May 23, 2020

Good Bye Hard Rock - Time to Just Run Again

Start of the 2017 Hard Rock 100

          "A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject."

                                                                                         Winston Churchill 


There comes a time when one should change paths. That time, for me, is now.

After following a certain path blindly for four straight years, I'm opening my eyes to search anew.

It was late July 2016 when, like a dope, I discovered the race I had just completed - the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 (TRT 100) - was NOT a qualifier for the Hard Rock 100. Why I didn't just look at the list of Hard Rock qualifiers before entering the TRT is, well, part of the dope designation. Maybe I wasn't really considering Hard Rock until after I ran TRT, or maybe I just assumed that TRT was a qualifier. Whatever. That was 4 years ago and I just don't remember the details.

But then I became obsessed. Probably because running Hard Rock is, in the ultra running world anyway, considered a right-of-passage. Why this is the case I'm not totally sure but it probably has something to do with 30,000 feet of climbing in the San Juan Mountains, altitudes that surpass 14,000, and a tradition of difficulty. The race makes the Leadville 100 look like high school cross country course.

Fast forward to 2017 when, unlike my inner dope, I did my homework on which races were qualifiers for Hard Rock and signed up for Bighorn 100. Notwithstanding the nightmarish conditions of that race, I finished it and promptly sent in my application to the 2018 Hard Rock lottery. The odds weren't in my favor. I recall something like 1 in 1000.

No dice.

So in early 2018 I started to prep for another Big Horn to qualify for the 2019 Hard Rock lottery. But, just as my training miles began to ramp up, I stumbled onto a nuance about Hard Rock qualifiers  -- they are eligible for two years. I promptly cancelled my plans (and training) to race Big Horn and entered the 2019 Hard Rock lottery. Again, no dice. Like a robot, I then set my sights on finding another qualifier in 2019. But then the 2019 Hard Rock was cancelled due to excessive snow. All 2019 runners were granted entry to the 2020 Hard Rock, which meant the earliest I could run this elusive race would be 2021, assuming I qualified.

So last year I signed up for the Tahoe 200 miler, thinking why not? If you're going to go long, why not go really, really long. Unlike the TRT 100, the Tahoe 200 is a Hard Rock qualifier. As the race approached, I was out on a training run high in the San Bernardino Mountains. From the corner of my eye I spotted a shadow on the mountain road. Only there were no trees or anything that could create a shadow. I stopped to look around. When I looked up I saw the silhouette of a hawk hovering between me and the sun high in the sky. The shadow seemed to be tracking me for several minutes along that mountain road. Surreal.

When I returned from that run I had a vision, and it didn't include running the Tahoe 200 mile. It took me instead to the Mogollon Monster 100, a beast of a run in the mountains of Arizona. This one turned out to be my worst performance in my less than stellar ultra running career. I finished, but it took me 30 hours. Yes, the course was absurdly difficult with more technical terrain than I've ever encountered, but it really had me questioning why. Why am I doing this? Why am I out on these trails, crawling up near vertical terrain when I could be actually running on a trail?

I finished the wretched Mogollon Monster and, once again, qualified for the Hard Rock 100, to be held in 2021. Then Covid hit, pushing the 2021 date to 2022.

I think it is time to change paths, find a new trail. One that doesn't involve toiling up and down mountains and always seeking vertical in training, just to get shut down by a lottery. Maybe it is time to just run again.

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