Adam Campbell knocked it out of the park with his third-place finish of the 2014 Hardrock 100. Awesome performance aside, Adam and his pacer Aaron Heidt had a brush with danger when they were struck by a glancing blow of lightning near the course’s high point. In the following interview, Adam talks about that lightning strike, how the rest of his race went, his topsy-turvy career path, and why he loves trail running so much. You can also watch Adam’s Hardrock finish, including off-the-cuff remarks about being struck by lightning.
For the whole story on the 2014 Hardrock 100, read our results article.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Adam Campbell Post-2014 Hardrock 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Adam Campbell after his third-place finish at the 2014 Hardrock 100. How are you?
Adam Campbell: I’m feeling good. I had a little sleep which made a world… and brushed my teeth which are pretty much two of the most important things to do after a race in my opinion. You’ve got all that grit in your mouth—it’s nice to get rid of that—and catch a little shuteye after being awake for 34 hours. It was the sleep of the dead for a bit there.
iRunFar: You were just out?
Campbell: Yeah, I think it qualified more as a coma than sleep.
iRunFar: You had to get the grit out of your teeth, but you sure had a lot of grit out there yesterday and today still.
Campbell: Yeah, it was today.
iRunFar: Time definitely blends.
Campbell: It was yesterday and today.
iRunFar: You went out pretty aggressively. At the very start you were kind of off the front and then fell back, not out of contention obviously but back in the eighth- and ninth-place range. What was going on early?
Campbell: Yeah, so at the start of the race I just like to roll with it a little bit. I’m going hard but it’s really not all that fast. There’s a big group of us and we were swapping out leads. It’s fun and social. It’s amazing to be running with seven of the best ultrarunners in the world. Incredible surroundings—I get a lot of pleasure and joy from that. Also with ultras sometimes, if it feels good just roll with it. What happened after that is, I mean, I’m basically living at sea level. I just haven’t done any kind of altitude prep. Heading up Oscar’s Pass, it really hit me really hard. I felt completely punched at the top. I kind of knew that coming into it.
iRunFar: In which sense? Was it energy or was it…?
Campbell: Just really low energy. My diaphragm started to feel really tight. Every time I would drink I would hyperventilate a little because I just couldn’t get enough oxygen.
iRunFar: While you were climbing?
Campbell: While I was climbing, yeah. It was quite exposed and hot there as well. Yeah, so I suffered a little bit up there.
iRunFar: What’s going through your head there? Here you are on the first major climb on the course and it’s hot and you’re suffering from altitude problems. How do you keep it positive?
Campbell: Well, I knew coming into the race that it could potentially be an issue. My first goal was just to finish. The other thing with ultras is you’ll go through rough patches. It may hit early. So I was like, Okay, potentially this is just a rough patch. I figured out a couple little things as I was going up the pass as to how to manage the altitude. I was taking smaller sips and not a big gulp like I normally would, so it wasn’t too…
iRunFar: You weren’t stopping your breathing for an extra cycle.
Campbell: Yeah. You just end up listening and going at your own rhythm and going at your own pace. There’s still a lot of running left and it’s still beautiful. Even when you’re suffering it’s suffering in beautiful places, right, and it makes the suffering a little bit easier.
iRunFar: This is a particularly beautiful place.
Campbell: It really is. It really is.
iRunFar: So when did you start getting your legs back under you or your energy back?
Campbell: As I ran off into the next aid station, I felt good again. For the rest of the day it was just run my own race and just felt steady. It sounds kind of corny, but I just sort of executed my game plan perfectly. I was on top of nutrition all day which is critical.
iRunFar: For a 100 miler, what does that look like for you? And for a long 100—time-wise this is a long 100.
Campbell: This is a long 100 miler. It was mostly shot blocks and ginger chews and…
iRunFar: As a food source?
Campbell: As a food source, yeah. I sort of mix those in a little baggie and pull them out whenever I need them. I was trying to take gels at the start, but the gels just weren’t sitting well with me today. So I ditched the gels and just ate the real food at the aid stations. I also had some Coke and some other food-replacement drinks as well. For me that always works really well.
iRunFar: When you’re out on the trail, are you aiming for a certain amount of food per hour?
