“Where are you going Daddy?” “I’m going running with Ty and I’m going to burn his barn down” “What if Ty-Ty likes hims barn?” Conversation between Luke and his 3-year-old daughter Chloe
Bad ideas and arm-chair ultra running flow so freely over the phone. It was settled early. I would pace Luke at Bighorn which would be my last long training run, and feeling of my kindness, he would reciprocate a few weeks later at Hardrock. Easy, piece of cake. I figured a nice run through the Bighorns would ice that piece of cake. He’d have company and a little crew help and I’d have a nice long night run to build my confidence for my big seasonal goal. Wrong. Most things in life don’t go as scripted. As night turned to day we were in full panic mode. We had spotted lights not 15 minutes back and we were pressing hard. On the last climb I felt my right achilles twinged hard and Luke started to pull away. I wanted to be there at the finish line as he nailed down his first 100 mile victory but couldn’t hang on any longer. I was afraid that my Hardrock may be in jeopardy. So as calmly as possible I told him to hammer it home…I’d get there eventually. I didn’t need any self-doubt going into this one. Hardrock handed it to me on several occasions. I finished-but it wasn’t pretty. I was convinced that there were still parts of my soul scattered about the San Juans. It was time for redemption, I wanted so badly to break 30 hours. I met the Luke and his family near Ridgeway, CO the night before check-in. We slept in our cars outside of town on County Road 10. On the way to Silverton we stopped for tea with Steve House, a true honor. I have admired Steve and his exploits in the mountains for some time. I tried not to be too star-struck. It’s nice to meet one of your idols and not be disappointed. After check in we hung out in Silverton, catching up with other runners, preparing drop bags, and resting for the big event. My plan was pretty simple, with the field that was present in this year’s race I wasn’t going to be running for the win, I was going to focus solely on setting a sensible pace that would allow me to break 30 hrs. Not exactly courageous, but what I thought was a sensible plan. With all the big names out front there was bound to be some carnage-I just prayed it wouldn’t be me. Hardrock has a way of crushing your will to live. Race morning I settled in early with Stu Air, Darcy, and Dianna. More than once I heard “Nice work Darcy, Nice work Dianna, and uh…#122.” I even made a cameo on irunfar’s coverage as one of the “lead women.” I was seven minutes up on my split at KT and still feeling very comfortable. I almost started to believe it might be my day. As I worked my way up Grants-Swamp pass I focused on keeping in the moment-or as the old cowboys say, “a leg on both sides, and your mind in the middle.” As I reached the top of the pass I noticed that my fingers were starting to swell so I left my wedding ring with Fred Marmsater who was shooting photos from the top. Due to all the rain the glisade from the top was spectacular. The clay and gravel had become soupy which made for some sweet trail/bottle skate shredding to the bottom. At the next aid I quickly refilled bottles and emptied my shoes and tried to mentally prepare for the slog up Oscar’s pass. Again, providence smiled on us. The cloud cover and breeze kept the famous Oscar’s pass sun and flies at bay. The trail down to Telluride is super fun to run. I knew from previous efforts that I really needed not to get carried away. I worked my way down trying to find the sweet spot to save my quads for later.
I switched from my Isomeric Race hand helds to an Alpha Pack. I wasn’t feeling great on the climbs but I wanted to hold off on using poles because I knew I’d need my arm strength later. Again, the Nelson’s had me in and out and I worked my way up to Kroger’s Kanteen. I was looking forward to seeing Roch and his crew at the top. The climb was uneventful. I could sense the other racers creeping up on me but wanted to keep it steady. There was a lot of running yet. At the top Roch gave me some broth, a perogie, some RedBull and a literal huge slap upside the head. To avoid anymore tough love I quickly made my way through the punchy slush towards Governors. At this point Jared Campbell caught me and it was nice to share his company. Once we hit the aid station, Jared stopped to eat. I was still stacked with calories from the top so I walked for a bit, hoping he’d catch up. When he didn’t, I knew he was a much better climber than me so I thought I’d better make some time down the road to Ouray. A quick change of socks, pack, and poles I started up toward Engineer. I felt like a crap sandwich and I couldn’t seem to generate any wattage on the climbs. At the first few switchbacks I caught Timmy Olsen and pacer. He had just taken a nap in a nappy couch cushion in the forest. He was suffering terribly. He finished. Props. I don’t know Timmy well but he won a lot of respect at Hardrock this year. A little later Jared caught me again. By this time I was really fighting the demons. I’m not sure if it was the familiarity of having him around, or the fact that he is so damn tough that event MY personal demons trembled and fled the presence of a two-time Barkley finisher…either way, I’m indebted. We slogged to the top, dipping in streams and plodding upward ever upward. At Engineer we caught Joe Grant. I was bummed