Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hardrock - Sherman to Grouse

I'll try not to go on and on about the awesomeness of the Sherman aid station... It started when one guy was assigned just to me - he found me a seat in the shade and asked what I wanted. I started with a cup of water and a trip to the bathroom (the best bathroom on the course, thank you). Then we sat together so he could take my order. My drop bag was already laid out on the table, including my little note to myself tucked in front where I could see it. These folks are professionals.

He filled my bottles and brought the promised fruit smoothie (yes, yum!) and some banana and watermelon. I put my backup headlamp in my bag (because I was doing OK but not on supersonic pace), plus my waterproof jacket and a couple pieces of warmer clothing. John had convinced me not to carry my jacket from the start, but I wasn't giving it up from now on. I changed socks for the first time, ahh how nice. Dry feet were in the forecast for the near future and I looked forward to that.

The aid station guy (I should have asked his name) asked what else I needed, and I started trying to explain the Spiz baggie and decided just to ask him to bring a pitcher of water so he could fill the baggie while I held it. That worked, and I was pretty much ready to go. Transitions would be a bit longer from here on, but there were too many important things to prepare for so I just tried to be efficient about it.

I looked across the way and saw Steve and Mark hanging out, plus I got to chat with Rick T. who was walking around talking to and helping people, so that was cool. Steve told me I was on a 39-hour pace or something, to which I replied that was only leeway for later. Right before I left, another runner staggered in and was about to be seating at my table. He told the lady that he was feeling the effects of altitude and preferred a quiet corner in case he got sick - OK then, I'll be walking outta here. I did appreciate his manners even when he wasn't feeling well.

One other story, then I really need to get going. At the medical check-in on Wednesday, the guy asked my age. Um, ... 41? This isn't something I keep close track of, obviously. His assistant asked when I was born, and we determined that I'm actually 42, heh. Then they asked where I'm from, another tough question. New York? Texas? I made up my mind to really know these answers in case I got grilled by medical personnel on the course.

So when a woman stopped by my table at Sherman and asked how old I was (her excuse was that "you look much younger!") - I made sure to check the info on my wristband before answering. I then noted that my super-helper was wearing an "EMT" shirt too. I think I had enough mental proficiency to actually use the phrase "mental proficiency" with him, so he let me continue...

And now it really is time to get going. After 15 super-useful minutes, I started walking/jogging down the dirt road. One short/steep trail climb and I was up on the jeep road toward the Handies trailhead. As much as I appreciated the gentle grade, occasional shade, dry feet, and beautiful day, I wasn't excited about this section. 4WD vehicles kept passing us in both directions, mostly driven by considerate folks but they couldn't keep all the dust and noise away. I was glad for some wind that swept most of it away fairly quickly and made it bearable.

One lady stopped to ask if we were related to the big tent on the other side of the mountain and were we doing a race? I think so and yes - she wished me luck, that was nice. A crew car passed me heading back over (one of the biggest reasons I wish runners would ask their crew NOT to come over to Sherman), then I saw it stop next to the runner up ahead of me. Eventually the car moved on, and I caught up to the guy. He asked me if they had offered me a ride - what? No, and that's weird. They told him "no one will ever know" (well, except me who would have seen him get in). He speculated that he must look in worse shape than me. I should have replied (my typical week-late rejoinder) that he must look a lot more attractive than me, actually. So that was strange.

I walked/ran up the road and was pleasantly surprised to reach the trailhead fairly quickly. A woman tried to direct me to the trail, but I ran by her to the restrooms for a quick break, nice timing. Then over the bridge to the stash of water jugs so I could refill my bottles before the long climb up the mountain. Steve and Mark passed me approximately here.

Time for a long climb - this one starts steep, but at least we were back in the woods mostly. My legs were getting tired, which seemed a little early to me but what do I know really? A couple guys passed me moving well, and I even got to help one of them get his backpack zipped back up. When I could eventually see the top of Handies Peak there were blue skies and sunshine above it. I remarked to myself that it would have been really nice to be there right now - not so much to get the climb over, but because it was perfect weather for being up high. All I could do was what I could do to get there and hope for the best from the skies.

I passed Steve who seemed to be having some kind of stomach issue, but the only thing we talked about was "3000 feet" - how much more climb remained before getting to the top. That actually turned out to the really useful (and not demoralizing) info for me. I converted it to meters and calculated that I might be able to get to the top by 7:30 pm. That should work for getting to Grouse not too much after 9 pm.

I was now moving slower than I had originally estimated, but this was actually a somewhat calculated move to try to let my legs recover a bit. I started to worry that I would run out of climbing power, like at Jemez last year which had been my first race at altitude for the summer. Not being able to climb would be a huge challenge in finishing Hardrock, so I needed to give up a bit of time to try to keep that from happening.

Eventually I made it above treeline, amusing myself by watching runners way ahead making their way up the slopes. I noted a group going straight up a snowfield, and others going up rocks to the right. That should be interesting. The trail started crossing little creeks and muddy spots, nothing too bad. I ended up with one wet shoe, but at least I could use the same shoe to get wet each time.

I came to the creek crossing where I wanted to fill a bottle - John and I had scouted it out and used it last year. The alternate creek didn't look nearly as orange this year, I imagine due to all the rushing snowmelt. But I still liked this creek the best. So I paused, moved water around and filled a bottle, dropped in a Micro-pur tablet, and was getting my stuff back together when another runner walked up to chat. We ended up taking turns following each other up the next section, neither moving particularly fast but both of us working as methodically as we could.

