When John got into Hardrock this year (it's not easy, with a lottery and lots of people wanting to get one of 140 slots), he wasn't sure he wanted to run. I was at 124 on the Wait List, and I really did want to run. I made him a deal - if he would run and let me pace him for the second half, I wouldn't need to come back until I eventually do get into the race. Cool.
Then he started thinking that maybe he could beat his 35+ hour time from 2008. Uh oh. I better start training... Good thing we were already doing a couple 50-mile warmup races. When John is running well, he's much faster than I am. Would the first 44 miles in the mountains slow him down enough so I could keep up? Would he take off and leave me gasping for breath up the hills? I didn't want to mess up his race, so we agreed that if he needed to go faster, he wouldn't wait for me. I'd head for the next aid station and try to pick up another runner to pace, hopefully not ending up alone in Sherman having to get a ride over Cinnamon Pass (which as you may know I've successfully avoided up to now).
I watched John at the start and the creek crossing, then crewed him in Telluride (see previous posts) - always fun to watch the race from the front. His splits were looking great: 2 minutes slower to KT, 8 minutes faster to Chapman. The next section up Oscar's was the first challenge. In 2008 he had issues here with heat and not eating/drinking enough. He solved those problems, got some cloud cover and wind to cool him down, and got from Chapman to Telluride 31 minutes faster than previously, still feeling good. Nice!
After a nice drive back to Ouray and a stop for a sandwich, I set up at a table to wait. This year I got to see the leaders come through - no Kyle Skaggs blowing through the course in record time. But I couldn't find any info about John's times at the aid stations between Telluride and Ouray. The radio people weren't posting anything, and our inverter in the truck wouldn't stay on when I tried plugging in the laptop. Finally I called Kip for some updates (thanks Kip!) and he was able to give me some good news. John was 22 minutes faster going uphill to the Kroger aid station, and 8 minutes faster in the short drop to Governor.
Oops, that means he should be here in 20 minutes - I better get ready! I finished sorting our gear, finished getting dressed, drank some Spiz, and started out to look for him. Some folks were cheering a runner coming down the road, I turned the corner, and it was John! Sweet! He had beaten his already-fast time down the road by 3 minutes, and he was still feeling good.
He changed packs and we headed out of town. He had made it to Ouray in 11.5 hours, and I had calculated I might be able to do the second half in 21.5 hours. That was OK with John, and perhaps if we made it in 20 hours, that would be great too. I told him that I would try! All I really needed to do was get to the final aid station - Cunningham. After that John could go on ahead as fast as he liked and I could take my time to the finish line. I just wanted to see as much of the course as I could, but if I wasn't with my runner I expected the race folks would tell me I needed to hold up at an aid station until I found someone else to run with.
I was so excited to actually be "in" the race :) I was kind of bouncing off the walls all day, in a good way. Walking/running out of Ouray was such a joy. John and I smiled and talked about what we had seen and done so far that day. John had heard some coyotes (I told you they're living above Telluride) and seen a snake. He had scraped up one pinkie finger on the descent from Virginius Pass, not much snow up there for sliding down on this year. He had seen some runners come back from missing a turn, and watched a group go down a not-so-recommended route at Grant-Swamp Pass. The pinkie finger was his only slight mishap so far, and he was ready for some more climbing.
I was even more ready, and actually was moving faster than John up the hill. This was encouraging to me. I wasn't sure how long/far my legs would last when I started pushing up the hills, so it was a more gentle beginning than I thought I might have to endure. Glad to back off on the pace, I led the way and we continued talking about other runners John had seen and talked with.
It was great to finally see the trail out of Ouray to the road tunnel, one section I hadn't yet experienced on the course (there were a couple more of those up ahead, and two short ones still remaining in the first half). It goes up and down, but that worked for us at that point. Finally we popped out at the road and started climbing for real. I pointed out a couple sections where I had helped with the trail work, which was cool.
A couple sets of runners/pacers started climbing up behind us. They turned out to be people we knew - Jason Poole and his friend David. Roch Horton and a pacer. Ted and Christy Mahon (I had somehow missed seeing Christy in Ouray). Hi everyone! They all passed us, little by little, and John seemed completely fine with it. He told me he wasn't worried about competing with anyone, which seemed like a really good idea for such a long race.
