Yes, folks, this is a long one! So long that it needs its own preamble (pre-amble, hmm... I didn't do that on purpose, I swear). You may have heard that I finished one of the biggest races of my life, certainly the hardest solo race I've done, although it wasn't without lots of help. So it's only fitting that I have a ton to express in my race report. As with many races, my race reports stem from a selfish effort, but if we're lucky a couple other people will get a little something out of it too.
I had heard of the Hardrock 100 mile ultrarunning race many years ago. It sounded extremely difficult, but maybe if I finished a bunch of other 100's first I would be able to determine if I should try it someday. It also sounded a bit crazy. 100 miles at 8,000 to 14,000 ft elevation, up and down steep trails (and off trails), 33,000+ feet of climb, in occasionally dangerous conditions. Yeah...right.
So I went and ran several 100's, learning a lot from each and especially from the one I didn't finish. I also gained valuable experience with gear, clothing, training, and endurance in 50-milers and 100k's, 24-hour rogaines and adventure races, plus a few expedition adventure races and two journeys on foot from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean Sea (successfully the 2nd time).
In an expedition race in the San Juan Mountains in the early 2000's, our team was on the last section of the race with a walk down Bridal Veil Basin toward a rappel at the falls. We saw a runner coming toward us - running UPHILL - we learned he was training for Hardrock. That left us stunned and amazed (and in all fairness, our mental state was generally stunned and amazed at that point in the race, but since the impression remained after the race I have to believe it was real). It turns out that you don't HAVE to be quite so superhuman to finish Hardrock, i.e. running up the hills is not required. But it doesn't hurt.
Me = not superhuman. So instead I worked on being prepared. John gained entry into the race in 2008 and 2010, so I joined him for trail marking, trail work, crewing, and managing Putnam Aid Station in 2009. In 2010 I was so grateful to get to pace him from Ouray to Cunningham during his most amazing Hardrock performance; we both look back on that race and smile. In the past 3 years I had done basically everything except actually run the race myself.
February 2011. I got in. I got in?? I got in!!!
Time to get serious! I climbed the equivalent of the 33k+ elevation gain every 4-5 weeks, getting to know various Catskills trails and mountains. Also two 50-mile races and the Massanutten 100 (MMT100) - it was a lucky lottery year for me! - and a 24-hour orienteering event. I learned something with every race, made adjustments, planned, strategized.
My list of "things to watch" (concerns? worries? things to work on?):
- Obviously not something I could do anything about from New York state, although I did research altitude sleeping tents briefly. I used all my vacation to head to Colorado two weeks before the race and climb 14ers with John. I hoped my previous Colorado summers would speed up acclimation (seemed to!). I took iron pills and ate spinach, in case that might help. Otherwise I tried not to fret as spring passed at sea level.
- Blister issues in the last miles of MMT100 caused some concern. Hardrock isn't as rocky overall, but I knew I would have wet feet for up to 48 hours - great input from John. I went after my feet with pumice and a conditioner concoction, I started doing all my long runs with wet feet, and I ended up with pretty much brand new skin and zero callouses. Still... you never know.
- Downhill knee pain at the Bull Run Run resulted from bombing down everything right from the start. I stopped doing that (duh - except I love doing that). I also learned I had to get out of the stairwell - I was using the 4 flights at work for stair climbing repeats (36 times up and down for 2000 feet of climb) which worked great in the winter but didn't translate to downhill fitness. I restarted my knee strengthening exercises and taking glucosamine. I had learned a lot about knees in the Grande Traversee des Alpes, and I again put it all to bear.
- I'm not a strong climber by nature, but I've learned that my body will adapt if I focus on it. Lots of uphills, weekly hill repeats (multiple 100-foot climbs, anyone?), 8-10 hours on weekends doing long repeats in the Catskills. This isn't the Rockies, but still I had to be thankful I wasn't trying this in central Texas. Climbing 14ers for a week was a nice flourish at the end.
- This one showed up the week before the race and scared me a bit. The day before I left New York a coworker mentioned he might have strep. WHAT? What are you doing at work? I was so glad that didn't pass over to me, but my throat was scratchy off and on leading up to the race. I hoped like heck that it was just a side effect from the dry air (not one I normally have, but you never know).
- Lightning, hail, pouring rain, freezing cold, blazing sun, snow, ice, bears, mountain lions, moose, scree, cliffs, rocks, mud, Virginius, Bear Creek, Grant Swamp, sunburn, cracked lips, ankle injuries, stomach problems, getting lost, lack of sleep, and last but certainly not least the high water creek crossings... (sign here)
On my side: John, Kathy, Bob, Ann, Scott, Jason, Shauna, Kelly, Ryan (a fellow runner - go Ryan!); a huge number of runners we know along with their crew and pacers; folks like Jim and Sue who were helping run the race; countless friends and family watching online and rooting for me. With all that positive energy, I knew I had a fighting chance.
(John is a lot of great things, but we figured out early on that he wasn't cut out to be our official race photographer)
Howdy from Silverton, CO! Let's get this thing started :)
Start to Cunningham
I wish I could have slept a little better, but I stuck with my decaf morning coffee because I figured I would be awake soon enough, and I would really appreciate the caffeine jolt a whole lot more the following day. Standard race prep - dress, sunscreen and lube, banana, pre-race Spiz, make sure I have everything in my pack. Catch a ride a couple blocks to the start, isn't that funny? :)
Gotta check in by 5:45 am, check. No last-minute drama this year, from me or anyone else.
Kathy helped me set up a Twitter account for the race, thanks Kath! One last "tweet" before I head out and my crew takes over, captured on film for posterity. Also note the amazing miner-themed crew hat that Kathy and Bob found for John - wow, is all I can say, just wow, I about fell on the floor when they came home with it the day before:
Hanging out with Steve:
Greg is ready to go:
Me and Ryan, hoping for a great race for both of us:
Lined up and ready:
Wow, people are really running:
I started way in the back - no sense in getting overly excited about this just yet:
Can't resist including this gem:
I took it easy along the first trail, just getting my feet under me and taking the time to avoid mud and puddles and finding easy but not-too-wet ways across the little creeks. I was completely aware that my feet would soon be wet from the first creek crossing, but I wanted to give my feet as much of a break as I could early on.
I hung out with a few folks at the back, letting one guy go by so I could stop for a potty break. I was officially in last place, cool!
As I got warmed up and running a bit, I started passing a couple folks here and there. Nothing that took much energy - there was plenty of jeep road and steep uphill in the near future. I briefly saw Kathy, plus Kristina whom I'd met in the parade. I chatted a bit with Allan who had just got in the race from the wait list.
The first creek crossing was simple (calf deep?) but dang chilly. Wooo! Time to walk uphill and warm up the toes. I focused on my poles and posture and got to work. Along the way up the road I passed a couple people here and there, enjoying the chance to meet new folks and greet people I knew and smile and say good morning. My arm warmers were perfect, keeping me warm in the shade and then hanging out around my wrists if I got a bit hot.
Up on the singletrack trail I briefly started across a snow bank until I noticed the word "NO" written into it. That's a word that will get your attention (especially if you've ever trained dogs). I looked around and saw an arrow written in the snow pointing left. OK then. Other runners were a ways above me, but I had not seen how they got up there. I followed the arrow, found a trail, and eventually found a race marker. I looked below and saw that going forward would have taken me to a pretty lake - another time, I guess.
More uphill work, listening to my breathing and feeling OK with it. I tried to breathe deeply and stay relaxed, not let my heart rate get too high. This first climb was just a test for me, and so far everything seemed to be working. And here's the top! I chatted with a couple more ladies along the top of the ridge, Jennifer and a woman I don't know.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a clear trail along the sometimes snow-covered and sketchy traverse. I had heard from a racer named Jeff that it shouldn't be too bad, and it was so easy I started to wonder if all the trail condition reports (snow, snow melt, mud, wetness, high creeks) had been exaggerated. OK, I knew they had not been, but it was fun to hope for a short time.
Downhill time! And it's a steep one. I eased downward, using the poles, still going faster than a few people but not trying to. I was patient and most folks got out of the way when they saw me coming. It was a bit too technical for my tastes up top, but eventually it turned into a nice trail that I could run here and there when I wasn't climbing over random rocks.
What a beautiful morning - gorgeous Colorado splendor. Waterfalls, snow patches, blue sky, green hills. Right here, right now, there is no other place I'd rather be. It was about as close to "in the moment" as I have come, no problems, no worries, just being there on that hillside. So lovely.
Eventually I could see over the edge down to the aid station so I waved my poles in case anyone could see me. There was lots of cheering as most the field passed through the aid station ahead of me. Out of the sunshine into still-morning shadow, across one more switchback. I tripped slightly and caught my pole on my right leg, nothing that would have stayed with me except a) I felt silly stumbling in front of the biggest crowd of the race and b) it put a small mark on my leg. A battle scar! The last time I had one of those I had an excellent race (and at least this one wasn't bleeding). Things were looking up :)
My chair awaiting my arrival - with some new "rockin'" duckies - sweet!
People watching for runners:
Kathy or Bob took this beautiful shot - I love it. Our trail came down to the right of the waterfalls:
Not blazing fast but I'll get there:
Kathy was waiting for me at the creek crossing, and she mentioned that it was a bit deep and fast. Good to know - I got focused and worked my way across carefully. Another creek crossing down, so far nothing out of the ordinary.
My crew went to work like it was a pit stop in a car race! Before I knew it, both bottles were filled, I had a resupply of Spiz packed, I drank my Gookinaid and Ensure, and I was ready to go again. That was fast! Too fast for the duckies to hang on to their perches, they were flying everywhere:
John walked out with me and I told him I was feeling great. And Hi Jim! (the guy with the vest and clipboard):
It was a very nice start to a long race. Time to get back up high for a while.
Cunningham aid station = 2:57 total time, approx 122nd place (of 140 starters)
Cunningham to Sherman
From the Cunningham aid station, I started up the trail on the other side. At that moment I was pretty happy to be going around the course in the counter-clockwise direction... I didn't have to go UP what we had just come down, and I also don't enjoy going DOWN the stuff we were now heading up. I wasn't sure if I wouldn't appreciate the course direction as much later in the race, but for now I was enjoying it.
