Friday, July 29, 2022

Bighorn Bungle

Choking on green phlegm with bits of chewed up ramen noodles. This is how I will remember Bighorn 2022. Yummy!

Beautiful Bighorn scenery. Not pictured: me, on the verge of death.


My training had been lackluster ever since Big's, 8 months prior. A hip issue had a lot to do with that. But so did life, and my predilection towards sleeping in and skipping workouts. So dreams of a podium evaporated well before race day.

Then there was the heat. 98 degrees for a high in Sheridan, WY. I did zero heat training ahead of the race.

And the altitude. I've never really "felt" the impact of altitude below 10,000', but there's a first time for everything!


So, I was going into a mountain 100, at altitude, in the searing heat, with sub-optimal training. Not ideal!


Oh, and the days before the race I had a sore throat which developed into a wet cough the night before the race, forcing me to get up multiple times in the night to hack phlegm into the bathroom sink. So … yay!


On the one hand, I really had no business being at Bighorn. Everything pointed towards a sufferfest. But, on the other hand, I DNF'd Hellbender 6 weeks prior (attempting to run in a post-migraine haze) and it'd been 3 friggin years since my last Hardrock Qualifier, so I really needed a finish both to boost my morale and to keep alive my Quixotic quest for a Hardrock start, hopefully before humans land on Mars.


I had no real expectations for the race given everything being stacked against me. Really, I just wanted to enjoy the mountains, the meadows, the views, and hang out with VHTRC folks. I got what I asked for, and a lot more.

Happy Trails peeps!


As a sign of my commitment to not really giving a shit about my performance at the race, I brought along my phone for the very first time in a race, and made sure to snap copious pics of the incredible scenery along the way. Sadly, the few minutes wasted snapping pics did not account for the infinitude of time I spent on course.


We got started at 9am and it was already fairly toasty. I donned cooling arm sleeves for only the 2nd race of my life, the other time being Western States. They made a huge difference throughout that first day. I played it fairly conservatively up the first climb, but somehow still found myself ahead of Jordan Chang. At one point, I realized he and Will Weidman were right behind me, so I stopped for them to catch up. Moments later, Jordan took off. Between that and the pre-race briefing where he tapped me on the back but then kept on walking, I'm starting to wonder if I've somehow done something to offend him. At any rate, Will and I plowed ahead for a time, but then even he separated from me. I was on my own for the rest of the race.

Despite unusually dry course conditions, I still somehow managed to lose a shoe to the mud ... and then waste time snapping a pic, cuz why the hell not!


Oh, so remember how I said I developed a wet cough the night before the race? Well what I failed to include was that by race morning I had also developed an, umm, loose stomach. Good news: in the early miles I wasn't hacking up a lung, yet. Bad news: between miles 11 and 18 I had to jump off the trail THREE times.


I soaked in the scenery and got stuck in some conga lines for a few hours until dropping into Sally's Footbridge at Mile 33. By then, my quads had been totally shot for at least 2 hours. It'd taken an inconceivable 6:40 to get there. If I were feeling good, I would've expected about 5:40. It was hot down there, and a bit of a shit show. A dozen runners were either over-heating or frantically figuring out what they needed for the upcoming 18 Mile climb. I quietly found an ice chest and filled up my sleeves and ice bandana, trying hard to avoid the pestering aid station questions about my health -- are you dizzy, have you been peeing, do you regret signing up for this race?

Before my race turned into a complete train wreck. PC: The awesome folks at Mile 90 Photography (Kansas City represent!)


Moments after starting The Climb, I encountered rock fields and rock walls that had been baking in the sun. The searing feeling on my flesh forced me to stop and cover my body in a toxic dose of zinc oxide.

5000' of climbing in 18 miles doesn’t seem that bad, and I fully expected plenty of running opportunities, but in actuality they were in rather short supply. More often than not, I found myself keeled over, hands on knees, panting, struggling to control my breathing, and inevitably trying to convince the chick that was passing me that I wasn't dying and that I'd be fine. Above 6500' of altitude, this became a fairly common occurrence as I slowly worked my way up to the turnaround.


