Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hardrock 100M!

"My father says almost the whole world is asleep. Everyone you talk to, everyone you meet. Only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amaaazement, amaaazement, amaaaazement..." ABNEY PARK, opening line of "The Wake"

There was very little need for any caffeine at Hardrock.....I was totally awake soaking in every last minute of one of the most amazing things I have ever done. On the 16 hour drive home I was almost in a completely different world reliving the 100 miles in San Juan mountains. I am still having dreams taking me back to various parts of the gruelling but amazing course. Despite the toughness of the course I feel pretty darn good three days later.

It seemed like the time leading up to the race just drug on and on as I obsessed about the terrain, the lack of markings, snow fields, scree and the numerous water crossings. As I said before I don't consider myself a pansy but I planted a whole garden of various colors in my head. After long deliberation I think the sheer openness of the environment along with the massive sized terrain was so far from what I am used to it simply scared the hell out me. Given that state of consciousness my plan was to be super cautious, watch for markers and take in every last moment of the experience. Even though I was scared I was ready to be pushed out of my box, challenge my mental toughness and live big time for 37:11.....that was my pace chart.

The morning came fast and with no clouds. I was so prepared for all kinds of weather that Bill had 2 backpacks strictly dedicated to clothing. Now with clear skies I was going to need none of it. I also planned to carry as little as I could get away with but still be prepared. Micheal and I were not planning on running the race together but if were with each other we vowed to run our own races but help each other watch for markers and cover the ground as fast as possible. I spent enough time in Silverton to have a good feel for the course. If you are doing Hardrock I think that is one of the biggest advantages you can have. I am an idiot when it comes to directions but found myself so immersed in the course that I was confident in my sense of direction. This race has shoved me so far out my comfort zone I barely know where to begin.

First off, THANKS! All of you who have followed along and encouraged me. You are very much appreciated. I am grateful for all the confidence you all had in my ability to run this race.

37 hours is a long time to be awake! I am not sure how you prepare yourself to be alert and on task for so long but I was ready to see what was going to happen. I thought I would give you the highlights of my Hardrock experience. Of course it's all from my point of view and the day unfolded so much better than I had anticipated I am still on a rocky mountain high.

Small Success! My first success was arriving at Cunningham Gulch unscathed. The steep, slippery and rocky descent off of Little Giant had me edgy. I didn't want to start my day with a banged up knee or some scree rash. I descended the into the Gulch perfectly with no blood and 30 minutes faster than I predicted. I didn't break stride through the first aid station since Bill, Alex and Darin were ready and waiting.

Testing our navigation skills! Micheal and I were not running the race together but since our paces are naturally similar we vowed to help each other if we were close. We discussed the Maggies Gulch, Pole Creek to Sherman section a lot. We hadn't gotten the chance to view much of this section from mile 9.2 to 30. It consists of mostly grassy hills all in the high country ranging above 12,000 feet. It was marked but we knew this would be a hard section to stay focused and strong. The daydreaming could get out of control so we decided to work this section as best we could, keep our heads in the game, not get lost and move! We were close enough to do just that making fabulous time to Sherman. After leaving the pole creek aid station we were challenged on our way into Sherman. For a moment we felt transported back to Portland as we found ourselves on a lovely single track trail. It was all downhill, filled with roots and soft dirt....just like home with a waterfall to our right cascading down the canyon. We came to an intersection with 2 markers. At Hardrock all the markers are to be on the runners left. That is a key element in the navigation process. These two markers were not. Just as we were about to make the wrong turn here comes two other runners back from the wrong direction. We stopped and all pondered the situation and since they had already felt they had gone the wrong direction we all decided to have the marker be on our right side and take that trail. It was the right move! Whew.....that was close.

