Hardrock Hundred Race Report


Alan cruising up Green Mountain with Vestal & Arrow Peaks as the backdrop.

So I somehow managed to win the Hardrock 100 lottery two years in a row (which I accept as more of a blessing than a curse!)  I first did this race last year, and was eager to do it again since my health has slowly but steadily improved since last year’s race.  And, like last year, I also signed up for enough other races to complete the Rocky Mountain Slam.  This year, I decided to up the difficulty a bit by adding the Wasatch 100 to the list in place of the Bighorn 100.  This will only give me 3 weeks to recover in between the Leadville 100 and Wasatch, and then 3 weeks in between Wasatch and the Bear 100.  Last year, I only went to Silverton the Tuesday before the race.  After arriving and seeing the immensity and beauty of the area, I vowed to return earlier next time to join the trail work crew and get to experience much more of the San Juans before the race.

My good friends Chris Gerber and Kari Fraser were going down on Friday a week before the race, so I packed all my stuff and met them in Boulder, riding with Kari in her car.  In Ouray, we met up with our friends Ben and Amanda and we all headed up to Red Mountain Pass, where we  located a suitable spot to camp at ~11,100 ft just before dark.  We got up early the next morning and broke camp, and drove back to Ouray for the first day of trail work.

After grabbing the tools, we were soon headed up the Bear Creek trail, led by Rick Trujillo.  After a couple of miles, we arrived at a spot with a steep drop off to the right.  This section needed lots of leveling, and had lots of loose rock that had come down from the steep face rising behind us that needed clearing.

There were also 3 large boulders that narrowed the trail a lot.  We eventually dislodged the 3 boulders, pushing them over the edge to the valley below.  This created an enormous amount of noise and dust, and was a whole lot of fun!  We used pickaxes, hammer and chisel, and rock rakes to break and move rocks, and after a few hours our section of trail looked fabulous.

Sunday morning we gathered again in Ouray for trail work.  This time, we worked on the West Creek trail.  This trail is ridiculously steep, with lots of poor footing and broken or missing cribbing.  We spent most of the day carrying 6×6 steps, rebar, and long cedar beams up the trail to wherever they were needed.  The Ouray Trail Group will later make use of the supplies we muled up the mountain to repair the bad spots on the trail.

I had a great time working on the trail crews, but on Monday I was starting to worry about how I was feeling.  You see, one of the unfortunate side effects from having an Inflammatory Bowel Disease is that my body often will have an overall, systemic inflammatory response to any kind of unusual stress (physical or mental), and all that hard work on the trail was definitely a stressor.  All of my muscles and joints hurt, and my left hip was out of alignment and not moving properly.  When we went hiking that afternoon I was struggling to keep up with everyone else even though they were taking it easy.  The next day, I was not feeling any better, and ended up going to a chiropractor in Durango to get my hip adjusted.  This helped a bit, but I was still having a full blown inflammatory response so it went back out of alignment, despite sleeping that night in the very comfortable bed in the house I had rented in Silverton.

I woke up Wednesday feeling absolutely horrible.  I checked in for the race, and had a resting pulse of 92 while sitting down!  My hip still hurt like hell, and I was dizzy and weak.  I did my best not to think about it – I had two days before the race and I’ve learned that things can change very quickly with my body.  Thursday morning I still felt awful, but not quite as bad as Wednesday.  It also helped (at least mentally) that Lori had arrived the night before.  I busied myself with the pre-race meeting, and made up my drop bags and other preparations for the race start, and generally just tried to take it easy.

At 4am on Friday, I woke up and got out of bed.  It was almost time to go!  I didn’t feel great, and my hip still hurt pretty bad, but I was definitely better than the day before.  I got ready, drove down to check in, then came back home and made my final preparations.  I arrived back at the start with about 15 minutes to spare.

At 6am sharp, we were off!  I went out really slow, staying towards the back of the pack for a bit.  After warming up for a while, I thought perhaps I was feeling better and sped up a little.

As we starting making the steep climb up to Little Giant, I knew I was still in trouble though.  The higher we got, the more difficult it was to stay with the group, and I had to let a handful of people pass me.  The incredible view above treeline was helping my mood at least.

Finally, I arrived at the top of the climb, and traversed across the top of the ridge to the start of the descent into Cunningham.  Despite the way I was feeling, I made pretty good time down the steep descent to Cunningham (mile 9.2), arriving at 8:54am-20 or 30 minutes slower than planned.

I was glad to see Lori, Jessie and Kristel there at the aid, and quickly sat down for a brief rest.  I slammed a bunch of water, refueled, and then tried to get up to leave.  When I stood up, I was hit with a pretty serious dizzy spell, and I noticed that my legs and arms were shaking, so I sat back down and took some electrolytes.