I heard a crowd of folks on the road below yell, "GO JOE!" and I thought to myself, huh, I guess Joe is up here somewhere. Then I heard "GO MARCY!" which made me laugh. Joe P. turned around right above me to say "hey I know you" - which made me laugh again. Joe has taught us so much about Hardrock and we owe him a lot in the grand scheme of the whole experience. It was great to get to see him actually on the course now.
He seemed to be climbing well and doing good. He's a real downhill specialist, so when he let me go ahead of him I figured I would see him again on the other side of the mountain. I passed a few more guys on the way up the hill, and I got to start liking that. I passed the spot where I had sat to watch John zoom up the opposite hillside in the race last year. That made me smile.
I had one brief moment where I questioned the course direction, but it seemed like we needed to go up the steep nose and sure enough there was a flag up above. More than once (many times, actually), I really appreciated having seen the course before. One less thing to worry about, one more little bit of confidence here and there. Huge thanks to Charlie for all the trail marking parties!
Into a bit of a valley, the trail finally leveled off for a short distance. That was a nice relief. I knew the worst was ahead - steep grunt climbs off-trail straight up the side of the hill. Repeat. And then once more up the biggest bear to the top. There was a bit of snow at the bottom, then just walking up the tundra and putting one foot in front of the other for a while. I even switchbacked it slightly (I think I just verbed a noun) to make it slightly less intense. On the bright side, the scenery was spectacular!
I got to say "Guten Morgen" to a racer I believed (hoped) was German - he was, so that went well. Climb, climb - finally at the top, phew. A couple of spectators told me that they hadn't seen many women in front of me. Well, there were only 16 of us and I had already passed 5 of them (actually 6, as I didn't know yet that I had also passed Deb somewhere but didn't see her). I told them that the problem was most of the rest were really fast so it didn't matter much. And in fact, I didn't see another woman racer from Cunningham to the end.
A bit of snow down to a dirt road crossing, then up the other side. I saw Marty waiting for someone, sitting on a rock. There was more snow along the next trail but nothing I wasn't used to after climbing 14ers recently. As long as the sun has been on the snow for a while, the main potential problem is post-holing, and we didn't have too much of that here.
Near the top I saw a guy we know named John who was out running around the course (not a racer) just checking it out, so that was cool. I managed a quick potty break in a sheltered spot before the next guy came around the corner, then a bit more climbing to the next ridge.
From there I could see a couple runners trying to figure out how to get down a huge overhanging snowfield in the distance. That seemed odd in a couple ways, so I paused to try to understand it. I noticed a course marker off to the right of where I was standing, so I moved over to check it out. From there it was obvious that I needed to drop down immediately and not continue on the ridge like those runners. It wasn't an easy turn to catch, so I was glad to hit it the first time.
The downhill into Maggie's aid station is a bit rough, although again I was glad not to be going in the other direction here. Plenty of mud, wet grass, snow, not really a trail, just follow the markers wherever they wander. I hung with a couple guys, not really pushing down the hill but not going gingerly about it either.
Then the trail markers led to an actual creek that we had to wade across - what? I totally don't remember that part. I need to ask John about that. So my feet were back to being wet, but what do I expect really?
Maggie aid station = 5:28 total time, approx 100th place
(It is rather astonishing to note that only 4 people who came into this aid station after me also finished the race, considering that I felt like I was no longer at the very back of the pack)
At the aid station they helped me fill a Spiz baggie with water and I grabbed a bit of watermelon, yum! I walked out with a couple other guys, one who I think was named Dennis. He had some interesting foot placements, very flexible and seemingly able to step on anything in just about any direction. It was a bit strange following him, because I certainly can't do that, and I'm used to walking in my teammates' footsteps that work more like mine.
A group of us crested the short climb to the Continental Divide. It was neat thinking about the Tour Divide bike race a couple of our friends were in the process of finishing (go Sheilas!) and how at least they would not have had to come over this pass on their bikes. More snow now, a lot more than in 2010, but I hear last year was drier than normal. A bit of sneaker-skiing, running, jumping over the edge of the snow field to try to keep from thunking down in the softest stuff.
I was just running along when hey there's Ryan! He showed up out of nowhere, and it was great to say Hi! He turned around with his camera and snapped my picture, too funny!
I would have been happy to chat for a bit, but he stepped aside and told me I was moving quicker than he thought he needed to at that point. In fact, I wondered if I was the one now moving too quickly, as I was feeling great and still passing people and having a grand ole' time. On one hand, this could blow up on me later for sure. On the other hand, John had always stressed that moving faster usually increases your odds out here. Weather-related crap can always happen, and the further you are on the course when it does, the better off you'll be.
While I was pondering all this, I got a bit ahead of Ryan. I saw some guys in the willows across the way, then noticed a flag going to the left at a small creek crossing. I yelled to them that they were on the wrong trail, so they cut over to me. Turns out their trail was in better shape than the one I was one, sorry 'bout that :) I turned around to motion to Ryan to watch for flagging at the creek, but he couldn't hear me over the water noise so hopefully I didn't confuse him too much. I was just causing more trouble trying to do good!
Mud, water, willows, mud, water, field, a bit of a dry stretch, then a real muddy spot that was even wet last year so at least I knew it was coming. There was thunder in the distance, then all of a sudden it started hailing. The good thing is that it was coming from our backs. The back of my legs and neck didn't appreciate this upside. Ouch, ouch. I checked my watch and decided I didn't need to try to stay dry this time - plenty of drying time available this afternoon.
The storm eventually blew over, thank goodness. Side-of-the-hill running, I was just running when I felt good and walking when I wanted. I had an idea when I might come into the next aid station based on the fast end of my estimated splits, and I pretty much hit that right on, so that was nice.
Pole Creek aid station = 6:38 total time, approx 93rd place
The aid station folks again were great, very helpful. They even had a whole beautiful spread of options across a card table, all organized and easy to choose from. I told them I was impressed - it's not easy for the remote aid stations to set up something that nice. Believe me, I've tried!
I got moving after about 3 minutes, heading down to another creek crossing. I could see runners on the trail ahead of me as I crossed the easy creek. A bit of a steep section, and then back and forth over and in another little creek. John and I had tried to divert a side creek from flowing over the trail during trail marking last year, but obviously those efforts were completely fruitless.
Coming out into a big valley, I recalled the wonderful calm morning I had had last year while pacing John. Good memories, putting me in a good mood. In fact, it hit me that being there was rather surreal - this is a feeling I had several times during the race. Having been on the course in various ways over the past 3 years, now being there actually DOING THE RACE, it was hard to understand sometimes.
Then another storm blew in, breaking my reverie and this time dropping rain in such a fashion that I decided to get covered up. Before it hit I stopped to drink Spiz, dump rocks from my shoes, and then again to get out my little poncho to ward off some of the rain.
A couple guys passed me, but eventually the pack got rather spread out across the valley. It was probably good there wasn't anyone near me, as my plastic poncho was blowing all around and making a tremendous racket in my ears. Or maybe that's why no one was near me. Or maybe it only sounded loud to me. These were the things I pondered.
I was also hoping not to have to deal with lightning over the next Divide crossing, but I figured it was still a ways ahead and by then the sun would be back. That's pretty much what happened. Top of the climb, yay! Sunshine again, yay!
I passed a group of folks and one of them mentioned that I was an adventure racer - I wonder if that was Robert but I didn't stick around to chat. I was feeling good again and having a fine time along the high meadows. I passed "Marmot Rock" but didn't see or hear any of the furry creatures. Down to the willow bog, a brief question about the trail crossing the creek, then I found markers again going around a rock pile.
It was nice getting into the woods for a while, and I wondered how warm the afternoon would get. I was also getting low on water, having misunderestimated just a bit at the previous aid station. I was too low on the mountain to be real excited about pulling water from the creek, and also uninspired to stop to treat it. I figured I could handle it for the downhill run.
So I probably would have felt a little better on this downhill if I had been better hydrated, but as it was it seemed to go on a bit longer than was comfortable. I guess it was going to stop being all fun and games sometime :)
A guy I believe is named Chris came bombing past me on the downhill, not sure how he got behind me for that matter. Switchbacks, nice trail, enjoyable afternoon, making plans for the next aid station because I need to pee and I need some water...
Finally there was the trail register - almost there! The Sherman aid station, I knew, absolutely rocks. They started with menu signs posted on trees so you can work up your order on the way in. Fruit smoothies - gotta try me one of those!
I crossed a beautiful bridge and there was the aid station, awesome.
Sherman aid station = 9:15 total time, approx 89th place
Sherman to Grouse
I'll try not to go on and on about the awesomeness of the Sherman aid station... It started when one guy was assigned just to me - he found me a seat in the shade and asked what I wanted. I started with a cup of water and a trip to the bathroom (the best bathroom on the course, thank you). Then we sat together so he could take my order. My drop bag was already laid out on the table, including my little note to myself tucked in front where I could see it. These folks are professionals.
He filled my bottles and brought the promised fruit smoothie (yes, yum!) and some banana and watermelon. I put my backup headlamp in my bag (because I was doing OK but not on supersonic pace), plus my waterproof jacket and a couple pieces of warmer clothing. John had convinced me not to carry my jacket from the start, but I wasn't giving it up from now on. I changed socks for the first time, ahh how nice. Dry feet were in the forecast for the near future and I looked forward to that.
The aid station guy (I should have asked his name) asked what else I needed, and I started trying to explain the Spiz baggie and decided just to ask him to bring a pitcher of water so he could fill the baggie while I held it. That worked, and I was pretty much ready to go. Transitions would be a bit longer from here on, but there were too many important things to prepare for so I just tried to be efficient about it.
I looked across the way and saw Steve and Mark hanging out, plus I got to chat with Rick T. who was walking around talking to and helping people, so that was cool. Steve told me I was on a 39-hour pace or something, to which I replied that was only leeway for later. Right before I left, another runner staggered in and was about to be seated at my table. He told the lady that he was feeling the effects of altitude and preferred a quiet corner in case he got sick - OK then, I'll be walking outta here. I did appreciate his manners even when he wasn't feeling well.
One other story, then I really need to get going. At the medical check-in on Wednesday, the guy asked my age. Um, ... 41? This isn't something I keep close track of, obviously. His assistant asked when I was born, and we determined that I'm actually 42, heh. Then they asked where I'm from, another tough question. New York? Texas? I made up my mind to really know these answers in case I got grilled by medical personnel on the course.
