Saturday, July 21, 2012

Hardrock 2012 Report and Breakup Letter

Business first:
Oh Hardrock how I love thee. From your majestic mountains to your warm and friendly family you bring together each summer, your allure is hard to escape. Your stunning scenery leaves me just as breathless as your 13,000' passes. Never has an event stripped me to my core, exposed every emotion from high to low, and left me so elated when it was over. We first met 3 years ago when I was unable to secure a spot on the start line and of course I felt scorned, but you repaid me in kind with two consecutive entries, and I thank you. As much as I love you though, the time has come for me to say goodbye. I don't plan on staying away forever, in fact I might be back next year to run with a friend or maybe to just come hang out and not have the pressure of the watch ever present. Either way I won't be toeing the start line for several years. Embrace the new runners and make them work for that finish just as you have the other 604 runners that have finished the Wild & Tough Hardrock 100. There, I said it, now I can move on.
Descending toward Cunningham AS mile 90. Photo: Greg Norrander

The Report:
After last year I at least had an idea of what I was getting myself into and I prepared appropriately by logging more vertical than I ever have and putting in many long runs. Arriving in Silverton on Wednesday I felt a nervous anticipation but nothing like the previous year. It was great catching up with the Hardrock family and meeting new people, something I never grow tired of. Getting through the pre-race check-in and meetings just left me with a desire to get it on with it. I was tired of waiting and my mood started to show it.

Finally race morning arrived and I walked down to the start with Karl. We had traveled down together and spent much of the last two days together preparing for the big loop in the San Juans. I laughed as we strolled down the dirt road to the gym and the start line, we were both wearing our puffy jackets trying to make it seem colder than it really was, a balmy 50 something. The laugh was a nervous one because we both knew that it could end up being a scorcher.

Signed in and ready to go I gave a quick kiss to Betsy, waited on the final countdown, then we were off. I never, ever, get tired of that feeling when I finally get to leave the start line, it just feels so good to finally let go of all the nervous energy. I started slow and hiked the very first climb we came to as I positioned myself in the top 30 or so. Like any ultra, the early miles rolled by easily but unlike other ultra's I held back and kept a very cautious pace. Coming through KT I was one minute off my pace, which was good, but I decided to take the climb up to Grant Swamp very easy. On the way I saw Betsy, Cheryl and Ben who had gone for a hike and took some pictures.
Climbing up to Grant Swamp Photo: Betsy Johnson
I told Betsy I would see her in Telluride and kept my steady pace up to the pass. Near the top I glanced around and I couldn't believe how many people were up there just hanging out cheering on everyone in the race. Evan Honeyfield was one of them and he quickly pointed the way down the other side as I did a dirt/rock glissade down.

At Chapman I was about 5 mins down on my pace and that actually made me feel good. I had consciously slowed down and still felt great at the 4:40 mark since I had been sticking to the plan, eating solids and drinking as much as I could stand. The biting flies at Chapman kept me moving not only out of the aid station but all the way up the climb to Oscar's Pass at 13,000'. Brian Fisher reeled me in at the top and together we picked our way down Bridal Veil basin as the clouds rolled in. Everything was still great and even improving as the temperature started to fall and the rain started coming down. By the time we hit Telluride it was a full on down pour but it didn't really matter as it still felt good. At the aid station I was still perfectly on my splits but I decided to take 10 mins in the aid station to make sure I was ready for the big climb up to Virginius Pass. I hate wasting time in aid stations but at a race like Hardrock if you get it wrong and leave without enough calories your race can fall apart and we all know what the pain cave looks like.

The climb up to Virginius is relentless and steep but thankfully the cool temperatures stuck around after the rain stopped about midway up. Near the top I found Tim Long who had gone a bit off course and Krissy Moehl just behind me. I grabbed some calories from Roch Horton and the hearty crew up at Virginius and then hit the scree again on my way down to Governor Basin Aid station. I spent 5 minutes there cleaning out my shoes and getting some more calories before getting out just before Krissy and Tim. The pace I was holding felt pretty good until they caught up to after a mile or so then I decided I could run faster without extending myself too far. We all hit Ouray at the same time and once again I was right on my splits but I decided to get some calories down and spent another 15 mins in the aid station while they got out in front of me.

