An icon of the Hardrock 100 community, Betsy Kalmeyer finished her 15th Hardrock this year. In doing so, she also finished as second woman! In the following interview, Betsy talks about her history with the Hardrock 100, why she keeps running it, how it keeps getting tougher for her, what changes she’s seen along the way, and why she’d never stop during a thunderstorm.
For the whole story on the 2014 Hardrock 100, read our results article.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Betsy Kalmeyer Post-2014 Hardrock 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Betsy Kalmeyer after her second-place finish at the 2014 Hardrock 100 and your 15th finish. Put that in context. When did you start running Hardrock?
Kalmeyer: Yes. I started running Hardrock… I applied in 1995 and that was the snow year and that got canceled. I came down in 1996 and ran for the first time. I never stepped one foot on the course that year. I didn’t see it ahead of time. I know I read the course description and things like that but didn’t know the course at all. That was my introduction to the Hardrock 100.
iRunFar: Had you been to the San Juans at all?
Kalmeyer: No other than driving through to see maybe Telluride and camp for a few days here and there, but I hadn’t been in this area before.
iRunFar: How did you decide to run Hardrock having…?
Kalmeyer: I think I saw an ad or some article in Trail Runner magazine or the mountain newspaper that they have describing…
iRunFar: It must have been the newspaper as I don’t think there was a Trail Runner magazine back then.
Kalmeyer: Yeah, I was just thinking that it was some kind of mountain magazine. It described how this was a new run in the San Juans and it was going to go from the different towns and every year it was going to rotate. I just thought, That’s got to be amazing. I wanted to apply the first year and a friend talked me out of it saying, “It’s not really a run. It’s too steep. It can’t be like a regular 100-mile run. It’s got to be too much walking and all that.” So, I got kind of talked out of applying the first year. Then I just kept thinking, I’ve got to try this thing. I’ve got to try this amazing event. I came down and got to run it in 1996 and then that person who tried to talk me out of it ended up running it a couple times, too. We all just got hooked. Everybody that helped me and then would come down and pace me—they just wanted to run it, too. I’ve noticed that that’s continued over the years. Everybody that helps or paces just wants to come down and do it.
iRunFar: What hooked you?
Kalmeyer: Well, a lot of things. I think the first year, well, it was the challenge, I guess, number one. The first year, I was talking about never getting lost in a 100 and thinking if I ever got lost even a short distance, there was no way I could finish—just that much energy it took to get off course and get back on. But I probably got lost at least three times that first year. I don’t think I’d ever fallen in a 100 before. I fell so many times the first Hardrock, I was like, Okay, that was another challenge. Then when you finish it, you just think, I can do that better. Then the way the Hardrock is, you go one direction and then turn around and go the other direction the next year. That was also like, It’s a whole new run next time. I was really motivated to come back and try it again and do a little bit better, know the course, and see the country again. So, a lot of different factors.
iRunFar: Is it still a challenge for you? You’ve finished it 15 times.
Kalmeyer: Oh, yes. I think it’s more of a challenge every year just to keep trying to put your life in order to be able to come and do it with work and everything—that’s always a challenge. As I get older it’s harder, definitely harder physically. It’s harder on my stomach. I used to be able to eat and drink anything and keep going and be fine. Boy, the last four or five years it’s gotten a little bit tougher every year once the night hits, I’ve had to struggle a lot more. The first year that happened that was almost like a big shock. “Oh, what’s going on with my body and my system and why is it breaking down?” But to be able to bounce back usually when the sun comes back up, I feel better and can get going again. Being able to get out on the course has just been amazing. So after that first year of getting lost and not knowing what I was doing or what I was getting into, being able to come down a few weeks ahead and be able to get out on the course, that made a big difference by the second year. I was very motivated to get down here and just be out there and relaxed and look around and enjoy the course and know where you are and get the feel for the whole loop. That was really nice. That helped a lot over the years to be able to know the course. Now, knowing the course makes it a little more relaxing and simpler for me. I think that’s huge for a lot people to be able to get down here and see the course ahead of time. However, just getting older makes it a little more challenging.
iRunFar: Have you had to change your approach to the race? Because you’ve won this more times than any woman.
