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. 

My Photo Gallery

Other coverage:

Outside Magazine story

Denver Post story

Mountain Outpost Video Coverage

Run Steep Get High Video Coverage

****

Debbie’s Race Report 

3 Responses to “2017 Hardrock Endurance Run”


  1. 1 Aliza Lapierre 22 July 2017 at 8:33 pm

    Each member of the family is amazing and as a family unit you are all unstoppable! Well done and cannot wait to see what is next.


  1. 1 2017 Soapstone Assault | Life Adventures Trackback on 30 July 2017 at 3:08 pm
  2. 2 2017 Hardrock Endurance Run | Debbie Livingston Trackback on 12 August 2017 at 11:30 am

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@trailrunningmom received a nice memento in the mail. #hr100 #hardrock100 #trailrunning #ultrarunning Awesome Day 2 at the @the_ccap #Cyclocross Camp. #teamhorstsports #teamhorstjuniorsquad #horstspikes #crossspikes #googinscross #lifedeathcyclocross #crossiscoming 🚴🏽 Great ride with Tom. #teamhorstsports #madeinusa 🇺🇸 Day one of the @the_ccap Junior #Cyclocross Camp was awesome. #horstspikes #teamhorstsports #teamhorstjuniorsquad #lifedeathcyclocross #crossiscoming @trailrunningmom led another successful #Yoga at #Sunset for the #boltonlandtrust This year's venue was the #BoltonHeritageFarm It's been a tradition to move to a new spot each time. I got my first #cyclocross ride of the year in too! #yogini #yogi #shavasana Sightseeing on my second favorite road in #Connecticut #grassyhill #cycling #bicycle #sevencycles #horstengineering Camp was swell! @thecubscouts @boyscoutsofamerica #cubscouts #boyscouts #junenorcrosswebster I visited the new HQ of the @appalachianmountainclub that is under construction at 10 City Square in #Charlestown I had to ride by the #BunkerHill Monument at the end of the #FreedomTrail #Boston #sevencycles First time at the People's Forest Trail Race since 2011. This first image is the look of a dejected man who lost 25 minutes with a wrong turn on a big descent. That's costly in an 11 kilometer race. Even worse is that @trailrunningmom is the one who led him (and two other runners) off course! They survived. It was a nice day on the #FarmingtonRiver. #trailrunning #teamhorstsports #shenipsitstriders 🏃🏻⛰🏆

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