Steve and I were going to run Vermont. We entered Vermont. We trained for Vermont. you know, lots of road type running. So how did we find ourselves, two weeks from Vermont, flying out to Colorado for Hardrock? We'd been on the waiting list for two years, with very little movement. But some (very!) last minute changes in the entrants' list had a profound effect on our plans.
This all started the week before the run. Steve and I were minding our own business, when suddenly, without warning, an email came from Dale Garland, and, (the short story,) we were catapulted from our safe little nest on the waiting list, to actually being IN THE RACE. (sinister music here)
I distinctly heard the voice of doom speaking. I think the predictions were something to do with our bodies being shipped back to the East, having been found sprawled across some mountain pass because we had not trained for this, didn't have much time to acclimate, and were generally unprepared.
But, like any good ultrarunner, I ignored the voice of Doom and began planning my race strategy. This consisted of deciding: A. Which outfit to wear. B. Which pack to wear, and C. what to put in my drop bags. It turns out B was the easiest decision. I resolved C by just putting the same thing in every drop bag, except for the night stuff.
While in the throes of indecision about A, I asked Steve what outfit HE was wearing. I was quickly informed that 'men do not wear "outfits".' They just put on running stuff. Now, I've seen some combinations that could only be described as "outfits", but I didn't argue.
The week leading up to the race is what we call "Camp Hardrock." Beginning with the 10K, the Parade, the Fireworks, the fun continues with course marking or planning other hikes together, eating breakfast at the Chattanooga or Avalanche, registration and medical check. (my blood pressure is WHAT?????), shopping for Hardrock goodies, the Potlick, Charlie's (long) course description, sitting every night on the balcony of the Avon Motel and consuming impressive quantities of fine microbrews (courtesy Mike "Growler" Dobies). Gary, Keith, Karl, and their other roommate "Jack" made frequent appearances on the official balcony of the Hardrock 100. Karl had a really nice black fleece jacket. Competition is already heating up, as we compare "resting heart rates", noted on our entrants wristbands. I won.
And They're OFF!
Enough fun. Time to get serious. Race day dawns and at 6 am we are off. Steve and I were going to "take it easy" and just hoped to get a finish. That pesky voice of Doom was still whispering in my ear. The long climb up Buffalo Boy has me wheezing so badly that I must stop and rest, even this early, and I have lost my voice. This doesn't bode well, I had hoped the asthma was more under control. We are still relaxed, however, and not worried. It is getting hotter, and hotter. These are record temperatures for Hardrock, and when my lungs begin to settle down somewhat, Steve is beginning to suffer from the heat. We are still going very slow, far back in the pack, hoping we can pick it up when things cool off in the night. Steve is having stomach problems now, and I am also having some nausea, though I think I feel better at this point than he does.
You're Bringing Me Down
I had decided to wear the new Hardrock shirt for the race. While walking up the long climb, John Cappis (who is one of the Board members of Hardrock) told me "I think it should be a rule that you can't wear those shirts during the run." A pang of guilt ensued, as I though to myself "Gee, I guess I shouldn't have worn this shirt because I'm not a finisher yet". Then John added, "It's just really discouraging having to look at that course profile on the back!"
Don't Step in that!
The stretch from Maggies to Sherman runs below the Continental Divide Trail. One of Charlie Thorn's favorite questions is to ask about the stream running there. "Which ocean does this water flow to?" I'm not telling, you'll have to enter Hardrock to find out. Besides geographical conundrums, it's also a hotbed of elk poop (so to speak). Sure enough, running along these high meadows, beneath the Continental Divide trail, there are mounds of fresh poop. Really fresh. There must be some elk around here somewhere. And then we see them. Only they're not elk.
Somebody is grazing HEREFORD COWS up here. I am not kidding about this. They watched us go by. And I'm glad I didn't take that water out of the stream there after all.....
No Man's Land
Unfortunately, after the long hot stretch through Pole Creek, we must endure the long, hot, dusty road from Sherman to Burrows Park. The dust from the passing jeeps is a killer. And the heat and flies were even worse. It is Steve's undoing. He gets into worse and worse problems from the heat, and by the time we are beginning the climb up Handies, he is throwing up, and unable to keep anything down. It is growing toward dusk, and he recognizes the beginning of the end for him. At his insistence, I reluctantly go on, with his promise that he will try to pull it together and keep going. I met up with several other runners on the way up and over Handies. They were all ladies. We were all having a bit of a hard time for awhile. Everyone took turns throwing up. We bonded.
