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HARDROCK HUNDRED, PART 3:
PERSPECTIVE FROM CUNNINGHAM AID STATION + SUNDAY BRUNCH & AWARDS
 
SUNDAY, JULY 16
 
 
"One of our biggest hopes is that you will have a fun experience
and want to come back and help next year."
 
- from the Hardrock Hundred volunteer manual
 
 

 

Jim and I are experienced race volunteers, both from our old road running days in the 1980s and our ultra running years since the 1990s. I've worked as many races as I've run, but none was as tough as working the Cunningham Aid Station during Hardrock.

That's because I've never worked an aid station that was open for 24 hours. Jim and I put in many more hours before and after that, too (Jim did even more than I did). And we are completely pooped today. We feel like we ran an ultra ourselves.

"Giving back" is extremely important in this fringe sport (some would say "lunatic fringe" sport!). As runners, Jim and I know we couldn't enjoy ultra races without volunteers who give selflessly of their time and energy before, during, and after the race. We thank the volunteers when we are the runners, and we try to "give back" by being volunteers at as many races as possible so other runners can enjoy the races. We worked our butts off at this race and most of the runners were very appreciative.

We figured out that we spent a total of 75 hours doing volunteer labor at this race, not including several hours' worth of e-mails regarding volunteering that went back and forth in the months before the race and the days after.

Despite the long time on our feet and the frustrations we encountered, we will be back again to help at Hardrock. Only next time, we'll probably ask for an aid station assignment that doesn't require us to work so long!

SATURDAY, JULY 15

4:30 AM: the alarm goes off, and we're up and "running" to get ready to go out to the Cunningham Aid Station.

5:15 AM: stop at the "cooler" outside the little grocery store in Silverton to get the cold foods in storage - five dozen eggs, some sausage, four pumpkin pies, meatloaf, black beans and rice, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, three kinds of soup (potato, vegetable, chicken/vegetable), oranges, bananas, etc. Sam Voltaggio spent many hours preparing fresh food for the runners, and everyone loved them!

5:30 AM: stop by the high school gym to see how Karl Meltzer was doing (oh, no, he's due at Cunningham by 6 AM!!) and scarf some supplies that other aid stations had already returned.

5:45 AM: arrive at Cunningham Gulch AS and alert David Coblentz to Karl's impending arrival. He knew because Karl's crew was already there. We quickly helped Dave get more supplies out on the two little tables we had, and waited for Karl to arrive. His crew had his things ready and said he'd be in and out of the aid station quickly. That's par for the front-runners who don't want to waste a second.

6:00 AM: Jim and I work on sorting out all the drop bags and arranging them inside the tent in numerical order. As the runners come through, we put their used bags in the back of the truck. Crews often take the bags, so we'll have fewer to return than we brought out to the AS.

6:32 AM: Karl comes running in, below, looking fresh and efficient. He's gone in five or six minutes, with only about eight miles to go. Although he doesn't set a new course record, Karl finishes in a fine 27:07:55, over three hours ahead of his closest competitor.

Runners approach Cunningham Gulch from Green Mountain, in the background above. As they switchback down the sometimes very narrow trail, they can see the aid station for a couple of miles. Most of them walk into the aid station, not blow in like Karl!

Jim and David take turns checking runners in and out all day and communicating with the HAM operators (Jim and Carol Lewin from Durango) who are set up a few feet across from the tent. The radio folks at the previous AS (Maggie Valley) will let us know who leaves their station and when, so we know who's coming.

No aid station may close down until all the runners have checked in with the NEXT aid station. This is in case a runner gets into trouble and has to return to the previous aid station. Although the cut-off for our aid station is 2 AM on Sunday, we remain open until after 6 AM when the last runner is accounted for in Silverton. It's too bad every ultra doesn't have as efficient a communications system as Hardrock, but it takes a lot of properly trained volunteers to do this.

There are no more runners for almost three hours, giving us plenty of time to get organized for the day. Jim starts preparing eggs and sausage for the runners and early-morning volunteers:

There are some perks to being a volunteer! (The rice/bean/meatloaf burritos were killer, too.) That's Dave in the yellow cap, below, and Jim in the gray vest.

Other volunteers arrive to give us help, and several of them stay all day and night. One of them is an ultra runner who worked the Chapman aid station yesterday, Martin Szekeresh. His help was invaluable! So was that of a personable fella named Don and his teenage grandson.

