2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 970 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 16 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Hardrock 2015

Hardrock 2015

For the uninitiated Hardrock, is described as a run not necessarily a race,  is a 100 mile loop through the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. As one of the premier courses in the ultra running world, being selected in the ballot and winning a coveted place for the chance to kiss the rock is very special.   The course is describes as Wild and Tough and was set up as an homage to the hard rock miners who settled in these mountains. The course has 66,000 feet of elevation change and covers 11 peaks over 13,000 feet with an average elevation over 11,000 feet. The weather can, and does, alternate from hot sunshine to lightening and thunderstorms to heavy snow and with a 48 hour cut off everyone is out there long enough to experience most of those conditions numerous times. Described as a post-graduate race means all entrants must have completed a mountainous 100 mile race just to be placed in the lottery with 1,400 other ‘enthusiasts’.

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Elevation profile

Summary

Although it had been melting fast over the previous weeks, some heavy May snowfall had left a great deal more snow high up than usual in the San Juan’s. The melt meant that the rivers were high and many more snow matches to cross. The snow was generally soft and we would all find ourselves post holing whilst crossing it. One of the runners this year counted 167 stream crossings, combined with the wet and boggy ground and snow meant that our feet were sodden the whole time. Looking after my feet was a priority from the outset as they would quickly deteriorate and brief admin stops were a worthwhile investment.

The weather can change so quickly and violently you can’t afford to leave anything out there, the paradox being that you always need to have something in reserve. I have learnt never go anywhere on the course without full rain gear, sunglasses,   water, food, sun tan lotion. Where possible its best to eat low and absorb calories when you can.

There were plenty of storms this year but most of them passed though in less than an hour, which I think contributed to the high finishing rate this year. Having run the course before I don’t think that this race gets any easier, in fact knowing what is to come could be argued to make it tougher than just blind ignorance and optimism of a first attempt.

The climbs can take (me) anything from 1 to 5 hours and there is little respite on the downhills.

Finishing this race in this direction would make me a real hardrocker and gave me focus to finish.  I knew I was capable but my fitness was not where I wanted it to be, but I was healthy and my mind was focused. I was fortunate having talented and experienced pacers and crew who sacrificed their precious time to support me and enjoy the ambience of the mountains. Cody (4th at the Bear 100 2015) and Beth (talented photographer) took the whole week to enjoy the mountains and support me in this. Ryan Smith (9th at UTMB 100 2015) and his wife Silke Koester (1st Bighorn 100 2015 and talented photographer) drove down from Boulder for the weekend. Crew Captain was Kea the border collie.

Longer version
I didn’t really expect to get through the ballot this time and was hosting a cheese and wine party on the evening of the draw making it tricky to keep up with the draw. Cody texted me midway through the evening and said I was in and that he was coming to pace me which was great news. Last year he was lined up to pace me but was taken to A&E in the middle of the night before the race. This time he was keen to keep our late night date.

This would be my third Hardrock and first in the C/W direction which gives a different dynamic to the race. I believe Karl Meltzer described this direction as up the ramps and down the steeps which theoretically is the slower direction and far more likely to trash your quads early on. Having run the race before doesn’t make it any easier, each time you know that the slightest mistake or issue could develop and prematurely stop your progress. The fear of failure helps motivate me in these challenges, the finish line is not a given, there is no easy finish. The closer the event gets the more frequent the surge of adrenaline and cold sweat breaks out as you remember the task ahead. As you reach what James Adams calls the event horizon (‘that moment when there is less time between now and the start than there is between the start and the finish’ – see his blog here) the butterflies really start to fly.

After being expert crew and really looking after me last year, Azusa unfortunately couldn’t join me this year due to lack of leave although she had promised to pace me the last 10 miles this year.

Training was steady but low mileage, low vert (20-30 mile weeks) and I seemed to regularly be hampered by late evenings at work. Living in Little Chalfont my stock hill for training could be run up and down in 2.5 minutes.

My training was consistent and steady and on the positive side it meant I was getting sufficient rest. I spent the preceeding 5 weeks before travelling in an altitude tent which seems to help, although it may be placebo. The first couple of weeks in the tent, as you increase the altitude, are tiring in itself.

I ran a very wet, windy and exposed (Might Contain Nuts) 40 miler in Wales in April which I figured would be good mental preparation. I also ran the V3K in Snowdonia (North Wales) which is on the Sky running circuit. It was only about 35 miles in distance but with about 4000m of gain taking in the awesome Crib Goch, it was prefect preparation.

I will apologise now for the number of photos (of me) but they paint a more comprehensive picture. Photos credits mainly Beth Draper and Silke Koester, with support from the boys Cody Draper and Ryan Smith. Other credits Gary Wang and me.

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Pic fo the three category winners, 1st female, 1st male, 1st male aged 39 from Little Chalfont, UK.

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Photo TA ; Kit ready to go. Spot tracker on shoulder.

I was staying with Lisa and Bill at Villa Dallvalle where I have stayed each trip and as usual they looked after me like one of the family. They were even up early the morning of the race to make breakfast and see us off and there taking photos at the finish too. It was good to have company for breakfast as Michael Chu had his full crew there too, I walked over to register at 0500 with Michael and then back for breakfast to avoid getting overly hyped. We walked back to the start line with about 2 minutes before the start.

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Photo Beth; The front pack.

Start to Cunningham (Mile 0- 9.3; 0600 – 0827)

The morning started chilly and overcast with low cloud cover. Perfect weather from my perspective, I don’t enjoy running in the heat.