So when a woman stopped by my table at Sherman and asked how old I was (her excuse was that "you look much younger!") - I made sure to check the info on my wristband before answering. I then noted that my super-helper was wearing an "EMT" shirt too. I think I had enough mental proficiency to actually use the phrase "mental proficiency" with him, so he let me continue...
And now it really is time to get going. After 15 super-useful minutes, I started walking/jogging down the dirt road. One short/steep trail climb and I was up on the jeep road toward the Handies trailhead. As much as I appreciated the gentle grade, occasional shade, dry feet, and beautiful day, I wasn't excited about this section. 4WD vehicles kept passing us in both directions, mostly driven by considerate folks but they couldn't keep all the dust and noise away. I was glad for some wind that swept most of it away fairly quickly and made it bearable.
One lady stopped to ask if we were related to the big tent on the other side of the mountain and were we doing a race? I think so and yes - she wished me luck, that was nice. A crew car passed me heading back over (one of the biggest reasons I wish runners would ask their crew NOT to come over to Sherman), then I saw it stop next to the runner up ahead of me. Eventually the car moved on, and I caught up to the guy. He asked me if they had offered me a ride - what? No, and that's weird. They told him "no one will ever know" (well, except me who would have seen him get in). He speculated that he must look in worse shape than me. I should have replied (my typical week-late rejoinder) that he must look a lot more attractive than me, actually. So that was strange.
I walked/ran up the road and was pleasantly surprised to reach the trailhead fairly quickly. A woman tried to direct me to the trail, but I ran by her to the restrooms for a quick break, nice timing. Then over the bridge to the stash of water jugs so I could refill my bottles before the long climb up the mountain. Steve and Mark passed me approximately here.
Time for a long climb - this one starts steep, but at least we were back in the woods mostly. My legs were getting tired, which seemed a little early to me but what do I know really? A couple guys passed me moving well, and I even got to help one of them get his backpack zipped back up. When I could eventually see the top of Handies Peak there were blue skies and sunshine above it. I remarked to myself that it would have been really nice to be there right now - not so much to get the climb over, but because it was perfect weather for being up high. All I could do was what I could do to get there and hope for the best from the skies.
I passed Steve who seemed to be having some kind of stomach issue, but the only thing we talked about was "3000 feet" - how much more climb remained before getting to the top. That actually turned out to the really useful (and not demoralizing) info for me. I converted it to meters and calculated that I might be able to get to the top by 7:30 pm. That should work for getting to Grouse not too much after 9 pm.
I was now moving slower than I had originally estimated, but this was actually a somewhat calculated move to try to let my legs recover a bit. I started to worry that I would run out of climbing power, like at Jemez last year which had been my first race at altitude for the summer. Not being able to climb would be a huge challenge in finishing Hardrock, so I needed to give up a bit of time to try to keep that from happening.
Eventually I made it above treeline, amusing myself by watching runners way ahead making their way up the slopes. I noted a group going straight up a snowfield, and others going up rocks to the right. That should be interesting. The trail started crossing little creeks and muddy spots, nothing too bad. I ended up with one wet shoe, but at least I could use the same shoe to get wet each time.
I came to the creek crossing where I wanted to fill a bottle - John and I had scouted it out and used it last year. The alternate creek didn't look nearly as orange this year, I imagine due to all the rushing snowmelt. But I still liked this creek the best. So I paused, moved water around and filled a bottle, dropped in a Micro-pur tablet, and was getting my stuff back together when another runner walked up to chat. We ended up taking turns following each other up the next section, neither moving particularly fast but both of us working as methodically as we could.
He was also wearing headphones, so he didn't say much (not that I was talking either), but at times I would turn around and he would smile at me so I'd smile back. That was so refreshing - most people were so focused or in a daze that I didn't see any reaction. I liked this guy's smile. He turned out to be Doug from Hawaii, very nice to meet you.
The photos in this section are all courtesy of Doug - thank you so much!
Up near the snowfield I paused to check the course markings. A couple years ago John and I had looked for an alternative to the snowfield in case either of us ever came upon it frozen over in the middle of the night. He helped me find an alternate way down some rocks and a bit of scree. And this year the course was actually using the "Marcy Reroute" - so, cool! I followed markers straight up the dirt slope. OK, this reroute was more intended in the downhill direction in my mind - uphill is kind of rough going straight up.
Almost to the ridge, a group of hikers were coming down and they seemed a bit excited, hopping down the mountain while singing "Come Sail Away" - the sane guy in front kind of apologized and I told him they may have some altitude loopiness going on (I'm quite familiar with this myself). No matter, the "music" was fun and they were considerate in passing me on their descent.
The wind picked up and the clouds started looking a bit ominous. No time to rest. Except I did stop to put on my jacket, buff, and overmitts. By the way, these overmitt things ROCK! Our friend Jeff suggested them for winter running, and I just happened to see them while packing for Colorado. They weigh almost nothing (1 oz per pair), so I even threw them in my running pack. It turns out they are da bomb for keeping hands warm. I put them on over my bike gloves whenever my hands got a bit chilly, and they kept my hands completely toasty and dry even in rain and wind and hail. Big and easy to use, worked fine with my poles, and my only concern was not letting them blow away when I took them off. Jeff had emphasized how you're stuck not being able to do anything if your hands are too frozen to function, and I took it to heart and boy did it work! (eVENT rain mitts from Mountain Laurel Designs, hope you don't mind a little plug here and there for the gear that helped me the most)
So I was warm enough heading uphill in the wind, but ohmygosh is it ever steep getting up to the top. Doug was following me now, smiling at me whenever I paused for a breather and looked back to see how he was doing. I couldn't help thinking of the talking dog from the movie "Up", rephrasing it to "His name is Dug, I have just met him, and I like him." Deep breathing, a few more steps, choose a trail among the options through the loose stuff, breathe, step, breathe, step. I started adding a slight pause after each step, just enough to mostly keep moving even though it was really slow.
Finally, finally, we made it to the top of the last steep pitch! I turned around to watch Doug clamber up so we could high five, yay! Wow, Handies had sure kicked my butt. We hustled over to the actual top of Handies to take pictures with Doug's camera. Dark clouds loomed, but at least there was no lightning, and it was even not quite 7:30 pm yet.
We started down the other side, which normally is rather bare but made easier by the rain packing down some of the loose dirt. I was ready to get lower where there was more oxygen and some shelter from the wind. I looked over to American Basin - holy cannoli, look at all that snow! It was as white as I'd ever seen it (in my limited experience here).
I ran carefully down the switchbacks, so thankful not to have any lightning issues up here. Some folks not long later were not so lucky, yikes, but everyone made it without another Lightning Bob incident this year. Further down I found a rock to squat behind, and further still I found a place to stop and mix a Spiz. There was still some work to do before Grouse.
Doug and I started across the traverse, which this year entailed many snow patches, lots of mud, very little actual "trail" (such as it is anyway), and more than a few challenges. I think Doug had the first busted trekking pole in the race that I saw, bummer. We post-holed a couple times, gave up trying to keep our feet dry, and focused instead on just keeping our feet under us. I was glad to know this section and be aware that it can take a while in the best of conditions.
At least it didn't rain much, that I remember anyway, and it was still light out. We made it around to the last steep climb out of the basin, phew, and started down the long valley toward Grouse. Doug had a radio strapped to the front of his pack and he began trying to reach his support folks at the aid station. I suspected it would still be a while before we'd be in range right above them.
Darkness gained on us, but I was still moving fine without a headlamp. We picked up the pace when we saw lightning and heard some thunder. More running, more lightning. I wasn't worried much about it, more not looking forward to the rainstorm that appeared to be heading in our direction. Running, lightning, thunder. Finally we stopped to get out our headlamps right as the rain seemed to be just on top of us. Yep, there it goes!
We got quite a drenching, slipping and sliding down the trail and trying to see ahead of us with the rain obscuring some of the light and making sparkles in front of my eyes that I sometimes mistook for lightning. I prefer a handheld light, but I wasn't giving up either pole in order to do that. The poles were really what was keeping me from falling on my butt, several times in this section.
The thunder got louder and closer, as we got lower and lower (thank goodness for that), and the rain kept coming down. Finally I could see the aid station lights below us, then a few easy switchbacks to the bottom, yay! Jason was there - Marcy? It's Marcy! It was great to see everyone. My crew whisked me away and Doug went a different direction - it was great travelling with you for a while, see ya!
Some daytime shots from Grouse aid station:
The trail comes down the side of this hill:
Happily, the rain started letting up by the time I arrived!
Grouse aid station = 15:20 total time, approx 84th place
Grouse to Ouray
When I got into Grouse AS, I asked if we could work from inside the tent to stay dry, but when we headed up there it was obviously packed full of runners and folks helping them. I don't even know now if my crew could have joined me, as last year I was allowed in the tent because I was a pacer. So we went back to our chairs where they lifted the tarp off the stuff, and the rain had pretty much stopped and I had a nice dry place to sit. What a great crew! We got so lucky it never rained on us when I was actually with them, and they did a wonderful job handling the weather while waiting for me. Although I am curious what kind of "hold the tarp over Marcy" setup they might have come up with if pressed!
My husband and friends helped me get more clothes on, including tights and a sock change. Ann brought over hot broth and hot chocolate (both were great, I think hot chocolate won out in the showdown). I got my main lights and standard Spiz refill. I think there were more duckies around, but I couldn't tell for sure in the dark.
Seems like I had an idea of what was to come:
John asked (I could tell slightly tentatively) whether I wanted him to accompany me to Ouray, and when I told him I'd be fine without him, he was like "oh thank goodness". Apparently he was dressed for it, underneath a bazzilion other layers - Kathy joked it would have been the slowest Superman change ever. We had already decided that he would be with me on the final section where I was most concerned about the creek crossings. Anything else was just gravy, so no need to risk his later pacing with a little company tonight.
Ready to go, see y'all in a few hours! John walked me up the road for a bit and I assured him that I knew this section and wasn't worried about being by myself tonight. Then the lights and sounds of the aid station faded... slowly... as I continued walking up the road.
