The Pursuit of Happiness

Over the past 6 years, I have traveled down to the San Juan mountains in Southern Colorado to take part in the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run. The first time I saw the San Juans was close to 15 years ago while attending Fort Lewis College in Durango on an exchange program from my university in France. I was instantly taken by the unique splendor of the area, but also the warm welcome of the community.

I felt at home, not in the visual sense, since I grew up by the ocean surrounded by vineyards and rolling hills, but there was something about the place that really struck a chord with me. During my year and a half in Durango, I only scratched the surface of what the area had to offer, but I knew in the future I would come back as often as I could.

In 2011, I was living in northern Colorado just outside of Boulder with my wife and I was fortunate to gain acceptance through the lottery to run the Hardrock Hundred.

I had not run much of the course, nor did I have much experience running 100 miles, but I was filled with an unreasonable amount of excitement at the thought of taking on such a challenge. During the race I struggled with stomach issues, the altitude, and got lost a number of times, including tagging an extra pass before Grant-Swamp, much to the dismay of my pacer Dylan Bowman.

I did get around the course though and kissed the rock. My first thought was I hope I get in again next year. And, I did!

In 2012, I came back much more prepared, battling with Hal and Dakota throughout, to run one of one my best races ever and certainly on a personal level one of the more exciting.

It is difficult to not want more of a good thing so with my lottery tickets accumulating, I reapplied and got lucky again with the draw in 2013.

Having now finished twice, and in both directions, I felt confident in my ability to tackle the course, but my preparation was compromised having just bought a new home and moved in during the weeks leading up to the event. I was stressed and preoccupied by a number of factors and neglected my health. At mile 40, I was peeing blood, thought I might have renal failure (in fact it was kidney stones), and dropped out shortly after.

In 2014, I was back with more determination than ever. My good friend Seb Chaigneau was also in the race and came to visit me in Boulder three weeks prior to the start. We went on an intense training binge making our way down to the San Juans via the Indian Peaks and the Sawatch, running many 13ers and 14ers, and capping off the training block with a three-day, arduous run around the course. Needless to say, we showed up exhausted and over trained. I tore my quadricep in the first 25 miles and Seb suffered from adrenal fatigue. We both dropped at Grouse Gulch 60 miles into the race.

In 2015, my lottery luck ran out so I got to see Hardrock from a different perspective, crewing and pacing for Bryon Powell–a great experience and a nice way to appreciate the race from another angle.

This brings us to 2016. Ten days before Hardrock, I got a call from race director Dale Garland informing me that I had moved off the waitlist and was now in the race. Starting at number 7 on the waist list, I had high hopes of getting in and had trained throughout the spring as if I was already accepted.

I went into this year’s event with confidence in my ability and my fitness as well as humility from my past experiences.

I started conservatively with a simple plan to enjoy the race and make it back around to Silverton to kiss the rock.

2016 Hardrock 100 - Joe Grant - Grant-Swamp Pass

Climbing up Grant-Swamp Pass. Photo: Galen Burrell

Everything was going well as I neared Ouray at mile 45. I was in 4th place, a bit fatigued from the heat and 9+ hours of running, but well in control and ready to take on the second half of the course. As I was crossing through the low tunnel past Box Canyon, I inadvertently stood up, smacking the top of my head hard on the tunnel roof and landing flat on my back. I lay there for a second dizzy and a bit confused, before stumbling out of the tunnel and running down to the aid station. With all the commotion and energy in Ouray I had a hard time gauging how I was feeling. My crew iced my head, fed me and re-packed my bag and I left with Dominic Grossman, who jumped in as a pacer just in case my head worsened.

Within a couple of miles, I felt blurry and my balance was impaired. I stopped to soak in the river, before continuing on up Bear Creek Trail. Dominic was trying to provide as much encouragement as he could, from jokes and lighthearted puns, to more philosophical and existential ruminations. I mainly just grunted, not that I did not appreciate his efforts, but I simply could not do more than try to put one foot in the front of the other.

At some point, and I forget exactly how his comment came about, he said something along the lines of “isn’t this what it’s all about? The pursuit of happiness…not the race as such, that’s just an excuse to get together…it seems to me that what’s important is the shared experience…for better or for worse this is an incredible moment.”

Shortly after that comment, I sat down in the shade, to rest, eat, drink, and assess whether or not I should continue. I had a hard time disassociating from my attachment to the race with the real risk that I might further damage myself and potentially cause a medical emergency high up on the mountain. It seemed inconceivable to me, and so frustrating, that here I was again contemplating dropping out of Hardrock for a stupid mistake.

Many runners, Frosty, Nick Clark, Troy Howard, to only name a few, stopped in the middle of their race to sit for a moment and check on me. I was taken aback by their kindness and genuine concern, a sentiment representative of most of the interactions I have had on the course. The love and support of the community is tangible and extraordinary, from Roch Horton massaging my back on the top of Virginius Pass, to Jenny Vierling finding me an impromptu pacer, to so many others stepping in to help, voice encouragements or simply share the joy of being in the San Juans.

2016 Hardrock 100 - Bear Creek Trail - Joe Grant

Sitting on the Bear Creek Trail. Photo: Joe Grant

Will Carlton, Rickey Gates, and Dom sat through the worst of it. I asked them for counsel on what I should do.

“No one will tell you to drop, but just know we’re all really concerned for you.” Was Rickey’s reply.

After about an hour, I stood up, my headache had worsened, I felt nauseous and muddled, and my balance was shaky.

“I don’t think I should continue. I’m going to walk back down to the highway and call my wife to pick me up.” I told Rickey, Will, and Dom.

As I stumbled back down the trail, I thought to myself look how much people care, how strong and tight knit this community is.

When feeling vulnerable, emotions are always heightened, but I think it is important to recognize in retrospect how meaningful and impactful these interactions truly are.

Of course, I felt extremely disappointed with my race, but, then, perhaps, that is really just missing the point. I find that Jason and Kilian, finishing hand in hand, touched at the essence of what makes Hardrock so special.

Ultimately, it is not about the race, how fast or slow we run, it is about the people and the shared experiences, and that togetherness is for me what makes running in the mountains so meaningful.

Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.