Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hardrock - Cunningham to Sherman

From the Cunningham aid station, I started up the trail on the other side. At that moment I was pretty happy to be going around the course in the counter-clockwise direction... I didn't have to go UP what we had just come down, and I also don't enjoy going DOWN the stuff we were now heading up. I wasn't sure if I wouldn't appreciate the course direction as much later in the race, but for now I was enjoying it.

I heard a crowd of folks on the road below yell, "GO JOE!" and I thought to myself, huh, I guess Joe is up here somewhere. Then I heard "GO MARCY!" which made me laugh. Joe P. turned around right above me to say "hey I know you" - which made me laugh again. Joe has taught us so much about Hardrock and we owe him a lot in the grand scheme of the whole experience. It was great to get to see him actually on the course now.

He seemed to be climbing well and doing good. He's a real downhill specialist, so when he let me go ahead of him I figured I would see him again on the other side of the mountain. I passed a few more guys on the way up the hill, and I got to start liking that. I passed the spot where I had sat to watch John zoom up the opposite hillside in the race last year. That made me smile.

I had one brief moment where I questioned the course direction, but it seemed like we needed to go up the steep nose and sure enough there was a flag up above. More than once (many times, actually), I really appreciated having seen the course before. One less thing to worry about, one more little bit of confidence here and there. Huge thanks to Charlie for all the trail marking parties!

Into a bit of a valley, the trail finally leveled off for a short distance. That was a nice relief. I knew the worst was ahead - steep grunt climbs off-trail straight up the side of the hill. Repeat. And then once more up the biggest bear to the top. There was a bit of snow at the bottom, then just walking up the tundra and putting one foot in front of the other for a while. I even switchbacked it slightly (I think I just verbed a noun) to make it slightly less intense.

I got to say "Guten Morgan" to a racer I believed (hoped) was German - he was, so that went well. Climb, climb - finally at the top, phew. A couple of spectators told me that they hadn't seen many women in front of me. Well, there were only 15 of us and I had already passed 5 of them (actually 6, as I didn't know yet that I had also passed Deb somewhere but didn't see her). I told them that the problem was most of the rest were really fast so it didn't matter much. And in fact, I didn't see another woman racer from Cunningham to the end.

A bit of snow down to a dirt road crossing, then up the other side. I saw Marty waiting for someone, sitting on a rock. There was more snow along the next trail but nothing I wasn't used to after climbing 14ers recently. As long as the sun has been on the snow for a while, the main potential problem is post-holing, and we didn't have too much of that here.

Near the top I saw a guy we know named John who was out running around the course (not a racer) just checking it out, so that was cool. I managed a quick potty break in a sheltered spot before the next guy came around the corner, then a bit more climbing to the next ridge.

From there I could see a couple runners trying to figure out how to get down a huge overhanging snowfield in the distance. That seemed odd in a couple ways, so I paused to try to understand it. I noticed a course marker off to the right of where I was standing, so I moved over to check it out. From there it was obvious that I needed to drop down immediately and not continue on the ridge like those runners. It wasn't an easy turn to catch, so I was glad to hit it the first time.

The downhill into Maggie's aid station is a bit rough, although again I was glad not to be going in the other direction here. Plenty of mud, wet grass, snow, not really a trail, just follow the markers wherever they wander. I hung with a couple guys, not really pushing down the hill but not going gingerly about it either.

Then the trail markers led to an actual creek that we had to wade across - what? I totally don't remember that part. I need to ask John about that. So my feet were back to being wet, but what do I expect really?

Maggie aid station = 5:28 total time, approx 100th place

(It is rather astonishing to note that only 4 people who came into this aid station after me also finished the race, considering that I felt like I was no longer at the very back of the pack)

At the aid station they helped me fill a Spiz baggie with water and I grabbed a bit of watermelon, yum! I walked out with a couple other guys, one who I think was named Dennis. He had some interesting foot placements, very flexible and seemingly able to step on anything in just about any direction. It was a bit strange following him, because I certainly can't do that, and I'm used to walking in my teammates' footsteps that work more like mine.

A group of us crested the short climb to the Continental Divide. It was neat thinking about the Tour Divide bike race a couple of our friends were in the process of finishing (go Sheilas!) and how at least they would not have had to come over this pass on their bikes. More snow now, a lot more than in 2010, but I hear last year was drier than normal. A bit of sneaker-skiing, running, jumping over the edge of the snow field to try to keep from thunking down in the softest stuff.

