Saturday, July 4, 2015

Great race report from Alan Lam.  My new friend!  He and I met on the Bighorn 100M course.

2015 Bighorn 100miler Race Report

Bad decisions make better stories.  But I didn’t make any bad decisions during the race.  I knew going in, because of my lingering knee issue, I would have to run well within myself.  Having been to Bighorn before and finished here before help tremendously.  I have also learned from my previous Bighorn mistakes.  This time I did much better with my nutrition, hydration and electrolyte level.  For once, I never bonked and never cramped.  So how do you explain my slowest 100miler time, you ask?  Because of one great decision I made.

I decided to walk the final 22miles to the finish.

I have never hugged another racer in the middle of a 100miler race before.  Especially not a stranger who I just met on the trail.  But it felt like the right thing to do.  Besides, by now we had been running together for over 100k, she’s hardly a stranger anymore.  And so we walked the final 22 miles together. 

In an Ultra, you often play cat-and-mouse with other runners with similar pace.  Some runners like to chat with others during a race.  Not me.  Especially not this time.  I just wanted to stay focused in my own race.  I know I have to dig deep physically and mentally in order to have a snowball-chance-in-hell finishing.  I was determined NOT to talk to anyone.

About 2miles in, at the top of the climb out of the canyon, I saw from a distance couple spectators cheering us on and giving out high fives.  As I got closer, I could recognize that cheerful voice.  It was Leslie Gerein.  I yelled LESLIE!!  And she yells back ALAN!!  Then she said to everyone around me, “Watch out that skinny Asian guy!”  Angela was there too.  Everyone gets high fives from them.  I get big hugs.  Love you girls.

About 10miles in, I caught up to a group of runners.  Among them a lady in an orange top.  I noticed her because we kept leap-frogging each other, all the way into our first major aid station, Dry Forks, 13miles in.  I said “good job” to her at the aid station.  I sat down in the shade, got some food and did what I needed to do, then left.  I never saw orange top lady again until the next major aid station, 30miles in, at Footbridge.  She checks in a few minutes behind me.  It’s been really hot.  Many runners already not looking so well at this aid station.  This time I sat down a little longer and ate a little more, preparing for the long 18miles climb to the turn-around point.  I know, once the sun goes down, I would be able to run a little better and I needed that energy.  Since my only goal is to finish, I really took my time here.  I saw the orange top lady leaving, then moments later she came back.  Must have forgotten something important.  Headlamp?  Poles?  Not sure.  By the second time she leaves, there was a group of 3 or 4 of us all left at the same time.

Some chatty guy in front of me started a conversation with her.  All I could hear from their conversation was that she said she was “from Canada.”  Soon after, she dropped chatty guy in the dust.  I caught up to Chantal Warriner couple minutes later.
That was the moment when my 2015 Bighorn 100miler went from “just to complete” to Go Go Go.

I found out that Chantal is from Ontario, Bighorn is her first 100miler and she’s here to compete for a top spot.  Digging a little deeper, I know that she ran Fat Dog 70miler last summer.  I was running behind her at that moment and we were moving at a very good pace.  The back of my mind I was thinking, if she can run like this, she probably had won Fat Dog.  I didn’t ask her if she did or not.  But a quick check of the results after the fact confirms that.  This might be her debut 100miler, but Chantal definitely has the talent and track records to compete for the top spot here. 
I said to her, “I would pace you.”  She accepted the offer with no hesitation.  I stepped in front of her and with a flip of the switch, I went from “Tourist mode” to “Pacer mode”.  Now I have a job to do.

The next 13 miles, we climbed over 3000ft in elevation.  Passing guys left, right and centre.  We also caught couple girls ahead of her.  The best I have been feeling and running all day.  It was also somewhere along this 13miles stretch where I ran into my very first bear on the trail.  Around the bend just after we crossed the bridge with the climbing rope.  15 years of trail running in Alberta, and often running by myself, I have never had a bear encounter.  Here I am during a race, with 3 people behind me, I saw the juvenile black bear running back into the woods.  My first American Bear as well.  Like 95% of all bear encounters, it occurs and ends peacefully.  No one screams.  No one got hurt.  No one panics and rips out the bear spray and accidentally discharges it on himself.

