Bigfoot 120 – How I conquered my first 100ish miler

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Greeted at the finish by my crew captain, Frank Bekker. 120 miles done right! Photo by Howie Stern.

 

The task and results:

This was my first attempt at a distance of over 64 miles. This was a PR of vertical exchange by over double. Despite some unforeseen events that caused me to slow some, I did finish 6th female and returned a top 10 all time female finish.  I finished at what my pacer estimated was a sub 9:00 minute/mile and was able to easily run 2 days after this event.

 

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The course:

120 miles, nearly 60,000 ft of vertical exchange inside of 99.9% of Pacific Northwest single track. Exposed ridges comprise over 15 miles of the blast zone of Mount Saint Helens.  Aid stations are up to 20 miles apart on this course, including those in the exposed blast zones. Race starts at 4 pm Friday meaning all racers run through 2 nights.

The weather in 2016 (2015 was slightly WORSE): 

Downpours for 75% of the race. Winds at 40-60 mph on exposed ridges. Temperature between 60 F – 32F on the exposed ridges.

What worked:

-Drop bags at every allowable drop location. Drop bags in water tight bags. Separate clothing from nutrition/other.

 

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Waterproof drop bags. They need to be water proof!

-My crew captain had a box of supplies including shoes and warm clothes that started to appear around mile 55. My crew had specific instructions and I wrote checklist notes to myself in every drop bag past mile 40. This came in handy as the race progressed and my mind became cloudy.

-Wool. Wool underlayment next to my skin.

-Training to become a resilient running athlete.  I ran races within the 6 months prior to this event that were very vertical and technical.  I lifted and lifted frequently.  I systematically built a body that was able to take the continued impact forces and vertical with ease.

-Keeping gloves on for the entire race.  I used Smartwool liners and added Outdoor Research on to the top with “wind-proof” covers.  I switched into all wool knit gloves for the last 11.5 miles.

-Black Diamond Carbon Z Poles.  I used these climbing only.  I experienced less leg fatigue because I used trek poles.   I do have higher then average upper body strength due to my training as an elite obstacle course racing athlete (OCR).  I experienced zero upper body fatigue during Bigfoot and no post soreness in this area because of my training.   For proper pole technique, see Ras’ video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUoupdz8nLA

-Putting all layers back into the water proof dry bag in my Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0 pack.  I used a SeatoSummit Ultra-sil dry bag.

-Carrying more gear on me then was required, including a separate pair of Salomon wind stopper pants, two pairs of socks (one wool), body glide, a large medical kit, meds, an extra small wind breaker and a safety blanket. I utilized most of my gear during this race and had the security of knowing I had it all on me. Because I am very strong but not necessarily fast, I opted to start the race with nearly 13 lbs of gear and water on my person. This decision paid off for me.

– Carrying at least 1000 calories on me at all times.

-CW-X compression pants. I changed into these at mile 73 and the difference was amazing. I highly recommend finding some good compression pants and using those for the latter parts of a hundo.

-Body bottles vs water bladder. I used 4, 17 oz soft flasks, keeping 1-2 empty for the short sections of the race and filling 2 at all times.  The weight in my pack was easier to distribute properly using the body bottles.

-Buffs. Lots of buffs for my neck, face, head, snot..you name it. I left fresh buffs inside of my drop bags and with my crew.

-Lone Peak 2.5 shoes. The drainage in these shoes is awesome. These are still my favorite long trail shoe and I kept a pair especially for Bigfoot 120.

-Changing into the Olympus 3.0 at mile 73 to give my tired feet a boost. The drainage is good in these shoes and the higher cushion was welcome. The superior grip was welcome for the technical boulder fields to come.

-Pacers and crew! I felt I needed to have a pacer for the second night through the most difficult portion of the course, Johnson Ridge to Blue Lake.  My crew had a dedicated crew captain and two pacers. Although not all of my crew was experienced in ultra events, they are extremely responsible and well versed long distance athletes. I couldn’t have had a better crew or better pacers.

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One of my faithful pacers, Megan Morris jogging into Coldwater Aid Station.  Photo by Howie Stern.

-2 headlamps with many extra batteries. One high powered light for cutting through the extreme weather and seeing markers in the storm ½ mile away.

-Red Bull. Red Bull saved me. I had this drink on my person and was able to revive both myself and others with a little bit of caffeine during the cold dark nights.

-A cheap but good heavy duty rain jacket. A seam-sealed water proof jacket was mandatory gear but I opted for a heavier coat from Columbia Sportswear vs the expensive light weight options. I never regretted that decision!

-Changing my socks every 20-30 miles regardless of whether I thought I needed to or not. I did get a hot spot from newer shoes and I did get a couple of blisters eventually but given the extreme wet, vertical and distance traveled, my feet did very well. I credit changing my socks and using trust worthy, foot shaped shoes.

-Consuming large amounts of Clif oatmeal squeeze, banana and beet squeeze, chia squeeze, Honey Stinger chews and waffles, water and aid station food. I ate a total of 2 gels during Bigfoot 120 in the 45 hours it took me. I experienced zero GI distress.

-Using a gallon ziplock bag I filled with aid station food at every aid station. This running picnic was a great idea. I’d seen more experienced ultrarunners do this at hundos in the past. Knowing I wouldn’t be moving too fast, I decided to follow suit. I would wrap sandwiches, candy bars, chips, whatever in this bag and nibble on it for miles.

-I used zero salt tabs and zero electrolyte fluid. I drank to thirst.  Water and hot soup at the aid stations was a great thing. I also consumed a lot of hot coffee and a tiny bit of soda.  Most of my fluid was consumed at the aid stations and most of it was warm.

-Prudent use of NSAIDS toward the end of the race. I used a few doses of NSAIDS to ward of stiffness on the second half of the race.

-Treating Johnson Ridge to Blue Lake like a single, very exposed 50k and instructing my pacer that we would not be stopping long at Windy Pass. Windy Pass is no place to linger and we did get cold while there. Best to stop briefly, refuel if necessary, and then move on.

-Realistic, conservative pacing with the idea to keep the pace rather then negative split.

-Running through the nights with fellow racers or a pacer. This makes a big difference in mental attitude and safety . I may not have been as fast but I was going to finish.

-Running for joy and the adventure. Remember to look up. Remember this is what you came for. Remember to cherish each step.

 

Things I would do different:

-Push harder. Now that I know how much I had left at the end, I believe I can push much harder on the next 100+ mile race.

-Sizing up for my second pair of shoes. My feet did swell some by 90 miles and I believe larger shoes would have warded off the blisters/bruising that came.

-Heavier wool sweater from the beginning. I did get a bit cold after the 95 mile mark and regretted not putting on my 20 year old heavy duty wool sweater at 80 miles in.

-More wool buffs.

-Better rain pants. I used a pair of rain pants over my compression pants for the last 11.5 miles. These had no drawstring and were way too big.  I will admit these pants were a last minute grab. I ended up holding my pants up for over 4 hours and fell once on the end of the leg.  This was an epic fall doing a sub 10 min/mile on a rocky surface.  I didn’t get hurt (thank you cross training and over 10 lbs of extra muscle!).  Probably should have invested in better pants.

Summary:

I did it and I did it with a smile.  I feel like this race is one of the toughest out there but that anyone, with the right physical and mental prep PLUS the right gear can make it through this challenge.  Laces up to you all.  I know you can do it.

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