It's not often that someone else's experience gets me the way a very personal experience would. But this year's Hardrock 100 pacing/crewing gig got me.
We drove out to Silverton, CO early Wednesday morning and met up with our runner, Brad K. of New Jersey, and embarked on what would end up being one heck of journey. I met Brad at the 2009 North Face Endurance Challenge 50M in Wisconsin, and we've been in touch since. When we saw his name on the entrants list, Geof and I excitedly offered to help him out at the race. Usually a solo runner, and having never used a crew or pacer before, he actually accepted the offer!
Brad finished the clockwise running of the 2012 Hardrock Hundred (HRH) and was lucky enough to make it through the lottery again this year for a counter-clockwise running of the HRH. "They" say you're not a "real" Hardrocker until you've run it both directions.
New goal: Not just a finish, but make sure Brad becomes a real Hardrocker. And keep our perfect HRH crew/pace record intact ;)
I get a little sniffly and my eyes a little misty recalling it all. Brad went through A LOT OF CRAP to earn his finish this year. And, as frustrating as things were at points, and as sleep-, coffee-, food-, and shower-deprived, as trembly as my quads were from all the squatting/not wanting to actually make contact with any of the gazillion port-o-johns I inhabited (hellllloooooo, I was drinking SO MUCH WATER), as achey as I was from our very long walk...I have nothing but rosy remembrances of the whole experience.
Isn't it funny how the mind works?
So anyway, after two delicious meals at Stellar Bakery and Pizzeria, a couple of shakeout runs, and a lot of nervous energy from our runner, we left the Wyman Hotel behind Friday morning for a full 48 hours and made our way to the gym and the start of the 2013 Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run.
I love seeing all the ripped legs, leathery skin, badass granny nannies and old goats, and seeing all the "celebrity" fasties milling about with the rest of us mere mortals. I freaking LOVE this place.
Everyone huddled together behind the start line and after a singing of the National Anthem, the runners were off into the foggy morning. Then we headed to Cunningham Gulch/Mi 9 to peep the front runners and start our crewing gig.
Brad is the one in blue...the only one in full focus. Not sure how I pulled that off :)
Brad came into Cunningham in great spirits and excited to see us. We did a quick pack swap and he was off. Our next stop would be Sherman/Mi 27ish, but we had told Brad we wouldn't be there since it required a two hour haul up and over Cinnamon Pass and we weren't sure we'd have time. Brad was insanely prepared and had drop bags at every crewed aid station just in case we were unable to make it to a station.
Turns out we had plenty of time. And, turns out Geof is an ultra groupie. But so am I, I just try to hide it ;) So, we made the extremely sllllloooooowwwwww drive up the stupidly gnarly and unsafe-at-best Jeep road over Cinnamon Pass (which was so beautiful!) and then down the other side and into Sherman Townsite. We caught glimpses of the front folks before I opted to crash in the back of the truck. I would be pacing beginning at the next aid station, Grouse Gulch/Mi 42, and we wouldn't have an opportunity to get back to the hotel for me to rest. After an almost 2-hour nap, I went back to check on the shenanigans up the road and collect a few more mosquito bites (because I didn't have enough yet). Brad rolled in eventually, still in good spirits and quite surprised to see us there, and we made quick business of getting him in and out of there. The next section involved summiting the high point of the race, Handies Peak (at just a hair over 14,000 ft.), and then a nice long downhill into Grouse Gulch.
Apparently, it was also to involve a lightening and hail storm, torrential downpour, a "slight" detour to the tune of about nine miles off course, an additional allotment of climbing (enough to equal another summit of Handies), running for your life, and blowing minds in the process. Well, at least that was Brad's experience.
I mean seriously, if I went off course for nine miles in the San Juans and rolled in HOURS behind schedule, and went through the mental mind-f*** of thinking I might die by lightening, I would be a basket case, and probably would be found days later in the fetal position on the side of some stream, talking in clicks. Not Brad. He rolled into Grouse around 10:30 p.m. and could NOT have handled the whole situation any better. Geof and I had been at Grouse for close to four hours, me sleeping in the truck and Geof standing out in the rain/cold the entire time, and had devised the script we would need to use for when Brad arrived. We assumed he would be trying to pull the plug and that we'd need to set him straight. Not so.
"That's him! Thatshimthatshimthatshim!!!" I shouted from the fog of our truck. He ran into the aid station full of adrenaline and good spirit.
Ready to tackle Engineer Pass and the Bear Creek Trail
I had no idea what was in store for me, but I knew I was pacing 14.5 miles, from Grouse Gulch to Ouray, and that it involved a nice climb up to Engineer Pass, and then a nice descent of the rather...treacherous...Bear Creek Trail. I recalled parts of the BCT from a pre-race hike with Gretchen last year. I'm just thankful we were covering it in the dark...so that I couldn't see exactly how far one could fall if they slipped off the narrow single track trail gouged out of the side of the mountain.
