Steamboat Springs With only her headlight splitting the seemingly endless darkness along the grueling dirt and rock trail, Betsy Kalmeyer searched for the comforting lights of the Sherman aid station at 3 a.m. last Saturday.
The local runner was 70 miles into the grueling Hardrock 100, but with several steep climbs and one female runner still in front of her, Kalmeyer wasn't planning on resting her weary legs for too long once she reached it.
"I walked into the aid station and I saw Ruth (Zollinger) sitting there. They were working on her feet, so I walked past her and sat down to eat," Kalmeyer said.
She wanted to take her time and not rush too fast, but the veteran of the race also knew how important it was to beat Zollinger out of the tent and take the all-important lead headed into the final 30 miles of the race.
"I think she had some soup and hot cocoa," said her pacer, Tim Varner of Flagstaff, Ariz. "But once she left that aid station she really took off."
Kalmeyer had fallen behind early in the race as a group of six women blew out of the start with hopes of breaking the course record.
Kalmeyer was the sixth woman to arrive at the first aid station and seventh at the second stop as the runners in front of her pushed the event's record pace.
When the racers reached Ouray, however, Kalmeyer started a slow and steady climb from sixth place to the top of the pack. She passed two women between mile 43 and mile 49.7, and then she moved past two more from 49.7 to 57.1. By the time she reached Handies Peak, the physician's assistant from Steamboat Springs was closing in on the top spot.
"One of the volunteers in the Sherman tent said something in my eyes clicked when I saw Ruth sitting there," Kalmeyer said. "All of the sudden something was different."
Up to that point all of the runners where well ahead of the record pace Kalmeyer had set in 1999. But now the local runner wasn't concerned about records or times she just wanted to take the lead and to win the race.
Kalmeyer admits she left the Sherman stop quickly hoping to put some distance between her and the second-place runner. With four more climbs still left along the course, Kalmeyer didn't want to give Zollinger any hope of catching her at the finish line.
"There were two headlamps behind us and we guessed that was Zollinger," Varner said. "When Betsy saw them she really took off."
At that point, Kalmeyer had expected to spend another 12 hours on the trial, but the pressure of what was behind her kept pushing the 40-year-old's limits.
"I've never been with a runner (in a race like this) that went that fast," Varner said. "I had a hard time just trying to keep up with her, little lone set a pace for her."
It wasn't until Kalmeyer had reached the base of the Kendall Mountain ski area and was a mile from town that she glanced at her watch.
"I looked over at my pacer (at that point she had shifted to Rick Blackford of Ouray) and said 'we still had a chance to break 30 hours,'" Kalmeyer said. "So we went as fast as we could in the final stretch."
Kalmeyer said that the idea of a women breaking the 30-hour mark in this race was thought to be unbelievably unattainable. But with less than a mile to go, Kalmeyer still had a solid shot at the mark.
"She is just amazing," Varner said. "She is the first women in this race to ever break the mark."
Kalmeyer crossed the finish line in a time of 29 hours, 58 minutes to win her division and shatter her own personal record. She placed third overall in the race. Kalmeyer, who was one of four local runners to finish the event. Mike Ehrlich (40:35.07), Don Platt (43:48.36), and Dick Curtis (44:54.29) also ran in the event.
The winner Karl Meltzer had set anew record time form men by finishing the event in just 26 hours, 39 minutes. He also set a record for the least amount of down time in the aid stations by stopping for just 19 minutes during the journey. He was followed by Hans Put who completed the the 101.7 miles in 28 hours and 42 minutes.
The race, which has been called the toughest race in America by Outside Magazine, covers 33,000 feet of elevation and several notable mountain passes. The race begins and ends in Silverton at 9, 318 feet of elevation.
Kalmeyer has actually taken on the race four times in the past. She challenged the mountains in 1996, 1999, 2000 and 2001.
"After the first time I finished I said to myself, 'hey I can do that better," Kalmeyer said. "So I came back a year later and tried it again."
Kalmeyer maybe reestablishing her goals this year. The Hardrock is one of four 100-mile races she plans on taking part in this summer.
"The biggest challenge is preparing for the first one, now I should just be able to maintain it," Kalmeyer said.
Kalmeyer is planning on running in the Leadville 100 Aug 18-19, the Wasatch 100 Sept 8-9 and the Bear 100 Sept 28-29.
"It's what they call a Grand Slam in endurance racing," Kalmeyer said. "That's when you do four 100-milers in one year."
Kalmeyer is also trying to use her journey to raise food and awareness for the Lift-Up Food Bank. She has asked local business to fill a box full of food for each of the aid stations she stops at along the 400-mile journey. The boxes will then be donated to Lift-Up.