Living in the Shadows of Doubt: The 2016 Hardrock Hundred

DSC_6847

It was somewhere around mile twelve on the Kamm Traverse where the words, “How am I going to do this?” kept echoing in my head. It felt as if a boulder was resting upon my chest and I just had no power to climb. An odd feeling, for sure, as climbing at altitude is one of my strengths at Hardrock. I put my head down and rambled on, one foot in front of the other, thinking of the dogs and the gazillion times we had played on this trail over the years to take my mind off of things…

Stepping Back…

Things started off well enough in December, I was drawn first in the HR lottery, ran some road races and even managed a 5k PR with no speed work. 2016 was shaping up to be a strong year. However, as it turned out, the good times were short lived.

In January, I began to struggle on nearly every run. Lack of energy, light headedness, and general weakness seemed to plague each run with greater frequency and intensity. It became quite discouraging, as every time I tried to run with friends, either I couldn’t keep up, or I just had to abandon my effort and head back early because I felt so bad.

By February, I had pretty much stopped running and was only casually hiking with the dogs. This, in combination with my work schedule of shooting events, had really begun to take a toll on my mind and body. Everything started getting tighter and tighter, especially my hamstrings, back and hips. The times I tried to go out and run, my pace was at least three minutes slower per mile, no matter what the effort level. Doubt about Hardrock was always in the back of my mind, even though I kept telling myself, “there’s plenty of time left to train.”

As May rolled around and training was still at a standstill, I decided to head to Mammoth to at least get my altitude acclimation back and to also go see my physical therapist and miracle worker, Tim Tollefson. He straightened my issues out last year before Hardrock, and I hoped he could do the same again for me this year. As it turned out, we would only get three sessions in, but whatever he did, set the gears in motion for my comeback. I was already noticing improvements in speed just while out on hikes, and for the first time in months, could even fake running again on downhills.

Silverton to the rescue…

IMG_3051

Grant Swamp Pass on June 1st

At the beginning of June, I showed up in Silverton. My plan was simple, jam an entire winter and spring of training into seven weeks. Sounds plausible enough, right? Good, because that’s my only hope of finishing.

On my first day back in town I decided to do what I always do when coming back, hike Grant Swamp. It was a pretty good snow year here and skis would have been the more appropriate tool for the job. The route was nearly covered in 100% snow. The dogs sure were stoked! For me, it was slow going and I knew I had a lot of work and very little time to do it in.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I got out five to six days a week and started piling on the vertical. As the snow melted, I was able to get higher and higher. I started to feel pretty solid running uphill on the dirt roads up to 12,600’ and was doing well bombing some of the downhills, which for this years direction, was important. The one thing I was worried about, however, was lack of long runs. I hadn’t done anything over 15 miles since November and here I was a few weeks out, with really no true endurance base. Doubt was constantly on my mind. How was I really going to do this?

With three weeks to go, I bounced some ideas for some long runs off of my friend and nine time finisher Scott Brockmeier. On the first day of the week, we did a 20 mile out and back from Silverton to the Putnam Divide area. I felt pretty decent, but seemed to feel off as we got over 12,000’, even though I was totally acclimated. Later in the week, we set off for a big day with Willie Roberson and his dog Brutus. We did 31 miles going from Silverton to Chapman, then back over Ophir Pass. It rained half the time, but in the end, we all finished pretty strong, and ultimately, it gave me the confidence that I could go the distance. I figured based on how I felt other years after the first 50k during the race, I should be fine. Or so I hoped.

13580647_1195919960442997_5840703204293095649_o

Hardrockers meet from three directions. Anna Frost, Meghan Hicks, Scott Brockmeier, Willie Roberson, myself, and Grant Guise . Photo by Bryon Powell

 

With two weeks to recover, I wondered if I had done enough. I had squeezed in multiple fourteeners, thirteeners, many passes, fast days, slow days, rest days, etc. But I was still worried. With two weeks out, I set off for Marble, CO to spend four days at Trail Runner Magazine’s photo camp. I figured it would be active recovery. The whole time I was there, my left hamstring became sore and was as tight as a high tension wire. Not good. In addition, we were going non stop from 6:30am to 9:30pm and I really wasn’t catching up on rest. More red flags in my mind.

DSC_6724

Killian Jornet

Race week came and fortunately, my flared up hamstring seemed to subside and I tried to get into some sort of routine to rest and focus. It seemed like for whatever reason, I couldn’t stop the distractions. It wasn’t until Wednesday when I went to Durango to pick up my good friend and pacer Dennis Williams, that I finally felt like I could breathe and center myself.

 

Christmas Day…

Race morning arrived and before I knew it, we were off. I was excited to finally be out there doing instead of thinking. The early miles to the creek flew by quickly and effortlessly, as they should.

