Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hardrock - Chapman to the Finish!

John accompanied me out of Chapman, and the rest of my friends drove over Ophir Pass back to Silverton to await our eventual arrival. They celebrated a Job Well Done at the brewery - way to go, y'all! We'll be there soon! (to Silverton, not so much the brewery at that point)

John jumped right into his pacing role by finding a dry way across the creek next to the aid station. It was a bit of a clamber around on a down tree, but I appreciated it, and my feet especially did. They felt great as long as they were dry, and most happy right after getting a new pair of socks. I wanted to baby them as long as possible - plenty of challenges ahead.

We walked up the jeep road and carefully noted a couple of intersections. John told me that an earlier runner had apparently gotten lost for a while on this approach, and we didn't want to repeat that mistake. The turn-off onto the singletrack trail was so well marked, either someone was in a complete stupor to have missed it or else the turn had been reinforced recently. I guessed the latter.

Mosquitoes buzzed me just a tiny bit in the aid station, but I didn't get the bug spray treatment because they usually go away once I start moving. For the first time that didn't happen - they kept on biting me all through the woods. Nasty buggers! If it's not one thing, it's another! Seriously, everyone went through a lot in this race. Not everyone had the same experiences, but I guarantee everyone had some tough ones.

I couldn't help telling John a few race stories, some of the things I'd been wanting to share with him for many hours. Eventually my throat called a stop to the chattering, so I had to shut up and focus on the trail. That was good timing, because it was starting to get steep and rocky. John led the way, working to adjust his pace so I could keep up. Sometimes I'd have to let him go and then once he noticed he would wait for me. Mostly he walked methodically and I was able to follow his footfalls up the rocks. I think I was moving faster (at least faster than I would have alone), not having to think about where to go, feeling right at home with this expedition race strategy of putting my feet where John's feet had just been.

John seemed to enjoy experiencing the course in the opposite direction from the way he has always run it, especially at my slower pace. We chatted about the lightning question in this area, and I told him that if it wasn't storming right overhead, we were going over the pass. It's a much quicker up and down than some of the basins in other parts of the course, with shelter not far down on either side. For now there was rain in the distance and some clouds with us, but no sound of thunder.

Too bad John forgot to carry the camera with him - we would have loved a couple photos in here. Sorry!

I drank a Spiz in the shelter of some rocks, then it was time for the final approach to the scree field that is Grant-Swamp Pass. This thing is notorious for being a challenge and for filling shoes with dirt. We worked our way to the scree field and paused to catch our collective breath for a minute.

Then John led the way, following switchback paths that other folks had kindly beat into the side of the mountain. It was dang steep, plenty sandy and rocky, but John figured out the best way to go. We both noticed that the recent rains made it a bit "easier" by packing some of the dirt together so it wasn't quite as loose. For once, the weather worked in our favor, please make sure to note that I mentioned it here in a positive light.

In lieu of race pictures, I'll include some shots from 2010 trail marking in this section. Imagine these with more clouds, tired legs, different clothing, and eventually complete darkness and surely you'll get the idea.

Here I was climbing without Mr Mountain Goat leading the way last year:

Trail marking folks in 2010:

Step, step, slight slide, step, step... John set a good pace and I somehow managed to keep up. I was so happy not having to figure out a route up this, just follow John, awesome. And my climbing legs hadn't left me! And this was the 2nd-to-last big climb! That was pretty exciting to contemplate.

Looking back at Oscar's mining road that Ann and I had come down earlier in the day:

We topped out and I was elated that it had gone so well. This was another key location that John had taken me to when I was trying to decide if I could complete this race. Going up it, following my sherpa man, was certainly easier for me than making my way down it. Other folks may have a different opinion about this one!

We looked down to see a runner and pacer wearing similar clothing to the Ryan/Shauna impersonators we had seen over in the previous section. Not knowing any better at this point, still thinking it was Ryan and now Kelly with him, John yelled down, "Go Ryan!". They looked up but didn't acknowledge the encouragement. At least now it makes sense why. Ryan was still doing great, but that was not him just below us.

