Bighorn 100: A Long Run with Friends.

As Robbie and I started to climb the last couple of miles towards the Dry Fork Aid station, I just realised that I was actually going to finish this race. The aid station was at mile 82.5. I felt alright and wasn’t having any major issues so barring any untoward incident, I was sure I could finish with time to spare.

As we started to get closer, I could actually hear Nicole cheering away at the top of the hill. Her neon yellow shirt was barely visible but I could hear her loud and clear. She has been my biggest supporter. Without her this wouldn’t be possible. She’s always been by my side no matter what. If I was religious, I would consider myself blessed. I’m just lucky to have such an amazing person for a partner. I couldn’t wait to see her.

I could see our son now. He was jumping around on his skinny little legs. A lump started to develop in my throat as emotions started to bubble up. “Too early to cry, Neeraj” I said to myself. Bottled up the emotions a little but I think folks could hear the croak in my throat as I tried to speak. I gave Julian a hug and he wanted my hiking pole.

Time to refill, restock and to finish this race. Said bye to Robbie, my pacer for the last 34 miles. and started to run up the hill towards the finish all by myself.

Running solo gave me an opportunity to reflect on how things had turned out over the last 24 hours and also over the last 4 years. It had been a long journey culminating to this 100 miler with many friends and family members to thank.

The last time I was at this aid station was mile 13.5 into the race and things had been very different. I was severely dehydrated and my hamstrings had started to cramp. Yes, my hamstrings were cramping less than 15 miles into a brutal 100 miler. In hindsight, I should have been better about pre race hydration. I had gotten caught up in all the pre race hype and had been running around chatting with friends for the 2.5 hours before the start. I believe, that’s what did me in.

Once the cramping started, I knew I was in trouble. I threw out any modest time goals and started to focus completely on finishing the race. It didn’t matter if it took me 34 hours and if I was DFL, I was going to finish. I wouldn’t see my crew until the turnaround point at mile 48. I had to deal with this myself but I had a plan.

For the next 9-10 hours, until ~ mile 48, all I ate was salt, water and some broth with noodles. Every half hour, the cramping would resume. Salt was the only thing that helped. I was opening up the capsules and swishing around the salt in my mouth. Don’t ask me why but it helps. I would have killed for some pickles (another great solution for cramping).

After the initial brutal climb before Dry Fork out bound, the course is pretty much rolling until the Footbridge aid station at mile 30. I decided to take it easy. Lowered my effort even more and tried to relax while running. I ran all the downhills and hiked up the uphills, even the runnable ones. For now, things were ok.

For these next few miles, as I tried to modulate my effort, I went back and forth with many runners. Folks would pass me on downhills and I’d catch up on the uphills.

Garry was out there looking to get his Hardrock qualifier and was running it injured. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the guts to line up for a hundred with a groin injury but that’s exactly what Garry was doing. At some point, I was running with Garry and his friend from NJ, Harry. Mentally I was going through a tough spot at this time. Couldn’t stop talking about the heat and my cramping and was being really negative. Not a great place to be. Harry, who himself has finished several 100s, pointed out that I was being too negative. It was time to focus on the positive. The cramping was in control and the day was cooling off. Things were on the up and up. Gosh! what a gem. This completely changed my race. From then on I decided to not dwell on stuff that hadn’t gone well. It might have ultimately saved my race.

Dave Ponak is another great running friend. I’ve enjoyed a few miles with him but today was not his day. When I came up on him, he was walking. He looked like shit. He was slurring his words and stumbling around. I talked with him for a little and it sounded like he was done for the day. The heat had done him in. I considered walking with him until the next aid station but he urged me to keep going and that he would be ok. Reluctantly, I moved on after making sure he had enough water, salt and sugar. He would eventually drop out of the race but not until mile 48 which is a feat in itself given the state that he was in.

I ran with Sherpa John a bunch during this race. I met him late last year while participating in a fat ass race that he had organized. Sherpa is a gem of a person. He truly loves the sport of ultra running. Over the last 12 months, I learned a lot from him about ultra running and life in general. Glad to have him as a friend. We ran together into the Footbridge aid station. This was his second attempt at Bighorn after DNFing in 2012. At this point in the race, he was already hours ahead of the cut off and his last years performance. He slowed down a bit to run with me which I appreciated.

Footbridge aid is the most remote of the crew accessible locations. We had decided to not have my crew go there and opted to do just a drop bag. Things were a little chaotic here and I needed to calm down a bit and take my time.

Chris was there waiting to pace Kari. Grant, Clyde, Kendrick, Donald gosh so many familiar faces. Was good to see everyone.

The other racers that I knew were there as well. Ray, Scot, Phil, Shad, Diarmuid were all busy trying to get ready for the next 18 brutal miles of essentially uphill running. I ate some noodle soup and some potatoes and got extra layers for the cold night ahead. They had been warning us of 20F night time temps on this section.

