Hardrock 100


Photo by Howie Stern

We checked in at the gym early and I nervously milled around and tried to use the restroom. At one point, I snuck out the back door for some fresh air and then sat down quietly. I tried to summon the calm energy I had before my first ultra (Never Summer 100k); where I had the mentality that ‘there is no reason to be nervous at the start because you won’t know if you can do it until at least half a day later.’

Team #104!
Photo taken by my friend Rachel at the start. Thanks for volunteering and cheering us on!

We entered the starting area and the first thing I see are cameras in front of Jeff Browning and Dylan Bowman. Oops, I don’t belong here…moving back; oh, there is Courtney Dewaulter (these are all elite ultrarunners if you don’t know). As I venture back a little further; I continue to see nothing but confidence and smiles from the other runners. Meanwhile, a wave of ‘holy shit’ comes over me as I watch the race director (Dale Garland) count down the minutes until the start on his hand for the field & crowd. I feel like I’m ready, but if ever there was a course to make one doubt themselves?

Friday- 6:00AM

And we’re off! The first mile or so was easy and runnable, which I quickly discovered was the rarest of experiences on this brutal course. A fellow runner announced that our first mile took only 12 minutes; “just a few more of those and we can nab that course record!” It was a very talkative group of runners to start with a true passion for running and specifically ultras. Nearly everyone seemed to be talking about trying to get into Hardrock for 10-12 years; while I quietly reflected on how lucky I was to get in after completing only two 100-milers. I was determined to “earn” my spot and finish, but was both intimidated and impressed by my fellow runners.

The first climb up to Little Giant Pass (~13,000′) went great and my legs felt strong. My pre-race idea was to start off not using my poles given my lack of training with them and my back hurting a bit one of the last times I used them. One of my fellow runners seemed surprised that I wasn’t using them yet, but I was making great time and thought it’d be a nice boost to add them in later.

As we got closer to the top of Little Giant; I could tell that this was going to be an incredible couple days. Also, I started to feel a little more confident and stopped worrying so much. People sometimes ask what I think about out there; my answer for a lot of that time is either ‘nothing’ or ‘the next aid station.’ After the steep descent into the Cunningham aid station; I changed my socks since there was a pretty deep river crossing just prior to the aid station. I knew that keeping my feet dry (and blister free) was going to be a major challenge going into the race, but might as well try.

I left Cunningham in a good mood and it was great to see my crew (especially Elizabeth so early). I knew I wouldn’t see them until Animas Forks AS (Mile 44), so I tried to get the most out of this boost as I could. (*Side note…I’m going to use AS for aid station here on out*). My enthusiasm from the first near 4k climb slowly dwindled on this second 3k vertical climb back over 13k. The temperature increased a bit and it seemed much steeper than the last one. I remember needing to slow my pace slightly and thinking “do I really want to do this?” I didn’t think this race was going to easy or anything, but struggling on the second climb in a race with 33k of vert overall messed with my head a bit.

Luckily, I was able to shake this aside as I reminded myself of one of my training mantras: “just this mile.” Also, I needed a boost and decided to get my trekking poles out; throwing away my plan to delay using them. I knew I only had so many tricks in my bag, but the slope was slightly loose and I needed to get it together quick. I don’t have a great memory of the rest of this segment, but it was a bit of a grind and got a little better.

Great views of the Grenadiers! As much as I love seeing new places; it is always nice to see old friends.

Well, I didn’t take any pictures in this next section; maybe I was actually running! I was staying well on track with my nutrition plan and hydration still, which I knew was going to be super important today; even before knowing the weather. Also, I actually had a nutrition plan thanks to working with my coach Lindsey! I think this helped me keep my energy much more consistent overall. My legs felt fine and my only real complaint was that it was a little hot. This was probably the first segment where I ran out of water, but just as soon I was at Pole Creek Aid station.

