21 July 2013

Hanging out at the Hardrock 100

“I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.” 
-William Shakespeare
HR Trail Marker
This was my first year to be a part of what is considered to be the most difficult of the traditional 100 mile races in the country. (The Barkley Marathons is a non-traditional race.) The plan was to pace Sheila the final 27 miles from Telluride to Silverton. I was excited, nervous and anxious to get out on the storied course and experience it for myself.

I drove down early Thursday morning to meet up with Sheila and the fam at our hotel and managed to get there in time to catch the last half of the mandatory runner’s meeting at noon. Afterwards, I got to reconnect with my R2R2R pals, Steve & Deb, Doug and Drew as well as Julian from Colorado Springs, Bob from Denver and Katie from Ft Collins. After only six months doing this sport, it was surprising how many people I already knew personally. Our trail pals from Bighorn, Scott & Matt were also there as Matt was pacing Scott. (If you read my Bighorn report, Matt was the one that was suffering from back pain in the last 10 miles and still gutted out a finish.) Such a small world of crazy ultrarunners. 

The weekend was a virtual who's who of micro-celebs in the UR world. Besides the runners that I recognized -- Joe, Seb, Darcy, Nick & Jamil, Jared, Karl, Scott (Jaime) & Diana, I spotted their familiar crew/pacers  -- Anton, Scott (Jurek), Matt, Krissy and Dakota. Even met legends David Horton and Pablo Vigil too... how cool is that?

The rest of the day was spent packing up my Chapman drop bag, going over last minute details with Sheila and her huz John (crew chief) and poking around Silverton. The only place that I knew of was Café Mobius, and I probably gave Megan Kimmel at least $50 worth of business in the four days I was there between daily java jolts, green chili burritos & cookies that I ate.

We got ourselves in bed at an early hour and were up at 5am to dress and head down to the school for the 6a race start. The gym was buzzing with excitement as runners milled around, took pictures and made last minute adjustments prior to the start.
Drew, Doug, Steve, Julian, Sheila & Bob before the start
The runner and her pacer
John helping with last minute adjustments
Before we knew it, the Star Spangled Banner was sung and the runners were off.  In the excitement, we almost forgot to give Sheila her trekking poles. Once she was gone, we had a few hours before we would be meeting her at Cunningham (mi 9.3). I hit Café Mobius for b’fast, where Bryon Powell from iRunFar was already there starting a 37 hour workday along with Meghan Hicks and the rest of the field reporters.
Bryon hard at work and keeping caffeinated 
We headed out to Cunningham around 8:30a and as we parked at the aid station, we saw Sheila arriving --  oh snap! hurry! She was looking and feeling great. After refilling her flasks and giving her some snacks for the road, she was on her way.
It was mid-morning and we had the whole rest of the day to kill as they had decided to meet up at Grouse, later that evening. So we checked out of our hotel and headed to Ouray to soak in the hot springs there and relax a bit.
Knowing that the front runners would be arriving in Ouray (mi 57) around 6pm, I hung out to watch the fasties come in and take pics. Joe Grant and Seb Chaigneau (the eventual winner) had been running together in the lead for the first 40 miles, but we got word that Joe was peeing blood at Grouse (mi 42). Since this is a sign of kidney failure, I wasn't expecting him to look so good when we saw him. 
Seb arrived first...
...and left 11 minutes later with Scott Jurek, his pacer
Joe came in about 25 min later
When Joe arrived, it was clear he was at a low point. I felt bad for him as I was really hoping that this would be his year, but with hundos – especially Hardrock – anything can happen. 
Joe & his sweet wife, Deanne
Troy Howard arrived and assumed 2nd place when he left
Joe giving one more valiant effort to finish
After leaving Ouray, Joe tried to go up Camp Bird Road, but his condition worsened and wisely, he dropped before things got any worse.

Diana Finkel was on CR pace when she came in, but unfortunately showed signed of Rhabdo and had to drop at KT (Mi 89)
Diana was flying through aid stations in 1-2 minutes
After about 90 min, I headed back to the hotel to get a good night's sleep.  I was sharing a room with Cindy Stonesmith, who was pacing Sheila from Ouray to Telluride. We got up early the next morning and learned that Sheila’s stomach started rebelling as she came off of Handies Peak (~40 miles in) and after spending an hour at Grouse trying to repair herself, she left, but continued to have trouble. She couldn't keep anything down and was moving at a snail’s pace. With not a lot of time banked to clear the cutoffs, she decided to call it a day around 1:30a.

