You know magic when you are in the midst of it.
You just sit still and know that things are going to happen, very good things. You know that are should open your eyes very wide and take in everything that you can. I never stopped to re-live anything I saw or did because I knew everything was going in the very deep recesses of my brain, to be replayed when needed them. When despair hits, I will pull out these memories and they will calm me.Even writing this now, weeks later, I ache to be back there. This place felt familiar in a other worldly way. It was a small mountain town with nice folks and I felt right at home. I camped in my truck in Memorial Park in Silverton and made meals with Allan Holtz the first few nights.
The weather was great and the scenery was unbelievable. We marked course during the day, finding out where to meet and where we were going by cruising down to Charlie Thorn's house on Reese Street. My strides was slow as I walked over there as I tend to slow way down in the week before my races. I met up with my good old friend, Olga, who is so strong and brave. It was great to see her and spend some time catching up on things. You can live through the electronic world for only so long before you have to hike a trail and listen to what's going on in your friends lives. And this was a good time to do it. This was easy living. On Monday, a big group headed up Virginius for a hike/glissade and picture party. It was a great group and we were lucky to get a ride with Jim up to where the aid station would be, 2 miles from the top. Olga, Beat and myself made our way up the steep road towards the pass. This was a snow section that I wanted to see before the race, three pitches with a fixed rope (on race day) on the last pitch.
We were first to arrive and wandered around looking for the right path up.
We waited for the rest of the group (Joe and Joyce Prusaitis, the Coury boys, Charlie Thorn, Larry Hall and Beth Simpson Hall) to point the way and we headed up. I am afraid of most things related to heights and exposure so this was a lesson in butt clenching fear with a smile for me. We headed up and the snow was thankfully soft. I just leaned over on all fours and stayed within about 5 inches of Beat's shoes. I figured if I was that close, there was no way that I could fall backwards to my death. The second pitch wasn't so bad and we made our way to the last pitch. Olga was bravely kicking steps for us and had the three of us go first so we wouldn't get spooked being in a big group. It was obvious that not everyone was afraid of heights as I looked over at the Coury boys and they had sticks, onion skin shoes and were heading straight up on a new line and looked just like Spidermen. Amazing to watch but I had to quickly put my head down or would fall over.
Finally made it to the top which is Kroger's Canteen aid station and literally about a 10 foot flat section that drops precipitously down on both sides. Olga and I scouted the first 100 yards down on the other side because it was straight down and full of loose scree. We did okay scooting on our butt and thought we had a good feel for this section.
Then we head back over and again, Olga leads the way down first so we aren't behind everyone.
I start my glissade without really thinking and it's scary and exciting at the same time to slide down a hellishly steep pitch. We could stop ourselves on the first and second pitch but the last one had me gripped. I was stuck a little ways down. I had to maneuver around a rock outcropping and really had no control. My saviour came in the form of Rob Hacker who was headed up, saw my distress and handed me a pole. My other saviour was Larry Hall who then slide down to me and gave me some pointers and went the rest of the way down with me. Sometimes, being brave means saying you are scared and I was rewarded with these wonderful people helping me and more important, not judging me. That was an eye opener for me and the essence of Hardrock, just nice people wanting everyone to do well. Beth Simpson Hall was at the bottom saying encouraging things and everyone was so supportive in my vulnerable moment. I almost started crying when I got to the bottom and was elated to do the run down.
4th of July was a good day. There was no trail marking and a group of us sat on the back porch of the Avon Hotel, owned by the fabulously mercurial Tommy Burrell and drank beer and watched the fireworks.
Race day got closer and my friends, Julie and Kris got to town. Julie had just finished the Bighorn 100 in great fashion and she would be crewing and Kris would take me from Grouse to Telluride, about 30 miles. My boyfriend, another Chris, would be arriving Wednesday and would pace from Telluride to the finish. I have never had pacers or crew but if there was a time, Hardrock was it.