Apparently they moved up the Pole Creek AS about a mile early, but zero complaints from me. I wasn’t really using the aid station’s food early on, but water refills were essential. This section had a lot more downhill and I remember thinking “Alright, I can do this!” as I left Pole Creek. Early on in the race; my mood seemed directly tied to whether I was climbing or descending. It was a slow moving self-powered rollercoaster (“huh huh!” *in Mickey voice).

Cataract Lake (I think given context)

It started to get pretty hot during this stretch and I could tell I was getting pretty sunburnt/fried. I sort of botched putting on sunblock after sweating it off and my throat was starting to get really dry and irritated, which would become a much bigger problem later. Also, I had some diarrhea somewhere in this stretch, which was annoying but didn’t really phase me given how my digestive system had struggled over the past month. Obviously, this is something that I want to figure out for future races, but it has been a struggle for many before as well.

Finally! We arrived at the Sherman aid station, which was a major checkpoint with my drop bag and lots of food. I quickly discovered there were an abundance of volunteers as well; “do you want a quesadilla?”; “how about a cold towel?”; “You’ve got plenty of time; how about a cold drink?” I probably had five different volunteers ask me what I needed and it was sort of amazing that all these strangers cared so much and were so nice. One volunteer in particular sat with me for an extended time and warned me that the next section was long and tough; so, I better stock up and try to eat. He was a Hardrock veteran, so I followed his advice.

I downed an entire 20oz Gatorade bottle in record time, two chicken quesadillas, and an entire pack of Peach-O’s. It was still early on in the race and I wanted to get in as much fuel as I could. As I left the aid station I thought to myself “this is the greatest race in the world…remember you ever felt this way if/when things turn to shit later.” (*I spent like 18 minutes in the aid station, which in retrospect seems a little long maybe.*)

The next section of the course was one that I quickly pinpointed prior to the race as it was time to start the big climb up Handies Peak (14,058′). The first section up to Burrows AS was a fairly gradual approach to the trailhead, but was definitely a pain in the ass (what else is new). In retrospect, this wave of calories at Sherman might not have been the best strategy given how I felt on this section. I wasn’t panicked, but the aid station staff were very deliberate about encouraging loading up for the big climb ahead.

This is the only photo I took on the way to Burrows. Looking at this photo; I feel like I should’ve been running this stretch, but also I’m overall trying to find where all the time went as I review.

Alright, with Burrows behind me; it was time to really get to work with climbing! Based on my stomach, I had decided not to consider eating again until Burrows; so, I was relieved to get back on schedule eating at least. (*Increasingly lengthy side note…writing a race report for a DNF isn’t all that fun. I still want to do it, so I can remember this adventure, share it with others, and learn from it; but, damn this sucks! I’ve tried to muster the energy/overcome my frustration to ever write/post one for High Lonesome, which maybe I’ll post soon. As I think back on the early miles of this race; there was a distinct trend in the conversations between runners: everyone talked more about their DNFs than their trophy cases. I asked a group of runners about this dynamic and there was a consensus that DNFs were responsible for future finishes maybe even more than prior finishes.*)

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.” – Joseph Campbell

(*Side note to the side note (in honor of David Foster Wallace)…Joseph Campbell’s book ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’ adds great insight into life and by extension ultrarunning. Maybe running these races is just my attempt to live out the so-called Hero’s Journey (https://venngage.com/blog/heros-journey/). If you have 80 minutes; I highly recommend you check out the movie/documentary ‘Finding Joe’ for free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/s8nFACrLxr0.*)

‘Be Smart Be Safe Have Fun’

Ok, back to the run…Handies Peak has a reputation for being one of the easiest 14ers, but that is from the American Basin side. The East slope from Grizzly Gulch isn’t particularly menacing either, but this climb turned out to be quite a haul. Like most of the race; I just didn’t expect this stretch to feel as difficult as it did and it felt steeper than anticipated. I still felt like I was making ok time though, so no time to wallow.

