Trying to put everything that encompassed my 2014 Hardrock 100 journey onto paper has been a tricky endeavor. I’ve fully deleted what I’ve written twice, and am still unsure of everything it meant, but will try to put it out there none the less. There is no short way for me to tell this story, so grab a cup of coffee/tea and settle in. If you just want the visual tour of my race, check out my race video. I’d waited seven years to finally get a crack at the Hardrock 100, a race that I’d paced, crewed, and volunteered at on many occasions. After months of solid training and a little R&R, race week was upon us and I was antsy in anticipation of the start.
Finally race morning arrived, I went through my usual preparations and headed to the gym, all the while trying to contain my excitement and energy and direct it into the many miles that lay ahead. The starting gun went off, and we zoomed out of town along the mining road, headed for Putnam Basin. The crowd at this year’s Hardrock 100 was much larger than usual due to the unprecedented elite field which included; last year’s winner Seb Chaigneau, 2012 winner Julien Chorier, the one and only Dakota Jones, Tim Olsen and the phenomenal Kilian Jornet. While it made for a cool scene, there presence did not factor into my goals for the day, to complete my first Hardrock and do so to the best of my abilities.
I splashed through Mineral Creek and settled into a comfortable fast hiking pace up the Putnam climb, the goal was to simply stay strong and to not blow myself up on the first two climbs. The cool cloudy morning played right into my hands as I don’t like the heat. I crested the top of the Putnam divide along with a few other runners, but promptly blasted down the steep lush green tundra and soon found myself cruising down toward the South Mineral Creek crossing and the KT aid station (AS) at mm11.5 (8:44AM, 2:44). Just before the KT AS I was greeted by Mr Bryon Powell of iRunFar, then a procession of runner’s families and spectators. I topped off my water and blew right out of KT in less than a minute, alternating between a brisk hike and slow shuffle across the traverse to the Island Lake trail.
Island and Ice Lakes Basins are some of the most beautiful sections of the course, and the San Juans for that matter. As I hiked up toward Grant Swamp Pass I paused a few times to snap some photos and record some short videos, after all we do these races to have fun right? As I neared Grant Swamp I could see dozens of silhouettes standing atop the pass and hear their cheers upon each runner’s arrival. In all my years of pacing and crewing Hardrock I’d never seen a welcoming procession quite like this outside of the AS. Amongst the crowd were many friends from the Rocky Mountain Runners, who even gave me a personal welcome with a human tunnel. I fed off their energy, and after quickly racking up my poles took off down the steep scree of Grant Swamp pass. I bounded and skied down the perfectly runnable slope, maybe a little faster than I should have, but was having so much fun it didn’t matter at that moment (short video by Silke of me running down Grant Swamp). I then took the pace back a notch and just cruised my way into the Chapman AS (mm18, 10:30AM, 4:30). I quickly reloaded my Vfuel and salt cap stock, grabbed two cookies and rushed on out of the AS (notice a trend of rushing).
As I turned onto the short stretch of the Ophir Pass Rd I was again greeted by another two dozen cheering fans, another boost of adrenaline and I was hammering up the steep climb to Oscars Pass. As I climbed out of the trees the clouds parted and the sun baked the orange rock, cooking me in the process. I took the pace down a notch, drank some extra water and just took it easy. I crested the top of Oscars, made the short traverse into Wasatch Basin and began my steep descent to Telluride. A light rain began to fall, a welcome change from the hot sun, it actually felt very cool and refreshing. After suffering a little on the climb up, I was maintaining a solid pace downhill and soon found myself breaking out of the trees in the Telluride Park (mm28, 1:14AM, 7:14), with nearly 100 spectators lining the way to the AS. I met up with my parents (crew) for the first time and sat down to change my shoes and retool. I joked with a few friends who were waiting at the AS, drank some potato soup and before I knew it I was heading off into downtown Telluride.
