We’ve all had moments in races (or in life) when we question what we’re doing and why. The temptation to quit, the desire to make the hurt stop; we’ve all been there. It takes grit, determination, and sometimes the energy and encouragement of others to keep us moving forward. That’s the situation Mike Wardian found himself in recently during the grueling Hardrock 100, one of the toughest 100-mile trail running races in the world.
Here’s how he tells the story of his physical and emotional rollercoaster of a race.
I had a great race but not in the way I wanted or expected. I didn't win or even come close to winning but I finished and that was a victory.
Of my 3 Hardrock 100 finishes, this was my grittiest. I battled feeling liked death for 20 of the 36 hours due to altitude sickness. One of the toughest things about Hardrock is that runners travel above 12,000 feet of elevation a total of 13 times, with the highest point on the course being the 14,048' summit of Handies Peak.
The entire first day I was altitude sick with debilitating nausea, splitting headaches, and shortness of breath. When I did force myself to drink, every sip of water caused me to feel like I was going to pass out, so I was unable to eat or drink. I became super calorie deficient and dehydrated and this caused me to do something I have never done before.
I literally laid down multiple times on the trail, between miles 30-40 on the way up to Handies Peak. People were stepping over me and I was planning to drop but I couldn't get to an aid station without going backward 6 miles or forward 8 miles. It was basically on the worst part of the course to feel terrible and want to quit, which turned out to be a blessing.
As I was lying there on the trail, I thought, please let me just get to the aid station so I can drop out. As the rain, wind and some little hail pebbles beat down, I shuffled up Handies, stopping and laying down when the fatigue overtook me. It was pathetic but it was also powerful, as I reached down to an extreme low point and found something more I didn’t know I had.
I made it up Handies Peak and after hours and about a 4,000-foot descent, I reached the next aid station, Grouse Gulch at mile 42 (10,710 ft).
At Grouse, I saw my crew. What I love about ultras is that while I might be the one running the race, there is a community that is supporting everyone out there racing. I feed off that energy, like an emotional vampire. After being talked to by Matt Trappe and Scott Allender for more than an hour, I rebounded enough to go on. I didn't really expect to be able to finish but I thought maybe, just maybe, I could get to the next aid station, Quray at mile 56.6.
Well, I did make it to Quray Aid Station (7,680 ft) but during the 5+ hours it took, disaster struck again. While running, my pacer Matt Trappe and I suddenly heard a loud pop and Matt instantly went to the ground with a severely twisted right ankle. I was in no shape to help him, since I was barely moving myself, but Matt dusted himself off and shuffled with me the last 12 miles to Quray. Honestly I still can't believe he made it in that condition. I love that guy. He’s such a talented photographer but even better person.
At Quray, I regrouped and since the elevation there is relatively low at 7,680 ft, I was able to eat some calories and started to feel just a little better.
I picked up my next pacer, Zach, and started up to Governor Basin Aid Station at mile 64.5. It was a long climb I but the chance to put in some more calories, which really helped. I could feel my legs starting to come back.
I started passing the people that stepped over me on the trail earlier and it felt great to pass one guy, John, who had done a little trash talking. Zach and I were on fire and moving faster than anyone left on that part of the course.
I was getting a buzz from being able to eat and run and so we just kept running. I booked it up the ninth climb to Virginius Pass and Kroger's Canteen Aid Station at mile 67.7 and 13,100 feet. The altitude was not crushing me anymore! I was feeling good. I could run, so we ran. We were passing people in clusters and I was well on my way to Telluride Aid Station at mile 72.7.
At Telluride, I said goodbye to Zach and picked up my next pacer, Adam. We I set out from the aid station quickly and hit the big climb to Oscar's Pass, at 13,140 feet. The 4,390-foot climb took hours and hours. It felt never-ending but we pushed on and caught more and more people along the way.
As the sun rose on the 2nd day of running, I knew that if I could just keep going, I had a chance of finishing. I was finally able to hold down food, which made my climbs stronger and gave me the ability to race but with about 10 hours to the finish, I knew we still had much more to do.
Adam kept a solid pace and filled the time with stories of his time in the military and how he had tried out for the SEALs. (He didn't make it, but lasted till the first day of Hell Week.)
At Champman Gulch Aid Station (Mile 82.4 and 10,190 ft) I picked up my next pacer, Hilary Ann. She’s a professional photographer and all-around mountain bad arse, but I didn't know her well, so I was excited to spend the last 6-10 hours, getting to know her.
Hilary was a rock star, an absolute treat to run with. She was funny, tough, insightful, and honest, except about the lightning that was striking around us. She straight up lied about that; the lightening was very, very close to hitting us.
She kept a great pace, and she was the only pacer I didn't drop. Typically, when I start to feel good in a race, I just hammer, so pacers end of getting dropped at some point. They might catch back up but not usually. With Hilary, at mile 98 we did a few sub 7-minute miles!
As we hammered the last 18-19 miles, we ended up catching about 20 people including a guy going into Silverton, where the finish is.
Hilary and I caught Adam and his pacer with about 1K to go. I thought Adam would just quit as I popped out the woods moving with real purpose and he was just hiking it in. There is a little climb up to the Miner's Shrine before you bomb down to the finish, so I knew we had just 1 mile to go and I was going to blast it.
Turned out, Adam was feeling frisky and tried to go with Hilary. By that point though, I was flying. I dropped Hilary and put 90 seconds into Adam in the last 800 meters.
I finished hard and I was pumped to almost break 36 hours. I ran 36:00:25, good enough for 26th overall and 23rd male. I went from almost quitting to finishing in a sprint. Unbelievable.
I really thought I knew my limits and that I had reached them earlier in the day, but I didn't. I was able to scratch and claw my way back but I didn’t do it alone. I did it with the help of the running community.
I used everything I had to make it around and I couldn't be more thankful for everyone's support!