Local runner overcomes demons to finish 100-mile Big Horn trail run
Steamboat Springs — Cara Marrs sat on a picnic table in the dark about 42 miles into the 100-mile Big Horn Scenic Trail Run, which was held June 15 and 16 in Wyoming, near the Montana border.
“I was in pretty bad shape, and there is no question that it was the low point of the race for me,” Marrs said.
She was alone in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, her only company provided by the voices in her head. It was her third attempt at a 100-mile race; the first two had ended in disappointment along the course of the Run Rabbit Run 100-mile race in Steamboat Springs.
The first time, she made it 87 miles before an injured tendon in her foot ended the race for her. The second, her iliotibial band began to cause her pain early in the race, and she traveled 75 miles before failing to make one of the time cuts.
After two failed attempts, Marrs said, some of her friends had suggested she choose a different, less-challenging race for her first 100 miler. But her goal was not only to run 100-miles and finish the race, but also to accomplish the feat on a challenging course.
The Big Horn Scenic Trail Run — which includes 100-mile, 52-mile, 32-mile and 18-mile courses — is precisely that kind of event. It’s held every June in the town of Dayton, Wyoming, a few miles from the Montana border. The event is not only challenging, but also acts as a qualifier for the Hard Rock 100 and the Western States Endurance race — two events ultra runners want an invitation to.
Marrs said she felt good early in the Big Horn race, but a few miles into the event, it seemed as though her bad luck was holding. As she sat on the table, she realized she wasn’t even at the halfway point, and the doubts were beginning to seep in, along with the pain.
“I thought, ’Oh, my God, this isn’t happening again,’” Marrs said. “’I’ve trained, I’m strong … what’s wrong with me?’”
Her back was hurting, the result of a near fall a few miles earlier, but the real problem was her feet, which were screaming for her to quit.
“I had a couple of pairs of shoes that I put in drop bags and that I normally use in a race, but I decided on a comfortable pair of shoes to use at the beginning,” Marrs said.
But the choice turned out to be a mistake. The problem was, she had not worn the shoes since a 100-kilometer race in California in preparation for the Big Horn Scenic Trail Run.
“I didn’t realize that the shoes had caked hardened mud on the inside,” Marrs said. “So, as I I’m climbing, about five miles into the race, I totally rubbed my heels raw, and I had blisters that I had to deal with for the next 95 miles.”
But Marrs pushed on, saying she wasn’t about to let the blisters stop her this time. She spent a little extra time in aid stations and switched out the shoes as soon as possible, but the blisters only got worse as she continued her trek.
“My focus at Big Horn was, unless I was dying, I’m not stopping,” Marrs said. “I can’t not finish one these again. This time, I was dealing with blisters, not an injury. I felt like I could take the pain, and I just kept pushing.”
Help along the way
Marrs wasn’t the only Steamboat runner along the grueling trail, and soon, the struggling runner would get a bit of a lift when her friend, Heidi Sauerland, made her way through the same aid camp.
“It was a great race,” Sauerland said. “Everything was so beautiful, and it was pretty mountainous.”
Unlike Marrs and many of the other racers who fell victim to high temperatures the final day, Sauerland was having an amazing experience. She had come into the race hoping to break the 30-hour mark, but as she negotiated the course, it became clear she would probably surpass that goal. In fact, Sauerland went on to complete the race in 25 hours, 39 minutes, 19.1 seconds, a time that earned her fourth place among the women’s field and 36th overall.
She credited her strong showing to her training in Steamboat, which included running to the top of the gondola and back every day before work this winter. She added she had good nutrition leading up to the race and, above all, she maintained a good attitude throughout.
That attitude benefited not only Sauerland; as she passed through the aid station, her smile gave Marrs a reason to get off the picnic table and continue pushing.
“I saw Heidi heading home, and she looked and felt so good,” Marrs said. “I sat there reflecting for about five minutes and then realized that I needed to get back on the trail, because Will (Carlton) was waiting to pace me, so I just trudged on.”
A few miles later, Marrs met Carlton and his wife, Kate. Kate Carlton helped Marrs bandage her feet, and change her shoes. She also provided food, including hot chicken noodle soup Marrs said really hit the spot. After that point, Marrs said, her attitude took a turn, and with a couple of good friends, including Will Carlton, pacing her on the return trip to the finish line, things began to get better.
“As the sun started to come up, I started to feel better and better,” Marrs said.
Triumph at last
Unfortunately, since Marrs had spent so much time in the aid stations during the first part of the race, she knew she would need to push things in the second half to avoid being cut. Marrs was able to pick up her pace and avoided the cuts. More than half the field of starters failed to finish.
She was the final woman but finished in front of a couple of men and the more than 170 racers who failed to complete the event. Heat turned out to be a huge factor the second day, and the runners at the back of the pack had to deal with warm temperatures that forced many of them to quit.
Marrs placed 33rd in the women’s field with a time of 33:41:51. More importantly, she finished just under the 34-hour cut-off time and finally quieted the voices of doubt that had lived in her mind the past several years.
Other top Steamboat finishers included Sauerland, whose time was fourth-best among women runners and 36th, overall. Fellow Steamboat runner Billy Grimes placed 30th among the men and 33rd, overall, in his first 100-mile effort. Boulder runner Seth Kelly won the event with a time of 20:28.24.
Steamboat runners also left a mark in the 52-mile race, as local runner Amanda Taglioli posted the fastest time in the woman’s field at 9:39.54.7.
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