As I see it, modesty is of little value if its is not a natural consequence of much deeper feelings, and even more important in our special context, a consequence of a way of understanding ourselves as part of nature in a wide sense of the term. This way is such that the smaller we come to feel ourselves compared to the mountain, the nearer we come to participating in its greatness. Arne Naess
I lean over placing both hands on the table to stabilize myself. I stand in a blur, slightly dizzy, nauseous, my legs wobbly, my eyelids heavy. My wife, Deanne, surprised me by making the long drive over Cinnamon pass to come greet me at the Sherman aid station. I ponder for a moment whether I’ve properly expressed my gratitude to her for being here. Instead, I feel like I snapped at her for more coke and gels. I’m unsure of this though, the situation dramatized by the late hour. Of course, this is nothing a bit of sleep couldn’t resolve but that’s not an option. In the midst of my disorientation, my pockets and bottles are filled, wolfepaw grins at me, looking eager to take over pacing duties and get me on my way. Catherine had reminded me leaving Grouse that in this direction, Sherman was the black hole. Don’t get sucked into it like you did at Telluride last year, she had warned. I had indeed got sucked into something last year. Twenty painful minutes, checked out, staring blankly at the floor in front of me after having puked about 15 times in a row. Despite the mental and physical fumbling, this time my opportunity to lose it had only lasted 3 minutes. The paw and I were now determinedly marching up to pole creek, not fast but, not terribly slow either driven by the hope that sooner or later we’d see the light, or a light at least bopping ahead.
What I love most about running Hardrock other than the privilege of getting to spend a full day roaming around the San Juans is the lack of pretense and exceedingly relaxed atmosphere that reigns throughout. After some tea and oatmeal in the morning, I’m happy to bump into Hans Dieter at check in, who looks fresh and ready at 72 years of age. His excitement is contagious and I sure hope to be legging it up the hill like he is 50 years from now. We wish each other luck and he reminds me to run smart.
The race starts in a fittingly casual manner. There’s no rush to the first river crossing and the mix of running and hiking up Putnam remains easy and conversational. It’s enjoyable to share some early miles with a group of 7 or 8 runners, most of whom are friends of mine. We all come in together to KT, the first aid station, with Tim Parr taking the lead ahead of Hal and I. At Grant Swamp pass, Tim charges down the first scree shoot and disappears down below. Hal, Dakota and I surf and slide down to join back up with him shortly after where the trail resumes. It’s a beautiful morning, the running is fun and light and it feels much more like we’re on a training outing rather than in a race. Hal, Dakota and I hike up Oscars Pass together, matching each other's steps stride for stride. Scott Jaime, Karl and Nick Pedatella follow close behind. I’m happy to see Matt Trappe out capturing the magic on top of the pass as I’d thought before the race that this would be a nice spot to shoot. We make our way down the re-route on Bridal Vail road, which takes us into Telluride, adding two extra miles to the course. A huffy landowner has stopped the race from going down the usual sweet single track so instead we pound some long, rocky road into town. The views are still spectacular and the roughness of the path keeps the descent reasonably entertaining. I come into Telluride still with Hal and Dakota welcomed to cheers and clapping. The atmosphere is electric and the crowd much larger than I expected. The vuvuzela, horn of our clan, echoes loud above the screams. I’m zeroed in on Deanne who hands me my gels. Tony fills my bottles and in less than a minute, I’m out. Mum is waiting part way up the hill and snaps a couple shots of us hiking by. I jokingly tell Hal we should gang up on the kid and steal his poles. By treeline, I’m slightly ahead, leading us out into a hail storm. The three exposed miles up to the pass are wet and cold. It’s a relief to see Roch and other friends smiling and voicing encouragements as I reach Virginus pass. They huddle around me for warmth offering up pierogies, hot soup and tequila. I take none of it, opting only for sweets to keep the hummingbird in flight. Feeling a little frazzled and numb, I unintentionally veer too far left down the talus off the pass. Dakota calls me back up to the trail before I go too far astray. As soon as I catch up to him, he promptly speeds off down to Governors putting a 3-minute gap on me in less than 2 miles. Rather than going with him, I’m content to sit back and just cruise the descent. Shortly thereafter, Hal comes charging by and starts dropping sub-7 minute miles down Camp Bird road in hot pursuit of Dakota. I’m convinced he’s going too hard and much prefer to let him go rather than blow myself up this early. Ouray isn’t even half way into the race and we have a 5,000 foot climb coming up right after town up to Engineer pass.
I’d been struggling a bit with numb, somewhat painful feet up to this point, that I thought might be due to lack of protection underfoot. The real issue though is that as my feet are swelling there is no give in my laces which is constricting my foot. The toebox is feeling a bit too narrow as well so I switch out into a fresh pair of shoes, leave them completely loose and forgo putting my socks back on to gain some room in the forefoot. This does the trick and I’m relieved to not have to deal with this anymore through the end of the race.
