Bighorn 2017

Where do I begin?

The forecast for the race predicted some rain showers later in the day.  I made sure to pack extra warm clothes in each of my drop bags and then didn’t think much more of it.  I had survived 13hrs of downpour at Diez Vista 100km, this couldn’t be nearly as bad as that.

The race began innocently enough.  I was nervous and didn’t feel 100%.  My stomach was fluttering and I had to closely monitor my effort levels so that I didn’t feel nauseous.  I stuck to my plan of fueling with a gel or Sour Dinos every 20 minutes and drinking water every 10 minutes.  I would stop to walk whenever I ate to allow myself to digest, and each time I stopped to walk I would get passed by more people.

The race began with a relentless climb up a treeless slope which is carpeted with wildflowers.  I could see dozens of runners snaking up the slope ahead of me and I was blown away by the pace they were going!  How could so many people be so much faster than me?  I told myself to relax and to be thankful for the butterflies in my stomach that were forcing me to keep an easy pace.  I would start to pass people soon enough.

I began to feel good about 2 or 3 hours into the race.  My legs felt lighter and my mind settled down.  I had no idea what place I was in, but I felt confident that I was moving at the right effort level for me.  I met up with Matt at the Dryfork aid station and then looked at my watch. I was 10 minutes ahead of pace.

The trail from Dry Fork to Footbridge was like butter for me.  My legs and energy levels were steady and I found myself running the ups and the downs.  I was carrying a 2L hydration pak and a 500ml UltrAspire soft flask.  My strategy was to fill the hydration pak at the major aid stations (Dry Fork, Footbridge and Jaws) and just top up the soft flask when needed to at the minor aid stations.  This saved me a lot of time as I never had to take off my pack, and filling the flask at aid stations only took 30s.  I passed at least a dozen runners during this stretch, but no ladies.  I was moving really well while keeping a low effort level, and I was surprised that I wasn’t catching any women.  I didn’t think I could run this section any better so I just satisfied myself that I was racing the best I could and the other women were simply better than me.

I came into Footbridge exactly on my target time and feeling fantastic.  As I arrived they informed me that I was 1st lady.  Oh!  That explains why I wasn’t passing any ladies. At Footbridge I accessed my drop bag and grabbed my long sleeves and rain jacket.  I knew that the rain would have to start soon and that there would be very little shelter between Footbridge and Jaws.

The rain began to fall about halfway up my ascent to Jaws.  At first it felt good, but I started to get cold about 12km from Jaws so I stopped to put on my rain jacket.  I didn’t bother putting on sleeves.  Somewhere along this stretch the 2nd place lady, Amanda, caught up to me. We would meet up at the aid stations, but she would spend more time at them so I would gain a bit of a gap before she caught up to me at the next one.  The rain began to fall more heavily and the trail turned to mud.  With 8km until Jaws the trail was getting very slick and runners were adopting the strategy of hiking next to the muddy trail on the grass, instead of slip sliding through the mud.  I wondered aloud how the trail was going to be once we headed down, the guy next to me said he thought it wouldn’t be too bad.

With about 3km to the turn around I saw Andy Reed come flying down the trail.  He looked energized and I thought he was in about 7th place.  It was cool to see him doing so well.  The last few kilometres to Jaws seemed to take forever and the weather continued to get worse.  I thought about putting sleeves on … I didn’t.

I made it to Jaws at 8:40pm, 10 minutes behind schedule but given the trail conditions I thought it was a very good time.  I was eager to change into fresh clothes and get out of there as soon as possible.  I was feeling good and didn’t want Amanda to catch me. Unfortunately, it was very difficult to peel out of my wet clothes and as I struggled to dry off the beginning phases of hypothermia set in.  Soon I was shaking uncontrollably and I knew that I had to stay at Jaws until the shivering stopped, or risk hypothermia out on the trail.  I sat there for 45 minutes, drinking soup and coffee, often spilling half the cup because my hands were shaking so badly.  Bundled up with multiple blankets and hot packs I was frustrated not to be moving, but I tried to keep a positive attitude.

When I finally left Jaws I decided to bring my poles to help me balance on the slippery trails. I did not know what place I was in but I tried to relax and not think about racing too much.  I attempted to run down the road but I found I had no energy in my legs, and I was breathing heavily with almost no effort.  A lady and her pacer passed me.  I told myself to eat and drink, that I just needed to warm up.  Eventually I started to move better and I even wound up passing the lady while she was taking a bathroom break. Things were coming around … until they weren’t.

Suddenly I began to have explosive diarrhea.  This was extremely awkward because there were very few trees in the area.  I wound up just stepping off the trail into the grass and turning off my headlamp to “hide” from approaching runners.  The cause of the diarrhea confused me until I remembered that I had been fueling almost exclusively on gels for the last several hours.  The only gels that don’t seem to have this side effect on me are Hammer Gels, and I had been using a lot of Gu gels since that was what was supplied by the race.  I had learned this lesson a couple of years ago, but apparently I needed to relearn it.  I told myself not to use any more Gu gels, but I didn’t have any more Hammer gels or Sour Dinos on me, so this wasn’t a very good strategy.

This is where my race completely fell apart.  I failed to adjust to the nutritional challenge and threw my fuelling strategy right out the window.  I stopped eating or drinking and for the next 2 hrs all I ate was a Fun sized package of Peanut M&Ms and 250ml of Gu Brew.  The trail was so slippery that I was constantly using my poles just to stay upright.  Even with the poles I fell at least 5 or 6 times.  The lady with her pacer was within ear shot behind me and I could hear her swearing loudly each time she slipped on the mud.  It was hilarious and I found myself laughing out loud as I slowly worked my way down the trail.  I didn’t yet realize how terrible my own situation was about to become.