Kristel was giving me an awesome pep talk, telling me that I have lots of experience dealing with this kind of thing, and that I’d burn it off later and do awesome.  I knew she was right, but in my mind I was whining “Yeah – but this usually happens in the middle of the night 80 miles in, not first thing in the morning only 9 miles in.”  I didn’t argue, and just did my best to be positive and agree with her.  At 9:00am, I stood up again and checked out of the aid station and began the steep climb up to Stony Pass.

After climbing for 15 minutes or so, my electrolytes balanced back out, and I actually passed a couple of people.  After an hour or so, I made it to the flat spot right below the final climb to Stony Pass and saw Michael and Derek there taking pictures.  They took a few shots of me and we chatted for a couple of minutes, and then I took off for Stony Pass.

A few minutes after I crested the pass, I noticed that I was starting to feel better.  No more dizziness, and I had enough energy to run even though I was at 13,000 ft!  I put the headphones on and made good time to Maggie Gulch (mile 15.3) despite getting off course for a few minutes, arriving at 11:27am.  I left immediately, and made it to Pole Creek (mile 19.6) at 12:40, passing 8 people along the way.  Still feeling good, I walked right through the aid and kept going toward Sherman.  A little bit before reaching Cataract Lake, I could see that a fairly wicked looking storm had formed behind me to the south, and I was pretty sure I was going to get rained on at some point soon.  It started getting breezy, and clouded over by the time I reached treeline.  I still felt good, and ran well on the descent into Sherman aid station (mile 28.7), arriving at 3:12pm.

It started raining as soon as I hit the aid station, and I was glad that they had shelters set up there.  I spent 8 minutes there, replenished my VFuel, hamburger, and water, and chatted with Lori, Michael and Derek, and then headed out in a light rain up the dirt road leading to Burrows Park.

While walking up the road, my left hip really started bothering me.  Every so often, whenever I put my weight on my left leg, something would pinch my sciatic nerve enough to make my leg kind of give out causing me to stumble a bit, and of course it also gave me a nice sharp burst of pain too.  The maddening thing was that it was completely unpredictable, and I couldn’t figure out any way to work around it.  By the time I’d passed Burrows Park and started the climb up Handies it was happening more and more often, and I was having to walk really slowly up the trail to keep from falling down.  I actually considered hobbling back down to Burrows and dropping, but ended up telling myself that I needed to at least get to Grouse Gulch aid before I made a decision.  I stopped several times in a futile attempt to stretch the muscles and get some kind of relief, and finally just gave up and kept climbing.  Around 12,500 ft or so, it just loosened up by itself!  My energy came back, and I climbed really well all the way to the summit.

This was where the real fun began.  I had been watching the storms building for the last hour or so, and they caught up to me right as I summitted Handies.  I quickly donned my rain jacket on the summit as the hail started coming down, and I took off down the trail as fast as I could move.  Within a few minutes, it was under 40 degrees with rain, hail and high winds.  I had to slow down as the trail was getting covered with slippery hail, and soon most of the trail turned into little more than a muddy stream.  And then the lightning started.  The first bolt hit maybe 1/2 mile in front of me, out in the middle of American Basin.  Probably 1-2 seconds from flash to bang.  A few minutes later another one struck a few hundred yards to my left, with less than 1/2 second flash–>bang.  I could hear it hitting over and over on the far side of the mountain where I had just been, and I felt bad for all the runners I knew were over there.  I found out later that Chris Gerber was one of the people still climbing when it hit, and actually felt a shock from one of the strikes!

The rain and hail let up some after 20 minutes or so around the bottom of American Basin, and I was able to stop and put my last layer on.  I made the climb up to American-Grouse pass in the rain, and made fairly good time on the descent, arriving at Grouse Gulch aid station (mile 42.1) in the twilight at 8:57pm really cold and soaking wet.

All my clothes were wet, and my formerly waterproof gloves were anything but!  I spent 28 minutes changing nearly every piece of clothing I had on.  I was really excited to be here, and I achieved my goal of getting there without a flashlight.  I also got to pick up Derek as my pacer here, and we took off up the road to Engineer Pass.

It quit raining shortly after we left Grouse, and the climb to the pass soon had me warming up and I shed some layers.  It was shaping up to be a pretty nice night!  I stopped partway up the climb and taped my feet.  I was getting some hot spots on the balls of both feet due to the extremely wet conditions and wanted to get them taken care of before it got any worse.

We crested the pass after a couple of hours, and arrived at Engineer Pass aid (mile 49) at 12:11am.  My tape job from earlier was not working well, and I stopped there long enough to redo it, then headed back out.

