For a few tense minutes we weren't sure we would even get to Silverton for the start of Hardrock. Shortly after leaving Old Colorado City and heading up the pass towards Woodland Park, we were greeted by a three foot wall of mud and water and sticks and rocks and other cars. Scary stuff. You can see my award winning documentary on the flood over here.
We were hit by another car but escaped with only minor damage. Three hours later we pulled up to Bierwerks to settle our nerves and were already laughing about the whole incident. We had only planned on driving to Gunnison so the delay wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
Luckily, that was the worst thing that would happen to me all weekend
I was up for my fifth finish of Hardrock this year. While this officially makes me an old fart, it would also greatly increase my chances of getting into the race in future years, should I decide to go back. Plus I'd get a free coat that I could wear to piss off my ultrarunning friends, most of whom hate me since they haven’t ever been able to get into this race.
I felt pretty good heading into this one. I’d been running about 300 miles a month since March, finished three 50 milers since May, had been doing a lot of hiking with our dog, and I’d even thrown some mountain biking into the mix (don’t worry; I’ll never wear spandex). While I know there are a million things that can go wrong on the course, I was pretty confident about my chances of at least finishing. The big question for me was whether or not I would finally get that 33:xx finish time I’ve been chasing since I first ran this loop in 2008.
The race started at 6AM on Friday and the tone for me was set during the first 100 meters when someone behind me yelled out, “It’s like Christmas in July!” There might have been a few low points during the night when I would have liked to slap that guy, but for the most part I just had a really great time running and hiking through the San Juan Mountains. Here's a shot of me heading into the first aid station, using all that slackline training I get from CityRock:
I was one of the lucky ones able to out run the really crappy weather. I got lots of rain, but every time I’d look back over my shoulder I’d see nasty looking storm clouds and feel bad for the runners caught in the mess. I remember heading up to Engineer Pass, roughly the halfway point of the race, and glancing back towards Handies Peak. I had been on top of Handies a few hours earlier and it was clear. Now there were black clouds and lots of lightning. I knew there were runners caught in that crap and I felt horrible for them. Kudos for the bulk of those guys for toughing it out, as the race ended up with a 76% finisher rate.
I ran into Ouray, mile 55-ish, only a bit behind schedule. I was pretty tired and beat up by this point. But I got a huge boost from my Hardrock tradition of chowing down a bacon cheeseburger, courtesy of King’s Chef Diner, and chugging a PBR at this aid station. I’ve now done that routine five times and it has never failed to bring me back to life.
I picked up a pacer out of Ouray, Shad from Boulder, and we headed off to face the night. Shad has paced me here before, and we have an ongoing agreement that no matter how much of a crybaby/whiner/a-hole I am during the run, we will remain friends after the run is over. Nighttime is typically my downfall at these events. I usually loose too much time due to fatigue and lack of sleep. Not tonight though. Shad was cracking the whip pretty hard and he kept me moving. Even after waiting an extra 20 minutes at the Governor Basin aid station, mile 65ish, for a storm to pass we made great time though the dark hours. By far, the most ground I've ever covered at night.
Shad and I left Telluride as the sun was rising. I knew that in a few hours I would get a second wind and I’d be able to finish. The problem was that there was still the climb out of Telluride to deal with. Normally this is one of my favorite parts of Colorado, but after running for 24+ hours straight I hated this place as it was sucking the soul out of me. But misery loves company, and besides Shad I now got to share the pain with Neal Taylor, whom I had caught up with. Here's us at mile 74ish:
And here's a shot of me continuing the climb. I'm pretty sure it's about one million miles from Telluride to Oscar's Pass.
After what seemed like FOREVER, we finally got to the top of Oscar’s. There were two more climbs and 20 more miles to go, but the worst was definitely behind us. It was a little before 8AM when we got to the top of Oscar’s, and I was starting to feel good again thanks to the daylight. I had to finish by 4PM to run sub 34 hours, and I started to think it was still possible. Normally, having eight hours to run 20 miles wouldn’t worry me, but it shows you just how different a race this is.
I crushed it (for me) over those last 20 miles. This meant I was able to average roughly 23 minutes per mile from mile 81 to mile 95. And then, for the final five downhill miles, when I felt like I was channeling Steve Prefontaine because I was pushing so hard and seemed to be going so fast, I averaged 13:58 per mile. Boom! Some of that may have been due to an illegal pacer I picked up at mile 98. My dog got sick and tired of me having all the fun and she decided to join me on the home stretch. Here she is behind me, threatening to bite my calf if I didn't pick up the pace.
And soon enough I was kissing the Hardrock, ending my 100.5 mile journey. Officially finishing in 33:45:04. Almost 2.5 hours better than my previous best time, and nine hours faster than the first time I ran this race.
Thanks go out to Katie and Shad, as well as all the volunteers and friends out on the course, including the other runners. It truly does feel like "Christmas in July" for me getting to undertake such a great journey with so many great people. I am currently retired from Hardrock, as I am after each and every time I run it, but talk to me again once the lottery opens in November...