Rock/Creek Race Team member John Brower on a pair of 100-milers.

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The Book-Ends, and What’s In Between
by John Brower

Book I – Bighorn 100

The decision was made shortly after realizing that there would be no Hardrock or Barkley in my future. What was I to do with myself? Travel to the outskirts of Northern Wyoming, that’s what!

I booked a ticket with my buddy David to fly into Denver on the Wednesday before the Friday start. We picked up a car, and took the trip north to Dayton, WY, where we checked into the hotel and awaited the coming day.

Following a weigh-in and pasta buffet on Thursday, I was ready for one final rest before the 11am start on Friday, which came much too slowly. I was ready to run, and experience the Bighorn Mountains!

Being from Jackson, MS, my exposure to the western mountain ranges is virtually none, muck less running in them, so this was going to be quite an experience.

The start was in the Snake River Canyon, where the temps at race time were already creeping into the 90’s. However, I seemed to be well-adjusted to the heat, having come from the jungle-like conditions of the south, where it had been 90’s plus humidity… which is pretty boo… but more on that part later.

The field took off fast, which seems to be par for the course these days in ultras. I still don’t know how some of these guys maintain this speed …and some of them didn’t, as I got word of several drops within the first 20 miles. I tried to run conservatively, and had no problem doing so, considering I was awe-struck with the beauty that surrounded me.

I go to the base of the climb up Bighorn Mountain (mile 30ish) with the memory of a steeeeeep downhill that had brought me there in no time… and I was all too aware that steep downhill was going to be a steep uphill at mile 70. Prepared with the thought, and with lots of fuel, I began my climb.

The climb up Bighorn Mountain is about 17 miles long. The grade isn’t all that steep, but you can certainly tell that you are going up. I was feeling great, staying present, and doing what I came there to do, which was finish the course. By the time I got to the aid station that marked the halfway point, it was 10pm, dark, and freaking cold!

The temp with the wind howling were in the high teens, and for this MS boy that is COLD. Especially when you consider that I had on my Salomon compression shorts, Patagonia quarter-zip top, and a Marmot shell… and a Buff to cover my dome… and that’s it. Some folks would assume that, well, that’s ok because now you can get your drop bag and get changed. But all that was in my drop bag was Red Bull and cookies. Oops.

After getting warm and eating tons of food for the next 40 minutes, I put on my Ipod, bundled up, and was ready to get down the mountain, and start my journey home. I got out the door, took a few steps, and came right back into the aid tent. I was freezing. The med guy suggested I make gradual steps towards getting colder, as opposed to just hitting it out the door, I said, “That sounds good, but why don’t you just give me that big wool blanket to take.” After a bit of banter, I had talked him in to it, so I wrapped the thing around me like I was a burrito, and took off! It was great! Nice and warm, and windproof!

I kept the blanket ‘til I got to the treeline, at which point I dropped it at an aid station, and continued my descent …until a huge elk tried to stall me out. I looked up, and this big bull was just standing in the trail, probably as perplexed at the situation as i was. After I got over the shock, I started yelling at him, and he finally moved out of the way and disappeared into the dark. And I continued into the dawn.

I got to the river bottom, where I consumed some pancakes that were awesome, and prepared for that steep climb I spoke of earlier. Honestly, it was a laugher, it was so steep. I was behind a few other guys, and we all were going so slow trying to get up this thing. I think we climbed around 2000 feet in a little less than 2 miles, and at mile 70 that’s no joke!

But the reward at the top was one I will never forget: the sunrise. I have never seen that color of blue in the sky, or that color of green on the earth as I did from atop that climb. I paused for more than a moment, and gave great thanks for being at that place, at that time. It truly was amazing.

I continued on back to the start, loving the trail, the views, and the food from the aid stations, which included potatoes that had been cooked in bacon fat. AMAZING. Soon the Snake River Canyon was in view, and I settled in to the finish.

Entering the Canyon with some difficulty resulting from my descending legs being shot, I was greeted with 90-plus temps once again. So I pressed on, trying my darndest to get to the finish line…and soon enough, I hung a left into Dayton park, and a right towards the finish line, and boom. I had finished the Bighorn 100.

