I never really thought that I had it in me to run The Harding Hustle. I was never going to even try. This was the race that I worked, not ran. It was too hot. It was too steep. And I would have to summit not once, but THREE times.
That is, until 2014 when I registered for this race. A momentary lapse of reason, I suppose. I wanted to use this as a training run.
I woke at 3:30 AM, left my house at 4:00 AM, arrived in Modjeska Canyon at 4:30. I took off up Harding Truck Trail at 5:00 AM. I elected an early start with two other runners, one of them my friend Emmett Rahl. At the start line, Emmett gave me a laminated pace sheet with cut-offs, and pacing for a 7:30 finish and a 10:00 finish. Considering that I doubted that I could even finish this race, I hoped for the longer finish. On the backside, he had printed a group photo of my three sons and husband.
Early on in the dark, I turned my ankle going up that mountain, but not terribly. But, I have to admit that I thought to myself, “I really wouldn’t be that upset if I twisted my ankle.” I had about thirty-one miles to go at that point. An unbearable thought, so much so, that I didn’t think about it. I just plodded one foot in front of the other.
I considered the first “leg” of this 50k the almost entirely uphill trip along Harding Truck Trail. It measures about 9.3 miles. The first mile is the worst mile. And it doesn’t ease up until about mile 6.5. At that point, the road levels out some, and there’s even a slight down hill. Only slight. Normally, it takes me about 3:15 to make that nine mile trip. Yes that long! I am excruciatingly slow during that first leg. Quite amazingly, I made the trip on Saturday in under 3 hours, something like 2:50. To make matters quite pleasurable, the skies were cloudy and the breeze was cool.
The second leg of this 50k was the trip up to Modjeska Peak, which measures about 3 miles. Also entirely uphill, there’s quite a few rocky portions which I found more than annoying. But the views were so gorgeous and the breeze was still so cool, there was no getting me down, even as numerous regular starters began passing me.
I found great solace in seeing a few runners that I know as I ran up to Modjeska Peak. One of my running friends, Randall Tolosa, manned the post at Modjeska where I turned around and ran back down for the third leg of this 50k.
The third leg of this race entailed running down Modjeska into the saddle and up to Santiago Peak – a trip totaling about 3.5 miles. Somewhere in the third leg, I met a reader of my blog (thanks for saying Hi and telling me you read Laurenontherun!!!). Running down into the saddle I teared up, as I knew at this point I was truly committed to the 50K. I was on my way to Santiago Peak, and there would be no turning back for a 30k race. It was a finish or a DNF for me – just as I wanted. I took out my phone and texted my husband, “in the saddle.”
I found the third leg tiring and hiked a bit of that switchback up to “Talking Towers,” (AKA Santiago Peak). Some of the runners powered up to the peak, others walked for more strength later. I saw Emmett as he came back down, and he shouted out words of encouragement, as he knew all about my doubts. I looked at my family’s picture quite a few times and smiled wide. And I used the pace sheet to move me on quicker. So far, I was coming in with times under the 10:00 finish, and well above the cut offs for the race. I felt fine. I was enjoying this adventure. And even more amazingly, I kept the demons at-bay. There was no negative self-talk, no “I suck,” or “Who am I kidding?” It was more, “Look how beautiful that is!” or “I am so lucky that the breeze is cool today.”
I meet several other runners at Santiago Peak, and familiar faces working the aid station. I took a little more time at this peak, filling my hydration pack and talking a bit with the other runners. I took off for leg four well within the race cut-off times.
The fourth leg was back to into the saddle and back up Modjeska Peak. I teared up again in the saddle, this time because I knew that I would probably finish this race. “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” I warned myself. Still, I felt confident. I texted my husband, “back in the saddle.”
At the base of Modjeska Peak, I found myself weary of making that climb again. You could have shot me at that point and I probably would have been fine with that. I REALLY didn’t want to summit again. But I drudged up that switch-back alongside the other runners who dragged along with me. I noticed one guy sit down to rest as I finally quite happily made my way back down for the 5th leg back to Harding Truck Trail. Keeping a foothold on that rocky terrain was difficult.
I left the Maple Springs aid station for the final leg of this 50k at about ten minutes past the pacing for a 10:00 finish. I felt fine with that. But I had energy still, and I had run this 9.3 downhill on many occasions. I knew that I could run it quicker than I thought that I could. And so I took off with the intent of a 12 minute mile all the way down. I did very well, felt strong, met other runners. I was going back and forth with another runner who looked familiar. He finally caught me again with about 6 miles to go, and we ran side-by-side silently for a bit. So I pushed a little harder when he finally said, “Gosh Lauren, put down the hammer!”
Ha! Turns out we kind of knew each other. He remembered me from working Chimera. He said that I helped him at the Holy Jim Aid. I remembered him as Jeff Higgins from Old Goat 50. He was the guy behind me with encouraging words at the end of the race. Well, he finally said that he couldn’t keep up and I raced off ahead of him gaining more speed as I crashed down the mountain (though I passed him, he finished with a better time, about fifteen minutes quicker because I started earlier). It was great to see Jeff again. And it was a booster to pass him.
With less than 5 miles remaining, I stopped one last time, at the Laurel Springs aid station. My eyes stung from salt dripping off my head. So, I took the time to drench my bandana and washed out my eyes. Then I draped the wet bandana over my head and headed down Harding Truck Trail. I continued to pass other runners down that mountain who would beat me in overall time. But it still felt good to finally pass runners. I ran that last leg, the 9.3 rocky mainly downhill miles in less than 2:15. My best from prior runs was 2:30.
I am happy to report that I finished The Harding Hustle 50k. It wasn’t quick. In fact, it was slow. But I did it. I wasn’t pulled. I didn’t fall. I didn’t lose all my strength. I never went into the dark side. I kept my wits about me. My garmin time was 9:25:41. The race’s clock time had me at 9:27. I’ll take it. I finished. And I am so, so, so grateful for that!