Ultrarunner fighting Atrial Fibrilation (AF)

This blog has pretty much always been about running ultras, mostly Hardrock. It still is but now it is also about running after AFib. I was forced to miss Hardrock in 2011 due to the onset of AF but my long term goal was to get back to running milers. And hopefully help any other runners with AF who stumble upon this site. I never made it into Hardrock in 2012, or 2013, or 2014. I didn't have a qualifier for 2015. I ran Fatdog in Canada instead. That was tough. I finished my 4th Hardrock in 2016 and now I'm back to try for the magical number 5.

If you want the history of my AF the heart problems all started back on May 25 2011: http://howmanysleeps.blogspot.com/2011/05/out-of-hardrock.html

Monday, December 15, 2008

Coast to Kosci DNF 12-13 December 2008

When is enough enough? And when is it too much? I found out somewhere along the lonely road out of Dalgety. The full moon periodically punched through the ominous black clouds sending a surreal light across the featureless landscape. I looked over the paddocks and saw the weirdest arc across the clouds. It was so symmetrical in an otherwise random sky. Was my sleep-deprived mind playing tricks on me? And then it dawned: it was a moon-rainbow. I stopped and stared in pure wonderment. All the pain and misery that racked my tired body melted away. The clouds closed across the moon and as suddenly my moon-rainbow was gone. The wonderment was over. And so was my race.

I had had a good day, running with the Bunny, Hermie and Marie, and then Lisa Spinks for a while. For a long stretch before Big Jack I pulled ahead and was surprised to pass Brick and Trout. My partner in crime and sharer of crew, Tim had been with me on and off all day and most of the night, keeping me entertained. Our magnificent crew (for the second year in a row) Vegie and Balri had kept me well fuelled and hydrated. I never contemplated not finishing. Not even when my ITB started flaring somewhere around Cathcart in the afternoon. I could still jog/run. And when it got too sore to run I held a solid power walk that kept me in touch with Tim. This went on through the afternoon and half the night. We were still well ahead of last years pace. Then out of the night zoomed massage therapist extraordinaire, Graham, Marie’s husband and crew. Next thing I found myself face down in the middle of the road at 2:30am with him pulverising my ITB into submission. Truly above and beyond the call of crewing duties and greatly appreciated, even if the pained response at the time didn’t adequately reflect this. Spoonman and Tim looked on. Bizarre spectator sport this. This got me running again but out of nowhere a pain ripped across the top of my foot. I had experienced this before and knew it was a bad thing. It would only get worse. I loosened and retied my shoe to alleviate the pressure but I limped painfully into Dalgety.

Tim was having a strong patch so pulled ahead and Blair came to discuss my options. I decided to see if I could run and chased after Tim. The 100mile mark became my next goal. The running simply made my foot worse and soon I was dragging it along behind me. And then my moon rainbow appeared. And I felt rewarded for persevering. But the pain was so bad I could now barely walk. Enough was enough. I thought of sitting on the road and waiting for the next crew car when out of nowhere there was our tiny Corolla parked off the side. Just short of 100 miles in a little over 22 hours. Done.

There was to be no mammoth spanking for me. But I did get to run along the Towamba Valley with my ipod blaring and me playing air-guitar to the Angels, using my gel flask as a plectrum and singing at the top of my voice. And I did get to spend lots of time with all my favourite people. And I did get to walk Tim into the finish in the most horrendous conditions after we dragged Vegie into the car to thaw out. And I got to see some fantastic country and experience just a bit of this amazing race. That makes me versus the mountain: 1 all. Thank-you Blair and Vegie for making that possible. Thank-you Tim for sharing yet again. And especially thank-you Paul and Di for doing what you do.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

GNW100 8-9 November 2008

My phone alarm went off. I groped around in the dark and instinctively hit the snooze button. I snuggled down again. Damn. I have to get up. I sat up and looked around blearily. I really have to stop doing this. These 100 milers are wearing me out. I was sitting in the middle of the Great North Walk Trail next to the unmanned water drop between checkpoints 4 and 5. I reached up and switched on my headlamp. I dragged myself up and stumbled off down the trail towards Somersby and the new day. I had managed 10 minutes of sleep. Just enough to stop me staggering all over the trail and tripping on every shadow. I still felt devoid of energy but at least now I could focus enough to get to the next aid station. The finish still seemed like a lifetime away. There was never a thought of quitting. It was more a matter of how long and in what shape I would make it.

Looking at the race splits for the sector from 4 to 5 I suffered terribly from low energy and lost a lot of time. It hadn’t all been like that. It had been an interesting day. Every ultra is a new adventure. This one had been more about the people around me than about myself. Sometimes you have to take a step back from your race to help others along the way. Saturday had been one of those days. Sunday would be different. With the rising sun I would find a new energy that would reward me with some magical trail running. But first I had to get through the night.

I had planned to run this years GNW with Tim again as we make a good team on this testing course. We both had injury plagued preparations so had no expectations. Tim was forced to pull out pre-race so I was on my own. With a field of close to 80 runners across the 100 miles and kilometres I was seldom alone for the first half. During the first two stages I found myself with Hermie on and off. I would pull ahead on the downs and he would catch me on the climbs. We have spent many a mile together in the past and so it would be again today. Coasting along the ridge of the Sugarloaf Range, before Heaton’s Gap, we encountered Brick sitting by the trail with his shoe off, wrestling with his foot. I stopped and helped bandage a badly blistered toe. This was worrying only 10km in. We rejoined a long train of runners before they let me pass on the descent. I enjoyed the long downhill into Heaton’s Gap. I stopped to fill my bottles at the service station. The climb up to Heaton tower was a real grind. Runners surrounded me. I was surprised how many people were within sight. I remembered climbing up here the first year of the race with Tim and we were all alone. This race is really growing. It was already warm and threatened to really heat up. Fortunately the cloud cover kept the temperature down and the heat never eventuated.

Past Heaton Lookout and we dropped down into the thick rainforest. There was a small group of us winding our way through the dense cover. I had to concentrate on the trail. The thick leaf litter made it indiscernible as you weaved in and out of trees and up and down creek beds. I stopped several times to flick leeches off my gaiters. They were everywhere. And stubborn. Climbing out of the forest back onto the gravel road I stopped at the loo at Hunter Lookout. Many people passed me. Coming into checkpoint 1, I found myself walking and chatting with Dr Lach who had taken a detour and added several kms already. Not for the only time either.

Checkpoint 1 was a welcome sight, I was getting hungry. I didn’t spend long, just grabbing some food and heading out, walking for the next km to eat. Hermie was with me and when asked by a group just in front of us about where to go he offered: “Just follow the road then turn off it.” Sage advice I thought. Hope they had their maps. This section follows the ridgeline for quite some distance. The road made for easy running. I caught a few people who had passed me earlier. Brick and Terry were just in front and I kept pace with Hermie comfortably. The field was spreading out now. Past Barraba Campsite and we started the long descent into the valley. I love this section and really opened up pulling away. Once off the road there is long raking singletrack. I passed a couple of runners and crossing the field at the bottom could see a couple more just in front. The familiar old bathtubs were still at the bottom of the hill. Strange the things we remember. I was determined to run as much of the road as I could but the Congewai valley is like an energy vacuum and every time I get there I struggle. This time was no different. I kept looking back for Hermie, knowing that when he caught me it would help keep me going. I was starting to feel nauseous and it became a real effort to get to the school. The breeze was almost cool. I couldn’t blame the heat. I just felt sick. I asked Hermie why we do this. I suggested it was time for me to find another sport. Not for the last time I had this thought.

Checkpoint 2. I knew I had to eat but every mouthful I took threatened to come back up. Kathy was helping me out and looked worried at my pitiful state. I knew I just had to get some food in and keep moving. So that is what I did. The short out-and-back section here allows you to see the state of others and who is close to you. Hermie caught up again and took my mind off my malaise. But as soon as we started the climb to the communication tower he pulled away easily.

Well up the steep pitch I encountered Tom coming back down. He looked terrible. Apparently he felt even worse. His kidneys were painful and he was short of breath. He hadn’t been weeing. And he had been vomiting. I got him to sit on a log. He wanted me to go on but there was no chance of that. I assured him I was in no hurry and wasn’t leaving until I knew he was safe. Runners kept stopping to offer help but I sent them on. Brick stopped and he looked terrible, absolutely drenched in sweat. He had been sick himself but kept going. I filled an empty bottle I had with plain water from my Camelbak for Tom. He only had Gatorade and he needed some water. He wanted to sleep but I wouldn’t let him. I was really worried about him. He rang Les, the wireless radio communication co-ordinator to pass on his withdrawal so that checkpoint 2 would know he was coming back. We sat for some time just chatting and sipping water. Once he felt up to it I took his pack and we ambled back down the hill. After a while he turned and told me he couldn’t take me any further and assured me he would be OK. Reluctantly I agreed and left him to it. He made it back safely.

I pushed hard back up the hill. The time spent resting with Tom had freshened me up and I was keen to get going. I dug my poles in and pulled myself up the steep trail. Approaching the top I rounded a corner and there was Brick and another guy, Joel, both doubled over and looking like death. Brick had been suffering for some time and was clearly distressed. Joel explained that he also felt terrible and his feeble urine was the colour of Brick’s pack. I looked at Brick’s pack: coffee coloured. Not good. Seriously, not good. I suggested doing as Tom had done and head back to CP2. They both couldn’t face that option so they decided to get to the top and reassess. I resigned to stay with them. It was slow going with enforced rest stops every few metres but eventually the communication tower came into sight. We stopped at the road and Brick curled up on the ground. Joel paced around uncomfortably.

Déjà vu. This was the exact same spot that Tim had collapsed with heat stress two years ago. I couldn’t believe the contrast today. The rain was coming in and the wind had whipped up. I was shivering and dug out my emergency jacket. I could see Brick curled up in the foetal position, getting goose bumps. I made him get up to put his jacket on. I presented their options: go back to CP2; try and get down to the road where the unmanned water stop was; try and get to CP3, still a long way off. Brick wanted to try to get someone up onto this fire road. He was in a really bad way. He was thinking of his family and clearly worried. I rang RD, Dave Byrnes and got his answering machine. I left a message. Some other runners came past. Graham Wye had the emergency number so rang the wireless communication co-ordinator. I spoke to Les and asked about getting the pair picked up from somewhere. He radioed through to Dave and rang me back with the options. He said someone could retrieve them from the water drop but it could be hours and hours. Their best bet was to go back to CP2. We had been there for about 1/2 an hour by now and Brick was back on his feet. I relayed the choices to them and before I had finished, Brick had turned and marched off towards CP3. There was no way he was going back down that hill. I rang Les again and told him they were pushing on and that I would hang with them to keep an eye on things.