For perhaps 20 or 30 minutes it was a wonderful peaceful nighttime walk, and I thought that John would have really enjoyed it. Then it started raining. OK, so much for that. I put up my hood and continued up the dirt road. There were headlamps way ahead and eventually some started popping up behind me too, but mostly I just tried to see the outlines of the mountains around me to get an idea where we were aiming for.
That completely didn't work, especially since I'd forgotten just how far up the road we had to go before the switchbacks would begin. There was a loud rushing creek, forms of trees and hills, headlamps ahead that I couldn't decipher, etc. This road goes a lot faster when you're fresh and pacing Superman downhill. A couple came past me, with one silent person (I guess it was a guy) and a very chipper lady who was unmistakably a pacer. She said a nice hello as they zoomed past.
Quite a while later, past several intersections (with signs and good course markings) I finally did find the start of the switchbacks. That was the good news. The bad news was that it started hailing. And then there was fog - ?? I had to really focus to figure out where the road was going. It wasn't like I was about to walk off of it, but I felt like a robot that was blindly searching for the right way to go while occasionally coming face-to-face with a wall or a drop-off. Turn right or turn left? I had missed "fog" in my list of "Other things to be concerned about"...
So the hail got a bit worse, now coming from one side or the other depending on which direction the switchback was going. The good news was that the fog finally cleared so I didn't have to grope around for the road location any more. The bad news was that it kept getting colder and colder. Such that my standard jacket, buff, and overmitts were just at the limits of being enough, but any colder and I wouldn't be happy about it.
Finally I felt like I was on the final traverse across the top of the switchbacks and I could just about make out the turn in the road up ahead. The hail died down, that was the good news. The bad news was that the wind was now howling something fierce and I was really starting to get cold. I knew that the only solution was to get to the pass and drop down into the next basin and get out of the wind.
A dip in the road, a big rock - finally some landmarks that I knew! I walked the left edge of the road, determined not to miss the marking that would signify the start of the downhill. There's the parking area up ahead, woo hoo! And there was the marker, leading actually more left than I expected, but whatever it takes to get off this road, I'm in.
A couple headlamps came toward me on the road - the runner with chipper pacer lady had missed the turn, bummer. I started down into the basin and then let them by when they caught up to me. It was actually really nice having them just ahead of me, as all 3 of us worked to watch the marking flags and figure out the puzzle of how to get down this hill. They weren't running away from me, I was doing an OK downhill pace, and it was nice to have a little company for a bit.
The good news is that the wind stopped. The bad news is that the footing got really crappy and stayed that way for a while. In the dark it was hard to avoid the really muddy stuff, so we ended up sloshing around here and there. Occasional snowfields punctuated the mud and muck. Then a couple little creek crossings with dang chilly fast-running water. What a mess. The markings took us way around to the right, which seemed a little odd because I thought we had ascended from the middle of the basin last year, but it wasn't something I dwelt on. I had too many other concerns, most related to moving forward and staying on my now-wet and muddy feet.
Yeah, John would not have appreciated this so much. I told him later that there wasn't much he could have helped with, and there was no sense in 2 of us being miserable instead of just 1.
Eventually some lights appeared and there was Engineer aid station, a welcome break from all this work.
Engineer aid station = 18:10 total time, approx 81st place
I didn't stay too long, just enough to refill a Spiz baggie and I think I got some hot chocolate to drink. There was a nice fire, but the smoke was blowing every which way and I wasn't keen on breathing that for too long. There isn't enough oxygen as it is without smoke getting in the way. The folks there were really nice, except for the guy who was obliged to tell everyone that Bear Creek was running higher/faster than normal about a mile down. OK, he was still nice, but my feelings toward him were not kindly ones at that moment. The odd thing is that I don't even remember crossing Bear Creek last year.
I left the aid station, and when I paused for a bathroom break the same runner/pacer couple caught back up to me. She told me to yell if I had any issues with the creek crossing. I appreciated the thought, and worked to stay with them (they were back to moving well again) until we got to the creek. We found the widest/shallowest spot and climbed down the bank. They crossed together and I followed, and I appreciated again that she looked back to check on me.
Now we were on river left, and I knew this could only mean that we'd have to cross back, so I stayed with them until sure enough, there was a 2nd crossing. Same procedure, just being careful and watching out for each other. I thanked them for keeping an eye on me, and was glad to be done with that.
A little ways along, I really had to clear the pebbles out of my shoes, so I paused while they took off for good. Finally I felt like I could relax a bit, at least until the "trail above the cliff" section coming up later. I wasn't cold, well, my feet would warm up again soon, we were back in the trees, no rain or hail, no crazy mud. No fog. I think the moon might even have been out. Oh yeah, the moon was out because I saw it earlier during the hailstorm (and I'm pretty sure I'm not making that up).
So I'm puttering along, running some of the downhill, just minding my own business, when another creek appeared before me. Say what? This wasn't even Bear Creek proper, but a SIDE CREEK pouring down the hillside like a madman. I walked up to it, stared up at the gushing waterfalls to the right, and then turning to look left at the continuation of the waterfalls down to Bear Creek. What in the world is this? And what am I supposed to do with it?
Obviously the two ahead of me had crossed no problem, and I had to believe they didn't think it was crazy dangerous or they might have thought to wait for me (not that they had any responsibility toward me, but the thought might have crossed their minds). There was a flat-ish section where the trail crossed, and a course marking taunting me from the other side. I was mostly concerned about the consequences if I happened to slip and start down the drops - would I be able to hang onto those ice-covered logs? Would anyone know that I was in trouble?
I backed up to think about it, and took a few minutes to drink my next serving of Spiz and ponder. Finally I decided to wait for the next person to show up and we could cross together. So I paced back and forth, checking the creek (yep, still raging), looking back up the trail (no lights yet), back and forth until a light finally appeared.
I asked the very-nice man if he would mind us crossing together, even linking arms if that's OK? He was game, and we stepped into the water. It was a bit deep, but the current wasn't crazy or anything and we had no trouble. We both remarked at about the same time that it looked a lot worse that it was. I heard later that I wasn't the only one given pause by that creek crossing. On the other hand, I wondered at the time whether this gentleman perhaps looked at me as someone who maybe shouldn't be out here on her own, if she can't cross some little creek.
Ah well, I'm probably making that up anyway. I let the man go on ahead until he stopped for something or other and I got to running some of the downhills. I should have asked his name, as I'd sure like to thank him again for his help.
The trail became more familiar, reaching the spot where folks normally do trail work to reinforce a steep bank. It looks like someone has done an awesome job of reinforcement this time, I was impressed with that section. The trail continued higher above the roaring creek, making its way along with some cuts into the cliff. This is the part where you have to be careful with your foot placements, I don't care how fast or nimble you are. It's a (mostly) wide trail but you don't want to test the edges of it.
This is also one of the first places John took me when I started wondering if I could run Hardrock. Here I was, back in the same place actually running Hardrock. Again, surreal. I had been here before, I had spent a whole day on the side of these cliffs doing trail work, I was plenty awake and moving fine, I could certainly get through this again.
That doesn't mean it wasn't still scary, though.
Another landmark, a little bridge over a side ravine. Hey, that one looks way better too, like they put in a whole new awesome bridge. So many things to report to John about. Focus, climb some rocks, around another corner, another trail work spot. Finally I found the new cut-over trail that we had build last year, and it was still there, yay! A couple less feet of elevation gain, mission accomplished.
Some headlamps appeared behind me and eventually a guy named Mike joined me as we rounded the corner and started down the "broken glass" shale (?)-covered switchbacks above Ouray. Mike remembered me from 2009, so we got to talking a bit. Crossing above the road tunnel (which I have to say is one of the coolest trail ideas), I made a brief pit stop and told Mike to go on ahead.
I saw a guy waiting at the road and mistook him for Doug with the radio on his vest - hi Doug! Oops, it was still Mike. That was the first of many mis-identifications I made the rest of the race. I guess I was getting tired. Yep, definitely getting tired. I didn't make up a Spiz because it seemed we were so close to Ouray.
Except that this trail goes on for frickin-ever (those might have been Mike's words, but I'd like to borrow them please). Steep downhill, back uphill, back downhill right next to where we went uphill (why??), more ups and downs than I can count, and I thought we were just looking at the town lights and now it's completely dark again. The only comfort I had was that the race used to cross this creek that was hauling butt right next to me. That would have really been a challenge.
So we were pretty tired by the time we finally did get to town. Mike checked every intersection looking for course markings, and then we saw folks waiting in the darkness up ahead. It was so good to see my peeps!!
Scott raced (I mean really ran!) on ahead to let everyone know we were coming, and I walked with John and told him he should be really glad he got to drive around that section!
I made it, hip hip Ouray!
Ouray aid station = 21:11 total time, approx 81st place still
Ouray to Telluride
So I was in Ouray, but I wasn't really there. I had an aura of "what the hell just happened?" shell-shockedness about me, trying to digest the experiences of the previous section that were so different than last year in every way imaginable. No explanations were coming, so I had to try to move on to the next section. But my brain wasn't shifting gears very quickly at that point.
My crew and I had the basics down - drink the Gookinaid and Ensure, change the socks, put a blister block on my left heel where there was a hot spot, trade trash for more Spiz baggies and TP, ask if I wanted any other food. That last one stumped me. I didn't know how to really answer questions, process anything that wasn't in the normal pattern. I did know that I wanted my microspikes for the next section - I wasn't messing around with the Virginius snow fields, even though I knew it would be light out by the time I got there and possibly with soft-ish snow to work with instead of a dreaded ice slope. Beyond that, I wasn't being much help to the crew.
I know they were trying, we all were trying to figure out exactly what I needed to do, what I needed to take. Bob had my drop bag list out and we repeatedly went through it, but I (maybe we all) had the feeling we might be missing something. But it was 3 a.m. and we were ALL sleep deprived.
John seemed to think that I needed to get up and walk out of the aid station. For once I wasn't sure why. If he had offered a nap, I probably would have taken it (but I didn't think of it). The weirdest thought went through my head - do people ever drop out of Hardrock for having tired legs? Because that's the only thing that seemed to be slowing me down at that point, no major problems and hardly any minor ones either. OK then, I guess I should get up and go, that would be the thing to do. Because one thing I do know, I sure can walk up a road. Good thing, because there was a long one of those ahead of me.
It wasn't until several hours later that I finally realized what I should have written on my drop bag list - sunglasses (I'd given them to my crew at Grouse), more sunscreen, fewer lights...
