I might be too tired to finish this post, but I'll give it a shot.
I've said this before but a start line starts way before your feet begin to move on race day. So much anticipation and thought,
so much effort and support from many.
So much thinking and planning and checking the stupid weather. and then you get there-
and there is so.much.mud.
I'm not sure how I could have been surprised by the soul sucking mud. I believe every person I talked to about Bighorn mentioned the notorious mud, in one conversation or another. And, I already know I will not be able to describe it well enough. The only thing I can describe is my shock at the 38 miles of wet, slippery, deep mud. It was remarkable and extraordinary in a God, this freaking sucks! kinda way. And, suck it did. For hours I curled my toes in my soaked shoes to help keep them on while trucking up 18 miles and down 18 miles.
Friday was perfect. the weather was right in my wheelhouse, cool, drizzly, over cast. I ran well and felt well. I started this race in good shape, for me. I haven't injured myself all year and I have been consistent and running better than I have in awhile. I was super excited to get Bighorn under way. Very minimal jitters and a lot of pre-race fun; a long drive, just a few beers, a street festival, souvenir shopping for the kiddos, and fish tacos with my second family. 10:00am start and I rolled into Footbridge aid mile 30 at 6:00pm. This is where I met Cheryl, and we began our really unbelievable 7 hour stretch up to Jaws. Just when I thought I couldn't take one more step of mud we got to Jaws a little after 1:00am.
Jill was there waiting with my bag, getting me food, ramen I think...maybe some bacon. It's hard for me to remember, as so much of our time together is all about eating and calories and salt and putting in what I can expend out and fuel one foot in front of the other. We quite literally slid down the course for hours. It was really frustrating at times trying to multi-task like eat while Not falling on my ass, or my side, or my face. I could not get my footing placed under me, my feet were wet and at at the mercy of mother earth's funny obstacle she was throwing down tonight. If you did not laugh at this ridiculousness we were trudging through, you would quit. That's where I was. Laugh and move or bitch and quit.
Cheryl feels like my OG partner in dirt. She brought me into this community and introduced me to some of the strongest women I am honored to call friends. She has paced me many times but more accurately for hours..days even, if you add it all up. Our trudge up to Jaws was nothing short of insane, but we move as naturally and efficiently as if we were out on a training run, with the exception of the 110% goal being mine and she is taking the lead for me. We talked and moved and ate. We ran when we could, but even the leaders struggled up this shit, I'm sure of it. We talked about how grateful we are and important it is to have such a group of women who genuinely lift each other up, support and encourage each other with no judgement- just because we blindly understand somethings you just can't explain. You've heard it before...therapy, release, adrenaline, personal success in an unconventional manner not judged by a piece of paper on your wall or zeros in your bank account. A measure that is so personal, that it's metaphoric denomination varies in each of us. For me, it's strength. It's like adding an ingredient of mental strength to the make up of Natalie. And, it's not just races or ultra distances, it's just the courage to try and overcome that comes with running. When i ran my first 100 in 2013 I was trying to explain this to my sister. I said something like, I feel like I am going to have to fight really hard for something in my life. I feel like I need to see if I can fight hard enough. Now...arm chair shrink here is going to say this might have some deep seeded roots tied to my mom dying so young, and watching her fight when the end was simply inevitable . But, after thousands of miles, that feeling like I need to fight hard has transpired into a confidence that I never had. It has transformed into a serious look at myself and after 37 plus years, finally liking me for all I am, not disliking me for who I am not. I digress..as I do.
So now I'm going to call out Jill. After about 6 1/2 hours getting down from jaws and breaking into an overcast Saturday morning. We reached footbridge for the second time. The rain had stopped. She sat me down in a folding chair and struggled to get my muddy wet shoes and socks off. She washed my feet. Did you hear me? She washed my feet. She remarked that they looked terrible, but I didn't want to look. I knew they felt pretty terrible. I did catch a glimpse at the bottoms. They looked like wet paper. She dried them and helped me get on dry socks and new shoes. These were not the shoes I planned on wearing for the remaining 34 miles, but anything was better than the encased swamps I had been in the last 22 hours. Jill you are so calm and smart. I don't know if I could have kept it together without you... which brings me to when I in fact could not keep it together with you. I set out for cow camp. A decent climb...Over 2,200 feet in 3 miles. This trail was dry yesterday. Today, not so much. The rain had stopped but the mud was thick heading up. The sun was out now, so fingers were crossed that the trails would dry up, but not here, not yet.
