OK, buckle in boys and girls. You know how verbose I get, and with 2 weeks and 44 plus hours of racing to recap, you are in for a long read. Got a cold drink and a no-doz? Good, here we go . . .
As most of you know, my quest for Hardrock had been ongoing, and I had run a Hardrock qualifier and entered every lottery since 2006 trying to get in. So here I was on a Sunday in December San Diego, tailgating before a Chargers game as is my wont, talking about the Stone Vertical Epic party we had hosted the night before, when suddenly I got a tap on my shoulder from Erica. She pointed at her Iphone. The Tweet of Death!
I was in Hardrock. Yeah! I mean Crap! I mean . . . Getting into Hardrock is a very conflicting feeling. You are jubilant at your chance at immortality. Yet you know it is going to hurt. A lot. Or at least for someone like myself who is not a particularly talented runner but who gets buy on being a stubborn SOB it is going to hurt a lot. But there is no way you say no, so I got my ultra service form in and it was a go!
First step: Plan. Hardrock takes place in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado and has over 33,000 feet of climbing. The average altitude of the race is over 11,000 feet. I would be going over or close to 13,000 feet 9 times. The trail has lots of cross-country requiring basic navigation and is run in all kinds of weather, extreme or otherwise. So, you don't go into this without a plan. Mine was pretty simple at its core.
1. Train for the course. This meant bye bye to any flat running for the most part. There are very few flat parts of Hardrock, even fewer than most 100's. Instead a Hardrock runner "enjoys" lots of long climbs and descents. So, this meant training up for those. Beginning in January, I did mountain repeats for my long weekend runs, starting first in Oriflamme Canyon, on the High Point Trail on Palomar Mountain and the Holy Jim Trail in Orange County. These are long rocky 6 to 7 mile climbs at 600 to 700 ft/mile average, so close to what I would find at Hardrock. I augmented those with my usual Mission Trails runs on Kway Paay, Cowles Mtn. and Mt. Fortuna which were while shorter were steeper and, linked together, helped present a different challenge. As the weather warmed, I moved up in elevation, making sure I was elevation trained as well. So my mountain repeats switched to the Marion Mountain trail on Mt. San Jacinto and places like Mt. Whitney, trying to make sure that from April to July, I was getting over 10,000 feet just about every weekend to go with my 6 to 7 mile climbs. I also was making sure my minimum long run, with few exceptions, topped 8 hours to give me the mileage I was looking for.
Hardrock is also known as a wet course, so before every run, I soaked my feet in any water I could find. I purposely splashed through creeks and charged through puddles. I tried to find challenging snow banks in the winter and tried out Yak Traks and microspikes. I learned to run with a walking pole, and now I won't leave home for a mountainous ultra without it. Its like my Gandalf's staff, or, closer to my Gaffi Stick. And if you know what that is, God help you because you are as much of a nerd as I am. Lets just say that I had too much fun raising my pole over my held and letting loose a Tusken Raider victory cry at many a hilltop throughout Southern California.
|Me at the top of my local hill climb . . . |
2. Prepare for the course. Hardrock is, shall we say, conservative in their course marking philosophy. You are expected to be able to navigate the course without the aid of a single course marking. Hmm. So, I immediately found a description of the counter-clockwise description of the course (the course switches directions every year), purchased the recommended map as well as a few others and plotted the course, and then looked at every photograph and race report I could get my hands on while tracing the course to try to picture the challenges as best I could. The goal was to try to visualize as much of the course as humanly possible so I had an idea of where I would be heading and the big landmarks I should look for. In that regard, I would like to mention and specially thank Blake Wood for his photographic essays. While Blake would be several hours ahead of me on the course, his voluminous and beautiful picture collection from various years allowed me to mentally capture the course pefectly in my mind. I also want to especially thank Bob Crowley, Rich DeSimone, Ryan Martin, and Marcy Beard for reports that I found particularly helpful, although I stole little tips and bits from every report I read and every one of the recounts of the runners' adventures was a piece of the puzzle.
I also decided that I wanted to have a GPS with me just in case, figuring it would be easier than a map if I wandered off and would also help me scouting the course (more to come on that). Turns out Bob Crowley had all of the waypoints ready to download. It was a bit of a hunt for his e-mail, but once I found him, Bob sent the file off immediately, and it was a huge load off my mind and on my GPS. He also sent me all kinds of good advice and suggestions and even invited me to his place for American River 50 never having even met me. One of the real good guys in the sport, and that's saying something. Thanks again, Bob! I also was fortunate to have 5 time finsher Scotty Mills in town in San Diego and in my corner, and I picked his brain for tips and info. He had lots of good ideas, many of which I incorporated into the plan.
3. Prepare for the race. I needed to get my mind and body in shape for a race that was going to go for almost 2 full days, at least for me. First, that meant lose weight, as I was going to have to haul whatever weight I had over 13 mountain passes. So, starting with the Super Bowl, no beer, no soda, no sweets with the goal of hitting 195. Given that I was between 210 and 215, that meant some work. I set aside two cheat days over 6 months (I mean, who roasts a pig without a beer?) but other than that, nose to the grindstone. (My weight on race day was allegedly 193, so I was happy with those results) I needed to choose my clothes, my food, and my equipment to match the challnege in front of me. So I experimented with lots of different nutrition, clothing combinations, equipment tweaks, etc. to find what was most comfortable and gave me the most flexibility with the least amount of weight.
And I needed to be acclimated to the altitude. So, at the suggestions of others that I had read, I decided to be a full participant in Camp Hardrock. Essentially, folks come in about 2 weeks before the race and mark the course and generally hang out afterwards, acclimating to the altitude and the attitude of the San Juan Mountains. Work was super generous about allowing me to work remotely, and I found a cabin to stay in that was about 1500 feet above Silverton, but right off the main road to allow for easy access to the town, so I was pretty much all set.
I arrived on Saturday, June 29, almost 2 weeks before the race, having run the gauntlet of Indian trinket sellers and monsoon thunderstorms that litter the southwest. I immediately drove the FJ up and over Cinammon Pass, which is a "road" that goes up and over a particularly treacherous part of the San Juan Mountains and down to the trailhead for Handies Peak. So, a day after being San Diego, up I went to the highest point in the course, topping at a little over 14,000 feet above sea level. I was cruising along OK, approaching the summit plateau, when here came a big thunderstorm. For those who haven't had the good fortune to experience one of these mountain monsoon thunderstorms, I was in 40 MPH winds with thunder echoing from ridge to ridge. Hail was flying down, and with the wind propelling it, it felt like someone was standing 5 feet away throwing unpopped popcorn at me as hard as they could. It stung my face and legs and anything else exposed. Well, I thought, welcome to Hardrock, and promptly retreated back down the mountain to the car. OK, I thought, the rain jacket worked, and I've had my experience. The rest of the camp should go well.
As I drove back to the cabin I noticed that I wasn't particularly hungry even though I should be. Uh oh. By that night, I was losing stuff out of every orafice. Double uh oh. I still felt lousy the next day, but decided to go out anyways because I only had so much time and convinced myself that I had to get this scouting done. So I tried to do Engineer Pass, but within a few miles I was sitting morose by the side of the road. Fortunately, Andrew Barney came by and bailed me out on his way back down from driving to the top of Engineer Pass and gave me a lift back to my car. I drove home and checked my temperature. 103. Triple uh oh. Time for bed. I suffered a crisis of confidence and wondered if I wasn't in over my head after all.
