I share an office with James Miller who
is an excellent distance runner.
The following is his account of running the Hardrock 100 in July 2004.
This is a 100-mile footrace with something like 50,000+ feet of
gain and loss.
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Date: Tue, 8 Feb 2005 09:37:56 -0700 (MST)
The 2005 Hardrock drawing [for this year's entrants] is already over
and I'm finally getting around to posting my 2004 race write up.
I found trip reports from others to be very useful in preparing for
Hardrock so I am at last offering my own long-winded version
Hardrock never was one of my goals until I noticed last year thatames
I still met the qualifying criteria due to a near DNF at the Bear 100
in 2002. I sent in an entry on the spur of the moment.
I hadn't planned on doing another 100. They are too destructive.
Between tapering for and recovering from these races, they take a huge
bite out of a summer. My wife Liza believed me to be insane to even
such a thing as Hardrock. I told her my chances of even getting in were
minimal. As it turned out, I got lucky, for first time ever. I suppose
such can be called luck. I told Liza that this would be the last 100.
I consider a 100 to begin when I drop the race application in the mail.
a training schedule as if I would run Hardrock, even before the lottery
I read every trip report I could find. I studied the 2001 splits and
carefully over the course of the winter. My conclusion was that you can
really slow and still do well at Hardrock. Specific training for any
entails doing a lot of what you'll be doing in the race. In the case of
Hardrock, this means a lot of hills and a lot of walking. While
my previous two 100's, I took the approach of putting most of my miles
weekly long run. This time, I went with shorter workouts and more total
Typical workouts over the winter were two to three hours and I was
doing 10 to
15 hours per week. My training schedule for previous 100's typically
of 6 - 10 hours per week done in one or two workouts. I still don't
approach is better. I can say that doing shorter workouts allowed me to
70 - 100 mile weeks which I was never able to do before. Long runs are
me and recovering from them requires more time.
As a race strategy, I take the approach of distance in the bank as
opposed to time
in the bank. I like to get as far as possible before real damage to my
sets in. My goal was even splits at a pace to be determined by my
come race day. I came into the race wishing that I'd been able to get
more miles in.
Do we ever have enough? As they say, "We go to the race with the
we have, not the conditioning that we wish we had."
The race day plan was to start the run as if I would be doing a steady
pace over 35 hours. I intended to strictly stick to the schedule in the
early part of the race when it's easy to move quickly. For the second
of course, I would go with whatever I have left in my system, damn the
schedule. It is always like this. My declared goal was 40 hours but I
secretly hoped to be under 35. I put together a tentative schedule based
on these estimates of my capability:
steep climbs 1500 vert feet/hour such as Oscars
gentle climbs 25 minute miles such as Ouray to Engineer aid station
downhills 15 minute miles such as Descent into Telluride
difficult descent 20 minute miles such as Descent from Virginius
road running 12 minute miles such as Governer to Ouray
We took the opportunity to make this a family camping trip. I had along
parents and an aunt and uncle. We established a camp up Mineral Creek.
before we all carbo loaded on roasted marshmallows.
Sometime during the night, I woke in a sudden fear thinking
"I wonder if my body knows what I'm about to do to it".
Dad woke me at 5:00 and I grilled up one sandwich for breakfast. I
wasn't really hungry but ate it anyway. I had no coffee at all. I drove
with Dad in to Silverton and arrived there about 15 minutes before
According to the model, I'd be around four hours through the KT aid
station. I figured there is no reason to be moving over the first leg
as fast as most people do. Four hours is definitely a back of the pack
pace. It seemed slow, but that was the model and so I stuck to it.
I started out at the back of the pack. I had intended to be dead
last but there were a couple of other guys who would have none
of it. I started out strolling at a leisurely pace. The stretch of
downhill on the Shrine road I ran lightly but the rest of the first two
miles I walked. It took a full hour to get into a flow where I was
hiking comfortably on the way up Bear Creek. I think it's worth
while to relax for this stretch. The scenery off Putnam pass is just
amazing. The whole course is amazing but later in the trip, appreciation
of it wanes. It's good to take the time to enjoy it in the beginning.
