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Bighorn 50K: Wild and Scenic

A scene from the Bighorn course

I live in a (former) swamp. This year I went to Wyoming and ran the Bighorn 50K. The West is big and tall.

It laughs at East Coast low-landers like me. This is my race report.

Tough. My Garmin recorded the elevation at the start of the race at 7482 feet. You immediately climb for 2.5 miles for 1,000 feet of elevation gain. I could definitely feel the altitude, at least the first (lots of uphill) half.

Breathtaking.  I know this word is overused, but the course scenery is stunning! My photos are pitiful representations of the awe I felt standing in these exalted surroundings. As an added bonus there was sunshine, cool temps and no humidity or bugs.

Friends. Every year a big group of VHTRC members make the trek to Wyoming. This year, it was my good friend Lola's first ultra! I ran with her the first half, taking it relatively easy, working hard to keep up with her on the climbs, enjoying the scenery, bombarding her with helpful mantras.

Some sweet single-track

Quad-punishing, at least the second half. Around Mile 19 comes a three mile section with an elevation loss of 2,750 feet! And then there's a brief half mile respite before another two mile dose of the same. I love downhills; I consider them my strength, but this is an entirely different ballgame. If I return to race this event in earnest, I'll need to do some serious long stretches of downhill training to prepare my quadriceps. Ouch.

Fun. I didn't feel like racing, partly because I wanted to run with Lola as long as it worked for both of us. With no pressure and little thought about pace and finishing time, I felt relaxed and simply focused on my senses. The crunch of my shoes on occasional snow patches, the smells of pine needles in the forested sections, the red hue of the earth, the vibe at the aid stations. I also took sixty-six (!) photos.

Lola running on the Bighorn course

This is a stellar event and I highly recommend it. They have it all: Friendly folk, amazing weather, colorful wildflowers, Pancake Breakfast the following morning, and just a few hours drive from Yellowstone National Park. Definitely worth a few days of summer vacation!

Grizzly in Yellowstone National Park

Racing Redux: LHH 10K

The real purpose of running isn't to win a race; it's to test the limits of the human heart. ~ Bill Bowerman

I signed up for the Lawyers Have Heart 10K again. After all, this was the race that sparked the fire under me to set a new 10K personal record (PR). It was a challenge that rejuvenated my running. It turns out that setting PRs is fun!

Training. I haven't been doing speed work lately. But I have been running well and putting in some miles. I decided I would treat this race as a speed barometer. I'd run what I had in me and set new goals based on that.

The weekend before the race, Tom and I did a 10-mile tempo run while in Vermont. The scenery along Lake Champlain was stunning. I felt pretty good about that last minute piece of training, even though warm temperatures and a hint of a side stitch forced me to walk in the last quarter mile with my arm over my head like the Statue of Liberty.

Expectations. The eve of last year's race we'd been out dancing and shrieking til midnight at the Gipsy Kings concert. So despite my lack of specificity of training this year, I expected to beat my previous time without too much trouble.

I did some figuring and made myself a pace bracelet with what I hoped was a reasonable goal. I scrawled the miles per minute I'd need to run in order to beat my 2009 time, and my PR and decided I'd shoot for somewhere in the middle.

Other Factors. Race day was predicted to be a hot one. And it delivered.

The Race. We met up with my law firm team, wished each other well, then squeezed into the crowd in the street. After a lot of chatter and instructions, then a rather anti-climactic "Go" we were off. I watched my Garmin closely to ensure I kept on pace, prepared to adjust if I wasn't able to sustain that effort.

According to my Garmin, here's what transpired:

Mile 1  8:01
I started off a bit fast, but that's what happened when I set my 10K PR last fall so I'm not worried.

Mile 2  8:10
I'm running fine, but that should've been closer to an 8:00 minute mile.

Mile 3  8:02
All is going well. I hit the 5k mark right at 25 minutes, as planned. Time to pick it up just a tad, I need to run sub 8:00s to get close to my PR.

Mile 4  7:50
Excellent. Legs are cooperating at this pace, not comfortable, but not feeling like I'm at the edge of my pain threshhold. It's what I expect at 10k race pace.

Mile 5  7:54 
Starting to suck wind now, and suddenly fighting off a side stitch. It's taking a lot to maintain my pace, I have to check my watch every few seconds in order to stay on target, but I'm not dying yet.

Mile 6  8:02
Now I'm dying. The hot sun is really taking its toll in this last mile. I'm feeling heat-induced nausea. You know the feeling: Run harder, and you'll hurl.

The final stretch takes a sudden 180 degree turn down a steep ramp to the street below, then it's just three blocks on flat pavement. Gravity should be my friend here, right? But I have nothing left in the tank.

I stop checking the Garmin obsessively every ten seconds and just put my head down and run. With a block and a half to go, I kick toward the banner that read . . . START.

Some genius had put it up facing the wrong way. How much faster could I have sprinted, with the proper inspiring FINISH in big block letters, spurring me on?

The world will never know.
My pace that last .2 miles? Including my finishing sprint?



I mean, I definitely didn’t have much left in those legs, but I am in utter disbelief that I slowed that much, so close to the end! 

Lesson learned. My mistake was not sucking down a GU around mile 3. I was drinking plain water, and it simply wasn't enough to sustain me at this pace for this distance.

Risk. One thing about having nothing left at the end, I knew I hadn't played it too safe.

Improvement. Though I didn't set a PR, I did beat my time here last year here by 3 minutes, 31 seconds. I'm happy with that. Leaves me room for improvement next year, right?

A Happy Ending. I have one complaint about ultra running: there's never time to go for brunch. Thanks to my law firm and colleagues for an relaxing, enjoyable and delicious post-race meal!