As my great friend Dale taught me, Hardrock is two four letter words smashed together. That said, I absolutely loved Hardrock. I loved everything about it, even working through an injury. What’s not to love about big climbs, big descents, huge peaks, and little oxygen? It’s all lovable! Sharing my experience is something that I hope others can see it really truly is about the process. I consider my run at Hardrock this year a success, despite having to be pulled at mile 68. I am convinced that the real reason I was out there is because it shifted my paradigm on a few things on life, and quiet frankly I cannot really express how that happened. I can say I was in the right environment and place for my mind to allow itself to be worked on and shifted. Let me share a little of this journey with you…
First and foremost, the journey of Hardrock starts with a journey of qualifying for a lottery and then continuing to enter that lottery for multiple years until drawn. This was my 3rd year in the lottery and I was ecstatic at the opportunity to be out on these trails.
Starting a 100 mile race is always an experience full of emotions. Between loved ones and tons of other people lining the start, it is comforting to see and feel that people actually do care about your journey. Then after about a 1/2 mile of cheering and cow bell ringing it shifts to just you, the trail, and some other runners huffing and puffing up a long climb. Hardrock was hands down my most enjoyable start. The support from so many people in the trail running community was indescribable. It wasn’t people cheering for me or any other runner, rather it was the love for the sport that was being celebrated and I was humbled to be a tiny part of that celebration.
Then bam, reality hit! This was Hardrock… this was going to be nothing short of a difficult jaunt. However, I kept the thought in my mind of how many other runners would give anything to be a participant in this race. Toeing the line was just a blessing.
So here we are, heading up the first 6 miles. It’s a nice long climb of over 3,000 feet. Ascending above the first low-level layer of clouds and getting a view of huge peaks towering over the little town of Silverton. Quickly, we were above timberline, which is where I love to be. This race’s average elevation is right around timberline- I was in for a treat! Reaching the summit somewhere around mile 6 was breathtakingly gorgeous. A short little traverse around a knife sharp cliff and then down a steep, steep 3 mile descent in to the first aid station. The descent ran right along a long stretching waterfall that was so pleasant to hear crashing against the rocks. Man, who the heck would not yearn to be doing this at 7am on a July morning? C’mon!
Reaching that first aid station was nice, as I was ready for some breakfast. Got some broth in me and a couple potatoes and off I went on to my next long enjoyable climb! The fun was about to really begin…
The next 4-5 miles consisted of climbing and some more climbing. Suddenly, the warm blue skies transformed to dark fast moving clouds. I quickly pulled out the gloves, poncho, coat, and hat just in time for the snow to start. It snowed for a good 30 minutes right as I was reaching the summit of the climb. The thought of this is HARDROCK kept coming back and allowed me to smile. I was grateful to just be on the course! A nice little jaunt across a rock field at about 12-13 feet elevation was very peaceful. A couple more miles of climbing up another 13er and then one of the best parts of the race- Glissading! In order to get off of the mountain, I had the pleasure of sitting or jumping down on to a snow drift and glissading down for 15 feet. It was a blast and reminded me again that this was HARDROCK and it was an honor to be out. It also reminded me to not expect anything to be easy nor to think what you assume will happen will actually happen.
Anyway, the next while was “grind it out segment.” Making a little climb (1,000 ft up or so) out of the aid station then some traversing and on to a steep 3,000 ft descent down in to Sherman Aid Station (mile 28ish). This segment was 9 or 10 miles and it was warming up. I loved getting to the fresh run off and filling my bottles up right out of the stream. If you are one who does not like water its because you might not have tried actual water. I am talking about the water that is pure and natural without all the other crap we put in water. To me, mountain water straight from the source is like candy!
Arriving at Sherman I was pretty much ready to eat some real substance. I tried all three soups they had there and drank it down. Little did I know I would need those calories for the adventure that was about the happen. Out of that aid station was a little steep climb then a gradual 4 miles up to an aid station that sat at the base of Handies Peak, which Handies is a 14er ( a mountain that exceeds 14,000 ft in elevation. I filled up my vest with plenty of liquid and food before heading up the big 4,000ft climb to the summit of Handies Peak.
Hiking a 14er is fun to do…it’s always special. Hiking a 14er in late afternoon/early evening is a different story. Typically, you want to be down off of a 14er by 2-3pm at latest, due to storms and life threatening lighting storms. I was heading up the climb right when I should have been getting off… but then again this was HARDROCK. Expect the unexpected. Heading up the trail to Handies Peak I was in love with the beautiful serenity that surrounded me. My mind went to places that were sacred and personal. I forgot for a few moments that I was on the clock trying to finish a race. I could literally feel my mind stripping itself down to a very raw spot. It was wonderful! I began to really accept the fact that in life I really needed to be where is best for the future of my children. I felt strongly I needed to make significant changes, which I am currently pondering and hopefully announcing soon.
About 1/2 mile from the summit it became a little more steep. I love to climb so it was exciting. However, I got to a spot of snow and ice, just about 15-20ft of it. It all got exciting at this point. I reached up and wiggled the rock before placing body weight on it and quickly it gave way. I fell down about 15 ft on to a big rock. I landed on my left shoulder and felt the pop! Come to find out I had separated my humerus (area in shoulder). After all, this was a foot race… not a race on my hands. Despite the intense pain leading to nausea, I continued on. I could no longer use my hiking poles, but I was honestly just grateful to be running HARDROCK. It was an honor to be out in the middle of the night plucking away on such a special course.
The next few miles were spent dropping off of Handies and then climbing back up another 13er. Tons of snow and ice banks created the ground for running during this segment. It was the middle of the night and I could see other runners headlamps miles away moving up the next pass (Engineer). Watching little lights move slowly through the night is a fascinating experience that brought a smile to my face, as it reminded me of the other runners out creating their own stories.
At mile 42, I was able to pick up my pacer, Dale. It was a delight to see him and my crew at the aid station. The warm food and positive support was so refreshing. This was the first time in the race that I changed shoes and socks- felt so good! There were well over 10-12 river crossings up to that point. Dale and I heading up Engineer Pass. Rain and fog returned and we just kept moving up the pass. At the summit of Engineer we had about 10 miles of descent down in to Ouray. Dale took off down a steep wet trail and had a little slip. All I could say was, “It’s Hardrock Dale.” Made for some good laughs. I mean if Dale falls it must be slippery because he is such a skilled veteran trail runner.
After hitting the Engineer aid station, I began to get sleepy eyes. We made our way down the mountain and got on to some very tight canyon trails that had hundreds of feet of drops offs. My eyes were more and more tired and I noticed I was falling asleep on the run. I asked Dale if I could lay down and sleep on the trail and he pointed out there was no where to physically lay down! So, I made it in to Ouray (mile 56) ready to take a nap. I laid down for 20 minutes and Ben (my bro), Nate (my bro), and Amber (my niece) all had slept in their car in Ouray just to help me through that aid station. Are you serious? That is so humbling that people care like that. Anyway, Dale woke me up after 20ish minutes and got some food in me. I felt pretty trashed when I got to that aid station. In fact, I don’t recall being too verbal. I managed to get back on my feet about 45 minutes later and began heading up an 8 mile climb that went up about 3,500 ft or so. The more I kept moving the better I felt physically… all except the pain radiating from my shoulder. I was becoming super nauseous but didn’t want to tell others for fear of the medical teams wanting to make any suggestions to stop. So, we made up to Governors Basin. At this point I needed something for my shoulder. I got some….ummm… I actually don’t recall. Maybe advil. And they taped some ice to my shoulder. I was now at mile 64.
The next 3-4 miles was a steep climb up about another 2,000 ft. I made it up close to the corner going up to the last pitch up to Virginius Pass, which is a scree/snow field up to the summit of the 13er. My shoulder was not helping me move very fast at this spot. The safety guys at the base of the that last pitch showed great concern for me trying to make it up that pitch with shoulder as is. I was told to drop the race at this point. The guys were so nice and caring. I was super ticked off but it wasn’t their fault. It was where I was at and I had learned what was needed. The ride down the mountain was with a volunteer who was such a nice man… except I was hallucinating a bit and asking him how much I needed to pay for the tour- I was loopy :)
I felt more accomplished from those 68 miles than any of the other 20+ ultramarathon finishes in my life. It was not any specific thought I was having, rather I felt accomplished. Man, I cannot imagine how it will feel when I get back out to Hardrock and finish with a kiss of the Hardrock!!!
My life is changing. The last few years have been so wonderful yet so hard. So many great things have happened and so many challenges have come. I am beyond glad that I was able to receive the personal guidance out on that run. I felt so close to my loving Heavenly Father. Running in the mountains will never replace my religious practices but it does bring me closer to what I believe. In this case, it put me in spot where I could not doubt what I felt and experienced. I will forever be grateful for Hardrock 2015 and those who supported me along my way!