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 with AF. I was forced to miss Hardrock in 2011 due to my AF but my long term goal was to get back to a level where I could enter the lottery for 2012. 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 qual for 2015. I ran Fatdog in Canada instead. That was tough. Now back to Hardrock.

The heart problems all started back on May 25: http://howmanysleeps.blogspot.com/2011/05/out-of-hardrock.html

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mission accomplished

Wow, one week after Hardrock and I am back in Oz, trying to get over another dose of jetlag.
I will write a full and thorough race report but meantime the short version is: I finished.

This was my toughest one yet, despite being the fittest I have been. I was conservative the first day and was confident I could run home strong in under 40hrs (my goal) the last climb in the night (Engineer's Pass) and early the next morning I suffered terribly from the altitude. My vision went all blurry then started to funnel down on me and I was all light headed and wobbly. At first I thought this was just fatigue but it got worse the higher I went and then my lips got all tingly. I realised I was hypoxic and descended. I sat and faced the DNF for nearly an hour before trying again and taking it really slow. I made it over American-Grouse and then over Handies so just plugged away until I felt good again by late afternoon.

Time became irrelevant except for the cut-offs which I knew I could beat. I don't know what else I can do for this run. I have trained harder than ever, spent 3 weeks acclimating and I know the course now. There is no way of predicting the effects of altitude and I suffered more in the lead up this year.

But a Hardrock finish is a finish, and I will take that anyday, regardless of time.
3 from 3.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Day 18: Thursday 8th

Wow, d-day. Well 10 hours until start time. All the registration and formalities are done. All fed and hydrated. Drop bags are in. Nothing left but to get some last minute zzzzzz's. The energy in the school gym today was electric. Everybody was buzzing. A couple of runners got in at the last minute to fill the no-shows. Deb Pero missed out. She was next in line so if someone fails to show in the morning she can still get a start. Hard to imagine such a scenario.

I am as ready as I can be. I am looking forward to just getting out on the trail. I am lucky to be given this opportunity yet again and hope to do justice to my entry spot.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Day 17: Wednesday 7th

Registration opened today. I am sitting in the high school gym with my little fluoro yellow hospital bracelet on. This makes it easy to spot entered runners. Lots of nervous energy as the business end begins. Rodger and the Coury brothers have built a magnificent finishers shute lined with full size flagpoles carrying the flags of every state and country represented in the race. The aussie flag is flying proudly and we hope to do it justice starting in 37 hours time!

Day 16: Tuesday 6th

Rest day. Spud is crawling the walls. He is way ready to run.

I haven't been able to load any pics but Steve Pero has opened his picasa album for us to share his pics. They are grouped by day so easy to follow and some great shots in there:

http://picasaweb.google.com/ultrastevep

Day 15: Monday 5th

Into taper mode now. I have a couple of underlying niggles that will benefit from a few days rest. Spud and I took trip over to Durango for last minute supplies (and lunch at the fantastic Himalayan restaurant). We went for an easy short 'run' along the first couple of miles of the course. Just climbing up the hill to the Miner's Shrine that overlooks Silverton reminded us that we should be walking even at the start of the race. It also put into perspective the pace Blake Wood set, sprinting off at the start of the 5km race despite going uphill (sub 20min 5km at 9,300ft!). John Beard also ran a blinder in the 10km being 41+ something minutes. There are some really fit and well acclimated people here.

Past the Miner's Shrine we followed the road down to the Highway where we turned sharply onto a bench that apparently used to be a railway bed. Which means it should be flat. Well by HR standards it probably is. But it does undulate through the trees and scrapes across a huge red scree slope.

We turned around at the turn-off that drops down to the Hwy. We could see the fixed line way up above the creek which was uncharacteristically low. A gentle jog back and time to kick back until Friday. About 4miles easy.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Day 14: Sun 4th

You have to see the 4th July in Silverton to believe it.

The day starts early with the local fun run: 10km, 5km and 2km. With the benefit of experience I opted to watch rather than run (in 2008 I spent the restof the day coughing up half a lung!).
Mid morning all the Hardrockers met up to to 'march' in the 4th July parade. OMG it is a huge parade. And it is a ball to be a part of it, walking behind the HR start/finish banner.

