Completing the ultra-marathon was a victory.
As many as 166 brave souls from 20 different states all around the country June 19 started a 50-mile course of Bighorn Mountain Wild & Scenic Trail Runs in Dayton, Wyo. The rest of the day, they raced about double the length of a typical marathon, across rugged trails usually designated for jeeps navigating the mountain and wilderness. Over 16 hours, the number of participants gradually dwindled, as the challenge forced 35 to quit. But the rest succeeded in running across the finish line. In the middle of the pack: Randy Greenshields of Enterprise.
"My primary goal was to finish," said Greenshields, who works at Double-Arrow Veterinarian Clinic in between long-distance runs. He completed Bighorn in 12 hours, 21 minutes and 55 seconds. Another 65 runners followed him over the next three hours. "It was very hard, the most I've ever pushed myself physically."
Greenshield took part in the 19th annual Bighorn Mountain Wild & Scenic Trail Runs. He was one of more than 600 participants in several different long-distance races. Most ran 30 kilometers (18.6 miles), others 50K (31 miles), 50 miles or 100 miles.
Success at Bighorn required more than a year of training. Shortly before winter, Greenshields ran the Seattle Marathon, a 26.2-miler. Afterwards, he continued to push himself in practice, even as snow blocked trails into the Eagle Cap Wilderness. In a single session, he might manage 30 miles. However, he grew confident for the ultra-marathon in Wyoming. Getting in condition, he lost about 35 pounds.
The morning of June 19, even before runners took off, the race already threw a test. A bus in Sheridan, Wyo., taking participants to the starting line, left at 3:15 a.m. Right away, Greenshields admitted, he felt tired. But he had the support of family and friends, who had joined him on the trip from home in Enterprise.
Very quickly, on the first half of Bighorn, Greenshields faced its biggest challenge: a drastic climb known as "the wall." He hit it after about 18 miles, which had gradually descended more than 4,500 feet in altitude into the canyon. "The wall" forced him up 2,500 feet in less than three miles.
"By the time I got to the top of 'the wall,'" Greenshields said, "my legs were in rough shape for climbing, but I could still run down the hills okay."
But before Greenshields could relax downhill, he had to race another 20 miles that leveled off only slightly. He remained near the summits, some more than 8,000 feet above sea level. Practices had never gone this far. Endurance became a concern. Carrying water and bits of food in a little backpack strapped over his shoulders, he tried to consume some fuel while keeping his pace. Finally, the last 10 miles dropped into the canyon.
"The last half of the race," Greenshields said, "I had a tough time eating and drinking. My stomach had severe cramps, and it was very difficult to get anything to stay down. I vomited three times in the last five miles of the course, but I was determined to finish."
Already, Greenshields is planning his next ultra-marathon. Bighorn taught him many lessons, mostly about pacing. He talked about starting slower, as well as eating and drinking sooner in the course. He explained that the body has tolerance, but if not fueled properly, it will shut down.
In the meantime, having pushed his body to the limit at Bighorn, Greenshields will get back to running for simple recreation.
"Now, I'm just looking forward to running the trails at home in the Eagle Cap Wilderness," Greenshields said, "and not be running against the clock."
Elane Dickenson contributed to this story.