As it was, I had everything I needed to start the next leg at least, including my iPod. John walked me out the aid station exit and asked if I was carrying it. Maybe I would find it useful during the next few miles up a long dirt road? Heck yeah, great idea! That was the best thing he could have said, a glimmer of hope that we might actually have some brain power in action this early in the a.m. :)
After John kicked me out of Ouray, I followed course markers carefully because this was the one section of the course I had never seen and I wasn't sure what to expect except a tunnel. Up a couple turns and onto the Ouray loop trail, then up these giant steps that at least had a hand rope to help pull myself up along. The tunnel was cool but rather anticlimactic. On the other hand, the footbridge way high over the river was awesome and I look forward to going back to actually see where I was sometime in daylight.
I found the dirt road and turned to start walking and walking. Not far up, a couple headlamps came toward me and I think it might have been a runner and a pacer turning around to go back to Ouray? It seemed like they were both women, but they were talking among themselves so I didn't ask questions. I'm pretty sure I didn't dream that. Looking at the results I think it might have been Betsy K.
I started with my podcasts and blew through 3 of them just like that. Dawn came and went. I drank Spiz. I stopped for a bathroom break. I looked at various spots along the side of the road wondering if I was tired enough that they would be comfortable, but the idea of taking off my pack to make a pillow and moving all those rocks around to find a spot that fit my body didn't seem worth the effort. I saw almost no one, but finally a couple racers passed me while I was taking a bathroom break. Everyone was moving pretty slowly. The scenery was gorgeous again. My feet were dry. I sort of knew where I was but not how much further I had to go. There were even occasional mile markers, but I declined to calculate my pace per mile so as not to embarrass myself any further.
OK, time for some comfort music. I listened to the whole Buffy album and I was partway through Dr. Horrible when I finally, finally! made it to the Governor aid station. Phew!
Governor aid station = 24:57 total time, approx 76th place
I sat and had a bit of soda while filling a Spiz baggie, then rummaged through my med kit to see if I was carrying a needle. My right heel felt a bit sore from a nagging blister and I was hoping to poke it to see if I could relieve any pressure. No needle, and I wasn't quite ready to use a race number pin on it yet. Robert came walking up, commenting how it had taken him 3 whole hours to get up here. Hmm, that actually would have been a good split for me. I guess I better get my butt in gear here.
See ya, folks, thanks for being there! I continued up the road, amazed that we were crossing the creek on a bridge, although I knew my foot dryness was short-lived. Yep, further up there was a shallow but very-wide water crossing, and it only took a couple seconds in the snowmelt for my feet to start going numb. Too bad it took longer than a couple seconds to get across that one!
I started listening to Glee! soundtrack music, and that put some rockin' in my step. It was an absolutely beautiful morning! Snow fields, colorful rocks, blue sky, finally some awesome weather even though it was probably temporary. I should probably put my shades on... oops I guess I should have thought of that back in Ouray. Oh well, at least I have my hat brim.
I climbed up switchbacks, saw Robert following a ways back, started crossing snowfields. The snow was soft enough and there were plenty of runners ahead of me making tracks, so it wasn't too challenging, just steep here and there. Then a long path seemingly straight up the snow - and I wasn't even at the three primary pitches to the pass yet.
So I sat down to put on my micro-spikes, just to try them out. Heck, I was carrying them, I might as well be using them. I tested them in the snow steps - magic! Suddenly I could walk all over the snowfields without concern for foot placement. Less energy lost in little foot slides. I'm sold. The only reason not to put them on so soon was that the path continued to alternate between long patches of snow and long patches of dirt and rock, and I wasn't about to sit and take them off/put them on over and over, so I just walked over the dirt and rocks with them on.
I even walked on a bit of ice just to get a feel for my magic footwear, and that seemed to work pretty well too. Finally I got to the real straight-up section and followed tracks up the first steep, snow-covered pitch. My poles helped for balance, although I couldn't ever plant them too hard in snowfields because they tended to sink when I didn't expect it. I had a song going in my ears with the perfect rhythm for a methodical, not-to-fast, march up the mountain ("Gold Digger", of all things), so I played it again after it ended halfway up. Nice!
Another pitch, this one not quite as bad, although my feet were starting to freeze from all the snow exposure. I found a rock to sit on so I could take a breather and kick some snow off my shoes for a moment. I came over the top of the 2nd pitch to see the Krogers Canteen aid station folks perched high above. You folks are crazy to hang out there all night and day! It was quite a sight. I was so very glad to be there to see it. What a fun morning!
I couldn't believe my luck when the song "Keep Holding On" came on - "When it gets cold, and feels like the end, there's no place to go, you know I won't give in" - I just about started crying and laughing at the same time. Then the guys up top were giving me directions about climbing the route next to the rope and stashing my poles in my pack, so I turned off the music to concentrate on the important stuff. But the tune stayed in my mind, what a glorious morning.
I took hold of the rope and pulled - and pulled - until it eventually went taut. That was one dynamic rope (compared to the static ones we use for rappelling and ascending). I tried a wrist-wrap technique that I'd played with the year before in the Utah canyons, and that seemed to be good here too. My magic feet made step after step up toward the notch. How high is this thing, anyway? Almost there? No. But I'll get there eventually. For now, I was back to my "this is surreal" phase, which certainly beats out "this is hard" and "this sucks" and "I need a nap".
Near the top I asked if Roch Horton was there. They pointed me up to the man perched on an even higher rock up above. I pointed at him and yelled, "THANK YOU!" I told him I had been trying to get there for a long time so I could specifically thank him, and that I held him responsible for my getting into the race. Roch was automatically qualified to run, having finished this race 10 (!!) times, but this year he decided to let someone else experience it while he managed one of the aid stations - the most difficult one, at that! If not for his selflessness, I may not have been there. I told him that now I had to finish this race, in honor of him and all the other first time runners. He told me that I would finish, and he sounded so matter-of-fact. What a class act.
At the top they found me a seat, amazingly it was sheltered from the wind and there was room for all these people at once. They handed me some chicken noodle soup and I even tried a pierogi which I didn't even know what that was before. One guy sat with me and we chatted about micro-spikes - I told him that I had hauled these things all the way up the road, I was for damned sure going to use them. Have I mentioned how much they rock? I was glad I didn't have to test them in actual icy conditions on that morning, but I look forward to doing more experimentation. The guy also told me to keep them on through the next basin, then I could take them off for the trip down the other side.
They asked how my night had gone, and I told them that it sucked but I was doing much better now. I didn't realize until later that perhaps THEY had had their own challenges up there. I wonder what they go through during lightning storms? Crazy, I tell you. I did mention that I had 4 climbs that day, one down!, and at least this one was in perfect weather. No promises for later.
Oh yeah... Virginius/Kroger's aid station = 26:57 total time, approx 76th place
Time to go - down a bit of scree (it was probably my imagination, but it seemed like the micro-spikes helped on that too), then around the basin going across a few snowfields. I'm not fond of the section near the end that gets a bit exposed, but I focused on my footing and all was fine. Around the corner, where I sat to remove my new-favorite footwear and watch a couple runners below me. There was a bit of steep-ish downhill and then some cross-country travel with course markers who-knows-where (or why) but I aimed for the dirt road that I knew was part of the course, and soon I was heading downhill toward town.
Back to the music, I hummed and sang and ran my way down the long drop. My knees were still doing OK, just a little sore here and there, so I continued to take it easy down the steep stuff for sure. When the song "No Air" came on, I totally had to laugh. I had almost taken it off my playlist for the race, because really, who wants to be at high altitude listening to a song about it being hard to breathe? Happily, I was heading downhill and breathing just fine, another song with perfect timing! "I walked, I ran, I jumped, I flew...!"
Eventually I could see town - almost there! I smiled at a couple tourists, found a dirt road and then the last little trail down to someone's driveway. I even got to say "Hi" to the owner of said driveway, so that was neat.
Then I was on the steep streets of Telluride - hello civilization! I looked all the way to the other end of the street way down by the creek, thought I could see my friends, and raised my poles. Woo hoo! was the answer! Woo hoo, indeed! Good morning everyone!
My crew had been exploring the area, so I figured I'd include a couple photos of their experiences.
The park near the end of town where the mountains close in:
Hey, if I'd seen this I would have been glad I wasn't on a bike for this race!
Gondola through the aspens:
Welcome to the aid station :)
Telluride aid station = 28:30 total time, approx 76th place
I handed over my pack and told my crew that we were going to dump it all out and start over. We took out all the overnight gear (except the rain jacket that I wasn't parting with) and made a note that I had to get it all back at Chapman, they filled the bottles and reloaded me with Spiz baggies, then Kathy sprayed me down with sunscreen. I had already taken off my socks and shoes to let my feet dry, any chance I get at this point.
I mentioned the blister again, because it was actually beginning to slow me down somewhat on the downhills. John didn't have a needle either, but he was game to unpin a corner of my race number. But upon poking the blister with the pin, he didn't get any liquid out, so that was that for the moment.
Rockin' duckies everywhere!
Bob turning blue after inflating the biggest DUCKIE of them all:
My friends took turns signing it, so sweet and wonderful:
My "pit stop" crew in action:
I think they took a picture every time I went to take a drink - hey it's good to stay hydrated :)
John attempting to reinstall the pack on my torso, at least I hope that's what this looks like:
It was a longer stop on purpose, surprisingly less than 20 minutes though. Then it was time to go. Ann was coming with me! Awesome for company! The iPod was officially off the clock.
Telluride to Chapman
For this section, I stole a few photos from fellow runner Ryan and his lovely pacer Shauna. In their honor, here is one of the awesomest photos of the whole race, IMHO:
This year the race had to be rerouted due to land permission issues. One option was up some scree-covered thing where I heard they were big rocks sliding down during course marking. Another option was up Bridal Veil Basin. I was SO rooting for Bridal Veil! And was very glad when that was the route announced. It was a couple miles longer than the original course, but a lot of it was on trail, no additional elevation gain, and a more gentle climb overall. So, yay for that.
Ann and me, ready to go!
