Hardrock has by far one of the better communications systems of any
mountain trail foot race we've worked and we are proud to have been part of the "comm" team
for the last two years.
Last year we worked ham radio communications at Grouse Gulch. It was
a very long day and night for us in a really cold location. Gulches in
the San Juans that are 3,000-4,000 feet below the surrounding peaks
don't get much sun. Even the road through Cunningham Gulch wasn't fully lit
up when we left about 10:30 AM on Friday.
This year we wanted something easier than that long stint at Grouse. Let's face it, we aren't
getting any younger and with only one good knee between us, we don't
need to get all stressed out physically and mentally. This is supposed
to be fun.
Shauna, the communications director, gave Roy, Laura, Jim, and me our
first choice of location at the Cunningham Aid Station. All of us
have worked there several times before in various volunteer positions.
There is a world of difference for volunteers when Cunningham is the
first versus the last aid station during this race, which has a 48-hour time
limit. In comparison, the majority of trail 100-milers are open for only
30-32 hours. Hardrock is much tougher than your average 100-miler.
Organizers like to say it's a "graduate level" ultramarathon.
When Cunningham is the first aid station at only ten miles, runners are more
bunched up and come through over a period of only about
two hours. After all the runners have come through, all the aid station
workers except the captain and at least one ham radio operator can pack
up and leave, giving them the remainder of the race to do whatever else
they want to do -- go volunteer elsewhere, crew or pace a runner,
be a spectator, or simply leave.
(The captain and "ham" must remain in
place until all runners have reached the next aid station;
sometimes runners decide to turn around and return to Cunningham and
someone has to be there for safety reasons. The same holds true for all
aid stations at Hardrock.)
Jim and I wanted to have more fun this year than we have in some
previous years when we've put in too many hours for it to be fun any
more. The time we spent at Cunningham this morning was more fun than
work to us -- perfect!
We left for Cunningham at 5:45 AM. The race began at 6, so we missed the
start. All 140 runners who
were on the list showed up and signed in before the start; that meant no one else on
the wait list got in.
We left early to beat all the crew cars to the aid
station. Volunteers were able to park near the aid station but the
entrance to the camping loop was roped off to keep crew vehicles out.
Crews could walk in to assist their runners and spectate.
John tends to Marcy; she arrived at Cunningham at
8:57, looking strong.
There were more than the usual number of campers in the parking area at Cunningham on
race day. It wasn’t as crowded as during the Fourth
of July holiday
but it prevented Jim and Barry from putting the aid station tent where they
wanted to set it up on Thursday. Some of the RVs belonged to the San Juan ham
radio group but most weren't related to the race.
The RVers who weren't involved with the race were were
more bothered by the race than vice versa.
The aid station was still in the shade about 9:30
The location of the
OK during the race. With the sides off, they could turn around to see the
runners coming down the mountain and across the creek.
We met with the San Juan radio group to confirm our jobs. Several of
their members were recording the times of incoming runners just after
they crossed Cunningham Creek. Laura, Roy, Jim, another guy, and I would
be handling times at the exit.
I decided that was one too many so I volunteered to stand halfway
between the aid station and the coned/roped exit and remind runners to
check out with the timers.
Jim and Laura wrote down numbers and times. Roy tried to radio them as
requested to the guys in the radio RV nearby but that procedure quickly
broke down, as Jim predicted. It just took too long because Roy had to
repeat the information so many times.
Above and below: Laura (white jacket), Roy (yellow
vest on L), and Jim (yellow vest on R)
recorded runners' numbers and times as they left
the aid station. They also had
to keep an open path for runners to get through;
note all the crew members around them.
Soon Roy and another guy called out numbers/times to Jim and Laura to
record. Each time they filled a sheet with the information, someone took
it to the radio guys in the camper. The foursome got all of the times
except Blake Wood, who I know was with the two lead women in the top
ten. Jim fixed it later.
The first runner, Julien Chorier from France, came in at 7:50 AM as predicted. The
last runner came in at 9:54 AM and was the first runner to drop out of
the race (a few miles and hours later, after encountering a bad storm
near Stony Pass).
