After my experience at Hardrock last year, several people have asked whether I would even consider running the race again. The answer was always yes, but what I don't mention is that I was looking forward to giving it another crack while driving back to Boulder the same day I finished the race. Something deep inside me knew I'd be given another chance and when the lottery was drawn and I was just 7th on the wait list, I knew my fate was sealed.
The unfortunate aspect was that I now lived in the Bay Area at sea level and didn't readily have access to altitude. I did, however, have access to hills and many, many races, which I took advantage of right out of the gate in 2012 with a trail half marathon on Jan. 1st and then a 50k the next weekend; I've raced nearly 400 miles in the first six months of 2012 before Hardrock. I switched things up beginning in November of 2011 with a focus on climbing and long tempo-style runs (like the half marathons). I also changed my diet some, which evened out my energy, tempering the swings I used to experience from a ball of energy to a sloth with little variance in between.
Along with the heavy race load of half marathons and 50ks, personal life was occupying much of my mental capacity (scarce to begin with), and it seemed I was in nearly constant conflict with a couple of the main people in my life. Running, I realized, had become the one thing I turned to for happiness. It wasn't only the simple activity of running but the people that running was bringing into my life that provided the enjoyment. Even with those new people and certain amount of happiness, I was still missing something and that, I slowly realized, were the mountains that gave me so much fulfillment. I craved mountains and I craved racing in the mountains, so Hardrock was a main source of escape for me. I must have looked at every photo on the internet of the San Juans a dozen times each.
Slowly, the chaotic parts in my life either lost interest in me or I in them and they fell away leaving a somewhat clean slate on which I could create with a new brush and fresh, bright colors instead of the dreary greys that had grown darker over the last few months. Hardrock was always there for me, even though I took steps to back out of it a few times, mostly to appease the negative people and situations in my life.
In terms of the training leading up to the race, as mentioned, I raced a lot. I laid out a solid plan and schedule of races that gradually grew in both distance and intensity. In February I raced the American Canyon 50k. In March I raced Way Too Cool 50k hard to a 3:59 finish, followed that up in April with the Diablo 50k, which I won breaking my own course record in 4:51. Then, two weeks later, I ran hard at Miwok 100k, resulting in a 10th place in 10:15. And, finally, I raced San Diego 100 mile and chopped 3 hrs 45 mins off my 2011 time there, finishing in 3rd overall in 19:01. The re-work of my training plan and tweaking of my nutrition had changed my running for the better and I felt good for Hardrock, though realized my pure mountain running and climbing was lacking. Also, having now lived in the Bay Area at sea level since November, I was quietly concerned about the elevation I'd be facing in July. There wasn't much I could do about it.
My recovery from San Diego 100 lingered a bit and I felt low energy and dull on my runs up until about a week before Hardrock. Milage was low during those four weeks but there were some decent runs, including the fun of pacing Brandon Fuller for 38+ miles at Western States to a 23:22 finish.
|Shaun (left) and GZ at Silverton Brewery|
|Please don't let me get lost.|
A couple months ago I blurted out a post on my site that I'd like a pacer and possibly crew for Hardrock. I ran it last year without crew and had JT as a pacer for just the last (excruciating) 28 miles. By the end of that day, I had two friends committed to my race, Shaun Katona for crewing and George Zack (GZ) for pacing. I couldn't have been more content. GZ picked me up from the airport and I stayed with Shaun in Boulder before we all three left on Wednesday morning for Silverton, arriving just in time for the medical check and bib pick-up, where I got to chat with my friend and one of my biggest running influences, Karl Meltzer.
|Our dainty hotel room in the Grand Imperial.|
Instead of going over every step of the run, I'll simply say that I hit my splits within about a minute for the first 25 miles. I put splits together for a near 30 hour finish somewhat based on Ted Mahon's Hardrock in 2010. Sure enough, Ted caught up to me just as I was leaving Chapman aid station at mile 20. We ran together for the next section to Telluride at mile 29. We climbed well together up to and over 13,000 ft Oscars and descended. I stopped to pee and Ted gapped me, so I spent the 4,500 ft descent down Bridal Falls "Rd" trying to catch up. He and John Hart were motoring and I felt uncomfortable pushing so hard that early but maintained the pace, catching them just before the bottom and we three jogged into town and the aid station. It was pouring rain, which made the first crew stop a little chaotic, sock change (my new socks were rolling down under my heel and had caused some nice blisters), grabbing a jacket, trying to decide when the rain would stop and whether I'd be too cold, all while trying to eat something after that nauseating descent. GZ ran/walked with me a couple blocks and I was off on my climb up Virginius feeling drained and in an abnormally high amount of pain.
