Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hardrock Hewey and the Psoas Kablooey

"Dale, do I get a medal?" The first words out of my mouth after collapsing at the bottom of the Hardrock 100 finish rock. Followed by the sound of everyone at the finish exhaling.

In 1957 my Dad, Jerry Hewey and three of his ski instructor friends from Aspen took two canoes and paddled from Denver, Colorado to Old Town, Maine using only human power. It took them 6 months of bug bites, leaches, treacherous waterways and a lot of will power and beer. This is in my vernacular. They could have, but did not, quit. I have always seen my Dad as a superman. I hope to be the same for my son. Hardrock 100 2013 was a solid test.

My race was going so good. I had an arrangement with my wife Jane and kids to go it alone this year at Hardrock. Ultrarunning is a selfish endeavor and to be able to spend two full weeks in Silverton, at altitude, previewing the course and soaking in the very essence of this epic race was amazing. I did trail work with Rick Trujillo, I hung out with the trail marking crews and soaked in the Ouray Hotsprings with other grizzled Hardrockers. I stopped on dusty street corners and talked running with Fast Eddie and The Matt Hart. I drank beers at the Avon Hotel with legends. I camped by Mineral Creek for a week. Bathing in the river and stewing in altitude. I moved into a rented house for race week and had my crew trickle into the one bedroom cabin until it was full of gear and bodies and laughter. It was absolute joy. I wasn't nervous, just ready. Race day dawned and I hit the dirt roads of Silverton with 140 hearty souls full of hope. 104 would find their way back within the 48 hour limit.

