For the first 6 months of 2014, I trained with just one goal in mind: Competing in the Bighorn 50-mile trail run in the mountains just outside Sheridan, Wyo.
When the temperatures in Iowa dipped below zero in January, I bundled up and headed out the door to log my miles. When we took a few vacation days, I rolled out of my cozy bed to get in a run. When I arrived home late one Sunday evening after a long drive across the state, I finished my 20-mile training run after 10:30 p.m.
Needless to say, I had a lot invested physically and mentally in competing in the Bighorns.
So when my race on June 21 finished at 34.5 miles instead of 50, was I disappointed?
Sure, I was disappointed, but I wasn’t crushed.
The muddy, snowy, rocky, broken trails and the constant downhill slope in the early miles took a toll on my quads and ankles. I rolled my right ankle completely over twice, one time taking a spill onto a huge boulder and uttering a few words of which my mother would not approve.
As I plowed downhill for those first 18 miles, I made friends with a fellow runner who was moving at about the same pace. We were keeping an eye on the clock, knowing that the first time cutoff was approaching. We’d make that first cutoff, I told her, but we weren’t going to have much extra time to spare after that. But between the quads, the hamstrings and the ankles, I thought I was going at the maximum controlled pace that I could manage, even if it wasn’t the pace that I had hoped for. I’m not a great downhill runner, and that was borne out.
We did make the Footbridge Aid Station about 30 minutes before the cutoff. Despite needing to replace the tape on one foot and dealing with some rather troublesome cramps, I hustled out of Footbridge by myself with about 10 minutes to spare.
From there, it was straight uphill for three miles, gaining 2,300 feet in that span. It’s a stretch of trail that’s aptly nicknamed The Wall.
Having met up with my friend again, we hiked and huffed and puffed our way to the top of the ridge at the Bear Camp Aid Station. My friend decided to return to Footbridge, where she could catch a ride back to town. For the next 13 miles, I was on my own.
With no one to push me, without the aid of my GPS watch providing information on my average pace and knowing I was already flirting with the next cutoff, it would have been easy to slack off. But I decided I was there to finish in the best possible time I could. I had family waiting for me at the Dry Fork Aid Station — my brother and his daughter had driven up from Casper; and my wife, who has always been there for me during these crazy adventures. I knew that by now my niece would have already passed through Dry Fork on the way to her own strong finish. I wanted to give it my all until there was no more left to give.
So I ran when I could, and I hiked when I had to. But, as my wife would say, I made forward progress.
I hustled out of Cow Camp Aid Station knowing that with 6 miles to go, I wouldn’t make the cutoff. I wolfed down fried potatoes and 7Up with another runner, and he suggested that we might as well walk and enjoy the scenery because there was no way we’d make it to Dry Fork in time.
But I was still committed to recording the best time possible. I broke out my music player for the first time and left the aid station with the strains of Bonnie Raitt urging me on. (Love this song, and its reference to “small house under a Big Sky” always reminds me of Montana.) I probably ran the hardest in the last few miles before Dry Fork, knowing I wouldn’t make the cutoff and fearing I’d be caught up in the sweepers.
In the last 13 miles — from Bear Camp to Dry Fork — I passed 16 runners. It wasn’t about a better finishing time than someone else — hell, I was going to miss the cutoff time and be a DNF – but it was a way to measure and push my effort. I was going to give it my all, although on this day, my all wasn’t good enough to complete the 50-mile race.
Even if I had made the cutoff time, I’m not sure I could have gone on. Maybe a better statement would be “should have gone on.” I know I would have tried, just because I’m stubborn that way. But when I topped that last brutal hill at Dry Fork, there wasn’t much left in the tank.
I fell short of my goal — finishing the Bighorn 50 — but I learned a heck of a lot about the race’s overall challenge, about the course and about myself. And when the third week of June rolls around in 2015, I know I’ll make a better run having put forth the best effort I could in 2014.