This was an awesome experience, amplified by the fact that this was my first 100 out west, and first one with no pacer or crew. I did have one drop bag at the halfway point. Other than that, it was just me and the Lord, out there getting it done. And so We did.

Official Time: 28:00:47; 41st OA

Gearcheck:
Salomon S Lab Compression Shorts
Patagonia Sleeveless Top – RC Race Team Edition
Patagonia Quarter zip Top – RC Race Team Edition
Marmot Gore-Tex Shell
Petzl MYO RXP Headlamp
Buff Head-piece
Swiftwick 7” Socks
Dirty Girl Gaiters
Hoka OneOne Stinson EVO Trail
Nathan Backpack
Camelbak Insulated Handheld
Huma Energy Gels
RedBull Blue Edition

 

Book II – The Summer

Running in the summer in Jackson is less than fun. It is Hot as crap, flat as a board, and just overall unenjoyable. Every run is a grind, none of them are “good runs”, and you feel like you’re gonna die any time you run. Given this, I was eating S-Caps by the handful, drinking gallons of Gatorade, and still barely surviving my runs.

Here is a picture of what I looked like a majority of the time post-run, with the caption from my wife:

Bev: “Oh my! are you o.k.?”
John: (silence)
Bev: “What do you need?”
John: (silence)
Bev: “Can I get you some water?”
John: (silence)
Bev: “Some ice?”
John: (silence)
Bev: “Anything?”
John: “…pickles…”

 

Book III – The Georgia Jewel

All the training & suffering through the summer proved to be well worth it. I had planned on this race soon after the finish of the Bighorn, just to see how I could hold up. After several big weeks of training leading up to the race date, I began my taper hungry, angry, tired …right where I needed to be.

The race is held in Dalton, GA, and has a start time of 5am. My wife and I got into Dalton on Friday before the race just in time to say hey to some buddies, and to pick up our packets. Then off to what would be the worst pre-race night of sleep I have ever had. I am still not convinced I slept any…between emptying my bladder, the AC unit in the room, and my heightened state of anticipation, maybe an hour, but probably not.

So up I was at 3:45am, and commenced with the pre-race breakfast of champions: pop tarts! We headed to the start line at about 4:30…in the rain.

At 5am, the shout of “go” was in the air, and we were off! Into the darkness we went, and up a big hill, and then onto a jeep road, and then onto the single track. The first part of the run is what is called the “rock garden”; however I have no idea why — it should just be called “lots of rocks for about 2-3 miles.”

Because of this, and the slickness of the terrain, I was pretty conservative from the get-go, settling in behind several runners, and utilizing their headlamps and their foot-falls to negotiate the section with no major problems. Soon the sun was coming up, but you could hardly tell …it was raining so dang hard!

When I say it rained, I mean it rained for 9.5 hours. Downpours. The trail was reduced to a running current of water. At one point, it got so dark due to the clouds and the rain that I debated putting my headlamp on!

The creek crossings were quickly becoming river crossings, but hey, it is what it is, and on I pressed. Honestly, after a while it was pretty fun! The trail didn’t really become too muddy, so it was just a bunch of water to splash around in.

Kind of like being a kid again! At one point, I found myself doing my best Ric Flair “WOOOOO!!!” out loud!

The course itself is a grinder, with no real flat parts…pretty much up and down all day, with rocks being the more popular surface underfoot. However, there were a few points of the course to mention. The first is John’s Mountain.

The climb itself is no real doozy, but there are these “steps” made out of rock, some about 3 feet high, that we had to go up and, since it was an out-and-back course, I knew I would be coming down.

The thing was that with all the rain, the steps were pretty slick, and hey, one good slip’n’fall was all it was going to take to send you off the mountain! And coming back, it would be in the dark! No worries though…at the top of the mountain was Mitch Pless! He took great care of me and the other runners with his aid station, and I was very thankful for the pizza on the return trip.

The other notable part of the course was right before (and right after) the halfway point aid station. I had heard about the powerline section, but to experience it in person was pretty impressive. I forgot how many there were, maybe 3 to 5, but the hills were just straight up. It was hilarious! At one point, when the leader passed me on his way back, I turned around, and the guy looked like a spider-monkey, using all fours to make his way safely up one of the hills!