As I marked the course during that week, I tried to figure out the genius logic to Charlie Thorn's marking. He would hold the metal marker, turn around one way, then the other and finally place one on the trail. Always on the left and I appreciated that rigid commitment to structure because so many times on the trail (or lack thereof) I said, be on the left side of the marker and it helped me find my way. There are no confidence markers at Hardrock. If you are on a road, there's no markers. There might be one where you are going to turn off a perfectly good road onto a cross country portion of the road but that's it. >At first,
I felt this approach to course marking indicated a lack of care for the runners. We were going to be out there for 48 hours and with fatigue, darkness and overall stupidity and I felt that there should be more markers. But upon completion (and not getting lost), I felt that there were just enough. Yes, having pacers helped and being with others who had completed past years helped but knowing there weren't many markers out there kept me focused. Olga let me crash in her room and use the shower, a generous luxury I didn't say no to. We marked other parts of the course over the next few days and I was feeling a bit better about knowing the major turns. Olga, Billy Simpson, Howdy Bob and I run in the last 10 miles and had a great time out there on Monday. Olga and I walked the in and out at Ouray and I felt pretty comfortable with that. Once Larry, Olga's man, got to town, we hit the Ouray hotsprings for some soaking time and then had some mexican.
I didn't study much of the first part of the course as I was hoping that I would be with people during the first 25 or so miles. Kris and Julie got to town on Monday and we tried to go up Handies but got rained out with some lightning and thunder. We ended up eating burritos beside the creek instead. I really didn't need any more mileage on my legs but it's just so hard to pass up these amazing trails. Chris got into town Wednesday and promptly fell asleep after driving two days straight. By Wednesday, I had moved to the Silverton Hostel, run by the gregarious Banjo/Pancho/Francisco, one man, many names. It was nice to bring my stuff inside and be able to spread out to pack my drop bags. Packing these drop bags was no less of an effort than reciting pi in my head to the 48th decimal because you had to try to calculate when you would be at certain aid stations and know what you would need at them, like warm clothes, headlamps and extra batteries.
Knowing that I would be out there two nites, I had to bring most of my warm clothes so I had a stash for Friday nite and one for Saturday nite. I finished packing the drop bags and went to check in for the race. They did a medical check and I picked up a sweet schwag bag with sleeves, performance shirt in girl sizes, socks, gel and other accoutrements. I had this bad lucid dream that I would forget to check in for the race and they would give away my space to one of the frothing at the mouth, hungry waitlisters. These people are a little scary because without even the Promise that they would get to run, they have trained, traveled, packed drop bags and been ready to do on the slim chance that they might get to run. I just don't have that much dedication to anything but I admire and fear them a bit. I was glad to check in and could pooh pooh that bad dream at last.
After checking in and dropping off at least three quarters of the gear I own, we went to eat. I developed two bad habits in Silverton. One being the burritos that some angel makes there and the other was Mother Cluckers. The burritos are works of art, beef brisket with cabbage and chipotle aoli and sausage, green chilis and eggs burritos. If you saw me anytime in Silverton that week, I was either eating those burritos or talking about how I needed to get my hands on more burritos. I went to the grocery store about three times a day to see if they had gotten their delivery. It was bad and when I wasn't consumed with burritos, I was at Mother Cluckers or trying to talk someone into going with me. I went 4 times in 8 days and am still not sick of chicken fingers. So good.
Oh yeah, one more bad habit I picked up. I am back on coffee. I had gone off of coffee last year in an effort similiar to a Gary Busey detox. There was shaking, irritability and intense headaches for about 3 weeks. Then there was merely a very thin existence where, if I talked about coffee or even smell chocolate, I would be hit with more headaches and blurred vision. Finally, I felt like I was past it and tea, while not exciting, was hot. I watched Chris light up his first crackpipe, I mean french press and just smelled it, thinking "that's enough, just the aroma of coffee is satisfying" but oh how we lie to ourselves. The day we ran the last 10 miles of the course, we were all hit with a nasty dehydration/altitude whamer of a headache that only caffeine or a sedative could fix and all the sudden, I'm riding that horse again. Could be worse, I could have a blackberry habit.
Race day is fast approaching, like tomorrow and I feel like I want to start that day, right now, not because I want to get it done but just because of the beauty that awaits us. We had our standard pre-race dinner of grill cheese and tomato soup, always good, can't make you sick. I took a sleeping pill to get to sleep but I usually sleep pretty well before a race. We got up at 4:45, got the all important poop, ate my first of many old lady shakes (generic Ensure) and walked over to start. I didn't have to wait too long in the gym, that place of love and comfort. It's just of gym but there is nothing but support in there; people that want you to do well.
I sat with my friend Todd in the gym and I said, "what I am thinking?" but I pretty much knew what I was thinking. He was pacing AJW and I think it was really the question that Todd was asking himself. He did really well pacing him but Andy dropped him on Virginius but Todd is quick to point out that he came in only about 5 minutes after Andy at Telluride.
