|1998 Hardrock 100
Wild & Tough It is that and more
Winning the 1992 and 93 Hardrock 100 miler was a great thrill for me. I wanted to win another one before I got too old. In 96 I took the lead around 43 miles and was passed by Rick Trujillo (paced by Ricky Denesik) at 80 miles, finally finishing in third place behind Trujillo and Mark Hartell. In 97 the course record was lowered by Hartell and his running buddy from England to 30:33. In 98 Trujillo and the Englishmen were not competing. I thought, here's my chance. WRONG. Ricky Denesik, who set the climbing record for Colorado's Fourteeners in 97, was running his first 100 miler. Also, Kirk Apt, previous top finisher and past winner of Leadville 100, was running. Then, I kept hearing about Randy Isler (third in 97) and how hard he was training. To make things even more difficult, my good friends from VA (Scott Mills & Joe Clapper) were there to keep me honest (they tied for 6th place in 96 and knew the course).
I arrived in Ouray on June 19th. Eliza Maclean arrived on June 21st as we stayed at the Marmot Executive Inn (a.k.a. Rick Trujillo's house) for our pre-race training. Scott Mills and Joe Clapper also arrived in Colorado about this time as well.
The next two weeks were spent in running sections of the course and doing adventure runs on the surrounding fourteener (Sneffels, Wilson Peak, Mt. Wilson, Uncomprehage, Wetterhorn, and others). It was unbelievable as to how much snow was still there. If you did not get off the mountains before noon, you were constantly post-holing in the snow. I had also forgotten how beautiful, spectacular, awe-inspiring, and "difficult" the San Juans are. I have never been in a more beautiful place. Training in paradise was hard but a real blessing. During those two weeks there was no rain and the sun's rays were very strong and were fast melting the snow. Josh Cox (winner and course record holder of the Mountain Masochist) came out to train and help crew and pace me. After 3 or 4 days of training with us, his quads were so sore he had difficulty walking down steps (he loved it though). Scotty, Joe, Eliza, Josh, and I had some wonderful training (adventure runs) at least I thought so. (Joe Clapper wrote two reports that are posted on the VHTRC site. Follow these links to get there. 1st Report and 2nd Report)
Pictures from some of the training runs prior to the race are here.
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I enjoyed myself until Monday of race week. Then, the reality of the race become uppermost in my mind. The fun time was over. Self-doubts became prevalent. My right knee, that I had banged against a rock in training, made me limp when I ran. My habitual problem, tight left hamstring, began to act up even more than usual. Was I really ready?
As I expected, Randy Isler took the early lead. Ricky Denesik, much to my delight, went out with Randy. Scott Mills, Joe Clapper, Kirk Apt, and I stayed fairly close together through the Sherman aid station (32 miles). This is my favorite section of the course. Most of it is above treeline and on the Continental Divide. The views were spectacular. We saw elk, marmots, and were able to enjoy the mountain streams and high country lakes. However, all things were not going well for me. For whatever reason, my stomach and under my sternum felt extremely tight, like I was going to explode or something. I could eat and drink only small amounts. I felt very uncomfortable.
Things only got worse as we left the Sherman aid station. I ate quite a bit there, but it did not sit well. The course follows an old road for the next 2-3 miles. At that point you begin a very, very, very difficult climb up Boulder Gulch and on to the highest point in the race (Handies Peak, 14048'). I died and crawled and stopped and rested and died and crawled all the way up. Joe, Scotty, and Kirk left me in the dust. To add insult to injury, it started snowing on me going up Handies and I started getting very cold. I made up my mind that when I got to the next aid station (Grouse Gulch - 42 miles) I was going to quit but the first thing Scott Grierson (Maineak) said to me was, "You better not quit!" I must have looked bad. Maineak had just arrived from Vermont. He had been crewing Andrew Thompson in his unsuccessful attempt to break my Appalachian Trail speed record.
As I left this aid station, it began to sleet and then a pouring rainstorm commenced. I guess God was testing my resolve. As I made my way up Engineer Mountain, I could see Joe, Scotty, and Kirk off in the distance probably 15-20 minutes or more ahead of me.
