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John’s Bighorn 100 Run

Bighorn 100 Race Report

By: John Fiore, PT
Sapphire Physical Therapy

As I sat in Dayton Park listening to the pre-race briefing, I felt strangely calm. Just two hours before the start of the Bighorn 100 and I just wanted to get started. The presence of fellow Missoulians is always reassuring at Bighorn. JB Yonce, Dan Pierce, Todd Bachman, Babak Rastgoufard, Randy Tanner and I discussed strategy, discussed the weather, and waited in anticipation for the 11:00 am start on the Tongue River road. My primary goal was to cross the finish line in Dayton 100 miles down the trail. After Three consecutive 100 mile DNFs due to injury and illness, my training and nutrition underwent an overhaul and I finally felt ready to charge.

John Fiore - Bighorn Run 100

At 11:00 am sharp we were off. Over 300 runners moving up the Tongue River trail was an impressive sight. Awe was soon replaced with reality as the temperature climbed proportional to the 4,000 foot climb to the Dry Fork aid station at mile 13.7 where my crew was waiting. My “crew” consisted of my closest friends (Allison Onstad and Kevin Twidwell) and my son Bridger who for some reason did not want to miss the adventure. After a brief stop for water and orange slices, our direction shifted north towards the Little Bighorn Canyon and the Footbridge aid station at mile 34 or so.

Settling into a rhythm in the heat, the wildflowers and vistas reminded me of why I came to the Bighorn Mountains to run 100 miles. The race course is known for its beauty, technical sections, runnable sections, unpredictable weather, all wrapped up in 17,000 feet of climbing. Babak, Todd, and I were all within a few minutes of each other, and Dan was up the trail a ways. The hours ticked by and we descended “the wall” and crossed the Little Bighorn River where the Footbridge volunteers were buzzing. Kevin Davis of Livingston, MT filled my hydration bladder and got me moving.

Support team for John Fiore Bighorn 100 Run

From Footbridge, an 18 mile trek to the turnaround at the Jaws aid station began. The route climbed nearly 5,000 feet and despite being evening, I was glistening with sweat. Power hiking the steep hills and running the flats and mild inclines became my mantra. I was ready for the sun to set and the air to cool. As I crested the ridge one mile from Jaws, I was greeted with a twilight display of the crescent moon accompanied by Jupiter and Venus in the western sky. I let out a howl and waited for the echo in the night.

Inside the Jaws aid station tent the mood changed. My crew ushered me to a chair and asked what I needed. As I barked instructions, I noticed my crew’s facial expressions. “Man,” I thought, “I must look like hell!” Kevin picked me up to crack my back, Bridger encouraged me to “stay strong,” I grabbed by trekking poles, and Allison and I took off for a run in the night. Pacing is both and art and a science. An effective pacer knows their runner’s strengths and weaknesses. An effective pacer is selfless but must take care of their own nutrition and hydration needs. An effective pacer must push their runner and basically just keep the runner moving. I attribute my race success to my pacing crew.

Running through the night reduces running to its primitive form. Your world is a 6 foot radius illuminated by the beam of a headlamp. The heat of the day left my stomach nauseous and I consumed only broth and orange slices through the night. Tums tablets kept my stomach in check, and Allison reminded me to sip water, try to eat a gel, and kept us moving. Footbridge aide station came and went at mile 66, and Steve Brown joined us for the trip up “the wall” toward Dry Fork. The eastern sky began to illuminate the coming of the sun and the star-filled sky was replaced with dawn. I began talking (I actually was not talking much at this point) in anticipation of a spring up the trail. At the spring I washed my face, hands, gulped water, and filled my bottle. A brief encounter with vomiting (oh no, not again!) due to a gag reflex from a pine needle in my water left me heaving for a moment. Gathering my composure we headed towards the Dry Fork aid station at mile 82.

Night time shot of John Fiore running - Bighorn 100 Run

Allison paced my up the final climb to Dry Fork where Kevin and Bridger were waiting. I felt spent but 18 miles seemed totally within reach. More Tums and some help with my nausea thanks to Amy Brown and we were off. Kevin would pace me to the finish line. Kevin had accompanied me through the night twice last year during 100 mile races I had to drop at mile 75 and 86, respectively, due to unrelenting vomiting. Not fun, yet here he was taking up the pace again! Kevin told me he would push the pace a bit and instructed me to “hold on the best you can, and if you need me to slow up just say so.” At mile 90 we crested the final significant climb and began the descent of the Tongue River Canyon. I was amazed to discover my legs were fresh and I could run fast and furiously after Kevin! We flew down the canyon laughing and talking about our kids, our friends, and truly enjoyed the last two hours of the race.

The final 5 miles of the race is a long windy not completely flat dirt road. Bridger and Allison met us on their bikes and together we clicked off the final miles. The Missoula contingent was camped beneath the Run Wild Missoula tent and we exchanged high-fives with 100 meters to go. The finish line was shaded and once across, I walked directly into the Tongue River to wash away the dirt and grime accumulated over 26 hours.

John Fiore at the finish line Bighorn 100 Run

Completing my first 100 miler is satisfying and I will always treasure the experience. The emotion which remains, however, is gratitude. Running is a solitary sport, but running 100 miles would not be possible without my friends and family made it their mission to get me to the finish line.