When my pacer, Tim Long, from Western States asked if I could give him a hand at Hardrock, I immediately consulted with my wife, Kim. I expected some type of "more running stuff" rolling of the eyes from her. When our summers seem to revolve around my running schedule, things can get tense. However, I received a curious response. "It would be good for you to see that", she said. Really? Through more probing I found out that she was interested in seeing a portion of it too. Plus, Tim helped us achieve a big goal last month. Pay it back.
The mystical Hardrock 100. A race that takes place in the southwest corner of the state of Colorado. A place where many of us Front Rangers do not tread because its simply a helluva drive down there. This race breaks many a man. Its known as the hardest 100 mile ultramarathon in the United States. Why? Well, its simply about twice as much vertical to deal with. Its rugged from start to finish.
We left Longmont late Thursday and arrived in Ouray at 2 AM that night. The race started a mere 4 hours from then. I was going to drive down and see the start but the highway connecting Ouray to Silverton was closed for construction for the night. Got some sleep instead. The next morning as the race was in progress, we hit a few of the attractions of Ouray. I was refreshing and texting on my phone all day to see where Tim was. It was a weird feeling knowing that he was out there and I had a job to do but was not yet in position because he wasn't expected for hours. While at Box Canyon Falls, I started running across something I had seen only in pictures...Hardrock 100 trail markers! We were on course. This ain't your average course. See?
Late afternoon, we made our way to the city park in Ouray as the crowd started to build. It was a weird vibe because nobody outside of the crowd knew what the crowd was for! When at WS100 or Leadville, everybody knows about the race. Here it was totally different. No real acknowledgement. The race does pass through (sort of) 4 towns along the way with the start and finish in Silverton. Things are probably a bit more interesting there. But from the Ouray perspective, it was just a bunch of people in the park.
Anyway, it was fun to hang out as more and more ultra faces started showing up to watch or pace or crew their favorite runners. And especially to see George! I had paced George at his first 100...my first ultra pacing. We both learned stuff that night. Now, here we are at the big show joining forces again to help out another.
We watched the top 10 come through as full on spectators before it was time for us to get ready. Big Hal came in first. Various spectators felt like Hal was going to blow up. He seemed like he came in hot and was being chased. But that boy held it together and ended up winning the race in one of the fastest times ever.
Tony was raring to go. His first job at pacing...ever. Look at all that shit he has on. We were scared he was going to pull a muscle out there. I was excited to see him out there on course getting a taste. He wants this race. But I think this perspective will benefit him a lot for a future stab at it.
Joe, paced by Tony, ended up finishing in 2nd overall.
We were watching the splits and anticipating Tim around 5 PM. Tim had gotten a little behind schedule so we waited. He bounced in around 6 PM and we went to work.
I had given my 2 cents on crew responsibilities and let Tim's chosen ones, Shaun, George and Kara do their work. I sat back and waited for us to move out. No pressure from me but when we start moving its my show I felt.
We jogged a bit down the streets of Ouray. It felt great to get moving. I quickly was slightly relieved that Tim was moving decently but not fast. As a pacer, you are always worried about being cold and then your runner just flies out of the aid station and you have to hold on. This was not the case. Tim had 45 miles on his legs with probably 20,000 vertical. He was handicapped. So my job was to get him moving at a comfortable pace against his projections. He had so much race to go yet so its all about being conservative.
We worked our way south out of Ouray and talked a bit catching up on the day. After being alone (mostly) since 6 AM, it felt like some conversation would lift spirits. As we started moving along highway 550 to get to our Engineer Pass entrance, Tim picked up speed a bit which was exciting. Anything rolling was good.
We made our way over the tunnel along 550 and headed up and into the Bear Creek trail path towards Engineer Pass. This was a long climb. My watch had it at 6,200 vertical I think by the time it was done. That's probably one of my top 3 sustained single push vertical ascents. It takes a climb of Pikes Peak to get more vertical in a push for example. The trail through here was billed as pretty harsh if you had acrophobia...scared of heights! It wasn't too bad. Longs Peak is 10x scarier. We wound around these cliff walls and finally made it into a constantly ascending singletrack through mostly forest. It was very much like south Hope Pass for me. Pretty steep at times. It just went up. We lost light somewhere maybe 1/2 way up before we got out of the trees. I basically never saw what was around me after that. Bummer to miss the views. But I did take my GoPro and capture a bit of what we saw coming out of Ouray.
