2017 Hardrock Endurance Run
After the December’s lottery, I started as number seven on the Hardrock Endurance Run “Never” waitlist. Being at seven is an interesting predicament. With some research, I learned that in past years as many as 14 entrants have come off the Never list, but in some years, including 2016, only four had. I decided I would train and go to Silverton, CO no matter what happened. If I did not get into the legendary 100.5 mile race (with a 66,100 feet of elevation change), then I would pace or volunteer. Our family would still get to experience Hardrock and learn a thing or two. In the weeks before the race approached, I watched witty Tweets about “Veteran’s,” “Else’s,” and some “Never’s” getting into the race. June 1st neared, the deadline to get your money back. The list decreased, and my name drew closer. I hoped for a Tweet with my name. In the middle of the day on June 1st . I got a call from Durango. It was Dale Garland, the Run Director. He asked me if I still wanted to run Hardrock. “Of course,” I told him. I was in!!!
Now I could focus on training and planning with less stress.
My husband Scott wrote a pre-race blog post and a post-race blog post that is a must read. It will enhance my account as I will mostly write about what it was like during the event. Read his write-up’s here:
After a terrible night of sleep due to the location of our hotel room, facing the street sidewalk with bright lights shining in through ineffective shades, we woke up to clear skies. I threw on my UltrAspire Zygos pack, which was already fully stocked with water, bars, Tailwind in UltrAspire Fomula 250 flasks, an Outdoor Research Helium rain jacket, a Patagonia Capilene long sleeve shirt, a bonnet, Patagonia gloves and a Buff. To start, I was wearing a Shenipsit Strider branded BOCO trucker hat, Athleta sports bra, Patagonia Capilene short sleeve shirt, Moeben arm warmers, Athleta shorts, Darn Tough Socks, 2XU calf sleeves, Trail Pixie gaiters, and Altra Olympus trail running shoes. Everyone was fitted with a SPOT GPS tracker monitor that we had to wear on the upper outside of our packs. Also, attached to the outside of my pack were my Back Diamond Carbon Z poles. They were used A LOT!
When the RD said, “Go,” the 145 of us slowly took off through town. I wanted to start at a very conservative pace since my ultimate goal was to finish and I had never been on the course or run at altitude that high. My two biggest unknowns were route finding and altitude issues. Luckily I was fine with both, as you will see.
We climbed and climbed. The counter-clockwise route crested and we had a nice descent into the first aid station at Cunningham Gulch, and the first of many water crossings.
It was sunny. I was happy. There was another big climb out of the aid. I could feel the lack of oxygen, but overall I felt good and was mentally “all in.”
The course markers were well positioned. I was with lots of people. Eventually we passed sheep grazing, and bleating (funny noise) as we were told we would see out there. We had amazing views of big mountains and lots of wet, muddy fields. I was running with guys named Jack, Kirk (Apt–the guy with 23 HRH finishes!), and a nice woman named Kari; we heard thunder claps in the distance. A few hail stones dropped from the sky. The temperature dropped. I quickly put on my rain jacket. I did not want to get soaked through to my skin, since that could easily mean the end of the run. The hail came down hard and fast. It hurt!
The only thing I could do was continue to move forward. It lasted about an hour. Just in time to reach the raging river crossings. We helped each other in many places. My fellow runners and I were holding onto hands, and giving guidance. It was a true team effort. The trail crossed this winding river a half-dozen times. Luckily we were heading downhill and despite being really wet, the temperature was rising as we descended. The Sherman Aid Station was at the bottom of the descent, and was fully stocked with food, beverages, and supplies. I lamented not having a drop bag with dry shoes, since that would have been nice. Crew access was with a rugged 4WD only, so Scott, Danny Roy (Scotts first cousin), and the kids could not make it. I had some hot soup, avocado, potato chips; and the aid station crew made me a rice and avocado burrito to go.
The section after Sherman was a long dirt road climb to the next aid with lots of ORVs and jeeps passing by. I was sluggish. The sun was peeking out though, so I was also hopeful. At the next aid station, I sat for a bit and even got a shoulder massage. The SPOT device clipped to the strap of my hydration pack was starting to bother my shoulder.