Dale finished the counted down with the familiar ‘get out of here’ and we were off. I knew that the first section was single track and to be free to run at my own pace so, knowing it wouldn’t last but would give me space I set off just behind the elite/top group. Well it would be the only time I saw them.

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Photo Beth; Front runners.

It was great to see Cody and Beth at the top of the ski slope and then surprisingly again a couple of miles later at Aarasta gulch. From there it was straight up a long 4wd road before the trail peels off up to the top of Dives little Giant.

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Photo Beth; At the bottom of the Silverton Ski slope.

After a while we rose about the (cloud) inversion and the views of the surrounding mountains was stunning. The night before it had rained down in Silverton and snowed higher up giving the tops of the mountains a light frosting. Leading up to the race the weather was cooler and wetter than my last couple of times in Silverton which seemed to result in less afternoon thunderstorm and more constant rain during the day and night. The night’s leading up to the race it rained solidly all night which did not bode well, but there seemed to be a partial weather window over the race weekend which looked promising.

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Photo Beth; Still smiling, the climbing hadn’t started near Aarastra Gulch.

Was great to get to the top of Dives where there were a number of photographers and I could already see the leaders climbing out of Cunningham and up Green mountain ahead.

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Photo Gary Wang; dropping fast into Cunningham.

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Photo Beth; Cunningham Aid

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Photo Gary Wang; Cunningham in the valley, looking towards Green Mountain, you can almost see the leaders to the right of the stream.

After a 2 hour chilly climb it was a relatively short 30 mins or so descent to the aid station at Cunningham where you splash across mineral creek and into a large number of spectators. Here was Beth, Cody who had now been joined by Silke and Ryan Rocky Mountain runners) and team Captain Kea (collie cross). After a quick sock change, a top up of water/tailwind it was straight off up Green mountain.

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Photo Silke; Beth and Cody in foreground, Cunningham.

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Photo Beth; The river was ankle-deep on most people.

Cunningham to Maggies (Mile 9.3 -15.4; 0827 -1040)

I was following Betsy Kalaymer who I knew would set a steady pace. Here I bumped into a few people and near the top was overtaken by Jamil Coury whom I thought would already be far ahead. Over the top of Green mountain and Stoney Pass and the legend that is Billy Simpson went steadily passed me on the way to finish #10 (aged 60).

It was noticeable how much faster either I was covering the ground or that much earlier in the race (not in pain) how much shorter and enjoyable the experience of these early sections felt in this direction.

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Photo Beth ; Getting some thin air before the race at Maggies.

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Photo Beth; Heading down towards Maggies during marking.

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Photo Beth; Some actual running, obviously not during the race.

Maggies to Pole Creek (Mile 15.4 -19.7; 1040 – 1150)

It started to rain but fortunately the wind was from behind so although I got quite wet it wasn’t in my face. After half an hour or twenty mins the sun started to come out and it was pretty warm. I was running with Betsy and Ricky (from T-ride) who I ran close to all day.

The next thing the sun appeared for the relatively flat muddy and wet leg to Pole Creek. Arriving at the aid station I was welcomed again by the unfortunate lady (not sure of her name who I seen the last few times) who volunteered to patch my feet up in 2012.

A brief stop to grab some watermelon, coke and a potato and I was off. The next section was straight into a couple of stream crossing which felt good as the sun was warming up.

Pole Creek to Sherman (Mile 19.7 – 28.8; 1150 – 1412)

Previous years this section felt endless so I knew to be patient even if I was likely to be moving faster due to it being far earlier in the race.

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Looking ahead to the climb before the long drop into Sherman.

Four of us started the long descent together, it started to rain with some heavy rain clouds being blown across the valley in front of us, we were lucky to only receive a sprinkling. On the decent our group traded places and we were joined by veteran Howie Stern. I had already decided to take my time to refuel and admin my feet (although not too long), in the aid stations.

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Photo Silke; Kea hunting for marmots

I wasn’t expecting to see anyone at Sherman as it tricky to access via the 4wd Cinnamon Pass. But as we ran across the last stream crossing I heard the whoops from Ryan and Silke and support team captain Kea.

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Photo Silke; Kea and Ryan meeting me at Sherman

My feet were feeling a little sore after being wet all morning so I took my shoes and socks off to dry them out and caked on the hydropel. I knew already that eating low would be beneficial and Handies was not far ahead so I downed a bowl of chicken soup with Silke and Ryan grabbing my drop bag and generally looking after me. Megan (Irunfar) came in just after me and decided she couldn’t her soup so I had her’s too. I definitely had a number of people pass me but 30 miles in and with Handies looming I wanted to regroup and let my stomach digest some calories whilst I was relatively low.

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Photo Silke; Ryan and Kea looking after me as I try to dry my feet in Sherman.

Sherman to Burrows (Mile 28.8 – 32.6; 1430 – 1526)

It was pretty hot and exposed on the road but due to recent rains wasn’t too dusty although the road was busy with 4wd vehicles continuously passing.

Arrived in good time at Burrows, great to see Andrew Barney, briefly stop for some watermelon before starting the long slow climb up Handies in the hot sun.

Burrows to Grouse (Handies) (Mile 32.6 – 42.2; 1527 – 1914)

The weather started clear hot and sunny. It was slow progress but I was close to Mike Erhert (who has run over 4,000m W-E across the US planting flags ever mile for every US life lost in Iraq and 2000 miles N-S doing the same for the conflict in Afghan see here (a humble guy). At one point he stopped and asked for a hand finding his contact lens lost at the back of his eye, I can’t imagine what a pain it would have been to if we hadn’t been able to find it.