I didn't meet anyone I knew through the first leg until I caught up with
Ulli Kamm as we neared the KT aid station. Ulli always has a solid
plan. He is very calculating and systematic in his approach to these
events. I have joined him in some of his walking events in the Denver
area. He taught me how much can be done through a steady walking pace.
I reckoned if I physically crashed I could always latch on to Ulli and
Section 2 Kamm traverse to Chapman:
The Kamm traverse is quite nice if a little scary. There is a superb
of the Mineral Creek valley. I think this was my favorite section.
My parents had hiked up and met me on the Ice Lake trail. I stopped
and chatted a few minutes. It was good to see them there. They had
a pleasant day for a hike. Island Lake is especially lovely from Grant
Swamp Pass. The soft talus and snow on the steep drop down the other
side was refreshingly easy. We were able to shuffle down the wet talus
quite rapidly. Below that the traveling was easy down the steep terrain
on top of the snow. I only ran the gentle sections of the descent and
walked the remainder. Toward the bottom I ran a bit with Hans-Dietter
Weisshaar. He was running much more aggressively on the down hills than
I was. I noticed he doesn't spend any time at all in the aid stations.
Section 3 Oscars Pass:
Oscars Pass came and I was starting to tire. It didn't look that bad
from across the valley. It has a reputation for being brutal. Oscars is
a long steep slog up and I reckon its reputation is justified. There's
not much to say about it except that it was a grunt. I don't recall
how long it took me. It did set the tone for the rest of the day.
I thought perhaps my pace estimate was low. I became aware on Oscars
that my trudging pace was quite realistic. I did notice that my slog was
a little faster than that of those around me.
The first bit down the other side was pretty runnable. Beyond that the
was intermittently steep and I walked a fair bit on the steeper down
All in all it was a nice descent though it took me longer than I had
In general I underestimated the time needed going down hills though I
climbing somewhat faster than I thought I would. The last part of the
in to town was very pleasant to run. There were a lot of hikers through
section. Most of them were aware of the event and were encouraging to
that they met.
Section 4 Virginius Pass:
I had hoped that I would be able to get into a comfortable pace and
I did achieve a steady pace but it was not comfortable. It's a long
but not too steep for the most part and I was able to steadily pull in
runners. Part way up, I met a runner who had missed a turn and gone
20 minutes out of his way. He was calmer about that than I would have
The views behind were great but I didn't take much time to enjoy
them. The traverse from Mendota Saddle to Virginius was farther than I
thought it would be but it went quite rapidly and it was refreshing to
walk across moderate terrain. I caught up with Stephanie Ehret just
before the pass. She was another of the few people I knew in the event.
I didn't linger at the top. I should have taken a moment to appreciate
the place and people who went to the effort of having an aid station in
such a location but they seemed to be quite busy at that moment.
I half rappeled down the first pitch. It was too rough to glissade.
At the end of the rope, I fell on my ass and slid down the remainder
rather gracelessly. I did the remainder of the descent into Governer
conservatively and ran very little of it.
Section 5 The Road to Ouray:
The next stretch was kind of tedious. I wanted to get it over with but
want to work it so hard that my stomach would be upset at Ouray. I ran
flat sections and walked the steeper parts. Stephanie came roaring past
around the Camp Bird Mine followed later by Ken Ward. I should have
my water at Governer and I had run out. There was one creek crossing the
road along the shelf section which I took advantage of but I was still
Ken kindly gave me some water before moving on ahead.
By the time Ouray came along I was ready for a break. I walked the last
few blocks into the aid station enjoying the warm evening. My family
had planned to meet me in Ouray but I was about an hour ahead of the
that I had given them. They hadn't come in yet. One of the volunteers
kindly went out to look for them but had no luck. I felt kind of bad
being early. I didn't want them to come all the way over from Silverton
and miss me. I spent a fair amount of time eating and drinking and
they'd show up. The extra time spent feeding actually served me pretty
well through the night. Finally I decided not to wait longer.