In the final miles before the turnaround, it got fairly muddy and mucky, with good stretches of rotten snowbanks. At one point, I had to jump off into the woods again. Having exhausted my supply of TP, and being at too high an elevation for broadleaves, I was forced to test out the usefulness of pinecones. I'd score them at 3 out of 5, not ideal but useful in a pinch.


As dusk approached, I got to see Jordan on the return journey. He looked solid! Then Will, who also complained of early-mile quad seizures. I was finally starting to feel a bit better, and optimistically hoped I'd be able to pick up the pace and catch up with Will, who was maybe 30minutes up on me.


A few minutes later, trudging across another snowfield, I sank about 2 feet through the snow … and then rapidly descended another foot through freezing cold water below. As it was happening, I tried, in vain, to lunge forward and avoid the Watery Hole of Despair. Instead, I pitched forward hard, right into the snowfield with my face and hands. As I tried to extract myself, my calves seized up. I was stuck! My mind immediately flashed to those LifeAlert infomercials. Help! I've fallen and I can't get up! I laid there for at least a minute, my lower half stuck in snow and freezing water, my upper body unable to secure enough grip to pull myself out. Trail running … so much fun …


After my Herculean extraction from the snow, I plodded on to the turnaround at Jaws aid station. I had a great view of the sunset on the meadow at 9,000'. Ahh, serenity! The aid station, however, was anything but serene. There were at least 10 runners in there, hunkered down in chairs, in various stages of duress, lulled into complacency by the coziness of the giant tent complete with doting aid station workers and a friggin modified home furnace. I raided my drop bag and got out of there as quickly as possible to begin the long journey to the finish, leaving somewhere around 12:30 into the race.

Worthwhile sunset after the 5 Billion Hour Climb


Not long after the turnaround, darkness descended, and so did my gut, again. I hurried off the trail, dredging through 3' snow piles, to eagerly test out the Eskimo Method for the first time in my life. And I've gotta tell ya, wiping your ass with snow is a solid 5 out of 5! I highly recommend it!


Right afterwards, I hopped back on the trail immediately behind a merry band of runners, one of whom was lubed up in about 37 pounds of Bengay. The putrid smell laced the woods and I temporarily dropped back as far as possible to avoid vomiting. When that didn't work, I resolved to charge ahead through the clouds of Bengay and on to the fresh air ahead.


I came into the next aid station, Camp Upper Whatchamacallit, complete with a cast iron oven and stove, and decided to slurp up a healthy dose of ramen noodles. Earlier, I'd eaten a granola bar which severely aggravated my sore throat so I decided 1/3 of my nutrition plan was out the window for the rest of the race -- no more stroopwaffels, Bearded Bros bars, granola bars, etc. I needed "soft solids" that were easy to take down and I figured I was likely limited to noodles and rice from here on out. Not ideal, but whatever.


I started feeling good on the 18 Mile descent, passing a few folks, cheerily chastising every single person wearing unnecessary Kogalla chest lights (they're dead set on burning the retinas of every competitor they come across!). As I descended, the sinus pressure from my cold slowly died off as the altimeter wound down. Pheww! I did some math and thought I had an absurdly small chance at still securing a sub-24 finish, so I picked up the pace and continued my smooth descent.


After a few hours (yes, a "few" hours) of downhill escapades, the wheels started to come off. My quads tightened back up, and pain developed in the ball of my foot. It felt like I was stepping on a pebble that I couldn't dislodge. I tried making it back to Sally's to optimize time, but finally relented a couple miles up the trail and took off my shoe to dump it out. This did not work, which meant I likely had maceration from the sloppy trail conditions near the turnaround. So I was forced to strip off my socks and shoes at Sallys, Mile 66, diligently clean them with the help of an aid station volunteer -- wash, rinse, clean and dry with rubbing alcohol, etc. -- and then slip on new socks and shoes. The whole ordeal took nearly 15 minutes, but the maceration receded and the dirt and gunk was cleaned out of the skin folds, which meant the rest of the race would be considerably less painful … assuming I could keep my feet dry.

