Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bighorn 100 Race Report

The Bighorn Wild and Scenic 100-mile ultramarathon that takes place in the Bighorn Mountains starting near Dayton, Wyoming is definitely what the name suggests. For god's sake last year the winner (Karl Meltzer) got chased and kicked by an angry mama moose!

This was to be my third 100-mile ultra and first real mountain 100 that starts around 5,000 feet and tops out near 10,000 feet above sea level on a pretty rugged mountainous course. I had been training hard for this race ever since I recovered from a less enjoyable and injurious 100-miler last September at 100 in the Hood.

A few things different about this race compared to my first two 100's were:

1) This race starts at 11am on Friday which forces everyone to run completely through the night (my first two 100's I finished at 3am and midnight respectively).

2) I would be running/racing at a higher intensity for the entire race with the higher level of competition here, and my current level of fitness. (My first 100 was my first and my second one I was injured the last half of the race).

3) The altitude (going up over 8,000 feet when I do most of my training at or near sea level in Portland) and the exposure and heat (well...not a whole lot of sun and heat in Portland over the winter either).

So that being said...race morning I woke up in my tent at The Foothills Campground at about 6am. The next 4 hours I was a nervous wreck. Not so much about the race...well maybe a little... but when you're about to embark on this grueling mental and physical quest you (or at least I) get pretty squirrelly! Joe Grant, Geoffrey Donovan, Jeff Browning and his family, and I all shared an area next to Rob Erskine and his family. It was an ideal setup right next to the finish line area and showers/bathrooms, etc. Joe reminded me to take some deep breaths but the waiting around was killing me!

Finally we got shuttled to the start line area which was 3.5 miles away from the finish and we were able to see the endless dirt road we would have to finish on some 20 hours later. That thought made the butterflies flutter even more but I tried to stay focused. As we got closer to game time I became less nervous and got more into a confident, "let's go" state of mind. I see my expected competition all around me...My Inov-8 teammate and good friend Joe Grant, buddy Jeff Browning who has won this race all three times he's run it, North Face runner Mike Wolfe, Vasque Runner Duncan Callahan, and a bunch of other guys who looked fit as the sun glistened off our furled brows. After a singing of the national anthem and a prayer by Sam Thompson we were off into the rugged Bighorn Mountains!

(Randy Benthin, Me, Joe Grant, and Jeff Browning right before the start)

(Singing of the national anthem and prayer before start)

We had about 1.5 miles on the dirt road until we turned up into the singletrack where we would have about an eight mile climb. I ran with Mike Wolfe for the first few miles (super nice guy) and we got to know each other a little better. He told me that he had run a pretty strong 2nd place here a couple years back, and that he lived and trained at altitude up in Montana. He seemed fit from the get-go and I could tell he was going to have a good race. On the exposed climb I could tell for myself that I would have to knock the pace back a little. Joe and another runner named Rob were a little bit out front but then Joe just kind of pulled away. Then it was just Joe, then Mike, then me kind of spaced evenly apart.
(singletrack after we turned off the road)

(Trying to keep up with winner and course record holder Mike Wolfe)

(beautiful scenery heading up out of the canyon)

From miles 8-12 I was starting to get into some nice running after the initial climb (except for a 3-5 minute detour) and pushed and picked up the pace all the way to Dry Fork aid station. From there I was in fourth place behind Wolfe, Joe, and a Colorado runner named Cory Hanson. I descended pretty quickly over the next 15 miles despite feeling a few cramp-like symptoms. S-caps were popped and I felt that I really stayed on top of my hydration and nutrition. I think I'm starting to get this thing down! :o)

Eventually I took over third place and made my way into the Footbridge aid station at mile 30 and my feet were really bothering me. I could feel some hot spots, blisters, and just overall pain in the balls of my feet from the rugged course. It was not a great feeling considering I had 70 miles to go! I wore the Inov-8 X-Talon 212's (and so did Joe) although I was feeling that it may have not been the best choice for me in this particular race. As I left Footbridge Oregon runner Jeff Browning came up behind me and we exchanged a few words and tried to help each other up the climb a bit. We didn't talk too much but just enough to kind of pull each other along. It was like an 18 mile climb to the next big aid station and turnaround at Porcupine at mile 48. Jeff eventually put some space between us as we got higher and higher, and I started feeling really bad around mile 45. May have had a little to do with the altitude too but I hit a real low spot. I even contemplated dropping feet were throbbing, my energy levels felt a little tapped, and Duncan, and Hanson blew past me just before the turnaround.