Kalmeyer: No, Diana [Finkel] is five also.
iRunFar: So you and Diana both have five wins here, and you have the most finishes of any woman.
iRunFar: Have you had to change how you approach the race?
Kalmeyer: I think so. I think over the last few years I’ve had to kind of dial back a little bit and try to figure out what will work. Nothing’s really worked. Different people say you should taper more. Other people say you shouldn’t. I’m like, each year it’s so different. You just never know. You just never know when it’s going to hit or when you’re going to crash or when you’re going to have a bad moment. I’ve tried to figure out stuff for my stomach a little more and maybe keeping the fuel going a little more consistently and in just smaller amounts. I still can’t quite figure that out 100%.
iRunFar: It’s interesting that that’s changed over time. It’s not like altitude is a problem for you. You live in Leadville which is even higher than here.
Kalmeyer: Yeah, we come down here for the oxygen. Yeah, I don’t think the altitude. You know, just dialing in nutrition. But I think it’s just the overall stress of working that hard that just gets you.
iRunFar: Back a few years ago you were probably running to win—you and Betsy Nye probably had a pretty good rivalry going.
Kalmeyer: Yes, and Sue Johnson, Betsy Nye, right. Definitely.
iRunFar: Have you had to change your approach for that? Was that a large aspect of what you were trying to do when you were coming those years?
Kalmeyer: It wasn’t the number-one thing. The number-one thing was always to finish. I always had that goal. If I knew I was racing to win that was going to jeopardize a finish, it was always back off and get the finish. Those guys always… we always challenged each other and that always made it that much more challenging just to get through it with other people always chasing or in front of. I think the guys this year had a really good example of that. It was just such a competitive field. But I’ve always felt like finishing was the most important.
iRunFar: It’s a good point that the men’s race this year was pretty spectacular. I was talking to Kirk [Apt] yesterday and to put it into perspective, he set the overall course record in 2000 as the first person to break 30 hours. He’d still be in, I don’t know, Sherman when the winners would have finished or even earlier on the course. Has the women’s record seen a similar progression?
Kalmeyer: I don’t even know what the fastest women’s time is right now.
iRunFar: It’s 27-something.
Kalmeyer: I think Diana… 27… yeah, I was going to say. I think every year that somebody lowers that, it just makes it a little bit easier to touch the next level of a record. So when I broke 30, that was pretty exciting. I just couldn’t believe it.
iRunFar: What year was that?
Kalmeyer: I don’t even know what year it was.
iRunFar: It was after Kirk did it, so somewhere in the early 2000s?
Kalmeyer: Yes, because I remember Blake Wood had like 30:10, and then within about two years after that I was able to break 30. It’s a lot of weather, having the clouds, not too hot. For me, I do better when it’s cooler, but not like Friday and Saturday’s run. It was just so muddy out there and a lot of effort. Depending on if you can get the clouds and avoid some of that really bad weather, it helps a lot. Every time somebody does that and they raise the bar a little bit, that just sets it up for another person to improve upon it.
iRunFar: It definitely happened. You can see the same thing that happened with Kyle [Skaggs]’s because Karl’s [Meltzer] times dropped significantly after that. Oh, we can run that fast.
Kalmeyer: Exactly. Yeah, it just makes people aware of what they can do. I think it’s hard to know what the limit’s going to be on this course.
iRunFar: Like Darcy [Piceu], year in and year out, three straight years of sub-30.
Kalmeyer: Sub-30, right.
iRunFar: What changes have you seen at Hardrock after all these years?
