One Good Race Report Deserves Another

The amount of positive comments and email I received from my Leadville 100 report really caught me by surprise and I thank each of you who sent along the kind words. My immediate trip to NC for work kept me from replying to each of you personally and if I missed you, I apologize. But do know that it really meant a lot and I appreciate all the nice things everyone said.

One email I received really stood out though, and for obvious reasons as you'll soon see. It's from Todd Burgess of the Rocky Mountain News and he graciously allowed me to post it here. He wrote this race report back in 1999 for The Gazette in Colorado Springs. I think you're all going to find it very entertaining (and also quite similar to my own story, only it sounds like he endured far more than I had to). Thank you Todd for allowing me to repost this. It's one hell of a story.


Subject: Great LT 100 report!

I just read it, having no idea who you are or what you did until the end (and me not even being a mountain biker). Incredible writing.

The wind went out of me when I read you didn’t make the official finish.

Maybe you can relate to my adventure (below). It’s long, but our fraternity is small so I thought you might like it.

Todd Burgess


Subject: Hardrock 1999 account
Date: Thu, 5 Aug 1999 21:51:09 -0600
Headline: 48 hours (and 3 minutes, 35 seconds)

"It’s going to suck to be you for the next year."

I had just finished the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run in the San Juan Mountains last Sunday, but I was not a finisher. I missed the race’s 48-hour time limit by 3 minutes, 35 seconds. Scott Gordon, who finished in 32 hours, good for seventh place, wasn’t about to let me feel sorry for myself. He laughed after predicting my fate for the next year, then told me his wife cried when she heard how close I came to making the cutoff.

"Don’t worry, you’ll finish next year," Gordon said just before the awards ceremony. Tyler Curiel, another finisher, shook my hand and stood inches from me, his eyes staring straight at mine. "I don’t care what anyone says, everyone in this room thinks of you as a finisher," Curiel said. Ulrich Kamm, who has finished the race six times and dropped out once, gave me a long pep talk."Three minutes," he said in his pleasant German accent, "3 minutes, that’s nothing. You could make up that time easily. After 48 hours, your time and mine (47:31:30) are the same. You know the course now. You know what to expect."Next year, you come back, you finish in under 48 hours." Next year. All three of these studs knew there would be a next year for me. It’s hard not to believe someone who has just run 101.7 miles and completed this race. They were so confident. Early in this run, I said this would be my only attempt at Hardrock. I loved the scenery. I loved playing in the streams, snow and mud. At one point, I thought, "This course was designed for me." But I doubted that I would take another shot at it. Training for a full year, transforming myself from trail ultra-marathoner to novice mountaineer, was enough. After this race, there would be other adventures to chase: maybe ultra mountain bike races, or mountain triathlons or another Ironman.

The Hardrock Hundred is billed as a "post-graduate, 100-mile endurance run." It has more than 33,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, crosses 12 passes over 12,000 feet and includes a hike up 14,048-foot Handies Peak. It’s wild. It’s tough. It’s exactly the way the runners want it.

Mile 95, about 3:30a.m. Sunday.
I wonder how many people have experienced this: sitting in the dark, on a trail, on a ledge at 12,500 feet, looking at the outline of the surrounding mountains on a nearly moonless night. My flashlight is off. I’m cold. I wonder how long it will take me to regain my balance when I stand up. It would be fun to be here on some other night, to hike up to this ledge and just sit here, to get cold and a little scared without wanting, or needing, to push ahead. After 45.5 hours of running, hiking and glissading, this is my first moment of pause in the race.

My pacer, Liz, is a little farther up the trail, making a few minor adjustments. OK, actually if you must know, she’s peeing. She told me to keep going, but I thought I’d give her some time. She said she’d yell when she was done. Earlier, Liz remarked at the beauty of the stars. I admitted I had not stopped yet to look at them. I didn’t the previous night, either, but I’m sure they were beautiful. Yes, I had stopped during the race, to take pictures of the many waterfalls, or scoop a pebble out of the side of my shoe or look for a trail marker, but, until now, I had not completely relaxed. Less than 2 hours earlier, I was hallucinating nearly non-stop. Everything I saw was something else. Where there were rocks, I saw license plates and tin cans and race numbers; where there was grass or dirt I saw snow - I saw lots of snow; a plant became a tangle of gummy worms and bows; I saw two white Suburbans parked in a snowbank - they turned out to be two rocks, about the size of bowling balls.