Campbell: No, I just try to eat something every 15 to 20 minutes even if it’s just a shot block at the time. I’m really diligent about doing that through the day. It really keeps my energy consistent. I’ll eat a little bit more at aid stations.
iRunFar: Gotcha’. So where were you about mid-race before the big climb up Engineer?
Campbell: Ouray, I was just in front of Scott Jaime on the way out of Ouray.
iRunFar: So you weren’t quite with Tim [Olson] at that point? You passed him by then.
Campbell: I passed him at that point. I passed Tim and also Joe [Grant] and Scott all through that section.
iRunFar: Was it an eye-opener to see, I’m sure with Tim and Joe you both saw that there was sort of carnage. They weren’t just at a low point. They were hurt in some way.
Campbell: For sure. I ran with Joe for a little bit and he told me that he was having some quad problems. He still looked like he was moving pretty well. He had his little lopey stride and he was moving along. He just wasn’t as aggressive on the downhills as he normally is. He normally attacks them pretty hard. He was being a bit gingerly. Tim just looked like he was low energy. Same with Scott—it looked like Scott was going through a little bit of a rough patch. Yeah, you just expect it to happen at some point. I was feeling good, so I just took advantage of it and was running at my own pace.
iRunFar: When did you start feeling that maybe this was going to be a good day for you? It started out not being a good day, when was…?
Campbell: Actually, it started out good, it was just that one pass that didn’t feel good. Everything else I felt really steady all day.
iRunFar: The one pass just set you back in terms of the field, but it wasn’t a lot of time.
Campbell: It probably saved my race in retrospect because I wasn’t chasing the front guys. Okay, I have to commit to running my own run today and whatever that means at the end of the day is what I’ll be happy with. Sometimes you change expectations as you’re running and it was for the better in the long term. I do get a bit aggressive. I do get excited to be up at the front.
iRunFar: How can you not?
Campbell: Exactly. It’s an honor. It’s a treat to be up there. It’s special.
iRunFar: At this race, you’re running with Kilian [Jornet] at the start. At KT when I saw you, it was you and him.
Campbell: Yeah, and Julien [Chorier] was right there as well. It’s a real pleasure. They’re some of the greatest athletes to ever do the sport.
iRunFar: They’re people you know, but you still have to think, “Wow! Here I am with…”
Campbell: Yeah, every time I do it it’s a real treat and honor to be out there with them. Seb [Chaigneau] as well. Tsuyoshi Kaburaki wasn’t with us, but same thing, to have people like that in the sport at the start line is special for sure.
iRunFar: You came through the first day; day starts turning to night; you’re at Grouse Gulch (one of the lower aid stations) knowing you have to go up over Handies Peak to Burrows Park Aid Station. You look up. How does the sky look?
Campbell: The sky looked beautiful. That was actually the interesting part because I had just passed Dakota [Jones] and as I ran into that aid station I saw that Seb was lying down and all the sudden I was in third place in the race. Oh, this is kind of interesting. This is more than I expected from the day. Also, I was well aware that there was carnage and it meant that I did have to take care of myself as the day was still early. Heading out there, I knew it was going to be a long grunt of a climb. I was running with Aaron Heidt, my pacer at that point, and we settled into a nice climbing rhythm—something I figured could hold for a pretty long time and we weren’t ever too aggressive. Just admiring the views—the skies were spectacular. Slowly to watch the weather start rolling in—the skies were turning beautiful red and clouds…
iRunFar: There’s sort of not a real pass, but there’s sort of a pass where you come into American Basin. When you get there do you see, “Oh, crap?”
Campbell: No, American Basin was still totally clear. It wasn’t until Aaron and I were climbing up the last ridge toward Handies that we noticed that the lightning was really starting to roll in, but it was off in the distance. It looked like it was over the basin at that point. So Aaron and I decided, we were already in a pretty exposed area, so we figured our best option was just to move as quickly as possible to get up and over Handies and back into shelter and hopefully avoid the worst of the storm. We were getting wet, but the sky was just stunning. We both were just sitting there staring in wonder at the skies while we’re trying to get over this mountain. Slowly we could see the electrical storm drawing in closer and closer.
iRunFar: The rain started pounding down.