Kalmeyer: We’ve had a few changes on the course. I’ve seen different routes we’ve had to take. I think we have a great course right now. This year, the media coverage was amazing. Seeing people between KT and Grant Swamp, I would say there might have been 100 people out there just watching the runners. That was just really neat to see. Maybe they had never been on trails before other than to hike up to somewhere. To see these people out there and cheering you on at the top of Grant Swamp or running down after seeing other people, I thought that was pretty amazing… and coming in and out of the towns. I thought that was really nice to see all these people cheering people on out on the trails. I think the course has gotten a little better marked. It’s almost like a trail now in some of the places where it never used to be a trail. So, I think it’s a little bit easier to follow. Just having that many runners out there…
iRunFar: I don’t think people realize that there’s occasional road, there’s lot of single track, but there’s lots of places where you’re crossing not even a little meadow, but miles of a meadow and going to the next pass. If you don’t… you have to follow little metal markers in the ground.
Kalmeyer: I think the front runners especially don’t have much of a trail, but we see that trampled down grass and we can see that all across the meadow. So it’s a little bit easier to follow, so you know they’ve been through there. That helps. All the mud—all the footprints in the mud this year.
iRunFar: Was it wet this year?
Kalmeyer: Oh yeah, a little bit.
iRunFar: Was this one of the worst weather years you’ve seen?
Kalmeyer: I think for sustained hard rain and pretty close lightning a couple times like Engineer and Pole Creek. I was counting the seconds and it was about two seconds away, so less than a half a mile. Okay, that was pretty close.
iRunFar: In any of your Hardrocks, have you ever had to just stop and wait out a storm?
Kalmeyer: Um, no. I’ve pretty much pressed on because when the storm was hitting, a couple of times now especially on Engineer, if you stopped you’d probably get hypothermic. You’ve just got to keep going and keep moving and keep the heat generating.
iRunFar: We saw that this weekend with Jason Koop. Three guys stopped in American Basin in the top couple guys and got going again but just couldn’t come out of that hypothermic—I don’t know if hypothermic would be the right term—but couldn’t come out of that hole of being cold and sucking your energy out.
Kalmeyer: Yes. So just concentrating on keeping going, you just don’t want to stop when it’s that cold.
iRunFar: Hardrock has a reputation of being a very small race in the number of runners. There’s such a group of people that come back every year whether it’s to race still or to take part like Roch Horton still. It’s interesting that you were excited by all the extra people out there. It wasn’t just… it didn’t take away from your experience?
Kalmeyer: I don’t think so. I was very concerned, I’m on the Hardrock Board, so we were very concerned about the impact. Two of the aid stations are on the four-wheel-drive roads. Parking can be very difficult. Getting the crew in and out is very difficult. But I think everybody respected that. We posted that on our website and asked people to do that. I wasn’t at Grouse Gulch when it was the most crowded, but when I was there it seemed like there was enough parking and there was enough access. I think the media respected that. Our thing is to always give the runner the most respect and do everything for the runner. From what I saw, that happened and I didn’t see any conflicts. As long as the runners and their crew had access, that’s the most important. It was nice to see the people out there cheering people on. I think they probably got a little taste of some of that beauty up there above treeline.
iRunFar: Beyond the media, I think there was just a ton of a lot more spectators.
Kalmeyer: That’s what I mean. There were spectators out there just watching people. That was really neat.
iRunFar: This is the seventh Hardrock I’ve been at. It still felt like Hardrock. Even at Ouray, the biggest or one of the bigger towns on the course, you go in the aid station and it’s a couple people at the town park and that’s it. You’re at the finish line and I noticed 10 minutes after Darcy’s finish, she’s sitting in the gym with five of her friends and no one else. It’s just quiet and peaceful. There’s enough of that out there still.
Kalmeyer: That solitude is what we’re shooting for, too. We want to get some of that.
iRunFar: I know there has been… anytime there’s a race with a lottery, people talk about how the lottery is run and how slots are allocated. Is part of the reason the board has the different categories, and especially the veterans category, to keep Hardrock Hardrock and to keep the flavor?