13717228_10208616330239384_2265561159022140481_o

Mineral Creek. Photo by Gary Wang

As I approached the Putnam Divide, well north of 12,000’, something was definitely off. My breathing and heart rate were all wonkadoodle. My climbing really slowed and many could easily pass me. Once over the divide, I was able to descend ok, re-passing many, however, every time the trail went back up, I felt unbelievably weak, like I was a completely different runner from the one who was gliding downhill just moments ago with ease. This was concerning. How was I going to deal with this for eleven more passes and a peak? I kept telling myself to be patient, and that it’ll pass. When that didn’t work, I’d look down at the little #6 I drew on a vertical stabilizer on my race number, which represented Blue Angel Jeff Kuss’s F-18 hornet that he perished in while trying to avoid crashing into a populated area, potentially saving many lives. We pull strength from many areas to get through an event such as this.

How am I going to do this?

About 2/3rds of the way up Grant-Swamp I was feeling flat. Normally the wildflowers and amazing views are a big pick me up, but I just was cooking in the heat and was struggling to feel like me. Out of the blue my trail brother, Billy Simpson and his son Max appeared. Billy saw I wasn’t doing well and just sat me down and talked with me for a few minutes. We’re both no strangers to suffering out here, and lord knows, last year we shared some epic moments that always left us saying, “F-in’ Hardrock…” At the same time, my friends Scott Brockmeier and Doug Seaver caught up. All of this seemed to temporarily ease my mind and we set off to finish the climb. As we neared the top, I started to feel a bit stronger and was catching back up to Andy Kumeda, who had passed me at the KT aid station.

13843651_10100738403116266_1375467301_o

All smiles, despite feeling pretty awful. Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer.

Cresting the pass, I picked up three rocks to place on the cairns erected on top for Hardrockers, Joel Zucker, John DeWalt, and Roger Ackerman(whose ashes I spread and carried the whole way during last year’s race). I began to run across the ridge on top and then passed Andy and a slew of runners who were staring nervously at the heinously loose and steep descent down the pass. I never stopped but just dropped in like I was launching off into a couloir as if it were a ski run. I blasted down, arms flailing, skiing the scree, falling, flying, falling, bounding some more till I hit the bottom and stopped to empty my shoes. Most fun I had had all day!

Riding my high, I caught back up to Paul Sweeney and Ricky Denesik, and cruised comfortably down to the Chapman Aid Station and mile 18. Kirk Apt was there and we chatted for a few moments as we prepared for one of the toughest climbs in this direction, Oscar’s Pass.

There are a number of words that can define Oscar’s, amongst them, hot, steep, rocky, biting flies, hot, steep, rocky, biting flies, well, you get the point. I had a nuclear meltdown on this climb in the heat of 2006, and I was hoping this wouldn’t happen again today, especially in light of how bad I was feeling on all the climbs.

As we cast off and started climbing, luck was on our side today as some clouds were blunting the effects of the heat and direct sunlight. Oscar’s is a grind. 1000’ per mile climbing with no breaks and few trees. At times it feels like you are in a slow motion race, it takes forever to catch people or to be caught. I lost sight of Paul, as he was clearly feeling bad and I continued to plug away with Ricky and Kirk. We caught a few people and eventually the top of the pass was in sight. I also took note at this time of the tremendous trail work that was done the week before the race. This section had become terribly rocky(it cuts across a talus/scree slope) and the Hardrockers that had worked on it made it a virtual freeway at 13,000’.

With Oscar’s behind, I set off for the wonderful seven mile descent into Telluride. The trail is mostly beautiful single track that winds though open tundra, cliffs, creeks, and seemingly infinite fields of wildflowers. About halfway down I saw Scotty Mills and his pacer Angela Shartel. I slowly reeled them in with about 2.5 miles to go before Telluride. Soon thereafter, I caught up to then 19 time finisher Blake Wood(now 20), and we ran together the remainder of the way to the aid station.

13691187_10102496556752115_1225942483135689078_o

Telluride with George Velasco

Telluride(mile 28) is one of the four “big” aid stations and is a good place to  really calorie up, and take inventory. Time wise, I came in somewhere between my PR year of 36 hours, and one of my 39 hour finishes. All in all, not terrible, considering I was having a rough day. While in the aid station, my heart rate was high and my breathing heavy. I just couldn’t get relaxed. I was just thinking about calories and the 4500’, five mile climb up Virginius Pass in the blazing heat. In fact, it’s such a blur now, I can’t even think who was there helping me. I think George Velasco was there and I know my friend Emily from Florida was there. I do recall apologizing to everyone for being a space cadet, because my mind was going 1000 mph.

