What an incredible day! I am extremely happy with my result! Since when has 4 runners went under 28 hours at Hard Rock in one year? NEVER! Karl was absolutely on Fi-Yer! Troy Howard nailed it on his first attempt. Diana Finkel obliterated the CR set by Krissy Moehl. And AJW was up to his usual business of picking people off the last 25....
As most of you know my biggest competitor is my younger self. Sure I would love to win every time but it's not always possible so if I can walk away with a PR then I'm happy. And to be quite honest it's the only thing that I can control during my race. This year it was really hard to keep my nerves and excitement in check not only pre-race but during the early hours of the race. Not only was I wearing the #1 bib but Karl gave me 3-1 odds. I won't lie - that added some pressure. To beat Karl while he's running the best he ever has at a race that he has won 5 times is a MONUMENTAL task! Needless to say I was up to the challenge and this is how it played out:
Start to Cunningham (9.2) - The weather was perfect to start, probably upper 50s with no clouds. Karl, myself, and Jared Campbell ran relatively effortlessly along the flat trail leading to the first climb. Once the climb started Karl and I separated ourselves and began to talk about the build up to the race and everything else relating to ultras. Once we made the top of the climb I was just in front of Karl and decided that I would take it real easy going down to Cunningham aid station. It's a pretty significant drop so it's easy to burn the legs up way too early. I knew Karl is a much better downhiller than I am so I was waiting for him to pass... he never did. We left the aid station together and we both agreed that we were there WAY too fast - 1.56 to be exact. I knew from that point on that with our relatively easy effort and fast time we could both post a good time.
Cunningham - Maggie (15.3) - This next section has 2 stiff climbs and as good as I felt with Karl right behind me I thought it was a good time to see if our speed matched climbing and descending. We still weren't pushing, our climbing rate was about the same but as was we started descending into Maggie I sensed Karl go down faster than I wanted to go. Although we arrived at the aid station together.
Maggie - Pole Creek (19.6) - Starting out of Maggie's is a short climb up to the Colorado Trail at 11K and then it's a nice flat 4 mile section so I thought it was a good spot to test out the leg speed. I was extremely surprised to see Karl pull away from me. I wasn't having any problems but he was still pulling away. I made this section in 46 minutes which was about 7 minutes faster than I had ever done it so I was happy. I arrived 2 minutes behind Karl and still feeling good.
Pole Creek - Sherman (28.7) - Next up was a gradual climb to the top of Cataract gulch then a 32oo ft drop down to Sherman. Down to Sherman is where I wanted to test how much faster Karl was going. First I had to get up to him, which I did over the next 3 myles. Once we started going down though, I never did see him. So many twists and turns I didn't know if he was 2 minutes or 10 minutes ahead I was relieved to know he was only 2 minutes ahead. The aid station crew quickly got my drop bag with ONE major problem, my liquid calorie replacement that I had been training with had exploded. We all know shtuff happens in ultras and overcoming that shtuff -quickly- makes the difference. I resorted to eating "frozen" boiled potatoes with a little salt - quite tasty because it was hot. Unfortunately I was still thinking about my lost liquid calories when I should've realized I couldn't do anything about it.
Sherman - Grouse (42.1) - Leaving Sherman is a dirt road leading to the base of Handies. It certainly is a place that you can run but always mindful of saving a little for Handies. I did my best to balance out the running and walking. On the long stretches I could see Karl and figured he was about 3-5 minutes ahead. I though for sure we would both keep that same rate going over Handies but again with all the trees I couldn't see where he was once we started up. I couldn't get a glimpse of him until we reached tree line where I was totally surprised to see him at least 15 minutes (best guess) up on me. I did my best to stay in touch but I started with stomach/intestinal issues. The best way for me to describe it is like swallowing a soccer ball, have the soccer ball absorb everything you take in but not let anything out. By the top of Handies my stomach was distended and my legs were dead. I tried e-caps, EFS liquid shot, GU, and water - nothing was digesting and my stomach was getting bigger. By the time I got to Grouse I was down about 1/2 hour to Karl while Troy and Diana were right on my heels. I ate some watermelon, a cookie, and my liquid calorie drink at the aid station.