Eventually my shoes became so filled with mud and grit that it felt like they were 2 sizes too small. I thought about stopping to empty them but I was so close to Footbridge that I decided to just wait and do a full shoe change there.  When I got to Footbridge I made all of the mistakes.  I asked for food, but then I only ate one bite.  I asked for broth and drank 2 sips.  I didn’t know it, but I was setting up to have my worst bonk ever.

For my shoe change, I decided to change from my Icebugs to my Pearl Izumi N2s.  The Pearl Izumis are very comfortable shoes but they have no lugs.  They were probably the worst shoes possible to wear for the next 20 miles, but for some reason I thought the next section of trail was going to be less muddy?!  I really wasn’t thinking clearly.  I should have just rinsed out my Icebugs and put them back on.

I began to shiver so I left the aid station thinking that I would warm up once I got moving.  I should have stayed and finished getting some fuel and fluids in me.

As I walked down the trail it began to rain harder and the mud got worse.  I was headed up The Wall, a steep 3000 ft climb and I thought I would be able to get a good power hike going.  For the first time in my life I found I had no power hike.  There was absolutely no energy left in my legs.  I put on music and told myself to eat and drink something every 3rd song, but I was having trouble following my own instructions.  I have never moved so slowly on a trail and my mind just snapped.  The rain, and the mud, and the bonk … I just stopped caring about anything.  I stopped eating, I stopped drinking.  I had put some Gu Brew in my soft flask because I thought that some liquid calories might help. An hour or so later I was throwing it up beside the trail.  Normally after a good puke I refocus on getting in fluids and calories, but this time I didn’t. I didn’t replace anything.  I just walked, very slowly, along the trail.  Or rather, beside the trail.  The trail was so slippery I couldn’t stand on it without sliding.

Eventually I stumbled into Cow Camp.  They had bacon and hot chocolate there, I had 4 pieces of bacon and 2 cups of hot chocolate.  It was delicious!  I’m lucky that they didn’t have a bed set up or I think I would have stayed there forever.  Unfortunately the bacon and hot chocolate were not enough to get me out of my funk and I walked out of the aid station as slowly as ever.  The trail was still slippery AF and I’m not sure how I would have made it up the hills without my poles.  My attitude was shit.  All I could think about was the idiocy of the whole race.  Why would you continue to battle on through a 100 mile race when you slid back 1.5 steps for every 2 steps you took forward?  Many people passed me.  I did not care.

At some point I made it to Dry Fork.  I was so happy to see Matt, I needed a hug and a good cry.    I was so pissed off at myself; I was so disappointed in my attitude and how I had thrown the entire race process out the window.  I needed a reset button and I felt like Matt was the catalyst for that.

When I reached Dry Fork I ate a little food, had a good cry, changed my socks/shoes and had a nap in the van.  I looked at my hydration pak to see how much I water I had drank since Footbridge – only 500 ml.  No wonder I felt like hell.


Napping and crying

By the time I left Dry Fork I was feeling much better.  The sun was out and the trails were drying up nicely. Only 18 miles left and I intended to walk every single one of them.  I was going to enjoy a nice hike among the wild flowers.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t finished making mistakes.  I had changed into an old pair of Salomon Speedcross at Dry Fork, and these shoes simply do not fit my feet. I also did not re-lubricate my feet after cleaning them off.  This made the last 5 miles of my walk much less enjoyable as I developed massive blisters under the balls of my feet and backs of my heels.  I guess it was fitting that I should continue making mistakes all the way to the finish of the race.

I did meet a few other 100 mile runners during the long walk to the finish, and I greatly enjoyed the company.  I walked the last 12 miles with Paul from Boulder, Colorado who kept me entertained with stories about his local running community.  We also met a ski mountaineer from Montana with a sore ankle.  I lent him my ankle brace which I had been lugging around in my pack for emergency use, and he was able to run the last 6 miles to the finish.  I enjoyed juicy watermelon at each of the aid stations, and Freezies which were enthusiastically handed out by the local kids.  30 hours and 49 minutes after I began this epic hike, I finally crossed the finish line.


The upside of walking the last 34 miles of a 100 mile race is that I was able to finish with a happy stomach and no sore joints.  I enjoyed two beers and a burger at the finish line. It was awesome to be able to relax and cheer on the other runners instead of heading straight to the med tent 🙂

With the gift of hindsight, I think this was an important experience for me to have.  I needed to be reminded that ultras are all about the process, and that adaptability is the most important characteristic of successful ultrarunners.  I was too focused on racing, on trying to get to the next checkpoint, and I failed to see the hole I was digging myself until it was too late.  It was also good for me to experience a true “bonk.” I have never felt truly empty before, hopefully this experience will scare me into never allowing myself to get that way again.

Thank you:

To Rock Gear Distribution for helping me out with gear (Icebug shoes, UltrAspire packs, and Swiftwick socks).  Your continued support enables me to chase my dreams.

To the race organizers and volunteers.  The race was impeccably organized, and the volunteers did an incredible job of managing the carnage that was happening on the trails with that relentless rain.

To my incredibly supportive husband Matt.  Thank you for supporting me during the thousands of hours of training and the long day(s) crewing during races.

To my training partners and the Calgary trail running community.  I love that I can always find someone who is up for a ridiculous adventure 🙂

Next up?  The Spray Valley 10!!!  Follow along as Arielle and I attempt to summit 10 consecutive peaks in the Spray Valley.  This adventure promises to be epic!


2 thoughts on “Bighorn 2017

  1. Dave

    I often feel like I’m the only one who makes the same mistakes over and over again. Nice to be reminded that even the rockstars have off days. And you still finished 100-freaking-miles.


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