photo: Abe Morrison

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Race Report in Pictures from 2015 Hardrock 100

Hardrock 100 - 2015. A dream race by many. I've entered the lottery 2 years now along with Western States. I had about a 10% chance of getting in Western and a 1.8% chance of getting into Hardrock. On lottery day, my name, somehow, got drawn as the 7th replacement on the newby waitlist. Historically this meant I would have a really good chance to get in! I was excited and planned to run the whole year. I scheduled no other races than a road marathon in March. 
I didn't train too much throughout most of the winter but began to ramp up toward the end of Spring. However there was very little motion on the waitlist. It was nerve wracking. By June 1, (the last day for full refund), a few runners dropped from the race list and a few ahead of me on the waitlist bailed and my name was next on the waitlist. I continued to remain next on the wait list for almost all of June. 

As housing options were becoming more scarce in Silverton, I rented a house in Ouray and my family bought flights assuming I would get in. I ramped up training to a couple weeks with >50 mi./wk with as much climbing as I could do. However the mountains higher than local Boulder hills were overwhelmed with snow. This made getting up to high altitude very difficult, however I did a few postholing sessions at 10K, and spent a weekend in a cabin at 9K.

On a run on June 16th, I took a bad fall, dealing with my dog's leash, landing square on my kneecap on a sharp rock. My knee swelled up and didn't bend for a couple days. Just then I got the call that there's a spot for me in the race if I want it! I couldn't say no. I tried everything possible to rapidly heal my knee, and quit running. By July 1 it was about 70% healed but still had a large swollen lump where I landed. I used all the off time to read every race report I could find and study as much of the maps as I could. I developed a pretty good intuition of the course throughout that downtime.

Organizing my gear

On July 7th, the Tuesday before the race, my dad and sister arrived from NC, and on Wednesday we made the drive to the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Everyone was posting pictures on facebook about the race, but since we were in Ouray, I felt a bit removed. Thursday morning we headed over to Silverton for the Racer check-in and spent some time checking out Silverton. Hannah also go to run the Hardblock Kids Race. This run around the block was great fun for the kids and was led by Kilian Jornet and Darcy Piceu. Hannah was excited to kiss the rock and earn a medal.

Hannah on the Hardblock run

Riding the coach around Silverton

Prerace Dinner with the fam
Incredible support crew at Ouray Brewery

In the pre-race meeting, the race director mentioned that they had 15 GPS Spot trackers to beta test if runners were willing to wear them. I immediately knew I wanted to do this after spending the previous 10 days watching Andrew Hamilton set the 14er speed record via the same technology. I left a web browser open to his tracker as it ticked waypoints all across the state. This would be really great for my mom and coworkers to follow along with my progress.

Spot tracker is that orange device that sends my GPS waypoint back up into the ether to be updated on a website.
On race morning, dad and Abe drove me down to the start. We arrived a bit early and spent a lot of time in the gym watching runners check in.

The madness of the start - actually quite manageable with only 150 runners. I'm in the blaze orange hat.

Quickly we left town and headed uphill - above the clouds locked in over Silverton.
All of a sudden a blizzard rolls in - this is right at the beginning when it started to snow and I was all smiles. Pretty soon, I put on all the clothes in my pack.
10 time finisher Chris Twiggs says this is the first snowstorm he has experienced at Hardrock!

 A new friend, Steve Ansell enjoying good weather near pole creek.

Flowers on the descent into Sherman at mile 28.

This is the big climb of the day, we summit Handies peak at mile 35 - shown here. It was a long way to the top. This put me about 2 hours behind the schedule I anticipated.

The sunset from Handies. Good thing I grabbed my headlamp at mile 9 (the last time I saw my crew).
We then headed down Handies, over Grouse saddle and down to Grouse Gulch at mile 42.2. This was the first time I got to see my crew since mile 9.3. I was feeling okay but about 3 hrs behind schedule. I went into the aid station and ate some vegetable soup among other things. This didn't sit well at all with my stomach and I hit a major low point where I was too weak to continue up. I laid on the side of the trail throwing up. It was a disaster. I continually asked my pacer to let me lay down for a minute. Everyone passed me, pretty sure I was now in last place. As we neared the summit of Engineer pass, I decided to drop out. There is an aid station called Engineer Pass and I felt there's no way I make it through another full day and full night of this. I just wanted to go to bed. It was the middle of the night. We reached the summit of Engineer Pass but there was no aid station to be seen. The trail headed straight down a grassy/muddy field at 40% grade. I continued on down the trail and noticed down was much easier than climbing. We finally made it down to the aid station after descending 2300 ft to 10,300. I told the aid station crew that I would like to drop. They said that's fine but I'd have to either go back up 6 miles to the previous aid station or 8 miles down to Ouray. Since our house was in Ouray, I figured that 8 miles downhill would be easier. They fed me some mashed potatoes and coke and we continued on at a pretty slow pace. The trail down to Ouray was spicy in places (especially in the dark). Many severe drops and occasional ledges through waterfalls. We passed a few runners here finally taking me out of last place.