It was probably a bit after 3pm when I left the aid station. My plan was to climb slow but steady. Avoid redlining so that the heat wouldn’t kill me and I’d have strength to run well down Camp Bird Road on the other side of the pass. This plan seemed to be working as I steadily made my way up to tree line, passing a few people on the way. After the reaching tree line, the steep trail becomes wicked steep and I could see people ahead resting frequently. Pretty soon I became one of those people resting frequently, which in all of my prior years, had never happened.

At this point, all I could focus on was reaching Mendota Saddle, because after that, the trail contours gently to the pass at near 13,000’ along the slopes of Marshall Basin. After what seemed like an eternity inching my way up, I hit the saddle then began to pick up a little speed catching a few runners before finally reaching Kroger’s Canteen and Virginius Pass at 13,100’.

13627247_10208306116004347_4501087518925432290_n

Kroger’s Canteen. Photo by Jared Campbell

Kroger’s is always a special spot on the course. It is an aid station that sits on St Sophia Ridge in a small notch. It’s so cool it even has a waitlist for volunteering. As always, ten time finisher Roch Horton is there to cheer you up and inspire you to cruise through another 68 miles of fun and adventure while offering you mescal and pierogees. I was pretty hammered, but stoked nonetheless to be there as the nasty climb up Virginias was now behind me.

Ok, time to move on. The first pitch off of Virginius has a rope, and this year is mostly sand instead of snow. Another runner was contemplating going down but was hesitating so I hopped up and took off down the slope. After the first 70’ I sauntered over to the rope and used it for the remaining 100’ as I descended down to the snow. Pitch two went quickly and a short bit later I stood atop the final steep pitch down to the football field that marks the top of the Virginias Mine. At this point I realized I had bought the wrong version of Hoka, mine were the street version of the Stinson instead of the trail version which has better tread. The descent in my street shoes was a little hairball as I slipped my way down. Wasn’t scary, just couldn’t go as fast as I wanted because I couldn’t trust my shoes to grab properly.

Once off the snow and sand, it’s essentially another 9 miles of mining road down to Ouray. Surprisingly, I felt pretty good and ran solidly all the way down to Ouray and only one person caught me near the end. I really enjoyed the solitude of this section as the temps were dropping and I was finally startingto fall into my groove of sorts. I got into Ouray(mile 42) at 8:03pm, which was on the upper end of the range of times I gave my crew, but again, considering how I felt, I was super glad to be there well within daylight hours. (For reference, when I ran 36:07, I got there at 6:26pm)

 

13641109_10208742118329003_3590324924438832048_o

I really don’t want bacon, Dennis. And Dom, well, it’s anyone’s guess what he’s up to.

Coming into Ouray was a blast! Katie and Dom were to first people I saw as they were waiting right where you come off the trail…I could hear many people calling out my name. It’s always exciting to feed off the energy after having been alone on the trail for so song. Dennis, June, and George were all there as well as Jill and Marisol who were waiting for Andy, who was now somewhere behind me. For the first time in the race, I was pretty happy and looking forward to moving on and getting started up the longest pass of the race, Engineer, which climbs from a low point in Ouray of 7800’ to over 13,000’ in some ten miles. Before I took off, Marisol quickly  worked on my hamstrings and quads while Dennis tried to feed me bacon, which I refused.

In a massive dose of bittersweetness, I left with my pacer Katie DeSplinter Grossman bound for Grouse Gulch. I say bittersweet, because Katie sat at number one on the waitlist since June 1st, and we were all sure that she was as good as in the race. Unfortunately, the unthinkable happened and no one got in off of the waitlists. I was crushed for her as I know how bad she has wanted this. As difficult as it was to ask, I was thrilled that she accepted my invitation to come out and pace, as she had played a big part in making my last three finishes special.

13767383_10102497027344045_6807540478223990731_oAs luck would have it, Katie got a lot more than she bargained for this year. The plan for Engineer was slow and steady. Save myself for the second half of the race. All was going fine for the first few miles when all the sudden I went, “Ut oh,” then was on the ground in the dark fertilizing the wildflowers. Ok, that’s never happened here before. I guess the heat of the day finally caught up to me. This was repeated many times over the next few hours and while I always felt better afterwards, I was getting weaker from a serious lack of calories. I recall spending lots of time on the ground talking to myself, trying to snap out of it, and as always, press on. There’s no quitting at Hardrock, and I most certainly wasn’t going to start now.

13840431_10104087967921470_1406300088_o

Engineer Aid Station with Scott Brockmeier and Doug Seaver. Definitely the Red Zone for me. Photo by Katie DeSplinter Grossman

Upon arriving at the aid station, trying to get calories was my number one priority. Unfortunately, this was no easy task, given how queasy my stomach felt. Scott and Doug came in shortly after and we all sat around the fire trying to stay warm while recharging our batteries. I was pretty out of it, but nevertheless, managed to down some hot chocolate, Mountain Dew, and Ramen, good enough for the 1.5 mies to the pass.