My plan for conquering the Bighorn in 2015
After a week or so to reflect, I have a good idea what I need to do to get better:
- Coming from the flatlands, my quads and calves weren’t prepared for 18 miles of downhill on an uneven trail. My son is a big fan of weighlifting, and I told him those opening miles were like doing squats for 4 hours. To prepare for next year, I’m going to add weight room sessions.
- The treacherous footing posed by the mud and snow had me concerned about starting in my Hokas, so I started with my trusty Asics Nimbuses. But these shoes lack the stability in the heel to deal with the precarious footing, and my heel kept kicking out to the side.
- I need to run more trails. There aren’t any trails near my home, but I’ll have to make the effort to drive to some or find some races that will give me time on the trails. Iowa trails aren’t the same as Wyoming trails, but any trail time is better than road time.
- I need to run more hills. There’s a one-mile long hill on my running route, and I ran repeats there several times. But I need to do that several more times … with more repeats.
- And I need to simply run more miles. My longest run was 30 miles, although that was part of back-to-back long days. I had planned a 35-miler, but time lost to injuries kept me from making that run. I need to start my training cycle far enough out so that I can still make a 35-miler or at least two even longer back-to-back runs.
Here’s my video race report of the 2014 Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run 50-miler. It was my first ultra in the mountains, and the trails were challenging, but the scenery was thrilling. Enjoy!
I’ll post a story in the next few days.
Here we go: Wyoming or bust.
By Thursday night, Barb and I will have trekked the 1,000-miles to Dayton, Wyo., and bright and early Saturday morning, my niece, Melissa Davidson, and I will hit the trail on the Bighorn Mountain 50-mile trail run.
I can’t wait.
After a few setbacks in training after the first of the year, I was finally able to ramp up my mileage in May, logging 173 miles. This is the highest monthly mileage I’ve ever run. Since I limit myself to four runs a week, that means my average run was 10.3 miles. By the end of the month, I had completed long runs of 20, 25 and 30 miles, and those were all done one day after doing medium-long runs of 8-10 miles. When mapping out my training, I had hoped for a 35-miler, but time got away from me.
Most recently, I’ve been on a three-week taper, and my form and speed (all things are relative) seem to be returning. The break from the long runs was needed.
Some of the best news I’ve received in the past few days is that the trails, even at the highest altitude, are snow-free and passable. But there are plenty of “shoe-sucking mud bogs.” Since there have still been flurries on the mountain and the overnight lows have remained in the mid-30s, the lack of snow on the trails is really welcome news.
We’ve rented a cabin less than a mile from the start of the race, which is a real plus from a logistical standpoint. I hope to get in a short run on Friday morning to test the trail and get a feel for the challenge. The race begins at 6 a.m. Mountain time on Saturday.
- This link from the race organizers will provide updates at three checkpoints in the race. For the 50 milers, it is will give updates at mile 18, mile 34.5 and the finish. According to the website, “Each time the participant reaches one of these timed points, their pace is recalculated giving you a view of where your runner should be at their current pace on the course map.”
- If you’d like to track the results on your iPhone, look up “It’s Your Race” in the App Store or click on this link to go directly there. Or scan the QR code here to go straight to the site. For even quicker results, you can narrow it down to: 50M race, male, 50-59, Smidt.
- Here’s a link for the Android version of the official tracking app, via Google Play.
- Barb will post occasional updates to either her Facebook page or my Facebook page.
I’ll let you know next week how it went.
You can wish me well in the comments below. I could use all the support I can get.
FRESH, SEASONAL INGREDIENTS can make unique mixed drinks, so if it’s spring in the Midwest, the tart and tangy rhubarb is an excellent candidate for a drink.
Growing up in a small, rural town in Iowa, rhubarb always seemed like a “farm thing.” When we visited the grandparents, rhubarb was plentiful on their farms, and various rhubarb treats — rhubarb crisp, rhubarb topping, rhubarb pie — were common.
For the uninitiated, rhubarb is a perennial plant that grows from an underground rhizome. If you pick up fresh ginger at the store or the farmer’s market, ginger is a rhizome. From this rhizome, the rhubarb plant shoots out long stalks that look almost like celery, except often with a reddish color, and the stalks are topped with large leaves. It’s the stalks with their tart taste that we use for cooking — or drinking.
