Hey there pals! It’s almost been a month since the Bighorn Trail 52 and I am FINALLY getting around to writing a race recap. So, grab yourself some good ol’ kettle corn and settle in for a nice little read 🤓
Going into this race I had my fitness and mental game dialed in maybe the best it’s ever been, my excitement could barely be contained! A week out from the race there was still quite a bit of snow left up high in the Bighorn Mountains near the start, but those seven days leading up to the race were quite warm. 70% of the snow melted the week prior to the race. With all that snow melt, the talk of muddy trail conditions became a focal point.
I made it up to Sheridan a couple days early in order to relax a little and put all my attention towards race day. I attended the 100 mile pre-race meeting on Thursday evening with my friend, Andrew Barney, and was able to get bit better insight on what to expect for trail conditions.
To give runners more time to make cutoffs, race start time was moved up from 5:00 AM to 4:30 with the bus leaving Dayton for the start line at 2:45 AM. That put me at a 1:45 wake up, luckily that was 2:45 AM my time (central time.) I had gotten up a few times in the past month at 3 AM to get my run in before my day started, so the early wake up wasn’t much of a worry, but the bus ride up to the start line was.
I have a major issue with motion sickness. Literally making me ride in the back seat of a car is risky🤢 , so I knew I needed to get to the bus early on race morning to get a seat as close to the front as possible. I sat in the seat behind the driver thinking this would be just fine, close to the front I wouldn’t get to feeling pukey. Ten minutes into the ride up the mountains, I felt like I was on a roller coaster, which sounds ridiculous, but going up switch backs in the dark on a bus when you’re a bit tense already made this girl wish she knew where the trash can was.
I think it took a little over an hour to get to the start line, and looking back, that hour might’ve been the toughest hour of my day. I haven’t been sick with the flu or puked in years, so when that nausea hit me like a brick wall it took everything in me to keep my bagel and coffee down. Nonetheless, I made it off the bus without losing my breakfast and making a bus load of enemies…
I thought the nausea would subside once off the bus, but once the race began, I realized it was going to hang on like a leach. It took about ten miles to get my stomach feeling back to normal. Luckily those were easy miles, lots of downhill and the cold morning air helped.
Those miles at the top were full of snow and even a little ice cover on puddles and sloppy mud here and there. I was worried I might be over dressed in a long sleeve and gloves, but it didn’t take long for me to be grateful for the extra warmth. My focus for these early miles were just to get in a groove; keep my footing with all the rocks and technicality of the trail. I also focused on fluid/electrolyte intake as I knew it was going to be a warmer day.
I rolled into the first major aid station, Sally’s Footbridge, at mile 18 feeling strong. I switched shoes, shed my long sleeve, gobbled down a couple donuts, enjoyed a porta-potty visit, and shot gunned a red bull 😊 The climb out of Footbridge is fairly significant, with about 3,000 ft. of gain over 4 miles. This climb was one of my worries heading into Bighorn, but this section turned out to be some of my strongest miles. Leading up to Bighorn, my training was focused around climbing, and it paid off as I was able to pass multiple other runners on this climb and make it to the top feeling strong and ready to roll through some flat terrain.
The next 16 miles went smoothly. Mud was a definite factor on and off throughout these miles. As expected, there were sections that could’ve sucked my shoe off and even some mud holes that might’ve sucked me in up to my knees if not crossed with caution. There were multiple creek crossings. The larger ones had log bridges for crossing and the smaller ones were forded. I looked forward to the small creek crossings to get cooled down a bit and wash a bit of mud off my legs and shoes. I had such bursts of energy during these miles, maybe it was because my nutrition was on point or I just hit that flow state, but there were times where I felt like I could fly 🦅
I rolled into the next major aid station, Dry Fork Ridge, at mile 34 with quads that were beginning to scream a little. Again, I downed a couple donuts, drank a red bull, ate a turkey wrap, and sipped a little Coke before heading out.
Heading out of Dry Fork, there is a little bit of a climb, but then you hit some nice downhill. Even though my quads were really starting to revolt, these miles went well. I hit the last major climb at mile 39’ish with legs that were happy to see some incline instead of downhill.
The last 12’ish miles of the race are all downhill and you drop down into a canyon, which brings a bit warmer temperature and less air for a breeze. It was a warmer day, and even toastier in the canyon with all that dead air. At this point, I really started to feel the heat. Also, my quads were trashed from all the descents. These last miles were easily the longest miles of the day, which a lot of people would question because on paper they look easy; downhill or flat. But on paper is deceiving. At mile 48ish, I caught up with my friend Andrew Barney who was finishing his 100-mile race. We chatted through those last miles together, and I was reminded of how blessed I am to have such fantastic running friends. For the second year in a row, we crossed the finish line together.
My coach Kenzie Barlow was at the finish line to greet me with a hug and a good laugh 😊 She has coached me now for almost 3 years, and finally getting to meet her face to face felt like meeting a long-lost friend. Kenzie is someone who has brought the best out in me, and someone who has also inspired me with my running and life in general.
Overall, I feel like the 2019 Bighorn 52 was a success. As expected, it came with challenges and quads that took a couple weeks to recover. I might not have stood on a podium at the end of the day, but I executed a solid race where I nailed my nutrition, finished healthy, and finished with a hunger for the next one.
The Bighorn Mountains hold a special place for me, and I look forward to returning next year.
“Sometimes it’s easier not to fight when things get tough, but if you keep pushing, great things can happen.” -Gabriele Grunewald