There are few things as exciting and intimidating as lining up for the HARDROCK 100. It is one of the hardest 100 mile races, and being surrounded by some of the best men and women runners in the world made this year that much more electric.
I was truly blessed to run last year after over 8 years of lottery attempts, and was even more grateful when I got in a second time for 2022. Running two years in a row meant I was being given the chance to run the race in both directions (each year they change the direction) which when accomplished, some suggest you become an “official” HARDROCKER. That was not something I cared about going in, but I did believe that I was going to have a better race than last year due to how well my training went and being familiar with the course.
One of the best parts of this years race was having Bobby “The GOAT” Weinhold with me. Bob and I met around 14 years ago running roads, but in June 2010 he asked me to pace him at the Mohican 100. I crewed and paced him at this race when neither of us knew whether this distance was even possible. The result was that I fell in love with the sport of ultrarunning. I ran my first century run almost two years later at the Chimera 100, where Bob returned the favor of crewing and pacing. Bob has continued to be one of my biggest supporters in all my crazy adventures.
While those in our personal circle are most important in our lives, others can help to motivate and inspire us from afar. Kilian Jornet is someone who I admire for all he has accomplished. He is probably the best mountain runner of all time and his books, movies, social media posts, and, dominance in the racing world, make him stand apart from others in this sport. Knowing that both he and Courtney Dauwalter, the best female ultrarunner, would both be lining up at the same race as me made the starting line that much more exciting.
The First 20 Miles of HARDROCK
It was unreal being surrounded by so many athletes I respect. Within the first few hundred feet, I realized I was running with elite runners such as Courtney on my right and Jason Koop on my left. I felt like I had no business here and slowed down to find myself running with Pennsylvania native and another rockstar runner, Maggie Guetrel. Despite the desire to try and hang with these amazing athletes, I knew I needed to run my own race.
After the first river crossing only a few miles in, I was ascending Putnam Basin, when the runner ahead of me asked where I was from. After hearing PA, he turned around, and to my shock, turned out to be Ryan Cooper. Ryan and his wife Lori are both amazing athletes that now live in Boulder, but lived in the PA area for just over a year when I had the pleasure of running with them on trails. It was nice to run with someone I knew, and he shared how he had only learned he’d be running a few days before when he moved off the waitlist.
I was having a great time talking with friends and admiring the beautiful flowers going up Putnam Basin. The entire course was breathtaking, and despite very little snowfall this winter, the rains had been treating the San Juan Mountains to lots of moisture. Some of the veterans around me told me that they had never seen the HARDROCK course look as beautiful as it did during this year’s race. From the mountain flowers to the lush green fields, the views were even more breathtaking than normal as we headed up over Grant Swamp Pass, one of the most iconic sections of the course.
When I got to the top of this steep climb, I was so happy to see my friend Liz up there encouraging all the runners. Hearing her cheering me on during the descent made it that much more fun as I slid, more than ran, down the insanely steep path to Chapman Aid Station (AS) at mile 18. I arrived and didn’t ask for the first drop bag I had packed for this AS. I had not depleted the reserves in my pack and had eaten a ton of food previously at KT AS (11.5 Mile). My stomach was still good at Chapman AS as I devoured avocado, bacon, sweet potatoes, and more for the next long climb up over Oscar Pass (13,140’).
It Got Warm…For the Mountains over the next 20
I realize how, writing from the hazy, hot, and humid northeast, that everything is relative. However, most folks from Colorado were saying the same thing about how warm it felt. Although I arrived almost two weeks early to acclimate to the altitude, the cold and rainy weather the week before in my tent was not great to acclimate to the warmer temperatures on race day.
I was still feeling good but moving slower than I expected. I wasn’t worried though because I knew that being conservative wasn’t a bad idea with over 80 miles left. Despite my easy pace, I achieved my goal on this climb, and almost every other, of never stopping to rest unless it was to change gear or eat. I grinded out every climb with relentless movement forward.
Once over Oscar Pass, it started to rain a little on the Bear Creek trail down into Telluride which felt amazing. While some pulled out jackets, I decided to tough it out until I got to Telluride, where I would see my crew for the first time.