As I jogged through the main streets of Telluride I got myself a little turned around, forgetting where the exit point was, thankfully a few spectators were able to point me in the right direction and off to Virginius Pass I went. As I ascended the steady climb my legs began to drag, then light rain began to fall, soon turning to a steady soaking, so I dawned my rain coat for the first of many storms to come. I continued to slog on up the hill, leap frogging with several other runners to treeline. At treeline the clouds parted, the sun came back out and the cool high altitude air reinvigorated me, so I pushed the pace a bit more up to the Mendota Saddle. For the first time during the race I caught up to a runner, John Burton, and we shared some conversation, I’d been running solo 90% of the day to this point. We clawed our way up the final steep slope to the Kroger Canteen AS (mm32.7, 3:34PM, 9:34), a 10ft x 10ft bench cut in the steep rock wall. The smiling faces of Roch Horton and Megan Finnesy greeted us, and sat us down for some food and water. Then down down I went, hand over hand on the rope through some of the most rotten mash potato snow I’d ever been in. After post holing another several hundred feet downhill I finally reached the road into Governor Basin, a welcome break for the legs. I jogged on down the road at a fairly easy pace cruising into the Governor Basin AS (mm36) at 4:12PM, with John not far behind.
I chugged some coke, grabbed a few chips, and was quickly back on the road, next up 8miles of gentle downhill into Ourey. This kind of terrain is not my specialty, I like it steep and rugged, I kept a steady pace none the less, but soon John went blowing by me, hammering the smooth downhill and loving it. He’d go on to a 30hour finish and 12th place overall, congrats! As I neared Ourey I picked up a little extra pep in my step and ran steady all the way to my waiting crew and pacers (Stephanie and Andy). I pulled up a chair, sponged off in the afternoon heat, ate an otter pop (thanks Brad!) and a few pieces of bacon. I once again found myself back on my feet heading out of Ourey (mm44, 5:25PM, 11:25), now with Stephanie by my side.
I was still feeling sluggish on the climbs, but was able to jog some of the rolling terrain as we started the long climb out of Ourey toward Engineer Pass. Slowly my energy dwindled, and I realized just how calorie deficient I’d become blasting through the aid stations without eating any significant amount of solid food, no amount of gel or clif bars was going to bring me back. As Stephanie led the slow trudge up Bear Creek I became very quiet and did my best to keep pushing forward, but succumbed to the fatigue a few times, collapsing on the side of the trail to try and revive myself. As we exited the narrow shelf trail and ducked into the trees a bright flash, followed 4 seconds later by a deafening boom jolted us both awake. We knew the storm was coming so pushed for the aid station, reaching the little tyvek tarp of the Engineer AS just as the rain began to pickup (mm52, 9:07PM, 15:07).
The Long Wet Night
I knew we weren’t going anywhere for a little bit, so I downed two cups of top ramen, several handfuls of Fritos and some cookies, then curled up with a fleece blanket in the corner of the small aid station for a nap. In my half sleepy daze I sensed runner after runner joining us under the 20×20 tarp as the rain and hail hammered the surrounding landscape, lightning and thunder only seconds apart. Most of those entering the AS were completely drenched from the sudden late night deluge, some shivering and near hypothermic. Garbage bags with head holes were being freely distributed, but no one was going back out.
After about 45min in the AS I could sense the separation between the lightning and thunder was growing, 5 seconds, 6 seconds….but the rain continued. Many were debating what to do, no one had left the AS for the pass since I’d arrived, when all of a sudden one of the Japanese runners had enough, he yelled “1-4-3 OUT!” and he and his pacer bolted out into the darkness and the downpour. The rest of us looked at one another, then several runners said, if you head out I’ll go with you….and the exodus was on. The rain had become a light drizzle, the lightning was far away and the combination of impatience and hypothermia turned the tide. My nap and food had re-energized me, so Stephanie and I followed suit, cranking away toward the summit of Engineer Pass across the dark rain drenched tundra. While I’d lost almost 55min in the AS we were moving at full strength again and passed most of those who had caught us, soon finding ourselves under clearing skies at the pass. Rain jackets off, and down the long road we went toward Grouse. The lights of the AS slowly drew nearer, but so did the rain, all too soon it was raining again. We forged ahead, anxious to meet the crew and get a clothing change.