Turning around to face our downhill, I noted that Island Lake had WAY more ice and snow on it this year compared to the year before when it looked like this:

This top section had a minor reroute, straight down some loose sandy scree. Again it was better packed from the wetness, but I was still slow going down. Soon enough we got to the trail, did some now-standard snow walking, and made our way down the valley. I remarked to John that it was sometimes strange knowing where the flags have previously been placed, and seeing them not quite in the same location. I guess we have reached a new phase in our experience with this race.

I enjoyed the rest of this downhill, and we passed a runner or maybe two, I just don't remember for some reason. Normally I have a better race memory, but now that I had started seeing some people as completely different people, it's safe to say that my brain was short-circuiting in some ways. I told Ann that Jim was Robert when we first saw him, and I thought I saw Steve in Telluride (he says he never was there). A new brand of hallucination for me!

I told John that I wanted to get to the next creek crossing in daylight, and he assured me that we most definitely would. Good, because this one can be a little intimidating. Joe had promised us that he again built some kind of a bridge, so I was looking forward to finding a decent way across without getting my feet wet.

We made it down to the trail and ran down to the turn-off toward the creek. It was so well marked, I wondered to John if any tourists had seen it and asked "What's down there?" That would have been quite a surprise for them. If they even made it down the trail - it sure was steep and slippery with mud! The rain had not done this particular track any favors.

Here's the mess of debris across the creek last year, similar to 2011:

John followed a course marker to the right and found a good way to walk on logs, going from island to island and making it across with ease. I following, not with as much ease but still with dry feet and plenty of hope. Yep, I made it! Many thanks to Joe and John for that one!

John looked back and told me I was doing so well, making me smile. We scrambled up the opposite bank and make our way through some muck and mud along a section in the woods before reaching the Kamm Traverse, or KT trail, high above the next valley. Here is Jim in this section during trail marking in 2010:

We moved right along, John checking out the creek way below to get a sense (I don't know how from here) of how deep it was. There was a runner ahead of us, but my legs could move only just so fast at that point. It seemed like a rather long traverse this time, I guess because it was mostly a speed-walk for me. John asked if I wanted to run the parts that were kinda downhill? Not really - and it didn't so much feel like downhill to me.

Coming into the next aid station, John asked what I wanted. I already had an answer ready - I wanted COFFEE. Finally some caffeine for me! Or maybe just being around John makes me think of coffee :) Another reason I was happy to have John along - he could talk with the aid station folks and I could just smile and "look pretty" (ha!) instead of stressing my throat trying to talk loudly enough so anyone could hear me. Which is a challenge under normal circumstances, much less right now.

We jogged into the aid station and John ran over to put in an order - 2 coffees? Why yes, we'll take two of them!

KT aid station = 38:19 total time, approx 69th place

In the aid station John helped me fill a Spiz baggie while talking with the excellent volunteers and a couple runners that we know. We met Bruce whom we have chatted with before, and Larry and Beth were prepping to leave. John stashed my sunglasses and hat in my pack, gave me my headlamp, and we put on some clothes to start getting ready for nightfall. Time to go check out the next creek crossing.

We headed up the road into the wind, dang that was chilly. If it wasn't one thing it was another. And here's what's next... we went down a trail to the creek to see it up close finally. It didn't look too bad, but deep enough that I was SO glad to have John with me. He led the way and I stayed on his hip. He found that it was slightly less deep just downstream from the trail, and we worked our way across without incident. We came out with really cold and wet feet, but that was the norm by now.

John stayed to watch the next couple cross - our friends Larry and Beth - and to let them know it was a bit easier downstream of the trail. He would have no trouble catching back up to me, that was certain. In the meantime, I started up the "trail" - can you really call it that? It was a way through the willows via the shoe-suckingest mud I've ever seen outside of adventure racing. I don't know how the course markers weren't as deep as their danglies in that stuff. A swamp, yes, that's the word I'm searching for.

I somehow kept my shoes on and my feet under my butt, mostly because I was heading uphill at a low rate of speed. It would be great fun to stage a downhill sprint through that mess. And then sit to the side and watch. I had the thought that I could clean off my shoes in some of the water flowing down the middle of "trail" but realized that was the ultimate in pointlessness at that moment.

I clambered up some rocks, pulled my poles out of the mud (my arms were getting a good workout), and eventually made it to the woods where John caught up with me. Ah, solid ground! No wind! Now I was back to walking up a steep hill, one of the lesser challenges.

OK, it wasn't a cakewalk. That hill went up and up quite a ways, weaving back and forth in the woods. I felt slow but John kept telling me I was doing good. Only one more mountain to climb, and this was it! Well, this was stage 1 of the last mountain. I mentally broke it up into pieces, since it's a noncontinuous climb, and "straight up through the trees" was the first part.

It was dark by the time we topped out and found the slight downhill near the rockfall. Stage 2 is "up and down through the woods". This seemed to last a really long time. John even thought he could see the big open field through the trees, but then we'd cross a tiny creek, find some more mud to slog through, and then the trail continued through the woods. This happened several times. I remembered Joe talking about how this section was WAY longer in this direction, and I could now believe exactly that.

We stopped to put on rain gear when it started sprinkling, finding refuge under a huge pine tree. John had packed in anticipation of my slow pace (good!), bringing a rain jacket, rain pants, and a big yellow poncho. I'm not sure how many layers he had going under all that. I needed my hubby warm and happy so he could continue to lead the way and be his normal chipper self. Although ya could have shared some of that outerwear with ANN for the previous section...

Somewhere in here, we lost my white running cap out of my pack. I picture it living under this big pine tree now, getting even more dirty that it already was. It was a great hat, keeping my head cool and protected for many miles. At least this is one of the easier things to replace that we've misplaced in our lives.

Rain began in earnest (giving motivation to the weather - yet another sign that my brain was a bit whack). We did finally come out at the big field, where we crossed another creek. Yay for this one being easy. Time to start stage 3 - up to the saddle past the big rock. This rock is a prominent feature in the course briefing, usually eliciting nervous laughter that yes, you need to be looking for a particular rock in order to figure out where to go.

The climb up to the rock went quickly. The rest of the climb took forever. In the darkness I concentrated on keeping up with John, attempting to avoid the worst of the mud, getting up the side of the hill, and trying not to guess how much further it was to the top. John would call out "Mud!" so I would know when he had just sunk up to his ankles. Sometimes I could go around that spot, other times I just had to lightfoot it as much as possible and find a way to plow through.

Eventually the sound of the rushing creek faded away, which I took as a good sign. And eventually we made it to the snow field at the saddle, phew, that was longer than I expected. We paused for a moment to see if we could make out anything in the large open terrain ahead of us, and we caught glimpses of a headlamp here and there. I think it was still raining, and there were certainly clouds overhead, so we couldn't see much in terms of topography.

Here is this area looking at it in daylight from the other side, showing the approximate route we were about to follow:

Not that we could see much of this in the darkness. But it was nice to be able to mentally visualize it and have some idea where the course flags were taking us.

John worked from one course marker to the next and I followed, moving at a good clip now that the steep part was (temporarily) over. No thunder or lightning, barely any rain that I can remember, just one big light WAY ahead of it occasionally flashing our way. Wonder what that is. We ran over some snow fields but in general I think the footing was pretty decent up here. I expected this part (stage 4 of the last big climb) to take a while because I remember that it looks like a long ways when you can see the scenery. But it actually passed quickly, a nice change.

OK, time for the last part of the last big climb! John started up and I got back into "steady uphill hike" mode. Oops, there's the top of the rise waaay too quickly, I guess that wasn't quite it yet. Downhill for a spell, and THEN it was time for the real big, steep, side-of-the-mountain haul. Yep, (pant, pant), this is definitely it. Let's do this thing.

Check out how small the people look compared to the size of the hill in this picture:

Climb for a while, quick rest, look behind us, what a nice night it turned out to be! Headlamps way below us now. I started thinking about staying ahead of the folks I had already passed, and maybe I could pass one or two more? Up to this point it had pretty much been only (and I really mean this) about what I could do, how I was going to find a way to kiss the Hardrock rock.

It's always a good sign that I'm having a good race finish when I'm thinking about how to pass more people. John's pacing sure did help with that, keeping me moving faster than I might be going otherwise, but not too fast that I was overdoing it. For a race this long, pacers totally rock. I told John he was so awesome at it, he could hire himself out (send me an email if you're interested). But I want first dibs :)

Climb a while, quick breather, climb some more. Almost...there... I could see lights above us but not so far away anymore. Then... there was the top. Hallelujah!

