100 miles by foot through the unforgiving and majestic beauty of the San Juan mountains of Colorado with the goal to kiss a large stone as your award. To kiss the Hardrock. 140 athletes from around the world attempted just that.
The Hardrock 100 is a trail running experience like no other in the United States.
And a community with a big heart.
At the beginning of each July, an intimate group begins their yearly pilgrimage to Silverton, Colorado. They arrive to acclimate to the altitude, help with course/event set-up, and simply hang-out with the Hardrock family surrounded by natural beauty until race day.
This year the TALON (TX, AR, LA, OK, NM) tribe laced up 14 sets of tread from three states. New Mexico was our largest group with nine runners. Followed by Texas with three and Arkansas with two.
David Coblentz (age 51) of New Mexico, led our tribe to kiss the Hardrock in 34:00:59.
Our final and wisest finisher was Ferdinand de Souza (age 60) of New Mexico, who stayed focused to the finish line in 47:04:30.
Our youngest finisher was lowlander John Sharp (age 36) of Texas who put together his fastest Hardrock finish so far, a 37:04:56.
Of special note, Ken Gordon of New Mexico also completed his fifth Hardrock this year.
Complete TALON Results
- David Coblentz (NM) – 34:00:59
- John Sharp (TX) – 37:04:56
- Tyler Curiel (TX) – 37:47:26
- Sean Cunniff (NM) – 38:50:19
- Neil Blake (NM) – 38:52:02
- Paul Tidmore (TX) – 40:08:36
- Randy Isler (TX) – 41:35:03
- Ken Gordon (NM) – 41:40:21
- Kristen Kern (NM) – 41:52:48
- Blake Wood (NM) – 42:22:12
- Stan Ferguson (AR) – 42:41:59
- Podog Vogler (AR) – 42:41:59
- Susan Gardner (NM) – 46:46:24
- Ferdinand de Souza (NM) – 47:04:30
Enjoy as our Hardrock athletes graciously share some moments from their adventure.
Hardrock was memorable this year for many reasons: the “celebrity elite race”, the wild weather with rain and lightening for most of Friday night during the climb over Handies, and that my son Kai (future Hardrocker!) was able to pace me for about 25 miles. He’s 15-year-old and a member of the Los Alamos High School Cross Country team. Carrying on a fine tradition! He braved a lightening storm over Engineer’s Pass without complaint or regret!
I was happy with my run at Hardrock this year. I probably could have executed the early miles a bit better; I went out too fast and neglected my fueling during the rainy periods. Consequently, my quads suffered during the last 20 miles. Hardrock is all about respect (of the course and your limitations) and learning (“things will be different next year!”). But, hey, any Hardrock finish is a good finish!
I had a really pleasant race this year en route to getting my second Hardrock finish and securing “real Hardrocker” status by completing the race in both directions. With very few exceptions, I had a very steady race physically and mentally, and was able to thoroughly enjoy myself. I particularly enjoyed the scenic sections of the course where the running was (relatively) easy and my mood good, such as the descent into Telluride from Oscar’s Pass, the descent down to Governor Basin from Virginius, and the singletrack section below Little Giant during the final descent into Silverton. Like many others, I had several hours of rain, but the storms were never very electric, so it wasn’t a serious impediment to movement or mood. I also benefited immeasurably from the kindness and assistance of my Boston-based crew, consisting of my rock-solid brother and 10 year old giggling niece, who buoyed my spirits whenever they were present; and my excellent pacers, who kept me happy, on-task and pushing until I smooched The Rock in Silverton.
All in all, after many years of waiting to get in the race and building it up in my mind to unrealistic proportions, the race has been all I imagined it to be – a slow and steady tour through unbelievable mountains amongst a small cast of the like-minded. I am so delighted to have the had the chance to become a real Hardrocker. For me, it is the fulfillment of my ultimate running dream.
Hardrock is far more than just the run itself, and it starts weeks out as runners move into and around the San Juans to acclimate, train and get familiar with the course. My wife, two sons (14 and 12), and I arrived in Silverton six days before the race and immediately started seeing familiar faces – Stan Ferguson and Podog Vogler from Arkansas in Durango when stopping for groceries and lunch, and then on our first hike from KT to Grant Swamp Pass the next day. “Camp Hardrock” takes place all week with various activities for runners and their families/crews. Though I hadn’t been to Hardrock since 2008, it was nice to see so many familiar faces and meet many more. It was also a historic year for Hardrock with the number and quality of elite runners there. I’m never star-struck with Hollywood celebrities and pro athletes, but seeing all these guys—names that are virtually unknown outside the ultra community—was pretty special. Records have now been set each of the three years I’ve run Hardrock (Jurek in 2007, Skaggs in 2008, and now Jornet in 2014), and it’s just cool having been in the same event as these guys.