Getting to Ouray felt great, not only because it's the lowest altitude on course at 7,800' or so, but I was also able to see Betsy and pick up Greg for some company. Last year Greg joined me at this same point heading in the opposite direction and my mood was pretty somber. This time around I was feeling much better and I was anxious to get up to Engineer and down to Grouse. Betsy let me know that Erik was on his way down from Salt Lake and I remember giving her this puzzled kind of look and right at that moment  my friend David Hayes showed up looking really good which made me happy. I told him to come catch me and then I checked out of the aid station. We weren't even halfway yet (mile 46) but I was confident because I was feeling so much better than last year.
Feeling a little rough around the edges in Ouray. Photo: Betsy Johnson
The trail leading out of Ouray to the point where the trail starts up Bear Creek is always longer than I expect and shortly after crossing the highway Greg reminded me it was time to eat something again.
Climbing up to the highway crossing leaving Ouray. Photo: Betsy Johnson
I opened up one of my bars and took a big bite and swallowed it down no problem, then seconds later I could tell it was coming back up. I have no idea why or what triggered the sudden reaction but it was my first puking episode of the run and it was right on queue at the 50 mile mark. Greg and I acknowledged it but didn't dwell on it and got back to the business at hand, Engineer Pass. The light slowly faded as we ascended higher and higher and I waited until it was absolutely dark before breaking out the headlamp. The rest of the way up to the aid station was pretty steady but David caught us just before we arrived. We both took our time and put down some broth and soup before tackling the last part of the climb to get over the 13,000' pass. I was down on calories and my pace near the top showed it. To make matters worse there was a "superfan" of the race waiting for us at the top and screaming at the top of his lungs "now that's what I'm talkin' bout, git'r done", over and over. Turns out he had a full bar loaded in his van and offered us a drink as we passed by, I didn't have anything nice to say so I didn't say anything at all.

The Grouse aid station slowly came into view as I tried to keep a steady pace on the descent but too much running and my stomach would start to get tight, so I alternated walk breaks in all the way down.
David Hayes and I fueling up in Grouse. Photo: Betsy Johnson
Betsy met me up the road just bit and walked me into the aid station where David was already sitting down and Tim was laying down covered in an awfully cute kitty blanket. Then I heard a familiar voice and looked over to see Erik. That was awesome. He told me he was going to run with David which I thought was super cool. After 30 minutes of stuffing food in I got up and left for the most intimidating and hard section of the run. Grouse to Sherman is 13.4 miles and travels over the high point of the race, Handies Peak at 14,048'. This is also the section where my race feel apart last year, so to say I was feeling a little nervous would be an understatement. 

I set a nice steady pace all the way up the initial climb and when we reached the ridge before descending into American Basin Greg reminded me to eat again. I threw down a couple of Gu Chomps without thinking about it and seconds later I had the same feeling as before, they wanted to get back out. This time I decided to fight it and proceeded to do some deep fast breathing and sat down to get my heart rate down. A few minutes later it passed and I was fine, disaster averted. Back on track, I glanced up and saw the headlamps in front of us makiing their way up to the peak. It still seemed a long way off but a short time later I was standing on the final ridge with a steady 20mph wind pushing me sideways, making my way to the summit. I pointed out the spot where I puked on the peak last year and quickly got off that beast. At Hardrock it is vital to get down as quickly as possible. The body is completely stressed at altitude and as Betsy Nye told me last year "You aren't doing yourself any favors hanging out at the top". Sure enough, as soon as would lose some altitude everything would start feeling better. David was also feeling well as he picked up the pace and passed me on the descent. Before reaching Sherman I caught up to Krissy and found out she was having a hard time getting any food down which was a real bummer.

The Sherman aid station allowed me another chance to get some solid fuel down and prepare for another long 9 mile section. David and I left at about the same time but it was pretty clear he was starting to really feel good and he power hiked away from me. It would be the last time I would see him until the finish. I left Sherman a little after 5am and the early morning light made me feel a little better initially but around 6am I started to crumble a little bit mentally. I had been out for 24 hours and it was likely going to take another 10 to reach the finish. That's a tough thing to accept at that point in the run, but I kept repeating "the more I run the sooner I'll get there". At mile 81 Pole Creek came and went like a blurry dream and then the descent to Maggie Gulch at mile 85 was quickly upon us. My quads were starting to feel completely fried on every descent and I started to experience some patellar knee pain. I tried to analyze why they would be hurting and Greg just simply replied "maybe it's because you've descended 30,000' so far". Yeah, that might do it.