Brick has a really strong walking pace and Joel just fell in behind, head down. I spent some time educating Joel on the perils of kidney failure and the dangers of painkillers in his current state. His quads were shredded but he just put his head down and followed Brick’s lead. We caught and repassed Rob Boyce who was struggling with cramps. Finally, we hit the long downhill to the farm and I cut loose and enjoyed some tight singletrack. Half way down the switchbacks I heard someone yelling from above. I waited for the others but it wasn’t them. There, way off track, was Graham again. We guided him back to the track and he joined us to the farm and eventually all the way to CP3.

Crossing the paddocks I could see a car parked on the road. I told Joel he should consider getting a lift out. The driver was waiting to see his mate run through but expected to be there for another 1 & 1/2 hours. Neither of the casualties wanted to quit. Their choice. We refilled our water bottles and started the long climb out of the valley. The sun was getting low in the sky. The shadows were lengthening and the forest began to take on a new life as the night approached. We discussed making the Basin in daylight. I doubted it. Brick started to jog periodically. He still set a solid walking pace. I told him that if he had a rest at CP3, refuelled and rehydrated, he could probably go on. I warned Joel that his already shredded quads would suffer on the big downhill and then the bitumen on the next leg into CP4 and further clog his kidneys. I warned him to stop here. I saw later in the results he went on to finish the 100km.

We dropped into the Basin in the last of the fading light. Shafts of setting sunlight pierced the forest canopy and lit up the creek below us. The golden glow contrasted the dark shadows of the dense rainforest. It was like a scene from ‘The Enchanted Forest’. The fast fading light forced me to hasten my pace. We passed the stairs leading out of the basin and started to see runners coming back towards us. A constant procession of headlamps bobbing through the trees on the narrow twisty trail. I marched into checkpoint 3 to be greeted by Tim who had come out to help crew me through the night. He passed my bladder off to be refilled and plied me with pasta and soup and hustled me back out of there. So fast that I left my trekking poles leaning on the table. I asked Rob Boyce as he limped past if he could get Tim to bring them CP4. I felt naked without my poles.

Unfettered without my ailing companions and fuelled by the warm food I picked up the pace. Climbing out of the Basin I had to pull my map out a couple of times to reassure myself. I was alone in the night and it is easy to miss a turn, as many had done. I had to concentrate, checking every intersection. Once off the road and on the track down to Cedar Brush I really wound things up. Fast downhill running at night really gets the adrenaline flowing. I let gravity pull me ever down, down, down. The fireflies flickered in my headlamp beam and night animals scurried off at the thudding of my footfalls. It doesn’t get much better than this. I was really having fun. This is why I run these trails, for these moments when I become one with the bush, moving at speed through the forest at night.

As I climbed the stile out of the paddock onto the road I scoffed down an espresso gel with a double caffeine shot. This sparked some serious road running. I flicked my light out, switching it back on at the first sight of a car or another runner. Pounding down the road in the moonlight allowed me to switch to autopilot. I had another caffeine gel. I started passing runners. One, then another. Each one fuelling me to run a little harder. As I came into Yarramalong I passed whole groups of runners. I rushed into the checkpoint gushing adrenaline. I had recaught Hermie and Tamsyn who were reclining in their chairs. They got up and hurried out just ahead of me. I asked what food was on offer: the only hot food was off the barbeque or chicken soup. No good to me. I had a cold hard-boiled egg and grabbed a flask of gu and a refilled bladder and rushed back out again. Big mistake, I needed more food. I should have taken more time here. By the time I started walking up Bumble Hill Road I was feeling drained. After the hard run down the road I was now crashing. And fast.

I was only 30 metres behind Bunny, Meredith and their pacer but it could have been a mile. I couldn’t catch them. They sounded like excited teenagers. How could they be having so much fun and have so much energy when I felt so bad? They climbed the guardrail off the road onto the trail. I followed. I could see them slowly pulling away. It was almost like I was going backwards. I realised I was running out of energy. I choked down some potato chips. I couldn’t eat. Nothing I had appealed. I had to concentrate really hard to keep going. The night seemed so heavy all of a sudden. It was pressing down on me. Every step was a battle. The trail through here was messy: up, down, over puddles, through mud. I went for hours without seeing anyone. It was like I was sleep walking. Maybe I was. Finally a light came up behind me. As I climbed off the trail onto the road, Darrel came by. I was fumbling with my maps. He asked how far to the water drop? 6km. He was gone before I looked up. I must have dropped my map here. I never noticed. That 6km took forever. I promised my self I would rest there. I had no choice. When finally the familiar barrels came into sight, I refilled my bottle, set my alarm and curled up. Even the loud buzzing of a swarm of mozzies that settled over me couldn’t keep me awake. I went out like a light.

I was making a habit of this trail napping caper. But that ten minutes probably saved me 30 more I would have lost stumbling around in the dark. Climbing the trail out to Somersby, another set of lights closed in on me. I was surprised more hadn’t. This time it was Brick with his pacer. He had risen from the ashes and was now making good time. He told me to stick with them. I would if I could. I managed for 100 metres before falling back again. Climbing out of the forest onto the road was symbolic of me climbing out of my funk. The sun broke through the haze of the night as we hit the bitumen road signifying Somersby and soon checkpoint 5. I gritted my teeth and ran. Past the chook farm with the noise of a thousand chickens waking up. Onto Wisemans Ferry Road. I could see Brick still up ahead. He appeared doubled over. He was vomiting again. This race is unrelenting.

Checkpoint 5 and I was resolved to having some decent food. Two slices of toast with jam. A cup of coffee. There was some debate over whether there was chicken in the soup but there was a vegetable option so I got one to go. I met Les, the radio guy, who I had promised to say hello to after all his help the day before. What a great job the volunteers do. Tim was going to pace me from here to checkpoint 6. I welcomed the company to help get me moving again. Brick was long gone by the time we left, with a fresh pacer in Rod.

Renewed by the solid food my strength gradually returned. I remembered this section well from the last year when I pushed the group I was leading hard to stay inside the cut-off. I knew it was a short leg but you could still make up time here. Once off the bitumen Tim urged me to run some. And run we did. We built up good momentum weaving through the thickets. Once onto the downhill sections we caught Brick and Rod and went past them. Brick’s feet were worrying him. Tim assured him he was over the worst of the rough stuff. I remembered differently but was pleased to discover the trail was easy, smooth and largely downhill. Across the river we really poured on the pace. It was hard to believe I was the same runner of a few hours before. In no time we were crossing under the Pacific Freeway and climbing onto the old highway bridge. I was feeling strong and eager to get to the finish.

Kathy had organised a fried egg in toast for me at checkpoint 6. I had my bottles filled with coke, grabbed a cup of soup and headed back onto the trail. After a phone call home, Tim decided to continue on to the finish with me. As we headed along the river Brick and Rod were crossing the bridge. That was the last we saw of them. He would go on to finish an hour behind me. A spectacular red-bellied black snake was curled up in the early morning sun by the track. We stopped to admire him from a distance. We were running well. My feet were a little sore but my legs felt great. We crossed the swing bridge and climbed the rocky trail up, out of the valley. The sun was beating down threatening a hot afternoon. I pushed in front of Tim to set the pace for a while. We really wound it up. On some of the long technical downhills I really let loose. I would stop at the bottom looking back to see an expression of mild panic on Tim’s face. I wasn’t sure if it was fear of falling at this pace or fear of suffering the humiliation of being dropped while pacing. Either way it amused me greatly and made me run the next downhill even harder. Rounding a corner Tamsyn and her pacer were right in front of me. I apologised for having my second wind and we went right by. She ended up finishing an hour and a half behind me, testimony to how much time can be lost over this last section.

The unmanned water drop was a contrast to last year. Here bodies had been strewn all over the ground. Today it was all business. A splash and dash. The heat was building and high up on the moonscape of the sandstone plateau it was tough going. I felt for those still to come through there in the afternoon sun. The rock surface felt like concrete. We were counting down the kilometres now. The long open firetrails and constant climbs sapped our speed but we could smell the finish line. Finally we crossed Patonga Drive and picked up the pace along the singletrack. The road up to the Warrah Lookout seemed way longer than I remembered but finally we were onto the walking track. One last climb and then we could see through the trees to the beach. My heart warmed at that sight. Finally I could enjoy my finish. We had an eye on the time, mindful of getting in under the hour. Down, down, down we went. Still running hard. Finally those final few steps onto the sand. I paused to savour the moment. It is truly one of the most spectacular finishes of any ultras. This was my third time onto the beach but it was no less dramatic. No less emotional. We ran the sand. I still had running legs. I felt great. The waves lapped at the shore. The sun was shining. People were clapping. I grabbed Tim’s hand to thank him for his help. I was glad he got to share my finish. He peeled off to allow me to finish on my own. I ran every last step and collapsed to my knees at the finishing pole to give it a big hug. 31:50.

Friday, November 14, 2008

GLASSHOUSE 100 13-14 September, 2008

As we approached Avalon Airport it was getting really rough in the plane. I mean really rough, dropping suddenly, long free-falls, and then pitching side to side. Bucking, up and down. Little kids were throwing their arms up and yelling woo-hoo, like they were on a rollercoaster. People were turning green and reaching for the little paper bags in the seat pockets. We flew across the bay, banking steeply and I could see the water chopped up severely. White caps were being whipped into a frenzy. As we made our approach to the runway we passed over the highway. I could see the faces of the drivers in their cars below. We were still pitching and yawing. As we closed on the tarmac we dropped suddenly, frighteningly close to the ground. We were mere feet off the ground and the plane tipped nearly 45* with a wind gust. I waited for the impact. We wobbled and you could hear the engines roar as the pilot accelerated out of there. Deafening roar of the engines. We were pinned back into our seats with the thrust. The plane groaned under the strain. Aborted landing. Suddenly there was near silence. What had just happened? The flight attendant came on and said not to worry. It was routine if the pilot was not happy with the approach to go around and try again. Not happy? That was more than not happy.