to see him there. He had literally blown a quad. I later heard he rode a photographer’s mountain bike back down to Ouray. It continued to shower as we crested the top. It was going to be close. We were hoping to get to Grouse Gulch before dark. On our way down the dirt road the sun broke through and gave us a beautiful double rainbow. Even though it was easy, downhill running we just stopped and took it all in. THESE were the moments we run for. About 1.5 miles out of the aid all hell broke loose. Pounding rain, thunder, and lightning. I hustled in for a quick change of clothes and some coke. Jordi Saragosa caught the emotion of it all with the following photo. I topped my jersey with an all weather hoody and the Alpine Houdini. We were going to get wet. It was nice to have some company as we headed off into the night, 60 miles in we knew that it was time to start moving up, it was going to get ugly, but we were confident we could weather the storm. As we crested the pass toward American Basin we started to get skittish. The thunder was getting louder and our hair was starting to stand on end. Right near the top it clapped right by us and we sprinted to lower ground. Heading up to Handies we had our heads on a swivel. The present storm moved out but another was moving in fast. We didn’t want to get caught up on top. Luckily the weather held and we made it over the top. Just before we arrived at Burroughs Aid. The rain started coming down. Before we left, Jared and his pacer Matt Hart caught us. We made our way down the road toward Sherman in a full-on coastal-type rain storm. The rain was bouncing off the road, thanks to our gear we stayed comfortable. By the time we reached Sherman we started to see more runners. Scott Jaime was just leaving as we reached the aid station. I sat and spent a few minutes collecting myself. My stomach was starting to turn a bit and I was battling the sleep monster a bit.
From previous years I was dreading the next section. It was a long, swampy haul to Pole Creek. In my first attempt at the race I had exploded magnificently in this section and slowly walked through tons of runnable terrain. This year was much better. I hiked the ups and ran fairly well the flats and the downhills. By the time we cleared the aid station my stomach was angry and I was really struggling to keep the pace. Luke was patient with me as I snoozed and stumbled around. The terrain let to moving quickly but I wasn’t. Before we dropped into Maggie’s Gulch we caught Dianna and her husband. It was obvious that she was not doing well and it was a bit unnerving. I was glad to hear later that she was doing okay.
Leaving the aid I finally yakked. My stomach had been holding most the race so I was grateful that it made it until mile 86. I knew there were only 14 to go but with my nausea and hypoxic math I was sure that I’d never make it under 30. At this point Luke was fed up with my pity party and started to crack the whip. The barn was coming down and there was nothing I or Chloe, for that matter, could do about it. He kept pushing all the way down into the Cunningham Aid Station.
If you haven’t had a chance to do the climb out of Cunningham, I sincerely recommend it-you don’t even have to do the previous 92 miles to appreciate it. It climbs, and climbs, and climbs. Rumor has it that Killian ran every step. I cleaned my pruney feet, ate, and started slogging to the top. I have never worked so hard to go so slowly. Luke hollered louder and louder, and I turned up my music and just kept slogging. At the top he gave me a couple of minutes as I comically tried to chew and swallow two more GU chomps. Fred Marmsater told us it was 70 minutes to Silverton but Luke was determined we’d do better. We hammered the downhill, only pausing when I veered off the trail or when looking for trail markers. Part way down the road I took a misstep and tried to hyper-extend my left knee. I screeched to a halt and frantically made sure all my parts were still attached. Luckily they were and we pounded on down to the river trail. By this time it felt like our pace was frantic. I had all systems go, but there wasn’t much left. We walked a little bit on the stupidly small uphill before the descent into town. I could finally smell what was left of the barn. It was euphoric trotting into town. Rounding the corner I could see the finish chute. I sped up with Luke and George in towe and finally kissed the rock with a final time of 28:46!
Reflecting on this weekend and nursing my wounds, I am grateful to have been a part of one of the most Memorable Hardrock’s ever. I am certain that it is critical to surround yourself with people that have more faith in you than you do in yourself at times. And finally all my regrets with Hardrock’s past are buried, and as far as the shredded tatters of my soul? Well, I swore I’d look for them but Luke wouldn’t let me stop long enough to do so.
Photo: Irunfar All other photos: Tanae Nelson/Luke Nelson Gear: Patagonia All weather zip neck hoody Houdini Alpine Houdini ultra light wool socks Various Air flow jerseys Strider Pro Shorts Duckbill Trucker Hat (spring 15) Hydration: Ultraspire Isomeric Race Ultraspire Alpha pack Lighting/Poles Black Diamond Equipment Icon Polar Headlamp Ultra Distance Trekking Poles Sunglasses: Smith Mastermind Fuel: First Endurance Liquid Shot First Endurance EFS HP (Prototype) Various chews and gels from aid stations