Thursday, July 25, 2013

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

Telluride – Silverton (Miles 72.7 – 100.5, 9609’ gain, 10169’ loss):

I must have really made good time from Ouray to Telluride because when I rolled into the aid station my crew was not there! The aid station felt this was a bigger deal than I did; I was happy to just sit and take a little break. However, an aid station volunteer was immediately dispatched to search the parking lot for our yellow Jeep! Perhaps a minute later Kathy and Fritz emerge out of the darkness; they’d come by the aid station perhaps five minutes before and checked the IN/OUT board and noticed that Darla had not come through yet so figured since I’d been trailing her by 30-40 minutes for a long while that they had time yet. Turns out the board hadn’t been updated; Darla had already come and gone! Oh well. 
Of all the sections of the Hardrock course the next one was the one I had been anticipating the most because of its notoriety and difficulty. Over the next 9.3 miles to the Chapman Gulch Aid Station (82.4) the route climbs 4500’ and drops 3090’. I knew I needed to load up on calories before I left so I devoured a bowl of potato soup and several slices of water melon (love this stuff!). I also knew the next stretch would be during the “doldrums” of the early morning; those tough hours between midnight and sunrise that often reduce even the toughest of ultrarunners to stumbling zombies! Therefore I dispensed with water in my bottles and loaded up on Coca-Cola! And with a final wave I was out of there!
I was only a handful of minutes out of Telluride, on a wide path that switch backed just above the aid station, when I heard cheers and applause from the aid station. Must be Mikio and his pacer I thought. Time to press the pace a bit. The next mile or so is on the wide Telluride Bear Creek Road that has a fairly gentle grade so I tried to run as much of it as I could as I knew there’d be very little running soon enough. A short time later I arrive at the Wasatch Trail and begin climbing in earnest; steep switchback after steep switch back; endless. The route is overrun by thick vegetation which makes seeing my way ahead a bit difficult with my headlamp but there is really nowhere else to go but up! In the less overgrown sections of trail I often pause and cut out my light and stare into the heavens; the Milky Way is a bright and foggy band across the pitch sky! Wow! I’m not just stopping to admire the Universe however; I’m trying to see if I can spot Mikio’s lights behind and below me! Ha! Fortunately I don’t spot his lights and snap mine back on and continue ever upward; the roar of Bear Creek my only companion.
At last I cross Bear Creek and ascent a slightly less steep trail that leads into East Fork on the way to the Wasatch Saddle and Oscar’s Pass beyond. From my vantage point on the opposite canyon wall I can look way down the mountain to spot any pursuing runners. I do finally spot Mikio’s headlamp as well as another a bit further behind him. I figure I’ve got at least 20 minutes on him at this point.

After a few steeper switch backs and a long traverse the trail level off to follow the East Fork Stream across a relatively flat basin filled with wild flowers. It’s now light enough out that I can cut off my headlamp and appreciate the beauty of the basin as I continue deeper and higher into the larger drainage. I continue climbing; often cross-country until I finally reach Wasatch Saddle. From the saddle I can look far down the drainage to note any runners behind me; I can spot none which means that I’ve got probably 30 minutes on anybody behind me. I turn back around and enter the upper Bridal Veil Basin just as a reddish orange sun is peaking up from behind the bordering ridgeline. I’ve perhaps never witnessed a more tranquil and beautiful landscape! Breathtaking! A large alpine lake, deep turquoise and mirror smooth, surrounded by lush green tundra. Amazing. But I’ve no time to dawdle; I make the final traverse over to Oscar’s Pass (13,140’) and begin the super steep and technical downhill of Oscar’s Pass “Road”. Over the next 2.8 miles the route descends a quad busting 3000’ on an avalanche ravished ancient mining road. Every steep switchback includes a wonderful, talus field with large rocks that must be carefully negotiated. I want to RUN but the footing is simply too terrible to be hasty so I descent as speedily and carefully as I can. About half way down or so the route maintains its steep downhill grade but the talus fields are gone and I can go to work trying to pick up the pace. It’s in this downhill stretch that I learn how to use my trekking poles fairly effectively to assist in braking. I let my legs spin as fast as I dare, really churning, but plant the poles ahead and below me to brake my fall and check my balance. This method really seems to work and I make pretty good time down the rest of the mountain. However, at the time of this writing over a week later, my shoulders and left wrist still hurt! Ouch!
I arrive at the Chapman Gulch Aid Station (82.4) at 7:05 a.m. and again load up on potato soup and water melon plus cup after cup of ginger ale. I take this opportunity to dump as much ballast as I can; lights, extra clothing, excess energy chews and electrolyte powder… Fritz is ready to go to pace me over the remaining miles to the finish in Silverton. So we’re off into the second day of the race; the morning sun still low in the sky as we begin the ascent to Grant Swamp Pass (12,920’).

