My knee hurts. The terrain is getting a little sketchy, and my lungs start to burn from the high altitude. At mile one I stop to walk, then after a few seconds of “this sucks, this sucks, this sucks…” running through my head I start running again. At mile three I stop to enjoy the view. I’m in Silverton, Colorado days before the legendary Hardrock 100. “I cannot believe these people are about to run 100 miles in this altitude” I say to myself, astonished by the quick run.
This is my second year in Silverton. I came in 2013 with my buddy Trey on a month long dirtbag trip, living out of tents, and running as many peaks as possible. The way we felt, and still feel; life should be lived by people like us. See, we’re trail runners, but not just weekend warriors and not just runners. We run, host, and keep up with Ultra-marathons, we find every reason to hit new trails, and just be outdoors. It’s that mentality that has brought us to Silverton once again.
We made it a mission to go see Hardrock every year, but after a move to Washington I had to sit out a couple of years. In 2016, with one of the most amazing runners lists Hardrock has ever seen. I decided it was time to head back. I packed my huge army duffle with everything I’d need for two weeks of full on dirtbag living. I jumped on a plane, and flew into Oklahoma to meet up with Trey. As soon as I arrived I jumped into Trey’s truck and we headed out. Our first night was spent in New Mexico, near Jicarita Peak in Cerro Del Oso. As the morning sun came into view we jumped into the car to make the eight hour drive with enough time to grab beers, and get in a quick run before finding a camping spot near Silverton.
As we pulled into town, the mountains instantly engulfed us. Stopping at the only shop in town we picked up only the essentials: macaroni and cheese, rice, squash, a six-pack of Dale’s Pale Ale, and a six-pack of Fat Tire. We hit Kendall Campground about two miles north of Silverton and instantly found a spot that would accommodate not only the two of us, but the large amount of people I had invited via the Dirtbag Runners facebook group. After setting tents and hammocks, so no one would snake our new home, we set out on what would be the first few miles of the Hardrock race. It wasn’t easy, I’d say it wasn’t even fun. Going from a city that’s pretty much at sea level to Silverton had me struggling to say the least. Near the end of the run we reached a hard scramble full of loose rocks. Trey and I stopped and sat looking at the awe inspiring views. We had no words. We could only take it all in with beer in hand.
The next morning started exactly as you’d expect. Wake up, coffee, quick food, and a run back out on the course. It was here that my story began. Standing three miles into the course realizing in mere days, amazing runners would be in this wilderness for up to thirty hours. It simply took my breath away. In that moment I remembered the feeling I had in this same town three years before; the feeling that I belonged here, in these woods, fighting this mountain, and with these people. A feeling many Hardrockers have felt. From crews to aid station workers to runners, anyone that’s set foot on this course has felt the energy coming from it. For the next few days we’d run this section of the course, only running new sections to chase wild Pokemon on our phones during our more casual evening runs, or running up to Glacier Lake.
Before we knew it, race day was upon us. We had woke up early, sucked down as much coffee as we thought we’d need, hit up a Mobius Coffee just to be sure we had enough coffee, and watched as all the runners line up for their shot to finish Hardrock 100. As the race kicked off we rushed to the first street crossing to cheer on our favorite runners. We stood yelling, “go get it, Joe!” and “kill it, Kilian!” Wishing Anna Frost good luck, and high fiving others. It was unreal to see these people we all look up doing this.
Once we started the car one thing became very clear, we where being followed. Not by a huge line of watchers going to the next aid station, but by a very specific person going to the next aid station, Ricky Gates. It became very apparent that Ricky and us would be figuring out the course together. We followed each other all day. Stopping one another to ask for directions. And then, as we met the runners at aid station after aid station, we found another familiar face, Billy Yang. It seemed Billy was filming Timothy Olson throughout the race, and we where beating him to every location, and somehow standing in every shot of his. Sorry, Billy!
As the night fell, Trey and I packed up camp and moved to the statue right outside of Silverton. At around four a.m., after probably five hours of sleep, the two of us jumped into his Toyota Tacoma, and drove to the finish line. Our trip had come to this. Free coffee from the gym, and the dozen other early people, trying our best not to fall asleep as we all constantly reloaded the irunfar Live Feed on our phones, slowing the internet speed to a trickle. As the time came closer we all ran outside, waiting to see if Kilian or Jason would finish first. It seemed people yelled five minutes over and over again, raising jokes about Walmsley possibly leading them in, or Kilian stopping to get a Jason Schlarb mullet. Then we saw them. Both Kilian and Jason running next to one another. It was a moment that showed exactly what we all love about this sport. It is a completely selfish sport. We run alone in the woods and mountains for hours and hours. We blow off friends, parties, and obligations for extra miles. In the end the race is always ran with those around us. Jason and Killian, holding hands, leaned in and kissed the rock together.
Hearing that the next runner was a few hours out, we fell back asleep for a few more hours. Later, we woke up to watch Anna bring in the first female place. I knew then that this was a place I’ll always go back to. No more missed years. No more excuses. Hardrock has become part of that which I am, part of the blood that flows in my veins. Can’t wait to see those San Juan Mountains again next year.