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John Anderson’s 2015 Hardrock 100 race report

This race report comes our way from longtime Rock/Creek Race Team member John Anderson, who placed 22nd of 126 finishers at this year’s Hardrock 100. Amazing! — Jeff


Hardrock is deep.  It opens up to those present, and it opens those who are present up.  As I stood, hunched over on pitch three of Virginius pass up to Kroger’s, it opened me.

I knew my fitness wasn’t exactly where I’d hoped it would be going into the race.  I had been struggling off and on with a chronic Achilles issue that had made my training inconsistent, but I sort of came in hoping for the pain.  I don’t know exactly why, perhaps sometimes we just need some suffering to help balance the scales.  

I definitely was not happy for the reality of this pain many times in the race, such as when I was lying on the side of the trail between Governor and Kroger’s.  I was aching and wanted to puke–I kind of felt like I had just rolled out of a seedy bar in Ouray after picking a fight with a biker, hung over and beat up.  And I hadn’t even made it to the tequila on top of the pass yet.

Minutes earlier Brian Costilow, fellow R/C runner and my pacer, commented on the clear night skies and kaleidoscope stars, but as I looked up the stars seemed to be getting closer. Then a big wet star splattered across my face.  Apparently “clear night skies” means howling, wet snow as we found ourselves in the middle of a mid summer squall. I could now hear Roch Horton’s voice above me and I could sense the understanding, the empathy.  It tore deep into me and I felt a sense of purpose pull me up to those welcome arms.

But how did we get here?

We arrived in Silverton a few days prior and my miniature crew immediately set out to explore both the mountains and the ice cream options.  I have four kids, ranging in age from four to nine, and quite frankly,  I’m not sure which they like better.  But, when you can have a fudge swirl cone at 10,000 feet you don’t really have to choose.  I ran into many old friends, as Hardrock tends to bring my favorite people together with unhurried conversations.   

My kids were psyched to run the “Hardblock”, a run for kids organized by the race.  They raced around the block with dozens of other shorties, kissed the Hardrock, and then received random finisher medals that were donated from runner’s.  They then proceeded to sleep in them. That night we had a big group dinner and then I was off to pretend like I was sleeping.

Race morning was overcast but calm, and the start was filled with that overwhelming, somewhat paradoxical, sense of peace and excitement that comes from hundreds of souls prepared to find the will of the mountains and the vastness of the spirit together.  It also smelled like body lube.  The countdown was on and the race was off.

As the first climb up to Little Giant eased, we were treated to clear skies and the mountains framing a fog covered Silverton.  I went out a little quickly and I knew that while this was a pace I should be able to run, it was likely not the right pace for me today.  But I really didn’t care as I was enjoying the high alpine wind and breathing deeply.   My feet were soaked at the first creek crossing and are just now starting to dry out.  The course through Cunningham Aid at mile 10 and up to Green Mountain is one of the most dramatic views on the course–that of the dramatic Grenadiers–but you have to turn around to see it.

Things were somewhat uneventful from here down into Maggie’s and Pole Creek and then up and over Cataract down into Sherman at mile 28.  Body functions were a go—I was eating, drinking and peeing.  At this point I spent some time with a truly stand up guy, Jared Campbell.  We first met close to a decade ago at Wasatch, and this was to be his 10th Hardrock finish. We are about the same age and this was my second Hardrock finish so I think his first was at age nine.

We had few slight rainstorms moving around the high alpine lakes and then up and over Handies Peak, the 14,000-foot mountain that makes for one of the iconic climbs of the course. I was happy to see that an entire family of marmot had taken up residence at the place on Handies where I spent an hour puking when I last ran Hardrock in 2010.  They must enjoy half digested espresso Hammer Gel.

