That One Goal

AJW's TaproomAt the 2016 Hardrock 100, co-winners Jason Schlarb and Kilian Jornet had the fastest split of all 114 finishers for the 9.1-mile section between Cunningham Gulch, the race’s final aid station, and the finish line in Silverton, Colorado. They completed that section in 2 hours and 14 minutes. On the other end of the spectrum that weekend was the slowest of the 114 finishers from Cunningham to Silverton, me, in an excruciating and soul-crushing 6:43. Yep, you read that right, 6 hours and 43 minutes to cover 9.1 miles! It was the most difficult thing I have done in my running life.

I have looked back on that day relentlessly over the intervening 18 months and while I have concluded there were several critical mistakes that I made leading up to the race and on race day, I have chosen not to dwell on those. Rather, I made the decision about a month after the race to chalk the errors up to experience, take away whatever education I could, and look ahead to the next time I get to tackle that piece of trail.

Well, as luck would have it, that day is coming in July of 2018 when I return to run Hardrock again.

This is the time of year when many of us look ahead to the new year and set goals, open ourselves up to dreams, and take stock of where we’ve been and where we’re headed. Looking at my life with the fresh perspective only a new year brings allows me to reflect and revise and set a course for the year which can perhaps propel me to a place where I have yet to go. In the year ahead, the place that speaks most loudly to me is Cunningham Gulch, deep in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. This place, a deep valley encircled by massive mountains, has become a symbol to me, a symbol of both failure and hope.

In the context of failure and hope, my goal for 2018 is to work hard enough, smart enough, and hopeful enough to arrive at Cunningham Gulch sometime in the morning of July 23rd in one piece, a piece containing a sound mind, a healthy body, and a soaring heart. I want to arrive there and look up at the wall of mountains ahead of me not in fear but in joy. I want to find myself in a state of being that allows me to overcome the demons of 2016 and emerge out the other side stronger, smarter, and better than I was when I got there.

It will not be easy. The darkness of that day in July of 2016 is very real to me and the prospect of failure is every bit as real as the hope for success. As an optimist, of course, I have to believe that I can achieve this goal but only through doing what I know needs to be done, listening intently to my body and the smarter people around me, and seeking answers to the questions I am not quite sure how to ask. Because, if I can be honest, I don’t yet know what the path to meeting this elusive goal looks like. And, in this, I look joyously ahead to a year of running in 2018 which I can only believe will be my best one yet.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Three Notch’d Brewing Company Biggie S’MoresThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Three Notch’d Brewing Company in Charlottesville, Virginia. I visited the brewery this week and enjoyed their incredible Milk Stout Biggie S’Mores. This 8.4 ABV stout, while sweet, is also nicely complex and great with food. While some might call it a dessert beer, I think it’s more versatile than that and well worth a try the next time you can get your hands on a bottle of it.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you have a day from your racing or adventuring that stands out as a difficult moment for you and that shapes your future hopes for yourself in our sport?
  • What elusive goals do you have in running that you are yet to reach?
AJW training in Cunningham Gulch before 2016 Hardrock

AJW training above Cunningham Gulch before the 2016 Hardrock 100. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

AJW and Carson during 2016 Hardrock 100

AJW and his son Carson during on Little Giant, between Cunningham and Silverton, during the 2017 Hardrock 100. Photo courtesy of AJW.

There are 13 comments

  1. Brandon

    Optimism is an important word to remember and we often have to dig deep to find it. I can only imagine how hard it must be to find any shreds of optimism deep into Hardrock and staring up at yet another climb. Best of luck to you, AJW, and to all who have big hairy audacious goals in 2018.

  2. Run GMD

    Great Beer of the Week, this week! One of my local favorites. To my taste, though, Biggie S’mores is one for sippin’ on its own by the fireside. A good food pairing escapes me. My only wish is that Three Notch’d would package it in something smaller than 22s.

    It would have been easy for you to write an “unfinished business” post about Cunningham, about your return to extract your revenge after the 2016 experience. But doing the easy thing isn’t what we’re about. So I admire you taking the high road in your vision – hope, joy, dreams, journeys to new places. That joyful optimism has always come though in your posts, AJW, but here, now, in the dark depths of our winter, it rang especially true for me.

    In the spirit of the original Biggie, may you “climb the ladder to success, escalator style” in 2018, AJW.

    1. Brady

      … and holding hands at the finish? That’d a strong contender for the 2018 bro-mance of the year it would.Rooting for both of you guys. Can only imagine the butterflies-feeling knowing that you get to / have to run that beast. Look forward to hearing all about it.

      1. Bryon Powell

        Ha. I don’t remember AJW’s take on handholding, but I’m pretty dang sure that I’d be game for it, as I would be with anyone with whom I spent a decent chunk of even the last 10 miles with. While I aim for something approaching my best at Hardrock, I’m simultaneously hoping that others get the best out of themselves. I’ll never forget the encouragement that myself, Nick Coury, Timmy Olson, and Scott Jaime gave one another the final 25 miles of Hardrock two years ago. I was pulling for them as hard as I was for myself and I felt the same out of them. It was awesome. :-)

        1. AJW

          If I can hang with Powell I would most certainly do the handholding/simultaneous rock kiss thing with him. Hardrock is much more about being in community than in being in a race.

  3. John Lutz Dickinson

    That reminds me of the first (only) 50k I ran. I basically walked (hobbled) the last 10 miles of the Sage Burner in 2014. I have run longer since then, completing a 38-miler (Telluride Mountain Run) in 2015. I had issues on that one with feeding. Undeterred, I am still hoping to raise the bar to complete a 55 miler: Box Canyon 55 here I come!

  4. Sean

    A difficult moment that shapes my future hopes in the sport… I am a masters runner who started running Ultras this year. In November I ran my first 100 miler, I did lots of reading about folks highs and lows over the course of a long day and how some event or stomach reset let to a rebirth of energy, emotion and performance somewhere in the mix of the 100 miles. My 100 was a slow decent, I was able to push through and I continue on to the finish, it wasn’t to much of a high or a low. I found goal success but I also felt like I missed some of the experience. I may be able to find it in the mountains by going taller and slower, my first goal was a time goal for the 100. Maybe I just need to let the watch go.

  5. Andy M

    Nicely written piece about hope, optimism, and visions of success that are at the core of what drives us, again and again, in these crazy ultra-endeavors. Thanks AJW! Though I do have to say that I did think it a tad ironic that “the darkness of that day” and the “prospect of failure” sound more like albatrosses from a DNF than from a triumph of will in a successful, albeit withering, finish.

    For me, it’s those bitter, late-night and long-mileage DNFs that, as Meghan asks, “shape my future hopes” to return and conquer. Of course, one of the uniquely perverse features of ultras that breeds perpetually renewed optimism is that one never knows what the day will bring. At least for me, to disperse the shadow born of late-night DNFs there have also been mile-90 miracles in which, after being at death’s door one mile earlier, I rose like the phoenix and flew (on fresh legs!) to the finish. With experiences like that, optimism and a soaring heart are always waiting at the next starting gun.

  6. Phillip

    Finished UTMB this year after failing in previous attempts – a brilliant high made all the hard work so worthwhile – the “what next” and finding motivation to keep going is just as hard in hindsight (reread the Zach Miller article again today on his highs and lows post major race and took a lot away from that). Best of luck for 2018 and Hardrock

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