Section 6 Ouray to Grouse Gulch:
I started out feeling fresh and walked slowly through the town listening
to the evening sounds and watching the people who would not be heading
that evening. I was a little discouraged about missing my people. I made
the decision to take the first part of the ascent pretty easy. It became
dark enough along the water line road to get out my light. This was a
relaxing section to move along and I ran some of it, keeping a careful
eye out for the cables we had been warned about during the briefing.
The Uncompagre River crossing was uneventful. The crossing was part of
the race which I had been worrying about.
As I approached the tunnel, I heard my wife holler down, "James is that
They had missed me by five minutes in Ouray and were hanging out by the
hoping to catch me. I was glad. Both my little kids and my mother were
Liza gently reminded me that it was our anniversary.
I knew that. At least I had the day before. At the moment it had slipped
my mind. She gave me a hug in spite of the crust and sweat. It's good to
be married to a forgiving wife. We chatted several minutes and watched
string of lights climbing the canyon wall. It was a very nice moment.
Liza finally kicked me and told me I had to go. Off I went alone into
night and off they went to bed.
I had been looking forward to this section. This is the shelf trail
that sounds like broken pottery when you walk on it. The trail was
spectacular even in the dark and I took extra care across the narrow
I felt pretty good during the hike up Bear Creek though it took me
than I had expected. I could smell smoke from the aid station long
I reached it. The aid station seemed quite crowded. At least one
runner had gone ten toes up in a sleeping bag and a number of runners
hanging around chatting. The atmosphere was quite casual. I ate a
and some noodles and then headed out. I felt no need to tarry there.
The initial climb past the aid station is pretty gradual and the course
was easy to follow. The reflective tags on the markers showed up really
well, even without my bright light which I never even had to use.
Eventually I put it back in my pack. There were a few lights out in
which I caught by the top. The red flashing light that I had read
about marking the summit wasn't very visible until the final steep
That last stretch was really steep and seemed to drag out a long time.
I was a bit worried about getting on the correct road at the top.
The long course briefing had put in my head horror stories about
getting on the wrong road and ending up back down the Engineer Pass
road going into Ouray. There were markers for the first turn left
and then for the right turn which were clear enough. After that there
were no more markers for a long way. I should have got out my compass
and map to verify I was on the right road but was lazy and assumed that
the few lights in front of me also were going the correct way. Still
it there was an itch in my head wondering if perhaps the lot of us
lost. Especially through one part where the road climbed for a while.
There was no particular problem staying on course down the road section
however it was long and not very pleasant. I ran a fair bit of it since
the gradient was moderate. The Grouse Gulch aid station seemed very far
away. It looked huge and it didn't seem that I was getting closer to it
with time. It looks bigger than it is due to the number of cars and the
amount of activity around the area. I should have taken it a little
slower since by the time I got to the aid station my stomach was feeling
distinctly off. Stomach problems have always plagued me on long runs.
I struggled to get down a grilled cheese sandwich and some soup. I
finally took an alka-seltzer and a couple of pieces of candied ginger
and that seemed to work. Thankfully this was the only time during the
race that I had any nausea at all. I spent nearly a half hour there.
It was the longest rest stop of the day. There were numerous pacers
around waiting for their runners. They were chatting about expecting
the next section to require seven hours. I was hoping to be under
five and wondered if I was being excessively optimistic.
Section 7 Handies Peak:
I moved out slowly and not in very good spirits. Still it didn't take
long to find a steady flow again even though it was a rather strained
flow. I caught a couple of lights before the top of American Grouse
It was an overcast night and began to rain gently on the way up.