Leaving Engineer I felt pretty good, and was trying to take advantage of being able to move quickly over the reasonably flat terrain leading up to the final headwall of Oh Point and that blinking red beacon. All went pretty well up and over the pass and on down to Grouse. I shuffled a little on the downhill, puked once more, but really just tried to conserve energy for the big climb up and over Handies Peak, which was the next attraction on this San Juan tour.

Grouse Gulch was a blur of shivering, talking to myself, eating, more shivering, but mostly looking inside, wondering how I was going to get up out of this cot and get it done. After a long 71 minutes of downtime, Dennis and I finally cast off in the early morning darkness for Grouse-American Pass and Handies Peak.

 

13713515_1769335813344835_1440265502_n

Ninja pacer Dennis Williams and myself atop 14,048′ Handies Peak

The sun greeted us somewhere on the way up Grouse-American and really, the climb from there on up to Handies was uneventful. Low and slow, trying to conserve energy and get my stomach back. Normally it is the middle of the night/predawn when I’m on Handies, but I was glad for Dennis to have the chance to see it in the light. This was his first time in the San Juans, and his excitement for the area was a definite boost to my flatline mood.

About an hour later, we arrived at Burrows Park and for the first time in a while, I could eat. Burrows was a fun aid station. Yitka Winn was there and everyone was in a great mood. In a surreal moment, this girl who I had never met, Yvonne says, “you have such beautiful dogs,” or something like that. I’m like, “whoa, how do you know about my dogs, I have no idea who you are…” The wonders of social media proving yet once again, my dogs are more well known than me.

About an hour or so later we made it to Sherman, which is mile 71.8. Sherman is a bit like the Valhalla of aid stations. Everything you could ever want is there, and everyone is so happy to get it for you. All I saw was that there were pancakes. Anyone who knows me knows I have a fetish for pancakes at ultras in the late miles of the race. I cried one year at Angleles Crest when they didn’t have pancakes anymore at Idlehour(mile 84). Today I ate five. The world just became a better place.

The wildflowers up out of Sherman were outta control. In some spots they were nearly as tall as us. Dennis was like a kid in a candy store, marveling at the beauty around him. Totally high on pancakes and syrup, I was moving reasonably well, and had stepped out from the shadows of doubt into the light of possibility. I knew we would get it done, the question now was, how long would it take? It was still too far out to push, so steady as she goes was the throttle setting for now.

Dennis continued to bask in the beauty of the the Pole Creek area, while I was slipping into a state of decline. A steady, cold, headwind was making an already tiring trek even tougher. It was quite the contrast from yesterday’s searing heat. With a few miles to go until the aid station, I needed to get off of my feet for a minute to just, well, get off my feet. Laying in the grass, I struggled to eat a cookie. I knew I needed calories, but at this point, eating anything was a chore.

13689609_1769335826678167_496040373_n
Onward we pressed. About a mile out of the aid station, Denise Bourassa came by with the runner she was pacing. She tried to get both of us to shuffle, and I felt inspired to try and kick it up a notch. The remaining distance to Pole Creek went by pretty quickly and upon reaching the aid station, I could finally begin to smell the barn with only about 20 miles to go.

I could feel the pull of the rock. 23 out. In and out in less then a minute. The terrain to the next aid station, Maggie Gulch, is pretty moderate. Flat at first, then a rather easy climb up to Maggie-Pole pass at roughly 12,500′. I begin hiking as quickly as I could. One by one, I began to catch people. As we began to climb, I was now passing by groups of runners as if they were standing still. I don’t know what had changed, but I now felt as if I had zero miles on my legs and had unlimited cardiovascular power. At one point, I was even running around people to pass them. Near the top, I passed both Ricky and Kirk, who I had last seen on Engineer Pass.

At the top I caught up with Christopher Agbay and we cruised down into Maggie together. Dennis caught up while we were heading down and mentioned how I was trying to kill him and that his lungs were on fire. He then ran ahead full speed to make an urgent pit stop at the aid station.

Just before I arrived at Maggie, I made a quick stop to pay respects to my friend Roger. The year before, I had buried the remaining vial of his ashes near a bush just before the aid station and marked it with a small cairn. I found the cairn and thanked him for watching over me and I hoped he could see what a beautiful day it was.

Up, up, and away we went, Dennis falling in behind me. I caught a few more people on the  steep, but short climb to Canby at 13,200′. The ridge running after that above Buffalo Boy is pure heaven in the afternoon light, made all the more special knowing there are only two passes between you and Silverton.

Running alone, we crested Green Mountain, and I ran and hiked steadily all the way down to Cunningham. Along the way, Christopher passed by me like he was being chased by a herd of sheep dogs. Speaking of sheep, the entire mountainside to our right was covered with over 2100 of them, brought up the week before the race.

