|Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run. Wild & Tough. Photo from Hardrock 100 website|
Fun, Soggy Times at the Hardrock 100
By Kevin Twidwell
Almost 33,000 feet of climb, four rain storms, bouts of hail, two sessions of dry heaves and nearly 35 hours on my feet were part of my Hardrock 100 experience July 11-12, 2014. I covered 100 miles of spectacular terrain, summited a 14,000 foot peak, crossed 13 mountain passes, spent some high-quality time with amazing friends, finished 23rd overall and was third in the 50 and older age group.
Hardrock 100 was a blast. And no, I don’t think I need to do it again.
Months before the July 11 race, I was at a sub-zero UM Grizzly football game with Steve Brown when he looked up from his twitter feed and announced that I had been selected in the Hardrock lottery to race in 2014. I was stunned because I was scheduled to have knee surgery in a couple of days and had been unsuccessful in the past three HR lotteries. With trepidation, I gave Steve a half-hearted high five and thought to myself “oh crap.”
But after I came to my senses, I knew I could not turn down the opportunity to run this bucket-list 100 and resolved to do what I could to toe the line in Silverton, Colorado, with the other 139 runners. I had the surgery on Dec. 13, 2013, and three weeks later was rehabbing at Momentum Athletic Training in Missoula with co-owner and good friend Rhea Black.
I was ready.
I had paced John Hart (Johnny Wasatch to me) at his amazing HR race in 2012 and figured I was going to do everything he did because it worked so well for him. My daughter Allison and I drove to Silverton, Colorado, 10 days before the race and hiked most of the latter passes in the race, including a trip up to Handies Peak, the highest point in Hardrock at 14,068 feet. Allison was a great companion, and our time together was the best part of the Hardrock adventure for me.
|The kid always had a smile for me on these training days|
The morning of the race brought a huge wave of relief because, frankly, I was tired of obsessing about Hardrock. I was up at 4:15 a.m. for some food, coffee and a shower because I knew it could be up to two days before I got another shower. Little did I know, I would be getting frequent showers from Mother Nature over the next 35 hours. But, in any event, the whole gang went with me to the starting line where camera crews focused on Kilian Jornet and the other elite trail runners.
Buddy John Hallsten, a Hardrock old timer and multiple HR finisher from Helena, was a little crabby about the hoopla, but I knew we didn’t have to worry about the cameras for long because the elites would be leaving us in the dust soon.
|Right at 6 a.m. race director Dale Garland told us to “get out of here” and we did|
|Crossing Mineral Creek – one of several water crossings|
Silverton – Chapman Gulch Aid Station – 18.1 miles
I have always been amazed at how fast John [Hallsten], at 57, can go up hill, having run with and against him in several races. I hung with him up and over the first big climb and then the descent into the KT aid station at mile 11.5. It took us about three hours to get there, and it was fun to see Bryon Powell of Irunfar.com taking pictures. I yelled to him that Charlie Beaton from Big Dipper had sent along some gifts for him from Missoula. I felt a bit bad because I think Bryon was expecting ice cream, but we only had Big Dipper sunglasses for him. He later told us to “bring ice cream next time.”
Once we got to KT, we spent very little time in the aid station and headed for the next big climb up Grant Swamp Pass. It is on this section that we climbed almost to 13,000 feet and saw the Island Lake, probably one of the most photographed spots on the HR course.
|Island Lake on the way up to Grant-Swamp Pass – Photo from Hardrock 100 website|
It was on this climb that I realized I could not keep up with John [Hallsten] on the steep inclines and settled into my own plodding pace. I watched as John slowly disappeared up and over the pass. On the way to the pass, runners encountered scores of photographers who apparently had climbed up early to get some views and photos of the front runners. The photographers were all gracious and offered words of encouragement even to us slowpokes.
Once I got to the top of the pass, I placed a rock on the memorial for Joel Zucker, who died after the race in 1998. Joel’s sister, an incredibly animated and talkative New Yorker, had addressed the runners at the pre-race meeting the previous day and gave an inspirational speech, telling us that we should count ourselves lucky to be doing the course her brother loved. It was a speech I thought of several times later in the race when I was feeling low. I was indeed lucky to be part of the race.
After summiting, I let the legs fly on the steep descent down to the Chapman Gulch aid station at 18.1. The sun was out and it was getting hot when I entered and grabbed about four slices of watermelon. To my surprise, John Hallsten was there, and we left the aid station together for the climb up Oscar’s Pass. About 300 yards out of the aid station, I took my one and only fall of the race. I tripped on a rock on a flat road and landed on my left knee and elbow. Looking back, I am amazed that I fell on one of the few flat spots on in the race when much of the rest of the course was, at times, treacherous.