We arrived at Grouse to see a water logged AS (mm58.4, 11:43PM, 17:43), but we quickly found my parents and Andy and took shelter in one of the tents. As we rifled through my drop bag we soon learned the storm had not only soaked the runners, but most of my changes of clothes too, damn. My parents rushed back to the car for my dry clothing as I downed several more cups of soup and several handfuls of Fritos, knowing I was still in a calorie hole, one I might not be able to dig out of. New shoes and socks, tights, arm warmers, Spiderman bike jersey, fleece gloves, fleece hat and rain jacket…alright cold rainy night let’s do this! Now it was Andy’s turn to relieve Stephanie and to take me through the night and the long haul to Cunningham Gulch.
I thanked my parents and we bid them farewell, as it would most likely be 12-14hours before we saw them again, then back out into the rain we went. Andy led the charge up Grouse Gulch, and with dinner in my stomach I was feeling strong. The rain fell harder, no lightning thankfully, but a dense fog now descended upon us as we climbed up into the basin. Soon our headlamps disappeared in the mist only 10ft in front of our faces, this could be trouble as the route from the top of Grouse Gulch across American Basin is all off trail. Andy continued to lead the way, spotting markers and keeping us on track, when all of a sudden the clouds parted and we found ourselves above the rainy fog bank staring up at the stars….wow. As we crossed American Basin my energy began to fade again, and the trudge up Handies was painstakingly slow (ie 1-1.5mph), but I kept moving.
We finally crested Handies Peak, the 14000ft high point of the course and wasted no time dropping down into Grizzly Gulch as both of us were severely chilled in the cold damp night air. The rain had made the trail extremely muddy and slippery and I ate it a couple of times, sliding onto my ass in the mud. When we got our first glimpse of the Burro’s Park AS (mm67.6, 4:11AM, 22:11) a sense of relief came over me, we were off the big mountain and in much safer easier terrain. After a quick refuel we turned down the road and headed toward the Sherman AS. In pretty much every race I have a low sometime between 2am-5am, and the road into Sherman was to be my low. The fatigue turned me into a bleary eyed drunk, stumbling from side to side, unable to walk in a straight line. Andy reminded me I had a 5 hour energy with me, so I popped the cap and took a swig….bleh…I think the bitter taste alone revived me a bit, and we were soon jogging down the road again.
After one last steep descent we shuffled our way into Sherman just before sunrise (mm72, 5:21AM, 23:21). It was a pretty quiet scene; Billy Simpson and pacer were restocking their food, Jason Koop was completely hypothermic and huddled under several blankets by the fire, and another runner sat in a daze slowly eating something. I procured a whole plate of hash browns, covered them in salt and proceeded to devour every last bit, OMG was that good! I had two more cups of soup, changed out of my tights and into my daytime clothes and off we went. The early morning light was already illuminating our surroundings, so we’d ditched our headlamps at Sherman, once again with Andy leading the way up Cataract Gulch.
The fatigue was again crushing my pace, and despite my muscles feeling good I couldn’t get my legs to have any oomph uphill. On we trudged, along the cascading creek, past the fields of wild flowers and up to the Cataract/Pole divide. By this time the sun was fully shining on us, and I was able to muster a slower shuffle across the rolling boggy terrain, our feet were so wet from the rain, creek crossings and mud we no longer cared. We splashed our way into the Pole Creek AS (mm81, 8:43AM, 26:43), now mid morning, and Andy gave me the task of eating whatever solid food I could conceive of; more Fritos. We made good time across the easy rolling terrain out of Pole, but then came the short but steep climb into Maggie Gulch, and I ground to a halt. When we finally made it over the pass I was able to lay down a slow jog on the steep descent into the Maggie AS, pausing a few times to admire the spectacular array of wild flowers (mm85, 10:30AM, 28:30).
Once in Maggie I knew I had to eat more than just Fritos, but nothing sounded overly appealing, so Andy just handed me half a dozen slices of turkey and said “Eat this”. So I did, and it actually tasted pretty darn good, so I had them make me a turkey sandwich, which I also ate. Then back to trudging, up the steep trail-less climb out of Maggie toward Canby Mt. I was losing time on every uphill, but my legs were still feeling strong so I was able to maintain a consistent and controlled stumble downhill. As we topped out on the shoulder of Green Mt it began to drizzle on us again, this soon turned into pea sized hail. We knew we were in a terribly exposed position perched high on the ridge at 13000ft, so I pushed as fast as I could down the steep muddy hillside into Cunningham Gulch. We finally broke out of the hail and back into the sun, oh Colorado, I love you, but you’re all too often drunk. We tiptoed our way down the precipitous descent into Cunningham, making sure as to arrive at the AS in one piece.