Every time a new ridgeline emerged, I considered if it was Handies or not. I laughed about this a bit as Elizabeth and Jean had jokingly pointed out random mountains the day before, ‘Hey, is that one Handies? How about that one?” A short time later, a fellow runner pointed out a few moose across the valley. I guess I’ll post a picture, but he was pretty far away. Alright, Where’s Waldo?

The moose(seses) are right by Waldo.
Looking across at Redcloud Peak (14,037′) & Sunshine Peak (14,004′)
Looking at the final section up Handies Peak (14,058′)

Alright, break time over…let’s finish off Handies Peak. It seemed like it wasn’t getting much closer for a while, but was finally right in front of me.

Looks like I’d just beat the need for a headlamp to get to the summit.

As we neared the top, I was going very slow, which was mildly discouraging and then capped off by my watch beeping that the past mile was a 57min mile; woof. (*maybe having my watch set to beep every mile during a 100 miler isn’t the best strategy*). Also, I started to leapfrog back and forth with the same people toward the top even more frequently.

If getting your ass kicked by 60 year-olds isn’t your thing and you’re a ‘back of the packer’ like me; ultrarunning (and especially this race) might not be for you. The race had 8 finishers over age 60 and another 10 entrants over 60, which sort of blew my mind as this course chewed me up. Also, the race only had one entrant under 30 this year; so, I was probably on the younger side at age 37. I mention this for two reasons: 1) I was in awe of my fellow competitor’s passion for the mountains. 2) It encourages me that I can likely get another chance at this some day if I stay healthy and keep grinding. A large part of me was thinking “this is your one shot at Hardrock; let’s make it count,’ which makes a DNF that much more devastating.

Handies Peak Summit @ 9pm

Looking into American Basin (our next part of the journey)…lightened by my phone.

Awesome, 14er summit achieved and time to run down into the aid station! Well, sort of…the row of headlamps on the other side of American Basin told a different story. I’d have to look up how much of a climb it was (quick Google search shows 620′), but it was a mental blow that it wasn’t just an easy downhill into Animas Forks. I laughed to myself a bit; ‘of course this race wouldn’t let you just go downhill after summitting a 14er.’ Well, it was firmly headlamp time by now; so, no pictures. The snowfields were fairly tame, but it was sort of slow going again. One of the highlights of this section was getting some ice cold water from the runoff as my throat continued to burn and my body was still too hot from the long day.

As I arrived at Animas Forks; I remember repeating to Elizabeth a few times that “I just want to slow down and be smart.” She offered encouragement that I was doing well and waited on me hand and foot along with the race volunteers. I was assigned a specific volunteer that asked me what I needed and helped out. I got some ramen down, a yogurt, and a Wild Cherry Pepsi from Elizabeth (they only allow one crew member in the tent as well). Overall, I was feeling ready to head out, but my feet had started to develop a few blisters, so the volunteer offered to have medical look at them. Well, it turned out they weren’t too bad and maybe could’ve save some time, but I do think it helped to get some Squirrel’s Nut Butter on my feet for later. In retrospect, I should probably use this or Trail Toes right off the bat for these races.

Scott was up first for pacing!

We left the Animas Forks aid station around midnight, so it was going to be a solid stretch of headlamp running. The stretch up to Engineer AS was just sort of a grind on a dirt road. It was definitely easier than the last section, but not the most enjoyable and just sort of slogged along. Unfortunately, we missed a major turn and had to backtrack at least a half mile. I was still in good spirits at the time and what’re you gonna do anyway. I think we missed it because my headlamp battery was dwindling a bit and just wasn’t as bright. A quick headlamp change and tighten of the shoes and it was time to hit a little downhill.

The road to Engineer AS seemed to take a lot longer than I expected, so I was glad to have a big downhill before the next aid station in Ouray. This was the first of many downhills toward the end that I recall not being as runnable as I’d hoped. Some of them were legitimately steep, but I was no longer making up time on the downhills, which I knew would become a problem. I finally ran a little bit on the streets at we got into Ouray, but I was feeling pretty tired.

Running with E and Scott just outside the AS.

