2017 Hardrock Endurance Run

She kissed the rock.

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That outcome was an amazing accomplishment for Debbie after 19 years of ultra marathon trail running, and more than 80 ultras around the world. The result was a huge relief to me. I’ve been her Crew Chief and biggest supporter at nearly all those events. Even after a running career filled with victories and other top placings, just finishing the 2017 Hardrock Endurance Run is her most grueling achievement yet. That says a lot about the significance of this “run.”

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It would have been a huge disappointment to train so hard, get off the wait list, travel all that way, deal with all the hype, suffer so much; and then not get to the finish line to kiss the Hardrock. There were so many variables to worry about; including the altitude, lightning, rain, snow, elevation, trail conditions, route finding, darkness, her health, her fitness, her nutrition plan, and the fact that the difficult course through the San Juan mountains is one of the most rugged imaginable.

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Check out my Preview blog post for more background on the run. She never set foot on the course until the morning of the race. Running this beast “on sight” isn’t recommended, but it’s just how it worked out. Going back (regardless of the direction) would be a huge advantage the second time around. We learned so much that can be applied in the future, now that she and our crew have gone through the experience, and truly know what we are up against.

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Going back isn’t guaranteed, but knowing her, she would like another crack at it now that she has that first finish under her belt. Hardrock is a run that rewards experience, requires patience, and favors veteran runners. She was fortunate just to be on the start line, and she made the most of her opportunity by completing one of the world’s most prestigious mountain runs. She finished this monument in 41 hours, 01 minute, and 58 seconds. The stats on Hardrock are astounding. This year, the race was run in the counter-clockwise direction.

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Prior to this year’s event, the Run Committee shared some great info: 

  • Total Distance: 100.5 miles
  • Total Climb and Descent: 33,050 feet of climb and 33,050 feet of descent
  • Average elevation: 11,019 feet above sea level
  • Low Point: Town of Ouray: 7,680 feet above sea level
  • High Point: Handies Peak: 14,048 feet above sea level
  • Amount of course on paved surface: 0.17 mile
  • Cutoff Time: 48 hours
  • Runners entered: 145
    • # of male: 123
    • # of female: 22
  • Oldest entrant: 70 years old
  • Youngest Entrants: 26 years old
  • Average Age of entrant: 46 years old
    • 6 runners over age of 60
  • Runners with most Hardrock Finishes:
    • Kirk Apt: 22 finishes
    • Blake Wood: 20 finishes
    • Betsy Kalmeyer: 18 finishes
  • Total # of Hardrock finishes among 2017 starters: 432
  • # of potential first time Hardrock finishers in 2017: 51
  • Number of States Represented: 29
  • Foreign Countries Represented: Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain
  • Fastest times:
    • Male-Kilian Jornet, 22 hours, 41 minutes 33 seconds (2014 clockwise)
    • Female-Diana Finkel, 27 hours, 18 minutes, 24 seconds (2009 counter-clockwise)
  • % of entered runners (all time) who have finished Hardrock: 63%
  • Total Number of Hardrock finishes (through 2016): 1701
  • Different people who have finished (through 2016): 700
  • Average finishing Time: 39 Hours 52 Minutes 39 Seconds
  • # of 2017 volunteers: 450+

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Debbie’s legs did the running, and walking, but finishing Hardrock was a team effort. She got tons of support and felt the great vibes from friends all over the world. Our teammates on Team Horst Sports and the Shenipsit Striders, are some of her biggest fans. Those friends and family weighed in via email, text, and social media. They sent their well wishes, and congratulations. Throughout the course of this two-day adventure, I shared the feedback from a legion of followers with her.

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As for the crew, I can’t say enough about how great they were. We were joined by our children, Shepard (10) and Dahlia (7), who have been living the ultra lifestyle since they were born. Believe, me, they remind us frequently about their sacrifices. Take this episode as an example. After the race on Sunday, a woman introduced herself.

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She saw Debbie arrive at the Grouse Gulch Aid Station. It had been nearly 12 hours since we last saw her at the Cunningham Gulch Aid Station. A lot happened in that time. We drove a long way, we ate breakfast, we visited a mining museum, the kids drank hot chocolate, we played ball, we went to the playground, we snacked, we hung around, we napped, we snacked some more, we had lunch, we drove some more, we snacked again, we hiked, and then we made dinner. It was a typical ultra where you have to hurry up and wait!

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Anyway, Debbie arrived at Grouse and Danny and I were assessing her needs, checking in with her, and sorting her gear. It had been a long time since we saw her. She was anxious to change her shoes, change her clothes, and fuel up. I never heard what Dahlia said, but this woman told us that in the middle of all of this aid station chaos, she stated, “Mommy, I HAVEN’T eaten a thing ALL DAY LONG.” In print, you can’t read how sassy this apparently sounded. This woman said that hearing this was the highlight of her day. That brings a huge smile to my face. Running an ultramarathon isn’t for the faint of heart. Neither is crewing one…even if you have the boundless energy of a seven-year old.

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If you asked our kids what they think of all this and how they feel, neither would give up the adventures that they have had. I live it, so it is hard for me to be objective, but the education they have gotten can’t be measured. To them, it is just normal that Mom runs these distances and smiles about it. From the early days, crewing while carrying them in a sling, to Hardrock, where they contributed more than ever, I have been amazed with their enthusiasm and support.

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We know that many athletes leave their kids behind when they head to the mountains, and that is their prerogative. After all, the mountains can be a place of solace. However, we have always taken the opposite approach by including the family in our adventures. I know that the added responsibilities (I have to keep them clothed, warm, entertained, safe, and fed too) and Debbie’s worry about their welfare, have occasionally compromised her performance, but we would never miss the opportunity to share these adventures with them. That is consistent with the Hardrock “family values” that are touted.

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Another key member of our crew is my cousin, Danny Roy, who is Debbie’s “go to” pacer. He has assisted us at most of her big races over the last six years, and was clutch at Hardrock too. He drove 1,000 miles (each way) from Folsom, California, to be part of our San Juan Mountains adventure. Danny has selflessly given his time to support Debbie and deserves major kudos. He has several marathons and ultramarathons on his own resume, and has years of running success ahead in his career. He has described this relationship with her as a mentor/mentee. He is like a young Jedi training for when the roles are reversed.

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Rounding out our crew were two ultra-rookies, but you would never have known it. Their outdoor adventure experience is even greater than ours, and they had the advantage of being local residents. Amy Relnick was one of Debbie’s roomates at Springfield College, back in the mid-1990’s. Like Debbie, she is a NOLS graduate and outdoor educator. It was so good to reconnect with her.

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Ironically, the last time we saw her in person, was in Seattle, back in 2003, during a trip that included the White River 50 Mile Endurance Run. She and her partner, John Hulburd, were a huge help, particularly with the kids. The original plan was for the children to sleep in the vehicle (a Ford Edge) at an aid station while Danny and I traded pacing duties, but the timing worked out that I was able to deliver the kids to Amy and John at their home in Ridgway, so that they could spend the night in a bed.

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There aren’t enough superlatives to describe this event. The entire week was fantastic. Camp Hardrock kicked off on Tuesday and continued through the awards ceremony on Monday. We couldn’t participate in everything. It would have been too tiring. We were based in Durango for the first part of the week, but were able to move to the Grand Imperial hotel in Silverton for the night before the race, and the night after the race. For the first part of Camp Hardrock, we traveled back and forth from Durango.

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Race registration started on Wednesday and the pre-race meeting was on Thursday. After the meeting, the Hardblock Run was held for kids 10 and under. They raced around they block in a torrential downpour, that was an omen for the harsh race conditions the runners would face over the course of the long weekend. Our kids had an absolute blast. Kilian Jornet, Jason Schlarb, and Anna Frost were great sports, while playing the traditional role of the prior year’s winners, and leading the kids around the block in the heavy rain.

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Starting on race day (Friday), Danny and I were up from 4:00 A.M. until midnight on Saturday after Debbie finished. He ran with her from Grouse Gulch (42.2 miles) to Ouray (56.6 miles), and then handed the pacing duties to me. I ran with her from Ouray (56.6 miles) to Chapman Gulch (82.1 miles), and then he took over again, joining her from Chapman Gulch (82.1 miles) to the finish in Silverton (100.5 miles). His total pacing mileage was 32.7 miles and mine was 25.5 miles. My Strava track shows more than 9,300 feet of elevation for that stretch of the course.

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“Ran” is a term that is worthy of discussion. People ask how much running there is in Hardrock. Well, there is a lot, but there is also a lot of hiking, especially on the uphills. For Debbie, there were multiple climbs that lasted between five and six hours, with most of that speed hiking. That’s crazy. The top finishers are powering their way up these hills. She really struggled with this aspect of the run, especially at the elevations above 12,000 feet. She was having trouble breathing and moving very deliberately (slowly).