Most of the talk around this time was of the fires down by Durango. The Pole Creek portion of the course was closed to all travel, and there was scuttlebutt of the race being cancelled or altered. After reading the fire reports and looking at the maps, I felt confident that things were going to go but it added an edge of uncertainty. But pretty soon we got news that the race was a definite go! Thanks to all the Hardrock board and everyone involved with the BLM and other agencies for making it happen. Hardrock has a fantastic relationship with the land managers in the area, and you can tell that it pays dividends.
After 16 hours of sleep and 2 days off spent working, I felt much better and accompanied the course marking crew on their second day up, this time to Grant Swamp pass. I was incredibly nervous and my confidence was shaken from my first 2 days. But I had a strong day, staying in the front of the pack all day. And I immediately formed a bond with several of the people in the group who would get to know each other over the next week or so. Insert shout out here to Rich DeSimeone, Buddy Teaster, Robert King, Kuni Yamagata, Bob Crowley, Steve Peterson, Tom Simonds, Flora Krivak-Tetley, Kevin Martin, Andrew Barney, Tetsuro Ogata, and the rest of the marking crew as we labored up and over one pass or another throughout the rest of the week, slowly learning about the course and each other, acclimating to the altitude and trails, learning the proper ways to scramble up Grant Swamp Pass, Virginius Pass, and any other pass that was in front of us. Every day we were ably lead by several Hardrock veterans who were knowedgeable and generous with their knowledge, but I always seemed to end up with Steve and Deb Pero who were especially kind to me and shared all kinds of information as we trapsed through the Rockies. At one point going up Handies, this time without a storm, Steve cranked up the tempo to the top. I managed to stay with him, although just. When we got to the top, he turned to me, and in his thick NE accent, said, "BJ, you ahh going to kick ahss ahn this race." It was a huge confidence boost for someone who wasn't sure if he even belonged out there, so Steve, thanks for the good words. They meant a lot. And all of the veterans like Steve were there to share good thoughts and information if you closed your mouth and opened your ears. Mark and Margaret Heaphy gave me the lowdown of how things worked around Silverton as we sat outside the Silverton Grocery on my first day in town. I got great tips from multiple finsiher Scott Brockmeier who finished more 100's last year than I will start in my lifetime as we drove up and over Cinammon Pass to Handies. Unsolicited, Howie Stern, a now 5 time finisher, came up to me in a cafe and shared info and told me to be sure to savor every step from Putnam knowing that from that point forward, I was going to be a Hardrocker. As I scouted the Putnam climb on my own on the Monday before the race, I ran into Tyler Curiel, a double digit finisher, who invited me over to share his camp with him and his friends and family where we sat in the alpine sun and cool grass and talked about common friends and racing. I just tried to soak it all in without getting overwhelmed, and enjoyed the company of all these great runners. And using what they told me, I finished the thoughts on my plans. For me, the plan was to go out on the harder side of things. I am a runner who goes by confidence, and if I can boost my confidence, I am going to run better, plain and simple. If I am chasing cut offs, I get down and start doing poorly. So I wanted to get some time in the bank and was willing to die some at the end if I could be confident early. We would see how that would work out.
|Typical course marking interloper. |
|Flora leading a marking crew up the final pitch to the base of Grant Swamp. |
|Robert King, Buddy Teaster and others headed up Grant Swamp. This was a little sketchy during marking because with so many people on the climb, rocks were coming down all over the place. |
|Kuni Yamagata leading a group to the final summit on Grant Swamp!|
|Deb Pero kicking butt on the chute of Grant Swamp. |
|Steve Pero snacking on something horribly healthy and good for you on the top of Handies. |
|Yours truly on top of Handies during marking. Unlike Steve, I enjoyed a sandwich made up of processed lunch meat and Cheetos. Next time I would be up here, I would be dodging lightning bolts and getting my iphone ruined in a torrential downpour despite the phone being in a ziploc bag and a waterproof pocket. |
|Rich DeSimione taking a break while steve Pero puts in a flag to mark the turn off of the main trail and up to Grouse. |
|Andrew Barney flying Old Glory. |
|Tetsuro Ogata going up Grouse. He's doing Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in like 2 weeks or something ridiculous like that. He is a huge NBA fan, had a SMOOOOOTH jump shot, and knows his ball (and has calves the size of melons - unbelievable). |
|Kuni Yamagata leading the group up the final pitch before descending into Grouse. I was waiting in a snow ambush here. |
|Looking down into Grouse Gulch from the top of the ridge. |
|The flowers this year were spectacular. Too bad my phone crapped or I would have had more flower photos. |
|Steve Pero showing his good side. |
|Soon Rich, Tom Simonds and others were jumping right in. Nuts. I had no interest in sticking my legs in a glacier. Although I was the only one skipping, so I guess I'm the one who was nuts. |
|Kevin, Rich, me, Bob, and an unknown (sorry) on top of Oscar's (almost) during marking.|
|Kevin Martin and myself on the climb out of Telluride|
|Bob Crowley and Kevin Martin |
It was also fun to see lots of elite runners on the trails. I kept running into Joe Grant all around the trails, and he always had time for a friendly hello, even if he was saddled with a film crew most of the time. Neat to see him and Anton cruising the Telluride trails one afternoon. And I ran into eventual winner Seb Chaigneau coming down Handies as he was running up from Grouse with fellow Frechman Jean Francois Geiss. Couldn't have met a couple of nicer guys. Seb would end up winning in a counter clockwise course record. When we were talking to him, he said he was just here to enjoy the mountains. He has a funny way of enjoying! Great job, Seb!
|Hanging back from the group, I ran into eventual champion Sebastian Chaigneau(left) and five time finisher Jean Francois Geiss, both from France. Seb is a true Hardrocker who couldn't have been more friendly before laying out his will on the course. Chapeau, Sebastian! It was a pleasure meeting you and Francois.|
|Joe Grant and Anton Krupicka out for a stroll on the way down from Oscar's Pass. They passed us going up effortlessly, or at least they were good at making it seem that way. |
But of all the wonderful runners I ran into during the 2 weeks, my funniest encounter occurred on the Monday before the race as I scouted the Putnam climb on my own. After spending time with Tyler as discussed above, I was working my way back down through the trees and saw a group of people sitting on a log. I said hi as I passed and scared the heck out of this poor lady who jumped off her log and almost started sprinting down the hill. As it turns out, it was 3 folks from Germany, a guy, and 2 gals. The guy was a Hardrocker named Wolfgang who was not in the race this year, but taking the gals on a tour of the course piece by piece. Turns out they were surprised earlier by a moose as they ran the section between Chapman and Mineral Creek and the one gal thought I was the moose coming after them. So much for having lost weight! We shared a good laugh, and I headed back to my car.
