In the days that follow this enormous undertaking, I’m usually so drained– mentally, physically, and emotionally– that I struggle to assimilate all that took place. I recall it in bits and pieces– mental images of the course, fragments of conversations with crew and pacers, or memories of thoughts as to how I was feeling or what was happening. To look back on it can almost take on a Hollywood-esque “life flashing before you eyes” retrospective, like a montage of moments pasted together in a crude slideshow.
Having had a few days to try to put it all together, one thing is clear, it was a great day.
I kissed the rock in 28:20, a PR by two hours (despite the 2.5 mile longer course), and I managed to finish feeling stronger and more together than ever before. I always consider this race to be one of a runner versus the course and clock, but when I learned that I had somehow climbed up to 5th place, considering the talent at the front end of the field, I realized that this is one of the best finishes I’ve had in all the races I’ve done. You can see the results here.
In hindsight there were a whole host of reasons why things went so well, some big, some small. Rather than delve into the minutiae, a few things stand out as significant factors why I had the day I did.
This was my 5th time running Hardrock and my 10th 100 miler. Put simply, there is no substitute for experience. Every lap I’ve done here has provided countless learning lessons. I don’t like to make the same mistakes twice, and I pay close attention to what does and does not work. Food, gear, training, pace, the less tangible issues of handling the night and the strategies of the course layout– I’ve figured out what works for me.
My crew– Christy, Neal Beidleman and Chris Davenport– kept things moving well. I was on track for a PR from the start, and with their help I continually gained on it as the race progressed. I said I wanted to pare down my aid station times, and we streamlined the stops to a mere 26 minutes total, down from about 50 in 2010. Huge thanks to the three of them.
I should also thank mother nature for our light snow year and the non-existent spring ski season, which allowed me to actually run a proper amount in the months up to the race. Usually I’m woefully light on miles as it approaches.
In a general sense, that’s why I had such a good day. Sorry if I didn’t reveal any useful Hardrock secrets.
But that’s the thing, there aren’t any. When I got to the finish, Bryon Powell from irunfar.com was filming the leaders coming in. I’ve never met Bryon, I wonder if he even knew my name since I’m not sponsored and I never make the lists the elite runners pick to do well, but he asked,”If you were 23rd at Chapman (mile 18), how did you end up in 5th?”
Good question. I didn’t really say much, though I did have an answer– I respect the distance and the course. Put more specifically, I run my race at my pace. I’m careful to pay close attention to how I’m feeling, I always consider what’s yet to come, and I make sure not to let small problems get bigger.
That all seems obvious, but in my opinion, many runners ignore some or all of those things. Particularly when it comes to the front end of the race, people often run out faster than they should, and chase each other so as not to let anyone get too big a lead. That’s not running at your own pace. To push it early and through the heat of the day on a long course with so much altitude and elevation is crazy in my opinion, yet you see it all the time. That’s not being respectful of the course. For all but the most fit (and lucky), these early decisions cause many runners to test the limits of being minimally hydrated and light on calories. If that happens and it’s left unchecked, things always start to unravel. On some 100 mile courses you might be able to hang on and sneak into the finish, but not here. It’s going to catch up to you.
And then the night comes. My friend Tim Mutrie dubbed me the “Night Stalker” after this year’s race. At first I rolled my eyes at the sensational handle and said I just got lucky, but he’s actually right. I ran comfortably with friends through the day, hovering around 20th place. I stood still in the overall ranking for 15-16 hours, just taking care of myself, eating, drinking, getting through the heat of mid day. As the sun set, at mile 52 or so near Engineer Pass, I started moving up. But the thing is, I wasn’t moving faster, I was just holding steady, and everyone else started slowing.
They always do. Over the next 12 hours to the finish, my steady pace took out the slowing pace of much of the front end, who by pushing it hard early on, were being ordered by their bodies to slow down. And that’s how you end going from 23rd to 5th. It’s a tortoise and hare analogy.
Unless you’re truly an elite ultra runner with experience on a course like this– and I mean the best-of-the-best– you should take it easy through the entire first half. It could help you to finish feeling relatively good and somewhat coherent, and who knows, you might even finish better than you think. This race is so cool, but it’s so hard to gain entry and requires so much effort, that to go out too fast and suffer through it all is no way to experience it. Of course if that sounds boring, you can go out fast and maybe things will work out. But you’ll be risking getting sick, feeling terrible, taking a nap in the dirt on the side of a mountain, and the dreaded DNF. I know how I like to do it.
Some personal race stats:
– I put down just about 50 gels, of all types, brands and caffeine levels.
– I drank 12 handheld bottles of water with Nuun tablets and about 11 liters total from a bladder with Accelerade.
– I put down 27 S-Cap salt pills, 7 cups of flat Coke and 8 cups of chicken broth.
– I wore Hokas (Stinsons) the entire race, and completely destroyed them. They’re done. I changed socks 3 times.
– I used poles up Oscars, Virginius, Engineer, Handies, from Maggie, and Dives Basin.