Hardrock 100 Ultra-Marathon

Two weeks ago I flew through Phoenix, AZ to Durango, CO on a Thursday afternoon. I’d never been to either airport before and I wasn’t even really sure where in the great state of Colorado I was landing. But when I stepped off the second plane, I was instantly surrounded by the gorgeous San Juan Mountains and I knew it was going to be an amazing weekend. My sister-in-law (Meggan), her father (Richard), and my two adorable nieces (Rachel and Ava) picked me up and drove us back to Silverton, CO. This would be our headquarters for the next four days.

Rachel and Ava waiting for the race to start!

Rachel and Ava waiting for the race to start!

Maybe I should pause to explain why the five of us, my brother (Jason), our cousin (Glen), and family friends (Eric, Randy, and Lori) were all converging on this small town in the mountains of Colorado. My brother ran the The Bear 100 last year as his first attempt to complete 100 miles of running in a single event. He was successful and I was present to help Meggan “crew” for his race. As a result of that finish, he earned one ticket in a lottery for entry into the Hardrock 100 this year. In the ultra-running world, Hardrock is an elite event and one that many experienced runners shy away from due to the extreme course topography. You can read about the exact odds on Jason’s blog, but suffice it to say that his name should not have been pulled last December.

Ava and I on the shuttle to the first aid station.

Ava and I on the shuttle to the first aid station.

But it was. Along with 151 other mildly insane runners who would toe the starting line with him in July 2015. And so, he started to train for the 33,992 feet of climb and 33,992 feet of descent that he would encounter along the course. Couple those drastic elevation changes with the fact that the LOWEST point on the course was at 7,680 ft above sea level while the peak was at 14,048 ft above sea level. Yes, you just read all of those statistics correctly. Yes, it helps that Brother’s family currently lives in Boulder, CO where he has fairly easy access to mountains. Yes, he ran A LOT in the months leading up to this race.

Cunningham Gulch aid station

Cunningham Gulch aid station

So where do I come into this whole equation? Well after crewing last year, I offered my organizational services again. Last year I was the second in command at aid stations, taking commands from Meggan and letting her do most of the communicating. This year, I was told that Meggan was going to primarily be wife/mom while I was going to be in charge of Jason. Oh goodness. I won’t lie, I was a bit nervous! I knew that Jason had much more experience and confidence going into this race than The Bear last year. I knew that I had more of a grasp on what was happening and what my role would be throughout the race. But I also knew that ultra-running, especially in the wild mountains of Colorado, is unpredictable and that I would be responsible for making sure Jason was safe and had everything he needed. Luckily, Jason spent the week leading up to the race in Silverton exploring the course and laying out his drop-bags for each of the aid stations his crew could access.

My crew-mates: Meggan, Ava, Glen, Rachel, and Richard.

My crew-mates: Meggan, Ava, Glen, Rachel, and Richard.

Thursday night, I shared a quiet room with Jason while the rest of the family slept upstairs. We wanted to ensure that J got good sleep and would wake rested for his 40 hours (or so) of running. At 5:30am we walked the few blocks to the high school gymnasium where he checked in and we waited for the start. At 6am the runners were off and the crew headed back to the hotel to eat breakfast and gather our gear. Our first aid station was Cunningham Gulch, which was 8.2 miles into the race. We had fun playing with the girls while waiting to see J come down the mountain and cross the creek. He was here only a short time to refuel and then he was off heading back up the other side of the mountain. We wouldn’t see him again until mile 42.1 at Grouse Gulch, sometime around 7pm that night.

Jason coming down into Grouse Gulch.

Jason coming down into Grouse Gulch.

While Brother was running up and over several mountains (no big deal), I went for a run of my own in town. My four-mile run felt short and difficult as I struggled to breathe at just over 7,000 ft above sea level. It rained off and on during the day and the adults all took turns entertaining the girls between meals and packing. In the early evening, I drove the girls and Richard up to Grouse Gulch to hook up with Eric, Meggan and Glen. They had gone up earlier to cheer on earlier runners and to make sure Eric was there and ready to go. He would be pacing J for miles 42-82, through the night and across the most technical terrain. They run together weekly in Boulder and Eric has completed Hardrock before, as well as a number of other 100-mile races.

Meggan and I chilling with Santa at Ouray aid station.

Meggan and I chilling with Santa at Ouray aid station.

