Chris Twiggs, the Chief Training Officer & National Program Director at Jeff Galloway Productions, likes his ultras. And he likes them tough. His favorite ultra, Colorado’s Hardrock 100, had been canceled two years in a row—first due to avalanches, then for COVID. So he wasn’t about to miss the 2021 edition.
Two weeks ago, Twiggs joined approximately 150 hardy runners tackling the mountain race. Even among ultraruns, Hardrock is known as one of the toughest. It’s an extremely challenging course linking the Lake City, Ouray, Telluride, and Silverton areas High in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Hardrock always starts and finishes in the old mining town of Silverton, but reverses direction each year. As the name implies, the course is 100 miles long. What’s not as well known is that it has a cumulative vertical gain of 33,050 feet of climb and 33,050 feet of descent for a total elevation change of 66,100 feet and takes place at an average elevation of about 11,000 feet. The high point is 14,048 feet.
Hardrock is so tough, that unlike the 24-hour cutoff that most 100-milers have, it has a 48-hour cut-off for runners. Those who finish over 48 are not credited in the results
Twiggs, 50 was aiming for his 15th finish, all under 48 hours. But a little hitch in his training happened last January: a bout of COVID-19.
“I was pretty lucky. I was able to overcome COVID in a few weeks with no long-term effects,” said Twiggs. So fortunately, he was able to resume his 50-mile a week training routine and get back on track.
On the morning of Friday, July 16, after a breakfast of an egg and cheese biscuit, coffee and juice, Twiggs started up the mountains outside of Silverton at 6:00 a.m.
“I was excited about it,” he said. “I didn’t have any question about finishing it. I had trained with a group and all of us had multiple finishes.”
“It’s not my first rodeo,” he added. “But anything can happen. I believe its 100% physical, 100% mental, and 100% luck.”
Twiggs had done the rigorous physically training, hiking and running through Colorado’s San Juans. So what’s left is the mental aspect.
“Mentally, I know it’s going to be hard, and there are going to be challenges,” he said. “But I know I’m going to get through them because I have always gotten through them.” One year, Twiggs actually broke his shoulder four days before Hardrock and still finished it under 48 hours.
It’s All About Confidence
“I feel like if I am going to start this race, I have to have the confidence that I’ll finish it,” said Twiggs. “This year there was not a huge amount of snow. There was still snow on Virginius Pass, but the only real snowy patch was on Oscar’s Pass, a 13,000-foot peak. That was a bit tricky, deciding whether to glissade down or not.”
“Overall, this year’s weather was about the best I’ve ever had there,” said Twiggs. “One year I was caught in terrifying thunderstorm, crossing Little Giant, an exposed section well above tree line.
By 6:00 p.m., Friday evening, Twiggs was climbing Handy’s Peak, after a long, long ascent up the 14,000 footer in the heat of the day.
“My strategy was to go slow in the first quarter of the race, so I’d have enough energy. I usually rest a lot on that climb, but this year I was able to climb it all in one haul.:
The course then took him down about 2,000 feet before climbing again about 30 miles into the race. The next 12 miles were not easy, but they brought Twiggs to the Grouse Gulch aid station, just past sunset at 42 miles. From there, he ran through the night with his wife Diana pacing him to Bear Creek Trail in Ouray at 58 miles.
“I felt really good at that point,” said Twiggs. “Pacers help tremendously. I knew the sun would come up, and I’m stronger in the second half.”
Fueled by Tailwind (an endurance nutrition drink), peanut butter crackers, perogies, coke, and ginger-ale, Twiggs had another friend pace him from Ouray to the Chapman Gulch aid station at mile 82. They pushed pretty hard, running uphill, rather than powerwalking.
Twiggs’ last pacer, a woman named Tina Ure, who’s finished Hardrock six times, took him from Chapman Gulch on to the finish, picking up veteran ultrarunner Scotty Mills along the way.
“The last section, I ran with Scotty Mills, a 70-year old guy who was finishing his 10th Hardrock, and I slowed down to stay with him,” said Twiggs. “We had plenty of time to finish well under the 48-hour cutoff. In the wee hours of Sunday morning, at the top of the last climb, at 13,000 feet, we turned off our headlamps, and took a moment to gaze at the stars. It was pretty meaningful.”
Twiggs finished at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday morning in around 45 hours and 10 minutes.
“All in all, I think that the benefits of running Hardrock outweigh the negatives,” said Twiggs. “I’ve done 20 100-mile races and run lots of miles in training. The fitness that I get from that type of training works well for my body. There’s a massive mental benefit in finishing a 100-miler. You could fail! But putting yourself in that position and then succeeding is great. An annual 100-miler reminds that when things get tough, they’ll get better. And they may get worse again, and then they’ll get better again. The message I learn is, ‘I can gut this out. I have it in me to get through these challenges.’”
Upcoming Races: Saturday, August 7 at 8:00 a.m., the Rattler Run 5K, 2601 Rattler Road in San Marcos. Saturday, August 7, Capt’n Karl’s Trail Series – Muleshoe Bend—60K, 30K, 20K, 10K, 5K trail runs. Events start at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, and end by 7:00 a.m. on Sunday, August 8.