Photo courtesy of Andrew King - D4 Productions

Monday, July 14, 2008

Hard Rock 100 - 2nd 29.50

What an unbelievable place! What an unbelievable race! One that I will remember for the rest of my life!

This has to be the highlight of my ultrarunning career - even though I might be remembered as "that guy" that finished 2nd behind Kyle Skaggs by 6 and 1/2 hours!!! Kyle Skaggs has got to be one of the best (if not THE best) ultra runner in the world right now. What he did at Hard Rock will go down in history as one of the all time greatest performances. I told him after the race I was just happy to know him and to have raced with him. Everyone of us in the race knew he was gonna break the record but by how much... turns out by over 2 hours! Karl Meltzer (king of HR) was the previous owner of the CW record since 2001. Scott Jurek is the record holder for the CCW direction. I'm sure Kyle will come back just to get the record in the other direction.

Before the race I told no one of my race plan. My crew simply had time of day splits from 2004 and 2006 races and to make my arrival based on those. In my mind though, the goal was simple enough - finish under 30 hours! I feel it almost taboo to talk about going under 30 hours. In fact only 13 runners in 15 years have ever gotten under 30 hours. I knew my work was cut out for me. Here's how it went down in my mind:

As the race started Kyle immediately took off. I was running with James Varner and a guy from Belgium. The guy from Belgium looked at Kyle then asked us "is he for real?!?!" James and I laughed and I finally said, "go stay with him and find out." He didn't think that was too funny because I think his plans for winning were just shot in the first few seconds. Anyways I ran with this guy from Belgium - Wouter I think his name was - Phil Kiddoo and Ricky Denesik up the first climb not much conversation just thought about what we were about to do. Going over the first climb we lost the trail and flags. Phil went left, I stayed on a high point with the Belgian when he said "you go that way and I stay on high ground" I laughed because he thought I was stupid. We finally found the trail no thanks to Wouter and continued to run through KT in the time that I wanted - 2.45.

Next sections were pretty uneventful climbing over Grant-Swamp, down into Chapman, and then over Oscar pass. As we crested Grant-Swamp I got little tingles in my head and that's always a good sign of feeling good. I was climbing strong and coming down real easy. I ended up going down the scree field on Grant-Swamp, whereas Phil and Ricky took the much faster snow route. They were a good 800 meters ahead of me as they were at the bottom and I was only half way down. After Chapman aid station I caught a glimpse of Ricky (former HR winner) and really wanted to test his climbing. I soon caught him, he turned around and said "you're climbing real strong" "thanks, you too". This was the first of many encounters throughout the next 25 + hours.

At the top of Oscars pass starts a long descent into Telluride. Ricky let me pass at the top, indicating he as going to save his knees. I wanted to lose Ricky by Telluride because that's his home town and he would get a charge out of running through there. Within minutes of me leaving Telluride I heard a tremendous roar - Uh Oh Ricky wasn't far behind. It gave me more motivation to get up Bear Creek and to the top of Virginius. It took me a little less than 2 hours to get to the top with me passing Phil Kiddoo and keeping Jared Campbell in sight. Coming down Virginius was a blast - a lot funner than I imagined - basically glissading for a mile almost into Governor aid station.

I didn't stop at Governor because I was feeling good and I wanted to get Bird Camp road outta the way. They say this direction is "easier" because of places like Bird Camp, Engineer, and Handies road are all down hill. Well I say it doesn't matter because if you're not feeling good then your gonna walk anyways. By the time I got to the bottom of Bird Camp I wanted to walk - which I did and James Varner flew past. As I got into Ouray, James Varner was leaving and I told him I didn't want to see him again - no death march this year, he laughed. I stayed in Ouray for about 10 minutes, gathered myself, then left with my music on. The music only motivated me for about 15 minutes as I started the long climb to Engineer.

One of the two places that I felt terrible was right before Engineer aid station. In past races when I start to feel this way I don't eat because I feel I will throw up. This time I forced down 2 packs of shot blocks, which almost came up. When I finally got to Engineer pass, the forceful eating finally paid off and had a good pace getting into Grouse just after 9 p.m. I had lost about 45 minutes but my crew felt I was doing a better job pacing. I stayed in Grouse for 10 minutes telling my crew and Dale I wanted to wait for Ricky and his pacer for lights on Handies.... bad idea. Ricky was running strong and soon left me in the dust. I think it made him mad when I told him I was waiting for him, like I was jabbing him. That probably motivated him to lose me but I sincerely wanted to use his lights as I didn't have a pacer. I didn't think I would see him again.

On the way up Handies, the wind started to blow and it was getting cold. I was in no mood to even walk at this point. Right at the top of American Basin I caught James Varner and we started laughing at the mere thought of us sitting side by side trading shot blocks for gel packs. We both were in the same state. Although the GU he gave me seemed to give me a jump start so I left and got over Handies about midnight. Going down the smooth Handies road should have been a piece of cake but the GU was wearing off and I hit my second bad spot. I walked most of the road and finally got into Sherman at 2:30 a.m. I sat there for 15 minutes when Diana Finkel came in with a sense of urgency. Something clicked inside my body, maybe it was the 3 cups of coke, breakfast burrito, bottle of HEED, and potato soup.... whatever it was it never left from that point on.

I got up Cataract gulch in a hurry! I didn't want to see their lights behind me. Turns out the marking up at the top of Cataract was a mess. I had lights all around me, getting totally disoriented. I saw footprints on the trail and followed them... turns out the footprints were Jared Campbell and his pacer. He was in a bad spot but he and his pacer hitched on and I pulled them up to the top. Once there they tried to lose me but I ran every time they did. We reached Pole line aid station just before 6 am together. They informed us Kyle had just finished..... WHAT?!?! He was only a mere 20 myles ahead of us. Again, leaving the aid station Jared tried to detach me by running in spurts. I still felt OK and decided I would follow until Maggie Gulch.

Leaving Maggie Gulch is the second to last big climb. I followed Jared and his pacer seemed to slow. Jared pulled over, took his shirt off, then I was off. I took a chance this early to see what I had left. But as I was cresting that climb I looked back and saw Jared stopped about 10 minutes back. It was very motivating for me to see how far I could gap him by the next aid station. Turns out I had made 20 minutes on him.

As I got into Cunningham aid station (mile 91), I had lost all sense of breaking 30 hours and resided myself for 3rd place. That's when my father in law said "You can catch Ricky! Go get him!" Seeing everybody there after a long night was enough for me to give it everything I had. I have NEVER, EVER been so focused on getting something done. 10 minutes out of the aid station I caught a glimpse or Ricky and went faster. I didn't want to pass him too early because it's a long steep climb but I knew I was faster going down from earlier in the day. When I caught him he said "Where the hell did YOU come from? I left you for dead on Handies." I just told him I got my second wind and was on my way.

When I got to the top of Little Dives pass from Cunningham in 1.05 I now started to think about going under 30. I had run the trail leading into town with Brian Fisher two days before the race. We ran out 20 minutes and I knew exactly where that was. I needed to make it there by 29.40 in order to get to the rock. I made it there by 29.30 and that's all I needed to see.

But before I get to the finish, way back on the road as I was coming off of Little Dives a jeep was parked in the middle of the road and a guy yelled out to me and said "turn around, have you ever seen anything like that before?" I turned around and there was a billy goat as white as snow. He was like a statue placed on a little mound of rocks. The first thing I thought was "I guess that's the Master Speedgoat himself giving me his nod of approval".

As I'm coming off the trail and into the ski area, here comes Dale Garland on his bike. (I think he was a little surprised to see me and not Ricky). I said to Dale, "I guess I won -huh?-" He said "what?" "Yeah, I won the "human" race" we both laughed.

Every time I finish an Ultra (especially with 100s), I am overcome with emotion. I think of the sacrifices I've made. I think of the sacrifices my family has made. I think of all the hard work I have done for more than a year for this one race. Hard Rock is my super bowl and to see my family, my parents, my in-laws, my friends - all cheering me on was a dream come true. My son met me in the road about 1/4 mile to the finish and I lost it. He hugged me, started to cry, and said "Dad I am so proud of you, I love you so much".

29.50:53 was my final time as I kissed the infamous Hard Rock. 2nd place overall. But as I've said before, the place doesn't really matter, it's the time. I am no Kyle Skaggs or Tony Krupicka (nor will I ever be), so I must race myself and beat the demons that try to take me down each and every time.

A sincere "Thank You" to everyone who helped me along the way. I could not do this without you!

Me and boy wonder the next morning
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