We had specific instructions to make sure Jason ate a lot at Grouse Gulch and were also in charge of replacing SPOT tracker batteries, filling water bottles, restocking his pack with gels, swamping out sunglasses and short-sleeves for rain jackets and long-pants, adding in warm hats and headlamps, etc. I felt a little overwhelmed at some of these aid stations because it was my job to keep J focused on changing his socks, eating his quesadilla, and telling me if he needed more or less layers. All while Glen was videotaping and getting hot foods, Meggan was saying hello and accessing the condition of Jason’s body, Eric was asking about the course, Rachel was trying to show J her good luck drawings, and Ava just wanted to hug her Daddy.

Looking up the mountain for J while waiting at Chapman aid station.

Looking up the mountain for J while waiting at Chapman aid station.

Writing it all out makes it sound more chaotic than it really was, but there was certainly a lot happening at these stops! Once Jason and Eric headed off into the night, we had about 1.5 hours worth of driving to get to Ouray where we had a second hotel room for the night. Glen, Meggan and I dropped off Richard and the girls to sleep while we waiting to see J through the Christmas-themed aid station. He left around 1:30am with Eric after a fairly long stop (20 minutes) to change clothes and eat some real food. We headed back to the hotel to rest for a few hours and awoke to find that J and E had had a great night. They were already over their next mountain and were working their way down to Telluride, our next aid station. The only slight issue with that was that they had five miles to run and we had an hour to drive. Whoops? So Glen and I quickly showered and jumped in our car to “race” the SPOT dots to Telluride while Richard and Meggan got the girls up and joined us when they could.

Goofing off with my older niece, Rachel.

Goofing off with my older niece, Rachel.

This divide-and-conquer strategy paid off because Glen and I walked into the aid station to get set up a mere ten minutes before the boys arrived! At this point, they were 72.8 miles into the race but had made it through the night. Jason looked good, in spite of a slight complaint about his knees on the downhills. They had come through rain, snow, and a fairly chilly night but had not had any major mishaps, which was great news! Off they went while Glen and I drove to meet Meggan’s car for breakfast. The next section of driving was more off-road and exciting, and we had to park 0.25 miles from the aid station and walk in. The girls enjoyed the adventure and were fairly good with lunch at Chapman aid station. I took a turn entertaining Rachel here, so we explored the log bridge over the creek, used binoculars to scan the mountain-side for J, and played “sack-of-potato” countless times. It was fun to interact with my nieces throughout this race and they continue to amaze me with how quickly they grow up!

Jason coming through Chapman aid station... almost done!

Jason coming through Chapman aid station… almost done!

Chapman aid station was mile 82.2, and the last time we would see Jason before the finish that night. Eric finished his pacing duties and Randy picked up for the last sections of the trail. I continued to try to manage Jason’s needs but had to get a little creative here since we did not have all of his extra clothing and food options from the car. Fortunately, we did have Eric’s race bag so he lent Jason the rain pants he needed. Then the crew (and a tired Eric) hiked back out and drove just over two hours back around to Silverton. We opted not to take the 4WD-only option over the mountain pass, but instead retraced our steps through Telluride and Ouray. Back in town we unpacked, had dinner, and then went to the high school to wait Jason. He had been right in the middle of his timing goals up until Chapman, so we expected to see him between 8-10pm.

Rachel and Ava waiting for Daddy at the finish line.

Rachel and Ava waiting for Daddy at the finish line.

Their friend, Kari, who was also at The Bear 100 finished about an hour before Jason so we got to see her kiss the Hardrock. Then we spent the rest of the time playing with Rachel and Ava, who were quite tired at this point but excited to see their Daddy. We got the radio from Glen that Jason had crossed the river along the road and was heading in with only two miles to go! By this point it was dark again but J still had over an hour to accomplish his original goal of finishing in under 40 hours. We were all excited to see him finish, but cheered on several more runners while we waited. Finally, we made out the outline of three runners without headlamps (Eric, Jason, and Randy) and Rachel ran out to greet them. The whole family jogged the last hundred yards or so with Jason and then watched as he kissed the Hardrock at 9:22pm on Saturday night. This was 39 hours and 22 minutes after he started, which is almost exactly what he predicted! After resting for quite some time in the gym, we headed back to the hotel and put the girls to bed. Then J and I actually went back to the medical tent to confirm that his slight wheezing and coughs were “normal”. They assured us he would be fine after he got some sleep, so we did just that! Runner, pacers, and crew were all tired but happy and had no problem sleeping through the night. I even shared a room with the little girls and had no problem falling (or staying) asleep.

The infamous Hardrock that stands on the finish line.

The infamous Hardrock that stands on the finish line.