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Hardrock is one of the most challenging ultras to crew. I often describe crewing a hundred-miler as a combination of a “scavenger hunt” and “Cannonball Run.” The single loop course crosses some of the most difficult mountain terrain in the country. The paved roads, including the infamous Million Dollar Highway, are some of the most challenging and dangerous to drive, and the dirt/unimproved roads that traverse the high mountain passes are even more treacherous. Many were impassable with our rental vehicle, leaving long gaps between crewing opportunities.

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My Hardrock preparation could have been better, but I was so busy in the lead up to the race, that I really didn’t have time to study the maps and other documentation until we arrived in Colorado. Logistics are a big part of running ultramarathons. Thankfully, the Runners Manual included excellent directions, which helped with navigation. Communication in the San Juan Mountains is very difficult. It doesn’t matter what mobile phone service you have. Reception is only available in Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride, and even there, it was spotty. The moment you leave these village centers, you lose connection, which makes it even harder on the crews.

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Each runner wore a beacon, which transmitted real-time location via GPS. The MAProgress website showed their exact location, but we could only access it when in town. I think that friends and family back home had a better idea of how the runners were doing, than we did. Having a full-sized monitor was also an advantage because accessing the tracking on my iPhone 6S was a challenge. Still, it was better than nothing. When we were back in Silverton after the first few aid stations, I logged in with my MacBook and this was better.

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In addition to the live tracking, results were posted to OpenSplitTime, but there was often a lag of up to two hours after a runner passed through an aid station. I found that when we did have a mobile connection, that the live GPS tracking was the better tool to measure Debbie’s progress. We were only able to see her at the start, at five aid stations (highlighted in red on the table below) and then at the finish, and this is why it made sense for us to alter our plan and have a pacer with her from the minimum starting point at 42.2 miles.

Station
Miles
Segment
Climb
Descent
Leader
48Hr Pace
Access
Crew
Cunningham
9.3
9.3
3840
-2770
700
800
Auto
Yes
Maggie
15.4
6.1
3160
-1700
830
930
4WD
No
Pole Creek
19.7
4.3
960
-1340
915
1015
Hike
No
Sherman
28.8
9.1
1390
-3210
1100
1200
Auto/4WD
Yes
Burrows
32.6
3.8
950
0
1130
1215
Auto
No
Grouse
42.2
9.6
4308
-4188
1415
1515
Auto
Yes
Engineer
48.7
6.5
2310
-1220
1545
1645
Hike
No
Ouray
56.6
7.9
455
-4575
1645
1745
Auto
Yes
Governor
64.5
7.9
3148
-48
1815
1915
Auto
No
Kroger’s
67.8
3.3
2320
0
1915
2015
Hike
No
Telluride
72.8
5
40
-4390
2015
2115
Auto
Yes
Chapman
82.1
9.3
4500
-3090
2215
2315
Auto/4WD
Hike in Only
KT
89.1
7
2920
-2450
230
330
4WD
No
Putnam
94.7
5.6
2425
-1455
330
430
320
Hike
Silverton
100.5
5.8
324
-2614
430
530
Hike
No

Click here for a link to the complete table of aid stations and more details.

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Here were Debbie’s actual splits:

Split
Mile
Time of Day
Elapsed Time
Segment Time
In Aid
Start
0
Fri 6:00AM
0m
–:–
Cunningham In / Out
9.3
Fri 8:41AM / Fri 8:43AM
2h41m / 2h43m
2h41m
2m
Maggie In / Out
15.4
Fri 11:06AM / Fri 11:08AM
5h06m / 5h08m
2h23m
2m
Pole Creek In / Out
19.7
Fri 12:23PM / Fri 12:25PM
6h23m / 6h25m
1h15m
2m
Sherman In / Out
28.8
Fri 3:04PM / Fri 3:15PM
9h04m / 9h15m
2h39m
11m
Burrows In / Out
32.6
Fri 4:25PM / Fri 4:31PM
10h25m / 10h31m
1h10m
6m
Grouse In / Out
42.2
Fri 8:32PM / Fri 8:49PM
14h32m / 14h49m
4h01m
17m
Engineer In / Out
48.7
Fri 11:44PM / Fri 11:44PM
17h44m / 17h44m
2h55m
0m
Ouray In / Out
56.6
Sat 2:14AM / Sat 2:32AM
20h14m / 20h32m
2h30m
18m
Governor In / Out
64.5
Sat 5:40AM / Sat 5:50AM
23h40m / 23h50m
3h08m
10m
Kroger In / Out
67.8
Sat 7:39AM / Sat 7:48AM
25h39m / 25h48m
1h49m
9m
Telluride In / Out
72.8
Sat 9:04AM / Sat 9:16AM
27h04m / 27h16m
1h16m
12m
Chapman In / Out
82.1
Sat 1:59PM / Sat 2:09PM
31h59m / 32h09m
4h43m
10m
Kamm Traverse In / Out
89.1
Sat 5:46PM / Sat 5:57PM
35h46m / 35h57m
3h37m
11m
Putnam In / Out
94.7
Sat 9:13PM / Sat 9:15PM
39h13m / 39h15m
3h16m
2m
Finish
100.5
Sat 11:01PM
41h01m58s
01h46m30s
1h52m

It’s really neat to see the amount of time spent in aid stations. Some runners spent less than 40 minutes total. They tended to be the faster runners and veteran runners. Debbie’s total of an hour and 52 minutes seems like a lot, but was less than many other runners. Some people took short naps, particularly if they were not feeling well. In her case, her longest stop was for 18 minutes, which was not enough time to nap. That stop involved a complete a shoe change, refueling, and a bathroom break.

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Over the last 24 years, Hardrock has developed legendary status. Only 145 lucky runners (including 53 first timers) earned the right to start this year’s race. Before last week, only 700 unique runners had finished Hardrock over the course of its history. Given the size and growth of the ultrarunning community, that is an elite group. I wrote about Hardrock’s history, qualification requirements, and lottery in my Pre-Hardrock blog post. Out of those 145, there were 126 finishers.

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The 86.9% finisher rate was far above the 63% historical average, and the highest in history. That speaks to the quality of this year’s field, which was touted as one of the strongest ever. Hardrock was on the same weekend as two other races that Debbie has done before, the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run, and the Vermont 100 Endurance Run. We had friends in Nevada and in Vermont. Both are great races. TRT100 is at higher elevation, and has a lot of climbing, though nothing like Hardrock. VT100 is much flatter and uses many horse paths and dirt roads, so it is a much easier 100 miler (if that can be said). It was a busy weekend for ultrarunning.

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At Hardrock, Kilian Jornet won the men’s race for the fourth year in a row, finishing in 24:32, after a battle with Mike Foote, Joe Grant, Gabe Joyes, Nick Coury, and Iker Carerra. Check out Jornet’s splits. He was slowed by a dislocated shoulder. Like I said, it was great to see him lead the kids in the Hardblock Run. Between Wednesday and Saturday, every time I saw him, he was smiling, laughing, or chatting with other runners, volunteers, and crew.

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Kilian seems to be a very affable guy, who has amazing talent, and serious drive. Obviously, a lot has been written about him since his Mount Everest exploits back in May. He already had serious credentials before that expedition and before he won Hardrock for the fourth year in a row. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just search the Internet. His 2016 co-winner, Jason Schlarb, had a rough day after suffering from a stomach bug. It was still nice to meet him and I’m sure he will be back in the future to tackle Hardrock again.

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Caroline Chaverot won the women’s race in 28:31. She was followed by three-time winner, Darcy Piceu, Nathalie Mauclair, two-time winner Anna Frost, and Becky Bates. Chaverot was very aggressive, running the first part of the race with the men’s leaders. She eventually made a wrong turn, and had some falls, but she had built up enough of a lead to hold on for the win. It’s great to see that she pushed on. iRunFar had great Hardrock coverage, so check it out to learn more about the race winners and the story behind their runs. Jamil Coury has a funny and informative video at Run Steep Get High. It’s rated PG, but our kids loved it. Everyone, including the fastest runners, faced challenges. That’s why Hardrock has the reputation of being unrelenting.

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At the award ceremony on Sunday morning, Run Director Dale Garland said that each runner demonstrated the “grit and perseverance” of the Hardrock miners, whom the race is named for.

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The last two finishers came in at 5:49 A.M. in the morning, kissing the rock after more than 47 hours 49 minutes. Jornet was one of the runners who was there to greet Liz Bauer and Robert Andrulis, along with the other runners who finished in the “golden hour,” that magical final hour of the race between 5:00 A.M. and 6:00 A.M. on Sunday, before the 48 hour cutoff.

