Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bighorn 100 Plan

After months of saying "I'll worry about that later," I'm finally starting to get serious about the Bighorn 100. In this post, I'd like to share a few early thoughts on strategy.

First, the basics
Held June 19 and starting at 11am, Bighorn is a very challenging 100-mile foot race taking place in Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming. The course is an out-and-back with some 76 miles of rugged single-track trail (yay!), 16 miles of rugged double track (yay to that, too!), and 8 miles of gravel road (boo!). A Hardrock and Western States qualifier, Bighorn has approximately 18,000 feet of climbing and 18,000 feet of descent. It appears to all be between 4,000 and 9,000 feet, which, to me (living at 6,200 feet), looks very manageable. From what I've read, it's in remote country, where wildlife sightings (e.g., moose) are common and confrontations have even happened. Runners may experience hot and cold weather, mud, snow, stream crossing, rain, thunderstorms, etc. There is a 34-hour cutoff.

Initial assessment
On paper, Bighorn might look similar to Leadville--out and back, mountains, about the same amount of elevation change, etc. But initial looks can be deceiving. From what I can gather from race reports such as an excellent 2014 report by Shad Mika, Bighorn is much more rugged than Leadville. Plus, while its total elevation change may be similar to Leadville, it seems to have bigger climbs and bigger descents. It looks like within the first 10 miles you gain ~4,000 vertical feet, much of it in the heat of the day. Then, from miles 30-50, as the sun is beginning to set, you gain what appears to be ~4,500 feet. You then lose that 4,500 feet from miles 50-70, which you're running at night. A little after that, you have a ~2,300-foot climb. At Leadville, the biggest single climb is the frontside of Hope Pass at ~3,400 feet, though I believe the backside climb of ~2,600 feet is far harder due to its steepness and the downhill traffic. Be that as it may, it looks like Bighorn has some big climbs and huge descents. It's too early to say which race is harder in my eyes--I won't know until I've done Bighorn! But it'll be interesting to compare the two.

To me, the single biggest factor that might make Bighorn more manageable is its elevation. I am usually quite OK below 8,000 feet. The vast majority of Bighorn is below 8K. The elevation at Leadville, and not the course itself, has been a killer for me over the years. Though I always seem to finish Leadville in under 25 hours, the elevation has destroyed my stomach and left my 100-mile confidence in shambles. So, while I know Bighorn is a monster and is considered one of the tougher 100s out there, I come to it wanting to turn over a new leaf. I need to get through a 100-miler with my stomach in good shape. I really need that. What I don't need is more puking, more fainting spells, etc. While I'm sure at Bighorn my stomach will have its ups and downs, I am hopeful that I can keep it in a good place overall. And it'll be great to have more aid stations at Bighorn.

Plus, I'm just really stoked about the mystery of Bighorn. That mystery has helped me rekindle some lost passion.

What I'll be focusing on in my training
In light of what I know now about Bighorn, here are a few things that will be on my mind as I really ramp up my training. The overarching goal of my buildup is to be super aerobically fit (which is now under way), but here are some specifics:

1) Bulletproof quads. I'm actually less concerned about the big climbs and more mindful of the huge descents. Why? Because you will lose a huge amount of time on descents if you suck at them. It's been the big reason I never did break 20 hours at Leadville--I suck at descending Hope Pass both ways (altitude does have something to do with it). If my quads fall apart as they did at Leadville in 2014, it's going to be a death march. So, I will be working to strengthen my quads and improve my descending. I was bombing descents in my training in the summer of 2013 but all of that fell apart when I shredded by ankle a few months before Leadville. I'll be looking to do some hard runs down mountains in my Bighorn training. From a time standpoint (2 hours round-trip), it's hard to get to Pikes Peak but I'm going to need to make it a priority. No mountain trashes my quads like Pikes. Other great places to trash the quads include Mount Falcon, Mount Herman, Roxborough State Park and Deer Creek Canyon.

2) Heat training. I have always run well in the heat and was born in the deep south, where the heat and humidity are stifling. But I'm sure that, living in Denver, my heat tolerance has gone down. I still remember how I felt going into Winfield last year, when it was starting to get "hot" (mid to high 70s but super sunny). So, I'll need to be ready for the heat at Bighorn. That means some mid-day runs and I'll also get some benefit from super long runs of close to 30 miles (as I did last summer). I have other tricks up my sleep (like driving in my car in the summer with the windows up and heat on).

3) Footing. Mud from snow melt and rain is apparently a big factor at Bighorn. I'm not a fan of mud (who is except those crazy Tough Mudder people?) but I've done my fair share of muddy races and I've had a few solid performances in the mud. I'm going to need to find some shoes with good traction. I've heard good things about the Hoka One One Rapa Nui, a trail shoe with solid grip. I'm also going to need to be mindful of controlling and preventing blisters in these wet, muddy conditions.

4) Uphill hiking. One of the really dumb things I do in my training is run up mountains that, in a 100-miler, I'd normally be hiking along with everyone else. I can cruise up the frontside of Hope Pass in a training run but in the race I'm hiking up the mountain like everyone else. So, in my Bighorn build-up, I'm going to try to take the pressure off myself when it comes to hiking up huge climbs. It's OK to mix in some hiking and not consider it failure--especially when in the race I'll be hiking the big climbs. In other words, more specificity in my training.

I'll also be mindful of nutrition. I now have a full line of hydration equipment, including a hydration vest that holds bottles, a belt that holds flasks, handhelds, etc. At this point, Generation UCAN is my go-to. That may change but for now it's good. Of vital importance will be keeping the salt intake up. Over the past few years, I've gotten away from salt intake in races and I think it's cost me. I used to be really good about it. Salt not only helps with absorption but it also helps keep the stomach happy.

About that 11am start
The 11am start is very interesting. Here's how it'll break down:

11am-9pm - Light (10 hours)
9pm-5am - Dark (8 hours)
5am-9pm - Light (16 hours)

So, a whopping 77 percent of the race is in the light. I'll need to nonetheless make sure I have a very good headlamp with two backups on me at all times so I don't loose too much pace at night. I'm not at all concerned about the cold; I know how to deal with it, having done Leadville five times. I'll also make sure I have an emergency poncho on me at all times.

As far as pacing, Scott Schrader, who finished Leadville last year in under 25 hours, will be on hand. I have another buddy from Cleveland (will keep him anonymous for now) who is also interested. As always, I am eternally grateful to anyone who takes time out of their busy schedule to come help me run 100 miles.

What's a race without goals? Here are mine:

1) Finish - always the #1 goal with EVERY 100-miler I do. I respect the distance and come to 100s with a healthy level of fear and humility. The mountain doesn't care. That means I have to be at my best.
2) Under 24 hours
3) Compete for placement (top 20, top three masters, etc.)

If you're a Bighorn finisher or veteran, please chime in with advice. It is most welcome!

Onward and upward!


  1. I would check out the Hoka Challenger ATR as well. Lightweight and has excellent traction.

    1. Will do. Hopefully it's roomy, too--like the Clifton. Thanks, Chris!

    2. Wyatt, it's exactly like the Clifton. These are the only two Hokas I can wear due to the roomier toe box.

  2. Looks like you have a good plan, Wyatt -- I think you'll enjoy it and do well!
    I think you have the basics covered. Ironically, having written race reports for much lamer races, I never wrote a race report for that one due to being busy, but it was one my most favourite races, places, and people.
    Don't forget to stop and smell the flowers -- literally, enjoy the wildflowers, and let your mind wander during the day and enjoy the scene. I saw moose as well, and hopped over a snake the next morning. There's some fresh spring water out on the course -- it's a very natural place. I spaced out and missed looking up at some sort of 'weeping wall' along the course that was supposed to be impressive. So enjoy all that! There's no reason not to be in a happy headspace the whole first day.
    And there are little traditions like bacon aid stations, shrimp at the very end (as much of a warning as anything)...and some girls on the last hot, dusty road handing out freezing pops.
    You'll have something to look forward to, you'll make the girls' day. I was within a minute or two of going beneath the next hour barrier, but thought it would be stupid to miss out on a popsicle just for a decimal point.
    It's also a little harder, though, to rely on specific, special food, unless you carry more of it -- being flexible, esp. around the remote aid stations, would be a benefit. You're right, the lower elevation should mean less stomach problems, if you're dealing ok with the heat.

    Stay focused at night -- with the dispersed crowds and aid stations, and less visual feedback, I had trouble staying focused on climbing at a decent pace at night, despite feeling OK. Also wiped out in the mud a few times when not paying attention (some worse slips actually ended some people's race).
    A cool thing about the 11am start is that pacing (and spectating) breaks down pretty well at the paces you're talking about: you'll have a pacer basically from dusk to dawn (which is actually more like 9:40pm/4:45am), then you can switch pacers at dawn/sunrise and everybody's fresh, or just finish the daylight hours solo. It's also a good place/time for any crew/family to basically sleep the whole (short) night.
    You're right about the downhill/quads -- be prepared.
    One last thing I didn't see you mention is the cold and possible rain at night really has ended people's day with hypothermia. Be sure to leave with warm enough clothing at the turnaround, and possibly before, if weather is predicted and/or things go south.
    Brendan (solarweasel) and PG (trudgingalong) had good reports regarding weather.
    Is your family coming out?
    Best, and enjoy!

    1. Thanks, Mike! This is very helpful. Yes, my wife and our son will be there. My folks might come, too. I'll be sure to take in the course and its beauty. I'll be sure to enjoy the popsicles and have warm clothing. Leadville will be good experience as far as dropping temps. Thanks again!

  3. I love the Rapa Nui, but the mud when I did Big Horn caked my Hokas and made my feet so heavy it was miserable. I would bring some shoes that shed mud well (like salomon speedcross) in case you get the typical mud.

    1. Good to know, Michael. I have some old Speedcrosses and will test them in the mud when this snow melts.

  4. A few comments:

    - I don't think Bighorn really gets that warm. Yes it does get a bit warm during the day, but it certainly isn't WS hot. I would say it is actually cooler at Bighorn compared to a lot of races in CO. As Mike said, if anything people have more trouble with the cold than the hot.

    - My previous experience was that for a lot of the mud there is really nothing you can do. Some sections are ankle to shin shoe will help with that.

    - Night running is more important at Bighorn. It might be 77% in the daytime if you take the full time to finish, but if you run in the 24 hr range it means going through an entire night. This is not the case in races like Leadville so being able to run well at night is more important.

    - If you run under 24 hrs you will be in the top 20 ;-)

    1. Thanks, Nick. I've started doing night runs and have several more planned. Did an almost 20 miler last Friday night with a few buddies. I have run through the night before but that was 2009 at a 24-hour. I'm going to keep practicing.

  5. Good stuff, Wyatt. I like that the stoke is coming back a bit as I'm going through a similar process. All I can add is get used to running with wet feet.

    1. Thanks, Chris! Yes, it's the power of the unknown. Will practice running with wet feet. Shoes that drain well will be critical.

  6. I really enjoyed Bighorn and I think you will too, Wyatt. It was a refreshing change from Leadville for me-- especially since I ran it without a crew or pacers. Very scenic. More solitary. Rugged,

    You can read my rambling race report, if you'd like:

    While I don't think Bighorn is that much harder than Leadville (maybe ~1 hour slower for a mid-pack runner), I do think it's harder to run faster. As you negotiate the many sections of very faint, narrow single track you'll realize how runnable Leadville's course is. (Hope Pass is a highway compared to what you'll see at Bighorn.) At Leadville you can often just zone out and jog along. Not so much at Bighorn. And the difference is only magnified at night. So, yes, practice downhill running, practice night running, but better yet practice both at once on a semi-technical trail while you're sleep deprived!

    1. Thanks, Andrew. That's very helpful. I like the thought of technical mountain trails! I'll be doing some night runs coming up.

  7. Hmm, there was a ton of carnage at 33 last year because the heat, while it didn't seem too bad, snuck up on people that didn't hydrate and stay cool. It's high and dry and a little sun goes a long way. Dunk at streams, drink a ton, etc. I paced/crewed there last year. The mud was something else, so figure out how to get your feet dry. Always have options in drop bags. My friend wore 5 different pairs of shoes.

    1. Thanks. I heard it's pretty much impossible to keep the feet dry. Will do my best.

  8. If I remember right, 70s at the bottom and in town during the day is not uncommon, but so is 20F and windy at the very top in the middle of the night when you are turning around.

    I only did the 50, so I had no problem negotiating the muck all the way down, but I can totally see the comment above about route finding, etc. in that area at night. There will likely be a lot of glare and reflecting from puddles and water and lots of areas with no discernable trail. It was easy during daylight where the 20 foot wide trample foot sucking footprints all kind of meandered around to as you looked out over the next 100 yards, but I bet in the headlamp tunnels you'll have to go quite slow.

    1. Indeed, Brett. I'll be shopping for a really good headlamp coming up. Might have drop some dollars on it but it may be worth it at Bighorn.

  9. Good stuff. I'll be running Bighorn this year as well and it's helpful to hear your thoughts. It's like seeing the voice in my head transcribed. Keep it coming.

  10. I appreciate all the responses from people who've run this in the past. This year will be my first go at BigHorn and all of this insight has been really helpful. I'll be sure to put it to good use.

  11. Great information! I will running Bighorn this summer and hope to crack 24hrs as well. I broke 24 at my first 100, Pine to Palm, last fall but it sounds like Bighorn presents an entirely different set of challenges. Here's to continued good training and hope to see you out on the course.