Monday, July 13, 2009
Hardrock 100 - 28:09
With two miles to go running the counter-clockwise direction of The Hardrock Hundred the racecourse crosses South Mineral Creek before beginning the final small climb up to the hillside that rings the small mining town of Silverton, Colorado. It was after crossing this creek and beginning the hike up the small ridge that I felt a small lump emerge in my throat. It happened suddenly and unexpectedly but I knew what was going on. I was starting to cry.
This was my first trip around the Hardrock course and I admit I was starting to get emotional. This wasn’t the I’m-psyched-to-be-finished kind of emotion that has become typical for me in 100-mile races. Rather, this was the kind of emotion that accompanies the conclusion of a secular pilgrimage. This was the kind of transcendent emotion that changes your life and turns your perspective on its head. This was, indeed, an "ah-ha" kind of emotion. I wiped my eyes, squeezed down a gel, and ran up the hill toward the Shrine of the Mines. The finish in Silverton was a blur but I know I gave the rock a big huge smooch, hugged my crew, shook hands with Dale Garland, and then let loose with a full-blown cry. I really had, as my good friend and mentor Roch Horton likes to say about this race, "lived my life in one day."
I knew, coming into the race, that I'd need to start out easy and hope that my energy held up for the second half of the race. Cresting the first major climb after six miles I knew my quads would have their first test coming off of Western States. Descending into Cunningham I felt strong and my legs and feet held together. Maybe I'd be OK after all. Maybe.
I wasn't quite prepared for the climb out of Cunningham. It was longer and steeper than I expected and I found myself gasping for breath a bit more than I wanted to so early in the race. Ricky Denesik passed me on this section and as it flattened out after the Pole Creek Aid Station I settled into a nice rhythm and just kept moving forward. I was in about 10th place at the time and I thought I'd bide my time until the descent into Sherman to see if I could make some ground up on some of the early rabbits.
Sure enough, as the descent steepened and we crossed the creek about a mile before Sherman (Mile 28), I caught up with Ryan Burch and Sam Thompson and they greeted me enthusiastically and bid me farewell. Great guys both and I left wishing them well. Arriving at Sherman a bit ahead of schedule I got some information about the guys up front from Scotty Mills and began moving along the road up toward Handies Peak. The race was taking shape. This might turn out to be competitive after all.
On the long steady climb to Handies I saw Mark Hartell up ahead and Ricky a few minutes ahead of him. Away in the distance, cresting the final ridge, I saw Diana Finkel, Troy Howard, and Jared Campbell. Then, just short of the summit, I saw the familiar silhouettes of Scott Jaime and Karl Meltzer. There, before me, on the highest point of the course, was the entire lead pack. It was all there before me like a scary panorama. What the hell!
So, I did what everyone does at Hardrock and put one foot in front of the other and kept going. About a half-mile before the summit Mark and I were chased by the first storm of the day and the thunder and hail kept us on our toes. After the bone jarring descent to Grouse Gulch at Mile 41 I was actually, for perhaps the first time in my running career, looking forward to a climb. The smooth, steady, workingclass climb up Engineer Pass was just what I needed as it gave me a chance to pound down some calories and take stock. It was during this climb across the Alpine Tundra (there was even a sign denoting this unique environment and imploring four-wheelers to stay on the roads) that I began to feel Mark and Ricky coming back to me. It was subtle. It wasn't like they were dying. It was just like I was moving a bit better. I passed Mark just before the summit and Ricky just before Ouray and the stage was set for the second half of the race.
After a pretty uneventful descent off Engineer through the Bear Creek cliffs I arrived in Ouray feeling pretty good. I was psyched to see my crew and to pick up Todd, my first pacer, he was scheduled to take me over the first of the three Hardrock Monsters, Virginius Pass. We made quick work of Camp Bird Road and started the ascent of Virginius. It was here that my feet really began to hurt and I could tell that all the skin was inflamed and there was nothing I could do about it. Two hundred milers 13 days apart, I guess, will do that to a guy. So, I put my head down and climbed. By the third pitch where they have the rope I saw two lights at the top while I was at the bottom. I thought, "Hmmmm, I wonder if that's Scott?" I grabbed the rope and pulled hard. (Note to self, if you do this race again, do a few push ups first!) Up at Krogers while I enjoyed a seat and a cup of broth I reflected on the day so far. "Man, this race is awesome!" I said to the world's most intrepid Aid Station volunteers. Then I plummeted down the other side in search of Scott's light.
I arrived in Telluride an hour later and Shelly, Carson and Mike (my second pacer) were waiting there for me. It was about 12:45AM and I was feeling good. I changed shoes (mainly for psychological reasons as they clearly would not have any physical benefit) and began the assualt on the second, and longest, of the three Monsters, Oscar's Pass. That climb, was, in a word, brutal. Going from road to trail to rock to scree to wide open hell fire vertical intensity Oscar's simply beat my ass. Then, I had to descend off the thing around cornices and over boulders that would make just about anyone whimper in pain. All the while, I saw Scott's light dancing away from me in the night. "Maybe he'll take a long break at Chapman and we can climb Grant Swamp together." I thought. Wouldn't that be romantic? No such luck.
Mike and I stumbled into an empty Chapman Gulch Aid Station (Mile 81.7) and I re-grouped with some soup and a Sprite. I knew Grant Swamp was out there and I was not excited. However, a few switchbacks up we saw lights and they lit the fire. By the time we got to the bottom of the heinous last pitch up and over the saddle I saw both Jared Campbell and Scott ahead of me in the muddy, scrambly, 50 degree pitch scree. With the sun rising behind us it was fun for me to think that while the top-3 three runners were prancing through the flowers ahead of us, all three of us, the ubiquitious chase pack, were clawing our way up toward the Joel Zucker Memorial, together.
Well, Scott must have taken off after the summit of Grant Swamp because I didn't see him again until the finish line where I had to wake him up to make him congratulate me. I did manage to pass Jared somewhere after Mile 89 and he continued on for a strong 6th place finish just a few minutes after me. It's pretty amazing to think that five of the top-10 times all time at HRH were run this year. Kind of makes me wonder what the future holds.
As for me, personally, I am smitten with this journey through the San Juan's. Before this weekend I didn't think a mindset and a perspective could be changed so dramatically in such a short time. But for me, it has changed. I think, in spite of my best intentions, I have the bug. I'm not sure what to do with it but I know I have it.
I think Karl summed it up best when I congratulated him after the Awards Ceremony yesterday. In response to my greeting he said, simply. "You see what I mean?"
Yeah, Karl, I do.