When I got to the Ouray aid station, I remember being in a bit of a daze. It was over 24 hours into the race and I was flat out tired. I used the restroom and ate a little bit of what was thrown in my face, but I was just beat. Looking back, I think I was too tired to even realize that I was feeling rough. I chugged a Starbucks Double Shot on the way out and started walking up out of town.

The road out of the aid station was fairly tame, but I seemed to be walking more and more without really considering running. A short ways out of town, the course took an interesting turn up to Box Canon Falls.

After the brief visit to the falls, it was a long haul on the road out of town up to Governors Basin. It got tedious fairly quickly and progressed toward annoyance as cavalcades of Jeeps blew up dust. My throat was already irritated from the day and probably drinking so much damn Tailwind; so, this probably frustrated me more than it should’ve.

Mercifully, we arrived at the Governors aid station, which was a big relief. We knew with 100% confidence that there wouldn’t be a road to the top of Krogers Canteen and getting off the road was all I wanted at that point.

Just outside the Governor Basin aid station; a bear came to spectate for a little bit.

As we got a little further out of the Governor AS; the views started to get a lot more interesting. Also, the snow level increased as we got higher and I was excited to get to the legendary Krogers Canteen aid station just above Virginius Pass. At the pre-race meeting, they announced that a ‘fixed line’ (rope) was put in on the steepest pitch up to Kroger’s, but honestly I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Well, I did say I was sick of the road.
Not a Road.
You can see the AS tent at the top.
Scott and fellow runners on the fixed line
Looking down from Krogers Canteen. After all the anticipation; I totally forgot to take a picture of the aid station really.

Well, the climb on the snow up to Kroger’s holding the rope and trying to kick in steps was a bit stressful and definitely slow going. I was still feeling ok about the race and timing, but was excited for the big downhill into Telluride. Unfortunately, the first section started out with some loose scree/small rocks and it wasn’t that runnable for me. I started to feel hot again and as I continued to struggle to pick up the pace; frustration mounted.

At one point I turned to Scott and told him “I just don’t know if I can do another 10,000′.” It was a crazy statement to be talking about another 10k of vert after 70+ miles, but such is Hardrock. Scott told me to take it one aid station at a time, which I found increasingly challenging. My watch had died a short time back and I was afraid to ask for updates confirming my withering. As we got a couple miles out, Scott told me that my crew had talked to the aid station in Telluride and it was recommended that I not stop there at all and keep going. I was a little confused since I thought I still had like 15 hours left to finish, but just quietly said “ok.”

Yep, that’s me and Scott in the distance…doing a little bit of running.

Elizabeth and my next pacer (Allen) greeted us at the edge of the park/Telluride AS. I tried to sit down on a stone wall, but “nope, let’s go.” Elizabeth wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and in a finer moment about an hour earlier I promised myself that I’d “at least try for Chapman (the next AS).”

So, off Allen and I went…slowly. I told myself that I just needed to keep moving and told Allen “I can’t believe you guys are making me do this.” I left off adding a ‘thank you’ for getting me out of Telluride at the end because I wasn’t feeling it at that time.

The Wasatch Trail out of Telluride was pretty flat, but I couldn’t bring myself to run yet. In fact, it took me a few minutes to convince myself to eat something else and to continue drinking. I remember telling myself ‘you already left the aid station…let’s actually try at least. Remember you actually want to finish this.’ At one point a little kid was walking with his family and I noticed that he was going faster than us or it took us a while to pass him. I was discouraged, but rebounded slightly mentally…very slightly. As the trail steepened I called out in my head ‘left pole…right pole…left pole, etc.’ to try to get into some semblance of a rhythm and not allow my mind to say ‘stop.’ Well, it sort of worked until my heart seemed to be pounding out of my chest.

The next set of switchbacks and the climb up was unrelenting and I had slowed down dramatically out of concern with my perceived heart rate. In retrospect, I’m not sure if I was just looking for an excuse not to push harder. At least twice we looked up and discussed “well, there is pretty much only blue sky, so hopefully we’re almost there.” Alas, the climb just seemed to go on and on. In my head, I was hoping we’d contour around toward Ophir Pass, but that simply wasn’t the reality of this course. The climb to Oscars Pass was really tough, but Allen and I tried to hold onto the idea that if I can just run the back side down into Chapman that I could keep going.

