Sunday, July 11, 2010

Hardrock Thoughts/videos

While I didn't go anywhere close to the full distance this weekend at Hardrock, I definitely got a good enough taste over the course of 30 miles to understand what this race is all about. For a start, the concept of miles at Hardrock is far removed from that of your traditional mountain race. The nine miles from Sherman to Pole Creek took Nick Pedatella and I a full five hours through the night, and while we probably covered somewhere closer to 14 miles (getting lost twice), and took time consulting maps trying to figure out where exactly we were in relation to the course, most others at the pointy end were still taking 3 hours to cover those nine miles. Nick also fell into a creek on this section (about an hour before dawn), causing his body temperature to plummet, which had us both very worried, so while the terrain and climbing was actually a little more forgiving than on other sections of the course, it was definitely Nick's toughest stretch.

The concept of this race as a 'run' is something of a stretch. Most of the climbs are 100% hiking; not only because they are typically very steep, but also because all the work is occurring between 10,000' and 14,000'. Prolonged exertion at those elevations turns 2,000'-4,000' climbs into major grinds, and with nine of them to negotiate (along with countless 'rollers') ... well ... you get the picture. Strong, fit hikers can certainly excel on this course, although I found the relentless nature of the climbing more than a little tedious (and I only did 30 miles).

The terrain, scenery and history on the Hardrock course are second to none. The mountains are incredibly lush, especially above treeline, and the endless vistas of beautifully varied skylines were nothing short of breathtaking. The wildflowers were insanely beautiful, and the fauna enjoying their nutritional bounty were equally as fascinating. The final touch on the uniqueness of the course is the human element. There are snippets of mining history littered everywhere on the 100-mile journey. Silverton is more in the rough-around-the-edges Leadville mold, while Ouray, Telluride and Ridgeline have transformed themselves into stunningly beautiful tourist and outdoors destinations. The more interesting history of the region, however, is found among the dismantled mine shafts and random rusted-out steel cables and rails, which appear with frequency and in some of the most inaccessible places you could possibly imagine. The miners and pack animals of this region were, without a doubt, very tough and resilient.

On balance, I would have to say that while the scenery and history surrounding this race are incredible, it all gets a bit lost in the tedium of the endless climbing and descending. For some, this is apparently a good thing and there are those who clearly love everything about this race; however, for me, the extent of the climbing and the lack of any real running beyond steep descents got old ... fast. Still one for the bucket list, I guess, but maybe later rather than sooner.

Some videos:

Hardrock morning

Topping out on final climb

The final climb to the top of Little Giant from near the top of the second-to-last drop into Cunningham (as shown in the video clip above). The route up Little Giant switchbacked to the right of the waterfall, continuing all the way to the basin at the top of the gulch and then popping over one of the saddles to the right of pointy peak on the right side of the basin. The scree to the right of the basin is shown early in the video clip above. As a ninth and final climb (for Nick), this one was a particularly painful shot to the nads.

Maggie Gulch

Diana Finkel Grouse Gulch

Nick P Finish


  1. Thanks for sharing the videos and your perspective of the race. And congratulations on a spectacular performance at Western States.

  2. I really appreciate the candor, especially coming from you, one of the tougher guys around.

    I volunteered at an ultra this weekend; sure no 100, but there were people that should not have been doing it. That extreme element makes me go hmmmmmmmmmmmm big time.


  3. I appreciate your candor too (and on WS in your previous report). Having just experienced SJS50, I can understand your perspective. That race was 1/2 the distance, but only 1/3 of the climb (+12,000 feet) I simply CANNOT fathom the severity of the ups and downs. Too steep when you go up to ever jog, and too steep on the downs to ever be able to enjoy going down.

    But yea with the scenery, history, etc., I can also totally see getting addicted to the race.

  4. Admit it, you're just afraid to take me on at Hardrock...

    Sorry I missed you out there.

