July 19, 2015

2015 Hardrock 100 Endurance Run - Wild and Tough

Spoiler: I finished the Hardrock 100 in 39:22:54. Here's the GPS to the first 93 miles.

Here's my story of the 2015 Hardrock 100. Really, it's more like a novella, because this is my journal to remember Hardrock 2015. While I'm thanking you for reading, I'd like to start this post by thanking others, too. Race reports typically thank people at the end, but you need to know how grateful I am for all the support I received while pursuing this incredible dream.


First, Meggan, you are amazing. We both know my one ticket wasn't supposed to be drawn in the Hardrock lottery this year (I had only a 1.3% chance). You have made more sacrifices, dealt with more hassles and waylaid plans, and heard more whining than everyone else combined. You supported this goal even when you didn't want to, and pushed me in just the right way so many times. I wouldn't have made it to the start line without you. I am so excited to be an adventurous family with you and the girls again, instead of training all the time and missing you three.

Thanks to my two excellent pacers. Despite knowing how whiny I got at The Bear, Eric still agreed to accompany me from Grouse Gulch (mile 42) to Chapman (mile 82). He commented beforehand that this included "the fun stuff," although I think it turned out to include the three sections that were most difficult for me. Thanks for knowing the course so well, being intelligent in the mountains so I never had to worry, and figuring out I needed to eat more real food in order to proceed effectively. Thanks for your patience, and for finally saying "Jason, let it go" in the Wasatch Basin, so that I could snap out of it and focus on the task at hand: moving forward. Randy doesn't typically use pacers in his own 100s because he likes to run his own race, but I asked him so many times, "do you have the time off work yet?" that he finally relented and agreed to pace from Chapman to the finish in Silverton. Thanks for giggling each time my diaphragm decided to "cough, cough (pause) cough-hiccup," and for calling out "feeding time!" so enthusiastically every 20 minutes. Most of all, Randy, thanks for pulling me down the last hill to the river, through the river, across the road, and along the last two miles of trail to Silverton -- all at a pace I didn't think I could handle, without a headlamp, and in the dark! Your constant excitement about running together, and the beauty of the landscape made those last 18 miles feel like we were just friends playing in the mountains.

Thanks to my official crew (including Meggan):
  • My sister Karen, who flew in from California and endured Colorado mountain summer weather (cold, rainy, windy, sunny), numerous pounce attacks from Rachel and Ava, and a cancelled return flight on Sunday. After I was chosen in the lottery in December, she casually commented that she "might be available" if I was interested in her crewing expertise, gathered at The Bear.
  • Meggan's Dad, Richard
  • My wonderful daughters, Rachel and Ava, who put up with me being away on so many long training runs, drew me cards before the race, rang cowbells, cheered "Go Daddy!" and ran the finishing chute with me Saturday night.
  • My cousin Glen, who finished Hardrock in 2003 and shot video at each aid station and ran into old friends all weekend.
  • Randy's partner Lori, who insisted that I eat their food during run week, refused to let me buy Randy's search and rescue card or food, and checked my family into the hotel in Ouray so the girls could sleep overnight. Thanks for being so calm when I saw you during the run; it helped me to focus.
Also thanks to my Unofficial crew and friends who made the experience of training for, acclimatizing for, and running Hardrock 2015 amazing: Kate, Charles, Katie, Ryan, Silke, Ryan, Jon, all the Rocky Mountain Runners (RMR) and Boulder Trail Runners (BTR) I ran with, friends, family, and coworkers who asked about training and the run for the last seven months. Thanks especially to Kari and Chris, who shared their vast knowledge of the Hardrock course, trails of the San Juan region, campsite, hotel room for packing, and allowed me to tag along on hikes and scouting trips the week before the race.

After acknowledging those who made the finish possible, I suspect you'd like to hear about the run itself.