Kalmeyer: I think that’s very important. It becomes like a family reunion every year. Just seeing the people who have done it multiple years and their crew and their pacers is so important. To encourage that, I think that core of people just make it important and what it is. We want to encourage the veterans to come back I think. I think there’s always pressure on all the veterans, I feel it too, to open up a slot to somebody new. I feel that every year. I get so torn about applying and doing it again, but I also feel like I’d like to represent the women in getting multiple finishes. I feel pressure in both ways. I encourage people to come out and experience it. A lot of people were talking about no pacers and all that, too. I can see that and maybe not having pacers. But on the other hand, you bring a new pacer out and they experience it and they want to come back and do it, too. It’s just amazing that family… bringing family and friends and then seeing the same people every year.
iRunFar: The thought I’ve had all week is that Hardrock is family. Even with all this more hype and whatnot this year, it still felt like that way. Hardrock, the family, is literally with people’s families coming across the line together, seeing them sit there together, leaning against the Hardrock together. Also the people, the people that were here my first Hardrock (2005), I paced Garett Graubins, and Garett Graubins finished yesterday. The Peros. You. I don’t know if Billy Simpson was there that year, but Scotty Mills and all these people. It’s almost a decade later and the same faces. It’s such a small race that if you have large number of those faces, it feels very much the same.
Kalmeyer: Yes exactly. Yeah, Scotty and I ran a little bit together and I think he was a few places in front of me. It was nice to see him back. I think he was at my first Hardrock.
iRunFar: He finished in 36 hours and something at 63. If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?
Kalmeyer: I’m 53.
iRunFar: Still going. Do you think you’d come back next year?
Kalmeyer: When somebody asked me right when I finished, I get back to that, Should I let somebody else in and not take a place again? At first I said I wasn’t sure, but I think I’m going to come back.
iRunFar: Could you have imagined this year finishing second?
Kalmeyer: No, oh my gosh, that was a surprise. It’s just probably mostly luck. Just keep going. Just keep going. The weather and everything else… I was just very surprised. I don’t know Sarah [McCloskey], but I know we were climbing out of KT pretty close together and then half way up we were right next to each other but we weren’t able to chitchat too much. Then she left me in the dust there for awhile. I understand she had some hypothermic issues. That’s too bad. I feel bad. But I’m glad she finished. She came back and rallied and I think she got in a couple hours behind me.
iRunFar: I don’t remember, but I think she got low-40’s.
Kalmeyer: That’s really good. I’m glad she got the finish. I was very surprised to get second though. It was like eight hours after Darcy, but anyway…
iRunFar: You’ve got to be in the position to do it, right?
Kalmeyer: I guess, yes, just keep going.
iRunFar: I know that Hardrock is a big family, but there are definitely some characters that stand out. At the award Dale [Garland] said, “Billy Simpson gets Hardrock.” You were out there running with Billy this weekend.
Kalmeyer: Yeah, I saw Billy… and with John DeWalt’s ashes. That was very special. He was very close to John. I knew John from Pennsylvania because I grew up in Pennsylvania, too. John kept calling me and talking to me. He knew I was in Colorado and said, “I can never get to the finish of Leadville in time.” Then he started to get into Hardrock, so he was just hooked. So then every year we would talk and John would always have good words of wisdom about, “When you feel tired, speed up.” It was like, well, that’s good. “When you get cold, speed up.” One year he sat next to the water crossing for like, I’ve been told, 45 minutes, and that’s about a mile out of town from Silverton. He just waited for someone else to come along, too, so he could cross the water. It was just like John was just amazing. When I first met Billy, I think he got in a few minutes before the start. He was one of those last-second guys. He finished that year really well. So we were climbing out of KT almost to the top of Grant Swamp this year and then I heard another runner say that he was spreading John’s ashes up there. That was really special. I think throughout the course they were going to spread his ashes. That was really nice. John was amazing. I don’t know how old he was when he… he was above 70 when he finished… 72?
iRunFar: I think 72 or 73.
Kalmeyer: Yeah, so that’s a great testament to a strong-willed man.
iRunFar: I’d never known the best story of him going to Leadville and not being able to make the cutoff’s, so “Come to Hardrock and finish!”
Kalmeyer: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. Then do that 14 times. I’m pretty sure he had 14 finishes.
iRunFar: That’s a ton of finishes out there.
Kalmeyer: So he’s always an inspiration to everybody.
iRunFar: Is there any race that you didn’t finish here?
Kalmeyer: I didn’t one year.
iRunFar: What took you out?
