By Drew Meyer
July 8-10, 2005
This will be a fairly short race report as my pacing went for less than 20 miles. Even though that’s a looong time at Hardrock, I will supplement this with some notes from the week leading up to the race this year.
I got a free ride to the big show because my sister Deb Pero (and her husband Steve) were both running (again) this year. We planned to meet at the 42-mile mark, Grouse Gulch this year, and go the distance. She has finished this race before. I trained like I was going to run a normal 100 mile and hoped that (plus 7 days of acclimatization) would be enough for my near 100K effort there.
Of course I saw them off at the start. Deb had repainted the “hardrock” itself just the day before, and the runners put it at their backs to start off. Words fail to describe the excitement of the moment, but basically her face was simply glowing.
Steve made it into GG just at dark that day, and though he ran strong coming down Handies (you can see their lights), he was unable to take sustenance. Steve is a purebred New Englander, and tough as nails (27:39 at Massanutten this year, and first in a 50K that saw only 2 finishers due to horizontal rain!), but he has never had a good run in heat. It was another hot year at HR, with temps in Pole Creek that day getting way up there. He took a couple of hours to try to re-hydrate, but was getting worse not better, and had to go into town for a couple of IV’s.
Deb came into GG just as Steve was being evacuated by Joyce Prusaitis (crewing for Joe, who looked good going thru earlier, and would make this year for 5 in a row). She had a decent time coming in, but the early warning signs were there (if I had just paid more attention to them!). She had finished only half of her food/drink mix (Sustained Energy) from the last aid station, where she should have actually had to refill her bottles from streams multiple times to be drinking enough. Still, she did drink and eat (some) at the GG aid station, and her spirits and energy level seemed real good, so we left without taking any extra time to re-hydrate. The cutoff always looms big at HR. Up the road to Engineer Pass in the dark.
Within a mile of climb, however, it was clear she had crossed “the line” of dehydration. If you’re on the plus side of the line, you can re-hydrate yourself by drinking and taking it easy. If you are on the dark side, however, you cannot make yourself drink (and neither could this pacer), and nothing short of an IV will revive you. Dry heaves, slow upward plodding, were not helped by a wrong turn and nearly 3 extra miles (why didn’t her pacer know which way to go?). We met another lost soul on that road, also destined to fail to meet cutoff. My sister is one tough dude. We could and should have just gone back (downhill!) to GG, but there was always the chance…
On the downhill side of the pass, we both perked up and started moving better, but not running, and that was the deal breaker. At the engineer pass AS she tried to rehydrate and even nap a bit, but the Ouray cutoff was 4 1/2 hours away and we left just as dawn broke to try to make it before 10AM.
Now that, folks, is what I call trail running! Bear Creek, downhill into the valley thru forest with scented pine trees, along a death-defying rock trail blasted out of the side of a canyon, spooking deer fawns and wading snow-melt creeks left and right, with dawn making the tops of the snowy mountains incandescent! This is what you come for, at least in part. I’d wager that by this point, few Hardrock runners are looking up, but the pacer gets to see the view.
We finally found the new bridge over the river at Ouray, after a few more missteps, and made it into Ouray but well after the cutoff. We weren’t the last. Deb required an IV herself to revive back at Silverton, and I required a nap.
I learned quite a bit during the run, and especially during the week of hiking that led up to it. On my first day there, Deb & Steve said “pack for a 6-hr hike – we’ll go up one of the passes”. OK, fine, no problem. About 4 hours later we make it to the top of Grant-Swamp Pass, and I realize this is not your father’s ultra. A steep climb up snowfields with my legs going every which way. Traverses on “trails” that I think the goats had to commit to memory because you sure can’t see them. We get to the top and have lunch next to the Joel Zucker memorial (the only fatality associated with HR so far, and due to a brain hemorrhage the day after). My feet are sticking out over about 1000 feet of, well, nothing. Then Steve says “This next part will be a little scary at first”. We go down the other side of GS. Some call it glissading – I call it sliding on my butt and trying to keep the shiny side up. Then there was the scree field. If you don’t know what scree is, I’m sure not going to tell you, because you’d probably not want to do this run if you knew. Steve and Deb RAN down the scree, I braked hard and slid. Then after about 150 yards we turn around and get to go BACK UP. First the scree field, which is simply a lot of work (2 up, one back, etc). Then the snow field at the top – it’s two or three steps that have been punched into the snow field (which is about 60 degrees vertical here), then stop, breathe, breathe, breathe, and repeat. Steve scrambled up to the top (showoff) and took pictures looking down and me & Deb, but I haven’t yet had to nerve to show them to my wife. (I will though).
I tell you, I was uncomfortable at that point. The more I thought about it, the better I felt, and in the end I have decided that it is just another example of conquering your fears. Without this bit of initiation I would certainly have had a severe problem meeting Virginius for the first time, or even GS pass, during the race. Now I know I can do it if I keep my head, am well rested and alert, have good equipment (don’t take road shoes to Hardrock), and take my time. Perhaps that the best message I am left with – it can be done. About 1000 different people have done it, some several times. I would certainly pace there again. But it is a different breed of run for sure.
Folks, you can be a genius if you can learn from other’s mistakes. Drink! during ultras. Eat! even if you don’t want to. Keep the exertion level down low enough and the salt intake high enough to allow you to do those two things (and pee) and you will not end a race with an IV in your arm. Don’t go over to the dark side.
I will also mention that 1 week of altitude was not near enough for me. I was breathing heavy when doing a simple flatland jog even on the last day before the race.
I could go on and on about the great people one meets in Silverton, the characters that come every year and amaze (I realize I’m a young whippersnapper compared to these guys), and the UR names that get registered and kiss the Hardrock at the finish line (or, like the men’s winner Karl Meltzer, jump over the dang thing 2-3 times and then kiss it). Sue Johnston had an amazing run to take the women’s title. She admitted afterwards to running down Bear Creek (a death-defying accomplishment) and tripping, but she lived thru it. Everybody lived this year.
Any run you can walk away from is a good run.