Some adventures in road and trail running.
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Monday, July 13, 2009

Pacing at 2009 Hardrock 100

A new bar has been set. Everything I do from now on will be measured against the running / pacing I did at the Hardrock 100. It was the hardest, most extreme running I have done. I am happy to not try anything harder.

With that said the privilege, experience and opportunity to pace Ronda for 55+ miles of Hardrock was AWESOME! This is my story of the 33 hours, 56 minutes and 29 seconds that Ronda raced to place as second woman (Full results are here). Again AWESOME!

The race started at 6:00 am. We got up at 4:30 am to load the car and wish Micheal and Ronda a fun and great race.
After some time in the Silverton, CO high school gym, soon enough the runners were sent on their way for the adventure of a lifetime.

As crew and pacers, we were lucky enough to have time to grab some breakfast and caffeine in Silverton before driving to meet Ronda at the first crew spot: Cunningham Gulch.

The Hardrock course can be summarized simply: extreme climbing followed by extreme downhill running. There is NO flat. See the course profile to the left if you do not believe me.

Cunningham Gulch is after the first big climb and 9.2 miles into the race. Ronda showed up about 30 minutes ahead of her pace plan and looking really strong. But we all know that the first 10 miles of a 100 has little to do with the race :-)

We then were off to Sherman / Barrows Park to crew. This aid is after the second set of climbs and just before the runners prepare to climb to the highest point on the course: the summit of Handies Peak at 14,053 ft Ronda had maintained her pace and was currently running in about 6th place for women. As a crew we were excited and nervous all at the same time. It was about 3 pm (7 hours of running) in the afternoon at this point and some clouds were starting to roll in. Would we have some extreme weather as well in the form of thunderstorms?

The next aid station is Grouse Gulch at mile 42.8 (at the end of coming off Handies) and was were I would jump in to pace Ronda.
Since Ronda had just finished a long downhill, we started with the long uphill to Engineer's Pass and Oh! Point around 6:30 pm after Ronda had been running for about 12 hours.
My job for pacing was simple: make Ronda climb as fast as possible and then after seconds of reprieve of the current summit, switch gears and mercilessly pound the downhills. Repeat about 6 times over the 20 hours we are out there together.

We crested at Oh! Point and started the first downhill to the Engineer aid station. Phew leg one the CRAZY descent into the town of Ouray. Miles and miles of downhill running on a trail cut into the cliffs. I was pretty glad it was dark and that neither of us caught a toe on the endless shale. It was quite the relief to make the Ouray aid station and have Ronda move into 3rd place for the women. After a quick "Nascar" like pit stop with Bill, we were of on the climb to Virginus Pass or as I have come to know it: the scary ice climb of death :-0 After about 8 miles of uphill you have the privilege of summitting the last pitch to the saddle using a rope to ascend the last 300-400 feet of vertical frozen snow. The adrenaline rush from this climb helped cure both Ronda and my stomach issues we had been dealing with on the climb. Nothing like a little fear to cure what ails you :-) Sorry no pictures as it was 3:00 am when we summitted and reached the Kroeger's Canteen aid station in the pass at mile 68. Click here for a video of what appears to be the first pitch of the ascent.

You should know what is next: miles and miles of punishing downhill. Down, down, down into the town of Telluride. Some running, some sliding, some falling. The city was beautiful at night but also seemingly close yet taking sooo long to reach. Aid station at mile 73 and then out to climb to Oscar's Pass; another climb up and over 13,000 ft. This climb seemed to go on FOREVER! But it was beautiful watching the sun rise and then finally cresting at the top. And the the rock pounding down into Chapman Gulch aid station at mile 82 after about 26 hrs of running for Ronda (only . We pushed hard in this section and Ronda moved into second place. Next the climb to the rock scramble of Grant-Swamp pass. You climb about 3000 ft to then end in a bowl with no discernible way out. No problem for Hardrock...use your arms and legs and pick a route and go! And then watch for any falling rock!! Something special at 85 miles into the run :-) We watched Micheal make it up, took a deep breath and took the plunge to grunt it to the top.

At this point I was starting to have trouble running hard on the downhills. Wimpy feet with sore meta-tarsals is what we think. I was helping on the uphills but I was having trouble keeping up on the downhills. Not good...but Ronda was doing awesome and solidly in second place! So we pulled into KT aid station after another long downhill and I was hurting. But I knew we had some long climbs ahead and could still help out. So quick refuel and up into Putnam climbs. These are evil! Not as high as the earlier climbs but 12,500 ft is still high by any measure. And would some switchbacks really be all that hard to add? Straight up is never the easiest! :-)

Ronda powered on past the Putnam Creek aid station with 5.9 miles to go...most of it downhill back into Silverton. I was a liability with my "speed" on the downhills so she dropped me. Hard on my ego but I had done what I could to help her achieve her goals and I will always be proud to say I was dropped by her at Hardrock. It was so cool to watch and see all the hard work pay off.
Ronda "kissed" the rock (the official way to finish at Hardrock) as second woman, 33 hours, 56 minutes and 29 seconds after she started!! Full results are here.

Hardrock is amazing in its extremes: brutal climbs, leg pounding downhills, little to no "easy" trail running. There are either rocks or grass clumps grabbing you at every opportunity. Your feet are always wet from stream crossings. The scenery is as breath taking as the altitude. The race is very well organized and the aid stations are second to none. Be warned though: you need to know this course before race day. Course marking is only sufficient if you know where you are going. We got off course twice and we had spent over a week learning and reviewing the course. There are almost no "feel" good markers.

If you have any fear of heights, exposure, falling rocks or ice climbing in the middle of the night at 12,000 ft, this race is not for you. I have seldom experienced the fear I tasted during this run. The fear forced razor sharp focus at several times in the adventure. Conquer it or half way. Very Yoda-ish. Words kinda fail to express have to be there. You have to do it to experience it.

So if you ever want to set a new bar of extreme for your racing experience I can pretty much guarantee you will find it running Hardrock. As a small sample: can you find the course and runners in the picture to the right? This is looking up to the scree scramble at Grant-Swamp pass. Next time I am bringing a rock climbing helmet!

Congratulations to all the finishers...truly inspiring. From the youngest at 24 to the oldest at 73!!

I am now more excited than ever to race the PCT 50 in two weeks. I will always have the extra advantage in the back of my mind knowing it is easier than Hardrock :-)


R said...

Amazing. Well done!

TriOtter said...

Simply unbelievable. You have lived life to the fullest.