I was not valedictorian of the Hardrock 100 miler. Far from it. Instead, I managed to rank 77th in my graduating class of 123, just a little below average. My mom will tell you that I’m a fast runner, but I just don’t apply myself. The truth is that running doesn’t come easy for me. I do have a mild running disability (exercise induced asthma), but this condition is probably overdiagnosed. I even started working with a tutor and she’s really helped me to improve my running skills. I like to run, but I’m never going to be the best at it and that’s okay. I hope to be a life long runner without letting running take over my life.
Hardrock is weird. I’ve done loads of 100+ mile races now and never had so many friends flock to offer to pace/crew for me. These offers started pouring in the day I got into Hardrock (see video above). I didn’t understand the Hardrock hype. I’d never been to the race nor run any of the course. Any time I talked to someone who had done Hardrock, I felt like they were trying to scare me. I went into Hardrock convinced that it was going to be no big deal, just a 100 miler on the tougher side of the spectrum, and that everyone else was drinking the Kool-Aid. Subtle foreshadowing right there, Greg!
Cassie and I got into Silverton late Wednesday evening for a Friday morning start. There are people who spend their two weeks vacation time hanging out before/during/after Hardrock. From our arrival until the race start, without exaggeration, we could not walk more than half a block without bumping into someone we knew, which is pretty dang neat. If it’s mid-July and you’re an ultra runner, look around you. Chances are that you’re in Silverton, Colorado. Hardrock is weird.
The race started and the real magnitude of what lay ahead finally began to creep into my Abby Normal brain. On that first climb, we broke out of the morning mist to see a sea of clouds with mountain peaks peeking through. Okay, I’ll admit this was spectacular, but surely the entire course can’t be this amazing.
I was feeling great! I used aid station stops efficiently and picked people off without even trying. The weather would change very quickly, throwing sun, rain, and snow our way, but I had everything I needed to manage in my pack, no matter the weather.
Before the race, I chatted with 75 year old Hardrocker, Hans-Dieter Weisshaar, who has 120+ 100 milers to his credit and seemed genuinely concerned for me because I had never been on the Hardrock course. Naturally, I was now somewhat concerned about getting lost during the race. The markers were sparse and blended in with the rock. Luckily, I never found myself alone, always being able to at least keep another runner in my sight.
On the climb up Handies Peak, I linked up with Will Carlton, who made easy work of the thing. We were a little more than 1000 feet below the summit when the thing clouded over. The clouds appeared nonthreatening, but we could hear very dull thunder somewhere. We decided to bundle up and go for it as quickly as possible. As we chugged along, the sideways snowstorm blasted our poor beautiful faces, but it wasn’t anything scary. We just needed to get up and over Handies. In doing so, I had spent the last few hours completely neglecting myself.
You think I’d know better, but for whatever reason this is when I abandoned my plan to be eating and drinking often. I would not feel good for the rest of the race and my internal broken record monologue was, “You’re an eediot.”
I picked up my first pacer and good friend, Mr. Jon Davis Esquire, at Grouse Gulch (mile ~40). Little did he know the shit storm of problems I was about to dump on him. He was so easy to pace just three weeks earlier at the Bighorn 100 miler, but I sure wasn’t going to be returning that favor now. The climb up Engineer Pass wasn’t horrible as we entered the first night, nor was the long descent into Ouray. I really appreciated the company, but I was by no means as fun as a barrel of monkeys to be around. I was still focused and optimistic that I could turn things around soon.
In Ouray, I was looking forward to changing into the Altra Olympus because my feet were getting sore and those shoes are as soft as a baby’s bottom. About to slip them on my feet, I noticed that the cloth had peeled away from the insoles. Channelling my terrible twos, I burst out, “Fuck these shoes!” Woah. Everyone in my crew took one big step back. Look, I feel pretty silly for losing it like that in front of the people who were only trying to help me, but seriously, fuck those shoes! I’ll be writing my senator.
Jon and I started the grind up whatever it was that we climbed next. I was either going up forever or going down forever on trails whose beauty nearly melted my face off. But now it was dark and I was so tired. We came to an aid station with a fire, where I plopped down for a duration that I’m not proud of. Maybe five minutes after leaving this aid station, I insisted on a five minute nap curled up on the side of the trail.
Up, up, up until the sun finally rose. Now I could see the brutal climb to Kroger’s Canteen right ahead. This climb was so absurd that it was funny in that not funny at all sort of way. I somehow dragged my corpse up the thing and ate three perogies, while Jon downed some tequila. This was perhaps the coolest aid station I’ve ever seen. Wow!
I forget exactly when Jon gave me this pep talk, but it completely turned my sour attitude around. Jon told me straight, like a good friend, that I needed to look at things positively, rather than beating myself up because my race wasn’t going well. Jon told me that there were tons of people who would love to be me right now. It took me only three years to get into Hardrock, while others are stuck waiting so much longer. Here I was. I might as well have a blast. Jon’s really in the right here. The people who have the most fun out there (Quintin Barney comes to mind) are the ones who don’t take it too seriously and choose to put on a big stupid smile even when they’re hurting. Damnit, Jon, you’re a good pacer!
Progress was slow, but true to the Wisconsin motto, “Forward.” Now it was Cassie’s turn to hop in as pacer. I flopped myself over Oscars Pass and saw nothing that resembled a trail. Cassie led the way by butt-glissading down a big snow field onto the so-called trail. This was pretty fun! Jon told me so.
Sleep walking into the Chapman Gulch aid station, I decided I was taking an hour long nap. I had never taken an unplanned sleep break during a race, but it was okay. Jon had flipped on that switch in me that just wanted to have the most fun out there. I woke up with a terribly phlegmy cough, but feeling much refreshed. Cassie left her haul of foraged mushrooms behind and we set out for the last 18 miles. Woohoo!
It took forever and I underestimated the number of climbs remaining by one, but I came back to Silverton completely toasted just after midnight, some 42 hours 14 minutes after leaving. The finish line felt the same, despite having a “bad race.”
I was informed that I was not the first finisher (rats!), but was still presented with a delicious pizza for my efforts, courtesy of Erin and Matt Shaw. Erin and Matt saved my ass during the Boulder Bad Ass 100 miler and it turns out they’re still some super thoughtful friends. I’m just waiting for them to let me know when it’s my turn to support their bad ideas 🙂
I showered, slept in Cassie’s car, then headed to the awards ceremony in the morning. The Hardrock awards ceremony is modeled like a graduation, where every finisher is called up to the stage in reverse finishing order to be celebrated individually. Here’s the special thing about Hardrock graduation. It won’t be the last time that we’re all in the same room together.