Big circle. I could see the dust storms across the paddocks far below. The pilot came on and said we would go down the coast and wait for the weather to settle. Nice view of the beaches. An ominously black storm front was moving across the coast. We could see the tumultuous weather brewing all around us. It all seemed surreal and calm. Back around we came. The bay looked a little calmer. Or was that just hope? Then we dropped again. A long sustained free-fall. My stomach was in my mouth. The flight attendant suggested people get out their sick bags. People were throwing up all over the place. The old lady behind me was digging her nails into the seat. I could hear people praying. Others were sobbing. We approached at a steep angle, apparently to dissipate speed. We wobbled severely and again I could see the drivers in their car as we passed close over the highway. They looked so safe. I felt so vulnerable. I was trying to relax but I gripped the armrests. I could feel the touch down but it was only one wheel and we were still very steep and tilted. As soon as we touched the ground a huge gust lifted our exposed belly and flipped us sideways bringing the wing tip within inches of the ground. We seemed to hang there forever. Roar, zoom, shudder. The plane trembled under the strain. Shaking violently. The engines roared louder, and louder and we hovered above the ground before finding air. This time deathly silence. Nothing said, except for some guy shouting ‘Jesus!’ and the occasional retching. I thought I was OK until I tried to let go of the armrests and realized I was clenched tight and a little clammy. We climbed to clear air but could see the black clouds all around us and dust storms all across the plains below. Finally the pilot came on and said he was going to try to land in Melbourne.

Within minutes we were circling high above Tullamarine Airport. We went into another approach but hit the turbulence again as soon as we descended and we pulled up well before we even got close. Shit. We must be getting low on fuel by now. Everybody was air sick and petrified. Babies were screaming. People were crying. At the last attempt I really thought I was going to die so I was fairly resigned by now. I felt quite calm and detached. Next approach we wobbled perilously again but the pilot held his nerve and we landed. We skewed all over the runway. Tyres squeeled and the plane shook noisily and ground to an anti-climactic halt. Spontaneous applause. Then the pilot said he would check with the company to see if we would refuel and fly back to Avalon. I think not. Waves of relief were palpable through the plane. We couldn't unload, as the wind was too strong for the ladder to be wheeled out. Our plane was shaking and rocking even as we sat on the tarmac. A lot of people won't fly for a long time. Ever seen 200 people kiss the ground?

Funnily enough the events of the weekend at the Glasshouse Mountains paled into insignificance. I had had a great run but my flight home had put it all into perspective. It’s funny the things in an ultra that stick with you. Often it is not the stuff you expect. It might not be the big hard run to the finish line. It might not be setting a PB by over an hour. More often it is the little things. Like winding through the dark pine forest at night and at every turn looking back over my shoulder. There, relentlessly, were the dual lights of Roger Guard. He wore a headlamp and carried a hand torch, his signature glow, tracking me through the night.

The checkpoints punctuate the hours of trail. Like little oases they provide respite, food, water and a chance to see your crew. I made an effort to spend less time at checkpoints this year. Lis kept passing me full bottles, speeding my transitions. It worked but it meant I was really tired by the end. Sometimes I like to have a little sit down. Just a little rest. Maybe I have spent too much time with Tim? I had started out conservatively, chatting with the Bunny and then Brick on the first loop. I had already lost my planned pacer in Tim, him having stopped momentarily at the school.

I passed a few people on the descent of Mt Beerburum, including Hermie who usually repasses me soon after. Not today. I didn’t see him again until the next day. I kept my pace easy but consistent. I grabbed a sandwich from Lis at checkpoint 4 but discovered she had given me two pieces of dry bread. Classic. Sometimes this would cause me some concern but today I was happy just to be out there. I was cruising, no expectations, no splits. I carried handheld bottles but switched to a light pack with bottle holsters later once my arms got tired.

The extra loop at the start meant we arrived at the Powerlines a little later in the day. It was warming up. I passed Dave and Lady Jove with their camera gear on the first big descent. I wasn’t stopping for pleasantries. I love this section and ran it hard passing several 100km runners. And then to my surprise I caught Roger. I have run with Roger many times at GH over 50 and 100 miles but never beaten him. I was a little worried to be passing him so early but I felt good and he clearly doesn’t like the rough stuff. I do.

Checkpoint 8 and my first chance to count some heads. It always helps to have someone to chase to keep you moving. Besides being chased, of course. I kept waiting for Roger to repass me. The first loop 8A I crossed paths with Tugger finishing his loop. Amazing. I ran the loop alone. It was getting hot.

There were people everywhere when I got back to 8. Tim was in a chair. What are you doing here, I asked? He pointed to the ice pack strapped to his ankle. He told me Dog was just in front of me. I passed Innes while he was refueling. I wasn’t worried about Dog. If he faltered I would have him. If not, so be it. I was running my own race. As I rounded the back of loop 8B Dog came into sight. He was struggling but a forced pit stop saw me repassed by Innes and Roger. Back into 11th place. I can live with that.

Back at CP8 I grabbed my ipod. Tim asked if I was injured or bored, knowing I use the music as a distraction. I just needed some motivation. As I left checkpoint 8 for the third and last time after a quick refill, Blue Dog jumped out of his chair and ran up beside me. We chatted for a bit. We made small talk but I soon realised the pace was picking up. Dog doesn’t like to chat. He likes to race. I let him go. I had no intention of match racing him for another 90km. I stopped to walk, letting him disappear up the long gravel road.

This section to 7 seems to go on forever. I was alone in the bush. I got in front of Roger and Innes again going through the short loop at 7. Up into 9th place.

From 7 to 6 I could see the sun getting low and really wanted to get through the rough track at Beerwah before it got dark. I pushed hard. Coming out of 6 and cresting a hill I was presented with 2 runners walking with their heads down. Dog and Nigel. I ran past and asked Dog how he was going? Like you care, he responded. Well, yeah, I said, I do. We’re all in this together. Like I said, Dog doesn’t like small talk on a run. I pushed on, not looking back. And there, walking up the next hill, was Milov. I ran hard to get up alongside him. We chatted. He told me his terribly famous Hambush joke. That should be just terrible. He looked back and saw Dog had stuck with me and was lingering 100 metres back, with gritted teeth. As we topped the hill, I turned and waved him up. If we were running the same pace it might as well be together.

We turned off the road into the rough goat track of the Beerwah loop. This was my terrain and I pulled ahead of the rest of them. Suddenly I was in 6th place. At CP5 I had to grab my light and a jacket. It was getting cool and would be dark before I reached the school. Milov was sitting down and I goaded him out of his chair. We ran out together but his pace on the open road was too hot for me and I stopped to walk. I couldn’t believe how long this section back to the school was. I came out where the old CP1A used to be and headed around to the bush track. I was startled by a small snake on the path. A little sign stuck to a tree read 3km to CP2. What? I thought for sure it was much closer. There were lights in the bush behind me. Roger? Turns out it was the dogged Dog.

The school was a welcome sight. I restocked and visited the loo. Tim told me Milov and Dog were down at the canteen. If I wanted to gap them I needed to get going. So I did. I ran hard to 9. I came up behind a runner I didn’t recognize: Lisa. I figured she was the second placed female. Turns out Rachel had dropped at 7. I thought I was now in 5th place. Then Roger caught me again, his flat line strength too much for me. Bugger. I got a shock when I arrived at checkpoint 9 the first time after running hard from the school, thinking I had finally got ahead of Milov. There, on the back of the chair, was Milov’s cap. But, how? While I was gasping like some goldfish out of water he came up behind me with his characteristic grin. He had snuck out of the school unnoticed and was well ahead of me the whole time. He was clearly proud of his subterfuge. 6th it was then. Up and down Wild Horse Mountain right behind Roger. I crossed with Tugger again, now on his way home. I also crossed with Innes and Lisa on my way back down. Ohhh, no way can I hold them all out.

The loops at 10 were cold dark and lonely. I heard voices and saw lights in the bush but they weren’t runners. There was lots of walking. Lots of navel gazing. I was tired and just wanted to finish. Finally I rounded a bend and Roger was walking just in front of me. That’s it. I dug deep and ran past him and just kept going. I ran into 10 and Tim said what do you want? I didn’t know. He thrust a bottle into my hand and pushed me back into the night. So I just ran back to 9. The race was on now. I was in 5th place and wasn’t letting go of that for anything.

Through 9, up and down Wild Horse. Roger, Lisa and Innes all right behind me. Through 9 again. Into the forest. Still those lights right behind me. Relentless. I finally punched out of the forest and onto the open road. I didn’t want to see those lights again so I ran hard. As hard as you can after 150km. Once across Steve Irwin Way and onto the bike path I knew I was home. One last look back. Darkness. I crossed with Jan and stopped to say hello. It took a bit to get my momentum back so when I crossed with Cookie I didn’t slow down.

The lights of the school broke through the trees. Rounding the last corner I knew this would be my best time so I lifted again. Through the gates, across the line and finally stopped. Spent. 5th place, 21:35. Elated. But totally drained.

Little of this came to mind as I sat in that plane, thinking I was about to die. It just highlighted to me how tenuous life is. One thing it did do was strengthen my resolve to get out and run as many trails as I can. This is a resolution I can live with.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Hardrock 100 Race Report

HARDROCK 100 ENDURANCE RUN JULY 11-12, 2008 by Andrew Hewat

I peered out from under my flimsy blanket. Through the fog of semi-delirium I could see other runners in a similar state of malaise. I heard Beth’s comforting voice: “Andy, Larry is going on. We are leaving. You have plenty of time. Try and get some more fluids in. Natalie will check on you. Don’t worry, you have plenty of time to recover and still finish.” I doubted that. But I had to believe Beth was right. She was pacing her husband Larry, a Hardrock100 veteran. Beth is an ultra veteran in her own right. I was sorry to see them go but I had to trust her judgement. I didn’t have any choice. I was thoroughly depleted and couldn’t stand up let alone tackle the 6 hours it would take me to get over Handies Peak at 14, 048 feet. Natalie? I had no idea who she was but she became my guardian angel bringing me cups of ginger ale for the next hour.

