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.
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!