Didn't I just learn my lesson?? After leaving Sherman we take a 3 mile jaunt up a dirt road to Burrows Park. This is where most of the crews meet their runners just before they head up Handies Peak which is the only 14er we cross in the race. The weather was acting up. Thunder and dark clouds loomed over Handies as I began my journey up. My crewed geared me all up and sent me off feeling really good. I had been on this section of the course many times. I knew exactly where I was going and couldn't wait to plow through it and pick up Darin. Micheal was faster and left me in the dust. The runners were pretty spread out by now. I was hiking along as fast as I could with another runner. We exchanged conversation and made our way up the mountain with the rain. By the time we were about to summit the clouds cleared and we no longer needed any rain gear. It was right down calm and perfect on top of Handies. Now for the short traverse over to American Pass and the fast descent into Grouse Gulch. We were talking and cresting and before I knew it we were to high and to far right! What???? I yelled over, "We need to be down there"!....."Are you sure"? he replied. "Most definitely....we need to get down". Well it was like Vegas.....below seemed like it was just right there but the 30 foot cliffs told another story. I simply laughed. Are you kidding? This is the section they didn't need to mark....I knew it. Well one small conversation and not paying attention and BOOM! you not where you need to be. We found a dried up creek bed to climb down. This was crazy, it was steep and I was on all fours trying not to send football sized boulders down the canyon. I scraped up my hand and arrived at Grouse with blood. Nice work!

Is this a race? Getting to Grouse ahead of schedule, feeling good and with a story was nice. However when I arrived I was told by Bill I was 4th and Betsy was just ahead on the climb to Engineer. Darin was all over that, pushing me hard on the climb and making me work. We closed the gap just before the steep cross country plunge into Engineer Basin. There is an aid station at the trees just before the hairy descent into Ouray. I was on fire! After a quick re-fuel we took the descent almost recklessly. It got dark and that was a good thing because the sheer drop offs might have slowed us down.....or should have slowed us down. Besty was right on my heels as we broke out of the trees and into the town. We all (her pacer, Darin and I) worked together to find our way into the Ouray but it was an all our sprint through town. Somehow this had now become a race.

Who are you? The climb to the base of Virginia's Pass is a grind. I knew this. We drove it and talked endlessly about working the flat spots. It's long...probably 6 miles and it was now the deep night...past midnight. My stomach was kind of iffy but Darin and I ran what we could, ate what I could and stayed focused. Besty and pacer were right behind us the whole time. We both arrived at Governors Basin together (mile 62) but I was out there quick. I was no match for her on the climbs so I needed to get a head start. As we approached the wall of the Virginia's I began to prepare myself for what I knew was ahead....a steep 3 pitch snow field to the top. Just before the base I told Darin I needed to take a moment, sit, eat some chomps and let my heart rate calm. My chest was so tight now. Every time we got above 12,500 feet I felt like someone was stepping on my chest and my air was shallow. I sat and ate but Darin gave me about 3 minutes and it was time. We approached the snow field with the intention of following more experienced runners lead but when they stopped to put on traction devices I got edgy. We proceeded and I put one foot on the snow and found a sheet of ice. "Are you kidding"?! What now????? I have no idea what I was thinking or why but I just got on all 4's and scampered up the first pitch. The second pitch was short and I did it without drama. Then came the third. Finding it was the problem but I spotted a glow stick (the only glow stick on the course). I didn't know the glow stick was attached to a rope I just thought it was a guide to the 3rd wall. I just started going up, grasping and sliding on solid ice. I couldn't do it. Darin yelled to grab the rope...what rope? I couldn't see a rope. Then the other runners below swung it over to me and I pulled myself up the last 6 feet. What the %**&%^%$ was that????? Amazing and wrong at the same time. Kroger's Canteen...an aid station tucked on the tiny edge of the Virginia's Pass....another amazing sight. I sat for a moment to pull myself together before the scree descent into Telluride.

Downhill Mania! Seemed I found my downhill running groove at Hardrock. I have NEVER run downhill so well, ever, ever, before. I had all the quads I needed to make the big steep descents and with some speed as well. I used it! I pushed them hard.