As for the run itself, my main memory is likely the same as many others with plenty of bad weather. It started with sleet and rain on Friday. As I’m already not a good downhill runner, the slick steep descent in Wasatch Basin down toward Telluride proved tough in many places. The next storm hit late Friday night not long after I left Ouray with my wife, Ginger (who really hates bad weather). The storm intensified as we left the Engineer aid station and proceeded above treeline, where there is no cover. It was very windy, wet and cold. When the rain stopped, a very heavy fog rolled in, which made finding course markers very tough.
Matt Crownover took over pacing responsibilities at Grouse Gulch and was with me for the next 33 miles. Highlights on that section include a brilliant pre-sunrise view from the summit of Handies Peak (14,048’), the first of two hard falls on my left knee while crossing a stream in Cataract Gulch, a very hard driving rainstorm in Pole Creek followed by another up on Buffalo Boy Ridge (13,000’), and then the second fall on my left knee while navigating the steep descent into Cunningham Gulch.
My wife joined me for the last nine miles, and it was nice to have her company, as this section is where the wheels came off and my brain shut down after dark in 2008. My original goal was to finish before dark (~39 hours), but I think the weather and resulting trail conditions slowed me down just enough to miss that goal. We did make it to the finish line in 40:08, and it felt good to kiss the Hardrock for the third time.
In addition to my wife, sons, and Matt, my parents also made the trip, and it’s so cool how they continue to support me in these races. And of course, I can’t say enough about the quality of all the race personnel starting at the top with the Board of Directors and RD, Dale Garland, as well as all the volunteers involved. Hardrock is a run, an event like no other, and I hope I’m lucky enough to have my name drawn again for 2015!
This was the 20th anniversary of my first Hardrock. I’m 19-for-19 there. It was my slowest time (42:22) and only the second time I’ve ever been out past midnight on the second night. Nevertheless, I consider it something of a victory. I injured my knee a month before the run and wasn’t sure I’d be there at all. I ran it conservatively, especially the downhills, knowing that I was never more than one slip, trip, or fall from ending my day out there. But my knee actually seemed to get stronger as the run progressed, I didn’t hurt it further, and it has continued to improve since. Onward!
Nineteen is a lot of finishes at Hardrock. Maybe too many for remembering what happened from year to year. They start to mush together, especially the early ones. Thankfully, I carried a camera in most of them (photos) and usually wrote down a brief summary afterward, so that helps to jog the memory (A tip: Write up a short race report, even if no one ever sees it but you. You’ll be happy you did in 20 years.)
So what stands out from 20 years of running Hardrock? One thing above all others – all the miles spent being paced by friends and family. My Dad paced me in my first few Hardrocks. He is 83 now, his running days behind him, but it was a blast while it lasted. And he still comes to Hardrock to crew for me. In the intermediate years, it was mostly kids I coached on the local high school cross country team. I’ve had the great pleasure of competing with several of them in a few hundreds (including Hardrock) now that they have grown into fine, responsible adults. In the past ten years, I’ve been paced regularly by two of my daughters and my son-in-law, along with a couple close friends of my own age.
Pacers don’t speed me up or make me more likely to finish, but having a pacer always enhances the hundred mile experience because I have someone to share it with. Being paced by my daughters is especially sweet – they pretty much grew up at Hardrock and it has been the family vacation highlight of the summer since they were small. My oldest daughter hasn’t run with me, but comes most years to crew – now with my grandkids in tow. In only another dozen years, I may be paced at Hardrock by one of my granddaughters!
I have fond memories of many races, but Hardrock has become much more than that. It represents a substantial portion of my adult life and what has made that life special and enjoyable. It is family and friends (some now only with us in memory) and a year of planning capped by a week of intense activity, all rolled into one giant inspiring, fun, love-filled event. There is nothing like it!
They say you are not a “true” Hardrocker until you run the race in both directions. Because of the lottery and other factors, most Hardrockers have to run three or four Hardrocks to obtain that distinction. Lucky enough for me, I was able to do it in two runs.