RHUBARB IS SO TART that it is generally mixed with sugar to make it palatable, whether you are making a pie or a mixed drink. Many drink recipes call for the creation of a syrup, boiling down the rhubarb stalks to extract the juice and adding sugar to the mixture.
Finding the right proportion of rhubarb juice to sugar for the syrup is an art form. In the recipes below, the Sweet Rhubarb Syrup follows a pretty standard ratio used in simple syrup, plus the addition of the rhubarb juice. But adding enough of the syrup to a drink to impart the rhubarb flavor makes for a pretty sweet drink. If you don’t want something quite that sweet, try cutting the ratio of sugar just a bit.
I have a tremendous sweet tooth, so I enjoy the Sweet Rhubarb Syrup. But we have one friend who doesn’t like sweet drinks at all. When I mix her a Sazerac or a Mint Julep, I go light on the simple syrup. For her, I concocted the Tart Rhubarb Syrup. It will add a lot of rhubarb flavor without a lot of sweetness. You might try both syrups, adjusting the ratio in the drinks to suit your own taste.
Following are a couple of drink recipes that I created or tweaked from various sources. I think both worked well. For the Martini, you can definitely taste the rhubarb, but it’s still a sweet drink. For the Collins, the strawberry adds a very strong flavoring, so you may want to use the Tart Rhubarb Syrup or a bit of both syrups.
Rhubarb Gin Martini
- 2 oz. Gin
- 2 oz. Sweet Rhubarb Syrup
- 1 oz. Cranberry Juice
- Fresh squeezed lime juice to taste (Less than 1/2 oz.)
Add ingredients to martini shaker. Add ice cubes. Shake 1-2 minutes. Serve in a martini glass wheel with lime wheel on the rim.
Yield: 1 Martini
VARIATION: Use River Rose Gin from the Mississippi River Distilling Co., located in Le Claire, Iowa. The gin from this craft distillery has a strong floral bouquet that adds a different dimension to the drink.
Rhubarb Strawberry Collins
In a pint glass:
- Muddle 1 strawberry in the bottom of the glass
- 1.5 oz. Gin
- 2-3 oz. Rhubarb Syrup – Sweet or Tart, to your taste
- A squeeze of fresh lime juice
- Top with Club Soda
Yield: 1 drink
Sweet Rhubarb Syrup
- 2 quarts water
- 8 cups sugar
- 4 cups roughly chopped rhubarb
Add the water to a pot and heat to a slow boil. Add sugar. Turn down heat slightly. Add rhubarb and stir gently for 5 minutes, breaking down the rhubarb. Turn off the heat and let cool completely, stirring occasionally and breaking down the rhubarb further. Strain and store in the refrigerator for up to a month.
VARIATIONS: This recipe makes A LOT of syrup. I actually cut the recipe by 1/4th, and it yielded 1 gallon of syrup. Also, I added additional rhubarb to taste, feeling the syrup didn’t quite have enough rhubarb flavor and tartness.
Tart Rhubarb Syrup
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups rhubarb, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon sugar
Prepare the same as Sweet Rhubarb Syrup.
Yield: Just over 2 cups of syrup.
The moment of reckoning for my “A” race in 2014 is rapidly approaching.
I completed my first ultramarathon last year when I ran the nearby Potawatomi Trail Run 50. So while I was sitting around this winter, it seemed like a good idea to tackle another 50-miler, this time in the mountains of Wyoming.
Why the Bighorn race? I used to live in Montana, and my sister and family lived in Sheridan, Wyo., which is the main headquarters for the race. I love Wyoming. I love the Bighorns. And it just seemed like a worthy stretch goal.
I’m not going to bore you with the usual rundown on my training. My hamstring hurt, my mileage has suffered, yada yada yada. The altitude worries me, the elevation gain worries me, yada yada yada. If it was all easy, it wouldn’t be a stretch. In about a month, I’ll know how big of a stretch it was.
