Some adventures in road and trail running.
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Monday, June 23, 2008

Pacing Big Horn 100: No toenails were harmed during this Ultra

On Friday through Saturday June 20, 21 I was honored to be part of a team for Ronda Sundermeier who won the overall women's title for the Big Horn 100 mile race.

The race is a nasty little sucker that has 17500 feet of climbing and 18000 feet of descent. We were on a slightly different layout this year due to the remaining snow that was still plenty deep in the higher parts of the traditional course.

The 2008 men's race winner Jeff Browning, who also has won two previous Big Horns stated the course was different in a way that made the times faster but made the course no less difficult. This years course had just as much climbing but the climbs were more compressed so you could get them over and done with and get back to the faster business of the downhills.

Ronda started the race very strong and was quickly way ahead of her pace chart. She likes to keep her crew on their toes!
The race started at 11:00 am but on the first day the weather was quite nice with some clouds but no rain or thunderstorms. The picture at the beginning of the post is right at the start as the runners head into the Tongue River canyon.

We had great fun crewing Ronda for the first 50 miles with lots and lots of driving covering 2 states (Wyoming and Montana) and several pretty impressive creek crossings. We even had a bit of spare time to capture some pictures of some local moose.

My first running of the day as a pacer was for a 1.4 mile out and back from Footbridge to Pacer Junction which was a new addition this year to add some miles for the snow course. Done just as it was getting dark following along the Little Big Horn river and it allowed us to see the field and know we had our work cut out for us through the night.

Ronda then did a 7.5 mile out and back with her husband Bill up to Leaky Mountain and back. Hard section of course which few people came out of looking happy. Most had a dazed look along the lines of "What was that??!!".

Then it was my turn to take over pacing duties for the next 36 miles to the finish, broken up in 8 sections.
At this point Ronda had already run 63.9 miles and it was 2:00 am Saturday morning.

Footbridge to Bear Camp. 3.5 miles in 1:35
We headed out from Footbridge where I had been hanging with Kris and many other runner's crews since around 9:30 pm keeping warm by the campfire.
This section is a nasty climb when you are tired and running in the dark.

Bear Camp to Cow Camp. 7 miles in 2:12
Nice temperatures and running in the moonlight with reflection off mountains as you traverse mountain meadows filled with flowers starting to bloom and deer crossing the trail. You just have to see it to believe it!

Cow Camp to Riley Ridge. 3 miles in 1:07
Another nasty climb that was added this year to make up for the change to not go all the way up to the Porcupine ranger station. Ronda beat her splits in this section. They really need to teach the cows/deer to add switchbacks into their trails on these mountains!

Riley Ridge down to Dry Fork. 5.3 miles in 1:20
The first part of this section is up on the ridge around 8500 feet with some mud and snow sections. In the early morning things were still slightly frozen and less wet than when the runners went through the previous times. As Ronda ran the drop down to Dry Fork the 50 km runners we heading out up the hill towards us. It was really cool the support these runners gave Ronda as she powered down the hill into the aid station.

Dry Fork to Upper sheep. 5.0 miles in 1:12
Headed out of the aid station and up again following a road and then on to single track trail through mountain meadows. Our crew was playing mind games by telling us the next woman back was 12 minutes when I think she was more like about 1 hour.
Smart move as it kept Ronda running strong through the fatigue and me trying to think of ways to keep her moving to lock down first place :-)

At the the Upper Sheep station I was surprised to see chilled shrimp and a bunch Canadian flag chairs...nice!

Ronda also made the smart move to start soaking her legs and feet in the creeks that we went by. 30 to 60 seconds in the cold runoff water did amazing rejuvenation.

Upper Sheep to Lower sheep. 4.9 miles in 1:11
Down and down and then more downhill running. Ronda was bookin it through this section and got my workout keeping up. You know it is a long downhill when you are starting to look forward to flat or even some uphill.

Lower Sheep to Tongue River. 2.3 miles in 32 minutes
Don't have strong memories here except I believe it was getting hot and you could start to smell the finish. More leg soaking just out of the aid station.

Tongue River to Homestretch and then to Finish. 5.2 miles in 1:05
Evil last section along a basically flat country dirt road leading into Dayton Wyoming and the finish in a local park.
It was stinkin' hot by this time and everyone is really ready to be done. No objections here if the race was only 95 miles! I started to get pretty cooked along this section and I had hardly run at all compared to the racers. We all enjoyed the freezies at the Homestretch aid station!

Ronda finished strong in 25:10 to take first place and the second fastest women's time ever at Big Horn. The awards were the next day in downtown Sheridan, WY. Jeff and Ronda look like they could go out for another 50 at least ;-)

Lots of other Pacific Northwest runners had a great showing. Several of the runners came back from the dead to run strong second halfs. Overall male and female and many age group placings came back to the PNW. Stenciled rocks are given 3 deep as age group awards for the Big Horn races. Airport security really loved these :-)
See the full results here.
All of the racers from the first to the last were inspiring and I am fired up to keep training hard and get ready for more racing.

It was a great weekend of crewing, running and pacing. The course was well marked and the aid stations and volunteers were great. My only regret was not carrying a camera out on the and learn. Olga did carry a camera and her shots are here.

We did have adventures off the trail as well: canceled flights, bad service in restaurants, hotels and at the airport. Then having our shuttle van hit by flying corrugated metal pipe flying off a dump truck...OUCH!

For me I got lots of time on my feet running some great trails up in the mountains and getting to witness a great race. About 11 hours of running and about 6000 ft of climbing: awesome prep for the PCT 50 miler.
This was also my first long running using trail shoes. I have always run in Asics 2100 series road shoes for all my pacing and racing. On recommendations from the ultra list and Jeff I tried the 2120 trail version. I like em!! Extra lug for the mud and did well in the wet conditions but still light and felt very similar to the road version.

And yes, no one lost any toenails :-)


saschasdad said...

Great write-up, Darin! It looks like you had a great trip, made even better by pacing the first place Rooster.

olga said...

Wow, thanks for posting time splits. Seems that I nailed each of them in second half just the same, what explains Ronda was 1:45 ahead at Footbridge and 1:40 at the finish. Makes me feel pretty darn good:) Congrats on a great job!