Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hardrock 2011

Maggie Gultch by Bryon Powell at

i didn't think it would be possible to be proud and profoundly disappointed all at the same time. i'm now in seattle, recovering at sea level from my effort this weekend at what has to be the hardest 100 mile course on earth.. the hardrock 100 mile endurance run.

being that i am location independent i decided to rent a place in silverton, co for the month before the race. montrail teammate and wonderkid dakota jones joined me. we lived "the dream" for a month as we prepared.  june provided the perfect weather for training, sunny and high 60's every single day.  the late snow meant that our daily outings were mostly snow trudges however.  not bad training, but it certainly limited how high we could get and how much of the course we could see.

just before the race our buddy bryon powell from came over and interviewed dakota and i on our front stoop.

our whole crew including dakota and his pacer troy howard loaded in my eurovan and ellen drove us the 9 blocks to the start.  after checking in i just sat in the van to avoid any and all communication before the race.  i was feeling low blood sugar from my 4am breky.  a gel with 5mins to go fixed that.

the starting pace was waaaay faster than it needed to be.  but after actually tapering for two weeks it had to be done that way.  as we cruised the beaver trail from the start there was a bit of shuffling, but really i could see the entire race in front of me.  crossing a river i had crossed 1,000 times during training, i slipped and leaned hard on my favorite black diamond ultra distance z-pole, it snapped.  i was no more than 1.5 miles into my first hardrock 100 at that point.

i was probably 8th into cunningham, the first aid station in around 1h 53m.  i knew when troy howard ran the 3rd fastest time on course he ran there in 2h 03m.  in contrast krissy ran a female record in this direction in 2h 21m.  pointless effort wasted.  i mean it couldn't matter less how fast and excited any of us were to get to cunningham.  karl reminded us on the climb "it's not a race to cunningham fellas.", and he was right.

as i rounded the east facing corner of little giant pass i saw adventure photog fred marmsater posted up.  his energy was a nice little boost.  it felt great to roll the few grand of downhill to the cunningham aid station.  i passed buddy jared campbell who reminded me to "be careful. don't blow your quads man."  because of my backcountry ski season i considered my legs to be bomb proof.  i couldn't imagine that 34,000 feet of downhill could affect them at all.  by the bottom of that descent i was starting to question everything.  maybe jared was right.

 the plan was to just cruise it into telluride.  then hope for carnage and start to race... bury myself like i did last september at the wasatch 100.  

then i started getting lost a bit.  through stony pass there were no flags.  i started to yell "anyone out there?" and "anyone know which way to go?".  i finally saw duncan and peter on the slope above and they motioned that i head straight up.  once up on the ridge i feel like i wasted a good 5minutes staring into the obyss looking for flags.  the trail went to the left and down the wrong drainage.  but it wasn't flagged, so i stared.  then i saw diana finkel catching me and yelled back to her on the ridge "which way?".  she said left, which just confused me more.  after another minute or two i had deduced which direction the course went and somewhat on faith and instinct i descended the correct gully to maggie gulch.

let's see, i bet i was running 7-8th place at that point and that felt right.  however my rookie mistakes weren't yet evident.  although jared had mentioned there were two "longer than two bottle" sections i still managed to end up on top of handies peak (14,048ft) bonking and dehydrated.  not good.  i had nicknamed myself the "mayor of bonktown" by the time i popped out at grouse gultch.

Headed down into Grouse Gultch off of Handies Peak - Mayor of Bonktown (Leslie just handed me that coconut juice)

i decided to sit and refuel for reals.  i had the biggest and best crew at the race; a physiologist, a massage therapist a city planner, a teacher and a physician's assistant.  it was great to see there faces.  although i was nearing the bottom, i just needed to eat some real food.

The Grouse Gultch mahem. Photo by Bryon Powell at

i ate a lot then got up and followed ellen up the engineer's pass road.  as we climbed i could see fellow ultraspire athlete duncan callahan up ahead.  as we got closer we noticed he would periodically stop and bend over.  by the time we reached the pass duncan was sitting down and not looking great.  by then my food had digested and i was feeling pretty good.  down into ouray was a fun descent and i had a few minutes to chat with peter, who we'd named "red beard", before insisting he go past us.

into mile 52 at ouray the mood felt somber.  i was still able to eat then but i didn't want to feel the full on bloat of my mega-meal at grouse so i backed off a bit.  in hind sight, at least at hardrock, when you can eat - eat a lot.  my pacer, fast as f*ck la sportiva guy luke nelson kept me moving up the camp bird road as darkness descended on us.  we arrived at governor's aid station mile 62 to find jared campbell and ty draney.  both good friends, but neither in any mood to chat.  i was surprised and excited to see jared.  as i started towards him babbling about something he simply put the sleeping bag over his head.  ah, ok... someone wasn't in a very talkative mood.  i think i had a burito there, then we rolled out.  steady and slow up the road and then up the snow towards roch horton's aid station at virginius.