Chapman – Telluride (27.8 miles from Start)
Although Oscar’s Pass was only the third climb of the day, it turned out to be the hardest for me. I looked at the mountain in front of me and thought “I have to go up THAT?” Holy shit. So, we started up and within a quarter mile, Hallsten was leaving me in the dust again. I was breathing hard and stopping to catch my breath way too often. By the time I struggled to the top at 13,120 feet, more than 20 people had passed me. From the top of the pass, it was a long downhill stretch to Telluride, the first place I was going to see my friends.
I spent a lot of this downhill time punishing myself for underestimating the climbs and overestimating my abilities. I certainly did not contemplate quitting, but I seriously wondered if I could finish this race given my performance on Oscar’s. But after thinking about all the training I had done and all the time and effort my friends had put into the race, I resolved to run better and smarter on the remaining climbs. I knew I had to take smaller steps and to concentrate on finding a pace I could maintain without stopping much. Slow and steady was my theme.
As I barreled down toward Telluride, my spirits started to pick up because I knew I was going to see my pals for the first time in about 8.5 hours. Things were looking up and I was bombing the downhill. Then the lightening hit. A storm blew in, first with small hail and then with a full-on deluge of rain that flooded the trails as we were running over the slickened rocks into the base of Telluride. I had to laugh a bit when the hail hit because it didn’t hurt except for when the pellets hit my Dumbo ears sticking from beneath my Runners Edge cap. I was in a group of four or five runners at this time and we all let the legs fly when the lightening started striking. The fear of electrocution can really put some pep in tired legs. But about two miles before the aid station, the storm blew away and the sun came out, causing us all to stop and shed our rain gear.
The last stretch to the aid station is on a trail well used by Telluride tourists. I knew we were close to the aid station when I started seeing beer bellies and makeup. Those folks took great care to avoid the puddles that stretched across the trail but we racers simply splashed through them with no fear of wet feet (We had been wet for hours).
In this stretch I caught up to a runner named Rob from Fort Collins I had met earlier along the trail. He was walking and looking dejected. I patted his shoulder and told him: “We are not tourists. Let’s run this in.” He joined and we talked for the last mile. He had been a HR lottery winner three times. It was amazing the luck because this was my fourth time applying. His 100-miler girlfriend was a bit miffed she has yet to secure a spot in the race. I didn’t see Rob again after the Telluride aid station but he came to the finish and shook my hand, saying he had a bad day and had to drop. It’s funny how we make friends on the trail. There are some really fine people out there.
|Reports were that Kilian waited at Telluride for other racers so he would have someone to run with. He didn’t wait long enough to run with me.|
|Entering Telluride, first crew access. 27.8 miles|
|Amy Brown had the unfortunate job of helping me change socks|
Telluride – Ouray (43.9 miles from Start)
Allison and I had hiked a few miles of the trails outside Telluride, so I knew what to expect. The switchbacks that had seemed steep the week before the race actually seemed gentle during the race. So, I employed my new strategy of using my poles more efficiently, shortening my steps and finding that sweet spot where I could maintain a good pace without causing myself to stop and gasp for breath. I also dug out an Ipod Rhea Black had loaded with a fun mix of workout songs that inspired me and made me sing as the miles clicked by. I was able to pass several people on this stretch, and I imagine a few of them saw me playing the air drums with my hiking poles or heard me sing along with a few 80s hair bands.
At the top of Virginius Pass, runners entered the famous Kroger’s Canteen aid station at 13,100 feet. I have never seen anything like it. At the top was a tiny spot on the spine of the pass where running legend Roch Horton and fellow mountain climbers had established a mighty impressive aid station with fixed ropes and benches lashed to the side of the mountain. I sat down to get some water, and he passed me a cup of Mescal and said it was a tradition there to have a shot or to “at least wet your lips.” I had a small sip and felt my insides immediately warm.
In our pre-race discussion, Wasatch had told me that the other side of Virginius was a scree slope where runners can make up a lot of time by simply bombing down. But this year, that scree slope was covered by a couple feet of snow. The aid station volunteers had strung a fixed rope to assist the descent, and they instructed us to hold the rope with one hand and to side step down to the bare ground a couple hundred feet below. A runner in front of me had some difficulty with the rope, falling on her butt several times. This was dangerous because rocks protruded through the snow at odd intervals and nobody wanted to drag their butt over them.