So we head outside and Dale Garland, one hell of a sweet RD is standing on the rock and he says that he wants to see all of us back here and has a special message for Leonard, who he definitely wants to see back at the rock. Leonard is a good man, tried 5 times to finish Hardrock and had come up short each time. Mike Dobies is convinced that it's because he carries too much stuff. I'll let you decide. Leonard carries something of a canvas mail sack that he wear across his chest and has what can only be described as a painful looking knot on the shoulder that has to cut into him. Then he has maybe a pack and a fanny pack but maybe just the fanny pack. Then, the best part, he tucks his shirt in then fills his shirt with all kinds of crap - bottles, food, camera, short wave radio, tv/vcr combo, you name it. He runs like I do, not quite convinced that there will actually be aid stations, that it might be a cruel joke. Mike convinced him that he didn't need his cell phone or video recorder which I can only imagine might have looked like this
Leonard was going light and fast for the 09 Hardrock and I think everyone was pulling for him. He's a minor celebrity as the Barkley's Leonard Butt Slide is named after him. I was no stranger from shaking some rocks loose from the nether regions so I was impressed there was a butt slide named after him. Perhaps I could get my name on the Oscar's descent, the Grant Swamp descent or really any Hardrock descent because most of the time, I was not on my feet.
Cunningham Gulch (9.2 miles) 3840 up, 2770 down So we head out, I was behind John DeWalt who I wished a good morning to. I was slow from the beginning, feeling slow and dead legged which is how I always feel at the start of a race. Like I just finished one already. So I hit the first creek crossing and was happy to say hello to a friend that would be with me for the next 45hours and that was wetness. I had trained with my feet wet (thanks Jared and Ty for the advice). Most training runs and races before Hardrock, I would look for a creek and get in it before I started and my feet were better because of it.
We cross Arrastra Creek and saw friend, Nick Coury, who scorched the course last year to became the youngest finisher in 5th place on the other side cheering everyone on. There was a climb and a jeep road but that's all I really remember of the first 7 miles. Really you could say that about the entire course (big climb, jeep road) but I think I was still asleep during the first section. I did remember the first downhill which was about 2 miles of straight downhill switchbacks that I took really easy. I was feeling my typical dead legs and trouble breathing but I knew that it would pass. I got down to Cunningham in about 3:10 which was a little slow but I am not a split person. I quickly got my pack on and ate a little something from my crew and was on my way.
Maggie Gulch (15.3 miles)3160 up, 1700 down The next section also involved, you got it, a big climb. I had hooked up with some guys, Tom from Dillon, CO and Morris from Texas. I love running with guys sometimes because they don't let you complain or maybe I know I am not going to get the same response as I would allaying my pains to women. But we just chatted as we hiked what we had to and ran what we could. Tom was interviewed by a Denver channel at Cunningham aid station and I lamented another opportunity missed for fame. Here's the link to the spot, it's pretty good. So on we went to Maggie Gulch enjoying the amazing scenery. I was climbing well, the legs were feeling better and breathing was clearer.
Pole Creek (19.6 miles) 960 up, 1340 down (covered) Maggie to Pole Creek is a beautiful section and really for me, the only runnable section in the race. It was a cross between Sound of Music without the creepy Nazi vibe and Zippity Do Da without the need to take acid. It was just beautiful. We passed field of Wild Irises, hot pink Indian Paintbrush and tons of Columbine and did I say that I was able to run some? It felt pretty good to trot along in the last of the morning coolness with other runners, Tom and Morris. Alas, the amazing section didn't last, it was only 4.3 miles and we came into Pole Creek aid station. Lots of nice folks in this out of the way aid station so we ate and talked and left.
Sherman (28.7 miles) (1390 up, 3210 down)(covered) Sherman was another drop bag station and I heard it had some good food so I was excited to get there. The up wasn't so bad, beautiful flower filled single track beside the creek. The climbs are my friend. The downhill is that bitch that lives down the street and talks bad about me. She is not my friend, but I act like she is so she won't be meaner. I used to be able to run downhills so free and fast like a gazelle. Now, I am relegated to a fearful lumbering pace similiar in style to Snuffaluffagus running downhill. It's not pretty and it's usually filled with some profanity laced descriptions as well, not for the kids.