Grouse - Engineer (48.6) - Walking up Engineer road was like a death march! I picked up a pacer - Rick Hessek - whom I had been training with around Pikes Peak. I felt really bad for Rick because he wanted to help so bad (even offered his stomach) but there was nothing he could do. So we walked up to Engineer Pass and I eventually sat at the top pass thinking about my fate. I was trying to think of how I was gonna break it to my crew that I was done. Rick finally encouraged me to get to the aid station and eat something and maybe a coke. I sat at the aid station for a good 5 minutes and sensed something coming around as we started down.
Engineer - Ouray (56.5) - The canyon leading down to Ouray is absolutely beautiful! I was glad we were now running and Rick was able to see it. He said it reminded him of part of the Grand Canyon trail as it's cut right into the side of a cliff - those miners were some tuff folk to get that equipment up there! Probably about 2 myles out of the aid station I sensed a change in my legs as my stomach didn't seem as bound up. Now it was just a matter of time to try and get some calories back in, but not too quick. Rick and I kept up a pretty good pace into Ouray and were still on a sub 28 pace. I sat at the aid station for about 10 minutes, eating rice and beans and chicken broth. Rick was now done pacing - thanks Rick - and now I pick up Christian Johnson.
Ouray - Governor (64.4) - Christian and I started out of Ouray as Jared Campbell passed us. Jared and I did a see-saw last year so I was hoping this year would turn out the same, but I had to hold on. As we headed up Bird Camp road, Christian said to me that his goal was to leave me in better shape than found me. I vowed to do my part. He carried Saltines, bean/rice/chicken broth mixture, and offered Clif blocks. Little by little as we powered up Bird Camp my spirit and legs started to return. We made it up to Governor's faster than I ever have. I had more broth, watermelon, and coke at the aid station. And the most amazing part of our stop at Governor was that Christian dared to take my shoes off and get all the dirt out - now that is true devotion!
Governor - Virginius (67.6) - I was more excited for Christian to see the next section up to Virginius than anything else. That excitement helped me get up the hill but I won't lie, I started to feel it as we got higher. I try to explain and have even taken pictures of Virginius but I don't think that does it justice - you have to experience the awesomeness of Virginius yourself. Just ask Christian, he was so excited when he got to the top. I think he wanted to stay and drink Tequila with the aid station... Anyways, 2 of the 3 pitches were covered in snow or should I say ice. The snow was as hard as a rock so it made it a little dicey. Thank goodness they had a rope up the last pitch.
Virginius - Telluride (72.6) - Down into Telluride is another 4400 ft bomber descent. All I could think about going down in the dark (as good as I was running) was to keep the shiny side up. Before we left Virginius there was a set of lights at the base of the last pitch, I was thinking it was Ricky Denesik. At any rate, who ever it was they were gaining on me and that didn't sit too well with me. All the way down to Telluride I was thinking about those lights and was curious to see how close/far they were from me as I left Telluride. Since HR ends on a 5 mile descent into Silverton I would have a good indication if this person behind me was climbing or descending better than I was. More to come on that. I dropped Christian off at Telluride with a grin from ear to ear so I was happy. And yes Christian you did leave me in better shape than you found me - thank you!