it got steep as we approached.  i could barely keep my head up as we summited the 10x5 foot pass.  i sat down momentarily and as i stood roch shoved a pirogi in my face and asked me "what do you think about this?"  i'm unsure if i used my own hand or just inhaled it from his, but it went down fast... and we were out.  the pirogi was the last thing i ate.  i'm not blaming it, but my stomach shut down right there and then.

maybe an hour later i hadn't eaten anything else and we arrived in telluride.  i felt like crap.  the infamous food tray was laid in my lap and i was unable to eat any of the wonderful items on it.  i just stared at them.

through dakota and training in silverton i had become friends with bret gosney. he's a great guy, 5 time finisher who's been flirting with running under 30hrs.  as i sat there feeling sick he rolled in just after duncan callahan, who had made a miraculous comeback.  this excited me to get up and get moving.  like a drunkard i yelled multiple times to them both, what i think were words of encouragement.  neither of them could hear me however.  my crew just thought i was "acting drunk".  i needed to sit there until i ate because i was circling the drain.  instead i got up and started up the 5,000ft climb to oscar's pass. 

from telluride to chapman took me 6.5hrs and i as able to consume exactly zero calories.  luke was pacing me and he kept reminding me to eat.  i simply couldn't.  mostly i would just not respond in an effort to save energy.  he would persist and i'd try to eat something but my "iron stomach" just wasn't having it.  eating a corner of a white bread turkey sandwich had me gagging.

so a 3.5-4hr section of the race took almost twice as long as it should have.  by the time we got into chapman i had long decided i was going to sleep.  "racing" was over for me.  i generally don't quit races no matter how poorly i'm doing.  it's a character flaw i think.  i briefly ran the scenario in my head and couldn't figure out how to quit and save face.  so it entered and left just as fast.  i mean i still had 1.5 days to get to the finish before the cutoff.  hearing karl dropped didn't help.  what did was laying down to sleep and having someone tell me that jared campbell was moving again.  i figured by the time i woke up he'd be at chapman.  i had a mental image of us finishing together and it made me smile for the first time in a very long long time.

instead of jared campbell i woke up to find la sportiva fast guy nathan yanko laying my feet instead.  i told him "i figured i'd see you at some point, just not here, not like this".  he was starting his 'recovery nap' and i was just finishing mine.  i spent 1.5hrs horizontal in the tent before lovely leslie arrived with some food that i had to eat.  luke rejoined me for the climb up towards little giant pass.  i didn't feel great, but i was moving and the sleep had in fact reset my stomach.  i could eat again, and it was so nice to leave that tent, which felt like purgatory (yes i know what purgatory feels like).

we cruised into kt aid station were ellen had been waiting for hours to take me in to the finish.  looking around i honestly didn't give the clouds the respect they deserved.  3,000 feet later we were completely exposed and above treeline when the lightening started.  with the loud thunder and lightening came hard rain.  i spied a rock overhang that we curled up under and the hard rain turned to hard hail that covered the ground white.  i fell asleep with my head on my knees as 40mins or so went by.

once ellen pointed out that runners were catching up to use we rolled out.  the last climb was just a steady effort and on the descent i just tried not to roll an ankle.  the fight had been kicked out of this dog. i was just getting to the finishline, and i'd prefer not to get passed.  as the time laid out we had a completely arbitrary goal of going under 35hrs to focus on.  crossing the river to the rainbow trail into town i was surprised to see james varner in normal cloths.  it seems the war of attrition had gotten most of the race at this point.

it was very cool to see troy, who had ridden out to the jesus statue to encourage me in.  i ran every step of that uphill even though i believed i had plenty of time to finish.  descending into town dakota appeared on another bike.  he offered good words as i focused my weazey breathing on running fast into the finish.  i said "talk later" between breaths and everyone understood.

50 seconds shy of 35 hours and i was kissing the hardrock.  something i plan on doing at least 9 more times in my life.

Thank you Luke Nelson! Photo by Bryon Powell at

My feet at the finish.  It was a wet course fo sho. Photo by Bryon Powell at


Rob Timko said...

The thing that terrifies me the most in that last photo of your foot, is that beer is not opened yet.

Brett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah Lavender Smith said...

Great report and you should feel proud. I saw you at the Telluride station and you looked in no mood to say hi so I didn't introduce myself. I hope people who read your report fully appreciate how extreme the altitude and terrain were, and how severe those storms were (I paced the last stretch from Telluride with Graubbins). Those San Juans sure can humble!

Devon said...

I love giving nicknames to people (and myself during races), ha.

Matt-seriously, it was awesome to watch you fight your way back, get up and off that mat and get moving again. I am very proud of you.

I think that course has a lot to teach you each time you do it, so I am happy to hear you are as stoked (just like Nathan is) to return and try again.


ultrastevep said...

Matt, I really enjoyed reading your report. I'm one of those who didn't make it to the finish and it sucks, so good you didn't give in to the dnf thoughts.
See you next year...

Team Crested Butte said...

More ski time son :) !!!

Stacey (aka UltraPrincess) said...

Great race report...... Congratulations!

Brett said...

Laughing out loud at Rob's comment. :)

Dax said...

Epic report and so inspiring that you finished. I have so much respect for elites who gut out a tough day. Nice job.