Kyle Skaggs And The 2008 Hardrock 100

AJW's TaproomIn July of 2008, 23-year-old New Mexican Kyle Skaggs won the Hardrock 100 in a time of 23:23, becoming the first runner in the storied history of the race to complete the loop through Colorado’s San Juan Mountains in under 24 hours. Along the way he bettered, by over three and a half hours, the clockwise course record held by Karl Meltzer. Ten-time Hardock finisher Scott Jaime, no stranger to the top five at Hardrock, finished in second place that year a full six hours after Skaggs. At the time, it was the most dominating trail-ultramarathon record in the world. It was also the last time Skaggs would run 100-mile race.

Speaking to him earlier this week,  he said simply, “Hardrock is basically the only 100 miler I ever really wanted to run.”

This is the story of that once-in-a-lifetime run.

The Background

I first met Kyle Skaggs at the 2006 Wasatch Front 100 Mile where he and I were crewing and pacing for friends. As is often the case in such circumstances, we found ourselves in the back of a vehicle together, bounding our way out to one of Wasatch’s remote aid stations. Speaking with Kyle throughout that day, I was profoundly struck by his calm demeanor and wise countenance which belied his age. He was barely 21.

The next year, Kyle would return to Wasatch as a runner to complete his first 100 miler as a ‘test run’ for his planned trip to Hardrock sometime in the near future. In that race, he cruised to a win in a then course-record time and was poised for a strong build-up going into the 2008 Hardrock. As luck would have it, Kyle was drawn fourth on the waitlist that year, giving him all but a guarantee of entry into the race.

The Training

During the winter of 2007 and 2008, Kyle lived in Ashland, Oregon and worked at Hal Koerner’s new running store, Rogue Valley Runners. While there, he trained with the likes of Koerner, Ian Torrence, and Anton Krupicka, and early that spring he and Krupicka relocated to Krupicka’s adopted hometown of Colorado Springs, Colorado to train at altitude and fine tune a game plan for the big day.

As it turned out, Colorado Springs was not Skaggs’s cup of tea as he was more comfortable in smaller, more remote mountain towns so in early April he set out on his own to Silverton, a town where he had spent three previous summers working for the Mountain Studies Institute conducting scientific studies in some of the high-alpine lakes for which the region is known. While in Silverton, Skaggs just poured himself into his training,

“I didn’t really keep track of my mileage but if I wasn’t sleeping, eating, or working, I was running. By the time the race rolled around, I had covered every inch of the trail at least three times.”

In recalling his build-up to the race, Skaggs laughs, “To be honest, I can’t remember running with a single other person during that time. Training exclusively on my own fueled my confidence and got me ready.”

The Race

Skaggs insists that he had no plans to break the course record or run sub-24 hours when he departed Silverton on that cool July morning. In fact, his split card essentially mirrored Meltzer’s splits when he ran 27:07 a few years earlier. However, relatively early in the race, Skaggs seemed to be on to something special. So much so that when he arrived at the South Mineral Creek crossing a mere two miles into the race, he already had a three-minute lead. And he felt like he was barely moving.

Sticking to a simple game plan of hiking the uphills and bombing the downhills, Skaggs continued to expand his lead throughout the day. Subsisting almost exclusively on water and gels, Skaggs is amazed, to this day, that he made it around the course with no stomach issues. By the time he picked up his pacer Nate McDowell at Grouse Gulch, mile 53, they were more than an hour ahead of course-record pace and amazingly, by the time they reached Sherman, at mile 72, the sun was just setting. Nobody among the assembled spectators had seen that before as they rushed to set up the aid station a full two hours earlier than they had done so in previous years.

“To be honest, my only bad patch of the whole day was that last brutal climb up Little Giant. At that point, I knew I’d left it all out there but I had enough of a cushion I didn’t worry too much.” Cushion. Yeah, Kyle, a six-hour cushion!

