This year’s Hardrock 100 went well by nearly every measure. At the risk of making it sound routine, it was a fairly smooth day out there. And with the help of my crew/pacer team of Christy and Jesse Rickert– from the Mount Everest/Global Extremes days– I finished in 5th place, with a time of 28:19. It was my sixth time on the course and my fastest finish yet.
The most measurable improvement for me was paring three and a half hours off my previous best time for the counter-clockwise direction. That calculates to about two minutes and ten seconds per mile faster over every mile. My prior CCW finishes were 2011- 31:55; 2009- 31:59; 2007- 33:15 (only 2011 followed the slightly longer Telluride/Bear Creek re-route).
I started out a bit closer to the front this year, arriving to the first aid station in somewhere around the 18th spot. My initial goal of a sub-30 hour finish was about a two hour improvement on my best time to date for this direction. So armed with splits from my prior finishes, I worked to cut time from each leg, and when I arrived in Ouray at mile 56 and picked up Christy as a pacer, I was more than a full hour up on 2011.
Christy pulled me up and over Virginius to Telluride in personal record time, and Jesse did the same from Telluride to Putnam (mile 95), helping me to log faster splits on every leg. We ran by Putnam aid station at 9am without stopping, comfortably ahead of my goal and without anyone giving chase, and we cruised to the finish in 1:20. Every split but the first and last of the race were the fastest I had ever run them.
I can’t exactly attribute the improvement to any single factor, and was more likely due to experience accrued on this course through the years. In fact, if anything stood out as being different this year leading up to the race, it was that I was actually very light on training miles. Our Centennial Peaks ski project was in full swing this spring, so April and May weren’t good for running (average about 15-20 miles per week). I sprained my ankle June 1st and was sidelined for a week, I sat out the Dirty 30, and then ran flat miles up until San Juan Solstice 50, which went surprisingly well, all things considered. After that I logged two good weeks of daily runs before an accelerated taper (~ 4 days) to this race. I was forced into a “less-is-more” strategy, and it seemed to actually work.
As always, I kept things simple out there, relying exclusively on gels, S-Caps, Nuun tabs, and Skratch Labs drink mixes. I took very little from the aid stations apart from water, with the exception being a small cup of Coke or chicken broth in a few instances through the night, and two pieces of a PB&J. I did scarf down three pierogies up on Virginius Pass. They really hit the spot.
The low point of the race for me wasn’t so much a mental or physical bonk, but was a slight demoralization from the steady rain that began to fall as I pulled into Ouray. It was a bummer to entertain the thought of heading into the night cold and wet, with a forecast for steady precipitation. Thankfully it didn’t last, though we did get another good dousing after leaving Telluride.
Most interesting to me about the race though was that despite running the course in the opposite direction to last year, I finished in virtually the same exact time and place– in 2012 I was 5th place, in 28:20. A 30 second improvement in a 28-hour race amounts to being .03% faster, a difference that number crunchers would consider to be statistically insignificant.
So I tied myself from last year, running the opposite way.
Many Hardrockers say– and I’ve always agreed– that the clockwise course is faster. The layout of the climbs and descents is more runnable, and late miles are easier when going clockwise. My two fastest times before this year were on the clockwise course, and by significant amounts. But the winning times and course records don’t vary too much one way or the other, and there’s other evidence of parity, mainly from regular racers who finished sequential years with close to, or identical times.
It didn’t matter to me that there were instances that demonstrated things to be equal, I felt CCW was harder, and my times until this year corroborated that idea. But I guess I was wrong. I may prefer the layout of the CW course but that doesn’t mean it’s actually slower.
So having finally settled that, I guess the next thing to do is start figuring on how to crack into the 27’s. After all, next year is clockwise. But first I think I’ll just enjoy the rest of my wide open, race-free summer.