In the one short-lived phase of my life where I can say I truly loved running, the furthest I ever ran was 13 miles—not even a half marathon. Upon finishing, I told myself “never again,” a vow I’ve since kept. I was never much of a trail runner, and a marathon or longer—like an ultramarathon—always seemed overwhelming and unappealing. It wasn’t long before I stopped running altogether.
Then, at this year’s Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run, that thinking started to shift.
When I joined on with Kahtoola last fall, so began my introduction to ultrarunning and its idiosyncratic community. The people. The stories. And the more I learn about the sport, the more I’m fascinated.
This summer we were invited to be part of Hardrock as a first-year partner, and always eager for opportunities that allow me to experience new things, I jumped at the chance to represent the company. It would be my first time at an ultra, going in with a fresh perspective.
Upon arriving at the runner briefing on Thursday morning, I really had no idea what to expect. I was told to check it out because it’s a “special” experience. The moment I stepped into the Silverton Middle School gym I was met with the energy and unique grassroots vibe of the Hardrock family. It was a crash course of an iconic run celebrating 25 strong years. An incredible history rushed my way and would continue to do so throughout the weekend. And as the briefing commenced, Dale Garland, the run director of all run directors, left the crowd with this: “This year’s story has yet to be written.”
I was also told to spend “A Day with Dale.” The next morning, as runners were cheered up the start of the course by the sound of an early-morning crowd waving cowbells and sipping coffee, I was graciously offered a spot with Dale, family, and other volunteers on a mountain pass ride-along to the Chapman, Telluride, and Ouray aid stations. As details of the race and stories from years past were shared, I was unaware that a new piece of Hardrock lore was in the making. Just down Ophir Pass Road near the Chapman aid station, Dale moved his SUV to the side of the road to make way for a runner and the wet embankment on his right gave out! It took two hours, a 4Runner with a winch, and a rag-tag group of people who sort of knew physics and what the hell they were doing to get it unstuck. Amazingly, the only damage was a dented and cracked bumper. And through it all, Dale kept his calm as runners jogged by, one even shaking a cowbell declaring, “I know what this moment needs!” and Dale chiming back, “If I’m not there Sunday at 9 o’clock, you know where I’ll be.”
Ouray is where our journey was cut short, when word came down the line that a photo was taken of front-runner and favorite Xavier Thévenard receiving aid two miles outside of an aid station. I caught a ride back to Silverton, and after deliberation that went well into the morning, the decision was made at 3:30 a.m. to disqualify Thévenard, the first-ever runner to be DQ’d from Hardrock for breaking the rules. When he received the news he was at the final aid station, Cunningham, and mile 91.
The door was open for Jeff Browning, who finished first overall and “Kissed the Rock” early the next morning with a time of 26:20:21 (Sabrina Stanley was the first female finisher at 30:23:36). Seeing just how fresh he looked was an unexpected sight and inspired me to make a move for the mountains.
By noon I found myself at the Ice Lake Basin trailhead, a place that has for years been on my long list of places to visit, but had yet to make the journey. As I set up the trail, not even a quarter mile in, a few recognizable faces from the Hardrock crowd bolted by me. That was when I started to run. (Fortunately, I typically hike in trail runners.) And aside from a few steep sections and occasionally stopping to catch my breath, I ran most of the way up and back down. I hadn’t run anywhere near 8 miles in years, let alone a mighty mountain range like the San Juans. All I could do was chuckle at the random moment of inspiration.
After my run I headed to Golden Block Brewery where I had gone for lunch after the runner briefing, and where, seated at the end of the bar, I met Pete and Jake, who were crew for their buddy Chad. In the days that followed we ran into each other here and there, and just as I was again sitting at the end of the bar, they rolled in and bellied up to the same seats. Call it fate or coincidence, because of them I had someone to get behind. (One of the things that impressed me most is how everyone, no matter if they’re crew, volunteering or are just a spectator, support each and every runner.) As Chad made his descent down the final stretch of the course, the crowd below played audience to an immense lightning show over the mountains above, which was a bit different of an experience for the runners. Thankfully, everyone on the course that night made it in safely.
The last thing I was told was to be at the finish line on Sunday morning for the final hour of the run. Historically, this is where some of the most dramatic moments of Hardrock have occurred. In 2015, the last finisher kissed the rock one second before the 48-hour cut-off. This year Andy Hewat did so at 47:56:14. Far less dramatic, but no less glorious. And just as Dale greeted and medaled every other finisher, he was there for Andy, at the end—one of many facets that makes Hardrock and it’s RD one-of-a-kind.
Later that morning at the awards ceremony Dale was front and center, in his gown, at 9 o’ clock, ready to put the final stamp on a landmark Hardrock. With emotions swirling, racers, volunteers and supporters were celebrated—none more so than those who, in wake of the 416 Fire, made sure the course was safe and that the run took place. Amid myriad unexpected twists and turns the story for the 25th annual Hardrock 100 was written, and with it final words from Dale that brought it all full circle: “Hardrock can get into your blood.”
And that’s exactly what happened.
On this block of a small, Old West town in Colorado, once a year, the heart and soul of ultrarunning comes to life. It helps keep a town going, furthers the sport, and writes great human stories. But more than the run, the heart and soul of ultrarunning is the people—from top to bottom, first to last. There’s something truly magical about the Hardrock weekend, and I felt it.
I’m still unsure how profound it all is, but I can tell you this: I’m stoked on trail running, I’ve really started to rethink some of my unhealthy habits, and my world view is unexplainably changed. Will I become an ultrarunner? Who knows. But when asked if I was there to run, my answer was a hard “no.” After it was all said and done, well … now I’m starting to wonder if it’s possible. If it can be part of my story.