Joe Grant took third at the 2017 Hardrock 100 via an intentionally casual effort for 73 miles, a hard push on the long climb out of Telluride, and survival of late-race fatigue. In the following interview, Joe talks about the early storm which made the climb and descent of Handies Peak uncomfortable, how he knew when to talk and when to run, if he’s happy with his Hardrock performance, and where he plans to race next.
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Joe Grant after his third-place finish at the 2017 Hardrock 100. How are you, Joe?
Joe Grant: Doing great.
iRunFar: Between us, we’ve been up for three-plus days. How are you doing?
Grant: Absolutely. I’m tired. You can probably tell. I’m like… tiny eyes… swollen.
iRunFar: It’s been a couple years since you’ve had a really good race of this level. Do you kind of feel that way?
Grant: Yeah, I think from a feeling standpoint, I’ve done races like White Mountains in Alaska which is basically like a fatass, but nailing a 100 is always satisfying even if it’s a fatass. So I’ve definitely had races where I’ve felt super on point and…
iRunFar: Like Joe Grant of 2010, 2011… your performances of then?
Grant: Yeah, and certainly the past three years has been passing kidney stones and tearing quads and banging my head in tunnels. Hardrock 2012 was five years ago which is wild when you think about it. It feels like it wasn’t that long ago, but it’s a pretty long time.
iRunFar: Did you have that feeling relative to Hardrock?
Grant: It was a different thing because that year, I had a rough patch from 60 to 80 miles and then just came back alive and closed really strong. So my feeling from that race… you’re crushing the end and feeling really energized. You’re chasing down Hal [Koerner], and so there was just all this… it was a lot of adrenaline. Today, it was kind of the opposite. I had 80 great miles, and then the last 20 I was like, Man, I’m just tired.
iRunFar: We’re only a couple hours later, but do you have any regret of pushing it hard early and sticking in or with the lead, or did you just go for a good race?
Grant: No, I was really conservative. I walked. I planned to walk a lot of sections even through Pole Creek where it’s really flat and rolling. There are all these little bumps that you can totally run, but you’re 20 to 25 miles into the race. So I was intentionally hiking a lot of that. I hiked all of Engineer and most of Camp Bird other than the super flat little sections but not very much of it. I think I set myself up. When I caught everybody in Ouray, they were 16 minutes ahead of me at Engineer. I was like, Oh, cool. It’s a long descent. I’m just going to cruise down and get into town not trying hard.
iRunFar: It wasn’t like, I’m going to crush the descents.
Grant: No, and I was really surprised actually when I came around the tunnel and saw [Mike] Foote, Iker [Karrera], and Kilian [Jornet]. I was like, Oh, okay. It just felt like it wasn’t intentional at all. It was overcast. I was like, Oh sweet. It’s not going to be super hot coming into Ouray. So my plan was run easy into Ouray and then hike Camp Bird Road to kind of give a sort of a break. Then really, the race, to me, starts in Telluride. So if you get to Telluride feeling it, then great.
iRunFar: Then it’s eight hours-ish on a good day?
Grant: Yeah, and I got to Telluride feeling really good. I was with Kilian and Mike and just thought, If you’re going to try and win the race, this is where you’ve got to try and make it happen. I took off up Oscar’s and was moving really well and feeling really good, and then two-thirds of the way up Oscar’s, I completely ran out of steam.
iRunFar: Right before you got to Wasatch Basin?
Grant: Yeah, I got through Wasatch Basin, and then unfortunately on that descent, I was descending really well all day, and then on that descent I was a little cooked. My hope was that I’d set myself up to be able to basically really accelerate at the end. Instead, I just had one gear and it was basically just going to be hike up hills the best I can and kind of make it downhill. The first part of the race was more intentional—I’m going easy purposefully here.
iRunFar: At any point in the last 20 miles were you really grinding your gears, or were you stepping on it, and there was nothing there?
Grant: Nothing. Honestly, Grant-Swamp and Putnam were really hard.
iRunFar: Super trudge-fest?
Grant: Yeah, like especially Putnam. I got to Putnam, and I had this overwhelming fatigue. You’re double poling and trying as hard as you can, and you’re just not moving. Then you get to the top and you’re walking along the ridge, and I was just like, Man, I’m so beat. I came into the aid station, and everyone was laughing in the aid station. I said something, and everyone was cracking up, but I was just out of it, that deep sense of, Okay, I need to be done. You know that kind of feeling and you just can’t eat a gel and it comes back. You’re tired, you know?
iRunFar: I’m so laughing because I’m visualizing two years ago being there with you in my race. The tank is empty. You can try to put more gas in, and you’re not going to go any faster.