Steve Hays and Mike Rutledge from the Los Alamos Mountaineers Club were also outstanding volunteers who worked tirelessly at our aid station. Without their cheerful assistance, stoves, another cooler and ice, and other equipment, we surely couldn't have provided the level of assistance we were able to give to the runners. Steve is shown below with one of two young boys who helped us during the day:

9:19 AM: All the volunteers are pretty bored by now, but the second runner comes in and gives us something to do! It's Joseph Shultz, who finishes the race in second place in a time of 30:29:27. He checks out of our aid station in thirteen minutes.

Most of the runners have pacers at this point, so not only do we have 83 (I think) runners come through our aid station between 6:32 AM Saturday and 2 AM Sunday, we also have pacers and crews around. Pacers are treated like the runners. They need food and fluids and some TLC, too.

Crews are on their own. They are there to assist their runners get through the aid station as quickly as possible by having their drop bags ready and knowing what food and fluids are available (if they want something more than what their crews provided). The crews we met at Hardrock are mostly "veterans" at the job and were very efficient and helpful. I've seen some pretty annoying crews at other races, but I'm not aware of any problems with them here (parking too close, bugging the radio folks, eating aid station food, letting dogs run loose, getting into the way, etc.). It was a pleasure to meet and work with the crews this weekend.

This is the view the runners have coming into our aid station:

When runners leave the aid station for the finish, they keep going past the tent and cross the creek in the photo below. Fortunately, Cunningham Creek is pretty low this year. That's part of Little Giant Peak in the background. The runners climb about 2,500 feet up that mountain over the next couple of miles. Although it switchbacks, we hear it's plenty steep. According to someone with binoculars, it took Karl Meltzer 27 minutes to disappear from our view below, most likely faster than anyone else who made it this far.

The view of the long waterfall is nice from the aid station. The runners go over the pass just right of the falls (actually, above it; the view in the photo is a "false plateau").

11:16 AM: Here comes our good friend, Betsy Kalmeyer. You go, girl!!! She's on her way to her fifth female win in this race, and her eighth finish. She's third overall, a tremendous accomplishment on this very tough course. She's gone in a scant five minutes, finishing in 31:53:51.

Then runners began coming in more regularly. We got busier and busier as the day wore on and the "bubble" of runners checked in and out. Most who survived this far into the race could "smell the barn" and were anxious to leave the aid station ASAP. Some looked remarkably fresh, considering the difficult course they'd just run and hiked. All were determined to finish the race. These were the survivors of this year's Hardrock, the toughest of the tough this time around.

No one needed much medical assistance or to lie down on the cot at our aid station, and all the runners except two who came through Cunningham made it to the finish on time. One missed the final cut-off at Silverton by a scant six minutes (Matt Mahoney) and one fell ill on the climb to Little Giant and had to be brought back down to our aid station Sunday morning by Search and Rescue personnel. The race doctor attended to him further at the gym in Silverton, and I understand he's OK now.

Jim's only EMT duties were to help one of our friends deal with painful blisters on both feet. The race doc was present during the afternoon and provided the initial treatment and sandals to help the runner cross the creek outside the aid station so he could keep his feet dry. Jim went across the creek with him, carrying his dry shoes and loaning him a pair of clean, dry socks. Jim applied Vaseline and bandages to the blisters and sent the runner on his way. He finished in a decent time and plans to come back another year and really improve on his time; this year was designed to acquaint himself with the course. He often wins races in the East. We expect him to get a top finish at Hardrock next time he runs it.

Tyler Curiel, in the white shirt and cap below, was one of the runners who come through with lots of thanks and a huge grin. You'd never know he had already run over 90 miles. He's finished HRH several times, and has quite a survival tale from Katrina (he's a doctor at a hospital in New Orleans that was flooded). Tyler came in at 1:43 PM and finished the race in 15th place in 35:11. Who says you can't train for Hardrock below sea level?

Another one of our friends, Tom Hayes-McGoff from Bozeman, Montana, also looked great when he came in at 3 PM with his wife/pacer, Liz. Jim took the photo below of me putting a blanket around Tom's shoulders. Runners get cold quickly when they stop to eat and do other things at aid stations, so we had several blankets ready for them to use next to the heater behind Tom or outside the tent. That's Dave Coblentz on the right, preparing some hot food.