Sunday morning we went to the race breakfast and award ceremony and heard some of the incredible stories from the race. Like the runner who choked on a piece of watermelon in the first half of the race, but was rescued by an aid station medic who performed the heimlich maneuver. Or the runner from Boulder who had a tough race, but managed to sprint to the finish at kiss the rock with literally one second to spare. His official time was 47:59:59! All of the finishers, 123 officially, earned their respective awards and everyone ate well in that gymnasium.

The dream team: Eric, Randy, and Jason.

The dream team: Eric, Randy, and Jason.

Unfortunately, I had to hit the road back to Durango airport immediately after the award ceremony so I said my good-byes and hopped in the car with some other friends who were going my way. Shortly after checking in, my flight to Phoenix was canceled and after a lot of phone calls and waiting in line, I finally got rebooked to Denver much later Sunday night. Then I spent the night in whatever hotel US Airways put me up in, where I logged a nine mile run on the treadmill at 11pm before crashing into my king-sized bed. Monday morning I went back to the airport for my connection home, which left with no issues. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of Jason’s race weekend and while I don’t think I was as helpful or prepared as I could’ve been, I do hope that I pulled my weight on the team. It was great to see Jason/Meggan and the rest of their family and friends, as well as explore a new part of Colorado!

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NC to NC Phase Four – CO Thanksgiving!

Sorry for the delay on posting y’all! Spoiler alert: I made it to Virginia… Woot. But I digress, so let’s go back to where we left off.  Where was that? Oh right, at Denver Airport with Mom. This was just after exploring Utah and long after packing my worldly possessions. Needless to say, I was excited to get to Boulder for Thanksgiving! Tuesday evening we just hung out and enjoyed each other’s company. The highlight was when my brother first came in the house and my niece Rachel shouts, “Grandma, your son is home!!” That night, and the next two days, Rachel was extremely happy to see Mom but less than thrilled about Aunt Karen. That was okay by me because it meant I got to snuggle and play with my second niece, Ava, without interruption.

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281Wednesday we sent the girls to daycare as usual and Meggan went to work for the day. Mom took the car to stock up on groceries for the week while Brother and I settled into our project for the day. He had asked for help going through his wardrobe and I was more than happy to oblige. Our goals were to weed out items that were past-the-point, identify gaps to fill with new items, and to determine whether other items were work appropriate anymore. After three hours of trying on almost everything in his closet, we had a fairly long list of suggestions to add and a large pile for donation or sell. My biggest thing was to speak less and listen/question more. For example, “You have said that you don’t love the color of that shirt, that it feels big through the stomach and short along the bottom”. In that instance, I would advise that three strikes against that shirt would qualify it for donation and Brother would either agree or make a case to keep it. He did an excellent job at staying focused and taking my criticisms. The biggest gaps we found, which we kind of knew going in, were well-fitting and more traditional pieces of work clothes.

After a quick lunch with Meggan, we went to the mall with Mom and had an extremely successful visit to Banana Republic! Side note: For those of you with slim males on your Christmas lists, BR has tailored, slim fit, no iron button down shirts 🙂 Wednesday evening after work and daycare, we decided to try out a nearby restaurant with the family and I had an amazing salmon filet with really good bread and steamed greens. Yum! That’s where the above pictures were taken (the girls were there too, but were having too much fun watching the cooks in the kitchen to pose for a picture).

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Thanksgiving morning we had decided to go into Denver and explore the Nature and Science Museum where their family now has a yearly pass. Mom and I hadn’t been before so we all had fun playing in the Discovery Zone (Ava is shown there above). We saw the visiting whale exhibit, climbed into a huge whale heart, saw dinosaurs, explored the Australian Outback, and saw fossils. After a quick snack, Rachel and I took off for the space exhibit. She was really excited to put on the outfit above and look for moon rocks. She then commanded a shuttle launch to Mars with me as her co-pilot and saw shooting stars. It was actually really fun and she’s the perfect age to play! That afternoon and evening we relaxed at home, set up their Christmas tree, and ate leftovers. With Meggan working two days of break and us wanting to get out and enjoy the nice weather, we concluded that spending hours in the kitchen was not something any of us wanted to do. We were outside that afternoon and Rachel rode Sparkle, her two-wheel bike all by herself for the first time!! Jason was obviously enjoying himself as well 🙂

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That being said, on Friday Meggan threw a pork tenderloin in the crock pot and prepped a bunch of veggies before work. I helped monitor the meat throughout the day and had instructions on when to put the veggies and casserole in to cook. That evening we had a cousins party! Our second cousins Kyla (and her daughter Lily) and Keane (with his wife Kelly and daughter Liv) as well as our cousin Kelsey (with her new husband Eli and their dog Bodhi) all live in the Boulder area. Another second cousin, Tim, is working up in Summit County this winter so he came along too! The four girls played and all of the adults shared stories and caught up on extended family. Grandma helped put Rachel and Ava to bed and the other parents took their little ones home. Then Jason, Meggan, Kelsey, Eli, Tim, and I stayed up for several more hours playing games. Below is a picture of the group playing Killer Bunnies, which is a crazy game that is an Oliver family favorite.