John struggled a bit up the short, steeper sections of the climb, but mostly we speed-walked and moved at a good pace. Soon we reached the part of the trail I hadn't seen before, and John started saying how it had been getting dark here last time. Now we still had plenty of light - even some sunshine on the peaks above us. Awesome. He had a time estimate to the next aid station (Engineer) which we managed to beat - and he was 45 minutes faster than in 2008!
The aid station folks were great, getting us some coffee almost as soon as we asked for it, chatting with us and being encouraging. A women had run Joe's Rocky Hill race in Texas (John was wearing the shirt) and it turns out I had met her on a trail in Austin. We were in a great mood and enjoyed our brief stay.
Above the aid station we could see Engineer Pass, along with sunshine above our heads. We stopped briefly to mix up and share a Spiz, marveling at the fact that the sun was still out. John carried several Spiz baggies that we shared, and we used his water for most of the servings, so it wouldn't be considered "muling" where the pacer carries items for the runner. It was actually reverse-muling, which I believe isn't against the rules... I think John has spoiled me for ever pacing anyone else!
We followed people through a basin and toward the climb up to the road. Betsy Nye wasn't far behind us after our break, but we picked up the pace and soon were catching up to a guy wearing white. After a steep final ascent, we reached the road at the same time he did. His name was Mike - nice to meet you. He took off as we started down the long dirt road, watching headlamps on the switchbacks below us. It was starting to get dark, so we got out our lights. I was happy with a Fenix light in my hand to light up all the rocks and potholes (it's a 4WD road).
John and I were running well, eventually catching back up to Mike who didn't appear to have a light - ? John asked him and he confirmed that, so John gave him his headlamp for the run down to Grouse. I can't imagine trying to get there without even a tiny micro light, wow. We continued on in the beam of the Fenix, still moving well. John reminded me that it's a rather long way on the road, so we were patient.
We thought we might be seeing aid station lights ahead of us, but it turned out to be two cars that were perhaps heading for the Engineer aid station. They were full of cheers and enthusiasm. Eventually I saw some trees and knew we were getting close - there's the tent! I made my #1 goal, yay! And it was a 15 minute improvement on John's 2008 split, so I wasn't slowing him down too much.
The aid station was lit up with a walkway, neat. We sat and went through the drop bag, trying to get through as quickly as we could because it had been so cold here two years ago. This time, however, we were treated to a warm-ish tent and I got a blanket for my legs, so it wasn't bad at all. It probably helped that it wasn't nearly midnight this time. John raved about their potato soup, while I was attracted to the pumpkin pie - yum on both counts! One guy mentioned he could see stars (I'm pretty sure he meant up in the sky, but at first I thought he should have that checked out). The weather was holding, happy day (or... night). We still carried quite a few items of clothing out of the Grouse aid station for the Handies climb. Mike came in and hugged John as he returned his headlamp - glad we could help!
OK, time to go. We started up the switchbacks, smiling at how the aid station looked from above, all lit-up. We were only bummed that we didn't get to see Jim and Sue who were working the radios in a truck. The switchbacks seemed to last for a while, and I was no longer climbing faster than John. He led the way while I struggled to keep up. The next section is one of the cruxes of the race - getting over Handies Peak at 14,000+ feet in the middle of the night.
John was climbing strongly, but then he realized that he was dropping me and at the same time he felt like he was moving too fast for his own good. He didn't want to wear himself out just yet (not even close) and his natural pace was a bit too fast. So he asked me to climb in front. Sigh of relief from me! I generally move better from the front anyway, and I really like setting the pace, so I was happy about that. I got in front and started pushing uphill with my poles, still working hard but not past the point where I was struggling. Much, much better for both of us.
We reached the long basin, watching headlamps way ahead. We chatted about a Car Talk Puzzler (I had brought a few along to give John something to think about), then we passed a guy named Jason Koop who John had met earlier - Jason had run Western States just before Hardrock, so he had every reason to be tired!
There was a brief respite from the climbing in the middle of the basin, a nice break. We reminisced about various nighttime treks we had done in France, with this area reminding me of an overnight Sept Laux hike. Then we were heading steeply uphill on several switchbacks. John suggested we wait until American Basin before getting our next Spiz ready, which was fine with me because we were at the top of the pass. Surprise! It's always nice when landmarks show up earlier than you expect.