We were finally back on to singletrack, but it was getting steeper, and I was having a hard time breathing. I could run fine on flat and downhill but as soon as the trail went up, my breathing got out of control and my energy level plummeted. I soldiered on past gorgeous flowers, and loose rock, eventually going up and over Handies Peak (14,058 feet). My first Fourteener! Luckily, we had clear skies and amazing views. Coming down the opposite side, working my way down to the Grouse Gulch Aid Station, I saw cute animals diving in and out of the rocks. They are called Marmots. I stopped to take a photo. After all, what was I really here for? I zig-zagged down to Grouse Gulch (42 miles) where my crew was waiting for me, and darkness was setting in. I decided to change everything. I opted for a Patagonia R4 pullover on top of a fresh sports bra and a dry Capilene shirt. I wore thicker Outdoor Research gloves to keep my hands warm. It was time to use our lights. I put on my UltrAspire Lumen 600 waist light as well as a Petzl headlamp. I prefer to have two light sources.
Danny headed out with me from this point. It was a long slog up to Engineer Aid Station. I was feeling the miles and altitude. About 15 minutes after we left Grouse Gulch, Scott came running up behind us out of breath. He had misplaced the keys to the rental car and thought Danny has them. Danny did have a spare. He handed them off, and we continued on. The darkness was intense. The stars were amazing! We finally got over the top of the big pass that we were climbing, and we got to run a little on the downhill to the Engineer Aid Station. They had a nice fire roaring. I took in some warm veggie broth, and drank some soda. After our stop, there was lots of nice downhill running along the Bear Creek Trail. However, it had a big drop off. Not that I could see over the edge, but I could hear the roaring brook. We bumped back into Kirk and his pacer. Kirk obviously knew the trail well, and said we should stick with him. We did that, pushing downhill on loose rock with big drop offs on the left side. The course description says the drops are 300-400 feet, but we were there in the dark, so all I could hear was rushing water a long ways down. At one point I slipped on the loose granular dirt and bloodied up my knee pretty good. That got Danny a bit freaked out. We did not want to go over that edge!
We arrived in the town of Ouray a little after 2:00 A.M. where Scott was waiting to take over pacing duties at the Ouray Aid Station. Shep and Dahlia were sound asleep at the home of Amy Relnick and John Hulburd, in nearby Ridgway. That was a big relief for me. Amy is one of my college roommates and its as great get her help on this trip.
In Ouray, I changed socks and switched back to my Olympus shoes. I had veggie soup and ate some vegan mac and “cheese”. I was trying to fuel up to make it through the second half of the race. Scott found my amino acid pills, and I swallowed two but they came back up immediately. Fortunately, no food came up with them. We decided that was not going to work.
On a side note, one thing that was very interesting, was that on Thursday evening prior to Friday 6:00 A.M. race start, I started my menstrual cycle; but it abruptly stopped in the middle of the race. I use a Diva cup instead of Tampons, which is super easy to use in races, as all I need to do is remove it, wash it out, and pop it back in. I don’t need to carry anything else. Well, when I used the bathroom as Sherman, I noticed that my menstruation stopped. I figured it was smart to keep the “cup” anyway. In Ouray, when I stopped at the bathroom, I once again removed the cup to find nothing inside. The stress of the race halted my bleeding. It is amazing to me to see how the body works! (If you are curious, it did start up again the Sunday after the race).
Scott took over pacing duties from Danny. We headed out, with Kirk and his pacer on our heels. We had a nice conversation about the town of Fruita and frogs :). The course out of Ouray was a long dirt road climb. I was able to run a bit when it was gradual but the road soon got steeper, and once again we had huge drop offs on the left side. The road was cut out of the rock on the right. We could hear the rushing water way down below. It was dark and I was tired. I kept veering left, and Scott was getting nervous that I would go over the edge. He kept urging me to move to the right, and periodically walked between me and the edge of the road. About halfway to the aid station, we came upon an ambulance in the middle of the road with lights flashing. They assured us it had nothing to do with our race, but for a moment we were worried. It was getting closer to sunrise, and I was hoping to be up higher on the mountain to have a better view, but I just wasn’t quick enough. We were able to turn our lights off before we hit the Governor Aid Station We were in and out quickly. The next water crossing was the coldest one yet.