We ran down into Sherman, I was with Morris at the time. He looks like Tommy Lee Jones and talks like him too. Needless to say, I asked a lot of open ended questions. Tom had fell back fixing something and I knew he would be back. We get into Sherman and it's starting to heat up as it's around 3:30-4. Morris and I decide we will spend about 5-10 minutes at the station and then head out together if we can. Big section next - 13.4 miles up and over Handies, the high point on the course at 14000+.
I wasn't that hungry even though for the past 1/4 mile before the aid station, there were signs on the trail telling us what food the station offered like a moving menu. As soon as I got into Sherman, I was accosted by the nicest aid station couple that completely and immediately overwhelmed me with their questions. I really do this stuff solo and having help was no help. I asked for some silence as the mind was moving slowly. They filled my bladder and I told them what stuff I wanted to take for the next section, powders, flashlight, pants, etc. They stuffed my pack with my gear, filled up my bladder and sent me on my way with my poles, which I also picked up there. The poles were a question mark.
My friend Mike Ehredt, a veteran runner told me to pick up poles around 25 and use them the rest of the way. They would save my legs at the end. So I dutifully tried to train with them but really felt like I didn't need them. Mike said that he never uses them, except at Hardrock and friend and Hardrock extraordinaire, Kirk Apt uses them too.
I took the poles and met up with Morris and we headed out. About 10 minutes out of the aid station, Morris smacks his head and realizes he forgot his rain jacket and returns to get it. I kept going and enjoyed the time alone. Its funny that as soon as I am alone, I start to doubt my way. There was a guy behind me and I kept making sure he was going the same way. Morris was able to catch up and we made the left hand turn towards Handies. I didn't fill up my bladder at the water stash under the bridge, thinking I had plenty.
We started climbing on the single track that meandered through the woods. We saw Matt Mahoney with his racing flats (sans socks) ahead. Matt had no drop bags, no crew and no pacer, pretty amazing. I passed him with few words and we went on. Somewhere along the way, Tom caught up with us and I was leading the small group of us. We finally break out of the woods and it was a beautiful open high meadow. We could see Handies ahead and I knew that sometimes the approach to a high peak is harder for me than the actual climb, so I took my time. Morris was falling behind at this point and I waited for him a few times. He told me to go on without him but I am always hesitant to do that seeing we all have dark periods and can come back strong.
At the creek crossing, I filled my bladder and Morris's water bottles and Tom and I left him sitting on a rock resting. I didn't see him again. Tom and I started to tackle Handies with our poles clicking along and I realized that I was incredibly glad to have the poles at this point. With a fright I realized my rookie mistake at Sherman - I forgot my head lamp. I had remembered that I had the nice couple put in my flashlight but then the bladder flooded a lot of what was in my bag so I hoped that the flashlight would work. I had miscalculated when I would be down from Handies and into Grouse Gulch aid station. My splits said 7:45pm but it would be more like 10, yikes.
The sun was going down on Handies as we reached the top of Handies and reveled once again in the high thin air, I love being high.It turned out not to be a problem at all; the flashlight worked and was all I needed. Thankfully I had hiked up to American Basin and knew where I was once down from Handies. Olga passed me at this section, running with her amazing downhill abilities. We took this pictureand she ran on. I continued to make my way down, keeping Tom in sight to Grouse.
Grouse Gulch (42.1) 5258 up, 4188 down (covered)
The other thing I had to look forward to was picking up my pacer, Kris Quandt. It would be good to have company and not have to do all the route finding. Kris is a great ultrarunner and I decided I would do exactly what he told me (very unusual behaviour for me). I knew I was probaly down on water and food. I reached the aid station behind on time but wasn't too worried. I wanted to be quick in the aid station and we got out pretty quickly with Julie and Chris's help. I got my headlamp and good flashlight but kept my poles and we were off.
I got caught up on how everyone else was doing and feeling. Olga had left about an hour before and it was good to hear that everyone else was feeling good. Myself, I was doing okay, tired and sore but nothing that was really dogging me. We had a long road up Engineer Pass Road to Oh Point and then a cross county descent that would eventually take us to Bear Creek down into Ouray. I knew this section from Oh Point down from trail marking so I felt that I could put my head down and just hike. It's also nice to have good memories associated with a trail so I was looking forward to being on this section.
We were about a mile (felt like 4) in when we ran into Clem from Bozeman and his wife on the side of the road. Clem and I had done Old Gabes together and a few other races. He's a great runner and I thought it was odd that I was catching up with him. He was experiencing severe dizziness and could barely stay up so we had him sit on the side. His wife asked that we let the next aid station know that he was having troubles. We also said if it didn't get better, maybe turning around would be a good idea. We found out later that Clem made it safely to Ouray where he made the right decision to drop.
