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A Killer Course

I have now been to Hardrock five times. I’ve paced and crewed three former winners, and last year I paced and crewed the women’s champion. In 2011, I briefly lived in Silverton, Colorado, in a dilapidated pink house with that year’s runner-up, Dakota Jones. I’ve run the whole course in one shot four times, three of which were “Softrocks,” which break the course into three days of 28 to 45 miles each. I’ve spent countless hours on the course and even more thinking about the race. It’s simply the most rugged and beautiful 100-mile course in existence.

Like waiting to be asked to the prom, I waited for my friend Jared Campbell to ask me, unprompted, if I would pace him this year at Hardrock. If anyone on the Hardrock starting line doesn’t need help getting around the course, it’s Jared Campbell. Earlier this year, he won the nearly impossible Barkley Marathons—a 100-mile bushwhacking race with no course markings, more than 60,000 feet of vertical gain, and only 14 finishers. Ever. Campbell has finished twice, and this would be his 10th time lining up for Hardrock.

They say complacency is the leading cause of death for the experienced mountain athlete. As dusk descended Friday for the first time on the Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run, I was running back and forth to my car trying not to become a statistic. Adding and subtracting items from my running pack, I couldn’t decide how much or how little to take with me for my pacing duties. If overlooked, the reality of 31 night miles in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado will land you in the hospital—or worse. Still, complacent and maybe a little flippant, I didn’t pack rain pants or a winter hat and gloves.

Hardrock is widely considered the premier mountain 100-mile race, with an average altitude of over 11,000 feet above sea level. The course starts in Silverton, Colorado, at 9,318 feet and is a beautiful loop through the San Juan Mountains. The race is often jokingly called the “Hardwalk,” because the altitude coupled with the 33,992 feet of vertical ascent leave even the best runners walking.

This year, more than 1,200 people applied for the 140 available entries into the Hardrock 100. A first-time applicant has about a 1.4 percent chance of getting in. I’m one for six. My single race-day experience is a common one. A pretty good endurance runner comes to Hardrock with a heart and mind full of hope and gets destroyed by the course, conditions, altitude, and mental burden of not performing as well as they should have. My body required a nap just to make it to the finish line.

But I finished.

This year, the lottery gods showed favor to the stars and the gazers, creating the most competitive field in the race’s 21-year history. I asked race director Dale Garland—who makes five personal picks—if he made the race competitive this year. He assured me the lottery did it. Unlike other endurance events, the Hardrock makes no special allowances for elite athletes. Everyone has to get in through the lottery system, and this year hit the jackpot. “The stars lined up,” said Garland.

Modernity and the deep field attracted media coverage never before seen in sleepy little Silverton, which has a year-round population of 500. Hardrock board members were making on-the-fly decisions on things like media access that previously had never been considered. There were camera drones at the start line. You’d be hard-pressed to find something so un-Hardrock, a race that prides itself on being a run, not a race. The fact is that only human anomalies can race the Hardrock 100. The rest of us survive it. This isn’t Western States.

The hype coming into this year’s race was unprecedented. The presence of ultrarunning’s reigning alpha (and anomaly), Kilian Jornet, meant everyone else was racing for second place. The real question was would he set a new course record after what he just did on Denali?

In 2008, a then 23-year-old Kyle Skaggs stunned the ultrarunning world by becoming the first person to run the revered 100.5-mile course in under 24 hours. In Hardrock’s inaugural 1992 running, David Horton won the race in a time of 32 hours, 34 minutes. Skaggs, racing hard from the gun, rounded the loop course—which tours the iconic Colorado towns of Telluride and Ouray—in 23:23. Neither of these two Hardrock champions run ultras anymore. This year, Horton was showing off a new knee, swollen from too many mountain bike miles, and Skaggs basically retired after his record-setting run. The repercussions of the effort left him with an undiagnosed racing heartbeat and odd palpitations that made it hard to sleep, let alone run. He’s now happily farming in New Mexico.

Hardrock’s tagline “Wild and Tough” delivered this year with a lingering storm cycle coming through as the race leaders were either climbing Engineer Pass or on the course’s high point, Handies Peak, at 14,048 feet. Hardrock stories of hunkering down to avoid lightning or to get warm after developing hypothermia are common. The year I ran Hardrock, my pacer and I spent 45 minutes in a cave trying to avoid getting lit up. The San Juan Mountains are known for brief afternoon showers in July.  “There is always the monsoonal flow, but to have [storms] at night and have them stick around for four or five hours is uncommon,” says Garland.

This year’s women’s race unfolded almost exactly as it has in the two previous years, with Boulder, Colorado–based athlete Darcy Piceu running to a steady win after race leader Diana Finkel dropped out late in the event. In 2009, Finkel set the women’s course record of 27:18. While pressing to win the overall race in 2010, Finkel pushed her body to its limit and spent the following three weeks in the hospital on dialysis. Amazingly, she managed to win again in 2011 but has withdrawn with health issues in the past three years, each time leaving the race to Piceu.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/2014-hardrock-100-winners_fe.jpg","caption":"You would never guess that men's champion Kilian Jornet and women's first-place finisher Darcy Piceu had just run 100 miles if they weren't holding their Hardrock 100 trophies."}%}

Campbell and I were unfortunate witnesses to Finkel’s demise this year. As she has during the past few Hardrocks, Finkel was running in the men’s section of the field. In eighth place overall when we caught up to her, she was experiencing the all too familiar symptoms of kidney dysfunction. As we approached, she was stumbling from side to side, with her stoic husband, Ben, trying to keep her from falling and ultimately dying in the basin. She would make it to the Maggie aid station, at mile 85, and drop from the race. Lacking the competitive depth of the men’s field, this year’s second woman finisher was more than eight hours after Piceu.

As Campbell and I were trudging up Handies peak, about 61 miles into the race, Canadian athlete Adam Campbell (no relation) and his pacer were hit by a dispersed lightning strike on the summit. “It blew my headlamp up and knocked us both down,” Campbell told me. Undeterred, the Canadian raced an almost flawless effort and finished third overall in 25:56. 

Although the altitude, stormy weather, and course conditions took down some of the best endurance runners on the planet, Jornet sauntered to a new course record with his usual aplomb. The 26-year-old Catalan ultrarunner and mountaineer missed the brunt of the day’s storm by running out in front of the field and the lightning. French ultrarunner, 2011 Hardrock champion, and eventual second-place finisher Julien Chorier managed to stay within striking distance until Jornet decided it was time to push for the record. Jornet is so much better than the next-best athlete in most races that he stays with them just for the company. As the finish line approaches, he then makes a move for the win. Worried about getting lost on the sparsely flagged Hardrock course, Jornet decided he’d run easy until mile 72. “I planned to go for it at Sherman aid station because it was just a marathon for me then,” said Jornet. Still a whopping 10 minutes behind course record pace at mile 85, Jornet flew to the finish and a new record by 42 minutes. “This is a record that will stand for a long time,” says Garland of Jornet's 22:41 finish.

I ran with Campbell for about 10 hours—11,000 feet of up, 31 miles, and just under a third of the Hardrock course. We shared few words and one puke (watching him puke made me puke). Charging to the finish line with a time of 28:23, Campbell finished in seventh place. He ran the finish-line shoot with his wife and six-month-old baby before kissing the Hardrock.

My heart palpitated.

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Those Planes Aren't the Problem

By now, you've likely seen the photos. On the afternoon of July 3, a train paralleling Montana’s Clark Fork River derailed at Atherton Gorge, sending payloads of soybeans, denatured alcohol (not for drinking, this is the stuff used in fuel), and Boeing plane parts into the water—and into view of stunned outdoor enthusiasts.

While photographs of the failure made waves in international news, the accident was actually more spectacle than disaster. “Since the denatured alcohol and soybeans were contained, the damage is very temporary,” Pat Saffel, fisheries manager of Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks told Outside. “There was really no impact.”

The things that really hurt the Clark Fork, and American rivers at large, aren’t as conspicuous or visible as fuselages—they tend to be subtler, come on more gradually, and cause long term damage. Of the more-than 500,000 miles of rivers analyzed in the 2004 National Water Quality Inventory, the USEPA found that 44 percent of them were impaired.

For the most part, the biggest threats to rivers are results of our attempts to control them. America’s dams, constructed to retain water and create energy, damage downstream ecosystems, disrupt the flow of nutrient-rich silt, are aging, and have little water to hold back. As a result of damming and diversion—for agricultural, municipal, and residential use—some of the largest rivers in the world are running dry, requiring intensive cooperation between countries to maintain any flow at all.

We can damage waterways when we put them to use, but rivers get caught in the crossfire when we forget to include them in our plans, too. Fertilizer runoff is the leading source of water quality damage. The way watersheds are graded, this pollution, as well as stormwater runoff from cities, inevitably ends up in rivers and streams.

Groups like American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, and Wild Earth Guardians—along with other watershed groups and the USEPA—spend lots of time and money restoring (or at least improving) rivers, but all it takes is one spill to send them right back to bad places. 

“From our perspective, this is a wake up call,” said Karen Knudsen, executive director of the Clark Fork Coalition. “As disturbing as this is, imagine if it’d been tankers full of crude oil, which are increasingly shipped through Missoula. We we lucky in this case that it was just airplane parts.”

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Cyclists: Motorists See You as Moving Targets

Late last week, a young woman from Danvers, Massachusetts, tweeted something that had cyclists and non-homicidal people up in arms:

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Thanks for the emoji visual, @Erikamarquis143. Unfortunately, this tweet is just the latest edition of cycling hatred spewed through social media. Take Emma Way, for example. Last year, the 21-year-old pixie-faced blonde from the UK tweeted this gem:

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Way had swiped a 29-year-old with her side mirror, “sending him off the bike and into the trees where he was banged up, but wasn't seriously injured,” Jalopnik reports. Way didn’t stop, and the cyclist only came forward to cops after Way’s tweet went viral. (He didn’t want his girlfriend to worry and start putting his bikes on eBay.) Way repented—after local police found her tweet and she was suspended from her job.