Nearly 24 hours into my Hardrock adventure I had to dig deep and call upon all the determination I could muster. Curled up in the fetal position on the end of a cot, I was lying in the first aid tent at Grouse Gulch, shivering uncontrollably. Was this how my race would end? Someone poked their head into the tent and announced we have a new course record: Kyle Skaggs had just finished in 23:23! Oh god, he was finished and here I was at just 58 miles. Could I really do this? My heart was heavy. I never contemplated pulling out but feared I was defeated. In this condition I was in real danger of not making it. My mind swirled. Sleep. I really needed sleep but I was freezing cold and my heart was racing. Closing my eyes just sent me into a spinning vortex. My tongue was swollen in my mouth. I was worried, really worried about my physical state. Waves of nausea swept over me. I had been in a bad state before at ultras but never anything like this. The altitude was killing me. I was thoroughly depleted. I peeked out again from under my blanket. It was like a death zone. One guy was buried under a pile of blankets on another cot. Two others were huddled in chairs, faces expressionless. Steve McBee was sitting on the end of my cot staring at the propane heater in a trance. I’ve got to get out of here. If I stay here my race is over.

I had no idea how long I had been there. I kept thinking: this is Hardrock. Hardrock: I’ve been waiting for this for years; I’ve been training so hard for so long; I’ve come half way around the world; I kept thinking of my wife, my kids, my friends, and the whole on-line running community back home in Australia watching the webcast, willing me to go on. I thought of all my new Hardrock friends out there slogging away and imagined sitting through the presentations on Sunday morning and not getting my finishers certificate. This is Hardrock, the pinnacle of trail running. This is what I run for. No, this is what I live for. What was I doing here wallowing on this cot? I could hear runners coming and going outside. That’s it, I have got to get going. I felt terrible but that’s no excuse. If I could walk I could go on. I threw off the blanket and staggered to my feet. I tried to portray an impression of stability and assurity. There was no turning back. I thanked Natalie, cast a glance around and asked if anyone wanted to join me. No takers. No response. Leaving the tent and bracing for the predawn chill, I found my camelbak and informed the officials that number 129 was back from the dead and checking out.

The sun was about to rise on day 2 of my run. I wasn’t done with just yet. Not by a long shot.

Day 1 Silverton to Kamm Traverse (11.5miles, 3hrs 39mins)

The race had started so well. Race Director, Dale Garland sent us on our way from outside the school gym in Silverton at 6am. It was almost surreal milling around at the start. Hardrock entrants are some of the most experienced trail runners on the planet and brushing shoulders with them was rather intimidating. In fact the realisation that I was about to actually start Hardrock was overwhelming. I tried to relax. I had my photo taken in front of the Hardrock and almost missed the start. Amidst cheers and adrenaline all 140 runners quickly streamed out of town and up onto the Shrine Road and out towards Nute’s Shute. There was lots of banter as the gun-runners raced to the front while others were competing to be last in the long line. Kyle Skaggs could be seen racing away from the rest of the field as he turned below the Shrine, overlooking the town. I deliberately settled into a walk to avoid getting swept up by the early pace. After nearly 3 weeks of acclimation and course marking I was as fit as I could be, but my heart was already racing in the thin air above 9,000 feet.

After just over 2 miles we dropped from the Nute Chute trail paralleling high above the highway. Like so many lemmings dropping off the shelf, down the hill, across the road, we sloshed through the marshy bog alongside Mineral Creek to the river crossing. Supporters and crews were lining the road cheering us on. There was no queue at the river crossing, just a steady stream of runners plunging into the icy snow-melt water and grabbing the fixed guide rope to haul themselves across. I followed suit, lunging into the freezing thigh deep current. My feet would be wet now for the next 2 days. The adventure had really begun. I was loving every minute of it.

The first climb of the day was slow and steady following Silverton Bear Creek. There was much conversation as excited runners found their rhythm all around me. I was happy to get caught behind others, forcing me to go slow. The narrow trail up the wooded valley meant that a conga line soon developed. Occasionally an impatient runner would surge past. My plan was to be conservative early. I harboured aspirations of breaking 40 hours but my main focus was just to finish. As the trail climbed higher, the valley opened above the tree-line into grassy meadows dotted with bright yellow wildflowers. It was a truly beautiful day. The kind of day made for running trails. The snow banks we had encountered during trail marking had receded and the going was good. My spirits were high. The views were spectacular. There was nowhere else I would rather be.

The course was easy to follow as runners were spread out as far as the eye could see. We crested the blunt summit and followed Putnam-Lime ridge at 12,600 ft before a steep descent. My plan was to hold back on the downhills early to save my legs for later in the race. Despite this my natural flow took me past many runners on the uneven terrain as we crossed into the basin below. Snow banks framed this wide open grassy basin. Once across we climbed again to Cataract-Porcupine saddle before descending on singletrack and crossing a creek back into trees once again. There were large boggy sections that sucked at your shoes. The trail undulated and I was suddenly alone in the bush. But not for long, as I emerged and forded another creek the first aid station of Kamm Traverse came into view and there were runners everywhere. A quick refill and a bite to eat and I was off again. (3 minutes at KT.)

Kamm Traverse to Chapman Gulch (7.4miles, 2hrs 25mins)

The Kamm Traverse is a deceptive but steady climb up the edge of a steep slope with sheer drops to the valley below. The footing is good and I ate as I climbed. Looking around I could see all the way down the Mineral Creek valley and the early sun glistened on the water creating a magical setting between the steep tree lined mountains. We disappeared back into the trees and wound our way to the river crossing at Porcupine Creek. I opted for the fallen log crossing rather than the icy water and had no trouble negotiating the mess of branches and logs. Then a steep, dusty climb. I passed a runner doubled over sucking in air. I felt for him in this much trouble so early in the race. I knew what the rest of this climb was like. There was still a long way to go. And this was only the second of the twelve major climbs over 12,000 feet that we had to cross. After some steep switchbacks we joined a well formed but muddy trail: Ice Lake Trail. The trees gave way to grassy meadows and the thick skunk cabbage that lined the path. We broke off the main trail and climbed higher eventually traversing a steep scree slope overlooking the spectacular Island Lake, so named because of the little island in the middle of this glacial lake. I was surprised that what had been frozen solid just two weeks ago was now clear aquamarine blue water. This small glacial lake features in many photo albums from Hardrock and encapsulates the true majesty of the alpine scenery. I could see runners ahead of me all the way up to the saddle, some climbing hand over hand as it got steeper and slippery on the loose scree.

Grant-Swamp Pass, 12,920ft. The saddle is a narrow shelf with steep drop-offs on both sides. I picked up a small rock to place ceremoniously on the Joel Zucker memorial cairn and worked my way around to the descent zone. To my amazement, there on the edge of the path was a mountain goat. How superb to encounter such a magnificent wild creature in this environment. I edged out onto the ledge and Scott Hirst, up there photographing runners, told me to get in front of the goat so he could get a picture with the caption: “who is the biggest goat?”. The goat flitted away and I decided it was time to go as well. There were a couple of runners inching down the scree slope backwards on hands and feet. I couldn’t follow for fear of showering them in rocks so I moved over to the rough edge of the slope and took off. This is probably my favourite descent of the whole run and with wild abandon I slipped and slid to the bottom. Momentum carried me down into Swamp Canyon and I glissaded on a couple of snow banks before working across the rocky slope to the trail down the left of the canyon. My heart was pounding in my ears as I sucked thin air, catching my breath again. What a hoot. Sometimes you’ve just got to go with the flow.

Apart from a couple of slippery snow banks it was now good running. Disappearing into the trees the path wound its way down to Swamp Canyon Stream. I splashed through the creek, pausing only to dunk my quads to cool them off after the long descent. I expected the aid station to be here but signs indicated it had been moved down the road a 1/4 mile. It was a short haul along the picturesque aspen lined road to the atmospheric aid station at Chapman Gulch. A definite Mexican theme with margaritas and coronas on offer. I was tempted by the beer but settled for some water and a cheese frajita. First dropbag checkpoint so I rifled through grabbing a few goodies. A handful of corn chips dipped in guacomole were a real treat and I was back onto the road to the well marked turn-off to Oscar’s Pass. (15 minutes at Chapman.)

Chapman to Telluride (8.9miles, 2hrs 52mins)

I was now entering an unfamiliar part of the course. Coming down Swamp Canyon you could see the intimidating switch-backs that ascend Oscar’s Pass in the distance. Now I was climbing those very switchbacks. The afternoon sun was shrouded by cloud but the still air was making me sweat profusely. Up, up I went. I could feel the altitude sucking the energy out me. The road deteriorated until it was just a pile of rocks. I passed a couple of runners who seemed to be struggling. And still more climbing until I was crossing a steep slippery snow bank. Steps had been cut into the snow face with rocks dug in to help give us traction. We had been warned about these crossings at the race briefing. A slip here would be treacherous and I paid due respect. Considering some of the steep narrow cliff top trails we would pass I found the snow banks the most dangerous part of the course. As a southern hemisphere flat-lander I was not used to travelling on steep icy snow and it really slowed me down. Oscar’s Pass climb went on forever. Another dangerous snow bank. Again I looked down and realised that a slip here could end more than just my race. And then finally the summit at 13,432ft, and the views took my mind off any pain from the effort.

There were runners ahead of me and I managed to pass a couple. I was surprised to catch Larry Hall so early. I quipped with him about being old and slow and we ran together for a while. The course dropped rapidly and we crossed snow banks and wound down into Telluride Bear Creek canyon. Cresting a rise on singletrack John Cappis, Co-Course Director was laying like a sniper off the side of the trail amongst the wildflowers with his long lens camera. Fantastic course, I commented as I ran past. What an understatement. I was in trail running heaven.

