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!

Crewing an Ultramarathon at The Bear 100

What? Okay, let me start by breaking down the title of this blog for those of you who, like me a month ago, have little clue what it means. An ultramarathon is any race whose distance is longer than 26.2 miles. To crew one is to be the support team for an athlete competing in the event. The Bear 100 is a specific event that goes from Logan, UT to Fish Haven, ID. So this post will be all about my experiences this past weekend as I supported my brother, an ultramarathoner, in his first attempt at completing a 100-mile course. Prior to this race, the longest he’d finished was a 100K race (62 miles) but he’d been training for months and was ready to give it a go. So how did I get involved? Well, Brother asked if I would come to Utah and be on his crew team with my sister-in-law, Meggan. I was hesitant since I didn’t really know what to expect, but he sent me a few articles to read and ultimately I was up for the adventure and in! I’ll be writing this blog from my perspective throughout the race and weekend, but I’ll be sure to link to Jason and Meggan’s blog posts as well (Jason’s is up here!).

So this past weekend my mom flew to Boulder, CO to watch my nieces while I flew through Vegas to Salt Lake City and then bused up to Logan, UT to meet J and M. We met up on Thursday afternoon and first went to the pre-race meeting where course details and safety procedures were explained. There were 310 registered runners plus their respective crew (anywhere from one to a dozen people) and pacers at the meeting in the park. Wait, what are pacers? They are the other runners who aren’t entered in the race but who are allowed to run with the competitors for any portion of the last 63 miles of the race (in this case). Typically, the pacers are experienced ultramarathoners with knowledge of the course who accompany the athletes through the night and darkness to ensure safety. Brother’s official pacer was Eric, a friend and fellow ultramarathoner from Boulder who has finished The Bear 100 previously (read Eric’s account of the adventure here!). We also knew three other racers and their pacers, which was an added bonus!

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Dropbags organized by aid station

After the meeting, we turned in Jason’s drop bags before heading back to the hotel room. These bags would be taken to specific aid stations throughout the course where J would have access to them. They contained a variety of gels, extra clothes, medical supplies, and hand warmers that Jason had carefully organized in the weeks leading up to the race. Back at the hotel Jason and Meggan rested while I got in a quick workout (80 laps in a 10 meter pool) and showered. Then I grabbed dinner for us and we called it an early(ish) night.

Runners at the start line, Friday at 6am

Runners at the start line, Friday at 6am

Friday morning we were up before five and off to the start. It was non-assuming (re: on a random neighborhood street) and still dark. We later learned that 277 athletes actually started the race and at 6:00am they were off! We wouldn’t set eyes on the runners again until mile marker 19.6, which Jason predicted would be about 4.5 hours later. So Meggan and I went back to the hotel, packed the car, ate breakfast, grabbed a few groceries for ourselves for the next 30 hours, and headed to the aid station. At nine points along the course, crews would be able to see their runners. Jason had written out an estimated arrival time for each station based on a finishing time of 28 hours. His ultimate goal was to be in under 30 hours and the course cut-off was 36 hours. J wanted to average around 15 minute miles and knew that he would walk/hike most uphills and jog/run the downhills. His big goal for the first half, until mile 52 where Eric would join him, was to stay slow to conserve his energy and muscles.

Typical aid station set-up with necessary and emergency supplies.

Typical aid station set-up with necessary and emergency supplies.

Meggan and I got to the first checkpoint about 9:30am in plenty of time to work out our plan. We established that at each stop, we would pick up Jason’s dropbag, lay out the contents, and set out other “emergency” supplies from the car. When he came in, it was our job to assess his health (mental and physical), nutrition, equipment and clothing. Then, much like pit crews in NASCAR, we were supposed to make the necessary exchanges in a timely manner so J could head out as quickly as possible. Meggan and I had decided that I would manage water, nutrition, and basic equipment while she took the lead on health and clothing. This meant that at each aid station I swapped his water bottles out for full ones, collected trash from his pack, added gels as needed, got whatever food he felt like and either fed it to him or stuffed it in his pack for later, and replaced batteries in lights. While I took care of these tasks, Jason could focus on Meggan and her questions about his body, his clothing, and any other concerns that might have come up. This process was repeated at each of the nine aid stations we were able to get to and once Eric joined the race, he was able to relay information to us as well.

J coming into our first aid station

J coming into our first aid station

The biggest question mark throughout the race was when exactly Jason would arrive. We had his outline but a lot can happen in a few hours out on the course. We were relieved when he cruised into our first meeting point a mere 10 minutes after his estimation. After a quick stop, he was off again and we didn’t see him again until mile 30. This was another quick pitstop and was where we met up with Eric. It was HOT and sunny but Jason appeared relaxed and happy, still just off his goal pace. At the third aid station for crews, and mile 36.9, I was slated to run with Jason for a leg. He had decided that it would be nice to have both Meggan and I complete a leg with him before Eric started. Not only would it break up the monotony but it would cut about 15 miles off of Eric’s load.

Crew station #2 at mile 30

Crew station #2 at mile 30

When J came into Right Hand Fork (each aid station had a name), we did our usual pit stop routine and then I headed out with him. Our section was 8.2 miles total, with the first 4.5 gaining 1,000 feet of elevation and the last 3.7 being downhill. We set off at a strong hike and chatted easily as we went. To be honest, I’d been a bit nervous since I haven’t run that long since my marathon in July. And I live at sea level, while we started at 5,600 feet. But I was fine other than some heavy breathing at first. It was still quite warm (we started about 3:25pm) but we got ice water at the top of the climb and some shade on the way down. Most of my section was on gravel ATV tracks and not very technical, which was intentional as I do a lot more road running. I had a great time and we passed quite a few runners before coming into the next aid station at 45.1 miles. Here, Meggan took over pacing J and they hiked a huge, long uphill together while Eric and I got the cars situated.