2015 Hardrock 100 - what I experienced

Start - 6am Friday July 10
Race morning it was cool and damp, but the rain had stopped during the early morning hours and it was very peaceful when I first looked outside. Clouds were still filling the valley and we couldn't see anything higher than about 9500' on the surrounding peaks (Silverton is at 9318' elevation.) I joked to someone that the race had been flattened because all the mountains had actually disappeared overnight. After eating and getting dressed, I walked the few blocks to Silverton gym with Glen, who understood when I asked him to quietly stop outside for a minute before we entered the gym by the back entrance about 5:30. I was so excited, but knew to conserve energy for the journey ahead. Inside the gym the energy was electric; I think most of the excitement came from crews and spectators, as many runners began to turn inward for the run, and others get a chance to spot "famous" ultrarunners. It was cool to hear the same awe reserved for 20-time finisher Kirk Apt as for world-famous Kilian Jornet.

As planned, after checking in, I took a seat in the bleachers instead of standing around waiting for the start. This allowed my crew, friends, spectators, etc., to find me easily, while giving me a higher vantage point to watch the fun. Rachel and Ava were very excited to share part of Daddy's bagel and water while waiting. I remember watching the clock hit 5:45 (the check-in cutoff), and thinking that everyone running this year was now present. A few minutes later we all shuffled outside. I found Kari and said something about going to play in the mountains. I was so excited for her to finally start after years of trying to get into the race; we spent much of the pre-race week together, and several relaxed hours together on Wednesday morning packing our drop bags without chaos.

Dale, the Race Director, counted us down from 10 and shouted his customary "Get Outta Here!" start command. I moved casually to the right side of the dirt road, as planned with my family, and saw them each in turn along the side of the road. I think Rachel got a high five in. As we moved slowly out of town, I experienced far less emotion that I typically do at the start of races. I simply wanted to play in the mountains, one of my favorite things to do. All week long people I knew and didn't kept asking, "Are you ready?" I felt my answer was always yes. There was no question in my mind about finishing, only wonder about what the trip would bring.

Hardrock offers a lot of uncertainty; in the Runners Manual, the race philosophy states: "this course offers a graduate level challenge for endurance runs. The course is designed to provide extreme challenges in altitude, steepness, and remoteness." Further comments in the Runners Manual:
  • "This is a dangerous course! In addition to trail running, you will do some mild rock climbing (hands required), wade ice cold streams, struggle through snow which at night and in the early morning will be rock hard and slick and during the heat of the day will be so soft you can sink to your knees and above, cross cliffs where a fall could send you 300 feet straight down, use fixed ropes as handrails, and be expected to negotiate the course with or without markers." 
  • "The weather is a dominant factor for this run and can be at least as formidable as the terrain, remoteness, or high altitude...It is our general opinion that the first fatality we may have will be from lightning!"
  • "You can hunker down in a valley for 2-4 hours and still finish; but, if you get fried by lightning your running career may end on the spot."
So we began in the soft morning light, beneath low but thankfully dry clouds. As the race pack stretched out before me, I hoped everyone would return safely, and within the time limit. I remained quiet through town and the first wooded section, clocking a speedy 12:35 for mile 1, a pace I wouldn't best until nearly 6 hours later.
As we cranked uphill toward the Dives-Little Giant saddle, we rose above the clouds and looked back at Silverton to see the valley still shrouded in fog. I hoped it wasn't too wet in town; while running in the rain is annoying, anxiously standing in cold rain waiting for someone else to appear at a remote aid station is far worse. After the first 5K, the course climbs from 9900' to 13000' in 3.8 miles, a 15% grade. I stayed slow, and met and greeted lots of runners as the pack of 152 starters sorted itself out.

Two different runners remembered my pink calf sleeves from previous races (thanks, Silke, for commenting at a later aid station that "those are kind of your trademark, huh?"). Two runners mentioned seeing "your cute girls at the motel," prompting my heart to jump as I hoped we hadn't kept anyone up the previous 2 nights at the Triangle Motel. Fortunately, only positive comments came about my family, which made me smile and think of my cheering squad. I hoped they would be able to negotiate the new-for-2015 shuttle to the Cunningham aid station. I took time to think through the run in my mind again, then focused on climbing, while passing the various running paparazzi and famous runners who had hiked up the first ascent to view the action at the front of the pack.