So there I was mile 48 walking into the cabin to get weighed to make sure I didn't lose too much fluid, etc. and I was met by Josh Nordell (who is the husband of woman's winner Ashley Nordell). I told Josh my situation and he quickly quieted my negative chatter. Josh took control of the situation, grabbed my drop bag, handed me my gels, stuffed my shorts with food, etc. He put my jacket on for me and handed me my headlamp and never once in that time did he entertain the thought of me dropping out. Instead he told me some things that stuck with me for the rest of the race. He said, "Yassine...this is a race of patience!...just be're doing awesome...don't worry about your feet...they will eventually go numb!" This may sound kind of cheezy but something about the way he handled the situation and talked to me, and walked me out of the aid station left me on the verge of tears. From that point on I was a different person. I was freakin' charged up! I took off for the 18 mile gradual descent back to the Footbridge. I think I hit the 50-mile split at around 9 hours and 45 minutes or so and I was starting to cover some serious ground. I had eaten some hot noodle soup and broth at the Porcupine aid station and I think that had something to do with my return. By mile 55 I had blown past Duncan Callahan and his pacer, and Cory Hanson and moved into 4th place. I continued to push the pace to see if I could catch any others.

During this time I remember consciously thinking about a few things that veteran ultra runners Krissy Moehl and Justin Angle had told me a few weeks prior to Bighorn. It involved being patient and saving some for later in the race. I kept remembering what Krissy said about letting a little bit more out as you go. that I was feeling good I didn't want to let too much out too soon and fizzle out by mile 80. Also, I knew that I had a treacherous climb at like mile 66 in the middle of the night that I was not terribly looking forward to confronting.

I made it to the Footbridge (mile 60) and tried to scurry out as soon as possible. I chugged down one of my Guayaki Yerba Mate' Energy Shots and re-stocked for the big climb. I was also listening to my ipod at this point and it really helped me to zone out a little. At one point going up this climb I felt like this had to be one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I mean it was like 2 am and I have run 70 miles and it feels like I am not going anywhere up this mountain! This is the point in 100-mile races where you are forced to ask yourself what you are made of. What am I going to do???...sit here and cry and feel sorry for myself and my screaming feet?? I tried to suck it up as best as I could and after what seemed like hours I saw a red light at the top. The voice in the dark said, "how was your climb?"...I said, "Tiring"...He said, "that's what the last guy said!" I knew that was the last dramatic climb of the race and that it was all pretty manageable the rest of the way home (relatively speaking!).

Mile 75 or so and 4 a.m. my batteries died in my headlamp and I was forced to stop and change them off of very little light from my Ipod Nano. I reached another point of the race at this time that every single step was unbearable pain, and I even started changing my gait and footstrike. Like so many other things...eventually it passed and my feet numbed up and I was running strong again. Just before I came into the Dry Fork aid station I saw a runner's head lamp turn around and look at me way off in the distance. Holy crap! Who is that?! Joe?? Browning?? It definitely wasn't Wolfe because I was getting updates that he had pulled ahead by over an hour! Again, it seemed like it took forever for me to get up to Dry Fork and when I finally did I was beat. I tried to eat something but nothing appealed to me. Margie graciously massaged my knotted up trapezius muscles while someone told me that Jeff Browning just left here about 6 minutes ago! I was pumped that I was so close to this experienced mountain 100-mile runner, but at the same time I was struggling in terms of efficiency. I knew that If I could make it to like mile 90 that it was all downhill and flat from there.

The sun came up and it was freakin' amazing! Electric pink sky coming over the canyon walls and it gave me a newfound energy. I wish I could say that I was running these downs like I could, but like so much of the race, the terrain was less than ideal. Even the ATV and fire roads, where I thought I'd be able to open my stride and make up some time, were completely uneven and rutted out. That's why I believe my feet were so destroyed. By mile 90 I was happy to be moving at a consistent pace and I figured that I could go under 21 hours if I kept at it. I even thought I saw Jeff at one point so I continued to hammer as best as I could. When I finally made it down to the road that we started on a day earlier I had five long miles to go. This was one of the more difficult parts of the race for me...believe it or not. You are so close to the finish but your body and mind are spent and one mile seems like it takes FOR-EVER! I had to detach my mind and just run..."it will all be over very soon"...I kept telling myself.

(sunrise shed light on a new day)

(heading back down to the road to the finish)

Running into that park where the finish line area was set up was such an unexplainable feeling. It was about 6:43 a.m. on a Saturday morning and I just covered over 100 miles on foot through some of the more rugged areas of beautiful Wyoming. I had conquered the Bighorn 100!

Finishing in 4th place overall with a time of 20:43 was satisfying beyond belief for me. But even more gratifying was the way I ran. I ran calculated and in control just about the entire time. Most importantly I tapped into something bigger in this race, and that is one of the reasons I love ultra running. It wasn't about what time I finished or what placement I came in at the end. It was about the journey and being so grateful for the gifts I have in my life today. I thought about my Aunt Kathy who just passed away ten days prior, and my daughter who will enter this world in a couple months. So many things go through your mind during a race like this and I feel that these races empower us to overcome any obstacles in life. Bighorn and other ultras are vehicles to take us there. I'm still trying to figure out how to explain it but I know there is something special there....and if you're still reading this you probably know what I'm talking about.