As the formal marking ended, it was time to think about racing. Erica got into town the Monday before the race, my pacer, Brian Gonzalez, got into town the next day. Erica's family then got there a little early that Wednesday, so that soon, the whole gang was here. My friends Sean and Audrey were going to help crew as well, and they were going to be arriving that Friday during the race, so slowly my team was coming together. We spent the evenings looking for animals and saw deer, moose, porcupine, marmots, pica, snowshoe hare, and elk. Of course, it wouldn't be an ultra without a BJ wildlife story. On the way to the third day of course marking in Telluride the week before, I rode to the trailhead with Bob Crowley and Kevin Martin. As we went up Red Mountain Pass, here comes a deer at full speed down the hill. Bob starts to pull over and the deer just keeps coming and coming. Finally, as she reaches the hood, she does her best Bo and Luke Duke imitation, jumps up, slides over the hood of the car, lands on the other side, gets up and runs down the hill. Neither she nor the car suffered a scratch. Yeeeeee Hawwww, I guess.
More and more runners were arriving in town, getting ready for the race. On that Tuesday Buddy and I scouted the approach to Ouray which was supposed to be tricky, and sure enough, missed a turn. That's why you scout. I also got to spend some time with Buddy's lovely wife as she generously drove us all over Colorado trying to scout as much of the course as we could. Then there was a long course briefing the next day, which was done with a clockwise version of the course so was as confusing as anything, unfortunately, and an ice cream social with the Hardrock board which discussed the future of the race. I had a medical check, got my swag, went to the runner briefing, where who did I run into but Wolfgang?! I went up to him, and it dawned on him who I was. He pumped my hand and turned to the women and said "Das is Moose Man!!!" Their eyes opened wide. "Ahhh, Das Moose Man!" They came over and shook my hand and wished me luck in the race. Then Wolfgang grabbed my hand, looked me dead in the eye, and said "I don't run this year. This year YOU run for ME!" He squeezed my hand for emphasis and kept staring deep into my eyes. Well then, I guess I'm running for Wolfgang as well. With that in mind, I went back to the cabin for a dinner of hamburgers, hot dogs, corn and mac and cheese.
Ok, we get it. Camp Hardrock is awesome fun and you made buddies. Did you actually race this thing or what? Ah, good point. On to the nitty gritty . . .
Most races I'm incredibly nervous and tense. Not for Hardrock for some reason. I was way more excited then nervous. 6 years of waiting, and it was a go! I had slept pretty well, and after a quick shower, and a lot of body glide placed in copious amounts in every conceivable place (and some non-conceivable ones) I donned the uniform:
REI cargo shorts
Nike Combat compression shorts
2XU calf sleeves
Injini toe socks (the only product I'll say anything about, which is that I have yet to get a blister in any 100 wearing these things. They work GREAT for me. Highly recommended).
La Sportiva Wildcats
Under Armor wicking shirt
Arctyrx rain shell with beanie and water proof gloves in pockets, tied around the waist
Nathan pack filled with 3 water bottles, Nuun, Kool-aid squirt bottle, bandana, ultra aspire cup clipped by caribeener, 4 ipod shuffles with music and books, iphone, Gu roctaine, 2 knee straps, wet ones, gold bond ointment, gps unit, and map
A quick breakfast of oatmeal, banana, and breakfast bread, and it was out the door to drive to Silverton to check in. Milling around before the race, I found most of my friends from marking and got pictures. Wolfgang and friends were there, and I put hands up like antlers on either side of my head. "Ya Moose Man!" It was great. I was buzzing with energy, excited and not nervous. Lets do this! AKJ in the house! (that's Ass-Kicker Jones for those who aren't familiar with my pseudonym). The anthem was sung beautifully by Buddy's daughter (Taylor, I think). A quick hug with Erica where I let all my nervousness come up and with a kiss on the cheek and a pat on the head from her, it was gone. Business.
|Getting ready to start|
|Breaking in my two newest crew members, Matty and Ryan|
|Bob Crowley and I getting ready to kick butt and take names|
|With Kuni and Rich, getting ready to start. Kuni is pointing to the dork in the group. |
|With Buddy right before the gun. Why am I like 10 times bigger than everyone who does this sport? WTF?|
Start to Sherman (mile 29)
We were off. This is a long section to sum up, but it really was pretty basic. I started in the back pumping up anyone I could get my hands on (sorry Buddy, Kuni and others) and eventually slipping into a place alongside Tom and Rich, so it felt just like marking all over again. We cruised along some pretty single track through the woods and eventually dumped out on a long road climb. There, clumps and clusters started to form as the climbing kicked up a notch. I passed some time with Alan Smith and Chris Gerber from Colorado talking about various trails and races. Alan is attempting (for the second year in a row) the Rocky Mountain slam which is Hardrock, Leadville, Wasatch, and Bear. Everytime you think you are a hardass . . .
|And we are off . . . Kind of back around that corner.|
|Here I go blurrily around the corner. |
|Buddy and I sauntering out for what would be a long couple of days. |
Anyways, while the climb gets steep on the single track, it was pretty steady as opposed to brutal, and the clouds still filled the valley below us as we traversed over to the downhill. Down we went through the switchbacks flying. You could see the aid station way below, but it took a long time to get there. I passed the time with Flora learning about Hawaii and soon enough bottomed out and there was my crew! Erica, her mom, Barbara, and her nephew and niece, Matthew and Ryan, got me everything I needed, and then Barbara and the kids walked me out of the station to the bottom of the next climb. As would happen in nearly every station, I passed Buddy's family who gave me a huge cheer as if I was their own. Thanks again, guys! I really appreciated it. As I asceneded steeply, I could hear Matty and Ryan yelling "Go BJ!" Talk about a spirit lifter, having two kids under 9 screaming for you at the top of your lungs will do it. Everytime they yelled, I lifted my Gaffi Stick and yelled "BANZAI!" which prompted them to yell back. This went on for way too long for the people around me for sure. Soon, I settled into a group that consisted of Hans Dieter, Bob Crowley, Scott Brockmeier, Liz Bauer, and a few others, with Scott generally setting the tempo. This was perfect for me as I am a caboose kind of guy and settled into the tail of this strong grouping for a while until we crested the climb, which took forever. For those reading this as a scouting trip, do not underestimate this climb. It is steep and long and then steep again. If you can survive the first 1/2 hour steep push, you get a break that lets you regroup, and once you get over the top of Green Mountain, which has a sting in its tail so don't think you are done until you actually start going downhill, its the end of the worst of the steep climbing until Handies, so you have lots of time to recover.