Hardrock is unlike any other 100 mile race. To paraphrase Billy Simpson, if most 100s are like smoking grass, Hardrock is like doing crack. Everything here is bigger, longer, steeper, and harder. You cannot allow yourself to even think about the task you are undertaking because it is too overwhelming to consider. You just have to take care of yourself, run the 10 feet in front of you, and stay in the moment.
Did I ever think about quitting or that I might not finish? Only every single climb. This race is all about the climbs. They can take you anywhere from two to four hours each. Doubt creeps in continually, but you cannot let it take hold. Run the next 10 feet, step-step-step, breath-breath-breath.
The downs are much more manageable. But they are still long, an hour or sometimes two. They are so long that walk breaks are necessary to give your quads a break. You don’t want to lose your Hardrock on a downhill.
So what is the point of all this effort, pain, and suffering? I and many Hardrockers ask ourselves this question often. I do not know the answer, but I want to try to give you an idea. The closest thing I can come up with is the comradery of people who have gone through shared suffering. The thing that draws me to Hardrock (beyond the mountains and the challenge), are the people. I have a bond with other Hardrockers that means more because we have all done Hardrock. We all understand something about what we have gone through and achieved. We see it in each others eyes, but more so, we know it in our hearts. So the only way to really understand what Hardrock is all about and why people do it, is to do it yourself.
This race was by far the hardest thing I have ever done. It was much harder for me than in 2011 (or maybe I’ve just forgotten). I do not know if I will do it again or not. There is certainly a draw. There is a depth to doing Hardrock that you discover as you complete more races. Like rereading a great book, you discover more about it, and more importantly, about yourself. It’s just a question of am I willing to undergo the training, pain, suffering, and time to discover it. We shall see.
Finishing for me is a choice.
All 100 milers I’ve started (and some 50 milers) have offered up rock solid, completely defensible reasons to stop. Absolutely sane reasons. The times I’ve finished have been when I’ve chosen to finish, despite all the tantalizing justifications to quit that were dangled in front of me. The choice has always been mine alone and almost always very simple in its barest form, although often disguised as a much more important Problem (capital “P”). In terms of Problems, Hardrock is a potential goldmine! Or silvermine as it were.
The first choice, obviously, was whether to start at all (due to a Spring injury and limited training). But, if I gave up my spot, I’d have to re-qualify and then make it through the lottery all over, and no telling how many years that would take, so that was an easy decision. I was going for it. However, my poor training was the low-hanging fruit of Problems, a fully ripe ‘reason’ to drop that I could polish up at any time during the run if things got tough. And they did, of course. I put some shine on that puppy.
But first things first. Three miles into the race I realized I potentially had a Real Problem. Hubris was behind a rookie mistake – I had put a brand-new, fresh-out-of-the-box hydration bladder in my running pack. And the bite valve on this one was seriously messed up.
I’m convinced that it was a quality control error because only a sadist would design a bladder that way on purpose. That bite valve was just wrong – even with lots of effort and supreme suction I could barely get a tiny trickle of fluid though it, at least most of the time. Once in a great while, unpredictably, it would free flow. I twisted, chewed,and pulled on it but never figured it out. So I adjusted as best I could. I would try for fluids often and when I could actually get it to flow I’d drink as much as my stomach would hold, not knowing if or when I’d ever drink again.
This was unacceptable, I told myself. This just won’t work – How Can I Finish Without Proper Hydration? Shoulders back, chest open, chin up. Breath. I had an old, spare bladder in my truck. If I could just hold out until Ouray when my first pacer and crew chief (Dan the Danimal Blankenship) was meeting me, I could swap out bladders. I pulled out my phone, texted Dan “I need the spare hydration bladder at Ouray!!”
I made it to Ouray but the text didn’t, and neither did the spare bladder.
And then came the next Problem. I was moving very slowly. My insufficient training was costing me. There’s a schedule included in the runner’s manual, the average times when the 48- hour finishers historically have passed through the aid stations, and I was behind that schedule (a casual inspection of the results confirms that, this year, I was the last finisher through many of the early aid stations).
I was deep into the first night, with still a full day and another night ahead of me when I asked myself, “Is it even worth going on, knowing my chances of finishing are already pretty much zero?” On the snotty, muddy, dark trails up and over Engineer Pass a fugue set up in my head. Why bother, why are you even surprised? You don’t belong here. Loser. Old. Slow. Loser.