And just what Tom needed to spur him on the last eight miles - a big hug and kiss from Liz, below, who handed pacing duties over to Bob Johnson for the last section. Bob's one of our mutual ultra friends from Montana. Tom finished in 18th place with a time of 36:28. Good job, Tom!

One of the happiest, best-looking runners had to be Peter Bakwin, who was attempting a Hardrock double, a feat never before accomplished (or even attempted?). He ran the course in the counter-clockwise direction in 41 hours the two days before the official race start on Friday, got about five hours of sleep, then ran the race with everyone else in the clockwise direction.

Peter dubbed the first loop the "RockHard." He had several pacers and crew members to help him achieve his goal. His wife, Stephanie Ehret, paced him for many hours and was with him for the final miles. She's an exceptional ultra runner herself. It was a pleasure to see them so happy and raring to continue at 191 miles, and to know that Peter would reach his goal. He came through our aid station at 8:16 PM on Saturday and finished the "real" race in 42:50:09 for 49th place out of 81 finishers.

What a guy! I regret I didn't get his picture while he was at the aid station. I was busy making him a sandwich and attending to other runners who were there at the same time.

We can't remember the name of the runner in the chair below. If anyone knows who he is, please let us know. I love his big grin. He knows he's almost done!

It was an interesting morning, afternoon, and night at the aid station. I stayed busy keeping food and beverages fresh and out on the tables (we didn't have near enough table space to display all the items we had), keeping hot foods hot (three kinds of soups, water, and prepared foods mentioned previously) and cold foods cold, retrieving runners' bags, letting crews and runners know what was available, and reminding runners to check out with the radio folks and Dave/Jim.

Because of the lack of stoves and table space we were unable to serve all of the food we were given. We also got extra soup from another aid station after it closed. We were concerned about keeping the extra chicken soup cold so it didn't spoil in the heat. Jim carried it to the chilly creek for storage in the five-gallon containers! We had plenty of food and beverages for the runners, pacers, and volunteers.

We got concerned near dusk about having only one light. The HAM folks had sent a couple messages to Lois about our plight. Extra lights and another heater arrived just in the nick of time to "light up the night." Jim also strung up some Christmas lights along the top of the tent. He found them in the grocery store cooler Saturday morning (where else would you store Christmas lights??) and "borrowed" them for the aid station. It made for a festive sight as the runners came down the mountain toward the aid station after dark! I took this picture of the lights at dusk:

The weather was hotter than normal during the race and caused major heat problems on Friday and Saturday for runners who either weren't adequately heat trained or mismanaged their fluids and electrolytes during the race. This year there was less of a problem with afternoon and evening storms than usual, however.

Course conditions were better than normal, too. Although there was some precipitation during the race, there was much less snow than normal and much of the course was dry. A record number of runners finished the race (81 of 131 who started). Part of the reason may be because the Forest Service allowed five more runners to start this year. I don't know if that was a higher percentage than previously.

At the post-race brunch/awards ceremony, Dale Garland, the race director, said there were no major injuries or problems with runners during the race. One of our friends had to go to the hospital, however (dehydration) and one runner had to be helped down Little Giant by search and rescue Sunday morning when he was unable to go on.

SUNDAY, JULY 16

I was exhausted by midnight on Saturday and went to the truck, just outside the tent, to try to sleep for a couple hours. It was futile - too much noise and light to sleep. Jim, Dave, Martin, Steve, Mike, and the Lewins (still handling the radio) continued serving the last few runners through the aid station. I'm sorry I missed our friends Mark Heaphy, Ben Benjamin, and others come through during the last two hours. I'm not much of a night person!

There were only two runners between Maggie Gulch and Cunningham when Jim and I left to go "home" at 1:30 AM - John DeWalt and Matt Mahoney. Both made it through our aid station before the 2 AM cut-off. John, the oldest finisher in race history at age 70, made it to Silverton with only eight minutes to spare! He is one of our favorite ultra runners (that dry wit and cute smile!) and our hero. Matt missed the final cut-off by only six minutes, surely a heartbreaker. But we all know he finished the course, even if it wasn't an "official" finish.

Jim and I crashed in bed about 2 AM and slept till about 7:30 AM. Then we got up and headed into town for the post-race brunch and awards ceremony at 9 AM. The brunch is free to runners, pacers, crews, and volunteers. What a spread it was! Everyone was starving by then and it was a while before 300+ folks made it through the long line.