|Coming down into Cunningham|
|Barb, Matty, and Ryan escorting me out of the Cunningham Aid Station|
Finally getting over Green Mountain, we came down through Stony Pass, where the group I had been traveling with gradually broke up and I found myself on my own. I heard all of this buzzing in the air, and I had not even put my earphones in yet. I couldn't figure out what it was. Then over to my left I saw a HUGE flock of sheep on the ridgeline opposite where we were. Ahhh. Or should I say Bahhhh. Lots of bahhhh. They had warned us not to get between the sheep and sheepdogs or you would be sorry. Duly noted. I yelled out to no one in particular to amuse myself "DON'T CUT THE FLOCK!" as I continued up around Marcus Camby mountain and reached Hardrocker Point, the second highest point on the course. As we descended Alan Smith came charging past me and continued on the ridgeline, missing the turn down to Maggie's aid station. I yelled at him, but he couldn't hear me in the wind and continued on. Having seen him descend, I knew I couldn't catch him, so I let him go figuring he'd turn around soon enough and headed down cross-country to Maggies (Alan did indeed pass me somewhere on the next section, and after yo-yoing with me all race, passed me for the last time on the way out of Putnam some 85 miles later). After a quick stop, I climbed out of the Gulch steeply, but quickly, and as I hit the top of the climb in the late morning, I heard the first rumble of thunder behind me. I then ran down into the Pole Creek section, mixing running and hiking, but hiking when in doubt, trying to be very conservative. Soon, I was through Pole Creek aid and on my way up to the continental divide. This whole section is essentially above treeline and at high altitude, so it can be very exposed. Had I not ruined my iPhone, you would have seen a lot of flowers, rolling meadows, etc. I was fortunate in that it was pretty cloudy, so it was as comfortable as could be expected. As I climbed up to the continental divide, the clouds behind me darkened and the thunder continued to rumble. Uh oh. The climb out of Pole Creek goes on and on and on, never steep, but always wandering so that you aren't sure where you are even trying to get to. It takes forever. Finally, topping out at the Continental Divide lake, I was caught by Chris Gerber who is a fast runner who is recovering from back problems. He said he was a lightning attractant, and of course me being Mr. Wildlife, I thought we would be in for a fun couple of miles. While I was expecting weasels to come raining out of the sky or something given our proximity to one another, it was a rather benign few miles. He has tons of experience on the course and was sharing all kinds of great stories and information. We both were grateful that the storm seemed to dissipate without more than a spritz of rain. Chris had warned me that, contrary to my thoughts, the downhill on the Cataract Falls trail was not runnable for a while. I had read that this was "bomber downhill." Not so much, or at least not for several miles. It was rocky, super steep in parts and, because of the rain sprinkles, slick. Only the last couple of miles was good runnable stuff, but that was really fun. Finally we dumped into Sherman around 3 PM or so.
Sherman (mile 29) to Grouse (mile 42)
Sherman was a great aid station. They have long tables laid out where you can dump and sort your stuff, and you get an individual handler who gets you whatever you need. I put down some pudding, some jello, some coke on ice, and not much else. I laughed watching Liz inhale a giant bowl of pasta. Liz, you are going to Nathan's on Fourth of July one year to give Kobiyashi a run for his money. Nice work! Heading out onto the road, there was a quick climb to the main dirt road to Handies, and we quickly formed an echelon of Liz, Scott, myself, and Yuki Negoro (Yuki would finish this section about when I did, but waited for his wife for 4 hours in a tent at Grouse while his wife waited 4 hours in the car! ARGH! Yuki still managed a finish, so good on him.) We spent the next hour fast hiking the road, saving our legs for the Handies climb to 14,000 feet, swapping stories and enjoying the afternoon. While some chose to run this section, we stayed close by hiking a good clip and, in the end, finished in front of those who chose to run this section. I was glad for the conservative choice, and this was one of my favorite parts of the whole race talking with Liz and Scott. Scott commented how lucky we were to miss the storms. I hate to say you jinxed us Scott, but . . .
As we hit Handies, I knew I didn't have the legs to stay with that grouping without really stretching things, so I let them go, but kept them in my eye in the distance. Handies starts steep in the trees, then ameloriates for a while, and then just gets sick once you start making straight for the ridge. I climbed for a while with Hans Dieter. I passed Chris Twiggs who looked like a dead marmot on a rock. (Chris would later come back to pass me outside Telluride and finish 4 hours faster than me. Not bad for a Nole. Guess he really is a second day guy . . . ). Lots of people switched places back and forth on this climb as it got steeper and steeper and people would take breaks and then come back strong. As I approached the summit plateau, at maybe 13,500 feet, a storm blew in and started howling, just like it had on my first day in the San Juans, but harder. So much for dodging the storms. The rain was freezing, and soon the hail was coming down and covered the ground in a sheet of icy ball bearings. Lightning flashed, and I could not count to one before I heard the thunder. I was way above treeline and even rock-line if there is such a thing. I was only a few hundred feet of climbing, if that, from the summit and from what I could tell was tallest thing in miles. Do I hunker down on this rock I'm on? Do the sprint and try to make myself short? I glanced back at Steve Pero who was powering up towards me, a new urgency in his step. Well, there you go then. Of course, Steve knew he was shorter than me, so he knew there was at least 1 taller thing in the basin as far as he was concerned. I ran the last 200 vertical feet up the summit, over the ridge, and down the other side into American Basin as fast as I could, which wasn't saying much. The ground around me was slick and white with a couple inches of hail as I slid down the backside of Handies, lightning still lighting up the early evening, thunder echoing from the ridges, cracking off the rocks. I had my jacket on, but didn't want to take time to get my gloves on so just kept pushing and pushing to get below Sloan Lake as I was freezing and my hands were numb. Ahead of me, runners were springing downwards to get off the ridge and continuing to plunge into the American Basin. I slowed up as I caught Hans Dieter and as Steve Pero pushed past. I was pretty sure we were in good shape now, and didn't want to ruin my legs too early. So I followed Hans up over the second ridge, then, getting cold, took off using my downhill legs down to Grouse Gulch.
|The final summit ridge of Handies after the steep climbing was done on a much nicer day than the one I experienced. The following pictures were all taken during marking on July 4 and are included just to give you an idea of what this section looks like. The climb after Handies to get to Grouse Gulch is not to be underestimated.|
|Sloan Lake from the summit. The trail goes to the lip of Sloan Lake, then sharply down before a subtle turn up over the ridge to Grouse. |
|Just below Sloan Lake on marking day behind Andrew Barney. Just past here, you have to make a left to go over the ridge at left center. Staying on the trail brings you back to Cinnamon Pass Road and would make you very unhappy.|
|Handies from the Grouse trail on a much better day than I was enjoying. |
|Crack crew member Audrey stares in exactly the wrong place waiting for me to come down the trail. I came down the switchbacks above into Grouse Gulch. . . |
|Gonzo and Erica waiting for me to come down the trail. Erica was wearing good advice. Especially the first part. Despite pleading, Erica refused to wear her "I don't do ultramarathons, but I do an ultramarathoner." shirt. That was 6 bucks down the drain . . . |
|My awesome, if soggy, Grouse Gulch crew - Audrey, Sean, Erica, and Gonzo. Barb was at home with a grumpy but considerably less soggy Matty and Ryan. |
Grouse (mile 42) to Ouray (mile 57)
I needed some redo at Grouse as I was soaked through. I went into the aid station and didn't see my folks. Just then I was seriously grappled from behind. It was Sean who led me to the car where Audrey, Gonzo, and Erica were waiting. Gonzo took control, making sure I had what I needed and getting the crew working like clockwork. I hadn't drank much as my bottle was in my pack under my rain jacket, so I tried to get as much water down as possible. Soon, I was in a new shirt, my jacket was dried, I had warm food down my gullet, and I had new things I needed. One tip I had gotten in preparation for Hardrock was to write down everything I needed to do at every aid station and put it in my drop bag so when my brain was frozen, I had a checklist to run through. Done and done. Darkness had finally fallen (it was a little after 9 when I arrived), so it was flashlight time. Out I went for a long road climb to Engineer. I needed the climb to warm up and get the blood flowing. 10 minutes out of the aid station, my batteries in my light, which I had put in fresh the night before, died. Argh. Stupid batteries - I had just bought them. So with freezing hands, it took me 5 to 10 minutes to change the batteries (and use up my spares, although I had a spare headlamp as well just in case), and then I had to start to get warmed up again. This part of the course was non-descript, just a gradual climb on a road, but as I read somewhere in some Hardrock report, if there is one thing I can do, it is walk up a road. I put on World War Z on the Shuffle and headed up. After a few hours, I got to where I thought I was supposed to be going, but there were headlamps all over the place. There was no one ahead of me, and I had passed a bunch of lights which I didn't see behind me. Hmmm. Eventually, here came a light and I worked my way back. It was Steve Pero again. He assured me we were headed the right way, so forward I went, trusting his judgment. After a few tense minutes, I saw a bike light blinking in the distance. A ha! Of the road and down a steep cross-country slope. I made pretty good time down to the Engineer Aid Station, but it was really slick from all the rain. Lots of loose mud, wet grass, and slick rocks. I had a quick stop at Engineer, and then headed out again. From Engineer to Ouray was about 8 miles, and it was a long haul down. I got passed by Flora, but other than that, I didn't see anyone. I know the edge of the trail here shoots off some thousand feet to the bottom of the cliff, but because it was dark, I never even really noticed. I made pretty good time, "running" almost the entire way. I was pretty fatigued by this point and not thinking particularly clearly, but tried to concentrate as I knew I had a long easier stretch up ahead in the form of another road climb, and I wanted to make time while I could before my legs gave out, which I knew was going to happen sometime in the next 10 to 20 miles. Eventually I navigated the tricky entry into Ouray, found the road and headed into the aid station where I was going to meet Sean and Audrey.
