Thursday, July 17, 2008
Ahhh, Hardrock. Wild and tough! This is it....this is my summit of all the summits, this is what I point towards from the day I return from Silverton. All training, races and rest days point to this run.
Run? How much do we really run? I know I ran all the downhills up until Telluride and even some after that, but the runs gradually became run/walks then a walk faster than I could run. Plus this isn't a race against our fellow competitors, but just a run. The Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run.
Going into this year's run, I knew I had to change something. I finished in 2001, then dropped or got pulled in the last 5 attempts. Something always got me....heat, altitude, injury...this year something had to change, so I decided to put the splits of a 48 hour finish on my hand and stay as close as I could to those until I got over Handies, the big climb at around mile 65. Then I would move as best I could and get it done. All went as planned and I had my best Hardrock I have ever had in the 7 years I've been coming here. Here is the story:
Silverton to Telluride
At the sound of Dale Garland, RD, telling us to go, we started...Kyle Skaggs sprinting off around the corner and many of us just casually walking out of town. Gerry Roach was filming the start and sidled up along side me and I said to him "What's the hurry, I have two days!". I left town in last place, or so I thought....soon Mike Ehrlich came jogging up the road saying something about not being ready to go yet.
The beginning of the run was very uneventful... After crossing Mineral Creek, I walked and talked with many of my friends I've made over the years as we gradually made our way up to Putnam and the first 13'er of the day. My goal was to stay relaxed.... like a stroll in the park. I was trained, acclimated somewhat and rested. Walking up the first mountain seemed much easier than in the past years and I was thinking that maybe my attitude was what was helping me more than anything else. Drink, eat, walk....that was the mantra for this first day of the most difficult 100 mile trail race in the country, maybe the world.
Soon we were at the KT aid station that I walked in with Joe Prusaitis...I grabbed a small sandwich, got my bottles filled and when I got going (in about 5 minutes) Joe was already several hundred feet away from me.
I took many pictures along the way which helped me relax. The climbs felt easy, not like year's past when I was actually trying to race this thing and soon I was climbing up towards Grant Swamp Pass on the scree trail. In front of me was a struggling Chris Twiggs who has several finishes here. Chris had gone out a little too fast and was in trouble with a sick stomach....I told him I had been there and to relax, maybe even stop and drink nothing but water until he gets his stomach back.
On the final climb up the last stretch I caught up to Kristina Irvin, who also has several finishes here. Kristina is a strong climber and I watch her easily walk up to the top.
When I reach the top there is some activity up there....there was a Mountain Goat up there very interested in we runners. I found this interesting because I got on the Wasatch Speedgoat Mountain Running Team this year and the Mountain Goat is our mascot. Good omen, I thought.
I take the plunge down the steep scree going by a runner who was timidly sliding on his butt, then rapidly catching another runner who looked not too sure about himself on this steep and loose scree. It was Greg Loomis and I said to him "Come on, Greg, you know how to do this!". At the bottom Greg had tears in his eyes, not those of fear but of overwhelming emotions of what he had just done while being surrounded by the beauty of the San Juan Mountains.
Also sitting on the bottom removing stones from their shoes was Liz Bauer and Scott Brockmeier. Their plan was to stick together for the run, which is always hard. Deb and I don't even try that anymore. They left and soon I was running along with Patty Bryant and Greg Loomis, we eased on down the hill into the Chapman aid station where they couldn't find my drop bag, but eventually did. While getting my water bottles filled, I made sure to eat some food and to take a small baggie of munchies with me because the section coming up is one of the downfalls of mine, the Oscar's Pass Road.
Oscar's Pass Road is usually hot, sunny and buggy....also very steep and rocky. Usually by the time I reach the top of this climb I am nauseous and wondering how the heck I'm going to get through this run. I start up the road with Robert Andrulis and he shadows me all the way up as we stop in the shady spots to let the heart rate come down and try to keep this under control. Chuck Wilson cranks by us with the clickety clack of his climbing poles. I felt like I was in a Star Wars episode with all the climbing pole runners going by.
Switchback after sunny switchback, soon the clouds roll in and we get a nice breeze. After several snowfield crossings, I am at the top and just keep moving. Other than 2001, this is the first time I reached the top of this climb feeling good. The easy pace helps, but the cooler temps helped too.
At the top you cross a snowfield and head down the Wasatch Trail into Telluride. this is a really pretty trail with water roaring alongside and flowers everywhere. Well, it's usually like that....this year most of the top is snow fields and very wet. My feet are soaked! In here somewhere I come upon John Cappis taking pictures and while talking with him, Greg and Robert catch back up and we ease down the road together.