Skaggs took a decidedly minimalist approach to the race, wearing a single pair of New Balance 790s that became delaminated after about 80 miles. He took his fluids out of a single handheld bottle which he filled in the lakes and creeks and then for carrying additional supplies he tied his Patagonia Houdini jacket around his waist and crammed gels into all the pockets. He never had to put the jacket on.

Speaking with Kyle earlier in the week, I was struck by the vivid memories he has of his extraordinary day while also carrying a significant degree of humility about the whole thing. I continue to believe that Kyle’s run at Hardrock a decade ago is one of the best performances in the history of our sport and yet I got the impression that he thinks of it now as just another long day on the trails. And to me that’s pretty darn cool!

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from what is, in my opinion, New Mexico’s best brewery, La Cumbre Brewing Company. Their Project Dank IPA is as bitter as it sounds as the brewery lists the ABU as “A LOT.” However, even so, it is a rich beer that is not boozy and is one of the few intensely hooped beers I’ve had that goes well with food.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Did you see Kyle Skaggs race the 2008 Hardrock 100, either as a spectator, volunteer, or race participant? What was the experience like for you?
  • If you were a fan of the sport in 2008, did you find Kyle’s performance to be transcendent for bettering the Hardrock course record by so much?
  • What perspective does the idea of a person committing themselves ‘all in’ on a training project, like Kyle did with Hardrock that year? While not logistically possible for most people, does it offer some perspective for normal runners in more normal lifestyles, the idea of minimizing distractions to the extent that life allows for a focused experience?
Kyle Skaggs - August 2008 UltraRunning magazine cover

The cover of the August 2008 edition of UltraRunning Magazine with Kyle Skaggs running the 2008 Hardrock 100. Original photo by John Cappis, magazine cover courtesy of John Medinger.

There are 30 comments

  1. Olga

    It was, indeed, truly special to be there on that day. To be around Kyle, a humble young man, from his first ultra, to his Hardrock pinnacle…simple, caring, unassuming, extremely talented comes to mind. Thanks for the memories, Andy. What he laughed about the few days prior? Whether or not he should apply for a job at a magazine as an underwear model.

    1. AJW

      Why Kyle decided not to return to Hardrock or any other 100s is entirely his business and I, for one, admire the fact that he devoted his singular focus on a goal, achieved that goal, and moved on.

      And, after speaking with Kyle for over an hour this past week I can assure you that he is happy and content with his decision. He works the land, still runs trails in his beloved Gila Wilderness, is raising two boys, ages 3 and 3 months, and is the race director for a local trail 10k that raises funds for the local farmers market. From where I sit, the guy’s got things figured out.

      1. Michael Miller

        Nobody has more respect for Kyle (and his brother Eric who has a similar story) than I do. But lets be honest. My understanding is that both Kyle and Eric have suffered serious health issues as a result of pushing themselves so hard in races. This has been a real problem with other top runners as well, not to mention innumerable runners nobody has heard of who suffered debilitating health issues by pushing so hard trying to become a top runner.

        I’d like to hear the truth come out instead of being pushed under the rug. This is a real issue in our sport. If Kyle doesn’t want to talk about it that’s one thing but did you even ask him about it????? Why the need to be hush-hush about it?

        1. AJW

          Thanks for the comment Mike. I am not sure where “your understanding” is coming from so I can’t really respond to that. With respect to your question, what is it you would have wanted me to ask him? Keep in mind, the purpose of this monthly series is to highlight aspects of the history of the sport that I deem worthy of this column. Dave Mackey, Tom
          Nielsen, Nikki Kimball and Kyle Skaggs all had amazing performances and I’ve highlighted them herein. For the sake of history. If, in your opinion, that had a whiff of sweeping something under a rug then I am sorry. But I think my intent is clear and I’ll leave it to others to make judgements.

          1. KK

            I must agree with Michael Miller here. What Miller said has been collaborated by many sources. Why ignore it? I like legend and hero stories too but maybe its not responsible to dismiss this like you appear to be doing. There does seem to be way too many young strava kids that go too far, chasing that folk hero status, without having the proper knowledge.

          2. Michael Miller

            And since Erik chose to speak about his issues with rhabdo in public at https://www.runnersworld.com/trail-running/on-the-mend I’ll leave some more truth.

            Between OTS and Rhabdo I could list a dozen more names that everyone would know and for every one of them a half dozen more that very few would recognize.

            This sport has serious life-long health implications. Its real to many of us. I know you want to project a cheerful positive outlook but it does absolutely no good to try to avoid reality.

            This sport deserves an open and honest discussion of these issues so they can be studied and problems minimized so people can run healthy for decades. Or at least make an educated choice to burn through all their candles in a few races and suffer the consequences if they really want to go for the glory.

            1. Frank

              Thanks, Michael. The dismissal of your comments on this board underscores the importance of the point your are making.

            2. Markus

              I totally agree with Michael Miller.

              It’s maybe time to have a more critical outlook to all the high performers in ultrarunning and why they are not performing anymore.

              I think a big part of the problem is this online culture of pushing the next good young kid to the next course record. Nowadays it is not good enough to do well in a race. Now you have to announce a CR in advance or you are not getting enough love from the fan crowd because your sponsor is demanding brand ambassadors with a big following.

              From what I have seen it seems that the next trail ultrarunning superstar has an average shelf life of 2-3 years. They all go up in flames for no good reason.

              But hey it doesn’t matter, there are already a couple cool new runners lined up to keep the marketing machine going.

  2. Markus

    This was a great race. I got the best hallucinations up the last climb towards Little Giant and got stuck.
    Too bad Kyle left the running scene. I heard that he was totally worn out from that season but I have no idea if that is true.

  3. Scott Jaime

    I remember that day very well. In fact, when I got to Grouse Gulch I was tanking pretty hard and just wanted to finish. As I was leaving, joking, I said to Dale Garland “You better tell Kyle to watch his back because I’m comin… Do you think I could catch him?” Dales reply was classic “Well….. He left Sherman about 45 minutes ago” (For context, the distance between Grouse and Sherman is not insurmountable, ~13 miles, it was the terrain in between, trekking over Handies at 14,048 ft and 4,000ft of elevation gain. ) I laughed.

    Knowing Kyle for the two plus years before this day, I had no doubt something special was about to happen. I will forever be that guy who took 2nd place to Kyle Skaggs by MORE THAN 6 HOURS. I’m happy to be that guy.

  4. 18342772

    I’m glad to see Kyle’s achievement framed in these terms–as a wholly immersive passion project with an almost mythic quality. It’s probably for the best that younger/newer ultrarunners are warned of the potential costs this sport has; but I think that perspective fails to consider that many of the so-called cautionary tales got their money’s worth. A lifetime spent immersed in the sport is worth pursuing to some; but it’s not inherently more valuable than one which dives in, then climbs out.

  5. Josh

    Great article, Andy! Chasing information about that day and Kyle is sort of like hunting the mythical white whale, so it’s cool to read new facts and insight about what seems to have been a truly magical day – one that fuels my own mountain dreams.

  6. Greg Loomis

    I ran 46:46 that day exactly double what Kyle did. Truly an amazing run by an amazing guy. A great compilation of youth, talent, want. And preparation.

  7. John Vanderpot

    This one was before my time, but I’ve read everything I could find on it and spoken with people who were there — I’d say it stands as a monument to what happens when someone withdraws from so-called normal life and completely dedicates themselves to the activity…the only two equivalents I can think of off the top of my head are Bobby Fischer’s march to the world championship in chess and Dan Gable’s Olympic gold medal in wrestling? Notably, neither really played their game ever again…

    JV

    1. AJW

      John, those two are excellent comparisons to the virtuosity of certain transcendent experiences. In this case, made more amazing by the seeming nonchalant way in which Kyle describes the experience now. 10 years later.