Ouray (mile 57) to Telluride (mile 72)
In I came to the aid station. Hello? Hello? Hmm, I was expecting my crew but no one there, so grabbed my drop bag and had a seat. This is why you have to be self sufficient at ultras. You never know what can happen to your crew. What if they get stuck behind an accident? Or can't find the aid station? You have to treat crew like a bonus. Turns out in this case, I had beat the time Brian had given them as my earliest possible arrival, so they weren't there when I got there a little before 3 AM. As I sat there, Audrey came running up in a panic, as the clock struck 3, and she found me just packing up. But seeing them, I took advantage and took a 5 minute nap as I was beginning to feel the fatigue. I was way on the pointy end of my schedule where I wanted to be, so wanted to make sure I stayed fresh. Up after 5 minutes, Sean and Audrey walked me out and up the road to the start of the trail, where I ventured out on my own. It was nice to have their company after so many hours of silence. I was climbing great and felt awake and passed several people in here. Its just a long flattish climb, and the sun came up halfway up to help wake me up. It was just important to stay focused as it was easy to drift if you let your mind wander, which meant the pace slowed. Along the climb, I swapped places again with several people I had seen during the day including Liz, Scott, and Flora as well as a few others. I continued strong through the Governor Basin aid station and up to the base of the Virginius climb. But I hit a problem. First, I had to hit the bushes for nature's call. As I was there, I realized from being wet that the, well, undercarriage and other goods had been pretty badly damaged by chafing. As in raw to the point of bleeding. Oops. I knew I was uncomfortable, but did not realize how bad it had gotten. That probably would not bode well for the future, and I needed to take care of things. So I hid around a corner as best I could, cleaning, applying glide and ointment, etc. In all probably another 15 minutes down the tubes as lots of folks I had passed got me back in my embarassing state, many of whom waived hello as they passed. Ultrarunning quickly cures you of any shyness . . . But with things patched up, it was up Virginius. There are three pitches to Virginius. The first is a steep rock pile, and while most prefer the right hand scree side, I had found, in the complete absence of snow, the left side was like a staircase and made for an easier climb. The second pitch was up some loose rock that had been solidified by the rain, rendering it more climbable. Finally, usually there is a rope to the last pitch, but not this year with no snow, so I followed everyone's tracks up an impromptu trail on the right side of the pass to Kroger's Kanteen. This is where Scotty Mills was waiting, and he filled me with warm broth and good words and sent me down the other side. Overall, the climb to Virginius is legendarily difficult, but I think the lack of snow and the damp soil took some of the sting out of the scorpion. Its not like you ran up or anything, but it wasn't nearly as difficult as I had picutred having seen it in pictures and done it in training.
|Since my phone died, all of these pictures are from course marking. This is the view from Governor's Basin aid crossing the creek. |
|Fred Ecks on marking day. This is a good image of the approach to the bottom of Virginius. Steady but not steep. |
|Looking down at old mine buildings almost at the end of the approach to Virginius. I saw a bear in here on race day. |
|The final road to the top. The climb starts just to the right. Buddy Teaster and Bob Crowley on marking day with Mike Burke and Steve Peterson just up the road. |
|This is the first pitch of 3 on Virginius. Mike Burke is on the climb. The right was loose scree. The middle was big rocks and was climbable like a staircase. I went up the scree during marking, the middle during the race. I preferred the middle. |
|On top of the first pitch. The second pitch is the hill right in front. The ultimate goal can be seen for the first time here at the top center, just to the left of the spire. |
|Zoomed in on the goal. |
|Buddy Teaster during marking on top of the second pitch. |
|The final pitch. You can see someone on top just to the right of the spire. Because the snow had melted, there was a switchback trail that revealed itself on the right side. No rope this year. |
|Buddy finishing off the climb during marking. |
|Unfortunately no pictures during the race of the world's highest aid station. Was so impressed by Roch and Scotty Mills and volunteers keeping this aid station together. Thanks again guys!|
In any case, the downhill after Kroger's started treacherously enough, but after cresting Mendota Ridge, it became very runnable in my opinion. I made decent time running through the trees into Telluride, passing a few folks back. although as it got hotter as I got lower, I started to slow down. I had put on a long sleeved shirt back at Grouse, and that was getting warm now that it was almost 10 AM and I was headed below 10,000 feet again. I pulled into Telluride, and every random person on the street was saying "Welcome to Telluride!" It was pretty nice but slightly disconcerting to be in civilization again with cars to dodge and bikes to avoid. Into the park, and there were my whole crew, including Gonzo who would take over as my pacer.