After getting to the bottom of the snow, I ended up running with Mike Ehredt from Hope, Idaho. I had met him and his pacer the week before the race while scouting the course. He had finished the race a couple of times and was hoping for another finish before his marriage in a couple of weeks. We had a lot of fun talking about him hobbling down the aisle at his wedding. We arrived at Governor Basin aid station at mile 35.9 together, but Mike got out before I did because I had to make a pit stop in the bushes. From there, the course was 8 miles of downhill on a dirt road. Wasatch had told me not to blow out my quads on the downhill to the Ouray aid station, but it felt so good to let the legs turn over I decided to make short work of this road section. I was excited to get to Ouray because Steve Brown was going to join me as a pacer there.
So, I just let the legs roll and tried not to use my quads to brake my descent much. I had my music on and was letting her rip when I rounded a corner and saw Wasatch a few hundred yards up the road from the aid station. He told me later he had a hard time staying at the aid stations because being around all the people made him too nervous. He told me I looked great and jogged with me to the rest of my pals at the aid station.
|This is the first place runners could have pacers|
|You have no idea how hard it was to choke down three bites of that sandwich|
John and Steve conferred and it was clear they were not going to let me continue this practice now that I was going to have a pacer for the last 50 miles. I still could not eat much at Ouray but my crew was able to finish off the plate of goodies so they didn’t go to waste.
After 20 minutes, Steve and I took off through Ouray, heading for Engineer Pass, the next big climb. Again, Allison and I had hiked this section the week before the race so I was familiar with the fact that we had about 15 switchbacks before we made a steep climb to the pass.
Steve set an ambitious pace, so I just put my head down and did what he did – I ran when he did, I hiked when he did. And he made me take a salt capsule every hour and made sure I was drinking and eating. The sun was slowly disappearing and I was excited about running through the night. We attacked the switchbacks with a quick pace, and we ended up catching up to John Hallsten with two other runners. John was dealing with some fatigue and stomach issues but was climbing well. I invited him to join us but he was settled into his own pace and declined.
|Passing a few people as we headed to Engineer’s Pass and the storm|
|Engineer’s Pass (12,800 feet)|
It was during this stretch that I treated Steve to an impressive show of dry heaving. Unfortunately, there was nothing in my belly so nothing came out. I actually felt better after about 8 retches and told Steve that I thought my dry-heaving was better than his had been at the Big Horn 100 a few weeks ago. I had paced him for 52 miles of that race and witnessed his barfing too. We both kind of chuckled and then made a beeline for the aid station at Grouse.
Finally, we rounded a corner and could see the aid station tents at Grouse (mile 58.4), where Steve was going to turn me over to John Hart for the night trek up Handies Peak (14,068) and then on to the Sherman Aid station at mile 71.9. I knew Steve was freezing and could tell he was happy to be almost done with this night running, but he didn’t say a word because he knew I had to keep going in this deluge.
We entered the aid station at 12:45 a.m. and it was carnage in there. Several people were huddled in sleeping bags or trying their best to warm by a small heater. This was a great aid station for me because I got to see Meaghen Brown (Steve and Amy’s daughter) and her friend Matt for the first time in the race. They both work at Outside Magazine and decided to join us after their shifts on Friday. They drove from Santa Fe to Silverton and surprised Amy and then joined the troop of crew members on the course. Meaghen had paced JW two years previously and added a new level of enthusiasm to our group. She’s a great runner/climber/skier and her parents are extremely proud of her.
Grouse – Sherman (71.9 miles from Start)
At Grouse, I warmed up with some broth and more watermelon and dug into my clothes box for something warm and dry. I slipped on two warm shirts and some rain pants. Finally, I knew it was time to go and begin the climb to Handies. Allison and I had done this section the previous week during the daytime, so I was wondering how different it would be in the dark. Wasatch and I left the aid station at 1:06 a.m. and began the switchback trudge out of Grouse. Luckily, the rain had stopped and we ended up shedding a couple of shirts after about three switchbacks up the trail.
John was very methodical in his pacing. He had me go in front for a mile to assess my condition, and then jumped ahead of me to keep us going. He made sure I ate and drank on a regular schedule. I was able to choke down a few Stinger chews and one Gu Rocktane during this stretch but largely subsisted on my bottles of energy drink. We made good time to American Basin and compared the trail condition to the year he did the course. We had a lot more snow than he did. After our descent down American Basin, we began the trudge up to Handies Peak. On the way up, we saw a tent in the middle of nowhere and were wondering why it was there. We later learned that one of the faster runners took refuge from the storm in the tent with its two occupants. Reports are the runner said the tent smelled like booze and weed. (Hey, it’s legal in Colorado).