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Photo TA; Handies taken during course marking

This felt long and slow and I could see runners ahead as they summited, on the skyline far ahead. Again there was about 4 of us who were climbing closely and often changing places.

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Photo TA; Course marking towards the top of Handies, that’s Charlie (course designer/planner) with the poles, picking the direct route.

As we arrived at 1000 feet below the summit a storm blew in, fortunately it was a snow storm, whilst cold and miserable, it would have been worse if it had been wet too. I pulled my jacket out but didn’t bother with gloves/hat/spare layer, from my bag which was probably a poor choice. Actually it was a very poor choice, I was freezing in the snow blizzard, hoping that the thunder-storm wouldn’t develop into a lighting storm too. But knew once I was over the summit and we starting dropping into American basin and away from the exposed summit ridge, we would be running out of the wind too. By the time we had dropped to the basin the sun appeared again to make the climb out of the basin hard work. This was now turning into ‘Type 2 fun’ (not necessarily immediate fun but the sort of thing which is fun to think back on later).

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Photo TA; Awesome flowers looking towards American basin.

From the Grouse/American saddle it was a long drop/cruise all the way down to Grouse, although my stomach was uncomfortable by this point and wasn’t able to break in to a jog much.

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Photo Beth; arriving at Grouse

Finally Grouse, I was doing my best not to look at my watch but was vaguely aware that I was hoping to hit Grouse before dark and ideally 7-9 PM. This was mentally a big tick, the highest point on the course was ticked off before dark, metaphorically it was all downhill from here…

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Photo Ryan; Arriving into Grouse aid, Engineer in the background

I arrived about 7.15 and my crew rushed into action looking after me, change of shoes and socks, vest to t-shirt but I hadn’t waterproofed my drop bag well and any spare cloths had got wet. I should mention at this point the normal tracking system on the HR website had crashed. This year HR had decided to trial a number of GPS trackers (for accuracy and safety) which I had elected to wear. It mean that my crew didn’t waste any time waiting aimless and they had an idea, within about 10 mins, of when I would arrive at each CP which was great as most others were effectively working blind. Hopefully everyone will carry one of these next year.

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Photo Ryan; Looking and feeling great at Grouce Gulch…

Grouse to Engineer (Mile 42.2- 48.7; 1934 – 2151)

Some soup and a cheese cassadia to go, Silke (winner of recent Bighorn 100) and I headed at a steady walk up Engineer road. I was slow and declined to pick up pace on potentially runnable stretches, my stomach wasn’t feeling up to it. We were treated to a spectacular sunset.

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Photo Ryan; Silke and I heading up Engineer.

Just after we crested the top of ‘Oh point’ we turned on the head torches. The top part was wet and slippery and I stacked it a couple of times, I will be impressed by anyone (with 45 miles in their legs) who managed to stay on their feet here. The night was still and calm at this point and remarkably pleasant. Engineer appears out of nowhere from both directions and we made it to the CP in good time. The tent and fire appeared suddenly as we hit treeline. I had already asked Silke not to let me near the fire, a fire after dark is like a siren call. A fire at an aid station amplifies the sirens calls to stop and rest, but there is only danger there. We grabbed a handful of saltines to settle the stomach, and we were off.

Engineer to Ouray (Mile 48.7 – 56.6; 2156- 0015)

The next section is single track almost all of the way down to Ouray, the lower parts being along high and exposed cliffs which are spectacular during the day. At night our head torches disappear into the abyss.

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Bear Creek Ouray section during the day. If you can locate the people standing on the ledge, it will give the photo perspective.

There were a number of stream crossing on this part one or two being very loud and intimidating. On the horizon a silent lightning storm lit the sky. We stopped to check out the stars. Eventually the lights of Ouray were a welcome sight and the temperature increased as we dropped into the valley. Hitting the aid station just after midnight everything was feeling pretty good. My head torch had flashed a few times after only 3 hours which was worrying even though I had spare. Silke selflessly handed me her battery though.
Ouray aid station was a flood of activity and I was immediately guided to a seat with a blanket and warm jacket thrown over me. It was a quick change of socks and shoes, some pizza and then I was off with Cody heading up. Cody had 3 years of pent up excitement which was infectious and staved off any thought of rest.

Ouray to Governor Basin (Mile 56.6 – 64.5; 0039 – 0319)

Camp Bird Road feels endless, at an angle that is rarely anything other than steep. Again we made sure we stopped to appreciate the abundance of the stars filling the sky and marvel again at the creators handiwork. As a precaution we also decided to only use Cody’s head torch to preserve my light battery.

Having scouted the turn off earlier in the week we were not worried about missing the junction and made the aid station in good time. We heard here we had recently missed a rain shower but now sometime around 3am it was starting to feel very cold. I started to feel ropey when we stopped and the potato soup seemed to make things worse although I managed to avoid the allure of the heated tent. Concerned that the temperature would only get colder I donned most of my clothes including fleece hat, waterproof outer gloves and rain trousers. The aid station staff were surprising chirpy at this time of morning although I started to retreat inside my head at this point, only focused on the summit. The wind was picking up and it would only get colder.

Governor to Virginuis (Krogers Canteen) (Mile 64.5 – 67.8; 0324 – 0507)

Immediately after the aid station were another couple of fast and almost knee-deep streams which I didn’t particular appreciate as I was still cold from having stopped. From here it was a long, cold, dark plod towards Krogers canteen. Before we arrived at Virginius and the top 3 no. pitches I started puking, which in itself wasn’t too bad. The track gave way to snow and ice which meant concentrating, harder than usual, on staying upright.