In addition to Bob, I was lucky to have Joey, Heather, and Oliver there to help out as my crew. Joey would be pacing out of the next crew checkpoint, Ouray, but it was his girlfriend Heather who was running the show. As soon as I arrived in Telluride, she and the others made sure my vest was refilled with nutrition and fluids, that I discarded all my trash, and all the instructions I provided were taken care of.
It was warm in Telluride, and I wanted to get out of there to begin the long and challenging climb up over Virginius Pass (13,100’). Once again, I kept grinding in the heat, but it was beginning to suck the energy from me. I was taking in fluids and snacks, but when the clouds came rolling in, I was grateful for the temps dropping a little on my way up to Kroger Canteen AS (~33M) at the top of the pass.
With the clouds came thunder and flashes of lighting in the distance. I was wondering how bad it might get since lightening is one factor at HARDROCK that can change everything. Fortunately, it never got that close, and a group of us all continued moving to Kroger’s. The last few hundred feet up to the AS is ridiculously steep but I made it. While hoping for the amazing avocado toast and coffee I had there last year, I had to settle for pierogis and water.
The descent out of here was SICK! It was reminiscent of my experience coming down Uncompahgre Peak during the HIGHFIVE 100 two years before where my goal was to stay vertical and move fast enough so I wouldn’t get hit by rocks from runners above. However, I slipped towards the bottom and landed on my fingers, bashing them on rocks. Blood was dripping from my fingertips as I continued my descent on Camp Bird road to Governors Basin AS (~36M) where I got some medical attention. I also made sure to have soup and much more for the rest of the way down.
The next 7 miles were all downhill and I was on a mission to try and regroup as I headed down to Ouray AS (~44M) where I would see my crew again and pick up Joey for the following 14 miles. I felt good on the descent and for the first time in the race understood why some suggest this counterclockwise direction is faster, with steep short climbs but longer runnable downhills. I knew I’d have cell service as I headed down, and called Bob when I had a couple of miles left to let him know I was feeling good after a fall and to get me something warm to eat. I also wanted to assure my crew that while I was running slower than I would have liked, I was feeling good.
Time for some help.. that would be needed
Once again, Heather was waiting for me along with the guys. I changed the gear in my pack for the colder night, got my nutrition replaced, and took in liquid and solid calories in the form of double shots, soda, soup, watermelon and more. Like every aid station so far, I was efficient and didn’t want to waste too much time.
Joey and I took off in the dark on one of my least favorite sections of the course. As we wandered up the streets of Ouray towards Bear Creek trail, we passed a large 8 point buck, who Joey wisely suggested I give it some space after I almost walked directly in front of it.
I was excited to get up on the ridgeline which is amazing during the day but is still cool at night. Joey works and plays in the mountains for a living from climbing to skiing and much more. While he’s young enough to be my son, his energy and love of the mountains is contagious. It was so much fun to seeing him checking out the rockface and appreciating the natural beauty of this area in the bright moonlight.
However, as we climbed within a couple of miles of Engineers AS (~52M), I lost it. My strength, focus, and ability to move forward seemed to have slipped away. Joey was having me eat and while my stomach wasn’t great, I wasn’t nauseous. My pace slowed to a crawl, and we finally made to Engineers. I collapsed in a chair for the first time and wrapped a blanket around myself as I tried to regroup. It would be two more long miles up over Engineers Pass (~13,000’) but I first needed to refocus and take in calories including chicken noodle soup and Coke. It still didn’t feel like a nutritional issue as I was able to eat, but regardless of the reason, I knew I needed to get moving up and over the pass to meet up with my crew at the next AS.
Poor Joey was with me for my lowest point of the entire race. I was moving slow and in my head I was in some dark places. I was asking myself, “why are you doing this?” “Do you really think you can run over 200 miles in Italy in less than 8 weeks?” Despite this ugly patch, I continued shuffling up, over, and down to Animas Forks AS (~57M).
A New Day and New Start
My goal at Animas Forks was to eat, sleep, and eat some more before heading out and up over the highest point of the course, Handies Peak (14,100’) with Bob.