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Saturday we went to a nearby park for biking, walking, playing, and just having fun as a family. The weather was in the low 60s, which is unheard of in Colorado in November but this California girl was not complaining! It was nice to see my nieces play and watch their growth and development even in the last few months since I saw them last. That afternoon we played games at home, wrapped presents to leave for Christmas, and just relaxed together as a family. After dinner at Sweet Tomatoes (the same as Souplantation for California people), we called it a semi early night. Mom and I were set to leave first thing Sunday morning so I spent a little time packing the car and making sure that there would be room for everything and us. I managed to squeeze in everything and was happy that Meggan had taken Funshine through a car wash on her way back from work one day so that I could actually see out of the windows!

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Tuesday afternoon to Sunday morning is a fairly long time to have with family but it never seems long enough! We are already trying to figure out the next time we can get together so I can see my sweet nieces. Hopefully having Mom and I on the same coast again will increase the chances of that happening more! Of course, we’ll have to look into fun adventures in Colorado as well. For now, I’ll look back at the pictures and smile thinking about the fun times we had this week. Not only was it great to have a break from the car, but it was great to be with my family. I hope the rest of you had a relaxing and enjoyable Thanksgiving with your family and friends as well!

NC to NC Phase 3 – UT to CO

Just to recap, in my quest East I have already gone through the packing phase and the stunning scenery CA to UT phase. In this story, I’m waking up in a warm hotel room in Green River, UT where it is anything but warm outside. My plan for the day was to drive East into Colorado to the Denver Airport where I would pick up Mom. We’d then continue on to Boulder, CO where my brother’s family lives and we would be spending Thanksgiving week. Monday night Jason had warned me of winter weather expected throughout CO and especially in Summit County, which I would be driving through around noon on Tuesday. I had planned to loop through Arches National Park, but with the call for snow and knowing I needed to meet Mom at the airport around 2pm, I opted to pass this trip. Again, I wish I could have seen more but I cherished the last days I had in CA and I just know that I’ll need to plan a trip out to Utah one summer soon! With the forecast for the day looking snowy, I was up and out of the hotel by 7am.

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I spent about an hour in Utah before crossing into Colorado (my fifth state of the trip). The scenery was slowly transitioning all morning and I could see the steeper mountains ahead of me with the flatter plateaus beside me. I was thankful that most of my drive on Tuesday would be on I-70E, I road I plan to become extremely familiar with over the next week. Just past Grand Junction, CO I got my first taste of snow as we went through a slick pass. There weren’t too many other vehicles on the road, but we all went single-file beside the riverbed. We passed several minor accidents and lots of state troopers monitoring the situations as they got worse. At the end of this section of snow, I realized that I might be in for a long drive through the passes in Summit County. I also realized that my windshield wiper fluid was frozen… that’s not an issue when snow is falling from the sky, but when slush is getting kicked up off the road, it’s not great. In fact, I couldn’t really see so I stopped at a gas station to clean my windshield.

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A few hours later, I crossed into Summit County and things got really interesting. Going over Vail Pass we went extremely slowly and used one lane again. But as we went, it got worse and worse and I started to worry about slipping and sliding. Thankfully, I got up and over the pass but it took quite a bit of time and was mentally draining. I also knew I still had to get through Loveland Pass, which luckily wasn’t as bad because the traffic was heavier on that side of the county. After getting through the tunnel we slipped and slid down the other side in the snowy conditions. I pulled over once to use water and napkins to clean my windshield since the sun’s glare made it impossible to see. Once I got down into Denver, I stopped at a gas station to get gas, refuel on water, and clean the windshield again. I’d had over 100 ounces of water already and was SO thirsty with a pretty severe headache, but I’d made it!

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My next stop was Denver Airport to pick up Mom, which posed another minor problem. As y’all know by now, my car was filled to the brim with stuff. And I’d budgeted space for Mom’s backpack and suitcase… but I’d forgotten that she and I both had Christmas gifts to leave at my brother’s house. They wouldn’t be in the car when we headed East later, but they were there now. Unfortunately, for Mom, she ended up sitting with the boxes on her lap while we drove the 45 minutes or so to Lafayette, outside of Boulder. I’ll post more about my wonderful five days here tomorrow but for now, check out my Facebook album for more pictures of my third day of this trip!

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