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Photo anon; Last pitch to the top of Virginius and Krogers Canteen in the cleft at the top. We hit this around 0430, all we could see was headlights ahead.

As we climbed the lights of runners ahead of us started to climb the last pitches to the pass, whilst  generally not seeming to move at all. Dawn was almost breaking as Cody and I crested Kroger’s, but I was keen not to linger still. As always at Krogers I felt decidedly rough and despite the exuberant welcome committee and the energy Roch Horton’s dedicated team were exuding I wanted to move.

Virginius to Telluride (Mile 67.8 – 72.8; 0510 – 0655)

We dropped fast although my stomach was delicate and I couldn’t run. Having stopped a number of times of the descent to empty my guts, Howie Stern and his pacer Katie De Splinter continued to leap-frog us.

The trail here is steep and we were soon in Telluride, meeting Silke, Ryan and Kea at the trailhead and we all headed to the aid station where Beth awaited with breakfast. We arrived just before 0700 (25 hours in). The new day was fresh and sunny.

Telluride to Chapman (72.8 – 82.1; 0712 – 1142)

As we left T-ride Leah Finn and her pacer Jenn Shelton arrived at the aid station, I had ‘run’ with Leah in the 2012 HR so was good to see a familiar face. I was feeling more energised at this point although the trial was wide and flat here. I had been thinking about this climb with some trepidation as I knew it was the last really large one. The scenery up the Waasach basin is incredible and continually changing. We crossed numerous streams but as we approached the snow line a blizzard hit. We could have kept going but decided to hunker down for 5 minutes to miss the worst of it.

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Any fool can be uncomfortable…

At this point Billy Simpson and his pacer flew past focused on one thing.  The storm intensified with lighting strikes to the nearby ridge line. This is the point where there was no discernible path (KJ had managed to get lost here the previous night). The snow covered everything and it was almost impossible to locate any markers. We knew generally where we were heading but was good to have Billy not far ahead to keep an eye on too.

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Photo Cody; Looking from the top of Oscars towards Grant Swamp Pass in the distance.

As we hit the ridge the sun was out and became very hot again, this relatively small section was treacherous as the ‘path’ traversed the ridge line and one miss step and we would have slipped 50 ft or more, not so much dangerous as the snow was soft, deep and melting and would have been incredibly hard to regain the path.  Over the top of Oscars and the valley and Grant Swamp pass (4 miles away) opened up in front of us. The top of the trail on Oscars is large ‘ankle twisting’ boulders so I concentrated on keeping solid footing. My stomach was still off so even jogging was not really on the menu.

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Photo Cody; Aspen trees near Chapman

Finally through the aspen forest and into Chapman. Everyone was keeping an eye on the storms which continues to circle. Much to our surprise Beth had hiked some way in to this aid station humping drop bags and provisions and was straight away looking after us both. The end was almost in sight… albeit 8 hours away…

Chapman to KT (Mile 82.1- 89.1; 1200 -1509)

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Heading up Grant Swamp Pass, two steps forwards and four steps backwards.

It was starting to rain as we left but we were fortunate and didn’t experience the storm. In fact the sun came out and baked us periodically on the climb.

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Photo Cody; Climbing Grant Swamp Pass, looking back towards Chapman and Oscars.

Grant Swamp is steep scree and whilst Cody bounded up this section and decided to film me heading up, from my perspective it was a slow slog with 100% concentration on not sliding back to where I started. It started to rain/snow on this section and we wasted no time popping over the top and speeding down towards Island lake.

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Photo Silke; Near the top of Grant Swamp pass, this is part of the course…

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Joel Zucker memorial overlooking Island lake, during the course marking, which is still covered in ice.

We saw Kea first who was taking Silke and a friend out for a hike. It was great to see them and brought a spike of positivity.

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Photo Silke; Cody and I descending from Grant Swamp Pass just before the trail turns off and crosses the river.

Not far to go, over the river and then along the Kam traverse. This section was warm and sunny and we were pretty warm once we hit the aid station.

KT to Putnam (Mile 89.1 – 94.7; 1513 -1800)

Ryan was there ready to go and with a quick goodbye to Cody who had done a sterling job over the last 35-40 miles and 16-17 hours and kept me trucking along.

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Photo Gary Wang; Cody and I on the Kamm Traverse, approaching the aid Station.

Ryan was in a great mood having waited over 30 hours to join me and was doing his best to motivate me, although at this point I had one speed. The main thing was RFM (Relentless forward motion). We started the climb in hot sun, balancing the fact that I was nearly there with the fact that the finish was still a tantalising 4 or more hours away.

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Photo Ryan; Climbing back to collect my poles which were stuck in the snow as I slid down.

Across the saddle my feet had been feeling sore and wet for a while so I stopped briefly to change socks and dry them out. Then it was up the short and steep off trail final climb to the ridge. My aim (for the last two attempts) was to finish in the light and it was still on.

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Photo from course marking. Camera looking down towards Putnam aid station.

You can almost see Silverton from the top of the final climb and the finish was in sight. We flew (also known as walking) past the aid station calling out a hello as passed.

Putnam basin to Silverton (Mile 94.7 – 100.5; 1800 – 1944)

Parts of the trail here were rocky and I concentrated hard not to twist an ankle. I was still trying to run where possible (my legs were fine) but my stomach wasn’t having it. This is one of the 4 areas known as bear Creek on the course (inventive lot the American’s) and where I had seen a bear during the marking. To make things more interesting there was fresh bear scat on the trail meaning this was clearly aptly named.

