22 June 2013

Bighorn 100 Pacing Report

 “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” 
- Tim Cahill
Date: June 14 - 15
Location: Bighorn National Forest, Dayton, WY
Distance: 52 miles 
Time: 17-ish hours

I'm happy to report that my first pacing experience was full of awesomeness. Obstacles were overcome, blisters and soreness were managed and while we commiserated during the final 10 miles, Sheila and I otherwise shared happy miles together. It was a great day of mountain running.

I was thrilled that the out and back course allowed me to see the whole thing by picking Sheila up at the turnaround point (48 miles). The second half is mostly downhill with a few climbing sections, including one long, memorable stretch out of the Footbridge aid station at mile 66. Good thing it was beautiful. I had fun running the technical parts, tho' Sheila prefers courses that are a bit more runable for her.
Joey Luther's elevation profile sums it up well.
The race started at 11am, which was a nice change from the usual stupid o'clock wake-up that's required at most races. I joined Sheila's husband John (our crew chief) and her daughter Araina to see her off at the start.
All smiles as the anticipation grows
Huss family
The singing of The Star Spangled Banner
Familiar faces at the front: Brendan Trimboli, Timmy Parr, Matt Hart & Gary Gellin
Sheila had a great start to her race. She kept her HR in zone 2/3 and was looking good when John saw her at Footbridge and her dad joined her for the next 18 miles.
Sheila & her dad at Footbridge (Mile 30)
Normally Sheila would have stomach issues between mile 18 - 25 and she had none of that this time. Her new strategy of eating fewer calories and less solid food seemed to be working. She continued to have a really good run until around mile 40. That's when she began the downward spiral -- as the sun was setting and temps dropped into the 20's due to headwinds. As her stomach went south for the next 7 miles, her pace slowed and both Sheila and her dad battled hypothermia as they made their way to the Jaws aid station at mile 48, where John and I were waiting for them.
Waiting is the hardest part
Enjoying some friendly convo with another pacer & the local track coach
We were expecting Sheila and her dad between 11:30p - 1a and they rolled in around 1:15a, looking pretty rough. The medical folks had their hands full with runners who were hypothermic and Sheila was immediately given blankets and hot packs to warm up her core. They also removed her shoes and socks set a heater directly on her. We offered her broth and ginger ale, but she couldn't stomach either. She just sat with her head down by her knees and kept her words to a minimum. It was tough seeing her like that, but I knew that she would take whatever time she needed to recover and finish the race. 
After 30 minutes of warming up but still feeling nauseous, she decided to sit up and try to keep moving in hopes that things would start to improve. Once she sat up straight, she immediately felt the need to vomit. The doc grabbed a bucket and she quietly (daintily, I might add) threw up. Immediately, she felt better and asked for food and drink, giving me a high five. It was like someone had flipped a switch and she was back to her cheery, chatty self. Within 5 minutes she had a bag of saltines and chips in hand and we were on our way.
Ready to roll
We headed out about 2am layered up, expecting to be pretty cold for the first couple of hours. As it turned out, it was warmer on the descent and we were both peeling layers off, despite the slow pace. I realized about a mile down the trail that I had left without my water bottle with my Osmo energy drink, so I had to share Sheila's 70 oz on her back. Bad pacer! Along with her water, I had enough gels/chews and aid station food to suffice, thankfully.

I presumed that starting at night might be better since I'd already be hyped on adrenaline so that by the time I got tired, I'd have the sun to help keep me awake. I was right... sleepiness was never an issue. I absolutely loved running at night. At one point, I looked up and the stars were so brilliant and the Big Dipper seemed so big and close. I had Sheila turn off her headlamp to see it and enjoy. This is one thing I intend to do at each race -- stop and drink in the scenery, capturing it in our memory if not on camera.

We hit the shoe-sucking mud about 2 miles out and both of us managed not to fall or lose a shoe. I can see how after battling that section in 20 degree temps that someone would be tempted to drop at Jaws, knowing that they had to endure it again on the way back. Kudos to every runner that kept going, especially those that had no pacer to keep them company in the night.

As we continued to run through the night, Sheila said her legs were feeling fine and that her stomach was continuing to feel better. I remember running down an open field singing songs from the Sound of Music and feeling so incredibly grateful to be there with her. We jabbered like a couple of schoolgirls for hours. I amazes me that Sheila can talk that much after 50+ miles as I go into my introverted cave at about mile 35. 