Next comes the rhubarb pie festival. For a couple of bucks you get a slab of homemade pie and icecream. Mmmm yum. We ate this while the brass band played in the gazebo in the park.

Then time for a nap, in preparation for the HUGE fireworks display that evening. And they put on a huge display that goes for half an hour. I am not a big firework fan but the amphitheatre effect of the fireworks reverberating up the canyon is unbelievable. It was a really cool evening sitting around a fire pit outside Charlie's place watching the show. And then the massive logjam as thousands and thousands of cars tried to all exit via the single road, Hwy 550.

Day 13: Saturday 3rd

No trail-marking today so I showed Spud the last part of the course.
We took an easy run/hike out past the ski hill and along the singletrack past the beaver pond. We followed the jeep road up to the crossing over Arrastra Creek before running back. An easy 6 miles with little elevation gain. An easy day.

Day 12: Friday 2

Bear Creek out of Ouray, Hwy 550 up to Engineer's Pass.
This is one of my favourite parts of the course. This year we go up. Which according to Dave Mc is the safer direction (for some reason he thinks running down this windy narrow steep trail is dangerous). And from Ouray to the pass is the longest overall climb of the whole course. We started on the 550 Hwy, the classic tourist route through the mountains. The road cuts through sheer rock forming a tunnel. The trail climbs right up over this tunnel before a series of long, steep switchbacks across beds of loose slate. Running down here sounds like running on broken china. And like Dave says, 'the ground moves under you'. And it does.

Once off the switchbacks we were in the true canyon where the trail has been literally carved into the cliff wall. It is hard to imagine the miners blasting their path up this gorge then hauling massive equipment up there. But they did, and Hardrock enjoys their legacy. Spud and I posed for some pics on some of the more treacherous bends. Bear Creek can be heard tumbling over rocks far below. Race day I will come through here in the dark so the opportunity to soak in the real beauty of this trail was not to be missed.

Passing the Grizzly mine the trail goes through a lightly wooded patch, crosses several small streams and through some open grassy meadows. It was at one of these we saw a bear during marking day 2008. None today.

We stopped at the Yellow Jacket mine for a break and everyone caught up. Back into the woods and more creek crossings and we were finally at the treeline, site for Engineer Aid Station. Someone had carted a chainsaw (it was also trail-work day and some people were working for extra tickets in next years HR lottery) so we cut a fallen tree up for firewood. Amidst all this industry the heavens opened and a hail storm rained down on us, sending us scurrying for cover.

We left some of the trail workers cutting wood and we continued up the valley, marking the faint trail with the HR flags and building rock cairns. The valley opened out into a wide grassy bowl, decorated with wildflowers. The final pitch up to the pass had us sucking in the thin air. We sat and ate marveling in the beauty before us.

Spud and I decided to run down. What had taken 6 and half hours to go up we covered in 1:15 on descent. Needless to say Dave, was right, the ground moved, real fast.

8hrs (1:15 down) 16 miles, 12,190 feet

Day 11: Thursday 1st

Virginius day: one of the must do days of the course marking. Spud opted to come out despite being his first day from sea level. We hitched a ride in the extracab part of Steve's truck to Ouray then the long bumpy ride up Camp Bird Road. We run down this in the race and it is one of the more mind numbing sections. Way worse going up last year.

We parked at the site of the Governor's Aid Station and started the hike up the jeep road. Almost no snow until we got just below the mine site. After a scramble up the steep snow banks we were at the mine site and we could see the first steep pitch. The snow was split down the middle by a huge dirt bank. We all picked our lines, some choosing the dirt. There was no easy way, compounded by loose rocks breaking free and crashing down dangerously on those below.

After the first pitch we worked cross to the short second pitch which was covered in soft snow. You had to be careful you didn't break through. Then we all faced the third and final steep pitch. The snow had melted through in parts making the climb up the middle dangerous, if not impossible. We traversed from the side, kicking steps into the icy snow. 13,100 feet. Wow.

The narrow ledge that serves as Kroger's Kitchen aid Station filled up with runners and we sat around eating lunch and soaking up the spectacular views. We checked out the lead-up from the Telluride side, steep and slippery.

After some photos we set off sliding and slipping back down the partially exposed slope. with momentum we glissaded some of the second pitch. Running across the bench I broke through some soft snow and jammed my knee onto a rock. Yeow. A bit of a graze but no real damage.