The hike up this last pass was tough. I was stumbling. My arms and legs were shaking, as if I had Parkinson’s disease. I could not find a rhythm. Just taking a step, taking a breath, taking a bite of food then taking another step was too tough a task. I kept stumbling, then trying to brace myself on rocks to my right that were not there. I tried to grab willows to keep my balance, but they would break in my hands. Liz and I concluded I might be getting hypothermia. I put on a pair of running tights and another shirt and Liz kept feeding me: more Powerbar, more candy, more trail mix. Eventually I became more me. But these are not the things I am thinking about up on this ledge. I am thinking about the act of standing up. I know that soon, when this high trail merges with a dirt road, I will have to run for all I am worth. I know I am going to be seriously close to not finishing this race in 48hours. I am also psyched to run as hard as I can for as long as I can. There is no adrenaline now. There’s just the pleasant, cold mountain silence. "OK," Liz calls. "I’m ready. Let’s go."

Mile 18.6. 12:27 p.m. Friday.
I am hiking on a four-wheel drive road up a 13,120 foot pass. I am exhausted, and humbled, and doubtful that I have the ability to withstand another 83.1 miles of this. I’ve trained on much tougher slopes. I had spent most of June and July above 10,000 feet, averaging about 3 hours of training per day. I had hiked to the top and run down Pikes Peak twice in the past two weeks, been above tree line many times and completed most of Mount Elbert just 11 days ago. My 12-hour training runs, my 50-mile races and my Sunday morning sleep-deprivation workouts meant nothing. How can people finish this thing?

Mile 33.3. 7:48 p.m. Friday.
I am at Virginius Pass , getting ready to glissade (sled without a sled) down the side of a mountain. I have heard this slope is nearly vertical for the first 20 feet and that we’ll glissade for a thousand feet. I have been nervous and excited about this point in the race for a long time. I am drinking soup at the aid station perched up here, a couple tents and a few chairs between the mountains. I am afraid to sit on the chairs because I’m sure I’ll tumble down backward off the mountain. I sit on the ground and put on my waterproof pants. Aid station volunteers point down the snow and tell me to aim my slide for the rocks in the middle of the slope, then warn me to stop on the middle of my third glissade or I’ll go too far and haveto hike back up. My new-found running buddy, Ed, is a couple minutes ahead of me. We’ve spent the past several hours hiking at a fast uphill pace together, marveling at the beauty of these mountains. I walk down the snow to where the glissade starts. I get to the edge and look over. It’s not even close to vertical. This is nothing, I say. I laugh as snow sprays over my feet and onto my face. I want to go faster. This is little-kid fun. I love this race.

Mile 51.9. 3:26 a.m. Saturday.
I am at another aid station, most of the way up 12,910 foot Engineer Pass. I am eating what the aid station volunteer calls oatmeal soup. It’s the leftovers of chicken soup broth, with, I think, oatmeal and potato chips. It tastes good. My pacer, Fred, is getting ready for our next climb. We’ve spent the last 4 hours hiking together, and we have another 7 hours to go until the
Sherman aid station, Mile 70.1, where he will stop and I will plow on alone. He’s talked to me, kept me on course, warned me about steep ledges (for much of this hike we’ve been on a wide trail with an 800-vertical drop down to the right) and pointed out mud puddles, which I guess he thinks I should avoid but I just trudge through happily. Fred is a great pacer, this is great soup and this is a great race. I am just past halfway. I have been on the go for nearly 22 hours. As Robert Frost wrote, "And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep."