13723994_10208114342955398_9211548391075470037_o

Photo by Ivan Buzik

Little Giant. I’d been waiting for this moment for 37 hours. Normally a 2700′ climb in 1.9 miles up to 13,000′ would be daunting, but I was chomping at the bit to get started. I wanted to get to the top with daylight so Dennis could see how beautiful it was. With bagels and cream cheese in hand, we set off to complete the journey.

13738138_10208114383276406_3682747883072822378_o

Second to last Creek Crossing before heading up Little Giant. Photo by Ivan Buzik

Grinding up this climb, I realized I burned through most all of my reserves on the hammer-fest out of Pole Creek. I had only one climbing gear left, but it was getting the job done. I could see PoDog ahead and was slowly catching up to him and his pacer, Jim Sweatt.

I topped out alone on the climb in about 1:25, a little slower than normal, but whatever, it was done! The post sunset light was dreamy, and shortly thereafter, Dennis popped up on top of the pass. We looked around for a moment, then set off across the saddle to drop down the sketchy single track leading to Arrastra Gulch.

About halfway down, the single track, I donned my headlamp and hiked/shuffled a little till we hit the rocky dirt road leading towards Silverton. I caught up to PoDog and we chatted for a minute then shuffled on by at a casual pace until we hit the left turn and crossed Arrastra Creek. For whatever reason, the dirt road seemed to fly by this year. MoMo was supposed to meet us there with a PBR, but all there was was darkness and crickets.

The final three miles is beautiful single track and is a nice gentle way to end the tour. I have done this section so many times with the dogs, that I new where I was at all times and was calling off distances to Dennis. In some ways, I felt more like a tour guide at this point than a runner.

Before we knew it, we were at the Kendall Mountain Ski Hut, which signals that end of the trail and the entrance to town. I knew my time would be around 41 hours, so I didn’t feel any need to run harder than I already was. As we crossed Green Street then onto Reese Street, Katie and Dom were there and the four of us ran towards the rock together. It was hard to believe the end was was in sight. This is the moment you dream of and what keeps you going when things are at its darkest.

I though back to the question that ran though my mind so much of the first day, “how am I going to do this?” And in an instant, there it was…The Rock. My friends. Dale. And…My dogs! The only thing I remember uttering to Dale was, “Geez, I never thought I’d have to suffer so bad for one of my own finisher prints…”

We did it. It truly takes a village. I owe innumerable thanks to my friends, who selflessly gave up their time to take part in this journey, and in particular, June Uhlig, who took care of my dogs and brought them to the finish, shuttled Dennis around, and provided all sorts of support, both tangible and intangible. Dennis and Katie, whom were the greatest pacers/friends anyone could ask for. I hope you enjoyed partaking in my suffering, you sure made it a more enjoyable experience for me.

The only way out is through…

13718599_1131167416947236_3369211201845737053_n

Photo by Monica Morant

13710458_10208115652468135_4233222956258126401_o

Photo by Ivan Buzik

13719607_10208119489564060_3146510440639601809_o

Photo by Ivan Buzik

13775948_1769349343343482_8909559306915887992_n

Photo by Dennis Williams

Advertisements

Angeles Crest 2014-Dips Moo

“I must secretly hate myself…”

I was really fired up for this years edition of the Angeles Crest 100. I had just come off of a 36:07 PR at Hardrock three weeks earlier under some pretty challenging weather conditions. One never knows how recovered you can be in such a short time, but by race morning, I was feeling pretty confident that a solid day lay ahead.

Race morning is always a bit of a twilight zone. Feelings of excitement, fear, doubt, intestinal distress. Amongst the sea of people, I found most everyone I was looking for to wish a great race. Hal gave his pre-race prayer, with special significance to the passing of 26 time finisher Garry Curry. I’m not religious, but I’ve always looked forward to Hal’s invocation, as it always reminded us how lucky we were to be able to play in these great mountains…

garry

The start of the race was a bit funny this year. I was lined up in the front next to Dom, but seemingly without warning, half the field started running, while we were standing still…Oh well, off we went into the darkness.

Cruising up the Acorn trail felt really good. As had been the case at Hardrock, the higher up in elevation I got, the better I felt. As we topped out at the PCT in about 55 minutes, Keira Henninger and Robert Bracero settled in behind me. I was happy with that time and was right on schedule. The rest of the way was very enjoyable as we chatted off and on all the way to Inspiration Point. For now, I didn’t feel any tiredness in my legs.

Inspiration Point is always a fun show. So many people lined up cheering. I got there around 6:57, again, on schedule. Chris Gaggia, my sole crew and great friend, was there and we quickly changed water bottles. The next 4.5 miles to Vincent Gap went smoothly. I laughed, as more people seemed to ask me how my dogs were than anything else. Shortly before VG, I caught up to the master Facebook Poster, Robert Whited. Always great to see him out there.