After inhaling calories, I set my phone alarm for 20 minutes and laid down on a cot. The conversations around me were toxic as some runners had already dropped or were considering it. Fortunately I was able to tune this out and slept for what seemed like hours, only to realize I woke up with a few minutes left before my alarm went off. I didn’t want to waste time, so I ate a little more before heading out.
I had always assumed that Bob and I would be making this climb in the dark if I were on goal pace. While I wasn’t happy about how slowly I was going, it was the first of several times I would be grateful that I took the time I needed before this section with The Goat. It’s a long, beautiful, and iconic climb of HARDROCK, and it was awesome to be covering these miles with the person that got me into this sport. We shared stories, prayed and just spent some quality time over the next 16 miles.
Something special we had been doing since Bob joined me in the mountains the week before was saying “Hello” to all the animals we saw on the trails. Only a few short weeks before Hardrock, we lost an amazing friend to cancer, Tara Gormley. She was a cheerleader for everyone, and always said hello to all the creatures she encountered. She was a big part of the Doylestown Christian Runners, always there to lend a hand or send an e-mail of encouragement just when I needed it most. The previous year, I had written her initials and those of Derek Gearhart on my arm to pray for them as I ran. This year they would both be in my heart after they both went to be with our Lord Jesus Christ in 2022.
The Volunteers and Aid Stations at Hardrock are like none other!
Bob and I had a good time descending Handies peak, taking picture and meeting other runners. One of them was Nick Reynolds from BC who I’d end up running with on and off with over the next 30+ miles. As we got into Burrow’s AS (~68M), we were greeted by a bunch of volunteers celebrating Christmas in July, including one guy who was dressed up like Jesus. Fortunately, I had not begun hallucinating but did start laughing at this scene.
The volunteers, and everyone who supports HARDROCK, are an amazing family that makes this race so special in many ways. People will do whatever is needed to help you get through a difficult patch, from grabbing food out of their personal materials to changing the socks on the most disgusting feet you can imagine. This is an amazing group that go above and beyond every year.
While the folks at Burrows were great and helped me to get in some nutrition, I could not wait to get “home” to Sherman AS (~72M) where I volunteer when I’m not running HARDROCK myself. From Martha, the AS captain to everyone else, one couldn’t have asked for a better welcoming receptions than what I received. Along with Heather and my team, the entire Rhodes family was there as always, making sure I had everything I needed before Logan Rhodes and I soon took off. Caitlin and the kids were awesome and cheered me on after I devoured a breakfast burrito, some oatmeal, and plenty of liquid calories.
Before leaving I reminded my crew to skip the last AS where crews were allowed (Cunningham ~92M) unless the weather got really bad. My plan was to see them at the finish as soon as I could get there!
Last Push with Logan and My Heel
When I sat down at Sherman, my heel started to kill me. I had been dealing with Achilles bursitis earlier in the year and generally only noticed it after runs. Unfortunately, it was definitely noticeable during the race and I started feeling it after leaving the KT AS (~11M). While I could always feel it, I just keep grinding and ignored it. However, it was more noticeable than ever during these last sections.
We climbed a few thousand vertical feet out of Sherman towards Cataract Lake on some very familiar trails. I was feeling good but not moving too fast. My concern with Logan was my heel and how hot would it get during the middle of the day. Fortunately, the heat didn’t end up being much of a factor and we made decent time to Pole Creek AS (~81M). Here and at the next two Aid Stations I was very efficient with my time taking in calories and fluids. Logan, like Bob and Joey, was all over me, checking and reminding me to eat and drink.
Shortly after we left Pole creek, we heard a rumble in the distance, the sky got dark and we assumed we were about to soaked. At first it felt good, but as the drops turned to pea sized hail, I had to put on a heavy jacket. My upper body was fine at this point and while my legs felt the sting of the hail, we continued to press on and have fun in this insanity. Eventually it let up and the sun came back out. Logan told me to stop and turn around so that I could see the storm leave a beautiful rainbow as it continued trashing the runners down the valley.
