Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Washed Away

The evening is cool, wet and quiet. My legs are heavy and tired as I move over the soft wet single track. I tell myself to just run the first few switchbacks then I can be reduced to a walk. As I climb my legs loosen and liven up, my mind begins to let go and I climb into the low hanging clouds that have settled in across the front range. The usually busy trails are empty and I have a sense of solitude never before felt on one of my favorite trails. I reach the top of the first large climb having not stopped to walk once, a first, in a time never before seen. I am now fully immersed in the clouds, the view of town below is no more and my field of vision is reduce to the next bend in the trail. I take a moment to soak in the stillness of the evening and then continue my way down the trail. My legs are still tired from the previous weekends race and the well ran climb but I cruise across the rolling terrain in and out of the trees seeing not another soul. My only company tonight is a lonely deer watching curiously as I pass. We make eye contact and she holds her ground as I run by. The farther into the run I get the more my mind and body let go. I can feel my legs and lungs growing stronger by the day, finally adapting to the ever growing familiar demands the mountain trails present. As I come around the corner finishing the last long climb of my usual route I decide to turn down a fork I've never before explored. As I open up and cruise down the smooth single track into the valley I become more aware of the sounds of the night; the rain falling on the leaves, the stirring of the unseen wildlife, and my feet hitting the ground. I run through an overgrown section and am instantly covered in the cool water that was until disturbed, resting on the vegetation. I find myself needing to turn back to head down the mountain but I let my curiosity lead me further down the trail wanting only to see what is beyond the next bend. After a short time exploring I finally turn back making note to fully explore this trail again soon. I begin climbing out of the valley back up to the familiar intersection and I feel my mind completely let go of the stresses of work, life and the recent events of having my car broken into. Instead the worries and stresses of life are replaced by flooding memories of the previous weekends race to the times and company enjoyed last night. I continue along down the trail to the final descent and I feel a sense of peace not felt for some time wash over me. I let go and I let my mind, body and trail become one, dancing over rocks and through puddles with a lightness and grace never before felt. As the short reprieve from the rain ends and the sky again begins to open up, I feel the cool water hit my bare skin, I drop my chin and I too open up comfortably cruising down the trail letting the rolling contours and gravity do the majority of the work. As I come to the end of the trail and arrive back at my car I am not out of breath or tired from the previous 90 minutes of bliss, I am no longer stressed about past events but my mind is free and clear. I am calm and at peace, and everything has been washed away.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

If There's a River Cross It, and If There's a Mountain Climb It - My Hardrock 100 Pacing Report

A new Patagonia hat, free stickers, and not one but two, yes TWO, trips to Baked in Telluride to start my day, how could it get it much better? By pacing a big section of Hardrock 100 is how! I took off out of town Thursday afternoon after work so I could get to Silverton to see the start of the 2014 Hardrock 100, spend my day watching the race and crewing a friend all before getting to spend some time on the course of my dream race! It was gonna be a good day!

Friday was pretty great. Aside from the things listed above I got to see the leaders come through Telluride at mile 28 looking like they had just been out for a leisurely stroll. I was set to start pacing my friend Bob at Grouse Aid Station (mile 58) starting somewhere around 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning. At about 9 o'clock Friday night my friend Gibbs and I set out to get what would be my last hot meal for who knew how many hours. This resulted in us being rejected by more restaurants than women I've been rejected by in my 25 years! Finally after let down after let down we found one last restaurant that still had their kitchen over and we were able to get a hot meal. Unfortunately since dinner took so long to get we missed friends Chris and Bob come through Ouray by about half an hour and before I knew it, it was time to start getting ready and make the drive up to Grouse to pick up Bob.

Gibbs generously offered to drive me the 10  miles up so I wouldn't have to leave my car overnight, (thanks again!!), and on the way we drove through a pretty nice hail storm and could see lightning in the distance. This had potential to be an interesting night! But even though the threat of bad weather was high I still couldn't wait to get out on the trails and share some miles with Bob!

1:30 came and went and there still was no sign of Bob. An electrical storm at Engineer Pass had knocked out the radios so I wasn't able to get an update on when he had went through or when I could expect him. By the time 3 a.m. arrived I was starting to get a little worried so I checked with the aid station again in hopes the radios had been restored. Luckily I was able to find out he had left Engineer shortly before 3 a.m. but with 8 miles between him and me that meant I had at least two and a half hours before he would arrive so I climbed in the back of Andy's truck and grabbed one of the first and last naps I would have until I was done with my section.

Around 6 a.m. Bob and Pacer Kim arrived at the aid station. Within 30 minutes we were off and I was simultaneously excited and nervous to be on the Hardrock course. My preconceived thoughts of what the course was going to be like did not fail to disappoint as we were immediately met with a 2,000' climb up and over a 13,000' pass before descending roughly 1000' then back up and over Handies Peak, my second 14er since moving here. For some reason in my head I kept referring to it as Hades Peak. Bob and I got lucky and had great weather going over the highest point of the course while others that summited the night before weren't so lucky!

