Race Report: 2014 Bighorn Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run "An adventure that had it all" by Harry Hamilton

As advertised the Wild and Scenic Bighorn 100 is probably the most scenic trail run that I have ever participated in.  The terrain and views were beautiful.  The mountains were picturesque and their stone faces were amazing.  That is saying a lot from a guy who usually only focuses in the trail and where my feet strike.  

I had not trained properly for this race.  This was partly due to the foul East Coast winter that we had and my focus on a Boston Qualifier.  My long run since Wasatch 2013 was only a 26.2 Pocono marathon.  I needed a Hardrock qualifier, so off I went to Wyoming under trained that I was.  A friend that I met at the Manitou’s Revenge race in the Catskills, Garry Harrington would be at Bighorn too.  Since our goals were to just finish and get a Hardrock qualifier we agreed to run together.  

The start was different from all of my previous 10 hundred milers as this was the first one that started in the daylight.   Bighorn started at 11 AM with a 34 hour cutoff.  This maximized daylight on the longest day of the year.  The downside was that we all started in the bright sunlight and heat.   There would be no gradual acclimation to the warming temperatures from dawn as in most hundred mile trail races.  We would start in the heat of the day.   It was nice to actually see my fellow competitors in the daylight for a change as opposed to the shadows of headlamps.  This course also had some of the steepest ascents and descents that I have ever encountered.  By comparison Chin Scraper at Wasatch was easier.  The trail was similar to Wasatch in terms of technical trail running.  

Since I had not properly trained for a 100 I planned to run the race within my heart rate zone to conserve energy and try to last.  The race started with a runnable gravel road leading to a trail, but quickly turned into an almost 7 mile climb at 8.2% average grade.   From there to mile 30 was quite runnable, so we settled into a nice pace.  

At mile 35 I heard some branches breaking and turned to the trail to the right to see a huge female moose.  She climbed up an embankment and turned towards the running pack on the trail to take a look at us pass.  She was now no more than 50 feet away and even from that distance I could tell that her shoulders would be well above my height.  I was never that close to a moose and marveled at the size of their ears.  They were huge!

Garry and I were moving pretty good through the pack up until mile 40 or so.  As night approached we guessed that we were in about 40th place.  We were running relaxed, still conserving energy and feeling better than expected.  At least I felt that way.   I remembered thinking that those high mileage weeks and speed training might actually work and get me through this.  Then the lightning started overhead.   There are two things that I am afraid of and one is lightening.  We had a nice thunderstorm for about 40 minutes.  As we approached the turnaround at mile 48 the trail was already muddy from the rains and snow melt.  There was still a fair amount of snow as we approached the summit of the turnaround.   The rainstorm which had subsided at the hallway point only made the tail muddier than it was from the snow.  I almost lost a shoe a few times from getting sucked into the mud.   The temperature had also dropped and was approaching freezing at we came into the aid station “Jaws” at mile 48.  We were very happy to find that the Jaws aid station was enclosed and had heat from generators.  While at Jaws I changed my muddy socks, but not my shoes.   I had received a tip from Karl Jensen from Canada who had run this race a few times.  His advice was not to change shoes.  He said that a fresh pair would only get trashed.  We encountered a few blackouts from issues with the generator while in the aid station.   It was kind of funny how silent it got until the lights came back on.  I changed my rain soaked jacket out for a dry one and back into the cold we went.  

As we progressed down the mountain on our return  the trails were even muddier as more runners were ascending and descending.  The mud stuck to the bottom of our shoes and we used a lot of energy to progress downwards.  I remembered think that now I know what it’s like to wear Herman Munster’s boots.   These shoes got heavy!  The trail was also not runnable in sections for safety reasons.   In dry conditions it would be the normal risks, but more than a few runners decided that that some sections were not worth risking a fall or turning an ankle.  Especially while using up more energy running downhill on slippery rocks and trail with mud laden shoes.  It wasn’t worth the risk to me.  I just wanted to finish this race and maybe skip my next one if I got this HR qualifier.  My old nemesis “Mr. Blisters” decided to make an appearance, so running eventually turned into a power hike downwards.  