At Maggie I was pleasantly surprised to see Betsy who had ran in with Suzanne so she could take over from Erik and run with David to the finish.
Betsy, somewhere in Maggie Gulch. Photo: Suzanne Lewis
Greg was off getting supplies for the next leg and I asked Betsy if she would like to run the last 9 miles from Cunningham to the finish. Betsy has never paced me but I knew she would enjoy seeing the course and experiencing the run from my perspective. She said sure and sent me on my way up a brutal 1,200' climb out of the aid station. Billy Simpson was trailing behind us by a bit and eventually caught us while we were traversing across the top. He got in front of us briefly then turned around and pointed straight ahead "best view on the whole course, the Grenadiers". And he was right, they were spectacular and I probably would have missed them if he hadn't said something.
Billy Simpson and I at the top of Maggie Gulch. Photo: Greg Norrander
More climbs and descents and I finally laid my eyes on the beast, Dives Little Giant. I had been thinking about this climb since I found out I was doing the run, 2,700' in 3 miles, topping out at 13,000'. I was tired but a little hail storm on the descent to the aid station urged me along in a timely manner.
Ridge running at it's best. Dives Little Giant is on the right. Photo: Greg Norrander

Betsy was all ready to go and after a quick re-fueling I was on my way. Finishing at this point was a forgone conclusion as I glanced down at my watch and figured out I had a little less than 3.5 hours to get to the finish if I wanted to stay under 34 hours.
Greg and I at Cunningham. Coke and broth to get me to the finish. Photo: Betsy Johnson
As silly as it sounds I was actually quite proud of myself for having the mental capacity to do some simple math as I started up the steep the climb. I could tell Betsy was super excited to be running this last section because she was talking non-stop until I increased the pace and let the altitude go to work. The strong hike I was holding in the first half started to falter near the top when the 12k gorilla jumped on my back one last time. I took a few breaks and watched Brett Gosney close in on us. With a few hundred feet to the top Betsy and I joined up with Brett and Missy to make the final push up King Solomon Mountain and finish off the last climb of the day. I felt a great sense of relief looking down into Little Giant Basin and took off straight away down the rocky narrow descent while Brett stopped to stretch out a cramp.
Betsy and I at 13,000' on top of Dives Little Giant. Photo: Missy Gosney
The clouds slowly grew darker and shortly after getting off the trail and on the long dirt road the skies opened up once again with a very refreshing afternoon shower. The rain lasted all the way down to the stream crossing when it suddenly stopped and by the time we hit the rolling singletrack the sun was shining and forest was shimmering light all around us. I couldn't have scripted a better ending, running with Betsy in the final miles through a stunning landscape. 

We exited the forest and as soon as the Kendall Ski lodge came into view I started to get a little emotional. Running through town I couldn't believe it was going to be over, I was relived but also saddened that the great adventure would be finished. I gave Betsy a quick kiss with a block or two to go and let my emotions carry me down the finishing chute where I kissed the rock. I looked up at the clock: 33 hours 44 minutes and just like that Hardrock was over.
The Rock. Finished. Photo: Betsy Johnson
I can't end this report without thanking the Hardrock family, including the board, the committee, all the aid station volunteers, and communications folks for taking such good care of us runners. Greg is one of the best friends I have I can't thank him enough for dealing with my ornery ass for countless hours, I hope I get to repay you soon, thanks Greg. Thanks to my family for supporting me not only during the race but all the time spent preparing for the big loop in the San Juans. Betsy is my best friend, the best crew I could ask for (even if she did drink my last red bull :) and it was really special to share the trail with her over the last 9 miles. Goodbye Hardrock, I already miss you.

Memories of Hardrock:
Somewhere after Stony Pass. Photo: Greg Norrander
Top of Maggie Gulch chasing Billy Simpson. Photo: Greg Norrander
Descending toward Maggie Gulch. Photo: Greg Norrander
Early morning in Cataract Gulch. Photo: Greg Norrander


JimM said...

Congratulations Christian! I ran a little with Betsy at the Millcreek night run and heard a bit about it. She was so excited that she was able to run those last miles with you. Sounds like a good time was had by all.

Nick said...

Job well done Christian, on the race and report

Missy B. said...

Congratulations on an awesome Hardrock, Christian!

Jay said...

Congrats on taming Hardrock! Sounds like you ran a patient and disciplined race - not easy to do at Hardrock. And, so cool that Betsy got to join you for the final miles.

peter said...

I suspect that you may still have a fling with Hardrock. I saw the way you kissed the Rock. It is kind of you to open the door for another lover.
Seriously, congratulations. 2 starts, 2 finishes. Superb.

Erik said...

I agree with Peter, another fling is in the future. I was psyched to be able to witness first hand a text book finish. You did exactly what you needed to have a strong finish and give that rock a kiss. Congrats!!

FastED said...

Great report Christian! I also really like Greg's pics, always captures the moment. Glad you had such a great race but sorry to see you are breaking up, totally understand. See you next year in Silverton!

Matt Hart said...

Nice job Christian!
This is a little awkward - but, do you mind if I ask her out?

Christian said...

Thank you for the kind words. Peter, Erik, you are right, I'll be back but it will be few years.
Matt, go ahead an ask her out, I'll put in a good word for you, but no guarantees Mr. Tahoe Rim 100 winner.