It must have rained very hard in Cunningham Gulch yesterday or last
night; there were large puddles of water everywhere. What a mess.
By the time the runners got to Cunningham they had been through enough
wet areas that they didn't mind the mud and puddles as much as the crews
and volunteers did.
Most of the time while runners were coming through Cunningham, RD Dale
Garland was standing about eight feet from me across the
muddy “driveway” into the camping area. It was interesting to watch him
interact with the runners and crews. He was relaxed and happy, often
joking with them and me.
Dale (yellow jacket) talks with Dave Coblentz (blue
jacket on R.). Tom Schnitius is at the far left;
Rickie Redland's husband, John McManus, is in the
peach-colored shirt second from L.
was already looking for memorable quotes from the runners. He writes
them down on note cards throughout race weekend and uses them in
his awards presentation on Sunday. It's a very effective way to
personalize the awards ceremony and add humor to it.
I was impressed to see elite runner Anton (Tony) Krupika at Cunningham for about two hours,
long before and after the lead runners had come through. He was on crutches:
Tony is recovering from a nasty knee/leg injury from a fall several weeks ago
that took him out of his races this summer and maybe longer. He wasn’t
entered in Hardrock but last month he had to miss Western States 100, a race he might have won. I doubt he’ll
be back to defend his record at Leadville this year, either.
Another top runner I saw was Krissy Moehl. She’s crewing and pacing
another runner this year. She won the race for the women the year Scott
Jurek was the overall winner. I’d like to see her compete against Diana Finkel and Darcy Africa, who
ran 1-2 again in this race.
Above and below: one of the last runners crosses
Cunningham Creek and walks past the
volunteers recording incoming times. It's finally getting
sunnier at the aid station.
Last year Diana led the race overall from about 50 to 95 miles. Her fast
pace caught up with her, however, and she slowed down enough for Jared Campbell to
pass her with only a few miles to go. She was still second overall,
which is remarkable in this race.
The price she paid for that was very high -- she ended up in the
hospital with renal failure a couple days after the race. She was on
dialysis for eleven days until her kidney function began to return, then
was hospitalized another five days to be sure she was OK. She nearly
back in good form now, thank goodness. What a gutsy lady! She looked
great as she floated through Cunningham in the top ten at almost the
same pace as Darcy Africa.
The aid station had a hillbilly theme, hence the
overalls and country music.
It was fun to see lots of friends and acquaintances again today,
especially at an early enough point in the race that they were
strong, smiling -- and still in the race.
This is one race where we know 40-50% of the participants and crews. That
makes it a lot more fun for us. I’m not against making new friends, but
I care more about the ones out there on the course that I know
than the ones I’ve never met.
We had our fingers
crossed for every one of the runners but, alas, 43% of them didn't get
to kiss the hardrock at the finish.
Dismantling the tent after the last runner went
While we waited about 30 minutes for the last runner to come in to the
aid station Barry and some of
the other volunteers helped Jim take the tent down and we
returned it to town. We also took back the few drop bags that were left
(crews took most of them). Barry
returned the other aid station supplies in his truck.
SECOND JOB: HANDLING DATA @ NET CONTROL
We got back to the Kendall Mountain ski lodge before noon and put the
drop bags on the deck as directed, then drove a few hundred feet to our
camper for lunch. Such convenience!
Jim and I really liked having race headquarters at the ski area
instead of the high school gym this year and we hope it continues to be
in this location in the future. There is more room for everything,
including the communications equipment, and we were delighted to be
camped a few hundred feet away. So were the other ham radio couples who
were allowed to park in the meadow this weekend. Since it was so easy to
"get to work" we were happy to work more hours.
After lunch we
checked the live race updates on our computers, found some errors to
report, and caught up on e-mail. Then Jim reported to "net control" at
the ski lodge to work with the communications team for several hours.
That was the first of three long shifts he worked at headquarters during
One of the ham radio volunteers at work
equipment was set up on the second floor of the ski lodge where it was out of the way of
most distractions and interruptions. Recording results is tedious work
for the hams receiving the information over the radio and for the folks
who were typing the data into the computer system.