By the time she got back to the hotel early the next morning, I knew that both she and John needed sleep and time alone together. I decided to hitch a ride to Silverton (where my car was) and figure out what I’d do for the day. One of the aid station workers named Maple that I had met the previous night was heading back around 9a so I hopped in his truck and enjoyed some nice conversation back to HR central.
Maple telling me all about the Ouray Ice Climbing Festival
Once I got back to the finish line I watched some of the front runners coming in. I got to see last year’s winner, Darcy Africa, repeat history and come in 9th overall, followed by Adam Hewey and Jonathan Robinson, Katie's brother.
Darcy coming in with Krissy Moehl, her pacer
The Hunchback of Hardrock, Adam Hewey
Adam’s finish was so inspiring. He gutted himself on a tree coming out of Telluride (Mi 73) and as his Psoas muscles were no longer able to support his abs or back, began to hunch forward, making breathing difficult. Somehow, he managed to climb three more peaks and finish in the top 10, with the help of a walking stick. What a rock star!

(You can watch a video of Darcy and Adam’s finish here and read Adam’s account of his run here)
Possibly the best UR no one has heard of -- Jonathan Robinson
So…what to do, what to do. I decided to head back over to my fav café to grab another sandwich and coffee. Who did I see there, but Joe Grant, sitting on the couch chatting with folks. As I waited for my sandwich, I had an opportunity to say hi, introduce myself as one of his tweeps and chat with him about his run. Sounds a bit mysterious as to what happened in the way that the mind / emotions are so interconnected with the physical state of being. Maybe he’ll be able to decode some of it and share more through his blog at some point. He’s been one of my fav runners to follow and I really enjoy his writing, so I wished him well on his recovery and told him I was proud of his stellar effort. His day at Hardrock will come, I have no doubt.

After talking to Dale, (Race Director) I decided to head back over to Telluride after noon in case another runner needed a pacer. Long shot, but with time to kill, decided to go for it. By the time I got there, the last two runners on the course were about to come in. John W. had a pacer and the other, my friend Drew, did not; however, there wasn’t anyone there who could drive my car back to Silverton. So, I decided to follow after them and do my own fun run going up Oscars. Had a nice chat on the Bear Creek Trail with John W’s pacer, Tom Remekes, before hiking the singletrack on my own and catching up with Drew. I didn't get all the way up Oscars Pass, but managed to do about 4.25 miles before time constraints forced me to turn around. 
Going up Bear Creek trail with Tom
Catching up with Drew
Remains of Nellie Mine

Just before I turned around
Looking back toward Telluride
Flat is rare on the HR course
Even tho' John W. was the last runner out of Telluride, he put the pedal down and passed 13 runners before he finished. 93rd out of 106 finishers. Good work!

After grabbing a bite at Brown Dog, I headed back to Ouray and was able to check in on Sheila and chat with her awhile. It’s hard to accept a DNF, especially when it’s attached to a larger goal, like the Rocky Mtn Slam. But she realizes that she did the right things and followed her coach's instruction, so it wasn't because of some obvious mistake that she made. 100 miles is a long way (regardless of what Karl says) and the variables are great when you take into account a long, exhaustive exertion, extreme weather changes, and altitude. She’ll have her finish at HR and I’m proud of her taking on an enormous challenge and giving it all she had.

By the time I grabbed a shower and got back to Silverton, it was after 11p. With only 7 hours left until the 48-hour cutoff, I wanted to see the back-of-the-packers come in. They are my favorite runners, because they're the ones I relate to and they suffer so much longer than the elites. Can’t help but be enormously inspired and in awe of them. Most of the people I know were coming in during these hours and I hoped to see them finish.

Between a couple of hour-long naplets I managed to see all but one of my friends, Julian Smith, who managed to sneak in sooner than I was expecting, so I had to congratulate him the next day. Got to see our Bighorn pals Scott and Matt after Scott finished in a very impressive 41:45. 
Scott and Matt
Steve and Deb both finished in the same year – a first for them in 10 years of running Hardrock. Steve became an official Hardrocker, having completed the run in both directions (This year it was run counter-clockwise). I had the joy of running with Deb the last few blocks and seeing her kiss the rock.
Steve's 3rd HR finish
Deb was not Last Badass Over the Pass this year
I got to run a few steps with 73-year-old Hans Dieter Weisshaar. When I saw a light coming down Reese street at 5:34a, I hollered asking if he was a runner or pacer as I couldn't tell if he was alone or not. He hollered back "Runner, NO pacer!". Running up to him and seeing who it was, I asked if I could run with him down the street. He just stopped and looked at me blankly. "Don't stop, you still gotta kiss the rock!", I reminded him in his 100 mile brain fog. What a stud. I think that's #136 for him and his 100 mile finishes.