Ann and I walked out of town along the bike path and got to talking, her telling crew stories and me trying to explain the Grouse-to-Ouray overnight ordeal. Eventually my throat started getting scratchy, I guess it wasn't used to all this talking! So I had to ease up on the chatting, which was too bad because I could have gone on and on about our expedition race experiences here. Probably for the best, then, from Ann's perspective!
I think Chris "pick a speed" Twiggs finally passed me for good in here - he started and finished ahead of me but had been behind for a while, now he was looking good again. It rained on us briefly but the afternoon shower didn't last long and we didn't mind getting cooled down before the sun came back out. Local tourists and walkers passed us. I enjoyed the brief touch with humanity before heading back into the wildness of the mountains. We were heading up a popular route toward Bridal Veil Falls (there was even a "bridge" across this "creek":
The water was simply CRASHING down the mountainside, I had never seen Bridal Veil Falls so huge. The other creek up the valley was too big for its creekbed, and it poured over every rock it could reach, way wider than normal. What a sight for an already-beautiful day.
It looks like the house is leaking:
At the switchback below Bridal Veil, we stopped to take in the thundering mist, wow. Here's Ryan at the same spot not long later:
It was great sharing this with Ann, thanks for coming along (and taking pictures)!
We hiked up the road and found the trail leading up along the creek. We briefly saw a guy named Jim from TX who actually remembered me from Primal Quest, that was neat. I wish we could have talked with him more, but my throat wasn't really up for it and he was taking a break with his son (his pacer) at the time so we continued on.
What a beautiful trail - an amazing creek to follow, plus tons of side creeks falling into it after they rushed down the hills from both sides in cascades of waterfalls. I was quite pleased they chose this for the reroute.
Ann was doing great, leading the way and occasionally having to slow down for my plodding pace. She got to experience a few water crossings, and eventually we found some snow fields for her to practice on too.
Ryan at one of the larger crossings:
As we came out into the upper basin, it started to rain again so we put on our jackets. I figured this might not last long, like the previous shower, but I was oh so wrong about that. Not only did the storm continue, but then it turned to hail. All of a sudden we were having trouble walking forward because hail was coming straight at us. OK, that's annoying. Ow, ow, ow.
We found a rock to crouch behind for a bit, but then I noticed that Ann was wearing only a thin Go-Lite jacket. I asked if she knew that it wasn't waterproof? She said that John had given it to her to bring - WHAT? My husband sent my pacer into the mountains with this flimsy thing, when I know he has a couple other better choices in outerwear? It's not like Ann couldn't handle carrying more weight, she was practically bounding up the mountain ahead of me and was certainly strong enough. I told her that John needed to be biffed for this.
We started getting chilled, and decided to try braving the storm. I looked behind us down the trail and saw a runner and pacer making their way along, and I could have sworn it was Ryan and Shauna. It looked like their clothing and their builds, and I thought that Ryan was doing super-awesome to have made up 45 minutes since Ouray.
Meanwhile, Ann and I were struggling forward. Then there was lightning and some rather-loud thunder that happened way too quickly for my liking. We were still in the basin, not too high yet, but I told Ann that we couldn't go any higher with that going on nearby. We hiked until we found another rock, again finding shelter from the wind/hail to wait it out.
We huddled for a while, wondering what we were thinking coming up here without more/better clothing. I should never leave my overmitts behind! Didn't I already know that they weigh nothing and are da bomb? I was glad my jacket at least was waterproof. Ann started shivering so we sat close together and commiserated. She commented that it would have been nice to have working fingers so one of us could capture this moment on film!
The lightning and thunder continued, but seemed to be moving to the east. The sky over Oscar's Pass brightened, and finally we couldn't wait any longer. We had to get moving! It was still blowing rain in our faces, but it was bearable. I monitored the lightning and decided it was safe (enough) to get going, at least in the direction of the pass. And hopefully the storm would clear by the time we got close to it.
We practically ran (well, Ann may not agree with that velocity assessment, but it got my heart rate up), moving as fast as we could to try to get warm again. I wished I had stopped to mix Spiz when I had thought of it, but that had been 10 minutes early. 10 minutes before my scheduled feeding, but also 10 minutes before this damn storm blew in. For now we just had to keep walking.
We were both breathing hard now, following course markings up steep grassy slopes (hey, where did the trail go?), looking ahead to see where we might be going. Finally we crested a hill and I got a good look at the terrain, and then I recognized everything - Wasatch Saddle, the pass to Oscar's road, the alpine lakes, the trail up to CP1 (2002). Now I could explain to Ann how far we had to go. And we could go back to concentrating on moving fast enough to get warm.
And warm up, we did. Except for our feet. They started cold and went to "frozen" with each snow field and mud puddle crossing making them worse. I wanted to knock snow off my shoes but it hurt to try. I kept apologizing to Ann for putting her through all this!
Shauna near the top of the basin:
Finally we reached a traverse on rocks and then a long snowfield over to the saddle itself. The skies were clearing up, looking positively sunny in the next valley, and we were feeling better except for those blasted ice cubes at the ends of our legs. It was rather steep along parts of the snow field, so I gave Ann one of my poles for balance and we made our way across carefully. I tried to tell her that the snow was soft enough that she wouldn't slide far if she fell, but she told me that she was only looking at the footsteps in front of her.
Right at the saddle there were several steep steps up the snow bank, with large rocks in them to help with the traction. Here is Ryan coming up this section:
At the top, Ann and I hugged for joy! What a crazy experience. We started down the rocky "road" on the other side. I wasn't much looking forward to this downhill, but at least we were in the sun and off the snow.
An awesome photo Shauna took of Ryan here (less-than-awesome is trying to get over those rocks with tired legs):
Thank you to Ryan and Shauna for providing some colorful photos of this section! We were a bit shell-shocked at this point and not really thinking about documenting the experience.
Ann and I found a rock to sit on (hmm, I wonder if we can locate one of those somewhere) so we could eat something finally. We were both quite hungry and ready for a little break. Once we got going again our feet eventually regained feeling, thank goodness.
Then there was a snow bank in front of us. It seemed normal, just a few more snow steps. But then it dropped straight down about 10-15 feet to the trail on the other side. What is this? No steps? No easy way down? The tracks in front of us looked like a butt slide. I looked up and down for an alternate solution, because I was NOT keen on sliding down to a rocky landing way up here on the top of a mountain.
Ann behind me said "I think this is the way, it has to be the way," which did a lot to convince me to try it. I started down the slide, trying to slow myself down, but there was no way to avoid the drop at the end. I landed on my feet and didn't feel like I was in danger of falling off the hillside, yay!
I turned around to help Ann, and when she finally got a good look at the situation she was like "Oh!" but she was game to try and she made it down fine too. One more obstacle overcome! The switchbacks took us around and back to the snowfield for one more crossing, still a challenge but nothing close to the excitement of the snow slide.
The rest of the way down, which took a while, involved many switchbacks, lots of rocks, occasional stopping to give our legs and knees a break, and amazement from Ann that anyone would try to build an actual road up here. Yep, it's an F'in mining road, no doubt about it. I wanted to regale Ann with our PQ story from here, but I told her to ask Jason about it instead. My throat issue had kindly taken a backseat to the storm problems, but I didn't want to push it.
Almost to the bottom, sweet! That's a steep one. Very glad we didn't have to go UP it this time. We were so happy to see Jason, and Ann told him she thought Ryan and Shauna were coming down somewhere behind us. My crew also thought they had spotted them through the binoculars:
But that turned out to be a different racer/pacer set, wearing similar clothing to Ryan and Shauna. We were all fooled! Ryan did make it down, obviously, about an hour later.
Ann and I made our way along roads, through woods, past some cars, where are we going? Finally we saw our crew, are we every glad to see you! Congrats, Ann, you made it through a tough section! (and - Hi Duckie!)
Chapman aid station = 34:25 total time, approx 73rd place
Everyone helped me reload the nighttime gear, liquids and Spiz, plus John finally got some drainage out of my right heel blister (much better). My toes were getting a bit sore but nothing that would slow me down too much - I just needed to be careful not to bang them against rocks too many times. It was nice to be sitting for a bit, and then it was time to go.
John was coming with me to the finish, oh happy day!
Chapman to the Finish!
John accompanied me out of Chapman, and the rest of my friends drove over Ophir Pass back to Silverton to await our eventual arrival. They celebrated a Job Well Done at the brewery - way to go, y'all! We'll be there soon! (to Silverton, not so much the brewery at that point)
John jumped right into his pacing role by finding a dry way across the creek next to the aid station. It was a bit of a clamber around on a down tree, but I appreciated it, and my feet especially did. They felt great as long as they were dry, and most happy right after getting a new pair of socks. I wanted to baby them as long as possible - plenty of challenges ahead.
We walked up the jeep road and carefully noted a couple of intersections. John told me that an earlier runner had apparently gotten lost for a while on this approach, and we didn't want to repeat that mistake. The turn-off onto the singletrack trail was so well marked, either someone was in a complete stupor to have missed it or else the turn had been reinforced recently. I guessed the latter.
Mosquitoes buzzed me just a tiny bit in the aid station, but I didn't get the bug spray treatment because they usually go away once I start moving. For the first time that didn't happen - they kept on biting me all through the woods. Nasty buggers! If it's not one thing, it's another! Seriously, everyone went through a lot in this race. Not everyone had the same experiences, but I guarantee everyone had some tough ones.
I couldn't help telling John a few race stories, some of the things I'd been wanting to share with him for many hours. Eventually my throat called a stop to the chattering, so I had to shut up and focus on the trail. That was good timing, because it was starting to get steep and rocky. John led the way, working to adjust his pace so I could keep up. Sometimes I'd have to let him go and then once he noticed he would wait for me. Mostly he walked methodically and I was able to follow his footfalls up the rocks. I think I was moving faster (at least faster than I would have alone), not having to think about where to go, feeling right at home with this expedition race strategy of putting my feet where John's feet had just been.
John seemed to enjoy experiencing the course in the opposite direction from the way he has always run it, especially at my slower pace. We chatted about the lightning question in this area, and I told him that if it wasn't storming right overhead, we were going over the pass. It's a much quicker up and down than some of the basins in other parts of the course, with shelter not far down on either side. For now there was rain in the distance and some clouds with us, but no sound of thunder.
Too bad John forgot to carry the camera with him - we would have loved a couple photos in here. Sorry!