As we hit the Mineral Creek, Ricky from T-ride and his pacer Tina Lewis caught us, which gave me a kick up the proverbial. As a rule I am not competitive, however, with 2 miles of relative flat to go I didn’t want to be overtaken if I could help it. Mineral Creek was flowing fast and high which gave some relief to the legs and came up to my shorts, fortunately after debate during the course marking Charlie had relented and put up a rope crossing. Without it the stream would have been verging on dangerous especially on tired legs. Cody and Beth were there cheering too, but at this point I was focused on kissing the rock. Ryan was still encouraging me, desperately trying to wheedle out any final burst of ‘speed/slow jog’. From there I managed to ignore my stomach issues and jog out the last few miles. As we rounded the last bend we could see the town below us.

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Photo Silke. Home.

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Photo by Silke. finishing straight, flanked by the team.

A rainstorm threatened but instead of intensifying it moved away and we were left with a stunning rainbow. As Ryan and I turned downhill in front of the Christ of the Mines shrine, we could see Kea and Silke waiting. As we approached they joined us. A block from the finish Cody and Beth joined us too and it was a great moment to have the whole team there to enjoy the finish. The final turn and there was the rock.

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The team! From L to R. Silke, Ryan, Kea, Moi, Cody and Beth

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It was great to see Dale (RD) in the light for a change. I felt tired mentally but my body (mainly because my stomach had slowed me down) was in good shape. I stayed and chatted to the crew and Warren Muldoon a friend who I originally met in a race in Namibia who had unfortunately DNF’d earlier that day. Beth and Cody had practically been up since the start too and were off to their tent. Ryan, Silke and Kea had other friends still to support.

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Photo Gary Wang shot just before I kissed the rock.

I headed back for a shower planning on returning to watch other finishers. The reality was I passed out on the bed after a quick shower and woke up in the light thinking it was a few minutes later. In reality it was the following morning.

The awards ceremony was typically uplifting and embracing. After spending hours promising myself ‘never again’ …I think it would be rude to not throw my hat in for next year. Azusa and my family have lost any pretence of sympathy as ‘I do this to myself’ so ‘you wanted this so just you suck it up Princess’.

I feel extremely blessed to be drawn in the lottery, physically able and to have so much support, Azusa (who was stuck at home working), family, friends and great crew as well as the amazing Hardrock volunteers and board who spend so much time into making the event run so fluidly.

This event is like no other. There are few runners who could contemplate racing at events like this. Almost everyone is solely focused on getting to the finish and enjoying the ambiance and wilderness of the mountains. This means that supporters and other runners are incredibly supportive, which is a real boost, the race as such is in each competitors mind rather than against each other. Unfortunately after a few miles anything beyond a grunt of acknowledgement is considered too much effort.

Sunday afternoon after the awards ceremony I packed and headed out for a mid-afternoon Pizza in Avalanche. I ended up sitting next to K-dawg who was hanging out with a friend. As they were leaving we congratulated ourselves on both being real hard rockers now (finishing the course in both directions). We high fived, fist pumped and hugged it out before heading off. (note some of that may only have occurred in my mind). Here is the go pro video from the race https://youtu.be/55-OcQQ_wv8

Kit choice; Shoes, inov8 x talon 190, trailroc 235; pack s-lab sense ultra set (3 litre) which carried at all times, waterproof mitten outers, Saloman bonatti jacket and trousers, goretex/fleece hat, sunglasses, one long sleeved top, hydropel, Petzel Nao headtorch and spare batteries, black diamond z poles; I also carried the spot GPS locator on my shoulder strap.

Final notes;I am not sponsored and all of the kit is my own choice, however, I fortunate to be on the Centurion Running team.

Photo credits, Silke Koester, Ryan Smith, Cody and Beth Draper, Gary Wang (I have purchased his photos that are shown here).