We jog into the Telluride aid station feeling great. Here I am like a machine....Jean Jacques, aid station captain helps me by getting me a cup of delicious broccoli and cheese soup, which I gulp down, he gets me another then fills my bottles with water in one and my maltodextrin in the other. I refill my baggie of cookies, candy and peanuts for the next stretch.
Telluride to Ouray
I leave Telluride with Rick Hodges, but soon I am with Greg Loomis again as Rick cranks up the steep hill up to Mendota Saddle. This is another really steep jeep road that winds it's way up and after a quick pit stop in the woods, I see Greg waiting for me up ahead. We climb up into the scree of Mendota and go by a very vocal vomiting by Chuck Wilson. His vomiting echoed all throughout the canyon and mountain walls and reminded me to stay the easy course or you'd be doing that, too.
Soon We reached Kroger's canteen, now officially renamed from Virginius. Chuck Kroger was the initiator of this remote aid station and after finishing Hardrock many times, he passed away from cancer last Winter. Chuck was a true Hardrocker...
We didn't stay here very long due to the cold breeze, but we did put our pants and jacket on for the many snowfield glissades that were coming up.
The aid station volunteer recommended not glissading, but it is still the best way to get down so glissade I go. I wait down the bottom for Greg and we move on to the next and then the next. One of them is very steep and a little rocky, so I decided to let Greg and Robert go ahead...I wish I had taken a picture of Greg because it was quite funny when he started to go sideways almost hitting the rocks, he shifted his weight and flew down between the rock fields, then lying motionless at the bottom as I came down behind. Man was this fun or what???
We then jogged down the good jeep road down into Governor's Basin aid station and took the time to eat again, even though they didn't have much. It's a long 7 mile road stretch coming up and I told them both that I was not going to run the whole thing and blow up my legs....it's too early! So we jogged down and walked all the flats and ups, which weren't many. Joe Prusaitis caught up to us about halfway down. Joe is a great downhill runner and also weighs in the range of 200 pounds, so he just flies. Joe backs off a bit and stays with Greg and I as Robert takes off down the hill. Soon Joe couldn't take it anymore and he goes off after Robert as I tell Greg to relax and enjoy it, we aren't even at 50 miles yet!
I wanted Greg to experience the new section by letting him take the lead into town. We go over a grated bridge that is hundreds of feet above the river, then through a tunnel, then down a steep trail into Ouray. It was great and Greg loved it!
Into the Ouray aid station we go and I tell Greg to fuel up because one of the longest climbs is coming up, plus the first night was here also. I sat behind Greg and had my usual 2 cups of soup while watching him eat his belly full, then wash it down with a large shake. Man, Greg always could eat tons during these events, I'm lucky if i can barely put enough in to get me to the next aid or I'll get sick. Charlie Thorn, Steve Patillo and Bert Meyer help me here and let me know that Deb is within 30 minutes of me....this brings a smile to my face :-)
Ouray to Grouse Gulch
The climb up to the Engineer aid station is the longest in the race, I believe....it is also at night (for most of us) and the trail is tricky as it winds along a trail cut into the side of a cliff that is probably 2-3 feet wide and has a 400 foot drop of one edge.
As Greg and I begin the climb he has to stop several times to take care of business and finally he tells me he has to sit for a bit. I was thinking that maybe he has put too much into his gut and he agreed. I moved on and felt so good that I decided to start my move now instead of waiting until after Handies. I moved quickly up the trail and was passing quite a few of the runners, finally reaching Robert Andrulis again. I told him I was feeling good and he yelled out something about me climbing well as his light disappeared behind me.
As I neared the aid station, I was getting aggravated with all the stream crossings....my feet were soaked, it was getting really cold up here and yes, I'll admit it was starting to get just a little bit tired. I put everything on I had to try to keep warm and soon could smell the wood smoke of the aid station. I was planning on just passing through but one of the runner's said to me "The Hot Chocolate is the Bomb!" So I asked for a hot chocolate and stood by the fire to keep warm. After 5 minutes, I threw my cup in the fire and yelled "154 out!"
(There are no pictures here because it is nighttime)
I slowly climbed up to the top of Engineer's Pass in the cold wind and crossing the snowfields...wet, cold, tired and it was dark. This sucks....but I finally reach the top and knowing the course quite well, I knew where to go. In front of me was Jack Jewell and his wife and they were a little more concerned yelling back to me asking if they were going correctly. I think maybe we could use some markers up here as there were none whatsoever! I really hate this section....it's all road, it's in the dark, it's cold and it's long....8 miles I think. But soon I see the Grouse Gulch aid station and wander in. This is the lowest I've felt in the run and I slump into a chair and ask for some soup, any kind of soup. We have Handies up next and it the long and the highest hill yet to get over at a little over 14,000 feet. After sitting for what seems like forever with the medics keeping an eye on me, I walk slowly out of the aid station and up the switchbacks to American Basin.