My favorite moment, was seeing Claire Ketteler finish. With 10 minutes left before the cutoff, I had parked myself at the trailhead which spilled out to 10th street, roughly 4 blocks from the finish. With 4 minutes left, I saw Claire's pacer, Bethany Spiller, come into view. Claire came shortly after, plodding along slowly. I started hollering to them that they’d better run or they’d miss the cutoff. Watching Claire put the hammer down and run that final hill, tired and sore as she was after 48 hours, was such a delight. She kissed the rock with only 16 seconds to spare. Talk about an exciting finish!
Bethany (in black) hugging Claire at the finish
I have to pause and say it meant a lot to me as a slowpoke to see an elite runner like Jared Campbell (7th place) get up at 5a to cheer the last runners as they arrived. I would encourage anyone (elite or not) who has the ability to hang out and cheer those that are coming in at the end to do so. I’m usually in the back and it really does feel good to see people congratulating you on your hard-earned finish.

I stayed for the awards ceremony and found myself a little misty-eyed at times when stories were told of the runners that completed this very difficult run. I loved the various anecdotes that were shared on the runners and acknowledgement of those that have completed this run 5, 10 and 15 times. 

Jamil Coury spent 4 hours at Grouse repairing his stomach and went on to pass 95 runners to finish 14th. Wow!
Jamil receiving his shirt and print from Dale
Seb's speech was first class... loved it
My R2R2R pal Doug Seaver finished in 38 hrs... 39th overall.  Boss!
Steve & Deb Pero... my heroes!
Said my goodbyes to Steve, Deb, Julian and Doug before heading back home. What a great weekend. Even tho’ I didn't get to pace as I expected, I managed to have a great time nonetheless and still got to run a piece of the course. I told Dale that he’d better remember my name as I’ll be back until I’m dead.
Let's see if Dale remembers me next year...
Huge thanks to Bryon, Meghan and the rest of the iRunFar crew for their coverage of the event. Their tweets kept us up-to-date as the race unfolded.
iRunFar's Meghan Hicks and Bryon Powell
Congratulations to all the finishers for their hard-earned accomplishment. For those that were not able to finish, you also dared greatly and have my respect. Rest and recover well. Learn from the experience to become a better runner. You live to fight another day. Get after it.

Don't know when or if I'll ever put my name in the lottery. I feel I need a lot more experience before trying to tackle something as challenging as Hardrock. Right now, I’m content with being a part of the HR experience through pacing or volunteering. We'll see... 

Next up... Leadville!

Happy Trails,


16 July 2013

A trip to Alaska & Mt Marathon

"When it comes to bears, if you don't have a .357, .44 mag or 12 gauge shotgun, be sure to have someone with you that you can outrun." 
- Sage advice from an Alaskan Sourdough
Prettiest mountain on earth.
Now that I'm back from Hardrock, I can finally get caught up on the blog and bring y'all up to date. I'll blog about Hardrock separately, as it will be a long one. First things first, however...

After four long years, we were able to cash in some unused mileage and fly back to Anchorage for a 9-day trip. My goals, besides seeing family and friends, was to hit some of the local trails, eat Moose's Tooth pizza, drink Kaladi's coffee, visit my favorite REI store and hang out in Seward for the 86th running of the Mt. Marathon race.
Off to a good start.
My parents still live in the house that I grew up in, near the airport and Spenard Lake. Dad has lived in Alaska since 1948, when his family moved from Mobile, AL to Homer, AK to homestead. My 96 year old grandmother still lives there, now a funky little town of about 5,000 where the folks are both outdoorsy and artsy and which prides itself in its Halibut fishing. Go there. 
Halibut Cove, a boat ride across Kachemak Bay
I managed to get out on two long runs while I was home; however, by the time I went to upload my pictures, they had mysteriously disappeared. GAH! My first run was with my friend Jeremy (aka AK Worm), which started after 8pm. The plan was to run up Near Point Summit, one of the many peaks in the Chugach Mountains that surround Anchorage. 

Running from Jeremy's house to the peak and back was around 14 miles and about 3k of gain. While the trails were rolling at first, once you get to the TH, they get steep. I wasn't a mountain runner last time I visited and I got a quick education in the difference between Alaska trails and Colorado trails. In Colorado, the trails were made for burros, mules & horses with endless switchbacks that eventually get you to the top. In Alaska, they go straight UP for the most part. I actually like that better, but I'm not as good at it.

Got some great pics on the way up and at the top; unfortunately, the only one that survived was the blurry phone cam shot I took at the summit. I estimated the winds up there to be 40-50 mph. 
Taken at 10:30 pm
Going down steep trails are only a problem if a) my knees are unhappy or b) I've got toenail bruising. My knees were fine, but as I lost my first toenail the day before, it was a bit tender. That made for an uncomfortable descent, despite being bandaged. Since it got bruised in mid-Feb and again in April, I suppose it was time for it to finally die. 

This run also reminded me of the need for bug dope with plenty of deet as the mosquitoes had a feast on my legs. Running in the woods at dusk didn't help matters... oy vey. J-man counted 27 bites just on my calves alone.