|A slightly drier version of the world's greatest crew in Telluride. I saw Audrey and Sean in Ouray around 3 AM the morning before, but they were up and raring to go for Telluride, if slightly more punctual. |
|Being a crew involves a lot of waiting. What a great group I had. Gonzo is chilling, and you can see my cooler and bag laid out and ready to go for my arrival. |
|The full team was waiting for me in Telluride. Besides Audrey and Erica, you can see Ryan and Matty, Erica's niece and nephew, contributing to the effort by catching a bungee cord and throwing a stick into the pond respectively while Barbara Deese supervises. |
|Here I finally arrive . . . |
|The crew snaps into action. Ryan is busy holding down the chair. |
|I'm not looking too good here. I'm eating some cold Spaghettio's, one of my secret weapons. Take that all you chia seed eatin' freaks! |
|Not exactly leaping out of my chair for the climb up to Oscar's|
Telluride (mile 72) to KT (mile 89)
With Gonz in tow (or more accurately with me in his tow) we were off up what I thought was going to be the hardest climb of the course. I wasn't far off, in that the climb just kept going and going and going. You see the pictures of Grant Swamp and Viriginius, but both of those are relatively short, if brutal. Rather, its the last half of Handies, Green Mountain, the approach to Grant Swamp, and the climb to Oscars that I found to be absolute beasts because of their length and steepness combined. In any case, the climb out of Telluride to Oscar's Pass was absolutely scattered with wildflowers of every color, as if someone had taken a paintbrush and shook it all over the slopes of the San Juans. The day was warm, and there wasn't much cloud cover, so we toiled upwards past frothy brooks, snow banks, and all of the blues, purples, yellows, and reds one could imagine. I knew from marking this section that the climb was in three parts. We quickly settled into a rhythm of pushing for a few minutes, then a 10 second break. I found that worked better for me than a slow steady push or other methods, so we made it work for us. The second pitch seemed to take forever, but finally we were above treeline and into the final basin. As World War Z wrapped up, we topped the final pitch and a quick traverse over to Oscar's Pass. While the descent from Oscar's Pass would normally be completely runnable, unfortunately the mountain went and threw up rocks all over itself, so it was slow pickings on the way down but I was still running fairly well. As I approached tree line, I suddenly felt very queasy. As I bent over . . . RALPH. Well, now I threw up all over myself as well, so at least the mountain and I had something in common.Unfortunately, that meant I needed to take it easy for a bit until I could recover, so we took it down a notch and eased down into Chapman, which was the last place I would see my crew. Running past the FJ, I couldn't even tell it was mine with the mud covering the license. The FJ had fun.
|Heading up the second pitch to Oscar's out of Telluride|
|No, its not all fun and games is it. Almost to the top of the third pitch to Oscar's. |
|Close . . . |
|Not exactly sprinting down the other side to Chapman|
Erica, her mom, and the kids were waiting at the aid station. I needed to take some time to get some calories in me given my barf o rama, so we had a longer stop than I would have liked, but probably a good move. I ate some runny eggs, some pudding, maybe some applesauce, and some coke. The whole time we were battling an army of flies like something out of the Amityville Horror. Time to go. I had, the way I viewed it, 2 climbs left, and even though my legs were shot, it was doable. I was still way ahead of scheudle and cutoffs, so though I knew I would slow, I also knew that I should finish bar disaster. Of course, this is Hardrock where disaster waits around every turn, so it was important to stay focused. The approach to Grant Swamp is worse than the actual pass, although the pass gets a lot of publicity for good reason. You first climb off the jeep road through a series of really steep "switchbacks" for about a 1/2 mile, then you get a respite, then the 1/2 mile approach is a staircase through sharp rock that just never seems to end. Well for me it didn't. I made it up the switchbacks and still was making decent time, considering (those who have seen my splits would surely disagree). As I hit the last of the trees before the rocky approach, I was wobbling and fuzzy headed. Things were going a little south. So I told Brian I was taking a 5 minute nap and proceeded to fall asleep in the dirt without waiting for a response. No root for a pillow, no soft grass, just right there on the trail. 5 minutes later, and Brian woke me up and I felt much better. We made our push over the approach and hit the scree slope. In the course marking I had gone up the right side of the main slope where there are some faint switchbacks, but the rocks start to shift and can come down. This time, I headed straight for the dirt and scree center. I wasn't going to mess around. I got on all 4's and crawled up the slope, losing a step out of every 3 to the scree, although the rain had given a lot more purchase and made the slope much easier than it had been earlier that week. A big push, and I made the top. I took a few minutes to collect myself and put a rock at Joel's plaque along with a prayer. Joel Zucker died shortly after completing his third Hardrock, and they put a plaque for him at Grant Swamp Pass overlooking Island Lake in maybe the most beautiful place I have ever set foot. He was a dogged ultra runner, kind of a back of the packer like myself as I understand it, and big dog lover, and seeing his plaque both in marking and in the race was maybe my favorite part of the whole experience. Its hard to explain, but to me it summarizes everything I love about this sport, the hard work, the danger, the sacrifice, the cameraderie, the mountains, the beauty, the adventure, and the spirit. Arf, arf buddy. I'm with you.
|"So Gonz, what say we knock off and go have a milkshake . . . " |
|Grant Swamp final pitch finally comes in view. I went up the dirt to the center. Many chose to go up the rocks just to the right of the chute where there was an informal switchbacked path. |
|And here we go . . . |
|Was it this steep during marking? I think Dale sent some engineers to tilt it up a few degrees to make up for the lack of snow on the course this year. |
|If you look over my butt, you can see all the way down to the aid station. |
|Meanwhile, my crack crew hard at work. |
|Putting my rock by Joel's plaque. |
|Joel's plaque. It really, for me, was very moving to be up here both during marking and during the race. I only wish I could have known Joel. He sounds like he was a hell of a guy. |
|The view from Joel's plaque. It could not be any more beautiful. A great way to honor him. |
|Looking back to the top of Grant Swamp. |
|Headed down to KT.|
|Island Lake from eye level. During course marking, our only female companion decided it was a great place for a skinny dip. Just when you thought the view couldn't get any better . . . |
|On the Kamm traverse and ready to get some calories. This part was a bit of a struggle as I desperately needed food but was having trouble keeping stuff down. The road below is the Mineral Creek Campground Road that we would cross in about a mile and a half on our way to Putnam. |
Down the other side I was trying to move as well as I could, but I was starting to get sick again so we decided to back off. We didn't want to take any chances with the finish. Not now. The descent was very runnable, but we just fast hiked while Brian regaled me with Mormon rap. Its . . . its not good. I had Frank Zappa going on the ipod, so it was an eclectic mix to say the least. In retrospect, I wish I had given it some more gas through here, but I wasn't thinking clearly. I tried to get some calories down and spit them right back up. I knew I needed some food, and nothing on me was working, so we decided to just cruise into KT aid and regroup. We made the turn onto the trail and straight to the aid station. Let me say for my purposes, I thought the trail throughout the race was extremely clearly marked and easy to follow, but I also had over half the field in front of me trampling down the grass. I did not get off course for more than a few seconds, and even that was in some willows in the Pole Creek area, and I could see where the trail was the whole time. I had a moment of doubt or two, but in general, I did not find navigation a problem. I know at least one runner took a detour trying to climb back up Handies a second time and I saw Alan go off for a few minutes, but I think the navigation issues, at least for a non-snow year like this year, are slightly over-stated (but don't tell Charlie or he'll start pulling more flags). I found the Bear much more difficult to navigate. Be that as it may, we hit the turn, across the stream, and finally made it to KT.
KT (mile 89) to Finish (mile 100.5)
By this time it was about 7:30 or so, and the sun was finally starting to go down. There was lightning in the far distance, but it looked like we were going to have a dry second day, which was good because I still was thawing out from the Handies storm on day 1! Lots of things to try to get calories at KT. Pumpkin pie filling? RALPH. No, that didn't work. How about pasta? Pasta, eh? OK. I made it through 2 servings of spicy elbow macaroni with red sauce. Small, but still, my first calories in about 4 hours. OK, the last push. Putnam, like others, is a 3 part climb with a steep pitch in the woods followed by a little flat, then a steady push to a ridge topped with a steep finish, then a traverse across a bowl with a steep final pitch straight up a hillside. I took the lead on the first part, trying to set a decent pace for myself, thinking if I took the lead, I would be able to push myself more. Not so much. I quickly settled into my pattern of 30 seconds to a minute of climbing followed by 10 seconds of rest. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Argh, it was frustrating. I just could not summon any climbing power out of my legs. But the top comes as it always does, and then we moved as fast as we could to part 2. Here's where things started going haywire.