Thank you to everyone that made Bighorn 100 such a memorable event. Thank you Erica for your loving support and reminding me why I do these races. I think of you often while I am out there :o)... Congratulations to all the amazing runners who took part in the different races last weekend. The race directors were super friendly and I really loved that good ol' country western hospitality. Oregon had a great contingency out there and big congrats to Ashley Nordell for sticking it out for the win. Also, to all the people that ran Bighorn 100 as their's impressive!

Honestly, Bighorn was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and this race had to be one of the most difficult things I have ever done too! So with another buckle on the belt it's time to move on and see where the journey takes me next...Bighorn was a blast!

Full Results and Splits can be seen by clicking HERE


Rooster said...

Nice job Yassine. Loved the report and loved how you positioned your mind. Congrats on a great run>

Yassine said...

Thanks Ronda! If anyone knows what I'm talkin' about it is you...thanks for the inspiration :o)

nadia said...

Oh my goodness Yassine. This has me in tears! I love reading the ups and downs, literally, and all the mental strength and focus that fuels you through the end. And what great motivators you had/have. This is so inspiring...makes me want to start running! :)

Well done big brother!!! So proud of you!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Yassine! ~ It's nice to hear a front runner's account of the race. Although, we were many hours apart ~ we still had very similar mental challenges. Once again, thanks for the cheers ~ I really believe kindness on the trail is so amazing! It really is payed foward. thanks agian.

Trevor said...

Thanks for the write up...was waiting for it. Glad you hung in there buddy. I was reliving my experience from last year after reading your report (albeit my pace was magnitudes slower)- the climb out of Footbridge AS is a bitch and the climb up to Dry Fork goes on forever!! Cheers bro for a great finish.

Derrick said...

Congrats Yassine. You ran awesome and showed great mental toughness getting through the low spots...makes the high points that much higher huh ;)

Thoroughly enjoyed your report. Certainly hit home and has me anxious to run a 100 again soon too. Bighorn sounds amazing.

Sara said...

That was a beautiful race report, Yassine. Thanks for sharing the journey, and congrats on a great race.

Yassine said...

Thank you my friends and family...You all inspire me too! :o)

Erica said...

You have so many wonderful things to teach our daughter...about perseverance, discipline, commitment, humility, friendship, reverence...and running. I love you and am sooooo proud of the person you are.

Hanson said...

Great meeting you at the Bighorn and way to stay strong and finish with an awesome time! I enjoyed your positive energy and wish you the best on the rest of your season! Hope to see you again out on the trails. Peace!

Jeff Browning said...

Nice work bro. Way to put together a strong first "mountain" 100. Rest well and enjoy recovery time. You did a great job man. Talk soon.

Rob said...

Great job Yassine! You got to get back to Fort Collins sometime and we can make a true mountain runner out of you. It is people like you that make this sport special and draws me to these events. I wish your daughter a happy and healthy entry to this world.

UltraChris said...

Way to rock, Yassine! Ahhh - the footburn - welcome to my world! Way to conquer it. Thanks for the great review of the race.

Yassine said...

I appreciate the kind words...thank you all :o)

nancy from finger lakes said...

i might be a little late to the congratulations party, but no less impressed by your running, your perseverance, and your spirit than everyone else, yassine. i can't wait to see you at white river.

Mark said...

Congratulations!! An exciting report!

Josh Nordell said...

Yassine thanks for your kind words. But, like I told you, I did nothing you wouldn't do in a heart beat. You are a great runner and a great person. Ash and I were both very impressed with the way you ran. Thank race is just a battle. See you soon.

Sam said...

Yassine, congratulations on a fantastic race out there! It was great to bump into you again in such a beautiful piece of the world. Wow, what a great race for your first "mountain" 100! Congratulations again on a really wonderful run out there, and look forward to seeing you again soon on the trails.

All the best,


Nick said...

Nice work, man! The Bighorn Mountains are pretty special, and just a great place to hang out and run all day. Glad you had a chance to meet some of the Fort Collins contingent.

Good luck with the rest of the season.

padre angulo said...

Huge congrats, Yassine. Sorry it took me a bit to catch up and get a comment up. Great finish and great work running tough all day.

Way to go!


Amy said...

I'm a little late in keeping up with your adventures and just read this today, but had to comment. You not only write so well, but you leave your readers in awe. It sounds like an incredible experience. Did you happen to get a chance to talk to anyone that finished in the back of the pack (33 hours). That is amazing!

Anonymous said...

Yassine.... I worked the Footbridge aid station in Little Horn Canyon and I still smile when you came running across the footbridge and into the aid station to be screamed "this place is beautiful" and you're right......those of us that call this place home are lucky. If you return to run the BH100 in 2011.....maybe I'll see you after I finsh the 50M portion. Fingers crossed. Well done, you rocked it. BTW.......running the 17.5 mile Footbridge to Dry Fork this Friday......remember that treat?! LOL. - Mark