The trail turned into a kind of road that kept descending until the township of Telluride appeared through the trees on my right. I had pulled ahead of Larry and was running strongly but well within myself. There were lots of day walkers on the trail, some offered encouragement. A playful dog decided he wanted to race me down the trail and ran with me until his owner was out of sight. Finally, I passed a volunteer sitting beside the trail, radioing our numbers ahead and signalling the turnoff. I dropped steeply off the road through the trees and into the aid station to much applause and cheering. I was feeling good. Even better with the warm reception. After a quick trip to the toilets I grabbed some food and a refill and off through the town, following the well marked chalk arrows. (11 minutes at Telluride)

Telluride to Kroger’s Kitchen (Virginius Pass) (5miles, 2hrs 29min)

After leaving the bitumen on the edge of Telluride, the jeep road climbed steeply, switch-backing through the thick conifers. Periodically I glanced back through the trees and could see other runners working their way through the streets. Nestled in the alpine valley, Telluride would look at home on any postcard. Following my mantra of ‘survive the climbs and restrain on the descents’ I soon found myself being caught and passed by others. This was another part of the course I hadn’t seen but knew how it ended, with a steep pitch and traverse up to Virginius Pass and the aid station of Kroger’s Kitchen. It was a short leg but it packed a punch climbing from 8,750ft to 13,100ft in just 5 miles. The trees provided shade until we broke into the alpine meadows. Now the craggy-saw-tooth peaks that represented our next climb came into view. Oh man, we really go over that? Having other runners around me kept me honest but I could feel my energy levels dropping. I needed some food but figured I could wait until I reached Kroger’s Kitchen. Bad idea. The higher we got the colder I got. I found myself traversing a steep snowbank and shivering. Enough. I stopped and pulled on my jacket and grabbed a gu to get me going again.

The last steep scramble to the pass (13,100ft) and I could see the tarp strung across the narrow saddle, flapping in the wind. Unbelievable. The wind seemed to channel up through this narrow opening. The aid crew were great but with limited supplies that were all packed-in I just grabbed a coke and some fruit. I huddled out of the wind but couldn’t escape the cold. I quickly realised I had to get out of there. (7minutes at Kroger’s)

Kroger’s Kitchen to Governors Basin (3.2miles, 46mins)

There was a fixed rope on the steep snow covered pitch down the other side. A volunteer offered me the rope, suggesting the groove worn into the snow by runners glissading was getting thin and exposing dangerous rocks so the rope route would be safer. I will take my chances. The slide was a hoot and I managed to bounce off a couple of rocks and end up with a ton of snow in my shorts. Up and across a short shelf and then another slide with even more chance of hitting rock before slipping and sliding down the last pitch.

Larry had passed me while I was huddled at Krogers but I picked him up again on these descents and we ran shoulder to shoulder down the jeep road. The downhill pounding was relentless and it was a relief to reach the Governors Basin aid station and stop for some food and a refill. (6minutes at Governors)

Governors Basin to Ouray (7.9miles, 1hr 35mins)

After my little energy crash up at Kroger’s Kitchen I was keen to get calories. I shovelled in food and had both bottles filled with Mountain Dew. It was early to hit the caffeine but the sugar would be more than welcome and should get me to the major stop at Ouray. We were now on a wide open jeep road with steep cliffs to our left and a sharp drop down to the raging river below. At one point the rock face above jutted out completely across the road that had been blasted out of the cliff. But this road was nearly all downhill so we settled into a steady run. There were two runners just in front of us and we gradually caught up to the first, veteran Randy Isler. He joined us, matching our pace, eventually running all the way into Ouray with us. As we finally approached the town it was time to leave the road. I was familiar with the new turnoff onto the Ouray Perimeter Trail, having scouted it a couple of times in training. It was a relief to get back onto trail after the pounding of the hard road for the last hour. As we rounded the corner to a short bridge over the canyon the other runner we had been following appeared: another veteran, Rickie Redland. The little metal bridge gives a spectacular view of the raging river snaking through the tight canyon way below. Across the footbridge, I lead the group into the narrow tunnel ducking my head cautiously. The only light filtered in from the other end so I blocked all the light for those behind me. I heard some swearing and cursing as the others stumbled along blindly. The trail then dropped steeply out the other end and I actually grabbed the rail to break my slide. The four of us trotted together through the streets and then ran shoulder to shoulder into the Ouray aid station.

I was very happy to make it here in daylight. Even happier to still be feeling so good. This was a major aid station and I had to prepare for the night. I was quickly ushered to a chair alongside the food tent. Teresa and Bob adopted me and waited on me while I fossicked through my bag, added a layer of clothes and grabbed my lights. There was plenty of food and I was hungry so ate heartily. I asked after some of the others and they told me John Dove had left only ten minutes or so before me. Wow, I expected him to be much further ahead. I grabbed some food to go and left thinking how cool it would be to catch him. After spending so many hours training together on the course leading up to the run it would be good to at least run with him for a while. Refilled and loaded with night gear, my camelbak settled heavily on my back but it had become a part of me, an extension of my being. For the moment, I was carrying my world on my back. I walked the length of Ouray slowly, still eating and digesting and by the time I reached the edge of town my trusty headlamp was on. Bring on the night. (15 minutes at Ouray)

Ouray to Engineers Pass (7.6miles, 4hrs 9mins)

By the time I checked out, John was actually 1/2 an hour ahead of me. My delusional aspirations of catching him were just that. He would go on to finish with a great time of 38:51. I had spent many hours learning the course with him and knew how strong he would finish. In my rush to leave I forgot to tell Larry I was going but I knew he was picking up his wife and pacer, Beth, to accompany him through the night. I was sure he would catch me again before long.

Once clear of the town and onto the trail I was surprised how much climbing and descending there was on this short section up to the Highway crossing. I hadn’t seen this section and had to stop several times to check directions and spot the next marker. At one point I headed for a reflector before it started moving: it was a deer, it’s eyes flashing in my headlight. Finally I heard traffic close by and the climb brought me out onto the highway. Familiar territory again, the long climb up Ouray Bear Creek canyon.

Ouray is the lowest point of the course at 7,870ft and this climb is the longest of the race. (Up to Engineers Pass at 12,910ft.) But I felt strong and worked the series of switch backs over the loose shale steadily. The shale tinkled. Someone had described it as like running on broken china. I could hear voices and see lights above and below me, but I was all alone. Once the trail levelled out along the steep canyon wall I even managed to run some sections. In daylight this is one of the most spectacular parts of the course, with the trail literally cut into the steep canyon wall. In the darkness the roar of the river far below reverberated up the sheer canyon walls. The beam of my headlamp dissolved into the inky blackness of the void below. A trip here would be fatal. But that is Hardrock. Many times during the race I would look down a sheer cliff and realise a slip here would mean certain death. No exaggeration. Definitely not for the faint hearted.

I passed a couple of runners with pacers. The night had brought renewed energy and I wanted to make the most of it. The night also brought solitude. I was remembering how we had seen a bear further up this canyon on the trail marking day. And just then a small cascade of pebbles came tumbling down from the shelf above me, as if disturbed by something. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I stopped and turned my light into the darkness above. Nothing. My imagination took over and I started running again. I don’t usually get spooked but back in Australia the nightlife is likely to be small, furry and herbivorous. Not so here.

I caught up to Randy again and we hiked up the trail to the Yellow Jacket Mine site, where we also caught up to Rickie and her pacer. We all stopped to don jackets as the elevation and night were combining to bring down the temperature. I pulled away from the others but could feel the energy gleaned from all the food at Ouray draining away. I knew Engineer was a pack-in aid station but looked forward to any kind of food as I was getting really hungry again. As the lights of Engineer appeared I headed straight for the food table. A young volunteer asked for my bottle. He said he hoped Succeed would be OK as they were out of water. Um, no. I kind of need water. So he drained the ice water out of his cooler to fill my bottle. I wondered what he was going to do for the next 70 runners behind me. The soup was chicken, sorry, can’t eat that. I looked around and there wasn’t anything I could face. I grabbed a handful of dry crusty foccacia-like-bread and made a cup of black tea with sugar. I dunked the bread to make it easier to swallow and decided I needed to get to Grouse where there would be more food choices. (14minutes at Engineers)

Engineers to Grouse Gulch (6.9miles, 3hrs 57mins)

I was above the tree-line and alone in the wide open basin below Engineers Pass. The trail ahead was dotted with slow moving lights. Far above I could see the flashing fixed red light signalling the top of this climb. I was starting to struggle. The constant climbing from Ouray for the last five hours, the cumulative toll of all the climbs of the day, the body clocks natural need for sleep and the altitude were conspiring to wear me down. The narrow track was easy to follow and despite having to cross icy creeks I slowly overhauled the summit. Across a slippery snowbank and I reached the road at the top, 12,910ft. There seemed to be runners all around me. I didn’t linger and started running down the road towards Grouse Gulch. I looked at my Garmin GPS watch and made a mental note of how many miles to go and settled into a steady pace behind other runners.

We passed a fork in the road and continued to our right, down the hill. I barely cast a glance, following the trail of lights in front of me. I passed Rickie’s pacer who was falling behind her and caught up to her just as the guy in front of us came to a stop. He looked around and asked me when I last saw a trail marker. At the top. This is all wrong, he said. The hill is on the wrong side of us. He had run Hardrock before and so had Rickie but no consensus could be reached. I pulled out my map and compass and we crouched over it in the middle of the road, in the middle of the night. Yep, we should be over there he said. That fork at the top, we went the wrong way. My heart sunk. Are you sure? If this is the right road it is only another mile to the aid station. I really wanted to see that aid station. I was tempted to keep going: 1 mile down hill versus 2 or 3 back up then another 3 or 4 down to the checkpoint. They headed back up leaving me. I conceded to follow. I decided to take a toilet break and as I was on the side of the road a pair of eyes peered back at me from the bushes. I finished my business and fairly bolted up the hill after the others!

Almost on cue, my Garmin battery went flat. A bit like me. I trudged up the hill alone and very tired. My race plan was in tatters. I started to withdraw into my survival mode. I didn’t realise that I had stopped drinking and clearly hadn’t had enough to eat for hours now. More lights were coming down this wrong road, further confusing me. We stopped and the maps came out again. Fred Ecks produced a handheld GPS. Yep, this is definitely wrong, he said. I was almost relieved to be sure now that we were heading back to the right course. Larry and Beth appeared, also on this wrong road. Oh Andy, Beth said sympathetically, recognising my dejected, sorry state. I was pleased to see them but sorry that they had followed the misguided procession. We weren’t far from the intersection so once we reached the downhill again I ran with them. Larry had succumbed to an old vision impairment that only struck him at night during ultras: he suffered double vision. This significantly slowed him down so I tried to help light his way as Beth guided him, by running alongside.