Ray was at the aid station as well. He is one of my original ultra running buddies. Not sure how many but he has several 100 milers under his belt. He got me into trail running and we’ve shared countless miles together. Everything I know about ultra running, I’ve learned from Ray. I think it was around 4 years ago that I paced him at leadville and that got me hooked on trail running. I had decided back then that someday I would run 100 miler. Today it was all coming together. I wouldn’t be having this amazing experience if it wasn’t for Ray. Thanks Ray!

I left the Footbridge aid station with Phil. Mentally, he might be the toughest SOB I know. Sometimes, to his own detriment. He’s done several 100s and has also completed several death races. I love listening to his death race stories. I doubt I’ll ever be ready for one those ordeals. As we hiked, he recommended to keep the uphill hiking nice and easy and to save the running for the flats and the downhill sections. Great advice. You can lose a lot of time if you are unable to jog/run/waddle downhill. In these 100s it seems like the folks that slow down the least as the race progresses, do the best.

As we started hiking up, I was starting to feel better. The temps were finally cooling off and I felt like I was finally able to catch up on the hydration. At the next aid station, Phil stopped and I kept going. I wouldn’t see Phil again until the finish.

The next miles until the turnaround were mostly solo. The quiet miles in the dark felt good. It rained heavily on us and we got a see an amazing lightning show but it all started to feel a little easy now. I had found a nice easy groove and was loving it. I finally started passing people. The trail conditions started to get very challenging at this point. The mud was deep and “slick as snot”. Foot was an issue but for some weird reason, it didnt bother me. I stopped worrying about avoiding the mud. My feet were already wet and it seemed like a waste of energy.

I got to the turnaround a little before midnight. The time had gone by quickly and I was looking forward to running with Robbie. Eric was at the aid station ready for me. I drank some warm bouillon soup and ate some more potatoes. After restocking and bundling up, we left the Jaws aid station.

As we left the Jaws aid station, I said goodbye to Eric and thanked him for his help crewing. I know Eric through the runKeto group. Eric is a wealth of information when it comes to LCHF lifestyle. I’ve learned a ton from him along a way. I’m glad he was here to help. He’s a great runner too although has been dealing with some injuries that have sidelined him. I hope to run with him sometime soon.

As Robbie and I continued down the trail, we picked up Sherpa John and ran together almost all the way back to Footbridge. These few miles in the dark were quiet for the most part. I focused on the trail and the footing. I had already rolled my ankle once and was determined to not do it again.

I met Robbie at one of Sherpa John’s fat ass events. He is a quiet guy and stays under the radar. We started talking because he too was trying to lower his carb intake in order to improve endurance. We been good friends ever since. I paced him at the Zion 100 earlier in 2014 where he ran the most amazing race I’ve ever had the privilege to witness. I had originally wanted to run Bighorn just like Robbie, but obviously things hadn’t gone that way. I’m looking forward to running many more mile with Robbie. Thanks for pacing Robbie. Your company during those miles was/in invaluable.

The sun was up now and we were almost back at footbridge. The darkness was behind us and I wasn’t sleepy anymore thanks to some caffeine pills that Eric had given me. Sherpa John had curled up at the previous aid station to take a nap while Robbie and I persevered on.

Footbridge aid station was a little less chaotic this time around. I sat for the first time since the start. Dry socks and shoes felt great after having wet feet all night. One of the aid station folks offered me a Mcdonalds Egg McMuffin which sounded really good. I wolfed it down. Ate some more soup. JT, Clyde and Grant were there and helped me out with my drop bags, etc. And soon it was time to head back out.

The climb out of Footbridge is brutal. It’s super steep right off the bat. We started the slow trudge up this monster. Having Robbie with me helped pass the time and before we knew it, we were done with the worst of it. The terrain was rolling again and I was able to start “running” the downhill and flat sections.

The next well stocked aid station was Cow Camp. They are known for their bacon and I had been looking forward to this all morning. As we approached the aid station the smell of bacon was unmistakable. We promptly wolfed down some bacon and then they offered up some potatoes fried in bacon grease. Damn those were good. We wolfed those down as well and kept moving. Time was flying by and before we knew it, we had started to climb the last couple of miles towards the Dry Fork Aid station.

The last 18 miles of the race are primary downhill with just one significantly steep climb ahead. I climbed out of the dry fork aid station and was still moving a good clip. While passing folks I usually say something like “good job man” or “looking good” or “Keep moving man, we’re almost done”. And they usually say something courteous back. It’s a weird feeling. It’s almost the feeling of guilt. Something that is hard to explain. Not sure what to make of it. Maybe it’s form of survivor’s guilt.

The last steep climb was now before me and as I started to climb, real fatigue began to set in. Mentally, I knew I was going to finish and since that had been my goal since the cramping started, it became hard to push myself.

Out of the blue, I hear a familiar voice behind me. It was JT with Shad. Shad had risen from the dead, again, and was flying up the last steep climb.