Everyone else -- crews, runners who dropped out, volunteers, and folks at home
or work -- were able to follow
the live results online from Friday to Sunday. Although results were sometimes
slow being recorded because of the remoteness of the course, the
different methods of reporting times to HQ, and the volume of data that
was put into the computer, Hardrock does a pretty good job with "live"
results compared to some other mountain 100-milers (better than
professionally-run Leadville, e.g.).
Over a dozen individuals and couples worked at net
control during the weekend to receive and input runners' times in and
out of the aid stations. Not all the shifts were covered adequately,
especially on Friday and Saturday nights, so Jim, Shauna, Steve, Roy,
Laura, and a few of the other communications volunteers worked several shifts.
Data input volunteers take a break.
Jim's first shift was Friday afternoon from 2-7 PM. By then results
were coming in fast and furiously from the radio operators at
several aid stations. Some called in their results over the radio and
Jim helped receive/record the information.
Others sent times via computer "packets," which is a much more
efficient way of recording the data and getting it out faster on the
internet. A few remote aid stations aren't able to send data via the
computer, however, and some ham operators like doing things "the old
TELECOMMUTING FROM HOME
Since I'm not a ham radio operator I was less interested in working at HQ.
All I could do to help was to key in numerical data, which is boring and very tedious to do
So I stayed in the camper most of the
afternoon on Friday and discovered that I could still be helpful to the
communications group that way --
I found more errors on the live update and reported them to Jim so he could fix them while he was
at HQ. I joked that I was “telecommuting from home!”
When Jim came back to the camper for supper that evening he discovered that we could sign on with our
passwords on our own computers to update the live results --
but we didn’t do that.
The start/finish tent is to the left, the ski lodge
to the right of it. One of the campers
belonging to a ham radio volunteer is in the
foreground, between our RV and the lodge.
That afternoon the weather was too schizophrenic for me to get motivated
to go for a walk or bike ride. It rained off and on, with thunder, and I
wondered what it was like out on the course. By then the runners were
spread out for many miles.
Jim relaxed at the
camper for a couple hours on Friday evening.
He was out in the truck listening to Neal Boortz on the radio
when it started to pour down
rain again. He called me on his cell phone, laughing and joking,”Let me know if it starts
Ha. It came up so fast and hard that he was stuck out there for
One of the views toward town from our camper in the
meadow near race headquarters
Jim remarked that he sure was glad he wasn't out on the Hardrock course in this
weather. We have no fun walking/running, especially at night, in the
rain. On this course it was snowing and sleeting at 12,000-14,000
feet when it was raining in town. Some runners “ran into” storms at
various places along the course all weekend. Add to that the snow
conditions, ice at night when it freezes, and high, fast stream
crossings . . .
I’m glad Jim’s wasn't out there, too. If he was, I would had been out
there crewing and sometimes that's more miserable than running
We were also glad we
weren't working at Grouse Gulch overnight
either, like last year. Friday and Saturday nights I was perfectly happy to be
sandwiched between flannel sheets and two fleece blankets in my own warm
bed! What a weenie I've become.
After I went to bed on Friday night Jim walked over to HQ to see if the communications team
needed his help. They were OK then but really needed him from 2-6 AM. He
was a real trooper to agree to that.
He came back to the camper for a while. I was already asleep so we
didn’t talk. He went back over to help Roy and Laura from 1:45 AM to 6
AM. He had a great time with those two and they were able to get caught
up with the times better than during the daytime because less data was coming in during
the early morning hours. Some runners had already dropped and those who
were still out during the first night were moving more slowly between
aid stations and/or remaining longer in the aid stations.
Clouds were building up as we left Cunningham Gulch
about 11 AM on Friday.
I was asleep all night and had no idea Jim was gone until after I
woke up at 6 AM on Saturday. He came back to
the camper a few minutes later, ate breakfast, and went to bed for a few
hours of sleep.
Bur first he told me some of the things that occurred during
the night -- a lost runner who was finally found by S&R, the
lead runner's expected finish time, and some runners
who dropped out while I was asleep, including Jared Campbell, Betsy Kalmeyer, Deb and Steve Pero, Kathie
Lang, Nick Coury, Mike James, James Varner, Rickie Redland, and some
others we didn't expect. Most of those runners have finished the race
previously. Jared won the last year and Betsy has won the women's race
several times. Bummer.