Are we climbing to heaven? With only a marathon left this is where some of the veterans say it time to spend it all. When I got to Telluride Bill tells me the second place girl is only 10 minutes ahead. Generally climbing is my strong suit but not this time. It was hard for me. I had no air power to my legs and I was slow. I wasn't going to catch anyone on the climbs so her 10 minute lead was good in my mind. We left for what a I knew was a long journey to Oscar's Pass. We climbed, we twisted around, we climbed, we meandered over waterfalls, we climbed up steep pitches just to have Oscar's disappear then re-appear looking farther away. This climb went on and on and was so hard. But.....it was incredibly beautiful. This was the most beautiful canyon I have ever seen....it must be heaven. As the sun came up the whole top was lit up and I wondered if we were going to meet someone special at the top...if we ever got there. Just before the last steep pitch way in the far distance we could see people. They were girls! We were gaining but I was already at red line with my climbers so we would have to see what the descent brought.

Sub 34 hours is a possibility. Now at mile 80 I felt that 34 hours might happen. I felt good, tired but good. My downhilling was almost exciting and I knew what was ahead. I felt confident we could maintain our way to a sub 34 hour finish. On the rocky descent from Oscar's I caught Helen and her pacer. We cruised into to Chapman and Bill pushed us through.

Wishing for snow! Okay, really....have I lost it? In my previous Hardrock post I showed a picture of me climbing the snow field on Grant Swamp. It was steep and icy and I was scared to death of it but now I knew how to do it. We made our way into the basin and headed for the wrong pass.....oops. We scrambled over a boulder field and into the right basin but it cost us. Two runners who were behind us were now in front of us approaching the base of Grant Swamp. What happened to the snow? There's no snow! Okay, careful what you complain about because there is always something worse. The snow had completely melted on Grant Swamp and now it was solid, rocky, steep scree field. We stopped and watched as runners made their way up all taking different paths, on all fours, yelling....."Rock". Darin and I picked out patch and started up grabbing rocks to see if they would hold pulling ourselves to the next one. It was crazy and even crazier was Helen and her pacer had caught up and were right behind us. My poor climbing and our wrong turn didn't help us. It was un-nerving to have rocks falling and nowhere to hide. We were careful and finally literally rolled our bodies over the foot wide pass. Now for more fun! Steep slippery downhill. I knew this was my strong suit of the day so I got down on my feet in a deep squat and slid all the way down the steep switchbacks off the backside of Grant Swamp. When we got the a decent grade on the trail I stood up and let it rip!

Trails and Switchbacks....There aren't any! I love the movie "The Sound of Music" but the hills on Porcupine Pass and Cataract Ridge were not singing to us. We caught Micheal in this section and all three of us tackled these last climbs together but I was ready to push it home. I left them at the top of the last pass and made my way to the last aid station. I told them I have a Hardrock baby. They looked at my stomach as I rubbed it lovingly and with serious concern they said, "You are barely showing". They thought it was real!!! I was just joking because my lower abs were swollen and a bit bloated. I assured them it was a joke and they could breath again. I guess anything is possible these days. :).

Emotions. My final 5.9 miles home were pretty emotional. It was setting in. What I had done, where I was and all the amazement I got to be part of. The race, the people, the environment and it's history. Running around on trails and roads build by minors back when it was sweat and hard work...not machines wondering how on earth they could do it. Yes there is lots on controversy about the minors and I am not even going to go there but they were amazing people. Hardrock celebrates their legacy and I did too. Wow! It was a hard 5.9 miles. The rocks and narrow trail made it challenging. I was begging to see the river crossing and darn excited. When I arrived at the river's edge I am greeted by about 8 people. Alex was in the water waiting to be sure I could get across fine. He almost teared up which made me almost start crying. Bill snapped a million pictures and so many wonderful words were said by others. It was really neat. But.....nothing was more sweet than laying my dried up chapped lips on that giant piece of granite.