By the time that we got to the Footbridge aid station at mile 66 I had stubbed my left big toe a couple of times.   When I took my sock off I had a jumbo sized blood blister under my nail which began to bleed.  Garry was unsure if I should continue and asked me if I thought that I was risking further injury and being able to run for the rest of the year.   This was nothing compared to my usual my mangled hooves, so I continued on and decided that I would power hike the rest of the course if I had to.  I actually threw away my trusty Montrail’s at that point for a fresh pair. They would never get clean again and they were trashed anyway.  Karl called it right.

The first climb after the Footbridge aid was appropriately called “the Wall.”  It was an awesome 2 mile 8% grade climb, which was part of a total 5 mile climb.  Most of the climb was on a trail full of horse’s hooves imprints.   It looked almost like a winding slithering uphill trail of gopher holes.  Of course the uneven imprints were still hard as the earlier thunder shower had not softened up the trail.  We had to be careful not to turn an ankle on these bad boys.    

As we approached the aid station at Dry fork at mile 83 my fingers had blown up like sausages and my watch and GARMIN were digging into my skin from my swollen wrists.    I was with a pack of runners and we decided that I had better get in and out of aid station ASAP and hide those hands.  I felt fine, so I did not want to get stopped or pulled from the race.   After doing 10 or so 100 mile races I think that I have a good handle on when I am in real trouble or not.  That being said this situation was not good.   I got into the aid station; got my bottles filled, grabbed my GU’s, swapped out my shoes real quick and got out of there quickly.  I changed into a pair of Pearl Izumi EM N2’s hoping that the extra cushioning would be easier on my mangled blistered feet.  This turned out to be a mistake as they did not grip as well as the Masochist’s, which for me was the perfect shoe for this terrain.   BTW Garry had great success in his HOKA Rapa Nui’s.  I went up the road a bit and waited for Garry to continue on.  At Garry's suggestion I walked with my hands on my shoulders for a couple of miles.  That worked well as the swelling went down fairly quickly.  

It must have been with about 10 miles or so to the finish when we got another thunder storm.  This section of the trail was a very steep downhill.  This storm was a bit longer and was complete with hail.   The trail turned into a stream and the mud stuck to the bottom of our shoes and left dry foot prints in the trail.  It was difficult to stay on the trail without slipping and the extra weight of the mud on our shoes was zapping more energy from us.  We tried to run on the embankments of the trail, but that was futile due to a large number of rocks, most of which were hidden.  We descended downwards slowly with weight laden shoes not trying to fall.   I usually never fall in a race, but down I went onto the trail of mud.  It was at that point that I looked up at the sky and yelled “OK I’ll quit.”  The rain subsided 5 minutes later.  OK so maybe I won’t quit altogether.  Maybe I won’t do another one hundred mile race, this year.  ;-).  

After the storm subsided the trail followed a river down to a 4 or 5 mile finish on a gravel road.  I remembered thinking how does a trail next to a river have so many climbs and descents?  Normally I wouldn’t say this, but I couldn’t wait to get to the road and some flats.  

The last aid station was about 5 miles from the finish.  By the time that Garry and I reached this aid station we had to lather up with sun tan lotion from the bright sunshine and rising temperatures.  This was a bit of long aid station stop, but we still had plenty of time to beat the cut off which is what this adventure had turned into at this point.   

The hike to the finish was hot but uneventful.  Some locals treated runners to an unofficial aid station with ice pops, which were an awesome treat.

Garry and I decided that we were not going to run past the finish line.  So we walked across and finished in 31:15.  Not pretty, but we had our Hardrock qualifier. We ended up hiking most of the last 40 miles, but we still ended up in the top 10 of our age group.  

This race might jump to the top of my favorites list. It had everything; toughness, climbs, heat, thunderstorms, snow, mud, hail, sunburn, great aid stations, awesome race director, qualified volunteers, cool runners, and even a moose!   I hope to return and conquer this course in the future.  It was tough, but an enjoyable run and trail race.   The race has a true 100 mile ultra-feel to it, not a “sponsored” vibe to it at all.  It was like an old school ultra and I mean that in a very good way.  The participants were hard core ultra-runners with a mix of newbies.    Everyone was friendly and without an attitude.  The race director, volunteers and aid stations were top notch.  They actually had a sufficient amount of gels (if you needed them) and the aid stations did not run out of water.  

At the finish line we were presented with flannel embroidered race blankets and what else, but cheeseburgers!  Very nice!

Harry’s Gear:
Montrail’s Mountain Masochist II

Visit Harry's page for more race reports, reviews & results.