|The first climb up Dives-Little Giant Pass (photo credit: iRunFar)|
As I stood at the starting line in Silverton, listening to the buzz of the crowd and media, and the nervous chatter of all the runners, I found myself surprisingly relaxed. Maybe relaxed isn’t the right word, maybe more like happy? Excited? There were fairly low, grey clouds hanging all over the deep green San Juan Mountains, as the sun just came up not too long before. I’ve read countless race reports and accounts of Hardrock over the years and so many other runners have described themselves as being “scared shitless” on the starting line. Was I scared? Should I be scared? Why the heck wasn’t I scared? Am I being arrogant? All these questions briefly swirled through my mind, but I had decided months ago that since I’d been wanting to run Hardrock for so long, I was so lucky to be selected for the race, and I had put so much work into preparing for this event I’d better enjoy it. So I did.
|The first descent, straight down to Cunningham Gulch (photo credit: Bob Joyes)|
I really like the start of Hardrock because it is not a frantic rush. After a short countdown off we went, and runners were still chatting with each other while the crowd went wild. After a few rolling miles we started the first climb of up Dives-Little Giant Pass and I was just blown away. Right from the get go the scenery was everything I hoped it would be as I almost tripped over thick wildflowers while staring at the towering mountains above us. I settled into the climb with a small group that included Kilian Jornet and Anna Frost. I’ve ran with Anna before, but honestly I was a bit star struck as we hiked up and up. Kilian decided he had enough of our group after awhile and just casually ran up to the lead pack at an astonishing pace. I pulled away from that group as well, but not quite in the same manner. When I reached the top of the pass there were high fives from some hearty spectators and then it was down down down to the first aid station, Cunningham Gulch, mile 9.5ish.
|Goooood morning at Cunningham (photo credit: Bob Joyes)|
Cunningham Gulch was a zoo. There were tons of spectators, media, and crews there. My crew was in full Nascar mode and got me out of there in no time. As I was running down the road to the next climb there was a kid playing frisbee with his dad. I hollered to them, “play me in!” The kid grinned and floated the fabric frisbee to me. Luck was on my side and I caught it. I chucked it back over my head as I ran by and smiled as the boy snatched it out of the air. It was going to be a great day.
|Leaving Cunningham Gulch ready for some frisbee (photo credit: Bob Joyes)|
The race was honestly pretty uneventful for awhile, but just so dang enjoyable. The front of the pack had spread out a little bit by this point. I knew Scott Jaime wasn’t too far ahead of me and Adam Campbell wasn’t too far behind me, but I wasn’t sure what place I was in. I thought I was inside the top-10, but I didn’t really know and wasn’t too worried about it either. So I climbed up Green Mountain and cruised along Buffalo Boy Ridge through lush green alpine meadows and a little bit of snow here and there. Dropping into Maggie Gulch was a real treat as the wildflowers were so vibrant I had a hard time following the course markers. I got off the trail for a little bit, but it couldn’t have added more than a minute or two.
|Maggie Gulch (photo credit: iRunFar)|
After Maggie Gulch I rolled down to Pole Creek and started the slightly more mellow climb up to the Continental Divide and Cataract Lake. I had strict instructions from my coach, Ty Draney, no racing until the top of the climb after Telluride, mile 80, which felt like a ridiculously long time not to race. Every few minutes I could see Scott Jaime in the distance in front me, but I always resisted the urge to chase him down. However, I could tell I was gaining on him little by little and I was pleased to catch up to Scott shortly after Cataract Lake. We chatted a bit, and he gave me some great encouragement, and I was dumbfounded to learn that he was going for his 10th freakin' finish. That dude is a machine. I’d also been watching the sky all morning and of course the clouds were starting to build, and they began to look particularly nasty around Cataract Lake. As I enjoyed the descent to Sherman, lots of thunder started to ominously rumble.
|Climbing (photo credit: Criss Furman)|
The day before the race my eternally optimistic mother said something to the effect of she hoped it wouldn’t rain tomorrow. My response was “its not a question of if it will rain, its a question of when it will rain.” As you’d expect, the storm hit shortly afternoon as I was making my way to Burrows Park. It didn’t just rain, it freakin’ poured and hailed like crazy. Streams of water starting running down the road carrying columns of hail with it. Lighting cracked and thunder roared all-around. I gave thumbs up and a smile to the few crew vehicles that went by as they looked on with horror. Shortly before Burrows Park the rain started to let up, but I heard the loud crunching, sloshing, sound that I can’t quite explain. I finally realized that wasn’t the sound of rain, and as I looked around I discovered that a mud slide was coming down the mountain right at me. For a moment I freaked out and started sprinting forward, but upon further evaluation of the slide, I determined it wasn’t actually moving all that fast. But, I stopped and stood there in the light rain, starring at the awesome force of nature. It was like a mudslide with a pile of scree on top slurping its way down the mountain. I watched it slide down to the road before I decided I’d better get moving again.
