Two-time Hardrock 100 runner-up Troy Howard returns to the race after a year away. In the following interview, Troy talks about what it takes to run Hardrock, what his year away from ultrarunning was like, and how it feels to come back to running and Hardrock this year.
Troy Howard Pre-2018 Hardrock 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Troy Howard before the 2018 Hardrock 100. How are you doing, Troy?
Troy Howard: I’m doing great. It’s a great day in the San Juans with a little bit of rain. It’s nice to see that we’re finally getting rid of the fires.
iRunFar: Yeah, it shouldn’t be an issue. If anything, the surplus of rain might be more of an issue.
Howard: Huge kudos to the firefighters that came from all over the country to really just make sure and protect our land. I think it’s a big reason we’re able to run our race this year.
iRunFar: For sure. I don’t know if the general public knows, but it was definitely in question whether this race was going to happen at all.
Howard: Yeah, you want to keep your training focused, but in the back of your mind you always have to start contingency planning. But I always said that we have a lot of heroes in this country, and one way or another I had a feeling we’d be running the race.
iRunFar: Well, if there are quiet heroes in ultrarunning, you might be one of them. You’ve had some great success here. You have two seconds at hardrock, a fifth, and it seems like you do a lot of racing in Colorado and this is a focus. What draws you to Hardrock in particular?
Howard: I think Hardrock is one of those events that, for anybody that has come and participated in it, volunteered, or have heard about it and read about it, I think it means something different for everybody. I don’t know if I could exactly articulate it in a way that does it justice. It’s the most event that I feel I can participate in certainly at this point in my life and probably ever. I just feel fortunate every year I get to be a part of it. That’s how I felt the first year, and that’s how I feel again this year. It’s tough. It’s a test of toughness, I’d say—physical, mental, emotional. If you don’t have 100% toughness, you’re going to have a hard time out here.
iRunFar: For your first time in four attempts, the last time you were here in 2016, you didn’t make it. What happened?
Howard: I wasn’t tough enough. I could give you a whole bunch of excuses that friends, family, and even myself came up with, but at the end of the day, I wasn’t tough enough to keep going. This year… after taking last year off and really helping my wife, Pam, finish her first 100—which was probably one of the highlights in general of my athletic career—just to see how tough you do have to be and yet exploring your limits and just seeing how people that… when you start, you may not think you have that in you, but through the right focus and training and commitment, there’s something to be said for everybody and in life about really, really pushing your limits and uncovering all those layers of excuses and reasons why to get to that very edge is something that’s not comfortable but is so rewarding.
iRunFar: That must have been an interesting perspective because you’ve gone through that yourself but awhile ago, and then to see that with your wife…
Howard: Yeah, this year, I’m going to do my best out there, try and hold back out there early on which everyone says that for any sort of running…
iRunFar: Especially Hardrock.
Howard: Especially Hardrock. I certainly think that was a little bit of a part of it is getting a little too caught up in the front runners a couple years ago. This year, getting into your mid-40s, I’m no Jeff Browningwhere the older you get the younger you seem to feel. He’s got something special. I don’t know if I have it. I just want to have a great day in the San Juans and make the most of it and have fun.
iRunFar: Yeah, it’s interesting because this is a race that… more and more you see at a Western States or UTMB, it’s folks in their 20s or early 30s that are really dominating. Here, age doesn’t seem to be a problem.
Howard: No, I think with a handful of exceptions with folks that are younger and age that have done exceptionally well, by and large, it must be percentage-wise, 90-95% of the finishers are seasoned veterans. They’ve been doing a lot of different things whether it’s formal events or really extreme events that really test your limits. I think those are the folks who have set the foundation for what Hardrock is. So much of it is appreciation that we’re able to do this in an environment like this. Two, they’re able to gut through the things that are new to people just getting into it where you really have to power through and get yourself out of some dark places.
iRunFar: What is the darkest place you’ve been during a Hardrock or that you got yourself out of?
Howard: I don’t remember which year it was, but it was definitely in the other direction, just really not feeling good for the first 40-50 miles. Then I remember I got to the top of Engineer and it started to rain. There was something about the cool rain that flipped everything for me. Some people might dreading the rain, I think on a course like Hardrock, the last thing we want is heat which is also what we had in 2016.
iRunFar: I’m glad to hear you say that. Xavier [Thevenard]said it, and I sure felt it coming up out of Ouray.
Howard: Yeah, so that was the persistent… you know you’ll have short durations of tough spots, but when it really persists for 10s and 20s of miles, that can be hard to get yourself out of.
iRunFar: But you did. How did you do it? Did you just tough your way through?
Howard: Well, there isn’t really an option to drop at the top of Engineer, so you kind of keep telling yourself that if you really want to quit, you have to find your way down.
iRunFar: Yeah, but then you’re down in Grouse a couple miles later, and there’s Handies Peak over there… it would be really easy to drop at Grouse.
Howard: Yeah, and that’s what I did a couple years ago. I dropped at Grouse. I didn’t have it in me mentally. The toughness factor wasn’t there.
iRunFar: Last year you took the year off from running ultras. You did a little cycling, but how does that have you feeling this year? What was that like taking the year off, and how is it now?
Howard: As you can expect, I ski a lot during the winter. So I don’t do a lot of running. So when January and February came around, all my workouts were really hard and I was really slow. It took me a few months to really dig out of a lack of fitness from running hole. I’ve raced a few times this year more for training, and there are a few notches that are still missing from certainly when I was in my mid to late 30s. I feel great. I feel that every workout I planned I did this year and then a little bit extra. The speed overall in general was a little bit lower, but you never know… it would be great to have this same sort of question after Hardrock because then you’d really know how it all worked out. I always have a lot of self-doubt. Maybe I should have done this a little bit more or a little bit less…
iRunFar: If you’re at the start line at Hardrock and you don’t have doubt, something is probably wrong.
Howard: I think there are some seasoned veterans here that know what it takes and probably have the confidence to know because they’ve done it enough times. I think it’s good to be anxious in these sorts of… certainly a Hardrock. You have to. You can’t be over confident. There’s just so many things that can be thrown your way. All the planning you do, you really have to be able to adapt.
iRunFar: You have a high frequency of racing Hardrock, and then you had one year you didn’t finish and last year you didn’t race. Do you have extra excitement coming back into this?
Howard: Yeah, that’s a great point. When I started training again, so much of it was new even though it was the same trail, same sort of program I put together, it was actually I looked forward to it. It was really something I haven’t felt to that level of depth in a couple of years. Yeah, the whole year so far has been so much fun. When I’ve gotten up high doing some training, it’s just been a whole new experience for me. I would trade that over being a little more fit any day, that enjoyment.
iRunFar: Do you think you’ll feel that on the course, too?
Howard: Yeah, I’m hoping. So far, yeah, even yesterday I was out here. I’d just gotten into town a few day ago and it was the same feeling—just so appreciative of the ability to be out here and have this opportunity.
iRunFar: Thank you, Troy. Best of luck out there, and show the kids how to do it.
Howard: Yeah, likewise. Thanks, Bryon. Good luck.