Mile 86.2. 8:45 p.m. Saturday.
I am lost. I am wandering up a mountain. I can’t find the trail markers. I saw one but couldn’t find the next. I know we’re supposed to go between two mountains, so I head off to the mountains up to the right, my flashlight scanning the ground. I feel hopeless. I don’t want the race to end this way: lost, did not finish. I spent the previous 2½ hours running and hiking as fast as I could to make up time. After getting lost before the previousaid station, I was 45 minutes behind the 48-hour pace. I made up 30 minutes in 5.5 miles and marched up to this hill quickly. Everything was coming back together and now I’m going to be out of the race. I just want a chance. I see flashlights beam down at me from the top of the mountains to my left. I beam back. They know I’m lost. We’re too far apart to yell anything. I’m convinced the trail heads up to the right, then circles behind the mountains on a ridge to get to where they are. I am wrong. After 20 long minutes of stumbling around, I see two flashlights coming up the hill toward me. I head down toward them. We meet at about the spot I got lost. One of the competitors scans the hillside then spots the next marker, high up a hill to the left. I let the two hike ahead, then decided they are much slower than I want to go. I push on. I feel as if my race might be over. But I think I might be able to get to the next aid station before the cutoff. Then, I’ll at least get to finish the race. Maybe not officially. But I’ll get to finish.

Mile 98.5. 4:35 a.m. Sunday.
It’s time to run, and I feel like running. My thighs are a little sore. I have a couple blisters that hurt when my feet land on rocks. I’m stiff. But at the same time, I’m not sore at all. I have this wild burst of energy. Liz runs ahead of me and finds the best route down the rocky Jeep road. My feet land on some of the rocks and kick some others. Pain lasts just a few seconds. I feel like an animal. So alive. I want to scream. Going at this pace, I am sure we are going to finish in time. I’m guessing 47:20. I don’t know how fast we’re running. It feels like 8-minute miles. It’s probably much slower. We see the town of Silverton below, getting bigger as we descend. I’m sure we’re almost there and at about 5:20 a.m.

We pass a couple people who are hiking. I ask them, "So are you going to make it in 48 hours?" "Yes," one of the walkers says confidently.I know if he’s going to make the cutoff, I’ll make it easily. This is going to be the biggest athletic achievement in my life. I’m prepared to celebrate. I ease up a little. There are 30 minutes to go, then 20, and I still don’t see the finish area. We’re on a trail that parallels the roads below but never gets closer to town. I am running again, pretty hard but have to slow to a hike for a few mud crossings. I could lose my shoes if I run through them. With 15 minutes to go, I panic. I start to sprint. It lasts about 2 minutes. I lose my breath then have to walk.

With 10 minutes to go, we pass a man on the trail who is walking the opposite direction. "How far to the finish?" I ask. "A good mile," he says.A good mile? I think to myself. Is that a mile? It sounds like more than a mile.I resume a hard, running pace. I’m pushing about as hard as I can without going into oxygen debt. It’s starting to get light out. I can’t see the finish area. I can hear every one of my breaths. At 5:58 a.m. I reach a bridge that gets me off the trail and into town. Laura, my girlfriend, tells me I have seven blocks to go. Seven blocks in 2 minutes: I now know my race is over. But I start to sprint anyway. Maybe the official clock is off by a minute or two. Maybe they’ll give me the finish if I miss by just a few seconds. Even my tired mind, deprived of sleep for the past 50 hours, doesn’t believe my rationale. On every level, I know I won’t make 48 hours.

As I cross the finish line, there are only three or four people standing there. They pretty much ignore me. I sit just past the finish line and catch my breath as the sky turns pink. I have my arms on my knees, my head down, trying to catch my breath. I shake my head in disbelief. I tried so hard. People approach me and congratulate me: mygirlfriend, the race director and other runners. But I can tell they don’t know if they should give me sympathy or praise, so they offer a little of both. Of the race’s 110 starters, 59 made it in under 48 hours and five of us came in after the race was over. I don’t know if I should feel happy that I finished the race or disappointed that I’m not an official finisher.

I know that I am thrilled that I got the chance to try to finish. I didn’t miss a cutoff because I was lost; that would have been a terrible way for Hardrock to end. I ended the race out of breath, exhausted, sweaty, sprinting, the way a wild and tough run should be finished. On this weekend, my all wasn’t enough. For 48 hours, I vowed this would be my only Hardrock Hundred. Now I’m not so sure. I picked up an entry form for next year’s race.I don’t know if I’m going to enter. Maybe Scott Gordon is right: For the next year, it might suck to be me. But for 48 hours, 3 minutes and 35 seconds, it felt pretty darn good.

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