|Me climbing Virginius just ahead of Christian Johnson.|
Photo Evan Honeyfield
|Geared up and heading out.|
We crested Engineer Pass and descended the long road to Grouse Gulch (mile 60.5). I was miserable on the descent and told Brandon I'd need to lie down for a bit. The lack of sleep leading up to the race had taken hold of me and there was no going on until I recharged a little. Shaun, Kara, GZ, and Brandon went to work immediately. They ripped my shoes off and Brandon taped my mangled feet like a professional. The others tried feeding me and keeping my spirits up, while GZ prepared himself for his long 42 miles to come. After a few minutes, they convinced me to get up and dressed me for the cold night climb over 14,000 ft Handies Peak. Here are some photos that pretty much sum up my condition. I'm usually a master of sleep deprivation but I was close to unconscious.
|Brandon concerned his awesome foot taping job was wasted on a corpse.|
|Soft kitty blanket…. whatever.|
|keeping the sandwich handy on my shoulder.|
|Kitty blanket hell.|
|Trying to rally my cloudy mind to get up and go.|
|GZ and I almost ready to go.|
We made our way across the basin and began the climb up Handies. It was windy and cold at times but otherwise just a long grind that felt like we were handling well. Only one set of lights were gaining on us while the others seemed to be slower. It turned out to be Billy Simpson and his pacer who was dragging a little. The four of us summited together and scrambled across the peak before dropping off the steep backside onto a series of fairly technical switchbacks. I fell once with my left leg collapsed and twisted between two rocks. It was more startling than painful but I got to my feet and continued on. I could feel the air thickening, which helped me increase the pace a bit and we reached Burrows Park aid station just before 5am. It was a brief stop since we had Sherman aid station just down the road about 4-5 miles.
Reaching Sherman in that pasty blueish light of very early morning with the night chill in full effect, I wasn't in the best of moods and not very interested in lingering there long but we had some work to do in the form of dropping off our night gear and extra clothes in my one drop bag there. I ate a breakfast burrito that was tough to choke down. We had a big climb ahead of us, not the steepest but very long with a lot of gain. I remembered this section as one of my favorites from the previous year, mostly because it was a very long gradual descent through beautiful meadows, around waterfalls, water crossings, and views rich and expansive. GZ loved this section. He kept commenting that we'd been going for a long, long time and the valley meadow seemed unending and pristine. It is definitely void of any human evidence. It was getting a little old for me and I was pleased to finally see Pole Creek aid station situated on a large lump of a hill with a sadistic little climbing path straight up to it.
I was in a dour mood, nauseous, dizzy, and still in some of the worst pain I've experienced in any races. I was trying to choke down scraps of banana in a tortilla and GZ was just trying to lighten the mood, I'm sure, by being coyly overbearing on the insistence of me eating. "Eat something. Want a cookie? How about some potato chips? A gel?" I snapped at him to stop and that I was eating. Then I asked Chris Price, who was working the aid station if he'd like to pace me the last 20 miles. The volunteers just sort of stood there saucer-eyed not really knowing how to react to this crazy looking runner who was obviously about to snap. GZ and I laughed it off and headed out, to the relief of the aid workers, I'm sure.
|Maggie Gulch (mile 87 of 102.5)|
I don't really remember the next section to Cunningham, except that it was very long and we encountered a couple of icy cold rain storms that forced me to run hard. We caught up to and passed Krissy Moehl and her pacer during the rain storm. We were flying. I was pretty fucking pissed and in my fragile mental state I felt the rain was part of the race to make it more difficult. We passed by this old hippie guy taking photos and I remembered him taking a photo of me in the beginning of the race. "Hey, you took my picture 31 hours ago. How's it going?" Then we began the ankle twisting long, dry descent to Cunningham aid station. It seems there was a large bear on the trail here just minutes before we arrived. At that point I would've kicked him in the teeth just for existing. This shit was getting old and I wanted to be done.
|Should say, "Next stop, bed."|
|Dropping down to Cunningham.|
|Finally getting my appetite back a little|
|Leaving Cunningham for finish.|
35:49 and 34th place.
|Just about to enter the finish chute.|
|With race director, Dale Garland.|
|GZ, me, and Shaun|
|GZ, companion for 40 miles and nearly 18 hours.|
Everything is still a little raw in my mind. There've been a couple times when I look at photos or watch Brandon's video, or simply think about parts of the race and my chest gets tight and eyes well up. Hardrock is difficult. I can't express what it's like to be pushed to the point of apathy. You simply need to have the faith that it will end at some point and the suffering will be over. Why put yourself through it? That's a difficult question I get asked all the time. It's not like I enjoy suffering. I suppose the rewards, from seeing and experiencing remote, rugged, beautiful places, to stretching your perception of what is possible are a couple of the reasons. I'll have to think more about it all and maybe write more later this week or soon about it. Needless to say, Hardrock is in my heart and soul, imbedded in me like a belief. I love the place, the event, and, most of all, the people.
Thank you Shaun for your quiet kindness, hospitality, generous gift of your time, and for being a good friend. Thank you Kara for your organization, support, friendship, and kindness. Thank you Brandon (and your family) for your companionship on the trail, knowledge of aid station needs, and friendship. Thank you George for the adventure of sharing a good chunk of a race that's become an intrinsic part of my life. We've had a couple of good adventures together and I look forward to more. You're a good friend. I value each of you deeply.