Well, the back side had some hardened snow from the shade and we had another short climb. I fell on my butt glissading, which wasn’t a big deal. However, then we got to the ‘front’ side and I had a hard time moving my feet quick enough to run yet another downhill. I knew that I was just about out of time, so I tried to run one more time. Just as quickly, I lost my footing and slipped off the trail; landing on a rockpile with my thigh pretty hard. It hurt at the time, but more importantly was sort of the final nail in the coffin. It had already been highly tenuous, but now there was absolutely no doubt that I wasn’t going to finish. How did this happen?!

So much of the last day and a half had gone well and I truly thought I was going to finish. In fact, I was surprised how far ahead of cut-off I was early in the race and my legs felt great on so many climbs. I never got overly sore and didn’t get a specific injury, so I was just left thinking that I didn’t have enough to get it done. It was really hot during the days and I certainly had some stomach problems; but, I just didn’t understand where this one got away. I looked across at what would’ve been the next major climb up Grant Swamp Pass above Ice Lakes and just thought to myself “I can’t believe this wasn’t enough to get to the finish.”

Looking across at the next huge climb out of Chapman.

Once it was clear that reaching Chapman by cut-off was hopeless; all adrenaline seemed to wear off and soon everything started to hurt. My knees and back were suddenly very sore and it was a slow, very steep march down toward the aid station. In the moment, I wasn’t as sad about the DNF as I am now looking back. I felt like I gave the race everything I had and was proud of my effort. While I’m still proud looking back; there seem like so many things I could’ve done different as I write this race report. My crew and pacers put so much time and effort into this and I had dreamt about finishing Hardrock for years, so it was just an empty feeling to come up short. This was supposed to be a victory lap and celebration; not whatever the hell this was.

Well, I expected Hardrock 100 to be the hardest physical test I’d ever had; and, it was magnitudes harder than I even imagined. It beat me down in many ways and there were several times where I felt like ‘this isn’t even fun’ or ‘this is such a brutal course.’ During the run, I even motivated myself at times to move faster by saying “if you finish this then you’ll never have to do it again.” A few days after the race and I was already dreaming about getting another crack at this race. Honestly, it might be a good thing that it takes me many years before I make it back. I hope that I’m lucky enough to continue to enjoy the mountains for years to come.

Until Next Time…

I posted the below on Instagram shortly after the race and while more disappointment has crept in; I still feel much the same way.

I didn’t finish, but I’m so thankful that DNF are not the first three letters that come to mind. WTF is a close 2nd, but WOW is #1. Wow, what a crazy course and such brutal climbs. Wow, I’m so lucky to experience this beautiful scenery and to choose this pain. Wow, all these other runners are so strong and inspiring. Wow, all these volunteers know how important this is (even though I can’t explain). Wow, my pacers (Scott & Allen) nonchalantly agreed to pace this nonsense. Wow, my coach (Lindsey) was so positive and instilled so much confidence in the process for me. Wow, my crew (Bekah, Jean, & my Dad) was ready for anything at all hours of the day(s). Wow, my wife (Elizabeth) put such a tremendous amount of love and meticulous thought into everything. Wow, it would’ve been so fucking cool to kiss that rock.

Perhaps the most bittersweet moment of the weekend was staring at our fully loaded 4Runner as we were about to head back home. I thought about all the support my friends and family put into my pursuit of this finish. I thought about the race staff and volunteers and all the training I had put in. I thought about all the encouragement and belief from my coach. At first, I was hit with a couple waves of ‘I let everyone down’ and ‘I failed’, but underneath that I found another wave of gratitude and amazement that I have people in my life willing to go to these lengths for me. I’m sorry I couldn’t get it done this time. Love you all and thank you!