|San Juan's make you feel small (photo credit: Bob Joyes)|
I skipped right through the Burrows Park aid station, much to the volunteers disappointment, and started my climb to Handies Peak, the high point of the course at just over 14,000 feet. I didn’t know which peak was Handies, but all of the high mountains around me looked like 14ers in my mind. Lightning was still pounding the ridge lines and summits around me and I was very worried for the leaders who were probably up in those areas. I was a little worried for myself too; I’ve had a few close calls with lightning and that stuff is nothing to mess around with. I decided I would hike to tree line and decide what to do next there. Well, tree line came pretty quick and there was still a long ways to go. The lightning was becoming more intermittent so I just kept plugging along as every once and a while a bolt would strike Handies. Each strike would stop me in my tracks, I’d stare at the mountain contemplatively, and then keep hiking forward. When I got up to roughly 13,000 feet on the summit ridge, one more scintillating crack of lightning struck right at the top of Handies followed by a rumble that could shake your soul. What was I supposed to do? Go back down? Hell no. Stay exposed and chill at 13k? That seemed dumb. Run my ass up and over the summit as fast as possible? Yep. I’d been very careful with my heart rate all day on the climbs, keeping it in check and not letting it thump too high. That all went out the window here as I climbed the last 1,000 feet, or so, as fast as I could, not even stopping on the summit of my first 14er and running down into American Basin.
|Ella and Evan running me into Grouse Gulch (photo credit: Bob Joyes)|
From American Basin I descended to the Grouse Gulch aid station ecstatic to see my crew. I’d been out for a long time, mostly on my own, and I just couldn’t wait to see me family and crew. My 5-year old, Ella, paced me into the aid station where I enjoyed a chair in a tent. I ate a PB+J with a thick slice of extra sharp cheddar cheese in the middle, got restocked on Honey Stinger Waffles, and just like that Jenny kicked me out and back on the trail.
|Grouse Gulch munchies (photo credit: Bob Joyes)|
The climb up Engineer Pass was hard. I felt like the elevation was starting to get to me; my head hurt, my food wasn’t digesting well, and I couldn’t run at all without spiking my heart rate. Much of the climb is really a pretty runnable grade, so I was a little disappointed to just have to hike up almost the entire thing. I could tell a runner was creeping up behind me too, but I just marched along at that point listening to the sound of an entire heard of sheep laughing at me. Or at least that’s what it sounded like. I missed the turn off the top of Engineer Pass in my hypoxic state and started going down a rough 2-track. Going downhill the wrong way at 13,000 feet sucks. I quickly realized that I wasn’t in the right spot, and saw Nick Pedatella and his pacer dancing down a single track in the distance. Damnit. I kept my cool, got back on track, and began the 5,000 foot decent down to Ouray.
|Meeting my Mom and Cora in Ouray (photo credit: Bob Joyes)|
|Magic (photo credit: Bob Joyes)|
Every step down towards Ouray felt like more oxygen and it was refreshing. I again decided not to “race” and chase Nick down, but I was descending well and caught him after a couple miles. If Engineer Pass had been the “low” point of the race for me that was now long gone as I felt amazing running into Ouray to meet my crew again. As I was running through town I saw my parents with my almost 2-year old, Cora, in the distance. When I got closer they let her run across the street to me and she just sprinted towards me with a joyful grin on her face. I scooped her up and just stood there in the middle of the road for a few moments hugging her. Time stood still and it might be the highlight of the race for me. Ella once again paced me into the aid station where my crew got me geared up for the night.
|Nascar eat your heart out (photo credit: Bob Joyes)|
Some of the guys who went out super hard had spent an hour or more on cots in Ouray, and I left the aid station in 5th place. I think this was the first time all day I really knew what place I was in. I left Ouray with my good friend, and 2017 Bighorn 100 champion, Amanda Taglioli. We had a great time running and chatting up Camp Bird Road as the sunset. Not far up the road Iker Kerrea, who had been bonked in the tent in Ouray, came charging past me at a blistering pace. Once again, I just let him go since there was plenty of time to race later. I caught Iker again at the Governor aid station, as he was sitting there looking pretty miserable. Amanda and I were all yeehaws and high fives as we began the climb to Virginius Pass and Kroger’s Canteen. Iker followed us up the steep, snowy climb and we crested Virginius Pass together. After Kroger’s, Iker went into race mode again and bombed his was down to Telluride and left me in his dust. Once again, no worries. I also passed the women's leader, Caroline Chavoret, who led the entire race out from the get go. Somehow she and her pacer got incredibly off course coming down from Virginius, as we could see their headlamps in the dark devastatingly far off course and much further down than they should have been.