I had a pace chart to get me to the finish at 29 hours. Within the first two miles I had managed to lose both my sunglasses and my interest in said pace chart. I climbed the first 13,000 ft pass with Darcy Africa and Jon Robinson (the best Seattle ultra runner you've never heard of). Dropping into Chapman aid station I was surprised to find my crew of Annie and Jeason Murphy ready and waiting. I rolled on from there over the miles passing the time and topography pleasantly enough until I missed a turn on the way to Maggie's  aid station. I went about a half mile too far, saw Karl Meltzer crest a ridge and not reappear. Damn it! I lost three placings. By pole creek I had gained back two spots. I ran into Sherman aid station a bit worked but alright (mile 30). Next up: 14,000ft Handies Peak. I was feeling great ascending Handies, passed Jared Campbell who was yodeling to the wildflowers, and was soon above timberline. It was hot and it was humid, very humid for the mountains. By the time the cold rain took hold of the peak, I was glad to have its bracing sting. Everyone else changed colors as their rain gear appeared. I pulled up my arm sleeves and hiked on passed Jamil Courey who sat like a statue on the side of the mountain. By now I knew I was sitting in the top 10, probably top 8. Nick Courey and Ted Mahon were just ahead of me and I kept them in sight as I descended from the heavens into Grouse Gulch aid station where I picked up pacer number one Tonya Hoffman.
We climbed, chatted, gawked at the amazing scenery and switchbacked forever up Engineer Pass until we were rewarded with a sweet 8 mile downhill jaunt down bear creek to Ouray. We passed Ted along the way and had daylight all the convoluted way to town. By Ouray, my stomach started to get empty and unhappy. I was getting queasy and cranky at the aid station even though my crew were stellar. The aid station was excellent. When asked what I wanted from their menu, the thing which lit up most was RUBEN. I left with a ziploc baggie of watermelon, refreshed waters, a full Ruben sandwich and my next pacer, childhood friend Chris Keleher. We walk/ hiked almost all of the next 8 mile Camp Bird road in the dark. The Ruben did the trick to quell my stomach. We passed Joe Grant, a shadow on the side of the dirt road surrounded by a conclave of concerned shapes and a truck. We passed Nick and his pacer Justin just before Governor's aid station. We reloaded with soup and melon and headed up, up, up the three-headed climb to Kroger's Canteen, a cliff perch aid station manned by Roch Horton and Scotty Mills. I felt good, ate perogies and didn't dawdle. Down we sped to Telluride. Mile 70 I was picking up time on my neglected pace chart.
Telluride aid station, 12:45AM. I switched to pacer #3 Jeason Murphy. We left the aid station as Nick came in. I was in front, heading up a single track trail, and ran directly into a cut Aspen tree. The tree was lying straight in the trail, cut side downhill, as I ran up. I saw the circle of wood but before my groggy mind could decipher what it was, Blammo! right in the gut. My stomach muscles were tight from running 70 miles, but it still knocked me back and I had to evaluate, "Am I alright?" I seemed to be. We departed after Jeason launched the offending tree into the forrest. We climbed up and out of Telluride doing great. The course markers are made of metal and spin on their posts so headlamps catch their flash at night making course-finding easy. At around 11,000 ft. I went to follow the reflection of my Princeton Tec headlamp on the next marker. I realized what I was seeing wasn't a marker at all. Two glowing green eyes were watching us from above. We saw the same eyes again two miles later.  Mountain Lion, most likely. Another reminder of the benefits of having a pacer. We topped Oscar's Pass and dropped into Cunningham aid station which was totally asleep at 4:30AM. We helped ourselves and I picked up my last pacer for the race, Allen Skytta. I was starting to feel weakness in my back as we left. Our first order of business was trekking up Grant's Swamp Pass to the most brutal climb of the race. We scrambled over the top, still gaining time but I was feeling the weight of my pack. It had been raining which made the ascent up Grant's Pass
much easier than in practice runs, because earlier runners had kicked hand and foot holds into the sand up the steep chute. We crested as Nick appeared at the bottom. We hustled on ignoring the sunrise. As we ran down hill I could feel my body leaning oddly forward. My stability was becoming an issue and the steep side-slope was precarious. We made the KT aid station in good time. The first thing I saw was Diana Finkle sitting in a truck in a sleeping bag. She had been top 5 for a while and now she was out. It scared me to know it could be me in that truck. The aid station had very little we wanted... half a sip of coffee and a cold cup of soup. We were only one aid station away from the finish. We headed out. I didn't think of stopping or going back to the aid station to rest, though my body was starting to revolt. We started climbing and my body pitched forward like a puppet without a hand. I was having problems breathing because of my posture. We would stop, I would catch my breath, and we would continue to climb. Gradually over the next few hours, it was a rinse, wash, repeat cycle as my psoas muscles weakened and my body bent more and more. Nick passed us. It sucked. I tried to pursue, but my body wouldn't allow any more exertion than five or ten steps. Bend, stop, breathe. Repeat. I had to let him go. My game was changing rapidly. I had to let go of racing. I let go of finishing under 29 hours. I let go of Ego. I let go of top ten. I let go of everything except finishing. Hardrock is about finishing. I couldn't let my efforts, my time away from family, all the planning, the team of supporters who traveled to help me, I absolutely couldn't let all that go to waste. I figured I had about 20 hours to get in those last 5 miles. I knew I wasn't in danger of kidney failure as my hydration was good and I was lucid. If only we could straighten out my damn back. Allen tried everything. I was draped across rocks, I was stretched across his hip, I was told to find my woo-woo place. I was passed by Jared on his way to 7th place. I howled at the rocks, I growled. Allen kept my focus, we slowly worked our way down the mountain. He, stoic, me, bent like a little old man looking for pennies. We finally got to the river at Mineral Creek
where we crossed to the cheers of Annie and Jeason. I was a poor sight to see and the cheers turned to tears as we left for our last two miles. The closer to the end I got, the closer to the ground I got. The tree, I was to later learn but suspected even then, had hit my gut and weakened my Psoas muscles which are internal muscles supporting both abs and back. Compromised as they were, they couldn't support my upper body thereby leaving me the Hunchback of Hardrock. I suggested a stick. Allen found me a nice one which really helped to keep my nose off the ground. Jason Poole came past, stopped and asked if he could help. Class act guy. I wished him well on his way to 8th place. Finding the end took an eternity. We finally got above town and started to hobble the three blocks to the finish when we heard Darcy Africa (women's winner Hardrock 2013) with pacer Krissy Moehl coming up behind us. I tried to turn on what jets I had left. I began to black out and slide slowly down my stick. Enough of that. I was determined not to pass out one block from the finish.
Darcy passed and beat me by 1minute. I focused. Allen talked me in to the finish, "focus on the rock, don't look around, listen to me, we can do this, focus on the rock." I took my broken body and flung it down the road to the finish.
Your time stops when you kiss the rock. I tried to stop and kiss but I had no brakes. Instead, I ran head long into the rock and sort of lipped it as I crumpled to its base and sat nearly lifeless for a beat or two. "Dale, do I get a medal?" 29 hours, 55 minutes, 10th place.
     Allen lifted my left arm, Seb, the winner of Hardrock 2013, grabbed my right and they floated me to the nice medical area of the finish. I sat quite a while and was deemed in fine health aside from the fact my body had become an accordion. I was released to find food, beer, shower, and sleep.
     In the days since Hardrock 2013, I have received a lot of attention for my finish. It was hard. I dug as deep as I've ever had to dig to finish a race. Ultrarunning is a selfish sport but I felt like I was running for the team of people who supported me. My wife Jane, my kids, my parents, my pacers, my crew, my friends, my family and the entire Hardrock community. This race, this finish, means more to me than all the belt buckles in Texas. I aspire to be the superman Dad to my kids that my Dad is to me.
I have recovered well during a week off, and am now back to training for Wasatch 100 in September.
Photo credits include: Durango Herald, Irunfar, Bob Macgillivray, Tonya Hoffman, Allen Skytta, Jennifer Hughes.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Hardrock 2013 pre race