Kalmeyer: That was going the other direction. I left Ouray… If I look back now, I think there were a lot of factors that came together—work, an injury, an illness. It’s like the perfect storm hit me that year. I left Ouray and I was just not doing so well. I went up a few miles up Camp Bird and stopped and kept going and stopped and kept going and then I turned around and came back. It was just a lot of different things going on that year. That was 2011 I didn’t make it. I’ve attempted 16 and I’ve finished 15.
iRunFar: That’s a pretty good record there. Even Kirk who has 20 finishes DNFed his first.
Kalmeyer: Yes, we each have a DNF.
iRunFar: Speaking of Kirk, he hit 20 this year, does that give you a little inspiration to go for another five?
Kalmeyer: It does. It does. I’m like, c’mon, yeah. All these guys—Kirk, Blake [Wood], Randy [Isler], and Mark [Heaphy]—I’m at the back of those five.
iRunFar: Back of those five—that’s not a bad place to be.
Kalmeyer: I know… how many finishes. He inspires me. He’s amazing. When I’m out there, I don’t know how much fun I’m having. People always say, “It’s beautiful,” and it is. It’s inspiring. But when you’re hurting, I don’t know how much fun you’re having. He always seems to be having fun even though he’s struggling. That’s neat to see. He’ll come into an aid station and I’ll just be at my low point. He’ll just be like, “This is so pretty! This is beautiful!” I’m like, “Yeah, but gosh, I’m hurting. My feet hurt.” I want to just complain or something.
iRunFar: He said this year he kept saying, “How’s it!?” to himself when he hit a low spot.
Kalmeyer: I never thought he hit a low spot. I always thought he was always loving it out there. It is. It’s amazing even when you’re hurting.
iRunFar: It’s amazing that there are so many people out on the course amidst this ridiculous challenge that keep this always-positive attitude.
Kalmeyer: Exactly. The smiling, the just enjoying it even when it’s tough.
iRunFar: I think they get that reflected back.
Kalmeyer: Yeah. At the awards ceremony when they give the five-, 10-, 15-, 20-year pins to volunteers, I think that is amazing. You’d think, Oh, you’d maybe come and do this once and that’s it, but they come back here year after year. That really is amazing, too, that they are so supportive and so good at what they do and enjoy being out there, too. I think that reflects back. So even though the runners come into the aid station and they are tired and hurting, the aid-station people are just on top of it and they’re helpful and spirited and help the runners a lot.
iRunFar: There are plenty of races that have that, but how do we get that spirit to transcend the sport and not just among the runners but with volunteers at other races? You live in Leadville and that was maybe lacking a little bit this past year. I don’t want to pick on Leadville, but how do we keep that in our sport?
Kalmeyer: What Wasatch has been doing over the years and what we just added was that volunteer aspect to your application. I think that helps. If runners realize everything that goes into it, like a friend of mine keeps saying, it’s a lot easier to run it than to crew it or volunteer at it. To realize what these people are sacrificing in a way to help you, I think it’s important that you volunteer and support other races, too. So bringing that 360 and supporting other races and coming and do this and asking that people volunteer for other events is a good way to do that just so they realize how much it takes to put on a race or to mark a course or to clear a course, all those things. I think it’s good that we give time to other events, too. I think that helps.
iRunFar: Any events you like to volunteer at?
Kalmeyer: Oh, yeah. I like San Juan Solstice—I usually mark or clear. Jemez—mark or clear. This year I might go help at Mount Taylor, so if it works in my schedule and I can, I try to…
iRunFar: That spreads the family because Mount Taylor, Ken Gordon who is another board member… did he have an anniversary or number of finishes this year?
Kalmeyer: Yes, fifth. That was really nice for him to get to the finish.
iRunFar: Congratulations on your 15th finish and your second-place finish.
Kalmeyer: Thank you. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Kalmeyer: Thank you.
iRunFar: Bonus question for you, Betsy. One sentence—finish it. Hardrock is…?
Kalmeyer: Hardrock is the most amazing, beautiful 100 miler ever.