Monday, July 22, 2013

Counter Clockwise Redemption: 2013 Hardrock 100 Race Report (Part 1 of 4)


What is the Hardrock 100? Well, in brief, it’s a grueling 100-mile mountain run that connects the four major mining centers of the San Juan Mountains: Silverton, Lake City, Ouray and Telluride and is dedicated to the spirit of the Hardrock miners whose trails they blazed we follow! The race features 33,992 feet of climb and 33,992 feet of descent for a total elevation change of 67,984 feet with an average elevation of 11,186 feet - low point 7,680 feet (Ouray) and high point 14,048 feet (Handies Peak); the circular route reverses direction each year. But that doesn’t paint quite paint the full picture because more than 73 miles of the route is on moderate to severely technical trails or completely cross-country! The remaining mileage is on 4x4 roads in various degrees of disrepair. Only a small fraction of a mile touches pavement! Now add to the picture the fact that runners can expect to “do some mild form of rock climbing (hands required), wade ice cold streams, struggle through snow which at night and in the early morning will be rock hard and slick and during the heat of the day will be so soft you can sink to your knees and above, cross cliffs where a fall could send you 300 feet straight down, use fixed ropes as handrails, and be expected to negotiate the course with or without markers.” (2013 Hardrock Runners Manual) Next include the fact that runner’s must be prepared for all types of weather thus requiring carrying of addition layers of clothing and gear to handle extreme heat, cold, rain, wind, snow, hail, etc… often over a relatively short period of time! The completed picture gives you one of the most difficult mountain 100 mile races in the world and the reason it’s considered a post-graduate 100 mile race!
So how did I do? I finished 15th overall (13 male or M13 in Western States parlance) in 31:19:30 which surpassed my previous best of 33:36:13* (2008-CW) by over two hours! Even better, I avenged myself of my poor 2005 CCW race, which was an epic “two nighter” which took me 43:43:26 to complete! A CCW personal best by well over TWELVE hours! This was also my fourth finish in seven attempts and 17th hundred mile finish (19th event of 100 miles or more).

*In 2008 I actually had an extra week of acclimatization (3 weeks total) which I really think helped. So even though I was over two hours faster this year, the course was in much better condition than it was in 2008 (less snow).  
This time around I prepared harder than I ever have for the Hardrock. From May 20th – July 7th I logged 614 miles and well over 105k feet of elevation gain (equal loss) with a peak week of over 26,000’ of gain. I also had 4 back-to-back weekends where I ran 50km or more culminating with my home grownDismal 50km (starts and finishes from my house) which featured over 12,000’ of gain (equal loss) over 32 miles! For a flatlander, in order to obtain so much elevation gain and loss I had to do A LOT of hill repeats. Around these parts the biggest and steepest hills I can climb vary from 500’ to 750’ of gain. To add even more difficulty I chose my training sessions to be as near the daily peak heat index level as possible! Nobody said training in the dirty south for an extremely difficult mountain race would be easy! However, I strongly feel, and past experience has backed me up, that training in the extreme heat and humidity closely simulates running effort at high altitude. To me it feels eerily the same and is what I’ve had relatively good success translating my efforts from the flat lands of the south to the tall mountains of the west.

The second phase of my training started when I arrived in Lake City, Colorado roughly 13 days before race day. I spent quality time attempting to get somewhat acclimated by not only sleeping at 9,000’ but visiting each of the 14k peaks in Hinsdale County (Redcloud, Sunshine, Handies, Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn) and some tall 12k and 13k peaks in the area. In retrospect I probably would have been better off doing more runs at higher sustained elevation than simply bagging peaks as my race performance above 12k suffered greatly (more on that later).
Overall I felt very solid about my training; physically, physiologically and mentally. I can’t remember the last time I was so psyched to get a race started!
The previous two weeks I spent training and vacationing in Lake City the weather had generally been very well behaved and there had been very little rain to speak of. All that changed the day before the race started. The Colorado monsoon season abruptly (though predictably) started up which meant frequent and random rain storms throughout the day. The night before the race Silverton received a very heavy downpour for hours during the middle of the night. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous about the rain situation as I lied awake the night before the race; tossing and turning in bed, thunder echoing just outside…
Mere minutes from the start, no nerves here!
 The Race:
Silverton – Sherman (Mile 0 – 28.7, 9020’ gain, 9350’ loss):
It's 6:00 a.m. and one hundred and forty runners started out from The Hardrock on a relatively humid (so they say) and foggy morning. I felt very comfortable in my short sleeve Patagonia sun shirt; the same shirt I wore for 135 miles at Badwater two years ago! I wore my Ultimate Directions Peter Bakwin (PB) Adventure Vest with a pair of Black Diamond Distance Poles strapped to the back. In my pack I had my standard mountain running kit; Patagonia Houdini Jacket, Patagonia lightweight rain pants, gloves, assorted energy chews, Saltstick pills, sour stomach kit, pure sea salt, etc…
I spotted my wife Kathy and my in-laws on the sidelines just after we started so I stopped to give everybody a hug before I set out; I wouldn’t see any of them or my pacer Eric Fritz until Grouse Gulch some 42 miles away.
Shuffling along in the first mile I talked briefly with Blake Wood and Billy Simpson, both runners I have a profound deep respect for. I told them about how inspiring it was to follow Blake’s non-ultra running efforts training for and racing the mile at the Indoor Master’s Track & Field Championships. Pretty cool to see ultrarunners who still love to pursue raw leg speed in the shorter events. I like to do that too!
Soon we entered the woods and left Silverton behind. I found myself in a pack of first timers that was setting an agreeable pace as we started up the first of many long climbs. I knew that a progressive start was key for me; wanted to avoid getting out too swift on the first climb at all costs. I’d stowed my trekking poles for this first climb to avoid potentially accidently hitting somebody! I figured the pack would be well spread out by the second climb. So we fast hiked and talked until above treeline when I decided it was time to press on so gradually sped up and pulled way from the group. I topped out on Dives-Little Giant Pass (13,000’) and began the steep, switchbacking downhill to Cunningham Gulch Aid Station (9.2 miles). My shoes felt a little loose (didn’t tie them tight enough apparently) so I tried to take it easy on the way down but still managed to pass a few runners along the way. Passed right through the aidstation at 8:21 a.m. and began the next climb up to Green Mountain/Stony Pass.

