Like all good race weekends this one started with me realizing I forgot a multitude of things like my watch, sunscreen, and the bag I'd drop my pre-race gear in. That's not a big deal, but I like using my watch to fuel on regular intervals. In any case, I decided on a race strategy that might get me the win: take it out extremely hard, try to bring the other contenders with me and put everyone in the hurt box so that it became a suffer fest. I knew that the last 11 miles were 6 down and 5 flat so I liked my chances if I could get there and still be in the mix. Secretly I hoped to build a huge lead and be able to coast in. On to the race...
Race morning, I drove myself to the park in Dayton, did some work in the port-o-jon and hopped on the last bus. For some reason nobody wanted to sit next to me (maybe because I was wearing jeans and a jacket?) so I enjoyed my space and chatted with folks across the isle (good Laramie folk Perry-Silent Trails RD, and Brian). Arriving at the start I stripped down to my shorts and t-shirt banking on the day warming up which was a good decision overall, but I was freezing waiting there. I apparently did not understand that the course had changed yet again as they were able to gain access to Dry Fork, and after a quick run down of where we were headed I was good to go. Line up, bang, and we're off.
The new alternate course was 7 out, 7 back, 19 in. Wyoming math shows that to be 50K, or 33 miles, your choice. I took it out hard down the hill, really hard, too hard. Typically, I have difficulty making sure I can keep my heart rate up on the downs, but not this time, I was full tilt boogie and without a watch I can only guess that it was low 5's. After the initial drop, we hit crazy mud and stream crossings on rolling climbs to the turnaround (a man in a chair on the side of the trail with a flag). On the way back, I learned that my lead was not really that big, maybe a minute and I was not working well on the climbs. Flats and downs were fine, but the climbing was dreadful and I could feel the mileage accrued in my legs early. Not a great sign, but I dug in and kept plugging along.
Lots of folks on the way back were really kind and encouraging with words and I hope I didn't seem too off putting, but I was working hard and it was tough to make any additional efforts. Couple of GU's on the way back, and on the grinder climb back to Dry Fork Alex from Park City came right up behind me to about 10 feet and I thought for the first time, maybe I won't pull this one down after all. Quickly, I tried to push that out of my head. We hit Dry Fork essentially together, and while he grabbed supplies, I powered through. We had another good bit of climbing on an easy dirt road and I rallied and built up my lead again. Near the top, we're on some sort of off trail rocky meadow climb and I can see him a few hundred meters back and put in another surge on the flattish descent. This seemed to work a bit better.
At this point we're on a mix of 4x4 "road" and off trail marsh, most of which was either mud, or under a few inches of water. It was wild, but I was having a great time playing in the mountains. This is what I signed up for. I kept heading down the ridge to an aid station with 12 to go and just after that I nearly killed my race with a wrong turn, but I quickly realized my error, crossed the river and started what I call "that climb". It's short, but steep. No real trail for the first half and it was muddy and slick. Like trying to go up Oil Can road in Forest Park. I had to dig deep here and I chanced a glance back about 3/4 of the way up the climb. Just 100 meters back was a runner gaining on me (found out later it was Don Demetriades). Crap. On the top of the climb, I knew that I was winning, and that this was where I needed to be. I wanted to have a big lead and just take it in, but I had no choice.
At this point, I'd love to say that I remember the wonderful scenery, but instead I found a downhill pace I'll call "hospital pace." If you fall, you go to the hospital. Again, without a watch, I have no real idea how fast it was, but I put 14 minutes on Don in these 6 miles. I have to think it was sub-6. In all reality, I was out of control running down here, laser focused to the extremely rocky and steep trail. I didn't dare look back or anywhere else, all I could do was keep pushing the pace. Sections of trail were loose rocks, others weaving through trees and mud, but mostly it just steep. I blasted through the aid near the bottom, grabbed water with 5 to go and hit the dirt country road that leads to the finish. A volunteer yelled something like, "you better break blah blah 45," which I thought meant 4:45. I kept thinking, there's no way I'm not faster than that, but maybe she said 3:45, which wasn't going to happen in a million years. In any case, I just had to stay motivated and run these last flat miles hard. I can't say for sure what the splits were here, but I chanced some glances back and didn't see anyone which let me ease off the pace. I got doused by the water tanker spraying the road which was awesome, and then there was this angel girl with not quite frozen otter pops. I wanted to stop and hug her, it was the best thing ever, cold liquid sugar...
Rounding the last turn and into the park, I took a longing glace at the Crazy Woman Saloon, but resisted and made my way to the finish. I eased up as my family ran over to the finish, and tried to get Xavier to run with me but he was dizzy and a bit sick from an over extended time on the merry-go-round. Had I known my time, I may have ran hard through the finish without stopping, but I had no thoughts of a CR and I didn't even know what time it was. I settled for a kiss and a hug and walked across the finish line.
I was initially told that my time was 4:08:20 and that I had set a CR, in fact 3 or 4 volunteers congratulated me on the CR. A bit later I found out that we started 3 minutes past 8:00 and that my official time was 4:05:20, a PR. As I logged into my computer this morning, I did some checking after remembering something about the CR being faster, and it seems that I was just shy of it. Regardless, this was my first win at an ultra event, a PR, and one hell of a time.
**edit** After some kind words from Mr. Ricks, I'm claiming the snow course CR! He pointed out, and it is true, that no one has run faster on that course!
I learned a lot about myself, about being able to feel beaten and dig past it and dip into a more primal energy store. When I got caught, both times, I was initially super bummed, but was able to think rationally, and devise a strategy to push even harder. For the win, I received a free pair of Maui Jim sunnies, and one huge rock!
That thing is heavy!
With the conditions on course (crazy mud and water), I wore my Inov-8 X-talons with Drymax Hyperthin running socks. I expected that my feet would be wet all day, so a crazy thin sock that held zero water and a grippy shoe were key, that strategy paid big dividends. My feet are perfect. My quads, however, are feeling some big time soreness! Rocked my theaidstation.com shirt (thanks Jeremy), and was comfortable all day.
My best friend rocked the 50 mile event, finished 7th, ripped an hour and a half off his PR and "rocked" it as well!
Gunner rockin' it.
I can't thank the race staff and volunteers enough, this race was crazy well put together. There were literally HUNDREDS of volunteers and everything went smoothly, the course was marked great, and the awards were fantastic (I got a sweet vest with the race embroidered on it). As others before me have stated, the Bighorns are really special, and not many folks get to see them. You can tell that the trail is seldom used outside of the race for human travel, and that is a shame. This place is a gem. Both Dayton and Sheridan were beautiful, set right up next to the mountains.
I need to thank the Larson family (Gunner's Grandparents) for such a great time and hospitality. It was a family reunion of sorts with Aunts and Uncles, cousins, and the Mexicans from Denver! The night of the race, we moseyed on down to the local park for ice cream and it was glorious. I can't say this about many races, but I know for sure I'll be back to this one!
Post race "recovery"
4 weeks 'til Silver Rush... 9 weeks 'til Pb... The fun is just beginning!
Xavier riding the Raptor at Sanford's in Casper