We made our way up the 4 miles to Oh Point. One thing you learn at Hardrock is that a mile can feel like many more than one. I thought for sure we should have been to the top so much sooner as I felt like we were moving well. Kris patiently told me each time how much time we had to the top but sometimes you just know that your pacer is lying to you. We fell into a good rhythm and comfortable silence that the night sometimes brings. I do enjoy the night time and even more so with the comfort of my pacer. Finally we made it to the top and I knew exactly where we plunge off the main road to the cross country section to the aid station.
Engineer 48.6 2310 up, 1220 down (covered)
The aid station seemed very remote in the night and the volunteers were very kind and they had a dog. I love dogs and it was such a wonderful feeling to pet this little sweet dog. I had some soup and we moved on. I knew the trail but wasn't moving very fast downhill. I also knew that the toughest section of Bear Creek was still to come. Bear Creek is a trail cut out of the rock suspended above the creek and was really high up. Kris wanted to have a serious talk when my watch hit 20 hours because we were off pace quite a bit. He just wanted to make sure that I was okay not making the time goal and I was. I wanted to continue to feel good and didn't want to push myself for the sake of time. He was good with that answer and we moved on. I took a caffeinated gel at Yellow Jacket Mine and we made it through the scary section of the trail easily but slowly.
The descent to the highway tunnel was on dinner plate scree and went slowly. I knew once we hit the highway, we had about 2 miles to Ouray. I also knew that my sister might be at the aid station so that was something to look forward to but it was also 3:00am so she might be normal and sleeping. We came into Ouray and I knew where to go so we walked towards the park. My sister, Susie was on the side of the road so kindly waiting for me and gave me a hug as I went by. It's amazing what a hug from your sister can do for you.
Ouray 56.5 455 up, 4575 down (covered)
We made it into the aid station and Julie and Chris took great care of me. I wanted to get out fast but I knew what lay ahead for me, Virginius. A group of us had done this section earlier in the week and I got gripped on the descent and had barely held it together on the ascent. Thankfully the sun was starting to come up as we made our way up Old Bird Mine Road and I knew that would melt the snow and make it softer. We started up the road and I was glad that we were covering this road at this time (about 5am) as it can get crowded with jeeps making their way up the road towards either Imogene Pass or toward Virginius. I passed Robert Andrulis and his pacer on the way up and we exchanged "how are yous". There were a few other runners on this section and I welcomed the company.
We finally made it to the aid station and we stayed only to eat something. There were a few other runners that were camped out in front of the fire, which I avoided like the plague. I don't want to get too comfortable at the aid station. We left and headed up towards Virginius. The climb was steep but on a jeep road so we could be two across walking and talking. I saw Bob Combs up ahead taking a break on the side of the road. He looked tired but nothing too bad. He said he would be on his way in a minute so we left him there.
I kept looking for the snow covered Virginius and Kris knew how scared I was and would be. I felt bad for the job Kris faced getting me up there with a minimum of tears. He was great the whole way up. He told me to plant a pole, plant the other pole and then step. So the whole way up, I was Rainman saying over and over,
It worked and I made it up the first pitch in spite of the fact that there was a stream running under the snow that made me suck in a breath. The sencond section was easy, a walk up. The third section gave you a choice, you could use the fixed rope on the left, which was steeper but roped. Or you could go up the right side which had steps but was still sketchy. The folks on top of Krogers Canteen were yelling at us to use the fixed rope so that's what we did. It's funny how fear can make something that seems safe still feel like the scariest thing. I held the rope with a white knuckled grip and it felt wet and icy. But we made it to top and to the aid station.
Kroger/Virginius (67.7 miles) 2320 up, 0 down (covered)
I drank some coke at Krogers Canteen aid station which is essentially a ten foot area with sheer drop offs on both sides.I knew the other side down was super steep and would take us into Telluride. I also knew my butt would meet scree on the way down so I threw my pride to the wind, sat down and slid. I thought I would get to a runnable portion but I never could get up a consistent pace down, partly fatigue and just fear. It was, again, slow going down and finally, we reached a place that was switchbacks and there I was able to run and make up some time. Kris was very proud of me for running and I swelled with pride that my pacer was proud of me.
