrick who was in fourth and only 10 mins back, got me pumped. I told him it was going to be his night, and he was going to catch them. A heretofore-new sensation of pep sprang up in my legs, and I dodged the bogs and mud at the top of the course while Wyatt had to stop for el bano. Very near the aid station, I saw Rod Bien, a vey accomplished pro runner, looking pretty poorly. I’d catch him. I felt good, finally, and came into the aid station with cheers from crews. It took 48 miles, but this is fun.
            The AS went well. Efficient but not rushed…although I did leave my food bag. I had switched to all solid food. I took a baggie with potatoes and random gatherings (self-made trail mix of pickles and peanuts and nilla wafers ha!) and nibbled on that while running. I stomached the solid food, something I’d never done before in a race. Still, I wasn’t eating enough or consistently enough. Do it anyway.

Guy’s Miles (48-66)
Guy is clutch because he has a wealth of running knowledge and two 100s under his belt. We’ve spent probably around 500 trail hours together, and he knows me well. He knew my goal of sub-20 and knew I was more than capable of that; he wasn’t just going to jog with me to the next aid station. We were going to run. And indeed we ran. It felt good. We whipped out a portable speaker and started blaring some tunes. That coupled with seeing people climbing up to the turnaround, made the next 15 miles pass easily. Our headlamps turned on, and I strapped in for the long haul on darkness. Thunderstorms pop up in the distance, and rain makes for a small bit of drama. We pass maybe eight runners on this section. Things are going well. Guy reads a note from my mom and made some comments about how “you’re these rocks crushing this trail.” He leads a bit of the tricky decent into footbridge in some pink and green girl running shorts, which is hilarious. Guy keeps my spirits up and my legs came around on this section—he was so clutch.
            I started to get sleepy coming into Footbridge; close to 1am. In the aid station I change socks and shoes (socks were nice, wish I kept the shoes). Chrissy, who I really hadn’t run too much with, is set to pace me in to the finish. She’s visibly amped, raring to go, and we make good work in the aid station although I sit. I never pictured myself sitting in this race, but every time I saw crew I allowed myself a brief sit, which served as a small reset button to get me to the next aid station. I had no problem getting out of the chairs.

Chrissy’s Miles (66-95)
I stop running. Chrissy stops. “Turn off your headlamp.” We look up. Stars, milky way, lots of stars, beautiful stars. We pause like this for 30 seconds, then continue up the climb. A hard climb, we make it up well. I’m sleepy, listening to music, and hiking. The miles are starting to wear on me, but headlights are ahead. We catch one person, then another. Making purposeful passes intentionally. After the second or third pass I just want to get into a steady groove of a jog, but it seems like we’ve come upon a train of runners. I should just relax behind this next one, but we’re on him quickly. It’s uphill but I pass. “Good job!” he yells. I run hard for three minutes, but haven’t dropped him completely. He latches onto us for the next few miles, then takes of screaming on a downhill as he passes up. Bummer. That was a bad pass.
My body knows that it should be sleeping at this time, but Chrissy and I fight it. I’m able to take a gel. Every time I burp, Chrissy burps. It’s our form of communication as we don’t talk. Every time I grimace, which comes more and more frequently, she says, “You’re okay Rudy.”
Twilight comes slowly and we see a new person in front of us who keeps turning around. We play this game for a few miles. Dry Fork AS is in sight. I don’t want to pass this guy before the aid station, so we walk behind him for a couples miles into the aid station. It’s cold up here. I don’t want to go into the tent because I’m afraid it’ll be too comfy. I sit outside the tent. The sun isn’t up, but it’s light now. Daylight, finally. I realize how tired I am. The medical lady asks, “do you need anything from medical? That’s me.” I look at her, looking super motherly, and can only ask, “Can I get a hug?”

Early morning into Dry Fork, late miles

Chrissy and I walk the road out of the aid station. We learned that it’s 18 miles left, not 15 like I thought. Those three extra miles make my heart break. I have my jacket on, but I’m shivering with cold. I’m stiff, I can barely move. My lips are blue. My body says no. We walk slowly. We attempt at a downhill jog but I can barely go. “I just want to walk in.” Chrissy is internally worried and says “you didn’t come here to walk in Rudy, you trained too hard for that!”
We make it to an aid station. Five downhill miles in an hour and ten minutes. Ouch. The guy asks what I want to eat and doesn’t have any solid food that isn’t PB&J. I sadly accept a simple piece of bread. My hands are on my knees, and I feel my eyes welling up. We still have at least three hours. I just want to sit and wait till I get warm. Chrissy makes me move. Good Chrissy, thank God for this woman.
All downhill to go, Chrissy takes the lead and I’m chasing her down the decent. We’re flying and I look down at my watch. 12:30 pace. Downhill. NOT flying. We run through the aid station to get to mile 95. I’m close, but still so far away. It’s hot now, the sun is up and I’m melting like the wicked witch of the west.

Team miles (95-100)
The last five miles of the race are on a flat dirt road. Because of this, race directors allow infinite pacers. Wyatt and Lauren join Chrissy and I. They’re running ahead of me, and I’m gasping. Slow down, I have to tell them. Where is the pavement? Where is the pavement? I don’t look back but they do. We hit the pavement. For the first time all race I beam. I let out a pathetic yell of excitement. We did it! We cross into the park, I cross the finish line.

Two miles left. Photo: Wyatt Lowdermilk

That was utterly type 2 fun: no fun while doing it, but fun afterwards. I made so many mistakes. I’m glad it’s over. My next 100 will be MUCH better. I know it was dumb of me to make lofty goals for my first 100, but I WAS capable of top three at this race. Everything just went wrong. Which of course makes sense cause I was a complete 100 mile newbie. The distance is far and it demands respect. It demands patience. I did not expect a perfect race, but I did expect me to do much better. My crew carried me, and my pacers made me run. I would not have finished without them. I would have dropped at mile 30. I would have walked from mile 82. Dad, Glove, Wyatt, Chrissy, Lauren—THANK YOU.

I’m super stoked that Patrick finished second. He had a great race and is a great dude. Read his race reportBig things to come! Recovery-wise, my legs feel fine but I can tell I’m endocrine-ly messed up. I’m moody and tired but can’t sleep very well. So it goes. Now it’s time to crew Guy for a top-10 at states this weekend! Cheers. 

Worth it



  1. No surprise the Hundo smacked you around some. It can always do that. The important thing is you smacked it back. Good going! And thanks for the nod.

  2. Congrats on your Bighorn finish. Great write up. I am signed up for Bighorn this year. It looks like your times were comparable at Bighorn and Pine to Palm last year I completed Pine to Palm last year as my first 100 miler and snuck in just under 24 hours.I would be interested in your comparison of Pine to Palm and Bighorn. Any advice or observations from you would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.