Brad was hurting. The adrenaline rush he had from going off course, recovering, then running for his life, wore off and left him completely spent, emotionally and physically. We walked the entire way up the Jeep road to Engineer Pass. Stomach issues were starting to plague him, and we needed to stop every so often to let a wave pass. We moved in silence most of the way up, only the rhythmic click-click-clicking of our trekking poles breaking the quiet. A very dense fog settled in after a couple of hours, making it difficult to see, which was slightly alarming seeing as we were switchbacking up a mountain. I kept to the outside and made sure Brad was safe against the mountainside. He was swerving and quite tired. Holding my headlamp in my hand, closer to the ground, allowed us to see better in the fog (thanks for that tidbit, Robert Andrulis!).
But before we cleared the fog, Brad embarked on: Mission: Vomitus Muchis.
I mean, bravo good sir, you puked like a champ! The stomach issues were really putting a damper on things for him, so he asked me if I thought puking would help. Of course it would. BUT, he would have to be willing to refuel shortly after clearing his system. He contemplated this for a little while, almost trying to bargain with me. He wasn't in the right headspace so I was really glad to be with him through all of this. These situations are why it is really good to have pacers/crew at these events; people who can help you make sound decisions. After some time passed he decided he was ready. I walked ahead, turned off my headlamp, and waited. Way to go Brad!! As soon as he finished emptying the entire contents of his body onto the side of the mountain, the first words out of his mouth were, "I really wish I'd given you my camera for that." Oh, how I love this sport, and everyone in it :) He felt better instantly.
Once we made it to the Pass, we ran the rest of the way into the aid station. It was a great downhill section, and I have no idea how long it was, but probably 20 minutes. It felt great to change it up. A change of batteries, some Tums and Ginger for Brad, observing the comatose body under the tent, and taking off a layer (it was warmer on that side of the mountain), we hit the Bear Creek Trail. Honestly, I don't know how people don't die during this race, or at least seriously maim themselves. Bear Creek starts out cute and sweet, running through fields of wildflowers, through streams, across waterfalls, and then slowly begins to morph into this thin strip of beautiful hell. In sections, it is just carved out of the side of the mountain and in the dark night all you can hear is the roaring of the very active river below you, your heart beat in your ears, and your mind screaming THIS IS SO NOT SAFE, YOUR MOM WOULD DIE IF SHE SAW THIS! Thank goodness for trekking poles. And thank goodness for worrying about someone else so that I didn't have time to fear for my life every time we had to scramble through sketch to continue on. We kept our headlamps on the trail only, and tried not to think about what we were doing. Brad caught me once turning my headlamp off-trail, glancing below. "I saw that! Don't look over the side!" :) It was comforting sharing the trail with him. He stayed in front and would navigate a dry line across streams, a safe route over boulders, and then shine his lamp for me so that I had extra light to get through the sketchy sections. He kept asking if I was okay. What a gentleman :)
After 13 switchbacks (everyone else swears it is 12, but I have now thrice counted 13...) we crossed over Hwy 550 and descended the Ice Park Trail and the confusion that is the final few miles into Ouray.
I was pooped. Those 14.5 miles took us just shy of 7 hours to cover. My glutes were sore. And after a 15 minute nap for Brad, learning that runners who leave Ouray after 5:30 a.m. (it was 5:32 when we arrived) had a 1% chance of finishing under 48 hours, "You ARE the 1%, Brad!", and convincing him that going back out was the only option, Geof and Brad strode into the sunrise.
Be the 1%, Brad, be the 1%.
Fast forward to Telluride.
I slept for two hours in the back of the truck, grabbed a coffee and bagel up the street, then camped out at the Telluride aid station. Around 2:30 p.m., the guys arrived. And Brad was looking like he was going to need some more convincing. I went about our usual motions, while he called a friend and his wife, Wendy.
At Telluride/Mi 72
A shoe change, a pack swap, a couple of pep talks later, we got him out of the chair. The next 10 miles, from Telluride to Chapman Gulch/Mi 82, he would be on his own. We were both spent and didn't think it would be prudent to head out with him. I felt drunk I was so tired, and Geof was even more sleep deprived than I was.
Be the 1%, Brad, be the 1%.
The look on his face says it all. He could not have been happy with us at this point...but he was a trooper, "What else am I going to do?" Exactly.
I felt a little choked up watching him walk out of the aid station. I felt bad that we had to push so hard to get him out, but at the same time that was our job. And he's been through this before. He knew that he'd regret not going back out, and I was super proud of him for continuing on despite it all.