  5. Cool writeup and pictures!

    Yeah, I see it as a pretty cool hiking/scrambling binge in a beautiful part of the world, and see the appeal of it now more than ever. As for running, a 24-hour track/short-loop (or treadmill, ugh) event technically be all running, but "Meh" -- something you can logistically set up yourself in Iowa...but paying a hundred some bucks to logistically get food, water, rapid SAR response and/or someone to jumpstart your heart if you're struck by lightning seems like a bargain!

  6. Good to see Nick P. still smiling at the end of that final climb. I think I would have just growled at the guy behind the camera had that been me.

  7. Matt - It amazes me that people don't get themselves into more trouble at these events. And at Hardrock there is serious potential for tragedy, which, incidentally, the race organizers are extremely candid about in their race pack.

    Brett - A majority of the downs on the section of the course I was on were certainly runnable, but the scale of the climbs (at that altitude) really blew me away. It's one of those races (like San Juan) that has to be experienced to be understood/appreciated.

    Brownie - I certainly tip my hat to you in getting the job done this weekend, but I think you'd be the last of my worries on that course.

    Mike - I wasn't thinking flat circuits around a track for 100 miles with my running comment - far from it - more along the lines of mountain 100s that offer some good climbs and descents, but also mix in some good ridge/rolling/flatter variety where you can really get into a solid running groove. I thought that Jemez (in the 50 category) found a good balance between the faintly absurd and the runnable. It was definitely challenging, but legitimately a 'running' race too.

    I'd be interested to know how much of the course Kyle Skaggs ran two years ago to post 23:23. From pacing Nick, it seems to me that if you can maintain a strong powerhike on the ups for the duration and work the downs well (and not get lost), then a time in the 24/25 hour range is more than plausible. The hiking we were doing I would describe as steady - but not in the 'power' category - and had we not had the disastrous night we had, Nick would easily have been in the 28s, possibly the 27s.

    I know you'd do well at Hardrock with your appreciation for a good hike at high altitude. Might be time to start thinking about a qualifier.

    Jim - yeah, Nick was a pleasure to pace, even when he was drenched at 4 in the morning and freezing.

  8. Hi Nick, no, I know you weren't thinking about flat circuits, I was just taking it to the -illogical- extreme in the other direction, as 'runnability' just by itself can be overrated without scenery...yeah, seems like good/popular races maintain a good balance of both.

    Then again, many of us folks are already power-hiking stuff that you're able to run, so we deal with that more regularly!

  9. That photo is beautiful. Thanks for sharing all the videos too. Glad things didn't turn out worse during the night.

  10. So even top ultra-runners have to hike the steep stuff. Good; I thought it was just me!

    What's with the Nicks falling into creeks! :D I still remember that element the most from your Big Horn run last year (probably more than second-place finish). OK, running at night can suck.

  11. Nick,

    Great post! I loved the video commenting.

    I used to think Hardrock was plain stupid. After a couple of years of mountain running and after running much of the course my perspective on that changed and I now see it as the ultimate long-course mountain race. Mind-blowing scenery, relentless climbs and descents, has it all to the nth degree. I'll probably put my name in the lottery for next year.

    When Kyle ran 23hr he figured that he ran ~80 miles of the race. He pow-hiked every major climb except for I think maybe the first one (Putnam). I still remember his comment at Ouray that year "Dude, I'm just hiking the climbs, not even going hard", this after he got there in 8 1/2 hours. I think the CW direction is slightly more runnable because it has long gradual downhills (Camp Bird Rd, Engineer Rd) that would likely be long, hiking slogs in the other direction.


  12. Tony - figured you'd be getting around to doing it at some point. Almost a rite of passage.

    Yeah, I guess it truly does have everything to the nth degree, but just because it's a mountain race doesn't mean it has to be all up or all down on ridiculous grades all the time. It really is far out there on the extreme loony wing of mountain racing, which, of course, is why everyone wants to test themselves against it.

    I'll probably also find myself putting my name in the hat next year, but really just to build lotto entries for a time when I might have a bit more passion for it. And then of course I'll get my name pulled. Ahh, lotteries.

  13. Wow - just catching up, and yeah, I will agree that your video commenting casts a light on this of how nutty this is.

    Then again, none of us on this thread are considered normal even if we did not do this.