There were a couple runners plus a guy named Mark who we knew as one of the radio guys at the Putnam aid station down in the next valley. He had hiked up (and I think he was the one shining the bright light), looking for runners and possibly also helping out with an earlier fog situation that John and I were lucky to miss. John chatted with him briefly and then we were off down the other side.

No trail here, just follow markings down the grass. Another runner or two was working their way down, and John eventually took the lead in finding the trail markings. We were aiming for a saddle, then a left swing around toward the basin. That all happened without incident, but then the next trail marker was elusive. Two bright lights couldn't come up with anything reflective.

John aimed toward the basin, while I had the feeling we needed to go more to the left, just based on being here for trail marking one time (and in the opposite direction, at that). We both kind did the "Monk" thing - if I were a trail marker, where would I be? Finally John spotted one, and amazingly it was directly in front of the path I was taking. We both had the thought to look for a flag lying on the ground, but I didn't see one right around my feet so we had to let that idea drop.

Here's the Putnam Basin in the daylight with John (in red) wearing fewer clothes:

Hopefully we helped at least one person behind us figure out the way more quickly. Moving on, we crossed a snow field or two, a small creek or two, a mud spot or two, eventually finding the trail that circles the basin. I expected this trail to go on for a while, but we must have been moving OK because before I knew it we could see the lights for the Putnam aid station. Last one! Sweet!

Putnam aid station = 42:05 total time, approx 63rd place

In honor of our "Coke travails" from 2009, I asked for a cup of Coke. The wonderful volunteers got me a drink, and we checked out their simple but seemingly effective tent setup, complete with fun little light decorations around the entrance. We refilled a Spiz baggie, but I didn't stay long - I was ready to get closer to the finish!

John stayed back to chat with the aid station folks and to see if they wanted a duckie donation? They apparently did - something about replacing a Justin Bieber picture? I'll have to have confirmation before believing I didn't hallucinate that part.

Right out of the aid station the trail dipped sharply downward, yikes. The rain had not been kind at all to this trail - it was super slick and muddy. I passed a runner/pacer pair and John easily caught back up to me. The fun continued a bit lower down, with the first rockslide crossing. I had heard that these last few miles of trail aren't easy after running 90+ miles, and now it was time to find out just how bad it really was.

Yep, it's a pain in the booty. Rocks, rocks, rocks, ah nice trail, more rocks. Willows over the rocks so you couldn't see where you were stepping. Somehow, with all of this going on, we caught up to a couple more runners. They were kind enough to let us go by, which I tried to do gracefully over the rocks (hmm, right, "gracefully").

Their headlamps stayed with us, and I realized it was time to drink some Spiz. I pushed to get a ways ahead of the folks we had just passed, because it seemed rude to stop right in front of them on the narrow trail. John watched and let me know when I had time, then I made a quick stop to gulp down the contents of the baggie. Last one!

We continued on, losing the guys behind us, finding more and more rock fields to cross, and eventually some nicer trail through aspens. Aspens! That's always a good sign that you're getting lower. John started talking about how I was going to finish, I was going to be a Hardrocker! I told him that I still had to get there - I still had to be careful, not twist an ankle on a rock, stupid things can still happen. Just gotta get there.

I started contemplating the upcoming creek crossing, the granddaddy of them all. I wasn't sure if I was breathing harder because of my running pace or because of my growing anxiety about the creek.

A car went by up ahead. Hey, a car! Must be the road. We were almost to the bottom (and the Creek Crossing). I heard John on the phone, finally in cell phone range to let our crew know that we were about to cross the creek, in case they wanted to come watch. But next thing we knew we were in the field and we could hear the rushing water.

We heard someone shouting "THAT'S what I'm talking about!" - it sounded like some drunk guy was hanging out over by the road? He yelled it again, as we made our way closer. "THAT'S what I'm talking about!" It was a bit puzzling, but we were focused on what we needed to do.

John folded and stashed my poles in my pack, we decided he would go first and I would go right beside him, and by then we knew we could not wait for our friends to arrive. The water below us was absolutely flying by, and we couldn't sit there thinking about it. We just had to cross. The loud fellow on the other side turned out to be one of several folks making sure everyone made it safely across, keeping a close eye on the runners and pacers. I had wondered if this was something racers generally did in the dark all alone, and I was really glad to see someone across the way watching.