At the top I made sure my shoes were laced, then plunged into the first desent toward the Cunningham aid station. I ran the bottom part of this descent with Barbara Olmer, who was fantastically preparing to breastfeed throughout the run for her young child -- go supermom! Just before the aid station, we crossed Cunningham Creek, amid lots of cheering spectators. Most of the runners come through here within a 75-minute span, so lots of spectators are present. Phew, 9 miles and the first major ascent/descent finished (there are 9 relatively distinct high points on the course). My crew was ready with necessary items spread on a blanket, and made quick work of the aid station. It was great to see everyone, but a bit sad to leave saying, "See you tonight." Something is lost in translation here; what that really meant at 8:46am was, "See you in 33 miles, hopefully before dark, in approximately 12 hours. I'll climb a 14er and spend 98% of the day above 10,000' and most of it above treeline (~11,500'), and with wet feet. Have a great day. I love you." I left the aid station in 92nd place.

Eric walked the road through the aid station with me, offering encouragement and the positive assurance he'd be ready to go at Grouse Gulch (mile 42). Then I was off up Green Mountain, a section marked with "exposure, acrophobia" warnings in the course manual. [Note: there are lots of warnings in the course manual about this, but they were never a concern for me. I was glad to have lots of experience playing in the mountains, and while I don't claim to be a mountaineer, I am pretty comfortable on most hikable/runnable terrain.] As I ascended, I realized I was climbing easily; it felt as though I was passing people easily without trying hard. This was my first sign that my acclimatization strategy had worked well; camping at Red Mountain Pass (11,013') for three nights the weekend before before arriving in Silverton.

Looking toward the Grenadier Range from Stony Pass
Lots of this section passed easily, and I ascended through the beautiful flowers and early morning light, making sure to keep warm with my layers, and on top of eating and hydration. As we climbed, the magnificent Grenadier Range came into view to our south. Moving toward Stony Pass, I realized there were about a dozen spectators who had somehow ascended to this point. We climbed a short steep bit toward the pass; one of the cheering crowd looked familiar. Then he started plunging down the trail toward us (to get into position for the photo below), and I realized it was Chris. After 5 consecutive Hardrock finishes, he was enjoying his crew/pacer role this year for Kari.

As we descended into the Maggie Gulch aid station, the weather turned for the first time. I entered Maggie Gulch in 65th place, which in hindsight was probably a bit ambitious for this early stage of the race, but I still felt under control. I was excited to have two sections of PB&J sandwich, and a turkey avocado wrap to go, which turned out to be hard for my cold hands to eat. After leaving the aid station, I was glad to pull out my rain pants to keep my legs warm in addition to the rain jacket I wore most of the race.

The course climbed over to Maggie-Pole Pass, and I worked hard to stay warm, keep eating and drinking, and moving forward. My hands got a bit chilly despite my gloves. I started to feel a bit isolated, as the runners had spread out a bit around me, and I descended most of the way to the Pole Creek aid station in bright sunshine alone. In the absence of high peaks in the immediate vicinity, I remember thinking that the valley containing the West Fork of Pole Creek was very wide. This relatively flat section (80 feet net change in 1.9 miles, with slight rolling hills, but still at ~11,500 elevation) seemed to go on forever; I think my brain needs constant stimulation in the form of technical terrain, climbs, or descents, in order to stay fully awake -- more on that later.

Arriving at Pole Creek aid station (mile 19.6), I found RMR Greg changing his socks, and some much-needed water to refill my bottles. Greg and I fell in together, and ended up running together during the climb to Cataract Lake and all the way down to Sherman aid station (mile 28). We chatted as we went through numerous creek crossings, enjoying the singletrack trail and nice weather. It seemed that every time our feet dried enough to be called "damp" instead of "soaked," we would reach another crossing where getting wet was inevitable. Greg paying extra attention to his feet, as they tend to be a problem area for him. Mine seemed to be fine, and throughout the race I ended up with no blister or other foot issues. I highly recommend my combination of Injinji toe socks and Chamois Butt'r cream; I've now completed two wet 100 milers with only one tiny blister issue. After the lonely section above Pole Creek, I enjoyed some company to entertain my mind while running through beautiful meadows and canyons.