As the morning light arrived around 5am, I was able to snap some pictures for the remaining 40 miles or so. 
Who needs an iPod when you have rushing water?
Super Pacer clad in her striped compression socks
Beautiful wildflowers on the climb out of Footbridge
We were able to change out of our muddy shoes at Footbridge and enjoy some pancakes and sausage. Boy howdy, was that delicious. The aid stations were awesome and I particularly enjoyed the soup/broth and cantaloupe that was available at most of them. Really hit the spot.

We met some amazing runners along the way. One gal named Jeanne, caught us on the climb to Dry Fork (mile 82.5). She recognized Sheila from the Jaws aid station as she was recovering from the cold and contemplating whether or not to drop. She had fallen face first in the soul-sucking mud 7 miles earlier and was battling hypothermia. She saw Sheila's amazing transformation after vomiting and decided that if Sheila could keep going, so could she. Jeanne went on sans pacer to finish about 45 min ahead of us. What a rock star!
Araina meeting her mom as we approached Dry Fork
I was hoping to pick up a couple of water bottles at Dry Fork, but apparently aid station folks had brought our drop bag back to the finish line. Good thing that John still had my forgotten water bottle in the cooler and I had something ice cold of my own for the final stretch.
Climb out of Dry Fork
Things didn't start to get hard until we hit the last 1-mile climb out of Upper Sheep (Mile 87.5). It was hands-on-knees, grunting and panting all the way up. Sheila, the climbing pro, kept the lead, knowing I'd catch her on the descent. The four miles downhill to TR TH was hard on both of us. She had cracks between her toes, which I sought to manage with band aids and Tylenol. This is when Sheila's happy demeanor went into hibernation as we anxiously sought out the next aid station at Lower Sheep (mile 92.5). I had two large blisters despite the change of socks/shoes and sport stick and my knees were starting to complain about all the downhillin' we had done. I kept this to myself however, as she didn't need to hear about my issues. Buck up and shut up is my motto and especially necessary as a pacer.

The last mile of the knee-acher section
We caught up with Matt, one of the guys that we had leap-frogged with after Jaws and he was leaning sideways, obviously in a lot of back pain. We offered to help in any way we could think of, but he just brushed it off saying that finishing would give him relief. He finished second from last, just before the cutoff. What a badass. Sheila and I were both inspired to press on after seeing him suffer and continue to get after it. 

After Lower Sheep, we had mostly flat trails for the final 7.5 miles. The hardest part of that final stretch was the 5 miles of dirt road we had to endure before the finish. Unlike the other painful miles, we didn't have amazing scenery to distract us. 

(The previous three pictures were taken during that 4 miles of downhillin' that had us in so much pain. My antidote was to take pictures of the beauty we were surrounded by. It helped me feel better.) 
We both really enjoyed this 2 mile section leading to TR TH.
Though the road section was easy, our feet hurt like hell. When we hit that last half mile of pavement, Sheila took off like she had stole something. Since my services were no longer needed, I took my sweet ol' time walking/running and joined her at the finish.
Araina paced Sheila for the final stretch
Sheila finished strong in 32:49, 17th out of women. I'm proud of the way she recovered herself from her stomach issues and pressed on despite the painful foot ailments in the final 10 miles. 
Post-race Margaritas
I'm in awe of the accomplishments of the front runners but it's the back-of-the-packers that inspire me the most. When you think about the amount of time they spend out on their feet and that they are doing it for something intangible -- such as the joy of the trails, achieving a hard-earned goal -- it's hard not to be impressed. I'm so grateful to be able to experience even a portion of these hundos so that I can meet and be inspired by these runners. Though pacing is thought of as a selfless act, I feel like I gained so much from my time at Bighorn. I certainly received way more than I gave and Sheila was as expected, a fantastic person to pace. 

This has been a good warm-up to the next race, which will challenge both of us a whole lot more... Hardrock 100. I'll be pacing Sheila the final 27 miles there, which will probably feel like 50 on any other course. 

In other news, our family was spared an evacuation due to the Black Forest fire and successfully moved into our new home, which we are enjoying immensely. I'm already feeling the cortisol drain from my body. We're getting ourselves settled in prior to our trip to Alaska next Friday. I'm looking forward to running some beautiful hometown trails and sharing them with you all!

Happy Trails,



  1. Good job helping Sheila achieve her finish! See you both at Hardrock soon!

    1. Thanks, Steve! I hope your final training runs went well this weekend. No preview of the HR course this week, per The Coach, so I'll be a virgin on those trails next month... zoikes!

  2. Way to go, Shelby! Congrats on your monster race, and you're still laughing. Looking forward to our next "short" run (for you) together.--Lori