The Ups and Downs of a 100 miler.
It has now been a week since I finished the Hardrock 100 in Silverton, CO. and to some degree I feel like I am still sitting at an aid station, tired and hungry. Thinking back on those 40 hours in the San Juan Mountains I try to encapsulate it all and put it in a bottle to sit on my shelf. A bottle to sip from, like a fine port after dinner, while I watch the fading sun across the lake. Okay, let's not get poetic here. What was it really like? It was 6 months of preparation. Training my legs, my feet, my stomach and my head for the hardest event I have ever done. 70 mile weeks and over 250,000 vertical climbed over those 6 months. My friendly tire, BF Goodrich and I, renewed an old friendship as I towed him up and down the Forest Service roads around my home. I lost count of how many gallons of Tailwind I drank or for that matter how many gallons of Tillamook ice cream I consumed. I believe that when doing 100 miles you can never do enough to prepare yourself but you just have to work your butt off and then pray that it all comes together.
It is all for that one sweet kiss of a sandstone rock at the finish.
So what was it like?
Wet feet within the first 2 miles. I lost count somewhere after 45, of the number of creek or stream crossings. The first climb went to 13,000 feet and the reward was a kiss on the cheek from the tunnel of love, a group of women at the top of the pass, there to lift our spirit. Down and another stream crossing, my tongue hanging out on my chin. Another up. The sun rises higher, it gets warmer. Snow. Slippery. Another down and another up. Then the skies darken and the anvil is dropped. Hail pelts me. I have no exclusive rights to this misery as anyone within a 5-10 mile radius gets pounded. The temperature drops. The trail is buried in 3 inches of hail. The creeks rise and send forth muddy, rushing waters that burst through the lower creeks. Crossing them is exhilarating but tenuous and I remember what it feels like to be 10 years old again. Those moments of sheer laughter and joy. When nothing matters but splashing in the next puddle. Effort and and attitude are the only two things you can control in a race of this distance. You lose that focus and you lose your race. Finishing is no longer an option. Excuses are all that you will take back home and it is a long, long ride.
At 14,000 feet my breathing is labored and my head spins. Seriously, this is hard. One step, inhale, one step exhale. Over and over and over. Ouch, that hurt. I am drunk on lack of oxygen, my legs wobble but I do not fall. Then down 6 miles to my crew and pacers, my lifeline. Into the night I go and headlamps come out to converse with the stars. I have never seen so many and the Milky Way is coagulated with a million tiny fragments of light from space. The blinking lights from planes overhead remind me that they have no idea what lies below them, this wee little man making his way down a squiggly, rocky path and I in return have no idea what is going on in there world.
At 1 a.m. I reach the 56 mile mark in the town of Ouray. Mac and cheese, Ramen Noodles and crackers and we are off again into the night. An ambulance drives by, then another, then Search and Rescue. Is it one of us?, I ask my pacer Mary....it is not but it is some other unfortunate soul whose car has left the road and tumbled into a ravine. We never heard the outcome. The road is narrow and undercuts the rock wall towering above. To my left is a dark void that drops for hundreds of feet. " Bad place to sleepwalk" I say to Mary. "Imagine if you were talking to me and all of a sudden I wasn't there." "You're freakin' me out, get over here to my inside!" and I sheepishly obey.
At dawn comes Mile 67 and we stand at the top of Krogers Canteen (13,200) after climbing up a 1/4 mile pitch of glazed over snow. The reward is hot parogues and tequila. Yes. Fire water at 5:30 in the morning. Liquid courage. Instantly fearless. Down and down and down to the city of Telluride. Then up and up for 3 hours through wildflowers and crisp, refreshing streams, trails that lead through narrow rock bands and a wide open valley with fragments of more snow. The immensity of the San Juans dwarfs me. I am only a heart that beats and lungs that breathe and legs that move slowly forward in this arena of exertion. I can do the one second it takes for a step, and I can do it over and over again. I must. The kiss awaits. At Mile 82 fatigue is setting in. My eyes cross repeatedly as we head up the trail to Grants Swamp Pass, one of the last 2 major climbs. I see wallets lying on the ground, I see runners up ahead that become trees as we approach. I see junk cars lying high on the slopes. Funny what boulders can become. How can I be this tired in the late afternoon? I ask myself. And then the eyes open wide and the mind is clear. As quick as the sleep monsoon had arrived, it leaves. The barn door is now open....just over that last god forsaken climb. I can smell the finish. Of course what kind of day would it be without mud too. I try and avoid the shoe sucking muck to keep my feet protected but it is useless. Squishity, squish, squishity, squish, surprisingly it feels cool and comforting between my toes. There have been no blisters yet in these 89 miles and I don't want any now, but it feels so good to feel so bad.
With 6 miles to go it is a race to get in before dark. The skies open up in the distance and a rainbow blooms in front of us.
The trail shrinks and passes through an ankle breaking boulder field. An endless patch of stone and scree that slows my progress. Hot potatoes I think to myself. Hot potatoes, quick feet. I am 10 years old again. At the last river crossing a rope is strung across to help runners stay on our feet. The water is swift and cold and invigorating and there is 2 miles to go. It is dark now and I am into a two headlamp race, meaning two nights. With headlights flickering behind me I know someone is approaching and I expend the last gas in my tank to keep them back there. In the end time is irrelevant. Finishing is all that matters. Hardrock is a sisterhood and a brotherhood, it is a family. Each time this run begins it brings with it a fresh, clean beginning, no matter how many times one has done it. Like the door we each step out of at home each day it gives us the hope and opportunity to be better and see the world for the first time with the eyes of a child.
And then I see the rock. You sandstone beauty. We have met for the fourth time and once again I have travelled 100 miles for that one sweet embrace and the kiss that stops a clock.
I feel relief, I feel gratitude, I feel joy, I feel happiness. I feel finished.
Show me to my bed please.....and I will dream of next time.....