John stepped down into the water to grab onto the rope and I followed and OH MY GOD this is crazy! It was so frickin' cold, with strong current trying to push us downstream. I hung onto the rope for dear life, facing upstream, and stepped to the right as quickly as I could. I could hear John saying that it was getting deeper here, great just great, and the current was stronger here, yikes, yikes. Just hang on, just keep moving. My feet were numb, my legs were frozen, the water was about up to my waist at this point, and I gripped the rope with all my might.

OK John, you can move faster - no wait, wait for me! - no, faster is good - no hold on I'm not there yet... I wondered if my legs would totally cramp up because they were threatening to, and what would I do then, YOU BETTER STAY WITH ME, LEGS! The center was slightly less deep, and then there was another deeper/swifter section toward the end. And then John was jumping out and hands reached for me to help me up. I climbed out, basically hyperventilating with my heart rate sky high, unable to really believe I just did that. What am I, nuts?

Thank you, thank you, thank you John for going through that with me! That's love, right there folks. The man has zero body fat and not a lot of tolerance for cold, and he did that for me without a peep of complaint. I'm not sure "pacer for hire" would take the job if he knew he had to go through that again.

We crossed the road, noticed some wet footprints (who else can I chase down?), and heard "THAT'S what I'm talking about!" behind us (oops, let's focus on staying ahead of that person first). We climbed a small hill, me still gasping with wide eyes, waiting for my heart to slow down below 3 beats per second. I can't keel over now! I have to get to the finish line first, then I can keel over. I haven't gone through all of this (insert whatever you want to call it) and not get to the end now, are you kidding?

Oh, and just for grits and shins, here's me at this creek last year, demonstrating just how crazy difficult it is:

About the only thing the same this year is the rope.

Breathe, Marcy, come on, you can do it. Phew, I wasn't looking forward to writing about that (and then proof-reading it, for god's sake), glad that's over!

We followed the trail through the woods and then over the rocky section you can see from the road. John called our crew back to tell them we'd see them at the finish (and sorry to wake you up early) (and here's an overestimation of how fast we'll be there, while we're at it). We didn't see headlamps ahead nor behind us, but I was speedwalking and trying to run when I could, just in case. Plus then we'd get there faster.

We finally found the dirt road and followed it up to the statue way above town, then turned down a path to run down to the quiet Silverton streets. It was all so peaceful, so serene, and I was finally calming down. No more stress over the creek crossings. No more worrying over heights and lightning and 100 other possible other things that could affect me. No more wondering if I was going to make or how close I was going to get to fulfilling this dream that I have had for years. Wow.

We smiled as we rounded the corner and saw the gym, normally lit up and welcoming for the race, now being renovated for the summer. Another corner, and there's where John finished two stellar races of his own. We headed across the main street, and I thought I saw Kathy standing there to cheer me on as she had in every single crew-access aid station for two straight 100-mile races for me. John told me that I was actually seeing a motorcycle. At least it was a nice motorcycle. I think I need some sleep.

I told John I was still trying to figure out what to say to Dale at the finish. Dale, the race director, stays up the entire race and greets every single finisher. If that's not amazing enough, he keeps notes on everyone who kisses the Rock and then tells little stories about people at the awards ceremony. I had been working through some ideas during the race, letting them play out in my mind and adjusting them as the race unfolded. I finally came upon something simple, nothing profound or funny or surprising, but it was the truth.

The big white DIA tent at the rec center appeared, and then the finish line banner. I was too happy for words.

No words needed - my only task remaining was to go up the Rock and plant a big kiss on it. Most gladly!

My amazing husband!

My amazing friends!

Dale hung a medal around my neck, and I first told him "That was a struggle" and he leaned closer so he could hear me say "If it wasn't one thing, it was another!"

And for everything that it was, my friends were there for me, people were rooting for me, all the help and positive thoughts helped me along. Thank you all! I am one Lucky Duck!

Finish = 44:32, 61st place of 140 starters (80 official finishers and 2 finishers over 48 hours), 8th female of 15 starters (8 finishers)

Ryan came in during the last hour of official finishes, at 47:19. Well done, Ryan!

Now it's time for bed!

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