The last steep pitch was a mix of sliding and scrambling out of control. Most of that snow will be gone by race day but the dirt/rock slopes will still be tricky to descend. Then the road back to the cars. 6 miles 3.45 hrs

We all finished the day with the traditional soak at the hot springs before a feed of Mexican.

Day 10: Wednesday 30th

Rest day, Spud flew in late in the evening so given I was driving over to Durango to pick him up I decided not to join the course marking (long day from Maggie to Arrastra Gulch). Had a lay day and did some shopping before heading out to the airport.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Day 9: Tuesday 29th

Found out today several Hardrock veterans are not going to be here this year. I knew Joe Prusaitis had been forced to go home with bad altitude sickness. A reminder of how dangerous the altitude can be. But I also found out that John DeWalt wasn't coming. John is a true living legend, having finished 14 Hardrocks at age 72 (I think). A couple of other regulars missing will be missed but open spaces for those on the wait list.

Today was Handies Peak course marking. Jim Sweat and I decided to go to the top and come back the same way to avoid the 2 hour drive out from the other side. This involved recrossing American Basin and climbing the Grouse-American Pass yet again but always beats that truck ride. Anything beats that truck ride. Starting at close to 10,000ft at the site of the Grouse Gulch Aid Station (bad, bad memories from 2008-see report on side bar for more info) the trail switch-backs steeply up, up, up until we can see the pass high above us. With only a couple of short snowbanks to cross the traveling will be clear by race day. 

We stopped and regrouped at the pass, 13000 feet and had something to eat. The American Basin opened below us and I was surprised how little snow there was. Looming above that was the brooding hulk of Handies Peak, imposing and impressive all at once.

We dropped down into the basin, picking our way through rocky outcrops and streams. Then the long, long climb up Handies. The trail switchbacks continuously before a final steep crumbly ascent. We gathered below the final pitch out of the wind while the stragglers caught up. We sat in the sun and ate with the most spectacular view. You know this is a sport for older runners when the main topic of conversation was everybodies annual colonoscopy. Hmmmm. That and stories of past Hardrock disasters. Jim Sweat always wins those: 9 starts and never finished. 

Finally we were up and climbing the final pitch and on the broad summit. The 360 degree view was worth the effort. Lots of pics and signing the register in the tube and Jim and I headed back down. Marcie and John had hiked over from the other side so joined us on the return. In the short space of time the marmots had already eaten half of the flagging tape off the markers by the time we passed back. Luckily the metal reflectors are to tough for them.

On the final descent the heavens opened and we picked up the pace. 10 miles in 6:45hrs.

Day 8: Monday 28th

The course marking was going over the long Pole Creek section today. This involves a 2 hour drive on a really rough road, most likely sitting in the back of a covered 'pick-up truck'. I have done this trip, jammed in with other runners and dogs as the truck bounces and winds along treacherous jeep roads. One turn requires a 3 point turn and I remember having my face pressed up against the tailgate window as the arse of the truck hung over the cliff edge. Needless to say I skipped the marking today and went solo up the Dives-Little Giant Pass. 

The weather started out perfect and I was soaking in the crisp clear mountain air as I cruised out past the Beaver Ponds again. Once climbing Arrastra Gulch the altitude started to bite and I settled into a slow steady hike, my poles striking out the rhythm on the hard-packed rocky road. Above the tree line I again noticed the proliferation of wildflowers. The Indian Paintbrushes with their blaze of orange-red foliage were brilliant. The little pikas (think guinea pig) were out cheekily squeaking at me before retreating to their rock fortresses as I approached. A few big hairy marmots scampered across the path. How all this wildlife survives being buried in snow for 6 months of the year I have no idea. It was providing me plenty of entertainment and company today.

The final approach to the pass was now completely melted out of snow. But the clouds were closing in. I reached the pass and could see a couple of huge storm cells moving across the mountains. One was right over where the course markers would be. Boy I was glad I wasn't over there. I sat and had a couple of pop tarts, leaving plenty of crumbs over the marmot hole next to where I was sitting.

The thunder started and that was my queue to get out of there. Back down the way I came in 6 1/2 hours for 15 miles.