While brunch was being served we talked with lots of old and new friends, congratulated the finishers, commiserated with the ones who dropped out (some of our best friends weren't able to finish this time, unfortunately), and made plans to rendezvous with the folks who will be at Leadville next month for the LT100.

The awards ceremony lasted until about noon. Dale kept notes about funny things runners said when they finished, or other comical/serious facts about each runner, so he could really personalize the results. Runners were called up for their awards from slowest to fastest. John DeWalt, the race's oldest finisher ever, got as much applause for his last-place finish as did first place finishers Karl and Betsy, shown on the right in the photo below:

That's RD Dale Garland on the left and volunteer coordinator Lois MacKenzie in the white shirt. (I apologize for using the wrong camera setting indoors; these photos are fuzzy. My bad.)

The next shot shows Peter Bakwin receiving his award and accolades for his fantastic double Hardrock finish:

A highlight for us during the awards ceremony was a comical guitar duet written and sung by Roch Horton, multiple HRH finisher, with assistance from John DeWalt, who was seriously sleep-deprived, having finished the race only a few hours earlier (Roch, on the left in the photo below, should have gotten lots of sleep after his sixth-place finish in 32:28).

The lyrics were funny and John's sleepy refrains were a riot. Roch has entertained the "Hardrock Congregation" with the song before, and added a new stanza this time. It'll be hard for him to top it next year.

I'd like to note that of the eighty-one finishers, only six were women: Betsy Kalmeyer (3rd overall), Betsy Nye (9th), Susan Gebhart and Rickie Redland (tied for 42nd), Andrea Weigand (64th) and Kristina Irvin (71st). The youngest was 25. The rest were from 42 to 52 years of age. I'm impressed! 'Way to go, ladies.

(If I've missed any women, please let me know. I thought there were seven who finished, but these are all I see on the finishers' list that Dale handed out at the brunch.)

Tough race, indeed. Ask the veteran finishers who didn't make it this time.

ONE MORE TASK

Our work as aid station volunteers was by no means finished. Jim and I went back out to the aid station after the awards ceremony to retrieve the final load of equipment and supplies. The aid station looked funny because the tent was already gone.

Dave and/or the tent suppliers had stacked the remaining supplies and equipment into neat piles that we loaded onto the truck. We stacked stuff pretty carefully to get it all in one load. We were beat, and just didn't have the energy to go back out a second time. There was no one else available to help us.

We returned to the gym, unloaded the truck (pity the folks who had to organize all the leftovers!), and returned the propane tank to the gas company a few blocks away. We finally got back to our camper about 2 PM, our volunteering duties finally done.

Well, not quite. There were the thank-you letters to the volunteers whose e-mail addresses we had and the post-race evaluation correspondence with Dave, Lois, Charlie, and other race folks - what went right, what went wrong, how do we do better next time, see you next year, that sort of thing.

Yes, despite the hard work and a few frustrations, we will be back. Hardrock is like that. Whether you're a runner, pacer, crew, or volunteer (even race management is all-volunteer), it gets in your blood and you want to go back time and time again. Now that we're retired, we have the time to go back any year we want.

ADDENDUM WRITTEN FEBRUARY 2, 2007

Tomorrow is the lottery to determine who will run the 2007 version of Hardrock. More races than ever are filling up faster than ever, and those with waiting lists, like Hardrock, have more hopefuls than ever on the waiting lists.

It is very difficult for most runners to gain entry to Hardrock. Not only do they have to qualify by "proving" they have the experience to handle the rigors of the course, but the entry process is also very complicated and heavily favors former HRH runners, even if they haven't been able to finish the course previously. New entrants face a limited number of slots available and with only one or two tickets for the lottery, many of them end up on the waiting list. Even race veterans can end up on the waiting list. Many folks on the waiting list do eventually gain entry -  although some don't have the opportunity until a few days or even HOURS before the race. That's a lot of stress and makes planning their training and other races pretty difficult.

When I originally wrote this journal entry, I proposed a couple of ideas regarding ways newbie HRH entrants could get into the race more easily. One was to require new and/or veteran entrants to do some serious volunteering first (and I listed several examples of meaningful, "hard-core" volunteer activities). The other suggestion I had was that runners who've failed to finish the race the last two times they've attempted it should have to sit out a year before they are allowed to enter it again. I'm sure both ideas were real popular with some of the folks who read that entry!!

