Missouri J-school grad, here. My work can be seen in numerous print and online publications, such as Ultrarunning, TrailRunner, and Competitor, and I am a featured contributor for TrailSisters.

Home for the Holiday

Published in the October 2013 edition of Ultrarunning Magazine.

As I stood and watched the fireworks over LA this past Fourth of July, I didn’t know how or when or if I was going to get to Silverton this summer. But just like the beers I’d consumed after my run in 100 degree heat, it finally hit me. 

I’d… just go.  It was Hardrock week, and I wasn’t about to miss the chance to have the fam back together.

If you’ve never been to the San Juans, let me say this: I’m sorry. Your life is not yet complete. And if you’ve never been a part of the Hardrock Hundred, then you’re dually missing out. It is hands down my favorite weekend in ultrarunning of the year.  How many times have I run it myself? Well, zero. But I still say this with the utmost confidence.  I’d rather pace and crew at Hardrock than run any race in the world.  And so, for the third straight year, I loaded up the car and headed east.

The days leading up to the run are magical.  If you aren’t participating, you have endless miles of beautiful country to explore, and I’d highly recommend you do so.  Don’t expect to get any work done at Mobius, because all your long lost (for one year) brothers and sisters will be constantly streaming in and out – some running this year, others pacing and crewing, still others unattached, but psyched as ever. Stories are shared, the beer flows like wine and by the end of the day, my cheeks legitimately hurt from smiling. We’ve all come home.

This year, I had the pleasure of crewing California’s Chris Price, a Hardrock rookie who went on to take fourth place.  As such, I spent the day chasing the frontrunners through Cunningham, Grouse, Ouray and finally Telluride, where they left me to await my pacing duties.  From 10pm to 7am the next morning, I had the opportunity to see many a friend come through, now 72.8 miles into the 2013 Hardrock.

I got the warm fuzzies as Billy Simpson pulled in, paced by his 16-year-old son, Max. I had a nice conversation with legend Blake Wood, who looked like he had just strolled up to the park for a morning jog.  I said a silent prayer to be just like Diana Finkel when I grow up, after watching her seamlessly move through the aid station and tear back into the night.  I watched my boyfriend give another man an ice massage. Above the knee.  I stood shocked as Jamil Coury flew in to the aid station in 37th place, after laying under a rock on Handies for over an hour and another 4+ under a blanket at Grouse, where he left in 106th.  It’s Hardrock.  You don’t just quit.

Howie Stern came in a bit less than fantastic, somewhat ghost-like really, but I wasn’t concerned for one second.  Like I said, it’s Hardrock.  Being nauseous, low on calories, and feeling absolutely wrecked is not to be feared but expected.  Usually, the lower elevations in the towns combined with a switch in the muscle groups – up to down or down to up, often fixes the situation. Fortunately for me, you don’t have to tell a four time Hardrock finisher this – he’ll just throw some food down and get right back to it.  An hour later on our little 4,500’ climb… at mile 73…  I found myself back in business with Mr. Stern.

Our first “obstacle” as Howie liked to call them (his 10th) , was topping out on Oscars Pass at 13,140’ followed by a steep descent on a talus field that made any technical trail I’d previously encountered seem like carpet.  Interestingly enough, this wasn’t counted as an obstacle.  What was, however, could be seen from the top - the famed Grant Swamp pass, which from here, looked like a straight up wall.

Hours later, I found myself standing at the base of… a straight up wall.  Markers glistened in the sun, confirming that yes, rub your eyes folks, that is the way. Up and over on all fours we went, never mind the dark clouds ahead, filled with bellowing thunder.

Light switchbacks had been dug in by the runners ahead, so Howie took that route.  I picked a different line, so as not to drop talus on each others’ heads and watched our friends above for the same.  Hardrockers don’t really need much motivation to get to the finish from a pacer, but they might enjoy the less fatigued mind and quick decision making that could keep them alive and moving forward.  Alive is sometimes a legitimate concern.

Once again, the view atop Grant Swamp was superb.  Oscars in the distance, Island Lake glistening on the other side.  And my word, I haven’t yet mentioned the wildflowers!  We still had another major pass to go, but I could see a quiet smile begin to creep across Howie’s face.  One part relief, one part pride and a MILLION parts a feeling I’ll never know until my name gets picked in that damned lottery. 

One thing I could feel, however, was the final climb.  Mainly because it was two major climbs, cleverly disguised as one.  Also, it started to rain. Again. Nevertheless, we pushed hard along with Greg Hartman, also going for his 5th finish, over Cataract-Porcupine and finally the ridge.  With that, all obstacles (by Howie’s definition) were complete.  I just had one more of my own. Now, I don’t know how exactly it happens, but I’ve experienced it in all three years I’ve been coming to Hardrock.  Other pacers have confirmed.  You better be able to close, or you’re going to get dropped. The sweet, sweet siren is calling from her rock.  She’s the face of a goat.  And she wants to make out.

Howie, like all those who had come before him and the many that would follow, was consumed with emotion as we crested the final path to town.  The sheer magnitude of what had just been accomplished and endured was more than anyone could handle, including myself.  As if that wasn’t enough, a vibrant double rainbow arched over Kendall Mountain, welcoming Howie Stern, teacher, musician, and now five time Hardrocker, home.

And that’s what it is right there. 

Hardrock is more than just a run through the San Juan mountains.  It’s more than just the toughest 100 miler around.  It’s why whether my name gets picked for 2014 or not, I can tell you this with absolute certainty. 

I’ll see y’all in Silverton.

Katie Grossman