Telluride - Chapman (81.9) - Now I picked up my 3rd pacer Brian Fisher. Brian knows the deal as he was my pacer in this exact section my first year. I knew Brian wasn't gonna let me whine AND he was gonna push me. I felt good leaving Telluride, climbing well until we hit about 11K. I had to stop several times, put my hands on my knees, catch my breath, and gather myself. Each time I stopped I noticed the lights getting closer and closer. As we got to the top of the 4500 ft climb I honestly didn't think I could hold the lights anymore. Brian and I traversed across a very dicey snow/ice field and we were very slow doing it so I thought for sure that was when the catch was gonna happen - it never did. Going down to Chapman off of Oscar's pass is a brutal descent with big rocks at the top. I thought we got down to Chapman at a good clip, actually catching up to Jared Campbell, but I needed a good 10 minute break. Once again I thought the lights from behind would show up, never did so I thought this person must not be descending very well. Karl was gone at this point and had gone through Chapman at 1:20, about 2.5 hours before me. I started calculating his time and came up with 25 flat
Chapman - KT (88.9) - Grant Swamp pass has always made me nervous because just like Virginius, it's straight up but with no rope. This year the route didn't have any snow which is kinda a good/bad thing; scree is harder to climb but safer than ice/snow. We made our way to the base of Grant Swamp with the first light of the day. The lights were off and now I'd get my first glimpse at the stalking lights... AJW!! "You have got to be kidding me!" I said to Brian. I could hear him talking to his pacer and recognized his booming voice. He was literally within a stones throw. I should have guessed. AJW knows the deal with hundreds; meaning the last 25 is when the race starts. Part way up Grant-Swamp I looked at Brian and I said (in so many words) "He is not gonna beat me! Not today! Not on this course!" The tunnel vision kicked in and we were OFF! I felt the best I had all day - I am not kidding! We caught Jared Campbell and his pacer a few minutes off Grant Swamp, which only fueled my fire a little more. Now I was on Fi-Yer! By the time we got to KT I had put 17 minutes on Andy and 12 on Jared. I was now thinking about the next person in front.
KT - Putman (94.5) - I was still feeling good leading into the next climb but as we got to the second false summit I had to take a break. I felt we had put a good gap on AJW so I elected to sit down for a minute. My goal was to be up and over the last climb before anyone else crested the Porcupine/Cataract saddle. Just as we started the last climb into Putnam, Andy and his pacer crested and were moving at a good pace. I was also still running good, arriving into Putnam in just under 2 hours after we left KT - pretty fast!
Putman - Silverton (100.4) - Now the gnarly descent into Silverton. I have not done very well on this descent in the past so I was bound and determined to post a good split. The trail goes right through boulder fields and in other sections has tons of overgrowth with rocks just waiting to chuckle as you take a digger. Tunnel vision still in effect I was focused on every foot placement. Brian and I got to the river where my father-in-law was waiting and he said "winners never quit". He knew the pain and misery that I had gone through the day before. That was a distant memory that I was happy to leave behind. For the second time I was fortunate enough to have Brian Fisher bring me home. It such an emotional time and I'm happy to share that experience with him - thanks Brian!
Getting up to the Shrine of the Mines is such an awesome sight down into Silverton. It seems almost a week ago we left Silverton. People lined up on the roads cheering and congratulating - such an amazing feeling. But most amazing of all was my 1 1/2 year old son Myles running towards me down the road to greet me. I picked him up, he tucked his head, patted me on the chest and said "Da-Da". I carried him to the rock, I kissed the rock, AND THEN watched as Myles kissed the rock several times - future Hard Rocker indeed!
Hard Rock is such an amazing experience! For me Hard Rock training starts the day after Hard Rock ends the previous year. But there is no way this could ever happen if it wasn't for my wife! She understands my passion, my obsession, my whatever it is. And if she doesn't understand it, she tolerates it and for that I say - I love you and thank you Nicole! I know my honey-do list is long but I promise I'll finish before August. In addition, there are so many other people who support me and love Hard Rock just as much as I do; Mom, Dad, Rick, and Rae Jean I love you all and know I could not do this without you! I met so many new people at Hard Rock this year which makes it that much more special. Bill Dooper thank you for all your support along the way - I look forward to another year. And Johnny and Kathy (camp hosts at South Mineral) thank you for taking me in like your own son, you made me feel like family when my family was not there.
So in the end I did exactly what I thought I could do; the number in my head was 27.42, not too far off. My time of 27:47 is the 8th fastest time in the history of the race and only 5 people have been faster. Karl you are the king of Hard Rock - no doubt! AJW you are a great competitor - congrats on the WS/HR combo! Also congratulations to all who not only finished but started the race and had to quit for one reason or another! I will be back next year for my 5th finish.