Telluride (72.7 miles) 40 up, 4340 down (covered)
It was hot coming into Telluride and right away I didn't like the energy of the town. I felt stared at, like a dirty hobo coming into town, just felt out of place. We made it to the aid station and they were surprised to see me so soon. I got to pee in a regular toilet and also got a hug from a clean and beautiful Beth Simpson Hall who was picking up Larry for pacing duties. The food was horrible there. I asked for a breakfast burrito as I changed socks and it was so bland, I almost gagged. The mac and cheese was also dismal so I ate what I could and Chris cleaned up my leftovers.
Kris was finished with his pacing duties and him and Julie were leaving directly from Telluride to drive home and get back to work. I thanked them profusely and Chris and I headed out. I needed to get out of Telluride, felt like the town from Poltergiest, weird. Chris is my boyfriend and I was hesitant for him to pace me. It's an odd relationship, the pacer/runner relationship. You don't want someone who is going to let me complain and sympathize with my aches and pains. I need someone who is going to ignore those comments and get me back on track. Chris is the sweetest person I know and I worried that this would be too tough of a job for him.
Chris was so jazzed up to pace that I had to tell him more than once that we were going too fast. I know how hard it is to wait around to pace and then start out slow. He quickly fell into my pace and we hiked. We went around the closed trail sign and started the climb. I remembered Robert telling as we hiked up Old Bird Mine Camp road that the climbs got smaller from that point on so I was looking forward to a shorter climb. Chris assured me that it was a smaller climb...only 4500 foot climb. For some reason, that pissed me off. And like mileage, you think are done climbing way before you actually are. We made it to the first false summit and I thought how good I was doing, then realized we had more climbing to do. I thought the same thing as we reached the second false summit.
We ran into Michelle and her boyfriend who informed us that we weren't even close to the top and I immediately disliked him. We passed them and went on. Up ahead, I could see Olga and Larry and knew that they would leave us on the downhills but it would be nice to visit for a minute. We finally caught up to them right near the talk and Larry was pissed off too because of the long climb. I think he felt betrayed by the climb, decipitively long and tough and we all felt that way.
We now had a long and brutal descent into the aid station. Olga and Larry went on and Chris and I struggled down the pea sized scree on a sever grade. I just couldn't run on it and it was frustrating. It was so slow at times that I sat down on a ground and cried. At the same time I was crying, I was hoping that I would just slide down from there. The descent took forever and fried my quads in the meantime.
At that time, I only had one overwhelming feeling and that was I wanted to be back in Silverton. It had felt like home for the last week, the mother's arms that would comfort me and I wanted to be back there really bad. Finally we came into Chapman Gulch and found Olga not happy as well. It was a good section to cry over and I told her of my tears on the descent, hopefully that made her feel better.
Chapman Gulch (82.0 miles) 4500 up, 3090 down (covered)
There were a few other folks in the aid station and we exchanged hellos. Don Platt and I had been together for a while and I told him how glad I was to be done with Viriginius because of my fear of exposure. He said the most uncomforting thing and that was "if you think Virginius is bad, wait until you see Grant Swamp". I put him on my mental list of people I intensely disliked. We ate some delicious mac and cheese and beef brisket, totally hit the spot for lunch.
I had not done the Grant Swamp section.I just waved my hand when it was mentioned saying it was close to the finish I would get through it. But as I made my way to the pass, I kept looking and looking at it trying to figure out where we were going over and how scared I should be. When it was pointed out to me, everyone was always pointing to this section that had multi tiers of waterfalls and I thought, what the hell? Are we going to have to climb up the waterfall?
After the last 82 miles, it was possible.
Chris and I covered ourselves with sunscreen and bug spray and took off. Despite the fear that I was becoming familiar with, the hike around to Grant Swamp was beautiful. Not terribly uphill and we ran into a nice family. They had a toddler and an infant in a carrier. This soothed me tremendously because if someone had taken their kids up here, than it couldn't be that bad, right?
Wrong. I finally pointed out where I thought we were going to Chris and he corrected me to a place around the corner from the waterfalls. It wasn't much better. We got there as an approaching storm was coming in.
As we waited first in line to head up what can only be described as loose scree on a conveyor belt. We watched the people about halfway up make it to the top. Lightning and thunder banged around us and I just stared up trying to figure out how the hell we were going to get up there. There was a couple that had done this section many, many times so we asked if they would lead. They kindly did.
