Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hard(rock 100) to Grasp

I had so much fun blogging a couple of weeks ago in the aftermath of Western States, and really wanted to maintain some consistency in posting some of my neurotic thoughts on so many things sport. I've started 84 different posts in my head only to fail to get to the keyboard. But seriously, I've been slammed at work. Grateful am I!

My latest excuse for waiting to post is actually a good one: I wanted to wait until a friend of mine finished Hardrock 100. There was a lot of build-up to this race, at least in the small virtual space where I sometimes loiter on blogger and twitter. The Matt Harts, Karl Meltzers, Dakota Smiths and Irunfars of the world were making their ways to Silverton. Of course, Tim was on his way having gotten into the race officially at the llth hour, as were Sir Clark and Mr. Jamie, Joe Grant, another Solomon sponsored euro, Julien Chorier (who'd been touted during WS100 and else where), as well as a whole host of other runners and fans (I have virtually no familiarization with the women other than Darcy Africa and Diana Finkel appeared to be racing mano a mano for the win).

So, granted, there was certainly some buzz, but I was by far most interested in how Footfeathers would fair. I got to see and kinda feel some of his pain at the end of the SD100 about a month ago. He talked in his race report about how he'd definitely been running and ultra racing consistently leading-up to this race in the San Juan Mountains. He wasn't going-in that brand-spankin new; he's been living and breathing trail ultra (read some of his interviews), legitimately. Or so it seemed.

Definitely read his race report, all of it. The best word I can come-up with now is "troubling" (I say courageous, brave, resilient, and ballsy too; but this 2011 Hardrock sounds downright dark, especially from my friend's perspective).

I started digging the trail back in 2008. I found the Lucho/GZ tribe and have been pretty dialed-in ever since. I started with 25k southern Cali trail races with ~3k vert and lovely views of the Pacific or Vegas and that was about as much as I felt like going. I trained with some ultra folk, did some big training runs in the Lagunas of San Diego county, but had not and still have not toed the line for a 50k or up (which is all going to change, I promise).

But my point is that despite wanting at some point to run an ultra marathon, I thought the 100 mile distance was foolhardy. I felt like the distance invited too much potential for genuine trouble. Sure, some elites might have a go and let her rip for ~20 hours, but the mid to rear packer had no reason to be there creeping so close to that edge. "You want to do 100 miles (or 135 from valley to mountain top)? Fine. But take a tent and some camping gear."

And the cherry on top was a picture I saw on one guy's blog, capturing one of the "highlights" of his travels during Badwater, I believe, where he's laid-out in a chair at an aid station, both feet in the air like he's giving birth, with two crew members attending to his feet/socks/shoes, and another handful milling about with various gear and refreshment. In my own naviete, ignorance (yet competitive soul) I thought this is pathetic. The dire condition. The dependence upon all of these friends and volunteers. Wow. Not for me.

I have changed somewhat. The blogging has kept that possibility alive, of my own pilgrimage to run something really big. And helping (in whatever slight way I could) Tim at SD100 definitely got me thinking. I'm going to run 50k and 50mi and there's an outside chance I try a 100, especially the one in my own backyard.

But then there's a race report like Tim's. It's tough to reconcile. I know these trials and tribulations define us, create us. We grow through and because of them. Admittedly, I think this race is different. Hardrock seems otherworldly, brutally harsh. Troubling. I haven't talked to Tim other than a couple of texts and a comment on his blog. I'm confused.

My gut says no way was that worth it. The breathing problems, the danger on some of the passes, especially the one on which "Chris" totally saved his phucking life. I'm blown away by the recklessness of it. The rapids, the lightning. The wet feet.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I firmly believe that. But I doubted it for a second while reading Tim's report. Of course, there were many runners certainly who fared worse than he. His report, along with some of the photos made me think of Chris McCandless. Spooky.

I would love to do 100 miles in the San Juans. On a long weekend. With a lot of beer. And a beach chair at my own personal aid station at the end of each day.

God bless Tim and the other survivors. Seriously.

Stay-tuned for more: I'm wondering about a champion's true appeal. And, of course, the euros are coming? Wrong. They already own the place. . .


  1. Matt,
    came here a link from either lucho or gz, and have followed a similar path to trails and ultras as you. I'm really enjoying your writing - it puts a lot of great thoughts down and really pushes my thinking. I've wanted to run hardrock since skaggs' record and seeing all of Blake Woods' pictures. Yet I think Footfeathers report might have scared me off. And yet when I tweeted him a congrats and asked him if he would do it again, he said he would. I wonder what possesses us to continue to push us in the face of almost insurmountable roof that this is a bad idea?

  2. I don't doubt how crazy it was this past year, but that seems a bit more crazy than most years. Not saying one should not consider that could be the case when they get into that affair, but I think this year was a bit tougher than others (sort of the way PPA 2008 was tougher than most PPA years).

    I mention that because I read Peter B's 200 mile report and the conditions seem way better. In fact, I'd venture to say if he faced the weather these guys did - he'd not have done it.

    I guess all of this is what makes us divinely human ... nothing ventured, nothing gained. Why climb Everest? Why go to the moon? Why get out of bed? Why go for any run?

    Because we can ... and to not is to waste that gift.

  3. The San Juan Solstice 50 is in the San Juans (and comes darn close to the HR100 course) and is a good compromise. Its much less remote, much more runnable in my opinion. Its also a loop, so imagine a circle half as far around - if the weather hits in a bad way, you can drop down off the mountains blindly and still run into people pretty quickly as there are roads and houses and campgrounds down in the valley that splits the course.