John led the way down the short drop into the Basin, as he's technically better on the steep downhills. I didn't want to get out my handheld light just for this, so I stuck with my headlamp and poles. It was really neat watching headlamps all across the valley in front of us and on up toward Handies Peak.
We traversed to the main trail where we stopped briefly for a Spiz, then I led the way up and around and around, twisting this way and that along the trail. We even turned almost all the way around to see lights from the way we had come for a brief moment. Luckily we had seen this trail in daylight a couple of times and we knew about what to expect. John had been pretty confused here in 2008, and rightly so.
Finally the trail dipped and then started uphill for real. Time to get to work. Lights above us seemed to top out and disappear. Lights below us seemed to be catching up. John didn't seem to be concerned. We took a quick pause right before the saddle so John could eat a poptart before it got too cold and windy.
I led the way, pushing hard now. I was breathing almost at maximum while John was still at a good pace for him, so that was working well. The trail isn't so easy at that point - short steep switchbacks and mostly bare ground. I would look ahead with my headlamp to see which direction (and about how far) to the next turn, then take a deep breath and work for a couple minutes. Repeat. Repeat.
This took a while, but finally (finally!) we topped out. It was cold, dark, and windy, and we didn't feel the need to sign the trail register this time. John took brief glances down each side of the mountain where little lights dotted the hillsides. We crossed a short ridge to the drop I wasn't looking forward to. At least there was very little (maybe even zero) snow on the backside, but I still don't enjoy the difficult trail right at the top. It's steep and rather slippery with lack of anything to step on. John went on ahead, I let two guys pass me (who may have been Adam Hewey and his pacer Chris), and I worked my way down.
I caught up to John further down and we took our time down the switchbacks. Finally it got better, the wind died down, and we stopped for the Spiz break. It was dark and quiet, very nice. We didn't see anyone there, and actually for quite a while after that. John dipped his bottle in a creek we had scouted and added a treatment tablet. We had a lovely run down Grizzly Gulch on an excellent trail.
Suddenly we heard a loud rustling and looked up to see a huge porcupine staring at us from the trail ahead. He looked pretty ruffled and pissed. John got him to start moving, but he stayed on the trail as he waddled away. So we went around. No need to mess with that! We were happy it wasn't a skunk... Further down we saw another porcupine, just off the trail this time. John started using my "Go bear go!" call to let any other wildlife know that we were coming so they could keep themselves a bit more hidden, if they didn't mind. Still, it was pretty cool.
We ran on down, enjoying the night on the trail. At the bottom we found some water cans sitting at the bridge for Hardrock runners, so I filled a bottle for the road run to Sherman. Thanks, whoever put those there! I knew John wasn't looking forward to the long road run, but he also wanted to do it faster this time. So let's get started...
He had told me that there is actually a lot of uphill on this road, which I wasn't sure I believed. Well, I do now! It even starts out slightly uphill. We speed-walked uphill and ran the downs and flats. More uphill to walk, more flat, more uphill, wow he wasn't kidding. I didn't mind the speed-walking, but I couldn't really run the uphills. Still, we thought we were making good progress. Sure enough, after only 45 minutes on the road (happily, it wasn't the 7 miles that John had thought), we saw the turn-off flag.
After a quick short drop we were on the lower road and heading toward the aid station. They had put up "menu" signs on the way in, and everything sounded good. Especially the hash browns and cobbler. Even though I couldn't eat solid food (apparently pumpkin pie doesn't count!), it was fun to think about. On the way up to the aid station, we passed a pair of runners who turned out to be Adam and pacer, plus a solo runner that I thought I recognized...
The solo runner was indeed Scott Jaime, who had been in the lead back in Ouray. He had had stomach issues, slept in Grouse, and still got to Sherman the same time we did. We sat at the table next to him as he got help in trying to work on his problems. We heard later that his son in Grouse had told him (when he was thinking about quitting) that there were many runners on the Wait List who would have loved a shot at finishing this thing, so he had better finish it himself - awesome! I wondered if we might see him further down the trail.
For now, we focused on our drop bag. The weather was so awesome, we decided we didn't need most of our cold weather clothing. I dropped off my Fenix light and John left *both* of his lights, even though it wasn't yet 4 a.m. He got more potato soup, I tried a fruit smoothie (not bad), and we both sipped on coffee.
