Four years ago, I finished the Hardrock 100 for the second time in a time of 41:51. It was the single most difficult run of my life. In the years that have passed since that day, I have thought often of all the different factors that went into making it so difficult, and there were many. However, in reflecting on that day, I also realize that I learned more in those 41-plus hours than in perhaps any other experience of my life. And, it is in that context of learning that I have returned to the San Juan Mountains this past week in an attempt to redeem myself, or at least come to a place of peace with that excruciatingly difficult day four years ago.
I was having a pretty decent day back in 2016 until about mile 70 when the wheels began to fall off. By mile 80, those wheels were flying down the mountains and by mile 90 I was reduced to a stumbling mess with no wheels to be found anywhere. I arrived at the Cunningham Gulch Aid Station at mile 91 and knew I needed to regroup if I had any hope of finishing. After loading up on about 1,000 calories and taking a three-hour nap, I confronted the task at hand, the 2,600 foot climb up Little Giant Pass and the long, technical descent into Silverton, Colorado, where the race starts and ends. In the end, I traversed those nine miles, accompanied by my son Carson, in just over six hours. It wasn’t pretty but I got it done.
And so it was, with redemption on my mind, that I returned to Cunningham Gulch this week, to run the final nine miles of the race course on my terms. My good friend Bryon Powell, with whom I have shared countless miles over the past 15 years, was accompanying me as we forded Cunningham Creek and began the inexorable climb up to Little Giant. I fell into a steady rhythm and worked to keep my breathing steady. Within minutes, my mind wandered back to 2016, and the struggle this climb had caused me back then. While I certainly did not have 91 miles on my legs this time, it felt refreshing to tackle this climb on my terms, and as I gained elevation a smile crept onto my face.
We crested the summit in 1:12 and looked out onto the stunning valleys below. Bryon took my picture in the exact spot where Carson had snapped a selfie of us four years before and we began navigating the technical descent down to Silverton. After the lung-busting effort of the climb, the descent was delightfully chill. Except for the anxiety-inducing gravel sections which required some on-all-fours navigation, Bryon and I quickly fell into our usual chatty routine and were back to Silverton before we knew it. When we crossed in front of the Silverton High School gym, a familiar feeling of satisfaction washed over me, and I felt renewed.
Having thought of the climb up Little Giant almost every day since 2016, it felt cathartic to get up and over it in the company of my good friend Bryon. And, while I am nowhere near in the kind of shape I was when I first came to the San Juans over a decade ago, that really doesn’t matter at this point. What matters to me, most of all, is that this “redemption run” has allowed me to unequivocally put the painful memories of the 2016 Hardrock 100 behind me and to begin looking forward to whatever may be ahead, even if it happens to be another 13,000-foot pass.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Ska Brewing Company in Durango, Colorado. A wonderfully fresh tasting sour ale made with apples, ginger, carrots, and beets, Pink Vapor Stew is complex and balanced and the perfect post-run summer brew, especially if you’re searching for a little redemption.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Have you had a “redemption run” where you’ve returned to a place or outing at which you’ve previously struggled?
- If so, can you share how your return experience went?