On the road down to Grouse, a little past the 50 mile mark, a stunning weariness grabbed at me. I fell asleep on my feet and lost my sense of balance. I had to stop. Completely. I napped, laying across a ditch for seven minutes while the mountains pitched rocks down on me and Dan as they woke up for the day. I went a little further. And then I napped again (nine minutes) in a nasty old mining shed. I nudged a board over a bit of used toilet paper with the toe of my shoe before I curled up, fetal position, on the floor.
And there it was, the heart of the matter, and the choice. Is it time to give up? Why was I out there anyway? Why was I wasting my time, my crew and pacers’ weekend, and a coveted spot in the race? To prove to everyone watching online that I could (or could not) finish? To prove to myself that I could finish (I already had two Hardrock finishes)?
I’ve had to explain both dropping out of races and being pulled because I missed a cut-off, and it sucks. Always. Big time. Most people act sympathetic, but it’s there – the averted eyes, an effort to change the subject quickly. It would be the same, explaining my failure at Hardrock, I knew. Even with the excellent excuses of the Serious Hydration Issues and Torn Meniscus, the reaction would be shame, discomfort, and shuffling feet all around. I should never have even started.
But then I got it. That day, that moment, wasn’t about them at all. It was all about me and I was about to give up on myself. I was afraid of what I might find that I really didn’t have a finish left in me anymore and I didn’t want to look that ugliness full in the face. I was ready to find an out, early, just to avoid that bit of truth if it was out there waiting for me. Heck, I’d prepared myself to fail before I’d even started just so I’d have a softer landing when it happened.
But I knew the race was also about honoring my hours and hours and hours of training and preparation. Failure would be in not giving this run a full, honest effort. Shifting the blame to a piece of gear or imperfect training (it always is, imperfect) or worries about what other people might think was cowardly. At that dark, messy moment on the road into Grouse Gulch I made the choice to do the best I could on that day. I was going to accept the discomfort and pain. That’s what I signed up for, after all, and the fact that I might not finish in 48 hours. But whatever the outcome, I would know I’d not given up on myself. It was time to let things play out and own the results.
Shoulders back, chest open, chin up. Breathe. And be grateful for this amazing experience.
From then on there were problems, but I figured them out. Or accepted them. Or ignored them. I decided the bladder was just a problem (small “p”). I’d drink up when I could and be a camel at aid stations. I decided I’d stop running (walking, stumbling) only when I had to, even if that meant finishing after the 48-hour cut-off, and probably being fully aware that I’d miss the final cut with miles and hours still to go. I ignored my hinky knee, lingering PF, the stealth case of shingles, and the fatigue. I dealt with my blisters, made peace with hallucinations (mildly entertaining, actually), and kept moving forward. When I caught a toe and found myself hanging off the side of the trail by a tuft of grass on the way into Cunningham Gulch, I slowly pulled myself back up, checked for damage (some scrapes and a missing trekking pole), felt sorry for myself for a tiny minute and then kept moving. When I couldn’t eat anymore I lived off of that extra 10 pounds I’d tried so hard to lose before the race. When I couldn’t drink anymore I figured that worked out well with the bladder situation anyway. When I needed to barf, I did. Asthma?? Whatever. Rain? Pshaw. I kept moving. Shoulders back, chest open, chin up. Breathe! How glorious it is to be here, in this place, at this exact, painful moment!
And I enjoyed the hell out of the race. The whole thing. How lucky I am to be healthy enough to have been out there and to be part of the Hardrock Family. What an amazing experience. And, in retrospect, I really didn’t have any Problems. Just a journey.
I finished in 46 hours, 46 minutes, and 24 seconds. I was able to make up some time because I had wonderful pacers. Danimal, Jorge-Trail-Dancer, and Melissa-the-Rock all led the way, set the tempo, and took care of the navigation so all I had to do was take care of myself. They all got to see some of the mess that was me trying to keep it together and I’m honored to have shared the trails with them.
After the awards ceremony I got back to my little travel trailer and saw my running pack on the floor, exactly where I’d dropped it earlier. I pulled out the bladder (mostly full) and looked at it, cradled it, the symbol of my first real opportunity to give up on myself. I gingerly emptied it out. Then I threw that piece of crap away, opened up a frosty IPA, and settled in for a lazy afternoon.
Ferdinand de Souza
Congratulations to our entire Hardrock tribe!
Be active – Feel the buzz!
David – EnduranceBuzz.com
Posted on 13 Aug 2014