Hardrock 100 a Lesson in Gratitude By Rhonda Claridge
itting in the outhouse at Burrows Park, I could hear the breathing and patter of runners as they passed by outside, crossing over a tributary of the Gunnison River to begin the 4,000foot climb up Handies Peak. I had trained for years for this singular event—the Hardrock— a 100-mile footrace on mostly singletrack from Silverton to Ouray, to Telluride, to Ophir (where I live), back to Silverton, over 11 mountain passes and up 33,992 vertical feet—almost 5,000 feet higher than Mount Everest. I had run in blizzards, mud, rain, dust storms and mind-bending heat. I had forgone both indulgences and meaningful experiences to log miles on foot, bike or skis, for one to six hours, six days a week. I had become accustomed to functioning in a fatigueinduced mental fog for half a year. Now, just 32 miles and eight hours into the race, I was losing everything—my intentions, efforts, hopes. It wasn’t nerves or the usual gastrointestinal distress that comes with distance running; it was too late for the former and too soon for the latter. It was a stomach bug. As I admitted to myself that I was finished—the race was over for me—a profound self-loathing set in.
An hour passed. I washed my face in the Lake Fork. Would I walk back three miles to the Sherman aid station or continue over Handies 10 miles to the next aid station at Grouse and quit there? Logistically, it seemed easiest to go on. Sad and bitter, I set off, half-heartedly climbing a pine-needle trail through the forest. Occasionally, the conifers gave way to aspen groves and open meadows. A mist of rain fell through the sunlight, shooting rainbows, and a few deer raised their heads and swatted their tails. I couldn’t eat or drink—my stomach cramped in fits—but the scenery was comforting. Above treeline, two hours later, I pushed myself up the steep switchbacks. At the top, just over 14,000 feet, I paused to look around. It was a windless, quiet afternoon, rare for that high in the atmosphere. Small, popcorn clouds studded the sky, all on one plane. Down in the valleys, the sun had already set, but here it lingered, silhouetting the peaks and accenting the iron-red slopes of adjacent ridges in an autumn light. Every view was long and vast and three dimensional. Below, two alpine lakes shone like plates of mica. A few other Hardrock runners sat near the summit, silent and blissed out. They smiled like monks as I passed them. It was my fifth ascent of Handies. One time, pacing a Hardrock runner, I had topped out here at 1 a.m. The night was warm, and pink sheet lightning illuminated distant mountains in pulses. The San Juans were like a map of memories: bike riding around the Wilsons, skiing US Grant, climbing Mt. Sneffels on my way home from work... The race was over—the joke was on me—but I was still glad to be up there. I kept my gaze on the blue lakes shrouded in brown folds, and soon I was rounding their shores.