Marching out of Ouray, Tony has joined me for the vertical mile up to Engineer. He’ll be with me to Sherman and it’s invigorating to have his company. He keeps me on point, suggesting a jog over a hike on easy stretches that alone, I’d probably have walked. At the highway crossing, the Paw sounds the vuvuzela, and I soak up some of frosty’s boundless energy for a quick jolt up the hill. Cliffy is there filming and by the click clack sound of the dinner plate sized slate, I know Dakota is just up ahead. I catch him but can’t or don’t want to accelerate past him. It’s nice to share the climb together while Tony and him chat away about the Grenadiers, the Tetons and other exciting projects for the near future. Not feeling particularly talkative, I’m content to just sit between the two of them and ride the train up to the aid station. The terrain steepens straight after that with about a mile and a half to go to pass. Dakota looks strong here and pulls ahead. We’re summoned to the pass by Bob Bachani yelling “that’s what I’m talking about!” over and over. He offers up drinks, Baileys or whiskey, hot or cold. I pass on both and tentatively make my way down Engineer road. My stomach isn’t off, just a bit touchy. With every downward step, I get a bit more jostled, preventing me from opening it up as I’d like. Tony patiently jogs with me, encouraging me to keep it together and stay patient. We make a decent transition through Grouse where I grab lights, a jacket and a hat anticipating a cold ascent over Handies. This is the first real low point I’ve had all day. Grouse is the psychological halfway of race. If you’re feeling good, Handies is manageable but if you’re not 14,000 ft will kick you in the teeth. At the this point I’m anticipating more of the latter. I hike out the aid station with a bag of chips trying to cut some of the sweet and keep my stomach together. Approaching the final bit of the climb, we click on our headlamps and can see 3 others, an estimated 20 minutes back. We know it’s Karl along with Diana and her husband. You don’t really want those two within reach when you’re not feeling so hot. Both are phenomenal hundred mile runners, always very calculated and will close on you before you even know what’s going on. I somehow drag myself over Handies, surprised to see a couple folks out cheering us on on the peak. It’s stimulating to see them out here exuding such passion and enthusiasm in the dark, blustery night. I’m unsure how I made it down off the mountain. The trail is twisty and technical enough to keep my attention focused 3 feet in front of me. I slip, slide, grunt and bumble down to Burrows, spotting two large porcupines in the process. Burrows blurs with cokes and thank yous for being here and on to the Sherman road. I make a mental note that I've been running for 17 hours now, which I find pretty impressive, until Tony stops to pee then catches back up to me while walking. So much for the running but I'd probably walk succumbing to weakness and fatigue if he wasn't there. As we approach Sherman, Frosty comes bounding along with her unshakable enthusiasm asking how I'm doing, what I need and informing me that Hal is now 45 minutes ahead, looking strong and Dakota is closing on him about 20 minutes up on me. Instead of feeling down, I get a boost from thinking of them having a great race. Hal is holding it together, after some bold moves on the road and Dakota is getting a second wind. I'm surviving, thinking of how not to get sucked into the black hole ahead and that no matter how well prepared you are these things are still bloody hard. And then, I get to Pole Creek.
"Dakota is about 15 minutes up and looking like shit." These words accompany me out of the aid station. A gel, a tums, an S!Cap. Lets run. Lets fucking run Paw. I'm still whimpering and gagging every time I put the shot of sugar in my month but I'm running again. We navigate through the marsh, quickly and efficiently, catching glimpses of two headlights up ahead.
"We're closing on them man" exclaims the Paw. I'm not convinced. It might be some spectators but why would they be moving away from us? It's gotta be them. We're closing on them. I can see Maggie aid station and Dakota's and Mike Foote's light heading up the hill the other side. They're moving slow. Slow enough that I can nearly make out their figures in the globe of light of their lamps. Coke and cookies. Boom! Lets get 'em. I've switched gears. I'm hurting but can push. It's an odd feeling, nearly transcendental. I squeeze Dakota's shoulder as I pass him. C'mon lets go get Hal. He can't. I feel sad for a moment just like when he pulled away from me earlier at Engineer. I want to do this together, to share the experience but it's my time to move on. Paw suggests that if I'm feeling good at Green Mountain pass we could try to push down into Cunningham. I'm still unsure not really accepting that the body is finally responding again. Down the pass, onto the open tundra, a large sheep dog is staring us down. Rocks, man, grab rocks, is all I can say. I reach down and grab sheep shit instead. Paw is unfazed. Just run man, I'll take care of the dog. So I just do just that, while they do their wolf thing. Minutes later, we've regained the trail. A light! We're catching Hal man! No, it's a photographer. We're flying, floating. Keep bounding, Joe. I feel like water coming down the track into Cunningham. My whole body is loose and free. I LOVE YOU! I hear Dakota's mum cry up from the valley. She thinks I'm him coming in. Everybody does. Coke, cookies. That's all I want. 8 miles to go. Hal's 34 minutes up. I push harder. Hiking with all my might. Nearing the top of Little Giant the sun comes out. I start to slow down. My hands drop to my knees and push whatever is left out of me over the hill. JB is there filming. I walk by him, grunt, walk the flat, try to run. Argh c'mon on little body, fight harder. I can see town up ahead. 21 minutes to get there, to break 25 hours. I check behind my shoulder. Once, twice, too many times. Dakota's not coming. I'm not catching Hal either. The clock ticks over. The twenty fifth hour. Half a mile to go and I'm running through the streets of Silverton back to where I started. I'm overcome by a huge sense of joy and happiness. I fight back the tears, not because of the satisfaction of having run a good race. My emotion is connected to the feeling of somehow in there having shared in something deeper with fellow human beings while participating in the greatness of the mountain. We rejoice and we suffer together. In our lowest moments and in our highest, all of us, runners, crew, volunteers, supporters exchange glimpses of Truth, of raw heartfelt emotion. The mountains have that power of bringing us together. It's a unique and rare privilege to commune in such an special environment with such exceptional people. And, for that, I am very thankful.
Very special thanks to my mom, my wife, Frosty, TK, the Paw and the Lip for their exceptional support throughout. Also, thank you to the race organization and all the volunteers for yet another fantastic year. Congrats to all the runners that took part in this year’s event. It's a good one.