  8. Mark Cosmas

    Such a humble dude, it was crazy following him that summer. When I turned the corner to go up to the shrine I could see him on the road going into the pines, already a half mile ahead of us. He beat me by 17 hours and I was the exact middle of the pack, for which I won an award…

  9. John Vanderpot

    Agreed, not to mention that they were essentially able to live off of their achievements for the rest of their lives while even in the running world Mr. Skaggs is all but invisible except to a relatively small subculture within a subculture who have any sort of sense of just how significant a thing he did…

    J

  10. Steve Pero

    I was wrapped in a blanket eating some soup at Grouse Gulch aid station when they announced Kyle’s win…finished in 43:18. Kyle and his brother Eric were incredible ultrarunners.
    Thanks for the memory, Andy!

  11. Kirk O'Brien

    I ran the inaugural 5-day TransRockies run the same year Kyle did, just after his Hardrock win. The race required teams of two, so he ran with his brother Eric. They were very impressive, yet humble athletes. They took a minimalist approach as well, even with some cold days of rain and snow – I don’t think they even wore shirts. They looked like track runners, and everyone else looked like backpackers. The duo easily won each stage, except they let someone else win the last stage because they had the combined event in the bag. Classy.

    The Skaggs brothers were polite, friendly, relaxed and made it look easy. I wish Kyle had stayed with the sport, but I’m happy for him if he found something better to do with his time.

  12. Pixie Ninja

    This is such an inspiring story. Thank you for sharing what the true passion of running looks like. Kyle epitomizes that.

  13. bud

    A few minutes after we started the 2008 Hardrock, Mr Skaggs was flying up that first hill above town, all alone. A bunch of us shook our heads and smiled, and said he is going out way too fast, and he would soon come back to the other front runners. We were wrong, very wrong. Somewhere around a third through the run for me, someone at an Aid Station said he was ahead of Karl’s record. From then on, the first thing I asked about when I arrived at an Aid Station was “Where is Kyle?”. And the Aid Station personnel always had an update. I think many of the people out on the course were tracking how he was doing. I do remember thinking HS! – he finished a bit ahead of my going over Handies at sunrise. It was a monumental performance by an incredibly nice person and an incredibe athlete. I think all of us were very impressed and glad we were there when he did it.

  14. John Andersen

    Great story! The description of his training is kinda what my fantasy training is…simple life and just running/exploring mountains that you connect with, and then the fitness just blooms out of that. Inspiring stuff.

  15. Nicolas

    Does anyone have this epic cover of the August 2008 edition of UltraRunning Magazine in big big size?
    I would make a perfect poster!

  16. Billy Simpson

    Me and James Varner were sleeping on the floor of the house Kyle was renting that year before the race. It was cool to get to know him. He was so laid back and chill. My mental picture is Kyle sitting on the front deck, no shirt, barefoot, rolled up and ragged jeans, long hair, strumming a guitar one sunny Silverton afternoon a couple of days before the race. His performance blew my mind and everyone elses. Everyone was so surprised when he dropped off the radar. I visited him on his farm some years back and his response, “I never wanted to be a professional ultra runner. I wanted to be a farmer.”

    Such good memories….Thanks AJW

  17. Glen Noble

    I was at Krogers/Virginius during that race as the ham radio volunteer. The snow field on the north side was typical that year, we had a rope down it that almost all the runners used, all but Kyle. The bottom runout area had a few rocks exposed.

    Kyle looked at the rope and snow field and just bailed off, no rope, sliding down on his running shorts the whole way. Most of the volunteers started yelling thinking this was not going to end well. I had a brief vision of calling into Silverton to report an accident.

    Anyway after slowing down at the base of the field Kyle jumped up and took off running. It was an amazing sight.

    I understand that this short cut ¨left a mark¨.

  18. solarweasel

    2008 was the year I ran my first ultra. I remember Kyle’s epic performance at Hardrock with vivid memory, like it was yesterday. His run was one of the most inspiring things into which I’ve ever tuned.

    Thanks for jogging an awesome memory, AJW!

    And props to your beer choice. La Cumbre’s Elevated IPA has been my favorite brew for the last two years. Half a shelf of my fridge is dedicated to it. Cheers!

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