The beginning of the upward route is fairly benign, just some nice switch backing single track that takes us deep into the upper reaches of Swamp Canyon. Once we breach tree line I can just spot a few moving dots a mile or so ahead of us approaching the upper basin that leads to the pass. It must be Darla and her pacer and another pacerless runner. Catching them really doesn’t mean a whole lot but the act of pursuing is still fun and helps improve one’s finishing speed! The trail turns to more talus traversal and some steep climbs to get us into the upper basin. As we have a good view of the route ahead I point out to Fritz the vertical brown strip in the distance and tell him that’s the final route to the pass. At that moment I don’t think he fully appreciated what was entailed but he soon would! At last Fritz and I emerge at the crux; a final ¼ mile 100% grade, uphill scramble on loose gravel! We see Darla and her pacer just ahead and above topping out at the pass; the third runner is perhaps ¾ of the way to the top. From our point of view it looks like they are all climbing up a sheer vertical towering over us. Incredible!
I hate to say it, but the final climb to the pass wasn’t all that difficult for me. Between using my trekking poles like ice axes (sort of) and the fact that the recent rains had made the crumbling and loose gravel very clumpy and sticky, it made the footing at least very easy. I made short work of the near vertical climb and topped out well ahead of Fritz who did struggle a bit without poles and general lack of oxygen! Ha! I took advantage of the gap to pay my respects at the Joel Zucker memorial on the pass and began the descent towards the picturesque Island Lake and eventual Kamm Traverse Aid Station (89.0 miles). Fritz quickly caught up to me on the steep downhill that was a bit more loose and wild; so much so that I did slip onto my butt and glissade several feet down the trail. Ouch! We continue to cruise along down the trail, passing several day hikers out to take in the alpine lake we’d just passed and eventually arrive at the long traverse discovered by Ulrich Kamm. The route  is basically an assortment ancient animal and mining trails that slowly descends to meet the rising Bandora Mine Road below.
About ¼ mile out of the aid station we catch and pass Glenn Mackie, that third runner we’d spotted earlier. We arrive at the aid station at 9:52 a.m. and waste very little time here as I can distinctly smell the barn now and just want to finish this race! A bit more water melon and for variety a healthy slice of pumpkin pie! Yum!
Just one more major climb left (okay, two but the last one is just a traverse and short ascent) to Porcupine-Cataract Saddle (12,230’). After a refreshing crossing of the South Fork of Mineral Creek we begin to climb steeply once again. I can tell that Fritz is struggling a bit now but I keep climbing as best I can. We pause at Porcupine Creek to dump some cold water onto ourselves and it’s here that Fritz tells me to not wait him; to go on as best I can and that he’ll do his best to keep up. So we cross the stream and make our way up the final pitches to the pass. I soon pull ahead of Fritz in this stretch though he is clearly still moving quite well so I don’t worry too much. At the pass I first notice that the sky has really darkened with angry looking rain clouds both ahead of us and behind. Caught in the middle once again! I drop into the wide Cataract Basin ridge line and begin the long cross country traverse to the final climb (12,600’) just as I hear thunder in the distance. I’m midway through the traverse when Fritz catches up. Wow! As we complete the traverse I look up to see Darla and her pacer just top out on the final climb; probably no catching her now. My eyes look a bit higher up and I see that the dark cloud hovering over the ridge seems a bit angrier now. Ok, now I’m a bit freaked out. I’ve got to climb up to that very exposed ridgeline and traverse along it for half a mile before I can descend to the relative safety of tree line far below the other side! So something comes over me, adrenaline, fight or flight, animal instinct I don’t know what but I find myself climbing fiercely; straight up the steep, cross country slope to the final pass.