Then there’s Keith Maddox, the 48-year-old man from Alabama who released a series of videos in which he filmed himself endangering cyclists earlier this year. Local police found his posts, too, and charged him with a misdemeanor for reckless endangerment. 

So what's with these people? Many experts have tried to pin down just what it is about the bicycle that ignites so much rage in drivers. What creates that us-versus-them mentality that some experts have likened to racial discrimination

As Bath University’s traffic specialist Dr. Ian Walker wrote in The Psychologist, drivers overgeneralize cyclists’ “negative behavior and attributes—‘They all ride through red lights all the time.’” They never follow the rules! They’re always causing accidents! Those constant generalizations make it “hard to escape the conclusion that something of this sort is going on.”

But statistics tell another story. As The Guardian reports, according to “research published in February this year by Monash University, in accidents between cyclists and motorists, the motorist was found to be at fault 87 percent of the time.” And drivers run red lights, too. Frequently. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in 2012, “683 people were killed and an estimated 133,000 were injured in crashes that involved red-light running.” All of this hatred toward cyclists assumes drivers always follow the rules. 

I have another theory I’d like to add to the mix. People like to categorize other people. It makes life easier. As About.com psychology writer, Kendra Cherry, explains,

In the social categorization process, we mentally categorize people into different groups based on common characteristics. Sometimes this process occurs consciously, but for the most part social categorizations happens automatically and unconsciously…Using social categorization allows you to make decisions and establish expectations of how people will behave in certain situations very quickly, which allows you to focus on other things.

People seem to have a tough time creating new categories for things that already exist. Like cyclists. In most states, lawmakers have decided to categorize them as vehicles. This makes drivers feel violated when they see a cyclist breach an auto law. But a bike isn’t a car. Cyclists are much more nimble and have greater sensory perception on the road. The damage they can do to other people, in almost all cases, is much less than any vehicle could. 

If drivers and lawmakers were able to see cyclists as they truly are—an entirely separate category of transportation that’s neither car nor pedestrian—perhaps the hatred would subside. Creating bike lanes is a start, but there’s a long way to go before cyclists bust out of their current social category, created in a car-centric society, of a hate-worthy nuisance.

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Belgian Bloodletting

Chris Froome, winner of the 2013 Tour de France and odds-on favorite for overall victory in 2014, crashed twice on Stage 5 of the Tour and abandoned the race. 

After falling at kilometer 35, the Briton remounted and regained contact with the peloton. Some 50 kilometers later, however, he hit the deck again and though he quickly got to his feet, he winced in pain. After a chat with a Team Sky doctor, he climbed into the team car and called it quits.

There’s no word yet on his injuries, but Froome started the day in a wrist brace resulting from another crash on Stage 4. Following his second crash today, the Brit clutched at that same wrist as if he had exacerbated the damage. 

Froome fared the worst of the Tour favorites, but he wasn’t the only one who suffered. American Andrew Talansky took a tumble, and though Garmin-Sharp rode valiantly to put him back in the race, he lost 2:01 to race leader Vincenzo Nibali by the finish. Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde and BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen also went down and both conceded 2:09. 

And though he never crashed, two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador struggled in the wet weather and lost 2:32 to Nibali to finish the day in a dismal 19th on GC. 

Ever since the route for Stage 5 was announced, there’s been no end to the debates and criticism of including sections of rough cobbles in the Tour. Many teams complained that the stage’s nine sections of pavé, totaling 15.4 kilometers, put the GC contenders at too much risk as the treacherous roads are infamous for causing mechanicals and injuries.

The consternation continued even this morning, when Tour officials made the last-minute decision to cut out two cobbled sections, deeming them too dangerous because of the day’s heavy rain.

Ironically, it wasn’t the cobbles that wreaked so much havoc in the race but the wet weather. Froome’s two crashes took place on smooth asphalt, well before the cobbles had begun. And Valverde and Van Garderen also went down on tarmac roundabouts. Talansky was the only favorite to crash in the pavé, when he overcooked a slippery corner and knocked over a spectator.

But maillot jaune Vincenzo Nibali and his Team Astana expunged any argument that the cobbles are too savage and hazardous for the featherweight top contenders. The Italian, who is about the size of Contador and Talansky but is known as an excellent bike handler, played a perfect tactical game and powered ably through the toughest sections to not only retain the race lead but put time into every one of his opponents. He finished in third place alongside teammate Jakob Fuglsang, just 19 seconds behind Dutch cobble-specialist Lars Boom, who is not a GC favorite.

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