The Hairy Bison 15/30k is a group run/race that is becoming a staple event in the Columbia area being held the weekend before Thanksgiving each year. I participated in this event last year and for a more thorough description of what this event entails then you can find that post here. To get down to the basics though, this is a FREE trail run/race put on by many of the good people of the Harbison Trail Runners group with a whole host of perks including custom bibs, food/drink, yoga, massages, buffalo nickels, the fellowship of fellow trail runners, and the running of a “live” Bison!
2016 was the first year I was able to run the full 30k consisting of 2 outer loops in Harbison State Forest. After an exciting run, I ended up coming in first in 2:02:02 and being crowned Mr. Hairy Bison. I decided to set the bar even higher this year with plans to defend my title and go under 2 hours on the course. Over the past year I have spent countless miles running, hiking, and now even cycling in the forest. While I knew there were areas of improvement I could make from the previous year, it was still going to be close as the course had gotten slightly longer due to some modifications of the trail. But I was excited to try!
I picked up my packet the night before at the British Bulldog Pub which always supports the event and learned that a special bib was made just for my attempt! The pressure was mounting! I got an okay night of sleep and made sure not to make any mistakes with pre-race nutrition like I had the previous year. I arrived at the forest just as they were starting the briefing and soon enough the Bison made its appearance signaling the start of the run. The signal was quickly given and it had begun!
I quickly got up to speed and made sure that I had clear trail ahead of me as one or two others initially tried to also take the lead. As I made the turn onto the first trails I quickly got to work as I felt great and knew this first couple of miles of trail extremely well. It was initially evident that I was going to be alone for awhile until I started to notice someone slowly approaching from behind. I soon learned it was Greg, who had put up quite the fight for the title the previous year. In fact, he was in the lead the prior year before ultimately taking a wrong turn leading me to take the win.
I kept the pace at what felt very controlled with Greg running just a second or two behind. As we entered the wider part of Firebreak around mile 7 Greg took the lead while I kept the pace where it was as I knew I was already a couple of minutes ahead of schedule. I came through lap 1 in right at 57 minutes which was right around the same time as last year, except this time I was still feeling great. I took in some fluids and calories that Rebekah had ready for me and started out on lap 2 about 20 seconds behind Greg. I kept the pace right where it was for the next couple of miles and I would occasionally get splits to Greg from runners finishing their 1st loop. Our gap was holding steady but I was confident that I would be able to close it over the next few miles.
As we made the climb up to the entrance of the Spiderwoman II trail I closed some more time and was just about 10 seconds back. As we approached the downhill section for a long technical descent at mile 12, it happened. I made a bad foot placement on my right foot and my foot went completely sideways causing me to plummet forward in a semi-Superman layout. I quickly tried to get back to my feet as this has happened to me a few times while running in the forest. Unfortunately, I had been running much faster this time and was immediately having trouble putting weight on that foot. I continued to hobble forward hoping it would loosen up and be okay which was not too pleasant on the switchbacks down to the bridge.
I saw that the gap I was closing had already opened up to about 30 seconds and was widening. I kept at it knowing that even though my pace was suffering, I still had a good buffer to potentially go under 2 hours, even if catching Greg was a long shot. My legs and body still felt good other than the inability to place much if any weight on my right foot. So my strategy soon became hitting the uphills hard while taking the downhills gingerly to avoid any more falls. This is the exact opposite of how I typically run while on trails and my pace had dropped to about 1 min/mile slower than before. As I got closer to the finish I really wanted to pick it up but it simply wasn’t possible with all of the turns.
After over 5 miles of this run/hobble I finally made it back to the parking lot and the finish. I crossed the line right around 1:58:20 achieving my goal of going under 2 hours, but was about 1 minute behind Greg who apparently had been fading in the final few miles. While I was sad to not retain my crown as Mr. Hairy Bison, I know Greg was a worthy recipient and that I had done my best on the day.
After spending some time at the race site afterward speaking with old and new friends, I eventually made my way to the Urgent Care at Palmetto Health Parkridge. After a quick X-ray to make there wasn’t anything broken, it was confirmed to likely be a grade III ankle sprain with plenty of swelling. I am now confined to “the boot” for the next couple of weeks with no running and likely no cycling or swimming either. Hopefully, everything heals up quickly and I’ll be using this as a good time to get some recovery after a long season before building back up for 2018.
Thanks to everyone that made this run possible especially ring leaders Rick Stroud and Dean Schuster. This event draws all types of runners, hikers, and even ruckers to spend a fantastic morning in the forest. There are way more people behind the scenes at this event that make it a one of a kind experience. If you ever want to find out what I’m talking about then feel free to join them at 7:30am on November 17 of 2018 for the next Hairy Bison. Or any of the Saturdays before then at 7:00am for any of the 51 “preview” runs!