Texas athlete, Chad Armstrong attempted his first Hardrock 100 (TALON results summary) earlier this month in conditions that included periods of hail, lightning, plenty of mud, deep water crossings, and snow pack. Add on nearly 34,000 feet of climbing at an elevation ranging from 7700 feet up to 14,000 feet, and you have yourself one extra challenging adventure. Some Hardrock veterans mentioned this race being the toughest they have experienced on the San Juan Mountains.
How did the journey go for Chad?
Chad not only finished, he crushed it! Chad crossed the finish line and kissed the Hardrock in 34:55, earning 13th overall, and top TALON athlete honors.
Chad was game to answer a few questions about his running background, the Hardrock adventure, and what’s next on his ultra radar.
Background / Training
[EB] What is your running background? When did you start ultra running and what led you to explore the sport?
I first started running consistently at the end of my Sophomore year in college. I had started doing triathlons, so obviously I had to run. I continued running triathlons through grad school but then stopped running competitively for several years while in the military, but I still ran a lot.
I’m not sure when I first heard about a 100 miler, but it was a long time ago and I figured I would run one someday. A few years ago I read an article about a guy running 100 milers and figured I was squandering an opportunity. So far God’s blessed me with good health, so I better not waste it.
My first Ultra was the UltraCentric in McKinney, Texas 2008. I only planned on running 100 miles but my wife miss counted and I went 110 in about 19 1/2 hours. I used that race to raise money for the Naval Special Warfare Foundation.
[EB] What does a typical training week look like for you? Do you do any type of cross-training?
Average week is about 50-70 miles, little over a 100 is the most.
I really don’t cross-train much. I’ll do push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups, but I only have so much time to train and I feel it’s better spent on my feet running. My wife Julie and I have four little kids and their activities are more important than mine, so time with family is very important.
[EB] You are coached by accomplished athlete and Texas local, Amanda McIntosh. When did you begin following her guidance and what value do you feel a coach brings to your training? What do you feel are your biggest training approach changes since working with a coach?
I started working with Amanda since last October. Last year at Wasatch 100 I was speaking with some people and one of them suggested using a coach. I’ve had a coach before, back in the early 90’s during my triathlon days, so I understood the value of having someone else put together your running schedule versus you just heading out the door.
I avoid junk miles, that’s rule number one for me. Each workout has a specific purpose.
[EB] What are your thoughts on nutrition? Do you follow any specific nutrition paradigms (ex: Paleo, Zone, etc), eat mostly unprocessed food, or whatever looks good?
I really don’t prescribe to any particular “diet”. However I do try to eat right, stay away from processed foods and all, but I won’t freak out if I eat something bad either.
[EB] As your first Hardrock 100 attempt, how did the body and mind feel coming into the race?
Everything felt great going into the race. There were definitely some unknowns, everyone talks about how different this race is and they’re right.
[EB] As a Texas flatlander, how did you prepare for the 34,000 feet of climbing/descending and the high elevation?
It’s hard to train for those climbs but I try to run hill repeats when I can. I also would do lunges to strengthen my legs for the descents. Spent some time on the treadmill at 15% as well, which is tough because I hate running indoors.
As far as elevation, I usually try to show up as close to race day as possible, before my body realizes I’m at altitude and starts to adjust. This time we made it a family vacation, so we were planning on getting there a week in advance, but it was so hot here in Dallas we decided to leave 10 days before the race.
[EB] How would you describe your 100 mile adventure? Any strongly memorable sights/sounds/thoughts throughout the journey? Did you get caught in any of the passing storms?
I got pinned down by lightning for about 40 minutes just as I reached the second to last climb. Pretty Harrowing! I ran down into this basin with zero cover and hunkered down while standing in a puddle above 12,000 feet. The whole basin was either snow or water, so I was debating which would be the best conductor of electricity and quickly settled on the warmer of the two.
There was a time when my stomach went south on me, going up Engineer pass. It pretty much stopped me for a little bit while I fought off the nausea. Eventually I felt better and picked up the pace again.
[EB] Often times you hear the mind is even more important than the body in ultra distance events. Do you feel that is the case for an event like Hardrock 100?
It should be a given that everyone is physically capable of completing the race…the mind helps you stay focused and keep your head in the game. It’s so easy to lose focus when each time you finish a descent you’re hit with a monster climb.
[EB] My understanding is you were/are a Navy SEAL. Were there aspects of your Navy SEAL training that assisted your Hardrock journey?
My experience in the SEALs has been that nobody learns to ‘not quit’ during training. You either learn that toughness as a kid or you don’t. In the military I certainly spent a lot of time in the outdoors including mountains, so that probably helps some.
A lot of people don’t enjoy running all night, I actually like it, it reminds me of my time in the Teams. But overall, there’s probably not much of an advantage. And I say that because most of the runners are like-minded outdoor types anyways bringing all kinds of experiences into these races.
[EB] How did it feel to cross the finish line at your first Hardrock 100 and kiss the Hardrock? How was the body and mind feeling after 34 hours and 55 minutes of adventure?
It felt awesome. It felt really great to kiss the Hardrock, I’d been thinking about that for a long time and it finally happened.
My family is so important to me, and they are part of everything I’m able to do and I’m so thankful I have their support. When I saw them I started getting a little bit emotional, but not too much, I did an OK job suppressing those feelings!
I’ve spent much more time awake than 35 hours straight, so it’s easy to get my mind around moving for a week at most, as long as you can keep the calories coming in. Hardrock is so well run. The RD Dale Garland puts on such a world class event. I hope to be able to make it back there.
[EB] Reflecting on the experience, were there any lessons-learned (pacing, training, nutrition, gear, mindset, etc) you would implement or explore for another Hardrock start?
I pretty much ran all flats and downhills, so I’m thinking about where I could pick up some time. Next time I’d have a pacer. This would give me an extra set of eyes to keep me on trail because I got lost a few times, but not too bad.
[EB] Do you have any running events planned for the rest of the year? Any other epic ultra adventures on your radar you would like to experience?
I’m running Wasatch again in September, that’s a great course. After racing Hardrock, Wasatch seems flat…and it’s not!
How cool was that!?!
A huge thanks to Chad for sharing so much of himself with the Endurance Buzz community.
Be active – Feel the buzz!
David – EnduranceBuzz.com
Posted on 18 Jul 2011
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