Campbell: The rain started pounding down. You’re almost at the summit. You’re right there. Let’s get up there. Let’s just get this over with.
iRunFar: You’re counting how close the lightning is.
Campbell: Yeah, we were. The lightning was still off a little ways until we were probably 200 meters from the summit. All the sudden we saw the summit get struck by lightning.
iRunFar: So you’re 200 meters from the summit and you’re looking up at it the way the path goes.
Campbell: Yeah, and everything else around us is exposed. There’s no shelter where we were, so you can’t run down anywhere. We figured our best bet was to… they don’t tend… they sort of cycle through a little bit, so we figured we had a few minutes. We waited for the next lightning strike and then we just tried to book it over the summit. It didn’t quite work out that way.
Campbell: Yeah, Aaron and I got struck by lightning quite literally. I was actually just talking to JB Benna and he has it on film. He has the entire, it was like a big spider web lightning strike over the summit. So, it wasn’t a direct hit. Something bounced us and hit us. Aaron got hit in the back of the head and my headlamp got hit. We both got knocked to the ground.
Campbell: Literally. Aaron could feel tingling and just everything around us you could just smell the electricity in the air.
iRunFar: Your headlamp battery got fried.
Campbell: Yeah, my headlamp battery got fried. It was terrifying. We both were looking at each other in the pouring rain with lightning still going on all around us. We both looked at each other, “Are you okay,” after some expletives. “Are you okay?” “Yes.” “Are you okay?” “Yes.”
iRunFar: “Do you need toilet paper?”
Campbell: Yeah. So we both had spare headlamps in our backpacks, but we just decided we had to get out of there and we weren’t going to toy around with them because they were under our jackets. I said, “Aaron, just get behind me. You shine the trail, and we’re just going to get off here as quickly as possible.” So Aaron just got right on my back and got the light on the trail and we booked it out of there really fast. It actually would be cool to see as it was like a little tango with lights behind us going down. Terrifying. Terrifying.
iRunFar: When you fall, it’s one thing, you hit something and you have the adrenaline reaction. You kind of get pumped but you kind of get scared as to what’s going on or how badly you’re hurt. You didn’t even have time to assess the situation.
Campbell: We both could tell that we were fine. We both checked and made sure we were both okay. If one of us had actually been hurt, it would have been horrible. I don’t know what we would have done.
iRunFar: It’s a very, very, very long way down.
Campbell: It’s a very long way, exactly. We had a space blanket. Do you want to put a space blanket on someone in an electrical storm?
iRunFar: Next time just bring a plastic bag.
Campbell: It would have been a real, real problem. So we’re both really, really fortunate. It’s a great story at the end of the day, too.
iRunFar: How do you get your head back in the game? For awhile you’re still going to be… you’re trying to run away and run off Handies Peak.
Campbell: We ran so fast that we were… that’s probably one of the faster segments I ran all day getting out of there. I don’t know. We both figured we were both okay. That’s part of the experience of this race. It is a big mountain environment and with big mountains you get big weather. We made the right call in my opinion in terms of what we should have done. We just got unlucky. The odds of getting struck by lightning are… winning the lottery, you have better odds of that.
iRunFar: Yeah, but then three people right behind you decided, no.
Campbell: But they were somewhere where they could get shelter. We weren’t somewhere we could get shelter.
iRunFar: Yeah, you were literally on top of a huge exposed mountain and there was nothing you could do. Either you can crouch or run like heck.
Campbell: Yeah. And running like heck is what we did.
iRunFar: Your escape plan fitted your skills. So you race off the mountain and run really fast. At some point do you dial back the excitement from the experience and get back to your controlled effort that you were running to that point?
Campbell: Yeah, we were both actually really cold as well. We were shivering, so we just wanted to get to the next aid station. Then we sort of hit ‘reboot’ when we got to the next aid station. I got some chicken broth in me at that point. We pulled up different headlamps. So that was a good little mental turning point at that point.
iRunFar: How did you feel the rest of the race? You’re in third…
Campbell: Yeah, I had some highs and lows as you do in these things, but for the most part it was just really steady. I had great pacers and great friends in Aaron Heidt and Gary Robbins. They did an excellent job in enjoying the experience which is ultimately what it’s all about and helping me stay really present and mindful about what I was doing through the entire run. Aaron helped a lot with the route finding because none of us had seen the course before, so that was a bit interesting as well. For people who don’t know, the course is not well marked. It just isn’t.
iRunFar: And it is explicitly stated in the guide. “This is a sparsely marked course. Graduate level. Know the course.”
Campbell: Yeah, exactly, so we just made sure we took our time throughout the day. If we had any doubts about where to go we would stop, check, assess and make sure we were going in the right direction. I’ve heard horror stories about people getting lost for hours.
iRunFar: You’ve talked to Joe Grant, haven’t you?
Campbell: Yeah, no, Joe knows the course better than anybody. If he gets lost here, it could happen to anybody for sure.
iRunFar: It’s kind of a weird dynamic here. It’s only 140-person race and it’s in a ridiculously remote environment and this year was amongst the highest-level ultra competition you’re going to see anytime anywhere this year. What’s it like finishing third? Finishing third at Hardrock, you finish Hardrock and that’s awesome. Finishing third with this great field, is it the best performance in your ultrarunning career?
Campbell: Yeah, it was probably the best run I’ve ever had in terms of just executing my day perfectly. It’s interesting when these big ultras, 100 milers, become races you’re going to have carnage. You’re going to have people with injuries and people who blow up. There’s different pressures and stresses on the race. Some people will have good days and some people will have bad days when you’re really going for it in races. That’s sort of the new ultrarunning.
iRunFar: Yeah, it’s not just one guy who can go out every year and run a strong, conservative race and win it most years.
Campbell: I think his name is Kilian.
iRunFar: Honestly, I’m sure he’s one of your friends or acquaintances. You finish and you hear he sets this ridiculous record and he’s kind of like goofing off along the way at times.
Campbell: It’s amazing. It’s an honor to be in the sport with him. He’s talking about doing a race on Thursday if he feels recovered enough—a vertical kilometer of all things. He goes from one extreme to another. That’s just… yeah, he’s a special person on a lot of levels and we’re really lucky to have him in the sport. It’s great to see because he shows us what the sport can be and what the level can be. He’s very meticulous. He’s also very professional.
iRunFar: If you look at the splits during the race, in that last 25-mile section, he’s taking 10 to 12 minutes in the aid station, but he doesn’t carry much food and he’s sitting there eating a ton and taking care of his gear.
Campbell: He was using poles through different stretches. He’s very… that’s also his approach. He doesn’t let things faze him. He enjoys the experience and he takes some joy in it. That’s part of how he succeeds in competing as well.
iRunFar: That’s an interesting point. I see Kilian taking pictures with people along the course, giving five. He draws a lot of energy from people. Timothy Olson draws from his family and the mountains. Where do you find your energy during a 100-mile race? What gets you going?
Campbell: It really varies throughout the day. We have the finisher coming in.
[pause to cheer]
iRunFar: Man, gives you goose bumps.
Campbell: That’s incredible. I can’t… they had some pretty horrible weather this afternoon. That was some vicious, vicious lashing of rain out there.
iRunFar: Yeah, they got hit twice.
Campbell: Yeah, serious respect to everybody who is still out there. That’s incredible.
iRunFar: So we were talking about where you get your energy from.
Campbell: I get my energy from different places throughout. Sometimes it will be an inspirational view. Sometimes it will be that I’m running against fantastic other runners. Other times I’ll think of friends or family. It varies a lot. Ultimately, it’s a real joy of competing and being able to be in these incredible settings. I realize it’s a real privilege to, one, have a certain amount of talent to be able to compete at a high level doing that, and two, to have found a sport that is so amazing. It really is a very welcoming family.
iRunFar: You’ve been an endurance athlete for a very long time.
Campbell: I have. I used to do triathlons at a high, world-class level in the world-cup circuit. That’s a high-performance sport. I guess it’s different. You were friends with other people in the circuit, but it’s also your profession. That’s what you’re doing. It’s a little bit cutthroat at times. It’s very meticulous, whereas this is… there’s a lot more of a mountain feel to this which is a little bit more casual. There’s a bigger appreciation for where you’re competing. A lot of times we’d fly into a city, stay in a hotel room, you’d try to rest, do your race, and then leave the very next day and onto the next city. You never really would check them out.
iRunFar: Even though you are leaving tomorrow, you really would like to probably spend another week here.
Campbell: Absolutely. I spent 36 hours out there in the last couple days.
iRunFar: That’s actually a great transition. You’ve had a very topsy turvy personal life in terms of your career. You were an attorney. You went to be a professional athlete full time.
Campbell: I was an athlete, then an attorney, then an athlete.
iRunFar: Then you went back to, not really part time, but to professional work, and starting on Tuesday, you get to be legal counsel at Arc’teryx.
Campbell: Yeah, I get to work with the regulatory team there. Yeah, it’s pretty special for sure.
iRunFar: Getting to mix that… come to the mountain heritage and a professional, steady job that gives you other purpose and meaning.
Campbell: Absolutely. I found when I was a full-time athlete, I’d done that at one stage in my life, and when I went back to doing it, it was almost too much pressure on the sport to a certain degree. You have to be a professional again doing it, so I lost a little bit of the joy of the sport and just being out there and participating. Not that anyone put pressure on me, it was all self-imposed. I felt like I had a lot of obligations, whereas now I’m a lot more free. I love racing, but I don’t race as much as a lot of people race. I can choose the races I want to do. Nobody tells me a race I have to go do which I love. I can come and do Hardrock, and a couple weeks later I can do a 50k road race if I want. I can go and do a track meet. I can go do skimo racing in the winter. I can play.
iRunFar: You create… when and where you want.
Campbell: I still do have sponsor obligations and everything. I’ve been with Arc’teryx for a long time and they are a very wonderful company. I can’t wait to work for them in a more professional capacity. It is nice to sort of have the other aspect of release, I guess you’d call it. But I love the cerebral aspect of working and the structure it gives me in my day to day life and the sense of purpose as well.
iRunFar: Over the last couple years, maybe two to three at most, there have been a couple athletes that have gone that way from a professional background to the mountain, ultra, trail, or whatever you want to call the different aspects of it, full time and it doesn’t work out well that first year.
Campbell: It’s hard. Have you ever read that Tyler Hamilton book? It’s interesting. It becomes your niche. It’s your profession. You have to learn how to make it a profession. If you want to do it as your job and you want it to be a sustainable lifestyle, there are certain things you have to do. Scott Jurek works hard. He’s out doing book tours all the time. He doesn’t get to play in the mountains as much as he probably wants to. The same thing with Sebastien Chaigneau—that guy is always on social media. Kilian is the same way. Kilian has more obligations than anybody.
iRunFar: I’m sure he has tables and checklists and things he has to…
Campbell: Absolutely. He segments it throughout the year and he makes sure he has his personal time to go and do his own objectives. He’s out writing books, making fees, doing autograph sessions, and doing interviews all the time. It is a full-time job for him. He’s a professional athlete. The other thing I think is hard for people who come from professional lives and then try to do it full time is you might be a little bit older and you’re used to certain comforts in life and all the sudden you have to give those up. Not that material possessions are everything, but once you do become accustomed to a certain style of life, a lot of your friends are in that circle already and things as well it can be hard to take a step back.
iRunFar: Not even being materialistic, you’re just doing what you’re doing. It’s different if you’re a Dakota or an Anton [Krupicka] and you’ve come from school and go straight into the mountain lifestyle where, I saw the back of Dakota’s truck today and there’s a mattress in the back of it. Tony’s the same way.
Campbell: Absolutely. It’s a lifestyle that definitely suits people a little bit younger and if you’ve done it for a large part of your life and it’s easier to maintain it. Once you’ve moved out of your truck and into a house, it’s harder to go back to the truck after. The truck’s great. I sleep in my car all the time, but…
iRunFar: I sleep in the Prius a lot, but it’s also nice to have a home.