I drank a Spiz in the shelter of some rocks, then it was time for the final approach to the scree field that is Grant-Swamp Pass. This thing is notorious for being a challenge and for filling shoes with dirt. We worked our way to the scree field and paused to catch our collective breath for a minute.
Then John led the way, following switchback paths that other folks had kindly beat into the side of the mountain. It was dang steep, plenty sandy and rocky, but John figured out the best way to go. We both noticed that the recent rains made it a bit "easier" by packing some of the dirt together so it wasn't quite as loose. For once, the weather worked in our favor, please make sure to note that I mentioned it here in a positive light.
In lieu of race pictures, I'll include some shots from 2010 trail marking in this section. Imagine these with more clouds, tired legs, different clothing, and eventually complete darkness and surely you'll get the idea.
Here I was climbing without Mr Mountain Goat leading the way last year:
Trail marking folks in 2010:
Step, step, slight slide, step, step... John set a good pace and I somehow managed to keep up. I was so happy not having to figure out a route up this, just follow John, awesome. And my climbing legs hadn't left me! And this was the 2nd-to-last big climb! That was pretty exciting to contemplate.
Looking back at Oscar's mining road that Ann and I had come down earlier in the day:
We topped out and I was elated that it had gone so well. This was another key location that John had taken me to when I was trying to decide if I could complete this race. Going up it, following my sherpa man, was certainly easier for me than making my way down it. Other folks may have a different opinion about this one!
We looked down to see a runner and pacer wearing similar clothing to the Ryan/Shauna impersonators we had seen over in the previous section. Not knowing any better at this point, still thinking it was Ryan and now Kelly with him, John yelled down, "Go Ryan!". They looked up but didn't acknowledge the encouragement. At least now it makes sense why. Ryan was still doing great, but that was not him just below us.
Turning around to face our downhill, I noted that Island Lake had WAY more ice and snow on it this year compared to the year before when it looked like this:
This top section had a minor reroute, straight down some loose sandy scree. Again it was better packed from the wetness, but I was still slow going down. Soon enough we got to the trail, did some now-standard snow walking, and made our way down the valley. I remarked to John that it was sometimes strange knowing where the flags have previously been placed, and seeing them not quite in the same location. I guess we have reached a new phase in our experience with this race.
I enjoyed the rest of this downhill, and we passed a runner or maybe two, I just don't remember for some reason. Normally I have a better race memory, but now that I had started seeing some people as completely different people, it's safe to say that my brain was short-circuiting in some ways. I told Ann that Jim was Robert when we first saw him, and I thought I saw Steve in Telluride (he says he never was there). A new brand of hallucination for me!
I told John that I wanted to get to the next creek crossing in daylight, and he assured me that we most definitely would. Good, because this one can be a little intimidating. Joe had promised us that he again built some kind of a bridge, so I was looking forward to finding a decent way across without getting my feet wet.
We made it down to the trail and ran down to the turn-off toward the creek. It was so well marked, I wondered to John if any tourists had seen it and asked "What's down there?" That would have been quite a surprise for them. If they even made it down the trail - it sure was steep and slippery with mud! The rain had not done this particular track any favors.
Here's the mess of debris across the creek last year when we were there with Andy, similar to 2011:
John followed a course marker to the right and found a good way to walk on logs, going from island to island and making it across with ease. I following, not with as much ease but still with dry feet and plenty of hope. Yep, I made it! Many thanks to Joe and John for that one!
John looked back and told me I was doing so well, making me smile. We scrambled up the opposite bank and make our way through some muck and mud along a section in the woods before reaching the Kamm Traverse, or KT trail, high above the next valley. Here is Jim in this section during trail marking in 2010:
We moved right along, John checking out the creek way below to get a sense (I don't know how from here) of how deep it was. There was a runner ahead of us, but my legs could move only just so fast at that point. It seemed like a rather long traverse this time, I guess because it was mostly a speed-walk for me. John asked if I wanted to run the parts that were kinda downhill? Not really - and it didn't so much feel like downhill to me.
Coming into the next aid station, John asked what I wanted. I already had an answer ready - I wanted COFFEE. Finally some caffeine for me! Or maybe just being around John makes me think of coffee :) Another reason I was happy to have John along - he could talk with the aid station folks and I could just smile and "look pretty" (ha!) instead of stressing my throat trying to talk loudly enough so anyone could hear me. Which is a challenge under normal circumstances, much less right now.
We jogged into the aid station and John ran over to put in an order - 2 coffees? Why yes, we'll take two of them!
KT aid station = 38:19 total time, approx 69th place
In the aid station John helped me fill a Spiz baggie while talking with the excellent volunteers and a couple runners that we know. We met Bruce whom we have chatted with before, and Larry and Beth were prepping to leave. John stashed my sunglasses and hat in my pack, gave me my headlamp, and we put on some clothes to start getting ready for nightfall. Time to go check out the next creek crossing.
We headed up the road into the wind, dang that was chilly. If it wasn't one thing it was another. And here's what's next... we went down a trail to the creek to see it up close finally. It didn't look too bad, but deep enough that I was SO glad to have John with me. He led the way and I stayed on his hip. He found that it was slightly less deep just downstream from the trail, and we worked our way across without incident. We came out with really cold and wet feet, but that was the norm by now.
John stayed to watch the next couple cross - our friends Larry and Beth - and to let them know it was a bit easier downstream of the trail. He would have no trouble catching back up to me, that was certain. In the meantime, I started up the "trail" - can you really call it that? It was a way through the willows via the shoe-suckingest mud I've ever seen outside of adventure racing. I don't know how the course markers weren't as deep as their danglies in that stuff. A swamp, yes, that's the word I'm searching for.
I somehow kept my shoes on and my feet under my butt, mostly because I was heading uphill at a low rate of speed. It would be great fun to stage a downhill sprint through that mess. And then sit to the side and watch. I had the thought that I could clean off my shoes in some of the water flowing down the middle of "trail" but realized that was the ultimate in pointlessness at that moment.
I clambered up some rocks, pulled my poles out of the mud (my arms were getting a good workout), and eventually made it to the woods where John caught up with me. Ah, solid ground! No wind! Now I was back to walking up a steep hill, one of the lesser challenges.
OK, it wasn't a cakewalk. That hill went up and up quite a ways, weaving back and forth in the woods. I felt slow but John kept telling me I was doing good. Only one more mountain to climb, and this was it! Well, this was stage 1 of the last mountain. I mentally broke it up into pieces, since it's a noncontinuous climb, and "straight up through the trees" was the first part.
It was dark by the time we topped out and found the slight downhill near the rockfall. Stage 2 is "up and down through the woods". This seemed to last a really long time. John even thought he could see the big open field through the trees, but then we'd cross a tiny creek, find some more mud to slog through, and then the trail continued through the woods. This happened several times. I remembered Joe talking about how this section was WAY longer in this direction, and I could now believe exactly that.
We stopped to put on rain gear when it started sprinkling, finding refuge under a huge pine tree. John had packed in anticipation of my slow pace (good!), bringing a rain jacket, rain pants, and a big yellow poncho. I'm not sure how many layers he had going under all that. I needed my hubby warm and happy so he could continue to lead the way and be his normal chipper self. Although ya could have shared some of that outerwear with ANN for the previous section...
Somewhere in here, we lost my white running cap out of my pack. I picture it living under this big pine tree now, getting even more dirty that it already was. It was a great hat, keeping my head cool and protected for many miles. At least this is one of the easier things to replace that we've misplaced in our lives.
Rain began in earnest (giving motivation to the weather - yet another sign that my brain was a bit whack). We did finally come out at the big field, where we crossed another creek. Yay for this one being easy. Time to start stage 3 - up to the saddle past the big rock. This rock is a prominent feature in the course briefing, usually eliciting nervous laughter that yes, you need to be looking for a particular rock in order to figure out where to go.
The climb up to the rock went quickly. The rest of the climb took forever. In the darkness I concentrated on keeping up with John, attempting to avoid the worst of the mud, getting up the side of the hill, and trying not to guess how much further it was to the top. John would call out "Mud!" so I would know when he had just sunk up to his ankles. Sometimes I could go around that spot, other times I just had to lightfoot it as much as possible and find a way to plow through.
Eventually the sound of the rushing creek faded away, which I took as a good sign. And eventually we made it to the snow field at the saddle, phew, that was longer than I expected. We paused for a moment to see if we could make out anything in the large open terrain ahead of us, and we caught glimpses of a headlamp here and there. I think it was still raining, and there were certainly clouds overhead, so we couldn't see much in terms of topography.
Here is this area looking at it in daylight from the other side, showing the approximate route we were about to follow:
Not that we could see much of this in the darkness. But it was nice to be able to mentally visualize it and have some idea where the course flags were taking us.
John worked from one course marker to the next and I followed, moving at a good clip now that the steep part was (temporarily) over. No thunder or lightning, barely any rain that I can remember, just one big light WAY ahead of it occasionally flashing our way. Wonder what that is. We ran over some snow fields but in general I think the footing was pretty decent up here. I expected this part (stage 4 of the last big climb) to take a while because I remember that it looks like a long ways when you can see the scenery. But it actually passed quickly, a nice change.
OK, time for the last part of the last big climb! John started up and I got back into "steady uphill hike" mode. Oops, there's the top of the rise waaay too quickly, I guess that wasn't quite it yet. Downhill for a spell, and THEN it was time for the real big, steep, side-of-the-mountain haul. Yep, (pant, pant), this is definitely it. Let's do this thing.
Check out how small the people look compared to the size of the hill in this picture:
Climb for a while, quick rest, look behind us, what a nice night it turned out to be! Headlamps way below us now. I started thinking about staying ahead of the folks I had already passed, and maybe I could pass one or two more? Up to this point it had pretty much been only (and I really mean this) about what I could do, how I was going to find a way to kiss the Hardrock rock.
It's always a good sign that I'm having a good race finish when I'm thinking about how to pass more people. John's pacing sure did help with that, keeping me moving faster than I might be going otherwise, but not too fast that I was overdoing it. For a race this long, pacers totally rock. I told John he was so awesome at it, he could hire himself out (send me an email if you're interested). But I want first dibs :)
Climb a while, quick breather, climb some more. Almost...there... I could see lights above us but not so far away anymore. Then... there was the top. Hallelujah!