Roped double waterfall section

Screenshot of GPS Spot locations of the 15 beta testers. I'm in 2nd to last here.

Finally arrived into Ouray (mile 56) after 6AM. The manual said one needed to leave Ouray at 5:10AM for a 48 hr finish, but the aid station did not close until 9AM. Here George convinced me that I could walk to Telluride and at least see the the whole course to mile 72. This sounded good to me so we started walking.

Some stairs on trail to Camp Bird Road.

A tunnel to the footbridge above box canyon.

Carved out section of Camp Bird Rd. I passed 4 or 5 runners on this section.

One of the many river crossings. This is in Governor Basin at mile 65.

Another blizzard rolled in on the climb to Virginius Pass. I realized how much better I now felt and was mounting a comeback.

Climb up to Kroger Canteen at Virginius Pass.

Sunny and hot in Governor Basin.

The final climb up to the pass!

Crossing a snowfield with Mt Sneffels in the background.

A fixed rope hung over the kicked steps on the finale of the steep climb. Here Roch Horton (in yellow) told me I was 3 hours ahead of the cutoff time. I had George call in that I felt great and was going to continue to the finish.
At Virginius Pass, my pacer, George drinks a shot of top shelf tequila.

Jackie paced me on the climb out of Telluride (mile 72) to Ophir. Here she's climbing up some steep trail heading into Wasatch Basin.
As usual, a storm rolled in allowing Jackie to test out her new jacket.

Her section had some good mountaineering parts. Here's a snow crossing nearing the 13,000 summit of Oscar's Pass.

After a glissade and final climb, we neared the top.

After the long descent into Ophir my head looks like it's on fire, I headed out with Jimmy on the last section from mile 82 to the finish. This was a long section with 2 more big climbs. I had about 10 hours to go 18 miles.

Pano of the Grant-Swamp Pass basin with me on the right.

Starting the climb up the notorious loose Grant-Swamp Pass.

Finally after summiting the pass, the view of island lake was much more frigid looking than I expected. In past years the late is beautiful and green. Here it was all icy.

Eating a PB&J above Ice Lakes Basin at mile 88. The night section was super foggy and entailed quite a bit of routefinding difficulties. However we had plenty of time and I was never worried about the time. I had some serious hallucinations all night that I was afraid to mention. Every rock, log, and leaf required a double-take to understand what I was looking at.
After hammering the last 5 miles, made it into town with 40 minutes to spare. Hannah guided me to the rock!
Smoochy smoochy! Official time was 47:22:57. I guess this photo is a reenactment 30 secs later.

Back at home after seeing 3 sunrises, with slightly swollen feet, I'm pretty tired. Sorry for the lack of creativity in this race report!
In all, Hardrock was an incredible experience. It is just as hard as I thought, amazing in every way and the true spirit of a mountain race.  I can't thank my wonderful family, pacers and race crew enough! Someday I hope to be back!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

2014 Leadville 100 run

I just looked up the lyrics for the Hank Williams Jr song and was going to alter them to my Leadville race experience, but couldn't do it. Which song? It's called "Family Tradition".

The Leadville 100 has become a bit of a family tradition (not all intentionally) although this year was to be a little different. I'm pretty sure I'm the most stubborn of the 690 racers that gathered in the corral at 4 AM on 6th and Harrison. I wanted to finish this race more than any of them. I have failed to do so in 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012 and was back again in 2014 with a little more 100 mile experience under by my belt (with removable buckle - ready for the race finisher hardware).

This year my training was somewhat minimal, usually running about 25-30 miles a week with 6000-8000 ft of elevation gain. I tried each week to get in at least 1 high altitude run (going over 12,600), but didn't worry too much about the rest. I got in a couple 20 milers, the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty, and a climb of Cerro Chirripo (highest peak in Central America, > 26 miles with >10,000 vertical gain).

As with most of the other years, I rented a house in Leadville to provide a base camp for my parents who always come out to cheer me on from NC, and my girls. Hannah is only 5 but has cheered me on in Leadville 4 times now! Same 4 trips from NC from my parents. It has become a family tradition.
We went up to 10K on Thursday and I weighed in at 148.8 lbs and picked up my race number 418. Hannah had some kind of funk in her throat and I was hopeful it wouldn't invade my body. Thursday night she had a tough night and I didn't get quite the rest I was wanting. Friday we watched the iconic Stewart Smalley-like motivation speech where I had to recite out loud that I wouldn't quit. This has always caused annoyance because I wouldn't quit if they didn't make me due to time cutoffs.

Views from base camp. Very peaceful.