I See the Light
I stayed for quite awhile at the aid station, hoping Steve might be coming along. Against my better judgement, I go into the heated tent. A volunteer handed me a breakfast burrito. I looked at it. I even held it for awhile. It was probably good, but I'll never know. I would not touch solid food again for another 30+ hours. Eventually, I gathered my stuff and headed up to the top of Engineer's Pass. I had been walking up with John Cappis and his pacer Andrea. But they left me near the top, and I was alone. I had seen a light coming up behind me on the switchbacks, so I stopped at the top and waited, hoping it was Steve. I'm not sure how long I waited. Okay, I'll admit it, I fell asleep here.(but I kept my light on in case of sudden cougar attack). When I awoke, it was around 4:30am, and mentally I was just having a hard time talking myself into moving forward. I didn't want to go on by myself, because I am a wimp, and I was concerned about facing the Bear Creek trail by myself. It's the one section I had never seen in the daylight, because I am deathly afraid of sharp drop-offs, and if any of you have looked at Keith's photos, you'll know why the Bear Creek trail was my nemesis. I actually considered turning back and going down to the aid station again, and dropping out. But then, I did some calculating. It was approximately 8 miles back down to the aid station. They closed an hour ago. Maybe they had packed up and left! That meant I would have to walk an additional 13 miles back to Silverton. I couldn't quite add 8 and 13 at that moment, but deep down I knew it was more miles than I wanted to go just to drop out, and so I decided to just keep going forward. Motivation is where you find it.The light turned out to be another runner, who was thinking we could still make the cut-offs, so we headed down the hill.
Chuck, the fella who I had teamed up with, eventually decided he was going to drop, and told me to go on. I'm not complaining or anything, but couldn't he have chosen to drop AFTER Bear Creek? I went on alone and now it was early morning. I am alone on the Bear Creek trail. Suddenly I find that I am not afraid. This is sort of maddening, as I have spent the last two years worrying about this section of trail, and now, here it is and I'm not afraid. It's actually quite beautiful in the canyon, though I wouldn't recommend getting too caught up in the views. Keep your eyes where you're walking. I finally reach the bottom after the (14, I counted) switchbacks.
Once again on solid ground, I have to cross the Uncompaghre River. That's an Indian word that means "Nearly Frozen Water". They have a rope there so when the lower half of your body has gone numb and non-functional from the cold, you can still sort of pull yourself across with your arms. This is a little trickier when you're also trying to carry a flashlight, (I still had mine out) but I stuffed the light down in my sports bra and plunged ahead Right before the river crossing, I finally caught up with John Cappis, sans Andrea. "John, where's Andrea?" I asked. "Didn't you see her on the Bear Creek trail?" he responded. Now, I refer you again to Keith's photos of the trail. "No," I said, beginning to get a bad feeling about this. "Hmmmm, well she dropped off back there." he said nonchalantly. A few seconds of silence ensued as I tried to digest this calm remark from John. "Uh, I hope she didn't really DROP OFF!" I said, but since John didn't seem concerned, we just kept running down the trail toward the aid station. It's amazing how you can focus on your race in situations like this.
A Voice From Beyond
We made it to the aid station in Ouray, the lowest part of the course. Andrea appeared, no worse the wear, shortly after we got there, and I never really did understand how I did not see her on the switchbacks. (again, check those photos). She was going to have to drop here, because her feet were mush, so John and I and another runner, Randy, started up towards Governor's Basin. A friend of John's took my flashlight and jacket and promised to have them at Telluride, where I would need to pick them up again for the second night.
So, here we were, probably the last three runners on the course. Camp Bird Road was just about as bad as the road to Burrows Park, only we were tireder. At Governor's, John decides to call it a day. Randy and I make the climb up to Virginius, a little over 13,000 feet. Randy is sort of famous, because he finished the last Hardrock in 48:01. Remember the cut-off for official finishers is 48:00. I mistakenly told somebody that Randy had run in 48:03, and he was insulted. "I'm not THAT slow" he retorted. I pull ahead of him on the final pitch up to Virginius. There was no rope this year, because there was no snow, but the rotten rock was really tough to get up and over. I pull myself up over the edge, and I'm feeling sort of sad, because Steve and I had planned to toast again on this spot, where we had been engaged. I'm thinking that I'm probably so far behind at this point that I won't make cut offs. Suddenly the aid station volunteer asked, "Are you Deb? I have a radio message for you. Steve wants you to know that he is going to meet you at the KT aid station and run in with you to the finish." This news was like a shot in the arm. I could have kissed the aid station volunteer, but instead I had a slice of orange, and took off like a shot down the other side. Now I had a purpose, and I had to make the cut-offs. Thanks, Steve.