"Hey Gonz, how in the world did someone drive a truck up in this basin. What a hardass redneck."
"BJ, that's a rock, there's no truck." 2 minutes pass.
"Gonz, why is there a guy in a visor there taking down our names at that turn in the trail. Seems like an obvious turn. I don't think they need a monitor out here."
"BJ, there's no one there. Its a bush."
"Oh, are you sure?"
"Do you want to ask the bush how it is doing and see if it answers?"
"Nah, I'm good."
At that point, I thought it best to shut up before Brian tried to have me pulled from the race. I saw a set of three old washing machines, a country mailbox with the flag up, and a series of different popcorn machines like in the old theaters. Fortunately, darkness settled in, and all I could see after that was my light and the back of Gonzo's shoes. Up the last steep push that never seemed to end (and to me, as darkness fell, looked like we were climing to the parapet of a castle with giant stone blocks - "Hey Gonz . . . nevermind"). We were now traveling cross-country, and Brian was the ace. I mean THE ace. He had pre run this whole section and entered a waypoint on his wrist GPS for every flag. As others scattered their lights all over looking to catch the next reflector, Gonzo moved confidently from spot to spot, looking at his wrist taking us directly to the next flag, then the next, then the next. As we approached the final climb, Kuni had caught up to us after 40 some hours. He wasn't feeling well and fell right in with us, two ducks following Brian from point to point. Finally the last climb. Gozno shone his light straight up the slope. Oh come on. I had pre run this, but I didn't remember it being this steep. To quote my man Gob "Aw, C'mon!" Again, Brian was the Ace, like he had been since we left Telluride. He focused his headlamp on the marker then shone his handlight on a spot about halfway. "Lets hit that spot and break" and off we would go. I was intently focused on the spot in his light and did not let it out of my sight until I was standing on it, and then Brian would find the next spot and we'd do it again. With this method we made great steady progress up the hill and after a struggle of 6 or 7 flags the hill eased off and we had made it! WE HAD MADE IT! It was not even midnight, and we just had to get down the hill to Silverton. I took out the phone to text Erica that we were about 3 hours out or so, when RALPH. Hardrock had one last slap in the face for me to remind me I wasn't done yet. I was heaving for about 3 or 4 minutes getting rid of what little was in my stomach. OK, I'm good. And off we went down to the last aid station, getting out of the freezing wind up top.
It seemed to take FOREVER to get to Putnam. I just put my head down and followed Brian, and Kuni just put his head down and followed me, our little train plowing through the night towards the lights of Silverton. In the time it took to get from the ridge to Putnam, I managed to call Kuni the following: Yuni, Kung, King, Yuki, and God knows what else. So sorry Kuni. I do know your name. My brain was absolutely gone. But we hit Putnam, some hot chocolate which seemed to refresh me, and we were off. The aid station captain told us anywhere from 2.5 hours to 3.5 hours. If we did it in 2, we had a shot at sub 44 hours. Gonz set out determined that sub 44 was in site. I was skeptical but went along as he set a brisk pace. As we went down, we were conversing and Kuni mentioned that he wanted us to finish first. I insisted that he finish first because I wanted to finish on my own, but he was super gracious about it, so I called the procession to a brief halt. I asked Brian to pull something out of my pack that was clipped in and wrapped in a ziploc and then a piece of cloth. He looked at it, and then literally fell in the bushes.
Rewind back to the tailgate where I received the Tweet of Death. You see, I had decided right there in that instant on that fine December morning that when I finished Hardrock, I was going to ask my girlfriend Erica to marry me at the finish line. THAT's why I knew why I would finish no matter what and never quit. That gave me any extra oomph to train hard on those days I just didn't want to drag my butt up another mountain. I kept thinking how awesome it was going to be to propose at the Hardrock. But if I didn't finish, it wasn't going to happen, so I had to go earn it. I had told essentially no one, and the only people who knew about it at the race were Sean and Audrey who came out to crew but also to see the finish and Erica's stepdad who had successfully completed his assignment of getting Barb out to the finish. I had brought the ring with me on every course marking adventure and had now taken it about 96 miles, with about 4 more to go. And let me tell you, having dragged that ring all over the Hardrock course, Frodo can suck it.
So now we had a lot to talk about on our last few miles. I let Brian and Kuni go ahead a bit and dragged behind with my thoughts. I was thinking of what I would say to Erica, of all the work I did, but frankly, I didn't get the emotional rush I thought I would at this point. I was just totally spent and stumbling over these giant rocks trying to get done. I was blindly following Gonzo, not even looking for markings (although there wasn't really anywhere to turn to get lost). The last few miles were smooth and fast, but before that, there was a huge rocky section, and every rock represented to me a broken ankle and an end to my race, so I was really being a Sally about the whole thing, taking a break here and there and tiptoeing when I probably would have been fine. I just didn't want to blow it now. Gonz was setting a terrific pace, and pretty soon, boom, there was the creek to cross. Whoa, we're here? My mind was a blank. We crossed with the help of the rope, which was probably unnecessary, and sent Kuni on his way, and per Brian's word, he got his sub 44 hour finish (yes, Gonz, you were right). Way to go, Kuni! Gonz and I dawdled a bit to get some space and then took off after him along the Nute Chute. We hit the Shrine of the Mine road and there was a guy with a flashlight ahead. I saw Brian go ahead to talk to him, and then saw one man go up the road while another stood there. I approached the one standing there.
"That's my pacer up the road there" I said to the man edging past him.
"No, I'm your pacer." What? What was wrong with this random stranger? I'm supposed to be with Brian.
"No, I don't think you understand. My pacer has gone up the road there and I need to catch up to him."
"BJ, its Gonzo. I'm your pacer." Hmm. I was going to have to defeat him with my awesome 99 mile logic.
"Well, if you're my pacer, why is the race official walking up the road?" I said cleverly. Lets see this supposed "pacer" explain that, eh?
"BJ, that's another runner who was lost and couldn't find his way."
"Oh. So you're Brian then?"
"Lets just walk up the road." It was definitely time to get done.