I signed up for the race on the day that registration opened (Jan. 10), so I’ve been eagerly pointing toward June 2o ever since. That’s given me plenty of time to research the race and the area. If you’re interested in learning a little more, here are some useful links:
- Bighorn Trail Run home page. The race features 30K, 50K, 50M and 100M distances.
- Course description
- Elevation profile
- Here are a couple of reviews on the race, one by Sherpa John and another by Greg Redding. Both of these posts are about the 100, but it’s an out-and-back course, so the 50 starts at the midpoint for the 100. Here’s a post from Ultrarunning magazine.
- Barb is on the waiting list for the 30K (18 miles). Here’s a good blog post about that run.
- Here’s a link to Sheridan, Wyo., and a map locating Sheridan, and a map locating Dayton, which is the actual finish for the race.
- Since the 50 starts on top of the mountain at nearly 9,000 feet, weather has been a concern. Here’s a link to several weather stations on the mountain. If you hover your mouse over the blue dots, the name of the station will appear. Look for the dots northwest of Sheridan. “Bald Mountain Campground” is near the start line. The race proceeds to the east from there, and ends in the valley in “Dayton.” We’re still a month out, so the weather will change a bunch, but right now, it’s still snowing on the mountain.
- If you like to read novels or watch Westerns, the Bighorns may seem vaguely familiar. Perhaps you know them as the stomping grounds of Walt Longmire, the sheriff of the fictitious Absaroka (Wyo.) County. The books, by Ucross, Wyo., author Craig Johnson, are engrossing, and the A&E television series is entertaining.
Closer to race day, I’ll post a link that will allow you to follow my progress — maybe. I’m just not sure how well everything is going to work in the backcountry.
Wish me well on my last few training runs and say a little prayer on June 20th.
Click on any photo above to launch the slide show.
Barb and I have run the Go! St. Louis half marathon or marathon several times since moving to eastern Iowa about 13 years ago. It’s a fun, well-organized race in a neat Midwestern town. Barb and I really didn’t have any expectations for our performance in the race this year — it wasn’t an “A” race or even a “B” race. And maybe that’s why we did so well and enjoyed it so much. If you get a chance to run it, do it.
Over the years, we’ve found a few places to visit that make the trip even more enjoyable.
This time, we ate our pre-race dinner at the Schlafly Tap Room, located just a few blocks from our Drury Hotel, which was just a few blocks itself from the start line. Simple food and good beer at the tap room, which is housed in an architecturally appealing brick and timber building. I had the spinach lasagna with a raspberry Hefeweizen (the St. Louis version of a Purple Haze!). We took home a growler of a high-alcohol Imperial Stout. Good stuff.
And we had our post-race meal at Bailey’s Range, which was within walking distance of the finish line. The place featured unique burgers and sandwiches, and what they called “boozy shakes.” Barb had a white chocolate raspberry shake, while I had a Bulleit mint julep. Also, a great place for simple food with a twist.
A few other things I’d recommend from past trips:
- Visit Laclede’s Landing, just off downtown
- The Drunken Fish offers good sushi at Laclede’s
- If sushi isn’t your thing, we’ve eaten a couple of times at Morgan Street Brewery, and enjoyed it both times
- Of course, if you’re new to St. Louis, visit the Gateway Arch, also near Laclede’s and downtown. The view from the top of the arch makes the unique elevator ride worth the trip.
- I recently read this book about the arch. It talks quite a bit about the difficulties in constructing an elevator for such an odd shaped structure. Good book.
- It seems nearly every runner feels the need to have pasta before a race (not me), and St. Louis boasts a historic Italian neighborhood, the Hill, with a number of authentic restaurants. We’ve eaten at Zia’s twice, and you won’t walk away hungry. Perhaps the most famous is Charlie Gitto’s.
- And if you’re looking to get off your feet for a few hours and just relax, try the Chase Park Plaza movie theaters, located near downtown. Added benefit: the theater serves mixed drinks and beer.