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Debbie, Danny, the kids, and I stayed at the Grand Imperial Hotel, a mere block from the finish line, and we listened as the final runners arrived to the applause of the crowd that assembled. It was reminiscent of the 2009 Ironman Lake Placid and the 2010 Ironman World Championships, when our hotel rooms were equally as close to the finish line. We could hear the final athletes arriving just before the midnight deadline. This time, I was lying on the floor in my sleeping bag and I had goosebumps. If I had an ounce of energy left, I would have walked down to be part of the celebration, but I was wiped out and had to listen from the room.

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Debbie’s race was an awesome experience. She, Danny, the kids and I were all at the start in Silverton. She had to sign in between 5:00 A.M. and 5:45 A.M. It was a two-minute walk from our hotel. Silverton was buzzing. The anticipation at this ultra was like none I’ve experienced before. On the walk over, I met a runner who was sitting at #2 on the Else Wait List. Past runners have made it into the field on race morning, minutes before the start, so it wasn’t a crazy idea for him to travel to Silverton. A last-minute drop out is always a possibility. I think the last runner to make it into the field was two days before the start. This year, there was no last minute drama, but he said he was ready, and could run back to his hotel room and be dressed in five minutes if a slot opened up. This shows how badly runners want to run Hardrock.

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After the start, we drove to Cunningham Gulch at 9.3 miles. The runners came down the backside of Little Giant Peak. They crossed Cunningham Creek and arrived at the aid station. This was the only place where we were able to see all of the runners, which was a lot of fun. It was chilly in the gulch and the energy level was very high. Debbie was in good spirits. Everyone had to get wet crossing the creek. Only one runner removed his shoes and socks, and that was Jornet. He declared to the assembled crowd that there were other opportunities to get his feet wet, but this early in the race, he preferred to have dry feet. On the other side of the creek, he calmly toweled off and put them back on.  Debbie didn’t worry about this. She changed her shoes and socks later in the race, when we saw her.

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Two of her biggest concerns were route finding and the altitude. For her, following the course wasn’t that difficult. She said at times that there were long distances between the course markers, but she would periodically check a map that she downloaded to the Trail Run Project app on her iPhone. The app would show her location on the map and she could verify that she was on course. The altitude was the bigger challenge. Her last high mountain race was the 2015 Speedgoat Mountain Races at Snowbird in Utah, but the high point was only 11,000 feet. Hardrock was totally different. The average elevation for the full 100 miles was above 11,000 feet. The air above 13,000 feet was so thin and she really struggled to breathe efficiently. The only way to improve your performance at these elevations is to spend more time running/hiking at that altitude. Coming from Connecticut, where we live at 590 feet above sea level, I give her a lot of credit for just getting this done.

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Like I said, there was a long gap between seeing her at Cunningham and then again at Grouse Gulch. The drive to Grouse, which is part of the Alpine Loop, was crazy, and that was one of the better dirt roads in the area. The last five miles were steep, rocky, and had sharp drop offs. There were several rock slides that narrowed the road to one lane. It was a slow drive in our rental vehicle. Despite technically being an SUV, it was the kind of vehicle you would find at a soccer game, and not on a high mountain pass in Utah. I was worried about getting a flat tire, so I really “babied” it. My tire blowout experience at the 2015 ULTRA-TRAIL Mt. FUJI had me spooked. In that situation, I was alone and only had myself to worry about. I also wasn’t in danger of blocking a road that other crews had to traverse. I also didn’t have my exhausted kids in the back seat. This time, I had to take it easy and avoid disaster.

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She was a little behind schedule coming into Grouse, but that gave us time to have dinner in the vehicle. When we arrived, it was raining, but towards sunset, the air-dried out a bit. We knew from runners who had passed through already and from the arriving runners, that they had all been through a serious storm on Handies Peak (14,048 feet). They cross the summit, which is on the high point of the course. On the flanks of that mountain, most of the runners, including Debbie, were subjected to a fierce hail storm. The hail left little welts that are referred to “hail rash.” She had some great gear that kept her dry and warm. She wore shorts the entire race, but augmented with calf sleeves.

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She used Patagonia Capilene shirts, Patagonia fleece shirts, and her Outdoor Research Helium II jacket. She had carried a bonnet, a Buff, and gloves. The Buff and gloves got a lot of use. Everything was packed in her UltrAspire Zygos hydration vest. She carried at least one light all of the time, but we gave her extra lights prior to darkness. She started the race in her Altra Olympus shoes, switched to her Altra Lone Peak 3.0 shoes, and then back to her Olympus. Her first change was at Grouse Gulch. She later changed again at Telluride.

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The kids were tired, but they rallied when she arrived at Grouse around 8:30 P.M. Danny was ready to go, so after the 17 minute pit stop (the second longest of the race), they were on their way and ready for the overnight. The kids and I walked a little ways up the trail, before returning to the aid station to pack up all of the gear. We eventually made our way back to the vehicle, and I realized that I couldn’t find the keys. I pulled on the driver side door handle and the car didn’t open. All of a sudden, I had a crisis of confidence. I checked every pocket of my shorts, where I thought I would have stored them. Then, I got in my mind that Danny had them and forgot to give them to me. We had purposely clipped the second set in the pacer’s pack, an UltrAspire Epic, so that there would always be a set outside of the vehicle.

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The thought of being caught on this mountain without a ride down was awful. In a split moment, I told the kids to wait here and that I was going to run after Debbie and Danny to retrieve the keys. They had been gone more than 15 minutes, so I had a long way to go in the dark, without lights (which were locked in the car). I dropped everything I was carrying and ran after them. It took me a long time (all uphill) to catch them, but eventually I did. Thankfully, they remained on the long dirt road and hadn’t turned off on to singletrack, otherwise I would never see the course markers.

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I yelled for Danny when I saw lights up ahead. He was startled to hear me, but walked back. We insisted that he didn’t have the keys and said that he gave them to me. I knew he would say that, so we just pulled the spare set from the pack. I grabbed them and then ran back. I was pooped when I got back to the kids, but I had the entire run back to think about where the original set might be. As I arrived, I realized the kids were in the car. I was worried that they would be cold, sitting outside the vehicle and had wished I instructed them to walk back to the aid station. I arrived all disheveled, hot and sweaty, but they were comfortably sitting in the car, reading their books. My son said that they tried the doors and they were open. I was shaking my head, but didn’t ask any more questions. It had come to me. The keys were in a rarely used pocket (put there for safe keeping) in my Clik Elite camera pack. I can’t explain why the rear doors were open when the driver door was locked.

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After that episode, I just wanted to get off the mountain. It took an hour to drive 11 miles back to Silverton. The kids were cranky and the road from Grouse was even more treacherous on the way down. Eventually we made it to town. I stopped at the gym to go inside and get a network connection so I could post an Instagram update and check her location and splits. I called Amy in Ridgway and told her that I would drive the kids all the way to her house. My calculations indicated that I could get them there, get them in bed, and then return to Ouray in time to switch with Danny. The original plan called for Amy and John to meet us in Ouray, but that was when we thought Debbie would be two to three hours ahead of her current pace.

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The drive took around 90 minutes and by the time we got the kids in bed and settled, it was nearly midnight. My daughter was asleep when we arrived, but my son was nauseous as a result of all the twists and turns in the road. Driving the Million Dollar Highway at night was quite an experience. One thing I remember from when we arrived at their home in the hills above Ridgway, was that the stars were spectacular.

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Amy offered me a bed, but I opted to turn around and head straight back to Ouray. I got there a little before 1:00 A.M. The aid station was buzzing with activity. It was in a park behind the Ouray Hot Springs Pool and Fitness Center. I ate a bit and then changed into my running gear. I laid out all of Debbie’s stuff on an open patch of grass. I used the bathroom, and waited. She arrived at 2:14 A.M. Danny said that the descent via the Bear Creek Trail was slow going and dangerous in the dark. She refueled, used the bathroom, and after 18 minutes, she and I departed. Danny’s plan was to drive to Telluride and then rest there (in the vehicle) until morning.

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The climb out of Ouray, the low point on the course at 7,680 feet, started on Camp Bird Road; and was relentless, climbing past steep drop offs, along Canyon Creek, and past old mining camps until it reached the aid station at Governor Basin. The road climbed 3,148 feet in 7.9 miles. The climb continued on to an old mining road, consistently ascending, and eventually changing to snow-covered singletrack, until it reached Kroger’s Aid Station. The aid station was perched precariously in a notch on the rock, high up on Mendota Peak. It was 3.3 miles from Governor to Kroger’s and another 2,320 feet of ascent, for a total of 5,468 feet of nonstop climbing from Ouray. It took us 5 hours and 7 minutes to reach Kroger’s, which had spectacular views. During this part of the race, Debbie was just grinding it out, one foot in front of the other. We ended up spending a lot of time with Kirk Apt and his pacer. I wish I remembered his name. They were both wonderful. At this point in the race, Kirk was working on his record 23rd Hardrock finish. He did end up getting the job done. Debbie had been back and forth with him all day, and he was very kind and helpful to her, helping her navigate challenging spots on the course. We arrived at Kroger’s together, just after sunrise.

