Difficult goals are the sweetest and most satisfying to achieve

6 Jul
Cresting the 500-foot climb into Dry Fork Aid Station, I know I'll beat the time cut-off at mile 35 this year.

Cresting the 500-foot climb into Dry Fork Aid Station, I know I’ll beat the time cut-off at mile 35 this year.

In all my athletic adventures, there’s seldom been a time when I didn’t think I could complete the challenge. Finish a triathlon? Just survive the swim. Climb a mountain? Follow the guy ahead and don’t look down. Run a marathon? It’s just a matter of how much it will hurt the last 6 miles.

But a mountain ultra? The distance, the vertical, the altitude, the rough trails? I’ll admit: I didn’t know if I had it in me.

And after failing to meet a time cut-off at mile 35 last year during my first mountain ultra, I really had my doubts.

That’s what made finishing the Bighorn 52-mile trail run this year that much sweeter. This was a goal that took much effort to achieve.

When I first attempted the Bighorn in 2014, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. Fifty miles of rocky, rutted, muddy single-track trail? You won’t find that in Iowa. 8,200 feet of climb and 13,200 feet of descent? I’d have to run my training hill more than 100 times to approximate that vertical. I could read about the conditions and the challenges, but the only way to truly comprehend them was to experience them first-hand.

So that first year was a huge learning experience. When I missed that time cut-off, I felt I’d done all I could do on that day. As I climbed the hill into the Dry Fork Aid Station, my quads and hamstrings were shot, and my feet felt like they’d been through a meat-grinder. For the next several days, I could barely walk or climb stairs.

My wife, Barb, pours me some chicken noodle soup at the Foot Bridge Aid Station, mile 18 in the Bighorn 52.

My wife, Barb, pours me some chicken noodle soup at the Foot Bridge Aid Station, mile 18 in the race.

But I learned a ton in that first attempt. Running on single-track mountain trails is nothing like running on the roads. Long stretches of uphill and downhill require extra hill training beyond what I’d ever considered. Time-on-your-feet in training will pay huge dividends when you hit hours 10-11-12-13-14 during a race.

In my company, we set performance and project goals every year as part of the budgeting process. I’d like to set achievable goals — I mean, who wants to come up short? — but my boss always pushes me to set “stretch goals.”

Well, the Bighorn 52 was certainly a stretch. But I can definitively say that reaching a stretch goal makes it that much more satisfying.

♦ ♦ ♦

In the video I posted a few days ago on the race, I said that it takes a village to make an ultrarunner. That’s sure true for me.

I generally run four times a week: twice during the week, twice on the weekend. And on most weekend long runs and on many other runs, my wife logs miles on the trails, too.

I wouldn't have made it without the support of my daughter, Laura, and wife, Barb.

I wouldn’t have made it without the support of my daughter, Laura, and wife, Barb.

Most of our long runs are at Geode State Park, which is about 40 miles from home. Having a companion on the drive is much appreciated. We generally head different directions on the trails, but we’ll pass each other on the trail or we’ll meet up for soup at the car. And those brief meetings help pass the time, too.

My wife and daughter, Laura, crewed for me at the Bighorns this year. It’s a big help to have an extra hand at the drop bag stations. My transitions in and out of the drop bag locations were easier and faster with their help this year. Ultras present a huge physical challenge, but the mental challenge is just as great. And it’s a huge boost to see a friendly, familiar face along the way.

And I had family and friends waiting for me at the finish line. I was elated to meet my two-year goal, but sharing the accomplishment with the people you love brought the experience to a whole other level. I can’t say how much it meant to me to have my family and friends there to support me.

♦ ♦ ♦

It’s hard to say enough good things about the Bighorn races and that part of the country.

The 52-miler starts on top of the Bighorn Mountains, just off Highway 14A, which is along the route to Yellowstone National Park. The race headquarters are in Sheridan, Wyo., a neat town of about 17,000. And the race finishes at the base of the mountains at Dayton, Wyo., pop. 700 or so.