A shortways up I stopped to re-tie my shoes and that’s when Darla Askew caught up and passed me. With trekking poles now deployed I climbed up the steep mountain trail trying to keep Darla in sight as I felt she was keeping a good, honest pace that I could emulate (for a while).
Soon Darla and I were hiking together keeping our eyes peeled for the often hard to find metal course markers that seemed to magically blend in to the abundant alpine wild flowers and grass. After Green Mountain (12,980’) and just before Stony Pass I thought I heard a distant baying of sheep and sure enough, in the basin below us were hundreds of sheep! Wow! After Stony Pass we made short work of Buffalo Boy Ridge (13,214’) and began the mostly cross-country, alpine descent to the Maggie Gulch Aid Station (15.3 miles) which we arrived at 10:21 a.m.

Darla made a quicker transition than I did and quickly left. I lingered a little longer trying to mix up some First Endurance EFS in my bottles and use the race issued AltrAspire 6 oz HydraPak cup to drink some water and Coke.  The Hardrock 100 is experimenting with going “cupless” at all the aidstations in the near future. This year racers were issued this small, reusable cup to pack and use at all aid stations. I felt the cup worked very well though it was often a bit awkard to hold as the material is very flimsy (made from same stuff as the HydraPak bladder) and thought it could have held a bit more than 6 oz; 10-12 would have been better. I also thought that though it might make more work for the aid stations that they could use reusable, real, plastic cups at the aid stations that could be dipped in a bleach-water bath after every use, camper style.
Anyhow, topped off and with several slices of watermellon in my hands, I headed up the short climb to Maggie-Pole Creek Pass (12,530’); chasing Darla once again! At the pass I caught up with Darla and another runner who was taking a break and messing with his shoes. We continued on the Continental Divide Trail headed for the Pole Creek Aid Station (19.6 miles). We soon lost sight of the trail markers and so split up on two different likely routes. The guy who’d been taking a break at the pass quickly caught up and surged ahead on the route I was investigating; he said this was the right way so we were all off again threading our way through the tall alpine grass and frequent leg scraping willow groves. Somewhere along this section I found out that Darla had run Hardrock last year and finished just under 34 hours. I asked what her goal was this year and she said she hoped to go 31 hours or better. I felt that was a good goal and thought that if I could just stay in contact long enough, Darla might pull me to a good finish as well; as long as I could keep up! We arrived at the aid station at 11:26 a.m. along with several other runners who’d suddenly caught up.

I again lingered at the aid station long enough to eat more water mellon and take a few more swigs of water in my “piss cup”. The day was now turning warm now that the early clouds had dissapated somewhat. We were also now up on the Continental Divide which meant that the next six miles or so would be all run at well above 12,000’! I’d attempted to acclimate over the previous couple of weeks but honestly I had a rough patch in the solar loaded heat and high elevation stretch to Sherman (28.7 miles). I did all I could do to keep myself cool; dipping my hat in the frequent streams and pouring water on my chest and back. About this time my stomach began to sour somewhat so I was really careful to not try and eat or drink too much; just sip from my bottles. Darla, and the group started to pull away and leave me behind. No worries; it’s a long race and I’ll be able to get it back sooner or later. I just focused on one foot in front of the other all the way to Cataract-Pole Pass (12,200’). Along the way I caught up to the group when they missed a turn and went briefly off course. Around the same time my buddy and fellow Wasatch Speed Goat Mountain Racing Team member, Billy Simpson, caught up. He could instantly tell I was having a rough patch and just told me to stay patient and keep hiking; that I’d feel better soon. Once at the pass I felt a little better and lead the group through some tricky cross-country sections that lead to Cataract Lake. I’d been up in this area just a week ago while climbing Half Peak and so I was a bit more familiar with the route.  At last the route turned downhill into Cataract Gulch and once we were below treeline once again (~12,000’) I instantly started to feel better. Strange but consistant in my experience! As I knew this trail fairly well I decided to push the pace a bit and soon had dropped the group behind as I made my way to the Sherman aid station arriving at 1:33 p.m. I’d now completed the first of four major sections of the Hardrock 100 course. To be continued...