Grouse Gulch to Sherman
I really didn't feel good here, I left the aid station with the now rejuvenated Chris Twiggs and his wife and he looked like I felt. Tired and just a little sick to my stomach. I knew this would come eventually, it always does....but it's now my place to nip it in the bud and not let it get any worse...so I sipped my water and electrolytes to keep the stomach happy, which it did, but I couldn't climb well anymore. The top half of my lungs were burning and any deep, heavy breathing caused the pain to increase. I think this was due to lungs that weren't totally acclimated, the colder air and the dust in the air. I struggled to the top of Handies passing some and getting passed by some. I started here to have doubts about finishing, but knew once I reached the top it would be easy again...relatively.
I reached the top after about 4 hours of climbing and started down, easy at first, but soon I was able to jog off and on and do my half walk/half jog ultra shuffle, which isn't much slower than my jog. Near the bottom of Grizzly Gulch I came upon Larry Hall (Fellow Goat) and his wife Beth Simpson. Larry was seeing double and couldn't move well on the rocky trails. Another who caught me, David Larson, was moving well so I latched onto him and followed him down into Burrows Park and the road to Sherman. This road is always a negative experience....usually hot and sunny with many jeeps and other vehicles kicking up dust in the air and it was no different this year other than the fact that I was feeling strong again and was moving well. Up ahead was Kristina and several other runners who I reeled in, then David recaught me and we ran the shortcut trail down to the road into Sherman together. As David and I walked in together I could hear aid station captain Annette Anthony yelling out my name. She had reserved a seat for me next to her and Rickie Redland. Rickie was moving out, so I sat and talked with Annette about her knee surgery, Deb's progress in the run and my run so far.
Sherman to Maggie
I bid Annette well, grabbed a Popsicle after my cup of soup and moved on up the Cataract Creek trail, a series of switchbacks up to the Pole Creek section of the course. Along the way I climbed up with David Terry initially until he pulled ahead. My climbing still was failing me, possibly due to living low again. Even though I had come out a little less than 2 weeks before the run, I still think you need a lot more than that to compete with anyone who is fitter or lives higher. This one of the reasons I need to move back to NM!
Up on top I crossed the stream and made my way into the wet swampy ground and willows of Pole Creek and Cataract Lake section. Here David Larson caught back up and after talking I found out that he and David Terry were up with the leaders earlier in the day, but got sick and spent many hours in the tent at Grouse. I do not belong with these great and much faster runners, but this is Hardrock and we are all equals here.
As David Larson and I walked along, we agreed to try to keep up a strong walking pace (about 3 mph) and see how it works. After all 3 mph can get you a 33 hour finish here, right? This was working as we started to pass runners who were also walking or even jogging slowly. First we caught and passed Jack Jewell, then David Terry, then Rickie Redland, then Kris Kern (a friend from NM) and finally on the final climb my VHTRC bud, Keith Knipling, who came out the day before from Virginia. Keith had experienced Hardrock non acclimated in 2001 and suffered mightily and it looked like the same was happening here. I gave Keith a hug and wished him a strong finish.
David and I reached the summit after he asked me to take the lead for awhile and I guess I went a little too hard because I barfed at the top. There was no real nausea or sickness, it was just the Popsicle that had to come up after working that hard. David stopped for a pit stop while I waited and we jogged down into Maggie. From now on I could not take anything else into my stomach....it had had enough. So all I did was sip tiny amounts of water with electrolytes in it.
Maggie to Cunningham
David and I climbed up and up the steep grassy slope as we left Maggie to the Green Mountain section of the course. This was so steep I (we) had to stop to rest every now and then...then when we reached the top, David was standing there looking around. It was gorgeous. I showed him exactly where we were going next and which peaks we had to climb and he then changed his goal of sub 40 hours to get in when he can get in.
It was now late afternoon on day two, I am tired( as all the runners still in the race are) and my lungs are on fire. Time to just keep moving forward and get it over with...and try to get into Cunningham before dark. One positive is I know the rest of the course very well, so David falls in behind me and follows. As we reach Stony Pass we come upon a runner who doesn't know the way, so he falls behind David. When we reach the summit of Green Mountain, David asks where the route goes, I showed him and he took off. I didn't see him again until the awards breakfast the next day.
This particular section is really pretty and I feel fortunate to see it as the sun sets and I take several pictures while I still have light to do so.