I asked about a restroom and was directed to the National Forest bathroom. Expecting just a pit toilet, I was floored by what I found. Someone had added a cute table holding a little lamp, a candle, fresh scent spray, hand sanitizer, hand lotion, tissues, and wet wipes. Wow! I came out raving to John about it, so he had to go see it. Between that and the food and the drop bag work, we were in the aid station for a while. But it was totally worth it :)
We had completed the journey over Handies Peak in an hour and 13 minutes faster than John did in 2008. This was quite an accomplishment, and I was just so tickled to be a part of it. And I wasn't stuck in Sherman either! I could continue on with my husband! Oh happy day.
Time to get moving. We followed Adam and his next pacer, Alan, across the bridge and up the trail where they soon disappeared. John followed me while I lit up the trail with my headlamp. This turned into an interesting challenge for us - me trying to put the light in the right place for John to see, and John needing to remember what he had seen 2 seconds prior so he didn't trip over anything. Apparently it was good for keeping him awake! We moved slightly slower than we might have with more light, but it was probably also better for my legs not to be pushing quite as hard up this climb.
It was a very nice trail, switchbacking upwards through the woods. Eventually we passed a pretty waterfall and started crossing the creek on logs. It was great having dry feet - mine had been dry since I started in Ouray, amazingly. On one log crossing, I got a bit wobbly but was able to crouch down and plant my poles in the creek for balance. I sort of waddled across, but it was stable and sans wet feet. Cool.
The sky eventually started getting light, although it was clear we'd be gone before the first sunshine on this side of the hill at the pace we were going. We reached the final creek crossing and John plowed right through. I paused, noticed a way to hop across, and kept my feet dry AGAIN. Sweet!
We were glad we had seen the trail during our previous hike, as we didn't have any problems following it like John did last time. The pikas were up early, squeaking to each other about these strange humans who kept disturbing them at all hours of the night and day. Nearing the top, we were able to run some downhill sections, and it felt good to be moving faster to keep somewhat warm.
After cutting across a field and through some willows, we were at the top. Yay! Starting down into the Pole Creek side, John made a good catch when the markers led off the trail to the left. We followed them down, just as we had guessed when going the other direction during our hike. The markers avoided the marshy bottom, took us over a small hill, and finally led us to the nice trail we were looking for.
John was feeling great, and I was happy to be running downhill, so we took off with John in the lead. We ran with poles at our sides, chatting and happy. It almost felt like we were a couple of hunters on the chase, loping along in the early morning light. Suddenly John came to a stop - not far from the trail was the same sick-looking elk that had been there over a week earlier. It still looked sick, and from the nearby tracks in the grass it appeared it was still going in circles. Wow, that sure is strange.
Not able to do anything for it, we continued on at a good pace. Eventually we reached the section where the trail goes back and forth across a creek multiple times. Knowing that it was fruitless to try to continue to keep my feet dry here, we waded across each time. The water felt good on my feet, but now my shoes squeaked...
John was still moving well as we came around the corner and spotted the Pole Creek aid station. One more creek crossing and one steep little climb, and there we were, another 32 minutes faster on the split (again, wow). We had noticed the wet footprints at each creek crossing had been getting bigger (i.e. less time to dry before we arrived), and sure enough, there were Adam and Alan at the aid station. Hi guys!
We chatted with the volunteers, John mixed a Spiz, and I was thrilled that I could stomach a chocolate chip cookie. Ah, the little things in life. But my feet were starting to turn into icicles, so we had to get moving again. At least we were headed for sunshine, finally!
John mentioned that he had been doing some calculating, and he thought perhaps he could break 31 hours to the finish. He had estimated 1.5, 2.0, and 3.0 hours for the final three sections, and we were at 25 hours at that point. So perhaps we could take off 30 minutes from the total time. Maybe we could "pick it up a bit"? Shoot, I didn't think I could do that. I was bordering on maximum speed. But I could try running all the flats and downs, and we'd have to see how the uphills worked.
So John started out ahead of me, and I couldn't even keep up on the flat sections. Well, we think they might have been deceiving and actually slightly uphill. But John was running while I had to walk. I told him he needed to go on ahead and not wait for me, because I just couldn't do it and I didn't want to interfere with his race. I had made it through my major goals (Grouse and Sherman), and it was OK if he went on ahead.
