Tag Archives: Sheridan Wyoming

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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Video: Conquering the Bighorn 52-mile trail run

24 Jun

 

Another run at the Bighorn 52-mile trail race

16 Jun
Running the trail in the 2014 Bighorn 52-mile trail run.

Running the trail in the 2014 Bighorn 52-mile trail run.

Here I go again.

On Saturday, I’ll take another run (pun intended) at completing the Bighorn 52-mile trail race near Sheridan, Wyo. Last year, I missed a time cut-off at mile 34.5, bringing my day to a premature finish. And that failure has stuck in my craw for 52 weeks.

Sometimes you set a goal so high that, over time, you come to realize your reach will always exceed your grasp. While the Bighorn 52 is certainly a worthy stretch goal, I still believe it’s within reach. Of course one fellow I passed last year may have had the same delusion when he noted he was on his sixth try at finishing without success yet.

Last year was my first mountain ultra, and I learned so much during the attempt that I am cautiously optimistic this year.

I had no idea how rugged the trail itself would be. I couldn’t comprehend the toll my quads would take from 18 miles of downhill to start the race. As a flatlander from Iowa, it was hard to visualize 8,300 feet of climb and 13,250 feet of descent. Having never faced a time cut-off before, I didn’t have a good pacing clock ticking away in my head.

Over the past 12 months, I’ve adjusted my training to compensate for my shortcomings. While I barely logged any training miles on trails last year, this year I’ve run more than 600 miles on the trail. I’ve run more hill repeats, concentrating on the downhills as well as the uphills. I’ve taken two trips out West in the past couple months to train at elevation and on mountainous trails. I’ve changed my footwear and my nutrition.

In the end, my efforts may or may not be enough. But I feel good about the attempt.

With that in mind, I’ve set four separate goals for the race:

  • A Goal: Enjoy the experience. I’ll be running in the mountains of Wyoming, taking part in a physically demanding but rewarding challenge. Whether I finish it all or not, I don’t want to lose sight of the intrinsic rewards of the effort itself or the extrinsic beauty around me.
  • B Goal: Finish all 52 miles in the time allotted.
  • C Goal: Make it further than the Dry Fork Aid Station (mile 34.5) in the time allotted.
  • D Goal: Don’t kill yourself.

The race starts at 6 am Mountain time on Saturday. If you can, think some good thoughts for me that day.

Here’s a link to the race’s website.

This link will take you to a video I did on last year’s race, while this link will take you to my written race recap.

Staying true to your best effort when you know it’s not enough

1 Jul
Rolling down the trail in the early miles of the Bighorn 50 trail run.

Rolling down the trail in the early miles of the Bighorn 50 trail run.

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.

Ready for the 6 a.m. start

Ready for the 6 a.m. start

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.

A pair of runners power-hike The Wall just ahead of me.

A pair of runners power-hike The Wall just ahead of me.

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 niece Melissa, left, and several other runners cross a stream.

My niece Melissa, left, and several other runners cross a stream.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Race awaits in Bighorn Mtns.; follow my progress live

16 Jun
Marta Ostler pauses along the trail for the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run on June 7, 2014. The 100-miler starts June 20 and the 50-miler on June 21. Portions of the trail have been described as a "shoe-sucking bog," and this portion qualifies as that. (Photo courtesy Michelle Maneval and the Bighorn Mountain race)

Marta Ostler pauses along the trail for the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run on June 7, 2014. The 100-miler starts June 20 and the 50-miler on June 21. Portions of the trail have been described as a “shoe-sucking bog,” and this portion qualifies as that. (Photo courtesy Michelle Maneval and the Bighorn Mountain race)

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.

Snow still dots the landscape on June 6, 2014, near the start of the 50-miler in the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run. The 100-miler starts on Friday, June 20, in Dayton, Wyo., and will turn around near this spot. The 50-miler starts on Saturday, June 21, at the Jaws trailhead. (Photo courtesy Michelle Maneval and the Bighorn Mountain race)

Snow still dots the landscape on June 6, 2014, near the start of the 50-miler in the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run. The 100-miler starts on Friday, June 20, in Dayton, Wyo., and will turn around near this spot. The 50-miler starts on Saturday, June 21, at the Jaws trailhead. (Photo courtesy Michelle Maneval and the Bighorn Mountain race)

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.

Follow me:

  • 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.”
  • Scan for resultsIf 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.

Powder River!

You can wish me well in the comments below. I could use all the support I can get.

Finally, Bighorn ultramarathon is within sight

9 May
Bighorn Mountains, Sheridan, Wyoming

The Bighorn Mountains tower over an old barn near Sheridan, Wyo. Photo by Betty Jo Tindle, Creative Commons license, via Wikimedia Commons.

The moment of reckoning for my “A” race in 2014 is rapidly approaching.

Every year, I set a running goal that takes me out of my comfort zone, as I wrote about in this blog post. This year, my stretch goal is the Bighorn Trail Run 50-miler.

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.

New, challenging goals help keep me motivated to run

21 Jan
Barb shot this photo of me starting a climb in the Potawatomi Trail 50 mile run.

Barb shot this photo of me starting a climb in the Potawatomi Trail 50 mile run.

I often hear of runners who have lost their motivation. Every six months or so, “Runner’s World” publishes a new story on how these folks can get their mojo back.

In a dozen years on the roads, this has never been a problem for me. The stress relief alone keeps me motivated. 

But I think there’s another key to my internal motivation: I am always striving toward a new goal, a new challenge. 

2013 mileage by monthAt first, I wanted to complete a marathon. Then I wanted to complete a marathon faster. At one time, I was working hard to qualify for Boston — although a years-long injury and an acceptance of my limited abilities have prompted me to set aside this goal. Last year, the goal was to complete an ultramarathon — 50 miles in my 50th year.

So what will get me off the couch and onto the frozen, snow-packed roads this winter? The challenge presented by the Bighorn Trail 50 mile run, which will be run near Sheridan, Wyo., in June.

The unknowns of my first 50-miler kept me honest last year. The Potawatomi Trail 50 was nearly double the length of my longest previous runs. It was on a trail and featured some crazy ascents, descents and creek crossings. It started in the dark and, as it turned out, finished in the dark, too. 

The Bighorn 50-miler takes this to another level. First and possibly most obvious, it takes place in the Bighorn Mountains (the web site says that, under certain circumstances, runners may be liable for their own search and rescue costs). It tops 9,000 feet in altitude. Despite the fact that it starts on top of the mountain and ends in the valley, one climb includes more than 3,100 feet of vertical gain. If I don’t stay motivated and honest in my training, this could be a disaster.

There’s another factor that will keep me motivated: I’m running with my niece. And she’s a decade younger than me. Screw this up and Christmas dinners could be embarrassing for years to come. 

♦ ♦ ♦

2013 snapshotIt’s probably easier to stay motivated in the coming year when the previous year has been good to you, and that’s certainly the case with me. 

Having just passed the age of 51, I’ve learned that injuries can become a problem. But for the most part, they weren’t a factor in 2013. Sure, my hamstring bothered me off and on over the months. But I have learned that when the dull ache becomes a constant pain, I’ve got to lay off for a few days. 

My total mileage was up in 2013, which training for a 50-miler in the spring will do. And I ran a pair of marathons in the last quarter of the year, although my finishing time in the Belize marathon hardly qualifies me for “running” a race. But when you are in Belize, who cares?

And a review of my training log has helped me determine an area of improvement for 2014. Over the past three years, my annual mileage, monthly mileage and average run distance have all increased. Unfortunately, in 2013, my average weight increased, too, so some sort of weight loss plan will be on the agenda in 2014.

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