He was also wearing headphones, so he didn't say much (not that I was talking either), but at times I would turn around and he would smile at me so I'd smile back. That was so refreshing - most people were so focused or in a daze that I didn't see any reaction. I liked this guy's smile. He turned out to be Doug from Hawaii, very nice to meet you.

Up near the snowfield I paused to check the course markings. A couple years ago John and I had looked for an alternative to the snowfield in case either of us ever came upon it frozen over in the middle of the night. He helped me find an alternate way down some rocks and a bit of scree. And this year the course was actually using the "Marcy Reroute" - so, cool! I followed markers straight up the dirt slope. OK, this reroute was more intended in the downhill direction in my mind - uphill is kind of rough going straight up.

Almost to the ridge, a group of hikers were coming down and they seemed a bit excited, hopping down the mountain while singing "Come Sail Away" - the sane guy in front kind of apologized and I told him they may have some altitude loopiness going on (I'm quite familiar with this myself). No matter, the "music" was fun and they were considerate in passing me on their descent.

The wind picked up and the clouds started looking a bit ominous. No time to rest. Except I did stop to put on my jacket, buff, and overmitts. By the way, these overmitt things ROCK! Our friend Jeff suggested them for winter running, and I just happened to see them while packing for Colorado. They weigh almost nothing (1 oz per pair), so I even threw them in my running pack. It turns out they are da bomb for keeping hands warm. I put them on over my bike gloves whenever my hands got a bit chilly, and they kept my hands completely toasty and dry even in rain and wind and hail. Big and easy to use, worked fine with my poles, and my only concern was not letting them blow away when I took them off. Jeff had emphasized how you're stuck not being able to do anything if your hands are too frozen to function, and I took it to heart and boy did it work! (eVENT rain mitts from Mountain Laurel Designs, hope you don't mind a little plug here and there for the gear that helped me the most)

So I was warm enough heading uphill in the wind, but ohmygosh is it ever steep getting up to the top. Doug was following me now, smiling at me whenever I paused for a breather and looked back to see how he was doing. I couldn't help thinking of the talking dog, rephrasing it to "His name is Dug, I have just met him, and I like him." Deep breathing, a few more steps, choose a trail among the options through the loose stuff, breathe, step, breathe step. I started adding a slight pause after each step, just enough to mostly keep moving even though it was really slow.

Finally, finally, we made it to the top of the last steep pitch! I turned around to watch Doug clamber up so we could high five, yay! Wow, Handies had sure kicked my butt. We hustled over to the actual top of Handies and I took Doug's picture with his camera. It had started to rain, not sure how well the photo came out, but at least we tried. Dark clouds loomed, but at least there was no lightning, and it was even not quite 7:30 pm yet.

We started down the other side, which normally is rather bare but made easier by the rain packing down some of the loose dirt. I was ready to get lower where there was more oxygen and some shelter from the wind. I looked over to American Basin - holy cannoli, look at all that snow! It was as white as I'd ever seen it (in my limited experience here).

I ran carefully down the switchbacks, so thankful not to have any lightning issues up here. Some folks not long later were not so lucky, yikes, but everyone made it without another Lightning Bob incident this year. Further down I found a rock to squat behind, and further still I found a place to stop and mix a Spiz. There was still some work to do before Grouse.

Doug and I started across the traverse, which this year entailed many snow patches, lots of mud, very little actual "trail" (such as it is anyway), and more than a few challenges. I think Doug had the first busted trekking pole in the race that I saw, bummer. We post-holed a couple times, gave up trying to keep our feet dry, and focused instead on just keeping our feet under us. I was glad to know this section and be aware that it can take a while in the best of conditions.

At least it didn't rain much, that I remember anyway, and it was still light out. We made it around to the last steep climb out of the basin, phew, and started down the long valley toward Grouse. Doug had a radio strapped to the front of his pack and he began trying to reach his support folks at the aid station. I suspected it would still be a while before we'd be in range right above them.

Darkness gained on us, but I was still moving fine without a headlamp. We picked up the pace when we saw lightning and heard some thunder. More running, more lightning. I wasn't worried much about it, more not looking forward to the rainstorm that appeared to be heading in our direction. Running, lightning, thunder. Finally we stopped to get out our headlamps right as the rain seemed to be just on top of us. Yep, there it goes!

We got quite a drenching, slipping and sliding down the trail and trying to see ahead of us with the rain obscuring some of the light and making sparkles in front of my eyes that I sometimes mistook for lightning. I prefer a handheld light, but I wasn't giving up either pole in order to do that. The poles were really what was keeping me from falling on my butt, several times in this section.

The thunder got louder and closer, as we got lower and lower (thank goodness for that), and the rain kept coming down. Finally I could see the aid station lights below us, then a few easy switchbacks to the bottom, yay! Jason was there - Marcy? It's Marcy! It was great to see everyone. My crew whisked me away and Doug went a different direction - it was great travelling with you for a while, see ya!

Some daytime shots from Grouse aid station:

The trail comes down the side of this hill:


Still dry!

Happily, the rain started letting up by the time I arrived!

Grouse aid station = 15:20 total time, approx 84th place

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