He pushed on, passing Adam and Alan, and they even let me by. Adam mentioned that he just didn't have anything left, so he was taking it slower. I wasn't sure I should be ahead of them on an uphill, but I went by anyway.
Oddly, John didn't really speed up from there. And I was kind of sad that we weren't together. It felt wrong, rather lonely. I knew I needed to let him go, but I didn't want to. I had to stop to take off some clothes because I was starting to get quite hot. Ah, that's better. I watched John as we went up and down, seeing him pop out above the creek ahead of me and then disappear down the next drop. Then he appeared again, but no further ahead of me. I pushed a bit to try to keep pace, just to see what would happen.
Wondering if he was waiting for me made me emotional - maybe he wasn't ready for us to be apart either. I think I was pretty dang tired, to get emotional about something like that. But sure enough, I was catching up to him. I pushed harder with my poles so he wouldn't have to wait as long. After some work, I finally caught him. Nice to see you again, John!
He told me that after he started going faster, he started getting tired, both physically and mentally. He was sleepy, and he preferred the company and preferred to follow my pace up the hill for now. The exertion had actually made him dizzy for a bit. So we were back to "normal", with me in the lead up the hill, John following and liking my pace. Ah, much better. It was an odd thing, but apparently the timing wasn't right yet for us to split up.
Back on track, we were working up the last couple of slopes toward the col when we heard "on your left!" from about 50 meters back. It was Adam and Alan, making an awesome joke as the slowly closed in. We all got a huge kick out of it. Adam had certainly returned to his climbing form and they were back to their regular speed. We greeted them as they came by and topped out not long after they did.
There's the Maggie aid station! I was so happy to make it to one more aid station with John, it just about made me cry. But I needed my eyesight for the downhill run. John led the way and we hopped along the grass tufts in the sunshine. We arrived at exactly the same split from John's 2008 race, so it seemed that John's 2008 self was finally speeding up.
We spent a few extra minutes there, putting on sunscreen, making Spiz, drinking coffee, and chatting with Adam, Alan, and the aid station guys. They told us that Diana Finkel had been leading the race when she came through that aid station, but Jared had looked strong chasing her. Interesting! Go Diana!
OK, let's boogie. We started out on what John called "a tough section." Yep, not an easy one by any means. The first bit right out of the aid station goes basically straight uphill. I thought I remembered marking it in 2009 on a gentler slope, but the course went in the opposite direction last year. And maybe my memory isn't quite right, who knows.
Anyway, there go the flags, one almost vertically above the other. I made my own little switchbacks and John was still content to follow me. I was still able to work hard and my legs were hanging in there, but I didn't know how much more I had in me. One flag at a time, one more flag, crikes it's still going uphill. John asked if I had any Puzzlers left, which I did, but I couldn't quite speak at that point so it would have to wait.
Eventually the course leveled out a bit and I was able to pose another Car Talk quiz question to John. Then we had to go uphill some more to get to the saddle, and that was enough of that! We saw the two guys on the ridge ahead, and then they disappeared for while. John remembered enough of this section so we weren't too disappointed when we had to go up some more after reaching the saddle.
Finally we got to the top and could see over to Green Mountain. I stopped for a bathroom break and John ran on ahead. I tried to catch him again but he eluded me as we ran down across the Stony Pass road and started up the other side. I worked pretty hard to try to catch up. John pointed ahead to a herd of deer - I could only see their antlers as they were bobbing up and down just over the next little hill. Funny!
I managed to get back to John, and he stepped aside so I could lead up the hill. But I was too out of breath. We stopped for a second so I could recover. OK, let's go. But I couldn't get my legs nor my breathing to stay in control. Each time I tried to push they would basically give up on me. There was a bit more climbing to get to the top - and I was at my limit!
This time I was ready for John to go. I told him to go on ahead, tear it up, get to the finish line. Am I sure? Heck yes! So he went on, making it up the last steep part and disappearing over the top. I took my time, let my breathing slow and my legs recover. I looked back to see a pair of runners coming our way. Hmm, I wonder who that could be. It looks like Scott Jamie! Nice!
