The course continues from the Dry Fork region into several flower-filled meadows before traveling in front of Skull Ridge. I ran at an easy pace up and down small roller-coaster-type hills before arriving at the 20-mile aid station. The station was located right before a section of the course referred to as “The Haul.” However, I believe “The Haul” should be called “The Crawl.” It’s short, but very steep — a 600-foot gain in one-eighth of a mile to be exact. As I slowed from a gallop to hike up Horse Creek Ridge. I thought for a moment that I might be approaching the summit of Mt. Everest. After all, I was taking a handful of breaths for every step.
As I logged each additional mile, I became increasingly aware that I was within reach of accomplishing a major goal I had set for myself. After ascending “The Haul,” I was rewarded by a sea of wildflowers. There were purples, yellows, reds, blues and oranges all around me. Here, the 3,200-foot plus descent into Tongue River Canyon began.
We had taken a liking to downhill running. The thrill was similar to that in downhill skiing or snowboarding. Your legs feel like noodles and you’re moving so fast that it’s hard to stop. It was during this descent that I realized the importance of runaway truck ramps on mountain pass highways.
The descent was gnarly, steep and never-ending. Five miles is a long ways when it’s all downhill and you head into it with 21 miles already on your legs. Luckily, the psychological benefits of such a long downhill were significant and had a positive impact on my mindset.
There were other difficulties though. In some areas, the trail became so narrow my ankles knocked against each other. And the brush reached my waist in places, making it hard to see the trail’s surface.
Soon, I arrived at the second-to-last aid station, around the 26.5-mile mark. My feet were so badly blistered that blood leaked through my shoes. With each step, I felt as if I was running on sharp needles.
Temperatures Hit 104 degrees!
It also was hot — 104 degrees! It helped, at least psychologically, to hear the roar of the Tongue River and to run alongside its high water. The volunteers at the last two aid stations were kind enough to hose me down with cold water.
But it was still hot and the last five miles of the race is on a flat, gravel, and dusty road that is rough on the feet and seems to never-end.
It was reported later that several runners dropped out of the race during this last five miles due to heat-related ailments. Some were even taken to the hospital.
The heat hit me like a wave when I left Tongue River Canyon. I had consumed over 340 ounces of water and electrolyte drinks by mile 29, and yet salt was flaking off my face, arms and other limbs. It felt as if I was running in place. I was moving but it sure didn’t seem like I was getting anywhere. My limbs felt heavy as I kept my eyes focused straight ahead down the gravel road, eager to see the finish.
By the time I finished, I had been on the trail for seven hours and 23 minutes. My goal was to finish in eight hours, so I was thrilled to finish when I did especially when you consider the record-breaking heat. It was a wonderful day and I experienced many new emotions. It was so fulfilling to have 10 months of hard work come to fruition, and intriguing to discover what the mind and body can achieve. Jerry finished in six hours, 11 minutes. He was in second place through 19 miles, but ran into some leg cramps on the Tongue River Descent.
As I write this, it’s been almost a month since I crossed the finish line, and the excitement is beginning to fade. But what remains with me are mental pictures of the vistas I enjoyed, recollections of the conversations I had with fellow runners and the realization that I ran 33.5 miles.
And I look forward to doing it again one day.
For more articles about adventures in Yellowstone National Park, subscribe to The Yellowstone Journal Call 1-800-656-8762 in the U.S. or (307) 332-3111 for information.