In the mountains west of Sheridan, Wyoming, is the playground for the Bighorn 50 mile trail race. Bighorn is now in its 20th year now hosting 30k, 50k, 50 and 100-mile events on the same weekend. This was my second experience after completing the 100-mile race in 2009.
6:00am the race began with elite runners taking off with a near sprint into the trees along a jeep road. The first few miles were packed with runners as we ran up-and-down snow packs and dodging mud bogs. Quickly, we got off the jeep road to single track hitting the high point of the race in high alpine meadow.
The trail moved into a decline that would last for the next 15 miles following several drainages. The views were spectacular which made up for the challenging conditions. Much of the fist 5 miles we had to battle through muddy marsh areas and many tiny creeks. There were even a few runners who lost their shoes in the mud. Personally, I could not see my shoes or legs due to being covered in mud.
In the first 8 miles, I kept a good pace and my ankle, which I injured a month before, was feeling good. Yet sure enough, I tweaked it on a rock, which scared me enough to walk it off for few minutes. I took advantage of the break by removing my cold weather gear, fix my bladder hose that was pinched, and to take a few pictures. After the pain went away, I decided to resume my run but at a slower pace.
Near the mergers of the Little Bighorn and Dry Fork canyons, I reach the Foot Bridge aid-station at 4,200ft and 18 miles. There I had a drop-bag with spare shoes, socks, and sunblock. I decided my feet were fine and I still had a spare set of sock in my pack so I kept what I had on, sprayed on the sunblock, pulled out my trekking poles and refilled my bottle and bladder. I was out in 10 minutes.
Next up was a 2,000ft climb in 3 ½ miles; this was the reason for the poles. At mile 21.5, I reached the Bear Hunting Camp aid-station where I refilled my bottle and repacked my poles.
The next 13 miles had become more runnable yet still climbing to 7,600 feet with many up-and-down sections of single track and jeep roads. This part of the race is when I started to feel the heat and despite drinking all the fluids in my bottles with refills at the aid-stations I battled leg cramps though much of the day. Looking back I should have drank more early and took more sport legs.
After leaving Kerns Cow Camp Aid-station, the race joined the 50k runners, so I got to see a mix of 100 milers to 50k runners. At mile 30, I was able to look across a long valley the Dry Fork aid-station (mile 34). This is always a mental challenge because you see a long descent and then oncoming climb. In reality, it was not as bad as it looked and before long I made to Dry Fork. I refilled my bottle and skipped all the great looking food. Unless it is a 100k or 100 milers, I will stick exclusively to my Gu Roctane for nourishment.
The next 5 miles was the only easy part of the race following smooth gravel roads and good single track to the Upper Sheep Creek aid-station at mile 39. Again, I pulled out my trekking pole for the last and steepest climb to the top of Horse Creek Ridge at 8,000ft. The view was amazing looking at the upcoming descent into the Tongue River Canyon and the Great Plains in the distance.
To give my legs additional pleasure the trail would quickly descend nearly 4,000ft in 6 miles following to the road below. In 2009, I was able to run this section (event with the added 50 miles) not this time – my legs were shot.
At the Tongue River aid-station (mile 46.5), the course hit smooth slight downhill road that would lead to the finish. I was able dig in and run .20 miles with a .05-mile walk which was enough to push me in. If I were to name the road, I would call it the road of the Walking Dead, with everyone on a death march to the finish.
Finally, with 11:54:36 of running I made it to the finish meeting my goal time of 10-12 hours. I came in 63rd place and 9th in my age group. Waiting for me was Kelly Goode who had a good 50k finish and a cold beer in hand.
In Conclusion, Bighorn is a must. It is well organized, very scenic, and very challenging. According to my Garmin 910, I descended 12,736ft and climbed 8,258 in nearly 52 miles.