There were a couple runners plus a guy named Mark who we knew as one of the radio guys at the Putnam aid station down in the next valley. He had hiked up (and I think he was the one shining the bright light), looking for runners and possibly also helping out with an earlier fog situation that John and I were lucky to miss. John chatted with him briefly and then we were off down the other side.
No trail here, just follow markings down the grass. Another runner or two was working their way down, and John eventually took the lead in finding the trail markings. We were aiming for a saddle, then a left swing around toward the basin. That all happened without incident, but then the next trail marker was elusive. Two bright lights couldn't come up with anything reflective.
John aimed toward the basin, while I had the feeling we needed to go more to the left, just based on being here for trail marking one time (and in the opposite direction, at that). We both kind did the "Monk" thing - if I were a trail marker, where would I be? Finally John spotted one, and amazingly it was directly in front of the path I was taking. We both had the thought to look for a flag lying on the ground, but I didn't see one right around my feet so we had to let that idea drop.
Here's the Putnam Basin in the daylight with John (in red) wearing fewer clothes:
Hopefully we helped at least one person behind us figure out the way more quickly. Moving on, we crossed a snow field or two, a small creek or two, a mud spot or two, eventually finding the trail that circles the basin. I expected this trail to go on for a while, but we must have been moving OK because before I knew it we could see the lights for the Putnam aid station. Last one! Sweet!
Putnam aid station = 42:05 total time, approx 63rd place
In honor of our "Coke travails" from 2009, I asked for a cup of Coke. The wonderful volunteers got me a drink, and we checked out their simple but seemingly effective tent setup, complete with fun little light decorations around the entrance. We refilled a Spiz baggie, but I didn't stay long - I was ready to get closer to the finish!
John stayed back to chat with the aid station folks and to see if they wanted a duckie donation? They apparently did - something about replacing a Justin Bieber picture? I'll have to have confirmation before believing I didn't hallucinate that part.
Right out of the aid station the trail dipped sharply downward, yikes. The rain had not been kind at all to this trail - it was super slick and muddy. I passed a runner/pacer pair and John easily caught back up to me. The fun continued a bit lower down, with the first rockslide crossing. I had heard that these last few miles of trail aren't easy after running 90+ miles, and now it was time to find out just how bad it really was.
Yep, it's a pain in the booty. Rocks, rocks, rocks, ah nice trail, more rocks. Willows over the rocks so you couldn't see where you were stepping. Somehow, with all of this going on, we caught up to a couple more runners. They were kind enough to let us go by, which I tried to do gracefully over the rocks (hmm, right, "gracefully").
Their headlamps stayed with us, and I realized it was time to drink some Spiz. I pushed to get a ways ahead of the folks we had just passed, because it seemed rude to stop right in front of them on the narrow trail. John watched and let me know when I had time, then I made a quick stop to gulp down the contents of the baggie. Last one!
We continued on, losing the guys behind us, finding more and more rock fields to cross, and eventually some nicer trail through aspens. Aspens! That's always a good sign that you're getting lower. John started talking about how I was going to finish, I was going to be a Hardrocker! I told him that I still had to get there - I still had to be careful, not twist an ankle on a rock, stupid things can still happen. Just gotta get there.
I started contemplating the upcoming creek crossing, the granddaddy of them all. I wasn't sure if I was breathing harder because of my running pace or because of my growing anxiety about the creek.
A car went by up ahead. Hey, a car! Must be the road. We were almost to the bottom (and the Creek Crossing). I heard John on the phone, finally in cell phone range to let our crew know that we were about to cross the creek, in case they wanted to come watch. But next thing we knew we were in the field and we could hear the rushing water.
We heard someone shouting "THAT'S what I'm talking about!" - it sounded like some drunk guy was hanging out over by the road? He yelled it again, as we made our way closer. "THAT'S what I'm talking about!" It was a bit puzzling, but we were focused on what we needed to do.
John folded and stashed my poles in my pack, we decided he would go first and I would go right beside him, and by then we knew we could not wait for our friends to arrive. The water below us was absolutely flying by, and we couldn't sit there thinking about it. We just had to cross. The loud fellow on the other side turned out to be one of several folks making sure everyone made it safely across, keeping a close eye on the runners and pacers. I had wondered if this was something racers generally did in the dark all alone, and I was really glad to see someone across the way watching.
John stepped down into the water to grab onto the rope and I followed and OH MY GOD this is crazy! It was so frickin' cold, with strong current trying to push us downstream. I hung onto the rope for dear life, facing upstream, and stepped to the right as quickly as I could. I could hear John saying that it was getting deeper here, great just great, and the current was stronger here, yikes, yikes. Just hang on, just keep moving. My feet were numb, my legs were frozen, the water was about up to my waist at this point, and I gripped the rope with all my might.
OK John, you can move faster - no wait, wait for me! - no, faster is good - no hold on I'm not there yet... I wondered if my legs would totally cramp up because they were threatening to, and what would I do then, YOU BETTER STAY WITH ME, LEGS! The center was slightly less deep, and then there was another deeper/swifter section toward the end. And then John was jumping out and hands reached for me to help me up. I climbed out, basically hyperventilating with my heart rate sky high, unable to really believe I just did that. What am I, nuts?
Thank you, thank you, thank you John for going through that with me! That's love, right there folks. The man has zero body fat and not a lot of tolerance for cold, and he did that for me without a peep of complaint. I'm not sure "pacer for hire" would take the job if he knew he had to go through that again.
We crossed the road, noticed some wet footprints (who else can I chase down?), and heard "THAT'S what I'm talking about!" behind us (oops, let's focus on staying ahead of that person first). We climbed a small hill, me still gasping with wide eyes, waiting for my heart to slow down below 3 beats per second. I can't keel over now! I have to get to the finish line first, then I can keel over. I haven't gone through all of this (insert whatever you want to call it) and not get to the end now, are you kidding?
Oh, and just for grits and shins, here's me at this creek last year, demonstrating just how crazy difficult it is:
About the only thing the same this year is the rope.
Breathe, Marcy, come on, you can do it. Phew, I wasn't looking forward to writing about that (and then proof-reading it, for god's sake), glad that's over!
We followed the trail through the woods and then over the rocky section you can see from the road. John called our crew back to tell them we'd see them at the finish (and sorry to wake you up early) (and here's an overestimation of how fast we'll be there, while we're at it). We didn't see headlamps ahead nor behind us, but I was speedwalking and trying to run when I could, just in case. Plus then we'd get there faster.
We finally found the dirt road and followed it up to the statue way above town, then turned down a path to run down to the quiet Silverton streets. It was all so peaceful, so serene, and I was finally calming down. No more stress over the creek crossings. No more worrying over heights and lightning and 100 other possible other things that could affect me. No more wondering if I was going to make or how close I was going to get to fulfilling this dream that I have had for years. Wow.
We smiled as we rounded the corner and saw the gym, normally lit up and welcoming for the race, now being renovated for the summer. Another corner, and there's where John finished two stellar races of his own. We headed across the main street, and I thought I saw Kathy standing there to cheer me on as she had in every single crew-access aid station for two straight 100-mile races for me. John told me that I was actually seeing a motorcycle. At least it was a nice motorcycle. I think I need some sleep.
I told John I was still trying to figure out what to say to Dale at the finish. Dale, the race director, stays up the entire race and greets every single finisher. If that's not amazing enough, he keeps notes on everyone who kisses the Rock and then tells little stories about people at the awards ceremony. I had been working through some ideas during the race, letting them play out in my mind and adjusting them as the race unfolded. I finally came upon something simple, nothing profound or funny or surprising, but it was the truth.
The big white DIA tent at the rec center appeared, and then the finish line banner. I was too happy for words.
No words needed - my only task remaining was to go up the Rock and plant a big kiss on it. Most gladly!
My amazing husband!
Dale hung a medal around my neck, and I first told him "That was a struggle" and he leaned closer so he could hear me say "If it wasn't one thing, it was another!"
I am one Lucky Duck!
Finish = 44:32, 61st place of 140 starters (80 official finishers and 2 finishers over 48 hours), 8th female of 16 starters (8 finishers)
Ryan came in during the last hour of official finishes, at 47:19. Well done, Ryan!
Now it's time for bed!
We all caught a couple hours of sleep and then the house was roused to head for the awards ceremony. I wouldn't have missed this one for the world! I personally think Hardrock has the best race awards breakfast, especially due to Dale's (the race director's) emceeing. Plus yummy food and a chance to talk with folks. I wish we could have hung out there all day, talking and eating.
Not sure how we were looking so bright and chipper, but Kathy and I (and Duckie #1) were ready to go:
It was great fun hearing stories from other folks and the ones that Dale told. For me, he even improved on my finish line comment, saying that I had exclaimed "It was one damn thing after another!" Yes, Dale, it certainly was!
Breakfast with friends and my Master of Mileage awards certificate:
Looking back, as I continue to wake up to the fact that I actually completed Hardrock, I am so pleased with how it all went. I knew going into it that if I could have trained at altitude I would have had a shot at finishing faster. So speed wasn't the goal. The goal was to finish, without major problems if possible, and to be consistent if I could. I accomplished everything I set out to do, and had an amazing experience in the process.
Back in the Preamble, I listed the things I was most concerned about (altitude, feet, knees, climbing, throat, and "Other"). Each of those categories gave me some level of challenge during the race, a minor problem here and there, things to think about and figure out. Happily, none of them grew out of control and it really was one thing AFTER another and not multiple issues at any one time. I do consider myself very lucky, when many race veterans had major problems and not all of them finished.
Post-race aftermath included trying to catch some sleep here and there, driving many hours, talking John's ear off about the race when I should have been sleeping, eating awesome pizza at Amica's in Salida, picking up our truck in Leadville (a whole nother story that I'll get to eventually), waking Danny in the middle of the night in Denver (Hi Danny!), seeing our friends off, catching an afternoon flight to Albany via Vegas (not ideal, but at least I didn't have to get off the plane), finally getting home and in bed at 2 a.m., and then trying to be at all coherent for work the next day. What am I, nuts? The only one thing I would change is adding a day of recovery after such a big race before trying to travel, much less work!
Huge thanks to my friends who were there for me, people who were rooting for me, for all the positive thoughts that helped me along, for all the help, support, love, cheering, hugging, emails, and well-wishes from so many people! Y'all truly ROCK!