We started coming across a lot of snow. It was the first time I had ever crossed big snow fields like this, especially in summer. Eventually, the snow fields went straight up the mountain. We made sure our poles and feet were planted firmly before moving each step. I heard some hoots, whistles and hollers up ahead. The Kroger Aid station crew was calling. They were positioned in a cave-like notch at the top of the snowy climb. We were greeted by Scott Jurek, Jeff Browning, Roch Horton, and other friends from the ultra running community. They fed us Miso soup and waffles. I ate what I could handle. I didn’t want to linger and it was time to go! I was feeling a bit “peppier.” It was fun scamper on the other side of this huge mountain, across the steep grade, and downhill all the way to Telluride.
In Telluride we came to our only pavement in the entire course. Shepard, Dahlia, Amy, John, and Danny were there to great us. I had some more veggie soup, green tea and Shep urged us to get out of there. The sun was getting high and the temperature was climbing. The path leading out of Telluride was wide, rocky and filled with day hikers. We met a nice couple who were curious about what we were doing. We had a fun time chatting with them. The trail took a sharp right into singletrack, and the bugs were vicious. The horse flies were biting me right through my calf sleeves! I felt so slow. My breath was labored every time we went up hill. The river we were following up was gorgeous and inviting. Scott and I dunked ourselves a couple of times. The flowers were amazing. They were all different shapes, sizes and colors. The trail got steeper, and I got even slower. As slow as I was going, we began to catch other runners. Scott suggested that I take in some caffeine. I ate a caffeinated GU. That gel was one of only two that I ingested the entire run. The course leveled out, crossed a series of snow fields, and I began to run more.
Another challenge that was cropping up was that my throat was so dry, I began to gag on it. I had to drink every 2-3 minutes or I would dry heave. It was so annoying, but I got into a better drinking rhythm because of the issue.
After many more hours, we finally made it over the top of this huge mountain, crossing through a notch, and making our way down the other side on a series of steep talus-filled switchbacks. We descended all the way to the Chapman Gulch Aid Station. Once again, the whole gang was waiting for us, but it was buggy there, so I did not stay long. I ate some more soup, ate a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and drank some soda. We took a group photo, and I headed out with Danny. It was time for Scott to return to Daddy Duty.
Here is where the course became harder to follow. There were fewer and fewer markings. I was getting paranoid. I kept asking Danny if he was sure we were on course. He kept assuring me, but I think he was as nervous as I was. We moved from thick forest into talus slopes, and then into a steep climb loaded with granular scree. The ground was just crumbling under our feet. I couldn’t get any traction. It was maddening! I was getting so frustrated. It took every ounce of energy to reach the top, and once up there, I was surprisingly cognizant enough to pick up a piece of garbage that was left behind. Leave No Trace! I was so happy to be heading down again, but the trail eventually started to skirt around the edge of the mountain and the next aid station was a lot longer away than we thought. I kept moving forward, hoping we would see another runner, so I could confirm that we were on course. We finally found some people ahead, and I felt a big relief. The next aid station could not come soon enough! I could tell that Danny was feeling the effect of little sleep, and lack of nutrition (fuel). I made sure he ate a lot at the Kamm Traverse Aid Station, when we finally arrived. I sat for a bit, ingesting veggie broth, avocados, and potato chips. I almost forgot to drink some more soda (for the caffeine), but thankfully I remembered.
As soon as we left the aid station, we dropped into a river and a marshy mess. As we climbed, up we bumped into a guy running shirtless. He told us the course ahead would be three miles of up, then it would open up into a field, there would be another climb to the top, and then there would be three more miles across the fields to the Putnam Aid station. At this point, I was going on 30+ hours of running/hiking. I began to see things in the woods. Trees were houses, cars…people. I have been in three-day adventure races before, and I remember the hallucinations that I had back then. It is amazing how your mind plays tricks on you. I was hoping this next mountain would be more of a hill. It wasn’t too bad at first, but when we hit the fields it started getting cold and there was no worn path. Instead, we had to follow from marker to marker over ankle turning tufted grass. The incline increased, and it kept going up!!!!! Argh! Somehow, I made it to the top. I was never so relieved to go downhill. Zoom. We started running. Darkness was chasing us. Now we were weaving through bushes while following a drainage. It was getting so dark, we needed to stop and pull the lights out. I strapped my UltrAspire waist light back on. Running into the last aid station was pure joy. I had known that the Durango High School Cross Country Team would be there. Earlier in the week, I went for a run with Rosemary, a friend of Heather Freeman, who is a fellow Shenipsit Striders runner. Heather and her family were kind enough to let us use their house in Durango. Rosemary told us that her son was on the team and would be there.