My quads were still blown, and this section of trail was nearly all downhill with a lot of technical sections, which made for slow going.  I also had to stop 2 or 3 more times to mess with the tape on my feet before I got it right – all told, I probably lost over an hour just messing with my feet.  After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived at the Ouray aid station (mile 56.6) at 3:52am.

I tried to lay down and nap, but there was so much activity in the aid station that I never really dozed off.  My enthusiasm was certainly gone at that point, and I didn’t get around to leaving until 4:36am.  Lori couldn’t even get me to fake a smile for a picture.

We headed up the road out of Ouray, went through the tunnel, and soon settled in to a slow hike up Camp Bird Road.  The sun came up and I felt a little more awake, but was still moving slowly.  I finally reached Governor Basin aid (mile 64.5) at 7:49am, and started the serious climbing up towards Virginius pass.  I really started struggling as we went higher on the route, moving slower and slower as we approached treeline.  My feet were swelling up and causing a lot of pain, so I spent a few minutes laying down on the road with them propped up against a rock.  This brought the swelling down some, and before long I was feeling better and picked up the pace.

The trail veered off of the road, and the climb became much more steep and interesting.  Despite the rapidly thinning air, I was feeling much better and made short work of the rest of the climb up to Virginius Pass and the Kroger’s Canteen aid station (mile 67.7), arriving at 9:39am.  There is so little room in this pass that they use portaledges for most of the equipment, and all the volunteers are required to wear rock climbing helmets.

From there we traversed over through Mendota Pass, and then began the steep descent into Telluride.  I was able to jog some of this section, but had to walk frequently because my quads were really worn out.  At 11:39am, we made it to the Telluride aid station (mile 72.7).  Derek took over pacing duties again, and we left 7 minutes later.

The section of the course was new to me, and obviously very popular with the locals as it was pretty crowded.  As we climbed higher, the road turned to trail, and the scenery kept getting more and more amazing.  Near the top of the climb, the wildflowers were unlike anything I’ve ever seen, reaching 6 or 7 feet tall in places, with an incredible variety of types and colors.

We crested Oscar’s pass, and made the long steep descent into Chapman Aid (mile 81.6), arriving at 4:15pm.  There were so many flies there that I only stayed about 3 minutes, long enough to restock and pick up my pacer Jessie.  We were talking and missed the turnoff for the trail and lost 10-15 minutes, but once we were back on track I was feeling really good and climbing really well.

After a couple of hours of climbing, we were near the bottom of the steep climb up to Grant Swamp pass.  The wildflowers here were spectacular.

We passed a few people in this section, and quickly started making our way up the steep climb.  Somewhere towards the top, Jessie inadvertently loosened a softball sized rock that bounced right between my legs, narrowly missing my right hand which I had on the ground helping to climb up the slope.  This generated quite a bit of excitement from the three people below us, and one of them had to jump out of the way when the rock got down to them.

I was still feeling great when we got to the top, and started running down the trail by Island Lake.  My friends Audra Duke and her husband Clint were there cheering us on.  We made great time all the way to KT aid (mile 89), arriving at 8:07pm.

I walked right through the aid station and started on the last climb of the race, still feeling good.  It was dark before long, and it soon became difficult to follow the route.  There was no real trail, and we did quite a bit of wandering around trying to find the markers.   Once we reached the top of the climb, the route was easier to follow and we were soon back on a trail.

We reached Putnam Aid (mile 94.7) at 11:34 and left one minute later.  I was feeling pretty good, and was really excited knowing how close we were to the finish.  My quads kept me from doing much running, but I was able to p0wer hike and occasionally jog as the terrain allowed.  When we reached the bottom of the climb and crossed Mineral Creek, I had a surge of adrenaline from the realization that I was so close and took off running across the highway.  I somehow managed to run nearly all the way up the steep climb to the trail, and ran almost all of the distance back to town-even up the steep dirt road leading to Christ of the Mines!  I sprinted down the path into town and up the dirt road, kissing the Hardrock after 43 hours, 33  minutes and 56 seconds, almost 20 minutes faster than last year!

I drank nothing but water the entire race, and took maybe 5-6 S-caps.  For fueling, I took a packet of VFuel every thirty minutes, and ate a small amount of organic, grass fed, ground beef every two hours (probably about 1.5 lbs total).  I had no digestive issues whatsoever the entire race, and my energy was good and consistent once I got over whatever sickness I had at the start of the race.

I feel really blessed to have had the chance not only to attempt this great race the last two years, but also that I was able to finish both times despite some very serious obstacles.   Thanks go to my wife Lori, and friends Michael, Derek, Jessie and Kristel for pacing and crewing, to all of the awesome aid station volunteers, and the many people who I met and talked with out on the course.

Tags: hardrock hundred, race report, ultramarathon, vfuel

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