The rushing river at Sally's Footbridge


By that point, there was no chance in hell of making 23:59, so I slow-hiked my way up the 2500' climb to Bear Camp, all the while making sure to keep my feet as dry as possible. Along the way I started to get … sleepy. It didn't last long, but it was definitely weird considering I've never felt sleepy in any 100 Miler before, much less within 18-20 hours of starting a race.


The sun rose and I rolled into Kern's Camp and wolfed down a piping hot cup of noodles. Then the fun began! A few yards outside of camp I gagged and tried mightily to no vomit. I succeeded, but had to hack up a considerable amount of bright green phlegm mixed with bits of chewed up ramen noodles. I officially had a full-on chest cold and could no longer take in solid food for fear of gagging on blobs of phlegm and vomiting all over the place. Yay running! But at least I had my trusty Long Haul sports drink for calories. … Except, well, without any solid foods to help moderate my "loose stomach", taking in only liquids was a dicey proposition, and over the next couple hours I paid the price with multiple jaunts into the woods. Well, not so much the woods as, well, just right out there in the open meadow. Wildflowers, piles of grass, some excellent velvety wildflower leaves … we became intimate friends.

Wildflowers! (aka: TP)


By the time I had to venture up the long, easy-grade climb to Dry Fork at Mile 83, I simply had no energy to do anything but slow hike the whole damn thing. I arrived to the Aid Station at about 22:30 and immediately thought I should be done by now, and friggin Jordan Chang is definitely chilling at the finish right now! I was exhausted. But, I still had work to do.


I'd hoped to crest out after Dry Fork and ride the long descent at a good clip, but without any real calories, and practically no liquids either, my quads were not up to the task. And I got so frustrated that I refused to stop and put my cooling sleeves or hat back on, or dose up on sunscreen. The sun beat down on me and I slowly lumbered down about 4,000' of altitude, roasting along the way.


After a lifetime of "running", I finally made it to The Dreaded Fire Road. Only 5 miles of painfully flat, exposed running to go! I checked my watch and realized I'd at least be making it in under 27 hours, and then proceeded to knock out some 9minute miles, willing my depleted, dehydrated body down that godforsaken road.

Crying, or coughing "lung snot" into my hand? (PC: Mile90)


Once I finished, I met up with Will Weidman, who'd been hanging out for over 2 hours at this point, and proceeded to spend, I dunno, a solid 40 minutes just sitting there, hacking up green goop from the depths of my lungs. But, I was done. I had my stupid Hardrock qualifier, and I finally got my stupid Bighorn buckle.



Did I mention I abandoned my family for like 5 days for this miserable experience? Man, I am a horrible husband and father.

All that suffering for a stupid hunk of metal...


I'm finally posting this after 6 weeks while holed up in my home office, recovering from COVID. Feeling sick the days before Bighorn, and with my travel partner Will getting a call that his kid might have been exposed, we both took COVID tests in the parking lot of Sheridan's Albertson's grocery store out of an abundance of caution. We both tested negative. That said, my current COVID infection came with the *exact same* symptoms I had at Bighorn -- most notably the sore throat followed by buckets of neon green chest goop. I've never had crazy chest congestion like this before, so I find it a bit ... unusual ... that I've now had it twice in 6 weeks. So did I have COVID at Bighorn and somehow tested negative? Who knows! All I know for sure is that Bighorn was the most god awful exhausting race experience of my life and it took my body 3 weeks to get over whatever illness I had going into the race. And then I got the same damn symptoms again a few weeks later! I'm starting to believe I'm cursed and I should just give up running altogether. Now, if you'll please excuse me, I have to run to the bathroom and cough up some more crud into the sink...