Grant: That’s what it kind of was. You just kind of hit that. I kind of felt that going up Grant-Swamp. Eh, it’s just not going to snap back. I was hoping, Oh, there’s still Putnam. It’s quite a long little climb there.
iRunFar: How do you accept that it’s not going to bounce back because you’ve done enough of these to know that there are ebbs and flows.
Grant: Yeah, but I think you just kind of feel it in your core. There are times when you’re a little bonky and then maybe have a little to drink, and you perk up again. It just wasn’t happening. Anything I tried… I think I had a great 80 miles, and the last 20 were just maintenance. In some ways, I was more concerned if someone was going to catch me from behind. I thought, At this pace—Mike was moving really well, and Kilian was doing whatever he wanted—it was just that I don’t have the gear to catch them right now.
iRunFar: Coming down from Putnam, it never felt like the wheels were completely off, this is over, I might not finish and I’m going to get caught by everybody?
Grant: No, it wasn’t that. I would say there was a lot of effort. There are a lot of flat spots in there. There’s just a lot of stuff that is downhill and you run. That was certainly effort for me whereas before, coming into Telluride or going into Ouray, I wasn’t really putting in a lot of effort and was just letting gravity take me down the hill. Putnam, I was just like working. I was tripping on stuff and just wobbly. Even just coming in the last little section into town. It’s two miles to go. You’ve got to run it, and you’re done. I kind of have to put a little bit of effort in. That’s just kind of the way it is. That little extra bit of magic that can happen sometimes, you want to set yourself up for that to happen, but it’s not always going to happen.
iRunFar: But you felt like you set yourself up for that to happen. At mile 80, it could have happened. It didn’t, but it could have.
Grant: I did. Yeah, it happened for two-thirds up Oscar’s, and then it just literally went from great hiking pace to, Ooof.
iRunFar: You had the surprise of seeing those guys coming into Ouray. What are you thinking and what are you feeling? You headed out of Ouray in first half way through Hardrock?
Grant: I honestly tried… for me, if I’m running my own race, it doesn’t really matter. I chatted with Kilian coming in. He said, “I’m going to go in and get another bandage.” He’ll catch up to me. He’ll just jog out of there… and I’m double poling going hard. He just comes cruising by with his one pole. We kind of just chatted about that, and he was just, “I’ll just get my bandage fixed and catch up to you.” I just really didn’t think anything of it, to be honest. I was running a comfortable pace. I wasn’t getting excited or trying to cruise into town ahead. It was more like, Oh, this is the pace I’m running into town. I knew that that would shift.
iRunFar: It sounded like in the situation coming up out of Ouray up Camp Bird Road, there was a lot of talk about Kilian being “that guy.” Does it feel that way to be at the front of a race having that race and… that guy.
Grant: Well, the thing with Kilian is that he’s a very humble, good-natured sort of guy. If you make abstraction of the race, we’re just chatting walking up the hill. It’s just this casual conversation that you’re having. It’s cool. His ability is just so much higher than anybody.
iRunFar: I think that’s what everybody was meaning, not in a bad way. He’s just on a whole other level.
Grant: For sure. He can kind of do what he wants which is cool. I was joking with him that it was cool to be able to recover that fast. He can go do a 50k run on Monday and run the race on Friday. It’s not a trivial 50k run up into the Chicago Basin.
iRunFar: His longest run of the year.
Grant: Yeah, and he just recovers really fast and just operates at 70%, so it’s pretty casual. It would be sweet instead of doing 45-minute taper runs, you’d be, Oh, I’ll just go bang out 30 miles and be fine.
iRunFar: Your fitness would be maintaining at a whole other level because you’d have that good week of training.
Grant: I think taper is always a delicate thing, but if you’re able to do a lot of long runs and then on the third day, you’re like, Wow, I had an amazing run. It’s weird because you’ve just done two big back-to-backs or stuff like that. That often happens on big multi-day things where you don’t expect to click, and then it just works. I guess if you can nail a taper like that where you’re just in this flow and it just happens to be race day when it’s optimal, but it’s…
iRunFar; It’s different than being a track athlete where you’re doing a couple hard workouts the week before.
Grant: Exactly. I think with our sport, it’s a little harder because distance running is so abusive. If you… if you don’t find that… it’s easy to kind of lie to yourself, Ah, I feel okay, but you’re a little bit tired and a little bit worked…
iRunFar: And you’re digging that hole.
Grant: Exactly, and you’re not going honest with yourself… and I think Kilian can just go do it, and it is actually very casual.
iRunFar: How about you during the race—was there any moment or section that was magical or just stands out?
Grant: Stands out—the sunrise on Putnam this morning in terms of natural beauty was phenomenal. The sunset on Virginius was kind of amazing, too. And obviously going up to Kroger’s there was Roch [Horton] and Scott [Jurek] and Diana Finkel was up there, too—it’s just a cool heart-and-soul little crowd. It’s a good time. The standout to me in terms of weather was Handies because we got hit super hard.
iRunFar: What was that like?
Grant: It was kind of interesting. You run from Sherman up to Burrows, and it’s three miles of dirt road. It started raining pretty heavily, and then it just started crackling and popping everywhere. Then that turned into hail. Then you enter the forest going up to Handies. All the way through below treeline…
iRunFar: Which is still about two miles…
Grant: Yeah, it’s still a good, decent, little hike… it was just going crazy. I only had a windbreaker, so I’m just soaked through and can’t feel my hands. I’m running a lot just to keep myself warm. Then I broke the cap on my bottle and spilled Tailwind all over my shirt. I’m soaking wet; I’ve got sugar water all over me. In that moment, I’m thinking, Well, this is kind of a bummer, because you get mildly hypothermic or whatever, roll into Grouse, and it takes a lot of energy. You’re less than 40 miles into the race at that point. So what happened is I was really, really, really cold going up Handies. It was pretty sketchy because there was a lot of lightning, a couple different storm systems… Philipp Reiter got sort of popped. Then I came into Grouse, I warmed up because you run down a pretty long ways. I grabbled waterproof pants, waterproof jacket, gloves, and sleeves and carried them for the rest of the race because I thought I couldn’t do that 70 miles in. I just won’t have enough reserves to deal with that.
iRunFar: Maybe you can finish, but your competitive race is over.
Grant: Exactly, 35 miles in, it’s kind of not ideal but you kind of make it through because it’s a pretty long ascent. I don’t know how long you’re climbing for, but… hour-and-a-half or couple hours?
iRunFar: It’s a long, long way.
Grant: I don’t know. It’s a long climb. So you’re getting cold. Iker was the same way.
iRunFar: Really? You are getting cold on that?
Grant: I was freezing. I was really numb, really cold. I didn’t eat because the bottle was broken. Man, this is too early to be…
iRunFar: You’re drawing from the well.
Grant: Yeah, at 35 miles in. So I just dealt with it in the way that was, Okay, get to the top of Handies, run down, get some soup, and warm up. Then honestly by the time I got to Grouse and it wasn’t raining in Grouse, it was dry and I felt fine. I was less concerned once I got to Grouse because the feeling came back. I did grab the waterproofs and even though I never put them on the rest of the time, I just felt like it was kind of a little bit… I just should have put a GORE-TEX jacket in my drop bag at Sherman instead of a windbreaker.
iRunFar: Yeah, that’s probably a good rule.
Grant: Yeah, and the jackets now are so light, you can have a six-ounce…
iRunFar: I think a lot of us have made that mistake—Ah, a windbreaker is good enough.
Grant: It’s kind of not. I just thought I’d definitely do the GORE-TEX at night because then it’s most likely to be cold. I just figured if it’s a little stormy on Handies, it’s not going to be that big of a deal. It ended up being a pretty real storm, but it impacted me less than I thought.
iRunFar: Was that nice to feel that at some point later on?
Grant: I just felt like I cruised into Grouse reassured. Going up Handies, I was like, Crap, I didn’t plan right. This could honestly ruin your race right there just because you didn’t bring the right jacket which is silly. Then I warmed up and after that, it was pretty inconsequential the rest of the race.
iRunFar: What do you have going on next?
Grant: I’m doing Tor des Géants. I’m going back. Yeah, it’s September 10. I’m pretty psyched. Obviously with the 14ers last year and doing some bike-packing the last couple years, I feel like my perspective has really shifted for longer multi-day kind of events.
iRunFar: How so?
Grant: I think a lot of it has to do with being able to manage yourself without stressing and overreacting. Handies is a perfect example. Okay, I’m cold. I just need to do my best to get up and over this hill, and then I’ll deal with it as soon as I can. It’s easy to get into your head and over-stress yourself for no reason. You’re cold. Manage your situation in the moment. I think that brought a lot of perspective to me in this race. I didn’t use pacers. Part of it is that I’ve spent a lot of time alone up in the mountains, so you deal with your own stuff. What’s nice about that is when you’re in a low point, knowing how to get yourself out of it without having to have a pep talk is a really useful thing. Being like, Okay, you’ve got this. You’re negative right now because you’re sleep-deprived, and you’re tired because you’re 80 miles in.
iRunFar: You have to practice the self-awareness and the self-analysis.