Hardrock 2014

Hardrock 2014 After a lacklustre 2013 which involved moving house and then DNFing The Bear I was hoping to make 2014 more successful. Build up Two weeks before race day Azusa and I flew out to Denver before heading to Aspen to meet up with fellow Brit Stuart Air who was also racing. Stuart had already been out for a few days and had been camping at altitude already, but we managed a couple of run/hikes. The scenery is simply stunning everywhere you look in Colorado. We headed straight to Silverton and got stuck in straight away on the trail marking. An early start the next morning and we met at Charlie’s house in the morning chill in what became a daily routine. Grab a coffee and head to the hills. Azusa had spent the last 3 months locked up revising for her vet finals so the first day trail marking was always going to be a challenge not only with the mountains but also the altitude. I had spent the last 2 months in an altitude tent which I think did help. Trail marking is a great way to enjoy the scenery, meet some of the other runners and see the course. It is very relaxed and there is plenty of time to take photos. I knew most of the course pretty well from last time and ‘revising’ on google earth. It was great seeing familiar faces around town and then at the briefing. There was noticeably more buzz around town this year with so many elites having made the lottery, although Silverton is so laid back, with the exception of the 4th July fireworks which echoed around the mountains for miles around. There was no real medical check in this year just the obligatory signing of the map which was presented to 20 time HR finisher Kirk Apt. It is an honour to be part of the Centurion team and was fun to think that many of my team mates Drew Sheffield, Terry Conway and Dan Doherty would be starting Rhonda Del Cimms 7 or so hours ahead in Andorra. Paul Navesey, Richard Felton (Pro Feet) Claire Shelly and a friend of mine James Warren were all competing in the Celestrail race there too. So if I ever started feeling sorry for myself I knew a bunch of friends who would be sharing the ride on the pain train on the other side of the planet. In fact one of the few team members not to be running this weekend was Captain James Elson who was back home in charge of team moral and would be sporting the pom poms and short skirt. Race day The alarm went at 4.40 and I was at the school hall and signed in by 5am. Back to the B&B for some breakfast and the essential coffee to start the day. I slept pretty well so was good to go. Walking across to the start with Azusa the butterflies were there as usual, it gives me the edge needed to keep my focus. The only guarantees for this race are that it will be ‘wild and tough’. During the trail marking we had been climbing Virginius in the hot sun only to be met at the top by a thunderstorm which dumped a few inches of snow on us, yet looking around the surrounding valleys showed how isolated this particular storm was. Azusa and I about 2 minutes before the start.   GOPR2312_1405298571087_low - Copy The finish line will need to be earned. My race goal was to finish this race in the light on the second day, however, I would still be very happy with a finish, no matter the time. Stuart Air and Tim Adams on the Start line (Photo Azusa Hatakeyama) GOPR2317_1405298628728_low - Copy All of the elites were in the middle of the front line. I stayed well off to the side. The casual go and we were off, the next thing I knew I was just behind Timmy Olsen and Julian Chorier, turned to my left and KJ was there, I was there trading paces with him for the first 50m or so, before I politely allowed him to move ahead. Even thought they were banned there was at least one drone above us at this point which added to the occasion. A group of about 10 or 12 elites separated themselves early on as we ran past the Christ of the Mines shrine and towards the Nute chute. It was a fresh morning but the sun was shining. Down to the first river crossing and there was a big crowd offering encouragement, you heard the crossing way before we arrived there as the front runners were cheered across. Bearing in mind we had run the only flat mile or so of the course the encouragement felt somewhat unjustified. First river crossing DCIM100GOPRO I felt great at the start but was purposefully trying to keep a very steady pace, this seemed to work well through Putnam basin down to KT where I heard Byron Powel (Irunfar) offering encouragement and pointing a camera. Putnam Basin in the morning sun (Photo Tim Adams) GOPR2367_1405298097269_low Now everyone knows that the one golden rule in ultra running is, if there is a camera pointing in your direction you have to run no matter how steep…A brief stop at KT to refuel and onwards but was great to see some spectators had hiked in particularly Wendy and Parker from the B&B there to support. It was becoming over cast and feeling muggy by this point. Crossing the river before joining the Ice Lakes trail (Photo Anon) IMG_29010691038980 I was looking forward to seeing Azusa and my pacer (Cody and his wife Beth who had travelled down from Logan for the week) and Jon who paced me in 2012 and would later be pacing Stuart Air. The plan was for them to climb to the top of Grant Swamp Pass following the start and Jon would be reporting for Irunfar at this point too. It was a slow trudge up towards Grant swamp and some of the spectators were already starting to head down by the time I arrived. Azusa met me towards the top and was excited to climb back up again when I arrived. She told me Cody had been rushed to hospital first thing that morning in severe pain with an inflamed liver. He had found out at the beginning of the week he had Mono (Glandular fever) so had been planning on taking it easy anyway. Amazingly in between finding out the news about Cody and climbing to Grant swamp Azusa had somehow managed to find me another pacer in the form of Ryan Smith from Rocky Mountain runners who there with his wife Silke had travelled down form Boulder to be part of the race. Azusa had picked up his distinctive accent, in the thin air, (Ryan is a Brit) which is always a bonus in the US and the rest as they say is history. Climbing towards Grant Swamp Pass with Island Lake in the background (Photo Azusa Hatakeyama) 20140711_101414 Kilian making it look easy (Photo Azusa Hatakeyama) 20140711_091547 It was a great mental boost to see Azusa and Jon at this point and it was a blast scurrying done the back side of Grant Swamp pass. KJ just bounced down this section making it look like child’s play. Grant Swamp pass in the background ( Photo Anon) 10527586_10203362134887784_6200549142658905174_n The photo below is borrowed from Katie Desplinter’s shot which was the finishers print for this year. View is looking down Grant Swamp Pass to Oscars in the background. grantswamp-katiedesplinter Coming into Chapman (mile 19 or so) was a change from 2012 where my feet were already cooked. Everything was in working order although I was finding it very hot and stuffy. I headed out of the aid station with veteran Billy Simpson who warned me to slow down as we were on of 32 hour pace which was slightly optimistic of me. With Billy Simpson heading out of Chapman (Photo Tim