The course was absolutely stunning. I would stop to take a few pictures then run to catch up with Bob. Since this was only my second time pacing an 100 miler I checked with him to make sure it didn't bother him that I was doing that and I received his blessing. Bob was extremely easy to pace, he is tough as nails, knows the course and knows how to take care of himself in the mountains. We talked when he felt like it and we were silent when I felt like he wasn't in the mood for talking. When we arrived at aid stations I would do my best to make sure he got the things he needed then would tend to myself. I was pretty pleased with the way things had been going and so far the only complaint I had received from Bob was that I screwed the lid of his bottle back on too tight. I'll take it!!!

Once we left the Burrows aid station we had only 4 miles of gravel jeep road to go until we got to Sherman aid station. This section has a net downhill and we were looking forward to getting to Sherman. For some reason though on our way in I got extremely tired and was struggling to stay awake while we made our way down the road. There were moments when I would be walking and nodding off at the same time. Luckily I was able to keep this from Bob and get the aid station where I took in copious amounts of caffeine to give me the boost that my body needed. From what I hear Sherman is usually the favorite aid station, and it did not disappoint. They had a wide variety of food, including delicious mac n' cheese, and they had even spruced the back country bathroom up with candles, baby powder, wet wipes, motivational posters and to many more things to list. I could see why people loved getting to Sherman so much.

Bob had one main request on our way into Sherman, and that was that we apply bug spray before leaving. No problem! There was bug spray on the table next to us. I went to the bathroom one last time and had reminded myself when I got done that we would apply bug spray and then head out. Unfortunately at this moment I had the memory of a gold fish and the fancy bathroom atmosphere made me forget all about Bob wanting bug spray. Mistake number two of the day!

I realized I had forgot to spray Bob down within a mile of leaving and decided not to say anything about it in hopes Bob wouldn't notice. Unfortunately 5 minutes later he remembered we forgot! Crap! I tried to play it off and quickly changed the subject in hopes he wasn't to mad about it. Before I knew it we were at the top of the climb and were emerging from the pine forest onto a mountain tundra area around 12000'. The rain was finally coming down hard and steady enough that we decided to put on all our rain gear in hopes of keeping dry.

The rain was making Bob move faster and with the rolling terrain we were making descent time. After about hour and a half of steady rain, Bob asked me if I was still dry to which I honestly answered no. Apparently he wasn't either. We were both soaked at this point despite our rain gear and I had completely stopped trying to avoid any water on the trails. The rain continued for another good hour but we kept moving strong toward the next aid station.

The rain stopped shortly before we crossed the Continental Divide Trail, and we had begun talking a little bit more during this time. Some how  my age was brought up in the conversation and when I told Bob I was only 25 he told me that I had a good head on my shoulders and seemed to have things figured out and was on the right track. He made sure to tell me that he didn't mean just with pacing but with life. To this I responded with a sincere thank you and said I hope you are happy with my pacing as well though. No sooner did I say that Bob stopped atop the pass, turned around, stuck his hand out to me and told me how pleased he was. I shook his hand and told him I greatly appreciated it and we chatted about how he was initially skeptical about having me pace him but he couldn't be happier or more pleased with how things had turned out. Coming from a man who was on his way to his 5th Hardrock finish and a total of 30+ 100 mile finishes under his belt made those simple words mean the world. Bob, again I sincerely thank you for your kind words!

We continued on to one of our last aid stations that Bob I would go through together before I passed him off to his son at Cunningham, mile 91. The rain had made pole creek extremely muddy and sloppy and again I didn't waste any energy in avoiding the puddles. We were met with several knee deep cold swift river crossings, which we would cross with our arms locked to try and avoid having our feet swept out from the flowing water. This was the section in which I got the title of this report from. I have to give credit to Bob who responded to me "If there's a river cross it, and if there's a mountain climb it" when i commented on the numerous amounts of river crossings. I feel like this short phrase perfectly describes the Hardrock 100 course. We refueled at pole creek and began the 4 miles to Maggie Gulch. The last 4 miles of this section where pretty quiet and we eventually made our way into the aid station.

On our way in Bob commented on the size of the mountain that we had to climb coming out of Maggie. To put it simply, at this point it looked huge! The aid station assured us that we had only 1700' feet to climb and 3100' to descend before arriving at Cunningham, but Bob and I both knew we had way more than 1700'. We tried to make the most of what daylight we had left and we pushed hard to make it over the pass before the sun set behind the beautiful and intimidating San Juans. Upon cresting the first 13000' pass we noticed we had yet another to go before finally beginning the final descent into Cunningham.  By this time the sun was setting quickly and my heart rate was high. The hard effort coming out of the aid station had caused what food I had ate to not settle and I was starting to get some sever stomach cramps, but with only 5 miles to go I trudged on did my best to not show Bob I was hurting.