We didn’t stop at the tent but just proceeded up to the peak. John is a hugely strong climber and has been since he was a kid. I remember training with him for his HR run and being in awe of his pace while billy-goating it up steep terrain. He was patient with me because I was not billy-goating anything. I was trudging, stopping, wheezing, and just trying to get to the top. I repeated my dry-heaving performance for John because I didn’t want him to feel left out and I felt like I was pretty good at it. But after nothing came up (again), we soldiered on and summited at 4 a.m. John gave out his signature Yeeehaa and I just laughed. Not only can John climb faster than anyone I know, he can also yell louder too.
We sat down at the top and surveyed the mountains around us. Although it was dark and the moon was covered by clouds, we could still see the peaks surrounding Handies. A special treat was looking back at American Basin and seeing a string of headlamps heading toward us. It was quiet, serene and comforting. But after a couple of minutes, we decided to get off the peak and head toward Sherman.
The plan was for John to run me to Sherman, where John Fiore would relieve him and join me for the next 20 miles. The only problem is that the road from Grouse to Sherman is horrifyingly nasty, and with the storm that blew though basically impassible. Wasatch told me that if Fiore and Steve didn’t make it to Sherman, he would stay with me until Cunningham Gulch, which added 20 miles to his pacing stint. I know Wasatch was strong enough to do the additional miles, but I could tell he was not too thrilled about this idea. I was really worried about John Fiore and Steve because I knew that road to Sherman was going to be dangerous. I started playing scenario games in my head as Wasatch and I trudged onward to morning and Sherman. I pictured Steve and John, feeling obligated to get to Sherman, crashing off the cliff and dying at the bottom of 1,000 foot drop. I pictured them getting stuck, getting flat tires, etc. I could only hope they exercised good judgment and decided the risk was not worth getting to Sherman.
With those thoughts and concerns in our heads, Wasatch and I trudged on. By the time we made it to Burrows aid station at 67.6 miles, the sun had come up and we were feeling refreshed and enthusiastic. It was time to strip off my night clothes and get ready for another day of running. I sat by a fire and pulled off my rain pants. Whoooo, nasty. I had a bad case of swamp ass made worse by the non-breathable rain pants. I mentioned to the aid station guy that my shorts were pretty nasty. To my surprise, he offered me a pair of fresh shorts. “Hey, we’re all runners here. Take these, “ he said. Wow, I was really touched by this but declined the offer because I had a wide variety of things in the pockets of my own shorts (extra contacts, body glide, etc) and I knew my shorts would air out and dry over the next few miles. But, this guy (I didn’t get his name) wins the volunteer of the year award in my eyes.
A funny thing happened at Burrows too. I was in the aid tent eating some watermelon and a nurse was talking to a runner who was having a difficult time. I eavesdropped and heard that his complaints were: 1) he had a headache; 2) he threw up after eating a gel; 3) and he was exhausted. I didn’t say anything aloud but inside I was saying “Hey, everyone out here has the exact symptoms. Eat something and get back on the course.” I bet that runner is regretting his decision to drop because these symptoms come and go during these races. I have seen people come back from the dead to finish strong.
From Burrows we only had four miles of road to Sherman, and we knocked it out pretty quickly. I didn’t say anything to Wasatch but as we ran toward Sherman I started seeing faces of Native Americans in the rock outcroppings. I knew I was just tired and my mind was taking some liberties with shadows and lighting, but I couldn’t help but think of Mas Loco buddy Maria Mariposa Walton, Caballo Blanco and their friendship with the Tarahumara in Mexico. The rock faces were comforting, real or not.
Almost to Sherman, we ran into Montanan Sarah McCloskey, who was having a rough stretch. John had spent some time with Sarah at Grouse and was surprised we caught up to her. She was the third-place woman but was moving pretty slow. We proceeded to Sherman and there was Steve standing by the aid station. He and John had tried to traverse the nasty road but abandoned their efforts because of the rain. But they had read in the Runner’s Manual that there was a two-wheel drive option by driving through Lake City, so they did that. But this caused them to drive some five hours through the night on no sleep. This was some serious dedication that really touched me because I knew they were both beaten and without sleep. They apparently arrived about 15 minutes before we did. So, I was now trading John Hart for John Fiore, who was going to run 20 miles with me to Cunningham (9.3 miles to the finish).
Wasatch was pretty funny because at this point he could admit that he REALLY did not want to go all the way to Cunningham. We laughed pretty hard about it. He and Steve actually drove back to Silverton over that nasty road after Fiore and I left. Apparently, it had dried out and was passable in the light but reports are it was still pretty darned scary except for the fact that Steve is an excellent mountain driver.