We got to the top of the road, and the guy was still looking for the trail to the finish, so Brian went ahead to direct him to the way down. I kept my eye on Gonzo like a shell game. I wasn't going to get fooled again. I caught up and we watched this poor guy who was so close to the finish stumble around at the bottom of the trail, unable to figure out which road to turn down. How frustrating for him to be so close but still so far. I would have been in the same boat with my Hardrock brain. Finally, he figured it out, and we gave him a minute before we made our entry. Gonzo took my Gaffi Stick and gave me the ring which I had given to him for his safe care back on the trail. We ran down together and made the left turn. There was the school building. I started letting out whoops and hollers, yelling something about the Gator Nation, my first Hardrock finish, and who knows what else. I think I was speaking in tongues. I turned at the last half block and there was the Hardrock. I usually ham it up and wave to everyone as I finish, etc. but this time, I just had tunnel vision. I have no idea what happenned to Gonzo or who was there or anything. All I saw was the Hardrock, and truly, I was mezmerized. I stopped running and just looked up in the heavens and started slowly walking to it. I gently got down on two knees, leaned forward, and kissed the Hardrock 44 hours and 15 minutes after I had started. I then called Erica over and pulled the ring out of my hand and showed it to her. I had thought of several allegedly romantic things to say, but had completely forgotten them all in my late race delirium. I do remember that she said yes. There is video proof, but I couldn't get it to upload. If anyone cares, I'll send it to them in a separate e-mail.
|Happy to be getting ready to kiss the rock . . . |
|Getting ready for the big kiss . . . |
|The moment of truth!|
|And a second time after she said yes . . . |
|I look pretty tired. |
|Me and Gonzo, the best pacer in the world. |
|Talking to Dale, the race director. I look pretty tired, but not as tired as Barb over there. |
As soon as she said yes, people were all around cheering, patting us on the back, taking our picture. We hugged all of our crew, friends, and family and anyone else in reach. I gave Dale, the race director, a bear hug and thanked him for everything. I was just about to go inside to sit when I heard "MOOSE MAN!" There was Wolfgang and crew who had waited all night to see me finish.
A W E S O M E! He gave me a huge hug. I told him I ran for him, and we both laughed and hugged again as I got kissed on the cheeks from his girls. And then he took my hand again, put his other hand on my shoulder. He pulled me close, almost nose to nose, and somehow pulled me in to him from the rest of the night. Then he looked me dead in the eye, face grim but smiling, and in a soft voice that no one else could hear, he said to me "Now YOU Hardrocker." That's when it actually hit me. Damn straight, Wolfgang. Now I Hardrocker.
|Me and Wolfgang. I LOVE this guy. |
Erica had to help take the kids back and get us packed for leaving tomorrow, so she and her family left, and I went inside to swap stories and wait for other runners. I talked with Sean and Audrey and other racers. I chatted with Scott and Liz for a bit and hung out some with Buddy's family who was waiting for him. Soon I saw Andrew finish and then Steve Pero, and more. Here came Chris Gerber, and finally, there was Buddy, finishing strong and looking great. It was 3:30 in the morning, I was out of energy and had to go. Thankfully, Gonzo was on hand to drive. On the 10 minute drive back to the cabin, I fell asleep 3 times. I then made it to the shower where I fell asleep 4 times standing up. I slept for a few hours on the couch in the AM but was too sore to get good sleep, and we were up by 8 AM to go the awards ceremony. It was packed, and it was great to see everyone with whom I had shared the last two weeks. Rich, Robert and Kevin, among others, did not finish, and I felt bad for them, but they seemed to be OK. I applaud them for coming to the awards ceremony anyways, and those who didn't finish got the loudest applause of anyone all day, as we all know it easily could have been us in their shoes. For Hardrock, like many other things, it is the journey and not necessarily the destination.
As much as it hurt to see those guys, I was thrilled to see everyone who had made it. There were lots of laughs, handshakes, hugs, stories, and more laughs. Wolfgang and crew were there, and there was more than one cry of MOOSE MAN you can rest assured! Dale then gave everyone their finishing certificates, telling an anecdote about each finisher from notes he had taken on cards. What a class act all the way. You can guess which story got told about me and it wasn't about moose man. He made Erica stand up and she got a huge round of applause. It was a great, great morning. Then we had lunch, and Erica drove us away from Silverton as I immediately fell asleep in the front seat. As we drove, I would fall asleep midsentence not even feeling sleep coming, and wake up hours later and complete my sentence. Weird. We made it home over two days, and now I am back in San Diego.
|Getting my Master of Mileage from Dale and crew. Of course repping the Orange and Blue. |
|Sharing a good laugh and words with Tyler Curiel and Howie Stern, two great guys who have earned every one of their finishes. Thanks again for all the good words fellas. And yes, Howie, I savored every step from Putnam on home. |
|My masters of mileage. |
|The worlds greatest pacer and crew at lunch. |
|And in front of the rock . . . I could not have done it without them and Barbara Deese and Matty and Ryan. Can't thank you guys enough! |
|The world's greatest pacer, and a pretty good dude to boot. |
|The World's greatest crew and pacer on their way out of town at the Durango airport. |
So, huge thanks first to Dale, the Hardrock volunteers and Board, and everyone else involved in organizing and permitting the race. What a first class, well run event. If you are fortunate enough to get in, you will see. Hardrock is organically linked with the communities and mountains around those communities, and that symbiosis produces a unique event that is wonderful in every aspect.
Secondly, thanks to my fellow Hardrockers, from the vets to the new guys. The people make the race, and I met wonderful people over the last two weeks who were strong, inspiring, generous, passionate, and just plain fun. I will enjoy seeing all of you again. Thank you for sharing the Hardrock spirit!
Next, thanks to the world's greatest crew - Erica, Gonzo, Barbara, Matty, Ryan, Sean, and Audrey. At every aid station, they were there in some combination to pick me up, get me organized, get me energized and put my butt back on the trails. I wanted to get my aid station time down under 10 minutes a stop, and while we took some a little longer to make sure I was getting calories as I left my stomach all over the beautiful San Juan Mountains, we came very close to that goal. But even more importantly, you put my brain in the right place and helped keep me positive and give me a laugh when I needed it most. Thanks guys! And to those rooting for me at home, I felt the love. You guys have put up with me going on and on and on about this, and now its in the books. Thanks for all the support from the home front over the last 6 months and during the toughest 44 hours of my life.
I can't say thank you enough to Brian "Gonzo" Gonzales who paced me through 28 miles of I don't know what. His patience, understanding, and good humor got me through the rough patches at the end. I don't know how long I would have been scrabbling up those hills, Putnam especially, without his guidance. Gonz, I think (and hope) I said what I needed to say on the trail, so I'll leave it between you and me. This was a lifetime dream, and you were integral to pulling it off. You know you don't even have to ask in the future. I can't wait to return the favor. But leave the Mormon rap at home next time.
And to Erica. This one was for you, baby. I would run 1000 Hardrocks for you . . . But please don't hold me to it.
To conclude, as I sit here, I feel like I imagine Frodo, Pippin, Sam, and Merry felt sitting in their pub at the end of the Lord of the Rings, you know, assuming they were real and all. I've gone through what was for me an incredible journey, and while I feel fundamentally different in so many different ways, the world around me moves inexorably on and seems the same. I guess that's the paradox of our lives in some way, and as those hobbits did, its time for me to quaff my beer and start to think about moving on with things. So what's next? Well, I hear you aren't a TRUE Hardrocker until you've run the course in both directions . . .
Until Next Time,
What a great writeup! Great pictures, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings even! I'm so happy for you! Really enjoyed this!ReplyDelete
Mad respect! I am in awe of your dedication and effort for this race! Thanks for giving us a ringside seat. But I have to say, I'm not tough enough for this one!ReplyDelete
Bj, you're The Man for sure. Your story of this ultimate endurance test was very inspiring to read! I'm amazed at all the content! Thank you for sharing such a wonderful experience! The pictures are amazing! I now want to, at the very least, hike the area for sure!ReplyDelete
Bj, you're an inspiration to us all!
Thanks guys. Mike, that's bs. You'll be out there at the pointy end of the race at some point. And Norb, definitely come see these trails. I did them no justice whatsoever. They are spectacular.ReplyDelete