Just above Sherman we met Greg's girlfriend Cassie, who shouted ahead to a bunch of RMR runners and Kari's crew that we were arriving (in 68th place). Throughout the first 72 miles of the run, it was an extra bonus to be relatively close to both Greg and Kari, allowing me to receive a mental boost each time I went through an aid station. However, I could use better focus in aid stations; postrace analysis shows I spent 2:01 in the 14 aid stations, ranking 64th among runners. [The results actually show 3:01, but thanks to my granddaddy Doug in Virginia for pointing out a results error that implies I spent 1:09 at Kroger's Canteen on top of Virginius pass!] For the most part this time was well spent, but I also remember how many times Karen and the rest of my crew said things like "focus, J, eat!" or something similar.

At Sherman, I was thankful for the assistance of Chris, Kari, Jon, and others who helped me get the food and sock change I needed. Greg left Sherman before I did, and must have climbed the Cinammon Pass road strongly, as I did not see him again until after Grouse. This section was the first of three consecutive major climbs where the dirt road section of the climb gave me trouble. The road was warm and sunny, and I was forced to contend with the (relatively) high vehicular traffic by myself, growing increasingly frustrated at the dust kicked up by some of the more careless drivers. The road seemed like a superhighway compared with the motorless singletrack trail section we had been using for the previous 10+ miles. Finally we reached the Burrows Park aid station, and the turnoff for the Grizzly Gulch trail toward Handies Peak. Unfortunately I forgot to use the bathroom, which resulted in a necessary pit stop midway up the Handies Peak climb, in a less-than-opportune spot.

Once again, I moved well as we ascended the singletrack trail into the alpine, passing a handful of runners as we climbed. The climb from Burrows Park to the summit of Handies Peak 3600' in 4.2 miles, and things cooled significantly as we ascended above treeline and into the Grizzly Gulch basin. The clouds over Handies Peak (14,048') darkened, and a wind blew in, but I was not particularly concerned for the weather. I was late to get on warmer clothes, stopping with Pam to pull on rain pants a few minutes later than we should have. This would have a big impact on the next few sections of my race. About the time I reached the steep section just below the summit ridge of Handies, things got nasty. Snow flew sideways and visibility dropped significantly. Because I was already chilled, I failed to think clearly and eat or drink enough during this section. I carefully made my way up to the broad summit in the stiff wind, then began to move down the trail toward American Basin and what looked like better weather. Sure enough, about 10 minutes down the storm disappeared and Handies reappeared under a beautiful blue sky, along with fantastic views across toward American-Grouse Pass.
snowstorm on Handies

We crossed a bunch of snowfields during the descent toward Grouse Gulch, ensuring my feet stayed wet and cold, even though the rest of my body warmed up nicely. I enjoyed the cruising singletrack descent, and was growing excited to see my crew and pick up my pacer for the night ahead. I was excited to realize I would reach Grouse before dark; mentally this was a huge boost as darkness would surely have slowed my progress into the aid station. I could see Kari coming down the hill behind me, and shared her name with at least two spectators, who apparently did a great job of cheering for her. I could see Eric sprinting along the road to greet me at the trailhead, and remember thinking, "slow down, you've got to help me through the night!" as if one sprint would matter over the course of 40 miles pacing!

I entered the Grouse Gulch aid station (mile 42.1) just as the light began to disappear from the bottom of the valley where it is located, in 62nd place. I greeted Rachel in the car, and then ran down the road to the aid station. I spent only 9 minutes there, although it should have been far longer. My race plan mentioned eating a lot of real food here, and my crew asked me what I wanted, brought me food, and I failed to eat it. I don't remember being in a rush, but apparently I was; this did not set me up well for a good night of climbing. Two good things from this aid station: Glen replaced the batteries in my SPOT for all my adoring fans watching at home (and the crew trying to figure out when I'd reach future aid stations), and my crew did a fantastic job of choosing a location outside the main aid station tent to set up a blanket and chair. I didn't even realize how many people were in the aid station because I never made it up to the main area. I did take a few quesadilla slices for the road.