For the first time all race it finally hit me that I was going to finish Hardrock, not just that I was capable of finishing, but that I was GOING TO FINISH. This thought really lifted my spirits and arriving down at the Cunningham AS (mm91, 1:11PM, 31:11) to a crowd of friends and my family put a smile on my face. I sat down in a chair and just took it all in for a second; the precipitous steep green mountains, the cascading waterfalls, the radiant wild flowers….. Then back to business; shoe change, drop all extraneous gear, eat another handful of turkey, another cup of soup. I turned to Stephanie, who would be pacing me the last 9miles, “Alright Stephanie, let’s get this thing done” and off we went, across the river and up the cruel climb that is Dives/Little Giant.
I settled into a slow but steady death march up the endless switchbacks, doing my best to keep moving. My legs barely noticed the climb, but the general fatigue was dragging me down, I had to pause several times and hang my head just to muster the oomph to take another 30-40 steps. The saddle between Dives Basin and Little Giant Basin was a welcome sight…all downhill from here. Stephanie and I trotted off into yet another rain squall, but this time it didn’t matter. The quads were sore, my energy was low, but all I could think about now was kissing that rock, so I ‘Let it Go’ and bounded down the rocky jeep road. We caught up to Drew Gunn at the bottom of the descent, we’d shared much of the stormy night, and I encouraged him to push in those last few miles. The rolling traverse back into town is a blur; all I remember is emerging from the woods into Silverton and being completely overwhelmed by all the different feelings that hit me simultaneously; joy, satisfaction, excitement and lastly exhaustion. At 4:38PM on a Saturday afternoon I jogged up to the Hardrock and kissed it for the first time, “I’ve been waiting seven years to kiss this rock”, and the only other thing I could do was to lean against the rock and grin like an idiot.
Many have asked if Hardrock was everything I’d dreamed it would be after waiting seven years, my answer to that is “Yes and No”. My journey had not been smooth, it had not gone as planned, but I’d fought and given every ounce of energy I had to the course on that day (and a half). The scenery was spectacular, the climbs were never ending, the descents quad busting, but what makes Hardrock so special is the sense of family. Even as a first timer I felt accepted and as though I fit in. From the energized crowds at the top of Grant Swamp and in the AS, to the support from veterans such as Billy Simpson, Ted Mahon, Blake Wood and so on, Hardrock truly is a family affair. One does not complete Hardrock without the support of family, friends, pacers, crew, volunteers and the other runners. It’s a shared experience, whose beauty reaches beyond the jaw dropping scenery. To run Hardrock is to experience all of this in one long 22-48hour push, an experience that can’t be had simply being on the course.
Lottery gods willing I will return to Hardrock again one day (hopefully not another seven years), in hopes of correcting some of my mistakes and for an experience unlike any other. Two weeks after finishing my first Hardrock my legs feel surprisingly good, this past weekend I ran the 28mi Maroon Bells Four Pass loop on 7/26 and climbed the Maroon Bells on 7/27, it’s very bitter sweet. My nutritional deficiencies early in the race left me in a big hole, leading to the fatigue that plagued me during the latter half of the race. My training had been very good and I feel as though I left 2-4hours out there. So while I’m happy to have finished and to have gained the experience, I know I’m capable of better, thus will keep pushing myself to succeed. For now its back to what I do best, climb mountains. A special thanks to my parents for crewing me all through Hardrock, my pacers Andy and Stephanie for putting up with my trudging, whining and occasional bouts of song, and all the volunteers and supporters who made this year’s Hardrock such a wonderful experience. Lastly thanks to Hind Performance for clothing me and supporting my habits and Vfuel Endurance for helping to keep me fueled and my stomach happy. Run fast, run healthy, but mostly run happy.