The San Juan Mountains have a special place in my heart… for many reasons. It began 12 or 13 years ago when I was leading a group of students for the Colorado Outward Bound school and found a deep connection with the remoteness and beauty of the area. I also paced Hardrock about 6 times before ever deciding to put my name in the lottery. Initially, I was incredibly intimidated by the course, but eventually realized that it was truly the course that suited me best.
This year was my third time running. Every year, I go in with the same mind set and psychological strategy… have respect for the mountains, have fun, and stay in the present moment. If practiced fully, things will fall into place. This year, in addition to the above, I wanted to be consistent and strong. And this year things were a bit different than previous years in that I am running the Rocky Mountain Slam (Bighorn, Hardrock, Leadville, and The Bear). Since having plantar fasciitis most of the early season, I did not know how the 100-mile distance would feel. I ran Bighorn as a test, and ended up having a great race there (1st place, Course Record, PR). More importantly, I had a good recovery. That was what I needed to know going into Hardrock.
My strategy with the SLAM has been to take it one race at a time and remember the 3 R’s: Race, Recover, Repeat!
I could not think about Hardrock at Bighorn, or Leadville at Hardrock. Just focus on the moment!
After Bighorn, I did not do any long runs, but, rather, tried to go up to altitude a handful of times and get in some 2-4 hour runs at most. I felt pretty good at altitude going into HRH. I went to Silverton a few days before the race with my daughter and best friend who would crew, pace, and help with Sophia (a lot to ask!).
Before the start, the town was buzzing with pent up runner energy. The normal feeling of just wanting the race to start was in full effect. I wanted to be back in those San Juans where I knew I’d find that connection again.
From the start of the race, I simply tried to settle into a sustainable pace. Not too fast and not too slow. I wanted to hike with a purpose and run the flats and downhills.
I also tried to eat early and often in order to stay on top of nutrition.
The first climb (as with every climb at Hardrock) leads to a beautiful pass. I could feel the altitude already and tried to stay steady on the climbs. Diana [Finkel] was in front of me and I knew that she tends to go out fast on this course so I tried to focus on running my own race and not catch up this early on.
The next climb up Grant Swamp Pass is gorgeous. I tried to soak in the view of Ice Lake and not think about the descent on the other side. I basically slid down the chaussy talus field on my butt, while gathering loads of rocks in my shoes. Once on flatter terrain, I dumped out the rocks and kept rolling. I felt great descending to the Chapman aid and tried to stock up on food (tater tots, potato chips, quesadilla). This was how I ran most of the day, eating at the aid stations at lower elevations and then switching to GU’s and Honey Stinger chews up in the higher elevations.
I climbed at a steady hiking pace out of Chapman up Oscar’s pass with Jason Poole and was happy for the company. As we descended into Telluride and down Bridal Veil Falls, the rain/hail storm came on in full force. Thankfully, we did not have any route finding issues and just had to deal with some large sized hail bits pounding our heads. I actually ended up using my arm warmers as protection on my head. Mentally, I felt good at this point. I did start to feel some soreness in my right quad and can only attribute it to not being fully recovered from Bighorn a month ago.
Telluride was pulling me in as I knew this was the first of only three aids where I would see crew. I tried to soak it in. Slightly goofy, I tried to laugh and smile with my crew and give hugs to my daughter while making sure I had everything I needed for Virginius Pass and the weather ahead.
The climb up Virginius was WET. I tried to stay focused on hiking a steady pace and tried to stick with Jason up the climb again. Virginius and the Kroger’s Canteen aid station on the pass is always a Hardrock highlight for me. Looking forward to seeing Roch, Sue, Alan, and the rest of the crew, we pulled in happy and ready for hugs, potato chips, and soup. It truly is the most welcoming site to get to this pass and have a little party waiting for you.
On the descent, I took the “blue run” (as Alan called it) and actually stayed upright for the most part. Once off of the scree and talus, the next 8 miles are all dirt road (UGH!). Not my favorite part. The road to Ouray always feels never-ending. I had to deal with some minor stomach upsets on the way down and ended up losing sight of Jason in the process. Coming into Ouray, I decided that I would switch from handheld bottles to a pack and hiking poles. I ate some soup and drank a bottle of Ultragen (recovery drink from First Endurance). Leaving Ouray I felt a bit of an emotional lull and tried to focus on enjoying myself and not giving my mind the microphone. Headphones are really good for this! J I turned up the tunes and started cranking up Bear Creek up to Engineer Pass. Gearing the legs up to run again down to Grouse Gulch took me a bit, but once they began to loosen up, I was able to get into a groove.
Coming into Grouse at dark, I felt slightly intimidated climbing Handies solo. I knew there were a few runners close by and decided to try and stick close to the few that had just left the aid station. I climbed steady and solid, or so I felt. The top was windy and cold (fortunately, I had a rain coat, hat and gloves). As is par for the summit of any mountain, I tried to get up and off quickly. I felt good descending off Handies and enjoyed my music. The road from Burrows to Sherman always seems long and I was looking forward to picking up my best bud and pacer there to help light the way over to Pole Creek and Maggie.
We climbed strong out of Sherman for a bit and then the late night grumpies and bits of nausea started to creep in. The miles from 73-92 were the toughest for me. I tried to eat what I could which included GU Roctane, Honey Stinger chews, ginger chews, coke, and crackers.
Fortunately, we managed to make it through the night without getting lost (which is common in that section at night). We also got to share the trail for a bit with Jared Campbell and his pacer. We made a nice team helping one another out and making sure that we found the markers along the way. Light started to come up just before we made it to the top of the pass before Maggie Gulch. That aid station is a welcome sight. I pulled in and asked for the usual Coke and crackers and soon after, Diana Finkel popped out of the tent and I knew something must have gone wrong. She told me that she started to have all the same symptoms as she did 2 years ago on the course,
was falling again, and decided to stop running. My first feeling was utter sadness and disappointment for her. I have a lot of respect for Diana, and did not want to see her in trouble or suffering. We shared a hug and as I left the aid, I really wasn’t sure how to feel. Knowing that put me into first place, my first thought was “this is not how I wanted to win.” My pacer quickly reminded me that this was a race and that I had run smart and solid all day. She helped convince me to be psyched that I was in first place! OK, deep breathe. Not knowing where any of the other ladies were behind me (like Krissy [Moehl] or Rhonda [Claridge), I just tried to stay focused and make it to Cunningham in decent shape.
The last climb up Little Giant is a beast, and I was not looking forward to that final climb. We sauntered down the torturous downhill to Cunningham and I tried to make it a quick and smooth transition to keep moving to the finish. Trying to stay positive and not get caught. :-) I hiked Little Giant (I’ve got many other not-so-nice names for that pass :-) ) and took a deep breath at the top. Slowly, I moved my legs back into running mode and ran the downhill as hard as my body could. All I could think of was getting to that rock! Two friends from Boulder (Buzz Burrell and Peter Bakwin – the Double Hardrock legend) were running right at the start of the final trail section into Silverton. It was a boost to see them and I picked up my pace for a bit running beside them. The last 3 miles are a nice rolling singletrack and I did everything I could to keep running. It was a grind, I’m not gonna lie. Finally, I hit the road leading into town and tried to do everything I could to soak in the moment.
Mostly though, all I could think of was getting a big hug from my baby girl Sophia. And that I did.
It was a good run in the San Juans.
As far as Leadville 100 goes, well, I will get to that in August.
Right now, I’m just going to cherish the summertime with my daughter and my family in Michigan, and remember the 3 R’s: Race, Recover, Repeat!
[Editor’s Note: We also interviewed Darcy Africa following the race.]