Hanging with the aid station crew at Engineer
Eric and I headed off up the bumpy road toward Engineer Pass, but we hadn't gone far before I could feel my energy slipping. As darkness fell and I tried to focus on the trail, I couldn't get my mind or body into a good rhythm. It didn't help that almost immediately after we left the aid station, other runners began to pass us, some with pacers and some without. My stomach felt briefly unsettled, but seemed to calm down once we got some ginger and a bit more food into it. Then it didn't want to eat anything, or drink anything. I got a bit chilly again, and hiking uphill didn't seem to be keeping me warm enough. The short version is that it was a long 5 miles to the top of Oh Point Road -- nearly 2 hours and 45 minutes! Upon reaching the top, I didn't feel much like running but was buoyed by the knowledge that it was mostly downhill to the aid station, beginning with an off-trail section. Unfortunately, I slipped in the first ten feet and sat down in the mud. Eventually we made our way down to the Engineer aid station (mile 48.6), located just above treeline, where there was a roaring fire and lots of good solid food to eat. We reached Engineer in 88th place, and results show that I had one of the slowest segments of any runner between Grouse and Engineer -- oops. We spent some time here making sure things were feeling better and food was sitting well before moving downhill toward Ouray. I remember a funny exchange with some of the aid station workers who were giving one guy grief about a certain song he kept playing on the radio. It seemed like a nice, normal campfire hangout, until we kept going.

On the descent toward Ouray, I remember a number of creek crossings, and feeling slightly better as Eric urged me to keep moving. My mental state was helped immensely when we began to pass other runners on this huge downhill portion. From the top of Oh Point Road to Ouray is one of the largest drops on the course, over 5000', and my knees began to feel the toll as we neared town. I was trying to run smoothly and keep things together, but this portion seemed to take forever. Finally we reached the edge of town, where two volunteers cheerfully welcomed us to Ouray and asked if we had crew they could radio ahead to; they seemed very excited when we said yes. I remember feeling grateful for Kari's suggestion earlier in the week that we walk the 5-mile section into Ouray, through town to the aid station, and out the other side. Even though Eric knew the course, I felt comfortable knowing how things would wind through town. We slowly ran the final mile through town, trying to focus on what we needed in the aid station, but I just wanted to take a nap as it was now 1:15 in the morning.

Meggan was waiting at the edge of the Ouray aid station (mile 56.6), and I remember thinking how wonderful her smile was! She escorted us through the busy aid station to a tent where a table was waiting, with my gear all neatly arranged, and my entire crew except Richard and the girls, who were sleeping in a nearby hotel. I was in 72nd place, having passed lots of runners on the descent into town. I remember feeling a bit drunk at this aid station, unable to process anything quickly, and overwhelmed by the lights, noise, and activity inside the tent. I spent 23 minutes in Ouray, which felt strange, probably because we were at the lowest point on the course, 7680'. I know I was slow getting my gloves and last few things ready after visiting the bathroom, but I wanted badly to lie down and sleep. About halfway through the aid station time, I finally processed that since we were 56 miles into the race, we had 44 miles to go, not 54 miles, as my addled brain kept trying to tell me. This was exciting!

We left the aid station and made our way through town, up through the Box Canyon, and onto Camp Bird Mine Road. We briefly called ahead to Kari and Chris, as they had left the aid station only 2 minutes before us, but they quickly disappeared into the darkness with a good pace. Eight miles and 3100' of climbing lay between Ouray and our next stop, Governor Basin. Unfortunately, this first portion on Camp Bird Mine road was another awful section for me, although not quite as bad as the Engineer climb. I stopped several times when it was time for me to eat and simply sat on the dirt road. This was only a problem when a few cars started to come up the road - Eric and I speculated they were peakbaggers headed for the trailhead to nearby Mt. Sherman, a 14er, for an early start. I stumbled along, wondering if we would ever get to the aid station. Unlike the previous climb, there was not a steady stream of runners passing me. While walking past the Camp Bird Mine, we marveled at the fact that miners never sleep as the place was lit up and machinery was working, even at 4am! Eric assured me we were still moving at a good pace, despite my misgivings and desire to sleep. Eventually we reached Governor Basin aid station (mile 64.5, 10780'), where I enjoyed some soup that warmed me and improved my mood.

