Four hours of running through Bighorn mud isn’t your average family reunion. But, for Marcie Scarlett of Buffalo, deciding to pace her son Matt through the last 18 miles of his 100-mile race at the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run last Friday and Saturday was an obvious choice.
“I tell you, we just had a great visit,” she said of the time with her son, who was home for the weekend from North Carolina, where he is working toward his master’s degree in exercise physiology at Wake Forest University.
Marcie was signed up to race in the event’s 18-mile category herself on Saturday, but decided to trade in her own chance to win a coveted engraved native river rock in order to cross the line with Matt at Scott Park in Dayton.
“It wasn’t a tough decision at all,” she said. “It was one of those God moments when you said, ‘This is what I’ve been training for and this is what I’m going to do.’”
As they set out together, Matt had already been running for more than 24 hours, traversing 82 miles of the challenging course that includes elevations up to 10,000 feet and drinking coffee out of a water bottle through the night to keep himself alert and moving. Race rules allow participants to have a running companion, known as a pacer, while on the course and runners can trade out pacers and pick up fresh supplies at designated aid stations.
“I was switching things out, putting on some new socks and she came right over and said, ‘Alright buddy, I’ll be running with you the last 18,’” said Matt. “That just meant the world to me. I can’t really describe that feeling, just really grateful and excited. I told her, ‘It’s ok, you can run your own race,’ and she just looked me n the face and said, ‘No I’d much rather do this.’”
Matt said the miles just before he saw his mother were some of the toughest of the race. He was being paced by Bryant Knigge, who stuck with him through an entire night of running, battling drizzle and mud thick enough that race organizers extended the aid station cut-off times by an hour.
“The test doesn’t actually begin until you start thinking about quitting,” Knigge told his struggling friend.
“After he said that, I was like, ‘Yep, he’s right, and we’re going to get this done,’” said Matt. Still, he didn’t have a planned pacer for the final leg of the race, and had assumed he would have to complete them alone. “It was so much more fun and was just a really, really meaningful experience to be able to do it with my mom. It was a much higher quality finish to my race.”
“Running with somebody that you know is so much more fun than just running by yourself,” said Marcie. “I figured that I can keep up with Matthew if he had 82 miles behind him.”
The Scarlett family has been a part of the Buffalo running community for decades. The family has participated in various distances of the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Run since Matt was 16, and says they have fallen in love with the event.
“When Matthew was little he used to get in the Klondike Rush and has run ever since then,” said Marcie.
Now away at school, the race is a homecoming for Matt. He and Marcie were joined in their final, 5-mile stretch of gravel road by a friend from Matt’s undergraduate college years who rode alongside them on a bike. Matt crossed the finish line in a time of 30 hours, 25 minutes and 53 seconds, the youngest finisher to complete the 100-mile event this year. This was his third successful 100-mile trail event, after finishing the Bighorn in 2017 and Colorado’s Leadville 100 in 2018.
Bighorn started in 2002 as a way to raise awareness about the natural beauty, rugged terrain and unique geology of the Bighorn Mountains at a time when the area faced construction of a still-not-executed pump storage hydroelectric project. Matt says it is a special race for everyone who participates, not just the hometown heroes.
“I’m so grateful for the aid station workers, the race directors, trail workers everyone who is part of that race,” he said. “I talk to a lot of people on the trail who have done a lot of hundred (mile trail races) all over the country, and outside of the country, and every single one has said that Bighorn is one of the most beautiful runs that they have ever done.”
Matt won’t name a specific event or a time as his next big ultra-running goal, but instead says he hopes to just keep racing for as long as he possibly can, adding “they’re just incredible experiences.” He will now have someone to share them with for years to come. On a post-race hike to Steamboat Rock Sunday, Matt proposed to his now-fiancee, Riley Hicks, a finisher in the weekend’s 50-mile event.
He and Marcie will be able to share at least one more trail race this year.
“My mom’s birthday is tomorrow,” he told the Bulletin on Monday. “She’s picking a race, and I’ll be paying the entry fees and we’ll be running it together, whatever she wants, that’s her present this year.
“I cannot describe how grateful I am to have those people in my life and to have them all really just willing to be there for me and for everyone else,” said Matt. “It’s something that I look forward to every year. It’s pretty incredible. I’m beyond thankful for it."