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Kroger’s was the most amazing aid station that I’ve ever seen. The last pitch up the snow field was very steep and slippery. Debbie and I were both using our Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z trekking poles. The aid station crew was an all-star cast of ultrarunners. Hardrock is known for having fantastic aid stations with “concierge” service, where one volunteer will serve each runners needs, sticking with them the entire time that they are in the station. I couldn’t name everyone at this stop (it must have been the altitude), but I definitely spotted Roch Horton, Jeff Browning, and Scott Jurek. They were all wearing climbing helmets for protection. We last saw Jeff at the 2015 UTMF, where he placed third. He recently ran the Western States Endurance Run, and had another top finish. He is known as an incredibly strong finisher. Most of his best results have come after he goes out patiently and conservatively, and then keeps running strong when others fade.

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As for Scott a past Hardrock champion, he needs no further introduction. We have known him for more than 15 years. We first met him at the Washington race I mentioned, the 2003 White River 50 Miler. We spent time with him again at the 2007 UTMB, and have followed his exploits over the years, running in to him from time to time at various races. In 2015, Debbie and the kids intercepted him during his Appalachian Trail FKT, as he crossed the Mass Pike in the Berkshires. They got to run a little ways with him, which was a total thrill for our family.

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The Kroger’s all-star crew was making waffles with “New England” maple syrup, so it was kind of funny for a couple of New Englanders to be sitting there high up in the San Juan’s, drinking tea, sipping Miso soup, and eating waffles. I could have spent all day at that spot, but it was cold, and we had to get going. We were there a total of nine minutes, before they gave us course instructions and cheered as we crossed through the notch and began the descent on the western slope that would take us into Telluride. The first part of the downhill was rocky and steep. The trail eventually paralleled Cornet Creek. The lower we got, the warmer it got and we shed some layers. We eventually entered a beautiful Aspen forest. When we got closer to town, I was able to get a mobile connection, so I messaged Danny to give him an ETA.

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Debbie was able to push the pace as the trail mellowed and she ran hard all the way to town. The view of the village was fantastic. We came across a port-a-potty, so she stopped just as we entered the village. We then wound our way down a few streets before entering the park where the aid station was located. Danny led us into the station and she got a loud ovation. We arrived at 9:04 A.M. It was great to see Amy, John, and the kids. They drove down from Ridgway to meet Danny. We spent 12 minutes in Telluride, changing her shoes, changing some clothes, and refilling her pack with supplies.

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We knew we had a big climb ahead of us. The descent from Kroger’s was 4,390 feet, but we had a 4,500 climb in front of us. The day warmed up and it was slow going as we climbed along Bear Creek, crossing it several times. This was the only part of the course where the bugs were really bad. The deer flies were biting our legs and it was annoying. It was a long stretch between aid stations. We climbed for more than six miles, cresting at more than 13,000 feet and going over Oscar’s Pass. This was slow going as the heat of the day and bright sunlight bore down on us. There was a lot of snow and we had to take it easy. Where the snow was melting, the trail was very wet, almost like a bog. I stopped to splash water on my face every time we crossed a stream.

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It was awesome when we finally reached the peak and started the descent to Chapman Gulch. Once again, Debbie was able to push hard on the downhill. At one point, I thought that she was going to drop me, but I was able to hang on. The trail had a lot of twists and turns and there were some intersections, so she check the app a few times to verify that we were on course, and we were. The trail eventually turned into an old mining road, which is nuts. I can’t believe how these miners built these roads so high in the mountains on such incredible slopes. It was 3,090 feet down to Chapan’s and we arrived at 1:59 P.M.

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Once again, it was great to see the crew. Amy and John were super helpful. Amy rubbed Debbie’s shoulder and John cleaned out a cut on Debbie’s knee. She only fell once during the race. It was early on, and she had neglected to clean it up, so John took care of it for her. The kids were excited to see Debbie. The crew had a great breakfast (including donuts) in Telluride and they all rode the gondola to a point where they had great views of their own. The bugs were biting at Chapman too. Danny was ready to run, so Debbie didn’t stay long. She had been on her feet for 31 hours and 59 minutes, but she only stayed 10 minutes before moving again.

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My legs were pretty sore, especially from the long descent, but it would be improper fora pacer to complain out their own aches and pains! This was the last time we would see Debbie before the finish. She had a long stretch in front of her, so we made sure that she had extra lights, and all the clothes and food that she needed. She and Danny would encounter other aid stations, but they weren’t accessible by crews. Chapman was only reachable on foot, so we had two walk a couple of miles to towards the town of Ophir, where the vehicles were parked.

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On the walk, we came across Jeff List, a fellow New Englander, and only one of the four total in the race. Jeff is from Massachusetts. He was coming on strong, which was good to see. Jack Pilla, from Vermont, was a little ways in front of Debbie. Garry Harrington, who hails from New Hampshire and Vermont, started the race, but unfortunately, didn’t finish. This was a nice contingent of strong northeastern runners.

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John was kind enough to drive our vehicle back to Ouray while I chilled out in the passenger seat. Amy drove the kids. We stopped for gas and then rendezvoused at the Hot Springs. We had free passes from earlier in the week when we were kicked out due to a thunderstorm. I posted an update on social media and then joined everyone in the pool. The place was packed with tourists. Apparently, Ouray put $12 million into this renovation. It is an amazing facility. We spent about and hour there and then sadly, had to part company with Amy and John. They would have loved to join us in Silverton, but the finish was a long way off and Amy had to work on Sunday. We thanked them and sad our good byes, vowing to return for more adventure.

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Once again, I had to navigate the Million Dollar Highway. I was tired, but not too tired to drive. The kids were good and we made it to Silverton before dark. We checked into the hotel and the kids relaxed and watched some TV while I cleaned out the vehicle. I reorganized all of the gear and carried what we needed to the third floor room. This is when I felt my legs were a bit wobbly. Periodically, Shepard and I tracked Debbie’s progress. We eventually packed some bags and walked over to the gym. Finishers were arriving at regular intervals, which was fun. We cheered loudly for all of them. Dahlia was exhausted, so I made a little bed for her in the bleachers.

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Via email, I had been in touch with our good friend, Buddy Teaster. Buddy crewed for Debbie at UTMB in 2007 and we have run with him many times over the years, including at the 2011 Grindstone 100. Buddy had the good fortune to run Hardrock in 2013. He told me that the last section of the course was very difficult and hard to follow, especially in the dark. I had previously relayed that info to Danny so he knew what they were up against. At one point earlier in the day, we thought that Debbie might be able to rally and break 40 hours, but that didn’t work out.

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Reminiscent of the 2012 Laurel Highlands Ultra (one of Debbie’s best results), I missed the actual moment when she crossed the finish line, or rather kissed the Hardrock. Just like 2012, I was tending to our daughter. I woke her up, sensing that Mom was coming, but she refused to move. I battled with her a little bit, but then I heard cheers outside. By the time I made it to the door, someone told me that Debbie had just finished. That bummed me out a little, but I went outside and was able to still get some photos. I wanted a video of her finish, but unless someone has footage, I don’t. Shepard got to see her cross the line, which is cool. After 41 hours of running, and more than 43 hours since we awoke, we were all happy to be done. We didn’t linger, but rather packed up and walked the block to the hotel. Debbie and the kids got the single bed, and Danny and I slept not the floor, but no one was complaining.

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I wrote about the volunteers and the aid stations. The high production of this race was amazing, and it is what you would expect from one of the top ultras in the world. However, in my opinion, it was even better than that. Everything was so well though out. By the end of the weekend, I realized that any criticism is unfounded. There just isn’t a way for the entry to be equitable. I’ll save any debate over the entry qualifications and lottery for another time. For this year, we were fortunate to be part of the Hardrock Family. Debbie is a Hardrocker now, and no one can ever take that away from her. There is no doubt that we will return in the future, whether she is a runner or not. I would be happy to return and crew again, or pace again, or just volunteer. Volunteering at Kroger’s would be a blast.

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At Sunday’s award ceremony, several great stories were shared, including the comeback story of Canadian Adam Campbell, who was injured in a mountaineering accident, but came back to finish another Hardrock. We saw other friends and met a lot of new ones too. Congratulations to all of the runners, and once again, much appreciation goes to the families, crews, pacers, and volunteers.

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Hardrock’s tagline is Wild and Tough, which is fitting. Years ago, I described Debbie to a badass mountaineer/journalist/Army Ranger friend. He was amazed when he heard about her adventures. He simply said, “She is a tough as woodpecker lips.” Indeed.

Race Results: These have some great analytics. Click on any name to get details, segments, and aid station time. 