At the top I saw John look back from below - we waved at each other, and then he was off. Go John Go! Working my way slowly down the steep drop, I greeted Scott when he ran by and told him that I was highly impressed with his decision to stick with it and finish. Many other runners would not have done so. Great job, Scott!
I sat down on the grass, mixed a half-Spiz serving, and watched my red-shirted husband running down the next valley with Scott chasing. I wondered how that would turn out. At least I wasn't holding John back anymore, and maybe he was close enough to the finish with fresh enough legs that he would pick up some speed.
I followed slowly, watching them disappear over a spur. Another couple runners appeared behind me, eventually catching up on the steep downhill where I was picking my way down. I really quite dislike that downhill into the Cunningham aid station. I'll need to do some training there whenever I eventually get into the race, if it's in this direction.
Looking across the way, I saw a pair of runners starting up the last climb to Dives-Little Giant Pass. I sort of assumed that they were Scott and his pacer. Not far behind was John, and he was motoring up the hill. Nice! He had swapped his pack for a fanny pack and one water bottle, and his legs were obviously doing great. I poked my way slowly down the hill, stopping frequently to watch. Both the pair of runners and John were catching up to (and eventually passing) another two runners that I thought might be Adam and his pacer.
It turned out I was wrong about everyone on the other side except John. John never did see Scott nor know that he almost caught him right at the top of the climb. But John took off SO FAST down the other side that Scott gave up hope of catching him. The two runners in front of John were Adam and Alan. They stayed ahead up the climb and most of the way down the other side. All three sets of runners caught and passed Glenn Mackie on the climb (John had also passed John Anderson in the Cunningham aid station).
Oh, back to me for a second. I gingerly made my way down, finally got to the aid station, and caught a ride to town with David Horton. Talking to David was really cool in itself - he has some great stories to tell. I could have continued on over the final section, but it would have been slow. I felt like I could keep walking uphill for a while yet, just not fast at all. So instead I decided I wanted to see John finish. That's the end of the "pacing" part of this story!
Anyway, John passed Roch Horton at the top. It turned out that John was most intent upon breaking the 31-hour mark, and he wasn't paying much attention to the other runners around him. We had made it to Maggie in the 1.5 hours he was predicting and on to Cunningham in 2:06 (a 16-minute improvement over 2008). In the previous race, he had run an incredible 2:37 for the final split, and this seemed at the time like the best he might ever do since he had pushed it so hard that year. So three hours was a reasonable guess for that section. Matching the 2:37 wouldn't be fast enough to break 31 hours total. Could he do it even faster?
John ran down the road and came upon Adam and Alan near the creek crossing. Adam saw John coming, decided he really, really wanted to hang onto 8th place, and took off like a rocket. John did a face-plant on the road, Alan turned around to see if he needed help and then cramped up and couldn't catch back up to Adam. John was fine, and told them he only wanted to break 31 hours. They thought it was doable, but John wasn't slowing down!
I made it to the finish line in time to see Darcy finish 4th. I found out that Jared had passed Diana in the final section (wow!!) to win the race, while Diana came in 2nd. So close to having a woman win the race overall! Nick Pedatella came in 5th, then our friend Ted ran across in 6th. Way to go Ted! Fellow adventure-racer Jason Poole took 7th.
Then I saw a dark figure sprinting down the street toward the finish line - it was Adam! I never would have guessed. So much for not having anything left back near the Pole Creek aid station! He ran incredibly fast over the last several miles, he must have in order to stay ahead of John. Too amazing.
Then a figure in red rounded the corner - it's John! In 9th place!!! He also sprinted down the street, around the corner into the finisher's chute, pointed and smiled at me, and collapsed at the rock before recovering enough to kiss it. He finally got a look at the official race clock to see that he had indeed broken 31 hours, by 55 seconds. His final split was 1:20, 17 minutes FASTER than in 2008, matched only by Michael Foote (3rd place finisher) in tying for the fastest split on the last section.
Roch finished next, then Scott "Lazarus" Jaime made it across the line. It was all very exciting. John got a PR by 4 hours, 23 minutes, and figures he may never be able to do that again. So he may not even try :)
I was so happy to be a part of it all, and to actually feel like I was helping was a wonderful surprise. It truly felt like a team effort. Huge congratulations to John, and to all Hardrock runners. Y'all are amazing!!!