     I am sitting in the shade of the Silverton Library poaching Wifi and going a little stir crazy. I flew into Denver a week ago, borrowed my Mom's purple pickup truck and have been living out of it and a little blue tent for the last week. I love being at high altitude. I love my family. They are spending these two weeks at low altitude thus affording me the opportunity to do things like stand on a dusty street corner in Silverton and talk Hardrock with Scott Jaime and Matt Hart for a couple of hours.
     I am a very busy person. I have an active family, run a small business, am starting another business and I train hard. Finding myself in a tent with no schedule and a limited run plan can be rather relaxing yet also somewhat maddening.
     2010 I came to this race with the full family and a quaint hotel. It was an adventure but also a tough time for everyone. They grew tired of the town and I grew more and more uptight as the race got closer. The race was great and I finished 8th but the experience was not one to be repeated in the same way. Three long years later I got back in. Jane and I agreed, ultra running is a very selfish sport and to succeed the runner must concentrate on him/herself with as little distractions as possible. Now the tent comes into focus, perched in a meadow along South Mineral creek. Come Tuesday I move into a little rental house until the Sunday after the race. Once I'm in the house, shit gets real, drop bags get made, underwear gets washed.
     To quote Matt Hart, "Hardrock doesn't care what your last two weeks of training have been like. It'll chew you up and spit you out no matter what you've done." Therefore I am trying my best to not run today. It is hard. Every day since I got to Colorado I have sought high places to traverse. Yesterday I climbed one of the steepest climbs of the race up to Kroger's at Virginias Pass. A vertigo inducing perch above 12,000 ft. I'll be there in the dark not accepting what Roch Horton and Scotty Mills offer me.
     I seem to be ending each day here drinking beer and talking Hardrock with Hardrockers. It doesn't get old. The stories are as epic as the race. The people here all share the same genetic mutation which makes them see 50 miles as a short race and black toenails as normal. This is Hardrock. This is why I am here. This is the vacation I am lucky enough to have been chosen from the lottery to attend.
     I gotta wrap this up because I'm going to attempt to nap. Wish me luck.
P.S.- My goal is to finish, break 29 hours and go top 5. My plan is to be efficient then race the last 30 miles.
     So happy to be supported by my sponsors: Jane Hewey, 7hills Running shop, Drymax socks, Princeton Tec, Birthday boy Allen Skytta and Scott shoes. I hope to be kissing the rock for all of us.