Ascending Camp Bird Road
Leaving Governor Basin, Eric estimated less than 2 hours to the top of the climb, Virginius Pass and Kroger's Canteen aid station at 13100'. The upper portion of this climb was on a section I had scouted with Chris and Kari the week before, on much more interesting terrain. The sky also began to lighten, and eventually we were treated to a beautiful sunrise.

St. Sophia Ridge

Fueling before the steps to Kroger's
The last half-mile to Virginius Pass includes 700' of gain in three steep "steps," with relatively flat basins in between. We paused briefly to snack and put on our Kahtoola Microspikes, which are invaluable in this type of snowy nontechnical terrain. With the beautiful morning light, and the much more interesting terrain, my mood improved considerably as we labored upward. There was a lot of snow hiking, although good steps had been kicked in anywhere it was steep, and I'm light enough that I rarely postholed as long as I followed the tracks set before me. At the bottom of the third and steepest step, we were greeted with loud cheers from the folks on top. Deep steps were kicked into the snow, and a fixed rope had been set for those who needed extra assistance to ascend the snowfield. With spikes I had no problem, and for some reason felt the need to specifically avoid using the rope. At the top Roch greeted us with a hearty "Welcome to Kroger's!" as the aid station crew sat us down and offered waffles and hot chocolate. Eric even partook of the traditional tequila shot, which Roch served in a tin cup.

Roch at Kroger's Canteen
Kroger's Canteen is no ordinary aid station; begun in 1992, it is barely wide enough for the tarp strung across the gap in the rock face as a windbreak. All supplies are hiked in up the same snow steps we had just ascended, and most of the volunteers were covered in alpine parkas and full winter expedition gear. The temperature was probably not much above freezing, yet these volunteers saw runners from 8:50pm Saturday through 1:55pm Saturday. When we previewed the section the Sunday before Hardrock, Roch was already setting up for the following week, anchoring tarps against the wind, ferrying gear, and kicking steps into the snow to help tired runners. Thanks for the great service!

After leaving Kroger's in 75th place, we were faced with our second huge descent in a row, ~4500' down to Telluride in 5 miles. I felt much better after eating, and with the sunshine pouring down on us we descended fairly quickly toward Telluride. My knees were tired and sore, but no major issues. We had to stop several times on our way to rest, but overall Eric kept the hammer down in front of me. I would have stopped lots more if I'd been solo, but there was no reason to do so except to rest. My descent to Telluride was about 40th fastest in the entire race (most of the faster runners descended in the dark), and I felt good as we came into the town park.

Reaching Telluride aid station (mile 72.7) in 73rd place, we saw Glen and Karen with my stuff set up next to a wall in the park. Turns out the crew had checked my SPOT progress in Ouray and realized we were making very fast progress; these two had jumped in the car right away in hopes of beating us to Telluride, which they just barely did. Meggan, Richard, and the girls did not make it in time; I hoped they were sleeping well but that wasn't entirely true!

I had a breakfast burrito, did a nearly full change of clothes, and felt refreshed and ready for the last 28 miles when we left the Telluride aid station. As we climbed toward the Wasatch Basin, the skies darkened again and we were nailed by a hard, cold rainstorm. Greg and Cassie stood with us right underneath a steep cliff trying to avoid a little of the deluge. They pulled out their emergency blanket to keep their legs warm, and I was about to do the same when the rain slowed a bit and we decided
Ascending Wasatch Basin after the rain
we had to keep moving up toward Oscar's Pass. Once again, the San Juan mountains impressed as the weather cleared and we hiked up through beautiful flowers and snowfields. My energy was still low, I really wanted to sleep (which seemed weird this late in the day), and I was getting whiny until Eric chastened me, "Jason, let it go." That comment (good pacer work!) somehow allowed me to focus and lock onto Eric's pace for the remainder of the climb, through a bunch of snowfields where we later heard many racers got lost. Eric's knowledge of the course was very helpful here, as he guided about 8 total runners and pacers across the Wasatch Saddle and across the snow basin to Oscar's Pass. This potentially confusing section was simple and fun for me, especially as we reached a short, steep downhill section. Others paused, but Eric stepped right to edge, jumped into a fantastic glissade, and stood up perfectly next to the trail...then his forward momentum nearly caused him to faceplant in the snow. Like any good runner, I followed my pacer over the "cliff"...and so did everyone else.