I asked for Rosemary’s son. So, while at the aid station, I met Paul. Everyone thought that was pretty cool! It was time to boogie down the mountain. I was hoping for smooth trail and all downhill to the finish. Nope! We were following a river along the side of the mountain. Fortunately, the trail was easy to follow, but it was not easy to maneuver. There were lots of rocks, and they were hard to see in the dark. I had slow reaction time (due to being tired) and that made for less than quick progress downhill. Danny asked me if I could run. I was hesitant, but gave it a try, and we did well for a while, until we crossed some talus fields and I did a slow motion fall onto my chest. My arms never made it out to catch me. We had a laugh. Danny picked me up and we were on our way. Now I was finally making up some time thinking that maybe I could get in before 41 hours. I heard the river getting closer. We made it to the crossing, I pulled up my shirt and waist light, held onto the rope and traversed the chest deep (for me!) river. I thought we’d be home free with a nice downhill dirt road, but no, again we were climbing. An easy downhill to the finish would not be the “Hardrock Way.” Danny and I crossed the road and stepped back onto single track that promptly went uphill!
I was determined though, so I speed hiked up it and eventually the trail flattened out a bit and I increased my pace. I continued to run, but felt like I was getting nowhere. Where was Silverton?! I kept looking for markers but was not seeing any. I did not want to make a mistake now. The trail dumped out onto a dirt road, and which way do you think it went? Up, of course! I ran up the road and we bumped into someone. I asked him if we are on the course and where do we go? He said about 200 yards up the road, there will be a right turn. Later, I learned it was Bryon Powell from iRunFar. He and his partner, Meghan Hicks, were all over the course! But 200 yard went by and there was no turn. At 300 yards….we searched feverishly for a sign or turn. I saw something off the side and told Danny, “Read that sign. What does it say?” He must have thought I was going mad. It was only a rock! Eventually, we found the turn and I was ready to see my family, so I gave all I had. Down the trail, out in to the town, past buildings, and then we turned the corner. I heard Shepard yelling, “Mom’s coming!” I searched for Scott and Dahlia too. Down the finishers chute and I kissed the rock. I finished in 41 hours and one minute. Done. Dale Garland was there to give out hugs and a finishers medal. Scott and Dahlia missed my finish because Dahlia was having a meltdown inside the gymnasium. I went right back into “Mom Mode,” picked her up and said, “Let’s get to our hotel room. All I want is a shower and a bed”.
It is interesting to look back on the race. I went into the event with a strong resolve to finish. That was my all-encompassing goal. At past events, I came to “race and place.” Because this one had two huge variables against me: 1) I don’t live at altitude (I live and train in Connecticut at 590 feet above see level) and 2) I had never been on the course. I felt it was in my best interest to be conservative, and just focus on getting it done. I think because of that, I did not have big emotional swings. I never cried from exhaustion or from elation. I never had an inkling of doubt creep into my head and I never thought about quitting. I stayed in the moment the entire race. I do feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment, and I have many wonderful memories from the adventure.
I am so grateful for my husband and kids, that were absolutely amazing on the course crewing and pacing. I am so fortunate to have Danny as a pacer and crew member. He continues to show up for these crazy events and do whatever is asked of him. The kids love him, and so do Scott and I. It was amazing to reconnect with Amy, my old college roommate, and her partner John. They were incredibly helpful in taking care of our kids and taking care of me! I owe a big thank you to my coach Al Lyman, who, if the circumstances and timing were different, I am sure would have loved to have been at Hardrcock with us. He keeps my body moving well and strong. After 18 years of ultrarunning, he is a great mentor and friend. I am one lucky girl!
Now on to the Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run!