Be the 1%.
We decided that for our own sanity that that would be the last time we'd convince him to go back out. From here on out, he would have to really want it. There was only one more crew accessible aid station, at Chapman, and we would let him drop there if he wanted to. We just didn't have it in us after Telluride.
Man, I was really, really hoping he'd pull through.
At Chapman Gulch, all the mosquitos that got kicked out of the rest of the state of Colorado for illegal doping were gathered for their annual meeting. And they were all hopped up! It was too hot to hide out in the truck, and it was too 'squito-y to spend too much time outside. So we were back and forth between sitting in the hot truck and standing outside with a small group of other crew/pacer-types staring at an empty road willing our runners to materialize. The clock was getting uncomfortably close to the cut-off time (9:00 p.m.) and we weren't feeling all that optimistic. But when Brad showed up practically skipping down the road we were on cloud 9! I don't know what changed, and it doesn't matter; that's what is so amazing about these events. Give it a little time and it will get better. Geof got geared up to head back out with Brad for the final 18 miles, and I was both sad and excited to see them go. He was going to do this, but not without a little work. It was 8:30 when they left the aid station; a little too close for comfort.
Be the 1%.
Brad heading down to the Chapman AS with Grant Swamp Pass off in the distance (their next destination)
Photo: Geof Dunmore
Photo: Geof Dunmore
I now had an hour and half drive, in the dark, back to Silverton. By the time I reached Ouray, I could barely keep my eyes open and there was some serious rain and lightening happening on Red Mountain Pass up ahead, so I pulled into the Hot Springs parking lot and slept so hard and so fast that I don't even remember falling asleep. Around 11:30 p.m. I awoke suddenly, momentarily forgetting where I was (which was disconcerting since I don't remember ever really experiencing that sensation before). Remembering how scary the Pass was to drive in the middle of the night, alone, last year, I wasn't looking forward to the final drive to Silverton. But, I survived. I didn't break 20 mph, and drove straight down the middle of the road the whole way up and over the Pass. I'm not kidding. Luckily, I missed all the rain, and traffic, so I was the sole vehicle on the road.
I took the best shower of my life, straightened up the truck and the hotel room, checked my O2 saturation out of curiosity (who doesn't do that?) and slept soundly for three hours. Bliss.
I checked the tracking website and saw that they guys had reached Putnam around 3:15 a.m., so that meant maybe another couple of hours before they arrived in Silverton. And I was spot on. I walked down to the gym, and stood in the dirt road, staring into outer space, "Please make it, please make it. Please let them be safe." I was suddenly worried, then so happy I wanted to scream happy things, then sad because it was all almost over. And I was just the crew. I can only imagine what Brad was feeling.
Suddenly two headlamps rounded a corner and broke through the thick black of night. I just knew by the rhythm that it was Geof and Brad. I WAS SO EXCITED!!!!!!!! I'm getting goose bumps recalling all of this. Radical Face's "Welcome Home" was playing in my head as the music video in my mind played out before my eyes. I think it was even in slow mo and there were definitely heavenly apparitions and flowers and puppies. I snapped pictures with my phone as I whooped and hollered, following behind them.
"HEDIDITHEDIDITHEDIDIT! Oh my God, he went through so much to get here; I can't believe it, and I can totally believe it!" And we got to be a part of it.
Yes, Brad, get comfortable with it; you ARE the 1%. Ouray volunteer trying to bring our runner down? Suck it! But also thank you for being there; thank you a million times. You rock, volunteer, except for the 1% comment :)
Holy crap. That was a lot. I commend you if you've stuck around this long and read to this point. Thank you :)
What an experience!! And what a great reminder that life is what you make it. You think it sucks, but seriously, shut up and get over it. Around the next bend is the most amazing experience. To quote what I posted on Facebook after it was all said and done (because I just can't sum it up better than how I did in the moment): Hundred mile runs (especially the rough experiences) are such a metaphor for life: s**t gets real, it gets hard, it hurts, it makes you cry and then smile in the same moment...but you never give up, because that's not an option. You don't check out when plans fall through; you reassess, regroup, put your head down, and keep moving forward. Saw a lot of life being lived out there this weekend. Congratulations Hardrockers, and well done Brad. Proud of you! You're a real Hardrocker now, Brad!
And that's all I've got to say about that.
Oh, and I'm totally throwing my name in for 2014. It completely terrifies me, but it's a challenge I want to take on. It will likely take a few years for me to make it through the lottery, but I gotta try. Brad and Gretchen have both inspired me :)
Can't wait to go back next year, even if it's just to watch from the sidelines.