Hardrock 100 pushes Steamboat Springs athletes to new heights in San Juans

Donnie Haubert 's six-year-old daughter, HarperÊ Rae puts a medal around her dads neck after he finished the Hardrock 100 last Saturday. His other daughter Emma Grace is in the background along with race director Dale Garland.
Courtesy Donnie Haubert

Runners like Donnie Haubert are drawn to the Hardrock 100 for its unparalleled beauty, its seemingly unending challenges and the opportunity to be a part of something most people will never dream of attempting.

“It was a very competitive race this year, Haubert said after trekking 100 miles over some of Colorado’s tallest mountain ranges during the 2017 Hardrock 100 endurance race. “Last year, a guy ran the race in  31 hours, 58 minutes and finished in 10th place.”

This year, Haubert, one of four racers from Steamboat Springs in the field, finished the course in 31 hours, 47 minutes to place 23rd in the field of 150 runners. He was well outside the top-10, but also far from disappointed with the result. Other runners included Alex Pashley who ran the course in 38 hours, 27.22 minutes to place 62nd, Will Carlton who finished the course in 40 hours, 44 minutes to place 76th and Amanda Grimes who completed the course in 46 hours, 49 minutes to place 114th.

“It was a super solid international field,” Haubert said. “It is a truly amazing race. You will alway have rough patches in a race like this — there are no guarantees.”

Haubert said runners face numerous challenges, including unpredictable weather, nutrition and other obstacles as they make their way over scenic mountain passes, through creeks filled with runoff and up steep climbs that burn the lungs.

This year, his biggest challenge came early in the race.

“We knew when we left Steamboat that the monsoonal flows would be in full effect in the San Juan Mountains,” Haubert said. “I was about 20 miles in and near the top of a 13,000 foot peak when a storm moved into the area. There was lightning and thunder, and then, it started hailing.”

In less than half an hour, 4 inches of hail had made the trails dangerous and nearly impossible to traverse, so Haubert took cover in a bush — about the only thing he could find at that elevation. He was able to pull on some Gortex and cold weather gear to ride out the storm, but he did more than that, guiding other runners to the limited shelter so they could get into their packs and find the gear they needed. The weather remained nasty, but eventually, the group headed to the next aid station, which was about 4 miles away.

It reminded Haubert of his first endurance race, a 50-mile, 2009 event that took him over the Continental Divide. In that race, a friend had offered to fill the water bladder in his Camel pack but had accidentally neglected to put his cold weather gear back in before he left the aid station. The temperatures dropped from 75 degrees  to 30 degrees before he noticed his warm clothes were not on his back. When it started snowing, the only thing he could do was put his head down and keep pushing.

As he made his way through the snow, another runner, Jenna Gruben Morrill, offered him help and support until he could make it to the next aid station. Gruben Morrill was killed in an auto accident in 2010, but Haubert has never forgotten her kindness and support. He said it’s one of the reasons he still runs endurance races today.

“It was like it had come full circle,” Haubert said. “I felt like it was my turn to give back. When I saw these runners struggling, it reminded me of my first race, and I wanted to do what I could to help them out.”

He said there is nothing like running through some of Colorado’s most beautiful mountains, and there is an underlying foundation of support that comes from the other athletes, the volunteers and the folks who come out to cheer the runners.

This year, it was even better for the veteran runner, as his daughters, Emma Grace, 9, and Harper  Rae, 6, joined him for the final 1000-meters of the race. Race organizers let Harper Rae put the medal around her father’s neck in the awards area. Emma Grace was only 2 years old the first time her dad ran in the Hardrock.

“It’s a huge  opportunity, just to get to run in it, and you want to make the most of that opportunity,” Haubert said. “It was a very special race for me in so many different ways.”

The fourth Steamboat Springs runner, Alex Pashley, also understands just how important the opportunity is.

This year, he did not win a spot in the lottery, but was listed as No. 6 on the wait list. Because, last year, only the top four people on that list were selected, he wasn’t optimistic about his chances to get into the event. So, when the phone rang seven weeks ago, he wasn’t expecting a race organizer to be on the other end offering him a spot.

“This is the fourth year that I’ve applied. There are people who have applied seven or eight years that have not gotten in,” Pashley said.  “So, when I was offered a shot, I had to take it, and I knew that I had to finish it, because there are so many really good runners who want to race.”

Each year, about 2,000 people enter a race lottery, and only 145 are chosen. Top runners are not given a preference, but the lottery is weighted to allow veterans a slightly better shot.

Will Carlton, who has been selected and competed in the Hardrock four times, said the attraction of this race has a lot to do with where it is held, but added that the runners also enjoy the challenges of heading into the backcountry.

“This race is why we live here,” Carlton said of the Hardrock. “To be in the mountains, surrounded by this kind of beauty. It’s an amazing event.”

This year, Carlton placed 76th with a time of 40 hours, 44 minutes. He acknowledged there were times he wondered why he was on the course and pushing through the pain by choice. But by the time he reached the finish line, those feelings were gone, and he said he will most likely enter the lottery again next year for another chance at the race.

“The main goal is to test your limits and fight through to the finish,” he said.

He said the experience far outweighs the places, times and results; it’s about sharing an experience with the other runners on the course and understanding what it means to finish a race like the Hardrock.

“Sure, we are all competitors,” Haubert said. “But we want the other runners to have a good race. Every competitor puts so much time into preparing, and it’s such a big effort that we want the other people running with us to have success.”

It’s one of the reasons nearly every competitor returns to the finish line in the final hours of the race to cheer on other runners as they finish. This year, the men’s winner, Kilian Jornet, greeted Robert Andrulis, the last finisher, with a hug at the finish line, nearly 24 hours after he had crossed the finish line himself.

“The community that surrounds the Hardrock and the friends that I have there are always a big draw to come back,” Haubert said.

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