The sun quickly set and we pulled out our lights. At this point  Bob told me to lead and he would follow where I went. It doesn't sound like much responsibility but it is! I was extremely nervous I would some how get us lost and be the sole reason Bob wouldn't get his 5th finish. Put the stress on top of the ever worsening cramps and this was set to be the worst section of the past 16 hours.

With only a couple of miles left to go I told Bob to continue on while I stepped behind a rock to try and better the situation. After no luck with that and making myself throw up, where only saliva came out, I continued down the trail to catch up and take back the responsibility of leading still in pain. I caught Bob within 10 minutes and we were soon at the top of the last steep technical descent. My stomach was getting worse by the minute and every step was agonizing.

I kept it to myself as long as possible but with just over a mile to go I turned to Bob and told him to continue on, I needed a minute to sort my stomach out before continuing. He told me, he needed a break as well and we both sat down on the side of the trail. Before I knew it was on my side in the fetal position. My breathing can only be described as that of a woman in labor and the pain was excruciating. I convinced Bob to continue on without me, and that I would be right behind him. After questioning if I was going to be alright alone on the side of the trail he continued on.

I was now alone, in the fetal position on the side of the trail in the dark. I laid there for a moment longer and the pain became so intense I broke out in a sob. All I wanted was for the pain to go away long enough to finish what I started. Several runners and pacers passed by me while I was sobbing, all but one looked at me and said good work. Good work!!??? Could they not tell I was crying on the side of the trail!!! One girl did stop, pat me on the shoulder and ask if I was going to be ok, to which I simply replied, I'll make it down. Thank you for asking!

I finally pulled myself up and made my way into the aid station. Bob had came and went with his son for the last 9 miles to the finish. He had plenty of time to get his 5th finish. After sitting in a chair for a while I finally made my way to Gibbs' car where I crawled in the back and passed out while she finished working the aid station. We made it to town just in time to see Chris get his 5th finish in a row! Congratulations buddy! What an incredible achievement! I was to exhausted to stay and see anyone else finish so we made our way back to camp where I quickly climbed in the back of my jeep and slept until the awards ceremony a few hours later.

100 people, including Bob finished Hardrock this year. Killian Jornet set a new course record of 22:41 breaking Kyle Skaggs' previous record of 23:23 by 42 minutes! The joy that I saw in every finishers eyes as I watched them individually be recognized and receive their finishers print was absolutely beautiful. Pacing Hardrock was guaranteed to do one of two things for me, make me never want to attempt the race, or give me even more want and desire to toe that start line and set off on my own journey across the beautiful course that demands respect from every runner who decides to attempt it. Anyone who knows me closely knows that its the latter of the two. I'll kiss that rock myself one year, and until I'm given the opportunity I will help anyone who will let me!

Thanks goes to Gibbs for driving me around and for putting up with my delusional "Driving Miss Daisy" moments, and Bob again I want to thank you for your kind words and allowing me to share the miles with you on course! It was an honor sir!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Soaking it in

I wrote this early Saturday morning while I watched the sun come up over the mountains. After a fantastic weekend in the San Juans and a couple of busy days at work I'm finally getting around to actually posting.

This morning as I sit at our campsite in the  brisk mountain air I am again reminded of why I moved to this beautiful state. I am the first to wake up after a long day yesterday, so I am able to sit in silence alone and start what will surely be a long day by listening to nature wake up around me. There is absolutely no other place I would rather be at this exact moment.

I could sit here for hours listening to the sounds of flowing water and the singing of the birds that have already risen to start their day. Our campsite is nestled in a small clearing by some old mining grounds that the San Juan mountain towns are famous for. Behind me the ridge rises just over a thousand feet and to the west are several peaks and saddles that I don't know the names of, but the names aren't important. What is important is the way the sun is casting its early dawn light over the peaks to the west. The colors are vibrant and beautiful. It is my first true mountain sunrise and I contemplate taking a picture to capture this moment, but decide against it. Pictures wouldn't be able to do the beauty any justice. Sometime some views aren't meant to be shared with others through a picture. Sometimes some moments are just meant for you. For you to sit still, soak in, and appreciate that you have been given that moment in time. 

The world is quickly becoming a world of technology and instant gratification. So many moments are missed because our faces are buried in the screen of our smart phones. Mornings like this one were never meant to be seen through the screen of a camera or a smart phone. Mornings like these were created to remind me that, even though I miss people from the mid west, I made the right decision in  moving here.

I challenge you wherever you are and whatever you are doing to occasionally take a step back and truly soak in the moment and your surroundings. Don't ruin it with technology, you can answer the text, or look at social media later but you will never again be given the same exact moment. It has always been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes no words are needed. Sometimes the silence can be beautiful. 

Live smart, but most importantly live happy!!!