Wow, what a crazy race, adventure, epic experience or whatever you want to call....Hardrock is all of it. For me, someone who isn't a mountaineer, rock climber or anything like that this experience will forever change me. I live in the burbs, take my son to school, make dinners and run in the Gorge with my friends. I don't scurry up scarey things, slide down pointy rocks and run on the edge of high cliffs but I did last Friday and Saturday. I still can't stop thinking about it. I never touched my shoes or socks after we started. I did get one blister on my right foot. Not a bad one. Your feet are wet the whole time. There is no getting around that but it didn't seem to bother me. Maybe it's because we run in wet feet all the time here at home. Other than the blister and a few scapes I am good to go. Even my white shorts came out fine. :)

There are a few key things that helped my have a great race at Hardrock. First, my hubby who worries but never say's, "I don't want you to do that". I know he was thinking it at times. :) My friends who were there. That was great. Knowing Micheal was out there somewhere running his butt off and Darin who for 20+ hours kept pushing me and never letting on he was was hurting was so cool. The last thing that helped me at Hardrock was my training. I was in shape for this. Scott tweaked my schedule to ensure I would have legs in the end and I had em'! I really wanted to be able to run downhill well and not be hampered by overly tired quads and I wasn't. I feel really good...almost to good today.


  1. How inspiring!! You even got me choked up with you and Alex meeting in the water.

  2. We are WIDE AWAKE and loving it...to the next adventure! :-)

  3. Awesome job! What more can be said.

  4. Amazing!

    Just amazing, congratulations on reaching for the heights and touching grasping them firmly!

  5. Awesome and amazing! I'm so happy for you! I love granite, but haven't seen much in a long time. You're inspiring me to get out there too. And how did you get across those snow fields in the middle of the night? That sounds so scary- I'd be petrified!

    But first, we're visiting Portland this weekend (to see bro-in-law and family)! I'm excited to take in a visit to the famous Gorge too! Would also love to say hello if possible.

    Congrats again!


  6. Wow. I've always looked at Hardrock and thought it something I could never do. Now you have me thinking "Maybe." Thanks for that! I needed the inspiration.

    Congrats on a terrific race!

  7. Congrats on a very smart effort and great finish. So, are the Big Girl Panties to be retired or carefully laundered for use at the next epic event? KRK

  8. Ahh-maaz-ing! Beyond inspirational. A stunning performance.

  9. Ronda! Congratulations for putting this one to bed. You got it! You are a Hardrocker. The hard work, the fears, all of the time out there training..you did it. I have to say, having women such as yourself to look up to, it's a great thing!! Enjoy basking in the joy of your finish :)

  10. I am so impressed. You are my running idol. Some day maybe. And, I recall seeing a picture of you early in the race (posted to the ultra list) and being amazed by your bold choice of shorts :p You're awesome Ronda. I hope you know that.

  11. Amazing! Awesome!! Thanks for sharing! Congrats!!!

  12. Ronda,

    It was a thrill to see you run so well and keep passing the ladies to finish second woman! You are a hero to the women out here who have kids, drive them to school, make dinner for our hubbies and try to train intelligently and passionately. I wrote about you on my most recent blog post as my highlight of the Hardrock 09 story...expect many more fans coming your way!

    Congratulations and thanks again for sharing your training and adventured with all of us out here.

  13. Rhonda,
    Just amazing. What a great time on such a hard course. You are one tough lady.
    Rod B.

  14. Awesome job out there! Hope your recovery is going well. Are you in for Cascade Crest too?!


  15. Ronda,

    A great big yiiiiihaw from North Carolina!

    How did we get lost up there coming down Handies? You had an amazing run, and congratulations on such a strong finish. How do you end up spending a cumulative time of 20 minutes for all the aid stations? That’s incredible. Rock on!

    To the summit,