photo: Abe Morrison

Friday, September 11, 2015

Camino de Santiago - Santiago to Finisterre in a day

I got invited to give a talk at a conference in Santiago de Compostela in NW Spain. Actually there were 3 conferences in the same week, one on fundamental processes in quantum dots (M-T), one on ferroelectricity (W) and another on solution processed solar cells (Th-F). Luckily for me, I don't know jack about ferroelectricity, however the other 2 are right up my alley. This left me with a day in the middle of the week with no plans.

I googled Santiago de Compostela when I first heard about this conference about a year ago to see if I wanted to go. Then I randomly got asked to speak and read up a little bit more. It turns out that on a plane I once saw a movie called "The Way" which was about Emilio Estevez doing a long distance personal journey hike - Appalachian Trail style - across northern Spain. The trail system is huge and extends many countries but all the trails end in Santiago. It's a pilgrimage. One is said to have "done" the Camino de Santiago if they walk at least 100 km of the trail. There are many ways to "do" the camino, and everyone does it their own way.

Many do the "French Way" - which is a month or more and starts in France, some start in Germany, UK and some others bike, but I began thinking, does anyone run it? With a day to sightsee and 100 km needed to do the C-d-S, it seemed plausible that I could take a bus 100 km out of town and run back.

Then I found out about a co-worker who did the French route earlier this year. I set up a meeting with her to find out details, if I could run - would that be disrespectful to the pilgrims, did she ever see any runners, how would I find water/food/(aid stations), etc. She pointed me to another option which is a part of the trail she didn't walk which goes from Santiago to Finisterre. It goes to the ocean and was advertised to be 3-4 long days away, depending on walking speed. After some more searching and mapping the whole trail out it was also about 100 km. I looked into that and Finisterre used to be believed to be the end ("Fin-") of the world ("-terre"). The westernmost point of the old world. So I changed my plans and decided to take on the route from my hotel room to the end of the world - the Atlantic Ocean - which was 55 miles away.

I had a dinner banquet to go to on Tuesday night, and dinner is crazy late in Spain. Restaurants don't open until 7-9 PM and often dinner is much later. I got back to my hotel at 1 AM and packed up all my stuff and planned to leave at 4:30 AM. However I couldn't sleep at all after being exhausted all day - jet lag. It became 3:30 and I was still wide awake. I pushed back my alarm to 5 and then somehow fell right asleep for only an hour and a half. I rolled out of bed and left the hotel by 5:15 AM. I scouted the first km a few days ago so I would know how to get on the trail and that was really helpful. Another problem is that Spain tries to stay all on the same time zone and that makes for weird daylight hours in Santiago, sunrise isn't 'til 8AM.

I hiked for about 3 hours in the dark. Normally this isn't a problem, but I had never been on the trail, don't know much of the customs, my Spanish is, let's just say, oxidado. Leaving Santiago, the first trail marker said 88.022 km to go!

The trail gave a good introduction by immediately jumping into some dense forest trails. I started doing some pace math and figured I needed to keep to 14-15 minute miles to finish in a reasonable time. This meant I had to jog on and off pretty much every mile. In the dark it was hard to run much, so I promised myself I'd run more once the sun came up. Then the trail went right by some houses, and seemingly for the next 3 hours in the dark, there was a hovering cloud of barking dogs over me. Dogs would hear me coming and I would never knew which ones were chained or in fences and which were free. There was never a problematic dog as all the ones who aggressively barked were fenced and the free ones were very lazy. However the barking is annoying. It was annoying me. 7:00 and still no sign of life in this country. All dark and no people up at all. Finally a few minutes after 8 it was respectably light and I started seeing the occasional car drive by when passing through some villages. Just at sunrise I arrived at Negreira to a waterfall.

Once the sun was up, the dogs stopped barking and it started raining. It rained on and off the whole morning. Negreira is usually the next stop after Santiago for Pilgrims so it wasn't even light yet and I'd covered a days worth of the trail on fresh legs. I finally started to see other walkers as I was 14 miles into my journey. I wasn't sure how the reaction would go but it turns out everyone just said "bien camino". I wasn't sure to reply "gracias" or "bien camino" back or say "y tu tambien".

A little sour, still

Cushiony soft lush trails most of the way.

Some road sections. Hikers ahead in this photo

False advertising

The dog led this rally
Since I was generally moving much faster than the walkers, I usually could be assured no one would catch up to me. This was useful because I was ~25 miles in and needed to find a bathroom. All I saw were cornfields. I then figured a cornfield would be a great hiding place, my idea was not original as I found lots of toilet paper on the ground 3 rows in! I was sure to pack mine out, and then was also sure to short sell some Spanish corn commodity.

Just as I got back on the road, low and behold was a runner! Dressed just like me, wearing the same pack I had. She asked me what I was running, and we ran together for a short while. Her friend then caught up and they had the same plans as me. They left about 6 AM so were moving faster than me so I let them pull away.

2 runners from CA and 2 pilgrims with rain flies on their packs.
Miles and miles of easy trail

Stone wall amongst wildflowers

First view of the ocean
Eventually after 40 miles or so I got my first view of the ocean in an inlet in the village appropriately named Cee. From here, the trail dropped straight down and negotiated a series of towns along the coast. The view never disappointed.

Through the towns the navigation got a little tougher. There were random yellow arrows painted on rocks, walls, streets, and even a car!

I had to check my GPS - preloaded GPX route - several times to make sure I was on the route. I finally reached Finisterre and the end of the world. It took about 13.5 hours.

0 km left!

Then I had to walk back to town (another couple miles!) and bumped into the other runners again. We shared tales and then I remembered a sign that read "vegan lasagna tonight!" on my way through.
It ended up being a pilgrim hostel type thing that had free dinner for everyone. Total hippy fest. The bar tender loved my story of running from Santiago in a day and poured me free beer. I left them a 10 euro tip and as the only paying customer that night they called me a cab to go back to Santiago.

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!