My mental state deteriorated rapidly and I found myself leaving them with the sole purpose of just getting to Grouse. The tents and lights came into view and I shuffled in and collapsed into a chair. Someone grabbed my bottles and refilled them while I had some welcome hot potato soup. A crew lady draped a blanket over my legs and I found myself sliding down onto the cold rocky ground and pulling the blanket over me. Next thing I felt several arms lifting me and steering me into the warm tent and onto the cot. My world was closing in rapidly and I needed to lie down.

And so I found myself huddled on a cot in the predawn hours. It could have so easily ended right here. (1hr 7mins at Grouse.)

Day 2 Grouse Gulch to Sherman (13.4miles, 5hrs 48mins)

There were cheers and applause as I shuffled out of the aid station. I noticed a mummy-like body encased in a sleeping bag in the back of a pick-up truck. I recognised Whit deep asleep. He was given a start off the wait-list merely 15 minutes before the race start. I had heard that he had dropped here at Grouse. I shook his feet and asked if he wanted to come with me. He grunted and rolled over back to sleep, done. I found the path off the road and settled into a steady pace. I still had no energy but was resolved that this was as good as it would get. The dawn light revealed Hardrockers spread out across the mountain. I passed a few and eventually crested the final pitch up onto American-Grouse Pass (13,020ft). I found I was stopping to pee way too often. On one of these occasions as a runner (Chad, who apparently is a doctor) went past he commented that that was a good sign. I said it would be except I was going too frequently. I took a salt cap and hoped that would help.

The sun wasn’t reaching into American Basin yet but I could still see runners all the way across to Handies. How intimidating the imposing silhoette of the mountain was. The snow banks were icy and treacherous. I slipped and slid down into the basin and worked my way across toward the next climb. I had retreated within myself, operating on autopilot, focussed on just moving forward. As I approached a couple on an icy snow bank deep in the basin, I was surprised to see it was Larry and Beth. Larry’s poor night vision had really slowed him down. I continued past them, confident that they would catch up as Larry’s eyes improved with the daylight.

As I started the long switchbacks up to Handies I spotted a mountain goat on the trail moving slowly in front of a runner and his pacer. He was in no hurry and just ambled up the trail. With renewed resolve I put my head down and slogged away up Handies peak, 14,048 ft. The higher I got, the sicker I felt. This was the pattern for the rest of my run. Each climb I would get progressively worse towards the summit. I accepted this and pushed through it, hoping to feel better on the descents and in the valleys. I never expected this to be easy. But then I never expected it to be this hard, either.

The summit of Handies seems to take forever to reach. You can see it from afar and then as you approach the contour obscures the flat summit. Drawing deep breathes in a slow steady rhythm I cranked out the final steps knowing that now I had conquered the highest part of the course. As I looked around I could have been on top of the world. Craggy snow-capped mountains unfolded before me all the way to the horizon. I felt like I was on top of the world. There was no lingering. I was now bathed in full sunlight but it was still cold. The goat stood on a big ice cornice at the end of the summit, watching runners descend. I bade him adieu and peeled off down the steep slippery gravel path. I have little fear of steep gravel but with little energy just slid and trotted down as best I could. I caught and passed a few more runners. Normally this would boost my confidence but I was in survival mode. Down in the valley I refilled my bottle from a snow fed stream and stripped off a few layers. The lower I went the better I felt, the more I could run. I repassed Chad and then several others and pulled away.

I love the trail here through the forest below the tree line. Twisting and turning through the conifers on the soft dirt. Despite my nausea I felt at one with the trail and wished it could all feel this good. The running drained my energy and by the time I reached the road at Burrows Park I was walking again. I refilled a bottle from the water drop and used the toilets. The runners I had passed coming down filed past again. From Burrows to Sherman is the longest 3 miles of road on the planet. Jeeps and little 4 wheelers kept streaming past, shrouding us in dust. The morning sun beat down and the flies would settle if you stopped moving. Around each bend I looked for the change in road surface that Charlie had said would signal the trail head. On and on the gravel road wound. I should be running but was weary and settled for a jog/walk routine, repassing some runners.

Finally there were chalk arrows and a rock cairn and we were back on real trail. If you could call it that. We wound steeply down through the trees and ruins of old buildings until we hit the road that lead into the Sherman aid station. I jogged tentatively in and sat down resolutely in a chair. My drop-bag gear was spread neatly before me on a table. My bottles were whisked away and filled. I removed one of my shoes for the first time. I was developing a nasty hotspot on the edge of my right heel. In fact the skin was puckering into a prune-like fold from being wet for 30 odd hours. I cleaned and dried it and put some tape across it as a token gesture. I put on a clean dry sock and hoped it wouldn’t get much worse. Time to go. I stuffed some food into my pockets and was offered an icy-pole to go. The volunteer rattled off the choice of flavours, which included root-beer. Ooh, I’d like one of those. When he returned he was apologetic that all the root-beer had gone. Never mind: raspberry instead, mmmm yum.

Sherman to Pole Creek to Maggies (9.1miles, 4hrs 18min; 8min; 4.3miles, 1hr 58min)

Larry had come into Sherman while I was still there. He was much stronger on the climbs so I headed out, knowing he would catch up again soon. This was all unfamiliar territory. After a series of long switch-backs through the woods I emerged high into the valley. After a river crossing that soaked my sore heel again I climbed steeply only to recross the river just above the waterfall. I remembered the warning that if you slipped here you would likely go over the waterfall. I was tired so concentrated on my foot placement. No problems. Except my heel was getting really painful. Eventually the climbing reached the top of the Continental Divide at Cataract-Pole Divide Pass 12,200ft, climb number eight. The trail crossed more creeks and skirted ponds. Mud. It was unavoidable. The trail was hard to pick up in a few places after crossing the creeks. I remembered chatting with Charlie Thorn, Co-Course Director, as he straightened old marking flags in his front yard in Silverton before a marking day: with a glint in his eye he remarked that he thought Hardrock was getting too easy and he was putting out less markers each year. He and his partner in crime, John Cappis were responsible for this remarkable course and seemed to take pride in maintaining the difficulty factor. I don’t think there is any danger of anyone accusing them of creating a course that is too easy!

In the high open country I could see Larry catching me. I stopped to look for flags and half waited as he closed in quickly. He was moving strongly. I welcomed the chance to have some company, to keep me moving. Beth had stopped at Sherman but would be at Cunningham later that night. Larry and I walked and talked for a while. He stopped and sat down for a snack and I leant on my poles and tried to choke down a breakfast burrito that had gone cold and hard in my pocket. I was getting hungry but food was sticking in my throat. I tried to wash it down, with little success. We set off again and were soon passed by Steve Pero and another runner. Steve looked strong and I envied his energy. We were all walking but some faster than others. I told Larry not to wait for me. He needed to cover as much ground in daylight as he could. He forged ahead and I wallowed in my altitude induced nausea again. On this high open treeless plain I could see for miles. I watched the others disappearing into the distance, almost like I was going backwards. Occasionally I would see a small, brightly coloured Skittle in the mud on the trail. Every time I saw one of these I knew Kelly Korevec was still on course ahead of me as these were his trademark ultra fuel. I wondered how all my other new Hardrock friends were doing. Hopefully better than me.

Pole Creek aid station was like an oasis in the middle of nowhere. Like Kroger’s Kitchen, it is a packed-in aid station. After a short but draining climb up to the aid station perched high on a shelf, the tarp and a table of food were a blessing. Larry left just as I arrived so I had the crew all to myself. They rustled up some miso soup with noodles. This was the best food I had for the whole race. I was so grateful. As I was leaving Jack Jewel came in. We had been trading places for the last few miles and I had passed him a short time before, standing knee deep in a stream, dousing water over his head. He collapsed in the shade of the tarp and looked clearly distressed by the heat. (I was greatly relieved the next morning to see him accepting his finishers certificate.) There were so many ways that Hardrock could defeat you.

The route to Maggies from Pole Creek stays on the high plains with a nasty climb towards the end before plummeting into Maggies Gulch and the aid station. My breathing was getting laboured. Getting enough air in was hard work. My sinuses were clagging up due to the thin dry air and prolonged dehydration. I was tired beyond belief. My senses were dulled by fatigue. I picked my way across the puddles and creeks trying to keep my painful right heel as dry as possible. I approached a wide, shallow creek and stepped tentatively onto a large sloping rock trying to keep my heel out of the water. Smack! My foot slipped right out from under me. I landed face-first on the rock. Icy water poured down my neck, filling my pack. I lay there dazed. I sat up; everything seemed to work. The icy cold water had permeated all my clothes. I felt my face. Feels OK. I clambered up and out, dripping wet. From there on I plunged straight into every creek ignoring my right heel.

Once again, I struggled on the climb to Maggie-Pole pass (12,530ft). Each climb was harder than the last. The accumulative effect was wearing me down. Just three more big climbs and I knew them all. I dreaded the last climb out of Cunningham. I had done it twice and knew it would be brutal after two days and 90 miles. But I had to get there first. The sun was getting low in the sky and I was pushing hard to get as far as I could in daylight. I was counting down the miles. Sometimes it felt like I wasn’t making any progress. Sometimes I wasn’t. Finally I crested the saddle and the rolling valley opened up before me. I broke into a trot and gradually Maggie Gulch aid station came into view. I managed some running over the tussocks and wild-flowers but it was nothing pretty. I was in pure survival mode.

It was cold at the checkpoint so I put my long-sleeve shirt back on while I polished off a cup of mashed potato and then some orange pieces. I chatted briefly with the crew here but was eager to get going. I could see a few runners who had just left and the sun was getting low in the sky. Time to go. (10 minutes at Maggies.)

