Women of the Hardrock 100—Growing In Numbers and Recognition, They Rock

As an avid Hardrock 100-mile Endurance Run follower and wannabe-someday-participant, I’m excited about this year’s women’s field. It includes several “wild & tough,” fresh first-time Hardrockers, so this year feels different, with more interest and more unknowns around these 20+ women.

In the past, you could count on one hand the female frontrunners and recite their names (e.g., Diana, Darcy, Anna, the Betsys). While I hold these veteran female Hardrockers in high esteem, I’m glad others are joining them for a more intriguing race*.

(* Yes, I’m calling it a “race” not a “run.” Though I very much appreciate the tradition of calling it a “run” in which the last finisher matters as much as the first who crosses the line in Silverton, I and many others follow Hardrock as a race, captivated by how the competition unfolds and inspired by the participants pushing each other not only to finish the harrowing course, but also to pass or keep up with others.)

The female Hardrock entrants total 22 this year, compared to fewer than 20 in most years, making up 15 percent of the 145 participants (if my count is correct; the gender-blind entrants’ list makes it a little difficult to count the ladies). You can look at this glass as half empty or half full. The women’s field still makes up a disproportionately small percentage, given that roughly a third of the applicants to the lottery are female, but it’s improving. I’m not going to delve into the intricacies and pros/cons of the Hardrock lottery, except to say that I understand and respect why the board has designed it the way it is, but the upshot is that the mostly male pool of veteran entrants will keep the guys dominating the list for years to come. (see below links to posts that explain the lottery system)

Hardrock started in 1992, and in its first year, two of the 18 participants were female. During each of the event’s years in the mid to late 1990s, women filled seven or fewer of the spots. It wasn’t until the past decade that significantly more women began to qualify for entry, apply to the lottery and take on the formidable challenge.

This year, runners like young Hannah Green (26)—winner of the San Juan Solstice 50, who blew me away when she set a course record last year at the Telluride Mountain Run—and two French women, Caroline Chaverot and Nathalie Mauclair, both past UTMB champs, will challenge Hardrock winners and favorites Anna Frost (who twice finished Hardrock, winning both times) and Darcy  Piceau (six-time finisher, three-time winner).

Will any of them break Diana Finkel’s course record from 2009 of 27:18, set in this counter-clockwise direction? No other woman has ever finished under 28 hours. Diana’s time is the 30th fastest time overall; Kilian Jornet holds the course record in 22:41, on the clockwise course, which some consider the faster direction (see here for history of results).

Additionally, it’ll be great to see first-timers like Katie Grossman and Jamie Frink (two strong, experienced ultrarunners I’ve enjoyed getting to know) race alongside other women who likely will make up the top 10 among women—Darla Askew, Rachel Bucklin, Debbie Livingston (also a first-timer), Kari Fraser, Betsy Kalmeyer and Tina Ure.

Women of Hardrock discussion panel, L-R: Hannah Green, Darcy Piceau, Katie Grossman, Betsy Kalmeyer, Margaret Heaphy, Caroline Chaverot

Yesterday (July 11), I attended a panel discussion in Silverton featuring six women of Hardrock, a good mix of veterans and newcomers with a wide age range:

  • Betsy Kalmeyer (this will be her 18th Hardrock; she won five times in the past)
  • Darcy Piceau
  • Margaret Heaphy (a 10-time Hardrocker, age 61, who’s crewing for her husband who’s running this year)
  • Caroline Chaverot (who, in addition to winning UTMB last year, won the Skyrunning World Championships)
  • Hannah Green
  • Katie Grossman

Gina Lucrezi of TrailSisters organized and moderated the panel. I took notes and share below some take-aways and favorite comments.

On the early years of the race: 

Margaret, who was a pacer during one of Hardrock’s first years, recalls that the route’s difficulty astounded everyone, regardless of gender. “Everybody was like, ‘Wow, can we do this? … They’d look over Grant Swamp and say, ‘Is this for real?'” (see link at end for a short video of Grant Swamp Pass)

On the Hardrock community: 

Betsy: “It’s like a family reunion every year—and the family is getting bigger.”

Hannah: “I love the feeling of people [in and around Silverton] welcoming you even if they don’t know you, just because you’re here for Hardrock.”

Hannah and Darcy

The discussion led to comments about growing pains; in particular, the issue of crowds of crew and spectators at aid stations, and the desire to keep Hardrock small enough to feel like “family” and to still fit all the runners, volunteers and crew members into the Silverton School’s gym for the traditional post-race ceremony and brunch. Given the desire to welcome and mentor a new generation of aspiring Hardrockers, there’s no easy answer to these growing pains.

When asked if Hardrock had considered instituting a self-supported “solo” category of runners (an added challenge that a few 100-mile ultras feature, which presumably would cut down the number of pacers and possibly also lessen crew), Betsy, who’s a Hardrock board member, said it’s been considered but didn’t indicate whether it’s a serious possibility in the future.

On what holds women back from participating in the higher levels of mountain/ultra/trail running:

Betsy: “A lot of women have obligations at home, and guys feel they can go and do stuff … it’s harder for women to say, ‘I’m gonna go train’; it’s harder for women to spend that time away. Thirty years ago, ultrarunning was 50- to 60-year-old guys because they were retired and empty-nesters. … Obligations and society have kept us back.”

Katie noted it’s hard to find other women to train with her in her hometown near LA because of the time involved with driving to the trailhead and doing the run. To train for an event like Hardrock, you have to make training a priority and devote a great deal of time to it.