Near the top, I caught up with a fellow from Missoula. We crossed
basin together and helped keep each other on course. This was another
leg that I had been concerned about. I had visions of icy hard snow
slopes on the descending traverse into the basin. There wasn't much
snow this year and the night was warm. What snow that remained was very
soft. I think it was the most difficult leg to stay on course however.
Several times I lost the reflectors.
It was quite pretty to see the lights going up Handies Peak. I wasn't
sure where the trail went. There were a couple of lights following the
line that I expected was the route and some other lights that were way
up to the right of the peak. My foggy assumption was that those lights
were either lost or not part of the race.
As I continued up it was apparent that almost everyone was going that
the pair of lights following my expected line were lost or
It seemed I was gaining on most everyone in sight, even though I felt
tired and slow. I caught up with Stephanie again just below the top.
I arrived at the summit about 5:00 just as it was getting light a
I didn't stop on top but moseyed down the nice stretch leading off the
and then picked my way carefully down the steep slope leading into the
basin below. Below I was able to run from time to time on some of the
flatter sections. I didn't bother trying to push the pace on the steep
sections. All in all it was a pleasant experience to be moving down the
valley in the gathering light. I began seeing runners in the rocks and
trees. I figured the tendency would go away as light improved but it
They weren't really hallucinations but they were similar in nature.
I kept expecting Stephanie to pass me by again. A guy who I didn't
recognize came running through at a pretty good clip, pushing hard
on the downhills. I let him go. The first lie-a-beds were coming up
the trail and there were plenty of people were camped around Burrows
who were just starting to move about.
>From Burrows Park, it was a long and tedious trip down to the
aid station. I had budgeted 12 minute miles for this section though
I'm not sure why I thought I'd be able to sustain that this far into
the race. As it turned out, I wasn't too far off at 13 minute average.
I caught up with Emily Baer and her pacer just before the route cuts
off the road to the bottom. I caught up with the guy who'd passed me
above Burrows about the same area and we reached the bottom together.
He had an amazingly strong walking pace which I didn't try to stay with
as we approached the aid station. I thought the valley bottom was really
pretty here. What a place to live. At the station, thankfully my stomach
was ok and I spent a fair amount of time eating to make up for my lost
appetite at Grouse.
Section 8 Cataract To Maggie Gulch:
I took off up Cataract Gulch at a comfortable pace and in good spirits.
It helped that there was a proper bridge across the creek and I could
the section with dry feet. I'm very fond of dry feet. The trail climbs
at a moderate grade and I was able to hike it at a decent clip. I caught
Emily again, who'd left the aid station before me. I had been kind of
dreading crossing the creek above the famous scary waterfall but it
out there was an easy log to cross on and we were able to keep dry feet.
I walked together and chatted with Emily for maybe a half hour. I felt
that I could maintain a little faster pace on the ascent so pulled on
In the long meadow section before the Pole Creek pass, I could see
another runner out in front. He was going pretty strongly and I wasn't
able to catch him until the summit. It was same fellow who'd passed
It turned out to be Dennis Herr, though we didn't bother with
at the time. I didn't know who he is but plenty of other people do.
He has an impressive record I later learned. He's tough and taciturn.
I mentioned that he set a brutal pace and he just nodded and grunted.
On the other side of Pole Creek, I got a little confused by which way to
go and stopped to get out the map. This is the only area where the map
is not that good since the details are covered with the map legend. It
out that I had just missed a couple of markers. The stretch down to the
aid station was much farther than I had expected. I was running
pretty well on the easy downs and was able to pull ahead Dennis for a
I was able to eat a fair bit at Pole Creek and topped off my water.
Dennis came in minutes behind me and took some time to tend to a
I left not long after he arrived. I told him he would catch me though he
expressed some doubt and told me I was moving pretty well.