I was just running along when hey there's Ryan! He showed up out of nowhere, and it was great to say Hi! He turned around with his camera and snapped my picture, too funny!


I would have been happy to chat for a bit, but he stepped aside and told me I was moving quicker than he thought he needed to at that point. In fact, I wondered if I was the one now moving too quickly, as I was feeling great and still passing people and having a grand ole' time. On one hand, this could blow up on me later for sure. On the other hand, John had always stressed that moving faster usually increases your odds out here. Weather-related crap can always happen, and the further you are on the course when it does, the better off you'll be.

While I was pondering all this, I got a bit ahead of Ryan. I saw some guys in the willows across the way, then noticed a flag going to the left at a small creek crossing. I yelled to them that they were on the wrong trail, so they cut over to me. Turns out their trail was in better shape than the one I was one, sorry 'bout that :) I turned around to motion to Ryan to watch for flagging at the creek, but he couldn't hear me over the water noise so hopefully I didn't confuse him too much. I was just causing more trouble trying to do good!

Mud, water, willows, mud, water, field, a bit of a dry stretch, then a real muddy spot that was even wet last year so at least I knew it was coming. There was thunder in the distance, then all of a sudden it started hailing. The good thing is that it was coming from our backs. The back of my legs and neck didn't appreciate this upside. Ouch, ouch. I checked my watch and decided I didn't need to try to stay dry this time - plenty of drying time available this afternoon.

The storm eventually blew over, thank goodness. Side-of-the-hill running, I was just running when I felt good and walking when I wanted. I had an idea when I might come into the next aid station based on the fast end of my estimated splits, and I pretty much hit that right on, so that was nice.

Pole Creek aid station = 6:38 total time, approx 93rd place

The aid station folks again were great, very helpful. They even had a whole beautiful spread of options across a card table, all organized and easy to choose from. I told them I was impressed - it's not easy for the remote aid stations to set up something that nice. Believe me, I've tried!

I got moving after about 3 minutes, heading down to another creek crossing. I could see runners on the trail ahead of me as I crossed the easy creek. A bit of a steep section, and then back and forth over and in another little creek. John and I had tried to divert a side creek from flowing over the trail during trail marking last year, but obviously those efforts were completely fruitless.

Coming out into a big valley, I recalled the wonderful calm morning I had had last year while pacing John. Good memories, putting me in a good mood. In fact, it hit me that being there was rather surreal - this is a feeling I had several times during the race. Having been on the course in various ways over the past 3 years, now being there actually DOING THE RACE, it was hard to understand sometimes.

Then another storm blew in, breaking my reverie and this time dropping rain in such a fashion that I decided to get covered up. Before it hit I stopped to drink Spiz, dump rocks from my shoes, and then again to get out my little poncho to ward off some of the rain.

A couple guys passed me, but eventually the pack got rather spread out across the valley. It was probably good there wasn't anyone near me, as my plastic poncho was blowing all around and making a tremendous racket in my ears. Or maybe that's why no one was near me. Or maybe it only sounded loud to me. These were the things I pondered.

I was also hoping not to have to deal with lightning over the next Divide crossing, but I figured it was still a ways ahead and by then the sun would be back. That's pretty much what happened. Top of the climb, yay! Sunshine again, yay!

I passed a group of folks and one of them mentioned that I was an adventure racer - I wonder if that was Robert but I didn't stick around to chat. I was feeling good again and having a fine time along the high meadows. I passed "Marmot Rock" but didn't see or hear any of the furry creatures. Down to the willow bog, a brief question about the trail crossing the creek, then I found markers again going around a rock pile.

It was nice getting into the woods for a while, and I wondered how warm the afternoon would get. I was also getting low on water, having misunderestimated just a bit at the previous aid station. I was too low on the mountain to be real excited about pulling water from the creek, and also uninspired to stop to treat it. I figured I could handle it for the downhill run.

So I probably would have felt a little better on this downhill if I had been better hydrated, but as it was it seemed to go on a bit longer than was comfortable. I guess it was going to stop being all fun and games sometime :)

A guy I believe is named Chris came bombing past me on the downhill, not sure how he got behind me for that matter. Switchbacks, nice trail, enjoyable afternoon, making plans for the next aid station because I need to pee and I need some water...

Finally there was the trail register - almost there! The Sherman aid station, I knew, absolutely rocks. They started with menu signs posted on trees so you can work up your order on the way in. Fruit smoothies - gotta try me one of those!

I crossed a beautiful bridge and there was the aid station, awesome.

Sherman aid station = 9:15 total time, approx 89th place

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