I arrived at VG, mile 13, at about 7:42 and Chris swapped bottles and handed me a bagel with bacon, turkey, and swiss. Yum, real food. I also put on a third water bottle around my waist as I was tired of running out of water like in previous years. It was getting warm and I decided to go for Robert’s signature look, and ditched my shirt.

I settled into a pretty casual pace. I didn’t want to push this climb at all, because I still wasn’t sure how recovered my legs were from Colorado. For the first 3/4 of the climb, I don’t think anybody passed me, and again, as we got higher, I felt better. I caught up to Keira, and then was about 40 feet behind Robert, who was running the entire time. Hats off to him!

I arrived at the Gassan/Turner toll booth and was happy to see them, We chatted for a minute while I downed a salt tab. I was pretty excited with how the day had started…Mistake number one, don’t count your chickens till their hatched…

The rest of the way to Islip was pretty uneventful. Keira and I flip flopped a few times, and I could see Robert ahead every now and then. I had expected the heat to build up, but there had been persistent high clouds that really cut the power of the sun down a notch. Good stuff!

I reached Islip, mile 26, at 10:27. I was still feeling pretty good and was feeling that running around 24 could be possible if things hold up. But alas, the day is still young, and it’s too early to think about such nonsense. I weighed in at nearly the same weight I started at. So far, so good.

The climb up Williamson is where the fun and games end, and the work of the day begins. Going up was smooth and steady. A few people passed me at the bottom, but I wasn’t concerned, as I was trying hard to run my own race. I patiently hiked to the top in about 35 minutes and then began the descent…

“Ut oh, Houston, we have a problem.” This was the first inclination that my quads were beginning to “speak” to me. My legs and low back just felt stiff and sore, and I couldn’t run very well on the way down. I passed by Angel Perez, who was walking, and a little while later, Will Fisher cruised by me. I didn’t worry yet. I just slowed down, and figured, just get to Eagle’s Roost, and I could take some Advil to take the edge off. Just before the Scenic Mound™, I caught back up to Will, and he stayed just ahead of me all the way to ER.

Chris was there and we took care of business. I was feeling a bit bonky, so I drank my first coke of the day, hoping the caffeine and sugar would bring me back to life.

Leaving the aid station, I had no desire to run. I was content walking while trying to power down a sandwich. Within a half mile from the A/S, Keira caught and passed me. It would be the last time I would see her till the finish. My friend Tim, who I had run with on many of the training runs, had also caught and passed me on the gentle uphill.

I really despise this road section. The pavement, along with the cars whizzing by, spoils the vibe of being in the mountains for me. While cruising through Buckhorn CG, a few campers cheer as we go by. I’m jealous they get to sit and relax, while I’m feeling at a low point. I got passed by a few more people here, including Andy, Amelia, and Jimmy Dean. I didn’t let it bother me and I was just adapting to how I felt and figured I’d get it back later.

At the bottom of the climb, fellow Hardrocker Terry Sentinella caught me. We chatted for a sec. I kind of used him as a pacer and just hung back about 50 feet or so for the climb out, until maybe the last 3/4 of a mile to Cloudburst where the trail goes downhill, and he could run down better than me. It always a great feeling when you get near the top and you can hear people begin to yell down to you. I ran as much of the flatter switchbacks as I could.

Unlike previous year, where at Cloudburst, mile 37, I was a deflated image of my former self, I didn’t feel too bad this year. My quads had some f*ckness going on, but at least my back pain had settled down. As a bonus, because of the cloud cover, Cooper Canyon was quite pleasant, so I wasn’t having the usual heat related problems.

Cruising down from Cloudburst, I caught Will, who was having some issues. Later on, while going past Camp Glenwood, Jack Cheng sprang out of the bathroom! Always great to see Jack Cheng! We ran together until Katie DeSplinter caught us about a mile later. I decided to run a little faster in order to chat with Katie and see how her day was going. Katie, Diana Triester, and I all basically came into Three Points, mile 42, at the same time. Jack and Will showed up a short time later.

Three Points to Sulphur Springs is usually a wasteland of pinyon, sage, and broken dreams to me on race day. Usually a very lonely place. This year, was different. I felt marginally ok, but for the first time, I had a lot of company. I ran with Diana for a while, and eventually passed her. By the time I hit the road, I really felt like crap though. I wanted to run up it, but every time I started to run, my quads said “no”…So walk on I did. Diana and a few others all went by me before reaching Alder Saddle.

I was doing the math in my head and even though I was having issues, I figured I still get to Chilao around 5:30 or so. I was ok with that. That was only about a half hour or so slower that I had hoped.