Descending Oscar's Pass
Standing at the top of Oscar's Pass (13,140'), I thought how lucky we were to not be climbing up the steep trail. I was excited to see Chapman aid station just at the bottom of the hill. Then we actually started running down the technical, rocky path, and I wished we were climbing! I do remember thinking, while looking down at Chapman, that once there I would have only 18 miles to go, and that meant I was very likely going to finish Hardrock. My knees were definitely sore, and the trail was so steep, dropping 3000' in less than 3 miles, that walking made no sense. One last tough section for Eric to pull me through, and then we were on the very muddy road through the aspen forest, which led to the aid station and my entire crew! There was a rockslide on the pass leading to the aid station during the week of the run, and I wasn't sure if the entire crew would be able to make it far enough up the road.

Ready to leave Chapman - 18 to go!
Arriving at Chapman aid station (mile 82.1) in 78th place, someone commented that I looked better than many of the other runners there. I'm not sure if that was true, but it was a great feeling to be off the crazy descent, and to know only two major climbs remained, and that they were shorter than the previous two! I had been quizzing Eric annoyingly during the last few miles to be sure I had the next part right in my head. Randy was there and ready to go, but I made extra certain to do a sock change, and be sure I had all necessary gear in my pack. I was super excited and felt like I was ready to move (relatively) quickly if possible, enjoy the scenery, and get to the finish line. When we left it was awesome to say, "See you in Silverton!"

After crossing the creek on a nice sturdy bridge (yay dry feet for a little while!), Randy and I moved up the hill at a good pace, quickly catching and passing a number of runners. Initially I was concerned we were going too fast, but I realized that my body felt better, and my mind was strong as we reached treeline and had fantastic views of waterfalls, and back across the valley to Oscar's. Randy's enthusiasm for the scenery really helped to keep my spirits up during this section. I passed along an observation Eric had made, that my tired lungs seemed to repeat the following involuntary pattern each time I needed to cough: "cough, cough (pause) cough-hiccup!" This struck Randy as funny, and he laughed every few minutes for the remainder of the run as my body continued this strange phenomenon.

Randy leading the way up to Grant-Swamp Pass
The top section of Grant-Swamp Pass has a reputation as very steep and filled with loose rock. Many runners waste a lot of energy struggling up this section, and we happened to be near a runner-pacer pair who had raced up it two years ago when a sudden storm had entered the valley behind it. This did not help my confidence, but once we reached the last pitch I simply followed Randy's footprints and made my way slowly but steadily up to the pass. I was helped by the cheers of three RMR runners who had hiked to the top with Kia the dog! We snacked briefly before heading down into the amazing Island Lake Basin, where the lake was still mostly frozen. Before last year's Hardrock, Eric took a picture of himself contemplating the scenery at Island Lake, and I have had this picture as my computer background since the lottery in December. I was excited to form my own mental image of this beautiful scene, as I tried to descend as smoothly as possible an yet another steep, rocky trail.
Island Lake

We ran and chatted as we descended the trail to the Kamm Traverse, an open, flat trail that slowly drops toward the South Fork of Mineral Creek. I remember this section as being fun, and peaceful. We saw a few other runners, but generally were alone as we continued, pausing every 20 minutes as Randy's watch reminded me to eat. Typically food is more difficult to consume at higher elevations, but Eric and I had noticed that it was difficult for me, a thin person with high metabolism by nature, to consume enough calories to keep my energy up. Thankfully Randy is used to setting an alarm for his own food, so even though I groaned at having to eat again so soon, I was grateful for the reminders to get something in my stomach. Several times I complained about it, and Randy actually stopped to make me eat. Good pacing, again! We dropped to the KT aid station, having run the Chapman-KT 45th fastest segment in the race, and still feeling good. We spent only 7 minutes in the aid station, eating some soup, before running down the slick grass path to the South Mineral Creek crossing. Kari and I had scouted this crossing earlier in the week, so I had no concerns about the water level as long as it wasn't flashing from the day's rainstorms.