I thought, I'll just make it to the Ouray I started feeling better; even though I threw up twice when I tried to chase a packet of Gu with Power Gel. Looking at my watch, I realized that I was going to get into Ouray about the same time as I did in 96. I was not going slow, everyone else was just going fast.
By the time I sat down at the aid station in Ouray, I felt good, better than I had at any previous point in the race. I ate about 1/4 of a hamburger and it tasted good. Josh Cox (pacer) left with me as darkness set in. As we made the long climb out of Ouray, we noticed that the tops of the mountains were lit up as if a light was shining on them. As we got higher we realized what it was the night was clear and there was a full moon flashlights were seldom needed the rest of the night. I was still in 6th place, but my spirits were much improved. As we neared Virginius Pass we could see the light of one runner ahead of us. As we descended down into Telluride (73 miles) we passed Joe and his pacer. Arriving at the aid station, I was very pleasantly surprised to find Scotty and Kirk still at the aid station. They also told me that Isler has just left!!!
Boy, did that motivate me, seeing those two and knowing that the second place runner was very close. Within two miles of leaving Telluride, we had passed Isler and left Scotty, Joe, and Kirk behind 2nd place was ours if I could maintain a good pace.
We slid off a rock hard ice field (it was 4 or 5:00 a.m.) near the top of Oscars Pass. We made good progress down to the aid station at Chapman Gulch (82 miles). This was the same point where I caught back up (momentarily) with Rick Trujillo. However, Denesik paced Trujillo quickly out of site thereafter. As I checked into the aid station, I asked about how far Denesik was ahead. They said he had been sick and throwing up and was in trouble. A chance for victory!!! They told him I was in the aid station and he jumped out of his truck and took off with Trujillo.
Josh and I took off shortly thereafter. Just like in 96, however, they left me on the climb up Grant-Swamp Pass. I hit a low point and my appearance really spurred him on. By the time the two Ricks (stick legs their legs go up to their armpits) reached the pass they had a 20 minute or more lead on me.
Grant-Swamp Pass is very difficult, especially the last 200-300 feet. This section is just a scree slope. It is like trying to go up a hill on marbles. I had Josh in front of me so I could see where there was some relatively stable footing. About 30 yards from the top, he dislodged some rocks. He hollered at me and I was able to get everything out of the way except my right hand. One big boulder struck my hand. It hurt immensely but only for a few seconds. I had gloves on which helped some. I looked at my hand and the ring finger was crooked. I took the glove off and knew the finger was broken. I put the glove back on to protect it. A little later I noticed that my glove was soaked through with blood. I did not realize at the time that it was an open, compound fracture the bone had broken through the skin. Saturday night they performed emergency surgery and put two pins in my finger. They fed me antibiotics Saturday night and Sunday. The pins will have to stay in 3-4 weeks.
The finger really did not hurt the rest of the race. Only when I woke up from surgery did it hurt again.
We never did catch sight of the "Rickys" again. I made fair progress downhill and slow progress uphill. On reaching the last aid station (95.1 miles and 6.2 miles to go total 101.3) I realized I could break the old course record of 30:33 even if I could not catch Denesik. I ran hard from there in and was pleased to finish in my best time ever (30:27). I would have liked to been first, but I am satisfied because I did my best and ran well. Maybe next time neither Rick will run the race.
P.S. 1: The top six runners and the 1st woman either lived at altitude or arrived 3 weeks before race date in CO.
P.S. 2: Three of the top six runners were from VA and members of the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club.
P.S. 3: We are not invincible, i.e., my finger, Joel Zucker.
PS. 4: I feel for the Zucker family and their loss.
P.S.. 5: Lord willing, I will return to Hardrock in 2000??
P.S. 6: I finished 3 laps (20 miles per lap) at Barkley in 30:23 in April and 100 miles of Hardrock in 30:27???
We have included a few interesting charts about the Hardrock 100.