The section up to Sheep Creek is a nice traverse and I was able to
run a fair bit of it. The long gradual climb beyond up Maggie - Pole
Creek Pass seemed to take forever. I could see Dennis behind me not more
than 5 minutes I suppose. He hadn't tarried long back at the aid
At the top, the descent into Maggie gulch looked long and steeper than I
expected. I worked the descent pretty hard. I couldn't see any runners
in front of me at all. I was thinking that I had caught all the slow
runners and I wouldn't be catching any more for the rest of the trip.
I again took the time to feed as much as possible before moving out.
Dennis came in shortly after I arrived at the aid station and didn't
stay long. He's one of the more persistent people I've ever run against.
I pretty much assumed that anyone I saw in front of me I'd eventually
and pass. Being able to run down rabbits late in the day is a major
of starting slowly. Dennis was an exception. He was maintaining his
I felt quite tired here though the aid station people told me I looked
They were being kind. I don't look particularly good, even when I'm
They say that to everyone. They are trained to say these sorts of
Section 9 Maggie Gulch to Cunningham:
Now there were only 15 miles and three more humps to go. I
the last 15 miles. The next climb up to Buffalo Boy Ridge went much
than the previous pass. I caught Dennis a bit below the ridge and we
together to the high point. At this point he took off at a remarkable
across the descending traverse leading to Stony Pass. My sense of scale
began to get skewed and I believed that a little bump off of the Buffalo
Boy Ridge was Green Mountain which we would go up and over and that
be it. We passed that hump and I was incredulous that the large
in the distance could be the one we had to traverse. Indeed that was
the case. We were promised a stunning view of the mountains in the
Weminuche Wilderness to the south from this section. They did not
exaggerate. The view from here is amazing. Sadly however, I wasn't
concentrating on the extraordinary scenery. That's one problem with
our priorities become twisted.
Once I passed the saddle, the traverse going across to Green Mountain
wasn't going the way it had been drawn on my map but instead traversed
below green mountain and climbed to the ridge behind it, a much easier
option as it turned out than the route on the map. I caught up with
Dennis again by the top but he again took off down the other side much
faster than I wanted to go. He has amazing ability to run down hill.
I reckoned I wouldn't see him until the finish.
On the descent again my perspective betrayed me. The route descended
a valley full of meadow maggots which I believed was Cunningham Gulch
but I couldn't figure out which way the route continues over the next
Below the valley there is a huge canyon which I took to be the Animas
Then it occurred to me that the huge gorge I was seeing is Cunningham
Gulch and we would have to descend clear to the bottom and climb all
the way out again. The cars at the bottom were tiny and far away and
I suddenly felt mote-like. The gorge looked surreal and incredibly deep.
I thought this must be what the Alps are like and suddenly I found
the Lonely Goat Herd from The Sound of Music stuck in my head. The
little valley with all the sheep and a horse quietly grazing was
very peaceful. I wondered how many sheep were grazing in other of these
valleys that produced such nice clean looking water. I had been drinking
indiscriminately from many of the streams along the way.
I suffered through the descent which was truly a brutal one. It was a
terrible thing to do to a runner so late in the trip. I tried to be
careful about dislodging rocks since it looked like any rock launched
would plummet straight onto the aid station below. As it turned out
that would not have been the case but that was the impression from
Section 10 Cunningham to the End:
I forgot that I had a drop bag at Cunningham. I did not feel like
eating much but took some watermelon and drank a whole coke. That
was the only caffeine I took during the race. I should have had a
and could have used the ensure that I had stashed in the forgotten drop
bag. "There are only nine more miles." was my muddled thinking.
Initially the coke worked really well and I began the climb feeling
nearly fresh. An energy crash came upon reaching the bottom of the
upper basin. This was mentally the worst part of the trip. The climb
was steep and went on forever. I had hoped to settle into a comfortable
pace that would carry me to the top, but there is no comfortable pace
this far into the trip and on this kind of slope. Part way up I got
stuck into my barley syrup stash which I had been carrying since
I took a quick stop at the top to look around. There were a few people
behind me who I thought were gaining so I didn't linger. I found the
death traverse over to the saddle intimidating. It's quite secure but
I took it slowly and then took a brief break on the far side and
my barley syrup.