Jim asked me to
wake him up at 1 PM if he was still asleep. We were both scheduled to be on duty at net
control from 2-6 PM Saturday.
MORE WEATHER MISERY ON SATURDAY
The temperature was 47 F. when I got up on Saturday morning and the mountains above town
were mostly shrouded in fog. I took photos at various times as the
clouds moved in and out – very cool to see peaks poking out from the
clouds, back-lit with sunny blue skies.
I took this shot from inside our camper. The
reflections are from the windows.
It had been a stormy night out on the course (70% chance of t-storms in town,
and worse in the higher country where the runners were). There was still
a 60% chance of heavy rain and t-storms on Saturday.
of the runners were facing another long night on rugged,
in the San Juan Mountains Saturday night!
The low clouds are almost gone.
Before he went to bed
on Saturday morning Jim told me that the lead runner, Julien Chorier from France, was due to
finish about 7 AM. I finished my breakfast and went out to watch Julien
but didn't wait around for anyone else to finish -- it would have
been a long wait.
It was more interesting to me to watch the “live” updates in the warmth
of our camper for the next two hours. I often checked the standings
to see how Diana Finkel and Darcy Africa were doing, as well as the top
men and the rest of the field. I hated seeing other folks drop out as
the day wore on – Karl Meltzer, Bill Geist, Gerry Roach,
Kristina Irvin, Jim Ballard, Joe Prusaitis, and others we know.
By about 8:30 AM the fog and low clouds lifted and we had bright blue skies
at the ski area. Who knows what it was doing on the fifty miles of trail
where runners were still battling the course?
Clear again, but for only a couple of hours
Jim got up about 9 AM, after fewer than three hours of
sleep, and had some breakfast. He was too wired to stay asleep.
As was typical all weekend, the weather changed within a few hours.
After the clouds lifted Cody and
I hiked up the dirt road on Kendall Mountain for about 3½
miles. I wanted to go farther but had to turn around and go back down
quickly when a storm suddenly blew in. There was a little bit of sleet at my high point
of 11,000 feet and some sprinkles the last couple minutes near the camper.
Again I wondered what conditions the runners were experiencing out on the
course . . .
JIM'S THIRD SHIFT
I got back to the camper in time to take a shower and eat lunch before my first shift, and
Jim's third one, at net control from 1:45-6 PM on Saturday.
Jim worked the radio, taking verbal information from the hams at the aid
stations that weren’t using packets.
My job was confirming times that
another woman put into the data base.
Jim (L.) receives runners' numbers and times over
the ham radio
Neither of us enjoyed this shift for various reasons, including tedium and too many distractions by folks who didn't
belong in the room. The other volunteers were tired by then and getting a little
Fortunately, Jim and I both had fun doing our timing jobs at Cunningham and Jim had a great time working at headquarters with
Shauna and Steve on Friday afternoon and with Roy and Laura the first
Any time we're working the radios in a race, either on the course
or at HQ, it is
very interesting for us to hear/watch the results as they come in
from the other ham radio operators out on the course, especially as we
see friends progress from one aid station to the next.
It's also a lot of fun if someone is running fast enough to possibly set
a new male or female course record.
And every time we work Hardrock we marvel at the tenacity of the runners despite the
challenging course and weather conditions the often face.
Jim (L) and Roy (standing, L) chat during a break
in the action on Saturday.
After our shift ended on Saturday evening
we went to Avalanche Café to pick up a pizza we’d ordered. We got a 12”
Mediterranean pizza piled high with several kinds of veggies, olives,
and feta cheese for $10, a better deal than the pizzas at Stellar. We
took it home to eat and watched results until we went to bed at 10.
At that point we still had hopes that some of our friends who were still
out on the course would finish. Some did, some didn’t, but we didn’t
know that until Sunday morning. We had more rain off and on Saturday evening and
we knew that conditions were rough out there.
Next entry: race results and a very sad Sunday for us
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil