The Spirit Of The Race
“And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” — Rainer Maria Rilke
I stumble up the last few feet of the steep tundra to Oh! Point during the Hardrock 100, leaning heavily on my poles, laboriously dragging my left leg along, a limb temporarily rendered useless from the agonizing pain in my quad. I pause, looking back to see Vince Heyd pushing his bright yellow full-suspension mountain bike up the hill toward me. Vince, who was posted at the Engineer Aid Station helping cover the race for iRunFar, had graciously proposed to walk with me up to the pass. He also offered the use of his bike to coast the five downhill dirt-road miles into the Grouse Gulch Aid Station. The inability to weight my left leg on the uphills had made the push from Ouray to this point particularly strenuous, taking me close to six hours.
Early in the race, coming down into Chapman Gulch Aid Station, I suffered from cramping and with my quad fully seized, I landed on it with all my weight going downhill. The seized quad, having no more elasticity left, partially tore in two places. While painful, I did not realize the extent of the damage, so I ran on it, hoping it would loosen up for the next 35 miles. But tears do not loosen, they simply tear more. While the uphills were difficult, downhills were an absolute peg-legged mess. It became clear after leaving Ouray that further miles would only aggravate the issue, potentially causing serious long-term damage. By Engineer, I had accepted the fact that I would have to drop from the race, but to do so, I would still have to reach Grouse under my own power.
So, there I am, rocketing down the windy, dirt road on a mountain bike, left leg extended out to the side, Vince running all out next to me, plunging into possibly the most stupendous display of color and light I have ever witnessed in the San Juans.
The sun is setting behind us, rays crackling through thick, dark storm clouds, sheets of rain moving our way. A vivid double rainbow forms ahead, “What does it mean?,” while Handies Peak sits in all of its glory in the last light. For a moment, I forget the disappointment of dropping from the race. The spectacle is so intense that it overwhelms my senses. The advantage of a mechanical issue is that my head and emotions remain unaffected by the injury, so I am able to still appreciate my surroundings.
However, beauty in mountains can be deceptive. I am quickly brought back to reality as the thunderstorm explodes above us. We are instantly drenched, bliss rapidly turns to fear as electricity sparks all around. We duck into an old mining cabin to wait out the worst of the storm. Vince is calm and collected. He pulls dry clothes out of his bag, changes his shirt, and hands me a long sleeve which I gladly accept. I am moved by his selflessness and generosity. He spontaneously offered to walk with me up to the pass, gave me his bike, and is now stuck in the storm with me when he could have been long back down to Grouse.
Many times this year, I have been asked what makes the Hardrock Hundred special? What is this “spirit of the race” everyone talks about? It is hard to explain, to condense into a satisfying response, for the answer lies in living the experience. It is found in reuniting with friends at Café Möbius, Dale getting choked when announcing that Kirk is going for his 20th finish, Roch handing you a shot of mezcal on the top of Virginius Pass, Seb waiting to finish together, Anna and Mauricio readying themselves for impromptu pacing, kissing the rock, or Vince lending you his bicycle to brighten your day. It is found in the good and the bad, continuing to run when you thought you were done, having to stop when you thought nothing could prevent you from finishing.
Counting between lightning strikes and thunder, Vince and I decide to take a chance and keep pressing to Grouse. Clenching the handle bars with frozen hands, I notice the yellow rubber wristband I am wearing protruding from my jacket. It reads, “JWD DeWalt Tough.” John finished Hardrock 14 times, his last finish at age 73. He passed away last year and many of us are wearing this band in his memory. He defines tough. For an instant I feel a slight wave of disappointment as if I were letting John down. I think though that John would agree that what makes Hardrock special is not so much the race but the people, the mountains, and the honesty that emerge from a moment shared out in those hills.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- For those of us who ran, paced, crewed, or spectated this year’s Hardrock 100, do you have a story that exemplifies the spirit of the race? If so, feel free to share your story in the comments section below.
- What about those of us who have attended Hardrock in some capacity year after year? Care to share with us a story from the past that defines what the race is all about for you?