Running with Brother for a section of the race!

Running with Brother for a section of the race!

By the time they got to the Tony Grove aid station (mile 51.8) it was dark. Meggan and I were happy to be done with our sections and were able to settle into the crew rhythm. For the rest of the race after J and Eric left a station, we would break down our setup, load the car, follow the directions along back-country roads to the next spot, set up, wait, and repeat. Depending on the time and distance between stations, we would cheer on our other friends, try to nap in the car, or just hang out. It helped that with the exception of one or two sections in the early part of the night, Jason was staying consistent with his times. This meant that we could calculate his projected arrival time and be ready without freezing outside in the dark for too long. Oh, I should also mention that sometime between 11:30pm and 4:45am it started to rain. In fact it downpoured where we were trying to sleep in the car. I felt so bad for J and we prepared for a cold, wet, and tired runner to come into Beaver Lodge at mile 75.8. Luckily for him, J had been at a non-crew aid station during much of the rain so he was okay!

Crew discussion between M and E at mile 75.

Crew discussion between M and E at mile 75.

However, during the next 10 mile stretch in the early morning hours Brother and Eric were caught in a second thunderstorm. At Beaver Creek (mile 85.25) we weren’t sure when the boys would get in because Jason’s shin and foot had been bothering him at the previous stop. Couple that with the rain and we knew it could be a while. Since it was raining, Meggan and I stayed in the car and it was my job to watch the hill above for the guys. In my head, I’d last seen them wearing blue and red jackets so that’s what I was looking for. It was the early part of the window we expected them and all of a sudden an orange-jacketed man slammed into the driver’s window. We both screamed bloody murder. Then laughed as we realized it was Eric! J was in a black trash bag to keep dry and Eric had changed into a more waterproof layer as well. So the orange/black duo I’d written off coming down the hill a few minutes before had been them! It was 7:51 am when the guys left this aid station. They were feeling okay and J was motivated to finish the last 15 miles in under four hours and ten minutes to beat his 30-hour goal.

Waiting for the boys in the morning at Beaver Creek.

Waiting for the boys in the morning at Beaver Creek.

This is the point of the race when Meggan and I felt more at ease but also more stress. On the positive side, they had survived the night with any major injury, malfunctions or falls. I was confident that worst-case J could hobble the last 15 miles in 10 hours and finish (YAY!) It was also raining lighter and was getting brighter by the minute. On the not-so-positive side, they were now racing the clock. The course was muddy and mucky and J had been on his feet for 26 hours and counting. We knew that the next (and final) aid station would give us a good idea of whether or not his time goal was going to happen, so we packed up, bounced down our own mud-covered roads, and got set up. We knew that J would need to leave this point no later than 10am to have a chance to break 30 hours. We also knew that he’d want to be in and out extremely quickly.

Mud collecting on our tires as the race wore on.

Mud collecting on our tires as the race wore on.

At 9:36am, they rounded the corner and were MOVING. Our instructions this time were to take everything out of J’s pack that wasn’t essential. I pulled leftover food, gels, jackets, trash bags, etc. out of the bag and they headed off without even sitting. Again, our spirits rose and Meggan and I congratulated each other on completing our crew duties. Then we hopped in the car for our last drive, this time across the border into Idaho and to the finish.

Kari and Chris grabbing food from the last aid station.

Kari and Chris grabbing food from the last aid station.

Here, we stood in the rain and watched other runners come in. The finish was a 100 meter (or so) straight-away with a banner hanging outside the timing tent. We saw one friend, who left the last aid station with J, finish about 11:15am. This was a good sign as he was moving strongly and gave J 45 minutes to get in. Then we cheered on a second friend about 11:30am who told us that Brother wasn’t too far behind her. Finally, about five minutes later, Jason and Eric rounded the corner and we all started cheering. At 11:36, J crossed the finish line, completing his first 100-mile ultramarathon. Meggan, Eric, and I all jogged across the line with him and were all smiles. His official finish time was 29:36:34!!

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Coming into the finish with Meggan and Eric… Go Jason!!

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Finished and happy 🙂

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Eric (pacer), Jason (racer), Kari (r), Kendrick (r), Chris (p), Erin (p), not pictured: Mark (r), Callie (p)

Everyone was tired, especially Jason, so we enjoyed the moment and then shuttled back to the condo for showers, naps, and well-deserved vegging. The rest of the day was spent playing games, eating pizza, and just recovering. Our fourth friend finished a few hours later so the condo had a 100% finish-rate. J ended up 70th out of the 167 runners who completed the course under the 36-hour cutoff, including one who crossed the line at 5:57:26. Yikes! Understandably, we all crashed early Saturday night but not before we dried out and reorganized our gear to prepare for the return to reality. Sunday morning we were up early and Meggan/I switched off driving duty for the 8-hour drive back to Denver. They dropped me at the airport just in time to find out my flight had been delayed. Sweet. I finally walked in the door about 11:30pm Cali time and face-planted. Happy to have been a part of such a phenomenal achievement in Brother’s life but absolutely exhausted and thankful for my bed. Until next time…

Finisher! Check out the elevation map of the course.

Finisher! Check out the elevation map of the course.

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