The 52-miler starts at about 8,800 feet, tops out at a little over 9,000 and concludes at 4,000 feet. It follows mostly single-track trails in the backcountry, and the views of the mountains, valleys, rivers and wildflowers are spectacular.

This year is the 23rd for the races, which are run the third weekend in June and now include distances of 18, 32, 52 and 100 miles. The organizers do a very good job, and there’s plenty of good schwag.

The 100-mile race starts in the valley at Dayton, runs to the top of the mountain and finishes back in Dayton. The finishers of that race have some serious trail cred.

Both years, we’ve stayed at the Wyoming High Country Lodge on top of the mountain. If you are running the 50-miler, the lodge is only two miles from the start line. This year, a number of 100-milers had crew members staying there. The lodge is scenic and convenient, your food is included with the room (the lodge is miles from any town) and the managers and staff are great.

If you have any desire to tackle a mountain ultra, I’d recommend this one. It has a distance for anyone, and with enough training and preparation, the races are achievable. Most of the races fill up early, so don’t wait too long to register.

Crew members can see their runners approach the Dry Fork Aid Station from miles away.

Crew members can see their runners approach the Dry Fork Aid Station (mile 35 of the 50-miler) from miles away.

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8 Responses to “Difficult goals are the sweetest and most satisfying to achieve”

  1. HeyMommaCasey July 6, 2015 at 7:20 pm #

    This is amazing!! Way to go! I’d love to do an ultra someday.

    Like

    • Mark Smidt July 6, 2015 at 7:22 pm #

      Thanks! I really believe anyone can do it with enough dedication.

      Like

  2. John D. July 8, 2015 at 10:05 am #

    Nice Job Mark, My wife and I were the couple that were leapfrogging with you the last 15 miles or so.

    Like

    • Mark Smidt July 8, 2015 at 10:08 am #

      Oh, cool. You guys went screaming down that last big hill! I thought if I went faster that I’d fall and break an ankle. 🙂 Congrats to you for a great finish!

      Like

  3. Tina Bristol January 7, 2016 at 4:53 pm #

    Thanks so much Mark. I have just registered for the 52M and am looking for any inspiration I can find! Do you have any tips for training especially for downhills and elevation? Cheers, Tina

    Like

    • Mark Smidt January 7, 2016 at 5:27 pm #

      As you may have picked up from my stories, it took me two attempts to conquer the 52 miler. The biggest surprise for me the first year was probably the ruggedness of the trail. It is rocky and rutted, and there are very few times when your foot lands solidly. And this was just something I had to experience. My volume of training was pretty similar between year 1 and year 2 (although there was probably slightly more volume in year 2), but there was a big difference in the number of trail miles. The first year, it was almost all road miles. The second year, three-fourths of my mileage was trails. And this prepared me for the uneven terrain of trails.

      I lived in Iowa while training for the Bighorn, and nothing in Iowa was going to prepare me for the Bighorn’s elevation. In the second year, I did do a week of training in the mountains near Jackson, Wyoming, and a week of training around Santa Fe, NM. I don’t think I benefited from the elevation in those locations as much as I benefited from the opportunity to run long stretches of uphills and downhills on trails.

      In addition to that type of hill training, I added much more specific hill training. I could not find 10 miles of uninterrupted uphill or downhill in Iowa. But I did add days where I would only run the biggest hills I could find. I would run for an hour or an hour and a half up and down the same hills. Sometimes those hills were on pavement; sometimes they were on trails. And I think this helped, too.

      I hope this gives you some ideas. Best of luck to you and let me know how it goes!

      Like

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Ultramarathon Daily News, Tue, July 7 - July 7, 2015

    […] Mark came up short at Bighorn 52 last year, then set his goals for a finish this year, despite the race being a mountain ultra and he living in Iowa. Hard work and perseverance paid off. […]

    Like

  2. A trail runner in Oregon striving to be an Oregon trail runner | in the deed - February 1, 2016

    […] a scenic lake. From this training, I was able to run several 50-mile races, including one in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, and a 100-miler, as well as a number of […]

    Like

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