Tomorrow at 11:00 am I’ll start the Bighorn 100 miler in Dayton, Wyoming. The preparation and strategy for this race is the culmination of my experiences in the previous five 100 milers I’ve attempted. The race is a fairly difficult ultra. Ultrarunning Magazine rates it as a “4-4″ for terrain and surface (Western States is a “4-3″) and realendurance.com gives it a score of 112% based on normalized finish times (Western States is the baseline at “100″). The course is an out-and-back that traverses the Bighorn Mountains east of Yellowstone.
For my first 100 (Burning River, 2008) I over-prepared. Over the course of the next two (Hallucination, 2009; Burning River again, 2010) I pared back by preparation.
By the time I got to Western States in 2011, my preparation was quite minimal. I gave my crew my gear, told them approximately when I’d meet them for the first time, then just ran. It was the best race of my life.
I did even less preparation for the Grindstone 100 last fall… and completely fell apart. Apparently the pendulum can swing too far.
For Bighorn, I took the lessons learned from the previous experiences. I’ve been training almost exclusively in mountains for about six months. My training volume has been relatively low, but more than both Western States and Grindstone. Here’s the monthly breakdown minus a few runs as measured with my Garmin 305 and SportTracks.
The actual training runs have consisted of mostly fartlek runs as I described here. The goal was to hone my running gait to maximize efficiency while maintaining my endurance base. I also wanted to sharpen my trail running skills. I also did crosstraining sessions about twice per week.
This will be my first 100 miler without a crew or pacer, so my strategy is going to be slightly different than previous 100s. The weather will play a key factor. The race starts at approximately 4000′, then ascends to around 9,000′ near the turn-around point. The starting temp is expected to be around 75°, then drop below freezing at the higher elevation. According to the people that marked the course, there will be significant snow and mud at the higher elevations. This issue will likely be compounded by a 40% chance of rain/snow Friday night and Saturday morning.
Clothing will be the key issue. I’ll start with light clothing, then pick up more from drop bags along the way. I’ll start in a cotton shirt, then switch to moisture-wicking once I layer up at the higher elevations. I’ll likely go with pajama pants over BI3′s during the coldest sections. A hat and gloves will round out the clothing.
For shoes, I’ll start with a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves, then switch to Merrell Mix Masters around mile 30 or so. The added protection will be welcome at night. On the way back down (after sunrise) I’ll switch back to the Trail Gloves.
I’ve learned eating is the key to my ability to finish 100s. My eating strategy at Western States was nearly perfect (eat a Gu about every 2-3 miles, drink diluted sports drink, graze at aid stations). I tried replicating the strategy at Grindstone, but the caffeine from the Gu Roctane made me sick. The result was a crash that led to a cascade of other problems.
For Bighorn, I’ll use the “gels every 2-3 miles” strategy with a wide variety of brands and flavors. I’ll reach my drop bags five times during the race where I’ll have access to a can of Slim-Fast (my primary energy source for Burning River part 2), Red Bull, and a Starbucks coffee drink. I’ll also supplement by grazing at the aid stations.
My pacing strategy will be straight forward. I’ll run the flats and downhills and walk the ups. If I start conservatively, I should be able to maintain that pattern throughout. In the past, I walked significant portions of the flat which cost A LOT of time. Western States was the first ultra I ran most of the time, and it resulted in a PR. I used the same strategy for a 50k and 50 miler earlier this year which resulted in PRs also.I’ll leave the Garmin behind since the batteries would only last about a third of the race.
I don’t have a time goal. After DNFing Grindstone last fall, I’m running this one to finish. Even though I finished three straight hundos, my confidence was effectively crushed. It’s extremely unlikely I’ll beat my Western States time due to the relative difficulty of the course and conditions, but I’d be happy with a sub-30 hour finish.
I still have a little over 24 hours before the start of the race. I’ll go for a short shake-out run, finish packing the drop bags, pick up my packet, then focus on hydrating and relaxing. For me, the waiting is the most difficult part. I’ll try distracting myself as much as possible, but it does little to temper the enthusiasm to hit the trails!