Near the top, I heard footsteps. I turned around and immediately heard, “Jack Cheng back!” Jack had been having stomach issues after 3PTs and had slowed down. He came back full strength and we cruised to the aid station together.

I saw Hal pull up to Hilyer, mile 49, just after I got there, and I went by to chat. Seeing Hal on the course is always something I look forward to on race day. It’s all part of why I love AC.

I left Hilyer feeling pretty weak. I was calorie depleted, but knew that I needed to get to Chilao where Chris was, and real food. Plus reaching Chilao is a mental milestone where to me, you are entering the “meat” of the race.

I made it to Chilao, mile 52, in ok time, all things considered. It was 5:39 when I rolled my way in to the semi’s…Chris did his usual job of taking excellent care of me. I changed socks, ate some hot dogs, then went to the loo to lose some weight. I think it was 6pm when I finally checked out of the aid station. Chris went up the first hill with me for moral support. I was definitely feeling Hardrock on my legs at this point.

chilao feet

Chilao to Charlton is one of my favorite parts of the course. It rolls nicely, and doesn’t stress the body too much. Unlike some of the earlier sections where people were catching me, I managed to hold my place here more or less. Running the downhill from Charlton sucked. My quads just hurt and felt so stiff. It was quite unpleasant. I couldn’t wait for the uphill climb to the aid station so I could walk again.

As I was just about to top out, I heard this loud voice yell something that sounded like, “Howzit”. I was like, “who the f*ck is that?” It’s driving me nuts, as I was bonking and didn’t want to deal with loud noises. As I got about 40 feet away, he did it again, except this time, I saw him and was like, “no way, it’s Robert!”(Andrulius, my good bud from Hardrock)

Dang, was I happy to see him. Total surprise. I plopped down in a chair and was pretty catatonic and shit. Chris, Robert, and Bill Ramsey were all asking what I needed, but I was lost in space. At this point, Tommie Silva popped up into the aid station looking great. I think it was around 7:40 and there was the most amazing display of purple fire going on in the clouds to the west. Chris also told me Keira and Jimmy Dean had left there only a short while ago. Hearing that gave me a little boost, as I thought I was much farther behind considering how long ago they passed me.

short sky

I also recall this was the first time I uttered the phrase, “I must secretly hate myself.” I say this because of the pain I was now feeling as a result of 100 miles in Colorado three weeks earlier, and the prior 59 miles of AC. It wasn’t fun anymore, but my mind was on auto pilot and forward was the only direction it new. I wasn’t having fun anymore, but I had a job to do.

Robert joked about pacing me to Chantry. The catch was, he was here on vacation with his wife…Vacation WITH his wife…Not vacation to come to AC…So off I went down to the Edison road, or what I affectionately call, The Highway to Hell. I was running, but pretty slow. Every step just felt like a jackhammer to my quads. I forced myself to run, however, as the more I ran, the sooner I would get to the bottom and then get to walk up the long three mile climb to Newcomb’s.

Well, about two miles down, a single headlamp comes up beside me. I look over, and sure enough, Robert had “convinced” his wife to let him pace me to Chantry. I was told that Chris being there was the only thing that kept Robert “alive” when he asked her. Or some shit like that.

So on we went. Shortly thereafter my dream for AC came true. Three weeks earlier while Katie was pacing me in a rainstorm on Handies Peak in the middle of the night, I wished for weather like that at AC. Well, here we are at AC and it begins to rain. Boy howdy, good times! Mind you, it is so warm, I still don’t have a shirt on, and I feel like I am burning up.

Newcomb’s, mile 67, came quicker than I imagined, and I sat for a minute to eat some food. Chris and Robert were busy taking some time portal reverse selfies with the video feed to Chantry.

The “run” down to Chantry was a walk. My quads were toast and I just tried to walk as fast as I could, occasionally faking running. At some point we passed a chalk “Howie S.” on the trail. Bill Dickey writes the names of all the runners he knows along this stretch. It made me smile. Thanks Bill! Robert entertained me by reciting Zappa lyrics amongst other random stuff, while I spelled altered dominant chords and quizzed him on the quadratic formula.

2014-08-04 10.33.01

It was around 12:30 something when I sauntered into Chantry, mile 74.5. I was in my typical hypoglycemic, bonked state. I had been looking forward to Chantry for a number of reasons. One was that I promised to see Gary Hilliard there. Two, Hal is always there. And number three, Andrea Feucht would be there to pace me to the finish.