There was to be a major creek crossing or 2 but they turned out to be so low that we just rock hopped across them. I never got my shoes wet! We found our way into the Engineer Aid Station (one of only 13). It was a small setup set right at treeline. All supplies were hiked in by volunteers. Tim had been complaining about his toe here. I had my tape in my bag so I got that out and we started to work on his foot. We taped up that toe and then taped it to its neighbor to stabilize it. Felt like all my Fixing Your Feet homework was paying off. I was enjoying this aspect of "taking care of the runner". I know what I want done to me so I just pretended to be in his shoes. It was easy. I got his coat out and covered him up while he sat and got some food down. I would go over and fetch things and give him a few choices and watch him eat. Then I proceeded to feed myself. I was starving! It was an amazing feeling to go into an aid station and be starving. I would have eaten a pizza right then and there. But I made the most of saltines, candy, PB and jelly, and more. After we had done our business, it was time to motor out.
We could see the top of the pass. There were 2 static lights up there belonging to something. We just kept moving upward to them. The trail disappeared and the flags just started taking you up a grassy slope towards the top. I was really nervous about the trail markings but this section was perfect. It wasn't over done but I was never lost nor did I ever have moments of doubt. Things were marked when they needed to be and not marked when you were on something obvious. But I still had the entire course in my watch if things went bad. As we continued up the slope, it started raining softly. Tim was getting cold. He had no gloves. So I gave him mine. We continued on. I felt like I had a few tricks up my sleeve with my tape, gloves, etc. but it would be good to get to the next aid station to really address things.
Some voice started preaching in the night from up on the pass. Turns out some dude was up there. Probably a former Hardrocker himself. He was preaching random stuff down to us on the mountain. Couldn't see him but you could hear him. As we hit the summit, we found out the lights were from his truck. He had cold beer and a bar of random liquor with shot glasses at the ready. Seemed like fun but I wasn't going to go off the clock right now. Tim and I thanked him and started down the backside of the pass on a jeep road. Tim was hurting up that last section as we were in the 13,000 foot range. I was feeling great with two 14ers in the last 7 days and now this. But luckily as soon as we started descending, he got chatty again. Lungs came back quickly.
The bad part was the road wasn't very run friendly. Those jeep roads late in the race hurt. All these baseball sized rocks and nowhere great to run at. So we hiked some. Walked some. Ran some. Tim judged the pace. I just stayed slightly ahead with my flashlight held behind me helping to light up his way. He probably didn't need it but in the moment, you just do everything you can to help and benefit your runner. We could see a couple of lights down in the valley so we knew were were closing in.
As we got close, a person came running up the road at us. "Tim Long?", he says. It was Justin Mock. He was scouting for our crew. We said hi and he did a 180 and ran back down with the intel that we were coming and a few orders from me. My run for the night was over but I was not off the clock yet. Tim was developing another foot issue and he was getting cold. I felt by spending these last 15 miles with him, I knew best what to treat him for. So we got him into the aid station and he laid down. This was his call and I did not object. He had even talked about a nap. It does happen at Hardrock so I wasn't opposed to it but I wasn't sure it was the best idea.
The crew joined us and we laid him down and got blankets piled on him to warm him up as he cooled from sitting still. We got his shoes off of him and I went to work on the right heel. He had a developing blister on the heel pad. I was set to surgically deal with it as I had the full medical foot care kit from Western States on hand. But it was too deep. It wasn't that bad yet either. So I cleaned it up with solution and then put some 2nd skin on it. Then I taped it up real nice. I put powder in the sock and we got him re-shoed. He said it felt much better when he got up. I never heard how it ended up working out.
