Aspen athlete finishes 11th at grueling Hardrock 100
July 15, 2009
SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS, Colo. – Ted Mahon knew adversity would strike. It typically does in the Hardrock 100-Mile Endurance Run, a grueling jaunt through isolated stretches of wilderness in the San Juan Mountains.
In 2007, it came outside Telluride. It was 4:15 in the morning – more than 22 hours after the start – and Mahon could lug his worn-out frame no farther. The Aspen resident begged his pace setters for a brief moment of sleep; when they finally agreed, he slumped down in a patch of tall, wet grass.
Things took a turn for the worse much earlier this time around. Friday, just 22 miles into the 16th installment of the Hardrock, which begins in Silverton and passes near the old mining towns of Silverton, Lake City, Ouray, Telluride and Ophir, Mahon took a jarring fall.
The scrapes on his right knee and elbows were still visible Wednesday.
By his own admission, Mahon’s mind was wandering Friday afternoon as he ascended a monotonous stretch of dirt singletrack. His eyes were fixed on the sky and on surrounding fields dotted with wild flowers.
He lost his footing.
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“All of a sudden, I was airborne,” Mahon recalled. “I crashed down right on my knee cap. I got up and was kind of shaken.”
Worried his leg would stiffen, Mahon decided to keep walking. Soon, he was limping badly.
The next aid station was nearly six miles away, but Mahon did not bow out.
He was not about to throw away months of preparation, he said. He was not about to relinquish his spot in the coveted race, one in which the wait list routinely dwarfs the start list and one that has developed a cult following. About 350 people signed up for 140 available spots this year.
“My last fall was nine years ago in the Pikes Peak Marathon,” Mahon said. “I’m usually more thorough than that. … Here I had a careless trip that could have ended my day. With all that went into this, you don’t want it to end like that.
“At that point in the race, you can’t quite come to full terms with what you have in front of you. A thing like that can really set you back mentally. That’s huge.”
Mahon was left out of the field in 2008, one year after finishing 14th in his first Hardrock. His ordeal in 2007 lasted 33 hours, 15 minutes.
He was determined to improve.
“I knew what the day entails and knew that I could do it, two things I didn’t know in 2007,” Mahon said. “The first time, I was a bit nervous. This time, I was excited to be out there.”
He took a brief respite at an aid station soon after Friday’s fall. Then, likely spurred by endorphins and Advil, he pushed on.
In the hours that ensued, through cloudy skies and seemingly interminable darkness, Mahon climbed precarious mountain passes (topping out at 14,053-foot Handies Peak), negotiated steep scree fields, meandering jeep and mining roads and patches of snow. He waded through small streams (a welcome relief for his aching feet) and slogged through four rain storms. Thankfully, he finished before inclement weather hit; one participant was reportedly knocked off his feet by a lightning strike.
Mahon combated scores of physical and mental barriers. They surface often during a exhausting race with 66,248 feet of elevation change.
“I’ve wished in the past that I brought a video recorder, so I could keep track of my random thoughts,” Mahon said, “You zone out a lot out there.”
Another major setback never cropped up. When he cruised through Ouray – about 56 miles in – Mahon was 40 minutes ahead of 2007’s time, he said. From there, he faced one of the race’s stiffest tests: A 16-mile hike into Telluride that covered nearly 10,000 vertical feet. Mahon and friend Kathy Fry covered the distance in about five and a half hours, arriving at 3:15 a.m.
About 28 miles remained.
Mahon took on the next 10-mile stretch, one that brought him to a halt in 2007, with friend and fellow mountaineer Neal Beidleman. The urge to sleep slowed Mahon again, but a few caffeinated GU gels seemed to do the trick. (He estimated he ate 30 to 40 GUs during the race.)
“[Beidleman] wasn’t allowing me to stop and go to sleep, which is good,” Mahon said. “He told me to wait until the sun broke onto the peaks, and then my [internal] clock would be reset. He was right.
“There’s something about that time of day. It starts to get light and regardless of if you’ve been out all night, your body knows it’s supposed to be asleep. … It’s like driving on the highway at night when you can’t stay awake. You find yourself nodding off, until you almost fall over.”
Mahon and fiancee Christy Sauer tackled the final stretch through Putnam-Cataract Ridge, Bear Creek Canyon and into Silverton. They crossed the line in 31:59:20, more than 75 minutes faster than two years ago.
Utah endurance junkie Karl Meltzer cruised to first with a time of 24:38:02 – the second-fastest time ever.
Mahon knelt and kissed the fabled rock. He shook hands with the race director. And, before heading off to find a cheeseburger, he took a moment to let the experience sink in.
“You just look around and forget a lot of the thoughts you had during the race. Thoughts like, ‘I’m never doing this again,’ and ‘All I want to do is sleep,’ and ‘I hate this race,'” Mahon said. “Your mind’s interesting that way.
“It just went well. Drama is nice and all, but there wasn’t much of it.”
The swelling in Mahon’s knee, which he said was so pronounced he could hardly see his ankle, has subsided. He’s already set his sites on his next challenge: August’s Leadville 100.
He’s planning to be in Silverton again next summer, too.
“When I left in 2007, I was thinking this was quite possibly one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “If you’re like a lot of people out here who like to get out into the mountains, this is the ultimate day in the mountains. … You can see why people return year after year.”
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