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"Amateur radio has been an integral part of the Hardrock 100 since it was first run  
in 1992 . . . Runners are tracked, timed actually, in and out of each aid station. 
Their progress is radioed back to headquarters. Runner times are plotted
and when runners become overdue, searchers can be sent out."
~ from the Hardrock race website
Fortunately, most wayward or tardy Hardrock runners are found before Search & Rescue needs to be dispatched to find them, but it's good to know that communications in this race are accurate enough that race officials know where each runner is located on the course within a few miles at all times.

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.

View of Little Giant Mountain and the series of falls dropping down to Cunningham Creek.
Runners come down the trail (arrows) to the aid station. Two runners are highlighted near the bottom.

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.

Cunningham before the runners arrived, and before the sun was shining into the canyon. The
incoming timers' table is near the creek; the aid station tent is near where I stood to take this picture.

As the sun rose higher it slowly illuminated the trail the runners followed to the right of the falls.

Jim and I have worked at Cunningham three times previously -- the first two times (2006, 2007) Jim was the aid station captain and I assisted. The third time (2009) we were aid station helpers. In the two odd-numbered years the race loop was run in the CCW direction and Cunningham was the first station runners came to; in the even-numbered year it was the last aid station.

These two campers belong to members of the San Juan emergency radio group. Note the antenna.
Thanks to repeaters on several mountains, CB radio communications are possible from all the aid stations.

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.

Crews anticipate the first runners as they come down Little Giant. Note the puddles.

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 (R) talks with John Beard before runners started coming into the aid station.
John placed very well in the race last year; this year he crewed for his wife, Marcy.

When Cunningham is the last aid station, 90 long miles into the race, runners are spread from here to eternity (or so it seems to the crews and aid station volunteers!). The aid station is open for more than 24 hours to accommodate runners of widely varying speeds. Although most of the volunteers put in 6-8 hour shifts, some aid station and communications volunteers end up spending more than 24 hours in place. It's tough work.

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!

Here's the story of our job at Cunningham:


Not only do runners have more course challenges this year with all the snow and higher water in the streams in the San Juan Range, this weekend's weather conditions aren't the greatest, either.

It was 43 F. in the meadow at the race start/finish at 5 AM on Friday when we got up. There were some clouds in the morning but no rain in town until mid-afternoon and evening -- not bad, considering there was a  60% chance of thunderstorms. Temps got into the upper 60s F. in town when the sun was out and it was breezy.

Out on the course there were more problems with wind, rain, sleet, and snow at the higher elevations. Adverse weather conditions resulted in at least one runner dropping out after leaving the Cunningham Aid Station Friday morning.

Elite ultrarunner Karl Meltzer (white shirt) at Cunningham

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 AM.

The location of the tent worked 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.

Dale 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 died.

Diana is 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 through

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.


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 the race.

One of the ham radio volunteers at work

The communications 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 way."


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 accurately.

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 raining!”

Ha. It came up so fast and hard that he was stuck out there for while.

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 100 miles.

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.


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.

And many of the runners were facing another long night on rugged, hard-to-follow trails 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 . . .


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 cranky, too. 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 night.

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 entryrace results and a very sad Sunday for us

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil