Bighorn Trail Run 100 2014

Adventures12 Comments

DNF @ ~66 miles in 23 hours.

Here are Mike and I at the start. Mike went on to finish 12th. Mike has always been a strong supporter of mine and I was stoked to see him nail this race.

Big Horn

At the last minute, I threw my GoPro in my pack. I haven’t videoed or photographed a race in years and I thought it might be fun to kind of do a short video diary throughout the day. Gave me a slight distraction to help ease the time out there alone.

Not really sure how to start this post. A failed race is never that exciting. Usually they are more instructive. In this one, I am not really sure what I learned so maybe that is the therapy session you will get here as I try and think through and post-process what happened for some clarity.

Rewind. Leading up the race I hadn’t been working as hard as I have in prior years for events of this magnitude. Life stuff. Lack of motivation. I had set low goals. I just wanted to go and finish so get my Hardrock qualifier. The course is up in Wyoming and that is like the elevation of the Boulder trails. This will be easy. And you get 34 hours! I wanted to just enjoy it. I lost respect for the distance I think.

Then I got injured with that fall in May — the peak of training. That was nearly 3 weeks of no running. My fitness took a big nose dive. In retrospect, I should have just cut my losses and dropped to the 50 miler. I could have seen the whole course. Probably finished solid. And still had a fun weekend. But the goal was that qualifier and the 50 wouldn’t deliver that, so I stayed the course.

Fast forward to race day. I had been pretty solid mentally until now. I woke up in some weird panic state. Like I had never done this before. My stomach was in a knot. My mind was racing. I started crying walking out to the car to leave for the race. Total meltdown. Once we got to the briefing and start line, all that emotion and ache was gone. I was back in my element and I was ready to get moving.

We got started at 11 AM which is an oddly late start time. It was sort of nice. The temps were like in the 70s at the start so it was a toasty send off. Plenty of sunshine. I fell in the long conga line of people exiting the canyon. They were not moving that quick but I was enjoying the effortless pace. Veterans had told me to just go slow on that first climb so I did. Barely breaking a sweat but seemingly losing some valuable time.

The aid stations were much more frequent than LT100 which was nice. I went with my AK vest and just 2 bottles. Working to drain both between each stop. I wasn’t doing a great job at that to start but got better as I got into the rhythm of the race. I was using UCANN for my drink for the first time ever in a race. Trained with it some. It felt pretty great. With the late start, my stomach was solid. The drink wasn’t bugging it either. And no sugar mouth! I was hitting blocks and gels too but would wash those down with the UCANN nicely. Felt like I was onto something. But I knew I still wasn’t really eating enough as I ultimately should someday in these races. But I was really excited that it was working in the positive direction.

The mileage seemed slow at this race. Tight singletrack with brush hitting you in the shins all the time. The sweetest part was that nobody was coming up behind me. And I was rolling along passing people every few minutes. Now I wasn’t moving that fast, but they were slower. It was a decent feeling but had me worried I went out slow. Took about 8 hours to make it to the Footbridge aid station which is at mile 30. That is a major point in the race. The place looked a little nasty. People everywhere trying to work out situations. I sat with my drop bag and was in and out pretty quick. Changed socks, shoes, clothes. Restocked. They told us that we should take warm clothes at this point to get to the turn around. Expected temps were 20 degrees up there after midnight. So I took pants, a windbreaker, and an extra layer. It was probably 50 or so at this moment so it was hard to fathom it being so cold. The key fail here was that I should have put on my pants right then while I had easy access with my shoes off. I did sweat a bunch running up the next portion of the hill but I think I made the wrong move. Everybody was in shorts anyway.

From there, we are climbing up the “wall” I think it was called on the race shirt. Whatever. It wasn’t any Hope Pass. It was rolling upwards. It was all runnable for me. And I am not proud of my fitness at the moment. Again, I was rolling people up. This was a euphoric point in the race but it was being tarnish by my kidneys. Miles back my hip was flaring up so I took an Advil. Hip was back in motion literally 5 minutes later. Good as new. But I paid the price with lower pain and not being able to get any pee out. Straining to make a cap full of dark yellow urine. I really got on the drinks at that point. Stopped at an aid station and drank water like I was in a contest. It wasn’t going to fix itself quick but I was doing what I could. I figured another Advil later in the day would be required and I wasn’t going there unless I got things flowing well.

Nightfall set in and my pace slowed. Tiny little rutted animal path. Sucky footing. Mud and water crossings started increasing. Finally got the point where you give up trying to keep your feet dry. Pointless. Then came the lightening. Bright and it filled the sky. Kind of freaky. In Colorado, I would have run for cover. There was nowhere to go here and I thought “we are low at only 7,000 feet” so I kept going on like everyone else. Then came the rain. Driving rain. The parts of the trail that were dry when to slick. I was not having fun at that moment. But it goes with the territory. I never take rain gear. Don’t think any of my races ever even have it in the forecast. So I used my water repelling wind breaker to cut the wetness and moved on.

I thought we would never get to the turn. Mile 42-48 sucked. Pretty low point mentally. I had OK energy but I just kept playing some game of “its around the next corner” only to be disappointed by darkness. It was a sloppy mess getting into the aid station. Crossing major mud. My entire ankle was submerged many times. My shoelaces where invisible in a layer of mud on top of my shoes. I was sliding every which way on the trail. My footing was working over time. And I was cold. Real cold. The wetness combined with the drop in temps and wind was doing me in. I couldn’t run fast enough in the mud to get body heat going. Ugh.

Finally, I got to the turn and they moved us into a big heated tent. It wasn’t that warm but it was something. I wrapped up in a huge blanket and sat in a chair. Kind of glazed over for 5 minutes with a cup of hot chocolate. Watching the carnage around me. Guy next to me was dropping. He looked like he should go home so I did nothing to motivate him in any direction. I got some food and ate and got my temps under control. I changed out my clothes for dry ones. I was going to change my soaking wet shoes and socks but opted not too. In under a mile after leaving they would be soaked again, no point in ruining 2 pairs of shoes tonight.

I started getting interested in leaving as time passed. Finally they started talking about cut-off times and I was up and on my feet. I gotta get the hell out of here. It was some flashback to Twin Lakes last summer when I was just before the cutoff. I gotta get out of here. NOW. So I flew out of the tent and went out into the darkness. It was freezing cold again outside but I was dry and figured I could get better with movement. But something was wrong. My right leg hurt. It was my knee. I recalled nothing prior in the day there but it suddenly felt like somebody hit me with a hammer. Right where your knees touch if you squeeze both of them together. WTF. I got out to the road/gate where cars where and dropped down to my knees and tried to stretch it out. Suddenly I had a recollection of running in Boulder on the Mesa Trail with the dogs…in the sloppy rain…and my knee hurt. All that sliding around into Jaws tweaked that knee. Son of a bitch.

Well, if there as a crux moment of that race it was there. I stood up and literally looked back in the direction I came. 1 mile back to the aid stations where I could try and get help. But I will get cut for time soon. Or continue. What to do. What to do. I stood there for a minute wracking my brain. Maybe another Advil would dull this out. Maybe the footing will get better and things will come back. Not 2 DNFs in a row. Blah blah blah. I continued forward.

The race is a huge mental game and I used a lot of chips on that decision. In retrospect, it was a dumb move. The pain was sharp enough that it was not going away. And it was a really long way to the next spot to drop. Like 18 miles. And the crews have to driving to fucking Montana to access it. What was I thinking? Oh well.

So I kept moving. I warmed up as I saw the sunrise. I was pretty alone. Random people passing every once in a while. I had been waiting for the 50 mile race to start back at the turn and them to come flying past me. My watch was dead so I was using those folks as some sort of tortoise and the hair thing to keep my occupied. But all in all, I could not run. And I could not go down anything with steps without major effort. I wasn’t going to be able to reclimb out of Footbridge nor run 15 miles back into town. I wasn’t sure if I was going to do damage to the knee or not. I didn’t really care. I just knew the end result would be being cut at the next aid station when I got there or the one after that. So I threw in the towel mentally and just tried to work myself the rest of the 15 miles or so to a place to drop. At 2-3 miles an hour walking, that took forever.

When I got to Footbridge, I limped in. Handed the captain my bib and continued to the parking area. I found 3 Texas dudes crewing for a lady who had just passed me at the aid station. She was barely ahead of the cutoff and was determined. She was actually moving while I was not. Great for her! I bummed a ride off these guys back to the race start. They were super nice and let me use a phone to call Kim. Kim had no clue where I was as the race tracking sucked as usual for ultras. They dropped me at a gas station in town and my wife drove up and picked me up. I got in and the kids were happy to see me. They asked me why I couldn’t finish and I told them my knee was pretty hurt. Conversation turned to what they had been doing since yesterday when I left them and life went on.

It always run to wrap up these race posts talking about what’s next. So since I didn’t finish, I didn’t get the Hardrock qualifier I was after. That means that dream is on hold for now. I will not have an entry for 2015. And you know what? I am OK with that here today. Maybe I could have been fitter or more prepared or whatever but I still opted out. Hardrock surely would have tested me like that several times over and I didn’t rise to it this time. Maybe it would be different on any given day but its cool for now.

If you watched the video, you heard me say maybe I should just give it a rest for a while. My wife likes to tell me that I run 50 mile races within 100 mile races…so I should just stick to 50s for a while. That might be pretty insightful. Maybe I should spend some more time at that distance for a while and work on it. Or maybe do something else.

I still feel like I peaked back in 2011 and have been on a downward trajectory since. Slower. Tighter. Whinier. I am turning 40 this year. But I absolutely hate when people try and sympathize and say something about age. Tweaks me because I am out there working against the age clock staying fit. Sure there are plenty of ways to stay fit but there is something magical about this distance. And while I don’t mind not finishing from time to time (because it goes with the territory), I don’t want to be the guy that can’t ever get one done anymore.

So I could end this with some cliffhanger or some drama. But I won’t. You deserve better.

  • symmitchry

    Great write up, and great video. Gave me fuckin’ anxiety, man. Perfect.

    (btw, typo? “the pain was sharp enough that it *wasn’t* going away”?)

  • Andy

    Damn. When I didn’t see your name on the list of finishers at the awards ceremony I was definitely bummed, Brandon. I wondered what had happened. Thanks for writing up an honest report and for taking the time to make a video. (I enjoyed seeing my brief cameo on the first climb!) It was definitely a tough course– especially the tricky cowpath footing combined with the slick mud. It really made me appreciate how frickin’ runnable the Leadville course is. I definitely had multiple low spots during the race, and I must’ve spent 2 hours at various aid stations changing socks/shoes/etc., but I managed to come back from the dead and finished super strong. Probably the best final 20 miles of any 100 I’ve run. I’m working on my own race report, but it’ll take a while as I can barely hobble from one end of my house to the other! Hope to see you at Leadville in a couple months!

  • Andrew Wellman

    Great write up. I can empathize with the unknown state you are in. I am trying to limit my 100s because of the insane toll they take, but Western State changing requirements put me in a tough spot. This year I will do bear 100 to get my qualifier. The race is in 3 months and I am no where near as excited as I was for LT100, which leaves me keenly aware of the potential for failure. The 100 mile distance will find your weakness, particularly if it is motivation. If you get a sudden desire to try and HR qualify again, come join us at “the Bear”. Anyway, like others, I appreciate the honesty you put forth and the time you take to do these posts.

  • Brandon Fuller

    Thanks and thanks. Typo fixed.

  • Brandon Fuller

    I am glad you persevered through the day. I know what its like to get that bounce. Its amazing!

  • Brandon Fuller

    I love the spirit…invitation to run another to soothe what ails you. These things are like a disease. A sweet, sweet disease.

  • Devin Quince

    I remember passing Katy Coton at the BH100 on the night section and it was tough not knowing when it would end. Nice work either way

  • footfeathers

    It’s pretty obvious to someone who’s followed your progression over the last 4 years. At some point you’ve lost the deep interest and desire you had back when you would meticulously lay out every particle of gear and food and talk/write about an event for weeks (months) beforehand. Finishing these “races” are difficult but without the strongest desire to finish and reach some vital internal goal, they’re almost impossible. Either get fired up and make LT100 deeply important to you or give it a break and refocus on different, new goals. I know you can knock Leadville out in sub 24 – now that would be something special.

  • Brandon Fuller

    It is obvious. I tend to go overboard on stuff and then back off once some level of achievement is obtained, because I am on to the next thing. In this case, there is still desire but my time is consumed by another thing that you know about. And that’s the tradeoff.

    I will also say that I used to think running 100 miles was going to make me invincible, or a rock star, or give me some great wisdom about the universe. That didn’t happen. Turns out its just a long run. Bummer. Hence, I feel like I don’t have to be as meticulous anymore. I have a routine.

    Leadville 25 is one of the remaining goals of life. I will not feel satisfied as a person until I prove I can do that to myself. I don’t know if this is the year or not, but I feel like I willing to lace up and give it a shot. And given where I am, I feel like that is some level of success in itself.

  • Devin Quince

    Ugh, I mean pacing.

  • georgezack

    Finally caught up on the video (I am pretty sure if I am not giving you the John Sharp ultra vid award yet though). Thanks for sharing all this.

    Yeah, Timmy sez it without the fun love stuff. I imagine fighting the hip, the lungs, the knee, feet, and then the life stuff adds up. Watching that vid, it sort of hurts a bit to watch you have to deal with that. But I also enjoy that you ventured into the ring and took a shot.

    I think I get it … losing some of the fire around a goal. Anyway, next time the fire moves you to do one of these stunts, I think you ought to put that call up for a pacer. Yeah, I know you got your routine. If I am around, I will be happy to sing Foo all night. Then when you are sick of me you can get a real pacer like Feathers.

  • Brandon Fuller

    I am on the last chapter now in the big book of excuses. “I will never do this again” has worn off.