Maggies Gulch to Cunningham Gulch (6.1miles, 3hrs 2mins)

Knowing there were two climbs in this section played on my mind. Each climb was plunging me deeper into my reserves. Rarely now did I feel free of the nausea. There were runners in front of me to keep me focussed and give me something to chase. If that’s what you can call it. I was moving from one marker to the next. The climb out of Maggies is steep and long. I pushed hard on my poles, driving my self upwards. I passed a couple of runners and as the trail turned steep and nasty towards the peak I dug deep and pushed across the top. The sinking sun motivated me and I ran down the hill and across the open fields. I could see runners far ahead as specks and set about chasing them. The impending darkness was closing in on me physically and mentally. Going into a second night without sleep was a huge weight on my mind. Dig deep and push hard. That’s all I could do. I was finding reserves I never knew I had. The mountains kept asking the questions and I kept fumbling through the answers. No way was I giving up without a fight. I would pass runners who looked like the living dead, stumbling along. I was determined not to end like that. Focus. Focus on the next step. Focus on the next flag. Basic stuff. Stripped down to its rawest elements. This was pure trail running. This is what I came here for.

Once over Buffalo Boy Ridge (13,060ft) I could see the next climb ahead over Green Mountain pass in the early evening light. Down into the basin, across the road and cross country towards the saddle. The next climb over the pass (12,980ft) was short but steep. Once across I ran down the other side. One more big climb. I could do this. I had plenty of time. I just had to keep moving. I passed a couple more runners on the long steady descent through the valley. I was hoping to make the sharp final steep descent into Cunningham before it got really dark. At the top of the long cliff I passed a group of people with at least one runner amongst them. The initial steep shale and gravel caused me to slip and slide but I was in control. I ran the steep switch backs in fading light, aware of the sheer drop if I missed a step. Half way down I ran into Larry sitting by the trail digging through his pack. I stopped to pull out my light as well. I asked how his vision was. Not good. I asked if he wanted me to stay with him. He assured me he would be alright and we could see the aid station below, so I reluctantly pressed on. I slowed in the darkness, realising I had little to gain and much to lose with a fall here. The path was narrow, steep and slippery. I could see the lights of runners climbing the other side of the valley on the final leg. The aid station was broadly lit and was a welcome sight. I used the toilets here before shuffling into the last aid station.

Charlie greeted me. I was impressed to see the Co-course Director working an aid station. He took my bottles and asked what I wanted. Water in one and coke in the other, please. Water and ‘what’? Coke. ‘What?’ Coke? ‘Can you spell that?’ C-O-K-E. ‘Oh coke!’ My aussie accent had defeated him. I had some soup. Beth was there and I reassured her that Larry was close behind me but having trouble with his eyes again. I felt better knowing she was there to pace him in. Theresa was also there, she had been planning to pace John Prohira as she had last year. I asked how he was going. He had dropped at Ouray with gut problems. Bummer. As a Hardrock competitor you felt for every runner who fell short but when it was one of your friends it cut deeper. She asked if I wanted her to pace me in. I wasn’t sure. I hadn’t really considered a pacer. I had never used a pacer before. Then I thought of the cold dark mountain I had to climb and my deteriorating state and Theresa there all dressed up and nowhere to go and it made perfect sense. Yes. Please. Come with me. The longer I stood there the colder I got. I could feel myself starting to shut down. I had to get moving. I finished my soup, rifled through my drop bag and dumped anything I thought I wouldn’t need. I pulled on my overpants for the first time, aware that the cold was draining me. We checked out and someone directed us down to the Cunningham Creek crossing through bamboo flaming torches. (16 minutes at Cunningham, it felt like a lot less.)

Cunningham to Silverton (9.2miles, 4hrs 43mins)

The creek was freezing. Once across we had trouble picking up a marker. There were lights dotting the trail as far up as we could see. The mountain was speckled with bobbing flashlights. The cold of the creek quickly alerted me that I had forgotten to grab a warm shirt. I asked Theresa to wait and I waded back through the icy water and trudged back into the aid station. I found my bag again and put on the extra layer. I was still carrying a good waterproof jacket if it got really nasty up top but at least now I was warm. Through the creek one last time and we began our climb. The wet nylon overpants clung to my legs like cling wrap. I let Teresa go in front which spared me some of the burden of navigation. Not that there was much option once we found the path and started up. The steep, narrow switch-backs seemed to never end. We set a steady pace but I thought I would never get there. We stopped occasionally while I caught my breath. I would lean over my poles and suck in big breathes of the thin, dry, cold night air. The talking caused me to breath harder. But it was a welcome distraction. Once again the altitude brought on the malaise that had plagued me. I peeled off the nylon pants as the climb warmed me up. The narrow trail opened into Dives Basin signalling the approaching summit. I looked up and the stars beckoned but I still couldn’t see the ridge in the darkness. We went from marker to marker until it levelled out and we worked our way across Little Giant Traverse. This seriously steep section offered no fear to me in my totally depleted state. My whole world consisted of a few feet of trail just in front of me. Teresa kept me moving. She chatted when I was up to it and fell silent when the climbing was stealing my breath. Thankyou Teresa. The last climb 12,970 ft was done. I was heading for the finish. Nothing could stop me now.

As we cleared the saddle there were lights dotting the trail below us. I took the lead, hoping I could dig deep and find some downhill running somewhere in my legs. The first part was a steep scree slope and I used my usual controlled slide to scoot across and down. I started to run the narrow track contouring down the valley above Little Giant Mine. The icy snowbanks slowed me down but we were making good time. I knew this section well and could sense the finish within reach. By the time we cleared the singletrack I had used up all the calories I had taken on board at Cunningham and I was down to a walk again. But unlike the previous descents my nausea didn’t pass. I tried the coke but even that sent my stomach into spasms. I tried some orange. No good. OK, looks like we will be walking it in. Every time I tried to run the nausea would overwhelm me and I would stop and lean on my poles, sucking in air. Teresa was patient and ran when I could and walked when I couldn’t. I was grateful for the company. We heard voices and despite the walking managed to still pass people.

The road seemed to go on forever. If I wasn’t familiar with this section I would have been worried we were off the route. Finally, the sharp turn back down to the Arrastra River crossing. Straight through. I managed some jogging along the pipeline track. By the time we reached the forest trail past the beaver ponds I was back down to a walk. A solo runner jogged past and I recognised him later as the guy buried under the blankets at Grouse Aid station. Great recovery. The small creeks were swollen with the days snow melt but nothing would stop me now. Glimpses of lights through the trees showed Silverton was palpably close. I started thinking about my finish and I warned Teresa that I might get a little emotional.

We popped out of the trees onto the ski hill. The lights of the township spread out below us. There was a runner with a pacer just in front of us. With the town now clearly within reach we broke into a run again. I realised it would require a big effort to pass this guy. I didn’t want to spoil his finish by doubling up so we slowed to a walk well behind. As we crossed the bridge into town he was right in front of us so we ran past. It was purely adrenaline now. I reached into my pack and pulled out my Australian flag. I was going to really savour this moment. I threaded the flag onto my trekking pole and it unfurled over my shoulder proudly. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. In the darkness the street lights became a blur as I ran through this timeless tunnel feeling no pain at all. The anticipation was building. The culmination of so much effort. The fulfilment of my long held dream. We turned into Reese Street. I could see the lights of the finish. I could see the gym. I could hear clapping and cheering. Teresa peeled off to the side as I rounded the last corner. My senses were reeling as I held the flag high and ran towards the Hardrock. Tears welled up with the realisation that this was it: I was finishing Hardrock. I collapsed against the rock and kissed the cold hard smooth rock face. I embraced it. I was overcome with emotion. I stood slowly and moved to the side near collapsing. Dale gave me a moment to compose and then hung a medal around my neck. Tears were flowing freely. I was so proud. I hugged him. I grabbed my flag and climbed high onto the rock and held it triumphantly overhead. I had done it. I was finally a Hardrocker. 44hrs34mins.

Obsession. It’s not listed in the essential criteria on the entry application for Hardrock but it should be. Obsession; if you are not obsessed with Hardrock before starting the journey you will be by the end. It gets in your blood and like a disease there is no stopping it. But it doesn’t guarantee you a finish. Nothing does. Hardrock plays no favourites. Determination. That is your best bet and your best friend. Determination and a resolve to cover 100 miles across 12 mountain passes and some of the most spectacular and treacherous scenery you could ever imagine. All this in under 48 hours. They say that when you die your life flashes before your eyes. At Hardrock a lifetime of emotions flashes across your mind in the time it takes to cover the course. Hardrock changed me. I look at things differently. It has changed my perspective. You can’t run Hardrock and not be affected by it. You take a little bit of the mountains home with you. And you leave a little part of yourself out there. It is not just a race. It is an event. It is run and surrounded by amazing people who become part of a big family, the Hardrock community. It engenders a real sense of camaraderie. It is Wild and Tough as the motto claims. But it is more than that. It is an adventure that allows you to explore your very limits and spend a little time immersed in trail running legend. I am grateful to have been granted a chance to participate and humbled by the total experience. Hardrock has been indelibly etched into my psyche. It is something hard to explain. But the name says it all, and no more need be said: Hardrock.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Last post before the race

July 10 posted this:

Greetings from sunny Silverton.
This place is just buzzing with all the runners in town. With a usual population of 430 adding 140 runners with crew and pacers we are taking over.
Just to update:
Day 12 was technically a rest day being the 4th of July holiday. There was a local 10km funrun that I was talked into entering. After registering at 7am and looking around and seeing NO Hardrock runners I thought I had been stooged. But they turned up in droves and it was good fun. I took it easy and finished just over 48 minutes for a personal worst but enjoyed the trot (winner in 41+). The rest of the day was pretty social.
Day 13 back on the trail with the big section across the highest point at Handies Peak, 14,000ft. This after cresting 13,000ft and dropping into a snow filled basin. The views were amazing. Local favourite, Kyle Skaggs JOGGED up to the peak before turning around and running back down. Look out course record. The day ended with the most horrendous car ride back overa really rough 4WD track with 9 of us squashed into a 5 seater. Say no more!
Day 14: A real rest day. At last. 90km for the week. Time to taper.
Day 16 was the last day of course marking. We drove over to Ouray and up to Governors Basin before hiking up to 13,000+ft Virginius Pass. It was really steep and we had a heap of us up on the narrow pass before taking turns jumping off and sliding back down on the snow. I managed to loose control and spin 360* and filling every crack and crevice, including both ears, with snow. Also managed to butt heads with one of the dogs who was getting excited with all the action. Another couple of glissades and a short jog back to the start. We all headed in to Ouray for a soak in the hot springs before a feed of Mexican. Oh the life.
Day 17 over to Durango for last minute supplies. Then an easy 4mile run.
Day 18 today: Registration.
Day 19 tomorrow: Briefing.
Day 20 Friday (10pm your time) race start.
OMG I can't wait!