|Leaving Ouray with Amanda (photo credit: Bob Joyes)|
As Amanda and I descended into Telluride, mile 73ish, it was surprisingly warm out for the middle of the night. Amanda woke the whole dang town of Telluride with her woohoos and yeehaws and we arrived at the aid station in great spirits. Once again Iker was sitting there looking cooked. I ate some mac n’ cheese, chugged some Mountain Dew, and set off into the night with Jenny.
|Do the Dew in Telluride (photo credit: iRunFar)|
It was a tough spring for both Jenny and I to be training. However, she still made it look easy as she took 3rd at Bighorn 50 back in June. We hadn’t been on a run together in a long time so running through the night up the Bear Creek trail out of Telluride was just all around special. Iker’s bright headlamp kept on looking back at us as we laughed and chatted up the long 4,500’ climb. An even brighter half moon rose above the mountains and illuminated all of the giant peaks that surrounded us. As we approached Wasatch Pass and Oscars Pass the trail became almost completely covered in hail from the afternoon cloudburst; a couple inches had accumulated and now packed the trail. Oscar’s Pass was about mile 80, where I had the green light to start officially racing, and Jenny and I were only a minute, or so, behind Iker. I absolutely love a good technical descent, especially one with “snow” and Oscar’s Pass did not disappoint. I licked my chops and at the top of the pass we let loose and slid, shuffled, jumped, and practically sprinted down 3,000 feet to Chapman Gulch. I arrived at the Chapman Gulch aid station several minutes before Iker, and after refueling I headed off into the night again, this time in 4th place, with my final pacer, Evan Reimondo.
Last year I paced Evan in the night at Bighorn 100, and I worked him pretty hard, so I knew he’d return the favor for me. We climbed aggressively, and I was still moving uphill pretty efficiently. The climb up Grant-Swamp Pass is the real deal: soft, sandy scree that feels like trying to climb up a vertical quick sand wall. This was maybe the most physically challenging part of the course and I was awfully relieved to make it to the top. From the top of the pass we could see Iker and his pacer starting to make the ascent, so we were ready to roll down towards Island Lake. We could only see a silhouette of all the scenery, but that was still enough. We hit that down hill hard, really hard, trying to put a gap on Iker. We made it down to KT, mile 89, in no time at all.
|San Juan sunrise somewhere after Island Lake (photo credit: Evan Reimondo)|
|The top of Putnam Ridge and the climbing was done (photo credit: Evan Reimondo)|
The sun had just come up at this point, and the last major climb of the race was in front of me. Lot’s of people talk about how during 100-mile races the sunrise rejuvenates them and helps them feel awake. I’ve never had that experience. I was fighting off the sleep monster a bit at this point and my climbing legs were starting to feel the toll of the last 23 hours, or so, but I still climbed fairly well. I was extremely happy to reach the top of Putnam Ridge, knowing that the overwhelming majority of the 33,000 feet of climbing were done. I’ve always still got legs for the downhill though, and we ran down towards Mineral Creek and Silverton at breakneck pace.
|Crossing Mineral Creek (photo credit: Bob Joyes)|
I was overjoyed to reach Mineral Creek, mile 98ish, and see my family on the other side. I high-five’d my girls and picked up Jenny for the last couple of miles into the finish. She was a ball of energy, and was pretty relentless, making me run all of the small uphills to the end ensuring that I finished in under 27 hours. Ella joined me again for the final block and she ran me into the finish with a final time of 26:55 and 4th overall.
|Ultimate pacers (photo credit: Bob Joyes)|
How’d it feel? If you’ve read this far you can imagine it was pretty damn amazing. I accomplished every single goal I had for the day and it was a dream come true. Sharing the experience with my family and friends was just the cherry on top.
|Ready to kiss that rock (photo credit: Bob Joyes)|
It on all honesty, none of this would have been possible without the support of my wife, Jenny, my children, Ella and Cora, my crew, Brandon and Amanda Taglioli (as well as their daught, Auna), and Evan Reimondo, and the support of my parents, Bob and Ginny Joyes, as they took care of my kiddos through day and night. I’m also very grateful to all the good folks out there who wished me well before the race and cheered me on during the race. I’m also thankful for Honey Stinger supporting me this year with the best damn running food on the planet, the GF Honey Stinger Waffles. Thank you to all of the 450+ volunteers, the other runners, the race committee, and everyone involved at Hardrock that help make the event so special and amazing. Finally, a big thank you to my coach, Ty Draney, for helping me balance work, coaching soccer, having a family, and still getting me well prepared for the race.
|Ultra running is a team sport (photo credit: Bryon Powell)|
Well, that’s it. Less than two months until Run Rabbit Run 100 and then praying to the Hardrock lottery gods again in November.
Thanks for reading, it was a long one, I know.