I’ve now really gapped Fritz; I can no longer see him below. No matter, I top out and run as hard as I can along the extremely exposed ridge; the angry black cloud pondering my fate just above! The wind really whips at me and some light rain pelts me as I begin the cross country descent to Putnam-Lime Creek Saddle. I can see multiple lightning flashes in the distance; thankfully none too close. I’m just onto a good trail when it really starts to rain. There’s nothing to do but descend so I bend to the task and run as best I can towards the final aid station at Putnam Basin (94.9 miles). About a ¼ mile out of the aid station I come across a volunteer who is trying to do a little maintenance on the heavily overgrown trail. I hear his radio squawk as I run by; he turns to follow me down the trail; speaking into the radio as we go to inform them that I’m about to arrive. I’m really rolling down the trail now and arrive at the aid station at 12:09 p.m. just as a wall of heavy wind and rain crashes down; shaking and pelting the tarped aid station wildly. I linger long enough to sip some salty broth and inform the volunteers that I have a pacer behind me who should be coming along shortly. I’m so ready to be done!
Leaving the aid station I remember that it’s an agonizingly long way down to Mineral Creek. The trail never descends very steeply; it’s just this very slight downhill grade that goes on and on and yet it’s punctuated by several talus traversals and some very thick vegetation that slow one’s impatient progress.  I’m doing my best to run what I can but I still feel SLOW. I think I’m finally through the last talus field when I hear foot steps behind me. Woosh! It’s Jamil Coury back from the dead! He goes blowing by me like he’s running a 5km race! I quickly decide to try and latch on and follow his lead. I don’t know why, but I want to get done as badly as he seems to want to so why not try and let him pull me along?
My legs protest at first but soon they loosen up and I discover that Jamil isn’t pulling away anymore. I decide it’s best to keep a pretty good gap between us so I can watch the lines he takes and try and match him. No lie, we’re really flying down the trail; probably sub six minute pace easy as the grade is just steep enough to make this possible. We wind our way down the trail, Jamil in the front and me doggedly trying to stay in contact about 30 feet behind. Finally I can hear car traffic ahead so know we’re very close to the stream crossing and Highway 550 just beyond. Jamil’s pace slows as we hit the stream embankment. For the first time he looks back and does sort of a double take; yep, I’m still here! Ha! He breaks into a wide grin and tells me nice work! We leisurely cross the roped, calf deep stream and cross the highway; only two miles to go!
Along the Nute Chute trail that traverses around the mountain and leads into Silverton, Jamil and I talk about that wild last downhill and he tells me about his awesome resurgence after resting at Grouse Gulch for nearly four hours. Apparently after rising from the ashes, he’s been running as fast as the race leader did! Amazing recovery! But now we’re just jogging easily as we finally spot the outskirts of town. As we begin climbing up the Shrine of the Mines road, Silverton in clear view now, I tell Jamil that I don’t like ties and tell him that we should give the finish line spectators a real show by racing hard to the finish. He agrees and so we wordlessly climb to the shrine that marks the top of the last downhill trail that leads to the finish.
The road levels out and we can clearly see the finish line just below and less than half a mile away. And it’s on! We turn down the trail and Jamil accelerates; I try to match his pace as best I can but he’s clearly the stronger and faster runner this day! We’re flying down the trail, passing but several clapping spectators and emerge onto 10th street. Down the neighborhood road we fly and around the corner onto Snowden we’re in a dead sprint. It feels like I’m running the 400m not finishing a 100 mile race! We finally turn onto 12th street and run through the state flag lined finish chute to the finish. Jamil slaps the Hardrock and kisses it and I follow a second behind stopping the clock at 1:19:30 p.m. (31:19:30). Phew! So happy that’s over with!
Kissing the Hardrock!
So what happened to Fritz? He did fine, a bit soaked from the rain storm but he arrived back at the finish about 30 minutes or so after I finished. I think he was as relieved as I was to be back in Silverton!