There was a remarkable amount of snow on the course this year and where there was not snow there was often mud.  I spent some time post-holing in American Basin and found myself laughing that the skiing here in July was better than it was all winter in Truckee.  Down into Grouse Gulch aid around mile 42 and I could see my family and Brian all lined up below.  High fives all around, a few smelly hugs, and I turned to head back up and out.  Dale Garland, the race director was there and made some jokes about my bloody nose and the high “entertainment value” of my kids.  Was he offering his babysitting services?

From there it was up and over Engineer and down the long descent into Ouray at mile 56.  For some reason this descent is rough.  It’s long, it’s very runnable but it just seems to hurt.  I pulled back a little here as I could feel my stomach starting to turn, but felt pretty, sort of, somewhat, I guess, okay as I came into Ouray a little before dark although I really wasn’t able to eat.  

Happy to see the family again and pick up Brian, I plopped down in a chair and geared up for the long night.  A volunteer (an amazing volunteer) saw me changing my socks and offered to wash my feet.  What?  I initially declined but then she pulled out a tub of hot water and proceeded to rub the mud off my shriveled and sweaty feet.  I’m pretty sure I tried to kiss her but apparently my gel/sweat/Fritos encrusted beard was less appealing than my feet.

And so now we are where this story began, out of Ouray and back to the struggle up to Governor and Kroger’s. I don’t have much more to say about it.  This was where I found the bareness, the essence of the run.  I had never forgotten about a race while racing until this point.  Here I found the experience.  My perception of the race as “my race” skidded and fell; my understanding of the race as “our race” stood and climbed that last pitch. Past midnight, wet snow howling, the Hardrock tribe became my tribe. I had finished the race before, but I had never had this.

I hadn’t eaten anything in several hours, and I finally sat at the top of the pass sipping broth and wondering just what the hell a pierogi was.  I think that Brian and Roch were about to do the “stuntman” version of tequila shots—snort the salt, squeeze the lime in your eye, then shoot the tequila.  With a long look in the eyes and a hand on my shoulder Roch sent me down the hill to Telluride and Brian kept a close eye on my wobbly body making sure I didn’t fall into the void.  

At Telluride I knew that my 28-hour time goal was not the race the mountains had chosen to give me today.  I understood that in order to embrace the pain, I had to move beyond the suffering.  So I took a little nap.  Brian woke me up a while later and while I had moved away from a hopeful top ten finish, it seemed that the mountains would let me pass this day.

The rest of the race was something of a dream.  Climbing the snow in Oscar’s pass at 13,000 feet I saw a high alpine sunrise.  We were chased over the steepest part of the race, a scree and snow filled scramble up Grant-Swamp pass, by an intense lighting storm, watching the bolts hit the peaks less than a mile away as we crawled exposed over the top.  Brian and I howled in the wind that was blowing 40-50mph up there, feeling a little more animal than human. One more climb and then all of a sudden we were at Mineral Creek, two miles from the finish.  The sun came out and we just started running fast, passing some trees like they were standing still.

We came into the streets of Silverton, and I turned to see the rock.  The kids were jumping up and down and ran down the chute with me.  I can’t quite describe the visceral sense, the cool solid feel of the Hardrock as I leaned into it and kissed it.  This time it grabbed a deep hold of me somewhere inside and I’m pretty sure it’s not going to let go.

I really do want to thank so many people for this race.  First, my family for giving me the chance to do what I needed to do, the endless thankless duties and for just being themselves.  Also Brian Costilow, my pacer, who spent many hours in silence over 44 miles somehow giving me just what I needed.  All of the tremendous volunteers at Hardrock, the aid stations, the communications, the medical folks, especially Roch Horton for his true sense of understanding.  Dale and all the organizers for keeping the race what it is and not compromising the spirit of the run with all of the pressure from the growth of ultrarunning.  To Rock/Creek who for many years has been giving me the support and tools I need to pursue these adventures, as well as First Endurance and Smith Optics.  Finally, thank you to all the Hardrockers, my tribe, and the San Juan Mountains.

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