Other coverage:

Outside Magazine story

Denver Post story

Mountain Outpost Video Coverage

Run Steep Get High Video Coverage

Preview: 2017 Hardrock Endurance Run

This Friday at 6:00 A.M., the Hardrock Endurance Run starts in Silverton, Colorado. The race started in 1992 and is considered one of the most prestigious ultramarathon trail runs in the world. One of the reasons why the 2017 edition will be special is because Debbie is running it for the first time. It’s not easy to get into Hardrock. 145 runners will toe the start line, and she is part of a subset of 45 “Never” runners who have never started the race. There will be 33 “Veterans” who have run five or more times, and there will be 67 “Else” runners who have done the race less than five times, or who started by didn’t finish a previous run. I’m glossing over some of the details, but they are outlined on the detailed Lottery page of the website.

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The key point is that Hardrock is a very difficult race to obtain entry to, especially for runners who have never done it, and especially for women. There are only 22 women in this year’s race. Debbie first applied to get in after the 2011 Grindstone 100. Just getting into the lottery takes work. You have to complete one of a select number of qualifying 100 mile runs. They are all races held on rugged terrain and have significant elevation change. Running 100 miles is hard, regardless of the course, but some races are harder than others. Hardrock is among the hardest. The website is a great resource, but throughout this post, I interspersed hyperlinks to help you gain a better understanding of the race. I’ll also add commentary on this year’s edition.

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The about page offers a concise overview:

The Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run is an ultramarathon of 100.5 miles in length, plus 33,050 feet of climb and 33,050 feet of descent for a total elevation change of 66,100 feet, at an average elevation of over 11,000 feet. The run is held on a loop course on 4WD roads, dirt trails, and cross country in Southern Colorado’s San Juan Range, USA. In 2017, the run will be in the counter-clockwise direction, from July 14-16.

The run starts and ends in Silverton, Colorado and travels through the towns of Telluride, Ouray, and the ghost town of Sherman, crossing thirteen major passes in the 12,000′ to 13,000′ range. Entrants must travel above 12,000 feet (3,700 m) of elevation a total of 13 times, with the highest point on the course being the 14,048′ summit of Handies Peak. The run has been held in early July of each year beginning in 1992, except for 1995 (too much snow) and 2002 (nearby forest fires). Each year’s run is run in the opposite direction of the previous year’s event (2016 was run in the clockwise direction, 2017 will be counter-clockwise). In order to complete the event, instead of crossing a finish line, runners are required to “kiss the Hardrock”, a picture of a ram’s head painted on a large block of stone mining debris.

This course offers a graduate level challenge for endurance runs. The course is designed to provide extreme challenges in altitude, steepness, and remoteness. Mountaineering, wilderness survival and wilderness navigation skills are as important in this event as your endurance.

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Hardrock will garner a lot of media attention, so there are a number of other great resources to consult for history, storylines, and coverage. I’ll add some of the best links to this post. Some of the recent Hardrock news has swirled around the International Trail Running Association, the UTMB, and the Ultra-Trail World Tour. UTMB, which Debbie started, but did not finish in 2007, is another one of ultrarunning’s iconic races. 10 years ago, it was a lot easier, but today, runners are required to accumulate points at qualifying races around the world. Hardrock has not joined and that has made news. The race’s stance has also rekindled questions about the fairness of Hardrock’s lottery. I’ll steer clear of the politics and just admit that Hardrock is hard to get in to, and Debbie is grateful to be in this year’s event.

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So, after Grindstone, she applied for 2012, but didn’t get into Hardrock. Her qualifier was good for two years, but she also missed out in 2013. She ran another qualifier, the 2013 Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run, but failed to finish, which to this day, along with the 2007 UTMB, are her only ultrarunning DNF’s. She returned to the TRT100 in 2014 and finished. At that time, TRT100 was still a Hardrock qualifier, so she tried the lottery twice again, but missed out in 2015 and 2016. Once again needing to extend her qualifying window, she completed the 2015 ULTRA-TRAIL Mt. FUJI. That was quite an adventure! Throughout this period of time, she was applying to the Western States Endurance Run, one of the sports other iconic races. She has paced/crewed at WS100, but never gotten in herself. Many years ago, she missed a “Golden Ticket” automatic entry to WS100 by one spot. She will keep applying with hopes of running someday, but between Western States and Hardrock, the latter was clearly her preference. The smaller field, the San Juan Mountains, and the rugged nature of the course are more appealing to her and more suited to her style of trail running.

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So, back in December when they held the lottery for this year’s race, we were thrilled when she was picked 7th on the Never wait list. 45 Never runners made it in and six others were in front of her. We did a bunch of research to determine what the odds were of her getting in to the race.We reviewed prior years’ data to determine that the 7th spot on the Never wait list made it in some years and not in others, including 2016, when only four runners made it off the wait list. It was worrisome, but we held a family meeting and decided that no matter what, we were going to Hardrock, whether she got to run it or not. She would build her training plan and our family travel plan around the race. If she didn’t get to run, we would volunteer, pace, observe, and enjoy the mountains. As a fallback plan, she applied and got in to another Hardrock qualifier, the Cascade Crest 100. That way, without a Hardrock start/finish, she could apply again for the 2018 race.

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There was no movement on the wait list until late-May. With the full refund deadline looming on June 1st, the action started. Over the course of a week, leading up to the deadline, she steadily moved up to first on the waitlist. We were worried that there might not be more dropouts until race week. We figured that after the refund deadline passed, runners wouldn’t willingly drop out; but that only an injury, illness, family matter, or some other reason out of their control would lead to a DNS. 15% attrition is about right for a typical race like this with registration so far in advance, and seven out of 45 is 15.5%.

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Then, the afternoon after the deadline had passed, on June 1st, she got a call from the Run Director Dale Garland, with an invitation to run. She didn’t hesitate to accept the entry. She left me an ecstatic voicemail. I don’t know who was happier. We have been a team since 1999 and I was pumped about crewing this event. I was equally as excited to visit southwest Colorado with our family.

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She has done more than 80 ultramarathon trail running races since her first in 1999, and there is no question that the 2017 Hardrock will be the biggest one yet. Her preparation has been solid. We have a Hypoxico Altitude Training System and have used it diligently for the last four-month in anticipation of the race. We live at 590 feet in Connecticut, so this is one step we took to acclimatize. Her big training runs included our Long Trail Adventure, our Mohawk Trail Adventure, her Manitou’s Revenge Ultra run, and our recent Katahdin Adventure. She couldn’t simulate the high altitude in training, but she definitely got in a lot of hill running/hiking on rugged terrain.

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We arrived in the San Juan’s at the end of last week. All of the Camp Hardrock events begin today in Silverton. Packet pickup is tomorrow and the pre-race briefing is on Thursday. Yesterday, we drove to Ridgway to visit friends and then they took us back to Ouray to enjoy the hot springs and see the town. We saw some of the mountains, but didn’t get on to the trails. Having our kids along on this adventure can limit some of the activity, but they are an integral part of Debbie’s crew. My cousin, Danny Roy, arrives later this week and will round out the team. He has been a “go to” pacer for Debbie at her ultras over the past five years. We still have a few days to go, but the excitement is building.

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As for Hardrock Endurance Run resources, here is a bevy of information:

Medawisla Lodge and Cabins

After we concluded our Mount Katahdin Adventure, and bid adieu to our family and friends, Debbie, the kids, and I drove from Baxter State Park to Medawisla Lodge and Cabins near Kokadjo, Maine.

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We pulled out our Maine Gazetteer (there was no cell service, hence no Google Maps) and navigated a patchwork of logging roads. We took the Golden Road for part of the way and drove along the Penobscot River. We saw one moose, and a lot of rafters and kayakers. The roads were rough, but our Subaru Outback handled the bumps fine. It took a little over two hours to reach the lodge, and that was counting the 30 minutes from Roaring Brook Campground to the Gatehouse. We couldn’t average more than 20 miles per hour.

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Medawisla is the newest of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Maine Lodges. It is so new, that it just opened on July 1st, and isn’t quite complete. We were there on the third night. Debbie and I are both active AMC volunteers, serving on the Board of Advisors and Board of Directors. We have been involved with AMC’s Maine Woods Initiative since its infancy. I was eager to visit the new lodge. We visited Little Lyford Lodge and Cabins (back then it was known as Little Lyford Pond Camps) on a winter trip in 2003, shortly after it opened, but hadn’t been back. Gorman Chairback Lodge and Cabins was acquired around 2008, and then rebuilt in 2011. Like Little Lyford, Medawisla was a legacy sporting camp that the AMC substantially renovated. In the case of Medawisla, which was purchaed in 2006, it was, and still is, being rebuilt from the ground up. There are definitely some loose ends to tie up, but when you are a 146 year old organization with a long-term time horizon, you can invest the time to get it right.