Significant Gear List:
  • Drymax Socks : These are the bomb! Favorite socks by far! Changed pair at Ouray but probably could have safely gone the distance in single pair). Have been a big Drymax fan for years now wearing them for all my training and racing especially when the situation could involve getting wet feet (often) there is no sock that performs as well in these scenarios.
  • Patagonia Fore Runner Shirt  : What can I say? I love Patagonia clothing, have so since way back even before my wife and I were on team Montrail/Patagonia. This shirt boasts 30 UPF rating and keeps you cool. I hate hassling with sunscreen so it's nice to have a shirt that has sun protection. Wore this same shirt at Badwater 135 a couple years ago and in numerous training runs before and after. Still going strong! (Pro-tip: wash with borax every now and then to keep it smelling fresh and new!)
  •   Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest : Like Peter Bakwin said about this vest I too have been waiting for a pack like this for a long time! I was hesitant about running with bottles in the front that they'd interfere with my running and bounce. Happily I can report that these weren't issues at all. In a race situation I like having bottles: quicker to refill and opportunity to vary what you want in each bottle. The vest sports tons of front and side storage space for energy gels/chews, electrolyte pills, etc... The back compartment had a lot of room for additional layers and you can still throw a hydration bladder in there if you want as it's designed to function with a bladder. Not carrying anything much back there? No problem, pull the draw strings and the back compartment synches down and compacts against your back! Really no reason to not get the biggest UD vest and just adjust it down or up depending on need. I like having all the pockets!
  • Black Diamond Distance Trekking Pole: These Z-Poles were a godsend for traveling rapidly through this type of terrain. Can't believe I ever attempted Hardrock w/o poles! Wow what a difference! Poles were most effective on the extremely steep grades (uphill and downhill) to help drive one upward and reduce leg muscle fatigue. On the downs they were great and balance checking and I even figured out how to use them to help in light braking in some situations thus taking the strain off my legs somewhat. The poles quickly break down into three foldable sections. In this race situation I'd just carry the poles in hand on the less steep sections as I ran. In training and for longer periods when I knew I wasn't going to use the poles they attached nicely and fairly easily to the Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest's elastic pole straps. Poles are made of aluminum and are very light and sturdy. I had the carbon fiber version (Ultra Distance Trekking Pole) which are lighter BUT I took a sideways fall in them and smashed them against a rock crushing the walls of the pole. So be advised if you're thinking about going the carbon fiber route!
  • Skechers GO Run Ultra: Not yet available in stores! :) For over a year now I've been working closely with the Skechers Performance Division to wear test, critique and now develop high quality running shoes for road and trail use. Disclaimer: I'm not compensated in any way by Skechers other than I get to keep the shoes I test. Late last year I pitched an idea for a new hybrid road-trail running shoe the Skechers team and low and behold they thought it was a great idea for a lot of reasons. I wanted a shoe that I'd be confident wearing at the grueling Hardrock 100 and at the same time a shoe that would be equally home on long, paved, road runs. Six months later, after many trials and errors and prototypes the GO Run Ultra (GRU) has finally come to fruition! I'm extremely happy to report that this shoe has surpassed even my wildest expectations. While it still needs a little work here and there it did perform flawlessly not only during  my intensive multi-week elevation gain focused training but also during my pre-race peak bagging and altitude acclimatization sessions and in the race itself. I'll save my exclusive full shoe review for a later blog post (sooner than later I promise!) but thought I'd provide a little sneak peak of the shoe.  The key feature of the extremely light, 4mm heel-to-toe drop GRU is that the very slightly concave midsole/outsole is about 1.5 times thicker than a conventional running shoe and significantly softer and spongy yet still retains some "pop". The end result is a soft yet still springy midsole that absorbs and deflects anything you run over like a fat tire mountainbike! Really smooths out your ride considerably! At the same time the soft lugged outsole performs quite well in every trail condition and surface I tested it in; from slick southern limestone and mud to Rocky Mountain screen fields and slippery high alpine tundra and everything in between. Trust me I really put this shoe through the wringer! I had too; I wanted a shoe that would go the distance at Hardrock!The other nice thing about the GRU is that it was built as a hybrid road-trail running shoe so the lugs are not overly aggressive and the fact that the outsole is relatively soft make the shoe's feel on the roads very smooth and natural; the slightly concave and flexible last make this a very quiet running shoe! Even if you're not an ultrarunner, the great thing about the GRU is that it also makes a great recovery shoe since it's so cushy and light. A good choice for the day after a tough run or anytime you want a bit more protection underfoot. Want to know the best part? This shoe is going to retail in the $80-85 range and should be available by the end of the year! So why not give the GRU a try? I'm glad I did! 
Some of the vital stats: 
  • Weight: M9 = 9.1oz, W7 = 7.1oz
  • Bottom Thickness:
    • Forefoot = 23.0 mm
    • Heel = 27.0 mm
    • Sockliner = 3x7 mm (tapers)
    • Drop = 4.0 mm
    • Drop with included sockliner = 8.0 mm
  • Bottom Nets:
    • Forefoot = 114 mm
    • Midfoot = 71 mm
    • Heel = 86 mm 
  • Hardness:
    • Midsole = 42C
    • Outsole = 60C

