Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hardrock Heaven

I’ve been focused on Hardrock and training specifically for it ever since I got the wonderful surprise that I made it in back in February. All these months of crazy miles, mountain climbing, very little sleep, etc. have been a whirlwind, but it’s been so fun having a singular focus. Now Hardrock is over and I’ve had a few days to reflect, and I can say without hesitation that Hardrock was everything I’d hoped it would be and more, and I literally cannot wait to be back again. The bug has bitten and I like the venom.

There’s something about the CO mountains that draws me in and makes me feel at home. I can’t put my finger on what exactly it is, but I think it’s everything all rolled into one- the thin air, the spectacular wildflowers, the gorgeous high tundra flora and fauna, the bear tracks, the glorious untouched beauty of God’s creation- maybe it really does just feel like I’m about as close to heaven as I can get here. So that draw to the mountains continues, perhaps stronger than ever after another amazing few weeks in the San Juans. After starting my journey right off the bat finishing up the last 75 miles of the CO Trail (Molas Pass to Durango), I rested well for about 5 days in Durango and Silverton with just a few short mountain runs thrown in. In retrospect, doing those miles certainly wasn’t the smartest thing to do the week of Hardrock, the hardest 100 mile race on the planet, but it was nonetheless what I needed to do. Finishing what I started put my mind at ease and made me fully at peace going into Hardrock.

I’ll spare the boring details of buildup to the race and just give a quick play by play. Wednesday- picked up friend and teammate Diane Van Deren (awesome NY Times cover article) in Durango, headed to Silverton. Registered, felt the race magic begin to build. Got the news my pacer bailed on me and wasn’t coming after all. Began to put out feelers in every direction for new pacer. Met Kevin from The North Face, he was awesome and totally on board to help Kirsten crew- sweet! Back to Durango to pick up Kirsten. Flight delayed by 3 hours, picked her up at 1:30AM. Slept. Back to Silverton for pre-race briefing at noon. The magic builds. Delicious dinner, gathering all my gear, resigned to having no pacer, ready to roll for my first HR100!

Friday, July 10 – I woke early, headed down to San Juan Grille for an amazing banana pancake breakfast and much coffee. (I’d been off caffeine for about a week to prep for HR, and that juice tasted so good.) Relaxed, checked in for race, and I was on the starting line before I knew it. Great to see teammates Diane and Helen Cospolich and wish everyone the best. Then we were off into the mountains. The first climb began promptly and I felt good, but not great. The get up and go I’d hoped for just wasn’t in my legs today and I knew it early on. This was I knew thanks to my CO Trail jaunt, and an unfortunate realization on the first climb. However, it also made the rest of the race perhaps even more fun. I was just going to go as fast as I could go and enjoy this time to the utmost. And enjoy it I did. Wow, what a day. I ran with Diana Finkel for a short time following the Cunningham Gulch aid station, but she pulled away and I would never see her again as she embarked on a tremendous race. I ran with a few other folks here and there, but for the most part was alone. It took me a while to get accustomed to the markers on the course, especially when the course would jut off what seemed to be a perfectly fine trail into the great unknown up and over the side of a mountain with no visible trail. I literally laughed out loud more times than I can remember as the trail twisted and turned through the San Juans. I got lost a few brief times between here and Sherman, but eventually got myself into there. On the descent into Sherman, Andy Jones-Wilkins passed me looking fresh as a daisy coming off his great WS100 run. He, too, went on to a stellar run here at HR. I fueled up well at Sherman and was on my way up and out. As I climbed, I looked at the time and realized there was a very real possibility of the clockwork afternoon thunderstorms coming in as I went up and over the biggest climb of the course (Handies Peak at over 14,000 ft). Indeed, as I climbed higher I saw the black clouds coming in, and the rain began. I slipped on my rain jacket, and was thankful to have it as the pouring rain quickly began large hail. I thought to myself, “this is just plain foolish” many times as I went up and over the bald peak of Handies, and was extremely grateful to be sprinting down the other side when I got there. I took a tumble on this descent and drew some nice blood from my hand, but nothing major. Soon, I came into Grouse Gulch. I ate, got bandaged up, and headed out. They asked if I had a pacer. My response- “nope, I’m flying solo this time!” The climb up Engineer’s was really nice and felt great. Coming out of the Engineer aid station, the descent through the canyon cliffs was breathtaking, spectacular, and maybe even a little scary at times.

I made it in to Ouray just as dark was coming in, and was met with a great surprise! Kirsten and Kevin had connected with Bruce here, and Bruce was game to pace me through the night. He was first on the waiting list to get in, and was really bummed not to be in the race, but he graciously stepped in the join me for the night section. Though I was mentally prepared for cruising through the night solo, it was a really great surprise to have Bruce’s company. We kept a nice steady pace up and over Virginius pass (which was definitely gnarly), then cruised down into Telluride. There were some very confused drunken townfolk on the street as we ran through town around 2am. I saw my amazing crew of Kirsten and Kevin one last time, refueled, and was soon back out for the next climb. As we climbed, I told Bruce that I didn’t think I had ever said this at mile 73 of a 100 miler before, but mentally I really felt like I was on the home stretch now. So, up we went on a climb that truly seemed to never end, but it eventually did of course, and we began scrambling down and into Chapman Gulch. I had an amazing breakfast burrito here, and then we were off as the sun was just coming up. The sun gave me new life and I started clicking away at a steady strong pace up and out of there. I looked back and saw that Bruce was no longer in sight and was a little uncertain how to proceed. We had fortunately talked about it though, and I figured it was alright for me to just keep going at my pace. So onward I went up and over Grant Swamp Pass. This seemingly vertical scree scramble to the top was a heart-stopping climb, but amazing as usual. Down into the lush valley below, and soon I was in at KT aid station. I could feel Roch Horton chasing me down and had been seeing his headlight right behind me since Telluride. With only 11 miles to go, I put my head down and powered through. As I got to the final pitch of the last climb, I noticed Ricky Denesik in front of me, which motivated me to keep my pace up and keep pushing on. I passed Ricky at the top, and then pushed on into Putnam. A few quick cookies and some Coke, and I was headed down for the final stretch. These last miles were a bit surreal, and I just kept cruising down the valley.

Crossing the final river, and then doing the last 2 or so mile traverse in to Silverton, I felt like I was floating. It’s probably safe to say that these were my fastest miles of the day. Coming in the final stretch down the streets of Silverton brought the end of a very long, spectacular journey to a very special finish. I kissed the rock, kissed my wife, and couldn’t have felt more at home. 31:03, not bad for my first trot out on the Hardrock course. I never had a low throughout the entire time, other than feeling a bit sleepy at night. It was a truly joy-filled, fun, and incredible experience, and I cannot wait to be back. I saw countless marmots throughout the day. They scurried about the mountain in and out of their holes, over and around the rocks, seemingly enjoying the wildflowers and sunshine. They were incredibly cute and just seemed to be so happy. I caught their spirit out there I think, and felt like a happy little marmot scurrying around through the mountains for a day. There are never any guarantees, but I look forward to being back at Hardrock sometime soon for another amazing time. Thank you thank you to Kirsten (my wife), Kevin for crewing, Bruce for jumping in to pace me, Dale and all the amazing Hardrock volunteers, and to everybody that was following along live and cheering throughout the day! See you on the trails soon.


Monk Monkey said...

What an amazing adventure! Very inspiring. I'm so glad you had such a good time. Sam the marmot!

Anonymous said...

Wow Sam. You have hit the big time now. Keep up the good work. I hope to see you on the trails again someday. Mark S., Minneapolis

Sam said...

Thanks Robyn and Mark! Definitely hope to see you both out on the trails again soon. Mark, I'm actually coming out to your neck of the woods (kind of) for the Grand Island Marathon this coming weekend on the U.P.- any chance you're going to be there? That would be awesome!

Jamil said...

Nice work Sam. I didn't get a chance to meet you but I was impressed at how fast you were FLYING up engineer road past me out of Grouse! Keep it up.

David said...

"I felt like I was floating" - nice description.

Sam said...

Hey Jamil! Sorry we didn't get to officially meet at HR too, but congratulations on a really strong performance out there! I definitely remember seeing you on the climb out of Grouse. Congratulations on a fantastic run, and hope to see you out there again next year!