I met Shad for the first time at the 2013 Quad rock. A brutally hilly race just outside of Fort Collins. He had caught up to me during an uphill section and was now flying down the course. As he rounded a corner ahead of he, all I heard was a blood curling scream. Next thing I see is Shad on the ground writhing in pain. He thought he had broken his ankle. I stayed with him while other runners ran down to the next aid station to send for help. Luckily it was just a bad sprain and he was able to walk out on his own. Shad was back for redemption as well. His previous attempt at Big horn had ended in a DNF at mile 80. Now he was power hiking this brutal climb ready to close it out. What an amazing finish.

Nicole was waiting for me at the trailhead to pace the last 5 mile road section back into town. I was done with this crazy climb and couldn’t wait to see her again. But ahead of me lay another 6-7 miles of steep downhill. I got it done the best I could. Nicole had so much energy when I saw her. She was super excited and that energy was truly infectious. I was happy to be done with singletrack trail and all that lay ahead of me was 5 miles of road. Time to finish this thing.

As we entered the park, Nicole ran ahead to get Julian and the crew ready. Julian didn’t run through the finish with me but was just as excited to see me as any other race. He loves my poles for some reason. Seeing him caused a rush of emotions. I gave him a hug as I choked back the tears.

What is it about ultra running that makes grown men and women cry? Saw several folks finishing the race just burst into tears, including Brett.

Brett’s another friend I met through Sherpa Johns fat ass events. A great guy with awesome disposition, he was also attempting his first 100. At the finish line he was just started sobbing uncontrollably. We just sat around him and let him get it out. I think he felt much better when he was done.

Anyways, I was done. The first hundred was in the books. I was expecting some great elation at the end but felt nothing. I was numb, didn’t really feel happy or sad or anything. Just stood around there thinking “well, now what?”.
I was happy to see my family and friends but the race finish itself left me “wanting more”.

The finish lines at these event is always fun. It’s great to see friends and share stories.

Francesco had dropped at the turn around. The mud and cold had done him in. He had time to spare but just didn’t feel like continuing.

Greg was there to greet me at the finish. He had run it in 25 hours which is an amazing time. He is soon becoming a legend in the sport having run a 100 every month of the year and plans on continuing this amazing “run”. Hopefully, I’ll get to pace/crew him at one his upcoming 100s. Would love to be part of his amazing journey.

Andy had finished in 26 hours. Great time considering that he had to walked the last 15 miles.

Saw Diarmuid out there. He was one of the guys that flew by us after Footbridge (outbound). At every aid station, I’d see him leaving as I entered. I passed him at Dry Fork(inbound). He had a great race as well.

Harry and Garry finished soon after. I thanked them for their company and for their wise words of wisdom. They saved the day today and many more to come.

Sheila finished next. Saw her hanging out with Val and John. She had had a great race. The best 100 so far she claimed. No tummy issues and felt strong the whole way. I met Sheila at one of Sherpa John’s fat ass events. Israel and Shiela had been running together when I came up on them. Israel runs a running podcast called the long run and he started asking me questions about the LCHF lifestyle and its implications for endurance events. Sheila was there the whole time listening, asking question. A few months later, I get an email from Sheila that she had gone LCHF with great results. No more tummy issues while running, she had just finish Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim and Zion crossing and was loving the results. Here’s another great success story.

Sherpa John was next. He finished with him wife Sarah. It was their anniversary and they decided to finish together. Many of the friends I mention here are folks that I met through Sherpa Johns fat ass events. He loves putting those together and many people reap the benefits of his hard work. Go to his next event and experience it for yourself. Thanks John.

Scot and Phil finished next. Scot looked good. Phil not so much. Scot is military man and he loves it when the conditions are tough. He did four 100s last year and it snowed at every one of them. He brings the bad weather. Although it didn’t snow on us, the conditions got plenty cold and sloppy. It’s fun running with Scot. We’ve already planned to return to Bighorn together next year and do it all over again. Anyone else want in on this?

Phil finished but he didn’t look so hot. Soon after he stopped he needed medical attention due to light headedness and over exertion. He’s a tough SOB. His next adventure is rowing across the atlantic. What? That’s just crazy. I loved the time we spent together on the trail. Thanks Phil.

I was starting to get worried about Ray. Scot and Phil were with him earlier but had moved on as Ray took some extra time at an aid station to take care of his feet. Ray has done several of these 100s. If there is one guy I know that can persevere, it’s Ray. And soon enough, here he was with plenty of time to spare. Ray finished strong in spite of terrible foot issues and blisters.

As I reminisce, I’m coming to the realization that this first 100 was more than just the distance. It was about family and friends and the journey that brought me here. If it wasn’t for all the people involved, this 100 would be just bland, like chewing on some tasteless cardboard. Running might be an individual sport but the ultrarunning community is what makes it awesome. The people drew me into trail running 4 years ago and they keep me wanting more.

Heres to more miles with friends. Cheers!

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