Adams) GOPR2400_1405297931809_low The first half of Oscars (which is my least favourite climb) was very hot and I moved extremely slowly. Towards the top the clouds came in and there was a light breeze and even a couple of drops of rain which was a relief. At the top Randy Isler came past me and was flying, I was happy to let him go. In 2012 we had spent much of the race leapfrogging each other so it was great to see him again. Over the top of Oscars and it’s a great single track trail (the only bit of the course I haven’t seen before) all the way down to Telluride. A well trained and motivated John Sharp who took about 6 hours off his course PB, (if you haven’t seen it check out his Hardrock 2012 Summation on you tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57CGUgLahds) came past on this section and then the first heavy thunder-storm struck. I had a picked up a number of the $1 plastic rain jackets which can be great in this situation but as I stopped and fumbled with it Betsy Kalmeyer (2nd lady) flew past. On reflection I should have just pulled on my rain jacket, got wet and worried about it later but the trouble is in the mountains you never know what is coming next and I didn’t want to get too cold to early on. Running in to Telluride it was still raining but the sun was also out so the rain jacket was off again but I was soaked through. The last mile or so I ended up running with Josh a youngster who had somehow managed to beat the ballot for both Westerns States and Hard Rock on his first attempt both in the same year. We agreed we would spend 5 minutes here sorting our feet our and grabbing some food, before embarking on 4000ft climb to Virginius. Each time I have arrived in the Telluride aid station it has always been carnage as there are so many supporters and crew around, you run in shout out your number and hope. A kind volunteer grabbed my drop bag, some potato soup and coke. Lush. It was now very hot and the sun was bearing down which meant it was going to be a ling hard 4000ft climb to Kroger’s Canteen. I dislike running in the heat and sun, so for me it was a long slog and was definitely starting to feel the race on this climb. Scot Mills (not the radio 1 DJ) churned past me at this point looking very strong. Reaching the top of Virginius and the greatest aid station ever (there was a waitlist to volunteer here) I really wasn’t feeling it at this point and declined the tequila in preference of some coke. There was a queue to leave Kroger’s due to the only exit being via the fixed rope. Every competitor arrives and departs to a small fanfare from the volunteers and you arrive to a red carpet in case you didn’t already feel privileged enough. Arriving at Kroger’s canteen, feeling jaded. (Photo Megan Finnesy) IMG_24554375035974 Taking a minute to compose myself at Kroger’s. (Photo Megan Finnesy) IMG_24515816873039 Hitting the track at the bottom of the three drops I emptied my shoes, from here it was a steady downhill for a couple of miles to Governor ( mile 36) which I barely stopped at and then jogged all the way down to Ouray (mile 44). Again it was feeling very hot and I was sweating buckets. I was really looking forward to Ouray as I would get to see my crew (Azusa) hopefully pick up a pacer and mentally for me it is the halfway point of the race. From here we start heading in the vague direction of Silverton. Heading down from Kroger’s through the soft snow (Photo Tim Adams) DCIM100GOPRO Another busy aid station but slightly calmer than T-ride as the runners were spread out by this point. It was good to hear the Stuart was still going strong about 2.5 hours ahead of me having picked up Jon who had spent the rest of the day packing and repacking his bag. Azusa was amazing and ran around grabbing coke and melon and helping refill my pack as well as generally being super positive and injecting me with some positive energy. It was great to meet Ryan who seemed rather excited about spending the night with me. I’m not totally sure he had mentally prepared for what would be the next 27 hours but he was a top class runner based on Boulder. To give you an idea of his fitness level a week or two after Hardrock he got up early summated a 14er but was still in work for 0900. We heard that the leaders had been through ‘a while ago’ and Timmy Olsen had stopped for 45 minutes and just collapsed on an old mattress next to the trail. You really need to he recced this bit as the first couple of miles out of Ouray could be tricky. We left Ouray about 2000 and the clouds were forming into a stunning sunset. Already we could see the start of a thunderstorm that lasted for about 5 hours. Thunder clouds forming (Photos Tim Adams) DCIM100GOPRO Heading up the Bear Creek trail the temperature finally dropped and I started feeling fresher after the dense warmer air of Ouray which is the lowest point on the course somewhere around 7500 ft. We left it as late as possible to turn on our head torches (I was using the light and powerful Petzel Nao which was doing a great job), the drop off at this point on the trail are hundreds of feet so the head torch is either pointing straight at the rock face or into space. It was here that the lighting and thunder announced itself. The storm itself was still a way away but the sheer noise and power of it were intimidating even where we were. The course headed us straight into the storm and we could only imagine what the conditions were like at the storm centre. The rain slowly increased in intensity as we gained height. Even though it felt like I had been drinking well all day my mouth was very dry and I was continually drinking little and often although at this point I started throwing up the water too. Didn’t seem too bad but I was aware that everything I drank came back up. Ryan was very supportive in a pacer type way and just let me get on with it. Standard procedure. The course was much wetter this year and the streams were generally higher too so plenty of river crossings in this area. We suddenly came across Engineer aid station and were lucky to arrive before it was flattened by the storm. They had a big fire going and I had already warned Ryan not to let me get sucked in by the fire. I sat down behind a tarpaulin and grabbed some noodles and salties and tried to keep something down. It was wet and windy and I was starting to get cold immediately and needed to move. The next section up to Oh Point and down to Grouse is very exposed and whilst there is a red light flashing to indicate the pass this was obscured by cloud most of the climb. It felt more like a night in the Brecon Beacons and was starting to get very exposed. Ryan had full waterproofs on and I had my jacket and $1 rain jacket which was doing a good job but we were both saturated and freezing. At the top conditions were pretty bad and visibility was zero, fortunately I knew the route and we were able to get off the high ground although it still must have taken 40 minutes to get below the clouds. We were both wet and miserable at this point and I was still throwing up fairly regularly. We had already agreed we would regroup and warm up at Grouse (mile 58); however, I managed to puke 4 times in a row just before the aid station. With Handies looking ahead I knew I