The Big Horn Trail Run: Part 1

(Reprinted with permission from the August/Sept. 1999The Yellowstone Journal,

Most people called my husband Jerry and I crazy. Others admired us, and wished us welled as they ate potato chips and imbibed microbrews in front of us.

We decided about 10 months ago to enter the Big Horn 50-Kilometer Mountain Wild & Scenic Trail Run. The start of the race was in the Dry Fork Drainage in the Big Horn Mountains in a region above Burgess Junction, which is a tiny town / junction located about 27 miles west of Dayton, which is about 20 miles west of Sheridan.

We were looking for a challenge that would allow us to explore new country while giving us something to train for during the long winter.

The commitment to run a 50K entailed some sacrifices. My feet became ugly – blistered, calloused, and blackened by bruises. Bulky patches and bandages protruded from my sandals at work, and arriving to work on Monday with a slight gimp became all too common.

Our Spring Break and Easter vacation found us logging miles on trails in the Grand Canyon, and in Utah’s Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks.

Jerry had run four marathons in the past and wanted to do something more challenging and different. I, on the other hand, am not an experienced runner. Running the Lander Half Marathon twice and hiking several miles of backcountry was the extent of my experience. We decided to run the event at our own pace, which was important because I wanted to tackle it alone to see if I could accomplish it without any help.

A Formidable Challenge
The Big Horn Trail Run is an awesome event, but it’s a formidable challenge. You’ll gain and lose thousands of feet of elevation over very rough terrain. Your legs will feel like noodles and, at times, you’ll feel very weak both physically and mentally.

Feeling masochistic, we were looking forward to the challenge.

The Big Horn 50K is actually 33.5 miles long. When you do the math, a 50K is 31 miles. But when we arrived at Sheridan the day before the race we learned that the Big Horn 50K is actually 33.5 miles long, which was a little disconcerting since I had trained for 31 miles.

The day of the race started early. We woke at 4 a.m., stretched, and proceeded to fill our nervous stomachs with bananas and toasted bagels. I was crazy nervous, with a gut full of butterflies. But after 10 months of hard work and anticipation, I was ready to get the show on the road. A bus took us to the starting point near the Dry Fork Drainage in Wyoming’s Big Horn Range. The whistle blew at 8 a.m. and we were on our way.

The first 16.1 miles of the course is a loop. The first mile or two follow a significant uphill. As soon as we all got started, one runner remarked, “Finally, we can relax.” I couldn’t agree more. Following so many, many restless nights filled with nervous anticipation and attempts of visualization, it was a relief to finally be running the race.

My strategy was to conserve energy during this first 16.1-mile loop, to arrive at the end of the loop feeling no worse than I had at the start. That way, from there, it would just be a 17.4-mile jog to the finish. I knew could handle that. Beyond that would be unchartered territory for me.

My strategy worked. Except for a couple of fifty cent piece-sized blisters that had developed on the inside-bottom of both heels, and the fact that the inside of one of my toes was back on the trail somewhere, my legs and mind felt strong. I was enjoying myself.

We had intentionally not visited the region in the months leading up to the race because we wanted to be surprised by what we saw. It proved a great idea, because thoughts of “I wonder what’s around the corner” or “I can’t wait to see what’s on the other side of the ridge” spurred me on.

A Great Support Group
At the 16.1-mile mark, friendly supporters working the Dry Fork Aid Station greeted me. A woman and a man took my two bottles and filled one with electrolyte drink and the other with water. A woman scooted a chair underneath me and handed me a bowl of grapes; salty baked potato chunks, and a small candy bar. As I snarfed down the goodies, I took off my drenched, muddy socks and applied patches to my blisters before putting on a dry, powdered pair of socks. After drinking and refilling another bottle, I was back on the trail with new feet and a second wind.

Read more about the endurance event in The Big Horn Trail Run: Part 2.

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