I got to the halfway point, chowed down on a McDizzle’s hamburger, a slice of pizza, and headed back to Dalton. I was in 2nd place at the time, and by the looks of the guy in front, I was pretty sure that wasn’t gonna change…but I was going to give him a go. I got to the mile 60 aid station, and after eating some pbj, was informed that there was a detour, because the rain had caused one of the creeks we had crossed earlier in the day to become impassable. The reroute was all on the road, and would end up adding about 3 miles to an already-long course. No worries though…it is what it is.

I hit it up, made my way on some seriously back country roads, past some cows, and eventually got back to the Pinhoti Trail blazes. However, there was no aid. Due to the detour, the aid station was bypassed, which left me with no aid for about 18 miles. Thank goodness, though, there was a water dump. I made my way to the pitstop, ate my BonkBreaker bar, refilled my bottles, and began my way back up John’s Mountain, but this time in the dark.

Upon arrival, I informed Mitch that there was no aid out there, and that he may want to see if they could get some for the other participants. It took me a good bit of time to complete the section, and I knew that some of the others would benefit greatly from someone being out there with something to eat and drink. I think this ended up happening at some point, thank goodness.

After some soup and pizza, I continued to try and track down 1st place. At the 20-mile to go aid station, I asked the volunteers if he had gotten anything to eat, and they informed me that he was blowing and going, and had hardly stopped at all. At this point, I really only had one hope, and that was that he would run out of fuel. I consumed one final calorie load of pizza, soup, and grilled cheese, and continued my pursuit.

At this point in the race, I could tell that I was breaking down. I was getting tired and fatigued, and my calves were really starting to ache. I could feel the stress of the run on my right achilles pretty well. I had to play this as best as I could, and I decided that I would work hard until the final aid station with 10 miles to go, and then hit the gas pedal with all I had, and maybe the 1st place guy would crack.

When I got to the last aid station, I was ready to lay it all out. I asked the aid volunteer how long ago the 1st guy had come through there, and he told me. And at that point, I knew that the rest of the race was about me doing my best, and finishing strong. 1st was out of the picture.

So off I went, as hard as I could go, running the climbs that I would have normally walked, hitting the flats as fast as I could, and taking on the downhills. Soon enough, I was at the last water dump, and I quickly refilled my handheld and headed off through the rocky section, minding my step, but feeling the strain in my achilles …man I was really hoping it wouldn’t snap…

I got to the service road that marked two miles to go, and the moon began pushing me even faster! That’s right, it was so bright that it was making me think the 3rd place person was right on my tail! Well I allowed this trick of nature to propel me to the top of the final downhill, and down the road I went…and took a right, and boom. The Georgia Jewel was over.

This was an awesome race, and a great way to bring the summer to an end. All the miles logged in the heat of Jackson for the past months paid off. While I had hoped to catch some scenic views, the rain gave me the chance to experience a 100 miler in a way that was pretty unique. I went for this one solo once again, and I am really starting to enjoy the experience.

But I would be remiss not to congratulate my wife, Beverly, on her 2nd overall performance in the 50 miler. She did a great job, and has been working hard this summer as well…I can’t wait to see how she does next!

Official Time: 24:16:38; 2nd OA

Gearcheck:
Salomon S Lab Compression Shorts
Patagonia Sleeveless Top – RC Race Team Edition
Buff Head-piece Petzl MYO RXP Headlamp
Swiftwick 7” Socks
Dirty Girl Gaiters
Hoka OneOne Stinson EVO Trail
Nathan Backpack
Camelbak Insulated Handheld
Huma Energy Gels BonkBreaker PBJ
Red Bull Blue Edition

And that’s that. Or is it? It seem that Ultrasignup.com has me listed for a few more runs this year. All things considered, I think my “racing” season is over for the year, but I’m sure I will be out there at some point enjoying the run.

VAMOS

2 Comments

  1. RT @RockCreek: Rock/Creek Race Team member John Brower on a pair of 100-milers: http://t.co/6ux5j2liGY #SalomonRCrun

  2. New blog post: Rock/Creek Race Team member John Brower on a pair of 100-milers. http://t.co/sAq9ioID0J

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