As I step down the sheep trail off of the ridge on the final descent into Cunningham, I misstep on the narrow foot wide grassy trail and do a split, twisting my knee. OK, Steve, slow down and relax....
I finally make my way down into Cunningham, listening to the cheers for those coming into the aid station before me. It is getting dark and Gary Knipling, who dropped earlier, came out to greet me. He also tells me the sad news that Deb didn't get beyond Sherman...Bummer.
Cunningham to Silverton
As I come into the aid station, Charlie Thorn greeted me and helped me with getting a cup of soup. I filled only one bottle because I wasn't drinking much anymore and walked to the river crossing with Charlie as a guide. He asked if I had plenty of batteries and 2 lights and I said yes, but that I was real sleepy. Carol Gerber with pacer Rock Cogar head out ahead of me...
As I started up the switchbacks, I realized it was now dark enough for my light, so I turned that on. One more section....9 more miles....it's 9PM, do I know where my brain is?
No, I don't....my eyes want to close, my legs no longer want to climb. I take a No-Doz with a tiny sip of water to keep from throwing it up....good, it stayed down. I took 5 steps and stopped and it was like this all the way to the top. A few times I sat down on a boulder and immediately started to fall asleep and woke when I fell backwards. At times the shadows from the clumps of grass or bushes looked like spiders running towards my feet and I'd jump as my tired brain could no longer make any sense of what it was seeing. Other times in the halo of the light I'd see an Aspen trunk and lean on it to find there wasn't one there and I'd fall. This was a struggle....how would I ever get to the top? I would occasionally look up and see the lights of runners ahead of me, far, far away....I'd look down and see the lights of runners coming up. Surely they will catch me, I'm moving so slow! A really cool sight was looking across Cunningham Gulch at the trail on the other side that I had just come down and saw the lights of the runners who had yet to come into Cunningham, surely worried if they were going to make it in time.
With all the struggling and internal whining, I did finally reach the summit and was never concerned that in the manual it says that if you are going to die from a fall, this is where it's going to happen.
After reaching the summit, the only area of concern is a near vertical slippery slope on the trail where I fell during course marking a week ago when I was fresh. I reached that area and did slide all the way down it, but didn't fall much. Well I did go down but stopped myself with my hands. Now it was just a matter of getting down as quickly as I could with what I had left. I kept looking behind to see if any lights were coming, but none yet....by the time I reached the junction where the trail meets the road I counted seven lights near the top. Time to get moving as best as I could. I started to run down the road, looking for that crucial left turn to Arrastra Creek. Down, down down....passing Carol and Rock on the way. I reach the trail and cross the eery looking Arrastra Creek. Now there's no messing around and I put my light on high mode for the flood light effect. Not taking any chances at taking a wrong turn while running....it did help that the No-Doz has finally kicked in!
Every now and then I would see a glimpse of the lights of the sleeping town of Silverton. No time to waste, keep moving....cross the water, right through it, who cares...my feet have been wet all day anyway!
There it is, the Ski slope...not far now. I jog down the hill and walk up the road over the river, then past the Wyman Hotel. The town is so quiet....but I know that once I turn down Reese Street there will be someone who will yell "Runner!" and I'll have to start running. So I do....I take the left turn onto Reese St., run by the Hardrock House where I've been staying the past 2 weeks. Jog down the road towards the light and ....the Rock! Incredibly even though it's nearing 1:30AM, there are still people, family and friends waiting for their runners to come in. I get to enjoy their cheers because I happen to come in before them. I run up to the rock and kiss the top of it, glad to be done. Dale puts the medal around my neck with a "Congratulations, Mr Pero!" and all I can say is "DAMN!".
After a few moments of taking in all of what was surrounding me, I realize that this weekend, this is my moment. No other runners are finishing and everyone is looking at this weary runner who just came in. Hans Dieter, who had come in several minutes before me, shakes my hand with a congratulations. Joyce Prusaitis escorts me into the gym and wraps me in a sleeping bag as I talk with other runners who had come in before me. It was done....Carol Gerber then comes in and we sit and chat. it's over...time to go join my wife, Deb in bed so we can do the long drive back to NH.
As I sit writing this I am still reflecting on what went right...what did I do that made this one seem so much easier. The pace! It's all about pacing yourself...so that is what I will do in all the coming Hardrocks.
Thanks goes to Dale, Charlie, John, Lois and all the other people involved with Hardrock. Also to all the volunteers who spend hours, days serving us. Also to all my friends who I got to share the trail with....also to my wife, Deb, for without all her cooking the week before the race, we would not have had all of that great food we had.
To see all the photos I took during the run, go here.
Until next year....