Drop bags are nearly all done (6 drops). Have a spare pair of shoes (NB Chilliman) that I will send to half way but probably won't change. Sticking with Montrail Hardrocks, how appropriate (not gortex). There will be online updates of progress through the checkpoints. Regardless of the outcome this has already been the most amazing trip. The camaraderie around this run is unlike anything I have experienced before. So many runners of so many abilities all coming together to prepare for the most amazing race. Thanks for all the support. I look forward to filling you in on the details after I kiss the Hardrock!
And on Independence Day:

Don't have the capacity to upload any pics from here. One guy has been videoing stretches. They wanted to mount his cam on my head and send me down one of the steep trails. Of course I wouldn't be so silly.

Yep, apparently Scotts off the list. There are people here doing all the prep who are still on the wait list. It is really hard to get into and no favours offered.

So what day is it? Thursday here. So Day 10 must have been marking from Maggies Gulch over to Cunningham Gulch. In fact it had already been marked so it was a free run to familiarise with the course. We drove my car out and left it at the "start" which was actually a 4 mile hike uphill to the actual course. As this is the second last part of the course a few of us decided to also run the last part all the way back into town. Wow, what a day. 19 miles and over 8 hours and 3 passes over 13,000 ft and I was totally bagged. I had a hoot tearing down the tight trail into the Cunningham checkpoint. I looked back across the valley today to see where we had been and realised I was on the edge of a sheer cliff the whole way. Oh well, sometimes ignorance is bliss. On the last extra climb I was doubting my decision to double up, especially when the thunder started. It was a really really long climb. Think Bogong X 4 at 12,000ft. But we crested the last peak and headed for home safely, if a little cold and hungry. Only to find the pizza place was closed!
Day 11 today, was the official marking of the last section that we added yesterday. I had already done some of this on my own but it is great fun doing the marking and meeting all the other runners and hearing the war stories. It was an easy 9 miles ending with a soak in the icy stream to cool the quads.

As you can probably tell I'm having a ball. People are starting to stake their goals and I'm sticking to my conservative aim of to just finish. The more I see of the course the more I respect those who have covered it.

More from Silverton before HR

And this from July 2:

Thanks for the encouragement all. Sorry Tugger, I don't think I'll be doing a lot of spanking. I'm more likely to cop some myself. However, I did give them a lesson on downhill running today. Don't tell Bro but I ran down the Bear Creek Canyon trail. And how. I won't bore you with the details but this trail was literally chiselled out of the side of a sheer cliff by the miners over a century ago. Spectacular views up and DOWN the canyon. It's generally best not to look down. Then it opens up above the tree line and there are views for miles of craggy snow capped peaks. And we saw a bear! And man can they move. Bro this one wasn't going for a swim. After we reached the saddle at 13,000ft we got to run back to the start at 8,000ft. What took 3 hours to go up took me just over an hour to go down. What a hoot. So that was Day 9. I have been conned into running 2 sections tomorrow so it could be a long day. Yep, only 10 more sleeps. I guess I should think about a taper at some point. But there are so many trails and so little time............

More from Silverton before HR

This from July 1, 2008

Found an internet cafe over in Durango so thought I would update:
Day 5: Rest day. I needed it. Drove an hour to Ouray (lowest point of the race) to check out the route in and out of town. Walked 3 or 4 miles. Saw a deer in the kids playground. This place would feature on any alpine postcard. Ask UCB who stayed here last year.
Day 6: First day of course marking. We drove a couple of miles out of town to the Mineral Creek crossing that spooked me the other day. There is a rope across it now. (And the course director had been too wary to cross it until the rope was in so I felt better.) We climbed a long way up to Putnam Basin and eventually across the 12,600ft pass and down to the first aid station. This guy RUNS past the 20 of us as we are slogging up the hill. Turns out it is Kyle Skaggs, running with just a bottle in his hand. He is a contender. It was a long slow climb for some of us. Me and another guy turned around a mile before the checkpoint down in the valley and ran back. A solid 8 hour day. When we got back the creek had risen with the days snow melt. It reached my chest and I had trouble holding the rope in the current. They asked me next day how I got across (the other guy is over 6' tall). I said there was some aquaplaning!
Day 7: Drove and car shuttled out to where we had finished the day before. Long climb up into snow country. Lots of post-holing through soft snow. And digging in so you don't slide down the huge snowbanks to the bottom of the mountain. Some spectacular frozen lakes up here. The last climb was on all fours. I was digging my hands into the lose gravel and hanging on. Turned out 4 of us (2 HR veterans) headed too far across the pass then had a tricky traverse. One lady (previous HR finisher) was suffering vertigo so we had to guide her across the ledge. 12,900', straight down both sides. We ate lunch then I had the honour of first over the edge. Holy crap I slid and scooted hundreds of feet before hitting the steep snow bank and sliding further on my arse. What a hoot. Just avoid the rocks! After getting back below the tree line the director let us run the last 2-3 miles ahead to the finish. Some amazing technical single track through the pines. There was only one car at the checkpoint so 10 of us had to run/hike another 3-4 miles up to 11,800' to the rest of the cars. I was stuffed.

That made over 40 hours and 120km of trails for the week.

Day 8: So today is a rest day! No course marking. One of the guys wanted me to go up Handies peak (14,000') today. After running back with him the other day and finding out he has run sub 24hrs at Massanutten I decided to stick to my rest day.
Having a ball.

HR lead up from coolrunning

I was using Coolrunning for my updates while in Colorado but thought I would paste them here to background my race report which is coming:

Posted June 27, 2008

Thought of describing some of my prep and given I'm not big on blogs figured here would do:
So this is day 4 at Silverton. Think old American western movie. Picture the old saloon and boardwalk with dirt streets and the odd horse and cart. A steam train pulls into town once a day. All nestled in amongst some really spectacular mountains. There is a constant stream of tourists on the train, by the busload and on the classic touring motorbikes. If you've seen that movie where the 4 middle aged guys take off on bikes then you can picture the type.
Day 1 I went for an easy 3 1/2 hour run/hike on the final few miles of the course. Unfortunately my course directions are in reverse to the direction I was travelling and I managed several detours.
Day 2 I headed out on the first few miles in the right direction. The first major creek crossing about 3 miles in pulled me up. It will be roped on race day and with the huge snow melt I decided against risking it on my own (and for Horrie who seems concerned that I need to HTFU: there have been 6 drownings in Colorado rivers this summer already plus a lady who fell from her horse into a creek and hasn't been found. So I treat these conditions with respect. ). So I went back through town and out the other way again. I figure I will be doing that in the dark so the more times the better. 4hrs.
Day 3 Given that the course isn't marked yet I chose to hike up the nearest mountain instead. I didn't quite get to the 13,000 ft peak as I was running low on water and food so headed off track to the nearest peak. I just followed a goat track and came across a herd of elk grazing in an alpine meadow. Climbed a few snow banks and got to 12,200 ft. Sat in the sun and enjoyed the view for a while. Most spectacular scenery. Glissaded down a snow bank and then pounded the quads all the way back down the mountain. 3hrs up and one hour down! Total of 5 hours for the day. Waded into the local creek and let the icy snow melt cool my quads down.
Day 4 Was determined to find the pass that eluded me on day 1. Still managed to miss a few turns on the way up and went explorng but eventually found a runner who has done 5 HRs and he pointed me in the right direction. Still hard to navigate. Some of the trail is little more than animal tracks. Climbed high and got just below the 13,000ft pass when a big snow bank (with huge drop-off) and looming thunder clouds persuaded me it was time to turn back. One minute it was warm sunshine. The next it was snowing. Then sun again. Another pounding descent and thigh soaking to finish my run. 6hrs.

Course marking starts on Saturday so I will get out to see more of the course. Can't wait. Trail runner heaven.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

And from July 10, just before the race

Greetings from sunny Silverton.
This place is just buzzing with all the runners in town. With a usual population of 430 adding 140 runners with crew and pacers we are taking over. 
Just to update:
Day 12 was technically a rest day being the 4th of July holiday. There was a local 10km funrun that I was talked into entering.  After registering at 7am and looking around and seeing NO Hardrock runners I thought I had been stooged. But they turned up in droves and it was good fun. I took it easy and finished just over 48 minutes for a personal worst but enjoyed the trot (winner in 41+). The rest of the day was pretty social.
Day 13 back on the trail with the big section across the highest point at Handies Peak, 14,000ft. This after cresting 13,000ft and dropping into a snow filled basin. The views were amazing. Local favourite, Kyle Skaggs JOGGED up to the peak before turning around and running back down. Look out course record. The day ended with the most horrendous car ride back overa really rough 4WD track with 9 of us squashed into a 5 seater. Say no more!
Day 14: A real rest day. At last. 90km for the week. Time to taper.
Day 16 was the last day of course marking. We drove over to Ouray and up to Governors Basin before hiking up to 13,000+ft Virginius Pass. It was really steep and we had a heap of us up on the narrow pass before taking turns jumping off and sliding back down on the snow. I managed to loose control and spin 360* and filling every crack and crevice, including both ears, with snow. Also managed to butt heads with one of the dogs who was getting excited with all the action. Another couple of glissades and a short jog back to the start. We all headed in to Ouray for a soak in the hot springs before a feed of Mexican. Oh the life.  
Day 17 over to Durango for last minute supplies. Then an easy 4mile run.
Day 18 today: Registration.
Day 19 tomorrow: Briefing.
Day 20 Friday (10pm your time) race start.
OMG I can't wait!

Drop bags are nearly all done (6 drops). Have a spare pair of shoes (NB Chilliman) that I will send to half way but probably won't change. Sticking with Montrail Hardrocks, how appropriate (not gortex). There will be online updates of progress through the checkpoints. Regardless of the outcome this has already been the most amazing trip. The camaraderie around this run is unlike anything I have experienced before. So many runners of so many abilities all coming together to prepare for the most amazing race. Thanks for all the support. I look forward to filling you in on the details after I kiss the Hardrock!