We eventually made it to Maggie AS (~85M) and then up to Buffalo Boy Ridge (~13,100’) for another special moment. It was around 8:30p on Saturday and I had hoped to have been finished by this point if all had gone well. However, we experienced the most amazing sunset along this ridge line. The breathtaking scenes our Lord was using to paint in the canvas in the sky led to a discussion between Logan and I on how God’s presence was so strong up here. He shared how he found it hard to understand how someone could NOT believe in God when viewing what we were seeing. I thanked the Lord and Logan for these reminders. While I would have liked to have been finished by then, it was a special moment that I did not lose sight of, and took pictures to try and do my best to not lose perspective of this experience that only happened because things did not go as planned.
We continued down, up, and down again into Cunningham AS (~92M) before our long two mile and 3000’ climb to over 13,000’ of elevation on Little Giant. Once on top, there was a very sketchy section of descent where several runners and/or pacers appeared to be having a hard time with the loose section of trail. Logan told me we needed to move and not to waste time messing around. We made it safely past everyone and began making time on the last 7 miles to the finish.
This finish was brutal despite having run this same section at the start the year before. I had forgotten this terrain and the rocky jeep trail with multiple climbs and descents seemed to go on forever. I had a hard time getting into any rhythm, despite having the will and desire to finish strong, my legs and body were getting tired.
We finally got off the trails and onto the paved road to the finish, where we made our way with the crew to successfully complete my second HARDROCK in a row. I gave the rock a big ol’ kiss and was grateful to get it done again!
Goals and Ultrarunning
Unlike marathons, where I generally have one goal time to hit, ultra’s require more flexibility. Over 100 miles, temps can swing by more than 50 degrees, terrain is more varied, and many unexpected factors can change things. This year my goals at HARDROCK were: First, to finish; second to break my time from last year of over 41 hours; and optimally, to break 36 hours if all went well. The stretch goal of sub-36 seemed possible, given how well training went and compared to last year where I could not train for 6 weeks during the peak of my normal training period.
Finishing was always the goal, and therefore the race was a success. As I reflected on the experience, people I met, friends who supported me, and the incredible opportunity to run this race two years in a row, I am so grateful to have finished the 2022 HARDROCK 100 in 45:32:17.
I pray more in a 100 mile race than I do over a typical month. From the start to the finish, God’s presence was almost always palpable in these mountains, whether or not I acknowledged it. Praying to Jesus and asking for strength, focus, and the presence of mind to take it all in has been a common prayer in my last few runs.
The time with Bob climbing Handies, talking about Tara and Derek, saying prayers for his friend Buck, who was in a bad accident the day before, and discussions on faith were powerful.
Going through the hailstorm with Logan and seeing a rainbow when it was all over was a powerful representation of how we need to continue to move forward in times of difficulty to see what God can do when on the other side. Although I would have liked to have finished under 36 hours, the sunset on Buffalo Boy Ridge with Logan could almost be described as a religious moment, given the power of the scene and conversation. I was reminded once again that it is important to have plans, but more important to trust God and know that he is there in good and bad times.
Once again, my wife and kids allowed me to go out to Colorado over two weeks before to acclimate to the altitude. Their support of my runs is more than I can ask for. Fortunately, my job allows me to work remotely for most of that time, so at least I don’t have to use all my vacation time without them 😊
I always acknowledge Bob given his impact on me and this sport but having spent over a week with him in the San Juan mountains was long overdue and much needed for both of us.
I have to thank my entire crew and pacers: Bob, Logan, Joey, Heather, Caitlin, Landon and Lauren. As Bob suggested, Heather was definitely the MVC (Most Valuable Crew) this year. While it was only my second time meeting Heather, she made sure that everything I had written down prior to the race was not only followed, but often surpassed, going above and beyond. Joey is lucky to have such a great woman in his life.
I want to thank Liz and Maria for being at the finish line as it meant so much to see them there.
Finally, I can’t give enough thanks to all my fellow runners, race organizers, volunteers and crews who offered support before, during and after the race.
Whether or not you have any interest in running HARDROCK, I would encourage you to get out to the San Juans in July. The experience is truly special and this report could never fully capture the amazing community of friends and family that exist in this remote area of southwest Colorado.