I had heard of the Hardrock 100 mile ultrarunning race many years ago. It sounded extremely difficult, but maybe if I finished a bunch of other 100's first I would be able to determine if I should try it someday. It also sounded a bit crazy. 100 miles at 8,000 to 14,000 ft elevation, up and down steep trails (and off trails), 33,000+ feet of climb, in occasionally dangerous conditions. Yeah...right.
So I went and ran several 100's, learning a lot from each and especially from the one I didn't finish. I also gained valuable experience with gear, clothing, training, and endurance in 50-milers and 100k's, 24-hour rogaines and adventure races, plus a few expedition adventure races and two journeys on foot from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean Sea (successfully the 2nd time).
In an expedition race in the San Juan Mountains in the early 2000's, our team was on the last section of the race with a walk down Bridal Veil Basin toward a rappel at the falls. We saw a runner coming toward us - running UPHILL - we learned he was training for Hardrock. That left us stunned and amazed (and in all fairness, our mental state was generally stunned and amazed at that point in the race, but since the impression remained after the race I have to believe it was real). It turns out that you don't HAVE to be quite so superhuman to finish Hardrock, i.e. running up the hills is not required. But it doesn't hurt.
Me = not superhuman. So instead I worked on being prepared. John gained entry into the race in 2008 and 2010, so I joined him for trail marking, trail work, crewing, and managing Putnam Aid Station in 2009. In 2010 I was so grateful to get to pace him from Ouray to Cunningham during his most amazing Hardrock performance; we both look back on that race and smile. In the past 3 years I had done basically everything except actually run the race myself.
February 2011. I got in. I got in?? I got in!!!
Time to get serious! I climbed the equivalent of the 33k+ elevation gain every 4-5 weeks, getting to know various Catskills trails and mountains. Also two 50-mile races and the Massanutten 100 (MMT100) - it was a lucky lottery year for me! - and a 24-hour orienteering event. I learned something with every race, made adjustments, planned, strategized.
My list of "things to watch" (concerns? worries? things to work on?):
Altitude - Obviously not something I could do anything about from New York state, although I did research altitude sleeping tents briefly. I used all my vacation to head to Colorado two weeks before the race and climb 14ers with John. I hoped my previous Colorado summers would speed up acclimation (seemed to!). I took iron pills and ate spinach, in case that might help. Otherwise I tried not to fret as spring passed at sea level.
Feet - Blister issues in the last miles of MMT100 caused some concern. Hardrock isn't as rocky overall, but I knew I would have wet feet for up to 48 hours - great input from John. I went after my feet with pumice and a conditioner concoction, I started doing all my long runs with wet feet, and I ended up with pretty much brand new skin and zero callouses. Still... you never know.
Knees - Downhill knee pain at the Bull Run Run resulted from bombing down everything right from the start. I stopped doing that (duh - except I love doing that). I also learned I had to get out of the stairwell - I was using the 4 flights at work for stair climbing repeats (36 times up and down for 2000 feet of climb) which worked great in the winter but didn't translate to downhill fitness. I restarted my knee strengthening exercises and taking glucosamine. I had learned a lot about knees in the Grande Traversee des Alpes, and I again put it all to bear.
Climbing - I'm not a strong climber by nature, but I've learned that my body will adapt if I focus on it. Lots of uphills, weekly hill repeats (multiple 100-foot climbs, anyone?), 8-10 hours on weekends doing long repeats in the Catskills. This isn't the Rockies, but still I had to be thankful I wasn't trying this in central Texas. Climbing 14ers for a week was a nice flourish at the end.
Throat? - This one showed up the week before the race and scared me a bit. The day before I left New York a coworker mentioned he might have strep. WHAT? What are you doing at work? I was so glad that didn't pass over to me, but my throat was scratchy off and on leading up to the race. I hoped like heck that it was just a side effect from the dry air (not one I normally have, but you never know).
Other - Lightning, hail, pouring rain, freezing cold, blazing sun, snow, ice, bears, mountain lions, moose, scree, cliffs, rocks, mud, Virginius, Bear Creek, Grant Swamp, sunburn, cracked lips, ankle injuries, stomach problems, getting lost, lack of sleep, and last but certainly not least the high water creek crossings... (sign here)
On my side: John, Kathy, Bob, Ann, Scott, Jason, Shauna, Kelly, Ryan (a fellow runner - go Ryan!); a huge number of runners we know along with their crew and pacers; folks like Jim and Sue who were helping run the race; countless friends and family watching online and rooting for me. With all that positive energy, I knew I had a fighting chance.
(John is a lot of great things, but we figured out early on that he wasn't cut out to be our official race photographer)