Campbell: Exactly, for sure. If you have a family, that’s a really big consideration as well. It’s a really big call to have to tell your family, “Look, I’m leaving this secure job to go and be a professional athlete where I get injured in my first race, blow my season, what do I do?”
iRunFar: You might not get renewed next year.
Campbell: Exactly, yeah. You can make yourself relevant outside of just racing, but it’s hard.
iRunFar: That was great. Getting back to the race. Hardrock has a reputation as a beautiful race and a hard race. What surprised you about Hardrock yesterday?
Campbell: It’s wild. It’s pure mountain. It’s wilderness. It’s potentially dangerous. In our case, it could be potential lethal. You are expected to be self-sufficient out there. You are expected to know how to handle yourself in a mountain environment. The trails are a lot of times not trails. You’re sort of running through… it’s more like fell running in places. You’re running up massive peaks. It’s more just the… the randomness of the course markings. Not that we were surprised as you expect it but you sort of don’t expect it.
iRunFar: Yeah, when you’re up there and you have to look across the meadow for a little reflective… in the middle of the night in the pouring rain.
Campbell: When you’re cold and tired and… yeah, I think that’s probably the most surprising bit. The other bit that I found surprising was just that there’s actually quite a lot of people out there on the course. There were actually a lot of spectators and people out in the elements out there cheering us on which was a real pleasure. I actually expected it to be more lonely out there than it was.
iRunFar: Even if there weren’t in number a ton of people, they were dispersed enough along the course to give you…
Campbell: Absolutely. It was interesting. There are people who have an appreciation for what Hardrock is and for what people are out there doing. Then you also cross the ATV’ers and stuff like that which is a different crowd. Not that much. That was a real treat to see all the people out there on the course to cheer us on and who hiked in far to make that happen. That was pretty special.
iRunFar: I know it’s only a couple hours after your great run here. What do you think your biggest personal takeaway will be from what you did this weekend? What will you value the most from this?
Campbell: It’s just the overall experience. I shared incredible moments with both Aaron and Gary. So you develop a special bond with people through that kind of suffering and that kind of… especially with Aaron, being struck by lightning. We were doing an interview and the first thing he did was he kissed me! I was like… that felt pretty real.
iRunFar: I’m not dead.
Campbell: That felt pretty real. That bond will be really strong. Being able to share those memories with good friends was really, really special. Just the scenery and the people that come to these races here, I just love the attitude of people at these events. It’s a wonderful, wonderful community of people for the most part. The people are fantastic. The town of Silverton has been very, very welcoming which is wonderful as well. I can’t believe the parks let them put on a race in that environment. I love it. I wish more parks would allow it. That’s definitely the type of racing I like to do. It was awesome.
iRunFar: Congratulations on a great race and keep enjoying it.
Campbell: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you very much. Best of luck to everybody who is still out there. Mad respect to everybody.
iRunFar: Yeah, it’s a little unconventional that we’re set up here on a road, but we wanted to be out here to cheer on those… the final runners, there’s still…
Campbell: I know, I’m coming back at 5:30 to cheer on the last people for sure.
iRunFar: There’s still nine-and-a-half-hours left in this race—another night.
Campbell: That’s incredible. That’s incredible. Mad respect for those people who are out there. That’s a whole other level of mental toughness.
iRunFar: Bonus question for you, Adam. I know a lot of people talk about wanting a beer at the finish line and they never drink it. You had a beer five minutes after it. How did you do it?
Campbell: I’m Team Canuck, right? We have to drink beer. That’s just what we do.
iRunFar: Get your beard growing.
Campbell: That’s right, well, I did give myself a beer shower as well, so I didn’t actually finish it. There was a party foul there for sure.
iRunFar: But it made for good photo ops.
Campbell: Exactly. That was a really good beer actually. Thank you very much. I enjoyed it. Where was it from—California?
iRunFar: That was a California—Summer IPA.
Campbell: That was good. It was nice. I don’t normally drink beer at 8:00 a.m. either.
iRunFar: I’ve kind of come up with a rule. If you’re still up after midnight at a race, it’s actually 32 o’clock.
Campbell: That’s a good point. I’ve been up since 4 a.m., so that’s excellent.
iRunFar: There ya’ go.