There was one runner far down the other side already. I assumed it was
Dennis and that I could never catch him given his downhill ability.
There were people not far behind however and I didn't want to lose a
I had reserves left on board so I decided to work the down hill hard
while and see what would happen.
It went pretty well and nobody seemed to be gaining on me. Just above
Arrastra Gulch road, I saw Dennis a short distance in front of me. I
off the pace in order to restore my legs for the last flat section. I
thought I could out run him on the flat. When I got to the road, I was
following the course description which said go right 30 yards and drop
the hill. There were no markings after 30 yards and I went slowly
next stretch looking carefully for turns and hoping I hadn't gone off
Finally I came across a clearly marked turn that took me to the jeep
the other side of the stream.
The remainder of the trip was truly a pleasure. It starts with a
gently descending stretch of jeep track and then turns into a rolling
section of forested road and trail. What's more, the barley syrup
kicking in real good. I caught up with Dennis and coasted behind him a
while until I decided to move. Shortly after passing him, I passed
another runner who I didn't even know was there, a free bunny. Neither
showed any interest in chasing me.
I felt incredibly strong over the last stretch and the trail seemed
to pull me along. For a while, it felt like the end of just another
run. I broke out of the trees and ran down the hill to the edge of town
a bunch of people were playing horseshoes and cheering runners on. At
I realized I didn't know where the course went. I headed straight up the
street leading into town and nobody screamed that I'd gone the wrong
way so I figured it was right. Reality kicked me in the butt as soon as
reached the street. I abruptly became very tired and my legs felt like
I ran a while and then checked to see if anyone was chasing me down the
There was nobody so I walked a short distance until I found my running
again. I crossed main street to the next street but wasn't sure which
way the school was. I saw it close by to the left. The end was
anticlimactic with a gentle jog into the finish. All my family were
there. I was happy and relaxed on the final stretch, just the way
I'd hoped to finish, nothing damaged with some reserves left on board.
Dennis came in less than two minutes later looking strong. He introduced
himself to me later and congratulated me on the finish.
Liza had scored a motel room and my four year old eagerly explained to
that it had a microwave. Within a few minutes I began getting the chills
so we went to the room and I slipped into a hot bath and nearly dozed
Hardrock is more than just tough. It is an extremely beautiful and
route in its own right. I was privileged to have had the opportunity to
The Hardrock team did a great job of updating runner progress
throughout the race. This greatly enhanced the experience for my family.
This is not an easy race to watch. It was wonderful for them to be
able to see the progress of the race from the high school gymnasium.
I didn't see my family often and I wasn't expecting them to crew,
but it was very helpful for me just to know they were there. They think
this is a crazy thing to do. I don't agree with them but perhaps
they have a point.
I didn't quite reach my goal of even splits. The second half was around
40 minutes slower than the first. It was a very good day. Starting off
conservatively worked well. I climbed a little faster than I had
planned but was slower on the downhills. It averaged out. I moved
slower than my expected pace on the trip up Handies and I underestimated
the the Maggie to Cunningham section. I was a bit quicker than my plan
on the last leg from Cunningham in.
I noted many people around me, especially in the first 30 miles of
the race, ran the steep downhills and walked the flats. In many cases,
I easily stayed with them at my walking pace on the descents. I reckon
I have a limited number of running miles in a day and don't want to
them on sections that I can move across at the same cost by walking.
It's better to save the running for the easy sections where it gives the
Over a year has passed since I dropped a Hardrock application in the
I have frequent dreams about the event. I really wasn't planning to do
again. Hardrock falls right in the middle of summer and I have other
to do with my life. From time to time though I get to thinking of what
and wondering what it might be like to run it in the other direction.
In a careless moment last month I inadvertently dropped another
application in the mail. I began training as if I would run it.
I got lucky again. This will be my last 100.
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