    Great post, I really like your brain scratching.

    All I can say is to each his own. You gotta live and for some people that means races like HR100 are out of the question, for others its the opposite.

    I think I've read someone before saying that a death at HR100 is inevitable. One guy already died a few days after from a brain bleed. An Ironman triathlete cartwheeled down the steeps one time, breaking his femur. Exposure during storms is probably the worst risk. Of course not having done that race I'm not any expert to lecture or discuss.

    Interesting topic for sure though, especially as it applies to mid and back of pack runners.

  4. Here is a nice pick of a broken finger from a pacer at HR100:

  5. Pete, thanks for dropping in and cool looking blog. I think Tim's definitely in. Hell, how much worse can it be (famous last words).

    GZ, the myth is all I'm questioning. The myth is push death really to live really or however you want to put it. I think 2011 probably was an anomaly, but it has to beg the question when is it too much. I think we're quick to say, oh he made it -- right on! Only Tim truly knows if he's ready to say that himself. We're quick (those of us watching) to overlook the details if we ever become aware of them. Breathing issues is no joke. Ryan Burch pulled-out of WS100 when he experienced breathing problems. I've lived with asthma my whole life, battle allergies, etc. It's no joke. During a brutal ordeal like HR100? Very risky. While crossing rushing rivers, getting lost in the dark, cold, delirious...Those are serious. I just want to say this might be different than the proverbial Great effort, Tim. Epic courage, man.

    Brett, the SJS 50 sounds very cool. I like the sound of that. Hell, run a double loop.

    In the end, Tim's survived and he's better for it (I suppose). You can't buy that kind of perspective; in another words, consider Tim Long a very rich man. Listen to his follow-up post and the honesty he's dishing out. 44 hours and the guy's a freaking yogi. But he paid the price for that "certification."

  6. Agree with you - we gnawed our fingers to stubs Saturday night wondering what the heck happened to Tim. When I got to speak with him by phone Sunday, I was relieved that he was OK but also have had that somewhat troubled feeling you speak of in my gut all week. Since we know Tim, we know he's already thinking of next year... Makes me nervous...

  7. HappyTrails, yeah I'm seeing a pattern here. I got a little worried sitting at the final aid station at SD100 waiting for him, but he came through! Hardrock100. . .wtf? Yet he comes through.

    I think it says more about ultras (esp. 100s) than Tim. And yeah, he's on a roll now.

  8. Better keep an eye out for updates on the intensely contested Grand Mesa 100 next weekend. There are 12 people registered so far. I'm bib number 3. Looks like it'll be a lonely day out on the trail for everyone.

  9. Matt, I think you're asking good general questions here. I agree with GZ that this year's weather conditions certainly factor in. , but while there's the climbing of Everest, experienced parties still pick good weather windows, turn around when necessary, etc. I'm getting more nervous when lessons of risks (be it getting lost, hypothermic, rhabdo, heart arrythmias, etc) are lost amongst automatic lockerroom "That's badass!" responses, which compounds itself into possibly affecting decision making. But that's also why I'm thankful for Tim's honest report.

    While mt. climbing and winter sports (avalanche awareness/snow science) has a longer culture of introspection and risk mitigation, I don't think ultrarunning has developed this yet. Unfortunately. And I hope it doesn't take serious accidents before it does.

  10. 17 time finisher, Kirk Apt got lost on the same ridge I was. Some things can't be 'mitigated'. With that, I will have a jacket with me and a light source at all times in future hardrocks and not assume my pacing will be somewhat accurate like I can in all (most) the other races. Sitting at a desk writing out drop bag contents and projected times/splits is very difficult. The only truly fool-proof way to cover it all is to have everything in every bag or carry all the shit with you from step one.

    Hardrock isn't even comparable to other 100s. Your whole perception of so many things is turned inside out and raked raw. I felt pretty ready mentally from all the reading and advice I soaked up but you only really know after you've done it. 37 hours was going to be my worse day out there in my planning. What the hell is 44 hours then? It's like time stopped in my mind and real time warped into some crazy bulging monster where all of a sudden 3 hours just went by and I felt like it had been 15 minutes. I don't know how to prepare for that stuff other than make sure I get through the course faster.

  11. Thanks again for the feedback, Tim, I think more of these details are exactly helpful. As you mentioned, you spent plenty of time reading other's reports/advice, and this is helpful as well.

    If multiple people get lost at the same spot, then course markings in that area could be helpful (or detailed course description or personal orienteering). Some longer events with adverse weather (Arrowhead, Grand Elk Traverse) choose to have a mandatory gear requirement. I'm guessing people would see that as overkill here, but jackets and a light, as you mentioned, is exactly the type of risk mitigation that can make a critical difference.

    Precisely because HR /isn't/ like other 100s, I think the lessons need also to be drawn from the mountaineering world than from comparatively significantly safer 100s (safer in terrain, elevation, nearness to aid, and number of racers). The worst day there isn't based on time splits, it would be an injury a significant or illness away from aid.

    I hope this makes sense as it's intended, as I've sure learned a lot here and mostly I think it's helpful if we all continue to learn these lessons through shared experiences.

  12. Thanks, Mike. That's precisely the point. This is perhaps a genre issue. That HR is classified with other 100s we might agree is an error on someone's account. Not a big error most years, but here in 2011 it's hazardous.

    The elites help undermine our concerns (see: Nick Clark, et al.)

    Nice run with Nick last week, Mike. Great pics.