I still believe those changes to the entry process would help runners who aren't already a part of the "Hardrock Family" to gain entry into the race, but I've decided it's not my business to make those suggestions!! (You weren't expecting that, were you??)

Why did I change my mind? The recent spate of posts on the internet ultra list about ":mandatory" volunteering (one of my favorite oxy-morons) at an increasing number of ultras.

The list has discussed these requirements previously, but this time I read more of the posts and thought more about the whole subject of who volunteers, why they do it, and what role race management plays in the process.

Some races, mostly 100-milers, require that entrants perform 8-12 hours of volunteer work in order to run their race. More and more races are initiating the policy. I'll say right now that neither Jim nor I have a problem with it. We've done so much volunteering in our community and at races, we've never considered it to be unreasonable.

Trail work/race volunteer rules vary race by race, with some requiring physical trail maintenance on the course itself or on trails in the runners' local area. Some allow more leeway, such as volunteering at another ultra closer to the runner's home.

The race policy (Tahoe Rim Trail) that prompted the original post to the ultra list this time has even more lenient rules, further allowing runners to volunteer at any 501(c)3 (non-profit) organization. Dave Cotter, co-RD of the race, posted a very articulate letter to the list about race management's stance, and I sent him a note off-list in full support. The rationale is sound, and the rules are more lenient than most.

So what's the problem?

Some runners on the ultra list do not believe in forced "volunteerism" even though it's often called "mandatory trail work." Some refuse to enter any race with volunteer requirements. Fine - that's their choice. Some feel they are "too busy" to do trail work or help at races. Others, like Jim and me, have no problem with it because we think EVERY runner should be giving back to the sport anyway and shouldn't do it just because they have to in order to run certain races. Responses have been all over the board.

Back to Hardrock.

It is NOT one of the races that requires trail work or other volunteerism, but the discussion of same made me clarify my thoughts about the entry procedure for Hardrock:

I believe it is SOLELY up to every race committee or individual race director to set whatever standards and rules they darn well please for their race!

It's that simple. Races aren't democracies. No one has an entitlement or "right" to enter any ultra. If race management wants to require that all entrants perform some type of meaningful, useful work related to their race or trail running in general, that is their prerogative (Western States is another example of this). If they want to charge a high entry fee and try to make a profit, that is their prerogative (Leadville does this, but not Hardrock). If they want to reward the runners who have supported their race in previous years, their race "family," well by gosh, that's their prerogative, too!

And when runners disagree with any of this, they have plenty of other race choices. No one is forcing them to run a particular race. If they want different "rules," let 'em start their OWN race (and listen to some of the entrants gripe and moan)!

So, I've changed my opinion about requiring HRH runners to perform trail work or other jobs at the race before they can run it. And I've changed my opinion about making race veterans sit out for a year after they've been unable to finish the course two times in a row. It's simply not my call. The race committee determines the rules. It's their race.

Of course, I still firmly believe every runner should volunteer to maintain trails and help the sport as much as possible, but that's their business, not mine.

Now back to July 16, 2006.

ON A LIGHTER NOTE . . .

. . . and to show we still had a sense of humor Sunday afternoon despite our fatigue and strong opinions . . . I offer the last photo I took today.

When we were done packing up the truck with the remaining aid station goods out at Cunningham, I had to use the forest service potty a little ways up the road from the aid station. As I came out, Jim said, "Let me have the toilet paper" (we took our own because most of the time we were there, the paper was out).

This is a privy with no roof. That doesn't mean it smells any better than the ones with a roof, it only means you can see the sky (and feel the rain) when you're "doing your business." Oh, joy.

Anyway, instead of using the one-holer, Jim asked me to take this picture of him with the roll of paper sticking up through the non-roof. Silly boy!

It remains to be seen if Jim applies for entry into next year's race. He'll have two tickets, one from a qualifying race and one from working his butt off at Cunningham and helping Lois with other tasks this year.

Will he do it? Will he make the lottery if he applies? (Odds are against him, even with two tickets.) Time will tell.  [Second addendum -- he chose not to enter in 2007, but we'll be back there volunteering again.]

Next up: another Colorado Trail segment after I've recuperated from Hardrock.  We old farts sure needed a nap this afternoon!

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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