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Our organization’s long history of operating the White Mountain Huts (129 years) highlights our track record in mountain hospitality. The Maine lodges offer a very different experience than the New Hampshire huts. The mountains are smaller, but they still offer a great hiking and trail running experience in the warmer months, and awesome cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter months. The abundance of ponds, lakes,  and streams are fantastic for paddling and fishing. The three AMC Maine lodges are all located on the water. In the case of Medawisla, it is on Second Roach Pond, which is part of AMC’s Roach Pond Tract of land.

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AMC describes the initiative on its landing page: “The Maine Woods Initiative is the Appalachian Mountain Club’s strategy for land conservation in the 100-Mile Wilderness region. The Initiative is an innovative approach to conservation that combines outdoor recreation, resource protection, sustainable forestry, and community partnerships. To date, AMC has purchased and permanently conserved 70,000 acres of forest land, created over 120 miles of recreational trails, opened three sporting camps to the public, established an FSC-certified sustainable forestry operation, and developed a partnership with local Piscataquis County schools.”

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AMC has invested more than $6 million into the rebuild of Medawisla. “Green building” techniques are a hallmark of AMC’s facilities and Medawisla has many modern sustainable building features. The cabins are beautiful. They come in a few configurations; some have private baths and others make use of a shared bathhouse. Each has a kitchenette, but full meal service at the lodge is an option. The cabins accommodate 5-6 people. There are also two bunkhouses that can accommodate up to 16 guests.

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We stayed in one of the Waterfront Cabins. It had two bedrooms. One had twin beds. The other had a double bed. There was a pull out couch, if needed. It was well-appointed with lovely furniture. Much of the decor came from L.L. Bean, a long time AMC supporter. Bean and the Maine sporting camp industry are well-connected. Dozens of other privately owned camps and lodges dot the lakes of the Maine woods, particularly in the northwest region. The trout fishing and game hunting are world-renowned. The Livingston’s don’t do much fishing and we don’t hunt, but these activities are a big part of Maine’s rich outdoor heritage.

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Another neat thing about the cabins and bunkhouses is that they have lovely screened in porches. In our case, the mosquitoes were pretty bad. They either followed us from Baxter where they were vicious, our Medawisla has its own supply. Regardless, we had a hard time keeping the bugs out of our porch, so we had to keep the solid door to the cabin shut at all times. I know that some of the mosquitoes followed us onto the porch from outside. They were literally clinging to us. It is also possible that some were coming up through slats in the floorboards. Another nice feature of each cabin and bunkhouse is the wood stove. We didn’t need to use it, but I imagine that in the colder months, you could turn your accommodations into a sweat lodge!

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There are lots of other features that I’m neglecting to mention, but the AMC site has lots of information. We checked out the soon-to-be-complete large sauna, which is located in the lodge. That will be awesome in the dead of winter. It will take some time to build buzz, but even with a six-hour drive from southern New England, the location is worth the effort and cost to get there. Just this week, one of AMC’s Medawisla area trails, the Hinckley Cove Trail, was featured in the Bangor Daily News.

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I said in my Mount Katahdin post that our family plans to return to Baxter State Park to explore all that it has to offer. You could spend two weeks in Baxter and just scratch the surface. The same could be said of AMC’s Maine property. We have to return for at least a week. One sport I didn’t mention, that could be a growth opportunity for Maine lodge activities, is cycling. There are so many dirt logging roads that could be explored. I don’t know if all are open to public access, but with the proliferation of gravel/adventure bikes, you could put together a great lodge-to-lodge bikepacking adventure. This is definitely on our to-do list.

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We crammed quite a bit into the 23 hours we were at Medawisla. On Monday afternoon, we explored the grounds, which also include the main lodge, a pavilion, waterfront buildings, the generator building, manager’s residence, staff bunkhouses, and various outbuildings. After our walk, we took a canoe for a paddle around a small island. We were on the water for 45 minutes or so, but opted not to venture too far. One highlight was seeing some beautiful loons, which are a feature in Medawisla’s logo.

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Our kids wanted to do the paddling, and they got a good lesson in the effort required to keep the canoe pointed in the right direction. The wind was blowing steadily at more than 20 miles per hour, which made the return to camp quite challenging. We taught them a little bit about water safety, plus the J-stroke and other paddling techniques. Then we took over for the rest of the way. Debbie and I did a fair amount of kayaking in our adventure racing days, and both have canoe experience from our Scouting days, but it isn’t our regular mode of transportation. That made it even more fun.

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It was too windy and rough to use the stand up paddle boards (SUP’s), but we were ready to wind down for the day. We had a “family style” dinner with the other guests at the main lodge, and then returned to our cabin to relax. AMC has always been good about our vegan/vegetarian dietary preferences.

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I got up early on Tuesday morning and drove two miles via the local dirt roads to the Shaw Mountain trailhead. I used this great map as a guide. I could have run from the lodge, but it would have added 2.8 miles to my trail run. I opted to start at the bottom and just run the Shaw Mountain Trail 1.3 miles to the North Summit (2,499 feet), then over to the South Summit (2,641 feet) and back. The trail to South Summit isn’t finished yet, so it just dead-ended in the woods. It will eventually connect to West Branch Pond Camps, a family owned sporting camp that is in between Medawisla and Gorman.

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I parked a little ways down the road so I had a short warmup before the vertical running started. It was humid, but pleasantly cool. Remnants of the trail existed prior to the Medawisla renovation, but signs indicated that AMC’s Trail Crew was actively working on the route. Sections were fresh-cut, which meant the tread way was soft and “cushiony” like running on a pillow. That was perfect recovery after hiking on rocks all-day on Sunday. My total run lasted an hour or so and I was back at the lodge in time for 8:00 A.M. breakfast with my family and other guests.

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The pond was much calmer in the morning, so after breakfast, we hit the waterfront again. I took our son on a canoeing adventure around the peninsula and explored the shallow northwest corner of the pond. We saw so many neat birds, but no moose. It felt like we were the only ones for miles, and with the exception of the lodge guests, that was true. Debbie and our daughter took out one of the SUP’s and we intercepted them on our return trip. We were on the water for an hour or so. Next time, we hope to explore the entire lake. It would be an all day adventure to paddle the three miles or so to the east end where AMC has a few campgrounds, one on the north side, and one on the south side. There will be many more hiking opportunities as the trail network expands.

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We were packed up and back on the road by 11:15 A.M. The trip whet our appetite for more Maine adventure. It was a no frills drive home, with the only stops for fuel and stretching. All in all, it was a fantastic four-day weekend.

 

2017 Mount Katahdin Adventure

The four-day July 4th weekend was about as good as it gets. Any weekend when a group of family and friends were 17 for 17 in Mt. Katahdin summit bids, is a good one. Debbie, our children, and I joined 13 other Roy Family members for an awesome hike in Baxter State Park. Baxter and Mt. Katahdin are special places for me, but also for the Roy Family.

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My mother, Adeline (Roy) Livingston, hails from Upper Frenchville, Maine in Aroostook County on the Canadian border. Her house overlooked the St. John River, which is all that separates Maine from New Brunswick. Katahdin was an important symbol of my youth. We made many 500 mile drives north to my Mémère’s home, and it was on those drives, staring out of the window, that the mountain made its mark on me.

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To this day, every time my Aunt Terry (who sadly missed this trip) texts me a photo of the mountain on her frequent drives to/from Aroostook County from her home in Portland. Reference my 2012 blog post, when I  made a solo trek to Katahdin for my 40th birthday. Prior to that, my last trip to Baxter was another solo adventure in 1994. I wrote about that trip in 2014 after I discovered a box of old photos.  It was about time that I shared my love of that particular mountain with my own children.

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Roy Family trips to Baxter State Park are a tradition, going back more than 50 years. Our last family trip was long ago. On July 6th, 2002, Debbie and I led a trip to Katahdin. Eight of the 16 adventurers on that trip returned this year. It was an amazing reunion considering how much has changed over the last 15 years. On that trip, we had terrible weather and never had a view. We were socked into the clouds with intermittent rain, and strong wind. The day after the family hike, Debbie and I hiked North Brother, and the conditions were even worse. We endured heavy rain, and coined the term, “white water running” because of the condition of the trail.

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I’m the oldest of 18 Roy Family grandchildren, and some of my first cousins were nearly as young as my children are today. On this trip, I was joined by seven of those 17 cousins: Monique, Luc, Gary, Billy, Paul, Andre, and Danny. In 2002, my uncles Guy and Phil; and aunt Terry, were on the trip. In 2017, only Phil was able to represent the older generation. He is in great shape, and even at the age of 60, the mountain was no match for him. My uncle Guy passed away last summer after a long battle with cancer. Four of his six kids were on this trip and it was great to see them come together to honor him. He would have been very proud to know that we tackled the mountain again.