Olga and Larry were behind us and the three pairs of us started up. I was trying to stay close to Chris but it was hard because each step seemed to let loose a stream of scree that rained down on the person below you. I worried that I would send a big rock down so we spaced out safely. There were some faint switchbacks on the climb but it didn't really help much. It was one step up and two steps down. I knew I wasn't exaggerating my fears when I called for Chris to help me and he answered back with fear in his voice. It made me feel better that I wasn't the only one thinking this was a bad idea. Larry behind me was doing great, totally comfortable on this type of stuff and that was also comforting. Olga just had her head down and was getting it done.
I finally scrambled up to the top and caught my breath. Chris and I hugged like we were final survivors of a Friday the 13th movie. I was very relieved and happy to be done. We waited for Olga and Larry to finish up and we headed down to KT aid station. I had been shown the Kamm Traverse which was a trail that Ulli Kamm discovered from looking at old mining maps and linked the areas. I was looking forward to this trail because it looked like a beautiful slight downhill to the aid station. It went on forever and we relished it as the sun was going down.
KT (89.0 miles) 2920 up, 2450 down (covered)
We reached the aid station and I wanted to be in and out because I smelled the barn and knew the next section like the back of my hand even though I had done it only once. We ate some noodles and broth and grabbed more gels and took off. I told Chris that he couldn't avoid getting his feet wet in the beginningand in spite of his frostbitten feet, he still wanted to do this section. We went down the road about a 1/4 mile and then took a left turn to the trail. We had to cross a creek and then hack our way through some willows in shin deep cold water. I hoped Chris's feet would be okay for the rest of the section but really I was focused on finishing, only 10 miles to go.
I told him that there was three big climbs in this section but couldn't remember what the second one was like. It was starting to get dark and you always want to get as far as you can before total darkness fell. We caught up to Rickie Redlands and she was having some stomach problems so I shared my ginger with her telling her to just stick it on the side of her mouth if she couldn't keep it down. She is incredibly tough so I knew we would see her again as I was having to take rest breaks a lot. We went back and forth for a while on the first climb but then I didn't see her and her husband again.
The first climb was over and we had a nice section of trail before the second climb. I realized that I shut out the second climb because it was a bitch. We made it up and we were getting above treeline (for the 13th time in the race). I wish it was light out because the scenery was so beautiful but I just tried to describe it to Chris instead. We were entrenched in darkness now and I was looking forward to the climb up to Catarach Ridge because I knew it was the last climb. We looked up to see the moon shining down on us.
The wind was starting to pick up and we looked around wondering what the weather was really like. Seeing the moon was deceptive because we were actually in the midst of colliding storms. The wind started to howl and we knew we were probably going to get rained on. We had made it to the top of the ridge and we knew that there was about 10other runners within about 3-4 miles. The first lightning strike was close and it was the strike that hit my friend, Bob.
He was without a pacer and not close to other runners. He knows the strike knocked him off his feet and he probably went unconscious. When he got up, his left side was numb but he kept moving because the storm was still all around us. Rain turned to hail and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees in a matter of minutes. Chris and I were running for our lives with the lightning and thunder hitting at the same time all around us.
The runner behind us was announcing how far away it was, 1 mile, 1/2 miles, 1/3 of a mile. I think I finally told him to shut up. We were headed downhill but were still above treeline so we were the tallest thing out there. I worried about all the people behind us that were still on the ridgeline. Larry told me later that lightning hit close to them and struck a metal marker bending the metal into a tootsie roll. Throughout it all, I wasn't scared. I knew I should be but it was almost perversely exciting to me. I have never been afraid of lightning even though I should be. We knew that the aid station was close and finally we saw the light. It was a great beacon of comfort in the cold, rainy dark night.
Putnam (94.6 miles) 2425 up, 1455 down (covered)
Our friends, Marcy and John. were working the aid station and they were ready for us. Before we knew it, warm drinks were in our hands and they did everything they could to help us. The hail was slowing down and it was turning back to rain. It was still incredibly cold and I had my raincoat zipped to the top with the hood on but I wasn't generating any body heat. We had to keep moving. We had 5.9 miles to go. I wanted to finish and knew there was nothing that could keep me from doing that. I also knew that the next section was a tough downhill with huge rocks jutting out from any angle. Not exactly the best footing at 1:30am.
I had also taken a spill on this trail on this section during our training run and wanted to get past that bad ju-ju section. We made our way down slowly and I was starting to feel jubilant. I saw the race before my eyes being replayed and it was wonderful, even the scary parts. I was proud of myself for working through those sections, with the help of my friends and fellow runners. It's a wonderful place to be, 5 miles from the finish of a 100 miler knowing you are almost done.
