"The mountains are calling and I must go" - John Muir

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Hardrock Experience

Yvon Chouinard  "... The whole purpose of planning something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain and if you compromise the process, you're an asshole when you start out and you're an asshole when you get back."

I have found myself delaying writing my about my recent trip to Colorado for the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run as I wanted to a) recover from my efforts b) have a computer to write the report on c) be in the best state of mind to be able to reflect and articulate my thoughts and experiences from the event.
The Hardrock 100 has been a 'dream race' since I began ultra-running four years ago, although I never saw myself becoming one of the lucky 35 drawn from the 'never started' list and being offered a spot.
So I found myself in shock having had a flood of messages and notifications from facebook whilst travelling back from a weekends running in North Wales in December 2013 - that I had been selected to run in the 2014 Hardrock!

My trip came about quicker than I thought, and before I knew it I was arriving into Denver airport and ticking off my first American breakfast with a 'Dunkin' Donuts' coffee and chocolate donut(s)...before heading north for Boulder and a few days running around the ultra-famous Flatirons.
Breakfast of Champions

Acclimation Run

From here I ventured south on my road trip to Leadville, Twin Lakes and finally Aspen, where I camped out for a couple of nights of running and hanging out with fellow Brit Tim Adams and girlfriend Azuisa.

Twin Lakes 

Feeling dizzy from the high altitude running

Maroon Bells  - the most photographed place in Colorado

Out for a run with fellow Brit, Tim
Great recovery in Aspen - I managed half...

Pre-Race Fun

Race Day
If I can sum up my race in one word based on my experience it would be - Suffering. 
I struggled with the altitude from the start and was feeling dizzy from the first ascent, however the downs and flats I felt strong, and I felt happy slogging it out on the climbs and making up for it on the other angles. I felt on track with my time goal of 30hours and felt positive about the next 24 hours.
Still smiling;-) 15miles in heading for Grand Swamp Pass

Heading out and up the toughie that is Oscars Pass...
This pattern followed up to mile 44 in Ouray, where I picked up a pacer (Jon Allen) and we began the plod out of the town and up Engineer pass. What followed up at Engineer Pass was one of the scariest experiences I have been through in the mountains; whether running, climbing, skiing or biking.
As we got to the Engineer Pass aid station, we met up and set off with Timmy Olson and pacer, Chris Rennaker. Timmy seemed to be suffering and it was a welcome change to be moving with another few runners. A couple hundred metres before the col, 'the shit hit the fan' - clouds came in, wind picked up and lightening started cracking...very close - too close to where we were!
Pacing strategy went out of the window and survival mode kicked in as the four of us "hauled ass" over the ridge and bolted down towards Grouse aid station in search of shelter. I will add here that Jon sang (beautifully) some Disney classics as we ran from the storm, and it was a great distraction, and fun actually...Nothing beats Disney classics to cheer you up in an Ultra - I think everyone should try this...

Heading up the impressive Engineer Pass

Tim, Chris and myself heading for Engineer Pass before the storm

Quiet before the storm...

Still smiling...somewhere up the 14,000ft Handies Peak (the courses highest point).
After a 45 minute stop and change of clothes, Jon and myself had to prise ourselves away from the toasty, warm fire and set off into the harsh, cold night  - destination, Handies Peak (14,048 feet) - by now the lightening storm had passed but as we climbed, the rain became heavy, the wind picked up, cloud dropped and visibility was down to a few metres. I was happy, this was typical British weather, and I could manage as long there was no lightening!
 Jon on the other hand was going down with hypothermia - without over-trousers, he was becoming dangerously cold with my slow pace uphill. We did what we had to and continued on, plodding on knowing that once on the summit it we could descend quickly to lower (and milder) temperatures.
This came about after a couple of hours slogging up, but my ankle began hurting on the descent, limiting my run to a shuffle, then a walk, then a hobble. It was knackered. My 'race' was over, I was on track upto this point and could deal with the altitude issues with more focus on the flat/down sections, but the foot injury switched me - quite abruptly - to survival mode.
I could talk of the suffering and pain I experienced in this second 40 miles of the race, how my bust up ankle caused 17hours of hobbling and crying, as I was simply unable to run, yet too determined to admit defeat.
It didn't go to plan. I suffered. A LOT. But in hindsight it made me aware of the depths I can go,  to muster that relentless forward motion required to finish..I guess there is beauty in suffering, and what the body can go through. That vulnerable condition the mountains put you in, is what makes you want to do more and what keeps you humble. It reveals to yourself (and others) the true nature of your character and in the face of adversity, there is something alluring about what the human body can do with the mind. 
No Bullshit, no hiding or pretending, a true endeavor where you are stripped down to the very essence of what the human spirit can tolorate - this is the lasting taste that you are left with to reflect on following Hardrock.
Not far from Maggies aid station - 80+miles in and suffering

Final descent

Looking fresh (?!) at the final col 

last bit of climbing

Kissing the Hardrock - my time wouldn't stop til I did!...no tongue btw.
With the race director - Dale - at the finish

It is quite remarkable of what the human mind can make the body go through when motivated. That motivation can come in many forms and sizes - for me it was simply wanting to make those closest to me proud,  and a refusal to quit, despite the competition element not going to plan. I still love to run in the mountains and the experiences I gained feed more than the ego. 

It is hard to articulate my experiences at Hardrock, the people made the race for me without a doubt, I even found myself thinking I could go home before the race, fully content with my trip simply from being able to hang out with such a great bunch of people. The race was a bonus. 
I came to realise that, unlike many other sports, Ultra-running (particularly Hardrock) attracts very similar characters, those of whom have similar outlooks and values in other areas of life. I met some of the kindest, most genuine and loving characters at the race that I found it so easy to get along with. 
I was taken in by the Hardrock family and made to feel not only welcome, but as though I belonged there. I was taken to dinner, coffee, bbqs, hot springs, out for runs where people went out of their way to ensure I felt part of the community - so to all the people that I had the pleasure to spend time with, thank you -  you made my trip for me. 
My time at Hardrock has been different from any other race I have experienced and I found the whole trip a very satisfying one indeed. Beautiful mountains. Lovely people and countless memories of good and selfless deeds shared through a passion for the mountains and running. 
Big THANKS to all those closest to me for the sacrifices and motivation, all the kind and selfless people I met on my trip (too many to mention - you know who you are!) and my sponsors Scott Sports and GU Energy for your continue support! The Hardrock is a different breed of Mountain Running 100milers and one that stands out as the best - simply for the people.


  1. But you ARE now part of the Hardrock family! Congrats again on your finish, I will be following-and cheering-for you-at your future races!

  2. Great work Stu! Nice to read your report and shame on Jon (a training buddy of mine) for not wearing any over trousers! This is my new favorite British word (along with head torch). Hope your ankle is healing well and best of luck in your future adventures!

  3. Stu, congrats on your hard earned finish. You have given weight to the notion that running 100 miles is mostly mental. Good for you gutting out a finish despite the 40 miles sufferfest. It was a pleasure meeting you, Tim and Azuisa and I hope to see y'all again in Silverton.

  4. Stu, it was a true privilege meeting you and running with you for a day. You never had any quit in you, no matter how much it hurt. It was something I'll always cherish and remember. Good on you for getting it done.