We crossed the water easily, then covered our feet in crazy mud as we worked up the last major climb. I felt strong but was definitely excited for the finish to come and the chance to stop moving forward. It was taking forever to reach the Putnam aid station via Porcupine Creek and Cataract-Porcupine Pass, another thunderstorm was moving in, and then we realized we still had to climb 500 more feet up to the Putnam-Cataract Ridge. Because of the impending storm, I tried to move as quickly as possible after putting on my rain gear and gloves yet again. I was thankful that rather than talk much, Randy stayed slightly ahead so I had no choice but to keep moving and follow him. Somewhere in this area, my GPS battery died, which was unfortunate because I'd specifically charged it while climbing Engineer using a portable charger. I'd failed to realize I would need to charge it again to make it through the full race. Oh well, live and learn; I have a great GPS track of the first 93 miles of Hardrock now. Eventually we crested the ridge and made our way through the rain down into the Putnam Basin, where we witnessed a fantastic rainbow.
We moved quickly down to the Putnam aid station, having run the KT-Putnam section about 40th-fastest in the race!

At Putnam aid station (mile 94.7), I was definitely ready to be finished, and was disappointed to see they didn't have much in the way of real food. Or even gels to take with me, since I'd run out (must've miscalculated how many I'd need). I took a few things, confirmed Randy was ready to go, and moved on pretty quickly. The sign at the aid station said we had 5.6 miles to the finish, which didn't sound like much, even though I did the math based on how fast we were going and realized it could still be 2 hours. It was more difficult than I thought not having my GPS to tell me pace, or distance. I rely on that knowledge more than I realized; particularly the positive reinforcement of how quickly I was moving would have been helpful at this point in the race. We cruised downhill, still eating frequently thanks to Randy's watch, although my knees were making my run not super comfortable. We passed one runner on the descent, then nearly caught another just before the river crossing, which helped me feel better as it began to get dark. It felt weird to run for so long below treeline.

We could hear the cheering for a few minutes beforehand, but at last we reached Mineral Creek, emerged from the forest, and heard Glen's shout as we began crossing the creek. The water was moving quickly, and my tired legs struggled to hold against the current. I used the fixed rope to help me, and about 2/3 of the way across grabbed on with a second hand to be sure I made it across without falling. The water felt very cold, and coupled with the falling darkness was quite a shock to my system. Then Randy did one of the craziest things imaginable at this point: he actually sped up. I protested (cold feet, tired, chest tight and wheezing from the altitude), but then realized that I could actually run. Since the trail wasn't nearly as steep as it had been, this felt better to my legs.

With 2 miles to go, I was going to do it. Not only was I going to finish Hardrock, but we were now racing as if our lives depended on it. It was dark, but we didn't stop to put on headlamps. I knew we had plenty of time to finish under 40 hours. I knew my entire crew and lots of others would be there cheering. Most importantly at the time, I knew I wouldn't be facing a second night. Stopping to get out our headlamps now seemed silly; after all, this is why I do a regular Wednesday night run in Boulder. Running at night is second nature, especially on a comparatively nontechnical trail, in good weather, with a friend to follow! We passed three runners after the creek crossing, and I apologize now to each of them because I think we may have scared them, approaching quickly with no lights on.

I run because it's fun, and this section will forever be one of my favorite memories from Hardrock 2015. It was exhilarating to be running hard, through the dark woods, with a friend, toward the finish line, and closure of a huge milestone in my life. As we descended the last tiny trail and reached 10th Street in Silverton, we saw Eric waiting under a streetlight, and ran the few blocks to the finisher's chute together. I said thanks to them both (if I didn't at the time, I meant to, Eric and Randy!). As seems to happen at these events, my pacers seemed to disappear as we turned the corner facing the finish line, and there were my girls. Meggan, Rachel, and Ava approached the Hardrock with me. I leaned over and kissed the rock, and it was over. Finish time 39:22:54. I would not have made it without support from so many - Thank You!

Time for hugs, smiles, pictures, laughter, food, sleep. Congrats to the 2015 Hardrock Hundred Finishers.

Someday I will post a link with more pictures.

1 comment:

  1. Well done my friend! It was thrilling even watching from computer-land as you slowly reeled in the finish rock.