Darcy, a mom, recalled bringing her young daughter to Hardrock. (I recall this too—several years ago, I observed a mutual friend, Nettie Pardue, babysitting Darcy’s daughter at aid stations while also crewing and getting ready to pace Darcy, and it struck me at the time as a powerful testament to women supporting each other in multiple ways and being strong role models to little girls.) “It’s a balancing act all the time … You need a team, and your crew makes it possible.”

Caroline said she felt guilty leaving her three children back home in France while she races, “but my kids are happy with my parents.” Since I’m a parent of two teens, and I regularly left my kids with others so I could train and race when they were younger, I want to expand on Caroline’s comment. It’s my belief that kids usually do well when they have time away from parents under the watch of other loved ones, and it makes the parent feel happier and more well rounded to have that “me time.” It can be a win-win situation, so try not to feel guilty!

None of the panelists mentioned the timing of pregnancy, but a new post by Stephanie Case about UTMB denying entrance deferrals for pregnancy made me consider how planning a family also can deter women from getting into a sought-after event like Hardrock (or Western States or UTMB). Gaining entrance to Hardrock is a continuous multiyear process, involving running a challenging ultra on the qualifying list, then applying to the lottery for as many years as it takes to get in (which can be several—and you gotta keep running qualifiers to be in the lottery). Taking a year off for pregnancy and postpartum certainly can throw a wrench into that process, so granting a one-year entrance deferral for women due to pregnancy is something I’d support. Check out Stephanie’s post on the issue.

On the value of pacing as preparation for someday doing the whole Hardrock:

Several talked about the value of pacing and crewing—that is, of being part of the runner’s crew team, and accompanying the runner for a portion of the course—as a way to prepare for the event and also to mentor more women to enter the field.

Darcy, on encouraging women to apply to Hardrock: “Go for it, and if you don’t get in, come here and pace.”

Katie: “It took me three times of being in the lottery before I actually wanted to get picked”—meaning, Hardrock is so intimidating and challenging, it takes several years of pacing and learning about the event before gaining enough experience and confidence to genuinely want to do it. I share Katie’s point of view; I’ve been pacing, crewing and volunteering at Hardrock since 2011, but I didn’t have enough confidence or a qualifying race to enter the lottery until 2015. After losing twice in the lottery, and gaining the experience of pacing several times, I finally feel confident (enough) to genuinely want to attempt the whole HR100 (but still intimidated and nervous at the prospect!).

On training and preparing for Hardrock: 

Betsy: Practice hiking and using poles. “You can really train and become more effective with walking.”

Katie and others: Come to the region early to acclimate, and practice big climbs. Katie has been training for Hardrock in the region since early summer and cracked, “I think my quads are bigger. My jeans fit differently.”

Caroline—who impressed me as friendly and humble in the face of Hardrock, in spite of her credentials and star power as a champion European mountain runner—said she trains almost exclusively on very steep mountains, on terrain that requires efficient hiking because it’s unrunnable, so she’s nervous about having to run Hardrock’s “ramps” (the long, moderate climbs that characterize the counterclockwise direction of this year; Hardrock’s profile has climbs/descents nicknamed “walls” and “ramps,” and in this year’s direction, runners mostly go up the ramps and down the walls). Caroline described being well adapted to steep vert and less confident about the more runnable sections of the course—an unusual point of view for most first-time Hardrockers, who generally feel intimidated by the “walls” and welcome the gradual slopes of the “ramps.”

On general advice to get through Hardrock and avoid a DNF:

Darcy: “I don’t really give myself an out; I’m not dropping unless a medical person says, ‘You’re out of here.'”

Katie: “I’ve wanted this [a spot in Hardrock] for seven years, so I’ll remind myself it’s a gift to be out there.”

Betsy: “You earned that vertical. Take at least 30 seconds at the top to look around.”

For further reading and to follow this year’s Hardrock:

See iRunFar’s post on live coverage, which has links to previews of this year’s competitors. I also recommend iRunFar’s article on this year’s lottery results, which explains the lottery process.

Listen to the UltraRunnerPodcast interview with Blake Wood that I co-hosted, during which I asked Blake (a 20-time HR100 finisher and Hardrock board member, and a key architect of the event’s lottery system) about managing conflicting interests around the Hardrock entry system and considering ideas to achieve greater female representation.

Personal note:

I’ll be crewing and pacing for my friend and first-time Hardrocker Mark Tanaka, and Clare Abram arrives Thursday night to help crew and pace also—I can’t wait! The plan is for Clare (who finished Hardrock in 2015, and I paced her that year) to accompany Mark from Grouse Gulch (mile 42) to Telluride (mile 73), and then I’ll go with him the remaining 27 miles from Telluride to the finish in Silverton. This experience reinforces for me how special and satisfying Hardrock is in terms of bringing runners together to function like a team in support of the official participant.

Mark Tanaka and me on a training run over Oscar’s Pass, between Telluride and Ophir, last week.

Check out Mark’s FB video of what it’s like to go up and down Grant Swamp Pass here. (He and I will be doing that stretch together sometime Saturday.)

The Hardrock profile; see the Hardrock website for more course info and live runner tracking.

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3 Responses to Women of the Hardrock 100—Growing In Numbers and Recognition, They Rock

  1. Lucy July 13, 2017 at 7:01 am #

    The link to the Grant Swamp Pass doesn’t seem to be working 🙁

    • Sarah July 13, 2017 at 1:22 pm #

      sorry about that — darn, Mark’s privacy setting must be for friends only. I’ll ask him to change it later (he’s offline now getting ready for HR!)

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  1. Ultramarathon Daily News | Thursday, July 13 | Ultrarunnerpodcast - July 13, 2017

    […] Sarah recaps the “Women of Hardrock” talk and highlights some of the issues around the race and number of women running this year. […]

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