Aspen’s Ted Mahon excels at Hardrock 100
July 21, 2012
ASPEN – “I wish I could say it was full of drama,” Ted Mahon uttered Wednesday as he settled into his seat at Peach’s in Aspen.
“I wish I could say it was full of struggle and survival, but the fact is you don’t want that stuff. You want to have it go smooth. By any measure, I really couldn’t picture it going any better.”
Four days after completing his fifth Hardrock 100, a brutal test in the remote San Juan Mountains that begins and ends in Silverton, the 39-year-old appeared healthy and at ease. The lingering soreness in his limbs already had dissipated – he even was planning an afternoon bike ride.
There were no scars. There were no tales of suffering through dehydration or being slowed to a crawl because of exhaustion. No tales about drilling a rock and knocking a loose right big toenail through the skin and under the cuticle like last year, when Mahon had to limp the final five miles to the finish line.
This race was different. In this race, everything somewhat astoundingly fell into place. The result: a fifth-place finish in a time of 28 hours, 20 minutes – more than two hours faster than his previous best established in 2010.
“You never know when you start how things are going to go,” Mahon said. “To show up and be given the No. 5 (bib) … I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I could finish fifth in my fifth year while wearing No. 5?’ Then I looked at the entrants list and there was a solid dozen that you might call ringers, people who are as much of a pro at this event or distance as there are. I kept an open mind and didn’t put any pressure on myself.”
It paid off.
“The Hardrock has become a championship of sorts, a Super Bowl-like thing like Western States. There’s a big following now – there are people at the finish, the Twitterverse is all over this stuff and everyone knows the leaders,” Mahon said. “I kind of snuck in there. I was the guy at the finish who somehow got into the middle of the top 10 that nobody knows well.
“The guy from iRunFar.com came up and asked me, ‘You were in 25th (at the first-aid station). How did you end up in fifth place?”
There are myriad answers.
Mahon has learned much in the 10 years since his first 100 in Leadville – back in the days when he “used to wing it off the couch.” He now pays closer attention to his fitness and his nutrition.
“You have to commit to this sport, to put in the years,” he said. “If you really want to do well, you have to make it a part of you. I feel old saying that, but sometimes you only have the benefit of that perspective after having a number of years behind you.”
He knows this course – one that features 13 sometimes treacherous mountain passes and a hard-to-comprehend 34,000 feet of climbing – and developed a strategy that has helped him steadily climb the leaderboard.
“Regardless of what the others are doing, it’s you versus the course,” Mahon said. “I can’t go out with the leaders – I’ll never last. They kind of take a roll of the dice and if they’re feeling good they can hang on and have a brilliant result. But they know, and everyone knows, that they’re taking a risk. … One friend calls me the ‘Night Stalker.’ By the time we’re 15 hours in and the leaders are run down, I’ve just been on my same pace.
“If you want to make a race of it at the end with those who are around you, fine, but I go out on my own terms. The race is really against the clock. If you happen to end up in a good place at the end, all the better.”
It also helps to have a solid team in place. In addition to leaning on the support of wife Christy, a Hardrock veteran in her own right, Mahon enlisted accomplished mountaineers and friends Neal Beidleman and Chris Davenport to assist with pacing.
“Some people said I had a dream team, and maybe I did,” Mahon said. “Those guys are not used to playing domestique roles; they’re used to being the stars. I was thinking I didn’t want to disappoint those guys. I wanted to show them a good time, or they’ll feel like they wasted their weekend.”
Mahon met his crew in Ouray around Mile 46. By then, he was about 25 minutes ahead of 2010’s pace – a more impressive mark considering that 2 1/2 miles were added to the course because of a private land dispute in Telluride.
Mahon and Beidleman joined forces for the next 27 or so miles, including a climb of 14,087-foot Handies Peak.
Before the ascent, Mahon was more than an hour ahead of 2010’s pace.
“When you’re consistently taking time off, you start feeling like everything is coming together well, and it mentally empowers you,” Mahon recalled. “It’s less likely that things are going to fall apart.”
Davenport took the reins for the final 28 miles.
“Christy and Neal have paid their dues, and this was Davs’ first foray into this, so I figured I’d give him the graveyard shift from 1 a.m. to the finish,” Mahon joked. “That’s the biggest struggle, when you need the biggest pick-me-up. It sure helped having him out there. He was so excited, and it was contagious. That’s when we picked off the majority of people.”
The duo pulled into the final aid station at around Mile 92 and received some good news: Mahon had vaulted into sixth place.
About three miles from the finish, they passed five-time winner Karl Meltzer.
Soon after, Mahon was celebrating a third consecutive top-10 by kissing the fabled rock, a painted piece of mining debris that awaits at the finish line.
“I was lucid, coherent and chatting the whole night. It’s just nuts. I’m still trying to piece together how I had that sort of day,” Mahon said. “It was so smooth that I’ve decided not even to go back next year. I don’t know how easily I could improve on this. It was so far ahead of what I even set as a goal.
“I’m going to turn 40 in a few weeks, and most people would say I’m far from my prime when it comes to this stuff. I guess I’ve learned a few things.”