I was waiting for the rocks to change to soft dirt and at that point, I knew we were close to Mineral Creek and the rope crossing. That rope crossing symbolized the finish to me even though there were two more miles to go. I reached the rope and made it across and we hit the road. We ran into another runner who was unsure of where the trail was. We showed him the way and our place behind them was set. I wanted to run it in only because I was dying to get off my feet but the guy in front of us was walking, so we walked.
Even though I was anxious to finish, I relished the last two miles. I couldn't wait to kiss the rock and get a hug from Dale Garland. I waved to the Shrine to the Miners up on the hill as we got into Silverton. Chris peeled off when we hit street and I ran through Silverton in the middle of night knowing that people were warm in their beds and I would soon be too. I took the last turn at the high school and saw the flags of all the states and countries represented this year. I heard a few people cheer, it was the middle of the night. I reached the rock and kissed it.
I hugged Dale and he put the medal on. It was anti-climatic but not in the least bit disappointing. I had done this for the journey and the destination was just frosting. It was great to finish but I loved how I got there. I walked into the bright gym and got a hug from Larry Hall. Beth almost made me cry when she said how proud of me she was. All these people that I respected were proud of me and that was so rewarding. Andrea made me a hamburger with a fried egg on top and I shared it with Chris. I went outside to watch Bob finish and he shared his story of lightning on the mountain with all of us. I got to see Olga finish too, she arrived right after Bob. Chris's feet were not doing well so he took an oxycotin and fell asleep in the gym. He had to leave in a few hours and needed some sleep. I slept in the back of my truck and he woke up and slept in his car for a few hours.
We woke up to news of other finishers (including Leonard). We headed into the breakfast awards and they fed us bacon and sausage and some other food I can't remember. The awards party was fun and that was mostly because of Dale Garland. He is equal parts funny and sweet and you can't help but love him as our great leader.
There was a meaningful dedication to Kirk Apt for his 15th finish of Hardrock. Upon first meeting, Kirk comes across as a sweet, generous and kind human. He is the Dalai Lama of Hardrock and I was able to thank him for the advice from him that had been handed down to me. I got my picture from Dale and enjoyed hearing the stories of other runners. Dale told us that an eagle had flown over Grouse Gulch aid station wih a still alive fawn in its talens. I learned that eagles sometime drop their prey to kill it and this eagle dropped the fawn near the aid station and it pretty much exploded everywhere. While the story was incredibly sad, it reminded us of the unflinchingness of the race and surrounding area.
It was great that people like John DeWalt, 73 year old finisher get the same standing ovation as the winners. I was so happy to see that Leonard finished after 5 tries. His smile was huge. The biggest news of the race was the amazing performance of Diana Finkel, who shattered the record and was third overall. It was a great representation of what women can do. I looked around, saw all my new friends and got to share in their successes.
Even people that didn't finish still had a sense of accomplishment in being out there and fighting. I talked to Clem and his wife and was so happy to see him doing well. It was all incredibly touching and wiped tears away more than once. My sister and her family met me after the awards. Chris had to leave and I worried about him driving home after staying up for two days. I knew his feet were bad but we said our goodbyes. We grabbed a bite to eat, Mother Cluckers, surprised? I ate and it tasted just okay, not yet having my appetite back.
My sister wanted to head back and I was along for the ride. My brother in law drove my car back and I rode with my sister and her kids, who I love. I spent the next few days at my sister's in Denver recovering. My biggest ailment were mud irritations on the inside of each calf that was incredibly painful. The mud makes litle cuts in your legs over and over as your feet hit your calf and rub together. But it was gone within a week. My legs were sore but nothing too bad. I took two weeks off from running but did walk a lot.
The overwhelming feeling I have when I think of Hardrock is life changing. I was able to leave my worries and responsibilities behind for days and just live life for the trail. I met so many amazing people, each with their own story of successes and struggles. And that week, there was plenty of time to sit down and hear those stories and share your own. It's too busy of a world these days and Hardrock lets you slow down. The race is run so seemlessly and with true joy, it is shared by everyone involved. During the awards, great attention was spent recognizing the great work of the volunteers. As a runner, it was grea to be able to recognize the altruistic deeds of these people. Of I forgot, my time was 45:18 and that was way off my goal time but I wasn't disappointed in the least. I finished the race and that was my ultimate goal.