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Over the past couple of days, we had much better weather, and despite a lot of overnight rain (on Saturday), and early morning clouds on Sunday, we were rewarded with stunning afternoon views. We drove up on Saturday, which took all day. Heavy holiday traffic delayed us in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. It wasn’t until we reached Portland, where that the traffic eased.

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My cousin, Billy, played a significant role in organizing the trip. He and I have been talking about this reunion for several years. He and his girlfriend, Ashley, are avid hikers and desired to return to Katahdin. At Christmas dinner, we talked again, and then we picked the four-day July 4th holiday weekend as the target date. The four Livingston’s, including my son Shepard, daughter Dahlia, and Debbie plus Ashley and Billy, committed early. We booked two tent sites and a lean-to site at Roaring Brook Campground, and then recruited other family members to join the adventure. We had up to 18 spots.

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In addition to the four Livingston’s, Monique, Luc, Gary, Billy, Paul, Andre, Danny, Phil, and Ashley, we were joined by Julia (Monique’s spouse), Mike (Gary’s partner), Dave (family friend), and Gary K. (Ashley’s brother). My uncle Guy was with us in spirit, and my aunt Terry was cheering from Portland.

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The whole long weekend was spectacular. Our group met at Roaring Brook Campground on Saturday afternoon. Some of us carpooled. By 8:30 P.M. we had all arrived. It was raining heavily, so setting up camp was a little rough, but everyone pitched in. My family stayed in lean-to #4, which I highly recommend. Roaring Brook was 30 feet from the front of the shelter, which made for amazing audio. Nothing beats the sound of a babbling brook. The only disadvantage of the lean-to, was the mosquitoes, which plagued us the entire trip. For that reason, I rate the adventure a 9.999.

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The highlight of the hike was the performance of our 7-year-old daughter. She weighs 39 pounds and is pretty small for her age, but she is MIGHTY! I’m so happy that the toughness that Debbie and I exhibit with our endurance sports, has rubbed off on our kids.

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Everyone arose early on Sunday and we convened at the trailhead at 6:30 A.M. At Roaring Brook, you can roll out of bed and be at the ranger cabin for sign in. We split in to two groups for the day. Eventually, the groups reshuffled and Debbie, Dahlia, and I ended up in a lagging group with Monique and Julia. The planned route was a counter-clockwise loop via Chimney Pond Trail–>Cathedral Trail–>Saddle Trail (to summit)–>Knife Edge Trail–>Helon Taylor Trail–>Chimney Pond Trail, and back to the campground. If the weather was really bad, we reserved the option to skip The Knife Edge, and return to Chimney Pond via the Saddle Trail.

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The Chimney Pond Trail was very wet, but beautiful. The Basin Ponds were gorgeous and the huge talus field beyond them was awesome to see again. Our group got spread out on the steep and rocky Cathedral Trail. It was slow going for us. We were climbing in and out of the clouds. Our son ended up joining a few of the other men and they merged with the front group on the summit. Our group of five was about 30 minutes behind. We got to the top around 12:30 P.M. and must have just missed the other group, which was unfortunate because they decided to descend the Saddle Trail and take the easier route back to Roaring Brook. They based their decision on the wind and clouds that enveloped the summit while they waited for us.

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We spent about 20 minutes on the summit and while we were up there, it started to clear. The wind calmed a bit and we figured that they were still ahead of us, having started the traverse of The Knife Edge, the sawtooth ridge that connects Baxter Peak and Pamola. We knew we wouldn’t catch them, unless they waited, but we continued with the original route plan.

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We were treated with an amazing day. We knew it would be hard, but we had all day. Both groups had all the gear needed, including the 10 Essentials. We figured the round-trip would be 8-10 hours and it ended up being 13 hours and 11 minutes. Blame it on my daughter’s short legs! We got back to the campground just before 8:00 P.M.

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When the first group got back to Chimney Pond on their descent, my cousin Danny decided to head back up with the intention of intercepting us. I’m the oldest cousin and Danny is the youngest. He and I have a great relationship. I’ve written about him many times in the past because he has joined us on several adventures. He has become a key pacer for Debbie at many of her ultramarathons. He is a talented runner too. We will see him next week in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

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Anyway, despite the concerns of his older brother, Billy, he did what I probably would have done (despite being a little short on gear…I’ll talk to him about that!) and went back up the mountain. However, he didn’t see us on the Saddle Trail, so he continue back over the summit and onto the The Knife Edge. He caught us about half way between the summit and Pamola. We were surprised and realized that the other group wasn’t in front of us. That was OK. We were going slow, but enjoying ourselves. Dahlia needed help on the steep stuff, Debbie and I took turns while Monique and Julia worked together. Danny stuck with our group until we got back to tree line on the Helon Taylor Trail. Then, he took off for the campground and dinner.

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The views were stunning. I took a lot of photos and just soaked it in. I hope it isn’t another five years before we return. I’m sure it won’t be. Our son missed out on the excitement of traversing The Knife Edge, and we didn’t get a chance to climb Hamlin Peak on the other side of the Great Basin. Plus, there is so much more of Baxter to see. I want to return and drive the entire Tote Road to the northern end of the park, which is much more remote.

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Hiking with Debbie and Dahlia was a ton of fun. When we got to the summit, she got a loud ovation from all of the adults who were hanging around. Throughout the day, we got a lot of crazy looks and positive comments. By the time we got to treeline on the Helon Taylor trail, we were all tired. She said, “I’m shot.” She needed some coaxing down the trail. When we got into the trees, the mosquitoes were vicious. That kept us moving. Halfway down the Taylor Trail, two thru-hikers passed us. They had just completed their Appalachian Trail hike. They took the Knife Edge Trail across to Pamola like we did, and were descending to Roaring Brook Campground with the goal of hitching a ride to Millinocket before dark. It was cool to experience their satisfaction with completing such a long journey.

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As dusk set in and we were struggling after a long day, I said to Debbie, “Does your taper begin tomorrow?” Like our daughter, she was also “done.” Once down, with the entire family reunited, we enjoyed dinner by the campfire. Everyone was thrilled with how the day went. It’s hard to believe that it had been 15 years since the majority of this group last climbed the mountain.

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On Monday morning, we got up early again. The sunrise was amazing and Roaring Brook was babbling on. Danny joined me for a loop of Sandy Stream Pond. Debbie ran the same loop after us. We washed up and struck camp. Everyone helped each other until we were all packed up. We took our family photo, reprising the one we took in 2002. We departed Baxter State Park as a group, and bonded forever.

2017 Domnarski Farm Mountain Bike Race

Last weekend, after 10 years, we finally made it to the Domnarksi Farm Mountain Bike race. It seems that Domnarski Farm always clashes with another event on the schedule. For the 10th anniversary, we made it a priority to attend and support our Team Horst Sports mate, Matt Domnarski.

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This race is part of the Root 66 Northeast XC Race Series.  It starts and finishes at the farm. The Cat 1’s and 2’s do a 10 mile loop, while the Cat 3’s and beginners (including the Juniors) do a 3.3 mile loop. I did the Cat 1 singlespeed division and we did two loops for a total of 20 miles.

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The course is super-rocky and there are a lot of roots. There is also a lot of climbing. Everyone refers to this race as “old school” which is great. To me, that means grassroots oriented and a tough course. We had a nice Horst Junior Squad turnout with five kids competing in the Cat 3 race and one in the Kids Race. We had four adults there as well.

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I had a tough day. I struggled in the heat and had to go into “survival mode” on lap two. Domnarski was my fifth race in 10 days and two days later, I was doing the Winding Trails Summer Tri Series, so I didn’t want to go too deep into the red zone. I was happy that I finished, but I was looking grim when I reached the line. With the singlespeed, I did a fair amount of walking.

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The Pro Men put on a show. I wasn’t there to see it, but both Justin Lindine, and Stephen Hyde; broke the course record. Stephen’s first lap was the fastest ever, and Justin’s second lap topped it. They duked it out and Justin came out on top. It’s going to be great to see these two do battle when cyclocross season starts in late-August.

Race Results

2017 Winding Trails Summer Tri Series & West Rock Superprestige Short Track Series

In the past two weeks, one excellent series ended and another one began. The West Rock Superprestige Short Track Mountain Bike Series is a real gem. Team Horst Sports was well represented throughout the series. Sean Rourke, one of our star riders from the Horst Junior Squad, won his age group in style. He made all four races. They were every other week on Thursday nights.

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Along with my son, Shepard, I made races #3 and #4. With the Juniors starting at 5:15 P.M. in Hamden, it was a haul from East Hartford, especially because I had to pick up Shep at school in Bolton. Thankfully, the final race was after the school year ended. For the finale, he and I were joined by Debbie and our daughter.

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These short track races were super challenging. The courses were slightly different week to week, but they all featured the rugged trails of West Rock Nature Center. I just got the post series survey, and I had nothing but good things to say. The Juniors did a shortened and less technical course, but the A and B adult races were full-bore.

