Steamboat Springs When there's nothing left inside, the toughest endurance athletes have to pull through to the finish on guts alone.
Steamboat Springs' Betsy Kalmeyer found that out this weekend at the Hardrock Hund-red Mile Endurance Run. The 46-year-old Yampa Valley Medical Center executive had handled the grueling, 100-mile ultramarathon in past years. In fact, she was the first woman to complete the race, which loops and climbs 33,000 feet through a string of the San Juan Mountains' highest towns and the summit of 14,048-foot Handies Peak - eight times. She won it five times and placed second three times.
After an impressive 31-hour win last year, Kalmeyer was looking to defend her title Friday and Saturday with an unprecedented ninth crack at the race. But somewhere around mile 50, having crested 12,800-foot Engineer Pass and heading down to Ouray, her stomach gave out on her.
"I've never had that happen," Kalmeyer said. "My energy faltered, crashed, then I had nausea and started throwing up. I could hardly run the downhill."
Day turned to night as Kalmeyer headed out of Ouray, struggling as her body rejected the fuel she need to burn.
"At the aid stations, I'd have to slow my heart rate and breathing down to eat food, but it would take 10 minutes just to swallow a bite of mashed potatoes," Kalmeyer said. "It's so mentally tough - I was just gutting it out and putting one foot in front of the other."
Kalmeyer had to focus on watching the heels of her pacesetter, local Hardrock veteran Dick Curtis, as the headlamp-lit pair crawled up and post-holed through three steep pitches of scree and snow.
But topping Virginius Pass (13,100 feet) and heading down into Telluride, the sun began rising and Kalmeyer regained her stride and form, knowing she had six of the nine major climbs in the bag.
"I ate some food in Telluride and the next section I did a whole lot faster, but by then, I knew the race was not for me," said Kalmeyer, who readjusted her perspective on victory into simply finishing. "My No. 1 priority was finishing - an 'F' was a 'W.'"
Kalmeyer got her "W" as the fourth woman to reach the Silverton finish. Her time was 36 hours, 14 minutes, good enough for 32nd overall among a record 97 finishers (from a capped field of 134). Scott Jurek set a new course record in 26:08, and Krissy Moehl did the same on the women's side in 29:24.
Kalmeyer was not the only local finisher in what numerous racers have called "the hardest 100 in the world."
Mike Ehrlich, 44, finished 49th overall in 38:49, and Don Platt, 53, finished 84th in 45:18.
"There was a strong Steam-boat contingency," Kalmeyer said, already thinking about training for next year and becoming the first woman to log 10 finishes. "We've got to have the capital of Hardrock runners right here, at least for our population size."