Jill told me to go ahead at footbridge, she had to clean her own feet and would catch me. She's a killer climber, so I knew she'd catch me in no time. Here's where I began to worry about time. The cutoff to Dry Fork was 3:00. We had 13 miles and (I think) a little under 5 hours to get there. But I told Jill I wanted to get there at 2:00. I really wanted a cushion between cut-off's. I would have been more comfortable with a 1:00 cushion, but that shit was not happening. 3 miles an hour, that's all we have to do, Jill said. It was runnable. We could do this, but I'll be damn if I believed that, as I started to unravel coming up the long dirt road to the aid station. I can't even guess how much I ate in this stretch and how many salts. I was peeing every 10-15 minutes. Jill carried Gu Brew, an electrolyte water in a bottle for me. I was drinking a lot, but it was going right trough me. I said something to Jill; that nothing I was putting in was giving me a second wind or an ounce of energy. Was I in a hole, depleated? Was I burning it too fast? Both? Jill would have me run for 30 seconds then walk. Then she'd have me run for 10 seconds then walk. I started to grab my head, yelling at myself, that this was just temporary. Figure it out, just run! I was yelling at myelf. I was saying everything hurts, but it won't last long, suck it up, just go faster! I couldn't entertain the thought of failing, the thought of telling my daughters I couldn't dig deep enough. But, I didn't even know what the hell that meant at that moment. I choked up and asked Jill if we were going to make it to the finish. I was unraveling. I had no idea what time it was or even if I made it to Dry Creek by 3:00 if I could run another 18+ to the finish. I asked Jill to just tell me what to do, what and when to eat and drink. I couldn't make decisions. I asked her to think for me. When we got to the last little push up to the aid station. She said 10 minutes. She said 10 minutes to the top. Then you have 10 minutes in the aid station and you're out.
Holy shit, we made it. And, it was only 2:10 (i believe) I sat down. Jill wrapped me in a blanket, and dumped my drop bag. A rainbow of Gels and a red bull. I put on my hat. "You have to eat something, I don't care what it is". I ate bacon and a Perfect bar. I drank a red bull, Jill filled my water. "Go, Ill catch you". It was 2:20 and I was ready to take on the next stretch.
Friends. A friends face is so amazing. I hadn't seen Betsy or Jen since yesterday at mile 13 where my girl posse crewed me. They were running the 50 mile race. It started this morning at 5:00am, at the top of Jaws. I thought often how they were faring in the mud. As I was heading out of Dry Fork, I ran right in to Betsy coming in. "Hi friend!" Betsy yelled. We hugged, and I said, "I've got to go right now, catch me!"
Jill came up from behind a mile or 2 later with a... wait for it...Mcdonalds Cheesburger. She wanted to peel the cheese off, but I said, Jill would you rather me have calories now or diarrhea later:) She walked behind awhile longer. My friend who had been taking care of me, literally thinking for me, was depleted herself. She needed to eat and get herself back. She caught me on the last little climb, of course she did:) We ran the rocky downhill for what seemed like forever. It hurt. The shoes I changed into were minimal. Everything hurt, but we were close..we were approaching single digit miles. Just when I thought we were smooth sailing with 6 miles to go...."Natalie, can you run any faster?" "umm..yeah?" "ok, do it, I'm worried you're not going to make it" Wait, what?? So, my internal compass and inability to do math after mile 20 bamboozled me once again. We still had 3 miles to the aid station. So, 9 or 10? more miles, not 6. So, I ran. I ran faster to that aid station than I had all day. I was passing people that also started running. A kid came up behind me running. "Your pacer told me I needed to run or I wouldn't make it!" haha, Jill, always looking out for people :) We got to the road. I knew the road was 6 miles to the finish. But, the aid station volunteer told me it was only 5. I wondered at that moment if it would be inappropriate to kiss this man. It's amazing how much 1 mile made a difference in my mood at that moment. It was about 4:00. I had 2 hours to go 5 miles on flat dirt road. Even if i walked the whole way, I knew I'd make the cut-off. Jill met up with me at the last aid station, Homestretch . I had a pink freezie pop. We ran over the bridge, we ran down the sidewalk, turned left, a short jaunt down some grass, boom. Finished. 33:17
Unfortunately, many people missed cut-offs or dropped seemingly due to the weather and mud. Even for a notoriously muddy course, apparently this much mud and for that long was atypical. I tend to do well in extreme situations. I am not speedy, I'm not an amazing climber, but I can endure and suffer.
Ohh, it felt so good to be done. I felt so freaking amazing and proud of myself. I felt so grateful to have such an amazing crew and support from my friends with me and family and friends afar. Scott has really become my ultra-running crew from home. No more griping about running for hours or gone for days, we've finally reached understanding and support.
We headed back early Sunday morning, Father's Day. This past week has been peaceful. A calm high of Bighorn 100. Next up is Speedgoat 50k and then the double 100 attempt in September Wasatch100 and the Bear 100. I can only hope they go as well for me as my time at Bighorn in the northern mountains of Wyoming.
This was pretty lengthy, thanks for reading :)