needed to keep some calories down if I was to get past it. Entering Grouse was like a war zone, bodies were scattered everywhere. Fortunately Azusa was here (0230 in the morning, it was cold wet and miserable and everyone was jammed into the tents. As I collapsed into a chair Azusa made me wear some girl tights and donated her jacket to help me warm up whilst she was shivered next to me. There wasn’t room for pacers although Ryan was able to warm up in the car. The dry kit helps to warm me slightly and Azusa made sure I only slept for about 15 mins and generally looked after me grabbing tea coke and soup, although we ended up stopping for about 2.5 hours which included a specially made cheese toasty, guaranteed to settle the stomach. I was definitely feeling a bit sorry for myself at this point and there was a small wobble before I was told to in a loving way to suck it up and get moving. The stop had allowed my stomach to settle and as soon we were climbing and feeling on it. Azusa had been up at the same time as me for the start of the race and had been driving or hiking around the course all day including driving 4wd mountain roads in a 2wd car through a thunderstorm in the pitch black with cliffs on one side and deer and other animals spooked by the storm intent on throwing themselves in front of the car. She eventually made it to bed around 0600 after a long 25 hours of crewing. Crewing races like this are almost as tough as running the race itself and her selfless support helped inspire my finish. It’s also probably worth noting that shortly after I left Grouse (mile 65) KJ was kissing the rock. I tried not to think about that. American Basin at first light (Photo Tim Adams) GOPR2460_1405297572402_low Moving up Handies I felt much better and as we crested American Basin, 24 hours into the race (about an hour behind my 2012 time) the sun was starting to rise, the clouds had gone. Summiting Handies I immediately overheated in the tights and morning sun. Physiologically this was the end of the race for me. At this point I knew I would finish unless something drastic happened, equally it was still going to be long day ahead, 15 hours to be precise. Then it was a steady trot down to Burrows Park (mile 66). Apparently KJ had passed through here 12 hours previously. The next few miles were along a relatively level 4wd road and Ryan was forcing me to run as much as possible. We caught up with HR board member Blake Wood just before the steep decent to Sherman (mile 72). It was getting hot again by now which I didn’t appreciate. Arriving at Sherman the aid station staff made me a fresh breakfast burrito which finally settled my stomach and a takeaway too. The next section was hot but sheltered by the tress as we climbed steadily toward Cataract Lake. Crossing the river over a tree bridge above the falls, I managed to slip on the log and almost face planted into the stream just managing to catch myself by smashing my leg on the log instead. Well it woke me up at least. By the time we reached the top and the ground briefly flattened the clouds invaded and we knew we were in for another heavy thunder storm. This time the storm was much closer and the thunder boomed around us as we ran today’s Pole Creek. This section seems to unending and further than the suggested 9 miles. Earlier in the year I had run the Fellsman which was great practise for running through the boggy ground. Arriving at Pole Creek (mile 81) I had a small sense of déjà vu and we stopped briefly for some food and feet care. It was a relatively quick section to Maggies (mile 85) where it rained a couple of times within the space of 4 miles. Pole Creek Aid station (Photo Tim Adams) DCIM100GOPRO It was a great relief to grab some soup at Maggies (circa 1700) 35 hours in. I felt like I was almost there, it was raining again only 15 miles, 2 climbs to go. I remembered then that last time this section took me 9 hours…I decided not to mention this to Ryan. The climb out of Maggies is straight up, there is no path and you just follow the markers but the views are stunning and no sign of civilisation whatsoever. By the time we arrived at Stony mountain the weather was back to hot and sunny. Top of the Climb from Maggies (Photo Ryan Smith) GOPR2475_1405297497393_low Then it was a long cruise down Green Mountain to Cunningham (Mile 91) where Azusa was waiting. We hadn’t seen her all day since Grouse at 0400 and it was now about 1900. Apparently KJ ran the whole climb 2700ft in under 45 mins, it took me an hour and a half and that was hard going. We crested Dives little Giant just as it was getting dark with a sigh of relief. View towards Green Mountain and Stoney Pass during the course marking with the Weimuneche Wilderness area in the background (Photo Tim Adams) 20140706_111525 I don’t think I had given a thought to finish time since the start of the race. I had hoped to finish before dark but couldn’t make it this time. From here it was all downhill and starts off feeling like you are covering the ground fast but that last 7 miles or so seems endless. Leaving Cunningham I predicted I would finish around 2250, but didn’t kiss the rock until 2309. Ryan was constantly looking at me to check that we were still on course. Finally the ski slope where Azusa and Silke were to welcome us back, from there it was half a mile through town to the rock, a time to savour. I felt blessed to have been able to kiss the rock again and for the support of Azusa, family friends and Ryan my pacer who was amazing especially with zero notice. Not many people could turn up and cover 55 ish miles of the HR course in 27 hours straight off the bat. Stuart had a great race and finished in the daylight around 5 hours ahead of me despite an ankle industry which flared up for the last 40 miles or so slowing him down. I was certainly tired at the end but feel that fitness wise I could have moved faster if I could have found a way to settle my stomach and there was more in the legs, I even ran up the stairs in the B&B when we arrived back to prove the point. The next day everyone shuffles to the award ceremony and Dale the RD start with honouring those who DNF, the supporters, crew and volunteers and then always finds a story about every single finisher. It really feels like a family event and I can’t recommend it strongly enough. Initially I thought I had escaped without getting cankles but they soon appeared. Despite the wet course my feet were in good condition with no blisters and had dried out within a day or two afterwards. Unlike last time where I was wheezing for a couple of weeks after wards, this year my lungs were in much better condition and other than being tired felt in good shape. Words don’t really do this event justice so I include a few shots of the course to fire your imagination. Whether you manage to get a slot during the race or not why not head out to Colorado and cover the course or run the Soft rock course, it is simply stunning. Note; As part of team Centurion I therefore receive some assistance regarding kit, that said the choice of kit is all mine. Kit selection; S-lab 5, Salomon Bonatti jacket, Black diamond z-poles, Inov8 F-lite 195 or x-talon 190, Petzel nao headlamp dry max socks. S-tabs Hardrock100-295 Hardrock100-298