"Simon... are those rocks over there?" Simon looked at me quizzically.
"Okay... good." I turned away from the creepy old figment of my imagination and headed up the mountain behind Simon.
We kept hiking. My knee was swollen, making it hard to bend, and every step was painful. Before we reached the rutted jeep road we had some technical down climbing that Simon had to help me with in my exhausted state. I used my poles as crutches because there were only SEVEN MILES LEFT in the Hardrock 100, a race I never dreamed I would actually get into when I applied for the lottery in 2015 with only two tickets and one 100 mile race under my belt. Only seven miles, but I was hobbling, and my sleep deprived mind couldn't bring itself to believe Simon when he said that we had enough time to make it to the rock before 6am. "You can't just be in the area at 6am, you have to be through the chute, kissing that rock by 6:00 on the dot!" I belligerently told him.
Training for this beast was no easy feat in itself. I needed to be sure I could get myself through 100.5 miles, 33,000 feet of elevation gain, and 33,000 feet of elevation loss, all between 7,680 feet and 14,048 feet (average 11,186 feet) within 48 hours-- and I only had four months to get there. My training started at sea level in California, but luckily in May I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, which sits just below 7,000 feet.
Breakfast. Nervous peeing. Triple checking everything. Lining up in front of the rock. Making a pact with another woman that we would help the women get as close to a 100% finishing rate as we could. Aaaand, we were off! There were SO many people cheering for us at 6:00 am as we began the race. I barely even ran that part, but walked through it, almost in last place, trying not to cry. I was actually there! I made it to the starting line!! HARDROCK!
Miles 1-11.5 (KT aid station)
Mile 11.5-27.8 (KT to Telluride)
Miles 27.8-43.9 (Telluride to Ouray)
Miles 43.9-58.4 (Ouray to Grouse)
Once we hit Enginner, it was just about a 5 mile descent into Grouse! The sun was already beginning to come up-- it had taken us almost all night to go 15 miles and climb 5,795 feet. Thaaaaank you thank you thank you volunteers!!!
Miles 58.4-71.9 (Grouse Gulch to Sherman)
At Grouse, it was time to pick up Steph! I was sleepy since there hadn't been any caffeine left at Engineer, but not too bad. I DID fail to get my drop bag though, which meant I didn't change my shoes and socks (bad move since Simon and I got our feet wet quite a bit), didn't get my caffeinated treats, nor my second Garmin. Whoops.
Although there was another pass to climb before heading up Handies Peak, in my mind we were just going straight up Handies, the highest point on the course at just over 14,000 feet! If I were to get nauseous and hurl at any point on the course, this would be the one, especially since it was a little later in the day than I expected! Steph went camera happy here because it was just so flippin' amazing!!! My legs continued to feel fine, but I struggled with bonking. "Steph! ohmygodwe'reatHARDROCK!"
Sherman didn't disappoint. I was told I HAD to go to the bathroom there, and sure enough, the vault toilet had been decorated with a table with a scented candle, table cloth, soaps... complete luxury! The whole aid station was perfection! Coming down the road into the aid station I realized that I had some gross, painful blisters going on. After I checked out the bathroom, I was forced down into a chair (for the second time all race), my shoes and socks were taken off, feet wiped clean, and Blister Man attended to my beautiful blisters while I sipped a Red Bull and was handed a big, fat breakfast burrito with eggs, cheese, bacon and potatoes! I felt like a Queen. A gross Queen, but one nonetheless. This was my longest aid station stop at 24 minutes.
Miles 71.9-91.2 (Sherman to Cunningham)
As we descended into Maggie, I was straight-up stressed out. My knee was starting to hurt more than a little, I knew we had lost some time, and I knew there were still 15 MILES to go. Simon had said if I could get to Cunningham by midnight, that should give us ample time to get to the finish. That made me want to get there at 10:00 pm, which we had been on schedule for, but we were now falling behind. Steph filled my handheld with Coke so I could get SOMEthing into me, and I tried to eat some sweet potatoes and a slice of chocolate banana bread that an aid station volunteer had made, which actually completely hit the spot! 8 minutes later we headed out towards Cunningham, the LAST AID STATION, and boy am I glad I didn't know what was ahead...
"Those are headlamps. That's the last climb."
"It's not as bad as it looks!!"
"Ohhhh my god!"
How had I managed to forget the last climb??
When we got to Cunningham FINALLY at 11:02 pm, I was all prepared to run through the knee pain. I am typically a "fast" finisher. I was totally set to destroy those last nine miles and get this thing DONE. However, I quickly discovered that my knee was too swollen to bend enough to go fast. Or even to run at all.
Miles 91.2 to 100.5 (Cunningham to SILVERTON!)
I told Simon I was ready to get going. We left at 11:10 pm, needing to get to the rock by 6:00 am. Everyone kept telling me I had plenty of time, but I didn't believe that they knew how much my knee hurt and how slowly I would have to go. I definitely was not able to think clearly at that point!
Simon and I went up, up, up to Little Giant, slowly but surely. After an hour we stopped so I could get out a snack, and kept on moving while I ate. It sure is hard to eat while you're huffing and puffing up a 2500 foot climb to 13,000 feet 91 miles into a run!
The whole way down Green Mountain and up Little Giant I had some serious déjà vu. Even writing about it now, I SWEAR I had been there before, climbing down that horrid pass and up that steep mountain! I continued to have epic hallucinations, but was able to recognize now that the people I was seeing, and children I was hearing were probably not really there.
When we finally started to go DOWN is when I really went completely nuts. Hot mess. The climb down to the jeep road was sketch in the dark with my bum knee, and Simon had to help me navigate quite a bit. I was excited to get to the jeep road, but when we got there, it was SUPER rutted out with all these softball-sized rocks... not quite what I was hoping for. My knee got more and more swollen and I couldn't lift my foot very high, so I would continually hit a rock and it would force my knee to bend, making me groan. I was SUPER pathetic and whiny. Poor Simon lol I just kept groaning, and he tried so hard to talk to me, but all I could do was concentrate on continuing forward. After a few hours the pain was starting to make me a little nauseous.
When I look back at the thought processes that were going on in my head, I just die laughing. For some reason-- maybe because I had trouble seeing the course markers? Or because I kept having déjà vu about the road and thought we were going in circles? For whatever reason, in my sleep-deprived, physically exhausted state, I was convinced that Simon was just running us around, following no particular trail, trying to get 9 miles by his watch so that we'd have 100 and I could be done! haha! I remember stopping at one point and saying something like, "Simon! Seriously! What are we doing? WHERE is the bridge? WHY are we not there yet?" He was so patient with me! I'm pretty sure I fell asleep standing up once, because I came to to Simon grabbing my arm and saying "Look at me. You're saying weird things that don't make sense."
I got even more stressed out when we were passed by person after person after person after person... all running like I wanted so badly to be doing. I wanted to follow them. Wait for me! They would disappear into the night so quickly, which also contributed to my thinking we were off course. When we had to cross yet another stream, Simon had to help me across as I was so unstable and he knew if I fell in it would be bad news bears. He gave me his rain jacket for another layer as it was getting super chilly, and crossing the icy stream didn't help. We kept on trucking. When we got into Silverton, I didn't even believe what was happening. All week I had started tearing up thinking about approaching that rock and finishing HARDROCK within the allotted 48 hours, but there I was, limping towards it using my poles as crutches, thinking I had somehow done something wrong and didn't REALLY finish. It didn't feel real! Limping into the chute with only 58 minutes to spare was not exactly what I had in mind for finishing Hardrock. But- I did it. I FINISHED HARDROCK! It had taken us almost six hours to do that last nine miles. Wow.