The second run I went on was on the Bird Ridge Trail, which is a 2.5 mile trail just off the Seward Hwy about 15 miles south of Anchorage. While it's a short hike, my Garmin registered 3,200 ft of gain. Alaskans like their hill climbs, folks. Once again, the only surviving snap from that run was this one:
Running along the spine of the ridge
If you look down to where Turnagain Arm meets the road, you'll see how far I came in those 2.5 miles. Too bad the clouds were low, or you'd see the complete view of the Kenai Mountains. I took another shot of Penguin Peak that was posted to Instagram too. Great place for hill training, despite being only 5 miles roundtrip.

I always plan my Alaska trips around July 4th so I can watch our premier race, the 1.75 mile hill climb up 3,022 foot Mt Marathon and back down. One of the oldest footraces in the country, it started as a bar bet in 1908 with the first organized race held in 1915. With the lottery system allowing finishers to gain automatic entry into the next year's race, it has been very difficult for never-rans to get in to. (They changed the lottery rules in 2013 to allow more first-timers in... yea!) This year, former USATF Mountain Runner of the Year, Rickey Gates was given an entry, adding some eliteness to the competition. Now in it's 86th year, thousands of people descend on the little coastal town of Seward to enjoy the race, the parade, the food and fun.

J and I headed down to meet up with the Rinner clan, dear family friends of ours whose kids grew up with us. Their eldest son Shane is my age and though we fought as kids, we became friends as teens and now look forward to hanging out when I manage to get up to AK. On a side note, Jeremy (Worm) is married to Shane's sister, Tiff. Another sibling, Brandon, is a runner who specializes in hill climbs and his wife Shani and kids run their respective races, so there's several Rinners to cheer for.
Got an all-day date with the huz, thanks to Grammy & Poppa
We got there just in time to see the junior race, which takes kids 7 - 17 halfway up the mountain and back. Both of Brandon's kids finished well, but I didn't get a pic of either of them that turned out. The women's race was next and after the start, I planted myself at the base of the mountain so I could see them on the final stretch before the finish in downtown Seward. A rookie named Christy Marvin won the race in a time of 53:20.
Don't mess with these tough gals
You can see the runners going up the middle and down the right side
The wet and rocky chute at the base of the mountain
18 year old Ann Spencer was 3rd. Her dad Bill held the CR for 32 yrs
Shani Rinner in full-on hammer mode
There was a parade prior to the start of the men's race and I took the opportunity to jump on the open course and hike up the mountain to get some shots from the turnaround point. After reaching the half-way point about 20 min before the start, I thought I might be able to make it all the way to the summit before they did. I managed to get there with about 10 minutes to spare, which was good 'cause it was cold up there and I was looking forward to some downhillin' on the shale field.

The half-way point
The turnaround point, overlooking a foggy Resurrection Bay
Me and my Salomons waiting for the first runners to arrive
Rickey Gates came first
2011 champ Eric Strabel  was about to close the gap
Brandon Rinner came in with the front runners and set a PR
The descent looked scarier than it was
Runners going up and down
I had a ball going down this as I tucked myself into the gaps
I took a bit more time going down the little waterfall (aka "The Gut")
Eric Strabel went on to win and take down the 32 year old course record held by Bill Spencer with a time of 42:55, with Rickey coming in only 9 seconds behind him. I hope we'll see more elite mountain runners participating in this race to add some spice to things. 
Had me a spicy Reindeer Dog... Alaska food!
This race is always a highlight of my trip back home. This time, after going up and down the mountain myself, I realized that I'd love to get in some year and run it too. Maybe our next trip will be the year I get in? We'll see...

If you get a chance to go to Anchorage, the must eat place is Moose's Tooth. We ate there no less than three times. We enjoyed the Rockefeller, Apricot, Spicy Thai, Brewhouse, & the Avalanche pizzas. We also had an early anniversary dinner (8 years!) at their sister eatery, Bear Tooth Grill where I had the best salad of my life, the El Oso, and some delicious Alaskan blackened fish tacos. I sampled J's seafood chowder and it was really good. The Midtown Brown was my ale of choice, while J's was the Smokin' Willie Porter, courtesy of Broken Tooth Brewing. As if it wasn't obvious, the guys that started all three were rock climbers...

The only downer was that it was cloudy the entire time, so there were never any great views of the surrounding mountains. To have more than a week of clouds is unusual, but Alaska weather can be similar to the PacNW. I realized once again, how much I need to live in a sunny place. Clouds just drag me down after a few days. I totally lost my will to get out and run after about 5 days of that. Word on the street is that it's been sunny every day since we've left.  Boo hiss.

Anyway...it's a busy week with company coming and a house to still unpack, so expect a Hardrock report this coming weekend.

Happy Trails,