Run, Baby, Run,
Now, I'm not bragging, but if you check my split from Virginius to Telluride, it was pretty good. Unfortunately, when I got there, I was behind the 48 hour pace. Not only that, but my flashlight and jacket were nowhere to be seen. Fortunately, another runner loaned me a good light. The aid station captain there was great. He figured out just how fast I needed to do the next stretch to get back onto a 48 hour pace. He warned me that none had ever left Telluride this late and finished on time. But, I had to try. With renewed energy I took off. It was hot, and all uphill, and I ran out of water. I was flopping in the stream when possible, just sitting in it to cool off my quads. I ate snow on the top of Oscars and ran/walked down the hill. Near the bottom, a familiar figure appeared - in a lawn chair with a walkie talkie. Hallucination?
No, it was really Steve. He had hitched a ride to this nearer aid station, and had been volunteering till I arrived.
Shut up and Climb
I had made it here about 15 min. early. and we wasted as little time as possible. We had the last big obstacle to face: the climb up Grant Swamp Pass, mile 85. We would have to do this in the dark. I was moving pretty good now. If only the first day had been like this. I hadn't had any solid food since before Steve had dropped out. I was surviving on a cup of soup and cup of Coke at the aid stations, but was feeling better than the previous day when I had tried to eat a bar, or a sandwich, or drink an Ensure. We got to the climb along with Margaret Heaphy and Allie, her pacer. Because the loose rocks present sort of a danger to anyone below you, we took different paths up the steep pitch. But, because it was totally dark, it was hard to pick a line, and going up blind like that was quite a challenge. Maybe it was good I couldn't see down below us. We stopped at the Joel Zucker memorial, left a rock, and headed down the other side.
It's All A Blur
The last 15 miles, in the dark, are all a blur. Literally. For whatever reason, I had basically gone blind in one eye. At first, I thought it was my contact lens, and I took it out and rinsed it off. But then I realized that my vision had clouded over. I felt good enough to move quickly, but couldn't see well enough to do so on the rocky trails through this section. But we made it, crossed the Mineral Creek, and ran the last section, known as the Nute Chute, a narrow footpath on a steep rocky scree slope.
Jesus is There, and He's Not Alone
The last section drops you on a dirt road above Silverton, where you run along towards the Christ of the Mines Shrine, a large statue of Christ that overlooks the town. It has a light on it continuously. As we approached, I was absolutely certain that I saw two people standing below the shrine lighting candles. They were not really there. I understand that Gary also had a hallucination around this same place. I believe Gary carried on a conversation with his hallucination, but then, that's not really a surprise to anyone here, is it? Once you reach the statue, you turn downhill towards town. This is where the course direction delicately try not to mention "turning away from Jesus."
I don't Know Where Those Lips Have Been
Finally, we are almost there. I told Steve he would have to tell me where to turn, as by this time I could no longer see the road. We made it, turning the corner to see the finish line, and the Hardrock. Finishers are not counted until they have kissed the Ram, painted on the Hardrock - on the lips. Considering I was nearly the last finisher, I was about to ask for an antiseptic towelette before I kissed the Ram, but what the heck. I learned later that one of the runners had threatened to pee on the rock instead of kissing it. I hoped it was only a threat. Dale Garland, RD, was there to greet me and welcome me to the "club."
It Didn't Really SEEM Like 48 hours!
After it was all said and done, it was hard to believe it was actually over. I had been on the course for 47 hours, and had been awake for over 48 hours. It was the hardest thing I've ever done, but also the happiest finish I've ever had. I absolutely did not care that I was almost dead last. It was fun. It was challenging, and you wouldn't believe the gunk that came out of my lungs once it was all over. I coughed for two weeks after.
One moment stands out. Near mile 85, as Steve and I approached the final climb up Grant Swamp Pass the second day, the setting sun was reflecting pinkish light on the cliffs above us. As it grew darker and darker, the mountains seemed to glow in the fading light, and Steve said, "Look around you." I looked up, and realized we were standing in a field of knee-deep yellow wildflowers- acres and acres of them, as far as the eye could see. That is a Hardrock moment.
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