We fed him. We made fun of him. We took care of him. It was a cool moment. Probably one of the most memorable of the night for me. It was after midnight. We in the middle of nowhere at like 11,000 feet. Runners were coming into the aid station in all forms. Some destroyed. Some looking fresh. It was a fun scene. It was fun to share it with Kim. I am usually the one laying there on my back moaning about running more but instead I got to help and be the positive force and put myself in her shoes. I will continue to respect my own crew even more through this experience.
At some point, we decided it was go-time for Tim. He was up and George was on now. I made George change into pants because its colder than you think when you aren't moving as fast as normal because you are moving at your runner's pace. We saw a crazy stream of headlamps rising zig zagged up into the sky as the runners ascended Handies Peak (a 14er!) on their way out of the aid station. It was bittersweet for me. My mission was complete but I am not sure I was ready to stop. It was good to be a fresh face and jump in with my knowledge and energy for a 7-8 hour stint. I hope it took some pressure off the crew who would ultimately be out there for 4-5x that amount.
As Kim and I were leaving, JT came into the aid station. So we went to his car with him and his crew and spent time with them. He was in amazing spirits. It felt like we were just hanging out. No issues. He was just getting his calories and catching up with us all. He would become a 4 time finisher of this race sometime that next day. It showed.
Kim and I made the late drive back down from the aid station and through the streets of Silverton. But I had one more stop to make. I took a quick right and drove over the high school. The location of the start and finish line of this event. We got out and took a look. Frankly, its not too dramatic. Its just a small chute tucked in next to the school with a big rock with logo hand painted on it. I suppose no finish line could really do justice to the journey that one goes on in order to circumnavigate these mountains and return to this rock. Finishers arrive battered and beaten after being tested by the mountain. To which they give the rock a kiss as part of tradition. I had no reason to kiss the rock. I merely went up and touched it and posed with it for a photo. I was a part of this race this year in a small way for a single runner. The stories of the runners are amazing of course. Only about 140 runners get the shot each year in a weighted lottery system. So I told the rock that I was denied entry this year. That's cool. I had a few other goals to complete. But after looking this race square in the face and running part of it, I will indeed submit yet another application this fall. So lottery gods, you know what to do. I promise I will give you another great story just as those that came before me have. It will be hard but I feel like I am capable, willing and ready to be tested.
Oh, as for Tim, he and George moved through the night while we slept in our cozy beds back in Ouray. I watched them continue to battle the next day while my family and I visited other attractions in the area. Then around 6 PM on Saturday, I saw the shot of Tim kissing the rock a mere 36 hours after setting off on the journey. This was an 8 hour PR for him on this course over last year. I know he wanted to do faster but that's OK. He is now a 2-time Hardrock 100 finisher and that's all that matters! Thanks to Tim for letting us play a small role in your success.
Random thoughts for those considering this race:
+ For mortals, its a hike, not a run. You may jog around here and there but expect to be hiking most of the time. Maybe use poles. If you do, practice the hell out of them.
+ Be prepared. We got off easy this year but I see how you can get caught high quickly here. Its regular mountaineering stuff but you don't usually deal with that in a run-race.
+ Crews are going to be tested. Its way too long of an event for crews. They are going to need downtime during the race. Or you need to swap primary crew members. I wouldn't want to put my wife through a start-to-finish responsibility. She would never want to go back.
+ Lots of pacers. You can have them for more than 1/2 the course. Use them. Switch them. I think Tim benefited from having me start at Ouray and then George come in. New blood. I would think it would have been good to swap George back out too. More fresh blood.
+ Conserve, conserve, conserve. This race is so long. Moving steady will pay off big time.
+ Eat. Again its all back to nutrition. Even more here. I don't think I would even play with sugars for the first day almost. You need to really be fueling a lot and I think forcing substance would really make a huge difference. Less race mentality, more hike nutrition mentality.
+ I found crewing and pacing to be enjoyable. Its like racing it without the agony. However, you aren't the center of attention. They don't give pacers buckles. Its a no glory job. That's OK sometimes. But other times, you want it.
+ This race makes the other races look like child's play.
View all photos from this event.
I went 15.27 miles with an elevation gain of 6,804 feet in 05:31:43, which is an average pace of 21:43. View my GPS data on Garmin Connect.