Grant: Exactly, and it just kind of trips. It just happens. You’re out there, and if you don’t get yourself out of this and deal with it, then you’re just going to be overwhelmed. No one is coming to help you. I think that was super helpful. It just makes you more self-reliant.
iRunFar: Does it change the way you mete your effort out at all or your patience?
Grant: I think you’re more honest. For instance, like I was saying, walking Pole Creek—most people run that because it’s just runnable terrain.
iRunFar: But it’s also 12,000 feet.
Grant: You’re at 12,000 feet, and you’re 20 miles in. You really exhaust yourself running sections there. You can, totally. You run the flats and the downhills, but there are these little bumps… I guess it just adds a little layer of confidence in just saying, It’s alright—manage your own race. Like you were saying coming into Ouray and taking the lead, it’s just a moment in time. It’s not really going to determine the outcome of the race that you leave Ouray in first place. It doesn’t really matter, but it can get to your head.
iRunFar: It can because it’s an artificial but obvious kind of marker.
Grant: It is, yeah. I won’t say it doesn’t add a little psych—Cool, I’m leading Hardrock. Awesome. But at the same time it can be misleading in that I could have cranked out of Ouray and run all of Camp Bird. Alright, this is my moment. I’m going for it.
iRunFar: Would you have done that five years ago maybe? Would you have been more likely to?
Grant: I don’t know. I think… I don’t know. I think the good races I’ve had, maybe unintentionally have been well-managed that way—low pressure, manage yourself and let things happen. The bad races, you put more expectations on yourself; you expect more from the outcome; you go in with splits; you go in with references. I did this before, so I should be able to replicate this. Jim [Walmsley] is the perfect example of this. Obviously he has the capacity to run a transcendental race. He did it last year and nearly pulled it off. To go and replicate that, it’s really hard to have the spark and make the magic happen all the time.
iRunFar: Instead of just letting it happen.
Grant: Yeah, and if the conditions aren’t—today was a perfect example. The race was relatively slow.
iRunFar: With as good a front of the field as has been here on either the men’s or the women’s side.
Grant: Yeah, totally. Kilian hasn’t run over 24 hours here until today. It was the weather and… so instead of focusing on time—I’d love to break 24 here, but I knew honestly 20 miles into the race, just run the race. Time is irrelevant here because it was really marshy and wet and it’s just slow.
iRunFar: Pole Creek can be very slow… those creeks.
Grant: Yeah, and sometimes it can be pretty sunny and dry. It’s just making those little assessments. You gain perspective in that regard and being more confident in what you need to do. I would tell Kilian walking up Camp Bird, “I’m walking this.” He was trotting along with his stick, and I said, “Yeah, this is easier for me to walk.”
iRunFar; You could have been… you could have been led into that.
Grant: I could run. I was just like, Well, I’ll run the flat bits, but honestly, in my mind when I came into Ouray, I was like, I’ve got this long, gradual hike up to Virginius. It’s kind of a rest nearly. You’re still putting in effort and everything…
iRunFar: There’s nothing particularly taxing on any part of any system.
Grant: No, you’re just hiking up the hill. You can quickly add a component to that where you’re jogging little bits here and jogging little bits there and then all the sudden it becomes more of an effort. I observed this when I was going up Engineer. I decided the same thing when I came into Grouse. Engineer has quite a few flat spots. I hiked the whole hill. Caroline [Chaverot] was right behind me, a couple hundred yards behind me, and she was running a lot of the sections but never caught me to the top. She always stayed exactly in the same position. I was thinking, Huh, that’s kind of interesting. You can basically hike pretty relaxed instead of doing little… whatever system works for you. If jogging…
iRunFar: Some people are efficient at that.
Grant: Yeah, and changes your muscles up or whatever. Seb Chaigneau does that a lot. He’ll jog really steep stuff. I’m always like, “Ah, I think it’s easier to hike.” He’ll say, “No, it sort of switches up the muscles I use, and I kind of like it.” Whatever works.
iRunFar: Congratulations on finding something that worked this weekend.
Grant: Thanks a lot, man.
iRunFar: Good luck at Tor des Géants.
The second article in a two-part series about the hip-hinge position for efficient running.