I stayed at Sherman aid station for several minutes mainly because they had blackberry pie and coffee. I had two helpings of pie and it brought me back to life.
Sherman – Cunningham Gulch (91.2 miles from Start)
We needed to get going, so John and I took off toward the Pole Creek aid station, 9 miles away. The morning sun had invigorated me but I had been up for more than 26 hours and was feeling sleepy tired. There’s a difference between physical tiredness and sleepy tired. Sleepy tired just makes you want to lie down in the trail for some zzzs. But John was so enthusiastic that he perked me up right away. He had never paced anyone at a 100 mile race, and John was on fire – more than usual. He is not one to sit around, and he had been sitting around for an entire day so he had some energy to burn. He was like a spring that needed to be sprung. With that said, he let me set the pace but entertained me with stories of the preceding day, the long-ass drive to Sherman, and his knowledge of flowers, bugs, and trees. (Among all his accomplishments as a physical therapist, he also has a degree in forestry).
We just talked and laughed for miles. After we left Sherman, we climbed to Cataract Lake where we took some pictures and then set off for the Pole Creek aid station. I looked at the map and expected the aid station to be right around the corner, but it turned out it that it was a few miles away, and no matter what John did to explain it to me, I just couldn’t understand why it was taking so long to get to the aid station. I kept thinking it would be around that “next” corner, but it never was. We finally saw it on a bluff, and trudged up to it where the aid station workers told us stories about the nasty, rainy night they endured the previous night. It was there that they informed us that we were in 26th place and “number 25 just left a few minutes ago.” I was shocked that we were that far up in the pack. There had been hints along the way that I was in the top 30 but it didn’t really register until Pole Creek. I hate to say it, but competitiveness seeped in and I wanted to pass the next guy. So, we set out on a mission to improve our position. We had another good climb to contend with until the next aid station, at Maggie Gulch (mile 85), and we just went after it. John got in front and led the way and I just hung on.
Eventually, we saw a runner ahead of us (Oh, and I commented on a dead mouse in the trail that John said did not exist. This led to a long discussion about the big, monster mouse in the Bugs Bunny cartoons). From a distance, we saw the runner struggle on a climb to the ridge. Turns out he was barfing. We came up upon him at the top and saw the Maggie’s aid station at the bottom of a valley. We just hung back and followed him to Maggie’s, where we also saw another runner who had passed me on Oscars many hours ago.
We had some soup and I could finally choke down a sandwich. While we sat there, another runner came into the aid station and dropped. Turns out he was the pacer for a runner who had come and gone from Maggies. The guy who had passed me at Oscars left the aid station with his pacer a few minutes before we did. They had an odd relationship. The pacer was trying to motivate the runner by calling him names and telling him he was slow and fat. Maybe this motivation had worked earlier, but the runner was struggling, and John and I decided we wanted to get ahead of them so we didn’t have to hear the invectives and swear words they exchanged. We put our heads down and powered up a steep hill and managed to put a few miles on this duo as well as another runner we caught on the hill (the guy whose pacer dropped).
|Leaving Maggie’s aid station|
“He’s insane. He is in 26th.”
“Keep it up KT.”
I was immediately overwhelmed and got choked up. I told John I was getting “emotional” because it meant so much to me that people at home were sending me good vibes and strength. It was really something. John and I talked about friendship and camaraderie over the next portion of the race until we reached the point where the trail dives down into Cunningham Gulch.
|Every time I felt down, I soaked in the view for inspiration|
Cunningham to Finish – 100.4 miles from Start
Steve was there ready to take me up the last climb, which was a real doozy. I took enough time to thank John for all his help over the past 20 miles. I changed shoes and looked at Steve and said: “We have got to go. There are a couple of guys on my tail.”
|Steve was determined that we would meet my goal of 35 hours, and we did|
I did my best to hang on to Steve’s pace and did well on the downhill, letting those legs roll the best I could until we reached the last section of single track to the finish. The last two or three miles were on a rolling trail that was taking us to the finish line.
The top of the last pass….almost all downhill from here
Finally, we came out of the forest onto the road into town. I saw Steve look at his watch and do a fist pump. I knew at that time we were going to break 35 hours. We ran into town, made that turn toward the school and heard a lot of screaming from the crowd. (Apparently, Wasatch thought another runner was me and whipped the crowd into a premature frenzy for me before he realized it was not me.)
Steve ran with me to the finish where I received several high-fives, a huge yell from Wasatch, a hug from Amy and then I KISSED THAT ROCK.
|John Fiore, Kevin Twidwell, Steve Brown and John Hart at the Hardrock finish line|