At the Elk Camp aid station, 5miles from the highest point on the course, Chantal left without me.  I found myself all of a sudden back to Tourist mode.  Instead of trying to chase her, I walked a lot in that 5 miles.  At the turn-around aid station Jaws, nearly 9000ft in elevations, it was very crowded, seems like total chaos.  Runners everywhere, volunteers everywhere, crew and family members all tripping over each other.  I checked with the volunteers to see if Chantal had left or not.  Volunteer said not yet.  She should be in here still.  I looked around to try to find her.  And I found her sitting couple chairs to my left.

The afternoon was well over 30C but at this high elevation, at night, it was cold.  I could see my breath.  Chantal layers up while I eat some more.  15min later we checked out.  As we got close to the turn-around, I had also been paying attention as to how many girls were in front of her.  I believed at the turn-around she was sitting at 4th or 5th place among the ladies.  With 52miles left to go and lots of downhills, we were in good position.  Overall, there were perhaps 30 to 40 runners in front of us in total.  I was still feeling really good.  And if by helping Chantal, I somehow get a faster than anticipated time, it’s a win win.

But I did warn Chantal that because of my lack of training, I would only be pacing her or keeping pace with her for as long as my body could hold up.  I could blow up at any given moment.

Among all the 100milers from Calgary/Lethbridge, I only saw Leslie as we come back down the mountain in the dark.  I was hoping it was just because it was too dark to see who is who and no one had dropped out yet.

Bighorn is not an easy race.  If you look at the course elevation profile, you would think that you can make up tones of time on all those downhill sections in the second half.  Not the case.  It’s because some of those sections are so rocky and technical that you spend just as much time going down as you would going up.

I get to know a little more about Chantal.  She was a college basketball star and a triathlete before entering the ultra running world.  She hates road running.  A mother of two girls.  And when she’s not running through the night, she is out there saving lives as an EMS. 

We were having lots of laughs, time and miles just flew by.  After several hours, we finally made our ways back down the mountain and into Footbridge aid station once again.  34miles to go.  1/3 left.  In my mind, I was thinking, “OK, just like running the 3rd and final loop at Lost Soul.”

In my experience and own opinions, the next 16miles is the hardest section in the entire Bighorn 100miler race.  Going from Footbridge back to Dry Forks.  Three times now, it is this section that broke me.  Chantal once again left the aid station a little earlier than me.  This time I did try to chase her down.  But each time I checked into the next two aid stations, the volunteers would tell me, “she’s about 10-15min ahead of you.”  So I am really not gaining on her at all.  Just when I was about to give up chasing her and go back to my Tourist mode, I spotted a bright pink jacket in the distance.  By the time I finally caught up to her, I saw the bad news.  Chantal had been reduced to a painful limping shuffle because of swollen feet and blisters.  And there were tears in her eyes.  I gave her a hug and said I would walk in with her.

That final 22miles took us over 9hr, in the hottest part of the day.  Before that, we were on pace to finish around 26-27hr.  The long, steep downhills were really hurting her feet now.  By now, tones of 50k, 50miles runners were flying by us and other 100milers too were catching us.  They could all tell just by watching Chantal’s gait, how much pain she was enduring.  They all gave her much appreciated encouragements.

32hr15min after the race started, we crossed the finish line together with arms in the air, tears in the eyes and smiles on our faces.  And one fantastic story on how a great friendship started.

Congrats to all Calgary and Lethbridge runners who participated in Bighorn.  I had a fantastic weekend, thank you all.  Leslie, Laura, my first attempt at Bighorn 100miler also ended with a DNF.  I have now finished here twice.  I hope you will try again.  It will be that much sweeter.

3 things that puts a smile on my face from that weekend.
  1. When 50miler runners say, “Don’t know how you guys do the 100miler here.”
  2. When first time Bighorn 100mile finishers say, “Can’t believe you would do this more than once.”
  3. When Gary says, “Any time you need a road trip buddy, call me.”

In darkest night, you make your sun
You choose your race, and then you run
You lose the moon, then be a star
It's not what you have; it's who you are

It's Who You Are ~ Sung by A.J. Michalka 

Chantal Warriner, you are a Bighorn 100miler finisher!  That's who you are.  Welcome to the club.

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