I've analyzed the course and previous splits in excruciating detail and found that inbound Twin Lakes cutoff is the serious one. I felt if I could make that one, I could finish. I went out with that mentality. So how do you most efficiently make a time cutoff that involves so many variables? For me, I was to cruise through the first 40 miles, fully focused on the 40-60 section which involves 2 huge climbs.

Me and Dad at the Start line at 4AM

Race morning I crawled out of bed at 2:40 AM after another nite of rough sleep and got dressed, ate breakfast and Dad and I went to the start line. We were plenty early and stood around in dark and people-watched while other runners greeted each other and made last minute gear choices. At 4, the shotgun went off and here we go again. I made good time to Mayqueen 6:35 AM at mile 13 and was right on pace. Dropped off my night gear and continued on. I just fell in with a group of others and went up and over the first big climb and descent. On the road to Outward Bound aid station, I bumped into an old friend (Steve Nicholls) giving Leadville another go after previously finishing it in his only attempt in 2006.

Chowing some watermelon at mile 25
We had a great time pacing off of each other, talking race survival tactics and just banging out the miles. We ran together all the way into Twin Lakes at mile 40 at 12:34 PM. We got separated in the massive aid station crowd. I had my mind on the impending climb and wasn't sure if I was ahead or behind Steve as I left. I was focused.

Prepping my pack at mile 40
I switched from handheld water bottles to a pack and got to the base of the climb and just started marching hard. I passed a huge number of runners on the way up and was ecstatic to reach the top of the climb 2 hrs after leaving Twin lakes. I sent a text to my crew letting them know, started to cry/get choked up and headed down. I made it into Winfield at 4:30, an hour and a half faster than previous attempts.

I was met by my crew of pacers - Chai Engtrakul, Matt Yung, and Ryan Crisp. We made efficient use of the aid station, I weighed in at 144.6, we filled a ziplock with food and left that ghost town on a mission. Chai was my first pacer over the hill. We worked our way through the crowds for a couple miles and then hit the climb proper. I focused on powering to the top and again made it up without stopping once. Sent out another text and began the long crazy descent into Twin Lakes Inbound.

Hopeless aid station at mile 55

We finally arrived well over an hour ahead of the cutoff and I took my time preparing for the night section as darkness arrived. I switched shoes into a brand new pair - never worn - of Hoka Huakas, one size too big to allow extra room for my toes. Seemed like a good idea and it turned out to be fine.

I switched pacers to Matt and we left the aid station with exactly an hour of cushion. It was an awesome feeling hitting that cutoff with so much cushion and energy left in the bank, I felt it was in the bag, I just had 40 more miles to go! Matt and I talked and motored our way through the night arriving at the Mt Elbert aid station to a dance party. Made a quick pit stop and then headed back out. I was mostly walking and knew all I had to do was maintain a sub 19 min/mile pace so Matt kept track of that and we were doing fine.

It started to get cold and I was thankful for the ramen noodles at Halfpipe aid station. I again bumped into Steve, so was happy he was still doing great as well. Ryan took over at the treeline informal station and paced me to Outward bound where it began to really get cold. I got a puffy jacket and chemical hand warmers and was annoyed that there wasn't a heated tent - in reality it could have been a great thing that there wasn't. Jimmy took over pacing from mile 74 and we caught up on his recent travels on the road section over to the last big climb. I was mostly eating chips, pretzels, and saltines out of a large ziplock bag that all of my pacers had refilled and passed on to each other. As soon as we hit the steep climb up powerline, Jimmy handed me a bagel with PB&J. It took me like a half hour to eat that thing but I got it down. The climb seemed to drag on forever, even though I ran a training run there 2 weeks prior. We kept hearing a trombone blasting in the woods and knew that must have been the top of the climb. Finally we arrived to an awesome rogue aid station, complete with Shamrocks, pot, a dancing gorilla.

Time was on my side so we just moseyed down to the next aid station Mayqueen at 4:45 AM - just over 24 hrs from the start. Jimmy was a great pacer but I was really looking forward to Tabor boat ramp where I'd pick up Heidi who was ready to pace me for the last 7 miles. We got there just after sunrise and Heidi and I headed to the finish.

Selfie at mile 98!
We kept a pretty good hiking pace on the roads leading to town but it seemed hard to predict how much distance was left and I was ready to get this thing over with! We crested the final hill and I saw my crew and Hannah joined Heidi and I as we ran hard the last 1/3 mile to cross the finish in 28h53m. It seemed everyone was cheering extra hard because they knew of the long road I'd taken to finally get to this point, but they must do that for everyone. It was glorious. I got the trademark hug from Merilee and a hardy handshake from Ken. I'm so thankful for all the support I've gotten from my family and friends through this long journey. Thanks for my crew and pacers staying up the whole night with me and tending to all of my needs.

We drove back home and had a backyard barbeque to celebrate 4 birthdays at once and surprisingly, I could still walk and function fairly normally. Other than some chapped lips, understandable soreness in my legs, and a overworked stomach, all is well!