My quads were pretty non-existent so I decided to get on the massage table there to see if they could be helped. Andy Roth and Chris fed me hot dogs through the headrest hole and I began to get some energy back. At least enough energy to make a tree pose when I stood up.

tree pose

It was 1:07 when Andrea and I left Chantry. I asked Andrea one favor, and that was to not let me stop at all on Upper Winter Creek. I always waste so much time on that climb, and I was hoping this year would be different. (it wasn’t, ha)

The gentle uphill to the Hogees junction felt ok, but the clock told a different story. I was definitely moving slower than I expected. Also, on this section, I encountered Michael Chamoun and his wonderful pacer Tiffany Guerra. Problem was, they were heading downhill. Micheal had gone up and down a number of times and had finally decided to call it quits…I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I think I said something to try to encourage him. They quickly disappeared out of view down the trail back towards Chantry…I was bummed for him.

Well, the climb up Upper Winter Creek turned out to be a repeat of every other year. Well, except I didn’t puke this time…Well, that’s a lie, I threw up a salt tablet…Andrea did a great job of at least getting my mind off of the catatonic pace, but I had to take a number of breaks where I just laid face down in the muck…I remember gazing at the sky through the trees wondering wtf is it about Mt. Wilson that always destroys me on race day. No climb in Hardrock ever abuses me this bad…

After an embarrassing amount of time, we arrived at the bench. A minute later, much to our surprise, Michael and Tiffany showed up, and Michael flopped on to the bench. I was so happy that he had changed his mind! We spent the next few minutes sharing war stories, interspersed with the phrase, “f*ckin AC…”

notice the soul of an AC runner splattered on the ground.

notice the soul of an AC runner splattered on the ground.

The four of us got up and finished off the last half mile of the climb. Running down the toll road felt impossible. Michael could walk faster than me, so they disappeared ahead after a short while. The lights of the city below were amazing. About 30 minutes later, we came across Michael sleeping in the middle of the toll road. He was toast. Such is life at AC.

After what seemed like an eternity, the final switchbacks came and Idlehour, mile 84, suddenly came into view. Thank goodness. All I had been craving is pancakes. Every year Idlehour had panckaes, and I desperately needed their plentiful carbs. Well, there were no pancakes. I scanned the food array and nothing appealed whatsoever. I was temporarily panicked because I was so bonked, and there was still a lot of work to be done. Fortunately, they had hot dogs, so that and a cup of coke became my breakfast. Jussi also came into Idlehour as I was getting ready to leave.

Off Andrea and I went, the easy climb out passing quickly. I tried to fake running down the beautiful single track to Idlehour CG. It just hurt too much. At the dry creek crossing, I looked at my watch and told Andrea the climb would take an hour. The climb went smoothly, and we topped out at Sam Merrill, mile 89, with relative ease. Michael and Tiffany were there and we all left together.

Once again, I couldn’t keep up with Michael, and they pulled ahead by the time we reached sunset point. I walked/shuffled down to Echo Mt. On the Lowe railbed, it began to rain again, however, it was cold and windy this time. Not terrible, just uncomfortable. So weird for AC. I’m used to baking on this section.

From the Sunset trail to Millard, I managed to shuffle most of the way. Mainly because I was cold and wanted to be done. We got to Millard, Mile 95, and Jussi was there as well. Howard Cohen also showed up at this time.

From Millard to the El Prieto trail, I stayed with Jussi. I decided I really wanted to finish with him. Unfortunately for Jussi, his back was really a mess and he waved me on to go ahead when we were about a quarter of a mile into the El Prieto Trail. Reluctantly, I agreed.

After a small eternity, the El Prieto trail finally ended and we hit the pavement near Brown Mt. Road. I saw Dave Tan walking toward me and he told me everyone was waiting at the finish. We talked for  minute. What a wonderful person Dave is. Inspiring.

For the first time in the whole race, emotion finally began to come out. I couldn’t believe that after all of the pain and suffering of the day, that the end was near. I was fighting back tears as I was talking to Andrea. For this first time in a while, I was actually running as well. And it felt good.

Coming out of the Arroyo and onto the city streets is always a weird transition back to reality. Before I knew it, we were making the right turn on to Palm. As I made the left onto the park grass, I could finally see the finish. It was overwhelming to not only see how many people were there, but how loudly they were cheering. I couldn’t fight back tears anymore. It was complete emotional overload.

I crossed the line and immediately shook Hal’s hand and gave him a hug. Somebody put a chair down behind me and I sat down and cried for probably five minutes straight. The battle was over. I completed the HR/AC double, but greater than that was all of the support and love I felt from my friends and fellow runners over the last 30 hours.

A short while later, Jussi came in. Unbeknownst to us, Jussi had carried Garry’s ashes the whole race. After he crossed the finish line, Jussi spread Garry’s ashes on the ground. Garry got his 27th finish with Jussi. Unreal…

To cap off the day, I watched two more of my friends finish, Diana Pacheco and Summer Wesson. It was both of their first AC finishes and I was so proud of them.

Thanks again to my dream team crew/pacers: Chris Gaggia, Andrea Feucht and Robert Andrulis. It meant the world to me to have you guys out there…I owe you guys big time…

Dips moo…