I was one of the lucky entrants to “win” the lottery and enter the toughest ultramarathon in the United States. The Hardrock 100 has 100 33,992 feet of climb and 33,992 feet of descent for a total elevation change of 67,984 feet with an average elevation of 11,186 feet. You also get to climb a 14’er Handies Peak, in the middle of the race.
Run morning-6 am-was cool. Short sleeves, running skirt, and breathing mask was in order. I take medication for my asthma. II have what is called “late onset exercise induced asthma”. This means my asthma does not normally kick in until 8 or 10 hours into a run. As an ultra runner, I can finish a cool weather 50K (31 milers) without having any breathing issues at all.
I wore my mask from the starting line. The first climb out of Silverton is 13,000 foot. As we climbed it became colder. My breathing was a little rough but I attribute that to the climb and race excitement. I was very happy to summit and start down the steep other side to our first aid station, Cunningham Gulch.
Right out of Cunningham is the second big climb of the run in this direction (Hardrock changes direction every year) up to Green Mountain. Now I am into my counting. I take fifty steps, then pause for a 10 count to catch my breath and let my heart rate drop a beat or two. I top out at Green Mountain, 13,000 feet again, and the weather rolls in. Wind, snow and sleet. I decide now is a good time to sit down and put on my rain pants. Thank goodness I stashed them in my first drop bag. It’s cold, I move on. Fifteen minutes later, that weather moved on and now I have to sit down again and take the rain pants off.
I haven’t mentioned how beautiful the San Juan Mountains are. I really can’t put it into words, the pictures should do more justice than I can do. There’s another little climb, which I believe was Buffalo Boy, so I am glad to be descending again, now down to Maggie Gulch.
I haven’t glanced at my watch, but due to the fact that I am way behind other runners that I had *hoped* to be around, I know I am behind my pace schedule. But your pace is what your pace is. I couldn’t climb any faster than what I was doing.
Another runner Scott was just leaving Maggie when I arrived and gave me a pat and told me to keep going. I was determined to keep moving until I timed out. Which seemed like it was going to have sooner than later (much to my dismay).
There is a routine to aid stations at Hardrock. You leave an aid station and then you climb. Leaving Maggie was no different. This climb, to Maggie-Pole Pass, is *only* about 12,500 feet. Given that Maggie Aid Station is about 11,800 feet, piece of cake, right?
The asthma really seemed to be kicking my ass after leaving Maggie. I left Maggie at almost one pm. This was well off the split that I had planned, but what can you do? Nothing. Your pace is your pace. Your climb is your climb. Hardrock is…hard.
A friend described asthma which fit really well. Put a straw in your mouth, close your lips around it, and try to run. That’s what it is like. My bronchioles were shrinking by the hour. In the beginning, the breathing is not too bad. But as time goes on, the bronchioles will just not expand. What even becomes worse for me, almost any effort leads to no breathing. So my fifty steps uphill dwindles to 30 steps uphill. Which then becomes 10 steps uphill, with a ten second count pause.
It occurs to me (well, the timing out had already occurred to me that this was going to become a reality) that I might have to drop due to my asthma before getting timed out. There is no dropping at Pole Creek, but my stopping at Sherman is fast becoming probably a reality in my head. Which leads to me getting a bit emotional and upset-which also just exacerbates the breathing-so I try and put that out of my head.
Then I remember my pacers! Hannah and Heath! Great, I have no way of reaching them. If Hannah goes to Grouse Gulch, there is no cell coverage there, I don’t want her to be stranded there waiting for a runner who never shows up. There is nothing I can do for this situation. I have no cell phone with me. I have no *Plan B* because I was confident pre-run that I was going to do this. I try to put this also emotional issue out of my head and head toward Pole Creek.
All the aid station works at Pole Creek are inside the tent talking among themselves. They finally notice me, and are surprised to see me. I apparently was listed as a drop at Maggie. I tell them no, I checked out of Maggie,but I am going to drop out at Sherman. I get a bit emotional telling them this which makes my breathing worse. I get a cup of coffee, hoping the xanthine derivative will help open up my breathing.
I thank the volunteers and head out for my last nine mile stretch. I try to calculate how long this will take. I wonder about it getting dark while I am still on trail-and remember I have a good handheld Fenix light in my pack that I have carried since the start! Good planning there!
Being alone, by yourself in the vast beautiful San Juan Mountains-well, there are far worse places to be. Seeing my tiny self in the huge landscape also reminded me how small my problems were.
There was nothing I could do about the asthma. It would have been a similar situation if I had sprained my ankle and could not continue. Although I am terribly frustrated with my medical condition, I still had a wonderful awesome day out in the mountains that I love. Cheers!