Skechers GO Run Ultra Prototype (AFTER running the Hardrock 100)
I'd like to thank my wife Kathy and good friend Eric Fritz for foregoing sleep and comfort in order to crew and pace me! Kathy is an awesome crew and my best friend in the world! She really knows how to keep you going and didn't dare let me linger too long at any crew stop. Eric was a real champ; sacraficing his precious vacation hours and time in order to fly out and pace me. Thanks guys! Thank you to my in-laws Mary Ann and Arthur for being there at the start, at Ouray and at the finish to cheer me on! Also thanks to my dogs Cairo and Tracks for putting up with a long weekend of being shuttled in RVs and Jeeps around the mountains!

Last but not least, I'd like to thank my sponsors, Skechers, Fleet Feet Huntsville and the Wasatch Speed Goat Mountain Racing Team for providing me the tools I needed in training for and competing at the Hardrock 100.

So as I type this and look back at my race I know I am very pleased with the outcome. Finishing 15th overall (13th male) in a very competitive field as a low lander and flat lander and setting a personal best by over 2 hours and doing so in the tougher loop direction how could I not be pleased? Well, I didn’t realize my sub 30 hour time goal but I knew I had to have the perfect race for that to happen. I can understand now what it will take to knock another hour and twenty minutes off my time and I think I can do it given the same amount of training (a ton of hill repeats in the brutal humid summer weather of the South) and better altitude acclimatization methods (longer runs at sustained high elevation for example). In 2008 when I ran my previous best time (33:36) I had 3 full weeks of acclimatization as well so perhaps I do need that third week? Another aspect of my race that I can improve is my aid station transitions to try and cut down my stoppage time by half if possible. I did pretty good this year with only 1:18m of stoppage time, clearly much improved over '08 with 1:54m, '99 with 2:13m and '05 with 2:54m! But I can clearly do better. Stoppage time aside I just need to focus on running the downhills faster! Next time!
So when will that next time be? That’s anybody’s guess but most likely not next year. Right now I’m thinking I’ll return in 2016 and to run the clockwise course with a bit more experience under my belt and once again attempt to break 30 hours.

So what’s the next big adventure? That would be my second attempt at the Arrowhead 135 in January where I hope to qualify for the Iditarod Trail Invitational!
Post-Race Recovery: Colorado Style! (Lake San Cristobal. Lake City, CO)