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I raced singlespeed and had great battles in both races. I was second both weeks and had an absolute blast. If you did this every other week, you wouldn’t need to train! The workout was that intense. Each race was followed by an awesome pizza party and a “bonfire” in the park’s amphitheater. The finale attracted lots of family and friends, included some pot-luck additions, and then ice cream for the kids.

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The crew from D’Aniello’s Amity Bike and the Laurel Bicycle Club, led by Kurt D’Aniello, are the masterminds behind the series. They had great volunteers. CCAP was involved with the series, which made it even better. I’m looking forward to the 2018 series. If we can make it work, we will aim to do the whole series. Hopefully the format doesn’t change.

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Another great series, that just started three weeks ago, is the Winding Trails Summer Tri Series. This 10 week off-road triathlon series is one of my favorite races. I’ve done many over my career. Last year, I did nine out of 10. This year, Debbie, Shepard, and I are aiming to do five. Our son does the Tiny Tri, and we do the full  course, which is a 1/4 miles swim/5 mile mountain bike/3 mile run.

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Last year, Debbie and I both placed second in overall for men and women. Without doing eight races, we will be hard pressed to score that high in 2017, but we do these for fun anyway.  The Winding Trails races are a great beginner triathlon. In addition to the Tiny Tri, three times over the summer, there is a kids race, which our daughter will do. It’s a great introduction to the sport.

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We missed the first race, but made the last two weeks. This week, thunder and lightning forced the cancellation of the swim, so we had a duathlon, which was fine. We avoided rain, as it had stopped before we got to the start line. I’ve already had some good battles in weeks two and three. In week two, I had to hold off Steve Sadler, who did a great job on the mountain bike leg. I was able to outrun him. He was followed by my rival, Jon Arellano, who won the series in 2016. Jon had a second child recently, so his sleep hasn’t been great and his bike training has been lacking. I hate to take advantage of a new Dad, but I had to drop the hammer on him anyway!

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In week three, the duathlon format favored me, so I was able to stay close to the front-runners for the first one mile run, and then quickly get ahead on the bike. I was in no man’s land for the entire bike and the second run. Jon closed fast, but I had enough of a buffer to hold him off. Steve was third.

We were treated with a great sunset. Each week, we follow the racing by holding the “Grand Feast” with the Schulz Family. Aubrey and Ken have two little ones and our kids, who coined the term, have been coming to these races since they were infants, so they love to hang out and play with them. We do dinner in the parking lot and then head for home. It’s a lot to pack into a weeknight after work, but it’s worth it. I’m looking forward to more fun races at Winding Trails in July and August.

2017 Mt. Greylock Trail Races

Yesterday, we were back in Greylock Glen for another go at the Mt. Greylock Trail Races. This was Debbie’s 19th consecutive year at Greylock. That stat explains her trail running career, which started a year earlier in 1998. Her ultrarunning career started in 1999, three months after her first Greylock.

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This race means a lot to her. Back then, the trail running community welcomed her with open arms, and she never looked back. I’m sure that some of the people who welcomed her in 1999 when she was 24 years old, would be surprised to know that she stuck with the sport all of this time.

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Now, our kids are running Greylock with us, and enjoying it the way we have. Most years, Debbie has run the “half marathon” long course, but this year was a bit different. She ran Manitou’s Revenge Ultra on Saturday, so after 54 rugged miles, she opted to join our daughter for the 5K short course race. Our son did the 5K on his own, and knocked five minutes off of his personal best, which made him very happy.

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I did the long course, and though the course has changed a bit over the years, it was my slowest time. I’ve now done the long course nine times and the short course twice, for a total of 11, which trails Debbie’s 19 by quite a bit.

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We always enjoy seeing our friends in the Western Massachusetts Athletic Club. We were joined by a small contingent of Shenpsit Striders, including Tony Bonanno, who warmed up for the long course by running a loop on his own ahead of time. So, it was a 26+ mile day for him. He wasn’t alone. The “double” is a training technique used by Curt Pandiscio, and he did it again yesterday. Unfortunately, neither knew the other was out there ahead of time. Both made it back in time for their “second lap” at the official 10:00 A.M. start.

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I was feeling fast, but ended up running slow, which isn’t a big deal. I carried my iPhone and stopped to enjoy the views, including at the summit, and on Jones Nose, my favorite part of the course. A week of rain left the trails muddy and slippery. The Overlook Trail is known for its sharp and unforgiving rocks. After the four mile climb from the Glen to the Summit, I took it easy on that first descent.

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An old cycling friend, Kurt Hackler, won the race in 1:47:07. Kurt was a junior rider when I first started racing in the early-1990’s. I can’t believe he is now 40+ too! The women’s race was won by 20 year-old Sonya Jampel in 2:13:43. She was only 34 seconds behind me, and I was pushing at the finish. I never saw her, but it was neat to see her cross the line considering that she wasn’t even a year old when Debbie ran her first Greylock! That’s crazy. 63 year-old Rob Higley wasn’t far behind her and he deserves even more credit for hammering the course…again. 10 years ago, he was trouncing me at these trail races as a 50+ Masters all-star. It’s great to see him running strong into his 60’s.

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You may notice from some of the photos that there was more people in the Glen this year. Sadly the race numbers were down (this is an issue for a lot of the classic New England trail races), but the extra people weren’t there for the race. They were there for the MAGICon Enchanted Greylock Harry Potter event. I don’t know the story, but somehow, the Glen got double booked. Thankfully the weather was nice because we didn’t have use of the gazebo and had to share the field with the other guests. I don’t know which crowd thought the other group was weirder.

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They were playing Quidditch and we were running straight up the mountain. Who were the crazy ones? Needless to say, it looked like it all worked out and the disparate groups appeared to coexist. I’ll have to check with friends from the WMAC to see what they thought. Regardless, we are always appreciative of the volunteers. Debbie put on Soapstone three weeks ago, and got a ton of support from our Shenipsit Striders club mates, so we know how much work goes into these races. Father’s Day Weekend came to a close in Northampton. We stopped for dinner at our favorite restaurant, Paul & Elizabeth’s. We also picked up bread at one of our favorite bakeries, Hungry Ghost Bread. They have sweet new amphitheater and community herb garden.

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It’s inevitable. If all goes well, we will be back in the Glen for Debbie’s 20th anniversary Greylock in 2018.

Race Results


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Little D passed her second of three #taekwondo #blackbelt tests. The third, and biggest, is in October. #tkd #sunset #md90 🌞✈️ #echoamphitheater #carsonnationalforest #newmexico Stopping to stretch our legs and use the potty was the best $2 I've spent in a while. I even borrowed a nickel from @trailrunningmom and got rid of the 95 cents in my pocket. Amazing #durango #colorado trails. These are the #HorseGulchTrails near @fortlewiscollege which has an amazing #cycling culture. When I raced collegiates @bcclubcycling & @bucycling in the early 90's, it wasn't anything like what's happening with the powerhouse @flccycling team. What an amazing backyard. Imagine rolling out of your dorm and onto this landscape. I would never go to class! Don't tell my kids I said that! #mountainbiking #cyclocross #teamhorstsports #teamhorstjuniorsquad #horstspikes 🚵‍♀️ @trailrunningmom finished in 41 hours and 1 minute. #hr100 #hardrock100 #shenipsitstriders #teamhorstsports #trailrunning #ultrarunning #womenofultrarunning @trailrunningmom  at the #hr100 #womenofultrarunning @trailrunningmom  at the #hr100 #womenofultrarunning @trailrunningmom left the Chapman Aid Station at 2:10 P.M. I paced her from Ouray (56.6 miles) to Chapman (82.2 miles). @ultramarathondan will take her to the finish of the @hardrock100 #hr100 #hardrock100 Most importantly, she is in good spirits and despite the altitude, is moving OK on the climbs, albeit slowly. As for the descents, her legs are trashed but she is still bombing them. Finish could be in the 40-42 hour range if all goes well. Who knows? Lots of variables! Fingers crossed. I have tons of photos to go through, so I selected one of our crew with Deb as she headed out for the final 18 miles. #trailrunning #ultrarunning #shenipsitstriders #teamhorstsports We finally reconnected with @trailrunningmom She arrived at Grouse Gulch, 42.2 miles at 8:33pm and departed at 8:50pm. She was soaked to the bone after climbing her first ever 14,000 foot peak. Handies had lots of hail and rain. She changed every piece of clothing and shoes and felt much better. The drive to/from was white knuckle insanity with our rental. @ultramarathondan is with her now. It will be a long night. I'll see her in Ouray. Our kids  have been awesome. Mom just wants to finish, but a long way to go. @hardrock100 #hr100 #hardrock100 #trailrunning #ultrarunning 🏃🏻⛰

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